AS CONFUCIUS SAID
Y. Cheung, lone passenger on the little rumbling, tumbling Indianapolis streetcar, now passing interminable dark blocks of bungalow-like residences, turned in his seat as the conductor, who had come up behind him, tapped him on his shoulder.
“ ’Twas Oxford Road you wanted, wasn’t it, young feller?”
“Yes,” Cheung nodded, hastily straightening the black four-in-hand tie which dropped from the collar of his soft white silk shirt, and with equal haste buttoning together the edges of his well-tailored dark green coat.
But the conductor was shaking his head. “No, don’t get off here, Cholly. For Oxford Road lays ahead now about one full mile. Me—I jump off, second corner up, to put on my feed bag!—it’s 7:30 p.m. now—and I nab this here car when she comes back. As for you, soon’s you spot the first streetlight, this here side you’re on, what looks like—but I don’t suppose a Chinaman like you has ever been in London, eh?”
“Yes,” Cheung nodded, “I have.”
“You have? Good! That’s more’n I ever have! All right. Soon’s you spot the first lamppost carryin’ a eight-sided glass lantern—an’ which I understand is a perfect imitation of the London streetlights—well, when you see this first light, press the stop-button here, and get off at the next light. You’ve ten minutes yet, though.” And the conductor left, swinging off the car, a fraction of a minute later, at a partly lighted cross-street down which a projecting lighted neon sign proclaimed the succinct word “EAT.”
“No less than Confucius himself it was,” Cheung mused, “who said: ‘He who does one thing while he does another, lives thereby twice as long.’ So—I may as well re-read my two important bits of correspondence.”
With which, as the car picked up speed again, he withdrew from his breast pocket not only the typewritten letter he had received the day before in Chicago, but the two-page telegram which he had received only two hours ago in Indianapolis. And, unfolding the latter first, remarked to himself: “And Confucius, the Wise Old Boy, was certainly right when he said: ‘As the fattest worm always covers the sharpest hook, so do many words in a letter always cover the worst news.’ ”
The telegram, sent as it had been by the president of a San Francisco trust company—and charged, as it had been, to an estate!—had not been scrimped in the least, so far as words went: indeed, with the meticulousness of a trust company president, it had even been sent punctuated, and though transmitted under day-letter classification, must have cost that estate at least ten dollars. Frowning—not, however, at the costs involved, but at what the message conveyed—Cheung read it again, and sadly. It ran:
Care Mrs. Samantha Tubbs’ Furnished
Rooms for Persons of Color,
9th Street, at the Canal, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Dear Mr. Cheung: With regrets I answer herewith completely your wire just received concerning the disposition of the estate of your grandfather Cheung Hi, who died here last Monday, and whose body, in accordance with his carefully detailed stipulations, is now en route for China in a lead casket to be buried with his ancestors near Chang-Chau. Your grandfather, I am sorry to say, was extremely disgruntled that, after he had brought you up solely in white schools, and, in particular, given you four years’ engineering education at Rose Polytechnic as well as a six months’ holiday in England, you deliberately created for yourself there in Chicago a profession in which national fame and honor for the family name of Cheung was not possible. Not possible, that is, so far as your grandfather could see. For, I also regret to say, he characterized your profession, in a recent discussion with one of our trustees, as “Detective Who Finds Pair of 29-Cent Cotton Stockings Stolen From White Department Store.” Concerning his $100,000 estate, however, he placed it in trust with us about two weeks before he passed away, this trust specifying that he was to enjoy the income from the estate while he yet lived. The trust likewise specified that on the first anniversary of his birthday following his death—which anniversary will, of course, be the coming Wednesday, September 7th, or 7 days from now—the estate is to go in toto to its heir. This heir, I also regret to say, is his other grandson, Cheung Soo, whose name, in connection with his winning—through the Chinese lily-bulb number divination methods perfected by your grandfather—of the second, or $25,000 prize in the last Irish Sweepstakes, appeared simultaneously in about 2000 American newspapers. While it is true that your cousin’s sweepstakes winnings have all since gone via the fantan route, and that there is no doubt that all he inherits from your grandfather will speedily go the same way, you must keep in mind that this trust company acts only as a distributing agent