THE EX-MEDIUM’S ADVENTURE: THE INVOLUNTARY SUICIDE

Warmed by his copious draughts of wine, stimulated by the comradeship of
his fellow-adventurers, and his stomach packed to the top corner with
rich foods, Professor Vango left Coffee John’s, rejoicing in a brave
disregard for the troubles that had been for so long pursuing him. His
superstitious terrors had subsided, and for a while he was a man again.

Clay Street was empty, and stretched black and narrow to the
water-front. Below him lay the wholesale commercial quarter of the town
with its blocks of deserted warehouses, silent and dark. It was a part
of San Francisco almost unknown to the ex-medium, and now, at midnight,
obscure and bewildering, a place of possibilities. He was for
adventures, and he decided to seek them in the inscrutable region of the
docks.

He stepped boldly down the street, but it was not long before the echoes
of his footsteps struck him chill with dread. The packing-cases upon the
curb cast shadows where fearsome things might lurk. He began to watch
with a roving eye the crossings and alleys, from which some form might
come upon him unawares, and he cast sharp glances over his shoulder for
the appearance of the spirit that had cowed him. The thought of Mrs.
Higgins brought him back to his old torture. He felt as though she were
always round the next corner.

He had almost reached East Street, when he yielded to his qualms and
bolted into the warmth and light of the Bowsprit Saloon to drown his
forebodings in two schooners of steam beer. So disappeared Coffee John’s
luck-dime, and with it the stimulating effects of his exordium. Vango’s
short glow of comfort was, however, but a respite, for shortly after
midnight the bar closed, and he was sent forth again into the perilous
night.

He was pacing up and down the stone arcade of the Ferry Building,
dismally anticipating the prospect of walking the city streets alone
with his curse, when it occurred to him that he might possibly make his
way to Oakland. Oakland was less strenuous; it was calm, sober,
respectable, free from the distressing torments of San Francisco. Many a
time he had met Mrs. Higgins upon the dock behind the waiting-room, and
he knew the way well. He dodged slyly up the wagon-track, round the
corner of the baggage-room, to the slip where the steamer Piedmont was
waiting to set out on her last trip. As he came to the apron a few
belated commuters were running for the boat. He joined them without
being observed, and was hurried aboard by a warning from the deck-hands.
Just as he reached the bib the bridge was drawn up, the hawsers cast
off, and with a deep roaring whistle the vessel started, gathered way,
and, urged by the jingle-bell, shot out of the slip into the waters of
the Bay.

The crowds went forward, upstairs, to the protection of the cabin, but
Professor Vango stayed by the after-rail alone, where a chain was
stretched across the open stern. A ragged mist lay upon the harbour,
hanging to the surface of the water like a blanket, torn open sometimes
by a passing gust of wind and closing up to a thicker fog beyond. High
in the air, it was clearer, and the stars shone bright.

The thumping paddle-wheels, the phosphorescent waves, and the fey
obscurity of the night wrought heavily upon Vango’s emotion, and the
fumes of alcohol mingled in his brain. He was not happy; things went
round a bit, and he had hard work controlling his thoughts. He longed
for the gay cheerfulness of the saloon above, but he felt a need of the
sharp night air to revive him, first. He watched the stairway
suspiciously, feeling sure that the ghost of Mrs. Higgins, if she were
to appear, would come that way.

In point of fact, a woman did soon descend from the upper deck, and
stood at the bottom of the stairs in some uncertainty, gazing about her.
She was a heavy, middle-aged blonde, in a long black cape and veil, the
type of a thousand weak, impressionable widows, and, in the dusk,
through the glaze of Vango’s eyes, a passable counterfeit of the late
lamented Mrs. Higgins. She soon perceived him, and came forward a few
steps, while he retreated as far away, putting her off with futile
gestures. Curious at this exhibition, the woman walked up to him with a
question on her lips.

She was, in all probability, in search of nothing more than a glass of
water, but the medium had no more than time to hear, “Tell me where—”
before he had mentally completed the inquiry for her. “Where—where is
Lilian?” she meant, of course. Appalled, he had jumped over the chain in
the stern, and as she approached with that demand piercing his
conscience-stricken soul, he shrank back unconsciously. The first step
carried him to the extreme end of the boat, the second led him, with a
splashing fall, into the Bay. The waters closed over him, and the
steamer swept on.

When he came to the surface, spluttering but sober at last in the face
of a new and more tangible danger, he heard the rising staccato of a
woman’s shriek, and saw a pyramid of lights fading into the fog. Then he
sank again, and all was cold, black, and wet.

