Supposing she saw the young man at dinner that night, emptying his bottle? She could not go to him, sit down and draw the sordid pictures she had seen so often. In her case the barrier was not selfishness but the perception that her interest would be misinterpreted, naturally. What right had a young woman to possess the scarring and intimate knowledge of that dreg of human society, the beachcomber?
Ah Cum lived at No. 6 Chiu Ping le, Chiu Yam Street. He was a Canton guide, highly educated, having been graduated from Yale University. If he took a fancy to you, he invited you to the house for tea, bitter and yellow and served in little cups without handles. If you knew anything about Canton ware, you were, as like as not, sorely tempted to stuff a teacup into your pocket.
He was tall, slender, and suave. He spoke English with astonishing facility and with a purity which often embarrassed his tourists. He made his headquarters at the Victoria on the Sha-mien, and generally met the Hong-Kong packet in the morning. You left Hong-Kong at night, by way of the Pearl River, and arrived in Canton the next morning. Ah Cum presented his black-bordered card to such individuals as seemed likely to require his services.
This morning his entourage (as he jestingly called it) consisted of the girl, two spinsters (Prudence and Angelina Jedson), prim and doubtful of the world, and the young man who appeared to be considerably the worse for the alcohol he had consumed.
In the beginning Ah Cum would run his glance speculatively over the assortment and select that individual who promised to be the most companionable. He was a philosopher. Usually his charges bored him with their interrogative chatter, for he knew that his information more often than not went into one ear and out of the other. To-day he selected the girl, and gave her the lead-chair. He motioned the young man to the rear chair, because at that hour the youth appeared to be a quantity close to zero. Being a Chinaman in blood and instinct, he despised all spinsters; they were parasites. A woman was born to have children, particularly male children.
Half a day had turned the corner of the hours; and Ah Cum admitted that this girl puzzled him. He dug about in his mind for a term to fit her, and he came upon the word new. She was new, unlike any other woman he had met in all his wide travel. He could not tell whether she was English or American. From long experience with both races he had acquired definitions, but none snugly applied to this girl. Her roving eagerness was at all times shaded with shyness, reserve, repression. Her voice was soft and singularly musical; but from time to time she uttered old-fashioned words which forced him to grope mentally. She had neither the semi-boisterousness of the average American girl nor the chilling insolence of the English.