A PEARL OF CHINA-Tale of the Pacific Coasts Edit
by Harold Ballagh Edit
Written for Short Stories 1903
According to the sign that flashed by the car-line windows it was a restaurant.
Little Seattle boys, with noses pressed flat against the street-car windows, pointed it out to their mothers, who if they had come from the region of upper Yesler Avenue — where very new villas stood in irreproachable rectitude in grounds adorned ks yet by nothing but the black stumps of the ''clearing" — ^hastily plucked the youngsters into correct positions and whispered: “ Don't talk about it!"
It was no wonder the sign amazed the beholders, for flanking the long English word were the most astonishing scratches and scrawls and the climax of sensational advertising — a marvelous, fierce, black dragon, breathing out frightful red spirals upon a flaming yellow background. Forgetting past repulses the boys would gasp: “What is it, mamma?"
“ A Chinese restaurant — now hush!" with the usual clutch upon unruly legs. The “hush" is easily explained. The beautiful lake and the villas at one extreme of the long streetcar line are as far removed from the ugliness and baseness of architecture and purpose at the other as is the white diamond from the polluting carbon. For this Chinese restaurant was only one of many similarly ignoble places in .
Within the house of the Dragon there was a main room bare of carpet, studded with ugly little tables also bare except for the crude furnishings of a tenth-rate eating-house. Ramshackly doors led into tiny, dark closets where unsavory bunks gave a hint of those strange sleeps induced by opium. The Dragon was practically deserted by day, but at night it echoed with the sing-song speech of a dozen different Chinese dialects, and where these dialects failed of their purpose the yellow men of the North talked to the yellow men of the South in broken English.
"And when shall we start?" asked Ho Wing Sui.
“ To-morrow," said Yung Lit
Now Yung Li had been fifty moons in Jackson Street; many a little group of contraband Chinamen, smuggled down from British Columbia, had entered through his rear alley and disappeared ghost-like down his cellar steps to emerge one by one into those places long waiting for them; for as a god Yung Li held these newcomers in the hollow of his hand.
A group of ten men at this moment eyed rat like the fat and unctuous face of Yung Li, for was he not the arbiter of their fate?
“What do we do when we get there?" persisted Ho Wing Sui.
Yung Li stared at his questioner in a manner that made some of those immobile ones feel as if they were once again between decks in the foul-smelling Chinese steerage of the C. P., longing through the lift and dip of the odious waves for land or death.
''Work!" finally grunted Yung Li.
''Mines?" queried the irrepressible Ho Wing Sui.
Yung Li gave him a basilisk stare, but Ho Wing Sui unabashed eyed the great man in a manner compelling, positively commanding. One hand, narrow and delicate, with a long nail ornamenting the little finger, unconsciously grasped spasmodically the back of the rude chair next him. Yung Li angrily opened his mouth, but his fish-like eyes falling upon that clenched hand he suddenly closed it. To match that hand there should be education, station, clothes, money! With electrical rapidity he took in the whole man, soiled, coarse clothing, matted cue, pale, cadaverous face.
“ What would you pay to change from work in coal mines ? ' ' smiled Yung Li in a manner intended to be ingratiating. So grotesque was this affectation of amiability, belied by the green and cruel eyes, that an involuntary shiver of repugnance chilled the blood of Ho Wing Sui. The beady eyes of the other nine traveled from their unexpected champion to the simpering, calculating features of the highbinder. Work? They had signed for work, and it mattered little what sort of work it might be; they knew they were mortgaged body and soul for years to come, but were not their parents in cared for in the meantime? And themselves, if they died, would go back at least in the body to the consecrated ground of the faithful, for was not this in the bond ? What then, did this man, for three whole weeks a man of silence, mean by his questions ?
