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THE WONDERFUL SCHEME OF
MR. CHRISTOPHER THORNE
ALL RIGHTS THERETO!
Kwan Yung, his frayed woolen cap drawn down well over his eyes, gazed fearfully up Broadway as he came slowly around the corner of Ann Street, and paused a bare second at the entrance of the old St. Paul’s Building with its slitlike windows. The decoy laundry bundle of manila paper which he carried under one arm—tied with white string, stuffed with rags and newspapers, and carrying on its front end a bright scarlet ticket made from the lining of a discarded Christmas envelope—rendered him, he tried to realize, only a humble laundryman delivering the linen of some office worker in one of those old buildings. But it seemed to him that Sing Sing prison, from which he had fled just a week ago, must assuredly be written all over him: indeed, it seemed to him, as he braced himself against the swirling February snow and sleet which was pelting the entire city of New York this bleak morning, his bedraggled overcoat buckled tight to him, its collar up, more to shade the lower part of his saffron face than to protect it against the elements, that every passerby was a detective, and every bluecoated traffic policeman a lookout. It seemed to him that the eyes of hurrying pedestrians, instead of seeing only what they could glimpse—a poorly dressed Chinese of about 38 years of age, with coal-black hair gray prematurely at the temples—peered in reality through his outer clothing at the coarse, gray prison underwear to be found there, and rent apart the soggy leather of his shoes, disclosing the mottled tan “state” socks that encased his feet. But at length he braced himself with an effort, and with eyes straight ahead of him turned into the swinging doors that marked the entrance of the St. Paul’s Building.
A hurried scanning of the building directory in the lobby, a cautious sidewise glance at the crowded elevators, and he went slowly up the stairway; toiling the flights one at a time, his shoes leaking moisture on the marble steps, but his person safe from the scrutiny of those myriad beings who, packed shoulder to shoulder, chose the more swift ascent and descent in the silently moving cages.
He was panting a bit at the eighth floor, but did not wait to regain his breath; instead, he hurried along the hall searching for room 806. At length he came to it, and studied the few words he found there. The letters on the ground glass pane read:
He stood in indecision for a moment, and then proceeded to the next door up the hall. This bore the number 807 upon its transom, and on its ground glass pane were the words:
Ignoring altogether the admonition to be found here, Kwan Yung tapped sharply three times, and waited. A figure inside suddenly obscured the lights from the windows by rising up in its chair, its shadow became rapidly smaller and more distinct as it approached the screen made by the pane of the door, and then the door opened. A man with smooth face—a white man—with somewhat thin lips, aquiline nose with a most prominent ridge, and straight, cold blue eyes, all of which features seemed to hold in them the suggestion of hard business sense, stood there. An air about him of one who had lived well, together with the jaunty, youthful clothing he wore, gave him, at least superficially, the general appearance of a man no older himself than 36—or at most, 38. It was only by a slight pucker at the outer corners of his cold blue eyes that a truly discerning guesser of ages could have known he was in actuality older than the bedraggled Chinese who had just tapped on the door—was, as a matter of fact, 44 at least. Indeed, he was immaculately groomed and tailored, and the bare tip of the corner of a purple silk handkerchief, matching precisely the purple stripes in his expensive silk shirt, protruded from an upper pocket of his coat with a fine degree of sartorial exactitude. It was Kwan Yung who spoke first. His voice was very low.
“It’s—it’s me, Oliver!”
“Good,” was the immediate response. “Come in, Kwan.” The man in the doorway stood aside and then closed the door behind his visitor, first carefully trying the outer knob to see that it was locked against any possibility of intrusion. He motioned to a single upright coat-and-hat rack in one corner, and issued one injunction:
“All right, Kwan. Get off your wet coat and hat. I see you’re carrying a sham laundry bundle. Good idea! But you’re perfectly safe here, of course.”
A whirl of snow outside gave to the hissing radiator in the corner of the room a most agreeable sound. The private office was warm and cozy. Furniture of polished mahogany glistened from various positions, reflecting the gray light from the outside morning sky. A soft, thick, green rug made one’s step upon the floor a thing of silence. From the adjoining room came the staccato tap of a typewriter, and other sounds which showed that there a few office workers were engaged.
Kwan Yung placed his bundle on the floor near the radiator and divested himself somewhat gingerly of the coat and hat which he wore. He straightened out the collar of the gray flannel shirt which was tieless, and took the mahogany chair which the other man indicated with a wave of one hand. It stood facing a broad flat-top desk with glass top, and back of the desk was a swivel chair to match. Into this latter seat, Marceau dropped. He was the first to speak.
