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Title: On a Chinese Screen
Author: Maugham, W. Somerset (William Somerset)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On a Chinese Screen" ***

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  Illustration: Publishers windmill logo


_Printed in Great Britain_

_Copyright: London, William Heinemann, 1922_




        I  THE RISING OF THE CURTAIN                   11

       II  MY LADY'S PARLOUR                           14

      III  THE MONGOL CHIEF                            17

       IV  THE ROLLING STONE                           19

        V  THE CABINET MINISTER                        23

       VI  DINNER PARTIES                              27

      VII  THE ALTAR OF HEAVEN                         33

     VIII  THE SERVANTS OF GOD                         35

       IX  THE INN                                     40

        X  THE GLORY HOLE                              44

       XI  FEAR                                        47

      XII  THE PICTURE                                 55


      XIV  THE OPIUM DEN                               60

       XV  THE LAST CHANCE                             62

      XVI  THE NUN                                     64

     XVII  HENDERSON                                   66

    XVIII  DAWN                                        70

      XIX  THE POINT OF HONOUR                         73

       XX  THE BEAST OF BURDEN                         77

      XXI  DR. MACALISTER                              80

     XXII  THE ROAD                                    85

    XXIII  GOD'S TRUTH                                 90

     XXIV  ROMANCE                                     94

      XXV  THE GRAND STYLE                             99

     XXVI  RAIN                                       103

    XXVII  SULLIVAN                                   107

   XXVIII  THE DINING-ROOM                            109

     XXIX  ARABESQUE                                  113

      XXX  THE CONSUL                                 114

     XXXI  THE STRIPLING                              122

    XXXII  THE FANNINGS                               124

   XXXIII  THE SONG OF THE RIVER                      129

    XXXIV  MIRAGE                                     131

     XXXV  THE STRANGER                               134

    XXXVI  DEMOCRACY                                  140

   XXXVII  THE SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST                  144

  XXXVIII  THE PHILOSOPHER                            147

    XXXIX  THE MISSIONARY LADY                        159

       XL  A GAME OF BILLIARDS                        162

      XLI  THE SKIPPER                                164

     XLII  THE SIGHTS OF THE TOWN                     166

    XLIII  NIGHTFALL                                  171

     XLIV  THE NORMAL MAN                             173

      XLV  THE OLD TIMER                              179

     XLVI  THE PLAIN                                  183

    XLVII  FAILURE                                    186

   XLVIII  A STUDENT OF THE DRAMA                     188

     XLIX  THE TAIPAN                                 193

        L  METEMPSYCHOSIS                             204

       LI  THE FRAGMENT                               206

      LII  ONE OF THE BEST                            211

     LIII  THE SEA-DOG                                214

      LIV  THE QUESTION                               221

       LV  THE SINOLOGUE                              223

      LVI  THE VICE-CONSUL                            225

     LVII  A CITY BUILT ON A ROCK                     231

    LVIII  A LIBATION TO THE GODS                     236




You come to the row of hovels that leads to the gate of the city. They
are built of dried mud and so dilapidated that you feel a breath of
wind will lay them flat upon the dusty earth from which they have been
made. A string of camels, heavily laden, steps warily past you. They
wear the disdainful air of profiteers forced to traverse a world in
which many people are not so rich as they. A little crowd, tattered
in their blue clothes, is gathered about the gate and it scatters as
a youth in a pointed cap gallops up on a Mongolian pony. A band of
children are chasing a lame dog and they throw clods of mud at it. Two
stout gentlemen in long black gowns of figured silk and silk jackets
stand talking to one another. Each holds a little stick, perched on
which, with a string attached to its leg, is a little bird. They have
brought out their pets for an airing and in friendly fashion compare
their merits. Now and then the birds give a flutter into the air,
the length of the string, and return quickly to their perch. The two
Chinese gentlemen, smiling, look at them with soft eyes. Rude boys cry
out at the foreigner in a shrill and scornful voice. The city wall,
crumbling, old and crenellated, looks like the city wall in an old
picture of some Palestinish town of the Crusaders.

You pass through the gateway into a narrow street lined with shops:
many of them with their elegant lattice work, red and gold, and their
elaborate carving, have a peculiar ruined magnificence, and you imagine
that in their dark recesses are sold all manner of strange wares of
the fabulous East. A great multitude surges along the uneven narrow
footwalk or in the deepset street; and coolies, bearing heavy loads,
shout for way in short sharp cries. Hawkers with guttural sound call
their wares.

And now at a sedate pace, drawn by a sleek mule, comes a Peking cart.
Its hood is bright blue and its great wheels are studded with nails.
The driver sits with dangling legs on a shaft. It is evening and the
sun sets red behind the yellow, steep, and fantastic roof of a temple.
The Peking cart, the blind in front drawn down, passes silently and
you wonder who it is that sits cross-legged within. Perhaps it is a
scholar, all the learning of the classics at his finger ends, bound on
a visit to a friend with whom he will exchange elaborate compliments
and discuss the golden age of Tang and Sung which can return no more;
perhaps it is a singing girl in splendid silks and richly embroidered
coat, with jade in her black hair, summoned to a party so that she may
sing a little song and exchange elegant repartee with young blades
cultured enough to appreciate wit. The Peking cart disappears into the
gathering darkness: it seems to carry all the mystery of the East.



"I really think I can make something of it," she said.

She looked about her briskly, and the light of the creative imagination
filled her eyes with brightness.

It was an old temple, a small one, in the city, which she had taken
and was turning into a dwelling house. It had been built for a very
holy monk by his admirers three hundred years before, and here in
great piety, practising innumerable austerities, he had passed his
declining days. For long after in memory of his virtue the faithful
had come to worship, but in course of time funds had fallen very low
and at last the two or three monks that remained were forced to leave.
It was weather-beaten and the green tiles of the roof were overgrown
with weeds. The raftered ceiling was still beautiful with its faded
gold dragons on a faded red; but she did not like a dark ceiling, so
she stretched a canvas across and papered it. Needing air and sunlight,
she cut two large windows on one side. She very luckily had some blue
curtains which were just the right size. Blue was her favourite colour:
it brought out the colour of her eyes. Since the columns, great red
sturdy columns, oppressed her a little she papered them with a very
nice paper which did not look Chinese at all. She was lucky also with
the paper with which she covered the walls. It was bought in a native
shop, but really it might have come from Sandersons'; it was a very
nice pink stripe and it made the place look cheerful at once. At the
back was a recess in which had stood a great lacquer table and behind
it an image of the Buddha in his eternal meditation. Here generations
of believers had burned their tapers and prayed, some for this temporal
benefit or that, some for release from the returning burden of earthly
existence; and this seemed to her the very place for an American stove.
She was obliged to buy her carpet in China, but she managed to get
one that looked so like an Axminster that you would hardly know the
difference. Of course, being hand-made, it had not quite the smoothness
of the English article, but it was a very decent substitute. She was
able to buy a very nice lot of furniture from a member of the Legation
who was leaving the country for a post in Rome, and she got a nice
bright chintz from Shanghai to make loose covers with. Fortunately
she had quite a number of pictures, wedding presents and some even
that she had bought herself, for she was very artistic, and these gave
the room a cosy look. She needed a screen and here there was no help
for it, she had to buy a Chinese one, but as she very cleverly said,
you might perfectly well have a Chinese screen in England. She had a
great many photographs, in silver frames, one of them of a Princess
of Schleswig-Holstein, and one of the Queen of Sweden, both signed,
and these she put on the grand piano, for they give a room an air of
being lived in. Then, having finished, she surveyed her work with

"Of course it doesn't look like a room in London," she said, "but it
might quite well be a room in some nice place in England, Cheltenham,
say, or Tunbridge Wells."



Heaven knows from what mysterious distance he had come. He rode
down the winding pathway from the high Mongolian plateau with the
mountains, barren, stony, and inaccessible, stretching on all sides,
an impenetrable barrier; he rode down past the temple that guarded
the head of the pass till he came to the old river bed which was the
gateway into China. It was hedged in by the foothills brilliant under
the morning sun, with sharp shadows; and the innumerable traffic of the
centuries had formed on that stony floor a rough road. The air was keen
and clear, the sky was blue. Here all the year round from daybreak till
sundown, passed an unending stream, camels in caravan bearing the brick
tea to Urga seven hundred miles away and so to Siberia, long lines of
wagons drawn by placid bullocks, and little carts in twos and threes
behind stout ponies; and in the contrary direction, into China, again
camels in caravan bringing hides to the markets of Peking, and wagons
in long procession. Now a mob of horses went by and then a flock of
goats. But his eyes did not rest on the various scene. He seemed not
to notice that others were travelling the pass. He was accompanied by
his henchmen, six or seven of them, somewhat bedraggled it is true,
on sorry nags, but they had a truculent air. They ambled along in a
slovenly bunch. He was dressed in a black silk coat and black silk
trousers thrust into his long riding boots with their turned-up toes,
and on his head he wore the high sable cap of his country. He held
himself erect, riding a little ahead of his followers, proudly, and as
he rode, his head high and his eyes steady, you wondered if he thought
that down this pass in days gone by his ancestors had ridden, ridden
down upon the fertile plain of China where rich cities lay ready to
their looting.



I heard his extraordinary story before I saw him and I expected
someone of striking appearance. It seemed to me that anyone who had
gone through such singular experiences must have in his outer man
something singular too. But I found a person in whose aspect there was
nothing remarkable. He was smaller than the average, somewhat frail,
sun-burned, with hair beginning to turn grey though he was still under
thirty, and brown eyes. He looked like anybody else, and you might
see him half a dozen times before remembering who he was. If you had
happened upon him behind the counter of a department store or on a
stool in a broker's office you would have thought him perfectly in
place. But you would have noticed him as little as you noticed the
counter or the stool. There was so little in him to attract attention
that in the end it became intriguing: his face, empty of significance,
reminded you of the blank wall of a Manchu palace, in a sordid street,
behind which you knew were painted courtyards, carved dragons, and
heaven knows what subtle intricacy of life.

For his whole career was remarkable. The son of a veterinary surgeon,
he had been a reporter in the London police courts and then had gone
as steward on board a merchant ship to Buenos Ayres. There he had
deserted and somehow or other had worked his way across South America.
From a port in Chili he managed to get to the Marquesas where for six
months he had lived on the natives always ready to offer hospitality
to a white man, and then, begging a passage on a schooner to Tahiti,
had shipped to Amoy as second mate of an old tub which carried Chinese
labour to the Society Islands.

That was nine years before I met him and since then he had lived in
China. First he got work with the B.A.T. Company, but after a couple of
years he found it monotonous; and having acquired a certain knowledge
of the language he entered the employment of a firm which distributed
patent medicines through the length and breadth of the land. For three
years he wandered in province after province, selling pills, and at the
end of it had saved eight hundred dollars. He cut himself adrift once

He began then the most remarkable of his adventures. He set out from
Peking on a journey right across the country, travelling in the guise
of a poor Chinaman, with his roll of bedding, his Chinese pipe, and
his tooth-brush. He stayed in the Chinese inns, sleeping on the kangs
huddled up with fellow wayfarers, and ate the Chinese food. This alone
is no mean feat. He used the train but little, going for the most part
on foot, by cart, or by river. He went through Shensi and Shansi;
he walked on the windy plateaus of Mongolia and risked his life in
barbaric Turkestan; he spent long weeks with the nomads of the desert
and travelled with the caravans that carried the brick tea across the
arid wilderness of Gobi. At last, four years later, having spent his
last dollar he reached Peking once more.

He set about looking for a job. The easiest way to earn money seemed to
write, and the editor of one of the English papers in China offered to
take a series of articles on his journey. I suppose his only difficulty
was to choose from the fulness of his experience. He knew much which
he was perhaps the only Englishman to know. He had seen all manner of
things, quaint, impressive, terrible, amusing, and unexpected. He wrote
twenty-four articles. I will not say that they were unreadable, for
they showed a careful and a sympathetic observation; but he had seen
everything at haphazard, as it were, and they were but the material of
art. They were like the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, a mine
to the imaginative man, but the foundation of literature rather than
literature itself. He was the field naturalist who patiently collects
an infinity of facts, but has no gift for generalisation: they remain
facts that await the synthesis of minds more complicated than his.
He collected neither plants nor beasts, but men. His collection was
unrivalled, but his knowledge of it slender.

When I met him I sought to discern how the variety of his experience
had affected him; but though he was full of anecdote, a jovial,
friendly creature, willing to talk at length of all he had seen, I
could not discover that any of his adventures had intimately touched
him. The instinct to do all the queer things he had done showed that
there was in him a streak of queerness. The civilised world irked him
and he had a passion to get away from the beaten trail. The oddities
of life amused him. He had an insatiable curiosity. But I think his
experiences were merely of the body and were never translated into
experiences of the soul. Perhaps that is why at bottom you felt he was
commonplace. The insignificance of his mien was a true index to the
insignificance of his soul. Behind the blank wall was blankness.

That was certainly why with so much to write about he wrote tediously,
for in writing the important thing is less richness of material than
richness of personality.



He received me in a long room looking on to a sandy garden. The roses
withered on the stunted bushes and the great old trees flagged forlorn.
He sat me down on a square stool at a square table and took his seat
in front of me. A servant brought cups of flowered tea and American
cigarettes. He was a thin man, of the middle height, with thin, elegant
hands; and through his gold-rimmed spectacles he looked at me with
large, dark, and melancholy eyes. He had the look of a student or of a
dreamer. His smile was very sweet. He wore a brown silk gown and over
it a short black silk jacket, and on his head a billycock hat.

"Is it not strange," he said, with his charming smile, "that we Chinese
wear this gown because three hundred years ago the Manchus were

"Not so strange," I retorted, "as that because the English won the
battle of Waterloo Your Excellency should wear a bowler."

"Do you think that is why I wear it?"

"I could easily prove it."

Since I was afraid that his exquisite courtesy would prevent him from
asking me how, I hastened in a few well-chosen words to do so.

He took off his hat and looked at it with the shadow of a sigh. I
glanced round the room. It had a green Brussels carpet, with great
flowers on it, and round the walls were highly carved blackwood chairs.
From a picture rail hung scrolls on which were writings by the great
masters of the past, and to vary these, in bright gold frames, were oil
paintings which in the nineties might very well have been exhibited in
the Royal Academy. The minister did his work at an American roll-top

He talked to me with melancholy of the state of China. A civilisation,
the oldest the world had known, was now being ruthlessly swept away.
The students who came back from Europe and from America were tearing
down what endless generations had built up, and they were placing
nothing in its stead. They had no love of their country, no religion,
no reverence. The temples, deserted by worshipper and priest, were
falling into decay and presently their beauty would be nothing but a

But then, with a gesture of his thin, aristocratic hands, he put the
subject aside. He asked me whether I would care to see some of his
works of art. We walked round the room and he showed me priceless
porcelains, bronzes, and Tang figures. There was a horse from a grave
in Honan which had the grace and the exquisite modelling of a Greek
work. On a large table by the side of his desk was a number of rolls.
He chose one and holding it at the top gave it to me to unroll. It
was a picture of some early dynasty of mountains seen through fleecy
clouds, and with smiling eyes he watched my pleasure as I looked.
The picture was set aside and he showed me another and yet another.
Presently I protested that I could not allow a busy man to waste his
time on me, but he would not let me go. He brought out picture after
picture. He was a connoisseur. He was pleased to tell me the schools
and periods to which they belonged and neat anecdotes about their

"I wish I could think it was possible for you to appreciate my greatest
treasures," he said, pointing to the scrolls that adorned his walls.
"Here you have examples of the most perfect calligraphies of China."

"Do you like them better than paintings?" I asked.

"Infinitely. Their beauty is more chaste. There is nothing meretricious
in them. But I can quite understand that a European would have
difficulty in appreciating so severe and so delicate an art. Your taste
in Chinese things tends a little to the grotesque, I think."

He produced books of paintings and I turned their leaves. Beautiful
things! With the dramatic instinct of the collector he kept to the last
the book by which he set most store. It was a series of little pictures
of birds and flowers, roughly done with a few strokes, but with such
a power of suggestion, with so great a feeling for nature and such a
playful tenderness, that it took your breath away. There were sprigs of
plum-blossom that held in their dainty freshness all the magic of the
spring; there were sparrows in whose ruffled plumage were the beat and
the tremor of life. It was the work of a great artist.

"Will these American students ever produce anything like this?" he
asked with a rueful smile.

But to me the most charming part of it was that I knew all the time
that he was a rascal. Corrupt, inefficient, and unscrupulous, he
let nothing stand in his way. He was a master of the squeeze. He
had acquired a large fortune by the most abominable methods. He was
dishonest, cruel, vindictive, and venal. He had certainly had a share
in reducing China to the desperate plight which he so sincerely
lamented. But when he held in his hand a little vase of the colour
of lapis lazuli his fingers seemed to curl about it with a charming
tenderness, his melancholy eyes caressed it as they looked, and his
lips were slightly parted as though with a sigh of desire.




The Swiss director of the Banque Sino-Argentine was announced. He
came with a large, handsome wife, who displayed her opulent charms so
generously that it made you a little nervous. It was said that she had
been a _cocotte_, and an English maiden lady (in salmon pink satin and
beads) who had come early, greeted her with a thin and frigid smile.
The Minister of Guatemala and the Chargé d'Affaires of Montenegro
entered together. The Chargé d'Affaires was in a state of extreme
agitation; he had not understood that it was an official function, he
thought he had been asked to dine _en petit comité_, and he had not put
on his orders. And there was the Minister of Guatemala blazing with
stars! What in heaven's name was to be done? The emotion caused by what
for a moment seemed almost a diplomatic incident was diverted by the
appearance of two Chinese servants in long silk robes and four-sided
hats with cocktails and zakouski. Then a Russian princess sailed in.
She had white hair and a black silk dress up to her neck. She looked
like the heroine of a play by Victorien Sardou who had outlived the
melodramatic fury of her youth and now did crochet. She was infinitely
bored when you spoke to her of Tolstoi or Chekov; but grew animated
when she talked of Jack London. She put a question to the maiden lady
which the maiden lady, though no longer young, had no answer for.

"Why," she asked, "do you English write such silly books about Russia?"

But then the first secretary of the British Legation appeared. He gave
his entrance the significance of an event. He was very tall, baldish
but elegant, and he was beautifully dressed: he looked with polite
astonishment at the dazzling orders of the Minister of Guatemala. The
Chargé d'Affaires of Montenegro, who flattered himself that he was the
best dressed man in the diplomatic body, but was not quite sure whether
the first secretary of the British Legation thought him so, fluttered
up to him to ask his candid opinion of the frilled shirt he wore. The
Englishman placed a gold-rimmed glass in his eye and looked at it for
a moment gravely; then he paid the other a devastating compliment.
Everyone had come by now but the wife of the French Military Attaché.
They said she was always late.

"_Elle est insupportable_," said the handsome wife of the Swiss banker.

But at last, magnificently indifferent to the fact that she had kept
everyone waiting for half an hour, she swam into the room. She was tall
on her outrageously high heels, extremely thin, and she wore a dress
that gave you the impression that she had nothing on at all. Her hair
was bobbed and blonde, and she was boldly painted. She looked like a
post-impressionist's idea of patient Griselda. When she moved the air
was heavy with exotic odours. She gave the Minister of Guatemala a
jewelled, emaciated hand to kiss; with a few smiling words made the
banker's wife feel passée, provincial, and portly; flung an improper
jest at the English lady whose embarrassment was mitigated by the
knowledge that the wife of the French Military Attaché was _très bien
née_; and drank three cocktails in rapid succession.

Dinner was served. The conversation varied from a resonant, rolling
French to a somewhat halting English. They talked of this Minister who
had just written from Bucharest or Lima, and that Counsellor's wife
who found it so dull in Christiania or so expensive in Washington. On
the whole it made little difference to them in what capital they found
themselves, for they did precisely the same things in Constantinople,
Berne, Stockholm and Peking. Entrenched within their diplomatic
privileges and supported by a lively sense of their social consequence,
they dwelt in a world in which Copernicus had never existed, for to
them sun and stars circled obsequiously round this earth of ours, and
they were its centre. No one knew why the English lady was there and
the wife of the Swiss director said privately that she was without
doubt a German spy. But she was an authority on the country. She told
you that the Chinese had such perfect manners and you really should
have known the Empress Dowager; she was a perfect darling. You knew
very well that in Constantinople she would have assured you that the
Turks were such perfect gentlemen and the Sultana Fatima was a perfect
dear and spoke such wonderful French. Homeless, she was at home
wherever her country had a diplomatic representative.

The first secretary of the British Legation thought the party rather
mixed. He spoke French more like a Frenchman than any Frenchman who
ever lived. He was a man of taste, and he had a natural aptitude for
being right. He only knew the right people and only read the right
books; he admired none but the right music and cared for none but the
right pictures; he bought his clothes at the right tailor's and his
shirts from the only possible haberdasher. You listened to him with
stupefaction. Presently you wished with all your heart that he would
confess to a liking for something just a little vulgar: you would
have felt more at your ease if only with bold idiosyncrasy he had
claimed that _The Soul's Awakening_ was a work of art or _The Rosary_ a
masterpiece. But his taste was faultless. He was perfect and you were
half afraid that he knew it, for in repose his face had the look of one
who bears an intolerable burden. And then you discovered that he wrote
_vers libre_. You breathed again.


There was about the party a splendour which has vanished from the
dinner tables of England. The mahogany groaned with silver. In the
middle of the snowy damask cloth was a centrepiece of yellow silk such
as you were unwillingly constrained to buy in the bazaars of your prim
youth and on this was a massive épergne. Tall silver vases in which
were large chrysanthemums made it possible to catch only glimpses of
the persons opposite you, and tall silver candlesticks reared their
proud heads two by two down the length of the table. Each course
was served with its appropriate wine, sherry with the soup and hock
with the fish; and there were the two entrées, a white entrée and a
brown entrée, which the careful housekeeper of the nineties felt were
essential to a properly arranged dinner.

Perhaps the conversation was less varied than the courses, for guests
and hosts had seen one another nearly every day for an intolerable
number of years and each topic that arose was seized upon desperately
only to be exhausted and followed by a formidable silence. They talked
of racing and golf and shooting. They would have thought it bad form to
touch upon the abstract and there were no politics for them to discuss.
China bored them all, they did not want to speak of that; they only
knew just so much about it as was necessary to their business, and they
looked with distrust upon any man who studied the Chinese language. Why
should he unless he were a missionary or a Chinese Secretary at the
Legation? You could hire an interpreter for twenty-five dollars a month
and it was well known that all those fellows who went in for Chinese
grew queer in the head. They were all persons of consequence. There was
number one at Jardine's with his wife, and the manager of the Hong-Kong
and Shanghai Bank with his wife, the A.P.C. man and his wife, and the
B.A.T. man with his wife, and the B.&S. man with his wife. They wore
their evening clothes a little uneasily as though they wore them from a
sense of duty to their country rather than as a comfortable change from
day dress. They had come to the party because they had nothing else in
the world to do, but when the moment came that they could decently take
their leave they would go with a sigh of relief. They were bored to
death with one another.



It stands open to the sky, three round terraces of white marble, placed
one above the other, which are reached by four marble staircases, and
these face the four points of the compass. It represents the celestial
sphere with its cardinal points. A great park surrounds it and this
again is surrounded by high walls. And hither, year after year, on the
night of the winter solstice, for then heaven is reborn, generation
after generation came the Son of Heaven solemnly to worship the
original creator of his house. Escorted by princes and the great men
of the realm, followed by his troops, the emperor purified by fasting
proceeded to the altar. And here awaited him princes and ministers
and mandarins, each in his allotted place, musicians and the dancers
of the sacred dance. In the scanty light of the great torches the
ceremonial robes were darkly splendid. And before the tablet on which
were inscribed the words: Imperial Heaven--Supreme Emperor, he offered
incense, jade, and silk, broth and rice spirit. He knelt and knocked
his forehead against the marble pavement nine times.

And here at the very spot where the vice-regent of heaven and earth
knelt down, Willard B. Untermeyer wrote his name in a fine bold hand
and the town and state he came from, Hastings, Nebraska. So he sought
to attach his fleeting personality to the recollection of that grandeur
of which some dim rumour had reached him. He thought that so men
would remember him when he was no more. He aimed in this crude way
at immortality. But vain are the hopes of men. For no sooner had he
sauntered down the steps than a Chinese caretaker who had been leaning
against the balustrade, idly looking at the blue sky, came forward,
spat neatly on the spot where Willard B. Untermeyer had written, and
with his foot smeared his spittle over the name. In a moment no trace
remained that Willard B. Untermeyer had ever visited that place.



They were sitting side by side, two missionaries, talking to one
another of perfectly trivial things, in the way people talk who wish
to show each other civility but have nothing in common; and they would
have been surprised to be told that they had certainly one admirable
thing in common, goodness, for both had this also in common, humility;
though perhaps in the Englishman it was more deliberate, and so, if
more conspicuous less natural, than it was in the Frenchman. Otherwise
the contrasts between them were almost ludicrous. The Frenchman was
hard on eighty, a tall man, still unbent; and his large bones suggested
that in youth he had been a man of uncommon strength. Now his only sign
of power lay in his eyes, immensely large so that you could not help
noticing their strange expression, and flashing. That is an epithet
often applied to eyes, but I do not think I have ever seen any to which
it might be applied so fitly. There was really a flame in them and
they seemed to emit light. They had a wildness which hardly suggested
sanity. They were the eyes of a prophet in Israel. His nose was large
and aggressive, his chin was firm and square. At no time could he
have been a man to trifle with, but in his prime he must have been
terrific. Perhaps the passion of his eyes bespoke battles long fought
out in the uttermost depths of his heart, and his soul cried out in
them, vanquished and bleeding, yet triumphant, and he exulted in the
unclosed wound which he offered in willing sacrifice to Almighty God.
He felt the cold in his old bones and he wore wrapped about him like
a soldier's cloak a great fur and on his head a cap of Chinese sable.
He was a magnificent figure. He had been in China for half a century
and thrice he had fled for his life when the Chinese had attacked his

"I trust they won't attack it again," he said, smiling, "for I am too
old now to make these precipitate journeys." He shrugged his shoulders:
"_Je serai martyr_."

He lit a long black cigar and puffed it with great enjoyment.

The other was very much younger, he could not have been more than
fifty, and he had not been in China for more than twenty years. He
was a member of the English Church Mission and he was dressed in a
grey tweed suit and a spotted tie. He sought to look as little like
a clergyman as possible. He was a little taller than the average,
but he was so fat that he looked stumpy. He had a round good-natured
face, with red cheeks and a grey moustache of the variety known as
toothbrush. He was very bald, but with a pardonable and touching vanity
he had grown his hair long enough on one side to be brought over the
scalp and so give himself at all events the illusion that his head was
well-covered. He was a jovial fellow, with a hearty laugh, and it rang
out loudly, honest and true, when he chaffed his friends or was chaffed
by them. He had the humour of a schoolboy and you could imagine him
shaking in all his bulk when someone slipped on a piece of orange peel.
But the laughter would be stopped, and he would redden, as it struck
him suddenly that the man who slipped might have hurt himself, and then
he would be all kindness and sympathy. For it was impossible to be with
him for ten minutes without realising the tenderness of his heart. You
felt that it would be impossible to ask him to do anything he would
not gladly do, and if perhaps at first his heartiness would make it
difficult to go to him in your spiritual needs you could be sure in
all practical affairs of his attention, sympathy, and good sense. He
was a man whose purse was always open to the indigent and whose time
was always at the service of those who wanted it. And yet perhaps it
is unjust to say that in the affairs of the soul his help would not
be very effectual, for though he could not speak to you, like the old
Frenchman, with the authority of a church that has never admitted
doubt or with the compelling fire of the ascetic, he would share your
distress with such a candid sympathy, consoling you with his own
hesitations, less a minister of God then than a halting, tremulous man
of the same flesh as yourself, who sought to share with you the hope
and the consolation with which his own soul was refreshed, that perhaps
in his own way he had something as good to offer as the other.

