Ah Lun's gift

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ah Lun's Gift  (1899) 
by W. Pett Ridge

Extracted from The Windsor Magazine, Vol 9, 1898-99, pp. 359-367. Accompanying illustrations by will Owen omitted.


By W. Pett Ridge.

I DON'T reckon," said the boy who was dusting a cigarette advertisement, "that we've got what you may call an exciting business, sir."

Mr. Bourne, behind the counter, looked up from the romance that he was reading and fingered his slight moustache nervously.

"Two packets of cigarette papers," went on the boy gloomily, "a screw of shag, and a couple of cheeky kids trying to sell us matches—that's what we've done to-day. And my argument—— ("Now then, Tottie." This to an amazing young woman on a tobacco advertisement that had gone awry. "Sit up straight, can't you, when I keep telling you)—And my argument is that we might do a lump better."

"If I'd only got a bit more capital," said the young proprietor wistfully to the boy.

"Kepital?" echoed the boy. "Kepital ain't everything. What you want, sir, is push; what you want is enterprise; what you want is to fling yourself about."

"Another fifty pound," said Mr. Bourne thoughtfully, "and I could 'ave got into a main thoroughfare, where a demand for a good sound twopenny goes on the whole day long."

"People ain't coming down this by-street to get no twopennies," agreed Robert Henry, "sound or unsound." He took a broom and swept the spotless floor with something of fury. "Nobody never comes 'ere; nothing never 'appens; no one never——Ullo!"

Robert Henry ran to the doorway. From the direction of Limehouse Causeway there was a sound of voices. The noise came nearer.

"What's up?" asked Mr. Bourne. He went round to the door leisurely.

"Shindy of some kind," shouted Robert Henry with excitement. "One of them sailor's rows, I expect. Time we had anofer murder. 'Ere comes someone!"

Someone had indeed turned the corner of the dim, narrow street. Mr. Bourne, peeping over the head of Robert Henry, saw a Chinaman slipping eel-like in the shadow of the houses. As he neared the shop, a noisy crowd appeared at the end of the street, cheering two short infuriated Japanese sailors. The pursued Chinaman looked over his shoulder and, turning swiftly, slipped between Mr. Bourne and the lad into the tobacconist's shop. He jumped nimbly on the counter, turned out the four gas jets, and disappeared. The crowd swept past the doorway and then wavered, and some of it returned.

"Seen a Chink?" demanded a swollen-faced man, in a gasp. "There's one come down this way. These two Japs are after him, and they'll 'ave his blood if they can find him."

"He went on that way," said Robert Henry readily. "Frough that court."

"Sure he didn't turn into your shop?"

The two Japanese sailors came back breathless, their entourage of interested men and women with them.

"Fink we shouldn't know it if he had?" asked Robert Henry indignantly. "Ast the guv'nor, if you don't believe me"

The swollen-faced man looked interrogatively at Mr. Bourne, and the two Japanese pressed forward to hear his answer. From inside the dark shop came the sound of partially repressed breathing.

"What the boy says," declared Mr. Bourne, "is gospel."

"Come on!" shouted the swollen-faced man, with the ardour of a true sportsman. "He's gone up this court. We'll ketch him there like a bloomin' rat in a bloomin' 'ole."

The two Japanese sailors rushed on, and the crowd followed, enjoying to the full the pleasures of the chase and screaming with enthusiasm. A constable of the K division stamped down the narrow street and spoke to Mr. Bourne.

"What's up? " asked K 052.

"’Unting a Chinaman," said Mr. Bourne.

"I wish all the foreigners," said K 052 strenuously, "was put in a balloon and carried away to sea and drowned."

"Wouldn't be a bad idea," agreed Mr. Bourne.

"Oblige me with 'alf an ounce of best navy cut before you go to by-bye."

"With pleasure," said Mr. Bourne.

Robert Henry went round to the other side of the counter, and the constable at the doorway found his pouch. Robert Henry stumbled against the escaped Chinaman, who, crouching down, kissed Robert Henry's coat-sleeve. The lad made the tobacco into a packet and brought it it to the doorway.

"Fall over yourself?" asked the constable kindly.

"Very nigh," replied Robert Henry.