“Well, Kwan, I suppose you feel pretty squeamish at walking about the streets here in New York?”
“Yes,” the Chinese replied with a fearful glance toward the door which marked the office connecting. And continuing to speak in faultless English, he added: “I made up that bundle over yonder out of some paper and rags I found in that—well, that hideout I’m staying in. And that bright, red Chinese ticket, I made from the lining of an old Christmas envelope I had. People really don’t seem to pay any attention to me—and I suppose I do just seem like a laundryman of my own race, going about. However, Oliver, just as soon as we settle up this business, I—I want to make tracks. By some means or other—most likely some sailing vessel so old and decrepit and debtridden, Oliver, that its captain will regard a thousand-dollar fee as a sum huger than that in the Bank of England—yes—to the far South Seas—where there is neither color line, Chinese exclusion acts—nor extradition treaties with America. Or some tiny spot therein where the natives have never even heard of America. I daresay the search for me has died down—unless, of course, Judge Hibbard Blake may have personally interested himself in having me recaptured solely because he himself sentenced me; but at least, Oliver, there are today 40,000 of my race in New York here—many of them going to and fro over the whole city—and so I don’t think that as a—well, mere Chinaman—I am particularly conspicuous.” Kwan Yung paused. “However, Oliver,” he went on “as Confucius—a certain illustrious progenitor of mine of whom you’ve doubtlessly heard—said: ‘The fox ends by getting into the furrier’s shop.’ So I—a luckless yellow fox keeping ahead of the baying white hounds—really dare not take chances.” The Chinese paused again. “But you don’t know, Oliver, how good it feels to a man in my position to have a friend—and moreover a white friend too—such as you. I don’t know what I could have done if I hadn’t had some one like you to fall back upon in this crisis. To quote Confucius again: ‘A friend made in the nursery equals ten made at one’s death bed!’ ”
Marceau smiled, evidently amused at the high degree of dramatic effect with which one, Mr. Confucius, tended to color his aphorisms. But he made no comment on that element, replying instead: “Yes, Kwan, school friends are life friends, that’s certain.” Though in his tones, when he spoke, there was not at all the sincerity that had been in the voice of the Chinese across from him, clad in prison underwear and “state” socks.
“You’re doing mighty well, aren’t you, Oliver?” remarked Kwan Yung, looking about him admiringly at the mahogany fittings. “It’s strange how people can become separated by the years and be wholly out of touch with one another. To think, Oliver, that in all these years I never looked you up.” The Chinese sat back in his chair, relaxing a bit to the inviting warmth of the room. “Do you know, Oliver—if you will pardon the frankness of one who regards you most highly as a friend—I actually used to think back in school days that you would be a failure; that you lacked what your race calls substantiality—but I see, most profoundly, I was wrong.”
“I’m afraid you were, Kwan,” replied the other, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve made my little pile in the past ten years, and bid fair to clean up even a bigger fortune yet, before many more years. And all on nothing as a starter. It would be quite a history—quite a business romance—were I to relate it all to you, but—” He pointed to an elaborate photograph, or rather the reproduction of one, on the wall, depicting a manufacturing plant in full operation. Freight trains were backed up to loading platforms and smoke was issuing from tall chimneys. “There’s the plant out at Hackensack.” He waved a hand around the office. “This business is all built up by myself—all the stock is owned by me—not a shareholder in it. All mine, in other words. Not so bad, eh?”
Kwan Yung shook his head. “I should emphatically say not.”
A silence fell between the two men. It was broken by the yellow man who wore the “state” socks. He leaned forward tensely.
“Now, Oliver, what—what did you find out? I suppose since I called on you, close upon midnight four—no five—days ago, that you’ve been busy? Can my deal be put across in the way you suggested?”
“Well,” said Marceau slowly, tapping on the desk with a pencil. “I’ve hopped out on this affair of yours exactly as I promised you I would. I’ve been to the offices of several of the big paper companies, but only the Northern Fir Paper Company of Canada is really interested. The officials over there, I can gather without much trouble, are still willing to buy this patent of yours, and their original offer of $31,250 can still be obtained with a little salesmanship on my part. In fact, all you need is someone like myself to pull in this money for you. But there are one or two peculiar conditions which we will have to comply with if—we are to keep my skirts and your person entirely clear of the law. Now have you perfect confidence in me?”
“Why, of course, Oliver. You are a real friend, and were from the other night, when I rang the bell of your apartment, in desperation. Why, Oliver, if it hadn’t been for that fifty dollars you advanced me, I—I don’t know what I would have done.”
