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Title: Rice Papers
Author: Norris, H. L.
Language: English
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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 "Rice Papers" ***

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Internet Archive)



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              RICE PAPERS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              RICE PAPERS

                                   BY

                              H. L. NORRIS



              “EXERCISE YOUR FACULTIES OF SEEING, AND YOU
                     WILL GET GOOD THINGS TO EAT”
                                     Chinese Proverb



                        LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
                       39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
                          NEW YORK AND BOMBAY
                                  1905
                          All rights reserved



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   TO
                             THE COMMODORE
                              AND OFFICERS
                                   OF
                             H.M.S. “TAMAR”



------------------------------------------------------------------------



          THESE stories possess the merit of not being true, nor are
          they necessarily founded on fact; they were written during
          three years’ service in China, and their conception served to
          more or less pleasantly while away many hours. If they afford
          the reader as many pleasant minutes, they will have well
          fulfilled their purpose. To those whose ideas of a Chinaman
          are gathered from the good-natured, doddering idiot as he is
          so often represented on the stage, he is here shown in a
          different form, however inadequate the portrayal may be.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS

                 TO EXPLAIN                                   1
              I. THE STORY OF FUNG WA CHUN                   19
             II. FENG SHUEY                                  51
            III. THE BACKSLIDING OF LAO                      79
             IV. THE PUNISHMENT OF HONG                     107
              V. BONE OF MY BONE                            129
             VI. THE MELANCHOLY MAGISTRATE OF FOH LIN       155
            VII. THE HUNCHBACK’S PIETY                      183
           VIII. HOO, THE DAUGHTER OF TAK WO                209
             IX. KWA NIU’S DERBY                            235



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              RICE PAPERS



                               TO EXPLAIN


THE sun had shone brilliantly and torridly all day over the mud-laden
river, the surrounding paddy-fields, and the copper-coloured backs of
the sweating Chinese boatmen as they laboured at their yuloes in sampen
and junk. It had, indeed, been a hot day even for up-river, and the
extreme humidity of the atmosphere after the rains made the heat felt in
every pore of the skin, so that even the half-naked steersmen of the
junks sweated at their rudders.

But now the sun is setting. On all sides can be heard the rattle of the
winches and the creaking as the heavy mat sails slide down the mast of
the junks, a splash as the stone-weighted wooden anchor drops over the
bows, and each junk in time swings to its rattan-twisted cable in the
pea-soup known as fresh water in Chinese rivers. The heavy damp air is
suddenly rent by a bugle note which signals the fact that the flag which
represents the sovereignty of King Edward the Seventh is being hauled
down till eight a.m. the next day on board the gunboat lying in the
muddy river.

A careful study of the illustrated weekly papers will give us a fair
knowledge of the appearance of the average naval officer, and we shall
also gather from this same source that when he’s not rushing about after
niggers with a field-gun, he’s employed attending balls at various
Government Houses, or talking to beautiful ladies on a huge
electric-lighted quarter-deck, what time the moon calmly shines on some
picturesque Mediterranean harbour.

Undoubtedly our friends have experienced all these social joys in their
time, but at present they are far removed from such soothing influences.
Still, we have to deal with a gunboat of some pretensions, one wherein a
gossamer vest and white trousers are not considered _de rigueur_ for
dinner. The wardroom is much as others in a “bug trap,” but it has one
great adornment, a punkah, which is pulled during meal hours by a
diminutive and quite expressionless “makee learn.” The lights are
burning and the table laid for four, the “makee learn” is waiting by the
pantry hatch ready to pull the punkah, and, on the entry of an officer,
comes in and, sitting on a stool, begins to violently jerk the rope
leading through a brass sheave to the small punkah which flaps away some
large and well-fed bluebottles.

The officer is smoking a cigarette, and dressed in white duck trousers,
a soft white shirt, and white mess-jacket, all of which goes to prove
that we are in a smart ship. He strolls idly over to the thermometer
hanging on the bulkhead and observes that the mercury stands at 84°. He
idly places the burning end of his cigarette near the bulb of the
thermometer and watches the mercury rise to 95°, while the “makee learn”
violently agitates the punkah. Having performed this simple operation he
sits in a cane chair, and another officer enters and flings himself on a
settee without any remark.

“Good evening, Pill,” says the first officer. “Pretty hot to-night.”

“Don’t agree with you,” remarks the other. “But, anyway, I’m open to bet
it isn’t ninety.”

“All right,” says the Chief, for such we will call the person who first
entered the wardroom. “Bet you a sherry and bitters it is.”

The surgeon jumps up and looks at the thermometer, then leans over the
table, rings the electric bell, and sings out, “Ah Hing, two sherries
and bitters!”

The bitters are brought in and disposed of, and then another officer
comes in.

“Nice and cool to-night, Pill,” he remarks.

“Don’t agree with you,” says the surgeon.

“But I think it’s much cooler,” remarks the navigator, for that is the
rating of the new-comer.

“Well, I’ll bet you it’s over ninety,” says the surgeon.

“What’ll you bet?” says the navigator.

“Oh, a cocktail, to-morrow forenoon. Then look for yourself,” says the
surgeon.

The navigator strolls over to the thermometer and says, “Eighty-eight.”

“Be blowed for a yarn!” says the surgeon. “Let’s look.” But on
consulting the mercury column he finds it stands at eighty-eight, so
muttering a curse that everybody and everything is against him to-day he
sits down and shouts to Ah Hing to bring some chow-chop-chop.

“Hurry up, Ah Hing!” says “No. 1” as he comes in. “Hullo, my pippins!
What cher! Well, Pill, fisherman’s luck, eh? Shot anything?”

“Yes,” says Pill; “darned sight too much!”

“Well, tell us all about it. You’ve been grubbin’ round the Chinese city
I suppose, Chief, lookin’ for curios?”