"Never mind about the twopence ha'penny," said Mr. Bourne.

"Very well," remarked K. 052 agreeably, "I won't. So long!"

"So long!" said Mr. Bourne. "Robert 'Enry, put the shutters up."

Mr. Bourne did not move from the doorway until this undertaking was completed, being, as a matter of fact, a young man with only the usual amount of courage, and not, under the circumstances, disinclined for the presence and support of Robert Henry. When the last shutter was fixed the two went inside and closed the door.

"Strike a match," suggested Robert Henry.

The wax vesta illumined the shop and showed a blue linen cap beyond the counter.

"It's all right, old chap," said Robert Henry. "Come out."

The blue linen cap rose slowly, and a face with high cheek bones, over which the yellow skin was tightly stretched, peeped over the counter.

"All gol away?" asked the Chinaman, in an awed whisper.

"Clean away," replied Mr. Bourne.

The Chinaman raised himself tremblingly to his full height and stood blinking on the inside of the counter. His long, skinny hands, with tapering nails, trembled as he laid them on the glass case which contained packets of cigarettes. His long pigtail slipped from underneath his cap. He looked at the proprietor and at the boy, and then, deciding apparently that Mr. Bourne was the more important of the two, back to the proprietor again.

"You save," he said laboriously, in his loose-tongued way, "Ah Lun. You save his life. Ah Lun much oblige."

"You'd 'a' been a deader by this time," said Robert Henry, "if we hadn't given you a 'and. You wouldn't never 'ave eaten no more bird's nests if we hadn't let you slip in 'here."

"I play you," said Ah Lun, still addressing Mr. Bourne. "I play you."

"Never touch cards," said the proprietor.

"I say I play you for what you do."

"He means he'll pay you," interpreted Robert Henry.

"How much?" asked Mr. Bourne. He lighted a second jet of gas.

"Got no moley," said Ah Lun regretfully.

"Ah!" said Mr. Bourne, turning out the second jet of gas. "That's a drawback."

"What was the row about?" asked Robert Henry.

"I sell him," said the Chinaman, with a grin that flickered over his bony face and disappeared, "I sell him lilee diamond. He no likee."

"Rum chap, not to like diamonds," said the boy. "But, 'arking back, how do you reckon you're going to recompense me and the guv'nor for saving your life if you ain't got no money? "

The question was a long one and had to be repeated in an abbreviated form. Ah Lun came softly from behind the counter and went to look through the round hole in the shutters of the shop door. He started back suddenly.

"Lil Chilaman go there!" he begged, shivering with fear. He pointed to the rear of the shop.

"Look 'ere," said Mr. Bourne definitely—"I've had about enough of your nonsense! I've got no particular choice between Japan and China or any other country. Robert 'Enry, open the door and out this chap!"

"You'd better out him," said Robert Henry; "I'll open the door!"

"No, no, no!" entreated Ah Lun on his knees. "Outside they killa Chilaman! No, no, no!"

"Get out!" commanded Mr. Bourne. "You shouldn't come over to a respectable country like this. Move yourself!"

Ah Lun clutched at Mr. Bourne's coat and pulled him down. Then he took something from a pocket inside his blue blouse—a small black bottle with a golden stopper—and whispered with feverish eagerness to Mr. Bourne. The tobacconist's face took an air of incredulity.

"Who are you kiddin' of?" he demanded.

Ah Lun whispered again with increased excitement. Mr. Bourne took the small black bottle reluctantly.

"Shut the door, Robert 'Enry!"

"Make up your mind what you're going to do!" grumbled the boy. "First it's open the door, then it's shut the door, and——"

"Shut your mouth, too," ordered the tobacconist, "and stop 'ere till I come back." He turned to the trembling Chinaman. "Come on, sir," he said; "this way. There's a step just at the back there. Mind how you fall!"

Mr. Bourne was back in the shop in less than a minute, humming an air with the manner of cheerful unconcern. He opened his private drawer behind the counter and placed something in it, and relocked the drawer with great particularity, trying it several times to see that it was secure. He stepped up on the stool to turn down the one lighted gas jet.

"Have a cigarette to smoke on your way 'ome, Robert 'Enry?"

"No," said the boy shortly.