“Pooh,” waved away the other, deprecatingly. “An old school friend. Little Chinese boy in school—even when I was a big boy! And how old are you, Kwan? Forty? Forty-one? The devil you say! Only thirty-eight, eh? Well, well—and here I am, in the sere and yellow leaf of forty-four! Yes, Kwan, believe it or not—the mid-forties have me fast.”
But the Chinese, shaking his head, expressed by his implied doubt a compliment to the other. “But truly, Oliver, you actually don’t look to be over mid-thirty.”
“Well,” laughed the other, with the uneasiness that characterizes the man who knows that time inevitably collects every last farthing of his debts, “us Caucasians, Kwan, as keeps perennially young, always get old twice as fast when we get over the fifty mark. So don’t congratulate me. Instead, I suggest—but where were we? Oh—yes. Your ringing my bell that night. Me—in clover. And you—a victim of circumstances over which you had no control. Why shouldn’t I have lent a helping hand?” But as he rose and took several paces up and down the room with his hands in the armholes of his vest, there was, as he faced away from his Chinese visitor, an avariciously triumphant look on his features which showed a man about to consummate some great money-making deal. He took a few more turns back and forth over the thick green rug and again sat down. He spoke slowly now, emphasizing his points by tapping his finger on the plate glass over his desk.
“Now, Kwan, you will have to understand, in the first place, that in order for us to cash in on the sale of this invention of yours, I dare not act as your agent. The facts must appear that I have simply bought it from you outright as a speculation and have then myself sold it to the paper company. I can then easily claim, when the police question me, that I am not, with respect to your escape, an accessory after the fact—that I had not seen you for years—that I did not even know you were in prison, let alone escaped—that I saw an opportunity to make a deal and clear something for myself. If, on the other hand, I act only as your agent, they will want to know from me where my principal is. They will say I am acting as catspaw for an escaped—well—”
“Mongolian convict,” put in the Chinese, grimly. He paused. “Yes, I realize that, Oliver. But go ahead.”
“Which leaves us facing this necessary condition,” continued Marceau. “The method of my getting your money for you will have to be this, providing you care to trust me. You will convey to me the entire title of the thing—all rights in the patent—for the sum we are to get from the paper company, $31,250, and I will give you in return my note for that amount so as to protect you in the meanwhile if, by a one in a thousand chance, I should drop dead or something like that. Also in case I should skip with your money.” Marceau grinned.
Kwan Yung shook his head. “I’ll take your note merely to protect me against your death before you get the money over into my hands,” he said. He waved his hand around the splendid office. “But Oliver Edward Marceau isn’t going to embezzle the small sum of $31,250.”
“Hardly,” said Marceau, biting off a cigar absently, but not lighting it. He paused. “Now I have the papers for such a camouflage drawn up. This means that you will now have to trust one more person in New York City—some one who knows both of us, who is a lawyer and who is a notary public. We——”
But Kwan Yung’s face had suddenly grown a shade less yellow with apprehension. “But—Oliver—I—I—”
The other smiled reassuringly. “Have no fear, Kwan. Do you remember Amos Lane who used to be always at the head of the class—my class, of course, I mean—in those school days you speak of? Amos Lane, the bright scholar and the teacher’s pet?” Kwan Yung nodded slowly. “Well, Amos is a lawyer here in New York City—but a poor devil who just can’t make a go of it. He’s just naturally unsuccessful. Poor as Job’s turkey. Even typewrites his own correspondence on an old machine in his office.” Marceau paused. “Amos has tried off and on to get some of my legal business on friendship’s sake, but I haven’t given him any of it. Now, however, I’m going to give him a lift. I’m going to gradually turn over to him all of my business. And this I have hinted at to him. Now you see, don’t you, that Amos knows which side his bread is buttered on? He is the ideal man for this job. He knows you—he knows me. He is a lawyer and notary. He knows personally two of the men in the Northern Fir Paper Company of Canada. And he will keep his mouth shut to get my patronage. And last but not least, there is no reward out for you.”
Kwan Yung bit his lip, then nodded his head in assent. Even though he had gone to a school in which Amos Lane had been an upper classman, and had even met the other man in the ensuing years, he did not relish the added danger of spreading forth that Kwan Yung, escaped from Sing Sing, was at large in New York City.
“Now one more thing before we call in Amos,” said Marceau, looking at his watch. “Granting that I don’t drop dead before I’ve gotten your money from these people, how shall we arrange for me to get it into your hands?”
“Any way you say, Oliver. Any way you say.”
