Chapter 13




PERCIVAL PROCRASTINATES


The little park that stretched between the bund and the water-front way deserted save for a few isolated couples who had strolled out from the hotel to cool off after the heat of the ball-room. Percival and Bobby found a vine-clad summer-house where they could watch the tall ships riding at anchor in the bay, their riding-lights swaying amid the more stationary stars. Closer to the water were the bobbing lights of the sleeping junks, while behind them twinkled the myriad lights of that vast native city the hem of whose garment they were merely touching.

The setting was all that Percival's fastidious taste could desire, but now that he had "the time and the place and the loved one all together," he found an epicure's delight in lingering over his rapture. This hour had a flavor, a bouquet, that no other hour would ever contain, and he preferred to sip it deliriously moment by moment. He coaxed her to talk at length about himself, to put into her own words the impressions he had made upon her mentally, morally, and physically. He never tired of beholding in the mirror of her mind the very images he had placed before it.

"You are a perfect little wizard!" he exclaimed in ecstasy. "You read me like a book. Quite sure you aren't cold!"

"No," said Bobby; "but I'm getting awfully sleepy."

His pride took instant alarm. After all, it was not the hour to press his suit. He rose, and tenderly drew the shining folds of her wrap about her.

"I shall take you in. Can't allow you to lose your roses, you know. To-morrow I must take better care of you."

Bobby gave a sleepy little laugh.

"What is it!" he asked.

"I was just thinking how mad we are making the captain. He wouldn't speak to me all through dinner."

"I shall have a word to say to the captain to-morrow that will quite change his attitude."

"What sort of a word?"

"Can't you guess?"

Before Bobby could answer, their attention was arrested by angry shouts in the street behind them. A drunken sailor, evidently from an English gunboat, was in fierce altercation with his jinrikisha-man, and was announcing to the world, in language compounded of all the oaths in his vocabulary, that he wished to be condemned to Hades if any more pumpkin-headed, pig-tailed Chinks got another bob out of his pocket.

Percival was for hurrying his precious charge past the belligerents and into the hotel, but Bobby insisted upon seeing the end of it.

"That sailor is fixing to get into trouble," she cried. "He doesn't know what he is doing or saying."

"I dare say he'll manage very well," said Percival, urging her on.

"But he isn't managing, He's making the coolie furious. Don't let him hit at him like that! See, he's caught hold of his queue!"

The patient Chinaman had received the supreme insult, and in a second he had flashed a short knife from his belt, and was lunging at the stupid, upturned face of the half-recumbent sailor.

Percival sprang forward and seized the descending arm. He was not quick enough to arrest the force of the blow, but he succeeded in deflecting its course, and the blade, which would have given the sailor a decent burial at sea, sharply grazed Percival's wrist, and buried itself in the side of the jinrikisha.

It was all so quickly done that by the time a crowd collected and the big Sikh policeman arrived in his yellow clothes and huge striped turban Percival had got Bobby safely into the hotel lobby. He was exasperated beyond measure that this very evening, of all, should have ended in his participation in a vulgar street brawl. So far he had succeeded in keeping Bobby from knowing that he was wounded, but the beastly scratch was bleeding furiously, and he had to keep his hand behind, him to prevent her from seeing it.

They hurried through the empty lobby and down the long corridor that led to the elevator. Bobby was full of excitement over the recent adventure and the part Percival had played in it.

"My, but you were quick!" she said as they went up on the elevator. "I had just time to shut my eyes and open them again, and it was all over."

"Nothing to speak of," said Percival, twisting his handkerchief tighter around his throbbing wrist.

"But you don't mind my being proud of you, do you?" asked Bobby as the elevator stopped at his floor. "When I see a man show courage like that, I just feel as if--as if I'd like to squeeze him."

Percival's left hand shot out and caught hers to his lips.

"Why, Mr. Hascombe!" she cried "What's the matter with your arm? No, I mean the other one."

"A mere scratch."

"But your sleeve's cut, and the handkerchief is all blood-stained. Why didn't you tell me you were hurt?"

"I assure you it is nothing. Quite all right in the morning. Breakfast with you at nine. Happy dreams!"

