Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/181

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THE TIE THAT BINDS

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there is a telepathy of danger. At any rate, the fight in the cabaret paused for breath and to listen. Then the combatants broke apart as though by general consent and made a dash for the steps. A few earnest souls continued to punch and gouge as they were swept upward by the rush, but these were mere flotsam on the main stream and did not stay it. Neither did the asty-phylax, who tried to interpose. They were brushed aside, and off ran the disputants, carrying their casualties with them. When the soldiers arrived in Shanghai, everything was as quiet there as in Chinatown after a tong battle.

Hardtack and Wally brought up the rear guard of the American contingent, dragging along one of their gob acquaintances. He seemed a trifle confused as to his whereabouts and kept murmuring “‘Mamma! Oh, mamma!” A kick in the mid section had probably contributed to unsettle him.

“Here! In here!” Hardtack panted as they arrived opposite a coffee shop with their burden sagging between them.

“They’ll catch us,” objected Wally.

“I can’t run no farther.”

There was nobody in the coffee shop except the proprietor, who seemed undecided whether to run or yell for help when they staggered in. From his front door he had heard the row in the cabaret and knew that the soldiers had been called to quell it; also, his eyes told him that here were three of the most active participants.

“Shut the door,” Hardtack commanded through puffed lips, and the landlord mechanically obeyed. “Now help me with this boy.”

They laid the gob out on the floor in rear of the shop and went to work pumping his arms up and down. Then Hardtack turned him over and administered first aid to the drowning. In spite of these remedies the gob soon became normal and made an abrupt and strong effort to get on his feet again with a view to resuming the debate. The first warning they had of returning strength was when he suddenly let fly a right which caught the landlord squarely on the nose.

“Take it easy, buddy,” Wally cautioned. “It’s all over and the bunch’ve legged it.”