Read CHAPTER VIII - CAN HAPPEN! of Ma Pettengill, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on

Lew Wee, prized Chinese chef of the Arrowhead Ranch, had butchered, cooked, and served two young roosters for the evening meal with a finesse that cried for tribute.  As he replaced the evening lamp on the cleared table in the big living room he listened to my fulsome praise of his artistry as Marshal Foch might hear me say that I considered him a rather good strategist.  Lew Wee heard but gave no sign, as one set above the petty adulation of compelled worshipers.  Yet I knew his secret soul made festival of my words and would have been hurt by their withholding.  This is his way.  Not the least furtive lightening of his subtle eyes hinted that I had pleased him.

He presently withdrew to his tiny room off the kitchen, where, as was his evening custom for half an hour, he coaxed an amazing number of squealing or whining notes from his two-stringed fiddle.  I pictured him as he played.  He would be seated in his wicker armchair beside a little table on which a lamp glowed, the room tightly closed, window down, door shut, a fast-burning brown-paper cigarette to make the atmosphere more noxious.  After many more of the cigarettes had made it all but impossible, Lew Wee, with the lamp brightly burning, as it would burn the night through ­for devils of an injurious sort and in great numbers will fearlessly enter a dark room ­he would lie down to refreshing sleep.  That fantasy of ventilation!  Lew Wee always sleeps in an air-tight room packed with cigarette smoke, and a lamp turned high at his couchside; and Lew Wee is hardy.

He played over and over now a plaintive little air of minors that put a gentle appeal through two closed doors.  It is one he plays a great deal.  He has told me its meaning.  He says ­speaking with a not unpleasant condescension ­that this little tune will mean:  “Life comes like a bird-song through the open windows of the heart.”  It sounds quite like that and is a very satisfying little song, with no beginning or end.

He played it now, over and over, wanderingly and at leisure, and I pictured his rapt face above the whining fiddle; the face, say, of the Philosopher Mang, sage of the second degree and disciple of Confucius, who was lifted from earth by the gods in a time we call B.C. but which was then thought to be a fresh, new, late time; the face of subtle eyes and guarded dignity.  And I wondered, as I had often wondered, whether Lew Wee, lone alien in the abiding place of mad folks, did not suffer a vast homesickness for his sane kith, who do not misspend their days building up certain grotesque animals to slaughter them for a dubious food.  True, he had the compensation of believing invincibly that the Arrowhead Ranch and all its concerns lay upon his own slightly bowed shoulders; that the thing would fast crumble upon his severance from it.  But I questioned whether this were adequate.  I felt him to be a man of sorrow if not of tragedy.  Vaguely he reached me as one who had survived some colossal buffeting.

As I mused upon this Ma Pettengill sorted the evening mail and to Lew Wee she now took his San Francisco newspaper, Young China, and a letter.  Half an hour later Lew Wee brought wood to replenish the fire.  He disposed of this and absently brushed the hearth with a turkey wing.  Then he straightened the rug, crossed the room, and straightened on the farther wall a framed portrait in colour of Majestic Folly, a prize bull of the Hereford strain.  Then he drew a curtain, flicked dust from a corner of the table, and made a slow way to the kitchen door, pausing to alter slightly the angle of a chair against the wall.

Ma Pettengill, at the table, was far in the Red Gap Recorder for the previous day.  I was unoccupied and I watched Lew Wee.  He was doing something human; he was lingering for a purpose.  He straightened another chair and wiped dust from the gilt frame of another picture, Architect’s Drawing of the Pettengill Block, Corner Fourth and Main streets, Red Gap, Washington.  From this feat he went softly to the kitchen door, where he looked back; hung waiting in the silence.  He had made no sound, yet he had conveyed to his employer a wish for speech.  She looked up at him from the lamp’s glow, chin down, brows raised, and eyes inquiring of him over shining nose glasses.

“My Uncle’s store, Hankow, burn’ down,” said Lew Wee.

“Why, wasn’t that too bad!” said Ma Pettengill.

“Can happen!” said Lew Wee positively.

“Too bad!” said Ma Pettengill again.

“I send him nine hundred dollars your money.  Money burn, too,” said Lew Wee.

“Now, now!  Well, that certainly is too bad!  What a shame!”

“Can happen!” affirmed Lew Wee.

It was colourless.  He was not treating his loss lightly nor yet was he bewailing it.

“You put your money in the bank next time,” warned his employer sharply, “instead of letting it lie round in some flimsy Chinee junk shop.  They’re always burning.”