"Don't let me keep you," said his master, "if you're in a 'urry."

"Me time's me own!" said the boy. "What was that he give you?"

"Don't be late in the morning, mind," said the tobacconist cheerfully. "Always be reg'lar in coming to work, and you're bound to get on in life. And, by the by, that letter for Miss Vennick——"

"What of it?"

"You needn't trouble to leave it now," said Mr. Bourne. "Give it 'ere and I'll destroy it."

He took the letter and tore it into several pieces, and went to the room at the back of the shop.

"Good night, Robert 'Enry!"

"Goo' night!" said the boy gloomily.

The shop-door slammed with vehemence, and Mr. Bourne peeped through the windowed door to see that the boy had left. Then he pushed the door, and coming back into the shop, unlocked his private drawer carefully, took out the black bottle, and returned to the back room. Ah Lun had gone. He took a small piece of coal from the unlighted fire and placed it on the scarlet-clothed table.

"Expect it's all a common swindle," he said thoughtfully. "You can never trust these foreigners; they'll 'umbug you as soon as look at you."

He took a plate, and on this placed the small lump of coal; then, withdrawing very carefully the golden stopper from the black bottle, he poured some of the yellowish liquid over the piece of coal, letting it trickle and permeate. When the piece of coal had been covered, he replaced the golden stopper in the bottle, and looked at the busy, loud-ticking, little American clock on the mantelpiece.

"Two minutes to the hour," he said. "When it strikes——"

Mr. Bourne went to the cupboard and took down a knife and fork and bread and other things with a forced unconcern, as though his nerves were in the calmest condition; but the articles jingled as he held them, and one or two slipped from his unsteady hands. The busy little clock gave a sneeze, and then, in a hurried, bustling way, struck the hour. Mr. Bourne turned to look at the plate at the end of the table. On it lay, not the piece of coal, but a glittering diamond of identical shape, scintillating and sparkling to such an extent as to make his eyes water. He looked around the room in a dazed, bewildered manner. At the windowed part of the door leading into the shop was the astonished face of Robert Henry. Somehow he felt relieved to see the boy.

"Thought—thought you'd gone 'ome," he said, wiping his forehead.

"Thought wrong, then," replied the boy, coming into the room. "What's the little game?"

"Blessed if I know," said the tobacconist weakly. "See what's on that plate. Looks like a diamond, don't it?"

Robert Henry took it up and examined it with the air of one for whom precious gems have no secrets.

"It is a diamond," he said affirmatively. He held it up so that the light danced upon it, "Worf," added the boy after some consideration, "worf a fousand pounds, if it's worf a penny."

"Think so?" stammered Mr. Bourne.

"I don't fink," said the boy, "I know."

"Then," said Mr. Bourne, with an effort at gaiety, "My fortune's made for life."

"Your fortune,"' said Robert Henry. "What are you gassin' about? Our fortune, you mean."

"I mean our fortune," admitted Mr. Bourne. "I'm so flurried, I don't know what I'm saying."

"What you want, in circs like this," said Robert Henry importantly, "is a cool head. That's where I come in."

"We must make the most of our good fortune," suggested the tobacconist deferentially.

"First thing for you to do," said the managing director, "is to clear out of this 'ole, and break off your engagement with that Vennick gel." It was significant of Robert Henry's new position that he should refer thus lightly to Mr. Bourne's fiancée. "What you want is to be unfettered, un'ampered, and free."

"She's a nice, pleasant young lady," said Mr. Bourne vaguely, "but I s'pose she'd never do for the wife of a man of fortune. That idea occurred to me first thing. All the same, I don't see how I'm going to get out of——"

"Send her a 'andsome present," commanded the boy, taking up the large diamond again. "Send her a small one like this, and write her a letter saying that, being about to leave the neighbourhood, you feel that it is better you should part from her, much as it is against your will so to do, and you enclose a small offering and wish her every success in the dressmaking business."

"Likely as not," said Mr. Bourne wistfully, as he took pen, ink, and paper, and obeyed orders—"likely as not the time 'll come when I shall wish I 'adn't broke off the engagement with her, and when I shall think of——"

"Rats!" said Robert Henry contemptuously.