“Well, I’ve given some thought to that, too,” replied Marceau. “As soon as the police know that you have had dealings with me, they are likely to put me under surveillance. I don’t know. Any attempt to see me again in the ordinary way, however, might likely result in their taking you. Now, I suggest that you be walking along 226th Street—yes, Bronx—on the night of March 2nd—that’s a week from today—in the single block that fronts the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Yes, there’s just one block of 226th Street fronting the Asylum; then it jogs and becomes 225th Street. And the hour—well—say, at exactly nine o’clock. I will start out early in the evening, and by changing from taxicab to taxicab, working in a couple of street cars, using a few subway trains, will manage to get away from all possible police shadowers, if by any chance whatsoever, I am then being watched. Just leave that to me. I will reach Granada Place, or Baychester Avenue—both of which front the other sides of the asylum, as you may or may not know—at around that hour. And I will circle around the whole grounds, around and around. Till, of course, I pass you in that block on 226th Street. And to make things still 100 per cent sure, Kwan, I will pass you without any word between us, but I will quickly slide you the packet of money—all in bills, some large, some small—wrapped in a black silk handkerchief. Each of us will continue on our way without a word. You can then mail me my note back, or, if you prefer, can slip it to me at the time I pass the money to you. Or I will trust you, Kwan, to tear it up.” Marceau paused. “All this, however, providing you see a blind advertisement in the personal columns of the New York Journal during the next few days reading: ‘Transaction completed,’ and signed merely ‘X.’ ”
Kwan Yung considered. “Yes, that is a capital plan—as good as any. I truly do not think the police will watch you—however, so far as they go, it will certainly be best to remain on the safe side and throw them completely off the track by plenty of doubling. Very well, then, Oliver, it is agreed: the night of March 2nd—nine o’clock—226th Street where it fronts the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. And Kwan Yung will be there traversing it every ten minutes or so, and he will be watching the personal columns of the Journal in the meantime.”
Marceau drew open the drawer of his desk and laid some papers out, consisting of a typewritten sheet of foolscap and a long slim piece of paper whose blank lines had been filled in on the typewriter and over the top of which, with much scrollwork, was printed “Promissory Note.” He raised the receiver of his desk phone.
“Give me Kennebank 1224,” he said. He waited. “Is Mr. Lane in? Yes, he was expecting my call.” A pause. “This you, Amos? This is Oliver. Can you step across the street to my office at once? Good! And bring your notary stamp with you. All right. I’ll look for you right away.” He hung up and turned from the instrument.
“Now, don’t be afraid of Amos, Kwan. He’s waiting for my patronage like a hungry fish with its mouth open, and it won’t be long before he’ll be indebted to me for all sorts of legal work. I can literally make Amos, Kwan. So you see, he’s not going to turn you over. And then, too, as I told you before, there’s no reward out for you. That makes considerable difference.”
The Chinese and the white man conversed in low tones for a few moments, their conversation punctuated only by the swish of snow against the window, and the rattle of the panes. At length there were sounds in the adjoining room, voices, which connected with that outer office. Marceau arose and opened it part way. “Ah there, Amos, come in.”
The newcomer who entered was of the dry-as-dust lawyer type, a man of forty-five, but, in this case, an indubitable forty-five, with face long and dolorous, and a none too prosperous air radiating from him. The overcoat that he wore was somewhat shiny and his feet were encased in great galoshes.
He stared in frank amazement at Kwan Yung, who had arisen at his entrance.
“Kwan! Little Kwan Yung!” he exclaimed. “Why—”
“Yes, it is I, Amos,” said Kwan Yung. “And I would know you too, even after all the years.”
“Why—has the governor——”
Kwan Yung shook his head. “No, Amos. The governor has not. They are even looking for me now.” He nodded his head toward Marceau. “Oliver here has been my only friend.”
“Well—I—well—well—” sputtered Lane in bewilderment. He stared from man to man.
“Get off your things, Amos,” ordered Marceau in a businesslike tone. He waited patiently until Lane had divested himself of the shiny overcoat and had gingerly taken up a seat. Then he began speaking. “Now, Amos, Kwan here is merely an old school acquaintance of yours—perhaps even a bit too young at the time we all went to school—that he’d mean anything to you, one way or the other—but he’s a friend of mine—a friend—and so remember that at this particular moment you know nothing of his having ever been in prison.”
Amos Lane licked a pair of very dry lips, and rubbed his hands together. “Precisely, Oliver. Exactly. Proceed—if you will.”
