- 1 · The Statement of Jared Johnson · Geraldine Bonner · ss
- 16 · The Horn of Marcus Brunder · Howard Reynolds · ss
- 21 · On the Trail of the Dolan Outfit · G. B. Dunham · ss
- 29 · She Said, "Come." · Louise Clark · ss
- 34 · Old Double-talk's Compassion · Philip Verrill Mighels · ss
Saturday, 18 January 2014
Old Double-talks Compassion
Genealogical research has indicated that Philip Verrill Mighels was related to A. Hyatt Verrill. Both were prolific authors but there is no indication that the two ever met. There seems to be very little published about Philip Verrill Mighels; maybe we can fix that later on.
The Black Cat magazine was published from 1895 to 1922. The format of this issue is 9" tall by 5" wide, just about ideal for scanning so a PDF of the entire contents, June 1899, is HERE, including all of the advertisements!
The Black Cat¢, 42 p+ads, 9"x6")
Old Double-talk's Compassion.
By Philip Verrill Mighels
From The Black Cat magazine, June 1899, by The Shortstory Publishing Company. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January 2014.
Mingled with the howl of the wind and the murmur of a score of Chinese voices, was a ceaseless chink and chink of gold. It was in a gambling den of
Fumes of opium-tainted tobacco crept like wraiths through the air and all but
overcame the two saucer-lamps, which cast a dull red glow on the eager Chinese
faces. A dozen of the men were seated at a table, where the game was in progress;
the others were standing behind, their countenances expressive of greed in
various manners and degrees.
The cheerful rhythm of the precious metal issued from the murkiest corner. There a man was standing monotonously shaking a bag containing current coins of the realm. The practice was so common in the Chinese quarter that none of the individuals present paid the slightest attention. All of them knew that the coins were being reduced in weight by the constant striking together; all were aware that to burn the bag and thus secure the knocked-off dust of gold would be easy, and then that the coins would "pass" in trade as readily as any.
The tall Chinese to whom the gold belonged was confident of the honesty of the man who shook the bag, as well he might have been, for the man was white and he had once been a member of a sacred calling. He was known to the Chinese inhabitants by a name which signified Old Double-talk, a result of his having acted as court-interpreter in Chinese cases whenever a legal necessity arose. That he once had possessed another name there is no substantial reason to doubt, inasmuch as he had become so honored in his former
Connecticut home that
influential people thrust upon him the distinction of Missionary at large in
the Canton . province of China
In a manner entirely innocent he had been tempted by curiosity to try the "taste" of a bead of opium, burned at the end of a pipe. Had the pipe been an octopus it could hardly have embraced him in a coil more resistless. Guilty and ashamed he resigned from his post and returned to his home, but a pipe and lamp and a five-tael tin of opium were cunningly concealed in his trunk. Then on a fatal night he was deep in his opium dreams and the lamp was overturned. His sister lifted and pushed him out at the window, only to fall herself in the fierce hot arms of the flames.
His social world, to which he dared not confess, refused him the boon of obscurity. Unable to bear himself in a false capacity burdened by self-accusation, he ran away from his friends, his relatives and his calling. Tramping for years he came at length to a western village at the edge of which a
existed. Fascinated, persuading himself that here he could work out his own
repentance, he chose this spot for his living interment.
The environment was admirable, suited to many kinds of self-denial. He found himself readily ostracized from all association in the village proper, and rarely tempted to over-indulgence of food among the Chinese. The one particular battle which was rendered frequently too hard to fight was that between his resolution and his desire once more to taste a pipe, for the insidious fumes of opium were constantly in his nostrils.
Double-talk had various means of gaining his daily bread. Aside from the far-between opportunities of acting officially in court, on the returns of which he must certainly have failed to exist, he was jack-of-all-occupations in
Chinatown. Thus he cured the bleeding backs of the
donkeys employed by Kow Sup Fun and Wan Lee Toi to bring down wood from the
mountains; he doctored the chickens, pigs and ducks of Suey Fat when ailment overtook
them; he played the brass pan in the orchestra, whenever a funeral required the
service; and he shook the bag of coins to wear off the metal.
