A Matter Of Friendship by Alice Hegan Rice
When a jovial young person in irreproachable pongee, and
a wholly reproachable brown topi, scrambled up the
lifting gang-plank of the big Pacific liner, setting
sail from Yokohama, he was welcomed with acclaim. The
Captain stopped swearing long enough to megaphone a
greeting from the bridge, the First Officer slapped him
on the back, while the half dozen sailors, tugging at
the ropes, grinned as one man.
Three months before this good ship East India had
carried Frederick Reynolds out to the Orient and
deposited him on the alien soil, an untried youth of
unimpeachable morals with a fatal facility for making
The temporary transplanting had had a strange and exotic
effect. The East has a way of developing crops of wild
oats that have been neglected in the West, and by the
end of his sojourn Mr. Frederick Reynolds had seen more,
felt more, and lived more than in all of his previous
twenty-four years put together. He had learned the
difference between a "straight flush" and a "full house"
under the palms at Raffles Hotel in Singapore; he had
been instructed in the ways of the wise in Shanghai by a
sophisticated attaché of the French Legation, who
imparted his knowledge between sips of absinthe, as he
looked down on the passing show from a teahouse on the
Bubbling Well Road; he had rapturously listened to every
sweet secret that Japan had to tell, and had left a wake
of smiles from Nagasaki to Yokohama.
In fact, in three short months he was fully qualified to
pass a connoisseur's judgment on a high-ball, to hold
his own in a game of poker, and to carry on a fairly
coherent flirtation in four different languages.
With this newly acquired wisdom he was now setting sail
for home, having accomplished his downward career with
such alacrity that he did not at all realize what had
happened to him.
Nor did the return voyage promise much in the way of
silent meditation and timely repentance. The Captain
placed Reynolds next to him at table, declaring that he
was like an electric fan on a sultry day; the Purser,
with the elasticity of conscience peculiar to pursers,
moved him from the inexpensive inside room which he had
engaged, to a spacious state-room on the promenade deck,
where sufficient corks were drawn nightly to make a
small life preserver.
The one person who watched these proceedings with
disfavor was a short, attenuated, bow-legged Chinaman,
with a face like a grotesque brass knocker, and a
taciturnity that enveloped him like a fog.
On the voyage out, Tsang Foo, the assistant deck
steward, had gotten into a fight with a brother
Chinaman, and had been saved from dismissal by
Reynolds's timely intercession at headquarters. In dumb
gratitude for this service, he had laid his celestial
soul at the feet of the young American and sworn eternal
From the day Reynolds reëmbarked, Tsang's silken,
slippered feet silently followed him from smoking-room
to bar, from bar back to smoking-room. Whatever emotion
troubled the depths of his being, no sign of it rose to
his ageless, youthless face. But whether he was silently
performing his duties on deck, or sitting on the
hatchway smoking his opium, his vigilant eyes from their
long, narrow slits kept watch.
For thirteen days the sun sparkled on the blue waters of
the Pacific, and favoring breezes gave every promise of
landing the East India in port with the fastest
record of the season. Bets went higher and higher on
each day's running, and the excitement was intense each
evening in the smoking-room when the numbers most likely
to win the next day's pool were auctioned off to the
It was the afternoon of the fourteenth day, thirty-six
hours out from San Francisco, that Mr. Frederick
Reynolds, who had bet more, drunk more, talked more, and
laughed more than any man on board, suddenly came to his
full senses. Then it was that he went quietly to his
luxurious state-room with its brass bed and crimson
hangings, and took a forty-two caliber revolver from his
steamer trunk. Slipping a cartridge into the cylinder,
he sat breathing heavily and staring impatiently before
From outside above the roar of the ocean, came the tramp
of the passengers on deck, and the trivial scraps of
conversation that floated in kept side-tracking his
thoughts, preventing their reaching the desired
The world, which he had sternly resolved to leave,
seemed determined to stay with him as long as possible.