His story was a little unusual. He had been a soldier and he was
pleased to talk of the old days when he had hunted with the Quorn and
danced through the London season. He had no unhealthy feeling of past

"I was a great dancer in my young days," he said, "but I expect I
should be quite out of it now with all these new dances."

It was a good life so long as it lasted and though he did not for a
moment regret it, he had no feeling of resentment for it. The call had
come when he was in India. He did not exactly know how or why, it had
just come, a sudden feeling that he must give up his life to bringing
the heathen to the belief in Christ, but it was a feeling that he could
not resist; it gave him no peace. He was a happy man now, enjoying his

"It's a slow business," he said, "but I see signs of progress and I
love the Chinese. I wouldn't change my life here for any in the world."

The two missionaries said good-bye to one another.

"When are you going home?" asked the Englishman.

"_Moi?_ Oh, in a day or two."

"I may not see you again then. I expect to go home in March."

But one meant the little town with its narrow streets where he had
lived for fifty years, since when he left France, a young man, he left
it for ever; but the other meant the Elizabethan house in Cheshire,
with its smooth lawns and its oak trees, where his ancestors had dwelt
for three centuries.



It seems long since the night fell, and for an hour a coolie has
walked before your chair carrying a lantern. It throws a thin circle
of light in front of you, and as you pass you catch a pale glimpse
(like a thing of beauty emerging vaguely from the ceaseless flux of
common life) of a bamboo thicket, a flash of water in a rice field, or
the heavy darkness of a banyan. Now and then a belated peasant bearing
two heavy baskets on his yoke sidles by. The bearers walk more slowly,
but after the long day they have lost none of their spirit, and they
chatter gaily; they laugh, and one of them breaks into a fragment of
tuneless song. But the causeway rises and the lantern throws its light
suddenly on a whitewashed wall: you have reached the first miserable
houses that straggle along the path outside the city wall, and two or
three minutes more bring you to a steep flight of steps. The bearers
take them at a run. You pass through the city gates. The narrow streets
are multitudinous and in the shops they are busy still. The bearers
shout raucously. The crowd divides and you pass through a double hedge
of serried curious people. Their faces are impassive and their dark
eyes stare mysteriously. The bearers, their day's work done, march
with a swinging stride. Suddenly they stop, wheel to the right, into a
courtyard, and you have reached the inn. Your chair is set down.

The inn--it consists of a long yard, partly covered, with rooms opening
on it on each side--is lit by three or four oil lamps. They throw a dim
light immediately around them, but make the surrounding darkness more
impenetrable. All the front of the yard is crowded with tables and at
these people are packed, eating rice or drinking tea. Some of them play
games you do not know. At the great stove, where water in a cauldron is
perpetually heating and rice in a huge pan being prepared, stand the
persons of the inn. They serve out rapidly great bowls of rice and fill
the teapots which are incessantly brought them. Further back a couple
of naked coolies, sturdy, thickset and supple, are sluicing themselves
with boiling water. You walk to the end of the yard where, facing
the entrance but protected from the vulgar gaze by a screen, is the
principal guest chamber.

It is a spacious, windowless room, with a floor of trodden earth,
lofty, for it goes the whole height of the inn, with an open roof. The
walls are whitewashed, showing the beams, so that they remind you of a
farmhouse in Sussex. The furniture consists of a square table, with a
couple of straight-backed wooden arm-chairs, and three or four wooden
pallets covered with matting on the least dirty of which you will
presently lay your bed. In a cup of oil a taper gives a tiny point of
light. They bring you your lantern and you wait while your dinner is
cooked. The bearers are merry now that they have set down their loads.
They wash their feet and put on clean sandals and smoke their long

How precious then is the inordinate length of your book (for you are
travelling light and you have limited yourself to three) and how
jealously you read every word of every page so that you may delay as
long as possible the dreaded moment when you must reach the end! You
are mightily thankful then to the authors of long books and when you
turn over their pages, reckoning how long you can make them last, you
wish they were half as long again. You do not ask then for the perfect
lucidity which he who runs may read. A complicated phraseology which
makes it needful to read the sentence a second time to get its meaning
is not unwelcome; a profusion of metaphor, giving your fancy ample
play, a richness of allusion affording you the delight of recognition,
are then qualities beyond price. Then if the thought is elaborate
without being profound (for you have been on the road since dawn and of
the forty miles of the day's journey you have footed it more than half)
you have the perfect book for the occasion.

But the noise in the inn suddenly increases to a din and looking out
you see that more travellers, a party of Chinese in sedan chairs, have
arrived. They take the rooms on each side of you and through the thin
walls you hear their loud talking far into the night. With a lazy,
restful eye, your whole body conscious of the enjoyment of lying in
bed, taking a sensual pleasure in its fatigue, you follow the elaborate
pattern of the transom. The dim lamp in the yard shines through the
torn paper with which it is covered, and its intricate design is black
against the light. At last everything is quiet but for a man in the
next room who is coughing painfully. It is the peculiar, repeated
cough of phthisis, and hearing it at intervals through the night you
wonder how long the poor devil can live. You rejoice in your own rude
strength. Then a cock crows loudly, just behind your head, it seems;
and not far away a bugler blows a long blast on his bugle, a melancholy
wail; the inn begins to stir again; lights are lit, and the coolies
make ready their loads for another day.



It is a sort of little cubicle in a corner of the chandler's store
just under the ceiling and you reach it by a stair which is like a
ship's companion. It is partitioned off from the shop by matchboarding,
about four feet high, so that when you sit on the wooden benches that
surround the table you can see into the shop with all its stores. Here
are coils of rope, oilskins, heavy sea-boots, hurricane lamps, hams,
tinned goods, liquor of all sorts, curios to take home to your wife and
children, clothes, I know not what. There is everything that a foreign
ship can want in an Eastern port. You can watch the Chinese, salesmen
and customers, and they have a pleasantly mysterious air as though
they were concerned in nefarious business. You can see who comes into
the shop and since it is certainly a friend bid him join you in the
Glory Hole. Through the wide doorway you see the sun beating down on
the stone pavement of the roadway and the coolies scurrying past with
their heavy loads. At about midday the company begins to assemble,
two or three pilots, Captain Thompson and Captain Brown, old men who
have sailed the China Seas for thirty years and now have a comfortable
billet ashore, the skipper of a tramp from Shanghai, and the taipans of
one or two tea firms. The boy stands silently waiting for orders and he
brings the drinks and the dice-box. Talk flows rather prosily at first.
A boat was wrecked the other day going in to Foochow, that fellow
Maclean, the engineer of the An-Chan has made a pot of money in rubber
lately, the consul's wife is coming out from home in the _Empress_; but
by the time the dice-box has travelled round the table and the loser
has signed the chit, the glasses are empty and the dice-box is reached
for once more. The boy brings the second round of drinks. Then the
tongues of these stolid, stubborn men are loosened a little and they
begin to talk of the past. One of the pilots knew the port first hard
on fifty years ago. Ah, those were the great days.

"That's when you ought to have seen the Glory Hole," he says, with a

Those were the days of the tea clippers, when there would be thirty
or forty ships in the harbour, waiting for their cargo. Everyone had
plenty of money to spend then, and the Glory Hole was the centre of
life in the port. If you wanted to find a man, why, you came to the
Glory Hole, and if he wasn't there he'd be sure to come along soon.
The agents did their business with the skippers there, and the doctor
didn't have office hours; he went to the Glory Hole at noon and if
anyone was sick he attended to him there and then. Those were the days
when men knew how to drink. They would come at midday and drink all
through the afternoon, a boy bringing them a bite if they were hungry,
and drink all through the night. Fortunes were lost and won in the
Glory Hole, for they were gamblers then and a man would risk all the
profits of his run in a game of cards. Those were the good old days.
But now the trade was gone, the tea clippers no longer thronged the
harbour, the port was dead, and the young men, the young men of the
A.P.C. or of Jardine's, turned up their noses at the Glory Hole. And
as the old pilot talked that dingy little cubicle with its stained
table seemed to be for a moment peopled with those old skippers, hardy,
reckless, and adventurous, of a day that has gone for ever.



I was staying a night with him on the road. The mission stood on a
little hill just outside the gates of a populous city. The first thing
I noticed about him was the difference of his taste. The missionary's
house as a rule is furnished in a style which is almost an outrage to
decency. The parlour, with its air of an unused room, is papered with
a gaudy paper, and on the wall hang texts, engravings of sentimental
pictures--_The Soul's Awakening_ and Luke Filde's _The Doctor_--or, if
the missionary has been long in the country, congratulatory scrolls
on stiff red paper. There is a Brussels carpet on the floor, rocking
chairs if the household is American and a stiff arm-chair on each side
of the fireplace if it is English. There is a sofa which is so placed
that nobody sits on it and by the grim look of it few can want to.
There are lace curtains on the windows. Here and there are occasional
tables on which are photographs and what-nots with modern porcelain on
them. The dining-room has an appearance of more use, but almost the
whole of it is taken up by a large table and when you sit at it you
are crowded into the fireplace. But in Mr. Wingrove's study there were
books from floor to ceiling, a table littered with papers, curtains of
a rich green stuff, and over the fireplace a Tibetan banner. There was
a row of Tibetan Buddhas on the chimney piece.

"I don't know how it is, but you've got just the feeling of college
rooms about the place," I said.

"Do you think so?" he answered. "I was a tutor at Oriel for some time."

He was a man of nearly fifty, I should think, tall and well-covered
though not stout, with grey hair cut very short and a reddish face. One
imagined that he must be a jovial man fond of laughter, an easy talker
and a good fellow; but his eyes disconcerted you: they were grave and
unsmiling; they had a look that I could only describe as harassed. I
wondered if I had fallen upon him at an inconvenient moment when his
mind was taken up with irksome matters, yet somehow I felt that this
was not a passing expression, but a settled one rather, and I could
not understand it. He had just that look of anxiety which you see in
certain forms of heart disease. He chatted about one thing and another,
then he said:

"I hear my wife come in. Shall we go into the drawing-room?"

He led me in and introduced me to a little thin woman, with gold-rimmed
spectacles and a shy manner. It was plain that she belonged to a
different class from her husband. The missionaries for the most part
with all manner of virtues have not those which we can find no better
way to describe than under the category of good breeding. They may be
saints but they are not often gentlemen. Now it struck me that Mr.
Wingrove was a gentleman, for it was evident that his wife was not a
lady. She had a vulgar intonation. The drawing-room was furnished in
a way I had never before seen in a missionary's house. There was a
Chinese carpet on the floor. Chinese pictures, old ones, hung on the
yellow walls. Two or three Ming tiles gave a dash of colour. In the
middle of the room was a blackwood table, elaborately carved, and on it
was a figure in white porcelain. I made a trivial remark.

"I don't much care for all these Chinese things meself," answered my
hostess briskly, "but Mr. Wingrove's set on them. I'd clear them all
out if I had my way."

I laughed, not because I was amused, and then I caught in Mr.
Wingrove's eyes a flash of icy hatred. I was astonished. But it passed
in a moment.

"We won't have them if you don't like them, my dear," he said gently.
"They can be put away."

"Oh, I don't mind them if they please you."

We began to talk about my journey and in the course of conversation
I happened to ask Mr. Wingrove how long it was since he had been in

"Seventeen years," he said.

I was surprised.

"But I thought you had one year's furlough every seven?"

"Yes, but I haven't cared to go."

"Mr. Wingrove thinks it's bad for the work to go away for a year like
that," explained his wife. "Of course I don't care to go without him."

I wondered how it was that he had ever come to China. The actual
details of the call fascinate me, and often enough you find people who
are willing to talk of it, though you have to form your own opinion
on the matter less from the words they say than from the implications
of them; but I did not feel that Mr. Wingrove was a man who would
be induced either directly or indirectly to speak of that intimate
experience. He evidently took his work very seriously.

"Are there other foreigners here?" I asked.


"It must be very lonely," I said.

"I think I prefer it so," he answered, looking at one of the pictures
on the wall. "They'd only be business people, and you know"--he
smiled--"they haven't much use for missionaries. And they're not so
intellectual that it is a great hardship to be deprived of their

"And of course we're not really alone, you know," said Mrs. Wingrove.
"We have two evangelists and then there are two young ladies who teach.
And there are the school children."

Tea was brought in and we gossiped desultorily. Mr. Wingrove seemed
to speak with effort, and I had increasingly that feeling in him of
perturbed repression. He had pleasing manners and was certainly trying
to be cordial and yet I had a sense of effort. I led the conversation
to Oxford, mentioning various friends whom he might know, but he gave
me no encouragement.

"It's so long since I left home," he said, "and I haven't kept up with
anyone. There's a great deal of work in a mission like this and it
absorbs one entirely."

I thought he was exaggerating a little, so I remarked:

"Well, by the number of books you have I take it that you get a certain
amount of time for reading."

"I very seldom read," he answered with abruptness, in a voice that I
knew already was not quite his own.

I was puzzled. There was something odd about the man. At last, as was
inevitable, I suppose, he began to talk of the Chinese. Mrs. Wingrove
said the same things about them that I had already heard so many
missionaries say. They were a lying people, untrustworthy, cruel, and
dirty, but a faint light was visible in the East; though the results
of missionary endeavour were not very noteworthy as yet, the future
was promising. They no longer believed in their old gods and the power
of the literati was broken. It is an attitude of mistrust and dislike
tempered by optimism. But Mr. Wingrove mitigated his wife's strictures.
He dwelt on the good-nature of the Chinese, on their devotion to their
parents and on their love for their children.

"Mr. Wingrove won't hear a word against the Chinese," said his wife,
"he simply loves them."

"I think they have great qualities," he said. "You can't walk through
those crowded streets of theirs without having that impressed on you."

"I don't believe Mr. Wingrove notices the smells," his wife laughed.

At that moment there was a knock at the door and a young woman came in.
She had the long skirts and the unbound feet of the native Christian,
and on her face a look that was at once cringing and sullen. She said
something to Mrs. Wingrove. I happened to catch sight of Mr. Wingrove's
face. When he saw her there passed over it an expression of the most
intense physical repulsion, it was distorted as though by an odour that
nauseated him, and then immediately it vanished and his lips twitched
to a pleasant smile; but the effort was too great and he showed only a
tortured grimace. I looked at him with amazement. Mrs. Wingrove with an
"excuse me" got up and left the room.

"That is one of our teachers," said Mr. Wingrove in that same set voice
which had a little puzzled me before. "She's invaluable. I put infinite
reliance on her. She has a very fine character."

Then, I hardly know why, in a flash I saw the truth; I saw the disgust
in his soul for all that his will loved. I was filled with the
excitement which an explorer may feel when after a hazardous journey he
comes upon a country with features new and unexpected. Those tortured
eyes explained themselves, the unnatural voice, the measured restraint
with which he praised, that air he had of a hunted man. Notwithstanding
all he said he hated the Chinese with a hatred beside which his wife's
distaste was insignificant. When he walked through the teeming streets
of the city it was an agony to him, his missionary life revolted him,
his soul was like the raw shoulders of the coolies and the carrying
pole burnt the bleeding wound. He would not go home because he could
not bear to see again what he cared for so much, he would not read his
books because they reminded him of the life he loved so passionately,
and perhaps he had married that vulgar wife in order to cut himself off
more resolutely from a world that his every instinct craved for. He
martyred his tortured soul with a passionate exasperation.

I tried to see how the call had come. I think that for years he had
been completely happy in his easy ways at Oxford; and he had loved
his work, with its pleasant companionship, his books, his holidays in
France and Italy. He was a contented man and asked nothing better than
to spend the rest of his days in just such a fashion; but I know not
what obscure feeling had gradually taken hold of him that his life
was too lazy, too contented; I think he was always a religious man
and perhaps some early belief, instilled into him in childhood and
long forgotten, of a jealous God who hated his creatures to be happy
on earth, rankled in the depths of his heart; I think because he was
so well satisfied with his life he began to think it was sinful. A
restless anxiety seized him. Whatever he thought with his intelligence
his instincts began to tremble with the dread of eternal punishment. I
do not know what put the idea of China into his head, but at first he
must have thrust it aside with violent repulsion; and perhaps the very
violence of his repulsion impressed the idea on him, for he found it
haunting him. I think he said that he would not go, but I think he felt
that he would have to. God was pursuing him and wherever he hid himself
God followed. With his reason he struggled, but with his heart he was
caught. He could not help himself. At least he gave in.

I knew I should never see him again and I had not the time to spend on
the commonplaces of conversation before a reasonable familiarity would
permit me to talk of more intimate matters. I seized the opportunity
while we were still alone.

"Tell me," I said, "do you believe God will condemn the Chinese to
eternal punishment if they don't accept Christianity?"

I am sure my question was crude and tactless, for the old man in him
tightened his lips. But nevertheless he answered.

"The whole teaching of the gospel forces one to that conclusion. There
is not a single argument which people have adduced to the contrary
which has the force of the plain words of Jesus Christ."



I do not know whether he was a mandarin bound for the capital of the
province, or some student travelling to a seat of learning, nor what
the reason that delayed him in the most miserable of all the miserable
inns in China. Perhaps one or other of his bearers, hidden somewhere
to smoke a pipe of opium (for it is cheap in that neighborhood and
you must be prepared for trouble with your coolies) could not be
found. Perhaps a storm of torrential rain had held him for an hour an
unwilling prisoner.

The room was so low that you could easily touch the rafters with your
hand. The mud walls were covered with dirty whitewash, here and there
worn away, and all round on wooden pallets were straw beds for the
coolies who were the inn's habitual guests. The sun alone enabled
you to support the melancholy squalor. It shone through the latticed
window, a beam of golden light, and threw on the trodden earth of the
floor a pattern of an intricate and splendid richness.

And here to pass an idle moment he had taken his stone tablet and
mixing a little water with the stick of ink which he rubbed on it,
seized the fine brush with which he executed the beautiful characters
of the Chinese writing (he was surely proud of his exquisite
calligraphy and it was a welcome gift which he made his friends when
he sent them a scroll on which was written a maxim, glitteringly
compact, of the divine Confucius) and with a bold hand he drew on the
wall a branch of plum-blossom and a bird perched on it. It was done
very lightly, but with an admirable ease; I know not what happy chance
guided the artist's touch, for the bird was all a-quiver with life and
the plum-blossoms were tremulous on their stalks. The soft airs of
spring blew through the sketch into that sordid chamber, and for the
beating of a pulse you were in touch with the Eternal.



He was a man of less than middle height, with stiff brown hair _en
brosse_, a little toothbrush moustache, and glasses through which
his blue eyes, looking at you aggressively, were somewhat distorted.
There was a defiant perkiness in his appearance which reminded you of
the cock-sparrow, and as he asked you to sit down and inquired your
business, meanwhile sorting the papers littered on his desk as though
you had disturbed him in the midst of important affairs, you had the
feeling that he was on the look out for an opportunity to put you in
your place. He had cultivated the official manner to perfection. You
were the public, an unavoidable nuisance, and the only justification
for your existence was that you did what you were told without argument
or delay. But even officials have their weakness and somehow it chanced
that he found it very difficult to bring any business to an end without
confiding his grievance to you. It appeared that people, missionaries
especially, thought him supercilious and domineering. He assured you
that he thought there was a great deal of good in missionaries; it is
true that many of them were ignorant and unreasonable, and he didn't
like their attitude; in his district most of them were Canadians, and
personally he didn't like Canadians; but as for saying that he put
on airs of superiority (he fixed his pince-nez more firmly on his
nose) it was monstrously untrue. On the contrary he went out of his
way to help them, but it was only natural that he should help them in
his way rather than in theirs. It was hard to listen to him without
a smile, for in every word he said you felt how exasperating he must
be to the unfortunate persons over whom he had control. His manner
was deplorable. He had developed the gift of putting up your back
to a degree which is very seldom met with. He was in short a vain,
irritable, bumptious, and tiresome little man.

During the revolution, while a lot of firing was going on in the
city between the rival factions, he had occasion to go to the
Southern general on official business connected with the safety of
his nationals, and on his way through the yamen he came across three
prisoners being led out to execution. He stopped the officer in charge
of the firing party and finding out what was about to happen vehemently
protested. These were prisoners of war and it was barbarity to kill
them. The officer--very rudely, in the consul's words--told him that he
must carry out his orders. The consul fired up. He wasn't going to let
a confounded Chinese officer talk to him in that way. An altercation
ensued. The general informed of what was occurring sent out to ask
the consul to come in to him, but the consul refused to move till the
prisoners, three wretched coolies green with fear, were handed over to
his safe-keeping. The officer waved him aside and ordered his firing
squad to take aim. Then the consul--I can see him fixing his glasses
on his nose and his hair bristling fiercely--then the consul stepped
forwards between the levelled rifles and the three miserable men, and
told the soldiers to shoot and be damned. There was hesitation and
confusion. It was plain that the rebels did not want to shoot a British
consul. I suppose there was a hurried consultation. The three prisoners
were given over to him and in triumph the little man marched back to
the consulate.

"Damn it, Sir," he said furiously, "I almost thought the blighters
would have the confounded cheek to shoot me."

They are strange people the British. If their manners were as good
as their courage is great they would merit the opinion they have of



On the stage it makes a very effective set. It is dimly lit. The room
is low and squalid. In one corner a lamp burns mysteriously before a
hideous image and incense fills the theatre with its exotic scent. A
pig-tailed Chinaman wanders to and fro, aloof and saturnine, while on
wretched pallets lie stupefied the victims of the drug. Now and then
one of them breaks into frantic raving. There is a highly dramatic
scene where some poor creature, unable to pay for the satisfaction of
his craving, with prayers and curses begs the villainous proprietor for
a pipe to still his anguish. I have read also in novels descriptions
which made my blood run cold. And when I was taken to an opium den
by a smooth-spoken Eurasian the narrow, winding stairway up which he
led me prepared me sufficiently to receive the thrill I expected. I
was introduced into a neat enough room, brightly lit, divided into
cubicles the raised floor of which, covered with clean matting, formed
a convenient couch. In one an elderly gentleman, with a grey head
and very beautiful hands, was quietly reading a newspaper, with his
long pipe by his side. In another two coolies were lying, with a pipe
between them, which they alternately prepared and smoked. They were
young men, of a hearty appearance, and they smiled at me in a friendly
way. One of them offered me a smoke. In a third four men squatted over
a chess-board, and a little further on a man was dandling a baby (the
inscrutable Oriental has a passion for children) while the baby's
mother, whom I took to be the landlord's wife, a plump, pleasant-faced
woman, watched him with a broad smile on her lips. It was a cheerful
spot, comfortable, home-like, and cosy. It reminded me somewhat of the
little intimate beer-houses of Berlin where the tired working man could
go in the evening and spend a peaceful hour. Fiction is stranger than



It was pathetically obvious that she had come to China to be married,
and what made it almost tragic was that not a single man in the treaty
port was ignorant of the fact. She was a big woman with an ungainly
figure; her hands and feet were large; she had a large nose, indeed
all her features were large; but her blue eyes were fine. She was
perhaps a little too conscious of them. She was a blonde and she was
thirty. In the daytime when she wore sensible boots, a short skirt,
and a slouch hat, she was personable; but in the evening, in blue silk
to enhance the colour of her eyes, in a frock cut by heaven knows what
suburban dressmaker from the models in an illustrated paper, when she
set herself out to be alluring she was an object that made you horribly
ill-at-ease. She wished to be all things to all unmarried men. She
listened brightly while one of them talked of shooting and she listened
gaily when another talked of the freight on tea. She clapped her hands
with girlish excitement when they discussed the races which were to
be run next week. She was desperately fond of dancing, with a young
American, and she made him promise to take her to a baseball match; but
dancing wasn't the only thing she cared for (you can have too much of a
good thing) and, with the elderly, but single, taipan of an important
firm, what she simply loved was a game of golf. She was willing to be
taught billiards by a young man who had lost his leg in the war and she
gave her sprightly attention to the manager of a bank who told her what
he thought of silver. She was not much interested in the Chinese, for
that was a subject which was not very good form in the circles in which
she found herself, but being a woman she could not help being revolted
at the way in which Chinese women were treated.

"You know, they don't have a word to say about who they're going to
marry," she explained. "It's all arranged by go-betweens and the man
doesn't even see the girl till he's married her. There's no romance or
anything like that. And as far as love goes ..."

Words failed her. She was a thoroughly good-natured creature. She would
have made any of those men, young or old, a perfectly good wife. And
she knew it.



The convent lay white and cool among the trees on the top of a hill;
and as I stood at the gateway, waiting to be let in, I looked down
at the tawny river glittering in the sunlight and at the rugged
mountains beyond. It was the Mother Superior who received me, a placid,
sweet-faced lady with a soft voice and an accent which told me that
she came from the South of France. She showed me the orphans who were
in her charge, busy at the lace-making which the nuns had taught them,
smiling shyly; and she showed me the hospital where lay soldiers
suffering from dysentery, typhoid, and malaria. They were squalid and
dirty. The Mother Superior told me she was a Basque. The mountains
that she looked out on from the convent windows reminded her of the
Pyrenees. She had been in China for twenty years. She said that it was
hard sometimes never to see the sea; here on the great river they were
a thousand miles away from it; and because I knew the country where she
was born she talked to me a little of the fine roads that led over the
mountains--ah, they did not have them here in China--and the vineyards
and the pleasant villages with their running streams that nestled at
the foot of the hills. But the Chinese were good people. The orphans
were very quick with their fingers and they were industrious; the
Chinese sought them as wives because they had learnt useful things in
the convent, and even after they were married they could earn a little
money by their needles. And the soldiers too, they were not so bad as
people said; after all _les pauvres petits_, they did not want to be
soldiers; they would much sooner be at home working in the fields.
Those whom the sisters had nursed through illness were not devoid
of gratitude. Sometimes when they were coming along in a chair and
overtook two nuns who had been in the town to buy things and were laden
with parcels, they would offer to take their parcels in the chair. _Au
fond_, they were not bad hearted.

"They do not go so far as to get out and let the nuns ride in their
stead?" I asked.

"A nun in their eyes is only a woman," she smiled indulgently. "You
must not ask from people more than they are capable of giving."

How true, and yet how hard to remember!



It was very hard to look at him without a chuckle, for his appearance
immediately told you all about him. When you saw him at the club,
reading _The London Mercury_ or lounging at the bar with a gin and
bitters at his elbow (no cocktails for him) his unconventionality
attracted your attention; but you recognised him at once, for he was a
perfect specimen of his class. His unconventionality was exquisitely
conventional. Everything about him was according to standard, from his
square-toed, serviceable boots to his rather long, untidy hair. He wore
a loose low collar that showed a thick neck and loose, somewhat shabby
but well-cut clothes. He always smoked a short briar pipe. He was
very humorous on the subject of cigarettes. He was a biggish fellow,
athletic, with fine eyes and a pleasant voice. He talked fluently.
His language was often obscene, not because his mind was impure, but
because his bent was democratic. As you guessed by the look of him he
drank beer (not in fact but in the spirit) with Mr. Chesterton and
walked the Sussex downs with Mr. Hilaire Belloc. He had played football
at Oxford, but with Mr. Wells he despised the ancient seat of learning.
He looked upon Mr. Bernard Shaw as a little out of date, but he had
still great hopes of Mr. Granville Barker. He had had many serious
talks with Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Webb, and he was a member of the Fabian
Society. The only point where he touched upon the same world as the
frivolous was his appreciation of the Russian Ballet. He wrote rugged
poems about prostitutes, dogs, lamp-posts, Magdalen College, public
houses and country vicarages. He held English, French, and Americans
in scorn; but on the other hand (he was no misanthropist) he would not
listen to a word in dispraise of Tamils, Bengalis, Kaffirs, Germans, or
Greeks. At the club they thought him rather a wild fellow.