“Yes,” remarks the engineer officer; “and got two bits of blue and white
china and a confoundedly ancient-looking joss.”

Ah Hing brings in the soup, and “No. 1” says: “Well, doc, you might tell
your adventures to the poor devil who’s had nothing to do but stop
aboard the ship in this confounded stinking river.”

Thus appealed to the surgeon begins—

“A day like this is enough to break any man’s heart. I haven’t the pluck
now to open a jackpot on four kings, feeling certain somebody’d hold
four aces and the joker against me. As you know, we two went shooting,
and left the Chief to grub about the native city for curios. When we
landed we hired two coolies to carry the drinks and chow, which they
slung on a pole between them, and off we went to the right among the
paddy-fields. There wasn’t a thing in the paddy except frogs, snakes,
and cockie-ollie birds, so we went up towards the hills. Nothing to be
found there, but after passing a small village we got into some scrub
and long grass, when up got a quail. It flew to my left rear, and I let
him have one barrel. Then he passed right behind me, and I let him have
the other barrel, the contents of which went smack into the lunch-basket
and blew it to bits. In the excitement I’d never noticed that our
coolies were only a few yards behind me. There was instantly no end of a
hullabaloo, and one coolie lay on the ground kicking and rubbing himself
furiously, what time both of them kept up a most damnable screaming. I
ran up to see what was the matter, and saw that his chest was covered
with blood; but all my efforts at getting a look at his wound were
unavailing, as he would keep rubbing his hands over his chest. My own
opinion is that he hadn’t got at most more than one pellet in him; but I
had no further time to look after him, because we were in a few seconds
surrounded by the men, women, children, lunatics, and incurably leprous
of the neighbouring village. They got to hustling us, and things looked
ugly. All of ’em were singing out something in Chinese, and when they
started pulling me about I got nasty and let out at ’em. Then they took
my gun away, and by this time we were nearly crushed by the crowds round
us. It was no use to create international complications by letting ’em
have a few charges of No. 6, so we concluded to go without resisting to
their village and see the matter out. So the howling, stinking mob
conducted us to their village, and led us through filthy pig-infested
lanes to an open space near the centre of the village, in which stood a
dismal banyan tree, under whose shade a baby or two and some half-dozen
hens and scraggy pigs were grubbing. A very benevolent-looking,
grey-bearded Chinaman approached, and from the increased yells of our
conductors we concluded that he was a man of some importance. He calmly
surveyed us for quite a while, and spoke to our furiously shouting
accusers in a calm and passionless manner. The wounded coolie was
brought forward amid more shouts and gesticulations, and our ancient
friend spoke a few words to him in a rather off-hand manner.

“We were getting a bit tired of all this hoop-hooraying when suddenly
our ancient friend turned to me and said, ‘Say, what you goin’ to do
about it?’ We were both pretty surprised at hearing him speak English,
but I was jolly glad to find someone could understand us. I explained
that the whole thing was an accident, that the man wasn’t much hurt, and
that now, as we understood each other, we might go back to the ship, as
having lost our tiffin, we didn’t care to do any more shooting that day.
Our genial friend smiled kindly on us, and said it would be very hard to
make his poor uneducated fellow-villagers understand that the shooting
had not been done on purpose. He explained that no Chinaman was such a
fool as to suppose that anyone with sense would shoot at a bird flying,
that a bird could by no possibility be shot unless sitting still, and
that my firing into the luncheon-basket was only a pretext to kill both
coolies when they least expected it. He remarked, moreover, ‘We’ve got
your gun, and I guess it’s worth at least forty dollars gold, so you’d
better pay up if you want to get back to your ship. We know that in time
you’ll be rescued by a landing-party, but we think you’d prefer to pay
up rather than spend a night or two in our flea-infested village and be
laughed at by your messmates when you do return.’ I got pretty angry at
this and said, ‘I wish I had a few blue-jackets and marines now, and
we’d knock hell out of your old village!’

“The ancient Chinaman smiled and said, ‘In your country you have an
Employers’ Liability Act by which you’d have to pay for this coolie’s
injury.’ We found then that we had a man of education to deal with, so I
said I’d pay within reason but that I was dead keen to get aboard, and
didn’t care if I never went shooting again in China.

“Then we got on to the question of money; I had two silver dollars and a
ten and five dollar Hong Kong note. My Chinese friend explained that
paper money was of no use to villagers, that if I handed over the lot to
him he’d pay the two silver dollars to the wounded man in compensation,
that later on he might manage to negotiate the paper money (for the good
of the village), and that if I’d give twenty more dollars on the morrow
to his representative he’d return my gun. At the same time he added that
if the navigator attempted to use his gun and resist that the villagers
would eat us raw.

“So we had to climb down. We left the village escorted by a howling mob,
and now I’ve got to pay twenty Mexican dollars to that smooth-tongued
English-speaking Chinaman before I get my 12-bore back.

“Ah Hing, give me another whisky-and-soda.”

                             --------------

Again the sun shines on the turbid pea-soup river, the steaming
paddy-fields, and sunburnt backs of the sweating trackers as they
painfully tow the junks up-stream. A continuous stream of junks drifts
down the river, steered by clumsy rudders and big sweeps; now and then a
Hakka boat passes laden with lime made by burning oyster-shells, and
occasionally a steam launch, flying the Chinese flag, belonging to the
Salt Commissioners or Imperial Chinese Customs. The sun is now mounting
high in the heavens, when a sampan puts off from the shore and goes
alongside the British gunboat. A grey-bearded man steps up the gangway
and, handing a double-barrelled gun to the quarter-master, says, “Give
that to the doctor, please, and tell him that there is someone waiting
to see him.”

The quarter-master grunts, as much as to say, “Well, I’m damned!” He
hands the gun to the surgeon in the wardroom and says, “Chinaman to see
you, sir.”

