What he needed most in this hour was a bottle of American rye-whisky and a friendly American bar-keep to talk to. He regretted now that in his idle hours he hadn’t hunted up one against the rainy day. The barmaids had too strongly appealed to his sense of novelty. So he marched into the street, primarily bent upon making the favourable discovery. If there was a Yankee bar-keep in Hong-Kong, James Boyle would soon locate him. No blowzy barmaids for him to-day: an American bar-keep to whom he could tell his troubles and receive the proper meed of sympathy.
The sunshine was brilliant, the air mild. The hotel on the Peak had the aspect of a fairy castle. The streets were full of colour. O’Higgins wandered into this street and that, studying the signs and resenting the Britisher’s wariness in using too much tin and paint. This niggardliness compelled him to cross and recross streets.
Suddenly he came to a stop, his mouth agape.
“Solid ivory!” he said aloud; “solid from dome to neck! That’s James Boyle in the family group. And if I hadn’t been thirsty, that poor boob would have made a sure getaway and left James Boyle high and dry among the moth-balls! Oh, the old dome works once every so often. Fancy, as they say hereabouts!”
What had aroused this open-air monologue was a small tin sign in a window. Marine Insurance. Here was a hole as wide as a church-door. What could be simpler than, with a set of inquiries relative to a South Sea tramp registered as The Tigress, to make a tour of all the marine insurance companies in Hong-Kong? O’Higgins proceeded to put the idea into action; and by noon he had in his possession a good working history of the owner of The Tigress and the exact latitude and longitude of his island.
He cabled to New York: “Probable destination known.”
“Make it positive,” was the brisk reply.
O’Higgins made it positive; but it required five weeks of broken voyages: with dilapidated hotels, poor food, poor tobacco, and evil-smelling tramps. It took a deal of thought to cast a comprehensive cable, for it had to include where Spurlock was, what he was doing, and the fact that O’Higgins’s letter of credit would not now carry him and Spurlock to San Francisco. The reply he received this time put him into a state of continuous bewilderment.
“Good work. Come home alone.”
To Spurlock it seemed as if a great iron door had swung in behind him, shutting out the old world. He was safe, out of the beaten track, at last really comparable to the needle in the haystack. The terrific mental tension of the past few months—that had held his bodily nourishment in a kind of strangulation—became as a dream; and now his vitals responded rapidly to food and air. On the second day out he was helped to a steamer-chair on deck; on the third day, his arm across Ruth’s shoulder, he walked from his chair to the foremast and back. The will to live had returned.