"A socialist, you know," they said.

But he was junior partner in a well-known and respectable firm, and
one of the peculiarities of China is that your position excuses your
idiosyncrasies. It may be notorious that you beat your wife, but if
you are manager of a well-established bank the world will be civil to
you and ask you to dinner. So when Henderson announced his socialistic
opinions they merely laughed. When he first came to Shanghai he refused
to use the jinrickshaw. It revolted his sense of personal dignity that
a man, a human being no different from himself, should drag him hither
and thither. So he walked. He swore it was good exercise and it kept
him fit; besides, it gave him a thirst he wouldn't sell for twenty
dollars, and he drank his beer with gusto. But Shanghai is very hot and
sometimes he was in a hurry so now and again he was obliged to use the
degrading vehicle. It made him feel uncomfortable, but it was certainly
convenient. Presently he came to use it frequently, but he always
thought of the boy between the shafts as a man and a brother.

He had been three years in Shanghai when I saw him. We had spent the
morning in the Chinese city, going from shop to shop and our rickshaw
boys were hot with sweat; every minute or two they wiped their
foreheads with ragged handkerchiefs. We were bound now for the club and
had nearly reached it when Henderson remembered that he wanted to get
Mr. Bertrand Russell's new book, which had just reached Shanghai. He
stopped the boys and told them to go back.

"Don't you think we might leave it till after luncheon?" I said. "Those
fellows are sweating like pigs."

"It's good for them," he answered. "You mustn't ever pay attention to
the Chinese. You see, we're only here because they fear us. We're the
ruling race."

I did not say anything. I did not even smile.

"The Chinese always have had masters and they always will."

A passing car separated us for a moment and when he came once more
abreast of me he had put the matter aside.

"You men who live in England don't know what it means to us when new
books get out here," he remarked. "I read everything that Bertrand
Russell writes. Have you seen the last one?"

"Roads to Freedom? Yes. I read it before I left England."

"I've read several reviews. I think he's got hold of some interesting

I think Henderson was going to enlarge on them, but the rickshaw boy
passed the turning he should have taken.

"Round the corner, you bloody fool," cried Henderson, and to emphasize
his meaning he gave the man a smart kick on the bottom.



It is night still and the courtyard of the inn is rich with deep
patches of darkness. Lanterns throw fitful lights on the coolies busily
preparing their loads for the journey. They shout and laugh, angrily
argue with one another, and vociferously quarrel. I go out into the
street and walk along preceded by a boy with a lantern. Here and there
behind closed doors cocks are crowing. But in many of the shops the
shutters are down already and the indefatigable people are beginning
their long day. Here an apprentice is sweeping the floor, and there a
man is washing his hands and face. A wick burning in a cup of oil is
all his light. I pass a tavern where half a dozen persons are seated at
an early meal. The ward gate is closed, but a watchman lets me through
a postern and I walk along a wall by a sluggish stream in which are
reflected the bright stars. Then I reach the great gate of the city,
and this time one half of it is open; I pass out, and there, awaiting
me, all ghostly, is the dawn. The day and the long road and the open
country lie before me.

Put out the lantern. Behind me the darkness pales to a mist of purple
and I know that soon this will kindle to a rosy flush. I can make out
the causeway well enough and the water in the padi fields reflects
already a wan and shadowy light. It is no longer night, but it is not
yet day. This is the moment of most magical beauty, when the hills and
the valleys, the trees and the water, have a mystery which is not of
earth. For when once the sun has risen, for a time the world is very
cheerless, the light is cold and grey like the light in a painter's
studio, and there are no shadows to diaper the ground with a coloured
pattern. Skirting the brow of a wooded hill I look down on the padi
fields. But to call them fields is too grandiose. They are for the
most part crescent shaped patches built on the slope of a hill, one
below the other, so that they can be flooded. Firs and bamboos grow in
the hollows as though placed there by a skilful gardener with a sense
of ordered beauty to imitate formally the abandon of nature. In this
moment of enchantment you do not look upon the scene of humble toil,
but on the pleasure gardens of an emperor. Here throwing aside the
cares of state, he might come in yellow silk embroidered with dragons,
with jewelled bracelets on his wrists, to sport with a concubine so
beautiful that men in after ages felt it natural if a dynasty was
destroyed for her sake.

And now with the increasing day a mist arises from the padi fields and
climbs half way up the gentle hills. You may see a hundred pictures
of the sight before you, for it is one that the old masters of China
loved exceedingly. The little hills, wooded to their summit, with a
line of fir trees along the crest, a firm silhouette against the sky,
the little hills rise behind one another, and the varying level of the
mist, forming a pattern, gives the composition a completeness which
yet allows the imagination ample scope. The bamboos grow right down to
the causeway, their thin leaves shivering in the shadow of a breeze,
and they grow with a high-bred grace so that they look like groups of
ladies in the Great Ming dynasty resting languidly by the way-side.
They have been to some temple, and their silken dresses are richly
wrought with flowers and in their hair are precious ornaments of jade.
They rest there for a while on their small feet, their golden lilies,
gossiping elegantly, for do they not know that the best use of culture
is to talk nonsense with distinction; and in a moment slipping back
into their chairs they will be gone. But the road turns and my God, the
bamboos, the Chinese bamboos, transformed by some magic of the mist,
look just like the hops of a Kentish field. Do you remember the sweet
smelling hop-fields and the fat green meadows, the railway line that
runs along the sea and the long shining beach and the desolate greyness
of the English Channel? The seagull flies over the wintry coldness and
the melancholy of its cry is almost unbearable.



Nothing hinders friendly relations between different countries so
much as the fantastic notions which they cherish about one another's
characteristics, and perhaps no nation has suffered so much from
the misconception of its neighbours as the French. They have been
considered a frivolous race, incapable of profound thought, flippant,
immoral, and unreliable. Even the virtues that have been allowed them,
their brilliancy, their gaiety, have been allowed them (at least
by the English) in a patronising way; for they were not virtues on
which the Anglo-Saxon set great store. It was never realised that
there is a deep seriousness at the bottom of the French character and
that the predominant concern of the average Frenchman is the concern
for his personal dignity. It is by no hazard that La Rochefoucauld,
a keen judge of human nature in general and of his countrymen in
particular, should have made _l'honneur_ the pivot of his system.
The punctiliousness with which our neighbours regard it has often
entertained the Briton who is accustomed to look upon himself with
humour; but it is a living force, as the phrase goes, with the
Frenchman, and you cannot hope to understand him unless you bear in
mind always the susceptibility of his sense of honour.

These reflections were suggested to me whenever I saw the Vicomte de
Steenvoorde driving in his sumptuous car or seated at the head of his
own table. He represented certain important French interests in China
and was said to have more power at the Quai d'Orsay than the minister
himself. There was never a very cordial feeling between the pair, since
the latter not unnaturally resented that one of his nationals should
deal in diplomatic matters with the Chinese behind his back. The esteem
in which M. de Steenvoorde was held at home was sufficiently proved by
the red button that adorned the lappet of his frock coat.

The Vicomte had a fine head, somewhat bald, but not unbecomingly
(_une légère calvitie_, as the French novelists put it and thereby
rob the cruel fact of half its sting), a nose like the great Duke
of Wellington's, bright black eyes under heavy eyelids, and a small
mouth hidden by an exceedingly handsome moustache the ends of which he
twisted a great deal with white, richly jewelled fingers. His air of
dignity was heightened by three massive chins. He had a big trunk and
an imposing corpulence so that when he sat at table he sat a little
away from it, as though he ate under protest and were just there for a
snack; but nature had played a dirty, though not uncommon trick on him;
for his legs were much too short for his body so that, though seated
he had all the appearance of a tall man, you were taken aback to find
when he stood up that he was hardly of average height. It was for this
reason that he made his best effect at table or when he was driving
through the city in his car. Then his presence was commanding. When he
waved to you or with a broad gesture took off his hat, you felt that it
was incredibly affable of him to take any notice of human beings. He
had all the solid respectability of those statesmen of Louis Philippe,
in sober black, with their long hair and clean-shaven faces, who look
out at you with portentous solemnity from the canvases of Ingres.

One often hears of people who talk like a book. M. de Steenvoorde
talked like a magazine, not of course a magazine devoted to light
literature and the distraction of an idle hour, but a magazine of sound
learning and influential opinion. M. de Steenvoorde talked like the
_Revue des Deux Mondes_. It was a treat, though a little fatiguing, to
listen to him. He had the fluency of those who have said the same thing
over and over again. He never hesitated for a word. He put everything
with lucidity, an admirable choice of language, and such an authority
that in his lips the obvious had all the sparkle of an epigram. He was
by no means without wit. He could be very amusing at the expense of his
neighbours. And when, having said something peculiarly malicious, he
turned to you with an observation "_Les absents ont toujours tort_," he
managed to invest it with the freshness of an original aphorism. He was
an ardent Catholic, but, he flattered himself, no reactionary; a man of
standing, substance, and principle.

A poor man, but ambitious (fame, the last infirmity of noble mind) he
had married for her enormous dot the daughter of a sugar broker, now
a painted little lady with hennaed hair, in beautiful clothes; and it
must have been a sore trial to him that when he gave her his honoured
name he could not also endow her with the sense of personal pride which
was so powerful a motive in all his actions. For, like many great men,
M. de Steenvoorde was married to a wife who was extremely unfaithful
to him. But this misfortune he bore with a courage and a dignity which
were absolutely characteristic. His demeanour was so perfect that his
infelicity positively raised him in the eyes of his friends. He was
to all an object of sympathy. He might be a cuckold, but he remained
a person of quality. Whenever, indeed, Mme. de Steenvoorde took a new
lover he insisted that her parents should give him a sufficient sum of
money to make good the outrage to his name and honour. Common report
put it at a quarter of a million francs, but with silver at its present
price I believe that a business man would insist on being paid in
dollars. M. de Steenvoorde is already a man of means, but before his
wife reaches the canonical age he will undoubtedly be a rich one.



At first when you see the coolie on the road, bearing his load, it
is as a pleasing object that he strikes the eye. In his blue rags, a
blue of all colours from indigo to turquoise and then to the paleness
of a milky sky, he fits the landscape. He seems exactly right as he
trudges along the narrow causeway between the rice fields or climbs
a green hill. His clothing consists of no more than a short coat and
a pair of trousers; and if he had a suit which was at the beginning
all of a piece, he never thinks when it comes to patching to choose a
bit of stuff of the same colour. He takes anything that comes handy.
From sun and rain he protects his head with a straw hat shaped like an
extinguisher with a preposterously wide, flat brim.

You see a string of coolies come along, one after the other, each with
a pole on his shoulders from the ends of which hang two great bales,
and they make an agreeable pattern. It is amusing to watch their
hurrying reflections in the padi water. You watch their faces as they
pass you. They are good-natured faces and frank, you would have said,
if it had not been drilled into you that the oriental is inscrutable;
and when you see them lying down with their loads under a banyan tree
by a wayside shrine, smoking and chatting gaily, if you have tried to
lift the bales they carry for thirty miles or more a day, it seems
natural to feel admiration for their endurance and their spirit. But
you will be thought somewhat absurd if you mention your admiration to
the old residents of China. You will be told with a tolerant shrug of
the shoulders that the coolies are animals and for two thousand years
from father to son have carried burdens, so it is no wonder if they
do it cheerfully. And indeed you can see for yourself that they begin
early, for you will encounter little children with a yoke on their
shoulders staggering under the weight of vegetable baskets.

The day wears on and it grows warmer. The coolies take off their coats
and walk stripped to the waist. Then sometimes in a man resting for an
instant, his load on the ground but the pole still on his shoulders so
that he has to rest slightly crouched, you see the poor tired heart
beating against the ribs: you see it as plainly as in some cases of
heart disease in the out-patients' room of a hospital. It is strangely
distressing to watch. Then also you see the coolies' backs. The
pressure of the pole for long years, day after day, has made hard red
scars, and sometimes even there are open sores, great sores without
bandages or dressing that rub against the wood; but the strangest
thing of all is that sometimes, as though nature sought to adapt man
for these cruel uses to which he is put, an odd malformation seems to
have arisen so that there is a sort of hump, like a camel's, against
which the pole rests. But beating heart or angry sore, bitter rain or
burning sun notwithstanding, they go on eternally, from dawn till dusk,
year in year out, from childhood to the extreme of age. You see old
men without an ounce of fat on their bodies, their skin loose on their
bones, wizened, their little faces wrinkled and apelike, with hair thin
and grey; and they totter under their burdens to the edge of the grave
in which at last they shall have rest. And still the coolies go, not
exactly running, but not walking either, sidling quickly, with their
eyes on the ground to choose the spot to place their feet, and on their
faces a strained, anxious expression. You can make no longer a pattern
of them as they wend their way. Their effort oppresses you. You are
filled with a useless compassion.

In China it is man that is the beast of burden.

"_To be harassed by the wear and tear of life, and to pass rapidly
through it without the possibility of arresting one's course,--is not
this pitiful indeed? To labour without ceasing, and then, without
living to enjoy the fruit, worn out, to depart, suddenly, one knows not
whither,--is not that a just cause for grief?_"

So wrote the Chinese mystic.



He was a fine figure of a man, hard upon sixty, I should think, when
I knew him, but hale still and active. He was stout, but his great
height enabled him to carry his corpulence with dignity. He had a
strong, almost a handsome face, with a hooked nose, bushy white
eyebrows and a firm chin. He was dressed in black, and he wore a low
collar and a white bow tie. He had the look of an English divine of
a past generation. His voice was resonant and hearty, and he laughed

His career was somewhat out of the common. He had come to China
thirty years before as a medical missionary, but now, though still
on good terms with the mission, he was no longer a member. It had
been decided, it appears, to build a school on a certain desirable
spot which the doctor had hit upon, and in a crowded Chinese city
it is never very easy to find building land, but when the mission
after much bargaining had eventually bought this the discovery was
made that the owner was not the Chinese with whom the negotiations
had been conducted, but the doctor himself. Knowing that the school
must be built and seeing that no other piece of land was available he
had borrowed money from a Chinese banker and bought it himself. The
transaction was not dishonest, but perhaps it was a little unscrupulous
and the other members of the mission did not look upon it as the good
joke that Dr. Macalister did. They displayed even a certain acrimony,
and the result was that Dr. Macalister, though preserving friendly
relations with persons with whose aims and interests he was in the
fullest sympathy, resigned his position. He was known to be a clever
doctor and he soon had a large practice both among the foreigners and
the Chinese. He started a hostel in which the traveller, at a price,
and a high one, could have board and lodging. His guests complained
a little because they were not allowed to drink alcohol, but it was
much more comfortable than a Chinese inn, and some allowance had to be
made for the doctor's principles. He was a man of resource. He bought
a large piece of land on a hill on the other side of the river and put
up bungalows which he sold one by one to the missionaries as summer
resorts; and he owned a large store in which he sold everything, from
picture postcards and curios to Worcester sauce and knitted jumpers,
which a foreigner could possibly want. He made a very good thing out of
it. He had a commercial bent.

The tiffin he invited me to was quite an imposing function. He lived
above his store in a large apartment overlooking the river. The party
consisted of Dr. Macalister and his third wife, a lady of forty-five
in gold-rimmed spectacles and black satin, a missionary spending
a few days with the doctor on his way into the interior, and two
silent young ladies who had just joined the mission and were busily
learning Chinese. On the walls of the dining-room hung a number of
congratulatory scrolls which had been presented to my host by Chinese
friends and converts on his fiftieth birthday. There was a great deal
of food, as there always is in China, and Dr. Macalister did full
justice to it. The meal began and ended with a long grace which he said
in his deep voice, with an impressive unction.

When we returned to the drawing-room Dr. Macalister, standing in front
of the grateful fire, for it can be very cold in China, took a little
photograph from the chimney piece and showed it to me.

"Do you know who that is?" he asked.

It was the photograph of a very thin young missionary in a low collar
and a white tie, with large melancholy eyes and a look of profound

"Nice looking fellow, eh?" boomed the doctor.

"Very," I answered.

A somewhat priggish young man possibly, but priggishness is a
pardonable defect in youth, and here it was certainly counterbalanced
by the appealing wistfulness of the expression. It was a fine, a
sensitive, and even a beautiful face, and those disconsolate eyes
were strangely moving. There was fanaticism there, perhaps, but there
was the courage that would not fear martyrdom; there was a charming
idealism; and its youth, its ingenuousness, warmed one's heart.

"A most attractive face," I said as I returned the photograph.

Dr. Macalister gave a chuckle.

"That's what I looked like when I first came out to China," he said.

It was a photograph of himself.

"No one recognises it," smiled Mrs. Macalister.

"It was the very image of me," he said.

He spread out the tails of his black coat and planted himself more
firmly in front of the fire.

"I often laugh when I think of my first impressions of China," he
said. "I came out expecting to undergo hardships and privations. My
first shock was the steamer with ten-course dinners and first-class
accommodation. There wasn't much hardship in that, but I said to
myself: wait till you get to China. Well, at Shanghai I was met by
some friends and I stayed in a fine house and was waited on by fine
servants and I ate fine food. Shanghai, I said, the plague spot of the
East. It'll be different in the interior. At last I reached here. I was
to stay with the head of the mission till my own quarters were ready.
He lived in a large compound. He had a very nice house with American
furniture in it and I slept in a better bed than I'd ever slept in.
He was very fond of his garden and he grew all kinds of vegetables in
it. We had salads just like the salads we had in America and fruit,
all kinds of fruit; he kept a cow and we had fresh milk and butter. I
thought I'd never eaten so much and so well in my life. You did nothing
for yourself. If you wanted a glass of water you called a boy and he
brought it to you. It was the beginning of summer when I arrived and
they were all packing up to go to the hills. They hadn't got bungalows
then, but they used to spend the summer in a temple. I began to think
I shouldn't have to put up with much privation after all. I had been
looking forward to a martyr's crown. Do you know what I did?"

Dr. Macalister chuckled as he thought of that long passed time.

"The first night I got here, when I was alone in my room, I threw
myself on my bed and I just cried like a child."

Dr. Macalister went on talking, but I could not pay much attention to
what he said. I wondered by what steps he had come to be the man I knew
now from the man he had been then. That is the story I should like to



It is not a road at all but a causeway, made of paving stones about a
foot wide and four feet broad so that there is just room for two sedan
chairs with caution to pass each other. For the most part it is in good
enough repair, but here and there the stones are broken or swept away
by the flooding of the rice fields, and then walking is difficult. It
winds tortuously along the path which has connected city to city since
first a thousand years ago or more there were cities in the land. It
winds between the rice fields following the accidents of the country
with a careful nonchalance; and you can tell that it was built on a
track made by the peasant of dim ages past who sought not the quickest
but the easiest way to walk. The beginnings of it you may see when,
leaving the main road you cut across country, bound for some town that
is apart from the main line of traffic. Then the causeway is so narrow
that there is no room for a coolie bearing a load to pass and if you
are in the midst of the rice fields he has to get on the little bank,
planted with beans, that divides one from another, till you go by.
Presently the stones are wanting and you travel along a path of trodden
mud so narrow that your bearers step warily.

The journey, for all the stories of bandits with which they sought
to deter you, and the ragged soldiers of your escort, is devoid of
adventure; but it is crowded with incident. First there is the constant
variety of the dawn. Poets have written of it with enthusiasm, but
they are lie-a-beds, and they have trusted for inspiration to their
fancy rather than to their sleepy eyes. Like a mistress known in the
dream of a moonlit night who has charms unshared by the beauties of the
wakeful day, they have ascribed to it excellencies which are only of
the imagination. For the most exquisite dawn has none of the splendour
of an indifferent sunset. But because it is a less accustomed sight it
seems to have a greater diversity. Every dawn is a little different
from every other, and you can fancy that each day the world is created
anew not quite the same as it was the day before.

Then there are the common sights of the way-side. A peasant, thigh
deep in water, ploughs his field with a plough as primitive as those
his fathers have used for forty mortal centuries. The water buffalo
splashes sinister through the mud and his cynical eyes seem to ask
what end has been served by this unending toil. An old woman goes by
in her blue smock and short blue trousers, on bound feet, and she
supports her unsteady steps with a long staff. Two fat Chinese in
chairs pass you, and passing stare at you with curious yet listless
eyes. Everyone you see is an incident, however trivial, sufficient to
arouse your fancy for an instant; and now your eyes rest with pleasure
on the smooth skin, like yellow ivory, of a young mother sauntering
along with a child strapped to her back, on the wrinkled, inscrutable
visage of an old man, or on the fine bones, visible through the flesh
of the face, of a strapping coolie. And beside all this there is the
constant delight with which, having climbed laboriously a hill, you
see the country spread out before you. For days and days it is just
the same, but each time you see it you have the same little thrill
of discovery. The same little rounded hills, like a flock of sheep,
surrounding you, succeeding one another as far as the eye can reach;
and on many, a lone tree, as though planted deliberately for the sake
of the picturesque, outlines its gracious pattern against the sky. The
same groves of bamboo lean delicately, almost surrounding the same
farm houses, which with their clustering roofs nestle pleasantly in
the same sheltered hollows. The bamboos lean over the highway with
an adorable grace. They have the condescension of great ladies which
flatters rather than wounds. They have the abandon of flowers, a
well-born wantonness that is too sure of its good breeding ever to be
in danger of debauchery. But the memorial arch, to virtuous widow or to
fortunate scholar, warns you that you are approaching a village or a
town, and you pass, affording a moment's sensation to the inhabitants,
through a ragged line of sordid hovels or a busy street. The street
is shaded from the sun by great mats stretched from eave to eave; the
light is dim and the thronging crowd has an unnatural air. You think
that so must have looked the people in those cities of magicians
which the Arab traveller knew, and where during the night a terrible
transformation befell you so that till you found the magic formula to
free you, you went through life in the guise of a one-eyed ass or of
a green and yellow parrot. The merchants in their open shops seem to
sell no common merchandise and in the taverns messes are prepared of
things horrible for men to eat. Your eye, amid the uniformity, for
every Chinese town, at all events to the stranger's eye, much resembles
every other, takes pleasure in noting trivial differences, and so you
observe the predominant industries of each one. Every town makes all
that its inhabitants require, but it has also a speciality, and here
you will find cotton cloth, there string, and here again silk. Now the
orange tree, golden with fruit, grows scarce and the sugar cane makes
its appearance. The black silk cap gives way to the turban and the red
umbrella of oiled paper to the umbrella of bright blue cotton.

But these are the common incidents of every day. They are like the
expected happenings of life which keep it from monotony, working days
and holidays, meetings with your friends, the coming of spring with
its elation and the coming of winter with its long evenings, its easy
intimacies and its twilight. Now and then, as love enters making all
the rest but a setting for its radiance and lifts the common affairs of
the day to a level on which the most trifling things have a mysterious
significance, now and then the common round is interrupted and you are
faced by a beauty which takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault.
For looming through the mist you may see the fantastic roofs of a
temple loftily raised on a huge stone bastion, around which, a natural
moat, flows a quiet green river, and when the sun lights it you seem
to see the dream of a Chinese palace, a palace as rich and splendid
as those which haunted the fancy of the Arabian story tellers; or,
crossing a ferry at dawn you may see, a little above you, silhouetted
against the sunrise, a sampan in which a ferryman is carrying a crowd
of passengers; you recognise on a sudden Charon, and you know that his
passengers are the melancholy dead.



Birch was the agent of the B.A.T. and he was stationed in a little town
of the interior with streets which, after it had rained, were a foot
deep in mud. Then you had to get right inside your cart to prevent
yourself from being splashed from head to foot. The roadway, worn to
pieces by the ceaseless traffic, was so full of holes that the breath
was jolted out of your body as you jogged along at a foot pace. There
were two or three streets of shops, but he knew by heart everything
that was in them; and there were interminable winding alleys which
presented a monotonous expanse of wall broken only by solid closed
doors. These were the Chinese houses and they were as impenetrable
to one of his colour as the life which surrounded him. He was very
homesick. He had not spoken to a white man for three months.

His day's work was over. Since he had nothing else to do he went for
the only walk there was. He went out of the city gate and strolled
along the ragged road, with its deep ruts, into the country. The valley
was bounded by wild, barren mountains and they seemed to shut him in.
He felt immeasurably far away from civilisation. He knew he could not
afford to surrender to that sense of utter loneliness which beset him,
but it was more of an effort than usual to keep a stiff upper lip. He
was very nearly at the end of his tether. Suddenly he saw a white man
riding towards him on a pony. Behind came slowly a Chinese cart in
which presumably were his belongings. Birch guessed at once that this
was a missionary going down to one of the treaty-ports from his station
further up country, and his heart leaped with joy. At last he would
have some one to talk to. He hurried his steps. His lassitude left him.
He was all alert. He was almost running when he came up to the rider.

"Hulloa," he said, "where have you sprung from?"

The rider stopped and named a distant town.

"I am on my way down to take the train," he added.

"You'd better put up with me for the night. I haven't seen a white man
for three months. There's lots of room at my place. B.A.T. you know."

"B.A.T.," said the rider. His face changed and his eyes, before
friendly and smiling, grew hard. "I don't want to have anything to do
with you."

He gave his pony a kick and started on, but Birch seized the bridle. He
could not believe his ears.

"What do you mean?"

"I can't have anything to do with a man who trades in tobacco. Let go
that bridle."

"But I've not spoken to a white man for three months."

"That's no business of mine. Let go that bridle."

He gave his pony another kick. His lips were obstinately set and he
looked at Birch sternly. Then Birch lost his temper. He clung to the
bridle as the pony moved on and began to curse the missionary. He
hurled at him every term of abuse he could think of. He swore. He was
horribly obscene. The missionary did not answer, but urged his pony on.
Birch seized the missionary's leg and jerked it out of the stirrup;
the missionary nearly fell off and he clung in a somewhat undignified
fashion to the pony's mane. Then he half slipped, half tumbled to
the ground. The cart had come up to them by now and stopped. The two
Chinese who were sitting in it looked at the white men with indolent
curiosity. The missionary was livid with rage.

"You've assaulted me. I'll have you fired for that."

"You can go to hell," said Birch. "I haven't seen a white man for
three months and you won't even speak to me. Do you call yourself a

"What is your name?"

"Birch is my name and be damned to you."

"I shall report you to your chief. Now stand back and let me get on my

Birch clenched his hands.

"Get a move on or I'll break every bone in your body."

The missionary mounted, gave his pony a sharp cut with the whip, and
cantered away. The Chinese cart lumbered slowly after. But when Birch
was left alone his anger left him and a sob broke unwillingly from his
lips. The barren mountains were less hard than the heart of man. He
turned and walked slowly back to the little walled city.



All day I had been dropping down the river. This was the river up which
Chang Chien, seeking its source, had sailed for many days till he came
to a city where he saw a girl spinning and a youth leading an ox to
the water. He asked what place this was and in reply the girl gave him
her shuttle telling him to show it on his return to the astrologer
Yen Chün-ping, who would thus know where he had been. He did so and
the astrologer at once recognised the shuttle as that of the Spinning
Damsel, further declaring that on the day and at the hour when Chang
Chien received the shuttle he had noticed a wandering star intrude
itself between the Spinning Damsel and the Cowherd. So Chang Chien knew
that he had sailed upon the bosom of the Milky Way.