for estates, and does not enter into the merits or demerits of any such distributions. I may even say that I am reliably informed that your cousin is the one who first characterized, in the hearing of your grandfather, your profession as described above; and that I am also informed that the sweepstakes ticket in question was won by your cousin from some poor laundryman in a fantan game, and that he merely stated to the reporters that he had selected it according to your grandfather’s divination methods, which of course pleased your grandfather immeasurably. Such facts do not, of course, constitute any legal basis whatsoever for attempting to break this trust, since the trust agreement does not incorporate them in any way; but my understanding also is, from long handling of Chinese estates here in San Francisco, that you Chinese never attempt anyway to attack a relative’s will or trust. There is, however, Mr. Cheung, one single proviso in your grandfather’s trust by which you may inherit something, though not, obviously, a provision under which it is possible for you to qualify: Namely and To-wit: The trust provides that if your name also appears simultaneously in one thousand American newspapers—honorably, and as one who has done something (a) exceptional and unusual and (b) meritorious—any time prior to midnight of the day before the estate becomes legally payable to your cousin Soo, the $100,000 estate is in that case to be equally partitioned, and you as well as your cousin Cheung Soo will receive $50,000. Any news stories, however, concerning this bequest, shall not—as your grandfather’s trust definitely specifies—count as “honorable mention”; though, so far as that goes, we have been fortunately enabled to keep the entire matter out of the press. I trust I have fully answered all of your queries, spoken and unspoken, and beg to remain, very truly yours,
Amster MacFarland, President,
The First San Francisco Trust Company.
Cheung, arriving at last at the final line of the long telegram, nodded slowly. “And that,” he remarked to himself, “—as old Confucius never did say—is that!” And he tore the telegram into the finest of pieces, which he placed in his side coat pocket for later disposition.
There was no sign yet, as he peered through the dark window next him, of any “lantern-like” streetlight such as he had seen illuminating the mouth of many a dark mews in far-off London. And so, with a sigh, he unfolded the letter which he had brought forth with the telegram. It was dated 2 days ago, and the capacious sheet of paper comprising it was typewritten on both of its sides, in single-spaced lines, with here and there roughly made corrections which showed plainly that it had been personally written by its sender—whose name, “Harry Harven,” appeared at the bottom of its last line—and not entrusted to any stenographer. It read:
CENTRAL INDIANA CONSTRUCTION COMPANY
Milford Harven, President
So you’ve popped up on the horizon again—for the first time since your graduation from Rose Polytech! Received your business card and literature the other day—and was some surprised. “Y. Cheung, Business Detective, Specializing in the Locating of Business Leaks!” That is some unique profession, if you’ll pardon the comment. It was rather flabbergasting to find that Y. Cheung, who might—at least, so I think!—have become a very good civil engineer, should become a Locator of Business Leaks. Whatever drove you into such a game, Cheung? Some mental slant, I’ll wager, allied with your intense interest in cryptography. And which, in turn, reminds me to tell you that up to some time ago, Father owned no less than the famous Marceau “Death Manuscript”—the one, that is, entitled “Strange Romance”—into which the dead Marceau, if you recall the famous British “Strangler Baby Case,” presumably cryptified the “mechanics” of his anticipated death. How Father got the manuscript would involve too much explanation here, but I will so much as say that the script itself—plus other factors which I was able to dig up for Father—shows that the deciphering of it by X. Jones, the British detective and criminologist, was no deciphering of it at all; was just, at best, a “happenstantial happenstance”; for the fragmentary part available to Jones, as at least Father and I know to-day, was positively not in code at all. Father, because of deep obligations thereto, gave the manuscript to Cortland van Renssalear of New York City—van Renssalear is now in the Himalayas—whose famous collection of original cryptograms is said to be the largest in the world. 1,200 items, I think I recall it—involving 432 different methods of cryptography. All of which I trust is of some interest to you, in view of the fact that you yourself used, in a small way, to collect original items, didn’t you? And you—
But here—here—I’m off the subject.