“Show him down, quarter-master,” replies the surgeon, and the venerable
Chinaman is conducted to the wardroom.

“Well,” says the surgeon, “what’s to prevent me, now I’ve got my gun
back, from having you pushed over the side into your sampan and being
told never to come near the ship again?”

The Chinaman smiles and says, “Nothing, except a foolish sense of honour
which prevents you from getting out of a promise you’ve once made, even
if you know you’ve been badly swindled. When I sent your gun down to you
I knew you might have me thrown into the river, and with some justice on
your side, but I also knew that, being a white man, you would stick to
your promise and pay me the twenty dollars you agreed on yesterday. I
don’t admire you for it, but I know your Western ways.”

“Look here,” says the surgeon, “you speak devilish good English; here’s
your twenty dollars, and now we’re quits. Have a drink, and tell us
something about yourself.”

“I will,” replies the Chinaman, “but whether you believe it or not
matters little. I call myself Fung Wa Chun,” and the story of Fung Wa
Chun as heard by the surgeon remains to be told.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       THE STORY OF FUNG WA CHUN



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       THE STORY OF FUNG WA CHUN


AH HING brought the drinks. The surgeon pushed the cigarettes over to
Fung Wa Chun, and waited for him to begin.

The Chinaman tasted his drink as one accustomed to European liquids, and
began:—

“I think I was born in a sampan in Hong Kong harbour; of that I’m not
certain; but anyway, my earliest recollections are of living in a boat
which was managed entirely by my father and mother; and there we lived,
cooked, fed, and slept. We used to also take foreigners off to their
ships, and from their ships to the shore, but the best times were at
night. At dusk my father would get a tough string net out of the
sleeping-place amidships. Each mesh of this net was heavily weighted
with leaden bullets, and he’d attach it in some clever manner to the
inside of the bamboo shelter we carried in the stern sheets. Mother used
to steer and work a yulo aft. Father pulled an oar and managed our one
sail, and any passengers we had sat under the bamboo shelter in the
stern sheets.

“At night time our passengers were generally drunk, and by a simple
contrivance father could pull a string when we got some way out in the
harbour. The weighted net would then fall on the semi-unconscious
passenger, and father and mother with a few stabs finished him off. Then
came the counting of his possessions, the stripping of the body, and the
throwing over of the corpse, to be found or not, as fate decided.

“I remember once we got a fare well after dark. He was a huge,
yellow-haired man, very drunk, and, I think, a Scotchman. Father and
mother worked the sampan out in the harbour, and then father pulled the
string. The net fell, and he made two good jabs into the writhing bundle
with his knife. The man kicked and fought horribly. He tore the net,
nearly broke the gunwale of the boat, and at last got hold of father’s
ankle in his teeth just above the heel. Father jabbed away with his
knife, and didn’t dare to howl, and mother had to drop the tiller and
come and help with the meat chopper. She tore our net badly, but killed
the man, and then father’s ankle was released from the dead man’s mouth,
also with the chopper. We found less than a dollar on that Scotchman,
and my parent was lame from the bite for the rest of his life.

“Although I was very young at that time, still some of the incidents,
insignificant as they were, are impressed on my memory.

“We used to have a heavy iron bar with iron grapnels, with which we
dragged for drowned bodies—and not without success, in those days; but
they often had little more than the clothes on them, so we never became
very prosperous.

“One night we had anchored just astern of a foreign devils’ warship, and
some time after dark there was a big commotion on deck. It appeared that
a man had fallen overboard, and about a minute after, our sampan gave a
lurch, and a spluttering white man grabbed hold of our gunwale and tried
to get on board. Mother was cooking the evening rice and fish at the
time, and she made a cut at one of his hands with a big knife. She
chopped off four fingers, and he gave a yell. Father jumped forward at
once and gave him one blow over the head with an axe, and he sank like a
stone. Two or three boats were lowered from the man-of-war. They heard
the man scream, and one boat came alongside us, and an officer jumped
aboard. He began talking away hard in English, and grabbed father by the
queue. Of course we couldn’t understand him, but mother, who was always
quick-witted, suddenly picked up the four human fingers, chucked them in
the stew of rice, and stirred them up hurriedly. The officer could find
no reason for suspecting us, so soon shoved off in his boat to search
elsewhere for the missing man. We couldn’t afford to waste rice, so
after mother had picked out the fingers we had our evening meal. Then we
up anchor and started to dredge with our grapnels for the dead man. It
was about slack water when father killed him, so we knew he couldn’t be
far off; and some two hours after we hooked on to him and dragged him
up. Then I learnt where your British sailors keep their money: in a belt
of flannel they wear next their skin. We took eleven dollars from that
man, besides a silver finger-ring and his clothes, and then we cast him
adrift. Not a bad night, although our rice had been partly spoilt by his
dirty fingers.

“But these happy days were soon to be ended. When I was between nine and
ten years of age the small-pox came. Father got it first, and in his
delirium jumped overboard and was drowned; mother had it at the same
time, and she lay down in the sleeping-space amidships. She died there
the next day, and I was alone and afraid in the sampan. However, I
cooked some rice and dried fish, and the next day tried to get mother
out of the hold and throw her overboard. But she’d got stiff by that
time, and I couldn’t move her any way. For days I continued to cook rice
and try to move mother, but it was no good. As I told you, I wasn’t yet
ten years old, and couldn’t yet properly manage a sampan alone; so one
day the police noticed something wrong with my boat and came alongside.
Then they found an old woman dead in the hold and your humble servant,
aged nine and a half, in command. Being unable to escape, I had to go
along with the police; and I remained about two days with them when a
Chinaman came to see me, said he was my uncle, my father’s brother, and
that he would care for me as his own son. Myself and the sampan, which
contained no inconsiderable quantity of dollars, were handed over to
this man, and he conducted me to his establishment. I’m sorry to say
that this uncle was a very bad man, very bad indeed; he treated me
shamefully.”