I, however, had not been so far. All day, as for seven days before, my
five rowers, standing up, had rowed, and there rang still in my ears
the monotonous sound of their oars against the wooden pin that served
as rowlock. Now and again the water became very shallow and there was
a jar and a jolt as we scraped along the stones of the river bed. Then
two or three of the rowers turned up their blue trousers to the hip and
let themselves over the side. Shouting they dragged the flat-bottomed
boat over the shoal. Now and again we came to a rapid, of no great
consequence when compared with the turbulent rapids of the Yangtze, but
sufficiently swift to call for trackers to pull the junks that were
going up stream; and we, going down, passed through them with many
shouts, shot the foaming breakers and presently reached water as smooth
as any lake.

Now it was night and my crew were asleep, forward, huddled together in
such shelter as they had been able to rig up when we moored at dusk.
I sat on my bed. Bamboo matting spread over three wooden arches made
the sorry cabin which for a week had served me as parlour and bedroom.
It was closed at one end by matchboarding so roughly put together
that there were large chinks between each board. The bitter wind blew
through them. It was on the other side of this that the crew--fine
sturdy fellows--rowed by day and slept by night, joined then by the
steersman who had stood from dawn to dusk, in a tattered blue gown and
a wadded coat of faded grey, a black turban round his head, at the long
oar which was his helm. There was no furniture but my bed, a shallow
dish like an enormous soup-plate in which burned charcoal, for it was
cold, a basket containing my clothes which I used as a table, and a
hurricane lamp which hung from one of the arches and swayed slightly
with the motion of the water. The cabin was so low that I, a person of
no great height (I comfort myself with Bacon's observation that with
tall men it is as with tall houses, the top story is commonly the least
furnished) could only just stand upright. One of the sleepers began to
snore more loudly, and perhaps he awoke two of the others, for I heard
the sound of speaking; but presently this ceased, the snorer was quiet,
and all about me once more was silence.

Then suddenly I had a feeling that here, facing me, touching me almost,
was the romance I sought. It was a feeling like no other, just as
specific as the thrill of art; but I could not for the life of me tell
what it was that had given me just then that rare emotion.

In the course of my life I have been often in situations which, had
I read of them, would have seemed to me sufficiently romantic; but
it is only in retrospect, comparing them with my ideas of what was
romantic, that I have seen them as at all out of the ordinary. It
is only by an effort of the imagination, making myself as it were a
spectator of myself acting a part, that I have caught anything of the
precious quality in circumstances which in others would have seemed to
me instinct with its fine flower. When I have danced with an actress
whose fascination and whose genius made her the idol of my country, or
wandered through the halls of some great house in which was gathered
all that was distinguished by lineage or intellect that London could
show, I have only recognized afterwards that here perhaps, though in
somewhat Ouidaesque a fashion, was romance. In battle, when, myself in
no great danger, I was able to watch events with a thrill of interest,
I had not the phlegm to assume the part of a spectator. I have sailed
through the night, under the full moon, to a coral island in the
Pacific, and then the beauty and the wonder of the scene gave me a
conscious happiness, but only later the exhilarating sense that romance
and I had touched fingers. I heard the flutter of its wings when once,
in the bedroom of a hotel in New York, I sat round a table with half a
dozen others and made plans to restore an ancient kingdom whose wrongs
have for a century inspired the poet and the patriot; but my chief
feeling was a surprised amusement that through the hazards of war I
found myself engaged in business so foreign to my bent. The authentic
thrill of romance has seized me under circumstances which one would
have thought far less romantic, and I remember that I knew it first one
evening when I was playing cards in a cottage on the coast of Brittany.
In the next room an old fisherman lay dying and the women of the house
said that he would go out with the tide. Without a storm was raging and
it seemed fit for the last moments of that aged warrior of the seas
that his going should be accompanied by the wild cries of the wind as
it hurled itself against the shuttered windows. The waves thundered
upon the tortured rocks. I felt a sudden exultation, for I knew that
here was romance.

And now the same exultation seized me, and once more romance, like a
bodily presence, was before me. But it had come so unexpectedly that
I was intrigued. I could not tell whether it had crept in among the
shadows that the lamp threw on the bamboo matting or whether it was
wafted down the river that I saw through the opening of my cabin.
Curious to know what were the elements that made up the ineffable
delight of the moment I went out to the stern of the boat. Alongside
were moored half a dozen junks, going up river, for their masts were
erect; and everything was silent in them. Their crews were long since
asleep. The night was not dark, for though it was cloudy the moon was
full, but the river in that veiled light was ghostly. A vague mist
blurred the trees on the further bank. It was an enchanting sight, but
there was in it nothing unaccustomed and what I sought was not there. I
turned away. But when I returned to my bamboo shelter the magic which
had given it so extraordinary a character was gone. Alas, I was like
a man who should tear a butterfly to pieces in order to discover in
what its beauty lay. And yet, as Moses descending from Mount Sinai wore
on his face a brightness from his converse with the God of Israel, my
little cabin, my dish of charcoal, my lamp, even my camp bed, had still
about them something of the thrill which for a moment was mine. I could
not see them any more quite indifferently, because for a moment I had
seen them magically.



He was a very old man. It was fifty-seven years since he came to China
as a ship's doctor and took the place in one of the Southern ports of a
medical officer whose health had obliged him to go home. He could not
then have been less than twenty-five so that now he must have been well
over eighty. He was a tall man, very thin, and his skin hung on his
bones like a suit of clothes much too large for him: under his chin was
a great sack like the wattle of an old turkey-cock; but his blue eyes,
large and bright, had kept their colour, and his voice was strong and
deep. In these seven and fifty years he had bought and sold three or
four practices along the coast and now he was back once more within a
few miles of the port in which he had first lived. It was an anchorage
at the mouth of the river where the steamers, unable owing to their
draught to reach the city, discharged and loaded their cargo. There
were only seven white men's houses, a small hospital, and a handful
of Chinese, so that it would not have been worth a doctor's while to
settle there; but he was vice-consul as well, and the easy life at his
great age just suited him. There was enough to do to prevent him from
feeling idle, but not enough to tire him. His spirit was still hale.

"I'm thinking of retiring," he said, "it's about time I gave the
youngsters a chance."

He amused himself with plans for the future: all his life he had wanted
to visit the West Indies and upon his soul he meant to now. By George,
Sir, he couldn't afford to leave it much longer. England? Well, from
all he heard England was no place for a gentleman nowadays. He was
last there thirty years ago. Besides he wasn't English. He was born in
Ireland. Yes, Sir, he took his degree at Trinity College, Dublin; but
what with the priests on one side and the Sinn Feiners on the other he
could not believe there was much left of the Ireland he knew as a boy.
A fine country to hunt in, he said, with a gleam in his open blue eyes.

He had better manners than are usually found in the medical profession
which, though blest with many virtues, neglects somewhat the amenities
of polite behaviour. I do not know whether it is commerce with the sick
which gives the doctor an unfortunate sense of superiority; the example
of his teachers some of whom have still a bad tradition of rudeness
which certain eminent practitioners of the past cultivated as a
professional asset; or his early training among the poor patients of a
hospital whom he is apt to look upon as of a lower class than himself;
but it is certain that no body of men is on the whole so wanting in

He was very different from the men of my generation; but whether the
difference lay in his voice and gesture, in the ease of his manner,
or in the elaborateness of his antique courtesy, it was not easy to
discover. I think he was more definitely a gentleman than people are
nowadays when a man is a gentleman with deprecation. The word is in bad
odour and the qualities it denotes have come in for a deal of ridicule.
Persons who by no stretch of the fancy could be so described have made
a great stir in the world during the last thirty years and they have
used all the resources of their sarcasm to render odious a title which
they are perhaps all too conscious of never deserving. Perhaps also the
difference in him was due to a difference of education. In his youth
he had been taught much useless learning, the classics of Greece and
Rome, and they had given a foundation to his character which in the
present is somewhat rare. He was young in an age which did not know the
weekly press and when the monthly magazine was a staid affair. Reading
was more solid. Perhaps men drank more than was good for them, but
they read Horace for pleasure and they knew by heart the novels of Sir
Walter Scott. He remembered reading _The Newcomes_ when it came out.
I think the men of that time were, if not more adventurous than the
men of ours, more adventurous in the grand manner: now a man will risk
his life with a joke from _Comic Cuts_ on his lips, then it was with a
Latin quotation.

But how can I analyse the subtle quality which distinguished this old
man? Read a page of Swift: the words are the same as those we use
to-day and there is hardly a sentence in which they are not placed in
the simplest order; and yet there is a dignity, a spaciousness, an
aroma, which all our modern effort fails to attain: in short there is
style. And so with him; there was style, and there is no more to be



Yes, but the sun does not shine every day. Sometimes a cold rain beats
down on you and a northeast wind chills you to the bone. Your shoes and
your coat are wet still from the day before and you have three hours
to go before breakfast. You tramp along in the cheerless light of that
bitter dawn, with thirty miles before you and nothing to look forward
to at the end but the squalid discomfort of a Chinese inn. There you
will find bare walls, a clammy floor of trodden earth, and you will dry
yourself as best you can over a dish of burning charcoal.

Then you think of your pleasant room in London. The rain driving in
squalls against the windows only makes its warmth more grateful. You
sit by the fire, your pipe in your mouth, and read the _Times_ from
cover to cover, not the leading articles of course but the agony
column and the advertisements of country houses you will never be
able to afford. (On the Chiltern Hills, standing in its own park of
one hundred and fifty acres, with spacious garden, orchard, etc., a
Georgian house in perfect condition, with original woodwork and chimney
pieces, six reception rooms, fourteen bedrooms and usual offices,
modern sanitation, stabling with rooms over and excellent garage. Three
miles from first rate golf course.) I know then that Messrs. Knight,
Frank, and Rutley are my favourite authors. The matters that they treat
of like the great commonplaces which are the material of all fine
poetry never stale; and their manner like that of the best masters is
characteristic but at the same time various. Their style, as is that
of Confucius according to the sinologues, is glitteringly compact:
succinct but suggestive it combines an admirable exactness with a
breadth of image which gives the imagination an agreeable freedom.
Their mastery of words such as rood and perch of which I suppose I once
knew the meaning but which for many years have been a mystery to me,
is amazing, and they will use them with ease and assurance. They can
play with technical terms with the ingenuity of Mr. Rudyard Kipling
and they can invest them with the Celtic glamour of Mr. W.B. Yeats.
They have combined their individualities so completely that I defy the
most discerning critic to discover traces of a divided authorship.
Literary history is acquainted with the collaboration of two writers,
and the names of Beaumont and Fletcher, Erckman Chatrian, Besant and
Rice spring to the excited fancy; but now that the higher criticism has
destroyed that belief in the triple authorship of the Bible which I was
taught in my youth, I conjecture that the case of Knight, Frank and
Rutley is unique.

Then Elizabeth, very smart in the white squirrel I brought her from
China, comes in to say good-bye to me, for she, poor child, must go
out whatever the weather, and I play trains with her while her pram
is being got ready. Then of course I should do a little work, but the
weather is so bad that I feel lazy, and I take up instead Professor
Giles' book on Chuang-Tzu. The rigid Confucianists frown upon him
because he is an individualist, and it is to the individualism of the
age that they ascribe the lamentable decay of China, but he is very
good reading; he has the advantage on a rainy day that he can be read
without great application and not seldom you come across a thought that
sets your own wandering. But presently ideas, insinuating themselves
into your consciousness like the lapping waves of a rising tide, absorb
you to the exclusion of those which old Chuang-Tzu suggested, and
notwithstanding your desire to idle, you sit down at your table. Only
the dilettante uses a desk. Your pen goes easily and you write without
effort. It is very good to be alive. Then two amusing people come to
luncheon and when they are gone you drop into Christie's. You see some
Ming figures there, but they are not so good as those you brought from
China yourself, and then you watch being sold pictures you are only too
glad not to possess. You look at your watch; there is pretty sure to be
a rubber going at the Garrick, and the shocking weather justifies you
in wasting the rest of the afternoon. You cannot stay very late, for
you have seats for a first night and you must get home and dress for an
early dinner. You will be just in time to tell Elizabeth a little story
before she goes to sleep. She looks really very nice in her pyjamas
with her hair done up in two plaits. There is something about a first
night which only the satiety of the critic can fail to be moved by. It
is pleasant to see your friends and amusing to hear the pit's applause
when a favourite of the stage, acting, better than she ever does
behind the footlights, a delightful embarrassment at being recognised,
advances to take her seat. It may be a bad play that you are going to
see, but it has at least the merit that no one has seen it before; and
there is always the chance of a moment's emotion or of a smile.

Towards you in their great straw hats, like the hat of love-sick
Pierrot, but with a huge brim, come a string of coolies, lolloping
along, bent forward a little under the weight of the great bales of
cotton that they carry. The rain plasters their blue clothes, so thin
and ragged, against their bodies. The broken stones of the causeway are
slippery, and with toil you pick your muddy way.



He was an Irish sailor. He deserted his ship at Hong-Kong and took it
into his head to walk across China. He spent three years wandering
about the country, and soon acquired a very good knowledge of Chinese.
He learned it, as is common among men of his class, with greater ease
than do the more highly educated. He lived on his wits. He made a point
of avoiding the British Consul, but went to the magistrate of each town
he came to and represented himself as having been robbed on the way
of all his money. His story was not improbable and it was told with a
wealth of convincing detail which would have excited the admiration
of so great a master as Captain Costigan. The magistrate, after the
Chinese fashion, was anxious to get rid of him and was glad to do so
at the cost of ten or fifteen dollars. If he could get no money he
could generally count on a place to sleep in and a good meal. He had
a certain rough humour which appealed to the Chinese. So he continued
very successfully till he hit by misfortune on a magistrate of a
different stamp. This man when he told his story said to him:

"You are nothing but a beggar and a vagabond. You must be beaten."

He gave an order and the fellow was promptly taken out, thrown on the
ground, and soundly thrashed. He was not only very much hurt, but
exceedingly surprised, and what is more strangely mortified. It ruined
his nerve. There and then he gave up his vagrant life and making his
way to one of the out-ports applied to the commissioner of customs
for a place as tide-waiter. It is not easy to find white men to take
such posts and few questions are asked of those who seek them. He was
given a job and you may see him now, a sun-burned, clean-shaven man of
forty-five, florid and rather stout, in a neat blue uniform, boarding
the steamers and the junks at a little riverside town, where the
deputy-commissioner, the postmaster, a missionary, and he are the only
Europeans. His knowledge of the Chinese and their ways makes him an
invaluable servant. He has a little yellow wife and four children. He
has no shame about his past and over a good stiff whisky he will tell
you the whole story of his adventurous travels. But the beating is what
he can never get over. It surprises him yet and he cannot, he simply
cannot understand it. He has no ill-feeling towards the magistrate who
ordered it; on the contrary it appeals to his sense of humour.

"He was a great old sportsman, the old blackguard," he says. "Nerve,



It was an immense room in an immense house. When it was built, building
was cheap, and the merchant princes of that day built magnificently.
Money was made easily then and life was luxurious. It was not hard
to make a fortune and a man, almost before he had reached middle
age, could return to England and live the rest of his days no less
splendidly in a fine house in Surrey. It is true that the population
was hostile and it was always possible that a riot might make it
necessary for him to fly for his life, but this only added a spice
to the comfort of his existence; and when danger threatened it was
fairly certain that a gunboat would arrive in time to offer protection
or refuge. The foreign community, largely allied by marriage, was
sociable, and its members entertained one another lavishly. They gave
pompous dinner parties, they danced together, and they played whist.
Work was not so pressing that it was impossible to spend now and again
a few days in the interior shooting duck. It was certainly very hot in
summer, and after a few years a man was apt to take things easily, but
the rest of the year was only warm, with blue skies and a balmy air,
and life was very pleasant. There was a certain liberty of behaviour
and no one was thought the worse of, so long as the matter was not
intruded on the notice of the ladies, if he had to live with him a
little bright-eyed Chinese girl. When he married he sent her away
with a present and if there were children they were provided for at a
Eurasian school in Shanghai.

But this agreeable life was a thing of the past. The port lived on its
export of tea and the change of taste from Chinese to Ceylon had ruined
it. For thirty years the port had lain a-dying. Before that the consul
had had two vice-consuls to help him in his work, but now he was able
to do it easily by himself. He generally managed to get a game of golf
in the afternoon and he was seldom too busy for a rubber of bridge.
Nothing remained of the old splendour but the enormous hongs, and they
were mostly empty. The tea merchants, such as were left of them, turned
their hands to all manner of side lines in the effort to make both ends
meet. But the effort was listless. Everyone in the port seemed old. It
was no place for a young man.

And in the room in which I sat I seemed to read the history of the
past and the history of the man I was awaiting. It was Sunday morning
and when I arrived after two days on a coasting steamer, he was in
church. I tried to construct a portrait of him from the room. There
was something pathetic about it. It had the magnificence of a past
generation, but a magnificence run to seed, and its tidiness, I know
not why, seemed to emphasize a shame-faced poverty. On the floor was a
huge Turkey carpet which in the seventies must have cost a great deal
of money, but now it was quite threadbare. The immense mahogany table,
at which so many good dinners had been eaten, with such a luxury of
wine, was so highly polished that you could see your face in it. It
suggested port, old and tawny, and prosperous, red faced gentlemen
with side whiskers discussing the antics of the mountebank Disraeli.
The walls were of that sombre red which was thought suitable for a
dining room when dinner was a respectable function and they were heavy
with pictures. Here were the father and mother of my host, an elderly
gentleman with grey whiskers and a bald head and a stern dark old
lady with her hair dressed in the fashion of the Empress Eugenie, and
there his grandfather in a stock and his grandmother in a mob cap. The
mahogany sideboard with a mirror at the back, was laden with plated
salvers, and a tea service, and much else, while in the middle of the
dining table stood an immense épergne. On the black marble chimney
piece was a black marble clock, flanked by black marble vases, and in
the four corners of the room were cabinets filled with all manner of
plated articles. Here and there great palms in pots spread their stiff
foliage. The chairs were of massive mahogany, stuffed, and covered with
faded red leather, and on each side of the fireplace was an arm-chair.
The room, large though it was, seemed crowded, but because everything
was rather shabby it gave you an impression of melancholy. All those
things seemed to have a sad life of their own, but a life subdued,
as though the force of circumstances had proved too much for them.
They had no longer the strength to struggle against fate, but they
clung together with a tremulous eagerness as though they had a vague
feeling that only so could they retain their significance, and I felt
that it was only a little time before the end came when they would lie
haphazard, in an unlovely confusion, with little numbers pasted on
them, in the dreary coldness of an auction room.



There in the mist, enormous, majestic, silent, and terrible, stood
the Great Wall of China. Solitarily, with the indifference of nature
herself, it crept up the mountain side and slipped down to the depth of
the valley. Menacingly, the grim watch towers, stark and foursquare,
at due intervals stood at their posts. Ruthlessly, for it was built at
the cost of a million lives and each one of those great grey stones
has been stained with the bloody tears of the captive and the outcast,
it forged its dark way through a sea of rugged mountains. Fearlessly,
it went on its endless journey, league upon league to the furthermost
regions of Asia, in utter solitude, mysterious like the great empire it
guarded. There in the mist, enormous, majestic, silent, and terrible,
stood the Great Wall of China.



Mr. Pete was in a state of the liveliest exasperation. He had been
in the consular service for more than twenty years and he had had to
deal with all manner of vexatious people, officials who would not
listen to reason, merchants who took the British Government for a debt
collecting agency, missionaries who resented as gross injustice any
attempt at fair play; but he never recollected a case which had left
him more completely at a loss. He was a mild-mannered man, but for no
reason he flew into a passion with his writer and he very nearly sacked
the Eurasian clerk because he had wrongly spelt two words in a letter
placed before him for his official signature. He was a conscientious
man and he could not persuade himself to leave his office before the
clock struck four, but the moment it did he jumped up and called for
his hat and stick. Because his boy did not bring them at once he
abused him roundly. They say that the consuls all grow a little odd;
and the merchants who can live for thirty-five years in China without
learning enough of the language to ask their way in the street, say
that it is because they have to study Chinese; and there was no doubt
that Mr. Pete was decidedly odd. He was a bachelor and on that account
had been sent to a series of posts which by reason of their isolation
were thought unsuited to married men. He had lived so much alone that
his natural tendency to eccentricity had developed to an extravagant
degree, and he had habits which surprised the stranger. He was very
absent-minded. He paid no attention to his house, which was always in
great disorder, nor to his food; his boys gave him to eat what they
liked and for everything he had made him pay through the nose. He was
untiring in his efforts to suppress the opium traffic, but he was the
only person in the city who did not know that his servants kept opium
in the consulate itself, and a busy traffic in the drug was openly
conducted at the back door of the compound. He was an ardent collector
and the house provided for him by the government was filled with the
various things which he had collected one after the other, pewter,
brass, carved wood; these were his more legitimate enterprises; but he
also collected stamps, birds' eggs, hotel labels, and postmarks: he
boasted that he had a collection of postmarks which was unequalled in
the Empire. During his long sojourning in lonely places he had read a
great deal, and though he was no sinologue he had a greater knowledge
of China, its history, literature, and people, than most of his
colleagues; but from his wide reading he had acquired not toleration
but vanity. He was a man of a singular appearance. His body was small
and frail and when he walked he gave you the idea of a dead leaf
dancing before the wind; and then there was something extraordinarily
odd in the small Tyrolese hat, with a cock's feather in it, very
old and shabby, which he wore perched rakishly on the side of his
large head. He was exceedingly bald. You saw that his eyes, blue and
pale, were weak behind the spectacles, and a drooping, ragged, dingy
moustache did not hide the peevishness of his mouth. And now, turning
out of the street in which was the consulate, he made his way on to the
city wall, for there only in the multitudinous city was it possible to
walk with comfort.

He was a man who took his work hardly, worrying himself to death over
every trifle, but as a rule a walk on the wall soothed and rested him.
The city stood in the midst of a great plain and often at sundown from
the wall you could see in the distance the snow-capped mountains,
the mountains of Tibet; but now he walked quickly, looking neither
to the right nor to the left, and his fat spaniel frisked about him
unobserved. He talked to himself rapidly in a low monotone. The cause
of his irritation was a visit that he had that day received from a lady
who called herself Mrs. Yü and whom he with a consular passion for
precision insisted on calling Miss Lambert. This in itself sufficed to
deprive their intercourse of amenity. She was an Englishwoman married
to a Chinese. She had arrived two years before with her husband from
England where he had been studying at the University of London; he
had made her believe that he was a great personage in his own country
and she had imagined herself to be coming to a gorgeous palace and
a position of consequence. It was a bitter surprise when she found
herself brought to a shabby Chinese house crowded with people: there
was not even a foreign bed in it, nor a knife and fork: everything
seemed to her very dirty and smelly. It was a shock to find that she
had to live with her husband's father and mother and he told her that
she must do exactly what his mother bade her; but in her complete
ignorance of Chinese it was not till she had been two or three days in
the house that she realised that she was not her husband's only wife.
He had been married as a boy before he left his native city to acquire
the knowledge of the barbarians. When she bitterly upbraided him for
deceiving her he shrugged his shoulders. There was nothing to prevent
a Chinese from having two wives if he wanted them and, he added with
some disregard to truth, no Chinese woman looked upon it as a hardship.
It was upon making this discovery that she paid her first visit to the
consul. He had already heard of her arrival--in China everyone knows
everything about everyone--and he received her without surprise. Nor
had he much sympathy to show her. That a foreign woman should marry a
Chinese at all filled him with indignation, but that she should do so
without making proper inquiries vexed him like a personal affront. She
was not at all the sort of woman whose appearance led you to imagine
that she would be guilty of such a folly. She was a solid, thick-set,
young person, short, plain, and matter of fact. She was cheaply dressed
in a tailor-made suit and she wore a Tam-o'-shanter. She had bad teeth
and a muddy skin. Her hands were large and red and ill cared for. You
could tell that she was not unused to hard work. She spoke English with
a Cockney whine.

"How did you meet Mr. Yü?" asked the consul frigidly.

"Well, you see, it's like this," she answered. "Dad was in a very good
position, and when he died mother said: 'Well, it seems a sinful waste
to keep all these rooms empty, I'll put a card in the window.'"

The consul interrupted her.

"He had lodgings with you?"

"Well, they weren't exactly lodgings," she said.

"Shall we say apartments then?" replied the consul, with his thin,
slightly vain smile.

That was generally the explanation of these marriages. Then because
he thought her a very foolish vulgar woman he explained bluntly that
according to English law she was not married to Yü and that the best
thing she could do was to go back to England at once. She began to
cry and his heart softened a little to her. He promised to put her in
charge of some missionary ladies who would look after her on the long
journey, and indeed, if she liked, he would see if meanwhile she could
not live in one of the missions. But while he talked Miss Lambert dried
her tears.

"What's the good of going back to England?" she said at last. "I
'aven't got nowhere to go to."

"You can go to your mother."

"She was all against my marrying Mr. Yü. I should never hear the last
of it if I was to go back now."

The consul began to argue with her, but the more he argued the more
determined she became, and at last he lost his temper.

"If you like to stay here with a man who isn't your husband it's your
own look out, but I wash my hands of all responsibility."

Her retort had often rankled.

"Then you've got no cause to worry," she said, and the look on her face
returned to him whenever he thought of her.

That was two years ago and he had seen her once or twice since then.
It appeared that she got on very badly both with her mother-in-law and
with her husband's other wife, and she had come to the consul with
preposterous questions about her rights according to Chinese law. He
repeated his offer to get her away, but she remained steadfast in her
refusal to go, and their interview always ended in the consul's flying
into a passion. He was almost inclined to pity the rascally Yü who
had to keep the peace between three warring women. According to his
English wife's account he was not unkind to her. He tried to act fairly
by both his wives. Miss Lambert did not improve. The consul knew that
ordinarily she wore Chinese clothes, but when she came to see him she
put on European dress. She was become extremely blowsy. Her health
suffered from the Chinese food she ate and she was beginning to look
wretchedly ill. But really he was shocked when she had been shown into
his office that day. She wore no hat and her hair was dishevelled. She
was in a highly hysterical state.

"They're trying to poison me," she screamed and she put before him a
bowl of some foul smelling food. "It's poisoned," she said. "I've been
ill for the last ten days, it's only by a miracle I've escaped."

She gave him a long story, circumstantial and probable enough to
convince him: after all nothing was more likely than that the Chinese
women should use familiar methods to get rid of an intruder who was
hateful to them.

"Do they know you've come here?"

"Of course they do; I told them I was going to show them up."

Now at last was the moment for decisive action. The consul looked at
her in his most official manner.

"Well, you must never go back there. I refuse to put up with your
nonsense any longer. I insist on your leaving this man who isn't your

But he found himself helpless against the woman's insane obstinacy.
He repeated all the arguments he had used so often, but she would not
listen, and as usual he lost his temper. It was then, in answer to
his final, desperate question, that she had made the remark which had
entirely robbed him of his calm.

"But what on earth makes you stay with the man?" he cried.

She hesitated for a moment and a curious look came into her eyes.

"There's something in the way his hair grows on his forehead that I
can't help liking," she answered.

The consul had never heard anything so outrageous. It really was the
last straw. And now while he strode along, trying to walk off his
anger, though he was not a man who often used bad language he really
could not restrain himself, and he said fiercely:

"Women are simply bloody."



