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[229]

Chapter 22: Heathen Chinee.

A Meek-eyed, passive Mongol moves your heart to pity, even while your ears are ringing with the scorn, and tingling with the curses, heaped on him and all his brood.

Note him at table, where his shining face, his natty figure and his nimble movements, tell so much from contrast with the dull tint, the shapeless contour, and the lumpy languor of a Negro servant. Note him in the kitchen, on the railway track, and in the silver mine; where he is always ready, with his shaven face, his twisted pig-tail, and his deferential smile, to do his best for you.

When sick of Biddy and her dirty finery, it is a cheery sight to find Hop Ki skimming about your table in a smock like newly-fallen snow.

“ Two knives under that smock, as innocent as he looks,” whispers my next neighbour, a gentleman [230] who abhors the Yellow race and has an excellent Chinese cook.

“ A decent sort of lad to look at,” I observe.

“ Ugh! A Heathen Chinee; as big a scoundrel as the rest; perhaps worse, if one only knew the truth.”

“You don't know, then?”

“Know! Sir, nobody can know. Why, this fellow has no name; he comes from no place. How am I to guess how many people he has stabbed, how many periods he has spent in jail? If I enquire, he tells me lies. The rascal says he has never stabbed man or woman, and has never been a day in jail. Look at the wretch as he skips round that lady's chair. No doubt, he has two knives concealed under his white smock.”

“ Give him the benefit of that doubt.”

“No, Sir, I will give him nothing but his wages. So much work, so much pay; that is the end of our agreement. Take my word for it, that fellow in his own country was either a thief, a rebel, or a slave. Those Chinese won't send us their best people. Guess they have no mandarins to spare.”

A man who hears such gossip in the clubs and at [231] the dinner-tables of San Francisco might infer that much of the fear, hatred, and suspicion heaped on Hop Ki falls to him, not so much because he is a heathen, as because his face is womanish, his manner passive, his labour cheap. Of course, some people may have higher grounds for hating him; but these considerations have their bearing on the great result.

“ You like to have these Asiatic servants in your house?” I ask my cynical host.

“ On principle, no — in practice, yes,” that host replies. “Like other hussies, you can do nothing with them, nothing without them. Out of many evils, you are glad to choose the least. As cooks and waiters they are worth their salt. You may not like them, not being certain who they are, and why they left Canton. At home, you may be sure, they were no good. To us of the White race they are as shadowy and irresponsible as children of the mist. Yet if you want a dinner, you must have a Chinaman for cook.”

“Why not an Irish Biddy or Bavarian Traut?”

“No, no; no Irish Biddies and Bavarian Trauts for me! Look at my rascal Ki. You notice that [232] when I speak to him, I call him Ah Ki, not Hop Ki. “Ah” means Master, and the fellow is not without his spice of pride. To call a man “Ah” is one of his three thousand ceremonies of politeness, and the three thousand ceremonies of politeness are coming into use in San Francisco. I call this chap Ah Ki instead of raising his wages, and my politeness pays me five dollars a month. That comes of paying attention to the Book of Rites. Now, Hop Ki is cheaper to me than any Biddy or Traut alive, and acts in his vocation more like a decent sort of wench. Ask my wife, there, whether Ki is not the best seamstress, chamber-maid, and washerwoman she ever had to scold and pinch? At first you can't help laughing to see a moon-face Heathen Chinee in your bath and dressing-room, emptying pails and cleaning combs; but after lugging at his pig-tail three or four times, and finding the chignon won't come off, your eye gets used to him and you forget his sex.”

“ Compared with Traut and Biddy, your rascal Ki appears to be a domestic pet.”

“Well, yes — a sort of pet; just as a polecat might be made a pet. You see, he stays at home [233] of nights, and grubs his nose into the grate. He begs no Sunday outs. When he goes to joss-house, he comes to ask my leave, and never stays beyond his hour. No cousins follow him to the house, and eat my venison-pie. To do the heathen justice, though he carries two knives under his smock, he has some qualities rare among White people, and quite unknown to Irish Biddies and German Trauts. He never drinks. He seldom sulks and storms. He uses no offensive words; at least, no words that your wife and daughter understand. No doubt, the rascal storms in his sleep and curses in his native tongue; sometimes I catch him at his capers; but the heathen is so cunning that when he is storming and cursing at his loudest, a man who didn't know him would think he was only lulling a baby to sleep.”

“ Is it a fact that, like other Asiatics, the best of these Mongols fib and pilfer? ”

“ Yes, they fib and pilfer; not, however, beyond the margin of their class. All servants lie and steal. Biddy pockets more, Traut bullies more, than Ki. Then Ki has moments of remorse, which Traut and Biddy never have. When Ki is very bad he comes [234] to me, white in the eyes, and begs me to give him a good beating.”

“You comply?”

“Sure enough. He likes the stick, and so do I. Giving Ki a beating now and then is good for both of us. I always feel better after wallopping Ki.”

Mine host is not more notable for his humour than his kindliness of heart. No man in San Francisco has done more than he to get these Asiatics treated fairly by the judges and police.

“ You can form no notion of the impudence of these rascals,” he continues. “Only the other day, in our rainy season, when the mud was fifteen inches deep in Montgomery Street, a Yellow chap in fur tippet and purple satin gown, was crossing over the road by a plank, when one of our worthy citizens, seeing how nicely he was dressed, more like a lady than a tradesman, ran on the plank to meet him, and, when the fellow stopped and stared, just gave him a little jerk, and whisked him, with a waggish laugh, into the bed of slush. Ha ha! You should have seen the crowd of people mocking the impudent Heathen Chinee as he picked himself up in his soiled tippet and satin gown!” [235]

“ Did any one in the crowd stand drinks all round? ”

“ Well, no; that Heathen Chinee rather turned the laugh aside.”

“ Ay; how was that?”

“No White man can conceive the impudence of these Chinese. Moon-face picked himself up, shook off a little of the mire, and, looking mildly at our worthy citizen, curtseyed like a girl, saying to him, in a voice that every one standing round could hear: “You Christian: me Heathen: good-bye.” ”

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