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Fraser's Scottish Annual


WHEN Ah Yum bought the opium in Calcutta, twelve balls of it, as large as golf balls, he took a solemn oath on a slip of yellow paper that he was going to China. Everybody must do that—not swear that they are going to China, exactly, but swear. where they are going to take the opium.

In Burma, for instance, where the licenses to sell it are farmed out, nobody but the Government itself may take it in.

So Ah Yum declared, innocently, that he was bound for the Flowery Kingdom ; and then went aboard the Karagola as usual. He was ship's carpenter on the Karagola, and she ran regularly to Rangoon. It seemed rather an absent-minded way of getting to China.

It was quite by accident that I had seen Ali Yum buying the opium; it may have been a continuation of the accident that made me a passenger on the Karagola for Rangoon.

When I first saw Ah Yum on the steamer he was chipping away at a new tiller for the captain's gig with a funny little hand axe shaped like an iron wedge.

It seemed odd to find him there, and I asked the second officer about him. Perhaps he was going overland to China from Rangoon.

"Not he," said the second; ' he runs regularly, up and down with us here."

Ah Yum was certainly interesting. I began to sound the second officer about smuggling, and that sort of thing. He was right at home on the subject, and spread such an air of romance about it that I almost regretted my wasted life. It seemed such a picturesque thing to do—to cheat Her Majesty's customs.

His predecessor as second officer had been a "top sawyer" at the business. "Ah he was the man to do them up. Got caught at last, though. No! not exactly caught, for he fooled them even then."

Now, it's part of the regulation for ''the second" to take the mail ashore at each port. His friend had a private mail bag of his own that he used to land at one of the ports it looked just like the others, only it carried opium. He would walk right through the customs officers, put his mail bags into a gharry, and drive to the post-office. His own bag would get shoved under the seat, and later would turn up where he sold the opium to a Chinaman.

One day an evil dragon whispered to the customs people about this thing; and an unwise inspiration came into their heads to go out and catch him as he was coming ashore with the mail.

Ah! if they had only waited till he landed—but, they didn't; and "Jack"—that was his name—slipped his bag overboard when he saw them coming.

He had to leave the service; but he didn't mind that, for he had made his pile.

This story about the "second" put my thoughts in touch with the game while we were getting to Rangoon. Nothing happened until the little customs cutter, flying the blue flag, pulled alongside the steamer in the Irawadi, at that city.

All the way from Calcutta I had been wondering where Ah Yum had hidden the opium. Of course it was none of my business, but that doesn't matter when a man is interested. Now, if I keep close, I argued, when I saw the customs officer step over the side, I shall see sport. It was simply that the thing had taken hold of me. I was not connected with the customs myself, but was insanely curious.

The officer was a little, fat, half-caste Portuguese. He, too, was curious as to Ah. It seemed contagious; or perhaps those devil-wires that the Government had stretched from Calcutta to Rangoon had talked to him.

He made straight for the Chinaman's quarters. Ah was in his cabin; he was working in a slow, methodical, Chinese fashion, putting a new handle in a queer, alligator-nosed plane.

'Got any opium, John? 'queried the officer, blandly.

"Opin! opin! What that?" asked Ah Yum, with a face as devoid of intelligence as a tan boot.

"Something to give you free board at the Queen's expense for a few months," said the Portuguese, looking as solemn as Ah Yum.

Of course the Chinaman couldn't understand that; he was busy with his plane.

The officer commenced to search the cabin. Presently he found something under the bunk—several somethings—stowed away in an old flat-rimmed hat.

He was head and shoulders under the wooden frame of the bed; and, as he put his hand on a black ball of opium, he reached up and put it on the mattress above, without withdrawing his head.

I was casually lighting a cheroot just outside the cabin door. It took me a long time, and as each black ball came up I counted it. One!'' I said, as the. chubby hand of the Portuguese placed the first ball on the not over clean bed; ''two!" as the hand came up again.

But no!—there was only one, as it rolled down into the hollow where the Chinaman's hips had rested.

I blinked my eyes. Surely—ah There were none now.

Ah Yum was staring stolidly out of the port hole.

I counted the twelve balls put up, one by one; and twelve times I saw Ah Yum listlessly stretch out an attenuated yellow hand, and drop a ball pensively through the open port.

When the searcher pulled his head from underneath the vile-smelling bunk and straightened his aching back, he recoiled with a cry of rage and astonishment. There was not one ball in sight.

Ah was looking toward Canton—Canton, far away in China. There was a homesick look in his eves.

"Where's the opium, John?" gasped the officer in a bewildered sort of way.

''I no see opin-you see?" asked Ali Yum, coming slowly back from Canton.

"You've thrown it through the port-hole, you yellow heathen!" said the Portuguese, turning a dismal purple in his rage. "You've thrown it through the port-hole to destroy the evidence."

"I see no opin," said Ah sadly.

At last my cigar was lighted. My friend who was to meet me had come on board and was calling to me.

The English language, full as it is of strong expletives, was not sufficient for the requirements of the little, fat Portuguese. He was swearing from both sides of the house of his parentage.

Without the opium as evidence his case against Ah was as a haunted house without a ghost.

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