Yellow by G. Ranger Wormser
He walked along the pavement with the long, swinging stride he had so
successfully aped from the men about him. It had been one of the first
things upon which he had dwelt with the greatest patience; one of the
first upon which he had centered his stolid concentration. He had
carried his persistency to such a degree that he had even been known to
follow other men about measuring their step to a nicety with those long,
narrow eyes of his, that seemed to see nothing, and yet penetrated into
the very soul of everything.
His classmates at the big college had at the beginning laughed at him;
scoffing readily because of the dogged manner in which he had persevered
at his desire to become thoroughly American. Now after all his laborious
painstaking, now that he had carefully studied all their ways of
talking, all their distinctive mannerisms; now that he had gone even
beyond that with true Oriental perception, reaching out with the cunning
tentacles of his brain into the minds of those about him, he knew they
had begun to treat him with the comradeship, the unthinking
fellow-feeling which they accorded each other.
He thoroughly realized that had they paused to consider, had they in any
way been made to feel that he, a Chinaman, had consciously made up his
mind to become one of them, consistently mimicking them day after day,
that they would have resented him. He knew that they could not have
helped but think it all hypocrisy. And yet he actually felt that it was
the one big thing of his life; that desire of his to cast aside the
benightment of dying China, for what he considered the enlightment and
virility of America.
To be sure he recognized there was still a great number of the men who
distrusted him because of his yellow face. He had made up his mind with
the slow deliberation that always characterized his unswerving
determination to win every one of them before the end of his last year.
He would show them one and all that he was as good as they were; that
the traditions of the Chinaman which they so looked down upon, upon
which he himself looked down upon, were not his traditions.
As he walked along he thought of these things; thought of them carefully
and concisely in English. His narrow eyes became a trifle more narrow,
and a smile that held something of triumph in it came and played about
his flat, mobile mouth.
It had been raining hard. The wet streets stretched in dark, reflecting
coils under the corner lamps. Overhead a black sky lowered
threateningly; pressing down upon the crouching, gray masses of the
close-built houses in sullen menace. Now and again a swift moving train
flung itself in thundering derision across the elevated tracks; a long
brightly lit line streaking through the encircling gloom.
He could feel the mysterious throb of life all about him. The unfathomed
lure of the night, of the few people that at so late an hour crept past
him, looming for a second in sudden distinctness at his side, then
fading phantom-like into the deep engulfing shadows of the dim street.
He was at a complete loss how to express to himself the feeling of
dread; a subtle feeling that somehow refused to be translated into the
carefully acquired English of which he was so proud.
For a moment he doubted himself. Doubted that, were he so thoroughly
American, he could feel the Oriental's subconscious recognition of the
purposeful, sinister intent in the huddled mass of darkened shop windows
with their rain-dripping signs; in the shining reptile scales of the
asphalt underfoot; in the pulsing intensity of the hot, torpid July
A street lamp flickered its uncertain light sluggishly over the
carefully groomed figure and across the placid breath of the yellow
He paused a second as he saw a form come lurching unsteadily out of the
gloom ahead of him. It came nearer and he could see that what had at
first appeared to be a dark, undefinable mass, pushed here and there by
unseen hands, was in reality a man swaying drunkenly out of the shadows.
He watched the man curiously, with a little of that contemptuous feeling
an Oriental always holds for any expression of excess. As the man stood
before him in the darkness, as he stumbled and seemed about to fall, he
put out his hand and caught him by the elbow.
"Thank 'e;" the drunken eyes blinked blearily up into his stolid
impassive face. "It's fine to be saved on a stormy night like this. It
"Don't mention it."
"It's a powerful dark night;—it is."
"Les. That is so."
"And it's a damn long way home. Ain't it?"
"I do not know."
"By the saints! And no more do I. Ain't you got a dime on you, mister?
You could be giving it to me for car fare—; couldn't you now, mister?"
"Velee glad to let you have it."
He fished in his pocket. He drew out the coin and placed it in the man's
outstretched hand. He watched the dirty fingers close eagerly over it.
Suddenly the bloodshot eyes wavered suspiciously across his face. He saw
the red flushed features twitch convulsively.
"Holy Mother!" The drunkard muttered thickly. "It's a heathen."
The dime slipped from between the inert fingers. It tinkled down onto
the pavement, rolling with a little splash into a pool of water that lay
a deep stain in the crevice of the broken asphalt.