* * * * *

He rose to the surface in a space clear of mist, dimly lighted by a wisp
of moon. A few feet away a fruit-crate bobbed upon the waves in the
steamer’s wake, and for this he swam. By placing it under his body, he
found he could float well enough to keep his nose out of water,
tolerably secure from drowning, for a time at least.

The mist closed in upon him, was swept asunder, and shut down again. The
current was bearing him toward the harbour entrance he decided, and, as
he had fallen overboard about opposite Goat Island, he must by this time
be in the fairway, drifting for the Golden Gate and the Pacific. He
might, if his endurance held out, catch sight of some ship anchored in
the stream, and hail her crew. But no lights appeared, and he grew
deathly cold and stiff.

In Professor Vango’s ears the sobbing of the siren on Lime Point was
lulling him to a sleep that promised eternal forgetfulness, and the
Alcatraz Island bell was tolling grewsomely of his passing, when his
senses were aroused by a brisker note that came in quick, padded beats
through the fog. He summoned his drowsy wits for a last effort, and
gazed into the gloom. Suddenly, piercing the cloudy curtain drawn about
him, came a small launch, stern on, churning its way at full speed
straight at him.

In another moment it would have sped past him, to be swallowed up in the
darkness again, but, with a mighty struggle, he threw himself at the
boat, and, dodging the whirling propeller, clutched the rail with a
violence that made the craft careen. It dipped as if to throw him off,
but Vango held on and screamed hoarsely for help. No reply came from the
boat, nor was anybody to be seen in it, so at last he made shift to
climb aboard and reach the cock-pit.

The vapour and darkness lay about him like a pall, muffling even the
outlines of the boat itself; no lights were burning aboard. Shivering,
perplexed, terrified, but grateful for his preservation, and wondering
where his fate had led him, the Professor started on a further
examination of the launch.

He had taken but a few steps, when his foot struck a soft something
extended upon the floor. His teeth chattered with fear as he groped down
and made it out to be a human form. That it was a woman, he discovered
by the long hair that had overflowed her shoulders in crisp waves, and a
touch of her body showed that she was alive. He lifted her to a sitting
posture on the seat, then loosened her dress at the neck, and chafed her
wrists and temples. Her breath soon came in gasps; she sighed heavily
and sat erect, with a shudder. She gazed into his face in the dimness,
then cast her eyes over the boat and fell to weeping.

So, for some time, the launch, carrying its two wretched passengers, and
what more Vango dared not guess, plunged on insanely through the fog.
The medium knew nothing of practical affairs; psychology was his art,
and chicanery his science; but even had he been mechanic enough to stop
and reverse the engine in the dark, it would have taken a considerable
acquaintance with the Bay of San Francisco to have set and kept any
logical course in such a night. Wrapped in a tarpaulin which he found by
him, under which his dripping form shivered in misery, the unhappy man
sat, baffled, mystified, hopeless, too beat about in his mind even to
wonder. The woman cried on and the propeller kept up its rhythmic thud,
thud, thud, dragging the little vessel where it would.

Suddenly the swing of the choppy sea flung the woman at full length
across the seat and brought her to her senses. She arose, now, and
scanned the fog, then peered curiously at the medium, who was silent
from very terror.

“Where are we? Where, in Heaven’s name, did you come from?” she cried,
sharply, and she approached him with a searching gaze.

Trickster that he was, he sought some wile to outwit her. He mumbled
something about having fallen off Fishermen’s Wharf.

She stumbled to the cuddy under the seat and brought out a lantern and a
box of matches. With these she obtained a light and held it flaring in
Vango’s face. “I don’t know who you are,” she said, “but you’ve got to
help me get this boat back. Are you armed?”

The medium made an emphatic denial, for the woman’s face was sternly
set. She was indubitably a quadroon, by evidence of her creamy, swarthy
skin and the tight curls of her hair. Her dark eyes burned in the
lamplight under heavy, knotted brows, her full lips drawing apart like a
dog’s to show a line of white, straight teeth. She was the picture of
Judith ready to strike, and Vango trembled under her gaze till she
turned from him with an expression of contempt.

“Come aft and help me with the machinery,” she commanded. “We can’t keep
on, Heaven knows where, at full speed backward through weather like
this. Fi-fi, now, and mind your feet!”

They went to the tiny engine where, fumbling with the levers and
stop-cocks, she brought the machinery to a stop. The silence crowded
down upon them, as if someone had just died. Vango noticed that the
woman kept between him and the starboard rail with some secret intent,
and, as the two eyed each other, he caught sight of a revolver swinging
from her belt. He saw something else, also, that made his heart stop
beating for an instant; and then the quadroon held up her hand and
listened attentively.