And now to business!
Cheung, the Central Indiana Construction Company, of which, as you’ll remember, Dad is president and nearly the whole works, is up against some leak—some bewildering phenomena that lie in the realm of nothing less than Black Magic. Dad has reached the point where he wants to put a flatfoot from some private detective agency in the contract offices to see if the latter can solve it—but I’m vetoing it strongly. I tell him that just so sure as he does, not only will the guilty party get next in a minute, but the Big Brains back of it all will get wise, too. And that’s the fish we’re trying to land!
Just about that time your literature, mailed us from Chicago, reached us. “Y. Cheung, Business Detective; Specializing in the Locating of Business Leaks!” I took it in to Dad and pointed out some of your references. And, Cheung, I believe you’re just the man to put in this place to find daylight in this bewildering thing. In fact, I’ve gotten Dad to assent to that. With, however, old top, one proviso. (Alack and alas!) Which is, in short, that if by some chance you should succeed in illuminating our enigma in any way, he cannot give you either a reference or a testimonial for your literature, or any publicity whatsoever, and must, moreover, himself assume all credit as to solving the riddle. For Dad, you see, Cheung—though he has no personal feelings whatsoever with regards to color—gave an interview, three months ago, to the Indianapolis Blade in which he set forth the superiority (alleged) of the White Mind to that of the Oriental Mind, and showed why there was no such thing as a “Yellow Menace” for the simple reason that the White Race would ever advance faster than the Yellow. So Dad naturally, in the face of that front-page article, would not wish all his friends in Indianapolis to see that he—the great exponent of white mental supremacy!—had to hire a Yellow Man to untangle a riddle in his own office. Indeed, Dad says, were such a thing to come about, it would actually make a national news story against him.
But Dad does know, Cheung, the character of the Yellow Man enough to realize that, if the latter agrees to terms and conditions, he will accede religiously to them.
And so now, Cheung, if you’ve no jobs on hand there in Chicago, can you run down to Indianapolis—only 3 hours, you know, from Chicago, either on the new Monon streamlined Blizzard or the Hurricane—and call on us here, say, Thursday evening, at around 8:30, and see Dad? If you can, just wire us a single wire saying “Okay.” He wants to talk to you; and I’ve already assured you that I’m in favor of putting at least a civil engineer in a civil engineering office—and not a flatfoot dick from police headquarters, or a Sherlock Holmes from a shyster detective agency. Will you wire your okay—and come?
We live on the outskirts, on a new street called Oxford Road. Because, I suppose, of the many hedges! The number is 136. If you ride out by taxi, warn the driver he’ll have to have a new street guide. And if you come by street car—which would be a Route No. 7-b car, caught outside the Union Depot—get off at Oxford Road, close your eyes—the street’s so dark, it won’t help you any to keep ’em open!—and follow the right-hand side of the street till your hand touches an ornamental iron fence instead of the usual hedge. By groping your way, then, up a flagstone-paved walk, you should strike the steps of our shack. Then ring the bell. And we’ll be waiting for you.
Almost as Cheung reached the signature of the letter, a peculiar street lamp consisting of an 8-sided glass lantern with sloping panels, mounted on a short, cast-iron pole, flashed by the window next him. Hastily he returned the letter to his pocket, rose, and pushed the stop button. And, as the next similar London-like lantern drew up, the car came to a stop and Cheung climbed off. And a second later the car rumbled off in the darkness.
“And now—for number 136,” Cheung said, gazing down the dark street. “For, whatever this queer job being offered me, it won’t at least—as my esteemed cousin in far-off Frisco calls it—be anything dealing with the recovery of any 29-cent cotton stockings!”
And, like the streetcar, he too dove off into the darkness.
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