For a moment he wondered placidly at the injustice of it; wondered that
he should be made to feel the disgust of so revolting a thing as this
He saw that the man had crossed himself with sudden fervor; he saw him
shuffle uncertainly this way and that, as though the feet refused to
carry the huge, bloated body. He stood watching the reeling figure until
its dark outline was absorbed into the intenser darkness of a side
street. The expression on his face never changing, he walked on.
He knew he had no right to be out at that time of the night; he knew he
ought to be sitting at his desk in his comfortable little room, working
out the studies which he had set himself. And yet he could not make up
his mind to turn back.
Something drew him on into the blackness of the night; pulling him into
it like a fated thing.
Now and then he found that the stride he had acquired from such grinding
observation tired him. Not for worlds would he have shortened his step
to that padding, sinuous motion so distinctly Chinese.
He had grown to hate all things Chinese. In the short time in which he
had been in New York he had discarded with the utmost patience the
traits which are so persistently associated with the Chinaman. To be
thought American; to have the freedom, the quick appreciation of life
that belongs to the Occident, that had been the goal toward which he had
striven; the goal he prided himself he had almost reached.
Suddenly he became aware of a hand on his arm.
In the dark he felt the pressure of bony fingers against his flesh.
Looking down he saw that a woman had crept up from behind him; that she
had put out her hand in an effort to detain him.
It was in the center of a block. The thick blackness that hung loosely,
an opaque veil all about him, was almost impenetrable. Yet as he looked
at her with his small, piercing eyes, he thought he saw her lips moving
in crimsoned stains splashed against the whiteness of her face.
"What is it?" He asked.
He saw her raise her eyelids at his question. He found himself gazing
into her eyes; eyes that were twin balls of fire left to burn in a place
that had been devastated by flames.
"It's hot;—ain't it?"
He stood silent for a moment trying to realize that the woman had every
right to be there; trying to understand with an even greater endeavor
that she was in reality a flesh and blood woman, and not some
mysteriously incarnate soul crawling to his side out of the sinister
"Les,—it's velee hot."
Something in his tone caused her to start; caused her to look around her
as though she were afraid.
"I wouldn't have spoke," she stammered. "I wouldn't have spoke only it's
such a fierce night." Then as he did not answer her immediately, her
voice rose querulously. "It's a fierce night; ain't it, now?"
That was the word for which he had so vainly searched throughout the
vocabulary of his carefully acquired English. The word the woman had
given him, that expressed the sullen menace of the night about him.
"It is—fie—" He made an effort to accomplish the refractory "r." "It
The hand she had withdrawn from his arm was reached out again. He could
feel her fingers scrape like the talons of a frightened bird around his
"You get it too, mister?"
"The kind of feeling that makes you think something is going to happen?"
She drew the back of her free hand across her mouth. "Ain't it making
Somehow the woman's words aroused within him a dread that was a
prophecy. He made one attempt at holding to his acquired Americanism.
The Americanism which was slowly receding before the stifled waves of
Oriental foreboding, like a weak, protesting thing that fears a hidden
strength. For he knew the foreboding was fate; and he knew too that when
fulfilled, it would be met with all the stoicism of a Chinaman.
"You feel aflaid?"
The fingers about his wrist clattered bonily together; then clinched
"Yes," she whispered. "I guess that's it. I guess I'm afraid."
For a moment he thought of the lateness of the hour.
"I'm velee solee," he said. "I'm solee, but I must be going."
"You can't leave me;" she stuttered behind her shut teeth. "You ain't
got the heart to leave me all alone on a night like this."
"You can go to your home;" and he thought of the drunkard who had gone
to his home. Surely the night sheltered strange creatures. "Les, you
better go on to your home."
He had never thought of one of his little Chinese gods with their
crooked faces laughing; but as he heard her he knew that their mirth
would sound like that. Sound as though all the gladness had been killed;
choked out of it, leaving only the harsh echoes that mocked and mocked.
"Gee, mister—; I ain't got no place to go."
"I'm velee solee."
He said it again, not knowing what else to say.
Something in his evident sincerity aroused her to protest.
"Oh, I know you thinks it queer for me to be talking this way," she
said. "I know you thinks it funny for me to say I'm afraid. And I ain't,
excepting—" she added hastily, "on a night like this. It kinder makes
everything alive; everything that's rotten bad. I ain't ashamed of the
things I've done. I ain't scared of the dead things. It's the live ones
I'm afraid of—; the dirty live things. They kinder come at you in the
dark." For an instant her body trembled against his. "Then they
goes past you all creepy-like. Creeping on their bellies—;
"You don't know what you are saying," he interrupted.