“Do you hear a bell?” she asked.

Scarcely had she spoken when in the distance a fog-whistle sang out
across the water, and through the flying scud a yellow light winked and
went out.

“We’re right off Alcatraz,” she said. “Here, you stand by this lever and
mind my orders. Watch now, how I do it. Way forward for full speed
ahead, way back to reverse, and midway to stop; and turn off the naphtha
at this throttle. I’ll take the wheel, and we’ll make across for the
Lombard Street Wharf. Keep a look-out ahead, and let me know the instant
you see a light, or anything!”

She went forward to the wheel, and the launch forged ahead at half-speed
with Vango shuddering at the engine. But it was not only the piercing
wind that froze him stiff as he stood, for there was a ghastly horror
aboard that was almost unbearable. As the woman had stood by the engine,
swinging her lantern to show the working of the machinery, the light had
sought out one corner after another, and, though she had stood between,
the rays fell once upon an object protruding from beneath the seat. It
was a foot; there was no mistaking the outline, though the light had
touched it but for an instant. With all his resolution he put the sight
out of his mind and said no word to her, for her eyes terrified him, and
he dared not question.

She had, however, left the lantern behind to illuminate the machine, and
it now slanted past and flickered on the toe of that foot. He tried to
remove his eyes from it, but the thing held him with a morbid
fascination. Look where he would, it stuck in the end of his eye and
held him in an anguish. He kept his hand ready to the lever, and
succeeded in obeying the woman’s orders to stop, go ahead, or back, but
he acted as one hypnotised.

In about half an hour a dim light off the bow warned them off Lombard
Street pier, and from here they crawled slowly past the water-front,
guided by the lights on the sea-wall and the lanterns of ships in the
stream. Below the Pacific Mail dock their run was straight for Mission
Rock, and from there to the Potrero flats, but they were continually
getting off their course and regaining it, beating about this way and
that, confused in direction by the lights in the fog.

During this time the two exchanged hardly a word that did not have to do
with the navigation of the boat. Vango watched her, silhouetted against
the mist as she bent to one side and the other, and the distressing
tensity of the situation did not prevent him now from racking his wits
to find some possible explanation of her identity and purpose. He was a
keen observer and used to making shrewd guesses, but this was too much
for him.

At last, in the gray of the dawn, the launch arrived off Hunter’s Point,
and the medium’s eyes were straining through the murk to see some
landing pier, when he received a sudden summons to stop the boat. He
obeyed and looked up at the woman, who came aft. He flattened himself
against the rail in terror of her, for, sure now that one murder had
been done aboard the launch, he feared another.

“Now,” said the quadroon woman, “I want to know who you are and all
about you.”

In a few stuttering syllables he told her his story, persisting with a
childish fatuity in the deceit he had already begun, and welding to it
bits of truth from the strange procession of events that had carried him
through the past few months. When he mentioned the fact that he was a
medium, he noticed a change in the woman’s attitude immediately. His
cunning awoke, and the sharper began to assert himself, following this
clew, telling of how many persons he had aided with his wonderful
clairvoyant powers, and the success of his trances. It is needless to
say that he did not mention Mrs. Higgins, nor his reason for having
given up his practice. As he rolled off the glib catch-words and phrases
of his trade, he watched the woman sharply through his drooping eyelids
with the agile scrutiny of a professional trickster, and sought in her
appearance some clew to her secret.

With all her determination, the woman was undoubtedly sadly distraught.
The pistol by her side hinted at violence. Her dishevelled hair, the
distraction of her garments, her clinched fists and tightened brows told
clearly of some moving experience. Above all, the corpse beside the
engine, and her attempts to hide it, proclaimed some secret tragedy. Yet
while her mouth trembled her eyes were steady; if he made a wrong guess
it might not be well for him.

At the end of his explanations she had melted in a burst of feminine
credulity and hunger for the marvellous. “Then you can help me,” she
exclaimed, throwing herself upon his leadership in a swift submission to
the dominant sex. “You _must_ help me! I am in great trouble, and what
is to be done must be done quickly. Can you hold a sitting now? I want
to find something as soon as I can—it is of the greatest importance—I
would give any price to know where to find it. You must get your spirit
friends to help me!”

