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Chapter 2

  • Twenty years later, toward the close of 1918, I stepped from the gangplank o_ China boat and for the first time in my life set foot in San Francisco. I_ou have always thought of San Francisco as the bonny merry city, the ga_ight-hearted city, I advise you not to enter it first when it is wrapped i_he gloom of fog. You will suffer a sad disappointment, such as I knew o_anding that dark December afternoon.
  • Heaven knows I ought to have been a happy man that day, fog or no fog, for _as coming back to my own land after four dreary years in China. Birds shoul_ave been singing, as the Chinese say, is the topmost branches of my heart; _hould have walked with a brisk, elated tread. Instead I crossed the diml_ighted pier shed, where yellow lamps burned wanly overhead, with laggin_tep, dragging my battered old bags after me. The injustice of the world la_eavy on my heart. For I was young, and I had been unfairly treated. Fou_ears earlier, just graduated from the engineering department of a bi_echnical institution in the East, I had set sail from Vancouver to tak_harge of a mine in China for Henry Drew. In Shanghai I met the old Sa_rancisco millionaire , a little yellow-faced man with snapping black eyes an_ong thin hands that must have begun, even in the cradle, to reach and seiz_nd hold.
  • The mine, he told me frankly, was little better than a joke so far. Its futur_as up to me. I would encounter many obstacles — inadequate pumping machinery, bribe-hunting officials, superstitious workmen fearful of disturbing the eart_ragon as our shaft sank deeper. If I could conquer in spite of everything, accomplish a miracle, and make the mine pay, then in addition to my salary _as to receive a third interest in the property. I suppose he really meant i_t the time. He said it more than once. I was very young, with boundles_aith. I did not get that part of it in writing.
  • Through four awful years I labored for Henry Drew down there in Yunnan, th_rovince of the cloudy south. One by one the obstacles gave way and coppe_egan to come from the mine. Now and then ugly disquieting rumors as to th_ense of honor of old Drew drifted to me, but I put them resolutely out of m_houghts.
  • I might seem guilty of boasting if I went into details regarding the result_f my work. It is enough to say that I succeeded. Again I met Henry Drew i_hanghai, and he told me he was proud of me. I ventured to remind him of hi_romise of an interest in the property. He said I must be dreaming. H_ecalled no such promise. I was appalled. Could such things be? Angrily and a_ength I told him what I thought of him. He listened in silence.
  • "I'll accept it," he said when I paused for breath.
  • "Accept what?" I asked.
  • "Your resignation."
  • He got it, along with further comments on his character. I went back to m_otel to take up the difficult task of securing accommodations on a homeboun_oat.
  • All liners were crowded to suffocation in those days, but I finally managed t_et a November sailing. I was informed that I, along with another mal_assenger, would be put into the cabin of the ship's doctor. Rumor had told m_hat old Henry Drew was sailing on the same boat, but I was hardly prepared, when I went on board and entered my stateroom, to find him bending over a_pen bag. Fate in playful mood had selected him as the third member of ou_arty.
  • He was more upset than I and made a strenuous effort to be assigned to som_ther room. But with all his money he could not manage it, and we set out o_ur homeward journey together. I would see him when I came in late at night, lying there in his berth with the light from the deck outside on his yello_ace, his eyes closed — but wide awake. I think he was afraid of me. He ha_eason to be.
  • Anyhow, I was rid of his slimy presence now, there in that dim pier shed. I_as one thing to be thankful for. And already the memory of what he had don_o me was fading — for I had suffered a later and deeper wound. In the mids_f the trouble with Drew, I had met the most wonderful girl in the world, an_nly a moment before, on the deck of the China boat, I had said good-bye t_er forever.
  • I left the pier shed and stepped to the sidewalk outside. The air was heav_nd wet with fog, the walk damp and slippery; water dripped down fro_elegraph wires overhead. I saw the blurred lights of the city, heard it_easeless grumble, the clang of street-cars, the clatter of wheels o_obblestones. Weird mysterious figures slipped by me; strange faces peere_nto mine and were gone. This was the Embarcadero, the old Barbary Coast fame_ound the world. Somewhere there, lost in the fog, were its dance-halls, wher_overs of the broad Pacific had, in the vanished past, made merry after _odden fashion. I stood, straining to see.
  • "Want a taxi, mister?" asked a dim figure at my side.
  • "If you can find one," I answered. "Things seem a bit thick."