He heard Glass, the actor, inquiring for him, and in
spite of himself he felt flattered; he heard the pretty
girl whose steamer chair was next his, make a
conditional engagement with the high-voiced
army-officer, and he knew why she left the matter open;
even a plaintive old voice inquiring how long it would
be before tea, caused him to wait for the answer.
At last, as if to present his misery in embodied form,
he produced a note-book and tried to concentrate his
attention upon the items therein recorded. Line after
line of wavering figures danced in impish glee before
him, defying inspection. But at the foot of the column,
like soldiers waiting to shoot a prisoner, stood four
formidable units unquestionably pointing his way to
As be looked at them Reynolds's thoughts got back on the
main track and rushed to a conclusion. Tearing the leaf
from the book, and crushing it in his hand, he jumped to
his feet. Seized with a fury of self-disgust, he pulled
off his coat and collar, and with the reckless courage
of a boy put the mouth of the revolver to his temple.
As he did so the room darkened. He involuntarily looked
up. Framed in the circle of the port-hole were the head
and shoulders of Tsang Foo. Not a muscle of the yellow
face moved, not a tremor of the slanting eyelids showed
surprise. The right hand, holding a bit of tow,
mechanically continued polishing the brass around the
port-hole, but the left—long, thin, and with claw-like
nails, shot stealthily forward and snatched the pistol.
For a full minute the polishing continued, then face and
figure vanished, and Reynolds was left staring in
impotent rage at the empty port-hole.
When the room steward appeared in answer to an
imperative summons, he was directed to send Tsang Foo to
room No. 7 at once.
Tsang came almost immediately, bearing tea and anchovy
sandwiches, which he urbanely placed on a camp-stool.
"Where's my pistol?" demanded Reynolds hotly, holding to
the door to steady himself.
Tsang's eyes, earnest as a dog's, were lifted to his:
"He fall overboard," he explained suavely, "me velly
Reynolds impulsively lifted his arm to strike, but a
second impulse, engulfing the first, made him turn and
fling himself upon his berth, struggling to master the
heavy sobs that shook him from head to foot.
The Chinaman softly closed the door and slipped the
bolt, then he dropped to a sitting posture on the floor
When the squall had passed, Reynolds addressed his
companion from the depths of the pillows in language
suited to his comprehension.
"Me belong large fool, Tsang!" he said savagely. "Have
drink too much. No good. You go 'long, I'm all right
Tsang's eye swept the disordered room and returned to
the figure on the bed. "Suppose me go," he said, "you
makee one hole in head?"
"That's my business," said Reynolds, his wrath
rekindling. "You go 'long, and get my pistol; there's a
Tsang did not stir; he sat with his hands clasped about
his knees, and contemplated space with the abstract look
of a Buddha gazing into Nirvana.
Reynolds passed from persuasion to profanity with no
satisfactory result. His language, whether eloquent or
fiery, beat upon an unresponsive ear. But being in that
condition that demands sympathy, he found the mere
talking a relief, and presently drifted into a recital
of his woes.
"I'm up against it, in the hole, you know, much largee
trouble," he amplified with many gestures, sitting on
the side of his berth, and pounding out excited,
incoherent phrases to the impassive figure opposite.
"Company sent me out to collect money. My have spent
all. No can go back home. Suppose my lose face, more
Tsang shifted his position and nodded gravely. Out of
much that was unintelligible, the last statement loomed
clear and incontrovertible.
"I'm a thief!" burst out Reynolds passionately, not to
Tsang now, but to the world at large, "a plain, common
thief. And the worst of it is there isn't a man in that
San Francisco office that doesn't trust me down to the
ground. Then there's the Governor. O God! I can't face
Tsang sat immovable, lost in thought. Stray words and
phrases helped, but it was by some subtle working of his
own complex brain that he was arriving at the truth.
"Father, him no can lend money?" he suggested presently.
