The Soul of Lin Li Mei:
Where Was Scott during 'The Heart of Pony Alice'
The intention is to create for one of the absent characters his or her own separate adventure, while at the same time challenging readers familiar with the episode to identify some “highly coincidental” connections to the original episode in the form of dialogue echoes, parallel actions, similar or very opposite characters, etc.
WHERE WAS SCOTT --- during “THE HEART OF PONY ALICE”?
This episode was the first in which one of the three main characters was completely absent; Scott was mentioned—once--but never appeared on screen.
The show opens with Johnny on Barranca at Lancer and we see a buggy approaching in the distance. Johnny rides towards the hacienda yelling to Teresa and Jelly: “It’s him!”---meaning Murdoch. Apparently the Lancer ‘patriarch’ has been away for a few days.
As Murdoch pulls up, Johnny announces that he has a birthday gift for him. Murdoch points out that his birthday was last month and that Johnny got him pipe tobacco from London.
Refusing to allow his father’s comments to dampen his enthusiasm, Johnny replies, “Well, it’s for Christmas then . . . where’s Scott?”
Murdoch: “I left him in Modesto, to handle the loading.”
What loading? Who knows . . . Scott is never mentioned again, and, since Johnny’s adventure in Witness Tree and at the ranch with Pony Alice and her Uncle Wilf seems to take place over several days, Scott must have found something to do in Modesto . . .
Even after the buggy had driven around a corner and out of sight, Scott Lancer kept watch a while longer; after all, it wasn’t as if he had anywhere to go or anything pressing to do. He didn’t. So he simply remained leaning against the railing in front of the livery until well after the dust cloud trailing his father had completely disappeared.
Even though there was no one around, Scott reflexively bowed his head to hide a smile.
He still hadn’t known the man very long, didn’t know him as well as he would have liked, though the past few days had helped. Not that they’d had very much conversation, with Murdoch driving the buggy and Scott on horseback taking charge of the stock. Each night they’d stopped at a different ranch, staying in the homes of men who were Murdoch’s long-time friends. Sitting in a cushioned seat all day and sleeping in a real bed at night helped alleviate Murdoch’s chronic back problems, while spending time in convivial company had arguably been easier on their still developing relationship than long hours alone would have been.
As usual, Murdoch seemed pleased to make the introductions, his large hand falling on Scott’s shoulder to add weight to the phrase “my son.” For so many years, Murdoch had been a man alone; now his friends happily congratulated him upon the change in circumstance.
His own ‘lifetime of training’ in social etiquette allowed Scott to remain at ease even while under the intense scrutiny of the cattlemen---and the appraisal of their wives and daughters. Talk around the dinner table inevitably turned to questions about his life “Back East”; Scott’s reward had come after the meal, when over cigars and whiskey Murdoch’s old friends good naturedly vied to tell him everything they thought he needed to know about his father---- even their jibes at Murdoch’s expense were helping to complete a portrait of the man.
More than once, Scott had caught Murdoch watching him from across the room, the older man’s expression a mixture of pride and . . . curiosity? So perhaps Murdoch Lancer had unanswered questions of his own. But there were still those parts of his own past that Scott wasn’t exactly eager to reveal.
With that, Scott pushed himself upright and moved towards the wooden sidewalk of Modesto’s main street. There had been no need for both of them to stay to oversee the loading of a few horses. Murdoch could take his time returning to Lancer, again stopping each evening amongst friends. Although invitations had been extended to Scott as well, he had in mind to sleep out under the stars and spend some time alone with his thoughts when he made his own way back to the ranch.
A wagon rumbled down the street and Scott ducked his head, reaching up to lower the brim of his hat in a vain attempt to shield his face from the dust thrown up by the passing wheels. Once the air cleared, he stepped up onto the boardwalk and surveyed the almost empty street. He sighed.
He was alone in Modesto, California.
It was, he’d been told, a fledgling town, only recently becoming the end of the railroad line. Already workers for the Central Pacific were continuing construction, the goal to extend the tracks as far south as Merced.
The environs held few trees, little vegetation of any kind—but an abundance of wind, sand, and dust. Buildings to serve as homes, shops and restaurants had quickly been thrown up to accommodate those who had hastened to settle this former wheat field, hoping that proximity to the iron rails would bring prosperity. On the other side of the tracks, he’d been told, there was a small Chinatown consisting of a few shops as well as dwellings for the railroad’s mostly immigrant laborers, some of whom had remained behind when then work moved on. Scott had yet to venture that far, but based on his view of its “better parts,” the town barely qualified as “modest.”
Across the street, a large, ruddy-faced man sporting an impressive moustache stepped out onto the sidewalk, broom in hand, and commenced the seemingly pointless task of sweeping the area in front of his store. The white apron made a wide stripe down his front, with ample portions of his dark shirt and pants visible on either side; the apron ties hung loose, jiggling with each vigorous swipe of the broom. The sign above the gentleman’s head proclaimed him as the proprietor of the “Modesto Mercantile.” Hoping that the merchandise was truly “general,” Scott headed across the street in search of some reading material that might prove more entertaining than watching the dust settle in Modesto.
Scott spent the remainder of the morning in his nondescript hotel room, perusing copies of the Sacramento Union and the San Francisco Morning Call, catching up with the old news from both the California capital and the state’s largest city. In addition to the newspapers, Mr. Hansen, the owner of the general store, had been more than happy to sell a few items from his limited and dusty inventory of books, among them a slim volume of local history that Scott felt would fit well in Murdoch’s collection. He’d also purchased a copy of The Innocents Abroad, a book published the previous year by a new author writing under the name “Mark Twain.” If Scott recalled the story correctly, the pseudonym derived from a riverboat term referencing a depth of two fathoms.
The book came enthusiastically recommended by Mr. Hansen, explaining that the author had worked as a correspondent for several California newspapers that had previously published the accounts of his travels. It was only after he’d started paging through the volume during his solitary lunch at the Modesto Main Street Café that Scott noticed the dog-eared corners, the occasional smudged fingerprint, the page which had been torn almost in half and carefully mended. Upon closer examination, Scott realized that the book was sold new only by subscription; apparently he’d paid $3.50 for a “used” copy.
Yet the cover appeared to be in pristine condition; so much for judging by appearances. Clearly, he’d been “had,” as Jelly would put it, by the jovial and effusive Mr. Hansen. Well, that was business, and caveat ēmptor; he could hardly bear the storekeeper ill will for his own failure to properly examine the merchandise. There were surely much worst swindles to which a man could fall victim. At least Jelly need never know about this one.
Having finished his lunch, Scott drained his coffee cup and set it down on the oilcloth-covered table. The meal hadn’t been any better or worse than supper the previous evening or breakfast early that morning. Both the quality and the quantity of the food were “modest”; at least the price was as well. Scott resolved to investigate Chinatown that afternoon, in hopes of finding a suitable Oriental restaurant for his next meal. Murdoch hadn’t been interested, but having sampled Chinese fare during his recent first visit to San Francisco, Scott had found the exotic cuisine much to his liking. Wonton soup, egg rolls, chicken with mushrooms . . .
Tucking his copy of The Innocents Abroad under one arm, Scott lifted his hat from the table and advanced to the counter to pay the bill.
“So your father’s left for home now, has he?” asked Mrs. O’Grady. The previous evening, Murdoch had engaged her in conversation, asking questions about Modesto. The woman had made a point of identifying herself as a “poor widow, workin’ with me brother,” and had made no effort to hide her disappointment at the news that the Lancers would be in town for only a short time.
“Yes, he has.”
Scott deposited both his hat and his book on the counter in order to reach for his billfold; meanwhile Mrs. O’Grady shook her head at him, actually making a ‘tsking’ sound.
“Left you all alone, with nought but an old book for company?”
Scott smiled, touching the volume with his leather wallet. “I could do worse.”
Mrs. O’Grady swept a loose strand of hair from her furrowed brow as she regarded the cover, soundlessly mouthing the words of the title. She shook her head. “Well, when ye get tired of them, we’ll be hopin’ ta see ya back here this evenin’.”
Scott nodded politely, thanked the woman for the meal and gave her more money than necessary. He carefully returned his billfold to the inner pocket of his cropped jacket; in addition to his own personal funds, it contained the cash Murdoch had left to pay for the shipping fees and to settle the hotel bill, as well as an overly generous amount of additional spending money.
Once outside on the boardwalk, Scott stopped to carefully position his hat. A quick scan of the still dusty main street revealed a scene that was quite familiar after five months in California, the everyday bustle of small town activity. There were people on foot, on horseback, driving carts, all of them going about their daily tasks. Striving to appear equally purposeful, Scott tucked Twain up under his arm again and headed towards the stables.
Inside the livery, Brunswick nickered and tossed his head in greeting as soon as Scott passed through the double doors. The string of Lancer palominos was also quartered here, waiting in the corral to be loaded on the train the next day. They were all fine animals, though Scott considered them no match for his own spirited chestnut. An experienced horseman and former cavalry officer, Scott was fascinated by the wild horses which ran on Lancer land, as well as by the fine animals actually bred at the ranch—palominos like Johnny’s Barranca.
Johnny had a talent for working with the animals and enjoyed the challenge of breaking a green horse to the saddle. Scott was particularly interested in matching animals to tasks, identifying the characteristics of a saddle horse, in contrast to a military mount or “cowpony” used to maneuver cattle.
This group of horses was destined for a customer in the northern part of the state, someone with whom Murdoch had many past dealings. That alone could have accounted for the older man’s insistence upon making the trip, though now Scott suspected that his father had simply been eager to show off his sons. Sons, plural, for initially Johnny had planned to accompany them as well; however, after learning that they would be stopping at various ranches along the way, his brother had suddenly recalled a horse auction he wanted to attend---or so he’d said. As Scott headed back to the hotel, he made a mental note to remember to ask Johnny whether he’d made any interesting purchases at the sale.
The disdainful hotel clerk professed ignorance of eating establishments across the tracks, but was able to provide information about a bathhouse and laundry situated on the edge of Modesto’s Chinatown and frequently patronized by an Anglo clientele. Carrying a tight bundle of travel-stained clothing, Scott set out in the direction indicated and had no difficulty in arriving at his destination.
The owner of the bathhouse was short in stature, his head mostly shaved, with a single dark braid of hair trailing down his back. After solemnly attending to Scott’s request, the man commenced issuing staccato instructions in his own language. In response, several younger Chinese bustled about, virtually indistinguishable from each other in their dark tunics with matching pantaloons and long queues. One took charge of Scott’s soiled clothing while another guided him to a narrow room furnished with a row of wooden tubs.
They quickly filled one tub with hot water, produced soap and towels, and in short order Scott was settling in for a solitary soak. It was mid-afternoon, and therefore no surprise that he had the room to himself. Not that he minded the lack of company, despite a momentary regret that he’d neglected to bring Twain along.
Only a few luxurious moments had passed, however, when he was roused from his drowsing state by the return of two of the Chinese “bath boys,” each toting additional buckets of water on poles across his shoulders. As Scott observed through half-closed eyes, the men emptied their buckets into the tub immediately to his left and promptly departed. Although annoyed that they hadn’t chosen a spot further along the line for the next patron, the men’s efficiency left Scott little time to voice a complaint; he doubted they would have understood him anyway.