He was well aware of the fact that to reduce in weight or to mutilate the coins of the country was prohibited by law. Nevertheless, he agitated the gold with vigor, his conscience rendered dull by hunger and fatigue. On that particular night he was wet, in addition to his usual unnurtured condition, for the rain had soaked him throughout the day. Moreover, he felt a certain parental responsibility, as he gazed from time to time into the depths of two great brown eyes at his knee which he found unfailingly lifted to his own.
Almost a part of the shadows, a small Chinese boy was clinging to his leg, with chubby, dimpled hands, winking wistfully in the smoke—a silent little chap, who regarded Old Double-talk with a love too great to be expressed. This small bronze bit of humanity spent nearly all his time with the man, always following him about, with a singular instinct for keeping on his trail, or holding fast to his hand when together they walked, or clinging to anything clutchable if both the hands happened to be engaged.
The child, who was called Luey Sing, was the first-born, and indeed the only-born, of Luey Hop, a venerable vendor of lizards which the learned converted into physic. As might be conjectured, Luey Hop was not a wealthy man. In addition to being poor he was vigorously ignored, if not disliked, by the Chinese population, having once committed the error of furnishing certain police with information detrimental to a large and illicit industry—the cooking of opium without a license.
Little Luey Sing shared, in a miniature manner, the ignominy thrust upon his father, yet he was inconsistently happy, for he enjoyed an undisputed possession of Double-talk for a friend and companion. This night, amidst the clatter of Chinese words and phrases, the crisp, clear sound of the buttons being pushed on the wires of a counter, and the metallic ring of the golden coins, the little follow looked upward in adoration so long that his neck was nearly ready to break. His eyes began to drop their curtains; his tiny fat fingers somewhat loosened their grip. He nodded and started and nodded again. At length with an effort he opened his big, wistful eves, as he noted the kindly, wrinkled face above bending thoughtfully down. Then, in a baby voice, he lisped: —
"Now Luey lay me down to theep."
"All right, little man," said Double-talk, glancing at a clock to assure himself his time was fully measured, "we'll trot along home." He carried the bag to a raw-boned Celestial who was running the fan-tan table and put it down. The Chinese glanced at the time-piece and paid ten cents from the money at his hand.
"Good-night," said Double-talk, without expecting an answer, and taking little limber Sing in his arms, he left the place and trudged away through the wet and glittering avenue of darkness.
Luey was sound asleep when the door of his father's dwelling was pushed quietly open, and he was therefore laid for a moment in his bed, to which his protector groped his way. When a candle sputtered out gushes of light. Old Double-talk stood white and amazed at what he saw.
The form of Luey Hop was half way only on a bunk; his face was on the floor. He was dead. How old and tired he looked!
Double-talk was harshly jarred by this unexpected sight. He had known the old man to be feeble and underfed; he had given all the comfort and all the food he could to this honest and down-trodden companion, but he had never suspected the shadow of death of being so near.
He took little Sing in his arms again and hurried to secure the attendance of Doctor Ah Kee. This fine old gentleman knew at a glance through his prodigious glasses that acute pneumonia, super-induced by the chill and wet of the day, had done its work rapidly. Luey Sing was fatherless, but not parentless; that is to say, he was now an orphan to whom Old Double-talk was foster-mother and foster-father in one. The Chinese visited sufficient of the sins of the departed on the son to warrant them in preserving a total indifference to the little fellow's being and to his adoption by a man of another color.
But the ceremonious people, however much they may have neglected Luey Hop during his life, stinted no part of the usual rites, now that he and his craving for sustenance were stilled. For several days, the weather being cold, they frightened off devils with suitable and probated noises, and burned the full allotment of punks at the shrine in the Joss-house, before the interment. At the end of the proper time the weazened old form was conveyed to the graveyard with appropriate orchestration.
Old Double-talk was obliged to refuse to play the brass pan on this occasion. He therefore attended with little Luey Sing holding to his hand, the only genuine mourner in all the noisy procession.
With masterful inconsequence the Chinese people, who had refused to assist in the maintenance of Luey Hop in life, had prepared a lavish and elaborate banquet for his use when at last he was dead. They saw his coffin covered in the grave and the mound roughly spaded into shape on top, when they set it all about with roasted pig, chickens and ducks, boiled rice, grease pudding and fried weeds. They set up lighted punks and burned no end of red paper to smoke out or keep off hungry demons; and then they went back to their lives of work, fan-tan and opium.
