Chapter X--The Twins Join the Celestials

Meanwhile, Atlantic and Pacific had been enjoying themselves even unto the verge of delirium. In the course of their wanderings they had come upon a Chinaman bearing aloft a huge red silken banner crowned by a badger's tail. Everything young that had two legs was following him, and they joined the noble army of followers. As they went on, other Chinamen with other banners came from the side-alleys, and all at once the small procession thus formed turned a corner and came upon the parent body, a sight that fairly stunned them by its Oriental magnificence. It was the four thousandth anniversary of the birth of Yeong Wo, had the children realised it (and that may have been the reason that they awoke in a fever of excitement)--Yeong Wo, statesman, philanthropist, philosopher, and poet; and the great day had been chosen to dedicate the new temple and install in it a new joss, and to exhibit a monster dragon just arrived from China. The joss had been sitting in solemn state in his sanctum sanctorum for a week, while the priests appeased him hourly with plenteous libations of rice brandy, sacrifices of snow-white pigeons, and offerings of varnished pork. Clouds of incense had regaled his expansive mahogany nostrils, while his ears of ivory inlaid with gold and bronze had been stimulated with the ceaseless clashing of gongs and wailings of Chinese fiddles. Such homage and such worship would have touched a heart of stone, and that of the joss was penetrable sandalwood; so as the days of preparation wore away the smile on the teakwood lips of the idol certainly became more propitious. This was greatly to the satisfaction of the augurs and the high priest; for a mighty joss is not always in a sunny humour on feast-days, and to parade a sulky god through the streets is a very depressing ceremony, foretelling to the initiated a season of dire misfortune. So his godship smiled and shook his plume of peacock feathers benignantly on Yeong Wo's birthday, and therefore the pageant in which Atlantic and Pacific bore a part was more gorgeous than anything that ever took place out of the Flowery Kingdom itself.

Fortune smiled upon the naughty creatures at the very outset, for Pacific picked up a stick of candy in the street, and gave half of it to a pretty Chinese maiden whose name in English would have been Spring Blossom, and who looked, in any language, like a tropical flower, in her gown of blue-and-gold-embroidered satin and the sheaf of tiny fans in her glossy black hair. Spring Blossom accepted the gift with enthusiasm, since a sweet tooth is not a matter of nationality, and ran immediately to tell her mother, a childish instinct also of universal distribution. She climbed, as nimbly as her queer little shoes would permit, a flight of narrow steps leading to a balcony; while the twins followed close at her heels, and wedged their way through a forest of Mongolian legs till they reached the front, where they peeped through the spaces of the railings with Spring Blossom, Fairy Foot, Dewy Rose, and other Celestial babies, quite overlooked in the crowd and excitement and jollity. Such a very riot of confusion there was, it seemed as if Confucius might have originally spelled his name with an s in the middle; for every window was black with pigtailed highbinders, cobblers, pork butchers, and pawnbrokers. The narrow streets and alleys became one seething mass of Asiatic humanity; while the painted belles came out on their balconies like butterflies, sitting among a wealth of gaudy paper flowers that looked pale in comparison with the daubs of vermilion on their cheeks and the rainbow colours of their silken tunics.

At last the pageant had gathered itself together, and came into full view in all its magnificence. There were pagodas in teakwood inlaid with gold; and resting on ebony poles, and behind them, on a very tame Rosinante decked with leopard skins and gold bullion fringes, a Chinese maiden dressed to represent a queen of Celestial mythology. Then came more pagodas, and companies of standard-bearers in lavender tunics, red sashes, green and orange leggings and slippers; more and more splendid banners, painted with dragons sprawling in distressed attitudes; litters containing minor gods and the paraphernalia they were accustomed to need on a journey like this; more litters bearing Chinese orchestras, gongs going at full blast, fiddles squeaking, drums rumbling, trumpets shrieking, cymbals clashing,--just the sort of Babel that the twins adored.

And now came the chariot and throne of the great joss himself, and just behind him a riderless bay horse, intended for his imperial convenience should he tire of being swayed about on the shoulders of his twelve bearers, and elect to change his method of conveyance. Behind this honoured steed came a mammoth rock-cod in a pagoda of his own, and then, heralded by a fusilade of fire-crackers, the new dragon itself, stretching and wriggling its monster length through one entire block. A swarm of men cleared the way for it, gesticulating like madmen in their zeal to get swimming-room for the sacred monster. Never before in her brief existence had Pacific Simonson been afraid of anything, but if she had been in the street, and had so much as caught the wink of the dragon's eye, or a wave of its consecrated fin, she would have dropped senseless to the earth; as it was, she turned her back to the procession, and, embracing with terror-stricken fervour the legs of the Chinaman standing behind her, made up her mind to be a better girl in the future. The monster was borne by seventy-four coolies who furnished legs for each of the seventy-four joints of its body, while another concealed in its head tossed it wildly about. Little pigtailed boys shrieked as they looked at its gaping mouth that would have shamed a man-eating shark, at the huge locomotive headlights that served for its various sets of eyes, at the horns made of barber poles, and the moustache of twisted hogshead hoops. Behind this baleful creature came other smaller ones, and more flags, and litters with sacrificial offerings, and more musicians, till all disappeared in the distance, and the crowd surged in the direction of the temple.

