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The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 18748

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

One day I was by the docks, where some people were busy and some were like me, loafing or looking for a berth; and I came on a neat-looking, three-masted ship, named the Good Sister, which appeared to me a kindly name. She was being overhauled by the carpenters. I asked one of them, "Where's the captain?"

"She ain't got any," he says. "It's the owners are doing it."

"Maybe you'll remark," I says, "who they happen to be."

"Shan and Sadler of Saleratus," he says.

"I believe you're a liar," I says, surprised at the name.

"Which there's a little tallow-faced runt in perspective," he says, climbing down the stays, "that I can lick," he says, being misled by my size. And when that was over, I started for Saleratus.

It was a town to the south, down near the coast. That's not its name now, because it's reformed and doesn't like to remember the days before it was regenerated. At that time some of it was Mexican, and more of it was Chinese, and some of it wasn't connected with anything but perdition.

Shan and Sadler did a mixed mercantile business, and they seemed to be prosperous people, but I take it Fu Shan mainly carried on the business, and Sadler was the reason why the firm's property was respected and let alone by the Caucasians. There is a big Chinese company in Singapore, called "Shan Brothers," whose name is well known on bills of lading, and Fu Shan was connected with them. But a man wouldn't have thought to find Sadler a partner in banking, mercantile, and shipping business, with a Chinaman. He'd been the wildest of us all in the Hebe Maitland days, and always acted youthful for his years. There were two things in him that never could get to keep the peace with each other, his conscience and his sporting instinct. Yet he was a capable man, and forceful, and I judge he could do 'most anything he set his hand to.

He and Fu Shan lived just outside the town of Saleratus in two ornamented and expensive houses, side by side, on a hill that was bare and mostly sand banks, and that hung over the creek which ran past the town into the bay. Sadler lived alone with Irish, but Fu Shan was domestic. He was a pleasant Oriental with a mild, squeaking voice, and had more porcelain jars than you would think a body would need, and fat yellow cheeks, and a queue down to his knees. He wore cream-coloured silk, and was a picture of calmness and culture. Irish hadn't changed, but Sadler was looking older and more melancholy, though I judged that some of the lines on his face, that simulated care, came from the kind of life folks led in Saleratus to avoid monotony. We spoke of Craney among others, but Sadler knew no more of Craney than I did. Likely he was still in Corazon.

We were sitting one evening on Sadler's porch, that looked over the creek, waiting for supper. Fu Shan was there, and Sadler said Saleratus was monotonous. Yet there were going on in Saleratus to my knowledge at that moment the following entertainments: three-card monte at the Blue Light Saloon; a cockfight at Pasquarillo's; two alien sheriffs in town looking for horse thieves, and had one corralled on the roof of the courthouse; finally some other fellows were trying to drown a Chinaman in the creek and getting into all kinds of awkwardness on account of there being no water in the creek to speak of, and other Chinamen throwing stones. But Sadler said it was monotonous.

"I don't get no satisfaction out of it."

Over the top of the town you could catch the sunset on the sea, and the smoke of the chimneys rose up between. There were red roses all over the pillars and eaves of the porch. Seemed to me it was a good enough place. Fu Shan smoked scented and sugared tobacco in a porcelain pipe with an ivory stem. The fellows down by the creek ran away, feeling pretty good and cracking their revolvers in the air, and the Chinamen got bunched about their injured countryman.

"Have no water in cleek," says Fu Shan, aristocratic and peaceful. "Dlied up."

"Dried up. Played out," says Sadler, not understanding him. "Fu Shan's a dry-rotted Asiatic. Doesn't anything make any difference to him. Got any nerves? Not one. Got any seethin' emotions? Not a seeth. He's a wornout race in the numbness of decrepitude."

Fu Shan chuckled.

"But me, I'm different," says Sadler, "The uselessness of things bothers me. Look at 'em. I been in Saleratus five years, partner with Fu Shan. Sometimes I had a good time. Where is it now? You laugh, or you sigh. Same amount of wind, nothing left either way.

What's the use?

You chew tobacco and spit out the juice.

What's the use?

