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HIS CODE OF HONOR

By Ralph D. Paine

Illustrations by F. C. Yohn


HIS father was governor of a northern Chinese province remote from the sea, a rugged land of red hills and dusty plains extending to the Great Wall. Nobody knew how many million people were under his sway. They were a swarthy, big-framed stock, unlike the docile yellow coolies of the south, and their temper was turbulent. The empire in revolution, the overthrow of a dynasty, the establishment of a republic, and the amazing inrush of modern ideas had made no such commotion here as elsewhere. The spirit of the old China was still dominant. The governor ruled with wisdom, nor spared the iron hand of severity to maintain the semblance of law and order. What was more rare, he possessed integrity.

The apple of his eye was his only son, young Sung Wu Chen, and it was for a momentous interview that he had summoned him to the audience-room after a crowd of lesser officials had departed with elaborate ceremonial and the rustle of silken robes. The governor was a spare man, a little bent over. Obeying the edict, he had cut off his queue,, and the hair that showed beneath the mandarin's cap was turning white. His thin face was wrinkled and tired, a face singularly intelligent and stamped with the caste of his aristocratic breeding and ancestry.

The son showed the same fine strain, not moulded from the common clay. Of smaller stature than his father, his manner had a kindred dignity and ease. It was significant that he wore European clothing, a serge suit smartly cut, while the governor was august in the flowing garments of his rank, whose pattern had been unchanged for centuries, a fan hanging from his jewelled girdle. The lad, Sung Wu Chen, bowed with courtly respect, and the father leaned forward in the chair of carved teak-wood to clasp his hand. They talked together in the dialect of their language that is peculiar to the scholar and the gentleman.

"I have given much thought to your affairs," said the governor, his expression a shade wistful. He aptly quoted from the Shing Yu, or Sacred Commands, for he was profoundly learned in the classics: "'Pay just regard to paternal and filial duties, in order to give due importance to the relations of life.'"

Sung Wu Chen smiled, and, not to be outdone, replied with a maxim of Confucius: " 'Knowledge produces pleasure clear as water.' "

"It is well said," gravely spoke the governor, "but the old knowledge is passing and the world is turned upside down. What the Western mind calls the awakening of China is a process painful, disturbed, darkly uncertain. We are trying to run before we have learned to walk, my son. I myself am unable to acquire this new civilization with clear understanding. The brittle stalk of dry millet breaks before a rush of wind, but the young willow-shoot bends and readily adapts itself."

The speaker filled the tiny bowl of his long-stemmed pipe with a pinch of tobacco and thoughtfully inhaled. His emotions were poignant but he concealed them behind a philosophic calmness of aspect. His son was stirred to enthusiasm. It kindled his sensitive features and his gestures were ardent as he replied, speaking rapidly:

"And I am the willow-shoot, most honorable sir? There are many of us, and it is important that we should be trained aright. Four thousand years of Chinese culture and tradition and precedent have been tossed to the rubbish heap. Only the foundations remain. I desire to learn how to build according to the methods and the sagacity of the West."

"Then you should not learn at second-hand," declared the elder man. "It is best for you to go from among your own people. he ways of the foreigner are already familiar to you. Ah, it is not long since we called them barbarians. The American tutor employed for your benefit has taught you many things. You speak and write the uncouth language with an ease that astonishes me. This tutor gained his wisdom in a great university of his own land, the name of which is Yale. At Changsha, as you know, other graduates of this seat of learning have established a college called Yale in China."

"A friend of mine is a student at Changsha," eagerly explained Sung Wu Chen. "It is wonderfully excellent, but at best a rivulet from the fountain and source in America. It is there, indeed, that I would go, with your most gracious approbation, to what my tutor calls 'the mother of men, old Yale.' "

"It is so decreed," said the governor, stifling a sigh. "I have arrived at this conclusion. Your departure will be arranged at the proper time."

The season of the year was summer, torrid by day and dry with desert winds. Doors and latticed windows were opened, and from the room in which they sat the spacious courtyard was visible. It was populous and noisy with house servants, yamen runners or messengers, interpreters, and ragged petitioners airing grievances, while a few infantrymen in khaki, of the new army, lounged on guard duty. In the street beyond, as seen through the gilded gateway, eddied a torrent of humanity, of carts and camels and donkeys, all jostling, intermixed in stifling dust. Mongol and Manchu and Chinese, they fought and sweated for bare existence in an overcrowded land. The reek of them and their filthy streets was blown into the courtyard. The son of the governor gazed out through the gateway and his elation was sobered. He beheld a problem almost beyond solving, a task to stagger the imagination. Earnestly he spoke, after long thought:

"What can be done with this China of ours? Do those yonder know or care? Machinery, railroads, steamboats? They will bring starvation to millions who now toil with their backs and legs and hands. It is for me to try to grasp the economics, the history, the government of this Western civilization which we must adapt to our own peculiar needs or perish as a nation. With profound gratitude, oh, my worshipful parent, I go to Yale in America to make myself worthy of you and my revered ancestors."

They bowed low to each other, and the governor went to confer with his secretaries. His son fled from the audience-chamber, shedding his dignity as he ran, and burst into another building of the compound. A clean-built young man in white linen sat with his feet cocked up on a desk, and he was reading a New York paper two months old. He raised his eyes from the sporting page, regarded Sung Wu Chen with quizzical interest, and drawled in English:

"Something doing? I have an intuition that my job is about to slip from under me."