"The Governor? Good heavens, no. There's not enough
money in our whole family to wad a gun! They put up all
they had to give me a start, and look where I have
landed! Do you suppose I'd go back and ask them to put
up a thousand more for my rotten foolishness?" He
knotted his hands together until the nails grew white
then, seeing the unenlightened face below, he added
emphatically: "No, no, Tsang, no can askee!"
"How fashion you losee money!" asked Tsang.
"The money? Oh, belong gamble. Bet on ship's run. First
day—win. Second day—win. Then lose, lose, keep on
losing. Didn't know half the time what I was doing.
To-day my settle up; no can pay office. A thousand
dollars out! Lord! All same two thousand Mex', Tsang!"
An invisible calculation was made on the end of the
steamer trunk by a long, pointed, fingernail, but no
change of expression crossed the yellow face. For an
incalculable time Tsang sat, lost in thought. All his
conserved energy went to aid him in solving the problem.
At last he reached a decision: this was clearly a case
to be laid before the only god be knew, the god of
"Me gamble too," he said; "me no lose."
"But s'pose you had lost? S'pose you lose what no
belong you? What thing you do?"
"You do all same my talkee you?" asked Tsang, for the
first time lifting his eyes.
It was a slender straw, to be sure, but Reynolds grasped
"What thing you mean, Tsang? What can I do?"
"Two more night' to San Flancisco," said Tsang softly;
"one more bet, maybe!"
"Oh, I've thought of that. What's the good of throwing
good money after bad? No use, I no got chance."
"My have got chance," announced Tsang
emphatically, "you bet how fashion my talkee you, your
money come back."
Reynolds studied the brass knocker of a face, but found
no clue to the riddle. "What you mean, Tsang?" he asked.
"What do you know? For the Lord's sake don't fool with
me about it!"
"Me no fool," declared Tsang. "You le' me talkee number,
him win big heap money."
"But how do you know?"
"Me savey," said Tsang enigmatically.
Again Reynolds studied the impassive face. "It's on the
square, Tsang? You don't stand in with anybody below
decks? The thing is on the level?" Then finding further
elucidation necessary, he added, "No belong cheat!"
Tsang Foo shook his head positively. "No belong cheat,
all belong ploper. No man savey, only me savey, this
side," and he tapped his head significantly.
Reynolds gave a short, unpleasant laugh. "All right," he
said, thrusting his hand in his pocket. "I'll give
myself one more chance. There'll be time to-morrow to
finish my job. I'll make a bargain with you, Tsang! Bet
this, and this, and this, on the next run for me. You
win, I no makee shoot; you lose, you promise bring back
pistol, then go way. My can do what thing my wantchee,
Tsang Foo looked at him cunningly: "I win, you belong
good boy? Stop whisky-soda, maybe?"
Reynolds laughed in spite of himself: "Going to reform
me, oh? All right, it's a bargain."
Tsang allowed his hand to be shaken, then he carefully
counted over the express checks that had been given to
"My go now," he announced as eight bells sounded from
As the door closed Reynolds sighed, then his eyes
brightened as they fell upon the sandwiches. Even a
desperate young man on the verge of suicide if he is
hungry must needs cheer up temporarily at the sight of
food. Reynolds had taken an early breakfast after being
up all night, and had eaten nothing since. After
devouring the sandwiches and tea with relish, he ordered
a hot bath, and in less than an hour was wrapped in his
berth sleeping the sleep that is not confined to the
It was high noon the next day when he awoke. His first
feeling was one of exhilaration: the long sleep, the
fresh sea air pouring in at the port-hole, and a sense
of perfect physical well-being had made him forget, for
a moment, the serious business the day might have in
store for him.
As he lay, half dozing, he became dimly aware that
something was wrong. The throb of the engines had
ceased, and an ominous stillness prevailed. He sat up in
bed and listened, then he thrust his head out of the
port-hole, only to see a deserted deck. The passage was
likewise deserted save for a hurried stewardess, who
called back, over her shoulder, "It's a man overboard,
sir, on the starboard side—"
Reynolds flung on his clothes. The boy in him was keen
for excitement, and in five minutes he was on deck, and
had joined the crowd of passengers that thronged the
The life-boat was being lowered, groaning and protesting
as it cleared the davits and swung away from the ship's
side. Far behind, in the still shining wake of the
steamer, a small black object bobbed helplessly in the
gray expanse of waters.