He walked along the causeway with an easy confident stride. He was
seventeen, tall and slim, with a smooth and yellow skin that had never
known a razor. His eyes, but slightly aslant, were large and open and
his full red lips were tremulous with a smile. The happy audacity of
youth was in his bearing. His little round cap was set jauntily on
his head, his black gown was girt about his loins, and his trousers,
as a rule gartered at the ankle, were turned up to the knees. He went
barefoot but for thin straw sandals, and his feet were small and
shapely. He had walked since early morning along the paved causeway
that wound its sinuous path up the hills and down into the valleys with
their innumerable padi fields, past burial grounds with their serried
dead, through busy villages where maybe his eyes rested approvingly
for a moment on some pretty girl in her blue smock and her short blue
trousers, sitting in an open doorway (but I think his glance claimed
admiration rather than gave it), and now he was nearing the end of his
journey and the city whither he was bound seeking his fortune. It stood
in the midst of a fertile plain, surrounded by a crenellated wall,
and when he saw it he stepped forward with resolution. He threw back
his head boldly. He was proud of his strength. All his worldly goods
were wrapped up in a parcel of blue cotton which he carried over his

Now Dick Whittington, setting out to win fame and fortune, had a cat
for his companion, but the Chinese carried with him a round cage with
red bars, which he held with a peculiar grace between finger and thumb,
and in the cage was a beautiful green parrot.



They lived in a fine square house, with a verandah all round it, on
the top of a low hill that faced the river, and below them, a little
to the right, was another fine square house which was the customs;
and to this, for he was deputy commissioner, Fanning went every day.
The city was five miles away and on the river bank was nothing but a
small village which had sprung up to provide the crews of junks with
what gear or food they needed. In the city were a few missionaries but
these they saw seldom and the only foreigners in the village besides
themselves were the tide-waiters. One of these had been an able seaman
and the other was an Italian; they both had Chinese wives. The Fannings
asked them to tiffin on Christmas day and on the King's Birthday; but
otherwise their relations with them were purely official. The steamers
stayed but half an hour, so they never saw the captains or the chief
engineers who were the only white men on them, and for five months in
the year the water was too low for steamers to pass. Oddly enough it
was then they saw most foreigners, for it happened now and again that
a traveller, a merchant or consular official perhaps, more often a
missionary, going up stream by junk, tied up for the night, and then
the commissioner went down to the river and asked him to dine. They
lived very much alone.

Fanning was extremely bald, a short, thickset man, with a snub nose and
a very black moustache. He was a martinet, aggressive, brusque, with a
bullying manner; and he never spoke to a Chinese without raising his
voice to a tone of rasping command. Though he spoke fluent Chinese,
when one of his "boys" did something to displease him he abused him
roundly in English. He made a disagreeable impression on you till
you discovered that his aggressiveness was merely an armour put on
to conceal a painful shyness. It was a triumph of his will over his
disposition. His gruffness was an almost absurd attempt to persuade
those with whom he came in contact that he was not frightened of them.
You felt that no one was more surprised than himself that he was taken
seriously. He was like those little grotesque figures that children
blow out like balloons and you had an idea that he went in lively
fear of bursting and then everyone would see that he was but a hollow
bladder. It was his wife who was constantly alert to persuade him that
he was a man of iron and when the explosion was over she would say to

"You know, you frighten me when you get in those passions," or "I think
I'd better say something to the boy, he's quite shaken by what you

Then Fanning would puff himself up and smile indulgently. When a
visitor came she would say:

"The Chinese are terrified of my husband, but of course they respect
him. They know it's no good trying any of their nonsense with him."

"Well, I ought to know how to treat them," he would answer with
beetling brows, "I've been over twenty years in the country."

Mrs. Fanning was a little plain woman, wizened like a crab-apple, with
a big nose and bad teeth. She was always very untidy, her hair, going
a little grey, was continually on the point of falling down. Now and
then, in the midst of conversation, she would abstractedly take out
a pin or two, give it a shake, and without troubling to look in the
glass insecurely fix its few thin wisps. She had a love of brilliant
colour and she wore fantastic clothes which she and the sewing amah
ran up together from the fashion papers; but when she dressed she
could never find anything that went with anything else and she looked
like a woman who had been rescued from shipwreck and clothed in any
oddments that could be found. She was a caricature, and you could not
help smiling when you looked at her. The only attractive thing she had
was a soft and extremely musical voice and she spoke with a little
drawl which came from I know not what part of England. The Fannings
had two sons, one of nine and one of seven, and they completed the
solitary household. They were attractive children, affectionate and
demonstrative, and it was pleasant to see how united the family was.
They had little jokes together that amused them hugely, and they played
pranks with one another as though not one of them was more than ten.
Though they had so much of one another's society it really looked as
though they could not bear to be out of one another's sight, and each
day when Fanning went to his office his boys would hardly let him
go and each day when he returned they greeted him with extravagant
delight. They had no fear of his gruff bluster.

And presently you discovered that the centre of this concord was that
little, grotesque, ugly woman; it was not chance that kept the family
united, nor peculiarly agreeable dispositions, but a passion of love
in her. From the moment she got up in the morning till the time she
went to bed her thoughts were occupied with the welfare of the three
male persons who were in her charge. Her active mind was busy all the
time with schemes for their happiness. I do not think a thought of
self ever entered her untidy head. She was a miracle of unselfishness.
It was really hardly human. She never had a hard word for anyone. She
was very hospitable and it was she who caused her husband to go down
to the houseboats and invite travellers to come up to dinner. But I do
not think she wanted them for her own sake. She was quite happy in her
solitude, but she thought her husband enjoyed a talk with strangers.

"I don't want him to get in a rut," she said. "My poor husband, he
misses his billiards and his bridge. It's very hard for a man to have
no one to talk to but a woman."

Every evening when the children had been put to bed they played piquet.
She had no head for cards, poor dear, and she always made mistakes, but
when her husband upbraided her, she said:

"You can't expect everyone to be as clever as you are."

And because she so obviously meant what she said he could not find it
in his heart to be angry with her. Then when the commissioner was tired
of beating her they would turn on the gramophone and sitting side by
side listen in silence to the latest songs from the musical comedies
of London. You may turn up your nose. They lived ten thousand miles
away from England and it was their only tie with the home they loved:
it made them feel not quite so utterly cut off from civilisation. And
presently they would talk of what they would do with the children when
they grew up; soon it would be time to send them home to school and
perhaps a pang passed through the little woman's gentle heart.

"It'll be hard for you, Bertie, when they go," she said. "But perhaps
we shall be moved then to some place where there's a club and then
you'll be able to go and play bridge in the evenings."



You hear it all along the river. You hear it, loud and strong, from
the rowers as they urge the junk with its high stern, the mast lashed
alongside, down the swift running stream. You hear it from the
trackers, a more breathless chaunt, as they pull desperately against
the current, half a dozen of them perhaps if they are taking up a
wupan, a couple of hundred if they are hauling a splendid junk, its
square sail set, over a rapid. On the junk a man stands amidships
beating a drum incessantly to guide their efforts, and they pull with
all their strength, like men possessed, bent double; and sometimes in
the extremity of their travail they crawl on the ground, on all fours,
like the beasts of the field. They strain, strain fiercely, against
the pitiless might of the stream. The leader goes up and down the line
and when he sees one who is not putting all his will into the task he
brings down his split bamboo on the naked back. Each one must do his
utmost or the labour of all is vain. And still they sing a vehement,
eager chaunt, the chaunt of the turbulent waters. I do not know how
words can describe what there is in it of effort. It serves to express
the straining heart, the breaking muscles, and at the same time the
indomitable spirit of man which overcomes the pitiless force of nature.
Though the rope may part and the great junk swing back, in the end the
rapid will be passed; and at the close of the weary day there is the
hearty meal and perhaps the opium pipe with its dreams of ease. But
the most agonising song is the song of the coolies who bring the great
bales from the junk up the steep steps to the town wall. Up and down
they go, endlessly, and endless as their toil rises their rhythmic cry.
He, aw--ah, oh. They are barefoot and naked to the waist. The sweat
pours down their faces and their song is a groan of pain. It is a sigh
of despair. It is heart-rending. It is hardly human. It is the cry of
souls in infinite distress, only just musical, and that last note is
the ultimate sob of humanity. Life is too hard, too cruel, and this is
the final despairing protest. That is the song of the river.



He is a tall man with bulging, sky blue eyes and an embarrassed manner.
He looks as though he were a little too large for his skin and you
feel that he would be more comfortable if it were a trifle looser.
His hair, very smooth and crisp, fits so tightly on his head that it
gives you the impression of a wig, and you have an almost irresistible
inclination to pull it. He has no small talk. He hunts for topics of
conversation and, racking his brain to no purpose, in desperation
offers you a whisky and soda.

He is in charge of the B.A.T., and the building in which he lives is
office, godown, and residence all in one. His parlour is furnished
with a suite of dingy upholstered furniture placed neatly round the
walls, and in the middle is a round table. A hanging petroleum lamp
gives a melancholy light, and an oil stove heat. In appropriate places
are richly framed oleographs from the Christmas numbers of American
magazines. But he does not sit in this room. He spends his leisure in
his bedroom. In America he has always lived in a boarding house where
his bedroom was the only privacy he knew, and he has gotten the habit
of living in one. It seems unnatural to him to sit in a sitting-room;
he does not like to take his coat off, and he only feels at home
in shirt sleeves. He keeps his books and his private papers in his
bedroom; he has a desk and a rocking chair there.

He has lived in China for five years, but he knows no Chinese and takes
no interest in the race among whom in all likelihood the best years of
his life will be spent. His business is done through an interpreter
and his house is managed by a boy. Now and then he takes a journey
of several hundred miles into Mongolia, a wild and rugged country,
either in Chinese carts or on ponies; and he sleeps at the wayside inns
where congregate merchants, drovers, herdsmen, men at arms, ruffians,
and wild fellows. The people of the land are turbulent; when there
is unrest he is exposed to not a little risk. But these are purely
business undertakings. They bore him. He is always glad to get back to
his familiar bedroom at the B.A.T. For he is a great reader. He reads
nothing but American magazines and the number of those he has sent to
him by every mail is amazing. He never throws them away and there are
piles of them all over the house. The city in which he lives is the
gateway into China from Mongolia. There dwell the teeming Chinese, and
through its gates pass constantly the Mongols with their caravans of
camels; endless processions of carts, drawn by oxen, which have brought
hides from the illimitable distances of Asia rumble noisily through
its crowded streets. He is bored. It has never occurred to him that he
lives a life in which the possibility of adventure is at his doors. He
can only recognise it through the printed page; and it needs a story of
derring-do in Texas or Nevada, of hairbreadth escape in the South Seas,
to stir his blood.



It was a comfort in that sweltering heat to get out of the city. The
missionary stepped out of the launch in which he had dropped leisurely
down the river and comfortably settled himself in the chair which
was waiting for him at the water's edge. He was carried through the
village by the river side and began to ascend the hill. It was an
hour's journey along a pathway of broad stone steps, under fir trees,
and now and again you caught a delightful glimpse of the broad river
shining in the sun amid the exultant green of the padi fields. The
bearers went along with a swinging stride. The sweat on their backs
shone. It was a sacred mountain with a Buddhist monastery on the top
of it, and on the way up there were rest houses where the coolies set
down the chair for a few minutes and a monk in his grey robe gave you a
cup of flowered tea. The air was fresh and sweet. The pleasure of that
lazy journey--the swing of the chair was very soothing--made a day in
the city almost worth while; and at the end of it was his trim little
bungalow where he spent the summer, and before him the sweet-scented
night. The mail had come in that day and he was bringing on letters
and papers. There were four numbers of the _Saturday Evening Post_ and
four of the _Literary Digest_. He had nothing but pleasant things to
look forward to and the usual peace (a peace, as he often said, which
passeth all understanding), which filled him whenever he was among
these green trees, away from the teeming city, should long since have
descended upon him.

But he was harassed. He had had that day an unfortunate encounter and
he was unable, trivial as it was, to put it out of his mind. It was on
this account that his face bore a somewhat peevish expression. It was
a thin and sensitive face, almost ascetic, with regular features and
intelligent eyes. He was very long and thin, with the spindly legs of
a grasshopper, and as he sat in his chair swaying a little with the
motion of his bearers he reminded you, somewhat grotesquely, of a faded
lily. A gentle creature. He could never have hurt a fly.

He had run across Dr. Saunders in one of the streets of the city. Dr.
Saunders was a little grey-haired man, with a high colour and a snub
nose which gave him a strangely impudent expression. He had a large
sensual mouth and when he laughed, which he did very often, he showed
decayed and discoloured teeth; when he laughed his little blue eyes
wrinkled in a curious fashion and then he looked the very picture of
malice. There was something faunlike in him. His movements were quick
and unexpected. He walked with a rapid trip as though he were always
in a hurry. He was a doctor who lived in the heart of the city among
the Chinese. He was not on the register, but someone had made it his
business to find out that he had been duly qualified; he had been
struck off, but for what crime, whether social or purely professional,
none know; nor how he had happened to come to the East and eventually
settle on the China coast. But it was evident that he was a very
clever doctor and the Chinese had great faith in him. He avoided the
foreigners and rather disagreeable stories were circulated about him.
Everyone knew him to say how do you do to, but no one asked him to his
house nor visited him in his own.

When they had met that afternoon Dr. Saunders had exclaimed:

"What on earth has brought you to the city at this time of year?"

"I have some business that I couldn't leave any longer," answered the
missionary, "and then I wanted to get the mail."

"There was a stranger here the other day asking for you," said the

"For me?" cried the other with surprise.

"Well, not for you particularly," explained the doctor. "He wanted
to know the way to the American Mission. I told him; but I said he
wouldn't find anyone there. He seemed rather surprised at that, so I
told him that you all went up to the hills in May and didn't come back
till September."

"A foreigner?" asked the missionary, still wondering who the stranger
could be.

"Oh, yes, certainly." The doctor's eyes twinkled. "Then he asked
me about the other missions; I told him the London Mission had a
settlement here, but it wasn't the least use going there as all the
missionaries were away in the hills. After all it's devilish hot in the
city. 'Then I'd like to go to one of the mission schools,' said the
stranger. 'Oh, they're all closed,' I said. 'Well, then I'll go to the
hospital.' 'That's well worth a visit,' I said, 'the American hospital
is equipped with all the latest contrivances. Their operating theatre
is perfect.' 'What is the name of the doctor in charge?' 'Oh, he's up
in the hills.' 'But what about the sick?' 'There are no sick between
May and September,' I said, 'and if there are they have to put up with
the native dispensers.'"

Dr. Saunders paused for a moment. The missionary looked ever so
slightly vexed.

"Well?" he said.

"The stranger looked at me irresolutely for a moment or two. 'I wanted
to see something of the missions before I left,' he said. 'You might
try the Roman Catholics,' I said, 'they're here all the year round.'
'When do they take their holidays then?' he asked. 'They don't,' I
said. He left me at that. I think he went to the Spanish convent."

The missionary fell into the trap and it irritated him to think how
ingenuously he had done so. He ought to have seen what was coming.

"Who was this anyway?" he asked innocently.

"I asked him his name," said the doctor. "'Oh, I'm Christ,' he said."

The missionary shrugged his shoulders and abruptly told his rickshaw
boy to go on.

It had put him thoroughly out of temper. It was so unjust. Of course
they went away from May to September. The heat made any useful activity
quite out of the question and it had been found by experience that
the missionaries preserved their health and strength much better if
they spent the hot months in the hills. A sick missionary was only an
encumbrance. It was a matter of practical politics and it had been
found that the Lord's work was done more efficiently if a certain
part of the year was set aside for rest and recreation. And then
the reference to the Roman Catholics was grossly unfair. They were
unmarried. They had no families to think of. The mortality among them
was terrifying. Why, in that very city, of fourteen nuns who had come
out to China ten years ago all but three were dead. It was perfectly
easy for them, because it was more convenient for their work, to live
in the middle of the city and to stay there all the year round. They
had no ties. They had no duties to those who were near and dear to
them. Oh, it was grossly unjust to drag in the Roman Catholics.

But suddenly an idea flashed through his mind. What rankled most was
that he had left the rascally doctor (you only had to look at his face
all puckered with malicious amusement to know he was a rogue) without
a word. There certainly was an answer, but he had not had the presence
of mind to make it; and now the perfect repartee occurred to him. A
glow of satisfaction filled him and he almost fancied that he had made
it. It was a crushing rejoinder and he rubbed his very long thin hands
with satisfaction. 'My dear Sir,' he ought to have said, 'Our Lord
never in the whole course of his ministry claimed to be the Christ.' It
was an unanswerable snub, and thinking of it the missionary forgot his



It was a cold night. I had finished my dinner, and my boy was making
up my bed while I sat over a brazier of burning charcoal. Most of the
coolies had already settled themselves for the night in a room next to
mine and through the thin matchboarding of the wall that separated us
I heard a couple of them talk. Another party of travellers had arrived
about an hour before and the small inn was full. Suddenly there was
a commotion and going to the door of my room to look out I saw three
sedan chairs enter the courtyard. They were set down in front of me and
from the first stepped out a stout Chinese of imposing aspect. He wore
a long black robe of figured silk, lined with squirrel, and on his head
a square fur cap. He seemed taken aback when he saw me at the door of
the principal guest chamber and turning to the landlord addressed him
in authoritative tones. It appeared that he was an official and he was
much annoyed to find that the best apartment in the inn was already
taken. He was told that but one room was available. It was small, with
pallets covered with tumbled straw lining the walls, and was used
as a rule only by coolies. He flung into a violent passion and on a
sudden arose a scene of the greatest animation. The official, his two
companions, and his bearers exclaimed against the indignity which it
was sought to thrust upon him, while the landlord and the servants of
the inn argued, expostulated, and entreated. The official stormed and
threatened. For a few minutes the courtyard, so silent before, rang
with the angry shouts; then, subsiding as quickly as it began, the
hubbub ceased and the official went into the vacant room. Hot water was
brought by a bedraggled servant, and presently the landlord followed
with great bowls of steaming rice. All was once more quiet.

An hour later I went into the yard to stretch my legs for five minutes
before going to bed and somewhat to my surprise, I came upon the
stout official, a little while ago so pompous and self-important,
seated at a table in the front of the inn with the most ragged of my
coolies. They were chatting amicably and the official quietly smoked a
water-pipe. He had made all that to-do to give himself face, but having
achieved his object was satisfied, and feeling the need of conversation
had accepted the company of any coolie without a thought of social
distinction. His manner was perfectly cordial and there was in it no
trace of condescension. The coolie talked with him on an equal footing.
It seemed to me that this was true democracy. In the East man is man's
equal in a sense you find neither in Europe nor in America. Position
and wealth put a man in a relation of superiority to another that is
purely adventitious, and they are no bar to sociability.

When I lay in my bed I asked myself why in the despotic East there
should be between men an equality so much greater than in the free and
democratic West, and was forced to the conclusion that the explanation
must be sought in the cess-pool. For in the West we are divided from
our fellows by our sense of smell. The working man is our master,
inclined to rule us with an iron hand, but it cannot be denied that he
stinks: none can wonder at it, for a bath in the dawn when you have to
hurry to your work before the factory bell rings is no pleasant thing,
nor does heavy labour tend to sweetness; and you do not change your
linen more than you can help when the week's washing must be done by a
sharp-tongued wife. I do not blame the working man because he stinks,
but stink he does. It makes social intercourse difficult to persons
of a sensitive nostril. The matutinal tub divides the classes more
effectually than birth, wealth, or education. It is very significant
that those novelists who have risen from the ranks of labour are apt to
make it a symbol of class prejudice, and one of the most distinguished
writers of our day always marks the rascals of his entertaining
stories by the fact that they take a bath every morning. Now, the
Chinese live all their lives in the proximity of very nasty smells.
They do not notice them. Their nostrils are blunted to the odours that
assail the Europeans and so they can move on an equal footing with the
tiller of the soil, the coolie, and the artisan. I venture to think
that the cess-pool is more necessary to democracy than parliamentary
institutions. The invention of the "sanitary convenience" has destroyed
the sense of equality in men. It is responsible for class hatred much
more than the monopoly of capital in the hands of the few.

It is a tragic thought that the first man who pulled the plug of a
water-closet with that negligent gesture rang the knell of democracy.



He was a big man, and his bones were well covered. He gave you the
impression that he had put on flesh since he bought his clothes, for
they seemed somewhat tight for him. He always wore the same things, a
blue suit, evidently bought ready-made in a department store (the lapel
decorated with a small American flag) a high starched collar and a
white tie on which was a pattern of forget-me-nots. His short nose and
pugnacious chin gave his clean-shaven face a determined look; his eyes,
behind large, gold-rimmed spectacles, were large and blue; and his hair
receding on the temples, lank and dull, was plastered down on his head.
But on the crown protruded a rebellious cock's feather.

He was travelling up the Yangtze for the first time, but he took no
interest in his surroundings. He had no eye for the waste of turbulent
waters that was spread before him, nor for the colours, tragic or
tender, which sunrise and sunset lent the scene. The great junks with
their square white sails proceeded stately down the stream. The moon
rose, flooding the noble river with silver and giving a strange magic
to the temples on the bank, among a grove of trees. He was frankly
bored. During a certain part of the day he studied Chinese, but for the
rest of the time he read nothing but a _New York Times_ three months
old and the Parliamentary debates of July, 1915, which, heaven knows
why, happened to be on board. He took no interest in the religions
which flourished in the land he had come to evangelise. He classed them
all contemptuously as devil worship. I do not think he had ever read
the Analects of Confucius. He was ignorant of the history, art, and
literature of China.

I could not make out what had brought him to the country. He spoke of
his work as a profession which he had entered as a man might enter the
civil service, and which, though it was poorly paid (he complained
that he earned less than an artisan) he wanted notwithstanding to make
a good job of. He wanted to increase his church membership, he wanted
to make his school self-supporting. If ever he had had a serious call
to convert the heathen there was in him no trace of it now. He looked
upon the whole matter as a business proposition. The secret of success
lay in the precious word organization. He was upright, honest, and
virtuous, but there was neither passion in him nor enthusiasm. He
seemed to be under the impression that the Chinese were very simple
people, and because they did not know the same things that he did he
thought them ignorant. He could not help showing that he looked upon
himself as superior to them. The laws they made were not applicable
to the white man and he resented the fact that they expected him to
conform to their customs. But he was not a bad fellow; indeed he was a
good-humoured one and so long as you did not attempt to question his
authority there is no doubt that he would have done everything in his
power to serve you.



It was surprising to find so vast a city in a spot that seemed to me
so remote. From its battlemented gate towards sunset you could see
the snowy mountains of Tibet. It was so populous that you could walk
at ease only on the walls and it took a rapid walker three hours to
complete their circuit. There was no railway within a thousand miles
and the river on which it stood was so shallow that only junks of light
burden could safely navigate it. Five days in a sampan were needed
to reach the Upper Yangtze. For an uneasy moment you asked yourself
whether trains and steamships were as necessary to the conduct of life
as we who use them every day consider; for here, a million persons
throve, married, begat their kind, and died; here a million persons
were busily occupied with commerce, art, and thought.

And here lived a philosopher of repute the desire to see whom had
been to me one of the incentives of a somewhat arduous journey. He
was the greatest authority in China on the Confucian learning. He was
said to speak English and German with facility. He had been for many
years secretary to one of the Empress Dowager's greatest viceroys,
but he lived now in retirement. On certain days in the week, however,
all through the year he opened his doors to such as sought after
knowledge, and discoursed on the teaching of Confucius. He had a body
of disciples, but it was small, since the students for the most part
preferred to his modest dwelling and his severe exhortations the
sumptuous buildings of the foreign university and the useful science
of the barbarians: with him this was mentioned only to be scornfully
dismissed. From all I heard of him I concluded that he was a man of

When I announced my wish to meet this distinguished person my host
immediately offered to arrange a meeting; but the days passed and
nothing happened. I made enquiries and my host shrugged his shoulders.

"I sent him a chit and told him to come along," he said. "I don't know
why he hasn't turned up. He's a cross-grained old fellow."

I did not think it was proper to approach a philosopher in so cavalier
a fashion and I was hardly surprised that he had ignored a summons such
as this. I caused a letter to be sent asking in the politest terms I
could devise whether he would allow me to call upon him and within
two hours received an answer making an appointment for the following
morning at ten o'clock.

I was carried in a chair. The way seemed interminable. I went through
crowded streets and through streets deserted till I came at last
to one, silent and empty, in which at a small door in a long white
wall my bearers set down my chair. One of them knocked, and after a
considerable time a judas was opened; dark eyes looked through; there
was a brief colloquy; and finally I was admitted. A youth, pallid of
face, wizened, and poorly dressed, motioned me to follow him. I did not
know if he was a servant or a pupil of the great man. I passed through
a shabby yard and was led into a long low room sparsely furnished with
an American roll-top desk, a couple of blackwood chairs and two little
Chinese tables. Against the walls were shelves on which were a great
number of books: most of them, of course, were Chinese, but there
were many, philosophical and scientific works, in English, French and
German; and there were hundreds of unbound copies of learned reviews.
Where books did not take up the wall space hung scrolls on which in
various calligraphies were written, I suppose, Confucian quotations.
There was no carpet on the floor. It was a cold, bare, and comfortless
chamber. Its sombreness was relieved only by a yellow chrysanthemum
which stood by itself on the desk in a long vase.

I waited for some time and the youth who had shown me in brought a pot
of tea, two cups, and a tin of Virginian cigarettes. As he went out the
philosopher entered. I hastened to express my sense of the honour he
did me in allowing me to visit him. He waved me to a chair and poured
out the tea.

"I am flattered that you wished to see me," he returned. "Your
countrymen deal only with coolies and with compradores; they think
every Chinese must be one or the other."

I ventured to protest. But I had not caught his point. He leaned back
in his chair and looked at me with an expression of mockery.

"They think they have but to beckon and we must come."

I saw then that my friend's unfortunate communication still rankled. I
did not quite know how to reply. I murmured something complimentary.

He was an old man, tall, with a thin grey queue, and bright large eyes
under which were heavy bags. His teeth were broken and discoloured.
He was exceedingly thin, and his hands, fine and small, were withered
and claw-like. I had been told that he was an opium-smoker. He was
very shabbily dressed in a black gown, a little black cap, both much
the worse for wear, and dark grey trousers gartered at the ankle.
He was watching. He did not quite know what attitude to take up,
and he had the manner of a man who was on his guard. Of course the
philosopher occupies a royal place among those who concern themselves
with the things of the spirit and we have the authority of Benjamin
Disraeli that royalty must be treated with abundant flattery. I seized
my trowel. Presently I was conscious of a certain relaxation in his
demeanour. He was like a man who was all set and rigid to have his
photograph taken, but hearing the shutter click lets himself go and
eases into his natural self. He showed me his books.

"I took the Ph.D. in Berlin, you know," he said. "And afterwards I
studied for some time in Oxford. But the English, if you will allow me
to say so, have no great aptitude for philosophy."

Though he put the remark apologetically it was evident that he was not
displeased to say a slightly disagreeable thing.

"We have had philosophers who have not been without influence in the
world of thought," I suggested.

"Hume and Berkeley? The philosophers who taught at Oxford when I was
there were anxious not to offend their theological colleagues. They
would not follow their thought to its logical consequences in case they
should jeopardise their position in university society."

"Have you studied the modern developments of philosophy in America?" I

"Are you speaking of Pragmatism? It is the last refuge of those who
want to believe the incredible. I have more use for American petroleum
than for American philosophy."

His judgments were tart. We sat down once more and drank another cup
of tea. He began to talk with fluency. He spoke a somewhat formal
but an idiomatic English. Now and then he helped himself out with a
German phrase. So far as it was possible for a man of that stubborn
character to be influenced he had been influenced by Germany. The
method and the industry of the Germans had deeply impressed him and
their philosophical acumen was patent to him when a laborious professor
published in a learned magazine an essay on one of his own writings.