His pupil slapped him on the back and replied in the same tongue:

"Bully for us, Mr. Gray. He will send me to Yale. It is all your influence. I am under ten thousand obligations. But I think you may keep a job if you wish as a foreign adviser to my father. He esteems you very much, indeed."

"I wasn't thinking of myself," said Harvey Gray, who had been persuaded to quit the consular service for this more lucrative connection. "Outward bound for old New Haven, are you, Sung? Great luck. Just tell them that you saw me. Drop out to the field when the grads come back to coach the eleven and say you know an old pal of theirs. I have enjoyed these two years with you. I hoped all the time the governor could come to see it my way. And so he has surrendered."

"You bet, Mr. Gray. Can I enter the sophomore class, do you think? And am I too small to play football?"

"Without hurling posies at myself, Sung, you can break into the second year. That mind of yours runs on ball-bearings. As for football, I'm afraid you lack the heft, although you are there with the punch."

Sung Wu Chen looked disappointed, but he resolved to be as fine a pattern of a Yale man as Mr. Gray, nevertheless. They spent the rest of the day together, and the exiled American fought down the hungry homesickness that would not be denied. News travels fast in a swarming Chinese household, and that evening there came to Sung Wu Chen a burly, battered retainer with a scar on his chin. On the breast of his blue blouse was stitched a device to indicate that he belonged to the retinue of the governor, and he wore it with swaggering pride. His early history was clouded, but it was rumored that he had been a bandit condemned to execution. In gratitude for pardon, he had attached himself to Sung Wu Chen when the boy was a little shaver, and had served as a body-guard, an attendant, a servant of matchless fidelity. When his young master walked in the city this Li Hwan followed unobserved. At night he lay on a straw mat not far from his master's door. A truculent ruffian, his brawls with the police were notorious, and Sung Wu Chen had found him more or less of a nuisance. On this night he was subdued and downcast as he said hoarsely, in one of the Shansi dialects:

"I have beaten the chief cook and kicked two stable-boys for the lies they told me. Of course it is not true that you go to the cursed land of the Yankee foreign devils, there to live for many years."

"It is the truth, Li Hwan, and you must behave yourself hereafter, for I shall not be present to save you from jail. I go to become a great scholar."

"Too many books afflict one with sickness of the brain," grunted the other.

"Very well. I will get my things together and send my wives to the home of my mother for safe-keeping. When do we sail across the huge oceans in the smoke-boat?"

"I cannot take you with me," firmly answered his lord. "It is out of the question. Even if I would, there is a law in America that forbids such as you to set foot in the land. Only scholars and officials bearing papers from the Chinese Government at Peking are admitted."

"I shall go," was the stout response. "Money shuts the eyes of the law. I have three hundred taels. If more is needed I will sell my youngest wife. She is beautiful and will fetch a good price."

"Nonsense, Li," scolded Sung with a frown. "No more of this. My illustrious father will provide for you in my absence. I shall return in three years. Be careful, meanwhile, that the sharp sword of the executioner does not separate your worthless head from your shoulders."

Li Hwan doggedly shook his head, grumbling to himself. It was inconceivable that the son of the governor should venture into an unknown world alone without his guardian shadow. Before morning the retainer was drunk on sam shui and had flung a venerable watchman into the canal. Promptly thereafter he vanished from the governor's compound and was seen no more before the departure of Sung Wu Chen. The latter ordered a search, but it was futile, and in the excitement of preparation there was little time to remember the troublesome, devoted Li Hwan. It was assumed that some vengeful coolie whom he had maltreated took occasion quietly to slip a knife into him.

A journey half around the world and Sung Wu Chen became a sophomore at Yale. Inwardly bewildered, he displayed a perfect poise and seemed older, more mature than the others of his class. Well dressed, with an abundant allowance, his manners were those of the gentleman born, and it was soon discovered that his intellect was extraordinarily keen. It was worth noting that he was recognized for what he was by those of his own kind, the leaders of the campus, who were likewise sure of their own position. The men who affected a dislike or contempt for him as a "Chink" were of a coarser grain and less nicely schooled in refinement.

Jerry Altemus, the polished, easy-going young cynic, admired Sung Wu Chen at first acquaintance, which soon grew into a congenial friendship. Here was a real philosopher, declared Jerry, who knew Confucius from soup to nuts and appreciated the art of conversation. Sung confided his ambition to be a Yale athlete, at which Jerry commented with a weary shrug:

"That Harvey Gray person who tutored you was an evil influence. This college runs so largely to muscle that it is both refreshing and valuable to have a brilliant scholar in our midst. Forget this delusion."

"But I intend to be a first-class Yale man," amiably persisted Sung.

"Then go and try for the 'varsity crew," scoffed Jerry. "They are shy a Number Four to tip the scales at a hundred and ninety."

"Is it not as great an honor to steer the boat, to be coxswain, in the race against Harvard?"

"Surely, but young Watterson has held the tiller ropes for two years," replied Jerry with scorn, "and he is rated as some coxswain.

Perhaps I can make myself a better one. It is said in the Analects that 'worthy endeavor is not to be despised, even though one's failure may cause laughter throughout the village.' "

"Go to it, oh, package of assorted maxims," grinned Jerry. "Now tell me something interesting. Finish that yarn of the rebel army that your dad chased into the mountains and slew to a man. How the deuce you can find anything exciting in college athletics——"

"I shall report at the gymnasium to-morrow as a candidate for coxswain," was the irritating response of Sung Wu Chen. "Yes, Jerry, I shall proceed to go to it."