The medium shuffled. “You’re rather nervous, and the conditions ain’t
favourable when a party is excited or sufferin’ from excitin’ emotions.
The proper degree of mutuality ain’t to be obtained unless a sitter is
what you might call undisturbed.” Then he put all his shrewdness into a
piercing gaze. “Besides, you got murder on you! I see a red aura
hoverin’ over you like you had bloody hands!”

At this the quadroon burst out, “I haven’t, but I wish I had, and it
isn’t my fault!”

“Confession is good for the soul of a party,” Vango said, with unction.

“I’ll tell you everything, if you’ll only promise to help me. I am
innocent of any real crime, I swear before God! But I tried to kill a
man to-night. It was in self-defence, though.”

She took the lantern, and, setting the light on the seat, pointed
silently to the body. “Look at him!” she said.

After a heroic conflict with his repugnance the medium rolled the corpse
over till it lay face up. The dead man was a Chinaman. He could see that
by his clothes and hair, although his face was half masked with clotted
blood. Two shocking gashes in the forehead turned Vango sick with
horror. He looked up at the woman with fear in his eyes, and asked:

“Who was the deceased?”

“It was my husband,” she said, and her sobs choked her. “We must get him
ashore and put him in the house, and then we can decide what next, and
perhaps you can help me. There’s our pier, over there,” and she pointed
out the light on a little wharf running out from the gloom. She took the
wheel again, and the launch was docked at the pier.

As Vango disembarked and prepared to help her with the corpse, the
quadroon woman quickly stopped him. “Here,” she said, pointing to a
large wooden case in the bow, “this must go ashore first. Take it into
the shed there and watch out that you’re not seen. It won’t do for the
police to see it, or any of the neighbours. I’d rather they saw the
body!”

She stooped and untied a coil of rope from the case, and then the two
lifted it to the floating stage. It weighed something over a hundred
pounds, and it was all they could do to carry it together up the steep
incline and along the pier to the shed. The woman took a key from her
pocket, and unlocked the door. When the case was inside the room, which
was scantily furnished with a few chairs and tables, they returned to
the launch.

As they approached the stage, Vango thought of the woman’s request for a
seance, and her words struck him as curious. He asked her carelessly
what it was she wished to find.

“A scrap of red paper, with Chinese writing on it,” was the reply. She
had no more than uttered the words, when, glancing over at the launch,
Vango saw on the floor in the rays of the lantern a red spot. Looking
more closely, he saw that it was undoubtedly the very paper the woman
wanted. He turned suddenly and faced her to prevent her seeing it, and
seized her hand. Then he sighed heavily, passing his free hand over his
eyes.

“I feel a vibration of a self-independent message from my control,” he
said, and fetched a dramatic shudder. “They is a kind of a pain in my
head, as though a party had passed out of a stab like.”

This revelation was made in a die-away voice, as if from many miles off,
and he glanced through a slit in his lids at the quadroon to see how she
was taking it. Then he shuddered again more violently, but this time
without dissimulation. His hand gripped hers like a wrestler’s, his eyes
leaped past her, over her shoulder, staring; for there, dimly shadowed
in the obscurity, holding up a spectral arm in warning, was Mrs.
Higgins!

Vango’s soul was torn between greed and fear. Here was another dupe who
could restore his fortune, the way to cajole her plain before him—there
was the threatening form of his Nemesis protesting against his roguery,
and he faltered in dread.

“Oh, what is it, what is it?” the quadroon woman cried, piteously.

The medium’s cupidity won, and the credulous woman in the flesh was more
potent than her sister in the spirit. He shut his eyes and went
desperately on:

“She gives me this message: What you’re a-lookin’ for will be found
sooner than what you expect, and you’ll come by it on the water. You’ll
be guided to it by a party who is a good friend to you and you can
trust, and she gives me the letter ’V.’ He’s a dark-complected man with
a beard, and there’ll be money a-comin’ to him through your help.”

Having trembled again, and sighed himself back to life, the medium
turned to her drowsily, as if he had just been called from bed. “Where
am I?” he said, in mock surprise, and then with a groan of relief, as he
saw that Mrs. Higgins had disappeared, he added, “Oh, what was I sayin’?
I must have went into a trance.”

The quadroon was in a high tremor of suspense. “What is your name? You
never told me,” she demanded.

“My name?” he repeated, with a baby stare. “Vango, Professor Vango.
Why?”

“Then you’re the man,” she cried. “Come! Help me take the body ashore,
for we must get him to Chinatown as quickly as the Lord will let us.”

He waited till she had jumped into the boat and had laid her hand to the
corpse, and then he snatched for the paper and waved it in the air. “Did
you say it was a scrap of red paper you lost?”