Double-talk looked hungrily on at the rite of decoration with food. He and little Luey had been less than half fed for the past three days, and by reason of his grief he had earned not a cent—not even the trifle which he ordinarily got for playing the pan at a burial.
That night, when his pangs had increased with the darkness, he was over-distressed by the moans of hunger which were uttered, now and again, by little Sing, in his sleep. It became too much to be endured. He blew out the candle, at length, and crushing on his battered hat, went forth in the frosty night. He turned to the north and pushed ahead rapidly, facing the fangs of the wind. He was hunched all up by the cold that crept to his marrow and tortured by waking dreams of the peace and ecstasy which a pipe of opium could bring. Doggedly he hurried on till he came to the graveyard gate. This he climbed, without a sound.
Quickly he stumbled across the unmarked mounds, where the Chinese were but napping before they should all be transported to sleep in China, and he went directly toward the grave of Luey Hop.
He was almost upon it when he suddenly floundered, and collided heavily with a human form. His hair crept upward; a chill shot down and up his spine; a feeling of horror alone prevented the cry which rose to his lips.
"Ugh," grunted the form, in a voice too thick for a ghost, and bounding to his feet one of the Pah Ute Indians whose regular predatorial visits to the graves of departed Celestials gave color to the story that the spirits of the dead devoured the banquet—a hearty but super-frightened buck—darted swiftly away to the sagebrush.
Old Double-talk was startled so thoroughly that his teeth began to chatter. Nevertheless, he realized that he was the dominant spirit of the evening, and he therefore made all possible haste to appropriate all of the funeral meats, for himself and Luey Sing, and then to beat a retreat the way he had come. He had robbed the dead. He permitted his conscience to freeze, for the sake of keeping alive the bodies of little Luey Sing and himself.
Day by day the severity of the winter increased. The snow became so deep that the donkeys could not be sent to the mountains, and in consequence there were not any bleeding backs to cure. Pigs and ducks and chickens left their diseases out in the cold. Litigation, or trials requiring a Chinese interpreter, were not even so much as on the calendar. And not every day did the gambling table accumulate sufficient of the golden coins to warrant a shaking.
Such a dearth of money and credit and chances for work prevailed in the village that violent means of gaining a bare subsistence had come into being. Robberies were frequent and nearly always accompanied, if not preceded, by arson. So great was the terror of the people that a citizens' union had been organized, and desperate men kept nightly watch in the streets. In secret they had also formed a vigilance committee, whose warning was out for all offenders to heed on pain of death.
So engrossed was Old Double-talk with his task of keeping the body and soul of little Sing together, and incidentally his own, that the state of affairs was quite without his ken. Thus he sat looking at the little bronze lad, one brilliant, moon-lit night. Sing had eaten a crust of bread in the morning and a crust the day before; the child invariably ate more than the man. All that day the great wistful eyes of the little chap had searched those of his friend, appealingly. To-night they were blazing with hunger although forever yearning in expression. There was no such thing as sleep in their solemn depths. The little fellow came to lay his head on his protector's knee.
"Sleepy, little man?" Old Double-talk inquired. "Want now I lay me down to sleep?"
The child shook his head.
"Hungry?" crooned the man.
Luey nodded, timidly.
"Bless your poor little heart, you're starving." He took the cold little chap in his arms and tried to rock him to sleep.
The man's mind was working oddly. He felt that anything, however desperate, was better than to let this helpless child succumb to the pangs of hunger; his conscience had ceased to be, in his anguish. The Chinese people had given all the aid they would. It was cheaper, to bury Luey Sing than to keep him.
Old Double-talk thought with composure, yes, eagerly, of robbing another grave, were there only a grave to rob. Why not kill some old Chinaman and get the food they would certainly leave on his mound, said his mind, He started at himself, so abhorrent was this foreign thought. Yet his calculating instinct pursued the idea to its end. They would keep the body so long that the child and himself might die before the feast was spread,
Little Luey Sing was still diffidently nodding to assure him of his hunger. It made the heart of the man bleed to see him.