“Well,” continued Marceau, “Kwan was, up to some time ago, as you evidently know, employed in the fiscal department of the Oregon Paper Company which had offices in Syracuse. Thanks mainly to the splendid business training which his white foster parents, the Reverend and Mrs. Mackechnie, adopting him as they did at the time he was eight years old, gave him. And the Reverend’s influence, as well. Which—oh, you remember the Reverend and Mrs. Mackechnie, do you, Amos? I see. Well, what you don’t know, of course, is that while Kwan was there—yes, with the Oregon Paper Company—and due to some familiarity with paper manufacturing methods, he worked out a little invention for making an unusually fine glazed paper for half-tones and book plates. He—” But Marceau turned to Kwan Yung. “Suppose you just tell Amos yourself, Kwan, about this patent of yours and the subsequent events.”
Kwan Yung turned to the lawyer.
“Well, Amos, it was this way: I saw early in my connections with the paper industry the possibilities of a continuously heated roll that would exert both a lateral and a transverse rolling motion on the paper going through it. I found that different kinds of ironing motions achieved not only vastly different types of glaze—but, what is more important—used really different amounts of talc! Anyway, as I have told Oliver here, I worked several years on the thing, and finally got the precise combination of motions—a sort of sine-swing, as I beg to term it—that would literally iron the talc—and a minimum of such, too!—into the paper as it came through the rolls, and with a roll, moreover, that could be continuously heated from the inside. Then, Amos, came that trouble at the Oregon Paper Company about its books and the money shortage. I see, however, that you are familiar with the facts. But before Heaven, Amos, as I have sworn to Oliver here, they made me the victim—perhaps because I was of another blood—I cannot truly believe your white race would take advantage of mere blood, since—However, at any rate, those books were juggled, as you would term it, against me—that unscrupulous New York policeman was dug up to swear to utterly false evidence against me—and I went to Sing Sing, as you know, for ten years, for embezzlement. Though I tell you I am innocent, Amos. Innocent even of the evidence given by that black-hearted policeman. For I——”
“Tell us, again, Kwan,” put in Marceau, “about this crooked policeman, will you?”
“Assuredly. His name was Nat McGinnis. It seems that he was stationed in Chinatown, here in New York, outside of some gambling house run by one of my blood, Guey Lum—on Mott Street. He testified, as was at least set forth in the Syracuse papers, that he saw me, every Saturday night, entering Guey Lum’s place here in New York, and, at least for those last eight or ten weeks, come forth cursing after midnight—like a heavy loser. Guey Lum, though he did not know me at all, came to my rescue—as any Chinese would to another: but his testimony, of course, there in Syracuse, to the effect that he had never seen me in his life—which was true!—was not worth a—a—a continental against this one crooked man whose blood was that of—well—of you, my two good friends. But what was most deplorable was something that I was not even permitted by the judge to tell in entirety, in the court room—namely, that I had myself once, long before all that trouble, seen Nat McGinnis coming out of the Oregon Paper Company offices there in Syracuse. Quite obviously, some one there knew him well—was able to obtain his services in convicting me—perhaps on the basis of pure friendship—perhaps for a mere hundred dollars or so. And it is indeed ironic that Nat McGinnis, as I so subsequently read there in Sing Sing, perished by an accidental bullet fired in the same tong war which exterminated no less a one than Guey Lum. The two principal witnesses—one for me, one against me—both cancelled—by the same disturbance! But, of course, Confucius himself once said: ‘When the North Wind rises to its fullest—down goes the Emperor’s pagoda and the coolie’s hovel!’ ”
Kwan Yung paused a moment apologetically. “But,” he went on, almost immediately, “reverting again to myself, Amos, I not only am innocent—of the charges set forth by Nat McGinnis—for I had never gambled in my life—but I was innocent of the embezzlement too, I——”
“Of course Kwan is innocent,” put in Marceau, but there was an enforced warmth and assurance in his voice that, to the reader of character, would have smacked of hypocrisy. “The use of this copper McGinnis was solely—if you ask me!—to provide the judge some sort of justification for giving Kwan the whole works. Yes—sir. For where Kwan made his ghastly mistake, Amos, was to assume that his lawyer was like himself—honest—for he unfortunately took the blighter’s advice to waive a jury and take a bench trial before Judge Hibbard Blake on the presumed basis of Blake’s leaning toward the Chinese race!”
“Good—God!” commented Amos Lane. “Kwan, your lawyer was Ruggles Pelstyne, wasn’t he?”
“Well, just between the three of us here, he’d sell out his own mother for 50 cents! And when he steered you against Judge Hibbard Blake—he was simply putting you behind bars. Why—Blake’s speeches at the different bar associations anent the so-called menace of the Yellow Race—why, they’re absolutely jingoistic. Now, by golly, Kwan—I know you’re innocent!”