The letter written, a new diamond made, and both carefully enclosed in an empty cigar-case with brand, "Better than the Best" on the top, Robert Henry took charge of it, and promised to leave it at the house of Miss Vennick's mother on his way home. Robert Henry poured out some of the precious fluid over a wooden top that he had in his pocket, but the wood only absorbed the fluid and remained a wooden top.

"You're wastin' it!" screamed the tobacconist. "You silly young silly. What are you doing that for? It's only minerals that it's good for!"

"Ain't wood a mineral? " asked the boy, chastened at his failure and at the deserved reproof. "I didn't know."

"The things you don't know, my lad," said Mr. Bourne, reassuming the management, "would fill a good-sized room. Get off 'ome now, and come round early in the morning. I shall want to get off to 'Atton Garden, and you'll have to mind the shop. Besides, I'm a bit tired. I want my usual seven hours' sleep."

Mr. Bourne saw Robert Henry through the shop, and impressing upon him the necessity of taking good care of the cigar-case, yawned and closed the door on him. The yawn was an assumed one, for he was not in the least tired. Indeed, he sat up and worked hard until the dawn peeped through the Venetian blinds and Emmett Street began to arouse itself, and then, his small stock of coals being exhausted, he made a pyramid of the dazzling jewels that he had, with the aid of nearly one half of the precious liquid, manufactured, and dozed off.

Robert Henry had to kick at the door a good many times in the morning before his master came wearily and but half rested to open it. Robert Henry was just beginning to blame himself for having left the place all night when the door opened; he was relieved to find that he was still a partner in the firm, and that his dreams of a palatial house in Bow Road, a gorgeous wife, six feet four in height, and a dogcart, were still possible of realisation. Mr, Bourne washed himself and dressed in his best; he wrapped the smaller diamonds in cigarette papers and placed them all in a black, shiny bag. He also spiked his moustaches and tied his cravat in a flowing manner, the better to impersonate the character of a stranger to the country. Then he bade Robert Henry keep his eyes open, and walking up to the junction of roads near the Asiatic Home, for the first time in his life hailed a cab.

"Bit lumpy, ain't it, guv'nor? " said the driver, as Mr. Bourne lifted the heavy little bag into the cab.

"Oui," replied Mr. Bourne, in the French language.

"Shall I give you a 'and?"

"Non," said Mr. Bourne.

"More blooming foreigners," growled the cabman. "There won't be an Englishman left soon to keep me company."

At number 142 Hatton Garden he found Mr. Lewis Schenker, Diamond Merchant of Amsterdam and London. Mr. Bourne explained in laborious broken English that he had diamonds to sell, and Mr. Schenker, who was a stout man with only just enough breath for his wants, listened without wasting a word of comment. When Mr. Bourne had finished his description of the death of the favourite aunt who had left him the diamonds, Mr. Schenker winked at him and went and locked the door of the office.

"Dell me the druth," said Mr. Schenker jovially. "Don't give us no romances."

"Messieur," protested Mr. Bourne, "I no onderstand."

"Very well," said Mr. Schenker, chuckling. "Haf your choke then, my fellow, haf your leedle choke. I don't gare. If you haf diamonds to sell, I buy. That is all."

"Bon," said Mr. Bourne.

"Show me the brecious jewels," said Mr. Schenker. "Don't vaste time."

Mr. Schenker, with a powerful glass at his eye, examined very carefully the few smaller gems that Mr. Bourne placed on the table for his inspection. Presently Mr. Schenker said he would give fifty pounds for five of them, and Mr. Bourne took them back and said that he would not let them go for a penny under five hundred pounds. Mr. Schenker begged that he might look at them again; that he might take them in his hand, but the artful Mr. Bourne would not hear of this, and prepared to leave. Mr. Schenker, affected almost to tears by this stern attitude, implored Mr. Bourne not to be a hasty man, and said, two hundred and fifty pounds. Three hundred pounds. Well, three hundred and fifty pounds, and not a penny more if it meant imperilling his life, the life of Mrs. Schenker, and the lives of the Schenker family. At three hundred and fifty pounds, therefore, the diamonds, wrapped in the cigarette papers, changed hands, and Mr. Schenker wrote a cheque which Mr. Bourne accepted He made his way immediately down still holding the precious bag. Feeling that he had done enough business for a start, he had lunch in Holborn before going on to the bank. When this agreeable duty had been performed he looked at the cheque and discovered that it was made payable to order, and as shopkeepers in Emmett Street, Limehouse, do not keep banking accounts, he was compelled to go back to Hatton Garden to request Mr. Schenker to be so good as to make it payable to bearer.