There was no such good fortune for the twins as an entrance into this holy of holies, for it held comparatively few besides the dignitaries, aristocrats, and wealthy merchants of the colony; but there was still ample material for entertainment, and they paid no heed to the going down of the sun. Why should they, indeed, when there were fascinating opium dens standing hospitably open, where they could have the excitement of entrance even if it were followed by immediate ejectment? As it grew darker, the scene grew more weird and fairylike, for the scarlet, orange, and blue lanterns began to gleam one by one in the narrow doorways, and from the shadowy corners of the rooms behind them. In every shop were tables laden with Chinese delicacies,--fish, flesh, fowl, tea, rice, whisky, lichee nuts, preserved limes, ginger, and other sweetmeats; all of which, when not proffered, could be easily purloined, for there was no spirit of parsimony or hostility afloat in the air. In cubby-holes back of the counters, behind the stoves, wherever they could find room for a table, groups of moon-eyed men began to congregate for their nightly game of fan-tan, some of the players and onlookers smoking, while others chewed lengths of peeled sugar-cane.

In the midst of festivities like these the twins would have gone on from bliss to bliss without consciousness of time or place, had not hunger suddenly descended upon them and sleep begun to tug at their eyelids, changing in a trice their joy into sorrow and their mirth into mourning. Not that they were troubled with any doubts, fears, or perplexities. True, they had wandered away from Eden Place, and had not the slightest idea of their whereabouts. If they had been a couple of babes in a wood, or any two respectable lost children of romance, memories of lullabies and prayers at mother's knee would have precipitated them at this juncture into floods of tears; but home to them was simply supper and bed. The situation did not seem complex to their minds; the only plan was, of course, to howl, and to do it thoroughly,--stand in a corner of the market-place, and howl in such a manner that there could be no mistake as to the significance of the proceeding; when the crowd collected,--for naturally a crowd would collect,--simply demand supper and bed, no matter what supper nor which bed; eat the first, lie down in the second, and there you are! If the twins had been older and more experienced, they would have known that people occasionally do demand the necessities of life without receiving them; but in that case they would also have known that such a misfortune would never fall upon a couple of lost children who confide their woes to the public. There was no preconcerted plan between them, no system. They acted without invention, premonition, or reflection. It was their habit to scream, while holding the breath as long as possible, whenever the universe was unfriendly, and particularly when Nature asserted herself in any way; it was a curious fact that they resented the intervention of Nature and Providence with just as much energy as they did the discipline of their caretakers. They screamed now, the moment that the entertainment palled and they could not keep their eyes open without effort; and never had they been more successful in holding their breath and growing black in the face; indeed, Pacific, in the midst of her performance, said to Atlantic, 'Yours is purple, how is mine?'

A crowd did gather, inevitably, for the twins' lungs were capable of a body of tone more piercing than that of a Chinese orchestra, and the wonder is that poor Lisa did not hear them as she sat shivering on the curbstone, miles away; for it was her name with which they conjured.

The populace amused itself for a short space of time, watching the fine but misdirected zeal of the performance, and supposing that the parents of the chanting cherubs were within easy reach. It became unpleasant after a while, however, and a policeman, inquiring into the matter, marched the two dirty, weary little protestants off to a station near by,--a march nearly as difficult and bloody as Sherman's memorable 'march to the sea'; for the children associated nothing so pleasant as supper and bed with a blue-coated, brass-buttoned person, and resisted his well-meant advances with might and main, and tooth and nail.

The policeman was at last obliged to confine himself to Atlantic, and called a brother-in-arms to take charge of Pacific. He was a man who had achieved distinction in putting down railroad riots, so he was well calculated for the task, although he was somewhat embarrassed by the laughter of the bystanders when his comrade called out to him, 'Take your club, Mike, but don't use firearms unless your life's in danger!'

The station reached, the usual examination took place. Atlantic never could tell the name of the street in which he lived, nor the number of the house. Pacific could, perhaps, but would not; and it must be said, in apology for her abnormal defiance, that her mental operations were somewhat confused, owing to copious indulgence in strong tea, ginger, sugar-cane, and dried fish. She had not been wisely approached in the first place, and she was in her sulkiest and most combative humour; in fact, when too urgently pressed for information as to her age, ancestry, and abiding-place, she told the worthy police-officer to go to a locality for which he felt utterly unsuited, after a life spent in the exaltation of virtue and the suppression of vice. (The vocabulary of the twins was somewhat poverty-stricken in respect to the polite phrases of society, but in profanity it would have been rich for a parrot or a pirate.) The waifs were presently given to the care of the police matron, and her advice, sought later, was to the effect that the children had better be fed and put to bed, and as little trouble expended upon them as was consistent with a Christian city government.

'It is possible their parents may call for them in the morning,' she said acidly, 'but I think it is more than likely that they have been deserted. I know if they belonged to me they'd be lost for ever before I tried to find them!' and she rubbed a black-and-blue spot on her person, which, if exposed, would have betrayed the shape, size, and general ground-plan of Pacific's boot.