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The Tears of Ah Kim
by [?]

There was a great noise and racket, but no scandal, in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Those within hearing distance merely shrugged their shoulders and smiled tolerantly at the disturbance as an affair of accustomed usualness. “What is it?” asked Chin Mo, down with a sharp pleurisy, of his wife, who had paused for a second at the open window to listen.

“Only Ah Kim,” was her reply. “His mother is beating him again.”

The fracas was taking place in the garden, behind the living rooms that were at the back of the store that fronted on the street with the proud sign above: AH KIM COMPANY, GENERAL MERCHANDISE. The garden was a miniature domain, twenty feet square, that somehow cunningly seduced the eye into a sense and seeming of illimitable vastness. There were forests of dwarf pines and oaks, centuries old yet two or three feet in height, and imported at enormous care and expense. A tiny bridge, a pace across, arched over a miniature river that flowed with rapids and cataracts from a miniature lake stocked with myriad-finned, orange-miracled goldfish that in proportion to the lake and landscape were whales. On every side the many windows of the several-storied shack-buildings looked down. In the centre of the garden, on the narrow gravelled walk close beside the lake Ah Kim was noisily receiving his beating.

No Chinese lad of tender and beatable years was Ah Kim. His was the store of Ah Kim Company, and his was the achievement of building it up through the long years from the shoestring of savings of a contract coolie labourer to a bank account in four figures and a credit that was gilt edged. An even half-century of summers and winters had passed over his head, and, in the passing, fattened him comfortably and snugly. Short of stature, his full front was as rotund as a water-melon seed. His face was moon- faced. His garb was dignified and silken, and his black-silk skull-cap with the red button atop, now, alas! fallen on the ground, was the skull-cap worn by the successful and dignified merchants of his race.

But his appearance, in this moment of the present, was anything but dignified. Dodging and ducking under a rain of blows from a bamboo cane, he was crouched over in a half-doubled posture. When he was rapped on the knuckles and elbows, with which he shielded his face and head, his winces were genuine and involuntary. From the many surrounding windows the neighbourhood looked down with placid enjoyment.

And she who wielded the stick so shrewdly from long practice! Seventy-four years old, she looked every minute of her time. Her thin legs were encased in straight-lined pants of linen stiff- textured and shiny-black. Her scraggly grey hair was drawn unrelentingly and flatly back from a narrow, unrelenting forehead. Eyebrows she had none, having long since shed them. Her eyes, of pin-hole tininess, were blackest black. She was shockingly cadaverous. Her shrivelled forearm, exposed by the loose sleeve, possessed no more of muscle than several taut bowstrings stretched across meagre bone under yellow, parchment-like skin. Along this mummy arm jade bracelets shot up and down and clashed with every blow.

“Ah!” she cried out, rhythmically accenting her blows in series of three to each shrill observation. “I forbade you to talk to Li Faa. To-day you stopped on the street with her. Not an hour ago. Half an hour by the clock you talked.–What is that?”

“It was the thrice-accursed telephone,” Ah Kim muttered, while she suspended the stick to catch what he said. “Mrs. Chang Lucy told you. I know she did. I saw her see me. I shall have the telephone taken out. It is of the devil.”