“You surprise me,” remarked the surgeon; “after the lovable description
you have given of your father, it seems impossible that his brother
should not have been possessed of ten thousand virtues.”

The Chinaman took no notice of this remark but proceeded.

“My life in my uncle’s house was hard and unlovely, and I should
certainly have run away had I been able. He kept a gambling and
boarding-house, where a man, after losing all his money, could go
further and lose his body. A man who had lost all might stake his
liberty against a sum of money, perhaps five dollars or more; once he’d
lost this he became the property of the winner and passed into ‘the
mansion of supreme blessedness,’ or, in other words, my uncle’s
boarding-house; there he was kept and fed, and on occasions would be
sent to sea in whatever ship required. In other words, my uncle was a
crimp and supplied sailors to the foreign ships that required them. He
was well known to all the China traders, and could be relied on to fill
up a ship with whatever number of hands they required; in fact, I’ve
known him put dead men on board if it chanced that he had not the number
in ‘the mansion of supreme blessedness’ that a captain required. He’d
explain that the man was drunk, carry him on board at night, and put him
in the fo’c’sle when the ship was sailing next morning at daylight. He
kept careful records of all he shipped and the ships they sailed in, and
when the unfortunate men returned to Hong Kong my uncle would be the
first on board, would have them again conducted to ‘the mansion’ to be
kept till again required, and would himself draw their pay from the
Shipping Office. In this way you can imagine that my wicked relation
soon grew rich. Me he kept as a sort of servant to wait on the
unfortunates in ‘the mansion of supreme blessedness’; and for over two
years I remained there, being beaten, overworked, and underfed, and had
it not been for the healthy open-air life that I had previously led I
might have succumbed to the hardships; still, foul air never chokes a
Chinaman, and somehow I grew and increased in strength. The ‘mansion’
must have got unusually depopulated at one time, because without any
previous warning I one day found myself put on board a steamer with the
remainder of my uncle’s guests. The steamer was bound for London with
tea, and my job was to cook rice, etc., for the firemen and stokers.
This job necessitated my turning out in every watch. I was kicked and
cuffed by all the engine-room hands, and was at their beck and call day
and night. Sleep I got when I could, food what I could steal, wages
none, and my continual unhappiness bred in me an ever-increasing hatred
of and desire for revenge on my paternal uncle. Of the voyage to England
I remember nothing, and I saw nothing of London except the docks, as my
work never allowed of my going ashore. I managed, however, to pick up
some English from the stevedores, and after an absence of about nine
months I was once more back in Hong Kong. To show you how unpopular my
uncle’s methods were with some of his ‘guests,’ I may tell you that the
night before we entered Hong Kong harbour three of his protégés jumped
overboard and were drowned, rather than partake of his further
hospitality. As was to be expected, the much-respected father of the
flock was the first on board, and all the Chinese were conducted as
usual to his ‘boarding-house,’ while my uncle talked politely to the
captain and arranged about drawing the pay next day.

“We Chinese are an easily governed race, and it never occurred to anyone
of our crowd to break away or resist my uncle’s orders, so we all went
ashore and walked quietly to the ‘mansion.’ There we found a meal
composed of better food than usual, and I found that my place as servant
had been taken by a small boy, so I could beat and curse him, as the
others did me in former days. Our condition as ‘guests’ had also greatly
improved. We occasionally had money with which we could gamble, and now
and then musicians to play to us in the evening. By some means my uncle
found out that I could speak a little English, and from that time he had
me to attend at his office all day, in case my knowledge of English
might be useful. I soon picked up considerably more of the language from
the English ship-captains, and in time became quite indispensable to my
uncle; but throughout the whole time I was waiting but to revenge myself
on him for the hardships he had made me endure as a child. I soon learnt
that my ‘Tai pan,’ or head of the business, as my uncle was, was never
without a shining revolver, which he carried somewhere in his loose silk
jacket. He also was surrounded by secret agents and spies, who reported
any matters concerning his clients or subordinates that might be of use
to him. In many ways I made myself useful to my uncle. I studied the
written language and learnt to keep accounts, and was soon allowed
considerable freedom after ‘office hours.’ I studied to make myself
indispensable to my employer, and my success and discretion in all
matters entrusted to me soon raised me high in his esteem, and the
importance of my work enabled me to learn much of the inner workings of
his business. My uncle, when in his office, invariably sat at a heavy
black wood table which faced the door, and this door was approached by a
narrow passage gained by a steep staircase from the street. The whole of
this passage could be seen by anyone seated at the table, and the flight
of stairs leading to the street was so steep that no one from the street
could see anything that might happen in the passage. As I became more
necessary to my employer I also began to receive more servile treatment
from the other clerks, until it became the custom that when my uncle was
abroad I would take his seat and arrange myself behind his table. This
pleased me excessively, and on one occasion, while seated there, I began
pulling knobs and drawer handles near my seat. To my great surprise, on
pulling one of these handles, two iron-grated doors closed on the
passage opposite my table, their closure having the effect of barring
the exit or entrance of anyone who had mounted the stair and was on his
way to enter the office. All the clerks were greatly surprised and I was
considerably frightened, for if my employer returned and found these
iron gates closed he would know that someone had been using his table
without authority. However, on jerking the handle I had moved in an
opposite direction, the iron gates disappeared into slots in the
passage, and my uncle entering within a few minutes, any discussion that
might have taken place among us was rendered impossible. Whether this
incident occupied the minds of the other clerks I know not, but it kept
me awake for nights, and I determined that, should occasion arise, I’d
investigate the matter further. For some days no opportunity arose, but
after about ten days my uncle was obliged to go to dinner in another
part of the city with certain wealthy merchants, and he left me in
charge. Now was my chance—the other clerks were only too glad to get
away—so soon after dusk I was alone in the office, sitting at the big
black table with only a small oil-wick to light the place. For a time I
smoked quietly, and when all seemed quiet I turned the handle as before.
Instantly the iron gates shut-to. I reversed the handle, and they
opened. Then I tried other handles—some were simply fixed on locked
drawers,—but after twisting one I heard a heavy mass fall in the
passage. I went to the bars with the dim oil-lamp and gazed down into a
dark chasm which would make even a Chinaman shudder. I quickly returned
and reversed the handle, and on again looking through the iron bars by
the light of the oil-wick, I saw that the passage was once more restored
with an even floor. I then reversed the handle, which made the iron
doors disappear from view, and further examination of this interesting
table revealed only locked drawers, in one of which I knew my uncle kept
his revolver, for when in the streets he was only in the habit of
carrying a knife concealed in his sleeve. After this eventful evening of
big discoveries I began to mature a plan of revenge. I had by this time
accumulated a few dollars, and as I was allowed considerable liberty, I
could go out in the city nearly every night. One night I went out with
all my dollars and purchased a shining nickel-plated revolver. The
shopman wanted me to buy some cartridges as well, but I was rather
afraid of them, and said that I had plenty of cartridges at home.
Carefully concealing the weapon, I returned with a feeling of some
slight exultation to my business house. An opportunity of carrying out
my revenge occurred the very next day, my employer again going out to
dinner; and later I seated myself at his table with my pistol to
patiently await his return. Then for the crowning moment of my life,
when I should have the cringing villain howling to me for mercy. I
thought of all the cutting speeches, the recital of my wrongs, and then
of the horrible climax and devilish punishment that I would mete out to
him. In this way the hours of waiting passed most pleasantly.”