"Ah! my friend," cried Mr. Schenker, with enthusiasm. "We meet again. You want me to alder the cheque, ain't it? "

"Si voo plait," said Mr. Bourne.

He handed the cheque to Mr. Schenker, and that gentleman, discarding at once his general manner of hilarity, tore it into small pieces and threw them over the astonished tobacconist.

"You don't blay bractical chokes on me," screamed Mr. Schenker fiercely. "No, my fellow, I am too old for all those nonsense. Al—low me to kick you downstairs."

"Not likely," protested Mr. Bourne. "Gimme my cheque or gimme my diamonds."

"Shall I kick you downstairs?" asked Schenker, breathlessly and frantically, "or shall I send for the bolice? Choose which!"

It occurred to Mr. Bourne that his position with a bag of diamonds in the City Detective Office in Old Jewry would be difficult of explanation.

"I'll go downstairs," he ssiid humbly.

"Better you go quick," screamed Schenker. "My vord, I haf killed a man for less."

Mr. Bourne, on the pavement in Hatton Garden, looked up at the office that he had quitted so hurriedly, and tried to think. This was the worst of having no introductions. This was the drawback of not knowing where to find an honest trader. You were liable to be swindled in this dastardly way before you——

The heated, excited face of Mr. Schenker appeared at the window, the window was thrown up, and down on the hat of Mr. Bourne were showered some small missiles.

He made his way through the busy street into Holborn and took a 'bus home. When, near the shop, K 052 engaged him in casual conversation, Mr. Bourne's knees trembled.

"We don't serve sailors," Robert Henry was saying as he entered the shop. Two Japanese were asking for cigars, and Robert Henry, seated on the counter, with lemonade and pastry by his side, was treating them in a contemptuous manner that evidently gave him much satisfaction. "Outside, if you please."

"Two ceegar," repeated one of the Japanese mildly.

"Get out!" shouted Robert Henry. "We're giving up business. We're coming down for repairs. We're sold out." He waved at them. "Skoot!" he said. "Now d'you understand?"

The two Japanese smiled and went amiably out of the shop. Mr. Bourne recognised them as the men who had chased Ah Lun the previous evening with a knife. He hesitated for a moment and then went after them.

"Pardon me," he said to the first little man. "What's your name?"

The little Japanese stopped and the question was repeated.

"Yoroshka," he answered.

"What ship, might I ask?" Information given.

"Sail to-night?"

"Yees," said Yoroshka. "For Yokohama."

"I wish you bon voyage," said Mr. Bourne, with enthusiasm, "’Ope you'll 'ave a 'appy trip." He coughed. "What ship is Ah Lun, the Chinaman, on?"

The look of smiling amiability vanished from the faces of the two little sailors.

"You know him?" demanded Yoroshka swiftly. He put his hand to the back pocket of his trousers. "You find him, I give you one pound."

"What's the grievance against him?"

"He sell me diamond," hissed Yoroshka; "it no diamond at all! Bring him to me, and kill him!"

"Right," said Mr. Bourne; "I'll make a note of it. At present I don't know where he is no more than the dead. So long!"

The two Japanese went off reluctantly, and Mr. Bourne returned bewildered to his shop. These were not, then, perhaps, real diamonds that the liquid in the black bottle made, in which case all his anticipations of wealth were idle. And yet, if they were not real diamonds, why had the Hatton Garden merchant found difficulty in restraining his admiration when the specimens were shown to him? He walked straight through the shop into the back room and opened the bag. There they were, shining, sparkling, scintillating.

"Don't tell me they ain't di'monds!" said Mr. Bourne to nobody, very fiercely. "Don't you go 'umbugging me!"

Robert Henry sauntered in and sat down in the one easy-chair in a negligent attitude.