Lew Wee regarded her with a stilled face.

“Can happen!” he again murmured.

He was the least bit insistent, as if she could not yet have heard this utterly sufficing truth.  Then he was out; and a moment later the two-stringed fiddle whined a little song through two closed doors.

I said something acute and original about the ingrained fatalism of the
Oriental races.

Ma Pettengill laid down her paper, put aside her glasses, and said, yes, Chinee one fatal race; feeling fatal thataway was what made ’em such good help.  Because why?  Because, going to work at such-and-such a place, this here fatal feeling made ’em think one place was no worse than another; so why not stick here?  If other races felt as fatal as the Chinee race it would make a grand difference in the help problem.  She’d bet a million dollars right now that a lot of people wished the Swedes and Irish had fatal feelings like that.

I said Lew Wee had the look of one ever expecting the worst; even more than the average of his race.

“It ain’t that,” said my hostess.  “He don’t expect anything at all; or mebbe everything.  He takes what comes.  If it’s good or bad, he says, ’Can happen!’ in the same tone of voice; and that ends it.  There he is now, knowing that all this good money he saved by hard labour has gone up in smoke, and paying the loss no more attention that if he’d merely broke a string on that squeaky long-necked contraption he saws.”

“He seems careless enough with his money, certainly.”

“Sure, because he don’t believe it does the least good to be careful.”

From a cloth sack the speaker poured tobacco into a longitudinally creased brown paper and adeptly fashioned something in the nature of a cigarette.

“Ain’t I been telling him for a year to buy Liberty Bonds with his money?  He did buy two, being very pro-American on account of once having a violent difference with a German; and he’s impressed with the button the Government lets him wear for it.  He feels like the President has made him a mandarin or something; but if the whole Government went flooey to-morrow he’d just say, ‘Can happen!’ and pick up his funny fiddle.  Of course it ain’t human, but it helps to keep help.  I had him six years now, and the only thing that can’t happen is his leaving.  I don’t say there wasn’t reasons why he first took the place.”

Reasons?  So there had been reasons in the life of Lew Wee.  I had suspected as much.  I found something guarded and timid and long-suffering in his demeanour.  He bore, I thought, the searing memory of an ordeal.

“Reasons!” I said, waiting.

“Reasons for coming this far in the first place.  Wanted to save his life.  I don’t know why, with that fatal idea he sticks to.  Habit, probably.  Anyway, he had trouble saving it ­kind of a feverish week.”

She lighted the cigarette and chuckled hoarsely between the first relishing whiffs of it.

“Yes, sir; that poor boy believes the country between here and the coast is inhabited by savages; wild hill tribes that try to exterminate peaceful travellers; a low kind of outlaws that can’t understand a word you tell ’em and act violent if you try to say it over.  And having got here, past the demons, I figure he’s afraid to go back.  I don’t blame him.”

Ordinarily, this would have been enough.  Now the lady merely smoked and chuckled.  When I again uttered “Well?” with a tinge of rebuke, she came down from her musing, but into another and distant field.  It was the field of natural history, of zoology, of vertebrates, mammals, furred quadrupeds ­or, in short, skunks.  One may as well be blunt in this matter.

Ma Pettengill said the skunk got too little credit for its lovely character, it being the friendliest wild animal known to man and never offensive except when put upon.  Wasn’t we all offensive at those times?  And just because the skunk happened to be superbly gifted in this respect, was that any reason to ostracize him?

“I ain’t sayin’ I’d like to mix with one when he’s vexed,” continued the lady judicially; “but why vex ’em?  They never look for trouble; then why force it on their notice?  Take one summer, years ago, when Lysander John and I had a camp up above Dry Forks.  My lands!  Every night after supper the prettiest gang of skunks would frolic down off the hillside and romp round us.  Here would come Pa and Ma in the lead, and mebbe a couple of aunts and uncles and four or five of the cunningest little ones, and they’d all snoop fearlessly round the cook fire and the grub boxes, picking up scraps of food ­right round under my feet, mind you ­and looking up now and then and saying, ‘Thank you!’ plain as anything, and what lovely weather we’re having, and why don’t you come up and see us some time? ­and so on.  They kept it up for a month while we was there; and I couldn’t want neater, nicer neighbours.