During the autumn term a dozen crews were practising on the harbor, and the 'varsity squad was in the formative stage. One of the coaches was kind enough to put Sung into the stern of a class shell which was training for a series of scratch races. It was soon demonstrated that here was an apt student of rowing. He picked up the theory of it as readily as he attacked mathematics, and his eye was quick to detect faults in the serried blades and the swinging bodies ranged in front of him. What counted even more in his favor was a fact which Jerry Altemus had overlooked. The young Chinese was accustomed to command, to speak with the voice of authority, to bend other men to his will. He was the son of his father, who ruled as an autocrat over millions of human souls. It was impossible that the lad should not have brought with him something of this atmosphere. He never swore or blustered as did the other coxswains, but when he gave an order he expected it to be obeyed, and it was.

The men in his boat respected his ability and were too manly to resent him because his eyes slanted and his skin was of a different hue from theirs. In the 'varsity shell, however, as tentatively selected from the veterans of previous years, there was a sentiment less friendly. It was stirred up by Watterson, the coxswain, a waspish little chap, who foresaw that his place might be endangered. Jealousy of Sung Wu Chen became bitter dislike, which was shared by the Number Six, a hulking, over-muscled giant named Dollibare. His temper was sulky, and the more the coaches hammered at him to mend his clumsy ways the less he liked rowing. He was tremendously powerful, however, and worth working over.

Watterson and Dollibare roomed together, for which reason they discussed their grievances more than was good for them. The coxswain spoke of Sung Wu Chen with contempt, and declared that things were rotten at Yale when a cocky little Chinaman was recognized as an equal and permitted to steer an eight. Dollibare, a big bully at heart, was for throwing the offender off the boat-house landing-stage and otherwise hazing him. They did nothing but talk, however, and cold weather and a frozen river soon put an end to rowing activities until the spring season.

Sung Wu Chen turned his attention to other forms of campus rivalry and won a place on the university debating team, besides climbing to the head of his class in the rating for scholarship honors. This was a source of tremendous pride and satisfaction to the lonely, austere governor of a remote Chinese province. He doubled the salary of Harvey Gray, his foreign adviser, as a reward for his share in his son's success, and, in phrases stately and ornate, conveyed the news to the Chinese minister in Washington, who was a kinsman of his. The minister invited Sung Wu Chen to spend a week-end with him and gave a dinner in his honor. At Sung's suggestion, Jerry Altemus and Bob Sedgwick, the 'varsity guard, were among the guests, and they met diplomatic notables of such high distinction that it made them quite dizzy.

"And the little rooster puts on no airs whatever," said Jerry to Bob as they discussed the affair. "He has a sound philosophy of life. Nothing like it. Stick around him and you may acquire the rudiments of a genuine education."

"You said something then," was the careless reply. "And, what cuts more ice, I will bet you a box of cigars that he crowds Watterson out of the 'varsity shell and steers in the next Harvard race."

"I am ashamed of you again," severely returned Mr. Altemus. "Do you ever think of anything but athletics? Your development ceases at the neck. And you are base enough to bet on a sure thing."

Sedgwick was a shrewd prophet. During the winter the head coach of the crew met Sung in a social way and discovered that he took rowing seriously as a science, studying to master it as a problem in applied mechanics. This was a novelty, for coxswains were apt to be flighty young rascals. When the oarsmen were once more upon the water, in the blustering days of March, Sung was promoted to the third 'varsity shell. The spray froze on his cheek, but his black eyes danced with happiness and he envied not the pomp and power of his illustrious sire.

One afternoon, when the crews had been kept out late and twilight was falling, as he trotted up to the campus, muffled in sweaters. Sung descried a group of undergraduates in front of his dormitory entrance. There seemed to be some centre of attraction, and presently he perceived a singular figure seated upon the stone steps. It was clad in Chinese garments, the long blue coat, the baggy crimson breeches, the white cloth shoes, and the round black cap. These looked bizarre on the Yale campus, and Sung surmised that the man might be a messenger from the Chinese legation. As he drew near, however, and made his way through the curious group, his amazement was beyond words. In the failing light identification was difficult, but he thought he knew this man, and yet he refused to credit his eyesight. The singular apparition had sat crouching, with his hands tucked in his flowing sleeves, stolidly patient, but now he leaped to his feet and emitted a torrent of guttural sounds as harsh as the grinding of a coffee-mill.

Sung Wu Chen doubted no longer. The rude accents of the Shansi dialect smote his ears with welcome familiarity. His own voice broke with excitement as he hurled one question after another. The bystanders cheered, having no idea of what it was all about but delighted with the original performance. The chattering stranger was prostrating himself at the feet of Sung Wu Chen, almost fawning upon him like a dog that had found a long-lost master. He was a burly man of middle age, and during his two-hour vigil upon the stone steps the idling spectators had been wary of chaffing him, for his aspect was truculent and challenging.

Presently Sung Wu Chen uttered a peremptory command and the other meekly followed him into the hall and up the staircase. Once in his rooms, Sung locked the door against curious intrusion, and his retainer, Li Hwan, stood like one awaiting punishment. His master motioned him to a chair, but he tucked up his garments and seated himself upon the floor. The episode was absolutely incredible. It could have been no more so if this battered ruffian had come sailing down from the moon.

