The Story of A Chinee Kid

by Florence Finch Kelly

                "Little Ah Sid
                Was a Chinee Kid,
A cute little cuss, you 'd declare,
                With eyes full of fun
                And a nose that begun
Right up at the roots of his hair."
                --M. C. SPEER.


This Chinee Kid was not Ah Sid, but another one whose name was Ah Wing. He was a Chinee Kid only so far as he was n't a Boy, and just how much of him was Chinee Kid and how much was Boy is difficult to say. Sometimes he seemed to be mostly all one, and sometimes just as much the other, and, again, he was a harmonized mixture of the two.

Wing's father and mother were both Chinese, but Wing had been born and had lived all his nine years in the town of Tobin, which is in California, on the overland road, far enough up the Sierra climb for the east-bound trains to have always two engines when they pass its depot. He wore Chinese clothes, except upon his head, whereon invariably reposed the time-honored hat of the American village boy, that always looks the same whether it is one week or one year old—the hat that is dirty gray in color, conical as to crown, sloping as to brim, and dilapidated as to general appearance, the hat that is irrefragable proof that its wearer is a Boy. This head-gear he wore over the queue of his forefathers, braided, ebony, shining, and hanging half-way down his little legs.

Wing could jabber Chinese as shrilly and rapidly as any of his playmates of the Chinese quarter, and with his young friends of the white race he could reel off amazing vocabularies of American slang. And he could swear, and frequently did so, with all the nonchalance of a Chinaman and the intensity and picturesqueness of an American. He could, if the occasion seemed to demand it, drop his eyelids and "No sabe" as stupidly as any Celestial who ever entered the Golden Gate. But with any man, woman, or child whom he chose to favor with his conversation he could talk volubly in fairly good English. And his lungs were just as capable, and just as frequently put to the test, as those of any white boy in Tobin, of the ear-splitting shouts and yells without which boys' games cannot be played and boys' thoughts communicated to one another.

Wing had such an amazing ability to seem to be everywhere at the same time that he was nicknamed "Wings." But no one ever called him that to his face who wanted him to answer a question or pay any attention to what was said to him. The first time it was tried he protested, with all the dignity of George Washington insisting on his title of President, that his name was Wing. After that he merely met the nickname with a blank, solemn, "No sabe" stare, as uncompromising and as impenetrable as a stone wall. It was impossible to look out of doors at any time or in any part of Tobin without seeing Wing. He was always going somewhere and was always in a hurry, but he was always ready to stop and chat for a moment with any one, large or small, who addressed him without giving offence.

Everybody knew him, residents and summer visitors alike. The men all teased him and the women all petted him. Nobody knew or cared in which one of the dozen houses of the Chinese quarter Wing's father and mother lived, nor whether his father had a laundry, a store, or a garden. They were nobodies; but Wing was a public character.

Wing's chief daily function was to assist at the arrival of the east-bound passenger train. The west-bound, having only one engine, was of less consequence. But at the passing of the other he never missed a day, Sundays, holidays, or rainy season. He inspected the engines, counted the wheels, considered the possibility of getting a ride on the pilot of the second engine, dodged around through the crowd, ran against people, had his toes trodden on, saw everybody who went away, stared at all who came, capered up and down the car-steps, put pins on the rail to be flattened by the wheels, stood with one foot inside the track until the train started, and, after it was all over, rode away triumphantly, hanging to the steps of the hotel omnibus.

After a while he began to thrill with the desire to know how it would feel to run backward on the track in front of the moving engine. He had had a brief glimpse of the possibility of that bliss as he crossed the track one day when the train was coming in; and the more he thought about it, the surer he felt that some day he would have to do it. He was well acquainted by that time with the engines, and the engineers too, and his trick of standing astride the rail and looking up with sparkling, defiant eyes at the engine's noble front was only a sort of preparation for other deeds.

One day he had assisted at the dismounting of the passengers, had seen the last departing traveller disappear inside the cars, had had his queue pulled by the news agent, and a narrow escape from being knocked over by the baggage man's trunk van, when he started off at top speed to get in front of the engine before the train should start. A young woman with a baggage check in her hand was standing near an omnibus waiting for the driver to come. Wing's headlong speed would have carried him safely past her, but a big man with two suit-cases was rushing toward him, and as he veered to one side he struck heavily against the girl. The blow knocked her against the steps of the omnibus and sent Wing sprawling in the dust.