When the Chinamen returned, the new customer was with them; Scott glimpsed a tall figure dressed in tan clothing before he determinedly closed his eyes. But there was really no hope of regaining that feeling of deep relaxation.
Scott couldn’t help noting that as the two young Chinese exited, the newcomer addressed them in their own language. It sounded like “doh je.” From the intonation, as well as the murmured responses, Scott guessed that the phrase was a form of thanks. He could hear his neighbor moving about, presumably undressing.
“Well, I can see now why they were convinced we must be brothers.”
Startled, Scott turned to look up at the speaker, who was standing on the other side of his own tub, unbuttoning his grey shirt.
“I assumed it was just because they think we all look alike,” the man continued with a smile. “But I can see it now.”
Swiftly appraising the stranger, who looked to be his own height, though a few years older and several pounds heavier, Scott had to agree. The man had light brown hair rather than ash blond, but there was an uncanny similarity in their facial features.
“You don’t have a long lost brother do you?”
Scott grinned. “If I do, then it appears I may have found one.”
Of course that was something he and Johnny had considered. They’d each been taken by surprise at the stage depot when Teresa identified them as siblings. It was something they’d joked about, that there might be additional Lancer sons—or even daughters--- of whom they had yet to be informed. They’d even laughingly speculated that one might have red hair and another brown. In more serious moments, Scott had wondered whether there might possibly be some truth to it.
The stranger sat down on a stool to pull off his boots as the two bath men returned, one with soap and towels, the other carrying two more buckets of water. After pouring the steaming contents into the tub, the bucket man disappeared; his comrade remained, waiting patiently for the newcomer to finish removing his clothes.
Scott discretely averted his eyes, then decided to slide underwater to soak his hair. When he resurfaced and set about scrubbing his head, his purported “brother” was already sinking into his own tub with a grateful sigh, while once more directing a phrase at the retreating back of the Chinaman carrying his clothing. It sounded like the same two words, “doh je.”
“You speak Chinese?”
“Just a few phrases. I understand a little more than I speak.” His tub neighbor extended a wet hand. “My name’s McKay, John McKay. I’m a construction engineer for the railroad.”
Scott offered his own soapy handshake. “Scott Lancer. My family has a ranch down near Morro Coyo.”
“So what brings you to Modesto?”
“I’m shipping some horses out on the morning train.”
“Going north. I’ll be on that train, heading back up to where we’re building another new line.”
Scott ducked under the water to rinse his hair. “How’s the work going?” he asked when he resurfaced.
Resting his head on the edge of the tub, McKay looked up at the ceiling as concern shadowed his features. “We’re supposed to blast a tunnel through the hills soon---but I’m afraid we may run into sandstone.”
“And that’s a problem?”
“Well, if it’s a balsa formation, then there are likely to be pockets of natural gas. The smallest spark could set it off. ”
“It is. I’ve sent some test samples off to the lab for analysis; if they come back as I expect, then we’ll need to call for surveyors to lay out an alternate route. And the man in charge of the operation isn’t going to like that much . . .”
“Surely he’ll recognize the need for caution.”
McKay still looked troubled. “I hope you’re right. We’re talking about men’s lives. But the work crews are mostly Chinese, and I’m afraid many of the bosses view them as all too easy to replace.”
They talked a bit more about the workers, how steady the Chinamen were, how hard they labored for just seventy-five cents a day and the meager meals the railroad provided. As they completed the business of bathing, McKay willingly answered Scott’s curious questions about the Chinese. In particular, he spoke warmly of an older man named Han Fei who had taught him basic words and phrases in Cantonese.
Scott, in turn, mentioned his new-found affinity for Chinese food, acquired during his trip to San Francisco.
“So you’ve been to ‘Dai Fou’,” McKay observed with a smile. “That’s what they call it, the ‘Big City’; most of our men landed there. And is the food all you sampled in Dai Fou, Mr. Lancer?”
Both men had exited the tubs of rapidly cooling water and set about toweling off and donning clean clothing. McKay’s serious tone caused Scott to halt momentarily, as he considered the man’s question.
“There were parts of the city, areas near the harbor, I was warned to stay away from.”
McKay nodded. “The opium dens are down there. And some Chinese houses of prostitution as well.”
Scott finished buttoning his white checked shirt, and then started to tuck it into the waistband of his dark trousers. “We visited several Chinese eating houses, but I can’t recall seeing any women.”
“No, you won’t see them out and about,” McKay agreed. “To start with, there aren’t many. The Chinese living in the mining camps and the railroad towns are essentially communities of men. What women there are are mostly in the cities--- and probably four-fifths of them work as prostitutes.”
Scott looked up from fastening his gun belt. “That’s a very high percentage,” he observed skeptically.
McKay shrugged into his tan jacket. “It’s true, I have that on good authority. My older sister is setting up a mission house in San Francisco; she and her husband are just returning from three years in China.”
“Your sister? . . . do the two of you look alike?” Scott asked with a grin.
McKay smiled back. “Why don’t you join us for supper, and judge for yourself.”
“McKay” the railroad construction engineer is a character from the 1972 pilot episode of “Kung Fu.” The part was played by Wayne Maunder.
“Doh je” is a transliteration of the Cantonese for “thank you.” According to multiple sources, many of the Chinese who immigrated to California ---“Gold Mountain”—came from Canton (Kwangtung) Province, an area at that time ravaged by natural disasters such as floods and typhoons as well as civil war.
The Central Pacific Railroad website includes the complete text of the Book Club of California Keepsake book Cathay in Eldorado: The Chinese of California.
as well as a wealth of information about the Chinese-American contribution to the construction of the railroad itself.
The City of Modesto, California:
Link to the Innocents Abroad Homepage:
Robertson's Words for a Modern Age: A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Words used in Modern English Vocabulary
caveat emp·tor: The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.
The full version: Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit. "Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party."
WHERE WAS SCOTT --- during “THE HEART OF PONY ALICE”?
There was a strong resemblance between John McKay and his elder sister, and so the Mrs. Reverend Charles Farnham, née Juditha McKay, could have also passed for Scott’s own sibling. Initially, her attire—a dark-colored dress with a white collar--- as well as her simple hairstyle, and a face devoid of makeup presented Mrs. Farnham as an example of the familiar stereotype of a minister’s wife. Her only jewelry, a simple gold wedding band and a gold cross on a chain at her neck completed the picture. But in the lady’s smiling blue eyes, Scott was delighted to find a warmth and lively sense of humor he hadn’t previously associated with missionary zeal.
Beforehand, the two men had agreed to say nothing concerning their own likeness. But when McKay escorted his sister downstairs, she noticed immediately, and insisted that they stand before the oval oak-framed mirror that graced the front parlor of the Modesto Hotel so that she could better examine the similarities in their features.
Although on the way to the hotel Scott and John had already ruled out any possible family connection, it necessary to submit to Mrs. Farnham’s more intense interrogation; she possessed a detailed knowledge of family history, listing many distant relatives by name, none of whom seemed connected to Scott. Regardless, Juditha cheerfully announced her intention to address Scott henceforth as “my Dear Cousin,” and urged him to do likewise.
The McKays, Scott learned, had also grown up “Back East,” in Connecticut. John McKay had attended Yale College, as had Charles Farnham. The Reverend Farnham, as it turned out, was still en route from China; his wife had preceded him to San Francisco to begin to set up their new mission in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The preliminary work being completed, she had arranged a long-awaited rendezvous with her younger brother. When Scott raised an eyebrow at their choice of meeting place, Mrs. Farnham explained that the railroad kept the engineer so busy that they would have had only the briefest of visits had he traveled to San Francisco.
“Since I haven’t seen John for over three years, it seemed worth it, to come here to Modesto, though now I’ve seen it, I must admit now to having second thoughts,” she added with a laugh.
“Now, Juditha, you only have to endure another day of dust, then you’ll be on your way back to San Francisco, to contend with the hills and the salt air.”
“I wish that were all I had to contend with, John,” she replied ruefully. Then she reached out to stroke her brother’s cheek. “And our visit has still been far too short.”
Hearing this exchange, Scott couldn’t help but be reluctant to intrude upon their time together, but when he tried to excuse himself, neither of them would hear of it. Unaware that John had already extended a similar invitation, Mrs. Farnham insisted that Scott should take supper with them and she graciously acceded to her brother’s suggestion that they dine in Modesto’s Chinatown.
When the two of them had stopped to pay for their baths and laundry, McKay had asked the sharp-eyed owner to recommend an eating establishment. After considerable discussion with one of the other Chinamen, the proprietor had finally supplied a name and location. The three newly acquainted “cousins” now set out, despite the fact that it was still somewhat early yet for supper. John proposed hiring a buggy for the evening, explaining that it was not always wise to pass through any Chinatown on foot after dark. Scott gave a fleeting thought to the amount of money he was carrying in his billfold, but leaving it behind in his hotel room hardly seemed a preferable alternative. He was, he reminded himself, wearing a gun belt, though the railroad engineer appeared to be unarmed.
They stopped at the livery, and McKay volunteered to drive the carriage while Scott climbed into the back seat with Mrs. Farnham. His “Dear Cousin” Juditha was most curious about what had brought him to California, and seemed fascinated by Scott’s edited account of meeting his father for the first time.
“And you discovered a brother too!?” she marveled. “Another John. Tell me, does he look like us?”
“No,” Scott responded with a firm shake of his head. “Not at all. We’re half-brothers,” he clarified. “The same father, different mothers. And we each seem to favor our mothers.”
The eating house to which they’d been directed was a small, poorly lit storefront. It was furnished with a mere four tables, with three or four mismatched wooden chairs grouped around each one. But the bare tabletops were scrubbed clean and the air was filled with enticing aromas. A slightly built Oriental dressed in brown and wearing a small black hat bowed in greeting and then smilingly directed them to a corner table.
In response to McKay’s halting attempts at communication, their host replied in somewhat broken English that they were not to worry, that he would bring “all good food.” By some unspoken mutual agreement, McKay and his sister had apparently worked out that John would address the restaurant owner and that Mrs. Farnham’s fluency with Cantonese would not be advertised. She was, however, more than willing to answer Scott’s many questions about her life as a missionary in China.
“My husband, Charles, operated a school for boys, teaching English and other subjects along with Bible studies. My work was amongst the women.”
“Bible studies as well?”
Juditha shook her head. “Sewing classes, actually. In view of the extreme poverty in the province, it was necessary to have a more practical purpose in order to obtain any sort of regular attendance. Of course,” she added with a smile, “we did manage to find many opportunities to expound upon the Scriptures.”
The shop owner returned bearing a tray with a pot of tea and three small white handle-less cups.
“I am Wu Chang,” he stated, bowing deeply to John McKay. As with the laundrymen, a glossy plait of hair extended down Wu Chang’s back.
McKay inclined his head and stated his own name.
“I have heard of Mister McKay. I have brother too, work for railroad.”
McKay introduced “Mrs. Farnham” and “Mr. Lancer.” Wu Chang bowed to each in turn, before departing, though not before studying Scott with a puzzled expression.