  • "It's the tule-fog," he told me. "Drifts down every year about this time fro_he tule-fields between here and Sacramento. Never knew one to stick around s_ate in the day before. Yes, sir — this is sure unusual."
  • In reply to my query he told me that the tule was a sort of bulrush. An_ittle Moses amid his bulrushes could have felt no more lost than I did a_hat moment.
  • "See what you can dig up," I ordered.
  • "You just wait here," he said. "It'll take time. Don't go away."
  • Again I stood alone amid the strange shadow-shapes that came and went.
  • Somewhere, behind that fog-curtain, the business of the town went on as usual.
  • I made a neat pile of my luggage close to a telegraph pole and sat down t_ait. My mind went back to the deck of the boat I had left, to Mary Wil_ellfair, that wonderful girl.
  • And she was wonderful — in courage and in charm. I had met her three week_efore in Shanghai; and it was her dark hour, as it was mine. For Mary Wil_ad come five thousand miles to marry Jack Paige, her sweetheart from a sleep_outhern town. She had not seen him for six years, but there had been man_etters, and life at home was dull. Then, too, she had been very fond of hi_nce, I judge. So there had been parties, and jokes, and tears, and Mary Wil_ad sailed for Shanghai and her wedding.
  • It has happened to other girls, no doubt. Young Paige met her boat. He wa_ery drunk, and there was in his face evidence of a fall to depth_nspeakable. Poor Mary Will saw at the first frightened look that the boy sh_ad known and loved was gone forever. Many of the other girls — helpless, without money, alone — marry the men and make the best of it. Not Mary Will.
  • Helpless, without money, alone, she was still brave enough to hold her hea_igh and refuse.
  • Henry Drew had heard of her plight and, whatever his motive, had done a kin_ct for once. He engaged Mary, Will as companion for his wife, and on the boa_oming over the girl and Mrs. Drew had occupied a cabin with a frail littl_issionary woman. For husbands and wives were ruthlessly torn apart, that eac_tateroom might have its full quota of three. As I sat there with the fo_ripping down upon me I pictured again our good-bye on the deck, where we ha_een lined up to await the port doctor and be frisked, as a frivolous ship'_fficer put it, for symptoms of yellow fever. By chance — more or less — I wa_aiting beside Mary Will.
  • "Too bad you can't see the harbor," said Mary Will. "Only six weeks ago _ailed away, and the sun was on it. It's beautiful. But this silly old fog — "
  • "Never mind the fog," I told her. "Please listen to me. What are you going t_o? Where are you going? Home?"
  • "Home!" A bitter look came into her clear blue eyes. "I can't go home."
  • "Why not?"
  • "Don't you understand? There were showers — showers for the bride-to-be. And _issed everybody good-bye and hurried away to be married. Can I go bac_usbandless?"
  • "You don't have to. I told you last night — "
  • "I know. In the moonlight, with the band on the boat deck playing a waltz. Yo_aid you loved me — "
  • "And I do."
  • She shook her head.
  • "You pity me. And it seems like love to you. But pity — pity isn't love."
  • Confound the girl! This was her story, and she seemed determined to stick t_t.
  • "Ah, yes," said I scornfully. "What pearls of wisdom fall from youthful lips."
  • "You'll discover how very wise I was in time."
  • "Perhaps. But you haven't answered my question. What are you going to do? Yo_an't stay on with the Drews — that little rotter — "
  • "I know. He hasn't been nice to you. But he has been nice to me — very."
  • "No man could help but be. And it hasn't done that young wife of his any har_o have a companion like you for a change. But it's not a job I care to se_eld by the girl I mean to marry."
  • "If you mean me — I shan't go on being a companion. Mr. Drew has promised t_ind me a position in San Francisco. They say it's a charming city."
  • "I don't like to see you mixed up with Drew and his kind," I protested. "I'l_ot leave San Francisco until you do."
  • "Then you're going to settle down here. How nice!"
  • I could have slapped her. She was that sort of stubborn delightful child, an_oving her was often that sort of emotion. The port doctor had reached her no_n his passage down the line, and he stared firmly into her eyes, huntin_ymptoms. As he stared his hard face softened into a rather happy smile. _ould have told him that looking into Mary Will's eyes had always that effect.
  • "You're all right," he laughed, then turned and glared at me as though h_ared me to make public his lapse into a human being. He went on down th_ine. After him came Parker, the ship's doctor, with a wink at me, as much a_o say: "Red tape. What a bore!"
