Part Second. Mrs. Sin
Chapter XVIII. The Dream of Sin Sin Wa
 

For a habitual opium-smoker to abstain when the fumes of chandu actually reach his nostrils is a feat of will-power difficult adequately to appraise. An ordinary tobacco smoker cannot remain for long among those who are enjoying the fragrant weed without catching the infection and beginning to smoke also. Twice to redouble the lure of my lady Nicotine would be but loosely to estimate the seductiveness of the Spirit of the Poppy; yet Sir Lucien Pyne smoked one pipe with Mrs. Sin, and perceiving her to be already in a state of dreamy abstraction, loaded a second, but in his own case with a fragment of cigarette stump which smouldered in a tray upon the table. His was that rare type of character whose possessor remains master of his vices.

Following the fourth pipe--Pyne, after the second, had ceased to trouble to repeat his feat of legerdemain, "The sleep" claimed Mrs. Sin. Her languorous eyes closed, and her face assumed that rapt expression of Buddha-like beatitude which Rita had observed at Kilfane's flat. According to some scientific works on the subject, sleep is not invariably induced in the case of Europeans by the use of chandu. Loosely, this is true. But this type of European never becomes an habitue; the habitue always sleeps. That dream-world to which opium alone holds the key becomes the real world "for the delights of which the smoker gladly resigns all mundane interests." The exiled Chinaman returns again to the sampan of his boyhood, floating joyously on the waters of some willow-lined canal; the Malay hears once more the mystic whispering in the mangrove swamps, or scents the fragrance of nutmeg and cinnamon in the far-off golden Chersonese. Mrs. Sin doubtless lived anew the triumphs of earlier days in Buenos Ayres, when she had been La Belle Lola, the greatly beloved, and before she had met and married Sin Sin Wa. Gives much, but claims all, and he who would open the poppy-gates must close the door of ambition and bid farewell to manhood.

Sir Lucien stood looking at the woman, and although one pipe had affected him but slightly, his imagination momentarily ran riot and a pageant of his life swept before him, so that his jaw grew hard and grim and he clenched his hands convulsively. An unbroken stillness prevailed in the opium-house of Sin Sin Wa.

Recovering from his fit of abstraction, Pyne, casting a final keen glance at the sleeper, walked out of the room. He looked along the carpeted corridor in the direction of the cubicles, paused, and then opened the heavy door masking the recess behind the cupboard. Next opening the false back of the cupboard, he passed through to the lumber-room beyond, and partly closed the second door.

He descended the stair and went along the passage; but ere he reached the door of the room on the ground floor:

"Hello! hello! Sin Sin! Sin Sin Wa!" croaked the raven. "Number one p'lice chop, lo!" The note of a police whistle followed, rendered with uncanny fidelity.

Pyne entered the room. It presented the same aspect as when he had left it. The ship's lantern stood upon the table, and Sin Sin Wa sat upon the tea-chest, the great black bird perched on his shoulder. The fire in the stove had burned lower, and its downcast glow revealed less mercilessly the dirty condition of the floor. Otherwise no one, nothing, seemed to have been disturbed. Pyne leaned against the doorpost, taking out and lighting a cigarette. The eye of Sin Sin Wa glanced sideways at him.

"Well, Sin Sin," said Sir Lucien, dropping a match and extinguishing it under his foot, "you see I am not smoking tonight."

"No smokee," murmured the Chinaman. "Velly good stuff."

"Yes, the stuff is all right, Sin."

"Number one proper," crooned Sin Sin Wa, and relapsed into smiling silence.

"Number one p'lice," croaked the raven sleepily "Smartest--" He even attempted the castanets imitation, but was overcome by drowsiness.

For a while Sir Lucien stood watching the singular pair and smiling in his ironical fashion. The motive which had prompted him to leave the neighboring house and to seek the companionship of Sin Sin Wa was so obscure and belonged so peculiarly to the superdelicacies of chivalry, that already he was laughing at himself. But, nevertheless, in this house and not in its secret annex of a Hundred Raptures he designed to spend the night. Presently:

"Hon'lable p'lice patrol come 'long plenty soon," murmured Sin Sin Wa.