Juditha poured them each some of the fragrant tea, but the liquid in Scott’s cup was still not cool enough to taste when Wu Chang reappeared, this time with bowls of soup. Wonton soup, he was pleased to note, a delicacy he’d enjoyed in San Francisco. What was it McKay had called the city? “Dai Fow”---- or something like that. And “thank you” was “doh je,” McKay uttered the phrase now in response to the soup. Scott ventured to ask for egg rolls, feeling optimistic when Wu Chang repeated his request and hurried back towards the kitchen.
The conversation shifted to Chinese food. Mrs. Farnham was, of course, most proficient with chopsticks, demonstrating that the wontons were to be fished out and eaten, leaving the broth to be sipped from the bowl afterwards.
Meanwhile, several Chinese men entered and gradually a few more, until the remaining tables were fully occupied. The new arrivals called out to their host in their own language, and amidst the flow of conversation, Wu Chang set out more cups and pots of tea. A group clustered around the farthest table, men standing as well as seated, and soon a game of fantan was in progress.
When Wu Chang finally returned to their table, it was with a much larger tray, laden with platters of noodles and bowls of rice topped with various sauces. He rapidly identified each of them both in English and in his own tongue; Scott thought he heard “chicken” in reference to one platter and decided to begin there.
He’d attempted chopsticks before, but the restaurateurs in San Francisco had eagerly offered more familiar utensils as well; that was not the case here. John, he noted, was adequately skilled,, though nowhere near as adept as his sister. Scott made several attempts to grasp a vegetable or bit of meat with the slender pieces of wood, to no avail.
Across the table, John and Juditha abruptly paused in their passing of platters and serving; it took a moment for Scott to realize they were not staring at him.
He noticed the plate first, hovering beside him, a circle of thick white crockery upon which three savory cylinders were arranged---egg rolls. Setting aside his chopsticks, Scott took possession of the offering -----revealing the hands. A woman’s hands. Dainty, with slender fingers, tiny palms, then delicate wrists swallowed by satin cuffs, on sleeves of a willowy green color. His eyes skimmed upwards-----not very far, as the bowed head was only slightly above his own shoulder.
He couldn’t see much of her face, as it was shielded by a curtain of silky black hair-- more of which was layered atop her head. She stood near enough that even in the lantern light, Scott could tell that her cheek was heavily powdered.
She looked at him directly then, without any expression at all. There was no movement of the rosy lips that remained pressed together, no flicker of response in the dark, almond shaped eyes beneath the delicately arching twin brows. “Inscrutable”---he’d read that once, a descriptor used in reference to someone Chinese. The term seemed to apply here.
The woman glided backwards, offered a deep bow, then turned and silently departed, her features immobile throughout.
She was dressed in a more feminine version of the straight-legged pants and tunic worn by the men, the fabric more luxurious and decorated with bands of embroidery. Scott watched until the kitchen door closed behind her. Then he quickly turned his questioning gaze to his companions.
John McKay appeared no less fascinated by the young woman, but Mrs. Farnham shook her head sadly, murmuring something in Cantonese. Before Scott could ask, she offered the translation. “‘Daughter of Joy’---it’s an expression used for a . . . courtesan.”
Scott objected. “She’s hardly more than a child.”
“Oh, don’t let her size fool you, Scott. She’s probably much older than she looks, and no doubt already experienced beyond her years.”
Juditha nodded in unhappy agreement with her brother’s assessment. “The cost of a passage to America is high,” she explained, “sometimes over $100. The men work off their debts in the mines -----or labor for the railroads. Others cook, clean, do laundry--- what we consider ‘women’s work.’ While the women . . . sell themselves.”
It was an uncomfortable topic to discuss with any female, let alone a lady and a missionary, but Scott’s curiosity got the better of him.
“Since there are so few Chinese women here, can’t they easily find husbands?”
“Most do--- eventually. But many of the men already have wives, and sometimes children, back in China. You see, their families arrange the marriages before they leave, to insure their return, to insure they will send money back to the village. The women who come here are usually indentured servants, sold by their families. They must work not only for the price of their passage, but until their master is fully repaid---and more.”
“That sounds like . . . slavery.”
“We fought a costly civil war to abolish that.”
John McKay shot him a knowing look and Scott briefly wondered if his friend had also served in the conflict. “Well, it’s no secret our railroad crews aren’t treated much better than slaves,” the engineer admitted. “Of course, they are free to find work elsewhere, but in reality, there are very few options.”
“The men chose to come here, to seek their fortunes on ‘Gum Shan”--‘Gold Mountain’,” his sister reminded him. “The women---the girls---who are sold, they are the ones who have no choice. It’s wrong.”
“Tell that to Madam Ah Toy.”
“I haven’t met her yet, John, but I will, and when I do, I will tell her that and much more, you may be sure of it.”
“And who is ‘Madam Ah Toy’?” Scott asked.
“She is the Chinese proprietress of several ‘pleasure houses’---in Sacramento as well as San Francisco,” John explained.
“She’s quite well known in the city,” Juditha added. “Her name has been in the newspapers; in fact the woman has actually taken men to court for failing to pay her price.”
“Apparently she’s an astute businesswoman . . .”
“John! Part of her business is importing young girls from China.”
“And is this the purpose of your mission, Mrs. Farnham, to try to help those girls?”
“Yes, I intend to concentrate upon the women, to rescue their bodies as well as their souls.” She shot a concerned glance at her brother, then resolutely changed the subject. “And please, Scott, it’s Juditha,” she gently reminded him. “We’re ‘cousins’, remember? Here, now, let me show you the proper way to eat an egg roll.”
Juditha edged her seat nearer to Scott and proceeded to carefully instruct him in the placement of his fingers around the chopsticks. She was also able to identify the ingredients of the various dishes in front of them. Instead of eating, John McKay watched his sister with a serious expression. Finally, Juditha set aside her own utensils.
“What is it, John?”
“You already know.”
His sister sighed. “It is my work . . .”
“And I’m not asking you to stop doing it,” he interjected, “only that you wait, wait until Charles arrives.”
Juditha turned to Scott and smiled. “Does your younger brother worry about you, Scott?”
“My brother . . . doesn’t worry about much.” Although he could easily imagine Johnny saying exactly that, Scott still felt compelled to qualify his statement. “If he were worried---about me--- I’m sure I’d be the last to know. He’d make sure of it.”
“Well, it’s no secret that I have good reason to worry, Scott. My sister hasn’t been here long enough to realize the animosity that many whites bear towards the Chinese—and anyone who sides with them runs the risk of being considered a traitor to his own race.”
“We are all God’s children . . .”
“Juditha, not everyone here shares that belief. And your activities could easily earn you enmity from the Chinese side as well.”
“You mean because of interference in business activities?” Scott asked.
“Exactly. This Madam Ah Toy, I’m sure she must be under the protection of one of the tongs.”
“Those are Chinese protective societies, Scott,” Juditha explained. “The Hip Sings are one of the most active groups. Members pay a fee and the organization looks out for them, insures that if they die, their bodies are returned to China for burial.”
“That’s a long ways.”
“They believe that they must rest amongst their ancestors.”
“Yes,” John added, “another reason why most of our railroad men are determined to return home one day. However, few of them can afford the membership fees, so if they die on the job, they are buried here ---and that is considered a great tragedy and a family disgrace. But I’m afraid the tongs don’t limit their interests to such concerns; in the cities, they often operate outside the law. They may not take kindly to your interference.”
Juditha Farnham’s expression was tranquil. “John, I traveled across the ocean to do God’s work for years in a foreign land. I trust in His protection, and you should as well.”
Suddenly, there was the sound of three sharp handclaps and the background noise of animated conversation was replaced by an expectant silence. Wu Chang stood near the kitchen doorway, and beside him, an older, white haired Chinese dressed in black. Wu Chang was making an important announcement of some kind. Scott was aware of Juditha beside him, listening intently, and although it was likely she would explain in due time, he still felt compelled to pose a question. Before he could ask anything, however, Mrs. Farnham’s face took on a shocked expression, and Scott turned to look.
The girl had reappeared. She was wearing a longer tunic, almost a gown, in a rose colored silk, and if he wasn’t mistaken, her face was now more powdered, her hair more elaborately dressed. She stood between the two men, with her eyes lowered.
“Her name is Lin Li Mei,” Juditha said softly. “The white haired man is her ‘dai kau fu’---her eldest uncle. He’s . . . selling her.”
The uncle stepped forward, pointing at the girl and addressing the crowd. From the gestures he was making, Scott imagined that the old man might very well be describing his niece’s attributes.
“Five dollar,” offered a voice from the crowd. No one else spoke. Wu Chang shook his head in disapproval, while the uncle frowned fiercely in the direction of the bidder.
Juditha slid her chair closer to her brother and the two of them engaged in a heated whispered conversation. McKay shook his head; Scott thought he could guess what Mrs. Farnham was suggesting.
“Fifty dollars,” Wu Chang announced importantly.
The white haired uncle looked at the crowd expectantly until someone offered “six-tee.” He then spoke sharply to the woman, who lifted her head at his commanding tone, and reluctantly began to turn around. As she came about, Lin Li Mei’s eyes met Scott’s.
The silent plea was unmistakable.
He heard his own voice firmly offer “Eighty dollars,” and was rewarded by glimmer of gratitude before the girl returned her gaze to the floor.
“Scott . . .” he heard McKay caution him. “These men won’t like---”
“I know.” Without turning, Scott softly issued an instruction. “Take your sister outside.”
The character of Juditha Farnham is inspired in part by a paper that appeared in the Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal in 1885. It was entitled “Woman’s Work for Woman” and the author was a Mrs. J. M. W. Farnham.
Madam Ah Toy (also known as “Ah Choi” or “Ah Tay”) was a real person. She is also the central character in a work of historical fiction entitled Daughter of Joy by JoAnn Levy, a “Women of the West” novel.
There is a long historical connection between Yale University and China; a hospital was established in the 1830s in Canton by a Yale educated medical missionary. And in 1854, Yung Wing graduated from Yale College, the first person from China to earn a college degree in the United States. For more information, see:
According to the Timeline at the “Chinese in California 1850-1925” website,
by the year 1870, 3,536 Chinese women had emigrated to California and 61% (2,157) were listed as prostitutes.
The Houghton-Mifflin company site includes the following statistics on Chinese Women in California: “between 1848 and 1854, only sixteen women arrived from China while the number of men arriving totaled 45,000. By 1870, 58,625 Chinese men and 4,574 Chinese women had arrived in the United States.”
“Initially, California, much like the rest of the U.S. West, had a predominantly male population, among not only the Chinese but all immigrants. In 1850, there were twelve men for every woman in San Francisco, regardless of race; even in 1880, men outnumbered women in California three to one. The imbalance in gender ratio, the gold-rush economy, and frontier conditions made prostitution a booming industry. Chinese prostitution, organized by Chinese Mafia-like business associations, proliferated. Of the 1,769 Chinese women over the age of fifteen found living in San Francisco in 1870, as many as 1,452 worked as prostitutes; the vast majority were bonded sex workers. Some women managed to complete their terms of indenture and married Chinese men once free.”
WHERE WAS SCOTT --- during “THE HEART OF PONY ALICE”?
The winning bid was $120.
Uncomfortably aware that all eyes were upon him-----at least all except for those of Lin Li Mei---- Scott removed the cash from his billfold and coldly thrust it at her white-haired uncle.
Scott hurriedly tucked his wallet inside his jacket pocket, but as he extended a hand towards the girl, Wu Chang positioned himself between them.