“Lysander John, he used to get some nervous, especially after one chased him back into the tent late one night; but it was only wanting to play like a mere puppy, I tells him.  He’d heard a noise and rushed out, and there the little thing was kind of waltzing in the moonlight, whirling round and round and having a splendid time.  When it came bounding toward him ­I guess that was the only time in his life Lysander John was scared helpless.  He busted back into the tent a mere palsied wreck of his former self; but the cute little minx just come up and sniffed at the flap in a friendly way, like it wanted to reassure him.  I wanted him to go out and play with it in the moonlight.  He wouldn’t.  I liked ’em round the place, they was so neighbourly and calm.  Of course if I’d ever stepped on one, or acted sudden ­

“They also tame easy and make affectionate pets.  Ralph Waldo Gusted, over on Elkhorn, that traps ’em in winter to make First-Quality Labrador Sealskin cloaks ­his children got two in the house they play with like kittens; and he says himself the skunk has been talked about in a loose and unthinking way.  He says a pet skunk is not only a fine mouser but leads a far more righteous life than a cat, which is given to debauchery and cursing in the night.  Yes, sir; they’re the most trusting and friendly critters in all the woods if not imposed upon ­after that, to be sure!”

I said yes, yes, and undoubtedly, and all very interesting, and well and good in its place; but, really, was this its place?  I wanted Lew Wee’s reasons for believing in the existence of savage hill tribes between there and San Francisco.

“Yes; and San Francisco is worse,” said the lady.  “He believes that city to be ready for mob violence at any moment.  Wild crowds get together and yell and surge round on the least provocation.  He says it’s different in China, the people there not being crazy.”

“Well, then, we can get on with this mystery.”

So Ma Pettengill said we could; and we did indeed.

This here chink seems to of been a carefree child up to the time the civilized world went crazy with a version for him.  He was a good cook and had a good job at a swell country club down the peninsula from San Francisco.  The hours was easy and he was close enough to the city to get in once or twice a week and mingle with his kind.  He could pass an evening with the older set, playing fan-tan and electing a new president of the Chinee race, or go to the Chinee theatre and set in a box and chew sugar cane; or he could have a nice time at the clubrooms of the Young China Progressive Association, playing poker for money.  Once in a while he’d mix in a tong war, he being well thought of as a hatchet man ­only they don’t use hatchets, but automatics; in fact, all Nature seemed to smile on him.

Well, right near this country club one of his six hundred thousand cousins worked as gardener for a man, and this man kept many beautiful chickens ­so Lew Wee says.  And he says a strange and wicked night animal crept into the home of these beautiful birds and slew about a dozen of ’em by biting ’em under their wings.  The man told his cousin that the wicked night animal must be a skunk and that his cousin should catch him in a trap.  So the cousin told Lew Wee that the wicked night animal was a skunk and that he was going to catch him in a trap.  Lew Wee thought it was interesting.

He went up to the city and in the course of a pleasant evening at fan-tan he told about the slain chickens that were so beautiful, and how the night animal that done it would be caught in a trap.  A great friend of Lew Wee’s was present, a wonderful doctor.  Lew Wee still says he is the most wonderful doctor in the world, knowing things about medicines that the white doctors can’t ever find out, these being things that the Chinee doctors found out over fifteen thousand years ago, and therefore true.  The doctor’s name was Doctor Hong Foy, and he was a rich doctor.  And he says to Lew Wee that he needs a skunk for medicine, and if any one will bring him a live skunk in good condition he will pay twenty-five dollars in American money for same.

Lew Wee says he won’t be needing that skunk much longer ­or words to that effect ­because he will get this one from the trap.  Doctor Hong Foy is much pleased and says the twenty-five American dollars is eager to become Lew Wee’s for this animal, alive and in good condition.

Lew Wee goes back, and the next day his cousin says he set a trap and the night skunk entered it, but he was strong like a lion and had busted out and bit some more chickens under the wing, and then went away from there.  He showed Lew Wee the trap and Lew Wee seen it wasn’t the right kind, but he knows how to make the right kind and will do so if the skunk can become entirely his property when caught.

The cousin, without the least argument, agreed heartily to this.  He was honest enough.  He explained carefully that the skunk was wished to be caught to keep it from biting chickens under the wing, causing them to die, and not for any value whatever it might have to the person catching it.  He says it will be beneficial to catch the skunk, but not to keep it; that a skunk is not nice after being caught, and Lew Wee is more than welcome to it if he will make a right trap.  The cousin himself was probably one of these fatal “Can happen!” boys.  When Lew Wee says he must have the skunk alive and in good condition he just looked at him in a distant manner that Lew Wee afterward remembered; but he only said:  “Oh, very well!” in his native language.

