A familiar stocky shape stood with a foot on the brass rail as I entered the American Bar in Hong-kong. I glared at the shape disapprovingly, recognizing it as Bill McGlory of the Dutchman. That is one ship I enthusiastically detest, this dislike being shared by all the bold lads aboard the Sea Girl, from the cap'n to the cook.
I shouldered up along the bar. Ignoring Bill, I called for a whisky straight. "You know, John," said Bill, addressing hisself to the bartender, "you got no idee the rotten tubs which calls theirselves ships that's tied up to the wharfs right now. Now then, the Sea Girl for instance. An' there's a guy named Steve Costigan--"
"You know, John," I broke in, addressing myself to the bartender, "it's clean surprisin' what goes around on their hind laigs callin' theirselves sailor-men, these days. A baboon got outa the zoo at Brisbane and they just now spotted it on the wharfs here in Hong-kong."
"You don't say," said John the bar-keep. "Where'd it been?"
"To sea," I said. "It'd shipped as A.B. mariner on the Dutchman and was their best hand."
With which caustic repartee, I stalked out in gloating triumph, leaving Bill McGlory gasping and strangling as he tried to think of something to say in return. To celebrate my crushing victory over the enemy I swaggered into the La Belle Cabaret and soon seen a good looking girl setting alone at a table. She was toying with her cigaret and drink like she was bored, so I went over and set down.
"Evenin', Miss," I says, doffing my cap. "I'm just in from sea and cravin' to toss my money around. Do you dance?"
She eyed me amusedly from under her long, drooping lashes and said: "Yes, I do, on occasion. But I don't work here, sailor."
"Oh, excuse me, Miss," I said, getting up. "I sure beg your pardon."
"That's all right," she said. "Don't run away. Let's sit here and talk."
"That's fine," I said, setting back down again, when to my annoyance a sea-going figger bulked up to the table.
"Even', Miss," said Bill McGlory, fixing me with a accusing stare. "Is this walrus annoyin' you?"
"Listen here, you flat-headed mutt--" I begun with some heat, but the girl said: "Now, now, don't fight, boys. Sit down and let's all talk sociably. I like to meet people from the States in this heathen land. My name is Kit Worley and I work for Tung Yin, the big Chinese merchant."
"Private secretary or somethin'?" says Bill.
"Governess to his nieces," said she. "But don't let's talk about me. Tell me something about yourselves. You boys are sailors, aren't you?"
"I am," I replied meaningly. Bill glared at me.
"Do tell me about some of your voyages," said she hurriedly. "I just adore ships."
"Then you'd sure like the Dutchman, Miss Worley," beamed Bill. "I don't like to brag, but for trim lines, smooth rig, a fine figger and speed, they ain't a sailin' craft in the China trade can hold a candle to her. She's a dream. A child could steer her."
"Or anybody with a child's mind," I says. "And does--when you're at the wheel."
"Listen here, you scum of the Seven Seas," said Bill turning brick color. "You layoff the Dutchman. I'd never have the nerve to insult a sweet ship like her if I sailed in a wormy, rotten-timbered, warped-decked, crank-ruddered, crooked-keeled, crazy-rigged tub like the Sea Girl."
"You'll eat them words with a sauce of your own blood," I howled.
"Boys!" said Miss Worley. "Now, boys."
"Miss Worley," I said, getting up and shedding my coat, "I'm a law-abidin' and peaceful man, gentle and generous to a fault. But they's times when patience becomes a vice and human kindness is a stumblin' block on the road of progress. This baboon in human form don't understand no kind of moral suasion but a bust on the jaw."
"Come out in the alley," squalled Bill, bounding up like a jumping-jack.
"Come on," I said. "Let's settle this here feud once and for all. Miss Worley," I said, "wait here for the victor. I won't be gone long."
Out in the alley, surrounded by a gang of curious coolies, we squared off without no more ado. We was well matched, about the same height and weighing about l90 pounds each. But as we approached each other with our fists up, a form stepped between. We stopped and glared in outraged surprise. It was a tall, slender Englishman with a kind of tired, half humorous expression.
"Come, come, my good men," he said. "We can't have this sort of thing, you know. Bad example to the natives and all that sort of thing. Can't have white men fighting in the alleys these days. Times too unsettled, you know. Must uphold the white man's standard."