If there's anybody with a destiny that's got any assets at all, and he wants to swap even, bring him along. Look at this town! Is it any sort of a town? No honesty, for there ain't a man in it that can shuffle a pack without stackin' it. No ability, for there ain't more'n one or two can stack it real well. No seriousness, for they start in to drown a Chinaman in a dry creek, and they cut away as happy as if they'd succeeded. I sits up here on my porch, and I says, 'What is it but a dream? Fu Shan,' I says, 'this here life's a shadow!' Then that forsaken, conceited, blank heathen, he says one of his ancestors discovered the same three thousand years ago. But, he says, another ancestor, pretty near as distinguished, he discovered that, if you put enough curry on your rice, it gives things an appearance of reality. Which, says he, they discovered the uselessness of things in Asia so long ago they've forgot when, and then they discovered the uselessness of the discovery. They discovered gunpowder, he says, long before we did, but they use it for fireworks in the interests of irony. They've forgotten more'n we ever knew, says he, the stuck-up little cast-eyed pig. Go on! I'm disgusted. Haven't I put on curry till it give me a furred mouth and dyspepsia of the soul? What's the use?"

Fu Shan chuckled again.

"What's the use?" says Sadler. "Things happen, but they don't mean anything by it. You hustle around the circle. You might as well have sat down on the circumference. Maybe the trouble is with me, maybe it's Saleratus. One of us is played out!"

Fu Shan took the ivory pipestem from his mouth, and spoke placid and squeaking. "My got blother have joss house by Langoon. Velly good joss house, velly good ploperty. Tlee hundred Buddha joss and gleen dlagons. My ancestors make him. Gleen dlagon joss house. Velly good."

"My! You'd think he's an idjit to hear him," says Sadler, and looked at Fu Shan, admiring. "But he ain't, not really."

Fu Shan chuckled a third time.

He took no more stock in the happiness of his countrymen than Sadler did in the morals of his. They seemed to be a profitable combination, but I didn't make out to understand Sadler, though I went as far as to see that he had a variegated way of putting it.

Then I told him I wanted a first mate's berth on the Good Sister, supposing he was willing, either on account of old times or because he might happen to be convinced I was good enough for it. I told him the experiences I'd had. What had happened to the Helen Mar I told him, and about the Mituas business, and the loss of the Anaconda, and even about Kreps and Liebchen.

"My! My! Tommy," he says, after the last. "That's a lyric poem," he says, referring to Kreps and Liebchen.

But he said nothing then about the Good Sister, and I decided to hang around till he did, and one day he brought me a bundle of papers.

"Here's your papers, Tommy," he says.

"Which?" I says.

"Captain's articles for Tommy Buckingham. Sign 'em," he says, "and don't be monotonous," and I was that scared I signed my name so it looked like a rail fence. I contracted to be master of the ship Good Sister, the same to go to Hong-Kong Manila, Singapore, and return.

"You go up to 'Frisco and 'list the crew," he says. "I'm coming myself by-and-by to look 'em over."

It was my first ship, and long ago, but the pride of it sticks out of me yet.

I went back to 'Frisco and hired Stevey Todd for cook, and I recollect taking for ship's carpenter the man that called me a "tallow little runt," which he got misled, there, and he went by the name of "Mitchigan." I took Kamelillo too, who wanted to go to sea again, but Kreps stayed where he was.

On the day the Good Sister sailed, Sadler came aboard with a valise in his hand, and after him, carrying a valise, was Irish, and after Irish was an old Burmese servant of Fu Shan's that I used to see sweeping the porch, whose name was Maya Dala.

"I'm going along," says Sadler, and Irish says, "Soime here." But neither of them said what for, and I thought maybe Sadler was thinking he'd see me safe through the first trip, or maybe it occurred to him to go and take a look at Asia. How should I know?

We went through the Golden Gate that afternoon, and we sat that night in the cabin, while Maya Dala and Irish cleared the table. The oil lamp swung overhead with the lift and fall of the ship, and Sadler spread himself six feet and more on the cabin lounge, and unloaded his mind.

