A B C D E F
G H I J K L M 

Total read books on site:
more than 10 000

You can read its for free!


Text on one page: Few Medium Many
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Clare Elliott and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.





[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Photoplay. The Ragged Edge_.
MIMI PALMERI AS RUTH EMSCHEDE, ALFRED LUNT AS HOWARD SPURLOCK.]


THE RAGGED EDGE


BY
HAROLD MACGRATH


AUTHOR OF
DRUMS OF JEOPARDY, ETC.




ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES
FROM THE PHOTOPLAY
PRODUCED BY
DISTINCTIVE PICTURES CORPORATION


NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS




THE RAGGED EDGE




CHAPTER I


The Master is inordinately fond of young fools. That is why they
are permitted to rush in where angels fear to tread--and survive
their daring! This supreme protection, this unwritten warranty to
disregard all laws, occult or apparent, divine or earthly, may be
attributed to the fact that none but young fools dream gloriously.
For such of us as pretend to be wise--and we are but fools in a
lesser degree--we know that humanity moves onward only by the
impellant of fine dreams. Sometimes these dreams are simple and
tender; sometimes they are magnificent.

With what airs we human atoms invest ourselves! What ridiculous
fancies of our importance! We believe we have destinies, when we
have only destinations: that we are something immortal, when each
of us is in truth only the repository of a dream. The dream flowers
and is harvested, and we are left by the wayside, having served our
singular purpose in the scheme of progress: as the orange is tossed
aside when sucked of its ruddy juice.

We middle-aged fools and we old fools can no longer dream. We have
only those phantoms called memories, which are the husks of dreams.
Disillusion stands in one doorway of our house and Mockery in the
other.

This is a tale of two young fools.

* * * * *

In the daytime the streets of the ancient city of Canton are yet
filled with the original confusion--human beings in quest of food.
There is turmoil, shouts, cries, jostlings, milling congestions
that suddenly break and flow in opposite directions.

It was a gray day in the spring of 1910. A tourist caravan of four
pole-chairs jogged along a narrow street. It had rained during the
night, and the patch-work pavement was greasy with mud. From a
bi-secting street came shouting and music. At a sign from Ah Cum,
official custodian of the sightseers, the pole-chair coolies
pressed toward the left and halted.

A wedding procession turned the corner. All the world over a
wedding procession arouses laughter and derision in the bystanders.
Even the children jeer. It may be instinctive; it may be that
children vaguely realize that at the end of all wedding journeys is
disillusion.

The girl in the forward chair raised herself a little, the better
to see the gorgeous blue palanquin of the dimly visible bride.

"What a wonderful colour!" she exclaimed.

"Kingfisher feathers," said Ah Cum. "It is an ordinary wedding," he
added; "some shopkeeper's daughter. Probably she was married years
ago and is now merely on the way to her husband's house. The
palanquin is hired and so is the procession. Quite ordinary."

The air in the narrow street, which was not eight feet wide,
swarmed with smells impossible to define; but all at once the
pleasantly pungent odour of Chinese incense drifted across the
girl's face, and gratefully she quickened her inhalations.

In her ears there was a medley of sound: wailing music, rumbling
tom-toms and sputtering firecrackers. She had never before heard
the noise of firecrackers, and in the beginning the sputtering
racket caused her to wince. Presently the odour of burnt powder
mingled agreeably with that of the incense.

She was conscious of a ceaseless undercurrent of sound--the
guttural Chinese tongue. She foraged about in her mind for some
satisfying equivalent which would express in English this gurgling
drone the Chinese called a language. At length she hit upon it:
bubbling water. Her eyebrows, pulled down by the stress of thought,
now resumed their normal arches; and pleased with her discovery,
she smiled.

To Ah Cum, who was watching her covertly, the smile was like a bit
of unexpected sunshine. What with these converging roofs that shut
out all but a hand's breadth of the sky, sunshine was rare at this
point. If it came at all, it was as fleeting as the girl's smile.

The wedding procession passed on, and the cynical rabble poured in
behind. The pole-chair caravan resumed its journey.

The girl wished that she had come afoot, despite the knowledge that
she would have suffered many inconveniences, accidental and
intentional jostling, insolence and ribald jest. The Cantonese,
excepting in the shops where he expects profit, always resents the
intrusion of the _fan-quei_--foreign devil. The chair was torture.
It hung from the centre of a stout pole, each end of which rested
upon the calloused shoulder of a coolie; an ordinary Occidental
chair with a foot-rest. The coolies proceeded at a swinging,
mincing trot, which gave to the suspended seat a dancing action
similar to that of a suddenly agitated hanging-spring of a
birdcage. It was impossible to meet the motion bodily.