"Well, by golly," I said. "I've had a hundred fights in Hong-kong and nobody yet never told me before I was settin' a bad example to nobody."
"Bad tactics, just the same," he said. "And quite too much unrest now. If the discontented Oriental sees white men bashing each other's bally jaws, the white race loses just that much prestige, you see."
"But what right you got buttin' into a private row?" I complained.
"Rights vested in me by the Chinese government, working with the British authorities, old topper," said the Englishman. "Brent is the name."
"Sir Peter Brent of the Secret Service, hey?" I grunted. "I've heard tell of you. But I dunno what you could do if we was to tell you to go chase yourself."
"I could summon the bally police and throw you in jail, old thing," he said apologetically. "But I don't want to do that."
"Say," I said, "You got any idee how many Chinee cops it'd take to lug Steve Costigan and Bill McGlory to the hoosegow?"
"A goodly number, I should judge," said he. "Still if you lads persist in this silly feud, I shall have to take the chance. I judge fifty would be about the right number."
"Aw, hell," snorted Bill, hitching up his britches. "Let's rock him to sleep and go on with the fray. He can't do nothin'."
But I balked. Something about the slim Britisher made me feel mad and ashamed too. He was so frail looking alongside us sluggers.
"Aw, let it slide for the time bein'," I muttered. "We'd have to lay him out first before he'd let us go on, and he's too thin to hit. We might bust him in half. Let it go, if he's so plumb set on it. We got the whole world to fight in."
"You're gettin' soft and sentimental," snorted Bill. And with that he swaggered off in high disgust. I eyed him morosely.
"Now he'll probably think I was afraid to fight him," I said gloomily. "And it's all your fault."
"Sorry, old man," said Sir Peter. "I'd have liked to have seen the mill myself, by jove. But public duty comes first, you know. Come, forget about it and have a drink."
"I ain't a-goin' to drink with you," I said bitterly. "You done spoilt my fun and made me look like a coward."
And disregarding his efforts to conciliate me, I shoved past him and wandered gloomily down the alley. I didn't go back to the La Belle. I was ashamed to admit to Miss Worley that they wasn't no fight. But later on I got to thinking about it and wondering what Bill told her in case he went back to her. It would be just like him to tell her I run out on him and refused to fight, I thought, or that he flattened me without getting his hair ruffled. He wasn't above punching a wall or something and telling her he skinned them knuckles on my jaw. So I decided to look Miss Worley up and explain the whole thing to her--also take her to a theater or something if she'd go. She was a very pretty girl, refined and educated--anybody could tell that--yet not too proud to talk with a ordinary sailorman. Them kind is few and far betweenst.
I asked a bar-keep where Tung Yin lived and he told me. "But," he added, "you better keep away from Tung Yin. He's a shady customer and he don't like whites." "You're nuts," I said. "Any man which Miss Kit Worley works for is bound to be okay."
"Be that as it may," said the bar-keep. "The cops think that Tung Yin was some way mixed up in the big diamond theft."
"What big diamond theft?" I said.
"Gee whiz," he said. "Didn't you hear about the big diamond theft last month?"
"Last month I was in Australia," I said impatiently.
"Well," he said, "somebody stole the Royal Crystal--that's what they called the diamond account of a emperor of China once usin' it to tell fortunes, like the gypsies use a crystal ball, y'know. Somebody stole it right outa the government museum. Doped the guards, hooked the stone and got clean away. Slickest thing I ever heard of in my life. That diamond's worth a fortune. And some think that Tung Yin had a hand in it. Regular international ruckus. They got Sir Peter Brent, the big English detective, workin' on the case now."
"Well," I said, "I ain't interested. Only I know Tung Yin never stole it, because Miss Worley wouldn't work for nobody but a gent."
So I went to Tung Yin's place. It was a whopping big house, kinda like a palace, off some distance from the main part of the city. I went in a 'ricksha and got there just before sundown. The big house was set out by itself amongst groves of orange trees and cherry trees and the like, and I seen a airplane out in a open space that was fixed up like a landing field. I remembered that I'd heard tell that Tung Yin had a young Australian aviator named Clanry in his employ. I figgered likely that was his plane.
.... There is more of this story ...