Evidently the heaven-born offspring of the glorified ruler of Shansi intended not to summon an American executioner at once, for his deified countenance was not black with wrath, wherefore the weary pilgrim from Cathay picked up heart, permitted a grin to bisect his unlovely features, and plucked a box of cigarettes from his sleeve. Sung Wu Chen renewed his wondering interrogations, and he was answered in a rambling sing-song delivered in a matter-of-fact manner, as though nothing extraordinary had been done.

"It was necessary," said Li Hwan. "Who was there to serve and protect you in this devil-begotten land of barbarians? I walked from Shansi to the sea. A thousand miles? A million? I know not. It was a long way, a journey of months. At Tientsin there was a smoke-boat. It carried me to Shanghai. There I found another smoke-boat, huge, monstrous, and filled with the population of many villages. After that the world was nothing but water, most uneasy water, and dreadful sickness took hold of me by the stomach and tormented my liver, and I died more deaths than could be counted. After that was a fire-wagon on a road of steel, crossing swiftly over mountains and great plains like those of Shansi, and cities whose buildings touched the sky."

"But all this explains nothing," broke in Sung Wu Chen. "The rattle of pebbles in an earthen pot! You couldn't speak English. You could never find New Haven alone. And, in the first place, the laws of this government forbade you to come. How did you trick the inspectors, the police, the magistrates? It is unheard of."

"I am here," was the irrefutable argument. "Perhaps at some time, when I was a bad man, there were favors done a certain high official in Peking. He may have had an enemy whose presence vexed him. Who can tell? In gratitude certain writings, sealed and properly prepared, may have been granted me."

"Proclaiming you as a scholar entitled to travel and study in this country?" demanded Sung. "You are a gifted liar. You paid gold to other Chinese to smuggle you in, as you once smuggled salt across our own province. If you have not the documents to show this government will find you and send you back, with heavy penalty."

The unterrified Li Hwan tapped his blouse but refused to show what was hidden therein. There was, indeed, a crackle of paper, and Sung felt inclined to believe that the wily rogue had some sort of credentials. He refused to incriminate himself further, explaining, however, that the unsuspecting Harvey Gray had written down for him the address of New Haven and Yale College. This Li Hwan had employed a compradore's clerk at Tientsin to copy upon a piece of stout parchment which he had sewn to the lining of his blouse.

"And this was read by the men of the fire-wagons," commented Sung, "and they forwarded you from one place to another as bales are carried across the desert on camels. Have you any money left?"

"Only the value of a few strings of cash, even though I sold my youngest wife for a very fine price. I want nothing but a mat to sleep on and rice and dried fish to eat."

His master gazed at him in comical perplexity. There was to be no getting rid of him. As a pretended scholar sojourning in the United States, he vastly appealed to Sung's sense of humor. This masquerade was out of the question at Yale. He would explain the situation to the dean and ask permission to retain Li Hwan as a personal servant who should take care of his rooms, finding him lodgings among the Chinese laundrymen of New Haven.

The dean made an exception to the rules concerning valets and the like, but this by no means solved the problem. Li Hwan scornfully refused to consort with the pallid coolies from Canton, who spoke not his dialect and were despicable in the sight of a strong man from the north. He wriggled through a basement window of the dormitory and slept there a week until evicted by the janitor. At his wits' end, Sung leased a tiny bit of ground near the boat-house and erected a portable cottage of two rooms in which Li Hwan consented to live alone. He fished from the bridge when at leisure and watched the crews with absorbed interest. Never did Sung walk between the campus and the boat-house but Li Hwan flitted a block or two behind in his felt-soled shoes, vigilant, devoted, and ready to lay down his life.

When the eights began to round into form and there were almost daily races of a mile or so for practise, this exotic follower could be seen scampering along the shore, his skirts flying, or perched at the end of a wharf. And when the crew of which Sung Wu Chen was coxswain swung into the lead, or nipped another eight in a driving spurt at the finish, there came over the water a shrill and prolonged "Hi-yi-yi-yi-yi."

In May Sung was given a trial in the 'varsity boat and the wrathful Watterson glowered from the landing-stage. The Chinese rival had been getting on his nerves. His temper was erratic and his steering faulty. He damned the men incessantly and they were tired of him, excepting Dollibare at Number Six. He was pulling in better form and seemed sure of the position, but the coaches doubted his courage in a tight pinch.

At the training-table, where there should have existed a comradeship close-knit and genial, these two were a jarring element. Dollibare swore he would never sit at the same table with Sung Wu Chen.

The sulky Number Six submitted, however, when the coach concluded to drop Watterson from the squad and to replace him with the abler Chinese. The latter was icily courteous, and Dollibare was conscious of an inward reluctance to force the issue. His enmity found no allies among the crew, and he contented himself with nasty little flings, studied insults clumsily masked. In the eyes of Sung he was a boor of peasant stock who knew no better. American democracy was a fine ideal, but he discerned the caste marks of birth and breeding as unmistakably as among his own people.

This oarsmanship was more or less inscrutable to that devoted slave Li Hwan. He accepted it because his master chose to amuse himself in this peculiar fashion, but he could not comprehend why these young men did not hire coolies to perform the labor in their stead. He was loitering at the boat-house, scowling over this mystery, when Jerry Altemus and a chum came down to watch the crew go out.

