It was noon when the caravan reached the tower of the water-clock. Here they would be having lunch. Ah Cum said that it was customary to give the chair boys small money for rice. The four tourists contributed varied sums: the spinsters ten cents each, the girl a shilling, the young man a Mexican dollar. The lunches were individual affairs: sandwiches, bottled olives and jam commandeered from the Victoria.
“You are alone?” said one of the spinsters—Prudence Jedson.
“Yes,” answered the girl.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“They know what?”
“When and when not to speak. You have only to look resolute and proceed upon your way.”
Ah Cum lent an ear covertly.
“How old are you?” demanded Miss Prudence.
The spinsters offered a good example of how singular each human being is, despite the fact that in sisters the basic corpuscle is the same. Prudence was the substance and Angelina the shadow; for Angelina never offered opinions, she only agreed with those advanced by Prudence.
“I am twenty,” said the girl.
Prudence shook her head. “You must have travelled a good deal to know so much about men.”
The girl smiled and began to munch a sandwich. Secretly she was gratified to be assigned to the role of an old traveller. Still, it was true about men. Seldom they molested a woman who appeared to know where she was going and who kept her glance resolutely to the fore.
Said Prudence, with commendable human kindness: “My sister and I are going on to Shanghai and Peking. If you are going that way, why not join us.”
The girl’s blood ran warmly for a minute. “That is very kind of you, but I am on my way to America. Up to dinner yesterday I did not expect to come to Canton. I was the last on board. Wasn’t the river beautiful under the moonlight?”
“We did not leave our cabins. Did you bring any luggage?”
“All I own. In this part of the world it is wise never to be separated from your luggage.”
The girl fished into the bottle for an olive. How clever she was, to fool everybody so easily! Not yet had any one suspected the truth: that she was, in a certain worldly sense, only four weeks old, that her every act had been written down on paper beforehand, and that her success lay in rigidly observing the rules which she herself had drafted to govern her conduct.
She finished the olive and looked up. Directly in range stood the strange young man, although he was at the far side of the loft. He was leaning against a window frame, his hat in his hand. She noted the dank hair on his forehead, the sweat of revolting nature. What a pity! But why?