"You remember what Fu Shan said of his brother's joss house?" he says. "It's this way. Why, Fu Shan had a father once, named Lo Tsin Shan, and he was a sort of mandarin family in China. He went to Singapore and started in the tea business. H

e had a large hard head. He went into a lot of different enterprises, and cut a considerable swath. He died and left ten or twelve sons, who scattered to look after his enterprises. That's how Fu Shan came to Saleratus six years ago. Fu Shan was always some stuck on his own intellect, and at that time he thought he could play cards, but he couldn't. I cleared him out of two hundred and fifty one night, and we went into partnership, but that's neither here nor there. Now, Lo Tsin Shan appears to have been a little fishy as to his feelings, but he had brains. Fu Shan's opinion is reverential, and he don't admit the fish. Lo Tsin had an agency at Calcutta, and Burmah lies on the way, but it wasn't commercial in those days. Now, in Burmah there's a navigable river that runs the length of the country, and all along it are cities full of temples, some of 'em deserted, and some of 'em lively. One of the best is at Rangoon on a hill, and it's called the Shway Dagohn Pagoda. There's a lot of relics in it, and smaller temples around, and strings of pilgrims coming from as far as Ceylon and China. Remarkable holy place. Old Lo Tsin, he drops down there one day and looks around. His fishy feelin's got interested, and he says to himself, 'Guess I'll come into this.' He went sailin' up the river till he found a king somewhere, who appeared to own the whole country. This one's pastime was miscellaneous murder, but his taste for tea was cultured and accurate. Then Lo Tsin got down on the floor and kowtowed to this king for an hour and a half, the way it comes natural if you have the right kind of clothes. Then he bought a temple of him. It stands at the foot of the south stairway of the Shway Dagohn. Fu Shan ain't sure what the old man's idea was, whether it was pure business or not. Anyway he worked up the reputation of the temple, till there was none in the place to equal it, except the Shway Dagohn, which he didn't pretend to compete with. He advertised it on his tea. 'Shan Brothers' have a brand still called 'Green Dragon Pagoda Tea.' There wasn't no real doubt but the income of the temple was large, and yet it didn't appear at Lo Tsin's death that he'd ever drawn anything out of it. The whole thing was gold-leafed from top to bottom, and full of bronze and lacquer statues, and two green dragons at the gate, and ministerin' angels know what besides. Maybe Fu Shan's information ain't complete on that point, but this was a fact, that Lo Tsin, by the will he made, instead of going back to his ancestral cemetery in China, he had himself carried up from Singapore and buried in that same temple; and there he is under the stone floor in the temple of the Green Dragon, but that's not to the point. Now, when they came to split up his enterprises among his sons, one of 'em took the temple for a living. His name was Lum Shan. But Fu Shan says, Lum would rather come over to America and go into business in Saleratus. Lum Shan don't like his temple, but I don't know why. Well, then, I says, 'Speak up, Fu Shan. Don't be bashful, Asia. If you've got a medicine for the hopeless, let it come, Asia. What's five thousand years got to say to a man with an absolute constitution, a stomach voracious and untroubled, who looks around him and sees no utility anywhere? Ebb and flow, work and eat, born and dead, rain and shine, things swashin' around, a heave this way and then that. You write a figure on the board and wipe it out. What's the use? Speak up, Asia, but don't recommend no more curry.' 'Hi! Hi!' says Fu Shan, the little yeller idjit! 'My got blother have joss house by Langoon. All light. He tlade. You go lun joss house by Langoon. Vely good ploperty.' That's what he said. Why not? That's the way I looked at it."

He paused and blew smoke. Maya Dala and Irish were gone. I asked, "Are you learning Burmese off Maya Dala?" and he nodded.

"Now," I says, "what I don't see is this temple business. Where was the profit? Don't temples belong to the priests?"

"Seems not always," he says. "They're a kind of monks, anyway. It's where old Lo Tsin Shan was original to begin with and mysterious afterward. Suppose a Siamese prince brings a pound of gold leaf to gild things with, and some Ceylon pilgrims leave a few dozen little bronze images with a ruby in each eye. They've 'acquired merit,' so they say. It goes to their credit on some celestial record. Their next existence will be the better to that extent anyway, now. Suppose the temple's gilded all over, and lumber rooms packed to the roof with bronze images already. Do they care what becomes of these things? Don't seem to. Why should they? They're credited on one ledger. You credit the same to the business on another. Economic, ain't it? That was the old man's perception, to begin with. But afterwards,-maybe his joss house got to be a hobby with him. Oh, I don't know! Nor I don't care. Fu Shan says it's good property. What he says is generally so. Profits! I don't care about profits. What good would they do me? I'm going to run that temple if it ain't too monotonous."