Lew Wee then found a small peaked-roofed chicken coop, with stout slats on it, and made a figure-four trap, and put something for bait on the pointed stick and set the trap, and begun right off to squander twenty-five dollars that was to come as easy as picking it up in the road.

There wasn’t any breakfast trade at the country club and Lew Wee was able to get over across the golf links to the chicken place early the next morning.  The cousin was some distance from the chicken place, hoeing a bed of artichokes, but he told Lew Wee his trap had been a very wonderful trap and the night animal was safe caught.  Lew Wee was surprised at his cousin’s indifference and thought he should of been over there looking at the prize.  But not so.  The cousin was keeping some distance off.  He just told Lew Wee that there was his animal and that he should take it away with as little disturbance as possible, which would be better far and near for all concerned.  He was strangely cool about it.

But Lew Wee was full of pleasant excitement and run swiftly to his trap.  Sure enough!  There was a nice big beautiful skunk in his trap.  Lew Wee had never seen one.  He said it was more beautiful than a golden pheasant, with rich, shiny black fur and a lovely white stripe starting from its face and running straight down on each side of its back; and it had a wonderful waving tail, like a plume.  He looked at it joyfully through the slats.  It was setting down comfortably when he come up; so he spoke to it in a friendly way.  Then it got up and yawned and stretched itself, looking entirely self-possessed, but kind of bored, I suppose, like this was a poor sort of practical joke to play on a gentleman; so now would someone kindly lift this box off him?

The proud owner danced about it in great glee and told it how the nice doctor wouldn’t hurt it any, but would give it a good home, with chicken for supper, mebbe, and so on.  Then he went back to his cousin and give him a pack of cigarettes, out of his overflowing heart, and asked where was something he could put his wild animal in and take it to town to his great friend Doctor Hong Foy, who had a desire for it.

The cousin took the cigarettes, but he looked at Lew Wee a long time, like he didn’t understand Chinee at all.  Lew Wee said it all over again.  He wanted something to take the wild animal to town in, because the chicken coop it was now in hadn’t any bottom; and was too big, anyway.

The cousin again looked at him a long time, like one in a trance.  Then, without any silly talk, he went over to the barn and handed Lew Wee a bran sack.

Lew Wee said that was just the thing; and would the cousin come over and help him in case the animal would be timid and not want to go in the sack?  The cousin said he would not.  And he didn’t go back to the artichokes.  He went to a bed of cauliflower clear at the other end of the garden, after giving Lew Wee another of them long “Can happen!” looks, which signify that we live in a strange and terrible world.

Lew Wee went back alone to his prize, finding it still calm, like a gentleman in his club.  He reassured it with some more cheerful words.  He had a thought right then, he says; kind of a sudden fear.  He had been told the first day by his cousin, and also by his great friend Doctor Hong Foy, that the skunk gave out a strong scent disagreeable to many people.  But this one he’d caught didn’t have any scent of any kind.  So mebbe that meant it wasn’t in good condition and Doctor Hong Foy wouldn’t wish it for twenty-five dollars.  However, it was sure a skunk, and looked strong and healthy and worth taking in to the doctor, who could then tell about its condition.

Lew Wee opened the neck of the bag, laid it on the ground close by him, got down on his knees, and carefully raised one side of the coop.  The wild animal looked more beautiful than ever; and it didn’t seem alarmed, but just the tiniest mite suspicious.  It must of looked like it was saying it was entirely willing to be friendly, but you couldn’t ever tell about these Chinamen.  Lew Wee reached a hand slowly over toward it and it moved against the back of the coop, very watchful.  Then Lew Wee made a quick grab and caught the back of its neck neatly.

Of course this showed at once that a Chinaman wasn’t to be trusted, and Lew Wee says it put up a fierce fight, being so quick and muscular as to surprise him.  He was fully engaged for at least thirty seconds; the animal clawed and squirmed and twisted, and it bit in the clinches and almost got away.  He was breathing hard when he finally got his wild animal into the sack and the neck tied.

He says he didn’t actually realize until then, what with all the excitement, that something had gone kind of wrong.  He was not only breathing hard but it was hard breathing.  He says he felt awful good at that moment.  He had been afraid his animal might not be in good condition, but it undoubtedly was.  He thought right off that if one in just ordinary good condition was worth twenty-five dollars to Doctor Hong Foy, then this one might be worth as much as thirty-five, or even forty.  He thought it must be the best wild animal of that kind in the world.