"Pay?" repeated Ho Wing Sui, with the first choke in his voice, “ Nothing! "
"In coal mines," leered Yung Li, " a man arises before day, enters the bowels of earth, into the heat of hell, tears his hands with the heavy iron tools of this land, breathes the poisonous fire damp, handles fearful explosives, contracts the fast lung sickness, under taskmasters he does the work of beasts of burden, he is cursed and kicked by these foreign devils and when he wearily crawls up 1000 feet to the surface, it is already night. Thus, he never sees the light of the sun — even for many years, if he live so long! "
Ho Wing Sui's grasp of the chair tightened, a look of agony escaped his control, for Yung Li had judged rightly that his questioner was unfortunately gifted with imagination, with sensibilities.
"And if one attempts escape," continued the highbinder, " he is killed with cruel tortures! "
Before Ho Wing Sui there sprang a vision of lines of kneeling prisoners, hands tied behind them, the executioner with sword in hand, the blood-pit yawning. He would not think on the tortures these prisoners might have undergone, and he doubted not the words of Yung Li, for he had seen men in even worse plight than a life in the mines.
"But I cannot — pay," he murmured from lips his pride kept from trembling — for Ho Wing Sui was but a youth. “ I have nothing but these rags."
"Not even a charm to save yourself from — the mines, where one lives in filth, in eternal darkness, in silence, no speech, no book — ?" Yung Li involuntarily grinned.
" Nothing — but — this — " stammered Ho Wing Sui, drawing from his breast a little embroidered bag, attached to a silk cord that passed over one shoulder and under his other arm. Yung Li snatched it from his hand and hastily opening the bag he turned out upon the bare table a pearl that appeared to stare back at his astonished eyes in matchless innocence.
"It is priceless," flashed joyously through his evil heart.
"It is worth little," he growled out loud.
"The jewel is of great value — to me," said Ho Wing Sui, through parched lips. His nine companions crowded around with looks of envy.
"You have stolen it!" ejaculated Yung Li.
"Rather all else I had was stolen from me," said Ho Wing Sui, and Yung Li believed, but would not acknowledge that he did.
"Nay, it is stolen," but seeing the drawing together of
Ho Wing Sui's brows as he reached out for the pearl, he added, “ nevertheless I will accept it as a gift — a free gift — and in return you and your comrades need never go to the mines! To work light and pleasant will I take you."
Then the nine sat down and smoked as speechless and immobile as they had been throughout. But upon Ho Wing Sui's brow stood the beads of exhaustion, for his recent experiences had sapped the strength and the manhood from him.
“ To-morrow," said Yung Li, craftily, "you will all go up country to pick hops, there is no work easier."
Tricky highbinder! There are no coal mines on in which Chinese are employed, and the men had been destined for the hop fields from the first.
Yung Li packed his voluntary slaves aboard a box car of the , Lakeshore and Eastern, for these cars were used to convey the crowds that swelled the ordinary traffic toward the hop fields, forty miles beyond.
Doubting the intentions of Yung Li, but feeling poignantly his helplessness in a strange country, without a knowledge of the language. Ho Wing Sui took what comfort he could in visiting the landscape when the station of Stillaquamish was reached. He looked at the little mining town huddled between the great mountains — covered with splendid sentinel firs and blazing with the first bright leaves of autumn — behind which the sun rose too late and set all too early. As he saw men passing with the slime of the pit upon them he felt soul-sick, for his eyes told him here indeed was a coal mine.
"You have tricked me! My pearl!" he said, passionately, holding out his hand.
Yung Li in pure bravado took out the little embroidered bag and held it toward the pale, agitated young man only to snatch it back with a diabolical laugh.
" My only hope of ransom I have parted with to this thief! " hammered itself subconsciously into Ho Wing Sui’s brain.
“ It was a gift," said Yung Li, with intense enjoyment of the evident agony of the other, "and I keep it forever. Go you all, down that road."
