One morning, as he took his stand on the Hong-Kong packet dock to ambush the possible tourist, he witnessed the arrival of a tubby schooner, dirty gray and blotched as though she had run through fire. Her two sticks were bare and brown, her snugged canvas drab, her brasses dull, her anchor mottled with rust. There was only one clean spot in the picture—the ship’s wash (all white) that fluttered on a line stretched between the two masts. The half-nude brown bodies of the crew informed Ah Cum that the schooner had come up from the South Seas. The boiling under her stern, however, told him nothing. He was not a sailor. It would not have interested him in the least to learn that the tub ran on two powers—wind and oil.
Sampans with fish and fruit and vegetables swarmed about, while overhead gulls wheeled and swooped and circled. One of the sampans was hailed, and a rope-ladder was lowered. Shortly a man descended laboriously. He was dressed immaculately in a suit of heavy Shantung silk. His face was half hidden under a freshly pipeclayed sola topee—sun-helmet. He turned and shouted some orders to the Kanaka crew, then nodded to the sampan’s coolies, who bore upon the sweeps and headed for the Sha-mien.
Ah Cum turned to his own affairs, blissfully ignorant that this tub was, within forty-eight hours, to cost him fifty gold. What had shifted his casual interest was the visible prospect of a party of three who were coming down the packet gang-plank. The trio exhibited that indecisive air with which Ah Cum was tolerably familiar. They were looking for a guide. Forthwith he presented his card.
The Reverend Henry Dolby had come to see China; for that purpose he had, with his wife and daughter, traversed land and sea to the extent of ten thousand miles. Actually, he had come all this distance simply to fulfil a certain clause in his contract with Fate, to be in Canton on this particular day.
Meantime, as the doctor was splitting his breakfast orange, he heard a commotion in his office, two rooms removed: volleys of pidgin English, one voice in protest, the other dominant. This was followed by heavy footsteps, and in another moment the dining-room door was flung open.
The doctor jumped to his feet. “Mac, you old son-of-a-gun!”
“Got a man’s breakfast?” McClintock demanded to know.
“Tom! Hey, Tom!” The Chinese cook thrust his head into the dining room. “Those chops, fried potatoes, and buttered toast.”
The two old friends held each other off at arms’ length for inspection; this proving satisfactory, they began to prod and pummel one another affectionately. No hair to fall awry, no powder to displace, no ruffles to crush; men are lucky. Women never throw themselves into each other’s arms; they calculate the distance and the damage perfectly.
They sat down, McClintock reaching for a lump of sugar which he began munching.