So he picked up the sack, with his prize squirming and swearing inside, and threw it over his shoulder and started back to the country club.  He stopped a minute to thank his cousin once more; but his cousin seen him coming and run swiftly off in a strange manner, as if not wishing to be thanked again.  Then Lew Wee went on across a field and over the golf links.  His idea was to take the little animal to his room in the clubhouse and keep it there until night, when he could take it into town and get all that money for it.  He was quite happy and wished he hadn’t scared the poor thing so.

He thought when he got to his room he might let it out of the sack to play round there in freedom during the day.  He spent the twenty-five dollars for different things on the way over the golf links.  He told me he knew perfectly well that his pet would be likely to attract notice; but he didn’t realize how much.  A Chinese is a wonder.  He can very soon get used to anything.

But Lew Wee never did get to his room again.  When he got up near the clubhouse some fine people were getting out of a shiny purple motor car as big as a palace, and they had golf sticks in bags.  One of ’em was a big red-faced man with a fierce gray moustache, and this man begun to yell at Lew Wee in a remarkable manner.  The words being in a foreign language, he couldn’t make ’em out well, but the sense of it was that the big man wanted him to go away from there.  Lew Wee knew he wasn’t working for this man, who was only a club member; so he paid no attention to him beyond waving his hand friendly, and went on round toward the back entrance.

Then out of the side entrance come the chief steward, also yelling, and this was the man he was working for; so he stopped to listen.  It wasn’t for long.  He lost a good job as cook in no time at all.  Of course that never bothers a Chinee any; but when he started in to get his things from his room the steward picked up a golf club with an iron end and threatened to hurt him, and some of the kitchen help run round from the back with knives flashing, and the big red-faced man was yelling to the steward to send for a policeman, and some ladies that had got out of another big car had run halfway across the golf links, as if pursued by something, and more people from the inside come to the door and yelled at him and made motions he should go away; so he thought he better not try to get his things just then.  He couldn’t see why all the turmoil, even if he had got something in prime condition for his friend Doctor Hong Foy.

It was noticeable, he thought; but nothing to make all this fuss about, especially if the fools would just let him get it to his own room, where it could become quiet again, like when he had first seen it in the trap.  But he saw they wasn’t going to let him, and the big man had gone in the front way and was now shaking both fists at him through a side window that was closed; so he thought, all right, he’d leave ’em flat, without a cook ­and a golf tournament was on that day, too!  He was twenty-five dollars to the good and he could easy get another job.

So he waved good-bye to all of ’em and went down the road half a mile to the car line.  He was building air castles by that time.  He says it occurred to him that Doctor Hong Foy might like many of these wild animals, at twenty-five dollars each; and he might take up the work steady.  It was exciting and sporty, and would make him suddenly rich.  Mebbe it wasn’t as pleasant work as his cousin did, spending his time round gardens and greenhouses; but it was more adventurous.  He really liked it, and he would get even more used to it in time so he wouldn’t hardly notice it at all.  As he stood there waiting for a trolley car he must of thought up a whole headful of things he’d buy with all these sudden emoluments.  Several motor cars passed while he waited and he noticed that folks in ’em all turned to look at him in an excited way.  But he knew all Americans was crazy and liable to be mad about something.

Pretty soon a car stopped and some people got off the front end.  They stopped short and begun to look all round ’em in a frightened manner ­two ladies and a child and an old man.  The conductor also stepped off and looked round in a frightened manner; but he jumped back on the car quick.  Lew Wee then hopped on to the back platform, with his baggage, just as it started on.  It started quick and was going forty miles an hour by the time he’d got the door open.  The two women in the car screamed at him like maniacs, and before he’d got comfortably set down the conductor had opened the front door and started for him.  He got halfway down the car; then he started back and made a long speech at him from the front end, while the car stopped like it had hit a mountain, throwing everyone off their seats.

Lew Wee gathered that he was being directed to get off the car quickly.  The other passengers had crowded back by the conductor and was telling him the same thing.  One old gentleman with a cane, who mebbe couldn’t walk good, had took up his cane and busted a window quick and had his head outside.  Lew Wee thought he was an anarchist, busting up property that way.  Also the motorman, who had stopped the car so soon, was now shaking a brass weapon at him over the heads of the others.  So he thought he might as well get off the car and save all this talk.  He’d got his fare out, but he put it back in his pocket and picked up his sack and went out in a very dignified way, even if they was threatening him.  He knew he had something worth twenty-five dollars in his sack, and they probably didn’t know it or they wouldn’t act that way.