She sprang at him and looked closely. “This is the very piece I wanted!
Wong Yet is one of them!” she cried. “Now my poor husband can be
avenged! God bless you, Professor; you have proved your part of the
message is true, and I reckon I’ll prove mine. Find the other half of
this piece of paper for me, you can do it easy with your spirit guides,
and I’ll give you a thousand dollars for it!”

They stooped over the dead Chinaman, and, with Professor Vango at the
shoulders and the quadroon at the knees, the corpse was carried up the
landing stage and along the pier to the shed. Here was hitched a
pitifully dirty white horse harnessed to a disreputable covered
laundry-wagon, spattered with adobe mud. Into this equipage they loaded
the remains, piled the case in the rear, and buttoned down the curtains.
Then the woman mounted with Vango to the seat and drove for the Potrero.

As they turned into the San Bruno Road, the quadroon began her promised
confession. She could not proceed calmly, but was swept with alternate
passions of sorrow and rage. The medium, however, unmoved by her
suffering, eyed her craftily, watching his chance to feed upon her
superstitious hopes.

THE STORY OF THE QUADROON WOMAN

I reckon you don’t guess a coloured person can hate white folks as much
as white folks hate niggers, but they do, sometimes, and I despise a
white man more than if I were a sure-enough black woman.

My Daddy was born fairer than a good many white trash. Some folks never
knew he was a mulatto. My ma died when I was born. Daddy wanted me to be
educated, so I was sent to the Tuskegee Institute, where I learned
nursing. After that we lived a little way out of Mobile, and we were
right happy for a good while.

Well, about two years back, there was an awful crime committed near our
place, and all the whites went pretty near crazy. You don’t have to be
told what it was, and you know what law amounts to at such times. Any
coloured man that is once suspected has no show at all. Daddy was
innocent, of course, but if he’d been guilty, I’d have stood up for him
just the same. He was put in jail, and they got up a mob to lynch him. I
got wind of it just in time. There was a sheriff’s deputy who was fond
of me, and he and I managed to get Daddy out and started West.

I had no idea just where Daddy had gone, till one day I was looking over
the Mobile _Register_, and I come on a “Personal” that made me prick up
my ears. It looked like it might have been written by my Daddy for me to
see. It was addressed “Aber,” and when I turned the word backward, the
way you do sometimes with funny-sounding words, I saw it made my own
name, “Reba.” It read like this:

Aber: Shall answer no further requests, as nobody can identify.
Sheriff called off.

Odod.

Now Odod was just Dodo backward; that was my pet name for Daddy when I
was little. The word “sheriff” seemed likely, but I couldn’t understand
that about “requests.” Then I thought to read the first letters of each
word, like the acrostics Daddy and I used to work out together in the
_Youth’s Companion_, and there it was, easy. Just “San Francisco.” Then
I knew Daddy was safe in California and wanted me to come on.




I packed right up and bought a ticket, hoping to find him somehow when I
got there. I didn’t think anybody would suspicion my leaving, but I had
no idea how cruel white folks can be, till I had gone too far to come
back. Just after we left New Orleans I thought I saw a man following me.
I wasn’t quite certain till we changed cars at El Paso, but then I knew
he was a sure-enough detective.

Talk about bloodhounds! That man never left me out of his sight for a
minute. He sat in the corner with his hat pulled over his face, and I
could just feel his eyes boring a hole in my back.

First thing I did after I got to the Golden West Hotel was to mail a
personal to the _Herald_. It read like this:

Odod: Any money will assist the cause. Help earnestly desired. We
are in trouble.

Aber.

I knew if he saw this message he’d see it meant “Am watched. Wait.”

Well, I can’t tell you half what I went through that first week, with
the detective turning up everywhere I went, till I was afeared I’d die
of the strain. Sometimes I just felt like murdering him to get him out
of the way. I didn’t care so much for myself, but I was in mortal terror
lest he’d catch sight of Daddy and arrest him. I watched my chance, and
one night I went to bed early, leaving word at the office to be called
at five next morning. Then, at two o’clock I got up and went out,
leaving all my things in the hotel.

I took a room down on Third Street, near Minna, and for three weeks I
was mighty careful where I went, waiting for the deputy to leave town. I
got a few jobs of nursing, so I paid my way for a spell; then I just
couldn’t stand it a day more, and I risked getting word to Daddy. So I
put another personal in the paper, telling him, the same way as before,
to meet me at the old Globe Hotel in Chinatown next night. You know the
old Globe used to be right smart of a hotel in early days, but now there
are hundreds of Chinamen living in it. It’s like an ant-hill, full of
all sorts of ways and corners to get out.

