Melting snow in the spring and cloud-bursting rains in the fall poured their floods from the foothills, through the arroyo, and were licked up and lost in the arid lands below. The Mormons came, dammed the outlet in the ridge—and, lo! there was a lake.
Thus Burning Bush, Cortez County, New Mexico, was created, on the edge of green alfalfa fields. And because there was coal the railroad ran a spur to collect it; and because there was a railroad cowmen came in with their beeves and sheepmen with their mutton and wool.
In the terms of a now-discarded census classification, the “souls” composing Cortez County’s population were officially designated as “white men, Mormons, and Mexicans.” Also, there were Indians, who could not vote and did not count. Finally, there was Ah Sin.
Ah Sin was no common coolie. He had been, indeed, the prize pupil at the Chinese mission on the Coast. He could speak and read English, do sums with his head in American arithmetic, and recite whole passages from the Bible. With a cash capital accumulated in ten years of dogged domestic service, he had come to Burning Bush and opened a general store. It was the only one in town, and it paid.
Ah Sin—smiling, courteous, honest—worked fifteen hours a day, and put his profits in the bank. In time he would go back to China a rich man. Then Moses came.
That Moses should come to Burning Bush was inevitable. Burning Bush had begun to boom. The odour of its prosperity had been wafted afar, and the nostrils of the Israelite knew it.
The new store, lavishly painted in greens and yellows, was the most noticeable thing in town. When Moses had moved in, even the Montezuma hotel seemed to shrink. It had two show windows of pure plate glass—their contents tagged with legends proclaiming cut prices. Across the full width of its imposing false-front elevation there appeared this sign:
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
THE ORIGINAL MOSES
GOLDEN RULE EMPORIUM.
With such simple lures are the simple enticed. Burning Bush stopped, looked—and listened to maneuvering Moses. It is the new thing that catches the eye and fills the ear. Ah Sin had forgotten to beat his gong. Custom fell off, and found its way to the newcomer. In a month or so the Celestial hardly held his own.
Ah Sin, losing trade, was troubled. Meeting the cut in prices did not bring back his customers. With Oriental taste he organized a novel window display—in vain. Something was the matter. But what?
Ah Sin’s guileless mind could not grasp it. Thrown on his own mental resources, he grappled as best he could with the problem. The Bible teachers had taught him that the Jews were a race dispersed and paying the penalty of their transgressions. Ah Sin believed this to be literally the truth. Yet he, a Christian, seemed about to be overcome by the competition of an Israelite.
“Velly funny,” said Ah Sin to himself. “Heblew make good. Chlistian catchee hell.”
He strolled out into the street, his shop being empty for the time, and contemplated long and earnestly the place of his competitor across the way. Something about the sign seemed to puzzle him and to make him think. He shook his head. Then he backed off and looked critically at his own shop, with its modest device: “AH SIN—GENERAL STORE.” Presently his impassive face lighted up; and that night his sleep was shortened by an hour devoted to a search of the Scriptures. Had not his teachers told him to turn to the Bible in time of doubt and trial? They were not here to counsel him, but he had a clew.
He awoke next morning clothed and girded with strength. And all that day, when business permitted, he laboured on a canvas sign, which he lettered himself, with brush and India ink, smiling contentedly the while.
It was Curly Bob, foreman of the Frying Pan outfit on Sun Creek, who saw it first. Coming into town at a lope, in quest of cut plug, his roving eye was arrested by the new announcement of Ah Sin. By temperament and training Curly was unemotional, but, seeing Ah Sin’s handiwork, he pulled so suddenly on his spade bit that the cayuse fell back on its haunches. For there, in the eyelids of the morning, Ah Sin, seeking an everlasting sign, had flung forth a banner that prevailed against the Jew. In black, bold letters a foot high, it beckoned to the trade of Burning Bush:
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
THE ORIGINAL SIN
TEN PER CENT. FORGIVEN FOR CASH.
Whereupon Curly Bob, swearing softly in admiration, blew himself to tobacco for the whole outfit.