  • The foghorn was making a frightful din, and the scene was all confusion, impatience. It was no moment for what I was about to say. But I was desperate; this was my last chance.
  • "Turn round, Mary Will." I swung her about and pointed off into the fog. "Ove_here — don't you see?"
  • "See what?" she gasped.
  • "How I love you," I said in her ear, triumphing over the foghorn and th_uriosity of the woman just beyond her: "With all my heart and soul, my dear.
  • I'm an engineer — not up on sentimental stuff — can't talk it — just feel it.
  • Give me a chance to prove how much I care. Don't you think that in time — "
  • She shook her head.
  • "What is it? Are you still fond of that other boy — the poor fellow i_hanghai?"
  • "No," she answered seriously. "It isn't that. I've just sort of buried hi_way off in a corner of my heart. And I'm not sure that I ever did care a_uch as I should. On the boat coming out — I had doubts of myself — but — "
  • "But what?"
  • "Oh — can't you see? It's just as that old dowager said it would be."
  • "What old dowager?"
  • "That sharp-tongued Englishwoman who gave the dinner in Shanghai. She saw yo_alking and laughing with me, and she said: 'I fancy he'll be just like al_he other boys who are shut up in China for a few years. They think themselve_adly in love with the first white girl they meet who isn't positivel_eformed.'"
  • "The old cat!"
  • "It was catty — but it was true. It's exactly what has happened. That's why _ouldn't be so frightfully unfair to you as to seize you when this madness i_n you and bind you to me for life — before you have seen your own countr_gain, where there are millions of girls nicer than I am."
  • "Rot."
  • "No, it isn't. Go ashore and look them over. The streets of San Francisco ar_illed with them. Look them over from the Golden Gate to Fifth Avenue."
  • "And if, after I've looked them all over, I still come back to you? The_hat?"
  • "Then you will be a fool," laughed Mary Will.
  • The voice of the ship's doctor announced the end of inspection, and at onc_he deck was alive with an excited throng, all seeking to get somewhere els_mmediately. Carlotta Drew passed and called to Mary Will.
  • The girl held out her hand. "Good-bye," she said.
  • "Good-bye?" I took her hand perplexed. "Why do you say that? Surely we're t_eet again soon."
  • "Why should we?" she asked.
  • That hurt me. I dropped her hand. "Ah, yes, why should we?" I repeated coldly.
  • "No reason at all. Good-bye and good luck!" And Mary Will was gone.
  • As I sat now on my battered bags, leaning against a very damp pole in th_iddle of a very damp fog, it occurred to me that I had been wrong i_ermitting myself that moment of annoyance. I should have taken, instead, _irm uncompromising attitude. Too late now, however. She had gone from me, into the mystery of the fog. I would never see her again.
  • A tall slender figure loaded with baggage came and stood on the curb not tw_eet from where I waited. The light that struggled down from a lamp overhea_evealed in blurred but unmistakable outline the flat expressionless face o_ung Chin-chung, old Henry Drew's faithful body servant. I turned, for th_aster could not be far behind, and sure enough the fog disgorged the dappe_igure of the little millionaire. He ran smack into me.
  • "Why, it's young Winthrop," he cried, peering into my face. "Hello, son — _as looking for you. We've had some pretty harsh words — but there's no rea_eason why we shouldn't part as friends. Now, is there?"
  • His tone was wistful, but it made no appeal to me. No real reason? Th_resumptuous rascal! However, I was in no mood to quarrel.
  • "I'm waiting for a taxi," I said inanely,
  • "A taxi? You'll never get one in this fog." I suppose it was the truth. "Le_s give you a lift to your hotel, my boy. We'll be delighted."
  • I was naturally averse to accepting favors of this man, but at that instan_is wife and Mary Will emerged into our little circle of light, and I smile_t the idea of riding uptown with Mary Will, who had just dismissed me for al_ime. A big limousine with a light burning faintly inside slipped up to th_urb, and Hung was helping the women to enter.
  • "Come on, my boy," pleaded old Drew.
  • "All right," I answered rather ungraciously, and jumped in.
  • Drew followed, Hung piled my bags somewhere in back, and we crept off into th_og.
  • "Taking Mr. Winthrop to his hotel," explained Drew.
  • "How nice," his wife said in her cold hard voice. I looked toward Mary Will.
  • She seemed unaware of my presence.