I waited on the steps, keeping a sharp eye out for Daddy. But I hadn’t
been there more than ten minutes before I saw—not my dear old Dodo—but
the detective who had followed me all the way West. I ran down the steps
and walked up Dupont Street as fast as I dared, never looking round once
nor letting on I had seen him.

When I got to the corner of Washington Street, only a matter of a block
away, I ran smack into a man. He grabbed me in his arms, and was crying
over me before I recognised him by his voice as Daddy, for he had a
light wig and a dyed mustache, and wore blue spectacles. I had no time
to kiss him even. I just whispered to him, “The detective—run for your
life!”

Daddy gave one glance over his shoulder, and ran up Washington Street.
The detective saw him go, and dashed after him, and I followed them
both. They turned up a flight of steps into a big doorway, a little
piece up the block.

I saw by the sign over the door that it was a Chinese theatre they had
gone into.

But I just had to find out what was going on inside, so I paid the man
at the door fifty cents and went up the stairs. I had never been in such
a place before, of course, and at first I had no idea what to do or
where to go. There was no sign of Daddy or the detective anywhere, and
the place was filled with a great crowd of Chinamen on the seats. The
only white people I saw were a lady and two men sitting up on one side
of the open stage. I was bewildered and frightened to death, for there
was a horrible noise of big gongs and squeaking fiddles, and actors in
queer costumes singing and talking in shrill voices.

A Chinaman came down the crowded aisle and took me up to a seat beside
the tourists on the stage, and there I had to sit in front of that crowd
of coolies while the play went on and on and on. I have seen Chinese
plays enough since, but then it was all new and terrible, for the
orchestra was right near me, making such a noise that I thought I’d go
mad, and the actors kept coming in and going out past me reciting in a
sing-song. I wanted to scream.

Away up over the stage was a break in the wall where the ceiling went up
higher, and there was a little window almost above my head. There, once
I saw a head stuck out and a Chinaman looked at me, long and hard. This
made me more frightened than ever.

Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it a minute longer, I heard the
voice of a white man swearing in the dressing-room behind the stage, and
then the detective came through the curtain looking like he was mad
enough to kill somebody. Frightened as I was at him, my heart was nigh
ready to break with joy, for I knew that Daddy must have escaped from
him somehow. He looked over the audience from the floor to the galleries
where the women were, and finally went out.

As soon as he was out of sight a Chinaman came up to me and grinned.
“You likee see actor dlessing-loom?” he said. Something told me that he
was a friend and I got right up and followed him. We went into the
dressing-room, where all the costumes were hung on the wall and the
actors were putting on queer dresses and painting their faces, then up a
flight of stairs. I kept my eyes open sharp, looking everywhere for
Daddy. Above the stage was the joss-house room of the theatre with punks
burning, but the place was empty. Above that was the kitchen.

Then we turned a corner, went down some steps and came to a padlocked
door. My guide unlocked it, put me outside on a platform, whistled and
left me, after saying, “You keep still; bimeby you catch him!” Then I
heard his footsteps going back into the building.

I was alone on an outside balcony, looking down into a dark alley, three
floors below.

After awhile a door opened, and a man beckoned to me. We went through a
little hall with doors on each side and dark passages leading off every
which way, and down these, in and out till I was more confused than
ever, and then finally he knocked at a little door. It was opened, and I
was pushed inside.

It was a tiny box of a room, low and narrow. On a broad bunk at one
side, two Chinese actors in costumes were lying, smoking opium pipes.
Leastways, I thought they were Chinamen, but as soon as the door was
shut, one jumped up and took me in his arms. I screamed and fought to
get away, but he called me Reba, and I knew it was Daddy. No wonder I
didn’t recognise him before. He had on a wig with a long queue, and a
gold embroidered costume, and his face was painted in a hideous fashion,
with his nose all white and streaks under his eyes.

After I had kissed half the paint off his face he told me what had
happened.

Daddy had been in San Francisco long enough to get pretty well
acquainted with Chinatown. He had kept around there from the first, to
escape notice, and he had got to be mighty good friends with one of the
actors who spoke English fairly well. When he was chased by the
detective he had made straight for Moy Kip’s room, and asked to hide
out. The Chinese are used to fooling the police, and Kip just threw a
gown over Daddy’s shoulders, painted his face, and put him on the opium
bunk. When the officer went through the actors’ rooms, he looked in, but
didn’t see any more than I saw at first. Then Moy Kip watched me through
the little window over the stage, and as soon as the detective left the
place they sent for me.