“Please to wait.”
The genial host was no longer smiling; Scott was fairly certain that no one was smiling, but he didn’t want to look around to see. It felt as if the room had grown smaller; a quick sideways glance revealed that the number of occupants had in fact increased and there was no longer a clear path to the door. Scott returned his attention to the uncle, who was making a show of counting the money. Once the elderly man completed the task, he offered a gap-toothed smile, bowed slightly, and stepped towards Scott. With a flourish, he withdrew from some interior pocket of his own a piece of paper covered with Chinese characters.
Scott presumed it was an indenture agreement--essentially a bill of sale he realized with distaste. Deciding that it might be unwise to attempt a too hasty departure, he accepted the document and took his time carefully folding it into a square before tucking it into the waistband of his trousers. He left his right hand there, closer to his gun, and waited.
The silence was oppressive.
Finally, Wu Chang retreated. Scott started to reach for the girl again, then thought better of it.
“Please ask her to come with me.”
Wu Chang uttered a command. In response, Lin Li Mei bent down and picked up a covered wicker basket that had been sitting unnoticed on the floor at her feet. Only then did she look up at Scott, her face once more “inscrutable.” Scott motioned for her to precede him towards the door; the girl compliantly moved forward and past him. To his relief, the sullen group of silent men parted to make way for her and Scott made sure to stay close behind.
As they passed through the door, the voice in his head increased its exhortations to hurry, but since Scott could still feel all those Oriental eyes boring into his back, he forced himself to continue moving deliberately. John McKay was ready with the reins in hand, his sister seated beside him in the buggy. Scott helped the girl into the back, handed in her basket and climbed aboard, speaking tersely to McKay.
The railroad engineer promptly set the horse in motion.
No one spoke, except for John, urging the horse into a brisk pace. Scott listened intently, but there were no sounds of pursuit, nor any other sign that they were being followed. The girl sat demurely beside him, her small hands folded in her lap, her head bowed; Scott wondered irritably if her neck was permanently fixed in that position. His tension gave way to the inevitable question: What was he going to do with her?
“I’ll let you out here,” John announced as he pulled to a halt in front of the hotel. “Go on inside; I’ll return the carriage.”
Scott jumped down, then assisted Mrs. Farnham. The girl remained motionless, only looking up with a startled expression when Juditha addressed her in her own tongue. Lin Li Mei hurriedly disembarked and the two women proceeded towards the hotel entrance. The missionary had her arm around the Chinese girl’s shoulders and they continued conversing quietly.
Scott nodded to McKay, picked up the girl’s basket by its two handles and followed them inside.
“Hey, now, Ma’am, you can’t be bringin’ that slant-eyes girl in here!”
The night clerk, a much more disheveled looking man than the one who had been on duty earlier in the afternoon, rubbed his eyes; clearly he had been asleep in the rocking chair positioned behind the desk. Juditha and her charge had almost made it past him; they were standing just at the foot of the stairs.
“She has a name, Sir, it’s Lin Li Mei.” Juditha spoke gently, as if she was explaining something to a slow-witted child.
“Don’t care what you call her,” the man responded belligerently. “You still can’t be bringin’ her in here.”
“The girl is Mrs. Farnham’s maid.”
The desk clerk eyed Scott suspiciously. “And what would you know about it?”
“I know that any decent establishment would make provision for a lady’s attendant.”
Juditha took up the thread. “Is there a problem Mr . . . ? I am sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s Lambert, ma’am, and---”
“Well, Mr. Lambert, the hotel manager didn’t have an objection when I checked in.”
The desk clerk blinked. “Mr. Clark said it was okay?” Lambert asked dubiously. Although he was pleased that Mrs. Farnham had followed his lead, Scott realized that their ploy was doomed if Mr. Clark shared Lambert’s antipathy towards the Chinese.
“He didn’t voice any concerns to me,” Juditha assured him serenely. “But you can be sure that I will speak with him in the morning.”
“Oh, well, there’s no need for that, ma’am . . .”
Juditha smiled benignly. “Good night to you then, Mr. Lambert.”
Li Mei, who had been standing in her already familiar bowed-head pose turned and started up the staircase, with her protectress following close behind. Juditha place her hand on the girl’s back. At the landing, they veered right and stopped outside of what Scott assumed must be Mrs. Farnham’s room.
Scott listened in fascination as the two women spoke rapidly in Cantonese, keeping their voices low in deference to the hotel’s other patrons. Scott knew enough about languages to realize that their exchange only seemed faster than normal because of his complete ignorance of the meaning of the words. To him, the conversation was little more than a string of exotic sounds. Juditha appeared concerned; Scott could infer little from Li Mei’s facial expression.
He did know that Lin was her surname, he’d learned that much in San Francisco, that among the Chinese, the family name came first.
Mrs. Farnham spoke to Li Mei in a comforting tone, then looked up at Scott.
“So what is her story?”
“She says that her family was deceived by her uncle---that he promised to bring her here and find her a wealthy husband. The poor girl never expected to be put up for sale.”
“So she hasn’t yet . . .?”
Mrs. Farnham instantly shook her head. “No. She’s only just arrived. Her uncle said she would bring a higher price if she was ‘untouched’.”
It surprised Scott that a religious woman would speak so matter-of-factly about such things. Then again, Mrs. Farnham had said what was necessary to mislead the bellicose desk clerk, though she’d stopped short of telling the man an outright lie.
“Does she speak English?”
“She says she doesn’t understand any English at all.”
Scott considered his new charge thoughtfully. He was certainly fortunate to have Mrs. Farnham on hand as an intermediary.
“Well, I suppose we can send her home, back to China?”
“Back to her family you mean? The ones who sold her?”
Juditha’s whispered vehemence gave Scott pause. “Now, I thought you said her uncle lied to them.”
“Yes, that’s what she told me, and it’s what she believes. But I’m afraid, Scott, it may not be quite the truth.”
A heavy tread caused them to turn; John McKay mounted the stairs, taking two risers at a time, his tan jacket lifting behind him. Before he could phrase a question, his sister told him what she had just learned from Li Mei. By then John had caught his breath. “What else do you know about her family?” he asked.
“She speaks respectfully of her parents, as most young women would; I haven’t yet asked much about them. But I believe she must come from a peasant family.”
Scott was taken aback by that assertion. In contrast to Mrs. Farnham’s serviceable dark dress, the girl’s rose-colored gown appeared to be silk, finely embroidered in bright colors. She also wore earrings and jeweled combs in her hair.
“Why do you say that?”
Four pairs of eyes were drawn downwards. Scott was no less puzzled. “You mean her shoes?” he asked. Li Mei wore embroidered slippers with turned up toes.
“No, her feet ---they are of a normal size. In China, daughters of wealthy families have extremely tiny feet only three or four inches long.”
“Yes, it’s true,” Juditha insisted, in response to Scott’s open skepticism. “Little girls’ feet are tightly bound to keep them small. Tiny ‘lotus-flower’ feet are considered beautiful—also a sign of a family’s prosperity, since of course the girls find it difficult to do any work. Why, some of them can barely walk.”
“And peasant girls . . . need to work,” Scott concluded.
“Exactly. Though sometimes even a less well-off family may bind a girl’s feet if they have hopes of offering her as a courtesan or concubine.”
“Well, what this girl is is an indentured servant,” John observed. “Though I’m not sure how you’ll prove that Scott, if challenged.”
Scott pulled the paper from his waistband and offered it to McKay. John unfolded the document and shook his head. “I don’t read Chinese.”
“Nor do I,” Juditha added. “It’s a very difficult language to learn. The Holy Bible has been translated, but of course the peasants are illiterate.”
“You’d better hang onto to this,” John recommended as he returned the indenture paper to Scott. “So, what are you going to do?” he asked after a short silence.
Scott pushed his hat back on the crown of his head, then thoughtfully tapped the refolded document against the palm of his hand. “Well, I understand there is a mission soon to be opened in San Francisco . . .”
Juditha smiled warmly. “Yes, there is, and I’d be happy to bring Li Mei home with me. I’ll find out more about her family and if she wishes to return to China, then Charles and I will do what we can to arrange it.”
Scott resolved that he would offer the missionaries monetary assistance on the girl’s behalf, but at the moment he doubted that he had enough cash remaining to pay for breakfast, let alone the transporting of the Lancer stock. One thing was certain, he’d need to visit the bank and make some sort of arrangements in order to replace what he’d spent this evening. Still, it was money well spent—he had no regrets whatsoever on that score.
Opposition to slavery had been a major factor in his youthful determination to enlist in the cavalry. Not the sole reason, perhaps, but Scott’s visions of adventure and glory had swiftly faded, trampled in the mud and gore of his first battlefield. His faith in the Union and its cause had endured however, even throughout long months of imprisonment. He fully understood the value of what he could offer this girl: Freedom.
It was agreed that Li Mei would spend the night with Mrs. Farnham. Since Juditha’s room was intended for a single occupant, Scott suggested that the women take over the chamber he had shared with Murdoch, which was furnished with two beds. He quickly gathered his shaving things, books and saddlebags and transferred them to Mrs. Farnham’s hotel room. She meanwhile packed up her own possessions and her brother carried her traveling case down the hall.
John McKay was putting up in one of the railroad buildings. He reluctantly said his good nights, told them he’d see them in the morning and headed out, leaving the hotel guests to settle in. Scott waited until the ladies were safely inside and Mrs. Farnham had locked the door before retiring to his new quarters.
Scott placed his hat on the dresser and slapped his billfold down beside it. He safely pocketed the indenture documents before removing his cropped jacket and tossing it on the wooden chair that already held his saddlebags. No cushioned seats in the Modesto Hotel; it seemed as if days had passed rather than mere hours since he’d done his reading stretched out on one of the marginally comfortable beds in the other room.
As he unfastened his gun belt, Scott remembered that McKay was walking around at night and unarmed. He’d have to ask his friend about that. Scott had found it difficult, at first, to get used to wearing a gun, and there were still times when he left the hacienda without it. But more and more it was the weight on his hip that he was able to forget.
He wrapped the belt around the holstered weapon and added it to the collection atop the dresser. With a sigh, he took up the billfold and quickly counted what little was left inside.
Not nearly enough to pay for the transport of the stock. There had to be a bank in Modesto, though he couldn’t specifically recall seeing one. Fortunately, the train didn’t depart until late morning; hopefully that would give him enough time.
Scott wasn’t yet ready for sleep; he selected the volume of local history as being more likely than the Twain to help him reach that point. He stood the meager pillow up against the headboard, then stretched out at enough of an angle to keep his boots mostly off of the counterpane.
“Mr. Lancer! Scott!”
The voice uttering his name and the knocking on the door were not especially loud, but their insistence dissipated his fragile sleep. Ever since the War, he’d slept lightly, wakened easily.
By the time he was on his feet, Scott recognized the voice as that of Juditha Farnham. Pausing only to snatch the rolled up leather of his gun belt and holster from the dresser, he stepped to the door and pulled it open.
Juditha was wearing a robe, the edges pulled tight together with one hand. Her hair was tucked up beneath a ruffled sleeping cap and her face wore a stricken expression.
“They’ve taken Li Mei!”
Scott promptly unrolled his gun belt. “What happened?”