A sudden mental picture occurred to his mind. He saw some laborers carrying potatoes to an elongated pyramid of them, which they were covering with straw and earth, to preserve the raw articles of food through the winter. He thought of the rabbits digging into this pile in the night to save their lives. It was theft to take those potatoes. He had never wilfully wronged any living being but himself; he had never lived any but a life of innocent self-destruction; but—this child that he loved was dying. A man has a right, he told himself, to preserve human life, even by desperate means. The idea got possession of his soul. He was frantic to be digging at the pile of potatoes. A wild, haggard look came in his face. The child saw it come and was frightened.
"What is it, little man?" said the foster-parent tenderly. "Was he awful tired and hungry? Never mind, old Ghee Sum will get him something to eat. Luey go to sleep—like a good little boy, and Ghee Sum won't be long."
In his haste he laid little Sing in his bed with all his clothing on. "But, wait, little man," he said, with a sense of shame, "we haven't said our prayers." He placed the child on its knees by the bunk and knelt there beside him, simply. When the wee Chinese chap had repeated the sweet, old-fashioned appeal of children, Old Double-talk remained kneeling a minute, to add his own petition, in a mumble. And when he arose to place little Luey in the bed and to kiss the soft wee face, a light of fatherly anguish was burning in his eyes.
"Good night, you poor little scamp," he said, somewhat hoarsely, "old Ghee Sum will soon be back with something nice."
An hour later, when he came furtively along through the shadows of the village, with a sack half filled with potatoes, he was startled, on turning, to see a sudden glow of fire athwart the sky, in the direction whence he had come. Cries arose from terrified women and angry men. A clangor of bells burst on the frosty air; a din of shouts, screaming whistles and reverberating thuds of horses' hoofs seemed to fill all the night. He felt all the fear in which his conscience was suddenly plunged. He started to run with his plunder.
Almost on the instant a watchman darted upon him. He dropped the sack and got away, only to dash into the arms of half a dozen men who were racing madly toward the fire. He was clutched by a dozen fierce and merciless hands. A score of maddened citizens quickly gathered about him. There was neither law nor order nor reason in the mob which soon collected in the street; and no one noticed a timid little form that ran to the shadows for concealment.
The roar of the firemen thundering by with their engine added confusion to the moment. Then a leader came pushing his way among the captors. He stilled their babel, and then they became truly grim and terrible.
There was no delay; there was simply the calm and awful determination to do their work and do it quickly. Immediately all were in motion, the vainly protesting prisoner in their midst, marching voicelessly away, their feet making crisp, hard clatter on the frozen ground.
When at length Old Double-talk was standing, bound, beneath the cross-beam of the cemetery gate, he knew their purpose. He knew that nothing could stop them now.
"God help you," he murmured, "you don't know what you are doing."
And then when at last those silent men had scattered to the four winds, and only the creak and creak of the rope on the beam, as something swung in the wind, made sound, a timid little form came slowly from the brush and approached the spot.
It was Luey Sing, who had followed unerringly, guided alone by his childish love and natural instinct. He could barely reach the ankles of his friend and protector, but these he clutched, with an odd little coo of joy, and throwing his arms about the unresponsive legs, laid his chilled little cheek against the cloth.
The creak and creak might have seemed like the chink and chink of the gold when Old Double-talk shook the bag; howbeit, the child was patient. He waited and waited for a word or a sign. He looked up wistfully to catch the twinkling answer from the eyes he knew and loved so well. Slowly his thin little body chilled through and through. Yet he made no complaint; he was waiting for the creak to cease.
At last, as a peaceful warmth and drowsiness began to overtake him, he timidly opened his lips.
"Now Luey lay me down to theep," he lisped in a whisper.
The old-time loving response failed to come. He waited, gazing yet more wistfully upward. His eyes were so weary and heavy. He tried again:
"Now Luey lay—me down to—theep
I play—the Lor'—my thoul—keep.
If I—thould die—befloe—wake,
His eyes were closed. His arms were tight about the lifeless ankles. Breathing a sad little sigh he fell into the sweetest and longest of slumbers.
In the morning early the leader of the mob came guiltily out to the graveyard gate. He stood there awed, when he came in sight of the place and viewed the silent figure and the frozen little form of Luey Sing still clasping the stiffened knees.
"My God," said he, "the poor old man—the poor little kid."
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.