That was the limit of Sadler's knowledge of this thing. Maya Dala remembered the Shway Dagohn, but as to the other pagodas and monasteries,-there were many-he didn't know-he thought they belonged to the monks, or to the caretakers, or to no one at all, or maybe the government. What became of the offerings? He thought they were kept in the pagodas. Sometimes they were sold? It might be so. He thought it made no difference, for it was taught in the monastery schools, that the "Giver acquires merit only by his action and the spirit of his giving, wherefore are the merits of the poor and rich equal." Why should they care what became of their gifts? From Maya Dala's talk one seemed to catch a glimpse of the idea, which occurred to old Lo Tsin Shan, that fishy Oriental, one day forty years before, and sent him up the river to interview King Tharawady on his gold-lacquer and mosaic throne. Yet he had let the profits lie there, if there were any, maybe thinking all along of the handsome tomb he was putting up for himself, when his time came. You couldn't guess all his Mongolian thoughts, nor those of his son, Fu Shan, of whom Sadler asked medicine for a dyspeptic soul. Fu Shan said, "Go lun joss house by Langoon." Sadler didn't seem to care about the business part of it either, though it looked interesting. He only wanted the medicine.

Days and nights we talked it over, and got no further than that, and drew nearer the East. The East is a muddy sea with no bottom, and it swallows a man like a fog bank swallows a ship.

Sadler made some verses that he called his "Prayer;"-"Sadler's prayer," and he told me them one wet day, when a half gale was blowing, and he sat smoking with his feet hitched over the rail. He appeared to be trying to get a bead on infinity across the point of his shoe. It ran this way, beginning, "Lord God that o'erulest":

"Lord God that o'er-rulest

The waters, and coolest

The face of the foolish

With the touch of thy death,

I, Sadler, a Yankee,

Lean, leathery, lanky,

Red-livered and cranky,

And weary of breath,

"That hain't no theology

But a sort of doxology,

Here's my apology,

Maker of me,

Here where I'm sittin',

Smooth as a kitten,

Smokin' and spittin'

Into the sea.

"The storm winds come sweepin',

Come widowed and weepin',

Come rippin' and reapin',

The wheat of the loam,

And some says, it's sport, boys,

It's timbrels and hautboys,

And some is the sort, boys,

That's sorry he come.

"Lord God of the motions

Of lumberin' oceans,

There's some of your notions

Is handsome and free,

But what in the brewin'

And sizzlin,' and stewin'

Did you think you was doin'

The time you done me?

"Evil and good

Did ye squirt in my blood?

I stand where I stood

When my runnin' began;

And the start and the goal

Were the same in my soul,

And the damnable whole

Was entitled a man.

"Lord God that o'er-gazest

The waste and wet places,

The faint foolish faces

Turned upward to Thee,

Though Thy sight goeth far

O'er our rabble and war

Yet remember we are

The drift of Thy sea."

Sadler left the Good Sister at Singapore, and disappeared.

He dropped out of sight. Afterward his name went from the letter heads of "Sadler and Shan." They read, "Shan Brothers, Saleratus, Cal. Fu Shan-Lum Shan."

He was a singular man was Sadler. He held the opinion that this life was an idea that occurred to somebody, who was tired of it and would like to get it off his mind. I took him for one that had got too much conscience, or too much restlessness, one of the two, and between them they gave him dyspepsia of the soul. Sometimes that dyspepsia took him bad, and when he had one of those spells he'd light out into poetry scandalous. Some folks are built that way, some not. J. R. Craney, for instance, he was a romantic man, and gifted according to his own line, and had airy notions ahead of him that he pretty near caught up to; but as to metres, he couldn't tell metres from cord-wood. Yet the first time I saw him again, after leaving him at Corazon, he heaved some at me, but he didn't know it was poetry. It was some years later. I sailed the Good Sister quite a time, and did pretty well by her.

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