They attempted amiable conversation with him, and taught him the Yale cheer, and, to return the kindness, he fished a set of Chinese jack-stones from his raiment and found them apt pupils. Jerry could never overlook a chance to bet, and Li Hwan was a born gambler. The pastime became animated, therefore, with a clink of nickels and dimes.

Dollibare sprawled in the sun, stripped to the waist, the muscles knotted on his sunburned back and shoulders. Sung Wu Chen came down the runway to the landing-stage, moving at a trot, for the coach had called him to take two substitutes out in the pair-oared working-boat. With a laugh Dollibare flung out a hairy leg and neatly tripped the coxswain, who fell headlong and slid across the planking, his hands filled with splinters.

He was on his feet like a cat, saying not a word but wheeling to rush at the sneering Number Six, who overtopped him by a foot. Dollibare lazily reached out, not troubling himself to rise, caught Sung by one arm, pulled him down, and slapped his face. Before the others could intervene Li Hwan had dropped the jack-stones, hurdled clean over Jerry Altemus, and his crimson breeches seemed to be striding the air as he alighted squarely on top of young Mr. Dollibare. The latter turned white, uttered one quavering yell, and then his windpipe was constricted by two corded brown hands whose grip was death.


P709--Scribner's Magazine, Jun 1916--His code of honor.jpg

One quavering yell, and his windpipe was constricted by two corded brown hands whose grip was death.


They were pried apart before his neck was broken. Sung bade his defender begone and violently cuffed his ears. Li Hwan grinned and vanished without a sound. Dollibare was unable to row for three days and the marks on his neck were as blue as India ink. His demeanor was chastened and he started suddenly at unaccustomed noises. He ignored Sung, who was at pains to wish him a pleasant good morning. It was the verdict of the campus, as voiced by Jerry Altemus, that Li Hwan should have been allowed to finish the job. Dollibare was not a popular man.

The crew went to New London early in June, and Sung sported the white flannels of a 'varsity oar with the embroidered blue letters on the pocket of the coat. The imperial decorations bestowed upon his father could not compare with this insignia. Li Hwan was in a tent behind the freshman quarters, and he bought him a flat-bottomed skiff and a pair of field-glasses, armed with which he followed after the crew and scanned the daily work with oracular gravity and abysmal ignorance.

Two days before the race with Harvard the coach took Sung over the four-mile course in a launch for final instruction in the marks, the current, the tide, and the channel. There was more eel-grass on the western side than usual, and it was important, if Yale should chance to draw this course, that the first two miles should be steered with cunning care, for the race was to be rowed down-stream.

"A cross wind will tend to set you over," cautioned the coach, "and if you once go wide of the flag and into the shoal water the drag of the grass will hold the boat back as sure as guns. At a mile and a half you swing out into the channel and then it is clear sailing. But, for heaven's sake, watch your boat and your marks over this stretch! It may mean winning or losing the race."

The coxswain nodded. He was the calmer of the two. He had been stealing out at daylight, in Li Hwan's skiff, to drift along the edge of the eel-grass at every stage of tide. Harvard and Yale appeared to be so evenly matched that neither could afford to sacrifice a single foot of distance in the contest. Even Sung felt the strain and suspense, and on the last night at the Gales Ferry quarters he went to find Li Hwan. He wished to get away from the restless, absent-minded oarsmen, the forced gayety, the heavy silences. There was homely comfort in chatting with Li Hwan of their own adventures amid the red hills of Shansi, of hunting the leopard, and of cruises in high-pooped junks on turbid yellow rivers where the rocks snatched the bottom out before you could wink.

"What is your opinion of the Yale crew?" suddenly demanded Sung with a twinkle. "How many taels have you bet that we win the great combat with oars? "

"Fools and lunatics are these deluded young men, excepting your enlightened self," emphatically answered Li Hwan. "It is proper that you sit in the narrow boat and give them the commands. They are your servants. A bet? Yes, I have wagered my last tael with the cook of Harvard, who is a black man from Africa. It was in my mind to offer him money to put poison in the food of those boat-row madmen, but fear of your disfavor restrained me."

"I would have tossed you in the river to drown," Sung told him. "You believe Yale is strong and ready?"

"There is one man of these eight servants of yours who is not to my liking," the other gravely imparted. "I have known this pattern of man in our own Shansi. There was one in my youth, a village bully of huge size and strength and threatening words. The headmen and elders feared him. He had many followers of his own clan. They robbed strangers and looted shopkeepers of their wares. Alone I caught this terrible fellow and beat him until he wept for mercy like a woman. His heart was soft and rotten within his breast, like a melon too long in the sun."

"You speak of the one called Dollibare?" said Sung. "I feel contempt for him, but in the race he will pull with tremendous effort."

Li Hwan grunted dubiously and changed the subject. It was presumptuous of him to air his judgment in matters of which he knew nothing. Presently the captain of the crew shouted a summons and the coxswain went to join his comrades for a walk before bedtime. The place was early astir next morning, and all eyes sought the river whose surface lay unruffled beneath a cloudless sky. There was every promise of perfect conditions for the race. The oarsmen, who had dreaded postponement more than anything else, became cheerful, their nerves taut and ready now that the crisis was at hand. At length the whistle of the referee's launch sounded the fateful call, and the Yale shell moved at a leisurely pace toward the starting-point.