"Indeed?" said Sir Lucien, glancing at his wristwatch. "The door is open above."

Sin Sin Wa raised one yellow forefinger, without moving either hand from the knee upon which it rested, and shook it slightly to and fro.

"Allee lightee," he murmured. "No bhobbery. Allee peaceful fellers."

"Will they want to come in?"

"Wantchee dlink," replied Sin Sin Wa.

"Oh, I see. If I go out into the passage it will be all right?"

"Allee lightee."

Even as he softly crooned the words came a heavy squelch of rubbers upon the wet pavement outside, followed by a rapping on the door. Sin Sin Wa glanced aside at Sir Lucien, and the latter immediately withdrew, partly closing the door. The Chinaman shuffled across and admitted two constables. The raven, remaining perched upon his shoulder, shrieked, "Smartest leg in Buenos Ayres," and, fully awakened, rattled invisible castanets.

The police strode into the stuffy little room without ceremony, a pair of burly fellows, fresh-complexioned, and genial as men are wont to be who have reached a welcome resting-place on a damp and cheerless night. They stood by the stove, warming their hands; and one of them stooped, took up the little poker, and stirred the embers to a brighter glow.

"Been havin' a pipe, Sin?" he asked, winking at his companion. "I can smell something like opium!"

"No smokee opium," murmured Sin Sin Wa complacently. "Smokee Woodbine."

"Ho, ho!" laughed the other constable. "I don't think."

"You likee tly one piecee pipee one time?" inquired the Chinaman. "Gotchee fliend makee smokee."

The man who had poked the fire slapped his companion on the back.

"Now's your chance, Jim!" he cried. "You always said you'd like to have a cut at it."

"H'm!" muttered the other. "A 'double' o' that fifteen over-proof Jamaica of yours, Sin, would hit me in a tender spot tonight."

"Lum?" murmured Sin Sin blandly. "No hate got."

He resumed his seat on the tea-chest, and the raven muttered sleepily, "Sin Sin--Sin."

"H'm!" repeated the constable.

He raised the skirt of his heavy top-coat, and from his trouser-pocket drew out a leather purse. The eye of Sin Sin Wa remained fixed upon a distant corner of the room. From the purse the constable took a shilling, ringing it loudly upon the table.

"Double rum, miss, please!" he said, facetiously. "There's no treason allowed nowadays, so my pal's--"

"I stood yours last night Jim, anyway!" cried the other, grinning. "Go on, stump up!"

Jim rang a second shilling on the table.

"Two double rums!" he called.

Sin Sin Wa reached a long arm into the little cupboard beside him and withdrew a bottle and a glass. Leaning forward he placed bottle and glass on the table, and adroitly swept the coins into his yellow palm.

"Number one p'lice chop," croaked the raven.

"You're right, old bird!" said Jim, pouring out a stiff peg of the spirit and disposing of it at a draught. "We should freeze to death on this blasted riverside beat if it wasn't for Sin Sin."

He measured out a second portion for his companion, and the latter drank the raw spirit off as though it had been ale, replaced the glass on the table, and having adjusted his belt and lantern in that characteristic way which belongs exclusively to members of the Metropolitan Police Force, turned and departed.

"Good night, Sin," he said, opening the door.

"So-long," murmured the Chinaman.

"Good night, old bird," cried Jim, following his colleague.

"So-long."

The door closed, and Sin Sin Wa, shuffling across, rebolted it. As Sir Lucien came out from his hiding-place Sin Sin Wa returned to his seat on the tea-chest, first putting the glass, unwashed, and the rum bottle back in the cupboard.

To the ordinary observer the Chinaman presents an inscrutable mystery. His seemingly unemotional character and his racial inability to express his thoughts intelligibly in any European tongue stamp him as a creature apart, and one whom many are prone erroneously to classify very low in the human scale and not far above the ape. Sir Lucien usually spoke to Sin Sin Wa in English, and the other replied in that weird jargon known as "pidgin." But the silly Sin Wa who murmured gibberish and the Sin Sin Wa who could converse upon many and curious subjects in his own language were two different beings--as Sir Lucien was aware. Now, as the one-eyed Chinaman resumed his seat and the one- eyed raven sank into slumber, Pyne suddenly spoke in Chinese, a tongue which he understood as it is understood by few Englishmen; that strange, sibilant speech which is alien from all Western conceptions of oral intercourse as the Chinese institutions and ideals are alien from those of the rest of the civilized world.