He set down and waited for another car, still spending his money.

The next one slowed down for him; but all at once it started up again more swift than the wind, he says; and he could see that the motorman was a coward about something, because he looked greatly frightened when he flew by the spot.  He never saw one go so fast as this one did after it had slowed up for him.  It looked like the motorman would soon be arrested for driving his car too fast.  He then had the same trouble with another car; it slowed up, but was off again before it stopped, and the people in it looked out at him kind of horrified.

It begun to look like he wasn’t going to ride to the city in a trolley car.  Pretty soon along the road come a Japanese man he knew.  His name was Suzuki Katsuzo; and Lew Wee says that, though nothing but a Japanese, he is in many respects a decent man.  Suzuki passed him, going round in a wide circle, and stopped to give him some good advice.  He refused to come a step nearer, even after Lew Wee told him that what he had in the sack was worth a lot of money.

Suzuki was very polite, but he didn’t want to come any nearer, even after that.  He told Lew Wee he was almost certain they didn’t want him on street cars with it, no matter if it was worth thousands of dollars.  It might be worth that much, and very likely was if the price depended on its condition.  But the best and most peaceful way for Lew Wee was to find a motor car going that way and ask the gentleman driving it to let him ride; he said it would be better, too, to pick out a motor car without a top to it, because the other kind are often shut up too tightly for such affairs as this, like street cars.  He said the persons in street cars are common persons, and do not care if a thing is worth thousands of dollars or not if they don’t like to have it in the car with them.  He didn’t believe it would make any difference to them if something like this was worth a million dollars in American gold.

So Lew Wee thanked Suzuki Katsuzo, who went quickly on his way; and then he tried to stop a few motor cars.  It seemed like they was as timid as street cars.  People would slow up when they seen him in the road and then step on the gas like it was a matter of life and death.  Lew Wee must of said “Can happen!” a number of times that morning.

Finally, along come a German.  He was driving a big motor truck full of empty beer kegs, and Lew Wee says the German himself was a drinking man and had been drinking so much beer that he could nearly go to sleep while driving the car.

He slowed up and stopped when he saw Lew Wee in the middle of the road.  Lew Wee said he wanted to go to San Francisco and would give the driver a dollar to let him ride back on the beer kegs.  The driver said:  “Let’s see the dollar.”  And took it and said:  “All right, John; get up.”  Then he sniffed the air several times and said it seemed like there had been a skunk round.  Lew Wee didn’t tell him he had it in his bag because the driver might know how much it was worth and try foul play on him to get possession of it.  So they started on, and the German, who had been drinking, settled into a kind of doze at the wheel.

Lew Wee was up on the beer kegs and enjoying himself like a rich gentleman riding to the city in his motor car.  It was kind of nice, in spite of being used to his pet, to be going through the air so fast.

The German seemed to be getting sobered up by something, and after about five or six miles he stopped the car and yelled to Lew Wee that a skunk had been round this place, too; and mebbe he had run over one.  Lew Wee looked noncommittal; but the German was getting more wakeful every minute, and after a couple more miles he pulled up again and come round to where Lew Wee was.  He says it seems like a skunk has been round everywhere; and, in fact, it seems to be right here now.  He sees the sack and wants to know what’s in it.  But he don’t give Lew Wee a chance to lie about it.  He was thoroughly awake now and talked quite sober but bitterly.  He ordered Lew Wee to get off of there quickly.  Lew Wee says he swore at him a lot.  He thinks it was in German.  He ain’t sure of the language, but he knows it was swearing.

He wasn’t going to get off, at first; but the German got a big stick from the roadside and started for him, so he climbed down the other side and started to run.  But the cowardly German didn’t chase him a single step.  He got back in his seat and started down the road quicker than it looked like his truck had been able to travel.

Anyway, Lew Wee was a lot nearer to town, owing to the German not having been sensitive at first; and if worst come to worst he could walk.  It looked like he’d have to.  Then he saw he’d have to walk, anyway, because this brutal German that put him off the truck hadn’t give him back his dollar, and that was all he had.  He now put the First High Curse of the One Hundred and Nine Malignant Devils on all Germans.  It is a grand curse, he says, and has done a lot of good in China.  He was uncertain whether it would work away from home; but he says it did.  Every time he gets hold of a paper now he looks for the place where Germans in close formation is getting mowed down by machine-gun fire.