Bobby was not to be so easily put off. She insisted upon following him out of the elevator and inspecting the wound,

"Why, it's dreadful!" she cried. "And it must have been bleeding like this for five minutes! Quick! Where's your room?"

"But really, my dear girl, I can't allow this. You must get back into the lift straight away and go up to your room."

"I sha'n't do anything of the sort until you get Judson or a doctor or somebody."

Percival would have carried his point but for a certain dizziness that had come over him. He put out a hand to steady himself.

"Give me your key!" he heard Bobby saying, and the next instant his door was flung open, the lights were switched on, and he was staggering blindly toward the couch at the foot of the bed. Then there was a furious ringing of bells, a long wait, followed by the appearance of a sleepy Chinese night watchman.

"Gentleman hurt!" cried Bobby. "Get a doctor! Send somebody up here quick! Do you understand?"

"Me savvy," said the Chinaman, calmly. "Doctor no belong Astor Hotel. All same belong Oliental Hotel."

"I don't care where he belongs," Bobby cried impatiently. "Get him over the telephone. And send somebody up from the office, do you understand?"

"Oh, yes, me savvy," he said, with the imperturbability of his race.

Percival heard the man's footsteps dying in the distance, and he made a mighty effort to rouse himself.

"Silly of me to behave like this. Quite all right now, thanks. You must run away before any one comes."

"Why?" demanded Bobby.

"Looks rather queer your being here like this at midnight, you know. Wouldn't compromise you for the world."

Bobby was standing at his dressing-table searching for something, and she wheeled upon him indignantly.

"This is no time to be thinking about looks. You lie down and stop talking. Hold your arm up straight, like that. Keep it that way until I come."

He did as she told him, grasping his right wrist in his left hand; but the bright-red blood continued to spurt through his fingers, showing no signs of abating.

"If I could only find a string!" cried Bobby, tossing the contents of his bag this way and that. "Here's the strap on your toilet-case; perhaps it'll do."

She knelt beside the couch, and, ripping his sleeve to the elbow, hastily wrapped the leather thong twice about his forearm and slipped the strap into the buckle.

"I've got to hurt you," she said resolutely, pulling with nervous strength.

"It's most awfully good of you," murmured Percival, wearily, setting his teeth and closing his eyes. Despite the pain, the drowsiness was getting the better of him. He felt himself sinking through space, away from the world, from himself, and, worst of all, from the tender, reassuring voice that kept whispering words of comfort in his ear.

From time to time he was aware of bellboys coming and going, and of apparently futile inquiries for Judson, for the doctor, for Mrs. Weston, for the captain. Then for a long time he was aware of nothing whatever.

A sudden sharp pain in his arm roused him, and he opened his eyes. Bobby still knelt on the floor beside him, unflinchingly holding the strap in place.

"I won't have this!" he cried, struggling to sit up. "Your lips are trembling. It's making you ill."

She laid her free hand on his shoulder.

"Please lie still! They'll be here in a minute. I thought I heard the elevator. It won't be much longer."

There was the sound of hurrying feet in the hall, and the next instant a quick rap at the door. Bobby looked up with great relief as a burly English physician bustled into the room.

"How long have you had the tourniquet on, Madam?" he asked, stripping off his gloves and falling to work.

"The what?" said Bobby.

"The strap on his arm?"

"Oh, since a quarter past twelve." She got up from her knees stiffly, and shook out the shining folds of the Manchu coat. "It was the only thing I could think of; it's what the boys do back home for a rattlesnake bite."

The doctor's glance expressed complete and unqualified approval, but whether it was for her course of action or her very lovely and disturbed appearance it would be hard to say. As she slipped out of the room he turned to Percival.

"It's a severed artery, sir; no special harm done except the loss of blood. A few days' rest--"

"But I am sailing in the morning," murmured Percival. "Must patch me up by that time."

"We shall see. You don't seem to realize that you stood an excellent chance of remaining permanently in Shanghai."

"You mean?"

"I mean that you owe your life to that plucky little wife of yours."

Percival's heart leaped at the word. "She's not my wife, Doctor," he said, smiling feebly, "not yet."




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