A small breeze began to ripple the water, at first in catspaws, then with a steady draft, and it blew athwart the course. Sung Wu Chen was anxious as he felt it increase, but he appeared unperturbed as he deftly manœuvred the shell into position on the eel-grass side of the course. The Harvard crew came tardily and there was a trying delay at the stake-boats. Along the wooded shore hard by trailed the observation-train, a riot of tumult and color, and the lower stretch of river was a wonderful panorama of pleasure craft.

The racking suspense of these final moments, the presence of this great multitude of spectators, seemed to affect the Number Six of the Yale boat in a singular manner. Beneath the tan his complexion had a grayish cast and his lips were bloodless. The coxswain had to speak to him several times before he paid heed. He resembled a victim of stage-fright. Only Sung Wu Chen, who sat facing him, was aware that Dollibare was in a state of funk. He appeared to master it, however, when the referee told the crews to get ready. An instant later the two shells shot away to a faultless start, and the eight men of Yale were rowing as one, with no apparent flaw at Number Six.

At the half-mile flag Harvard had dropped a length behind and was unmistakably the slower, less powerful crew. To those who could speak as experts it looked like a procession led by Yale. Sung Wu Chen, swaying in the stern, tensely clutching the tiller-ropes, yelled for a spurt, and his rudder drew farther ahead of Harvard's prow. A little beyond, however, and from the tail of his eye the coxswain perceived that his own crew was very slowly dropping back. Unable to credit it for a moment, he shouted again, and the Yale stroke-oar swung up quicker and harder, while the others followed the cadenced beat that he set for them.

This effort was futile, for the rival eight crept nearer and was closing the gap. Sung Wu Chen gazed ahead at the next flag which marked his course and discerned that he was a trifle too far to the westward. Mindful of the cross wind, he had been making allowance for a possible drift, but the shell seemed to be sagging off toward the shore in spite of his efforts to hold it straight. He ceased to think of Harvard and was concerned only with keeping his boat safely clear of the shoaler water and the dangerous eel-grass. Once he glanced over his shoulder and the figures in the bow of the coaching launch that churned in the wake of the race were wildly waving their arms at him.

The slender nose of the shell persisted in veering away from the flag, and the straining rudder could not hold it straight. The wind was not heavy enough to account for this. The coxswain scanned his men for signs of weakening. The wet blades rose and flashed and fell in unison, and the bare, brown shoulders moved like a machine to the long heave of the catch. A second glance at Number Six and Sung realized that Dollibare was little better than a passenger. He went through the motions of the stroke with automatic precision, as his big body had been drilled to perform them, but he was like one in a trance, with mind benumbed and nervous energy deadened. This the sagacious coxswain read in his face. Thus had cowardly fear written itself upon the countenances of men led forth to die, as the son of the governor had beheld them in far-distant Shansi. Of a truth, the heart of this Dollibare had turned to water. Frantically the coxswain exhorted him, raked and blistered him with insults, hoping to goad him into action, to shame him into a very fury of endeavor, but the craven Number Six could not respond.

Three men on the starboard side of the shell were really rowing against four on the port. Add to this disparity the pressure of the breeze and it was impossible for the rudder to keep the course true. Yale was edging away from the channel, steadily drawing closer to the margin of the eel-grass, and Harvard as steadily pulled up abreast and began to lead. Soon Sung Wu Chen could feel the drag beneath the keel, as though invisible hands had grasped the boat to hold it back. The blades of the oars splashed and failed to get the solid grip of deeper water. The crew appeared to flounder. There was angry, gasping outcry from stroke to bow, begging the coxswain for God's sake to get out of the grass and give them a chance.

There was a full half-mile of this nightmare, and then the hapless shell shot clear and veered into the wide reach where the full tide swept toward the sea and scoured the channel clean. For Yale it was no longer a boat-race but a tragedy. Six lengths behind at the navy-yard, it seemed useless to endure the weary grind of two miles more. Ten thousand disgusted partisans, afloat and ashore, blamed it all to the Chinese coxswain who had thrown the race away. He himself knew better and also knew that he was to be the scapegoat.

Seven men, bitterly desperate and profoundly courageous, in the splendid folly of youth believing that theirs is an affair of life and death, are never beaten this side of the finish line. They set out to make a stern chase of it, not two miles of hard rowing, but one continuous spurt, every stroke pulled as though it were the last one. It was a feat such as makes college sport nobly worth while.

Their ardor was so like a flame that it even scorched the soul of Dollibare and he came out of his panic-born stupor. He was no longer the mere semblance of an oarsman. The blade buckled to the lift of his mighty back and his hairy legs drove the finish home like twin pistons. The coxswain steered as straight as an arrow and the balanced stride of the shell resembled the harmony of music. They could not win, the odds against them were too great, but in two heart-breaking miles they regained five of the lost boat-lengths, and their quivering shell was lapping the Harvard stern as they drove past the final flag. It was a defeat and yet an intrinsic victory.

This the multitude could not comprehend. They honored the men who had so nearly won, but, nevertheless, it was Harvard's race, and the crimson banners flaunted while the blue flags drooped. A blundering coxswain had brought disaster to an eight which could not have been beaten otherwise. This was the verdict of the crowd. There was a rush to the shore when the exhausted Yale oarsmen clambered from their shell into the launch, and louder than the cheers for their pluck was the angry denunciation of Sung Wu Chen. The fact that he was of an alien race intensified the feeling.