Daddy and I were taken to a room three stories under the sidewalk, where
we hid for a week, going upstairs at meal-times. It was just like one
big family of about eighty men, but only one or two women. The little
rooms we had were dark and dirty and close, and the smell was something
awful. I couldn’t have stood it alone, but Daddy was safe. That was
enough for a while.

But living Chinese fashion, without sunlight or decent food, didn’t
agree with Daddy at all, and he fell sick. It wasn’t only the air that
was ailing him, it was the fear of capture, too, and with all the
hardship and worry his fever got steadily worse. A Chinese doctor in big
spectacles and a long white mustache came in to see him, and mixed him
up some black, horrid, smelly stuff, made of sea-horses and lizards, and
Moy Kip burned punks in the joss-house upstairs, but he didn’t get any
better. He was always worrying about something when he was delirious,
and I couldn’t make out quite what it was about till one day, just
before the end, when his mind cleared and he told me. Moy Kip wanted to
marry me! Daddy didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t bear to ask me to
marry a Chinaman, and he didn’t like to refuse the man who had been
right kind to him.

You can imagine how I felt about it. It would have been bad enough if
Moy Kip had been an ordinary Chinaman, but, being an actor, he belonged
to almost the lowest caste. Undertakers and barbers and boatmen are the
only ones below. Actors can’t even mix equally with ordinary coolies.
Besides, Kip being the principal “white-face” actor or comedian, the
manager didn’t let him leave the theatre much, for fear he’d be
kidnapped by highbinders and held for ransom. If I married him, the life
would be something awful.

And now, to make it all worse, my poor old Dodo was taken away. He died
in my arms after being sick a week.

I was alone in the city, without money or friends, except the Chinese
actors. I was almost crazy for sunlight and fresh air, and the sight of
decent people.

Moy Kip was the only one of the crowd of Chinamen in the building who
could speak English very well, and he had also been my father’s friend.
He was educated after a fashion, and, for a Chinaman, kind and
gentlemanly.

One day, soon after Daddy was buried, Kip came to my room. I was crying
on the bunk, and he stood there watching me; then he placed a roll of
gold on the table. “I give you two hundled dollar,” he said. “You likee
go away home? No good stay here. Chiny actor heap bad.”

I sat up in surprise. I wondered where I would ever find another man
who, loving me and having me in his power, would give me the means to
escape. Right away I began to like him.

“Oh, Moy Kip,” I said, “you have been so good to poor Daddy!”

He looked at me hard, and said, “You likee Moy Kip? You mally me,
please?”

So, after a while, I ended by accepting him, and I have never been sorry
since. We were married in the Chinese way. I wore a stiff dress of red
silk my husband bought for me, and my hair was braided tight and
greased, fastened with gold fila-gree and jade ornaments. I had my
cheeks rouged and eyebrows painted, and all.

But it was not till the carriage took me from my old rooms and the slave
woman had carried me on her back up the stairs and into Moy Kip’s home
(so that I should not stumble on the threshold and bring bad luck), that
I found out how much difference the marriage was going to make to my
husband. For I wasn’t taken to the theatre at all, but to a little set
of rooms in Spofford Alley. When he came in to meet me, dressed like a
prince in his lilac blouse and green trousers, I asked him how it
happened he hadn’t fitted up a room for me in the theatre.

Seems like he reckoned I had brought him luck, for he had paid the
manager for the right to quit acting, and he was going to try and get
into more respectable business. In China, of course, he would have had
to go on being an actor, and his sons after him, but Chinatown here is
different, and it’s getting to lose some of the old strictness.

What Moy Kip was going to do, was to smuggle opium. He’d been wanting to
go into it for a long time, but he had nobody to help him at it, nobody
he could trust, that is. With me to take hold, he reckoned he could make
right smart of money.

We bought a naphtha launch and filled it with nets and truck, like we
were fishing, if anybody wanted to inspect us; and Kip had fixed the
stewards on about every China steamer coming into port. They bought the
stuff in five-tael tins, and packed it in bales with lines and floats,
dropping it overboard as the ship crossed the bar. Then all we had to do
was to cruise around in the launch and pick up the floats and haul in
the bale. It was my part of the business to dispose of the opium after
we had got it into town. I sold it to a German who distributed it
through Chinatown.