“I don’t doubt it for a moment,” says the surgeon quietly.

Fung Wa Chun lit another cigarette, sipped his drink, and with his face
as expressionless as a bronze Buddha, continued:—

“At last I heard his footsteps on the stairs. My heart gave a jump. One
step, two steps, three—would he never reach the landing? Then a pause
and a faint chuckle. My revered relation was evidently slightly drunk.
My hand trembled on the handle lest I should close the gates before he
reached the landing. This staggering and halting was annoying, it made
it difficult to count how many steps he had come up. He occasionally
slipped back one, and I was getting into a fever of excitement, for the
dim oil-wick I was using failed to illuminate the passage. Now he was
standing on the stair and chuckling drunkenly to himself, curse him!
Part of my revenge would be foiled by his having fuddled his wits with
wine. I wanted him to feel all, every bit of it, and acutely too—now,
perhaps, his sodden intellect might not appreciate all the refinement of
horror I had stored up for him. After what seemed several minutes the
sounds led me to suppose that he’d reached the top step, and there he
stopped to cough and breathe hard. Then he staggered along the passage.
My heart was thumping at my chest, I scarcely dared breathe. At last the
moment had come. Turning the knob I heard the gates clang together, and
seizing my pistol and the lamp I rushed to the grating. Inside I could
see him, dazed and leaning against the wall, but no fear, no terror,
only a silly drunken laugh as before. The dim light did not show his
face. How was I to let him know in this his drunken state that it was I,
the down-trodden servant, who was at last to hold him in this awful
power?

“Gently I spoke to him, saying, ‘It is I, most honourable uncle, it is
the despised and insignificant Fung Wa Chun, who presumes to address
your august personage.’ ‘Let not the honourable Fung Wa Chun be afraid
to disclose the gentle thoughts that are concealed in his honourable
bosom,’ said a voice behind me. I turned in abject horror, my heart
stopped beating, and there I saw my uncle, seated at his table, calmly
pointing his shining pistol at my breast. ‘Oh, intellectual and
far-seeing Fung Wa Chun,’ he murmured, ‘did you suppose that my secret
agents served me so ill that I did not know that you had discovered the
secret of the passage? Do you think that I was not aware of your
purchase of that remarkably handsome revolver you hold in your somewhat
shaky hands?’ I flung the thing from me, for I was angry, and perhaps
showed unbecoming heat in my reply as I said, ‘Your deeply learned
remarks are as lost on my degraded ears as the singing of the
trimetrical classic would be unconvincing to the ears of a deaf monkey.’
My uncle smiled and said, ‘First I will release my honourable friend Su
Wing, and then we will talk seriously.’ He pressed the button, and the
inebriated Su Wing stumbled into the room, and falling into a chair,
assumed an air of owlish content. My uncle then continued, ‘For one who
has attempted violence on myself I seldom show mercy—the sliding floor
of yonder passage could tell some curious tales. But, dear nephew, I’ve
for some time observed you and your ways, and have been minded to adopt
you as my son and make you my heir. I prefer to be served by fear rather
than love; that you do not love me to-night’s business has proved, but
that you fear me I now feel fairly certain. Therefore, I spare your
life. Know, gentle nephew, that the few secrets you have discovered are
nothing to what this house contains, but your future exalted position
will make my spies doubly zealous in observing your every action, so
to-morrow I shall publicly adopt you as my son, feeling confident that
from fear you will prove a faithful if not loving descendant. Now go!’ I
went to bed feeling as one who has been condemned to death and
unexpectedly reprieved. That my uncle would kill me when I was
discovered I had no doubt, and now finding myself released and free my
sensations were more than I can describe. Bewildered, I stumbled to my
bed, and almost at once fell into a deep sleep.