A slender, trim-looking young man, who had got off the train and was about to enter the omnibus of another hotel, saw the collision and sprang to her assistance. Helping her to her feet, he asked anxiously if she was hurt, and then seized Wing's arm and gave him a little shaking.

"You young rascal!" he exclaimed. "Why don't you look where you are going?"

"Oh, don't scold him, please!" the girl pleaded. "He did n't intend to do it, and I 'm not hurt at all. Wing, how do you do? Did it hurt you?"

Wing was indignantly tearing himself loose from the young man's hand and was looking wishfully after the departing train and the lost opportunity.

"Lemme go," he demanded. "No, didn't hurt."

The young woman blushingly thanked the stranger as he helped her into the vehicle. Then, instead of returning to the other omnibus, which was waiting for him, he shook his head at the driver and stepped in after her. As they rattled up the street he found it difficult to keep his eyes off her slender, supple figure and the shining glory of golden-red hair that aureoled the clear, soft brilliance of her pink and white complexion. When she looked up once and caught his look of admiration she blushed deeply and endeavored to disguise her embarrassment in lively talk with some people who sat near her. The newcomer saw that they were evidently old friends and inferred that she was a resident of the town. From scraps of their talk that reached his ears he learned that her name was Annie Millner, and that she was a physician's daughter.'

The young man inscribed his name on the hotel register, "Robert Ellison, Worcester, Mass.," and then sauntered out to take a look at the town. He watched the omnibus from which he had just dismounted, as it stopped in front of a pretty cottage set back in some pleasant grounds on the slope of the opposite hill, until he saw Miss Millner enter the gate.

"I guess I 'll like it better here than I expected to," was his thought as his eye followed her figure. "This air feels good, the sunshine is fine, and that's a glorious blue sky. They say I 'm likely to become an invalid if I try to live East any longer, and so that's cut out. Well, a fellow could have plenty of out-door life here, and enjoy it, if there are many days like this. It looks as if there 'd be money in these orchards too. I reckon Dr. Millner must live in that cottage. What an inviting looking place it is! I guess I 'd better go back to the hotel and ask the clerk about the physicians here. I might need one sometime."

Discreet inquiry of the hotel clerk as to the population of the town, resident and floating, its general healthfulness, the number of health-seekers, their success, and the number and relative skill of the physicians it supported finally elicited for Ellison all the information his present interest desired concerning Dr. Millner and his family.

He also learned much about the history of Tobin. In its early days it had been a mining camp and, as Tobin's Gulch, had been rich and famous. Then, as the mines petered out, it had dwindled to poverty and two rows of houses. But, after a long while, new people had begun to come. Some of them had planted miles upon miles of orchards and vineyards, others had come to be cured of bodily ills by its climate, at once bracing and caressing, and still others, there for a brief summer sojourn, had spread the knowledge that it was a pleasant and picturesque retreat. So the town had dropped the plebeian "Gulch" from its name and as "Tobin" counted with ever increasing pride the hundreds of cars that carried its fruit from ocean to ocean and the growing numbers of its health-seekers and summer visitors.

"It looks good to me," was Ellison's inward comment as he walked up the street again. "I think I 'll look into this fruit business. That would give me an out-door life, and there seems to be money in it. That's a neat cottage of Dr. Millner's. I 'll walk past and look at the grounds. Hello, here comes that Chinee Kid—what 'd she call him? Wing, wasn't it? Queer-looking little critter, but she seemed to like him. Hello, Wing! Where are you flying to now? Got over your bumps yet?"

But the Chinee Kid cast one sober, stupid look at Ellison's sociable countenance, opened his mouth just wide enough to grunt "No sabe," and hurried on.

Ellison looked after him with a foolish little smile and exclaimed aloud, "Well, I 'll be hanged! If that is n't a kid!"

He heard the sound of a girl's laugh, and turning quickly, saw a merry face surrounded by golden-red hair disappearing from a window of the Millner cottage. He blushed furiously, frowned and muttered an angry little word, as he thought, "That kid needs to be spanked." But, although he was smarting a little with the feeling that the boy had made him seem ridiculous in her eyes, his glance covertly searched her windows as he walked on, hoping for another glimpse of the girlish figure and the glowing hair.

