Ah, these English! They travelled all over, up and down the world, not to acquire information but rather to leave the impress of their superiority as a race. It was most amusing. They would suffer amazing hardships to hunt the snow-leopard; but in the Temple of Five Hundred Gods they would not take the trouble to ask the name of one!
But this girl, she was alone. That added to his puzzle. At this moment she was staring ahead; and again came the opportunity to study her. Fine but strong lines marked the profile: that would speak for courage and resolution. She was as fair as the lily of the lotus. That suggested delicacy; and yet her young body was strong and vital. Whence had she come: whither was she bound?
A temporary congestion in the street held up the caravan for a spell; and Ah Cum looked backward to note if any of the party had become separated. It was then that the young man entered his thought with some permanency: because there was no apparent reason for his joining the tour, since from the beginning he had shown no interest in anything. He never asked questions; he never addressed his companions; and frequently he took off his cap and wiped his forehead. For the first time it occurred to Ah Cum that the young man might not be quite conscious of his surroundings, that he might be moving in that comatose state which is the aftermath of a long debauch. For all that, Ah Cum was forced to admit that his charge did not look dissipated.
Ah Cum was more or less familiar with alcoholic types. In the genuinely dissipated face there was always a suggestion of slyness in ambush, peeping out of the wrinkles around the eyes and the lips. Upon this young fellow’s face there were no wrinkles, only shadows, in the hollows of the cheeks and under the eyes. He was more like a man who had left his bed in the middle of convalescence.
Ah Cum’s glance returned to the girl. Of course, it really signified nothing in this careless part of the world that she was travelling alone. What gave the puzzling twist to an ordinary situation was her manner: she was guileless. She reminded him of his linnet, when he gave the bird the freedom of the house: it became filled with a wild gaiety which bordered on madness. All that was needed to complete the simile was that the girl should burst into song.
But, alas! Ah Cum shrugged philosophically. His commissions this day would not fill his metal pipe with one wad of tobacco. The spinsters had purchased one grass-linen tablecloth; the girl and the young man had purchased nothing. That she had not bought one piece of linen subtly established in Ah Cum’s mind the fact that she had no home, that the instinct was not there, or she would have made some purchase against the future.
Between his lectures—and primarily he was an itinerant lecturer—he manoeuvred in vain to acquire some facts regarding the girl, who she was, whence she had come; but always she countered with: “What is that?” Guileless she might be; simple, never.