Her shoulders began to ache. Her head felt absurdly like one of
those noddling manikins in the Hong-Kong curio-shops. Jiggle-joggle,
jiggle-joggle...! For each pause she was grateful. Whenever Ah Cum
(whose normal stride was sufficient to keep him at the side of her
chair) pointed out something of interest, she had to strain the
cords in her neck to focus her glance upon the object. Supposing the
wire should break and her head tumble off her shoulders into the
street? The whimsey caused another smile to ripple across her lips.

This amazing world she had set forth to discover! Yesterday at this
time she had had no thought in her head about Canton. America, the
land of rosy apples and snowstorms, beckoned, and she wanted to fly
thitherward. Yet, here she was, in the ancient Chinese city,
weaving in and out of the narrow streets some scarcely wide enough
for two men to walk abreast, streets that boiled and eddied with
yellow human beings, who worshipped strange gods, ate strange
foods, and diffused strange suffocating smells. These were less
like streets than labyrinths, hewn through an eternal twilight. It
was only when they came into a square that daylight had a positive
quality.

So many things she saw that her interest stumbled rather than
leaped from object to object. Rows of roasted duck, brilliantly
varnished; luscious vegetables, which she had been warned against;
baskets of melon seed and water-chestnuts; men working in teak and
blackwood; fan makers and jade cutters; eggs preserved in what
appeared to her as petrified muck; bird's nests and shark fins. She
glimpsed Chinese penury when she entered a square given over to the
fishmongers. Carp, tench, and roach were so divided that even the
fins, heads and fleshless spines were sold. There were doorways to
peer into, dim cluttered holes with shadowy forms moving about,
potters and rug-weavers.

Through one doorway she saw a grave Chinaman standing on a
stage-like platform. He wore a long coat, beautifully flowered, and
a hat with a turned up brim. Balanced on his nose were enormous
tortoise-shell spectacles. A ragged gray moustache drooped from the
corners of his mouth and a ragged wisp of whisker hung from his
chin. She was informed by Ah Cum that the Chinaman was one of the
_literati_ and that he was expounding the deathless philosophy of
Confucius, which, summed up, signified that the end of all
philosophy is Nothing.

Through yet another doorway she observed an ancient silk brocade
loom. Ah Cum halted the caravan and indicated that they might step
within and watch. On a stool eight feet high sat a small boy in a
faded blue cotton, his face like that of young Buddha. He held in
his hands many threads. From time to time the man below would
shout, and the boy would let the threads go with the snap of a
harpist, only to recover them instantly. There was a strip of old
rose brocade in the making that set an ache in the girl's heart for
the want of it.

The girl wondered what effect the information would have upon Ah
Cum if she told him that until a month ago she had never seen a
city, she had never seen a telephone, a railway train, an
automobile, a lift, a paved street. She was almost tempted to tell
him, if only to see the cracks of surprise and incredulity break
the immobility of his yellow countenance.

But no; she must step warily. Curiosity held her by one hand,
urging her to recklessness, and caution held her by the other. Her
safety lay in pretense--that what she saw was as a tale twice told.

A phase of mental activity that men called courage: to summon at
will this energy which barred the ingress of the long cold fingers
of fear, which cleared the throat of stuffiness and kept the glance
level and ever forward. She possessed it, astonishing fact! She had
summoned this energy so continuously during the past four weeks
that now it was abiding; she knew that it would always be with her,
on guard. And immeasurable was the calm evolved from this
knowledge.

The light touch of Ah Cum's hand upon her arm broke the thread of
retrospective thought; and her gray eyes began to register again
the things she saw.

"Jade," said Ah Cum.

She turned away from the doorway of the silk loom to observe. Pole
coolies came joggling along with bobbing blocks of jade--white
jade, splashed and veined with translucent emerald green.

"On the way to the cutters," said Ah Cum. "But we must be getting
along if we are to lunch in the tower of the water-clock."

As if an order had come to her somewhere out of space, the girl
glanced sideways at the other young fool.

So far she had not heard the sound of his voice. The tail-ender of
this little caravan, he had been rather out of it. But he had shown
no desire for information, no curiosity. Whenever they stepped from
the chairs, he stepped down. If they entered a shop, he paused by
the doorway, as if waiting for the journey to be resumed.

Young, not much older than she was: she was twenty and he was
possibly twenty-four.



Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | 38 | | 39 | | Next |

N O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z 

Your last read book:

You dont read books at this site.