“What happened in the office no one knows, perhaps my uncle caroused
with the bibulous Su Wing; at any rate, I was awakened from a deep sleep
by a cry of fire, and found that our extensive premises were well in the
power of the flames. All efforts to suppress the conflagration were
vain; and next morning I, who had every prospect of being heir to a
large estate, found myself homeless and penniless in Hong Kong. My uncle
and the bibulous Su Wing were both presumably victims of the disaster,
and I could lay no claim to a single cash saved from the ruins. For
three days I nearly starved trying to find employment in Hong Kong as a
clerk, and finally, to earn rice, I was obliged to take service in the
police as a “lukong” or native policeman. The open-air life pleased me,
but there was little money in the trade, and having no credentials, I
could get nothing better, although my knowledge of English got me speedy
advancement, such as it was. For some years I remained in the police,
until an incident happened which made it possible for me to leave the
service.

“The incident referred to happened in this way. Being on duty after
midnight in the western part of the town, I heard a noise going on in a
side street. I went cautiously (as our manner was) up the street, and
found a well-dressed European being attacked by two chair-coolies. As
soon as he saw me he shouted for help, and the two coolies ran away. I
rushed up at once, and seeing the street was quite empty and that the
European was nearly spent, I drew my sword and gave him a slash over the
head. He dropped like a log, and I had sufficient experience in these
matters to know that I’d killed him. A hasty examination of his pockets
revealed a large wad of Hong Kong and Shanghai bank-notes, a gold watch
and chain, and a large diamond ring on his right little finger. The
notes and ring I took for myself, leaving some five dollars in loose
cash in his pockets, also the watch, as I did not wish it to appear that
he’d been robbed. As I removed the finger-ring I noticed that a white
band remained on his little finger, as his hand was much tanned by the
sun. Again my sword came in useful, and I chopped off his little finger,
and threw it down a drain, at the same time blowing my whistle loudly. I
was soon joined by another lukong and a European policeman. Having
explained that I’d just found the man in this condition, we carried him
off to the police-station. A great hue-and-cry was raised for his
murderers, but they were never found. I was congratulated for my
promptness in the affair by the authorities, and found that the notes
amounted to two thousand dollars odd; and later I sold the ring for two
hundred dollars. I remained some few months longer in the police, so as
to allay any suspicion, and then resigned. With a capital of over two
thousand dollars I next appeared as Ah Fung, messman to an American
transport. The Americans have lordly ideas as to the cost of food, their
officers are well paid, and they reckon everything in gold, so I easily
made a small fortune after a few years. I take it that it’s not
surprising that I know your language fairly well. With some of my
savings I purchased from the local mandarin the position of chief
constable in the village ashore. I am now diligently studying the
classics, and at the next public examination I shall present myself as a
candidate, and if successful will undoubtedly with my capital be able to
obtain a position in the local government, when by strict attention to
business I hope to rise to the rank of mandarin, possibly to Viceroy.
Who knows!”

“I thank you,” said the surgeon. “I wish I could write stories, I should
like to publish yours.”

Then Fung Wa Chun went back to his village to resume his studies of the
classics.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               FENG SHUEY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               FENG SHUEY


    Feng Shuey literally translated means wind-water, and is a general
    term denoting the superstitious feeling with regard to the
    topographical surroundings of cities or houses, the good fortune or
    luck of a district being in proportion to its propitious relations
    to mountains, rivers, etc.


HING FAI was angry and annoyed. Many things had happened to produce this
condition of mind. To explain. Hing Fai lived in the province of Fo Kien
or the “Consummation of Happiness,” and was a merchant of considerable
respectability, his business being in hogs’ bristles and plaited rice
straw.

Intelligent reader, you perhaps think that neither of these articles
interest you, but you are wrong, they do; the insignificant tooth-brush
which you use on your honourable molars is made of finest hogs’ bristles
from China, and perchance the hat you wear during your summer holiday
saw its birth as rice in the province of Fo Kien.

All the hot morning that persistent beggar Wang had moaned and groaned
in the dusty road opposite the business-house of Hing Fai. For a long
time Wang had been an annoyance to all decent merchants and wealthy
persons, and to-day he had hit on an admirable plan for gathering
“cash.” Early he had stationed himself opposite the office of Hing Fai,
and had brought with him a large stone. The stone he had placed in the
dusty road, and with great persistence continued to beat his
inadequately shaved head on it. It was now well after noon. Wang’s
groans had disturbed Hing Fai for the last four hours, and the stone and
Wang’s head were both liberally spattered with blood. Wang continued to
groan and beat his head on the stone, and there was every reason to
suppose that if he continued this unpleasant occupation he would
eventually fracture his skull and die in front of the honourable door of
Hing Fai’s business-house.

A junk laden with bristles belonging to Hing Fai had sunk in the river
this morning, and recently a go-down belonging to him had been burnt
down with its contents of several tons of straw braid. These two
misfortunes meant the loss of hundreds of taels, and now added to all
these misfortunes were the groans and blood sprinklings of the
despicable Wang. Hing Fai was justly angered. He threw his rabbit-hair
pen across the room, closed his paper ledgers in anger, and strode to
the door and out into the dusty road, where he bestowed three kicks and
five cash on the despicable Wang, after which he was carried in his
chair by three sweating coolies to his residence on the outside of the
town.

The bestowal of the cash and the departure of Hing Fai had the effect of
causing the despised Wang to cease his melancholy self-torture. He
abandoned his stone, wiped the clotted blood from his head, and with the
five cash proceeded to a cheap eating-house to regale himself on rice.
Wang’s profession of beggar made him conversant with many of the affairs
of his townsmen, so he was acquainted with the recent losses sustained
by Hing Fai. Having eaten his fill of rice, he washed his head free of
blood in the neighbouring stream and betook himself to the pleasant
abode of Hing Fai, where he accosted the gate-keeper in suitable terms:
“Most honourable keeper of the gate, this degraded and unspeakably
insignificant person has matters of importance to reveal to the most
exalted and charitable Hing Fai.”