Ho Wing Sui followed automatically, not noticing the strange crowd he found himself with, for there were white men, women and children of every social condition, and Indians, the clam-digging Siwash and those from and as well. Among these was one clad not theories of the prizing tableau like the average squaw, but in the neat apparel that proclaimed her to have passed creditably through a Government Indian school. Her lithe young figure matched her pleasing face and her intelligent, lustrous eyes. She was the daughter of an Indian chief, and her tribe, having disposed instantly of their beautiful woven baskets in , had pressed on to their weary camp at the Stillaquamish hop ranch. She had taken in the whole little scene in which the pale, proud-looking Chinaman had been rebuffed. Skilled in sign reading, she revolved a dozen suns she had witnessed Did he not look 'like a chief's son? Why then had he clothing so inferior ? Was the ugly, well-dressed man his master? And did he keep the other man's money ? What strange speech and clothing had these men? The talk was not English which she knew well, nor French which she knew a little, nor yet Russian which also she had heard.
“Bill, see dem Chinks ahead ? What gall old Wolf has to bring Chinks to a camp with white men I" the Indian girl overheard; and so these strange men were called Chinks.
"Wolf lost part of his crop last year because there wasn't enough pickers, and I heam he done bargained to git every white man, Injim, black man that the Snoqualmie hop men left in Seattle and up the coast," replied Bill.
" But Chinks I Now, Tom, I don't mind niggers, nor dagoes — ^work wid 'em in de mines — ^but Chinks !"
“Shut up, Bill, somebody will hear you — it won't be so hard to fix 'em."
As the two young miners rudely passed by the slow-moving Indians the girl looked at them attentively. Ho Wing Sui noticed them not at all. Choking with the dust of the road, stirred up by the hundreds of eager feet ahead of him, for the crowd that had tumbled out of the mixed passenger and freight train struggled onward to get a choice of camping positions, he was amazed at the laughter that floated back to him.
''If these men and women and children were going as slaves to mines, would they laugh?'' he asked himself. The further he left behind the rattle of machinery, the shunting of filthy coal cars, the hiss of donkey engines, the lighter beat his heart. Also the enclosing moutains no longer crushed the road under stem and threatening feet, the way led out into a valley glittering with masses of green through which wandered a wide stream dimpling under the kiss of the September sun — such a valley! Was it not a vineyard fringed with orchards?
"Those be the hop fields," said Yung Li, “and this is the owner thereof."
The Chinaman looked up at a man tall and fair, for he had come from the Norseland, seated on a great white horse.
“ You will find your job a good job," said the owner of the ranch, grinning amiably. Only Yung Li understood. " How many men could you get ? "
“Have got ten," said Yung Li.
"The money for the job is to go to you?"
"Yes, cause why I pay for chow," explained Yung Li. "Where sleep?" he added.
"In that tent," said the big man pointing with his riding whip, and taiming his horse around he galloped up the broad avenue toward his dwelling, a large frame house with verandas, from which he issued orders for the accommodation of the newcomers in the various parts of his estate. The bunk houses were already full, covered wagons sheltered many of the pickers, a g3rpsy-like camp quickly arose on the fringes of the fields. The Indians, stationed nearest the Chinese, were soon in living order, and then this small army of laborers went to work — or was it play? — among the vines, delicious, clean and healthy smell of the hops scented the atmosphere; great poles, vine-covered, stood in interminable rows down the shining valley; huge empty boxes cried out for their fragrant burden, and twinkling fingers, keeping time to chattering tongues and merry laughter, filled them with the delicate, green, paper-like fruit of the vine. There were men who did nothing but cut the vines near the roots, leaving only the stubble, and then took to the pickers the festooned hop poles. There were others who bore away the brimming, huge but light boxes to the hop barns, leaving coupons for the same in the hands of the pickers. There were races run between merry maidens and audacious youths; there were syndicate boxes, and there were children's boxes, largely filled by the pluckings of grandparents. The green of the aisles was interspersed by dashes of vivid color, the head coverings of Indians, the flaunting of short-skirted girls; in sections of the field fingers worked to the rhythm of a lively chorus.
“The man says, put no leaves in the boxes/' explained Yung Li to his men, watching but lifting no finger to the work, for on the morrow he would return to Seattle and smoke again in the house of the Dragon, while he watched the ebb and flow of custom in the place. Ten men in the hop fields for many days insured good interest on the money of the highbinder. He smiled grimly at the thought and clutched at the little bag which held a pearl too precious to leave behind him.