"I have written twenty books," he said. "And that is the only notice
that has ever been taken of me in a European publication."

But his study of Western philosophy had only served in the end to
satisfy him that wisdom after all was to be found within the limits of
the Confucian canon. He accepted its philosophy with conviction. It
answered the needs of his spirit with a completeness which made all
foreign learning seem vain. I was interested in this because it bore
out an opinion of mine that philosophy is an affair of character rather
than of logic: the philosopher believes not according to evidence,
but according to his own temperament; and his thinking merely serves
to make reasonable what his instinct regards as true. If Confucianism
gained so firm a hold on the Chinese it is because it explained and
expressed them as no other system of thought could do.

My host lit a cigarette. His voice at first had been thin and tired,
but as he grew interested in what he said it gained volume. He talked
vehemently. There was in him none of the repose of the sage. He was a
polemist and a fighter. He loathed the modern cry for individualism.
For him society was the unit, and the family the foundation of society.
He upheld the old China and the old school, monarchy, and the rigid
canon of Confucius. He grew violent and bitter as he spoke of the
students, fresh from foreign universities, who with sacrilegious hands
tore down the oldest civilisation in the world.

"But you, do you know what you are doing?" he exclaimed. "What is the
reason for which you deem yourselves our betters? Have you excelled
us in arts or letters? Have our thinkers been less profound than
yours? Has our civilisation been less elaborate, less complicated,
less refined than yours? Why, when you lived in caves and clothed
yourselves with skins we were a cultured people. Do you know that we
tried an experiment which is unique in the history of the world? We
sought to rule this great country not by force, but by wisdom. And
for centuries we succeeded. Then why does the white man despise the
yellow? Shall I tell you? Because he has invented the machine gun.
That is your superiority. We are a defenceless horde and you can blow
us into eternity. You have shattered the dream of our philosophers
that the world could be governed by the power of law and order. And
now you are teaching our young men your secret. You have thrust your
hideous inventions upon us. Do you not know that we have a genius for
mechanics? Do you not know that there are in this country four hundred
millions of the most practical and industrious people in the world? Do
you think it will take us long to learn? And what will become of your
superiority when the yellow man can make as good guns as the white and
fire them as straight? You have appealed to the machine gun and by the
machine gun shall you be judged."

But at that moment we were interrupted. A little girl came softly
in and nestled close up to the old gentleman. She stared at me with
curious eyes. He told me that she was his youngest child. He put his
arms round her and with a murmur of caressing words kissed her fondly.
She wore a black coat and trousers that barely reached her ankles, and
she had a long pig-tail hanging down her back. She was born on the day
the revolution was brought to a successful issue by the abdication of
the emperor.

"I thought she heralded the Spring of a new era," he said. "She was but
the last flower of this great nation's Fall."

From a drawer in his roll-top desk he took a few cash, and handing them
to her, sent her away.

"You see that I wear a queue," he said, taking it in his hands. "It is
a symbol. I am the last representative of the old China."

He talked to me, more gently now, of how philosophers in long past
days wandered from state to state with their disciples, teaching all
who were worthy to learn. Kings called them to their councils and made
them rulers of cities. His erudition was great and his eloquent phrases
gave a multicoloured vitality to the incidents he related to me of
the history of his country. I could not help thinking him a somewhat
pathetic figure. He felt in himself the capacity to administer the
state, but there was no king to entrust him with office; he had vast
stores of learning which he was eager to impart to the great band of
students that his soul hankered after, and there came to listen but a
few, wretched, half-starved, and obtuse provincials.

Once or twice discretion had made me suggest that I should take my
leave, but he had been unwilling to let me go. Now at last I was
obliged to. I rose. He held my hand.

"I should like to give you something as a recollection of your visit to
the last philosopher in China, but I am a poor man and I do not know
what I can give you that would be worthy of your acceptance."

I protested that the recollection of my visit was in itself a priceless
gift. He smiled.

"Men have short memories in these degenerate days, and I should like to
give you something more substantial. I would give you one of my books,
but you cannot read Chinese."

He looked at me with an amicable perplexity. I had an inspiration.

"Give me a sample of your calligraphy," I said.

"Would you like that?" He smiled. "In my youth I was considered to
wield the brush in a manner that was not entirely despicable."

He sat down at his desk, took a fair sheet of paper, and placed it
before him. He poured a few drops of water on a stone, rubbed the ink
stick in it, and took his brush. With a free movement of the arm he
began to write. And as I watched him I remembered with not a little
amusement something else which had been told me of him. It appeared
that the old gentleman, whenever he could scrape a little money
together, spent it wantonly in the streets inhabited by ladies to
describe whom a euphemism is generally used. His eldest son, a person
of standing in the city, was vexed and humiliated by the scandal of
this behaviour; and only his strong sense of filial duty prevented him
from reproaching the libertine with severity. I daresay that to a son
such looseness would be disconcerting, but the student of human nature
could look upon it with equanimity. Philosophers are apt to elaborate
their theories in the study, forming conclusions upon life which they
know only at second hand, and it has seemed to me often that their
works would have a more definite significance if they had exposed
themselves to the vicissitudes which befall the common run of men. I
was prepared to regard the old gentleman's dalliance in hidden places
with leniency. Perhaps he sought but to elucidate the most inscrutable
of human illusions.

He finished. To dry the ink he scattered a little ash on the paper and
rising handed it to me.

"What have you written?" I asked.

I thought there was a slightly malicious gleam in his eyes.

"I have ventured to offer you two little poems of my own."

"I did not know you were a poet."

"When China was still an uncivilised country," he retorted with
sarcasm, "all educated men could write verse at least with elegance."

I took the paper and looked at the Chinese characters. They made an
agreeable pattern upon it.

"Won't you also give me a translation?"

"_Traduttore--traditore_," he answered. "You cannot expect me to betray
myself. Ask one of your English friends. Those who know most about
China know nothing, but you will at least find one who is competent to
give you a rendering of a few rough and simple lines."

I bade him farewell, and with great politeness he showed me to my
chair. When I had the opportunity I gave the poems to a sinologue of
my acquaintance, and here is the version he made.[1] I confess that,
doubtless unreasonably, I was somewhat taken aback when I read it.

    _You loved me not: your voice was sweet;
    Your eyes were full of laughter; your hands were tender.
    And then you loved me: your voice was bitter;
    Your eyes were full of tears; your hands were cruel.
    Sad, sad that love should make you

       *       *       *       *       *

    _I craved the years would quickly pass
      That you might lose
    The brightness of your eyes, the peach-bloom of your skin,
    And all the cruel splendour of your youth.
      Then I alone would love you
      And you at last would care._

    _The envious years have passed full soon
      And you have lost
    The brightness of your eyes, the peach-bloom of your skin,
    And all the charming splendour of your youth.
        Alas, I do not love you
      And I care not if you care._

[1] I owe it to the kindness of my friend Mr. P.W. Davidson.



She was certainly fifty, but a life of convictions harassed by never
a doubt had left her face unwrinkled. The hesitations of thought had
never lined the smoothness of her brow. Her features were bold and
regular, somewhat masculine, and her determined chin bore out the
impression given you by her eyes. They were blue, confident, and
unperturbed. They summed you up through large round spectacles. You
felt that here was a woman to whom command came easily. Her charity
was above all things competent and you were certain that she ran the
obvious goodness of her heart on thoroughly business lines. It was
possible to suppose that she was not devoid of human vanity (and this
is to be counted to her for grace) since she wore a dress of violet
silk, heavily embroidered, and a toque of immense pansies which on a
less respectable head would have been almost saucy. But my Uncle Henry,
for twenty-seven years Vicar of Whitstable, who had decided views on
the proper manner of dress for a clergyman's wife, never objected
to my Aunt Sophie wearing violet, and he would have found nothing
to criticise in the missionary lady's gown. She spoke fluently with
the even flow of water turned on at a tap. Her conversation had the
admirable volubility of a politician at the end of an electioneering
campaign. You felt that she knew what she meant (with most of us so
rare an accomplishment) and meant what she said.

"I always think," she remarked pleasantly, "that if you know both sides
of a question you'll judge differently from what you will if you only
know one side. But the fact remains that two and two make four and you
can argue all night and you won't make them five. Am I right or am I

I hastened to assure her that she was right, though with these new
theories of relativity and parallel lines behaving at infinity in such
a surprising manner I was in my heart of hearts none too sure.

"No one can eat their cake and have it," she continued, exemplifying
Benedetto Croce's theory that grammar has little to do with expression,
"and one has to take the rough with the smooth, but as I always say to
the children you can't expect to have everything your own way. No one
is perfect in this world and I always think that if you expect the best
from people you'll get the best."

I confess that I was staggered, but I determined to do my part. It was
only civil.

"Most men live long enough to discover that every cloud has a silver
lining," I began earnestly. "With perseverance you can do most things
that are not beyond your powers, and after all, it's better to want
what you have than to have what you want."

I thought her eyes were glazed with a sudden perplexity when I made
this confident statement, but I daresay it was only my fancy, for she
nodded vigorously.

"Of course, I see your point," she said. "We can't do more than we can."

But my blood was up now and I waved aside the interruption. I went on.

"Few people realise the profound truth that there are twenty shillings
in every pound and twelve pence in every shilling. I'm sure it's better
to see clearly to the end of your nose than indistinctly through a
brick wall. If there's one thing we can be certain about it is that the
whole is greater than the part."

When, with a hearty shake of the hand, firm and characteristic, she
bade me farewell, she said:

"Well, we've had a most interesting chat. It does one good in a place
like this, so far away from civilisation, to exchange ideas with one's
intellectual equals."

"Especially other people's," I murmured.

"I always think that one should profit by the great thoughts of the
past," she retorted. "It shows that the mighty dead have not lived in

Her conversation was devastating.



I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, reading a number, several days
old, of the _South China Times_, when the door of the bar was somewhat
brusquely thrown open and a very long, thin man appeared.

"Do you care for a game of billiards?" he said.

"By all means."

I got up and went with him into the bar. It was a small hotel, of
stone, somewhat pretentious in appearance, and it was kept by a
half-caste Portuguese who smoked opium. There were not half a dozen
people staying there, a Portuguese official and his wife waiting for a
ship to take them to a distant colony, a Lancashire engineer who was
sullenly drunk all day long, a mysterious lady, no longer young but
of voluptuous appearance, who came to the dining room for meals and
went back to her room immediately afterwards, and I had not seen the
stranger before. I supposed he had come in that evening on a Chinese
boat. He was a man of over fifty, I should think, shrivelled as though
the sap had been dried out of him by tropical suns, with a face that
was almost brick red. I could not place him. He might have been a
skipper out of a job or the agent of some foreign firm in Hong Kong. He
was very silent and he made no answer to the casual remarks that I made
in the course of the game. He played billiards well enough, though not
excellently, but he was a very pleasant fellow to play with; and when
he pocketed my ball, instead of leaving me a double balk, gave me a
reasonable shot. But when the game was over I should never have thought
of him again, if suddenly, breaking his silence for the first time, he
had not put me a very odd question.

"Do you believe in fate?" he asked.

"At billiards?" I retorted not a little astonished at his remark.

"No, in life."

I did not want to answer him seriously.

"I hardly know," I said.

He took his shot. He made a little break. At the end of it, chalking
his cue, he said:

"I do. I believe if things are coming to you, you can't escape them."

That was all. He said nothing more. When we had finished the game he
went up to bed, and I never saw him again. I shall never know what
strange emotion impelled him to put that sudden question to a stranger.



I knew he was drunk.

He was a skipper of the new school, a neat little man, clean-shaven,
who might easily have passed for the commander of a submarine. In
his cabin there hung a beautiful new coat with gold braid on it, the
uniform which for its good service in the war has been granted to the
mercantile marine, but he was shy of using it; it seemed absurd when he
was no more than captain of a small boat on the Yangtze; and he stood
on his bridge in a neat brown suit and a homburg hat; you could almost
see yourself in his admirably polished shoes. His eyes were clear and
bright and his skin was fresh. Though he had been at sea for twenty
years and could not have been much less than forty he did not look more
than twenty-eight. You might be sure that he was a clean-living fellow,
as healthy in mind as he was in body, and the depravity of the East
of which they talk had left him untouched. He had a pleasant taste in
light literature and the works of E.V. Lucas adorned his book-case. In
his cabin you saw a photograph of a football team in which he figured
and two of a young woman with neatly waved hair whom it was possible
enough he was engaged to.

I knew he was drunk, but I did not think he was very drunk, till he
asked me suddenly:

"What is democracy?"

I returned an evasive, perhaps a flippant answer, and for some minutes
the conversation turned on less unseasonable topics to the occasion.
Then breaking his silence, he said:

"I hope you don't think I'm a socialist because I said, what is

"Not at all," I answered, "but I don't see why you shouldn't be a

"I give you my word of honour I'm not," he protested. "If I had my way
I'd stand them up against a wall and shoot them."

"What is socialism?" I asked.

"Oh, you know what I mean, Henderson and Ramsay Macdonald and all that
sort of thing," he answered. "I'm about fed up with the working man."

"But you're a working man yourself, I should have thought."

He was silent for quite a long time and I thought his mind had wandered
to other things. But I was wrong; he was thinking my statement over in
all its bearings, for at last he said:

"Look here, I'm not a working man. Hang it all, I was at Harrow."



I am not an industrious sight-seer, and when guides, professional
or friendly, urge me to visit a famous monument I have a stubborn
inclination to send them about their business. Too many eyes before
mine have looked with awe upon Mont Blanc; too many hearts before mine
have throbbed with deep emotion in the presence of the Sistine Madonna.
Sights like these are like women of too generous sympathies: you feel
that so many persons have found solace in their commiseration that you
are embarrassed when they bid you, with what practised tact, to whisper
in their discreet ears the whole tale of your distress. Supposing you
were the last straw that broke the camel's back! No, Madam, I will take
my sorrows (if I cannot bear them alone, which is better) to someone
who is not quite so certain of saying so exactly the right thing to
comfort me. When I am in a foreign town I prefer to wander at random
and if maybe I lose the rapture of a Gothic cathedral I may happen upon
a little Romanesque chapel or a Renaissance doorway which I shall be
able to flatter myself no one else has troubled about.

But of course this was a very extraordinary sight indeed and it would
have been absurd to miss it. I came across it by pure chance. I was
sauntering along a dusty road outside the city wall and by the side of
it I saw a number of memorial arches. They were small and undecorated,
standing not across the way but along it, close to one another, and
sometimes one in front of the other, as though they had been erected
by no impulse of gratitude to the departed or of admiration for the
virtuous but in formal compliment, as knighthoods on the King's
birthday are conferred on prominent citizens of provincial towns.
Behind this row of arches the land rose sharply and since in this part
of the country the Chinese bury their dead by preference on the side
of a hill it was thickly covered with graves. A trodden path led to a
little tower and I followed it. It was a stumpy little tower, ten feet
high perhaps, made of rough-hewn blocks of stone; it was cone shaped
and the roof was like a Pierrot's hat. It stood on a hillock, quaint
and rather picturesque against the blue sky, amid the graves. At its
foot were a number of rough baskets thrown about in disorder. I walked
round and on one side saw an oblong hole, eighteen inches by eight,
perhaps, from which hung a stout string. From the hole there came a
very strange, a nauseating odour. Suddenly I understood what the queer
little building was. It was a baby tower. The baskets were the baskets
in which the babies had been brought, two or three of them were quite
new, they could not have been there more than a few hours. And the
string? Why, if the person who brought the baby, parent or grandmother,
midwife or obliging friend, were of a humane disposition and did not
care to let the new-born child drop to the bottom (for underneath the
tower was a deep pit), it could be let down gently by means of the
string. The odour was the odour of putrefaction. A lively little boy
came up to me while I stood there and made me understand that four
babes had been brought to the tower that morning.

There are philosophers who look upon evil with a certain complacency,
since without it, they opine, there would be no possibility of good.
Without want there would be no occasion for charity, without distress
of sympathy, without danger of courage, and without unhappiness of
resignation. They would find in the Chinese practice of infanticide
an apt illustration of their views. Except for the baby tower there
would not be in this city an orphanage: the traveller would miss an
interesting and curious sight, and a few poor women would have no
opportunity to exercise a beautiful and touching virtue. The orphanage
is shabby and bedraggled; it is situated in a poor and crowded part of
the city; for the Spanish nuns who conduct it--there are but five of
them--think it more convenient to live where they may be most useful;
and besides, they have not the money to build commodious premises in a
salubrious quarter. The institution is supported by the work, lace and
fine embroidery, which they teach the girls to do, and by the alms of
the faithful.

Two nuns, the Mother Superior and another, showed me what there was
to see. It was very strange to go through the whitewashed rooms,
work-rooms, playrooms, dormitories, and refectory, low, cool, and bare;
for you might have been in Spain, and when you passed a window you half
expected to catch a glimpse of the Giralda. And it was charming to see
the tenderness with which the nuns used the children. There were two
hundred of them and they were, of course, orphans only in the sense
that their parents had abandoned them. There was one room in which a
number were playing, all of the same age, perhaps four, and all of the
same size; with their black eyes and black hair, their yellow skins,
they all looked so much alike that they might have been the children of
a Chinese Old Woman who lived in a Shoe. They crowded round the nuns
and began to romp with them. The Mother Superior had the gentlest voice
I ever heard, but it became gentler still when she joked with the tiny
mites. They nestled about her. She looked a very picture of charity.
Some were deformed and some were diseased, some were puny and hideous,
some were blind; it gave me a little shudder: I marvelled when I saw
the love that filled her kind eyes and the affectionate sweetness of
her smile.

Then I was taken into a parlour where I was made to eat little sweet
Spanish cakes and given a glass of Manzanilla to drink, and when I told
them that I had lived in Seville a third nun was sent for, so that she
might talk for a few minutes with someone who had seen the city she was
born in. With pride they showed me their poor little chapel with its
tawdry statue of the Blessed Virgin, its paper flowers, and its gaudy,
shoddy decoration; for those dear faithful hearts, alas! were possessed
of singularly bad taste. I did not care: to me there was something
positively touching in that dreadful vulgarity. And when I was on the
point of leaving the Mother Superior asked me whether I would care to
see the babies who had come in that day. In order to persuade people to
bring them they gave twenty cents for every one. Twenty cents!

"You see," she explained, "they have often a long walk to come here and
unless we give them something they won't take the trouble."

She took me into a little anteroom, near the entrance, and there lying
on a table under a counterpane were four new-born babes. They had just
been washed and put into long clothes. The counterpane was lifted off.
They lay side by side, on their backs, four tiny wriggling mites, very
red in the face, rather cross perhaps because they had been bathed,
and very hungry. Their eyes seemed preternaturally large. They were so
small, so helpless: you were forced to smile when you looked at them
and at the same time you felt a lump in your throat.



Towards evening perhaps, tired of walking, you get into your chair
and on the crest of a hill you pass through a stone gateway. You
cannot tell why there should be a gateway in that deserted spot, far
from a village, but a fragment of massive wall suggests the ruin of
fortifications against the foes of a forgotten dynasty. And when you
come through the gateway you see below you the shining water in the
rice fields, diapered, like the chess-board in some Chinese _Alice in
Wonderland_, and then the rounded, tree-clad hills. But making your way
down the stone steps of the narrow causeway which is the high road from
city to city, in the gathering darkness you pass a coppice, and from it
waft towards you chill woodland odours of the night. Then you hear no
longer the measured tread of your bearers, your ears are on a sudden
deaf to their sharp cries as they change the pole from shoulder to
shoulder, and to the ceaseless chatter or the occasional snatch of song
with which they enliven the monotonous way, for the woodland odours
are the same as those which steal up from the fat Kentish soil when
you pass through the woods of Bleane; and nostalgia seizes you. Your
thoughts travel through time and space, far from the Here and Now, and
you remember your vanished youth with its high hopes, its passionate
love, and its ambition. Then if you are a cynic, as they say, and
therefore a sentimentalist, tears come to your unwilling eyes. And when
you have regained your self-control the night has fallen.



I was once obliged to study anatomy, a very dreary business, since
there is neither rhyme nor reason for the vast number of things you
have to remember; but one remark made by my teacher, when he was
helping me in the dissection of a thigh, has always remained in my
memory. I was looking in vain for a certain nerve and it needed his
greater skill to discover it in a place in which I had not sought it. I
was aggrieved because the text book had misled me. He smiled and said:

"You see, the normal is the rarest thing in the world."

And though he spoke of anatomy he might have spoken with equal truth
of man. The casual observation impressed itself upon me as many a
profounder one has not and all the years that have passed since then,
with the increasing knowledge of human nature which they have brought,
have only strengthened my conviction of its truth. I have met a hundred
men who seemed perfectly normal only to find in them presently an
idiosyncrasy so marked as to put them almost in a class by themselves.
It has entertained me not a little to discover the hidden oddity of
men to all appearances most ordinary. I have been often amazed to come
upon a hideous depravity in men who you would have sworn were perfectly
commonplace. I have at last sought the normal man as a precious work of
art. It has seemed to me that to know him would give me that peculiar
satisfaction which can only be described as æsthetic.

I really thought I had found him in Robert Webb. He was a consul in one
of the smaller ports and I was given a letter to him. I heard a good
deal about him on my way through China and I heard nothing but good.
Whenever I happened to mention that I was going to the port in which he
was stationed someone was sure to say:

"You'll like Bob Webb. He's an awfully good chap."

He was no less popular as an official than he was as a private person.
He managed to please the merchants because he was active in their
interests, without antagonising the Chinese who praised his firmness or
the missionaries who approved his private life. During the revolution
by his tact, decision, and courage he had not only saved from great
danger the foreign population of the city in which he then was, but
also many Chinese. He had come forward as a peacemaker between the
warring parties and by his ingenuity had been able to bring about a
satisfactory settlement. He was marked down for promotion. I certainly
found him a very engaging fellow. Though he was not good-looking his
appearance was pleasing; he was tall, perhaps a little more than of
average height, well covered without being fat, with a fresh complexion
inclined now (for he was nearly fifty) to be somewhat bloated in the
morning. This was not strange, for in China the foreigners both eat and
drink a great deal too much, and Robert Webb had a healthy liking for
the good things of life. He kept an excellent table. He liked eating
in company and it was seldom that he did not have one or two people to
tiffin or to dinner with him. His eyes were blue and friendly. He had
the social gifts that give pleasure: he played the piano quite well,
but he liked the music that other people liked, and he was always
ready to play a one step or a waltz if others wanted to dance. With
a wife, a son, and a daughter in England he could not afford to keep
racing ponies, but he was keenly interested in racing; he was a good
tennis player, and his bridge was better than the average. Unlike many
of his colleagues he did not allow himself to be overwhelmed by his
position, and in the evening at the club he was affable and unaffected.
But he did not forget that he was His Britannic Majesty's Consul and
I admired the skill with which without portentousness he preserved
the dignity which he thought necessary to his station. In short he
had very good manners. He talked agreeably, and his interests, though
somewhat ordinary, were varied. He had a nice sense of humour. He could
make a joke and tell a good story. He was very happily married. His
son was at Charterhouse and he showed me a photograph of a tall, fair
lad in flannels, with a frank and pleasant face. He showed me also
the photograph of his daughter. It is one of the tragedies of life in
China that a man must be separated for long periods from his family,
and owing to the war Robert Webb had not seen his for eight years. His
wife had taken the children home when the boy was eight and the girl
eleven. They had meant to wait till his leave came so that they could
go all together, but he was stationed in a place that suited neither
of the children and he and his wife agreed that she had better take
them at once. His leave was due in three years and then he could spend
twelve months with them. But when the time for this came the war broke
out, the Consular staff was short-handed, and it was impossible for him
to leave his post. His wife did not want to be separated from young
children, the journey was difficult and dangerous, no one expected the
war to last so long, and one by one the years passed.

"My girl was a child when I saw her last," he said to me when he showed
me the photograph. "Now she's a married woman."

"When are you going on leave?" I asked him.

"Oh, my wife's coming out now."

"But don't you want to see your daughter?" I asked.

He looked at the photograph again and then looked away. There was a
curious look in his face, a somewhat peevish look, I thought, and he

"I've been away from home too long now. I shall never go back."

I leaned back in my chair, smoking my pipe. The photograph showed me a
girl of nineteen with wide blue eyes and bobbed hair; it was a pretty
face, open and friendly, but the most noticeable thing about it was a
peculiar charm of expression. Bob Webb's daughter was a very alluring
young person. I liked that engaging audacity.

"It was rather a surprise to me when she sent along that photograph,"
he said presently. "I'd always thought of her as a child. If I'd met
her in the street I shouldn't have known her."

He gave a little laugh that was not quite natural.

"It isn't fair.... When she was a child she used to love being petted."

His eyes were fixed on the photograph. I seemed to see in them a very
unexpected emotion.

"I can hardly realise she's my daughter. I thought she'd come back with
her mother, and then she wrote and said she was engaged."

He looked away now and I thought there was a singular embarrassment in
the down-turned corners of his mouth.

"I suppose one gets selfish out here, I felt awfully sore, but I gave a
big dinner party to all the fellows here the day she was married, and
we all got blind."

He gave an apologetic laugh.

"I had to, you know," he said awkwardly. "I had such an awful hump."

"What's the young man like?" I asked.

"She's awfully in love with him. When she writes to me her letters are
about nothing else." There was an odd quaver in his voice. "It's a bit
thick to bring a child into the world and to educate her and be fond of
her and all that sort of thing just for some man whom you've never even
seen. I've got his photograph somewhere, I don't know where it is. I
don't think I'd care about him very much."

He helped himself to another whisky. He was tired. He looked old and
bloated. He said nothing for a long time, and then suddenly he seemed
to pull himself together.

"Well, thank God, her mother's coming out soon."

I don't think he was quite a normal man after all.



He was seventy-six years old. He had come to China when he was little
more than a boy as second mate of a sailing vessel and had never gone
home again. Since then he had been many things. For long years he had
commanded a Chinese boat that ran from Shanghai to Ichang and he knew
by heart every inch of the great and terrible Yangtze. He had been
master of a tug at Hong-Kong and had fought in the Ever-Victorious
Army. He had got a lot of loot in the Boxer troubles and had been in
Hankow during the revolution when the rebels shelled the city. He had
been married three times, first to a Japanese woman, then to a Chinese,
and finally when he was hard upon fifty to an Englishwoman. They were
all dead now and it was the Japanese who lingered in his memory. He
would tell you how she arranged the flowers in the house in Shanghai,
just one chrysanthemum in a vase or a sprig of cherry blossom; and he
always remembered how she held a tea-cup, with both hands, delicately.
He had had a number of children, but he took no interest in them; they
were settled in the various ports of China, in banks and shipping
offices, and he seldom saw them. He was proud of his daughter by his
English wife, the only girl he ever had, but she had married well and
was gone to England. He would never see her again. The only person
now for whom he had any affection was the boy who had been with him
for five and forty years. He was a little wizened Chinaman, with a
bald head, slow of movement and solemn. He was well over sixty. They
quarrelled incessantly. The old timer would tell the boy that he was
past his work and that he must get rid of him, and then the boy would
say that he was tired of serving a mad foreign devil. But each knew
that the other did not mean a word he said. They were old friends, old
men both of them, and they would remain together till death parted them.