“Why, I don’t know really. I . . . I went to use the necessary, I wasn’t away very long, and when I came back the door to our room was open. She’s gone!”
Gun belt strapped securely in place, Scott stepped back into his own room to retrieve his jacket. “What about her things?” he asked as he shrugged into it.
“Her basket . . . all of her things are gone.”
“Then perhaps she’s run away.”
Those words pulled Juditha across the threshold. Scott reached for his hat even as he listened intently to what the woman had to say.
“Scott, we talked quite a while before she fell asleep. She agreed to come with me to San Francisco, but she’s afraid of that man, her uncle.”
“Then I’ll find her.”
“He hurt her, Scott. She has . . . terrible bruises.”
“I’ll find her.”
As Scott hurried down the staircase, Juditha Farnham stopped him to ask if he knew the name of Li Mei’s uncle. “Pan Lee” she said, then issued urgent but contradictory pleas to “Hurry” and “Be careful” as he continued on.
The phrases stayed with him as Scott jogged down the darkened main street and turned in the direction of Chinatown. He slowed up a bit, the exhortation to “be careful” taking precedence as he crossed the tracks.
As far as he could see, there was no sign of movement; then, when he turned a corner, there they were.
They were walking away from him, the girl in front, with her uncle moving very slowly behind, carrying Li Mei’s basket on one hip while leaning heavily upon a cane. Scott didn’t want to call after them for fear of attracting unwanted attention; he refrained from giving chase for the same reason. Being unfamiliar with the area, there was little chance of somehow circling ahead and blocking their path. His only option was to quicken his pace and try to catch up with them quietly. Scott briefly considered drawing his weapon, then decided against such a display of aggression. Since the uncle had accepted---and presumably still had---his $120, the Law was on his side.
His quarry halted in front of a doorway. The girl turned slightly, seeming to motion for the elderly man to precede her. Scott gathered it to be another sign of respect, but that line of thought ended abruptly when Li Mei looked up and noticed him approaching. Scott raised one finger to his lips.
Whether she understood or not didn’t matter, as her uncle suddenly looked over his shoulder and uttered an exclamation of surprise.
“She’s coming with me,” Scott stated firmly, and beckoned Li Mei to his side. After a moment’s hesitation, she started to move past her uncle, murmuring something on her way by.
After giving her what he hoped was a reassuring nod, Scott turned to address Pan Lee. Reflexively, he flung his right arm up into the air to defend himself. The elderly man’s cane smashed painfully into the side of Scott’s upraised hand, but Scott still managed somehow to fling the weapon away. Pan Lee lost his grasp, and the cane fell to the ground.
Cradling his injured right hand in his left, Scott studied Li Mei’s white haired uncle in disbelief.
“We had a deal.”
Pan Lee smiled and bowed. When he straightened, there was the unmistakable glint of a blade in his right hand.
Scott kicked him hard in the left side. Pan Lee crumpled to the ground, the knife spinning across the hard packed earth in the opposite direction from the cane.
“Ooo-oo. Oooooo . . .”
The frail-looking elderly man lay curled on his side, holding his ribs and moaning softly. Scott resisted the impulse to help him to his feet, instead gingerly using his injured hand to remove his gun from the holster.
“She’s coming with me. Don’t try to follow.”
Scott assumed that Li Mei’s uncle must understand more English than his niece; if not, then he hoped that his tone and drawn weapon would convey his meaning. At least the man hadn’t shouted for help. Scott took that as an indication that Pan Lee was acting alone and that he would be dishonored if anyone knew that he had tried to reclaim his niece after publicly auctioning her.
Li Mei stepped forward now, and knelt beside her uncle and began to speak to him. However, instead of offering him comfort, her tone was clearly one of condemnation.
He repeated her name more insistently, and having gained her attention, pointed emphatically in the direction in which they’d come. The girl gracefully came to her feet, bowed submissively and then started walking dutifully in the direction indicated.
There are many sources of information on the ancient Chinese practice of foot binding. Wikipedia has an article which includes photographs.
The following link is to a research paper on the topic:
There are many sites with information about Chinese names; here are two:
Given names: http://www.20000-names.com/female_chinese_names.htm
WHERE WAS SCOTT ---during “THE HEART OF PONY ALICE”?
When they returned to the hotel, Juditha Farnham was waiting; she had dressed and put up her hair. Although the woman appeared outwardly calm, the brown wisps framing her face gave testimony to her haste to return to the landing to watch for them.
As Li Mei mounted the stairs, Juditha asked her a question. The girl waited until she was standing beside Mrs. Farnham before responding in a distressed tone.
Scott reached the landing a few steps behind her and set down Li Mei’s basket. He removed his hat and listened patiently to the incomprehensible litany. When Li Mei concluded her account, she turned and offered him a dignified bow accompanied by a fervent speech. Scott recognized only one phrase, “thank you.”
Juditha regarded Scott with concern. “She says that her uncle tried to hurt you, Scott---are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“She also says that her uncle won’t give up, that he’s determined to get her back. Li Mei is worried that we may be in danger because of her.”
“I doubt he’ll try anything more tonight.” With a movement of his head, Scott indicated the door behind her. “Still, I think you should return to your own room, just in case. I’ll go inside and get my things.”
“We’ll get ours . . .”
“Juditha . . . I think it’s best if the girl stays down the hall.”
The disapproval in her tone gave Scott momentary pause. “She’s my responsibility. And, there’s no need for either of you to sleep on the floor.”
Juditha shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I simply cannot---”
“I understand--- but her uncle may get help.”
“But if anyone does come looking for Li Mei, surely they’ll return to that room?” Juditha asked with furrowed brow. “Wouldn’t she be safer with me?”
“Now, I can’t have you in the middle of this.”
She smiled at that. “Oh, I already am.”
Scott tried again. “Look, it’s too dangerous.”
“Nothing is too dangerous if we put our trust in the Lord.”
Scott wasn’t sure how to respond to that serene statement. He lowered his gaze to his hat and realized he was holding it so that it hid his injured hand. Mrs. Farnham’s objection to his spending the night alone in the same room with Li Mei was not unexpected; it was understandable, even. But the recollection of his encounter with Pan Lee strengthened Scott’s resolve. He looked up and met Juditha’s eyes.
“I’m asking you to trust me, right now.”
The missionary studied Scott appraisingly for a brief moment. “I believe I can.” Despite the affirmation, to Scott’s ears, she still sounded reluctant.
Knowing there wasn’t much else he could say to convince her, Scott simply nodded, then headed into Mrs. Farnham’s room to retrieve his saddlebags and reading material. When he eventually appeared in the doorway of his own double room, Juditha was in between the two beds, closing up the traveling case that rested atop the one nearest the door. Li Mei stood beside her, softly pleading with the older woman. Spying him, the girl reacted by shrinking behind Mrs. Farnham. It was the most emotion she’d displayed.
Scott placed his books on top of the dresser. In deference to his bruised hand, he’d draped his saddlebags over his shoulder; now he dropped them beside Mrs. Farnham’s valise, and faced her across the width of the narrow bed. He looked a question at Juditha.
“Li Mei is grateful for all you’ve done, but she is afraid that you now have . . . expectations, Mr. Lancer.”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d reassure her on that score . . . Mrs. Farnham.”
Juditha winced at the reciprocated formality. “I already have. And I do beg your pardon for my hesitation---it’s not my intention to offend, it’s simply that . . . we have just met. I don’t really know you.”
It occurred to Scott, fleetingly, that given some elements of his personal history, that might be a good thing.
“You don’t think that . . . she’s a child, Juditha.”
“Oh, she’s hardly that.”
Scott reached for Juditha’s case. “In any event, I’m responsible for her---at least until she’s safely on that train to San Francisco.”
Mrs. Farnham smiled a little at that, as she came around the foot of the bed. They had just stepped out into the hall when she turned to look up at Scott, with a new concern in her eyes. “You’re afraid she won’t go with me.”
He nodded. “From what you’ve just told me, there’s a chance she might decide to try to go back to her uncle herself— to protect us.”
“And if she wants to go back to him, for whatever reason, will you try to stop her?”
Juditha raised a brow. “Because you own her?”
“Because he sold her.”
With a nod, Juditha conceded the point. She turned and led the way down the hall to her room; Scott followed behind with her traveling case.
When he said good night, he reminded the missionary to lock her door.
“I will. Good night, Dear Cousin; I’ll see you in the morning.”
Scott was grateful that Juditha Farnham had refrained from adding any parting admonitions; he hoped that her reference to their imaginary kinship indicated that she did, after all, trust him.
It was up to him to keep an eye on the girl. He would have preferred to relocate her, but it was very late and it would have been difficult to ask the desk clerk for another room without explaining why. As it was, Scott had been happy to find Lambert snoring in his rocking chair when he and Li Mei had returned.
Once back in his own room, Scott made sure that door was locked as well.
Lin Li Mei sat on the edge of the farther bed, her feet in their embroidered slippers pressed together on the bare wooden floor, hands clasped in her lap. The girl was no longer attired in her bright silks, he realized; at some point earlier in the evening she must have changed into the more ordinary cotton jacket and pantaloons she now wore. Her wicker basket sat on the floor beside the bed and she regarded him without expression.
Unable to prevent a long sigh from escaping, Scott hung his hat on one of the pegs near the door. When he removed his jacket, he could hear the crumpling of the indenture paper in the inner pocket; he decided to leave the document there, along with his now nearly empty billfold. He hung his cropped jacket beside his hat and turned to face the girl.
“Li Mei, you should try to get some sleep.”
No reaction; she didn’t understand. Scott repeated the suggestion, along with a pantomime of sleep. Nothing.
“You’re safe here,” he murmured under his breath, “even if you don’t dare believe it.”
He was more than ready to lie down in his own bed. But he made the mistake of reaching for his saddlebags with his right hand.
It hurt. A dark bruise had already started to form where he’d been struck warding off the blow from Pan Lee’s cane. The injury had hampered even the simple task of removing his jacket. Scott had formed the habit of always carrying some basic medical supplies in one of his saddlebags, a roll or two of bandaging, needle and thread, a small knife, a flask of whiskey. Sitting on the bed, he rummaged around with his left hand and discovered a bottle of liniment as well; something Teresa had recommended for sore muscles when he’d first arrived at the ranch—he’d made liberal use of it back then, too. He had nothing for a bruised hand and swollen wrist, though the whiskey would have been tempting if the girl hadn’t been sitting there watching him.
Deciding that wrapping the wrist might keep some of the swelling down, Scott fished out a roll of white fabric, then sat down on the bed with his back to Li Mei. It was awkward trying to hold the narrow band of cloth in place; such was his concentration that he didn’t notice that Li Mei had moved until her dainty hands gently took the roll from him, unwinding the wrapping. He looked up at her, but the girl’s eyes were on the work.
Li Mei’s face was no longer coated with white powder and the golden tone of her skin was now revealed. There was something of a floral scent about her, appealing, though unfamiliar. Her hair shown in the lamplight, a glossy black reminiscent of a raven’s wing.
Scott hastily pushed aside the poetic image.
Setting aside the bandage, Li Mei produced a small jar of sweet smelling red ointment, which she liberally smoothed over Scott’s hand and wrist. She had a delicate touch. Once the application was complete, she sealed up the container and placed it in Scott’s left hand. He examined it curiously while Li Mei began to wrap the bandage around the injured area.