Among the Indians who chanced to be picking next to the Chinese was the girl with star eyes who saw this gesture and the answering flush on Ho Wing Sui's thin cheeks. Yung Li only remained long enough to see that his countrymen caught the trick of stripping the hop vines to good advantage, then he returned to the tent and slept away the day.
Ho Wing Sui, too proud to ask any favors of the coolies by whom he was surrounded, was agreeably surprised by the nature of the work, but that did not dull his anguish at the ignominy of his position. For the thousandth time he reviewed the events which preceded his slavery — for such he well knew it was. Was it possible that three weeks before he had been the sole possessor of a fortune and master of servants, while now he toiled beside bond servants? Who then was his enemy? He had been so busy preparing for the Government examinations which he hoped would usher him into an official post that he had failed to keep up his former friendships, but at least he knew of no enemies. On the last night in he could remember his only uncle, not much older than himself, had coaxed him from his studies and had taken him to many curious places. He shrunk from the looks and the odors of the last joint, but his uncle had laughingly told him that more was to be learned from life than from books and he had reluctantly followed him within. He remembered nothing beyond joining him in a drink, and when he woke up he found himself on the ocean in repulsive company, in coarse clothes, robbed of his money and even his rings; and when he tried to get satisfaction from the chief of the party, he discovered that the identification papers described him accurately, even to a birth-mark upon the arm. In despair of convincing foreign inspectors of the truth of his story when he could not Chinese, he had silently borne his examination with his companions, trusting to escape later. Alas! he had tried once, he had been thwarted, and now what was left him when even his pearl was gone? The pearl his mother on her dying bed had pressed into his hand, in a little bag of her own work. Who would benefit by his disappearance? Undoubtedly his kindly uncle, for he was the next heir — therefore he must have done this treacherous deed, for by the evidence of the identification certificate, it was carefully planned even to the procuring of someone to impersonate him. In trouble of soul he raised his hand to cover the mist in his eyes, and when he took it down he beheld the Indian maid, straight as the firs in the surrounding hills, with compassion speaking eloquently in her glance.
Ho Wing Sui was astonished, he even opened his lips, but the girl unsmilingly lowered her eyelids and busied herself with the hop picking, humming a song.
“ If I spoke she could not understand," thought the Chinaman, "and yet it looks almost as if she did understand." He glanced at the old crones about her, the young bucks and the brawny braves, and he marveled what manner of woman this might be. Her modesty and her dignity, her low voice as she spoke to her people, appealed to him more than the loud laughter and coquetry of the miners' daughters further down the line.
“Is she too a captive?" he asked himself, “a captive perhaps of the Indians — but they seem to obey rather than command her." For the first time in three weeks he forgot his own misfortunes in wonder as to this young woman. The girl divining this abruptly dropped her work and walked in the direction of the hop bams. From these tower-like buildings came the pungent smell of hops drying by furnace heat. Thousands of pounds of these were on every side fresh, dry, baled, sustaining the claim of to the greatest hop crop in the world. Activity, movement, life were on every side of her; reaching her tent she sat for a moment wondering at the trouble she had seen in the Chinaman's eyes, but soon her attention was distracted by low voices at the back of her tent.
"Well learn old Wolf to bring in Chinks to take the bread out of honest men's mouths! "
“When we went to him and stated our -position he jest laughed and said he wished he could get more industrious Chinamen."
"Damn Wolf! Because he owns this big ranch and puts money in bank he needn't think he can walk roughshod over working men — well leam him!"
"Turn loose on the Chinks."
“What fer? This is Injtm quarters, I ain't skeered of them tmderstandin', or stoppin* us if they did "
"Well, six of us — you'll be ntmiber seven, pardner — ^we'll jest natcherly be practising with our firearms at and by accident them Chinks will pass in their checks."
"Then a sheriff will be sent for — "
"Easy to lay it on the Injuns. It's a-goin' through all right, all right — but come on back to work, Tom."
Out of the girl's conflicting emotions sprung aims flame like in intensity. She would save her people and she would warn the strangers. She returned to the hop picking and gave no sign of her resolve.