"Well, ole man," he said familiarly, "how've you got on? How many golden sovereigns 'ave you got to 'and over to Robert Henry Wall, Esquire? Tell you what I thought of doing," went on the boy confidentially. "With my thirty thousand pound, or whatever it works out to, I thought of getting over to America and 'aving a good old game of 'unting Red Indians! That's always been my mark!"

"I ain't got on so well as I should 'ave liked," said the tobacconist.

"It's your first start," said the boy tolerantly.

"Don't quite see how we're going to get rid of the things."

"Why, sell 'em, you juggins!" said the boy, with indignation. "’Aven't you got no sense? If you can't sell di'monds, what can you sell?"

"Look 'ere," said the tobacconist, goaded—"you're jolly clever all at once! You take one and you go and get rid of it, and come back and let me know."

"Thought you was going to manage the show."

"Never mind what you thought," said the tobacconist; "you take one and do as I tell you. You sell this big one 'ere for fifty pound, and you shall 'ave half the money."

"I'll take good care of that!" said the boy, wrapping the large jewel in his handkerchief. "Expect me back in ten minutes."

Mr. Bourne sat for some moments after Robert Henry's departure resting his chin upon his fists and trying, with little success, to think the matter out. There was a tap on the windowed part of the door, and he looked up wearily.

"Go away, mother," he said to the shawled figure; "we don't want no groundsel." The shawl went back from the dry, yellow, bony face, and he saw that it was Ah Lun. The Chinaman entered very quietly. He wore a dark woollen skirt; his pigtail was coiled up and concealed by the shawl. He looked like a worn old woman of some preposterous age.

"Ah Lun come see lil bot'l," he said insinuatingly.

"Whaffor?" demanded Mr. Bourne.

"Not alli gone?"

"What's it to do with you?"

"English gelman," said Ah Lun persuasively, "he give back lil black bot'l."

"Don't see the force of that argument," said the tobacconist. "What's give to me I stick to."

"No use to English gelman."

"Why ain't it any use?"

Ah Lun bent forward and whispered. As he did so, amazement, indignation, and comprehension flitted across the tobacconist's face. He had to moisten his lips before he could speak.

"And the blooming things go back to their original state the moment they pass out of the hands of the owner of the black bottle? Well, I'm——"

"He no use to English," said Ah Lun, nodding affirmatively; "he use to pol Chilaman."

"Business is business," said Mr. Bourne, "all the world over. How much did that Jap give you?"

"He not here?" said Ah Liin, looking round affrightedly.

"I've only got to lift my little finger," said Mr. Bourne, "and Yoroskha will come up with his little knife and——"

"No, no," screamed Ah Lun appealingly. "Brave English, he no give up pol Ah Luu. Look! Yoroskha give Ah Lun moley, Ah Lun give moley to you." The Chinaman lifted his woollen skirt and found a handful of gold coins in the pocket of his blue trousers. "Take!" he cried. "No send for Yoroskha. No keep lil bot'l."

"You're 'aving it all your own way," said Mr. Bourne doubtfully, "but——" he looked at the small pile of sovereigns. They, at any rate, were genuine. "I'm not a 'ard man," said Mr. Bourne; "’ere"s the bottle, and 'ere's this bag full. They're no use to an honest man like me. Be off now, and don't let me see you again."

"No flear," said Ah Lun.

And readjusting his shawl, and pulling the little black bottle very carefully in his blouse, he slipped away.

"Nice go!" cried Robert Henry bitterly, almost falling into the shop. "Had a look at the thing on me way, and blow me if it 'adn't turned back to this. And coming 'ome I met your young lady, and she give me this note."

"More fun," said Mr. Bourne, opening the letter with a gloomy air. "I am 'aving a jolly time, I am."

The opening of the letter seemed to cheer Mr. Bourne.

"Dearest Johnny,—The clever dear to make up such capital jokes. When I read your letter, I thought at first you were in earnest, but when I saw the piece of coal I knew it was only some more of your nonsense. I was much pleased with the words on the cigar box, but I fear I am not worthy of them. There is such a good piece on at the Pavilion this week; shall we try and go?—Much love and kisses from your own, Louisa."

"After all," said Mr Bourne "diamonds are dangerous things—specially when they ain't diamonds."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.