“It needs to be tighter.”
Scott regretted the words immediately, pressing his lips together as the pressure on his right hand increased. Li Mei paused, her regard one of unexpected sympathy. He recalled then what Mrs. Farnham had said, that Li Mei bore bruises of her own. Then it struck him.
“You understood what I said.”
Those exotic eyes dropped instantly as she released her hold on the bandage. Scott reached out with his good hand to gently lift her chin. Searching her face, he wondered whether there had been other times when she’d responded to instruction or betrayed a subtle reaction to what was being said. He thought that perhaps there had been, but gazing at her now, he couldn’t recall a single specific instance.
She closed her eyes and tried to nod. Scott quickly lowered his hand and Li Mei bowed her head. Scott studied the familiar pose and waited.
“Un-der-stand lit-tle bit English,” she whispered.
She didn’t say anything more, simply took up the roll of bandaging again, and continued winding it around his wrist. The silence was broken by the sound of tearing cloth, as Li Mei ripped the end of the strip in half, then tied it off.
The girl stood before him apprehensively, still holding what remained of the roll of fabric. “Lit-tle bit,” she murmured softly.
“Well, I only know one word in Chinese.”
Li Mei’s delicate features were clouded with confusion.
“One word,” Scott repeated, gesturing with his bandaged hand. “Doe—jer.”
She bobbed her head, with a ghost of a smile. “Doh je. Thank you, yes.”
He decided she’d be pretty if she smiled.
She was gone.
With a groan, Scott stared in disbelief at the empty bed, then quickly sat up.
The “lit-tle bit” of English which Li Mei understood was evidently far more than she could speak, though she had nodded and said “yes, yes” to his question about San Francisco—she’d called it “Dai Fou.” Before Scott extinguished the lamps for the night, they’d also agreed that Mrs. Farnham was a “very nice lay-dee.” Li Mei had curled up beneath the thin top blanket of her bed while Scott stretched out on top of his, both of them remaining fully dressed.
Now on his feet, Scott swiftly strapped his gun belt in place. It was the only thing he’d removed, though he’d kept the weapon beside him. It had taken too long to fall asleep, his thoughts spinning through the day’s events while he tried to listen for a stealthy step in the hallway over the sound of the girl’s soft breathing.
He was about to reach for his hat when he spied the piece of paper on the floor in front of the door.
The short note was from Mrs. Farnham, wishing him good morning, telling him that
Li Mei was awake and in her room. Scott dropped back down on the bed and sat for
a moment rubbing his face with his hands.
There was a bank in Modesto---- and the bank manager had heard of the Lancer ranch.
Even with those two pieces of good news, Scott hadn’t dared hope that his money troubles would be easily solved; however Mr. Osburn had not only suggested the new Western Union service of wiring funds, but, when Scott pointed out that the transaction was unlikely to be completed before the northbound train’s departure, had offered to draw up papers to advance a small loan.
Of course it probably hadn’t hurt when Scott had intimated that his father hoped to do a considerable amount of business in Modesto and would be likely to consider opening an account at the local bank. The fact that Scott had funds of his own was irrelevant since it was Murdoch Lancer that the bank manager had heard of; he certainly didn’t recognize the name “Scott Lancer” nor did “Mr. Harlan Garrett of Boston” seem to impress him. Osburn did, at least, recognize the quality of the engraved watch that Harlan Garrett had given his grandson, and although he protested that it was “wholly unnecessary” and “most irregular” the bank manager was nonetheless willing to hold the watch and advance Scott the money even before things were set in motion at the telegraph office.
Once the wire had been sent, Scott’s next destination was the stable, where he saddled Brunswick, collected the palominos and led them to the railroad stockyard. Leaving the animals in one of the smaller pens, Scott advanced, bank note in hand, to the railroad office.
The man behind the desk assured him that the boxcar they’d requested was ready and that it wasn’t too early to load the horses. But when Scott offered him the bank note, the man regarded it doubtfully.
“Well, we mostly deal in cash around here, Mr. Lancer. Gold coin too, not paper.”
“I’ll let my father know that. We have a ranch down near Morro Coyo and we’re planning to do quite a bit of business here in Modesto.”
“A spread down near Morro Coyo, you say?”
“Murdoch Lancer’s boy are ya? . . . well, if it ain’t a small world. I met your old man years ago, it was at a Fourth of July picnic. He won the sack race and made a point of shakin’ hands with all us losers. I always considered that real style . . .”
The mental picture of Murdoch Lancer jumping in a sack was difficult to shake; even if he elected not to reveal the details of his adventure in Modesto to his family, Scott knew that was one image he would undoubtedly share with his brother.
His tasks had taken so long that by the time Scott finally returned to the hotel, John McKay was taking leave of his sister. Scott checked on Li Mei. Over breakfast that morning the girl had confessed to Mrs. Farnham that she been less than truthful about the extent of her English comprehension. Juditha had willingly forgiven her and the two women still planned to leave on the afternoon train bound for San Francisco.
Informing Mrs. Farnham that he had additional business to conduct at both the telegraph office and the bank, Scott walked back to the railroad depot with John.
Once they were alone, McKay didn’t waste time. “I heard you had some excitement last night.”
“Yes. And I’m sorry for involving your sister----”
“Oh, I’m afraid there wouldn’t have been much either of us could have done to prevent it. She asked me to bid, you know.”
Scott nodded; he’d guessed as much.
“Of course, Juditha’s happy to find her first soul for the new mission,” John continued. “I’m glad you brought the girl back. Though it’s . . . well, frankly, I’m surprised that feeble old man came after her on his own.”
Scott lifted his bandaged hand. “Not that feeble.”
McKay smiled, but the amusement didn’t reach his eyes. “He had a knife, too, I understand.”
“Well, it’s a good sign, I suppose, that he came alone. Strange though, since he did sell her after all, and got a good price too.”
“It that really all she’s worth, $120?”
McKay nodded. “The women don’t usually charge very much for their services; it would take them quite some time to accumulate that amount.”
Scott accompanied John to the building being used as a “bunkhouse” for some of the railroad employees. While gathering up his things, McKay mentioned that he had retrieved Scott’s laundry along with his own, and left the package of clean clothes at the hotel. John offered to produce paper and ink so that Scott could write up a statement releasing Lin Li Mei from his service, suggesting that the note be given to the girl along with the Chinese indenture document. Scott was tempted to simply tear up the Chinese “bill of sale,” until John pointed out that the paper represented Li Mei’s ‘emancipation’ from her uncle.
“In that case, I’ll write my release right here, on the same piece of paper.”
There was a desk in the corner of the room, at the end of the row of beds. At the bottom of the page filled with indecipherable Chinese characters, Scott added a few lines and signed his name with a flourish, then asked McKay to sign and date it as well, as a witness.
As he waited for the ink to dry, Scott shook his head in dismay. “Slavery may have been abolished, but it seems some forms of servitude are alive and well.”
“The girl, Scott . . . she’s one of the fortunate ones---or she will be, once she gets to the mission. Much as I wish my sister wasn’t mixed up in this, I think you’re doing the right thing.”
It didn’t hurt to have John McKay’s vote of confidence; although he didn’t know the construction engineer very well, Scott thought he’d like to get to know the man better.
Scott accompanied his friend to the train. When they reached the passenger car, the two men shook hands.
“Have a safe trip, John, and good luck with that tunnel. And if you ever find yourself down near Morro Coyo, I have a father and a brother who’d enjoy meeting you.”
The Western Union wire came through, but completing his business at the bank—and retrieving his watch---took longer than Scott had anticipated and it was time to escort the women to the train depot for the westbound train.
Juditha was alone in her room when Scott finally returned to the hotel.
“She’s not here,” the missionary informed him, before he could ask.
Unable to disguise his disbelief, Scott dropped onto the nearest chair and waited for Mrs. Farnham to continue.
“We went out for some air, and when we returned, Li Mei found a slip of paper on the floor. The message was written in Chinese. She said that her uncle had commanded her to return to him and that it was her duty to obey.
“He forfeited his authority over her when he sold her.”
“Li Mei doesn’t see it that way. He is the head of her family, she cannot show him disrespect.”
“She didn’t speak to him in a respectful tone last night,” Scott objected.
“Then perhaps it is concern for my safety. Li Mei told me that Pan Lee is associated with the Hip Sings, one of the tongs. They are quite powerful in San Francisco.”
“So they might make trouble, at the mission?”
“Well, your brother was worried---”
“Scott, I’m not afraid. I pleaded with her to stay, to take the train with me to San Francisco. But short of physical restraint . . . there was nothing more I could do,” Juditha said sadly.
“But you are going after her?”
“I expected that you would.” Juditha sounded pleased. “That man has already hurt her, and who knows how many more times he may sell her or to whom-- she may not be so fortunate again.”
“I still have the indenture paper. Perhaps the Law . . .”
“You could ask the sheriff for help,” Juditha agreed doubtfully. “But he may hesitate to enforce an agreement that he cannot read.”
Scott had to admit that it wasn’t likely that the local lawman would be willing to get involved. And to tell the truth, he wasn’t exactly eager to press a case for ownership of another human being.
“And Scott,” Juditha added reluctantly, “there is a chance that Li Mei hasn’t returned to her uncle, but has gone off on her own.”
“What makes you think so?”
“I had some money tucked away, a donation for the mission. It’s missing.”
Scott dismally considered that with ten dollars, the girl could get pretty far away from Modesto. Meanwhile Juditha quickly made two copies of the mission address, one for Scott to keep and one to be passed along to Lin Li Mei. “I’m sorry that I can’t stay; I wish I could, but Charles is arriving soon, and if I’m not there---”
“He’ll worry. Let’s get you on that train.”
By the time that Scott had seen Juditha to the train station and bid farewell to his “cousin” it was mid-afternoon. Clearly, attempting to locate Li Mei on his own, without assistance from someone familiar with Chinese culture and language was going to be difficult, but he couldn’t simply leave Modesto without making some effort to track down the girl.
Scott decided to return to the restaurant to see what he might learn from Wu Chang. The streets of Chinatown were empty, which was a good sign; Scott considered it might be prudent to talk with the man alone. When he reached the eating house, he cautiously peered through the narrow window before approaching the door.
There, at the same table he had occupied with Juditha Farnham and John McKay, sat Wu Chang, and across from him, Pan Lee. There was quite a bit of money on the table. Seated between the two men, was Lin Li Mei.
Dividing the spoils, no doubt, perhaps arranging another “auction,” planning to use the poor girl again.
Not if he could help it. Scott drew his gun.
Gently testing the door, he found it to be latched. It only took one hard kick to slam it open.
Three stunned Oriental faces stared at him.
Wu Chang recovered first---smoothly sliding something into the front of his jacket, then standing and smiling. “Mister Lancer, welcome. I bring tea.”
“No, thank you, Wu Chang. I think you’d better sit back down.”
As he stepped closer, Scott surveyed the tabletop. One gold eagle winked up at him. The neat array of bank notes came to more than his $120 dollar bid, if he assessed things correctly. But it was the presence of fractional currency, and coins of various denominations—most of them small---that suggested that “auctions” were not their only source of income.
“You two are through making money off this girl.”