"What's the matter?" "Did he fall overboard!" "Did he
jump in?" "Was it suicide?" The air buzzed with
questions. The sentimental contingent clung to the
theory that it was some poor stoker who could no longer
stand the heat, or a foreign refugee afraid to come into
port. The more practical argued that it was probably one
of the seamen who, while doing outside painting, had
lost his balance and fallen into the sea.
A smug, well-dressed man, with close-cropped gray beard,
and a detached gaze that seemed to go no further than
his rimless glasses, turned and spoke to Reynolds:
"It has gotten to be quite the fashion for somebody in
the steerage to create this sort of sensation. It
happened as I went over. If a man sees fit to jump
overboard, all well and good; in nine cases out of ten
it's a good riddance to the community. But why in
Heaven's name should the steamer put back? Why should
several hundred people be delayed an hour or so for the
sake of an inconsiderate, useless fool?"
Reynolds turned away sickened. From a point, apart from
the rest, he strained his eyes to keep in sight the
small black object now hidden, now revealed, by the
waves. A fierce sense of kinship for that man in the
water seized him. He, too, perhaps had grappled with
some unendurable situation and been overcome. What if he
was an utterly worthless asset on the great human
ledger? He was a fellow-being, suffering, tempted,
vanquished. Was it kind to bring him back, to go through
with it all again?
For answer Reynolds's muscles strained with those of the
sailors rowing below: all the life and youth in him rose
in rebellion against unnecessary death. He watched with
teeth hard set as the small boat climbed to the crest of
a wave, then plunged into the trough again, crawling by
imperceptible inches toward the bobbing spot in the
water. He longed to be in the boat, in the water even,
helping to save that human life that only on the verge
of extinction had gained significance. What if the man
wished to die? No matter, he must be saved, saved from
himself, given another chance, made to face it out,
whatever it was. Not until then did Reynolds remember
another life that be had dared to threaten, that even
now he meant to take if the wheel of chance swung
against him. Suddenly he faced the awful judgment of his
own act, and shuddered back as one who, standing upon a
precipice, trembles in terror before the mad desire to
"I'll stick it out!" he said half aloud as if in
promise. "Whatever comes, I'll take my medicine, I'll—"
An eager murmur swept through the crowd. A sailor with a
rope about him was being lowered from the life-boat.
For five tense minutes the two men rose and fell at the
mercy of the high waves, and the distance between them
did not lessen by an inch.
Then a passenger with a binocular announced that the
sailor was swimming around to the far side to get the
man between him and the boat.
With long, steady, overhand strokes, the sailor was
gaining his way, and when at last he reached the
apparently motionless object and got a rope under its
arms, and the two were hauled into the life-boat, a
rousing cheer went up from the big steamer above.
Reynolds drew in his breath sharply and turned away from
the railing. As he did so he was hailed by a group of
friends who were returning to their cards, waiting face
downward on the small tables in the smoking-room.
"Behold His Nibs!" shouted Glass, the actor, "the
luckiest duffer that ever hit a high-ball!"
"How did you happen to do it?" cried another.
Reynolds lifted his hand to his bewildered head. "Do
what?" he asked dully. "I'm not on."
"Oh, come!" said Glass, shaking him by the shoulder;
"that bet you sent in last night! When the Chink said
you wanted to buy the low field for all six pools, and
to bet five hundred to boot that you'd win, I thought
you were either drunk or crazy. Yesterday's run was
four-fifty-one, a regular corker, and yet with even
better weather conditions, you took only the numbers
below four-thirty-one. I argued with the Chinaman 'til I
was blue in the face, but he stood pat, said, you were
all right, and had told him what to do. Nothing but an
accident could have saved you, and it arrived. You've
won the biggest pool of the crossing, don't you think
it's about time for you to set 'em up? Say Martini
cocktails for the crowd, eh?"