But his money was gone miles away from him by this time; so he started his ten-mile walk.  I don’t know.  It’s always been a mystery to me how he could do it.  He could get kind of used to it himself, and mebbe he thought the public could do as much.  It was an interesting walk he had.

At first, he thought he was only attracting the notice of the vulgar, like when some American ruffians doing a job of repair work on the road threw rocks at him when he stopped to rest a bit.  But he soon noticed that rich ladies and gentlemen also seemed to shun him as he passed through little towns.  He carried his impetuous burden on a stick over his shoulder and at a distance seemed to be an honest workman; but people coming closer didn’t look respectfully at him, by any means.  It seemed as if some odium was attached to him.

Once he stopped to pick a big red rose from a bush that hung over the wall in front of a pretty place, and a beautiful child dressed like a little princess stood there; and, being fond of children, like all Chinee men, he spoke to her; but a nurse screamed and run out at him and yelled something in another foreign language.  He thinks it was swearing, same as the German, though she looked like a lady.  So he went sadly on, smelling of his lovely rose from time to time.

The only way I can figure out how he got through them suburbs is that parties wanted to have him arrested or shot, or something, but wouldn’t let him stick round long enough to get it done; they was in two minds about him, I guess:  they wished to detain him, but also wished harder to have him away.

So he went on uninjured, meeting murderous looks and leaving excitement in his trail; hearing men threaten him even while they run away from him.  It hurt him to be shunned this way ­him that had always felt so friendly toward one and all.  He couldn’t deny it by this time:  people was shunning him on account of what Doctor Hong Foy wanted alive and in good condition.

As he worked his way into the city the excitement mounted higher.  He took to the middle of the street where he could.  Mobs collected behind him and waved things at him and looked like they would lynch him; but they didn’t come close enough for that.  It seemed like he bore a charmed life in spite of this hostility.  When he’d got well into the city a policeman did come up and start to arrest him, but thought better of it and went round a corner.  It made him feel like a social cull or an outcast, or something.

He wasn’t a bit foolish about his cunning little pet by this time.  And it looked as if these crowds of people that gathered behind him would finally get their nerve up to do something with him.  They was getting bigger and acting more desperate.  When he was on the sidewalk he swept people off into the road like magic, and when he was in the street they would edge close in to the buildings.

It really hurt him.  He’d always liked Americans, in spite of their foreign ways, and they had seemed to like him; but now all at once they was looking on him as a yellow peril.  He still kept his rose to smell of.  He said it was a sweet comfort to him at a time when the whole world had turned against him for nothing at all.

He made for Chinatown by the quietest streets he could pick out, though even on them hardly escaping the lawless mob.  But at last he got to the street where Doctor Hong Foy’s office was.  It was largely a Chinese street and lots of his friends lived there; but even now, when you’d think he’d get kind words and congratulations, he didn’t.

His best friends regarded him as one better let alone and made swift gestures of repulsion when he passed ’em.  Quite a crowd followed at a safe distance and gathered outside when he went into Doctor Hong Foy’s office.  It was a kind of store on the ground floor, so Lew Wee says, with shelves full of rich old Chinee medicines that had a certain powerful presence of their own.  But even in here Doctor Hong Foy should of known beyond a doubt what his friend had brought him.

It seemed the doctor had to make sure.  He wasn’t of the same believing nature as the street-car people, and the German and others.  He wanted to be shown.  So they undone the sack and opened it down to where Doctor Hong Foy could make sure.  But their work was faulty and the wild animal didn’t like handling after its day of mistreatment.  It had been made morbid, I guess.  Anyway, it displayed an extremely nervous tendency, and many impetuous movements, and bit Doctor Hong Foy in the thumb.  Then the first owner tried to grab him and the pet wriggled away on to a tray of dried eel gizzards, or something, and off that to the open door.

The little thing run into the front of the large crowd that had waited outside and had a wonderful effect on it.  Them in the centre tried to melt away, but couldn’t on account of them on the outside; so there was fights and accidents, and different ones tromped on, and screams of fear.  And this brought a lot bigger crowd that pressed in and made the centre ones more anguished.  I don’t know.  That poor animal had been imposed on all day and must of been overwrought.  It was sore vexed by now and didn’t care who knew it.  Lots of ’em did.