Lin Li Mei’s eyes met Scott’s.
“You are Fool. They work for me.”
WHERE WAS SCOTT --- during “THE HEART OF PONY ALICE”?
Li Mei turned to Wu Chang. “Go, bring tea. Go!”
When Wu Chang hesitated, she repeated the command. The man cautiously rose to his feet, offered Scott a perfunctory bow and hurried towards the kitchen.
It seemed unlikely Wu Chang would return; if he did, it would probably be with something other than a hospitable pot of tea.
“Your English seems to have improved.”
“Doh je,” Li Mei replied solemnly, slowly inclining her head.
With difficulty, Scott swallowed his anger, striving to keep his tone level. “You’re coming with me, Li Mei. Now, let’s go.”
Somehow the woman managed to overlay her inscrutable expression with a veneer of mild amusement. “No.”
“You forget, I still have this.” So that he could remove the sheet of paper from the left inside pocket of his jacket, Scott shifted his gun to his left hand. Although he didn’t intend to use it, he had good reason to be wary of Pan Lee.
When Scott held up the indenture document, Pan Lee erupted into cackling glee.
Li Mei merely smiled. “Says nothing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lao Pan ---- Old Pan----he make these marks. Means nothing. You think Lao Pan is wise man?”
Pan Lee gap-toothed smile widened. Scott had to acknowledge that the wizened old man hardly seemed the mastermind of the con. Like most of the population of Modesto’s Chinatown, he was more likely an illiterate peasant than a great scholar. And it was clear that he himself had been identified as a great fool—an easy mark.
The document was a fake.
At least it was unlikely that either of them could read the lines he himself had added, magnanimously granting Lin Li Mei her freedom. A poor consolation. Scott allowed the paper to fall to the floor, and transferred his gun back to his still bandaged right hand.
“What about him--- is he really your uncle?”
“Phffft. Lao Pan? He is nothing to me.”
“So you lied to us, to me and Mrs. Farnham.”
“So sorry. Mrs. Farnham is a ‘very nice lay-dee’,” was Li Mei’s mocking rejoinder.
Just then the door, which had bounced closed after Scott’s entrance, creaked open, and he quickly turned, pointing his gun towards the newcomer. The face peeking in was possibly that of the proprietor of the bathhouse and laundry; whoever it was beat a hasty retreat.
Scott turned towards Li Mei. “I guess he’ll be back later, for his share.”
“Business is very good.”
“Then you won’t object . . . if I take back my $120.”
“You had chance, last night, get money’s worth. Now you go.”
Last night . . . he’d believed her young, frightened . . . and innocent. He’d tried hard not to even consider . . . Scott shook off the thought.
“Now, I’m not leaving without that money. Half of it belongs to my father.”
A tiny derringer appeared in Li Mei’s hand. “I will shoot,” she assured him. Coolly regarding Scott’s own weapon, she added “You . . . will not.”
She was right, of course. In the face of her knowing smile, Scott holstered his weapon.
“Your father make mistake, give so much money to you.”
“I guess he did. And I made a bigger one, trusting you.”
Li Mei agreed. “Very big mistake.” Pan Lee cackled again.
“Mrs. Farnham believed you too, she trusted you. And she’d still be willing to help.”
“Good Christian lay-dee will pray for me.”
“Yes, she will.”
Li Mei watched with interest as Scott removed his billfold and withdrew a piece of paper. “She gave me this, her address in San Francisco. You can use it, to return what you stole from her.”
As Scott moved closer to the table, Li Mei’s expression grew more alert and she repositioned the tiny gun. Scott raised his hands and took one more step. When he released the slip of paper, it wafted to the table, landing between two small piles of coins.
“I’ll still go with you to San Francisco, make sure you get there safely. Think about it. You could . . . you could have a better life.”
“I will have very good life, be like Madam Ah Toy. Much money and freedom.”
Scott was taken aback. He’d been thinking of a home, a husband, children, when what Li Mei had in mind was operating a string of pleasure houses.
“Mrs. Farnham told me about . . . the bruises. Do you call that freedom?”
Li Mei pressed her lips together, but those exotic eyes blazed with anger.
“Who gave them to you? One of your customers? Or is there someone else, someone you owe money to?”
“You know nothing!” Li Mei rose to her feet, leveling the derringer. “Now you go!”
Scott removed his hat, and dropped it on the table. “No, not until you think about it. Then if you tell me this is what you really want, well, then I’ll leave.” Scott kicked out the nearest chair and sat down facing Li Mei and her tiny gun.
Li Mei addressed a sharp command to Pan Lee.
The elderly man looked puzzled, then shrugged his shoulders and began chanting.
“Yat. Yi. Sam. Sei . . .”
Scott’s eyes flicked to Li Mei’s serene smile, then back to Pan Lee.
“Mm. Look. Chat. Baat.”
“What’s he saying?”
“Count to ten. Give me time to ‘think.’”
“Gau,” said Pan Lee. Then, with finality, “Sap.”
“Finished,” Li Mei announced. “Now you go.”
With a sigh, Scott reached for his hat. He studied it for a moment, then deliberately set it back down on the table. Despite the cruel pleasure she seemed to be taking in his discomfiture, Li Mei was a young woman in a strange land, far from her home and family. Surely her performance had been too convincing to be entirely an act. She was being used—by someone. He was certain of it.
“No. Not until you really think about it.”
Scott turned to Pan Lee. “Keep counting.”
Despite the glimmer of amusement in the old man’s eyes, Scott felt gratified when, after a brief hesitation, Pan Lee obeyed.
“Sap yat. Sap yi . . .”
Scott folded his arms across his chest and studied Li Mei.
The girl lifted her chin and coolly met his gaze, before lowering herself with dignity to her seat. The small handgun, she placed on the table beside her. Then Li Mei resumed sorting the money, ignoring both Pan Lee’s counting and Scott’s continued presence.
When Wu Chang came out from the kitchen carrying a tray and tea things, Li Mei ignored him too. The eating house owner set the tray down close to Scott. He didn’t speak. No one spoke, except for Pan Lee.
“Sei sap. Sei sap yat. Sei sap yi . . .”
It was getting darker---the sun was setting. Wu Chang lit the lamps, then stood uncertainly for a moment, before slipping away once more.
Scott wasn’t interested in the tea, though he was curious about Li Mei’s gun. It was a fine weapon, the right size for a woman to carry in her purse for protection. It wasn’t a single shot, but a Remington double derringer with a polished wooden handle. The gun looked new, and he wondered if it had ever been fired.
There was also a small tin box on the table near Pan Lee. Li Mei opened it and proceeded to put the greenbacks and notes inside. The larger denomination bills were layered on the bottom, the smaller ones she placed on top.
“Look sap chat . . . look sap baat . . . .”
Her tiny hands seemed considerably less dainty as they collected the stacks of coins, storing them in a dark fabric bag.
“Baat sap . . . Baat sap yat . . .”
The tea was growing cold. Pan Lee was flagging, his cadence noticeably slower. Li Mei added the bag of coins to the box and closed it. All that remained in the center of the table was the slip of paper with the address written in Mrs. Farnham’s hand.
Li Mei sat staring at him, her face once more “inscrutable.”
“Gau sap . . . “ Pan Lee was reviving, his pace quickened.
“Gau sap baat. Gau sap gau. Baak.”
“One hundred,” Li Mei translated.
Scott allowed himself to cock a questioning brow.
“I think . . . we will not go to Dai Fou together, Scott Lan-cer.”
“Christian lay-dee want to save my soul.”
“Not just your soul. And she cares what happens to you. So do I.”
“Care about soul---or body?” she asked archly. “I can come see you -----tonight.”
Scott studied his hands. Last night----well, last night he might possibly have been tempted. Now he considered it, briefly, only as another opportunity to try to persuade her. During the ‘auction’ he’d been sitting right here, in this same chair; even knowing it had all been a pretense, it was still difficult to forget that mute appeal.
“Without freedom,” Scott said slowly, “it’s easy to lose your soul.” He looked up, tried to see past the coldness in her eyes. “That kind of life isn’t freedom, no matter what you think.”
Li Mei stood. “You leave. Now.”
“Or you’ll shoot me?”
“I will scream. Very loud. Many Chinamen come, some Hip Sings. Very bad for you.”
Pan Lee’s eyes were darting back and forth between them, but when he caught Scott looking at him, the elderly man nodded vigorously.
Scott slowly got to his feet, then reached for his hat. He gestured at the small piece of paper still lying on the table. “You should keep Mrs. Farnham’s address; maybe someday you’ll use it. And . . . mine is on the back.”
Li Mei made no move to pick up the slip. She didn’t even glance at it. Scott’s own eyes dropped to the sham indenture document lying forgotten on the floor at his feet. The counterfeit Chinese characters suddenly took on a new meaning.
“Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit,” he murmured.
“What are these words?”
“Latin. You may not comprehend their meaning, but you seem to understand the principle. Take advantage of those who trust.”
After placing his hat squarely on his head, Scott studied her for another long moment. There was no indication that any of his words had reached her. Still, he meant it, when he told her “Good luck.”
There was no reason to remain in Modesto.
Scott was up early the next morning, packing his saddlebags. Now all that was left was to try to wedge in the two books he’d purchased from Mr. Hanson at the mercantile. The slender volume of local history slid easily into the right bag; The Innocents Abroad would be a tighter fit.
He snorted softly as he considered the title. Scott certainly didn’t consider himself naïve or innocent, far from it; however, recalling that the book was based upon an assemblage of newspaper columns, he could only grimly imagine how the journalist might have treated the subject of “A Bostonian in Modesto.” However, Scott had read enough of Twain’s work to know that despite the title, the overall tone was . . . cynical. Like his brother Johnny, who “didn’t give anyone too much credit” and surely would never have been taken in so badly.
Scott slung the over-stuffed saddlebags across one shoulder, put on his hat, picked up his jacket and gloves and headed downstairs to pay the bill.
“We’ll hope to see you again, the next time you’re in town, Mr. Lancer.”
Scott didn’t recognize the man behind the desk, and wondered if he might be the manager, Mr. Clark. Not that he was curious enough to care; right now all he wanted was to get the hell out of Modesto.
He was just reaching for the door when the hotel man’s voice stopped him. “Oh, excuse me, Mr. Lancer, I almost forgot, the night clerk, Lambert, said that someone left this package for you.”
The small brown paper package was tied tightly with a silken cord, strong enough that he’d need a knife to cut it. Scott had a suspicion, based upon its size and shape, so decided to wait until he reached the livery before getting out his knife.
Inside he found a ten dollar gold piece and at least sixty dollars in bills, a mixture of greenbacks and national bank notes. A gold chain was wrapped around the paper currency. And attached to the chain was a simple gold cross.
Scott took his time getting back to the ranch. He slept better on the trail than he had in Modesto.
It was mid afternoon when he arrived. Surprised at being able to reach the stable without attracting any attention, Scott set about unsaddling Brunswick. He planned to take his time tending to the horse and to his tack, knowing his family would fill him in on everything that had happened in his absence when they gathered for supper. He was still undecided as to how much to share of his adventure in Modesto. Scott was so lost in thought that he never heard the girl until he looked up and saw her peering over the top of the stall, a freckled face framed with straight blond hair.
“So I guess you’re Johnny’s brother,” the little stranger said in a challenging tone.