“I thank you. But never again, however, shall I have a lawyer nor a judge whose entire life I do not investigate. For, again to quote Confucius—‘He who stumbles twice over the same rock deserves to break his shin.’ ”
Marceau grinned again, shaking his head obviously at the quaint manner in which the Confucian precepts persisted in popping into Kwan Yung’s otherwise sophisticated English. And then he spoke. “Well, Kwan, go on with your story to Amos.”
“Yes. Well,” Kwan Yung continued, “I will not bother you with the details, Amos. Through making but one specific claim on my patent application, namely,—as it related solely to paper making—I got a patent on the Kwan Yung Super-Calendering Roll, as it is termed; the patent was granted to me after I was duly enrolled at Sing Sing. As soon as my first month of probation was over, I applied to the warden for permission to have a few business conferences with paper-mill men. I was allowed them. After a good deal of haggling, Mr. Gilfoil of the Northern Fir Paper Company of Canada, who came himself to the prison from New York, offered me $25,000 for all rights in the roll. This was the best offer I had got. By pitting Mr. Gilfoil against himself, so to speak, which is, I hear, a permissible maneuver in business, I managed finally to get him to raise the offer to $30,000 plus an additional $1000 added on to recompense me for the expense I was put to in developing the thing, and plus $250 which I had used up as fees in obtaining patent rights. In other words, $31,250 was the final offer made.”
“And then you escaped, I take it,” put in Lane shrewdly, “before you had a chance to close with these people? Am I right?”
Kwan Yung nodded. “Can you blame me, Amos? It was hell, incarcerated in that tomb of granite for something I was innocent of. It was hell, I tell you. And when that big jailbreak came, and thirty or more men got away, I simply lost my head and took advantage of it. I do not know yet whether I did right or wrong—whether I was wise or foolish. But by the time I woke up to things I was several hundred miles from there, dressed in an old camper’s suit I found in a deserted cottage in the country, this old overcoat that I bought with the few dollars I found in the suit, and free. And then it was I realized that any attempt on my part now to close up with the Northern Fir Company meant that I would be arrested and sent back to prison; for my dealings with the company were known to the warden, and the Northern Fir Company would have been notified and detectives posted there to wait for me to show up to close the sale of my invention.”
Kwan Yung’s face was bitter as he reflected a moment. “Well, Amos, you can probably guess the rest. I hadn’t a friend in New York City that I could trust. That chap, Guey Lum, was, as I told you, dead. And I dared not go to Chinatown—for I am, as you know, thanks to having been brought up by Reverend and Mrs. Mackechnie, a cheng-fong-gwai Chinese—which literally translated, Amos, means ‘Same-like-foreign-devil-and-not-of-us.’ And there was the matter of the matter of——”
Marceau took up the story. “You see, Amos, when the Mackechnies took Kwan Yung, it was after his father, some famous tongsman, was killed by a rival tong in Vancouver, British Columbia. And Kwan does not know the circumstances, for the Mackechnies always kept all the facts from him. Moreover, each elicited a promise from him before he or she, as the case was, died, that he would never seek to find out the circumstances. To which he has faithfully lived up, being grateful for the care they save him. He does remember faintly—for he was then a little boy of eight—being sworn in as a member of the tong of which his father was a member—scarcely knowing what it was all about, of course. And taking some oath which he thinks was an oath of revenge for the father. That’s all he knows. But he fears today that the rival tong, if they learned he was Kwan Yung, adopted in Vancouver by the Mackechnies, would believe he had been told all about the circumstances—and that he desired now, before he died, to avenge his father’s death. And so, Amos, he was afraid to go to Chinatown. For unless he could establish exactly who he was, no Chinese whatever would take him in. And should the man who took him in establish that he was the little boy who swore vengeance against his father’s slayers—well, it would be just too bad. For the tongs have more rum cards, you know, than just automatic guns. They can also do such cute little tricks as to tip off the white police—and have an undesirable enemy placed in the cooler for ten years. Do you see?”
“Yes, I do,” nodded Lane. “I do.” He turned to Kwan Yung. “And so naturally you stayed away from Chinatown. I see.”
“I had to, for safety,” said Kwan Yung, simply. “But again, outside of Oliver here, I had not a further friend in New York. When I last saw you, Amos, for the brief few moments I did, you’ll remember you were practicing in Albany. So I had just Oliver. Well, I’d heard that he was in business in New York City and prospering too. So I looked him up in the phone directory and late at night, some nights ago, came to his apartment up on 154th Street. I did not feel, somehow, that I was taking a chance. I knew Oliver would not turn me over. If, for no other reason, perhaps, than that I received the beating of my young kid life, in the long, long ago, for tipping Oliver off when that Skag-Hill Gang was after him. Oh, you remember that, do you, Amos? Well, I felt sure of Oliver. And I knew that he had experience in the business world that would help me close up on this invention of mine and give me a chance to get out of the country altogether. And so I came to him. And Oliver—why, Oliver gave me fifty dollars. He proved a true friend.”