"So you make a profit on your rum, Sin Sin Wa," he said ironically, "at the same time that you keep in the good graces of the police?"

Sin Sin Wa's expression underwent a subtle change at the sound of his native language. He moved his hands and became slightly animated.

"A great people of the West, most honorable sir," he replied in the pure mandarin dialect, "claim credit for having said that 'business is business.' Yet he who thus expressed himself was a Chinaman."

"You surprise me."

"The wise man must often find occasion for surprise most honorable sir."

Sir Lucien lighted a cigarette.

"I sometimes wonder, Sin Sin Wa," he said slowly, "what your aim in life can be. Your father was neither a ship's carpenter nor a shopkeeper. This I know. Your age I do not know and cannot guess, but you are no longer young. You covet wealth. For what purpose, Sin Sin Wa?"

Standing behind the Chinaman, Sir Lucien's dark face, since he made no effort to hide his feelings, revealed the fact that he attached to this seemingly abstract discussion a greater importance than his tone of voice might have led one to suppose. Sin Sin Wa remained silent for some time, then:

"Most honorable sir," he replied, "when I have smoked the opium, before my eyes--for in dreams I have two--a certain picture arises. It is that of a farm in the province of Ho-Nan. Beyond the farm stretch paddy-fields as far as one can see. Men and women and boys and girls move about the farm, happy in their labors, and far, far away dwell the mountain gods, who send the great Yellow River sweeping down through the valleys where the poppy is in bloom. It is to possess that farm, most honorable sir, and those paddy-fields that I covet wealth."

"And in spite of the opium which you consume, you have never lost sight of this ideal?"

"Never."

"But--your wife?"

Sin Sin Wa performed a curious shrugging movement, peculiarly racial.

"A man may not always have the same wife," he replied cryptically. "The honorable wife who now attends to my requirements, laboring unselfishly in my miserable house and scorning the love of other men as she has always done--and as an honorable and upright woman is expected to do--may one day be gathered to her ancestors. A man never knows. Or she may leave me. I am not a good husband. It may be that some little maiden of Ho-Nan, mild-eyed like the musk-deer and modest and tender, will consent to minister to my old age. Who knows?"

Sir Lucien blew a thick cloud of tobacco smoke into the room, and:

"She will never love you, Sin Sin Wa," he said, almost sadly. "She will come to your house only to cheat you."

Sin Sin Wa repeated the eloquent shrug.

"We have a saying in Ho-Nan, most honorable sir," he answered, "and it is this: 'He who has tasted the poppy-cup has nothing to ask of love.' She will cook for me, this little one, and stroke my brow when I am weary, and light my pipe. My eye will rest upon her with pleasure. It is all I ask."

There came a soft rapping on the outer door--three raps, a pause, and then two raps. The raven opened his beady eye.

"Sin Sin Wa," he croaked, "number one p'lice chop, lo!"

Sin Sin Wa glanced aside at Sir Lucien.

"The traffic. A consignment of opium," he said. "Sam Tuk calls."

Sir Lucien consulted his watch, and:

"I should like to go with you, Sin Sin Wa," he said. "Would it be safe to leave the house--with the upper door unlocked?"

Sin Sin Wa glanced at him again.

"All are sleeping, most honorable sir?"

"All."

"I will lock the room above and the outer door. It is safe."

He raised a yellow hand, and the raven stepped sedately from his shoulder on to his wrist.

"Come, Tling-a-Ling," crooned Sin Sin Wa, "you go to bed, my little black friend, and one day you, too, shall see the paddy-fields of Ho-Nan."

Opening the useful cupboard, he stooped, and in hopped the raven. Sin Sin Wa closed the cupboard, and stepped out into the passage.

"I will bring you a coat and a cap and scarf," he said. "Your magnificent apparel would be out of place among the low pigs who wait in my other disgusting cellar to rob me. Forgive my improper absence for one moment, most honorable sir."