When the sun sank suddenly behind the gleaming top of Ranier and the lower mountain walls of the fragrant valley, the fields were deserted by the chattering hundreds. The Indians and the Chinamen alone remained. Yung Li, refreshed by sleep, walked ponderously down the rows of stubble, collected the tickets from his men and made his way to the pay office.
"At the last," said the girl to a man of her band, "get the money for all our tickets."
The inquiring eyes of the Indian rested on the daughter of his far-away chief.
" We will not wait for the end of the picking; as soon as it is dark we will start on the trail to Snoqualmie, for there are even larger hop fields — also we will go in silence."
To establish an alibi for her tribe was very simple, but to caution the strangers was a matter of difficulty She was glad there followed a cloudy night, for she had dreaded the light of the stars that jostle each other in the firmament of Washington as nowhere else in the world. Watch as she would, she found no opportunity to communicate with the young Chinaman, the chief's son, as she thought.
"Go," she said to her people, "one at a time, and leave this bundle in the first tree beyond the long trestle bridge and go in a band to Redmond and make your presence known before the moon rises. ”Now as the moon did not appear before eleven she was satisfied that the miners could not charge any murder upon the Indians.
After the last of the tribe had been swallowed up in the dusk she slipped around the tents and hid herself in the underbrush near the quarters of the Chinese. She would have gone boldly to their tent, but a man smoked idly hour after hour on the fence in full view of the entrance — evidently he was there to see that the Chinese did not escape. By a deep silence _ brooded over the ranch, for rising before the sun these toilers sought rest early. The Indian girl waited yet longer; she shivered in spite of her blanket.
"If I cannot warn them all," she said |^/. . to herself, "I wish I might save the man who was sorrowful." She looked sadly at the moon, dimly visible through swiftly moving clouds.
"It is now nearly and I have made no headway because of the watchman," she told herself. At that moment her eyes brightened, for was not the' man's head sunk in slumber upon his bosom? She crept stealthily to the tent and called softly: "Mr. Chink! Mr. Chinkl"
There was a smothered reply in an unknown tongue.
"He cannot understand me," flashed despairingly through her mind. Suddenly she remembered that she had hummed a song when he caught her looking at him in the hop fields. It was a forlorn chance, but she hummed the tune and in a moment the man she looked for stood near her, his paper soled shoes deadening his footfalls. She motioned for him to follow and by signs endeavored to express his peril to him.
She covered his strange garments with her blanket and had barely gained the woodland path when a sharp volley flashed from behind the fence and the whole ranch rang with a sudden uproar.
Ho Wing Sui paled as he heard the sound, the moon coming out from the clouds gave him light to follow the girl's swift footsteps across the high trestle. She plunged into the wood beyond and presently thrust a bundle of European clothes into his arms. She motioned him to put them on and to wait for her. Speeding back to the ranch she found crowds of curious men and women surrounding the gruesome sight of the lifeless bodies of the band of Chinamen, for the tent over them had been lifted literally off its pegs. “ Serves 'em right, the Chinks!" “ Don't know who done it."
“ Old Wolf won't never try to bring no more Chinks here! " “Well, then, why didn't they stay to home?" Nowhere was there a syllable of compassion for the fate of these men.
Suddenly the Indian's keen eyes detected the little bag for which she looked. Yung Li in his death struggle had grasped the string. In the wink of an eyelash the girl had cut the cord and secreted the bag. Among the shoving crowd, under the flickering lantern lights, her action was unnoticed.
"There's just ten," said a man.
"But there was eleven," reminded another.
"Nit!" cried the first, "one of 'em went away early in the morning." Therefore no search was made for a survivor.
When the girl next stood before Ho Wing Sui and pointed out the way to , she handed him the embroidered bag.
Ho Wing Sui, astonished, touched to the heart, opened it. He passed over the American coins, earned by Yung Li's slaves, and held for a moment under the clear radiance of the moon his mother's last gift, then he pressed into the brave girl's hand, with smiling lips over white teeth, his priceless pearl.