It was when he married his English wife that he retired from the water
and put his savings into a hotel. But it was not a success. It was a
little way from Shanghai, a summer resort, and it was before there were
motor cars in China. He was a sociable fellow and he spent too much of
his time in the bar. He was generous and he gave away as many drinks as
were paid for. He also had the peculiar habit of spitting in the bath
and the more squeamish of his visitors objected to it. When his last
wife died he found it was she who had kept things from going to pieces
and in a little while he could no longer bear up against the difficulty
of his circumstances. All his savings had gone into buying the place,
now heavily mortgaged, and in making up the deficit year by year. He
was obliged to sell out to a Japanese and having paid his debts at the
age of sixty-eight found himself without a penny. But, by God, sir, he
was a sailor. One of the companies running boats up the Yangtze, gave
him a berth as chief officer--he had no master's certificate--and he
returned to the river which he knew so well. For eight years he had
been on the same run.

And now he stood on the bridge of his trim little ship, not so large as
a penny steamer on the Thames, a gallant figure, upright and slender
as when he was a lad, in a neat blue suit and the company's cap set
jauntily on his white hair, with his pointed beard nattily trimmed.
Seventy-six years old. It is a great age. With his head thrown back,
his glasses in his hand, the Chinese pilot by his side, he watched the
vast expanse of the winding river. A fleet of junks with their high
sterns, their square sails set, descended on the swift current, and
the rowers chanted a monotonous chant as they worked at their creaking
oars. The yellow water in the setting sun was lovely with pale soft
tints, it was as smooth as glass; and along the flat banks the trees
and the huts of a bedraggled village, hazy in the heat of the day, were
now silhouetted sharply, like the shadows of a shadowgraph, against the
pale sky. He raised his head as he heard the cry of wild geese and he
saw them flying high above him in a great V to what far lands he knew
not. In the distance against the sunlight stood a solitary hill crowned
with temples. Because he had seen all this so often it affected him
strangely. The dying day made him think, he knew not why, of his long
past and of his great age. He regretted nothing.

"By George," he muttered, "I've had a fine life."



The incident was of course perfectly trivial, and it could be very
easily explained; but I was surprised that the eyes of the spirit could
blind me so completely to what was visible to the eyes of sense. I was
taken aback to find how completely one could be at the mercy of the
laws of association. Day after day I had marched among the uplands and
to-day I knew that I must come to the great plain in which lay the
ancient city whither I was bound; but when I set out in the morning
there was no sign that I approached it. Indeed the hills seemed no less
sheer and when I reached the top of one, thinking to see the valley
below, it was only to see before me one steeper and taller yet. Beyond,
climbing steadily, I could see the white causeway that I had followed
so long, shining in the sunlight as it skirted the brow of a rugged
tawny rock. The sky was blue and in the west hung here and there little
clouds like fishing boats becalmed towards evening off Dungeness. I
trudged along, mounting all the time, alert for the prospect that
awaited me, if not round this bend, then round the next, and at last,
suddenly, when I was thinking of other things, I came upon it. But
it was no Chinese landscape that I saw, with its padi fields, its
memorial arches and its fantastic temples, with its farmhouses set in
a bamboo grove and its wayside inns where under the banyan trees the
poor coolies may rest them of their weary loads; it was the valley of
the Rhine, the broad plain all golden in the sunset, the valley of the
Rhine with its river, a silvery streak, running through it, and the
distant towers of Worms; it was the great plain upon which my young
eyes rested, when, a student in Heidelberg, after walking long among
the fir-clad hills above the old city, I came out upon a clearing. And
because I was there first conscious of beauty; because there I knew
the first glow of the acquisition of knowledge (each book I read was
an extraordinary adventure); because there I first knew the delight of
conversation (oh, those wonderful commonplaces which each boy discovers
as though none had discovered them before); because of the morning
stroll in the sunny Anlage, the cakes and coffee which refreshed my
abstemious youth at the end of a strenuous walk, the leisurely evenings
on the castle terrace, with the smoky blue haze over the tumbled roofs
of the old town below me; because of Goethe and Heine and Beethoven and
Wagner and (why not?) Strauss with his waltzes, and the beer-garden
where the band played and girls with yellow plaits walked sedately;
because of all these things--recollections which have all the force
of the appeal of sense--to me not only does the word _plain_ mean
everywhere and exclusively the valley of the Rhine; but the only symbol
for happiness I know is a wide prospect all golden in the setting sun,
with a shining stream of silver running through it, like the path of
life or like the ideal that guides you through it, and far away the
grey towers of an ancient town.



A little man, portly, in a fantastic hat, like a bushranger's, with
an immense brim, a pea-jacket such as you see in Leech's pictures of
the sea-faring man, and very wide check trousers of a cut fashionable
heaven knows how many years ago. When he takes off his hat you see a
fine head of long curly hair, and though he is approaching the sixties
it is scarcely grey. His features are regular. He wears a collar
several sizes too large for him so that his whole neck, massive and
statuesque, is shown. He has the look of a Roman Emperor in a tragedy
of the sixties and this air of an actor of the old school is enhanced
by his deep booming voice. His stumpy frame makes it slightly absurd.
You can imagine his declaiming the blank verse of Sheridan Knowles with
an emphasis to rouse the pit to frenzy, and when he greets you, with
too large a gesture, you guess how that resonant organ would tremble
when he wrung your heart (in 1860) over the death of his child. It was
splendid a little later to hear him ask the Chinese servant for "me
boots, boy, me boots. A kingdom for me boots." He confessed that he
should have been an actor.

"To be or not to be, that was the question, but me family, me family,
dear boy, they would have died of the disgrace, and so I was exposed to
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

In short he came out to China as a tea-taster. But he came when the
Ceylon tea was already ousting the Chinese and it was no longer
possible for the merchant to enrich himself in a few years. But the
old lavishness endured and life was led in a grand style when the
means to pay for it no longer existed. The struggle became harder.
Finally came the Sino-Japanese war, and with the loss of Formosa,
ruin. The tea-taster looked about for other means of livelihood. He
became a wine-merchant, an undertaker, an estate-agent, a broker,
an auctioneer. He tried every way of making money that his ardent
imagination suggested, but with the diminishing prosperity of the
port his efforts were bootless. Life was too much for him. And now at
last he had the pitiful air of a broken man; there was even something
touching in it, like the appeal of a woman who cannot believe in the
loss of her beauty and implores the compliment which reassures but no
longer convinces her. And yet, notwithstanding, he had a solace: he had
still a magnificent assurance; he was a failure and he knew it; but it
did not really affect him, for he was the victim of fate: no shadow of
a doubt in his own capacity had ever crossed his mind.



He sent in a neat card of the correct shape and size, deeply bordered
in black, upon which under his name was printed _Professor of
Comparative Modern Literature_. He turned out to be a young man, small,
with tiny elegant hands, with a larger nose than you see as a rule in
the Chinese and gold rimmed spectacles. Though it was a warm day he
was dressed, in European clothes, in a suit of heavy tweed. He seemed
a trifle shy. He spoke in a high falsetto, as though his voice had
never broken, and those shrill notes gave I know not what feeling of
unreality to his conversation. He had studied in Geneva and in Paris,
Berlin and Vienna, and he expressed himself fluently in English,
French, and German.

It appeared that he lectured on the drama and he had lately written,
in French, a work on the Chinese theatre. His studies abroad had left
him with a surprising enthusiasm for Scribe, and this was the model
he proposed for the regeneration of the Chinese drama. It was curious
to hear him demand that the drama should be exciting. He was asking
for the _pièce bien faite_, the _scène à faire_, the curtain, the
unexpected, the dramatic. The Chinese theatre, with its elaborate
symbolism, has been what we are always crying for, the theatre of
ideas; and apparently it has been perishing of dullness. It is true
that ideas do not grow on every gooseberry bush, they need novelty to
make them appetising, and when they are stale they stink as badly as
stale fish.

But then, remembering the description on the card, I asked my friend
what books, English and French, he recommended his students to read in
order to familiarise themselves with the current literature of the day.
He hesitated a little.

"I really don't know," he said at last, "you see, that's not my branch,
I only have to do with drama; but if you're interested I'll ask my
colleague who lectures on European fiction to call on you."

"I beg your pardon," I said.

"Have you read _Les Avariés_?" he asked. "I think that is the finest
play that has been produced in Europe since Scribe."

"Do you?" I said politely.

"Yes, you see our students are greatly interested in sociological

It is my misfortune that I am not, and so as deftly as I could I led
the conversation to Chinese philosophy which I was desultorily reading.
I mentioned Chuang-Tzu. The professor's jaw fell.

"He lived a very long time ago," he said, perplexed.

"So did Aristotle," I murmured pleasantly.

"I have never studied the philosophers," he said, "but of course we
have at our university a professor of Chinese philosophy and if you are
interested in that I will ask him to come and call on you."

It is useless to argue with a pedagogue, as the Spirit of the Ocean
(somewhat portentously to my mind) remarked to the Spirit of the River
and I resigned myself to discuss the drama. My professor was interested
in its technique and indeed was preparing a course of lectures on the
subject, which he seemed to think both complicated and abstruse. He
flattered me by asking me what were the secrets of the craft.

"I know only two," I answered. "One is to have common-sense and the
other is to stick to the point."

"Does it require no more than that to write a play?" he inquired with a
shade of dismay in his tone.

"You want a certain knack," I allowed, "but no more than to play

"They lecture on the technique of the drama in all the important
universities of America," said he.

"The Americans are an extremely practical people," I answered. "I
believe that Harvard is instituting a chair to instruct grandmothers
how to suck eggs."

"I do not think I quite understand you."

"If you can't write a play no one can teach you and if you can it's as
easy as falling off a log."

Here his face expressed a lively perplexity, but I think only because
he could not make up his mind whether this operation came within the
province of the professor of physics or within that of the professor of
applied mechanics.

"But if it is so easy to write a play why do dramatists take so long
about it?"

"They didn't, you know. Lope de la Vega and Shakespeare and a hundred
others wrote copiously and with ease. Some modern playwrights have
been perfectly illiterate men and have found it an almost insuperable
difficulty to put two sentences together. A celebrated English
dramatist once showed me a manuscript and I saw that he had written the
question: will you have sugar in your tea, five times before he could
put it in this form. A novelist would starve if he could not on the
whole say what he wanted to without any beating about the bush."

"You would not call Ibsen an illiterate man and yet it is well known
that he took two years to write a play."

"It is obvious that Ibsen found a prodigious difficulty in thinking of
a plot. He racked his brain furiously, month after month, and at last
in despair used the very same that he had used before."

"What do you mean?" the professor cried, his voice rising to a shrill
scream. "I do not understand you at all."

"Have you not noticed that Ibsen uses the same plot over and over
again? A number of people are living in a closed and stuffy room, then
some one comes (from the mountains or from over the sea) and flings the
window open; everyone gets a cold in the head and the curtain falls."

I thought it just possible that the shadow of a smile might lighten for
a moment the professor's grave face, but he knit his brows and gazed
for two minutes into space. Then he rose.

"I will peruse the works of Henrik Ibsen once more with that point of
view in mind," he said.

I did not omit before he left to put him the question which one earnest
student of the drama always puts another when peradventure they meet.
I asked him, namely, what he thought was the future of the theatre.
I had an idea that he said, oh hell, but on reflection I believe his
exclamation must have been, _ô ciel!_ He sighed, he shook his head, he
threw up his elegant hands; he looked the picture of dejection. It was
certainly a comfort to find that all thoughtful people considered the
drama's state in China no less desperate than all thoughtful people
consider it in England.



No one knew better than he that he was an important person. He was
number one in not the least important branch of the most important
English firm in China. He had worked his way up through solid ability
and he looked back with a faint smile at the callow clerk who had
come out to China thirty years before. When he remembered the modest
home he had come from, a little red house in a long row of little red
houses, in Barnes, a suburb which, aiming desperately at the genteel,
achieves only a sordid melancholy, and compared it with the magnificent
stone mansion, with its wide verandahs and spacious rooms, which was
at once the office of the company and his own residence, he chuckled
with satisfaction. He had come a long way since then. He thought of the
high tea to which he sat down when he came home from school (he was at
St. Paul's), with his father and mother and his two sisters, a slice
of cold meat, a great deal of bread and butter and plenty of milk in
his tea, everybody helping himself, and then he thought of the state in
which now he ate his evening meal. He always dressed and whether he was
alone or not he expected the three boys to wait at table. His number
one boy knew exactly what he liked and he never had to bother himself
with the details of housekeeping; but he always had a set dinner with
soup and fish, entrée, roast, sweet and savoury, so that if he wanted
to ask anyone in at the last moment he could. He liked his food and he
did not see why when he was alone he should have less good a dinner
than when he had a guest.

He had indeed gone far. That was why he did not care to go home now,
he had not been to England for ten years, and he took his leave in
Japan or Vancouver where he was sure of meeting old friends from the
China coast. He knew no one at home. His sisters had married in their
own station, their husbands were clerks and their sons were clerks;
there was nothing between him and them; they bored him. He satisfied
the claims of relationship by sending them every Christmas a piece of
fine silk, some elaborate embroidery, or a case of tea. He was not a
mean man and as long as his mother lived he had made her an allowance.
But when the time came for him to retire he had no intention of going
back to England, he had seen too many men do that and he knew how often
it was a failure; he meant to take a house near the race-course in
Shanghai: what with bridge and his ponies and golf he expected to get
through the rest of his life very comfortably. But he had a good many
years before he need think of retiring. In another five or six Higgins
would be going home and then he would take charge of the head office
in Shanghai. Meanwhile he was very happy where he was, he could save
money, which you couldn't do in Shanghai, and have a good time into the
bargain. This place had another advantage over Shanghai: he was the
most prominent man in the community and what he said went. Even the
consul took care to keep on the right side of him. Once a consul and he
had been at loggerheads and it was not he who had gone to the wall. The
taipan thrust out his jaw pugnaciously as he thought of the incident.

But he smiled, for he felt in an excellent humour. He was walking back
to his office from a capital luncheon at the Hong-Kong and Shanghai
Bank. They did you very well there. The food was first rate and there
was plenty of liquor. He had started with a couple of cocktails, then
he had some excellent sauterne and he had finished up with two glasses
of port and some fine old brandy. He felt good. And when he left he did
a thing that was rare with him; he walked. His bearers with his chair
kept a few paces behind him in case he felt inclined to slip into it,
but he enjoyed stretching his legs. He did not get enough exercise
these days. Now that he was too heavy to ride it was difficult to get
exercise. But if he was too heavy to ride he could still keep ponies,
and as he strolled along in the balmy air he thought of the spring
meeting. He had a couple of griffins that he had hopes of and one of
the lads in his office had turned out a fine jockey (he must see they
didn't sneak him away, old Higgins in Shanghai would give a pot of
money to get him over there) and he ought to pull off two or three
races. He flattered himself that he had the finest stable in the city.
He pouted his broad chest like a pigeon. It was a beautiful day, and it
was good to be alive.

He paused as he came to the cemetery. It stood there, neat and orderly,
as an evident sign of the community's opulence. He never passed the
cemetery without a little glow of pride. He was pleased to be an
Englishman. For the cemetery stood in a place, valueless when it was
chosen, which with the increase of the city's affluence was now worth
a great deal of money. It had been suggested that the graves should
be moved to another spot and the land sold for building, but the
feeling of the community was against it. It gave the taipan a sense of
satisfaction to think that their dead rested on the most valuable site
on the island. It showed that there were things they cared for more
than money. Money be blowed! When it came to "the things that mattered"
(this was a favourite phrase with the taipan) well, one remembered that
money wasn't everything.

And now he thought he would take a stroll through. He looked at the
graves. They were neatly kept and the pathways were free from weeds.
There was a look of prosperity. And as he sauntered along he read the
names on the tombstones. Here were three side by side; the captain,
the first mate, and the second mate of the barque _Mary Baxter_, who
had all perished together in the typhoon of 1908. He remembered it
well. There was a little group of two missionaries, their wives and
children, who had been massacred during the Boxer troubles. Shocking
thing that had been! Not that he took much stock in missionaries; but,
hang it all, one couldn't have these damned Chinese massacring them.
Then he came to a cross with a name on it he knew. Good chap, Edward
Mulock, but he couldn't stand his liquor, drank himself to death, poor
devil, at twenty-five: the taipan had known a lot of them do that;
there were several more neat crosses with a man's name on them and the
age, twenty-five, twenty-six, or twenty-seven; it was always the same
story; they had come out to China: they had never seen so much money
before, they were good fellows and they wanted to drink with the rest:
they couldn't stand it, and there they were in the cemetery. You had to
have a strong head and a fine constitution to drink drink for drink on
the China coast. Of course it was very sad, but the taipan could hardly
help a smile when he thought how many of those young fellows he had
drunk underground. And there was a death that had been useful, a fellow
in his own firm, senior to him and a clever chap too: if that fellow
had lived he might not have been taipan now. Truly the ways of fate
were inscrutable. Ah, and here was little Mrs. Turner, Violet Turner,
she had been a pretty little thing, he had had quite an affair with
her; he had been devilish cut up when she died. He looked at her age
on the tombstone. She'd be no chicken if she were alive now. And as he
thought of all those dead people a sense of satisfaction spread through
him. He had beaten them all. They were dead and he was alive, and by
George he'd scored them off. His eyes collected in one picture all
those crowded graves and he smiled scornfully. He very nearly rubbed
his hands.

"No one ever thought I was a fool," he muttered.

He had a feeling of good-natured contempt for the gibbering dead.
Then, as he strolled along, he came suddenly upon two coolies digging
a grave. He was astonished, for he had not heard that anyone in the
community was dead.

"Who the devil's that for?" he said aloud.

The coolies did not even look at him, they went on with their work,
standing in the grave, deep down, and they shovelled up heavy clods of
earth. Though he had been so long in China he knew no Chinese, in his
day it was not thought necessary to learn the damned language, and he
asked the coolies in English whose grave they were digging. They did
not understand. They answered him in Chinese and he cursed them for
ignorant fools. He knew that Mrs. Broome's child was ailing and it
might have died, but he would certainly have heard of it, and besides
that wasn't a child's grave, it was a man's and a big man's too. It was
uncanny. He wished he hadn't gone into that cemetery; he hurried out
and stepped into his chair. His good humour had all gone and there was
an uneasy frown on his face. The moment he got back to his office he
called to his number two:

"I say, Peters, who's dead, d'you know?"

But Peters knew nothing. The taipan was puzzled. He called one of the
native clerks and sent him to the cemetery to ask the coolies. He began
to sign his letters. The clerk came back and said the coolies had gone
and there was no one to ask. The taipan began to feel vaguely annoyed:
he did not like things to happen of which he knew nothing. His own boy
would know, his boy always knew everything, and he sent for him; but
the boy had heard of no death in the community.

"I knew no one was dead," said the taipan irritably. "But what's the
grave for?"

He told the boy to go to the overseer of the cemetery and find out what
the devil he had dug a grave for when no one was dead.

"Let me have a whisky and soda before you go," he added, as the boy was
leaving the room.

He did not know why the sight of the grave had made him uncomfortable.
But he tried to put it out of his mind. He felt better when he had
drunk the whisky, and he finished his work. He went upstairs and turned
over the pages of _Punch_. In a few minutes he would go to the club and
play a rubber or two of bridge before dinner. But it would ease his
mind to hear what his boy had to say and he waited for his return. In a
little while the boy came back and he brought the overseer with him.

"What are you having a grave dug for?" he asked the overseer point
blank. "Nobody's dead."

"I no dig glave," said the man.

"What the devil do you mean by that? There were two coolies digging a
grave this afternoon."

The two Chinese looked at one another. Then the boy said they had been
to the cemetery together. There was no new grave there.

The taipan only just stopped himself from speaking.

"But damn it all, I saw it myself," were the words on the tip of his

But he did not say them. He grew very red as he choked them down. The
two Chinese looked at him with their steady eyes. For a moment his
breath failed him.

"All right. Get out," he gasped.

But as soon as they were gone he shouted for the boy again, and when
he came, maddeningly impassive, he told him to bring some whisky. He
rubbed his sweating face with a handkerchief. His hand trembled when
he lifted the glass to his lips. They could say what they liked, but
he had seen the grave. Why, he could hear still the dull thud as the
coolies threw the spadefuls of earth on the ground above them. What
did it mean? He could feel his heart beating. He felt strangely ill at
ease. But he pulled himself together. It was all nonsense. If there
was no grave there it must have been an hallucination. The best thing
he could do was to go to the club, and if he ran across the doctor he
would ask him to give him a look over.

Everyone in the club looked just the same as ever. He did not
know why he should have expected them to look different. It was a
comfort. These men, living for many years with one another lives
that were methodically regulated, had acquired a number of little
idiosyncrasies--one of them hummed incessantly while he played
bridge, another insisted on drinking beer through a straw--and these
tricks which had so often irritated the taipan now gave him a sense
of security. He needed it, for he could not get out of his head that
strange sight he had seen; he played bridge very badly; his partner
was censorious, and the taipan lost his temper. He thought the men
were looking at him oddly. He wondered what they saw in him that was

Suddenly he felt he could not bear to stay in the club any longer. As
he went out he saw the doctor reading _The Times_ in the reading-room,
but he could not bring himself to speak to him. He wanted to see for
himself whether that grave was really there and stepping into his chair
he told his bearers to take him to the cemetery. You couldn't have an
hallucination twice, could you? And besides, he would take the overseer
in with him and if the grave was not there he wouldn't see it, and if
it was he'd give the overseer the soundest thrashing he'd ever had. But
the overseer was nowhere to be found. He had gone out and taken the
keys with him. When the taipan found he could not get into the cemetery
he felt suddenly exhausted. He got back into his chair and told his
bearers to take him home. He would lie down for half an hour before
dinner. He was tired out. That was it. He had heard that people had
hallucinations when they were tired. When his boy came in to put out
his clothes for dinner it was only by an effort of will that he got up.
He had a strong inclination not to dress that evening, but he resisted
it: he made it a rule to dress, he had dressed every evening for twenty
years and it would never do to break his rule. But he ordered a bottle
of champagne with his dinner and that made him feel more comfortable.
Afterwards he told the boy to bring him the best brandy. When he had
drunk a couple of glasses of this he felt himself again. Hallucinations
be damned! He went to the billiard room and practised a few difficult
shots. There could not be much the matter with him when his eye was so
sure. When he went to bed he sank immediately into a sound sleep.

But suddenly he awoke. He had dreamed of that open grave and the
coolies digging leisurely. He was sure he had seen them. It was absurd
to say it was an hallucination when he had seen them with his own
eyes. Then he heard the rattle of the night watchman going his rounds.
It broke upon the stillness of the night so harshly that it made him
jump out of his skin. And then terror seized him. He felt a horror of
the winding multitudinous streets of the Chinese city, and there was
something ghastly and terrible in the convoluted roofs of the temples
with their devils grimacing and tortured. He loathed the smells that
assaulted his nostrils. And the people. Those myriads of blue clad
coolies, and the beggars in their filthy rags, and the merchants and
the magistrates, sleek, smiling, and inscrutable, in their long black
gowns. They seemed to press upon him with menace. He hated the country.
China. Why had he ever come? He was panic-stricken now. He must get
out. He would not stay another year, another month. What did he care
about Shanghai?

"Oh, my God," he cried, "if I were only safely back in England."

He wanted to go home. If he had to die he wanted to die in England.
He could not bear to be buried among all these yellow men, with their
slanting eyes and their grinning faces. He wanted to be buried at home,
not in that grave he had seen that day. He could never rest there.
Never. What did it matter what people thought? Let them think what they
liked. The only thing that mattered was to get away while he had the

He got out of bed and wrote to the head of the firm and said he had
discovered he was dangerously ill. He must be replaced. He could not
stay longer than was absolutely necessary. He must go home at once.

They found the letter in the morning clenched in the taipan's hand. He
had slipped down between the desk and the chair. He was stone dead.



He was decently though far from richly clad. He had a small round cap
of black silk on his head, and on his feet black silk shoes. His robe
was pale green of the flowered silk which is made in Chia-ting, and
over it he wore a short black jacket. He was an old man, with a white
beard, long and for a Chinese full; his broad face, much wrinkled,
especially between the brows, was benign, and his large horn spectacles
did not conceal the friendliness of his eyes. He had all the look of
one of those sages whom you may see in an old picture seated by a
bamboo grove at the foot of a great rocky mountain contemplating the
Eternal Way. But now his face bore an expression of great annoyance
and his kindly eyes were frowning, for he was engaged in the singular
occupation (for a man of his appearance) of leading a little black pig
along the causeway between the flooded padi fields. And the little
black pig, with sudden jerks, with unexpected dodging, ran hither and
thither, in every direction but that in which the old gentleman wished
to go. He pulled the string violently, but the pig, squealing, refused
to follow; he addressed it in terms of expostulation and of abuse, but
the little pig sat on his haunches and looked at him with malicious
eyes. Then I knew that in the Tang dynasty the old gentleman had been
a philosopher who had juggled with facts, as philosophers will, making
them suit the whims which he called his theories; and now, after who
knows how many existences, he was expiating his sins in suffering in
his turn the stubborn tyranny of the facts which he had outraged.



When you travel in China I think nothing amazes you more than the
passion for decoration which possesses the Chinese. It is not
astonishing that you should find decoration in memorial arches or in
temples; here the occasion for it is obvious; and it is natural enough
to find it in furniture; nor does it surprise, though it delights you,
to discover it on the commoner objects of household use. The pewter
pot is enriched with a graceful design; the coolie's rice bowl has
its rough but not inelegant adornment. You may fancy that the Chinese
craftsman does not look upon an article as complete till by line or
colour he has broken the plainness of a surface. He will even print an
arabesque on the paper he uses for wrapping. But it is more unexpected
when you see the elaborate embellishment of a shop-front, the splendid
carving, gilt or relieved with gold, of its counter, and the intricate
sculpture of the signboard. It may be that this magnificence serves
as an advertisement; but it does so only because the passer-by, the
possible customer, takes pleasure in elegance; and you are apt to
think that the tradesman who owns the shop takes pleasure in it too.
When he sits at his door, smoking his water pipe and through his great
horn spectacles reading a newspaper, his eyes must rest with good
humour sometimes on the fantastic ornamentation. On the counter, in a
long-necked pot, stands a solitary carnation.

You will find the same delight in the ornate in the poorest villages
where the severity of a door is mitigated by a charming piece of
carving, and where the trellis of the windows forms a complicated
and graceful pattern. You can seldom cross a bridge, in however
unfrequented a district, without seeing in it the hand of an artist.
The stones are so laid as to make an intricate decoration, and it seems
as though these singular people judged with a careful eye whether a
flat bridge or an arched one would fit in best with the surrounding
scene. The balustrade is ornamented with lions or with dragons. I
remember a bridge that must have been placed just where it was for
the pure delight of its beauty rather than for any useful purpose,
since, though broad enough for a carriage and pair to pass over it, it
served only to connect a narrow path that led from one ragged village
to another. The nearest town was thirty miles away. The broad river,
narrowing at this point, flowed between two green hills, and nut trees
grew on the bank. The bridge had no balustrade. It was constructed of
immense slabs of granite and rested on five piers; the middle pier
consisted of a huge and fantastic dragon with a long and scaly tail. On
the sides of the outer slabs, running the whole length of the bridge,
was cut in very low relief a pattern of an unimaginable lightness,
delicacy and grace.

But though the Chinese take such careful pains to avoid fatiguing your
eye, with sure taste making the elaborateness of a decoration endurable
by contrasting it with a plain surface, in the end weariness overcomes
you. Their exuberance bewilders. You cannot refuse your admiration to
the ingenuity with which they so diversify the ideas that occupy them
as to give you an impression of changing fantasy, but the fact is plain
that the ideas are few. The Chinese artist is like a fiddler who with
infinite skill should play infinite variations upon a single tune.

Now, I happened upon a French doctor who had been in practice for many
years in the city in which I then found myself; and he was a collector
of porcelain, bronze, and embroidery. He took me to see his things.
They were beautiful, but they were a trifle monotonous. I admired
perfunctorily. Suddenly I came upon the fragment of a bust.

