Chapter VIII

Lampard Announces the Failure of the Plot

The Stranger’s Home in the West India Dock Road is a very useful institution. Here are often collected together men from half the nations under the sun. Indeed the expression, “the nations under the sun” indicates as nearly as possible the kind of people who come to the home, for it is chiefly peopled by Asiatics. Coolies, Malays, Lascars, and Chinese are here to be found in abundance, the advantage of the place being that they are permitted to follow their own habits in so far as eating and drinking are concerned. And this matter to the natives of Eastern nations is a very important one. With the Hindoo, for instance, what he eats and drinks is part of his religion, and at the Stranger’s Home he can observe the customs of his fathers and avoid losing caste, a serious affair for him, as he would find when he returned to India.

There is something very quaint and un-European in the appearance of the general day-room. The costumes of the East are far more picturesque than our angular coats and trousers of sombre cloth. The black-skinned race, too, delights in bright colours, and very effective is the contrast between their dark complexions and the varied tints of their dresses. Not that they are all gorgeously attired, for the Chinese mostly wear their costume of celestial blue, and the Hindoos have tunics, trousers, and turbans all of white, but these dresses all of one colour only serve to show off those of many colours, and so add to the general effect.

And then the din! Not the harsh guttural sound of the German; not the loud deep voice of the Englishman, but the soft almost shrill tones of the Asiatic. The curious combination of half a dozen languages all different, but uttered in voices which bear a certain kind of family resemblance, cannot be described, it can only be realized by actual experience. Very likely the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel sounded much the same as the din in the large room of the Stranger’s Home.

Squatting on a piece of matting was a Chinaman in his loose blue dress and pigtail. He was busily engaged in mending a pair of trousers, and the way in which he handled his needle showed that he was an adept in the art of tailoring.

He was so absorbed in his work that he failed to hear his name pronounced by a tall Yankee-looking fellow, who we may say at once was our old friend Hosea Lampard, once mate of the Good Fortune, and now loafing about on shore for no particular purpose so far as his shipmates could make out.

“If I don’t believe as you Jack Chineymen ain’t come straight away from ants,” said Mr. Lampard in his nasal twang. “Wasn’t there an ant somewhere in your family, Ah Ling Foo?”

The Chineyman looked up and grinned. He didn’t quite understand what Lampard meant, but he evidently took it to be a compliment by his pleased expression.

“Look here, just you put that patchwork away. I’m in a hurry, I tell you, and when I’m in a hurry I’m easily riled, and when I’m riled I’m a rasper, and that’s a fact.”

Ah Ling Foo seemed quite disposed to take Mr. Lampard’s word, for he gathered up his work and jumped to his feet with considerable alacrity, and the two walked together to a corner of the room where there was no one within hearing.

“Melikee boss muchee good talkee for poor lillee Chinaman?” asked Ah Ling Foo in his pigeon English.

“No. American boss hasn’t, I reckon. The thing’s all off. Can’t be done. Smashed up. There ain’t a corncake in New York as is so smashed up as this business. You take my word for it, Ah Ling Foo, and get back to ’Frisco as soon as you can. That’s your ticket.”

The Chinaman stared at Lampard in dismay. His little twinkling eyes suddenly expanded, and his pigtail positively bristled.

“Go backee, backee!” he half screamed. “No, me not go to Melikee.”

“Very well, do as you like. Only I tell you fair and square that I’ve nothing more to do with the business. I’ve turned it up, I have.”

And to show his perfect indifference, Lampard stuck his hands in his pockets and began whistling, while Ah Ling Foo almost danced in despair.

“Ah! you cheat poor lillee Chinaman,” he squeaked out. “Melikee man one big cheat.”

“I reckon you’d best be civil, Mr. Ah Ling Foo, or you and me will fall out,” returned the Yankee, a fierce look suddenly leaping into his eyes. “I ain’t one to mince matters, and if you call me names you’ll see what I can do. You know me afore to-day.”

Whether it was the threatening aspect of Lampard, or whether there was something in his words that reminded the Chinaman of some unpleasant bygone occurrence, we cannot say, but his rage suddenly changed into grief, and he began to utter the most dismal lamentations.

“Come, stop that row, or somebody ’ll be wanting to know what’s the matter,” said Lampard shaking him by the arm.

And indeed this seemed very likely, for Ah Ling Foo’s howls were no whispers, but full-bodied tones such as almost everybody in the room could hear had it not been for the incessant din which prevailed.

“Now, don’t you be a fool, and I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. I guess I’ll fix you up. As it’s through me you’ve stopped here, I’ll pay your passage to Melbourne. Ain’t that fair?”

“Me not go Australee,” peremptorily returned the Chinese.

“Wa’al I’ve given you the chance. Sha’n’t offer any more. We’d better say quits and make tracks. You take your road and I’ll go mine.” And without a word Lampard turned on his heel and walked out of the building, leaving Ah Ling Foo to his weeping and wailing.