While the launch steamed up-river to the quarters he sat apart from his comrades, immobile as an image of old ivory. They had no word of blame. He had done his best, they said, and the wind had tricked him. The coxswain was aware, however, that in their opinion he alone was responsible. Every man of seven of them had been too intent upon his own tremendous task to read the soul of Dollibare and find him culpable. It was forbidden to Sung Wu Chen to reveal the truth and shift the guilt. Even should he stoop so low as to be a tale-bearer, Dollibare would deny the charge and there was no manner of proof. The coxswain made haste to leave the quarters nor tarried to say farewell. Li Hwan waited with the skiff and rowed him across the river to find a train.

They went straightway to New Haven, avoiding friends, shunning the crowd. Li Hwan asked no questions and made no comments. He had beheld the race and its aftermath, and clearly comprehended the significance of this misfortune. In the sight of a vast number of barbarians his ineffably illustrious lord had lost face. It was the supreme catastrophe that could have befallen. His base-born slave dared offer no sympathy. It was his duty to await commands. The demeanor of Li Hwan was no more swaggering. He appeared crushed and dazed. Sung Wu Chen busied himself in his rooms, dragging a trunk from the closet, while his servant dumbly waited in the hall.

The door opened and Sung beckoned. Li Hwan stood with bowed head, his hands in his sleeves, his beady eyes furtively watching every change of expression on his master's face. It was needless to discuss or even mention the significance of what had occurred. At a word Li Hwan began to pack clothing while Sung emptied the desk and threw most of the contents into the fireplace. The books and furnishings he left untouched, removing only such property as was peculiarly personal. What he was about to do should be performed elsewhere than in this college dormitory where dwelt his best friends. In this hour modernity was a veneer and he belonged with the China of his fathers. It was not meet that he should risk vexing the fung-shui, the spirits of wind and water, and so disturb the fortunes of this building.

Late in the evening he was ready to quit his campus lodgings. Li Hwan went with him to the pretentious hotel beyond Chapel Street, where he asked the clerk for a suite, as befitting his rank, for he was no longer a Yale sophomore but the only son of the governor of Shansi. Before writing certain necessary letters he vouchsafed an explanation to the servant, whose stalwart body was trembling.

"His Excellency, the Chinese minister, will come from Washington to arrange all matters in the proper manner. You will wait for him, Li, and he will send you to our home in safety and comfort. To my father, the Tsungtuh and dispenser of shining wisdom in the city of Taiyuen Fu, you will bear my message which I shall write to-night and wrap in silk."

Timidly Li Hwan ventured to inquire, his posture reverential: "There is no other way? I am a man without brains and unable to understand this boat-rowing, but is it not the truth that this misfortune was no fault of thine?"

"It was no fault of mine," agreed Sung Wu Chen, willing to confide this much in one who was of his own people. "There was a wind, but not enough to account for—for what happened to-day on the river in the presence of a vast assemblage."

A long silence, and then Li Hwan shifted uneasily but kept his thoughts to himself. Notwithstanding Sung's gesture of dismissal, he lingered as though awaiting some word of farewell. At length he burst out with startling vehemence:

"The thing must have been done by one man. His ancestors were village dogs and he is unfit for the company of scavengers. Did I not revile him when we spoke together in the evening of yesterday?"

"Number Six?" murmured the coxswain with a shrug. "The mighty Dollibare? It is foolish to revile. They who respect themselves will be honored, says the Chinese proverb which you learned at school. You will find me here in the morning, Li Hwan. I have matters to attend to. Go at once."

The retainer prostrated himself, his forehead touching the floor in the kowtow due one of exalted station. It was rather a tribute than a ceremonial. Then he stole from the room and softly closed the door. Sung Wu Chen sighed and began to compose the letter to his father, using a brush to draw the characters with beautiful art, the phrases polished with deliberate care. He quoted the praiseworthy example of Admiral Ting, who had taken his own life sooner than endure the disgrace of defeat in the harbor of Wei-hai-Wei. In the sight of the great university of Yale and of its scholars and friends throughout the land, he, Sung Wu Chen, had committed an unpardonable offense and dragged its banner in the dust of humiliation. It was no other sage than Mencius who had written: "Although I love life, there is that which I love more than life."

When this filial task was finished the son of the governor poured out his heart in English to Harvey Gray, his old comrade and tutor, telling him the facts in detail and begging his forgiveness, with the injunction to try to make the father comprehend how and why the race was lost. Having despatched the remaining business, the coxswain meditated, his gaze drawn to the small automatic pistol on the table before him. In such a situation as this many eminent Chinese had swallowed gold as the traditional manner of honorable suicide, among them the Emperor Ts'ung-cheng. It was regrettable, reflected Sung, that he knew not how to prepare this draft.

The hour was past midnight. There was nothing more to be done. His affairs were in order. A knocking at the door, and he turned angrily in his chair but made no response. A tattoo of impatient knuckles and he still kept silent. A fist banged the panels. A moment later the door flew from its hinges with a splintering crash and Li Hwan tumbled into the room. Bounding to his feet, he wheeled and dragged in after him a tall, heavily built young man in the white flannels of the 'varsity crew. His face, pallid beneath the tan, was bruised and scratched, his coat torn. He breathed with difficulty, as though exhausted, and his manner was stupefied like one deprived of volition.

