WHEN Ah Yum bought the
opium in Calcutta, twelve balls of it, as large as golf balls, he took a
solemn oath on a slip of yellow paper that he was going to China.
Everybody must do thatnot swear that they are going to China, exactly,
but swear. where they are going to take the opium.
In Burma, for instance,
where the licenses to sell it are farmed out, nobody but the Government
itself may take it in.
So Ah Yum declared,
innocently, that he was bound for the Flowery Kingdom ; and then went
aboard the Karagola as usual. He was ship's carpenter on the Karagola,
and she ran regularly to Rangoon. It seemed rather an absent-minded way
of getting to China.
It was quite by accident
that I had seen Ali Yum buying the opium; it may have been a
continuation of the accident that made me a passenger on the Karagola
When I first saw Ah Yum
on the steamer he was chipping away at a new tiller for the captain's
gig with a funny little hand axe shaped like an iron wedge.
It seemed odd to find him
there, and I asked the second officer about him. Perhaps he was going
overland to China from Rangoon.
"Not he," said the
second; ' he runs regularly, up and down with us here."
Ah Yum was certainly
interesting. I began to sound the second officer about smuggling, and
that sort of thing. He was right at home on the subject, and spread such
an air of romance about it that I almost regretted my wasted life. It
seemed such a picturesque thing to doto cheat Her Majesty's customs.
His predecessor as second
officer had been a "top sawyer" at the business. "Ah he was the man to
do them up. Got caught at last, though. No! not exactly caught, for he
fooled them even then."
Now, it's part of the
regulation for ''the second" to take the mail ashore at each port. His
friend had a private mail bag of his own that he used to land at one of
the ports it looked just like the others, only it carried opium. He
would walk right through the customs officers, put his mail bags into a
gharry, and drive to the post-office. His own bag would get shoved under
the seat, and later would turn up where he sold the opium to a Chinaman.
One day an evil dragon
whispered to the customs people about this thing; and an unwise
inspiration came into their heads to go out and catch him as he was
coming ashore with the mail.
Ah! if they had only
waited till he landedbut, they didn't; and "Jack"that was his
nameslipped his bag overboard when he saw them coming.
He had to leave the
service; but he didn't mind that, for he had made his pile.
This story about the
"second" put my thoughts in touch with the game while we were getting to
Rangoon. Nothing happened until the little customs cutter, flying the
blue flag, pulled alongside the steamer in the Irawadi, at that city.
All the way from Calcutta
I had been wondering where Ah Yum had hidden the opium. Of course it was
none of my business, but that doesn't matter when a man is interested.
Now, if I keep close, I argued, when I saw the customs officer step over
the side, I shall see sport. It was simply that the thing had taken hold
of me. I was not connected with the customs myself, but was insanely
The officer was a little,
fat, half-caste Portuguese. He, too, was curious as to Ah. It seemed
contagious; or perhaps those devil-wires that the Government had
stretched from Calcutta to Rangoon had talked to him.
He made straight for the
Chinaman's quarters. Ah was in his cabin; he was working in a slow,
methodical, Chinese fashion, putting a new handle in a queer,
'Got any opium, John?
'queried the officer, blandly.
"Opin! opin! What that?"
asked Ah Yum, with a face as devoid of intelligence as a tan boot.
"Something to give you
free board at the Queen's expense for a few months," said the
Portuguese, looking as solemn as Ah Yum.
Of course the Chinaman
couldn't understand that; he was busy with his plane.
The officer commenced to
search the cabin. Presently he found something under the bunkseveral
somethingsstowed away in an old flat-rimmed hat.
He was head and shoulders
under the wooden frame of the bed; and, as he put his hand on a black
ball of opium, he reached up and put it on the mattress above, without
withdrawing his head.
I was casually lighting a
cheroot just outside the cabin door. It took me a long time, and as each
black ball came up I counted it. One!'' I said, as the. chubby hand of
the Portuguese placed the first ball on the not over clean bed; ''two!"
as the hand came up again.
But no!there was only
one, as it rolled down into the hollow where the Chinaman's hips had
I blinked my eyes.
Surelyah There were none now.
Ah Yum was staring
stolidly out of the port hole.
I counted the twelve
balls put up, one by one; and twelve times I saw Ah Yum listlessly
stretch out an attenuated yellow hand, and drop a ball pensively through
the open port.
When the searcher pulled
his head from underneath the vile-smelling bunk and straightened his
aching back, he recoiled with a cry of rage and astonishment. There was
not one ball in sight.
Ah was looking toward
CantonCanton, far away in China. There was a homesick look in his eves.
"Where's the opium,
John?" gasped the officer in a bewildered sort of way.
''I no see opin-you see?"
asked Ali Yum, coming slowly back from Canton.
"You've thrown it through
the port-hole, you yellow heathen!" said the Portuguese, turning a
dismal purple in his rage. "You've thrown it through the port-hole to
destroy the evidence."
"I see no opin," said Ah
At last my cigar was
lighted. My friend who was to meet me had come on board and was calling
The English language,
full as it is of strong expletives, was not sufficient for the
requirements of the little, fat Portuguese. He was swearing from both
sides of the house of his parentage.
Without the opium as
evidence his case against Ah was as a haunted house without a ghost.
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