The gate-keeper replied that the air of the immediate neighbourhood was
already sufficiently tainted, but that the presence of the disgusting
Wang rendered it almost unbearable. Wang replied that he was well aware
that the unspeakable odours that emanated from his degraded self must
necessarily be unpleasant to such an exalted and gently born person as
the gate-keeper, but that should admission be refused him he would bring
ten thousand more worse smelling beggars to the gate, and that they
would remain there and clamour for admission for one hundred years.
After a protracted conversation carried on in similar polite terms the
truculent gate-keeper admitted the impecunious Wang to Hing Fai’s
compound. Wang advanced towards the house, walking at the side of the
path, and carefully avoiding any desecration of the honourable
brick-laid pathway by his own low-born feet.

Arriving at the door of the house he did not presume to call one of the
house-servants, but knelt on the pathway of narrow bricks and
rhythmically beat his head on them, from time to time uttering almost
inaudible groans. Two or three of Hing Fai’s servants idly observed
these actions, and as the blood began to stream from the wretched Wang’s
head one of the servants ventured to inform Hing Fai that there was a
miserable person without who evidently begged an audience. Hing Fai had
dined, he was now smoking a cigar and sipping sweet champagne, and felt
more at peace with the world, so he signified his willingness to have
speech with the beggar, for he argued that the man’s persistence in
attracting attention might mean that he had something of importance to
communicate. Wang’s obeisances having been deemed sufficiently servile,
the honourable Hing Fai commanded him to speak, at the same time hinting
that should the beggar’s communication be considered so unimportant as
to not warrant his thrusting his objectionable presence on the
honourable Hing Fai, one hundred blows on the bare feet would seem but a
mild reproof. Wang humbly kneeling with his forehead on the floor spoke
as follows:—

“It has come to the knowledge of this altogether insignificant person
that recently certain severe pecuniary losses have happened to the
honourable Hing Fai.” Any annoyance that Hing Fai may have felt at this
speech he carefully concealed, and the beggar continued: “Has it never
occurred to the far-seeing Hing Fai what may be the cause of this
growing ill-luck? Is there in Fo Kien a more charming and beautiful
residence than that the life-restoring air of which this entirely
despicable person at present dares to breathe? Let the honourable Hing
Fai look round, and his heaven-sent intellect will at once see wherein
lies the secret of his misfortunes.”

Hing Fai was now really angry. Fixing a stern gaze on the loathsome
Wang, he commanded him to speak more plainly, or—and Hing waved his arm
suggestively.

Then Wang rose to his feet, pointed through the open door across the
beautiful garden, and said—

“The foreign devil builds a high temple.”

Hing Fai remained for some minutes deep in thought and oblivious of the
beggar; then he ordered his servants to take the man away and feed him.
Wang’s appearance as he left the presence still bore the mark of abject
humility, but inwardly he exulted: he had sown the seeds of distrust,
which he hoped would eventually lead to the sacking of the Mission
Station and a fair share of loot to himself. Hing Fai sank into a deep
reverie after the departure of the beggar. He thought of the foreign
devils and of the religion they preached, of which he had taken the
trouble to make some inquiries. He knew that the foreign devils had a
house near his compound, and that the meanest and worst characters
occasionally attended their worship; but that these people could
possibly menace his prosperity came to him as an astounding idea, and
one scarcely to be credited.

Hing Fai and the Rev. Arthur Jones were both good men in their way—both
honest, and both hardworking; but one was a Christian Welsh missionary
and the other a Chinese Buddhist merchant. The Rev. Jones was small,
near-sighted, and very hardworking, and his wife resembled him in these
three particulars. For some two years they had conducted their mission
and school near the house of Hing Fai, and once the foreign devils had
become a familiar sight the heads of the wealthier Chinese concerned
themselves little with the doings of the missionaries.

The Rev. Jones was now about to accomplish one of his pet ambitions,
namely, to build a real church. So far, divine worship had been
conducted in the school-house attached to the mission, but the pastor’s
honest work had at last been recognised by the authorities at home, and
a small corrugated iron chapel had been sent him in sections. This
chapel was now in course of construction, and the devilish mind of Wang,
the beggar, had seized on its building as a chance to better himself;
and by him the first seeds of distrust had been sown in the mind of Hing
Fai. All day Hing Fai remained deep in thought, and even the
blandishments of the beautiful Mah Su, his wife, did little to rouse him
from his state of mental depression.

The next day, Hing Fai, when going to his business house in the town,
observed the grey iron building of the foreign devil. As the horrid Wang
had implied, the structure was growing to an inordinate height. It began
to rear a sharp-pointed tower above the house of Hing Fai—that is to
say, far higher than the roof of Hing Fai’s residence, and so lofty that
its pointed spire intervened between Hing Fai’s residence and the hills
at the back of the town.

Hing Fai certainly thought his good fortune was likely to be seriously
affected by this building; but being a just man, he was not anxious to
hastily jump at a conclusion and lay the blame of his recent losses on
the Mission Station. However, that veiled hint of the beggar’s still
stuck in his mind, and on reaching his office he found that one of his
most trusted clerks had absconded with some nine hundred taels. The
amount of money lost was not excessive, but still it had an effect on
Hing Fai, considering his losses of the previous day. Business was
carried on as usual for some days, and Hing Fai was still undecided as
to whether the foreign joss-house was working him evil or not. Still the
corrugated iron edifice grew under the Rev. Jones’ direction, and the
despicable Wang had for days lain hidden from view, advancing no further
theories. By everyone in the town it was understood that the
missionaries had come for their own good. No one was such a fool as to
think that these people worked for nothing; but as workers they were
entitled to whatever they earned—that was only justice. Now it occurred
to Hing Fai that possibly the foreigners were seeking to get influence
on their side; but how could it possibly benefit them to injure his
trade? Hing Fai possessed the ordinary amount of contempt for foreigners
that all Chinese have, but he decided to visit the Rev. Jones and in a
Chinese roundabout way try to find out if he really intended to do
injury to his business. It would never occur to a Chinaman to say, “Why
do you build so high a house? Do you intend by so doing to overwhelm my
house, and so cause my downfall?” No, a Chinaman would act differently.