Of course Lew Wee dashed out after his property, hugging the sack to his chest; and, of course, he created just as much disturbance as his little pet had.  Policemen was mingling with the violence by this time and adding much to its spirit.  One public-spirited citizen grabbed Lew Wee in spite of its being distasteful; but he kicked the poor man on the kneecap and made a way through the crowd without too much trouble.

He wasn’t having any vogue whatever in that neighbourhood.  He run down a little side street, up an alley, and into a cellar he knew about, this cellar being the way out of the Young China Progressive Association when they was raided up the front stairs on account of gambling at poker.

He could hear the roar of the mob clear from there.  It took about an hour for this to die down.  People would come to see what all the excitement was about, and find out almost at once; then they’d try to get away, and run against others coming to find out, thus producing a very earnest riot.  There was mounted policemen and patrol wagons and many arrests, and an armed posse hunting for the escaped pet and shooting up alleys at every little thing that moved.  They never did find the pet ­so one of Lew Wee’s cousins wrote him; which made him sorry on account of Doctor Hong Foy and the twenty-five or mebbe thirty dollars.

He lay hid in this cellar till dark; then started out to find his friends and get something to eat.  He darned near started everything all over again; but he dodged down another alley and managed to get some noodles and chowmain at the back door of the Hong-Kong Grill, where a tong brother worked.  He begun to realize that he was a marked man.  The mark didn’t show; but he was.  He didn’t know what the law might do to him.  It looked like at least twenty years in some penal institution, if not hanging; and he didn’t want either one.

So he borrowed three dollars from the tong brother and started for some place where he could lead a quiet life.  He managed to get to Oakland, though the deck hands on the ferryboat talked about throwing him overboard.  But they let him live if he would stay at the back end till everyone, including the deck hands, was safe off or behind something when the boat landed.  Then he wandered off into the night and found a freight train.  He didn’t care where he went ­just somewhere they wouldn’t know about his crime.

He rode a while between two freight cars; then left that train and found a blind baggage on a passenger train that went faster and near froze him to death.  He got off, chilled in the early morning, at some little town and bought some food in a Chinee restaurant and also got warm.  But he hadn’t no more than got warm when he was put out of the place, right by his own people.

It was warm outside by this time, so he didn’t mind it so much.  The town did, though.  It must of been a small town, but he says thousands of men chased him out of it about as soon as he was warmed up enough to run.  He couldn’t understand this, because how could they know he was the one that caused all that trouble in San Francisco?

He got a freight train outside the town and rode on and on.  He says he rode on for weeks and weeks; but that’s his imagination.  It must of been about three days, with spells of getting off for food and to get warmed when he was freezing, and be chased by these wild hill tribes when he had done the latter.  It put a crimp into his sunny nature ­all this armed pursuit of him.  He says if he had been a Christian, and believed in only one God, he would never of come through alive, it taking about seventy-four or five of his own gods to protect him from these maddened savages.  He had a continuous nightmare of harsh words and blows.  He wondered they didn’t put him in jail; but it seemed like they only wanted to keep him going.

Of course it had to end.  He got to Spokane finally and sneaked round to a friend that had a laundry; and this friend must of been a noble soul.  He took in the outcast and nursed him with food and drink, and repeatedly washed his clothes.  Wanting a ranch cook about that time, I got in touch with him through another cousin, who said this man wanted very much to go out into a safe country, and would never leave it because of unpleasantness in getting here.

It was ten days after he got there that I saw him first, and I’ll be darned if he was any human sachet, even then.  But after hearing his story I knew that time would once more make him fit for human association.  He told me his story with much feeling this time and he told it to me about once a week for three months after he got here ­pieces of it at a time.  It used to cheer me a lot.  He was always remembering something new.  He said he liked the great silence and peace of this spot.

You couldn’t tell him to this day that his belief about the savage hill tribes ain’t sound.  He believes anything “can happen” in that country down there.  Doctor Hong Foy never paid him the twenty-five, of course, though admitting that he would of done so if the animal had not escaped, because he was in such good condition, for a skunk, that he was worth twenty-five dollars of any doctor’s money.  I don’t know.  As I say, they’re friendly little critters; but it’s more money that I would actually pay for one.

Through two closed doors the whine of the fiddle still penetrated.  Perhaps Lew Wee’s recent loss had moved him to play later than was his custom, pondering upon the curious whims that stir the gods when they start to make things happen.  But he was still no cynic.  Over and over he played the little air which means:  “Life comes like a bird-song through the open windows of the heart.”