Reynolds was jostled about in congratulation and
good-humored banter. Everybody was glad of the boy's
success, he was an all round favorite, and some of the
men who had won his money felt relieved to return it.
"Here's your cocktail, Freddy," cried Glass, "and here's
Reynolds stood in the midst of the crowd, his face
flushed, his hair tumbled. With a quick movement he sent
the glass and its contents spinning out of a near-by
"Not for Frederick!" he said with emphasis, "I've been
that particular kind of a fool for the last time."
Some hours later when the crowd went below to dress for
dinner, Reynolds dropped behind to ask the Second
Officer about the man who had been rescued.
"He is still pretty full of salt water," said the
Officer, "but he is being bailed out."
"How did it happen?" asked Reynolds.
"Give it up. He hasn't spoken yet. It looks as if he
were getting ready to do some outside cleaning, for he
had on a life-preserver. Funny thing about it, though,
that's not his work. He's not even on duty during the
starboard watch. The man in the lookout saw him climb
out on the bow, shout something up to him, then fall
backward into the water. I'll be hanged if I can make it
out. Tsang Foo is one of the steadiest sailors on
"Tsang Foo!" shouted Reynolds. "You don't mean that man
With headlong haste he seized the bewildered officer and
made him pilot him below decks. Stumbling down the
ladders and through dark passages, he at last reached
the bunk where Tsang Foo lay with the ship's surgeon and
a steward in attendance.
The Chinaman's lips were drawn tightly back over his
prominent teeth, and his breath came in irregular gasps.
Across the pillow in a straight black line lay his
dripping queque. As his eyelids fluttered feebly, the
doctor straightened his own tired back.
"He'll come round now, all right," he said to the
steward. "Give him those drops and don't talk to him.
He's had a close call. I'll be back in ten minutes."
Reynolds crowded into the narrow apace the doctor had
left. The fact that he was saved from disgrace was
utterly blotted out by the bigger fact that this
ignorant, uncouth, foreign sailor had fearlessly risked
his life to save him from facing a merited punishment.
Reynolds's very soul seemed to grow bigger to
accommodate the thought.
"Tsang!" he whispered, seizing the yellow hand, "You are
a brick! Number one good man. But my no can take
The steward in attendance, who had stepped aside, made a
warning gesture and laid his finger on his lips.
For five minutes the man in the bunk and the one beside
it looked silently into each other's eyes, then the
drawn lips moved, and Reynolds, bending his head to
listen, heard the broken question:
Reynolds's mind dashed at two conclusions and recoiled
from each. Should be follow his impulse to explain the
whole affair, serious consequences would result for
Tsang, while the other alternative of accepting the
situation made him a party, albeit an innocent one, to a
most reprehensible proceeding. It was to his credit,
that of the two courses the latter was infinitely the
more intolerable. He got up nervously, then sat down
"No—blake—bargain!" repeated Tsang anxiously.
Still Reynolds waited for some prompting from a
conscience unaccustomed to being rusty. Any course that
would involve the loyal little Chinaman, who had played
the game according to the rules as he knew them, was out
of the question. The money must be paid back, of course,
but how, and when? If he cleared himself at the office
it might be years before he could settle this new debt,
but he could do it in time, he must do it. Then at last,
light came to him. He would accept Tsang's sacrifice but
it should stand for more than the mere material good it
had purchased. It should pledge him to a fresh start, a
clean life. He would justify the present by the future.
He drew a deep breath of relief and leaned forward:
"Tsang," he said, and his voice trembled with the
earnestness of his resolve, "I no break bargain. From
now on my behave all same proper. It wasn't right, old
fellow, you oughtn't—" then he gave it up and smiled
helplessly, "you belong my good friend Tsang, what thing
A slow smile broke the brass-like stillness of Tsang
"Pipe," he gasped softly, "opium velly good,—make land
and sea—all same—by an' by!"