From his chair Sung Wu Chen gazed at the hapless Dollibare and perceived that he was in the grip of that same panic fright which had paralyzed his will in the first two miles of the race. He was trying to speak in a faltering voice, but Li Hwan declaimed in accents ferocious:

"Let him be dumb until I have said my say. He came willingly after I had caught and mastered him. Through this huge hotel he marched at my heels, knowing that death was in my two hands."

It was the unregenerate Li Hwan that thundered this, the man of brawls and forays, who may have once worn the red sash of a Boxer and screamed destruction to all foreigners in the streets of Taiyuen Fu. Sung spoke sharply and he subsided, permitting Dollibare to stammer:

"This d-damned murderer was laying for me. He must have followed me across the campus. I was turning on the lights in my room when he jumped on my back. What's it all about?"

"One guess should be enough," replied Sung Wu Chen, his intonations precise. "My servant is not as great a fool as he looks. He tamed you, eh, Dollibare? You did not call out for the police? You came as if you were tied on a string?"

"He would have stuck a knife into me if I hadn't. I had no choice."

Li Hwan glared so frightfully that the poltroon dodged and raised his arm. It had been the amiable purpose of the captor to extort a confession by means of a knotted cord about the temples or something of the sort, but Sung Wu Chen was wiser and he saw that nothing more was needed to achieve the end desired. Physical cowardice had utterly broken Dollibare, who believed that the barbarous Li Hwan would not hesitate to slay him where he stood.

"You will not deny that you failed to pull your share in the race?" smoothly queried Sung. "You know this was why I could not steer the boat away from the eel-grass?"

The culprit tried miserably to exculpate himself, explaining in a rush of words:

"I didn't realize it at the time, old man, but I'm afraid I didn't get much power on my oar. It was an extraordinary feeling. I meant to talk it over with you, but you slipped away from the quarters in a hurry, and—well, it may have had something to do with your getting in trouble on the first half of the course. But what about this infernal heathen of yours—the way he treated me?—you are responsible for him."

"I swear to you, Dollibare, that I never expected to see him again," was the earnest affirmation. "Yes, he would not hesitate to kill you, because, in his heathen code, you forfeited your right to live. Let us not leave this matter half-way. You did not pull even a pound because your soul had turned yellow and sick with fear. Acknowledge it as truth or, by God, I shall not stop the hand of Li Hwan."


P711--Scribner's Magazine, Jun 1916--His code of honor.jpg

"Acknowledge it as truth, or I shall not stop the hand of Li Hwan"


Dollibare nodded assent against his will. He felt amazed at his own helplessness. The actors were so absorbed that they failed to observe the approach of two young men who halted at the doorway and stared at the tableau. It held them curiously intent for a moment. Then the shrewd, self-possessed Jerry Altemus observed with a smile:

"Pardon us, Sung, if we seem to intrude. Sedgwick and I have been raking the campus to find you. We blew in on a late train from New London, and it occurred to us that you needed cheering up a whole lot."

"Sure thing. Never say die, old top," chimed in the other visitor. "Just by luck we drifted into this joint, and the clerk said you had chartered rooms. What's the answer? It's never too late to eat. Come along, and we'll make you forget it over a few mugs of ale."

Bob Sedgwick looked questioningly at Dollibare, who seemed oblivious of their presence. Young Mr. Altemus studied the bruised cheek and let his glance rove to the bellicose figure of Li Hwan. The latter sidled past the table and slid the pistol into his sleeve with the skill of a juggler.

"Can I help you in any way?" drawled Jerry. "I'm afraid we broke into something."

"Dollibare can tell you what it is," said Sung Wu Chen. "He has just confessed that he lost the race for us."

"The deuce he has!" cried Bob Sedgwick. "Then that lets you out. Wow, but that sounds good to me."

"It does not let me out," gently protested the coxswain. "How can it save my face? The newspapers will publish it all over America that I am guilty."

Jerry Altemus doffed his languid demeanor and was all fire and action in an instant. He, too, was the son of a great man, who ruled a railroad system instead of a province, and he also was a chip of the old block.

"Write it out, quick, and make Dollibare sign his name to it," he volleyed at Sung. "Brief and to the point. I'll be getting the New York office of the Associated Press on the 'phone. They will know who I am. My dad owns a newspaper or two on the side and controls an A. P. franchise. This will save time. Hustle down to the local office. Bob, and tell 'em you can verify it if they shoot a query back from New York. We'll get it into the city editions all over the country. It's sensational stuff."

"And can it be sent by cable to China?" wistfully demanded the coxswain, who was rather stunned by this happy climax.

"You bet. I'll see to that," returned the impetuous Jerry as he flew across the room to the telephone. Bob Sedgwick, about to dash for an elevator, paused to say:

"You took this pretty seriously, Sung. By Jove, I believe you had made up your mind to leave college!"

"Yes. I had said good-by to Yale," was the calm reply. "Now I have decided to stay. Thank you, my best of friends."

The luckless Dollibare, compelled like a puppet to do the bidding of others, was heard to remark:

"This means that I leave college. Publish this in the papers and I am queered absolutely."

"There are other colleges, where they have no eight-oared crews," blandly suggested Jerry Altemus.

Li Hwan begged for enlightenment, receiving which his rugged features were illumined with wonderful, affectionate gladness, and he grunted as he moved toward the door:

"A business for madmen is this boat-rowing, but no matter. It is well that I came from Shansi to protect my heaven-born master, for his honor is saved and he has not lost face. Lah, lah, lah—lah, lah, lah. YALE."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1935, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.