“Well,” put in Marceau to the lawyer, “the fifty dollars is a very trivial favor. The main thing that interested me in Kwan’s story was his predicament about his invention. And the main thing that it was up to me to do was to enable him to collect on it.” He paused. “Well, now, Amos, Kwan and I have agreed that in order for him to consummate his deal, the only way open is for him to trust me implicitly. If I should act merely as his agent, the police will tap my phone wires and dog my footsteps from now until doomsday, and I might even get into deeper trouble if I fail to reveal his whereabouts. On the other hand, if he deeds his invention bodily over to me, and I pay him for it, and he then disappears, I can proceed to sell it myself to the paper company and then reimburse myself, and the police can say nothing. As a matter of fact, I haven’t the actual cash to pay over to Kwan—most of my holdings here in New York are tied up in bonds, real estate and my business. So I’ll have to deal with the paper company first. Now my idea is, and was, after I first heard Kwan’s story, to protect him while I am re-selling his patent, by a promissory note for—say—three days’ time—the usual sort of paper—and after I have closed up the deal to pass him his money in a way in which he and I have agreed. It will not be necessary for me to go into details on that, I presume, and of course it goes without saying that what is discussed in this room this morning is confidential.”
“Quite,” said the lawyer with alacrity, moistening his lips with his tongue. “Quite, Oliver.”
“Well, now that Kwan has agreed on the wisdom of my procedure, suppose you look over these two papers which I typed out myself last night so as to avoid the use of the stenographer in the next room. One is a complete transfer to me, for the sum of $31,250, of the full title and rights in Patent Number 1,749,263 described as a calendering roll for making high-grade glazed paper, and to be known commercially as the Kwan Yung Super-Calendering Continuously Heated Roll. The other paper is the promissory note for $31,250, which in the meantime is to protect Kwan against my demise. Are they both worded correctly? The only blank note I could get at such late hour last night as I fixed these papers up, was a form note as used by one of the salesmen covering Chicago—for the Amalgamated Canned Food Products Company up the hall. But, being printed, I presume it must be worded right. I cut off their name from the top, of course.”
Amos Lane withdrew his attention from the prosperous appearing man on his right, and the harassed looking fugitive on his alert, and putting a pair of hornshell glasses on his nose, studied the two papers slowly and carefully. He finally laid the glasses aside on the desk and looked up. “They are quite correct, Oliver. As for the note, it really does not matter, so far as its validity goes, whether you did or did not cut off the firm name from the top—since they obviously have their notes made out to individuals in the firm for convenience in suing and so left you a blank line for your particular payee. Of course, since the note bears the printed location, Chicago, Illinois, it comes under Illinois laws solely as to post-maturity interest, and all such factors governing notes—the printed location-line taking legal precedence in law over the place where it is actually signed—in this case, New York State. However, that is of no moment. Indeed, an Illinois note, in actuality, is a better note than a New York State note.” He handed Marceau back the papers.
The latter took them.
“Now I think,” he asked, again addressing Lane, “that you told me you knew two of the officials in the New York offices of the Northern Fir Company?”
“Yes, Oliver. I know Mr. Gilfoil, the president, and Mr. Patterson, the vice-president.”
“Well, that’s very good. That’s fine.” Marceau shoved the larger of the two papers over to Kwan Yung and, taking up a black onyx fountain pen from its heavy base, extended it to him. “Now, Kwan, don’t be alarmed when I call in these two witnesses from the next room. I’ll cover up your name with a blotter so they can’t see it. They’re just a young fellow and a girl that work for me as clerk and stenographer.” He stepped to the outer doorway. “Mr. Conway—Miss Brown—step in here a moment, please.”
A young fellow with a pen behind his ear and a young girl came in somewhat awkwardly. “Mr. Conway, Miss Brown, I want you to witness the conveyance to me of a deed to the site of a Chinese laundry. This gentleman—” Marceau indicated Kwan Yung with his hand. “—Mr. Charles Lee, is conveying it to me direct for certain reasons.” He nodded pleasantly. “All right, Cholley, you can sign. And Amos, if you’ll please make the notarial annotation.”
Kwan Yung leaned forward and signed. Amos Lane took up the paper, and replacing his hornshell glasses on his nose, asked in a sing-song formal manner: “You acknowledge this instrument as a deed of your free will?”
“I do,” said Kwan Yung.