Scott glanced quickly down at the hay-strewn floor, then back up again at those solemn eyes, and fought hard to keep the grin from his face.
“I don’t keep that a secret,” he managed in a serious tone.
“Well, I guess you look smarter ‘n him—though that ain’t saying much.”
It was impossible to hold back a smile at that assessment, so Scott didn’t try. Draping one arm across Brunswick’s back, he gestured with the dandy brush he held in his other hand.
“It seems you know my brother rather well.”
“I’d say I do.”
“And now who would you be?”
“Pony Alice is what people call me,” she announced. “Last name’s Guthrie.”
Scott swept his hat from his head. “Well, I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Guthrie.”
Scott continued grooming Brunswick, under Miss Guthrie’s close supervision. In response to a few careful questions, Pony Alice told Scott just enough about her Uncle Wilf and someone named Miss Florida for him to begin to guess at the basics of her story, whereupon he deftly shifted the conversation back to the ‘proper’ method of grooming horses. Before supper, Teresa was able to provide him with a few more details, including the fact that the two adults in young Alice’s life were in San Francisco consulting with doctors. Scott was not really all that surprised to learn that it had been his cynical ---yet soft-hearted--- brother who had taken the girl under his wing and brought her to Lancer.
From the looks of him, Johnny had had a long day, wearily stopping in the alcove to remove his gun belt and taking only time to murmur a mild “’Bout time you got home, Boston” by way of greeting before heading off to clean up for supper.
Wondering what tasks in the endless round of ranch work awaited him the next day, Scott wandered over to the liquor table and poured himself a drink. He filled a generous glass for his brother as well, but ended up handing it off to Murdoch instead, when his father came in soon after Johnny. Murdoch offered a warm greeting, then asked if the palominos had gotten off okay.
Assured that they had, Murdoch seemed about to depart, drink in hand, without noticing the two books on his desk.
“I ah . . . I brought you some reading material.”
Scott had finished both of his Modesto Mercantile purchases on the return trip; since Murdoch was also a voracious reader, he would no doubt be pleased to see the new volumes. Now Murdoch stopped and returned to his desk to investigate. “Not another birthday present?” he asked with a smile.
“Well, I’ve already read them; that makes them used. Besides, your birthday was last month . . .”
Murdoch raised his glass of scotch whiskey. “And you got me this case of Glencadam.”
Pony Alice came in with Jelly when it was time for supper. Since the girl claimed the seat opposite Johnny, Scott gestured Jelly to his own usual place across from Teresa. He positioned himself at the foot of the table facing Murdoch, so that he was between his brother and his interesting young friend.
It was clear that the entire family was very fond of the blond haired child. It was also apparent from her frequent references to him, that little Alice missed her uncle very much. In response to Scott’s questions about her home in Witness Tree, she talked at length about her Uncle Wilf’s business, trading horses.
“That reminds me, Johnny, how was that auction that you stayed to attend?”
“Oh, I’ll tell you all about that later, Brother,” Johnny drawled softly.
It wasn’t until after Juanita had served coffee and dessert that Scott thought to ask another question, one that had occurred to him when Pony Alice had first introduced herself.
“So tell me, Miss Guthrie, are you related to anyone in Morro Coyo?”
The question caused hands and utensils to freeze in midair-----everyone’s except for Pony Alice, who simply shrugged her little shoulders and scooped up another spoonful of bread pudding.
Concerned that he had inadvertently opened the door to some Guthrie family skeleton, Scott looked to his brother for some explanation, and was relieved to see Johnny grinning as he shook his head in appreciation.
“Well, that’s a very good question, Scott,” Murdoch intoned from the head of the table. “Apparently one that none of us thought of.”
“We’ve all been calling her ‘Pony’ or ‘Alice’, that’s probably why. Do you think they could be, related, I mean?” Teresa asked eagerly; she seemed delighted by the possibility.
“How about it, Pony?” Johnny asked. “You ever hear of havin’ a relative that’s a lady blacksmith?”
“There ain’t no such thing, Johnny. Quit teasin’ me!”
Breaking his uncharacteristic silence, Jelly roused to his good friend’s defense. “Waal, yer wrong there, Gus Guthrie’s as fine a smith as you’d ever need and t’ain’t anyone kin say she isn’t a lady ta boot. Why, I’d sure hate ta hear anyone say otherwise,’cause I’d hafta---- ”
“She’s quite a lady, Miss Guthrie,” Scott agreed quickly. “Now Jelly, what exactly is her given name? Is it Augusta?”
The company waited expectantly for Jelly to reveal Gus’ true identity, all except for Pony Alice, who scraped the last bit of pudding from her bowl. Finally the girl looked sideways at Jelly. “Well, what is it then?”
Jelly huffed. “You just never mind, it’ll come to me. Just can’t put my finger on it right now, that’s all.”
“I’m sure it will come to you, Jelly. Her brother’s name was Joseph,” Murdoch offered.
“Waal, everyone knows that.”
“He was working a mine not far from here, called ‘the Lorelei’,” Murdoch continued, with an annoyed glance at Jelly. “There was a cave-in . . . I’m afraid Joe didn’t make it.”
Murdoch’s words sent several concerned glances in Alice’s direction. Scott returned to his previous subject. “Perhaps Gus signed her real name on the back of that photograph, Jelly.”
“The one she gave you for Christmas,” Johnny added helpfully.
“As if I didn’t know which picture you’re talkin’ about. Don’t need ta go diggin’ that up. All it takes is fer you two ta hold your tongues for ten seconds so’s I kin think about it.”
“Is that all you need, Jelly, ten seconds?” Johnny demanded.
Scott slid a glance at Johnny and wondered . . .
“One . . . two . . . three . . .” the brothers began counting, in unison.
When they reached “ten” Jelly still had no answer. Pushing up to his feet, Jelly waggled his head a bit, but by calling upon all of his dignity was able to refrain from speaking as he turned and stomped towards the door. It was only when he was about to exit the hacienda that the words “smart alecks” were heard, foiling the brothers’ valiant effort to contain their laughter.
As the sound of the slamming door reverberated, Murdoch shook his head, and Teresa frowned, but it was Pony Alice who spoke up.
“Well, you two sure are stupid enough to shoot yourselves in the rumps!”
“Well, I think she’s right, Murdoch.”
With a stern look at the two abashed looking young men, Teresa tossed her napkin on the table, then got up and walked around to Pony Alice. She took the girl by the hand and the two of them followed Jelly to his quarters.
When Jelly strutted back into the Great Room, he waited for Scott and Johnny to each offer up an apology, which he then ignored in order to announce to Murdoch that Gus Guthrie’s given name was “Anna----jist like I thought.”
Alice was unaware of having any female relatives by that name. None of them thought there was any resemblance at all between the two Miss Guthries, but Scott pointed out that a family resemblance—or the lack of one---didn’t necessarily prove anything. And Johnny allowed that although blood wasn’t everything, it did count, so it was worth asking the question.
The next day Jelly and Teresa drove Pony Alice into town to call upon the blacksmith. As it turned out, Dan Guthrie, Wilf’s father and Alice’s grandfather, was another one of Gus Guthrie’s brothers, one that she’d had little contact with over the years, though she’d known he’d passed on. Miss Guthrie had last seen her brother’s children when they were young boys. While saddened to learn that one nephew was dead and the other dying, Gus resolutely wiped away her tears and proudly showed Alice around her workshop, even bending a few horseshoes to demonstrate to the skeptical child that she was, indeed, a lady blacksmith.
Wilf Guthrie was pleased to be reunited with his maiden aunt. Gus subsequently made several trips to Witness Tree and made it clear that she intended to stay in contact with her great-niece. After Wilf died peacefully in his sleep, Alice continued to make her home with Miss Florida, but from time to time she would come to visit her Great-Aunt Anna as well as her friends at Lancer.
In order to enclose a letter detailing his final encounter with Lin Li Mei, Scott had waited until his return to the ranch before posting Juditha Farnham’s necklace and ten dollar gold piece to San Francisco. Eventually, he received a reply from Mrs. Farnham thanking him for sending the money and her treasured gold cross and chain, along with his own generous donation to the mission. Sadly, her letter also revealed that she had received news that her brother John had been killed in a tragic railroad accident.
On his next visit to San Francisco, Scott made a point of calling upon the mission in order to personally express his condolences to Mrs. Farnham. Juditha introduced Scott to her husband, the Reverend Charles Farnham, and the couple insisted that he join them for tea. Scott readily agreed, and for a time they made small talk, speaking in general terms about the city and the missionaries’ efforts.
“I received a visitor, a short time ago,” Juditha finally confided. “A man who worked on one of the railroad crews. He said he had a message from someone who knew John, a Chinese elder named Han Fei, and that Han Fei . . . Han Fei wanted me to know . . . ”
When his wife faltered, Charles Farnham took up the tale, reaching over to clasp his wife’s hand as he did so. “It was a short message, and our emissary had obviously committed it to memory; he said: ‘Han Fei wishes Mr. McKay’s sister to know he was a most honorable man.’”
Juditha nodded. Charles released her hand so that she could dab at her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Was he able to tell you anything more about what happened?” Scott asked.
“No. We did try to contact this Han Fei, but unfortunately he’s passed away,” Charles explained sadly. “No one even seems to be able to tell us exactly where John is buried.”
“Han Fei’s messenger did tell us that prayers were recited over the grave by a Shaolin priest.” Juditha smiled apologetically at her husband. “Although Charles finds it strange, somehow I take great comfort in that.”
They talked a bit about the time they’d spent together in Modesto and Scott asked whether Mrs. Farnham had ever heard from Li Mei.
“Yes, we did hear from her,” Juditha replied, her expression brightening as she excused herself and exited the room. As he resumed his seat, the Reverend Farnham grimly informed Scott that Madam Lin Li Mei had acquired something of a reputation and was now operating her own pleasure house in Marysville, north of Sacramento.
Scott was therefore taken by surprise when Mrs. Farnham returned. Li Mei followed her into the room, dressed in simple western attire, a plain dark dress like the one Juditha herself wore. Then, on second glance, Scott could see that he was mistaken. Although there was a strong resemblance, the newcomer was in fact even younger than the Oriental woman he had, briefly, known.
Juditha Farnham smiled as she performed the introductions. “Scott Lancer, may I present Lin Fung-mei. Fung-mei, this is Mr. Lancer. She came here to Gold Mountain to join her sister, but Li Mei has sent her to us.”
“Have much heard about Lancer Gōng,” Fung-mei said shyly. “I am most honored to meet you.”
Gōng (lord): Today, this respectful honorific is mainly applied to deceased male relatives. In imperial times, it was a title of nobility equivalent to duke. Whenever it is used, it always follows the surname of the person being referred to (e.g. Chiang Kai-shek is posthumously known in Taiwan as the Lord Chiang, Jiǎng gōng).
For basic Cantonese phrases, including numbers:
An interesting article entitled “The Duke’s Derringer” can be found on the Cobra Pistols website
According to the website linked below, Marysville, California had a large Chinese population and the city’s Chinatown at times ranked second only to that of San Francisco.
The annual Bok Kai festival is still held in Marysville to celebrate the Chinese New Year; the historic Bok Kai Temple there is the only shrine in the United States that honors the Chinese Water God.