"But that is Greek," I said, in surprise.

"Do you think so? I am glad to hear you say it."

Head and arms were gone, and the statue, for such it had been, was
broken off just above the waist, but there was a breastplate, with a
sun in the middle of it, and in relief Perseus killing the dragon. It
was a fragment of no great importance, but it was Greek, and perhaps
because I was surfeited with Chinese beauty it affected me strangely.
It spoke in a tongue with which I was familiar. It rested my heart. I
passed my hands over its age-worn surface with a delight I was myself
surprised at. I was like a sailor who, wandering in a tropic sea, has
known the lazy loveliness of coral islands and the splendours of the
cities of the East, but finds himself once more in the dingy alleys of
a Channel port. It is cold and grey and sordid, but it is England.

The doctor--he was a little bald man, with gleaming eyes and an
excitable manner--rubbed his hands.

"Do you know it was found within thirty miles of here, on this side of
the Tibetan frontier?"

"Found!" I exclaimed. "Found where?"

"_Mon Dieu_, in the ground. It had been buried for two thousand years.
They found this and several fragments more, one or two complete
statues, I believe, but they were broken up and only this remained."

It was incredible that Greek statues should have been discovered in so
remote a spot.

"But what is your explanation?" I asked.

"I think this was a statue of Alexander," he said.

"By George!"

It was a thrill. Was it possible that one of the commanders of the
Macedonian, after the expedition into India, had found his way into
this mysterious corner of China under the shadow of the mountains of
Tibet? The doctor wanted to show me Manchu dresses, but I could not
give them my attention. What bold adventurer was he who had penetrated
so far towards the East to found a kingdom? There he had built a temple
to Aphrodite and a temple to Dionysus, and in the theatre actors had
sung the Antigone and in his halls at night bards had recited the
Odyssey. And he and his men listening may have felt themselves the
peers of the old seaman and his followers. What magnificence did that
stained fragment of marble call up and what fabulous adventures! How
long had the kingdom lasted and what tragedy marked its fall? Ah, just
then I could not look at Tibetan banners or celadon cups; for I saw the
Parthenon, severe and lovely, and beyond, serene, the blue Ægean.



I could never remember his name, but whenever he was spoken of in the
port he was always described as one of the best. He was a man of fifty
perhaps, thin and rather tall, dapper and well-dressed, with a small,
neat head and sharp features. His blue eyes were good-natured and
jovial behind his pince-nez. He was of a cheerful disposition, and he
had a vein of banter which was not ineffective. He could turn out the
sort of jokes that make men standing at the club bar laugh heartily,
and he could be agreeably malicious, but without ill-nature, about any
member of the community who did not happen to be present. His humour
was of the same nature as that of the comedian in a musical play. When
they spoke of him they often said:

"You know, I wonder he never went on the stage. He'd have made a hit.
One of the best."

He was always ready to have a drink with you and no sooner was your
glass empty than he was prompt with the China phrase:

"Ready for the other half?"

But he did not drink more than was good for him.

"Oh, he's got his head screwed on his shoulders the right way," they
said. "One of the best."

When the hat was passed round for some charitable object he could
always be counted on to give as much as anyone else, and he was always
ready to go in for a golf competition or a billiards tournament. He was
a bachelor.

"Marriage is no use to a man who lives in China," he said. "He has to
send his wife away every summer and then when the kids are beginning to
be interesting they have to go home. It costs a deuce of a lot of money
and you get nothing out of it."

But he was always willing to do a good turn to any woman in the
community. He was number one at Jardine's, and he often had the power
to make himself useful. He had been in China for thirty years, and he
prided himself on not speaking a word of Chinese. He never went into
the Chinese city. His compradore was Chinese, and some of the clerks,
his boys of course, and the chair coolies; but they were the only
Chinese he had anything to do with, and quite enough too.

"I hate the country, I hate the people," he said. "As soon as I've
saved enough money I mean to clear out."

He laughed.

"Do you know, last time I was home I found everyone cracked over
Chinese junk, pictures and porcelain, and stuff. Don't talk to me about
Chinese things, I said to 'em. I never want to see anything Chinese as
long as I live."

He turned to me.

"I'll tell you what, I don't believe I've got a single Chinese thing in
my house."

But if you wanted him to talk to you about London he was prepared to do
so by the hour. He knew all the musical comedies that had been played
for twenty years and at the distance of nine thousand miles he was able
to keep up with the doings of Miss Lily Elsie and Miss Elsie Janis.
He played the piano and he had a pleasing voice; it required little
persuasion to induce him to sit down and sing you the popular ditties
he had heard when last he was at home. It was quite singular to me, the
unfathomable frivolity of this grey-haired man; it was even a little
uncanny. But people applauded him loudly when he finished.

"He's priceless, isn't he?" they said. "Oh, one of the best."



Ships' captains for the most part are very dull men. Their conversation
is of freights and cargoes. They have seen little more in the ports
they visit than their agent's office, the bar which their kind
frequents, and the bawdy houses. They owe the glamour of romance which
their connection with the sea has cast over them to the imagination of
the landsman. To them the sea is a means of livelihood and they know
it, as an engine-driver knows his engine, from a standpoint which is
aridly practical. They are men, working men, of a narrow outlook, with
small education for the most part and little culture; they are all of a
piece, and they have neither subtlety nor imagination. Straightforward,
courageous, honest, and reliable, they stand four-square on the
immutability of the obvious; and they are definite: they are placed in
their surroundings like the objects in a stereoscopic photograph so
that you seem to see all round them. They offer themselves to you with
salient traits.

But no one could have adhered less to type than Captain Boots. He was
the master of a little Chinese steamer on the Upper Yangtze and because
I was his only passenger we spent a good deal of time in one another's
company. But though he was fluent of speech, garrulous even, I see him
shadowly; and he remains in my mind indistinctly. I suppose it is on
account of his elusiveness that he engages my imagination. There was
certainly nothing elusive in his appearance. He was a big man, six
foot two, powerfully built, with large features and a red, friendly
face. When he laughed he showed a row of handsome gold teeth. He was
very bald, and clean-shaven; but he had the most bushy, abundant, and
aggressive eyebrows that I have ever seen, and under them mild blue
eyes. He was a Dutchman and though he had left Holland when he was
eight, he still spoke with an accent. He could not pronounce th, but
always made it d. His father, a fisherman who sailed his own schooner
on the Zuyder Zee, hearing that fishing was good in Newfoundland, had
set out with his wife and his two sons across the broad Atlantic.
After some years there and in Hudson's Bay--all this was hard on half
a century ago--they had sailed round the Horn for the Behring Straits.
They hunted seal until the law stepped in to save the beasts they were
exterminating, and then Boots, a man now and a brave one, God knows,
sailed here and there, as third, then as second mate, on sailing
vessels. He had been almost all his life in sail and now on a steamer
could not make himself at home.

"It's only in a sailing boat you get comfort," he said. "Dere's no
comfort anywhere when you got steam."

He had been all along the coast of South America after nitrates, then
to the west coast of Africa, then again, fishing cod off the coast of
Maine, to America; and after that with cargoes of salt fish to Spain
and Portugal. A tavern acquaintance in Manila suggested that he should
try the Chinese Customs. He went to Hong-Kong, where he was taken on as
a tide-waiter, and presently was put in command of a steam launch. He
spent three years, chasing the opium smugglers, and then, having saved
a little money, built himself a forty-five ton schooner with which he
determined to go to the Behring Straits and try his luck again with the
seal fishery.

"But I guess my crew got scared," he said. "When I got to Shanghai they
deserted and I couldn't get no oder, so I had to sell de boat and I
shipped on a vessel what was going to Vancouver."

It was then he first left the sea. He met a man who was pushing a
patent hay-fork and this he agreed to take round the States. It was a
queer occupation for a sailor-man, and it was not a successful one, for
at Salt Lake City, the firm that employed him having gone bankrupt, he
found himself stranded. Somehow or other he got back to Vancouver, but
he was taken with the idea of life ashore, and he found work with an
estate-agent. It was his duty to take the purchasers of land to their
plots and if they were not satisfied persuade them that they need not
regret their bargain.

"We sold one fellow a farm on de side of a mountain," he said, his
blue eyes twinkling at the recollection, "an' it was so steep dat de
chickens had one leg longer dan de oder."

After five years he had the idea that he would like to go back to
China. He had no difficulty in getting a job as mate of a ship sailing
west and soon he was at the old life once more. Since then he had been
on most of the China runs, from Vladivostok to Shanghai, from Amoy
to Manila, and on all the big rivers; on steamers now, rising from
second to first mate, and at last, on Chinese owned ships, to master.
He talked willingly of his plans for the future. He had been in China
long enough, and he hankered after a farm on the Fraser River. He would
build himself a boat and do a bit of fishing, salmon and halibut.

"It's time I settled down," he said. "Fifty-dree years I've been to
sea. An' I shouldn't wonder but what I did a bit of boat building too.
I'm not one to stick to one ding."

There he was right and this restlessness of his translated itself into
a curious indecision of character. There was something fluid about him
so that you did not know where to take hold of him. He reminded you of
a scene of mist and rain in a Japanese print where the design, barely
suggested, almost escapes you. He had a peculiar gentleness which was
somewhat unexpected in the rough old salt.

"I don't want to offend anyone," he said. "Treat 'em kindly, dat's
what I try to do. If people won't do what you want talk to 'em nicely,
persuade 'em. Dere's no need to be nasty. Try what coaxing'll do."

It was a principle which it was unusual to find used with the Chinese,
and I do not know that it answered very well, for after some difficulty
he would come into the cabin, wave his hands, and say:

"I can do noding wid dem. Dey won't listen to reason."

And then his moderation looked very like weakness. But he was no fool.
He had a sense of humour. At one place we were drawing over seven feet
and since the river at its shallowest was barely that and the course
was dangerous the harbour authorities would not give us our papers till
part of the cargo was unloaded. It was the ship's last trip and she was
carrying the pay of regiments stationed several days down stream. The
military governor refused to let the ship start unless the bullion was

"I guess I got to do what you tell me," said Captain Boots to the
harbour master.

"You don't get your papers till I see the five foot mark above the
water," answered the harbour master.

"I'll tell the compradore to take out some of dat silver."

He took the harbour master up to the Customs' Club and stood him
drinks while this was being done. He drank with him for four hours,
and when he returned he walked as steadily as when he went. But the
harbour-master was drunk.

"Ah, I see dey've got it down two foot," said Captain Boots. "Dat's all
right den."

The harbour-master looked at the numbers on the ship's side and sure
enough the five foot mark was at the water's edge.

"That's good," he said. "And now you can go."

"I'll be off right away," said the captain.

Not a pound of cargo had been removed, but an astute Chinaman had
neatly repainted the numbers.

And later when mutinous regiments with an eye on the silver we carried
sought to prevent us from leaving one of the riverside cities he showed
an agreeable firmness. His equable temper was tried and he said:

"No one's going to make me stay where I don't want to. I'm de master of
dis ship and I'm de man what gives de orders. I'm going."

The agitated compradore said the military would fire if we attempted to
move. An officer uttered a command and the soldiers, going down on one
knee, levelled their rifles. Captain Boots looked at them.

"Put down de bullet proof screen," he said. "I tell you I'm going and
de Chinese army can go to hell."

He gave his orders to raise the anchor and at the same time the officer
gave the order to fire. Captain Boots stood on his bridge, a somewhat
grotesque figure, for in his old blue jersey, with his red face and
burly frame, he looked the very image of those ancient fishermen that
you see lounging about Grimsby docks, and he rang his bell. We steamed
out slowly to the spatter of rifle shots.



They took me to the temple. It stood on the side of a hill with a
semi-circle of tawny mountains behind it, staging it, as it were, with
a formal grandeur; and they pointed out to me with what exquisite art
the series of buildings climbed the hill till you reached the final
edifice, a jewel of white marble encircled by the trees; for the
Chinese architect sought to make his creation an ornament to nature
and he used the accidents of the landscape to complete his decorative
scheme. They pointed out to me how cunningly the trees were planted
to contrast with the marble of a gateway, to give an agreeable shadow
here, or there to serve as a background; and they made me remark the
admirable proportion of those great roofs, rising one beyond the other,
in rich profusion, with the grace of flowers; and they showed me that
the yellow tiles were of different hues so that the sensibility was not
offended by an expanse of colour but amused and pleased by a subtle
variety of tone. They showed me how the elaborate carving of a gateway
was contrasted with a surface without adornment so that the eye was
not wearied. All this they showed me as we walked through elegant
courtyards, over bridges which were a miracle of grace, through temples
with strange gods, dark and gesticulating; but when I asked them what
was the spiritual state which had caused all this mass of building to
be made, they could not tell me.



He is a tall man, rather stout, flabby as though he does not take
enough exercise, with a red, clean-shaven, broad face and grey hair.
He talks very quickly, in a nervous manner, with a voice not quite
big enough for his body. He lives in a temple just outside the city
gate, inhabiting the guest chambers, and three Buddhist priests, with
a tiny acolyte, tend the temple and conduct the rites. There is a
little Chinese furniture in the rooms and a vast number of books, but
no comfort. It is cold and the study in which we sit is insufficiently
warmed by a petroleum stove.

He knows more Chinese than any man in China. He has been working
for ten years on a dictionary which will supersede that of a noted
scholar whom for a quarter of a century he has personally disliked.
He is thus benefiting sinological studies and satisfying a private
grudge. He has all the manner of a don and you feel that eventually
he will be professor of Chinese at the University of Oxford and then
at last exactly in his place. He is a man of wider culture than most
sinologues, who may know Chinese, and this you must take on trust, but
who, it is lamentably obvious, know nothing else; and his conversation
upon Chinese thought and literature has in consequence a fullness and
a variety which you do not often find among students of the language.
Because he has immersed himself in his particular pursuits and has
cared nothing for racing and shooting the Europeans think him queer.
They look upon him with the suspicion and awe with which human beings
always regard those who do not share their tastes. They suggest that
he is not quite sane and some accuse him of smoking opium. It is the
charge which is always brought against the white man who has sought to
familiarise himself with the civilisation in which he is to pass the
greater part of his career. You have only to spend a little while in
that apartment bare of the most common luxury to know that this is a
man who leads a life wholly of the spirit.

But it is a specialised life. Art and beauty seem not to touch him,
and as I listen to him talk so sympathetically of the Chinese poets I
cannot help asking myself if the best things have not after all slipped
through his fingers. Here is a man who has touched reality only through
the printed page. The tragic splendour of the lotus moves him only when
its loveliness is enshrined in the verse of Li Po and the laughter
of demure Chinese girls stirs his blood but in the perfection of an
exquisitely chiselled quatrain.



His bearers set down his chair in the yamen and unfastened the apron
which protected him from the pouring rain. He put out his head, like a
bird looking out of its nest, and then his long thin body and finally
his thin long legs. He stood for a moment as if he did not quite know
what to do with himself. He was a very young man and his long limbs
with their ungainliness somehow added to the callowness of his air.
His round face (his head looked too small for the length of his body)
with its fresh complexion was quite boyish, and his pleasant brown eyes
were ingenuous and candid. The sense of importance which his official
position gave him (it was not long since he had been no more than a
student-interpreter) struggled with his native shyness. He gave his
card to the judge's secretary and was led by him into an inner court
and asked to sit down. It was cold and draughty and the vice-consul
was glad of his heavy waterproof. A ragged attendant brought tea and
cigarettes. The secretary, an emaciated youth in a very shabby black
gown, had been a student at Harvard and was glad to show off his fluent

Then the judge came in, and the vice-consul stood up. The judge was
a portly gentleman in heavily wadded clothes, with a large smiling
face and gold-rimmed spectacles. They sat down and sipped their tea
and smoked American cigarettes. They chatted affably. The judge spoke
no English, but the vice-consul's Chinese was fresh in his mind and
he could not help thinking that he acquitted himself creditably.
Presently an attendant appeared and said a few words to the judge, and
the judge very courteously asked the vice-consul if he was ready for
the business which had brought him. The door into the outer court was
thrown open and the judge, walking through, took his place on a large
seat at a table that stood at the top of the steps. He did not smile
now. He had assumed instinctively the gravity proper to his office
and in his walk, notwithstanding his obesity, there was an impressive
dignity. The vice-consul, obeying a polite gesture, took a seat by
his side. The secretary stood at the end of the table. Then the outer
gateway was flung wide (it seemed to the vice-consul that there was
nothing so dramatic as the opening of a door) and quickly, with an
odd sort of flurry, the criminal walked in. He walked to the centre
of the courtyard and stood still, facing his judge. On each side of
him walked a soldier in khaki. He was a young man and the vice-consul
thought that he could be no older than himself. He wore only a pair of
cotton trousers and a cotton singlet. They were faded but clean. He
was bare-headed and bare-foot. He looked no different from any of the
thousands of coolies in their monotonous blue that you passed every
day in the crowded streets of the city. The judge and the criminal
faced one another in silence. The vice-consul looked at the criminal's
face, but then he looked down quickly: he did not want to see what was
there to be seen so plainly. He felt suddenly embarrassed. And looking
down he noticed how small the man's feet were, shapely and slender;
his hands were tied behind his back. He was slightly built, of the
middle height, a lissome creature that suggested the wild animal, and
standing on those beautiful feet of his there was in his carriage a
peculiar grace. But the vice-consul's eyes were drawn back unwillingly
to the oval, smooth, and unlined face. It was livid. The vice-consul
had often read of faces that were green with terror and he had thought
it but a fanciful expression, and here he saw it. It startled him. It
made him feel ashamed. And in the eyes too, eyes that did not slant as
the Chinese eye is wrongly supposed always to do, but were straight,
in the eyes that seemed unnaturally large and bright, fixed on those
of the judge, was a terror that was horrible to see. But when the
judge put him a question--trial and sentence were over and he had been
brought there that morning only for purposes of identification--he
answered in a loud plain voice, boldly. However his body might betray
him he was still master of his will. The judge gave a brief order, and,
flanked by his two soldiers, the man marched out. The judge and the
vice-consul rose and walked to the gateway, where their chairs awaited
them. Here stood the criminal with his guard. Notwithstanding his
tied hands he smoked a cigarette. A squad of little soldiers had been
sheltering themselves under the overhanging roof, and on the appearance
of the judge the officer in charge made them form up. The judge and
the vice-consul settled themselves in their chairs. The officer gave
an order and the squad stepped out. A couple of yards behind them
walked the criminal. Then came the judge in his chair and finally the

They went quickly through the busy streets and the shopkeepers gave
the procession an incurious stare. The wind was cold and the rain
fell steadily. The criminal in his cotton singlet must have been wet
through. He walked with a firm step, his head held high, jauntily
almost. It was some distance from the judge's yamen to the city wall
and to cover it took them nearly half an hour. Then they came to the
city gate and went through it. Four men in ragged blue--they looked
like peasants--were standing against the wall by the side of a poor
coffin, rough hewn and unpainted. The criminal gave it a glance as he
passed by. The judge and the vice-consul dismounted from their chairs
and the officer halted his soldiers. The rice fields began at the city
wall. The criminal was led to a pathway between two patches and told
to kneel down. But the officer did not think the spot suitable. He
told the man to rise. He walked a yard or two and knelt down again. A
soldier was detached from the squad and took up his position behind the
prisoner, three feet from him perhaps; he raised his gun; the officer
gave the word of command; he fired. The criminal fell forward and he
moved a little, convulsively. The officer went up to him, and seeing
that he was not quite dead emptied two barrels of his revolver into
the body. Then he formed up his soldiers once more. The judge gave
the vice-consul a smile, but it was a grimace rather than a smile; it
distorted painfully that fat good-humoured face.

They stepped into their chairs; but at the city gate their ways parted;
the judge bowed the vice-consul a courteous farewell. The vice-consul
was carried back towards the consulate through the streets, crowded
and tortuous, where life was going on just as usual. And as he went
along quickly, for the consular bearers were fine fellows, his mind
distracted a little by their constant shouts to make way, he thought
how terrible it was to make an end of life deliberately: it seemed an
immense responsibility to destroy what was the result of innumerable
generations. The human race has existed so long and each one of us is
here as the result of an infinite series of miraculous events. But
at the same time, puzzling him, he had a sense of the triviality of
life. One more or less mattered so little. But just as he reached the
consulate he looked at his watch, he had no idea it was so late, and he
told the bearers to take him to the club. It was time for a cocktail
and by heaven he could do with one. A dozen men were standing at the
bar when he went in. They knew on what errand he had been that morning.

"Well," they said, "did you see the blighter shot?"

"You bet I did," he said, in a loud and casual voice.

"Everything go off all right?"

"He wriggled a bit." He turned to the bartender. "Same as usual, John."



They say of it that the dogs bark when peradventure the sun shines
there. It is a grey and gloomy city, shrouded in mist, for it stands
upon its rock where two great rivers meet so that it is washed on all
sides but one by turbid, rushing waters. The rock is like the prow of
an ancient galley and seems, as though possessed of a strange unnatural
life, all tremulous with effort; it is as if it were ever on the point
of forging into the tumultuous stream. Rugged mountains hem the city
round about.

Outside the walls bedraggled houses are built on piles, and here, when
the river is low, a hazardous population lives on the needs of the
watermen; for at the foot of the rock a thousand junks are moored,
wedged in with one another tightly, and men's lives there have all
the turbulence of the river. A steep and tortuous stairway leads to
the great gate guarded by a temple, and up and down this all day long
go the water coolies, with their dripping buckets; and from their
splashing the stair and the street that leads from the gate are wet as
though after heavy rain. It is difficult to walk on the level for more
than a few minutes, and there are as many steps as in the hill towns
of the Italian Riviera. Because there is so little space the streets
are pressed together, narrow and dark, and they wind continuously so
that to find your way is like finding it in a labyrinth. The throng
is as thick as the throng on a pavement in London when a theatre is
emptying itself of its audience. You have to push your way through it,
stepping aside every moment as chairs come by and coolies bearing their
everlasting loads: itinerant sellers, selling almost anything that
anyone can want to buy, jostle you as you pass.

The shops are wide open to the street, without windows or doors, and
they are crowded too. They are like an exhibition of arts and crafts,
and you may see what a street looked like in medieval England when each
town made all that was necessary to its needs. The various industries
are huddled together so that you will pass through a street of butchers
where carcasses and entrails hang bloody on each side of you, with
flies buzzing about them and mangy dogs prowling hungrily below; you
will pass through a street where in each house there is a hand-loom and
they are busily weaving cloth or silk. There are innumerable eating
houses from which come heavy odours and here at all hours people are
eating. Then, generally at a corner, you will see tea-houses, and here
all day long again the tables are packed with men of all sorts drinking
tea and smoking. The barbers ply their trade in the public view and you
will see men leaning patiently on their crossed arms while their heads
are being shaved; others are having their ears cleaned, and some, a
revolting spectacle, the inside of their eyelids scraped.

It is a city of a thousand noises. There are the peddlers who announce
their presence by a wooden gong; the clappers of the blind musician
or of the masseuse; the shrill falsetto of a man singing in a tavern;
the loud beating of a gong from a house where a wedding or a funeral
is being celebrated. There are the raucous shouts of the coolies
and chair-bearers; the menacing whines of the beggars, caricatures
of humanity, their emaciated limbs barely covered by filthy tatters
and revolting with disease; the cracked melancholy of the bugler
who incessantly practises a call he can never get; and then, like a
bass to which all these are a barbaric melody, the insistent sound
of conversation, of people laughing, quarrelling, joking, shouting,
arguing, gossiping. It is a ceaseless din. It is extraordinary at
first, then confusing, exasperating, and at last maddening. You long
for a moment's utter silence. It seems to you that it would be a
voluptuous delight.

And then combining with the irksome throng and the din that exhausts
your ears is a stench which time and experience enable you to
distinguish into a thousand separate stenches. Your nostrils grow
cunning. Foul odours beat upon your harassed nerves like the sound of
uncouth instruments playing a horrible symphony.

You cannot tell what are the lives of these thousands who surge about
you. Upon your own people sympathy and knowledge give you a hold; you
can enter into their lives, at least imaginatively, and in a way really
possess them. By the effort of your fancy you can make them after a
fashion part of yourself. But these are as strange to you as you are
strange to them. You have no clue to their mystery. For their likeness
to yourself in so much does not help you; it serves rather to emphasize
their difference. Someone attracts your attention, a pale youth with
great horn spectacles and a book under his arm, whose studious look is
pleasant, or an old man, wearing a hood, with a grey sparse beard and
tired eyes: he looks like one of those sages that the Chinese artists
painted in a rocky landscape or under Kang-hsi modelled in porcelain;
but you might as well look at a brick wall. You have nothing to go
upon, you do not know the first thing about them, and your imagination
is baffled.

But when, reaching the top of the hill, you come once more to the
crenellated walls that surround the city and go out through the
frowning gate, you come to the graves. They stretch over the country,
one mile, two miles, three, four, five, interminable green mounds,
up and down the hills, with grey stones to which the people once a
year come to offer libation and to tell the dead how fare the living
whom they left behind; and they are as thickly crowded, the dead, as
are the living in the city; and they seem to press upon the living as
though they would force them into the turbid, swirling river. There
is something menacing about those serried ranks. It is as though they
were laying siege to the city, with a sullen ruthlessness, biding their
time; and as though in the end, encroaching irresistibly as fate, they
would drive those seething throngs before them till the houses and the
streets were covered by them, and the green mounds came down to the
water gate. Then at last silence, silence would dwell there undisturbed.

They are uncanny, those green graves, they are terrifying. They seem to



She was an old woman, and her face was wizened and deeply lined. In
her grey hair three long silver knives formed a fantastic headgear.
Her dress of faded blue consisted of a long jacket, worn and patched,
and a pair of trousers that reached a little below her calves. Her
feet were bare, but on one ankle she wore a silver bangle. It was
plain that she was very poor. She was not stout, but squarely built,
and in her prime she must have done without effort the heavy work in
which her life had been spent. She walked leisurely, with the sedate
tread of an elderly woman, and she carried on her arm a basket. She
came down to the harbour; it was crowded with painted junks; her eyes
rested for a moment curiously on a man who stood on a narrow bamboo
raft, fishing with cormorants; and then she set about her business. She
put down her basket on the stones of the quay, at the water's edge,
and took from it a red candle. This she lit and fixed in a chink of
the stones. Then she took several joss-sticks, held each of them for a
moment in the flame of the candle and set them up around it. She took
three tiny bowls and filled them with a liquid that she had brought
with her in a bottle and placed them neatly in a row. Then from her
basket she took rolls of paper cash and paper "shoes," and unravelled
them, so that they should burn easily. She made a little bonfire, and
when it was well alight she took the three bowls and poured out some of
their contents before the smouldering joss-sticks. She bowed herself
three times and muttered certain words. She stirred the burning paper
so that the flames burned brightly. Then she emptied the bowls on the
stones and again bowed three times. No one took the smallest notice
of her. She took a few more paper cash from her basket and flung them
in the fire. Then without further ado, she took up her basket, and
with the same leisurely, rather heavy tread, walked away. The gods
were duly propitiated, and like an old peasant woman in France who has
satisfactorily done her day's housekeeping, she went about her business.



Transcriber's notes

   1. Punctuation has been made regular and consistent with contemporary

   2. Contemporary spelling retained, for example: skilful and fulness
      as used in this text.

   3. Hyphenation has been retained as it appears in the original

   4. Changes:
         page 48, "though" for "through" ("though not stout")
         page 87, "is" added, ("days and days it is just")
         page 157, "Traduttore--traditore" for "Tradutore--tradittore"
         page 194, "entree" for "entrée" ("soup and fish, entrée")

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