A year went by, and Ellison, brown and athletic-looking, was building a pretty cottage on the crest of a gently sloping hill just outside the town. Annie Millner, wearing a new ring and carrying a great happiness in her heart, went often to see how the cottage was progressing and how the trees were growing. For the hill-slope was covered with the gray-green of young olive trees, the dense, dark foliage of young oranges, and the stunted, scraggy boughs of the Japanese persimmon. His fruit ranch promised well, the day for their bridal was set, and they were hopeful, glad, and happy.

But Wing was the young man's implacable enemy. He neither forgot nor forgave the shaking he had received at their first meeting, and he revenged himself for it as much as lay in his small power whenever he found opportunity. He succeeded occasionally in making Ellison look foolish in his own eyes; and he, in consequence, disliked the child and disapproved of the universal petting that was given him. It particularly annoyed him that Annie showed his small enemy so much favor, and he would sometimes think angrily, when irritated by some trick of the Chinee Kid, that if she had more regard for his feelings she would not join in the general encouragement that was given to the heathen brat in being a public nuisance.

As for Wing, if he had known, or could have understood what happiness his childish sport had been instrumental in bringing to these two people, it is probable that his antipathy to Ellison would have extended even to Annie, whom, as it was, he considered one of his best friends. But he could not know, nor could they, that he was their kismet and that his small brown hands wound and unwound, tangled and straightened, the threads of their lives.

One day they were all three at the depot again. Wing, of course, was there in the discharge of his usual duties. Annie had walked down to welcome a friend whom she expected, and Ellison had come because it gave him an opportunity to be with her. As the railroad approached the town from the west it passed through a deep cut, from which it came out on a low embankment, and rounded a sharp curve before it reached the station, a few yards beyond. The roar of the oncoming train was borne to them on the wind and before it emerged from the cut a ridiculous little figure darted out of the crowd on the platform and raced down the track to the curve. It was dressed in a Chinese blouse and trousers of faded and dirty blue denim, while a pair of old Chinese slippers, partly covering the feet, left in full view two bare, brown heels.

"There goes Wing!" exclaimed one man to another. "That kid 's going to get killed at this little trick of his some day."

The train rushed at the curve with a shout that was thrown back from the hills, and the people on the platform held their breath—though to many of them it was nothing new—as with flying feet and monkey-like agility the Chinee Kid danced backward on the track. There was a brief vision of a pair of big, blue sleeves waving in the air, of a black, flying queue, and of a pair of twinkling feet, and then with sparkling eyes, a triumphant countenance and a loud "Ki-yi!" Wing leaped to the platform, the engine scarcely a yard behind him.

"Is it lots of fun, Wing?" said Annie, smiling at him indulgently.

"Bet your boots it is!" he shouted as he darted off to inspect the dismounting passengers.

"See here, Wing," said Ellison, putting his hand in a kindly way on the boy's shoulder, "you mustn't do that! You'll get killed at it some day."

Wing looked up at him with an uncomprehending stare, wriggled from under his detaining hand, stopped long enough to shake his head with a stolid "No sabe," and then dodged away.

Annie had heard the little dialogue and now turned to Ellison with a merry laugh. Her friend had not come, and as they walked back together she began to rally him about Wing's refusal to understand anything he said. It nettled him slightly and he replied that people made entirely too much of the little ape, and that if they would teach him better manners instead of petting him so much, it would be a good thing for him as well as for the public comfort.

Then Annie took up his case rather warmly and declared that he was a cute little thing, and that his manners were all right if he was treated with good manners in the first place. The consequence was that by the time they reached her gate they were deep in the lurid entanglements of a lovers' quarrel.

The previous day she had taken a horseback ride with a man of whom Ellison strongly disapproved. He had intended to explain the matter to her calmly and tell her just what kind of man the other was, and why it was unwise for her to accept his attentions. But in the heat of temper engendered by their quarrel about Wing, he lost his bearings, and what he had meant should be a request for her not to show the man any favor again became very like an explicit command.