Amos Lane’s pen scratched for a minute or two, and then, going over to his coat, he withdrew from it a black and gilt notary seal into whose jaws he clamped the paper and pressed into its fibers his seal. He handed it to Marceau who inspected it and then laid it out on the table doubled up so that the top half lay beneath the bottom half. This done, he placed a blotter meticulously over Kwan Yung’s signature and Lane’s painfully written annotation beginning: “Before me this day appeared . . .” He beckoned to the two young people from the adjoining room.
“Sign here, Mr. Conway and Miss Brown.”
Obediently they appended their own signatures. They stood a moment waiting. Marceau nodded to the door from which they had entered. “You can go back to your work now,” he said, curtly.
Once more the three men were alone in the office. Marceau stepped back to his own chair, and taking up once more the black onyx fountain pen from its beautiful gold and onyx base, wrote his full name on a line at the bottom of the smaller paper. He blotted it and handed it to Kwan Yung. “There you are, Kwan. One 3-day promissory note for $31,250. If I fall dead, that’s your only means of getting your money from my estate. So take good care of it. And also watch out that no detective runs his hands over you and finds it, for it bears your name.” He turned to Lane. “Well, Amos, I guess that’s all for the present. Will you be in your office this afternoon?”
“Yes—all afternoon, Oliver.” The lawyer rose and looked ostentatiously at a big silver watch. “Then I’ll just be jogging along. I’ve a very important case in court this morning—veree important.” He turned and shook hands with Kwan Yung. “Well, Kwan, I hope your troubles will be solved pretty soon. I congratulate you at any rate on the sale of this patent of yours, which I have no doubt will go through, now that Oliver has taken hold of it. And have no fear of my knowing anything about you in this little conference today. I am—er—with Oliver here—representing him in a legal capacity.” Marceau nodded in assent and Lane’s face brightened appreciably. “So his interests and yours are mine.” He paused. “Better get out of the country, Kwan, after you get your money. The law has a long arm. China itself, today, is a good place to start over, I hear, for white or Chinese. As for the affairs of the Oregon Paper Company, I understand they were pretty badly jumbled; so don’t ever get caught like that again.”
He bowed himself out with extreme dignity. The two men were alone. Kwan Yung commenced to fidget in his chair. “Of course I know I can trust Amos Lane,” he said uneasily, “but now that a third man knows that I’m in New York City—well—I am a bit nervous. How soon are you going to get after the Northern Fir people, Oliver?” he asked.
“Tomorrow morning,” replied Marceau, promptly. “And watch the personal columns of the New York Journal. I hope to have the thing sewed up within three days. And I may even be able to do a bit better for you on the price.”
Kwan Yung arose. “But—but don’t, I beg of you, Oliver, haggle with them and—and spoil the sale,” he said apprehensively. “Remember, $31,250 to me is a fortune worth twice that to a man who is free.”
“Well, I’ll not be hard on them,” said the other. He looked Kwan Yung over curiously. “Kwan, it’s plain to be seen, you’re nervous. If you feel uneasy, you’d better go, for your own peace of mind. Need any money?”
Kwan Yung shook his head. “No, thanks to you, Oliver. I’ve still a good part of that fifty you gave me. I’m going to slip out, now. I imagine eyes are peering at me from everywhere.” He took up his sham laundry bundle and clasped the other’s outstretched hand. “And Oliver—will you not accept some sort of agent’s commission for handling this deal? Twenty per cent? Or even thirty per cent?”
“Not a bit of it,” replied Marceau, gruffly. “As I told you once before, we’re friends, aren’t we? Well—that’s enough.” He went over to the door with the other. “All right, now. Keep a cool head. Don’t get uneasy. And keep a stiff upper lip. You’ve passed the buck to me, now, and you’ve eluded the law. Just let me pluck your chestnuts out of the fire for you. Go to your left when you get out, and you’ll find a staircase if you don’t want to chance the elevator.”
A moment later the door closed behind Kwan Yung and he was trudging down the hallway to the stairway. Ten minutes later he was forcing his way along Ann Street against the chill gusts of the February day toward that deserted garage in the rear of that ramshackle house uptown—that garage whose side door, happily unlocked the night he had struck New York, was concealed by a blind passage going through from the alley to the street: a cubicle in which he must continue to remain in seclusion until he should see the advertisement in the Journal which meant that his affairs were solved and he was free to quit America and the ever-present shadow of the white man’s law. But had he but been able, by some sort of supervision to glance back of him across space and through walls themselves into the interior of the office he had just left, and had he been able to hear, by some sort of super-radio, the actual thoughts of the man he had just left, he would have been as dismayed as he had been that terrible day when stone and steel had clanged together on him for ten long years to come!
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