Strange to say the American’s departure seemed to be a source of consolation to the Chinese. He ceased his doleful cries directly Lampard’s back was turned, and dried his eyes with marvellous celerity. Then he took a little piece of paper out of his pocket and read some writing which was on it two or three times over as it he were learning a lesson. His little eyes twinkled, his yellow face screwed itself up into lines, making it look indescribably cunning, and he chuckled and rubbed his hands together with intense enjoyment.

His next proceeding was to run out of the room and hasten to the doorway. Lampard had not yet gone, but was standing at the bottom of the steps switching the pavement with a rattan cane.

Ah Ling Foo ran down the steps and twitched him by the arm.

“You pay my money? Very good. All right. Lillee Chinaman go.”

“Oh! you’ve come round, have you? You’re a cute chap after all, Ah Ling, I guess. Wa’al you meet me at the East Indy Docks to-morrow mornin’ and I’ll clear you out straight away.”

Ah Ling Foo nodded his head in reply to this with much readiness, and returned indoors apparently much comforted, while Lampard wended his way towards the waterside at Limehouse.

The “Jolly Waterman” was his destination, and walking fast his long legs enabled him to get there in a comparatively short time.

There were the usual sailor-like looking fellows lounging over the bar just as they did when we were first introduced to the place, and for aught that one could tell from their appearance they might never have moved since that time. They looked round when Lampard entered, but seeing that he was of the same profession as themselves, they went on with their gossiping and drinking as before.

Bob Locket was behind the bar, and he nodded a salute to the American.

“Coming behind, cap’en?” said he jerking his thumb towards the little parlour overlooking the river.

“Wa’al, yes, I think I will,” drawled Lampard.

“Didn’t expect to see you cap’en,” said Locket when they got inside. “Anything amiss?”

“I should rayther guess there was.”

Mr. Locket’s pale face became a little paler.

“What​—​what is it?” he stammered.

“Only that our little game’s all up.”

“All up! I don’t understand you.”

“Wa’al, that rascally Chinese has sold us all. Put us on a false scent. The story he told you, and the story he told me, was nothing but crammers, sir, nothing but crammers.”

Mr. Locket stared hard at the American while he was making this statement, and took a long breath.

“But you said yourself it was true, cap’en,” he gasped.

“Wa’al, sir, I believed it just as you did. I don’t know no more than what Ah Ling Foo told me.”

“But I’ve seen it at old Grigsby’s home.”

“I reckon you have. Didn’t you go on purpose? Grigsby keeps it on his sideboard, you know, so you said.”

“Yes, and I spoke the truth. But what does this ugly cheating Chinaman mean by telling us a parcel of falsehoods?”

I don’t know. The critters are born liars, that’s what it is, I s’pose, sir.”

The landlord of the “Jolly Waterman” did not attempt to conceal his annoyance at this intelligence. It was true he did not weep or wail like Ah Ling Foo, but he walked up and down the room, and stamped on the floor, and muttered all sorts of unfriendly wishes towards the Chinaman. Then having let off the steam he became calmer and walked up to the American, who had in the meantime made himself comfortable by cocking his legs on the table.

Looking him full in the face he said, “And what are you going to do, Captain Lampard?”

“I’m a man as ain’t easily taken back, Mr. Locket, I’m going back to my old trade. Shall be down at the docks the first thing in the mornin’, don’t you make no mistake.”

It was singular how Bob Locket stared at Lampard, while Lampard, on the contrary, seemed disinclined to look Locket in the face.

“Oh I see!” said the latter after a pause. “Then you’ve given it up, have you?”

“I should think I had. What’s the use, eh?”

“True, as you say, what’s the use?” echoed Locket.

“I’m sorry you wasted your time, but it wasn’t my fault, you know.”

“Of course it wasn’t.”

“But I don’t want anybody to lose by me. That ain’t Lampard’s way nohow. If a couple of pound ’ll make it all right with you, why, there it is. I can’t say fairer nor that, I reckon.”

“Cap’en, you’re a trump!” suddenly exclaimed Mr. Locket holding out a grimy hand in the most affectionate manner.

Lampard held out his hand in return, and modestly replied that all he wanted was to do the right thing.

“You haven’t got the money about you, I suppose,” said Locket.

“Yes, sir. I can accommodate you.”

And accordingly taking out a greasy purse he opened it, and handed two sovereigns to the landlord of the “Jolly Waterman.”

“Wa’al, sir,” said the American rising, “I must be off. I’ve got business to look after before I start, and ain’t got too much time. I hope the next time as we go partners we’ll have better luck.”

“I hope so too, cap’en,” rejoined Locket fervently.

He saw his visitor to the door again, shook hands with him, and retired once more to the little parlour, where he indulged in some grimaces expressive of the utmost joy. Evidently, in spite of his annoyance but shortly before, he was now in the best of spirits. Strange to say the American also was by no means depressed. He was not given to laughing, but the way in which he showed his yellow teeth on his road to his lodgings was as near like a laugh as his face was capable of.

The next morning both he and Ah Ling Foo were at the East India Docks, and afterwards adjourned to a shipping office in the city, where Lampard took a third-class passage for Ah Ling Foo in a ship which was to sail for Port Adelaide in about a week’s time.