Annie asked him sarcastically if he thought he had bought with his engagement ring a slave who was never to open her mouth unless he gave her leave. Then, feeling a bit ashamed of his vehemence and mentally fumbling for words of explanation, he began to say something about what "self-respecting girls" should do. Annie flashed a blazing look at him, slammed the gate, and left him alone on the sidewalk. A little later he saw the objectionable man making a bargain with Wing about carrying a note, and with a sore and angry heart he watched the shabby hat and the long queue travel up the hill to the Millner home.

While he was at work among his trees that afternoon he saw them ride past. He noted the defiant poise of Annie's head, which did not turn by so much as a hair's breadth toward the cottage and the trees and him, but he was not near enough to see that her eyes were red and that she bit her lip to control its trembling. So he wrote a letter to her that evening saying that evidently they had made a mistake; and an hour later he had the engagement ring in his pocket and a great bitterness in his heart.

Two days afterward, as Annie sat on the veranda of a friend's house near the depot she saw the hotel omnibus coming down the street with Ellison in it. "Why, there's Robert!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," said her friend, looking at her curiously, "he 's going East. Did n't you know it?"

Instantly all of Annie's pride gave way. She was in the wrong, she told herself, and she would ask him to forgive her. She would send a note to him at the station and ask him not to go away without seeing her.

"I 'll have time," she thought, "for they said the train is a few minutes late to-day and I 'll get Wing to carry it over to the station. There he is now, waiting at the curve."

She hurriedly pencilled a few words upon a scrap of paper and, folding it as she went, ran down the steps and up a side street parallel with the railroad, and then climbed the low embankment upon which the boy stood.

Wing was waiting in the middle of the track for the train and the ecstasy of his daily performance. In the meantime he was holding out at arm's length and considering with proud and satisfied eyes a big, artificial spider and web which had that morning been given to him by one of the ladies at the hotel.

"Wing," she called, "I want you to run back to the station and give this note to Mr. Ellison. You 'll see him there on the platform, or, perhaps, in the baggage room. You 'll have plenty of time, for the train 's late today. Please go quickly, Wing, for I want him to have the note at once."

The train was already rumbling in the deep cut just beyond the turn, but the wind was blowing strongly toward it, and neither of them heard the fateful sound. The high wind caught her dress and blew it against the spider in the boy's hand. It tangled the toy in the folds and wrenched it from his fingers and then caught the hem of her gown upon the splitting edge of a worn rail. As she stooped to loose it the terrible front of the engine appeared, rounding the curve.

Wing looked in blank amazement at his empty fingers and then, as he saw his plaything hanging to the folds of her dress, he sprang after it exclaiming, "My bug! My bug!" As he seized it again he saw the approaching train, and, his mind bent on what he was intending to do, turned to begin his usual backward race. Annie, stooping to loose her dress, with her back to the approaching train, was not yet aware of the oncoming doom. Her gown blew again across his legs, and to free himself he gave her a little push. With the warning shriek of the engine in her ears and darkness surging over her brain she fell just outside the track and rolled down the sloping embankment as far as her skirt, held beneath the wheels of the engine, allowed.

But for the Chinee Kid there was no such escape. The iron hoof of the engine was upon him as he made his first backward leap. When they picked up his little, mangled body the spider was still grasped in his brown fist.

The crowd on the station platform had seen it all—had seen him, as the engine rounded the curve, turn to Annie and push her off the track, thus saving her life at the cost of his own.

The townspeople persuaded his parents to let them give him a public funeral, to which all Tobin turned out, with tears and flowers and resolutions praising the little boy in high-sounding words for his heroic deed. A public subscription was taken up for the benefit of Wing's parents, to which Annie's father and lover and all her friends and everybody who had liked and petted the child contributed so liberally that his father and mother took his remains and sailed back to China.

When Ellison, from the platform, saw Annie's danger everything left his heart save absorbing love for her, and with a white face and alarm-distended eyes he dashed across the track and had her in his arms before the others had recovered from their brief paralysis of horror.

They were married as soon as Wing's obsequies were over. And now, if you ever pass through Tobin and will look for that sunny hillside with the olive and orange trees climbing its slope and the pretty cottage on its crest, you will see a home in which Wing's memory is enshrined with all possible love and honor and gratitude.

You see, they do not know that it was all on account of his "bug." Neither do they know that, small, brown, Chinee Kid though he was, he had stood in their lives for Fate.