"I know," she insisted. "I know! Some night like this I'll be doing
something awful;—and they'll be there." She pointed a shaking hand
towards the shadows. "They'll be there, wriggling to me—quiet—!"
"Imagination," he said, and he smiled. In the dark she could not have
seen the smile, nor could she have known that the lightness of his tone
covered a deep, malignant dread. "It is all imagination!"
"It ain't!" She spoke sullenly. "I tell you, it's real. It's horrible
Her voice was frantic.
"Maybe it is," he conceded, and then, as she made no answer, he asked:
"You like to walk with me a little?"
"Yes." Her head drooped as though she were utterly discouraged. "It
wouldn't be so bad as sticking it out here—alone."
He could not help but notice that she hesitated a bit before the word
alone. Undoubtedly she could not get the thought of those things—those
live things she so feared, out of her head. The things that waited for
her in the shadows.
They walked along the wet pavements together.
An engine shrieked weirdly above them, like something neither bird nor
beast; like something inhuman.
Under a street lamp she glanced up at him curiously.
He heard her gasp. He looked down at her. He saw her eyes widen in
terror; he saw her pale, bare hands creep uncertain, stumbling to her
neck, as if she were choking. He heard her voice rattling in her throat.
"What is it?" He asked. "You are ill?"
He put his hand on her shoulder. He could feel her shudder, as she
writhed and twisted under his touch.
"Let go of me." Her voice was hoarse. "Let go of me, I say!"
For some unaccountable reason his fingers closed all the more tightly on
her shrinking flesh.
"Let me go;—you—damned—Chink!"
She muttered the words under her breath.
He heard her.
He thought of the drunkard and he thought of her.
Suddenly he felt quite furious; stilly, sinisterly furious.
He said it stolidly. His narrow, black eyes were unwavering on her.
She began to cry.
"Let me go," she whimpered. "I ain't done nothing to you. I couldn't
have got on to your being—a—Chink."
"What diffelence does that make?" He asked. And then he reiterated with
careful precision: "I tell you I'm a 'Melican."
Her words came to him in a gurgle of terror.
"I hate you. I hate all of your yellow faces—and them eyes! I hate them
He bent his head until his face almost touched hers. His strong, angry
fingers held her firmly by either arm.
"It is not pletty, this face?"
She struggled, inane with fear. She fought, trying to free herself, to
tear away from the vise-like grip of those awful hands; swaying like a
tortured, trapped creature against his strength. She could feel the
intensity, the calm scrutiny of his long, narrow eyes upon her.
Suddenly something in his brain snapped.
He pushed her roughly from him.
He saw her fall to the pavement; he saw her head strike the curb.
He stood there watching her as she lay, outlined by the light colored
material of her dress against the wet blackness of the asphalt.
"What diffelence does it make if I am a Chinaman?"
He asked it as he bent over her. But she did not answer. The question
went out into the heavy stillness, hanging there to be echoed
deafeningly by a thousand silent tongues.
Something in the sudden quiet of the way she lay filled him with a
tranquil joy. He knelt beside her, He reached his hand over her heart.
He got up slowly, deliberately.
He moved silently away, going with that padded, sinuous motion, so
With cunning stealth he went back the way he had come, treading lightly;
cautiously seeking the darkest shadows.
He had gone some little distance when he heard the regular beat of
hurrying footsteps following him.
He stood stolidly, still, awaiting whatever might happen.
Overhead he saw a cluster of heavy, black clouds sweeping across the
sky, like eager, reaching hands against a somber background.
It had begun to rain again. He could feel the raindrops trickling gently
down his upturned face.
He wondered, as the footsteps halted beside him, if he should have run.
His mind, working rapidly, decided that any other man would have gotten
away; any other man but not a Chinaman.
A heavy hand fell across his shoulder.
"I've got you, my boy!" A voice shouted in his ear. "I seen you kneeling
there beside her. You'll be coming along with me!"
He turned to face the voice.
The wind that heralded the coming storm rustled through the street,
carrying with it a litter of filthy castaway newspapers. Flurries of
stinging sand-sharp dust swirled above the pavement. A low rumble of
thunder bellowed overhead. Then the rain came down in sudden lashing
He had to raise his voice to make himself heard.
"I'm velee glad," he said.
The bull's eye was flashed into his placid, narrow eyes.
He could see the policeman's face behind the light; see the surprise
quivering on the red features.
In the darkness above the racket of the storm, he heard the man's