The first year I was perfectly happy with Moy Kip, and no white man
could have treated me better than he did. He named me “Hak Chu”—the
black pearl—and nothing was too good for me. But still we didn’t count
for much in Chinatown, for Moy Kip was still considered an actor, and
below the notice of merchants. It seemed to be as much a question of
money as anywhere else in the world, and until we could save enough up
to buy a share in some store, we were less than nobody, except at the
theatre, where they were always glad to see us both. We often went to
see the plays, until, with my husband’s explanations, I got so I could
follow the acting pretty well.

It’s right interesting when you begin to understand, for everything in
the theatre means something. Moy Kip explained to me how the carved and
gilded dragon over the doors leading to the dressing-rooms meant a
water-spout, and the sign beside it read, “Go out and change costume.”

They have lots of different kinds of plays, and some of them take weeks
to go through, running night after night until all the doings of the
hero are finished.

One night while we were sitting on the stage in the theatre watching a
new Wae, or painted-face comedian, who had come from China to take Moy
Kip’s place, a man came to my husband with a letter. You know, in
Chinese theatres they have a special column where letters for anybody in
the audience can be pinned up, and this one had been seen by some one
who knew Kip was there. When he read it I could see that it had bad
news. He got up right off, and told me we must go home.

When we were safe in our house, he told me what was the matter. The
letter was from the president of a highbinder tong. They had discovered
that we were making money some way, and now that if Moy Kip didn’t pay
five thousand dollars right off, he would be murdered by their
hatchet-men. Oh, I was scared! I tried to make my husband promise to pay
the hush-money, but he just wouldn’t do it. He said he might as well die
as be robbed of all he had earned at so much risk. He said he wasn’t
afraid, but if he wasn’t, I was.

From this time on, I had the horrors every time he left me. While we
were together on our trips on the launch, I didn’t care so much, for the
excitement kept up my spirits, but as soon as I was left alone I burned
punks in front of his little joss, just like I was a heathen myself.

All went on so quiet that I had begun to feel easier, when yesterday the
City of Pekin was reported. It was after dark before we got out to our
wharf and put off, and we passed the steamer at the Quarantine Station.
It was cold and foggy, and we spent hours cruising out at the mouth of
the harbor, in a rough swell, before we picked up the opium and steamed
back to Hunter’s Point.

As we stopped the engines and shot up to the pier, I was steering in the
bow, and Moy Kip was at the engine. Just then I saw two men rise up from
behind a pile on the dock. I screamed to my husband to reverse the
engine and back off at full speed, and he had just done it when the
highbinders jumped into the boat. The shock nearly rolled her over, and
I fell down on my face. Before I could get up, I saw the hatchet-men
strike at Moy Kip two or three times. I drew my pistol and fired, but
the launch was rolling, so I reckon I missed them. They jumped into the
water and swam off. Then I called out to Moy Kip and ran aft to help
him.

My husband didn’t answer. I stooped down to him and turned him over—oh,
it was horrible!—and then I must have swooned away, for it’s the last
thing I remember.

I know the ways of these hired hatchet-men. They’ve been sold out time
after time by their own members, and so now when they go out for a
murder they write down a confession with both names signed on the same
paper. Then they tear it up and divide the pieces, each one having the
other’s name to hold him by, if his partner tries to sell him out.
Wong Yet’s confession is on this paper you found. He’ll die
to-night—murderers can be bought cheap in Chinatown. Now, if I only
had the other half of the paper I’d know who the second man was, and
settle him, too.

By this time the dilapidated laundry wagon had threaded the Mission,
crossed Market Street, and was rolling along the asphalt of Golden Gate
Avenue on its way to the Chinese Quarter. The quadroon woman’s eyes were
afire with hate, and Vango watched her in apprehension, mingled with a
shrewd desire to work further upon her excitement.

“You see I was able to be of assistance, even when conditions was
unfavorable,” he ventured. “The spirits is unfallible to instruct when a
party approaches ’em right. If I could give you a regular sittin’ and
get into perfect harmony with the vibrations of my control’s magnetism,
I ain’t no doubt I could lead you to find the balance of that there
paper.”

The wheel of the wagon caught in the street-car rail and the medium was
jerked almost off his seat. Or, so an observer might have explained the
sudden lurch and the way Vango’s face went white. But his imagination or
mania, kindled again by the craft of his trickery, had conjured up the
vision of his previous dupe, and Mrs. Higgins’s spirit arose before him
in threatening attitude. He cowered and stared, exorcising the phantom,
rubbing his hands in terror.

But the quadroon woman did not notice. Her mind, too, was full of
horrors, and the desire for vengeance was an obsession. She only
replied, “One thousand dollars if you find that piece of paper before
night!”

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