  • Like a living thing, the car felt its way cautiously through the mist. Abou_s sounded a constant symphony of automobile horns, truckmen's repartee, th_lank of hoofs, the rattle of wheels. From where I sat I could see the clear- cut beautiful silhouette of Carlotta Drew's face, shrouded in fog, against th_indow. I wondered what she was thinking — this woman whose exploits ha_urnished the gossips of the China coast with a serial story running throug_any mad years. Of her first husband, perhaps; that gallant army man whos_eart she had soon broken as she leapt to the arms of another. They had com_nd gone, the men, until, her beauty fading, she had accepted the offer of ol_rew's millions, though she hated him in her heart. What a fool the old ma_ad been! On our trip across the gossips had played once more with her rathe_rail reputation, linking her name with that of the ship's doctor, handsom_ero of many a fleeting romance.
  • "Home again," chuckled old Drew. An unaccustomed gaiety seemed to have take_old of him. "I tell you, it's good. This is my town. This is where I belong.
  • The history of our family, my boy, is woven into the story of San Francisco.
  • By the way — what I wanted to see you about. Er — I want to ask a favor."
  • He stopped. I said nothing. A favor of me! One had to admire his nerve.
  • "It is nothing much," he went on. "Only — I'm giving a little dinner part_onight. A birthday party, as a matter of fact. I'd like to have you come. On_f my guests will be my partner in the mine. We can talk over that littl_atter of business."
  • "Hardly the time or the place," I suggested.
  • This was like him. A gay party — plenty to eat and drink — and my affai_astily disposed of amid the general conviviality. I was not to be trappe_ike that.
  • "Well, perhaps not," he admitted. "We won't talk business, then. Just a ga_ittle party — to brighten up the old house — to get things going in _riendly way again. Eh, Carlotta?"
  • "Oh, of course," said Carlotta Drew wearily.
  • "You'll come?" the old man insisted. I have often wondered since why he was s_ager. He had wronged me, he knew, but he was that type of man who wishes t_e on friendly terms with his victim. A plentiful type.
  • "I'm sure Miss Mary Will wishes you to accept," he added.
  • "She hasn't said so," I said.
  • "It's not my birthday," said Mary Will, "nor my party."
  • "Not your birthday," cackled old Drew. "I should say not. But your party, _ope. Everybody's party. What do you say, my boy?"
  • Mary Will's indifference had maddened me, and nothing could keep me from tha_arty now.
  • "I'll be delighted to come," I said firmly. It was to Drew I spoke, but m_aze was on Mary Will's scornful profile.
  • "That's fine!" cried the old man. He peered out the window. "Where are we? Ah, yes — Post and Grant — there's a shop near here." He ordered his chauffeur t_top. "I'll be only a minute," he said as the car drew up to the curb. "Mus_ave candles — candles for my party." And he hopped out. We stood there in th_og with the Wagnerian symphony fierce about us. It was after five now, an_ll San Francisco, to say nothing of Oakland and Berkeley, was stumbling hom_hrough the murk.
  • "Your husband seems in a gay humor tonight," I remarked to Carlotta Drew. Sh_odded, but said nothing. "Probably the effect of San Francisco," I went on.
  • "I've always heard of it as a merry town. Life and color and romance — "
  • "And dozens of beautiful girls," put in Mary Will.
  • "I don't see them."
  • "Wait till the fog lifts," she answered.
  • Henry Drew was again at the door. He ordered the driver to stop at my hotel, then popped back into his seat. In his hand he carried a small package.
  • "Candles for the party," he laughed. "Fifty little pink candles."
  • Fifty! I stared at him there in that dim-lit car. Fifty — why, the old bo_ust be seventy if he was a day. Did he hope by this silly ruse to win bac_is middle age, in our eyes at least? Or wait a minute! Was he only fifty, after all? If rumor were true, he had lived a wild, reckless life. Perhap_hat life had played a trick upon him — had made his fifty look like seventy.
  • We drew up before my hotel, and Hung Chin-chung was instantly on the sidewal_ith my bags.
  • "I'll send the car for you at seven," Drew said. "We'll have a merry party.
  • Don't fail me."
  • I thanked him, and amid muttered  _au revoirs_  the car went on its way.
  • Standing on the curb, I stared after it. This was incredible! My first nigh_ack on American soil, the night I had been dreaming of for four years — and _as to spend it celebrating the birthday of my bitterest enemy! But there wa_ary Will. She had dismissed me forever, and I was bound to show her she coul_ot do that.