Thus he called at the house of the Rev. Jones and the proper salutations
were gone through. Hing Fai kindly made inquiries as to the Rev. Jones’
reverend father, his grandfather, their health, their ages, the age of
the Rev. Jones, his health, his business, and the prospects of the rice
crops. The Rev. Jones had a good knowledge of the vernacular, but he was
completely mystified as to the reason for this visit. Hing Fai then
talked of towns, of dwellings and houses, and after much circumlocution
touched on the new building of the mission.

“Why do you build this tall grey metal building?” said Hing Fai, “and
for what purpose?”

“It is for a house of worship—in fact, a small temple,” replied the Rev.
Jones.

“And you are building a sharp-pointed tower?”

“Yes; it is a spire,” replied the missionary.

“Do you store valuables there, or is it a place of refuge?” inquired the
Chinaman.

“No,” replied the missionary, “we use it for no purpose.”

“But it costs money to build,” interjected Hing Fai.

“Yes, but then it points to heaven and leads men’s minds in that
direction.”

Hing Fai was astonished. Here, thought he, he had found a most complete
liar. A man who built a watch-tower (for some purpose unknown), spent
money on it, and then said it was simply to point to heaven. He could
hardly restrain himself, but to all appearances calm, he replied:
“Points to heaven! So does a man when he walks, so does a tree, so does
every blade of grass, so do the hills, and so does nearly everything on
earth except worms and snakes.” Hing Fai then left, more deeply
suspicious of the Christians than ever. So these two parted, and each
worked in his own way. Now a period of distress fell on the province of
Fo Kien; crops failed, continual drought prevented the young rice
growing, and then, when the rains did come, and the young rice was some
six inches in height, floods came and washed rice and fields and
everything away. Hing Fai’s business grew worse and worse; the Rev.
Jones’ spire continued to grow; and the hard times drove many a starving
coolie to embrace Christianity so as to procure some dole of rice for
himself and family. To Hing Fai it seemed that his own gradual ruin was
but keeping step with the growing popularity of the mission-house. With
the famine came the pestilence, and the district, in addition to being
impoverished, was attacked by cholera. The river was now filled with
blackened and swollen corpses. The people were too poor to buy coffins,
so the dead were wrapped in matting and thrown into the river; sometimes
three or four corpses were made up into a bundle, rolled in a mat, and
thrown into the stream at one time for the sake of economy. Rich as well
as poor were attacked, and the wife of Hing Fai succumbed to the
disease. Hing Fai’s sorrow was great: his business losses seemed as
nothing beside the loss of his beloved wife; and while in this state of
anger against fate came to him the evil Wang.

Hing Fai was willing to accept his fate as such, but Wang, the beggar,
for his own ends, wished to arouse Hing Fai’s anger against the
missionaries. The beggar approached in the most abjectly humble manner,
and having been bidden to speak, began thus: “Of the recent severe loss
of the honourable Hing Fai this contemptible person will not speak, but
what of the foreign devils who have built a tower to overlook this
graceful residence? Know! O honourable Hing Fai, their wicked actions
increase. They have begun to compass your ruin, and now they compass the
ruin of the whole neighbourhood. Both of them suffer from bad eyes and
find spectacles a necessity, and now, behold! they are buying our
children, and for what purpose? Why, to take their eyes out and heal
their own diseased vision by the application of certain medicines
cruelly concocted from the eyes of our own innocents.”

Hing Fai signified that he did not credit the suspicions of Wang, and
curtly dismissed him.

The truth was that the Rev. Jones in this season of famine found that
the poor starving mothers were willing to sell him their children to
save them from starvation. The missionary bought them, intending to
bring them up in the Christian faith. Unfortunately most of the children
when bought were moribund, and the Rev. Jones soon found that he was
continually employed as grave-digger for the purpose of disposing of the
pitiful corpses of his tiny converts.

Owing to the famine, Hing Fai’s business went from bad to worse, his
pecuniary losses were considerable, and he took to brooding over his
misfortunes, so that the evil words of Wang soon took such a hold of his
mind that he began to imagine that the Christians had bewitched him by
the erection of their spire. Soon his hatred grew and grew, he took
stimulants to assuage his troubles and promote sleep, but soon the idea
that the missionaries had exerted an evil influence on the whole of his
life became paramount in his mind. Suspicion now grew in the minds of
all the neighbours of the mission. The Rev. Jones’ compound had become
full of graves; he continued to purchase infants, and had found it
necessary to bury the baby corpses outside his grounds. The accursed
Wang took on himself one night to dig up one of the newly-buried babes.
The eyeballs had fallen in in the ordinary course of decomposition, and
this the beggar showed to all and pointed out as proof against the
foreign devils. It was obvious to all that the missionary and his wife
had bad eyes, as they wore spectacles, and here was an explanation of
their purchase of babies, to take their healthy eyes to make medicine to
cure their own diseased vision. The feeling became acute in the
district,—such inhuman monsters must perish. The poor people, being
already rendered desperate by hunger, were ready for any excess.
Moreover, Wang, in an impassioned speech, said that their misfortunes,
the famine even, were all produced by the workings of the foreign devils
and the evil influence of their tower. The people were frenzied, mad,
and made clamorous for blood by this speech.

“We will go to the honourable Hing Fai,” said Wang, “and get him to lead
us against our common enemy.”

The whole crowd, lusting and thirsting for blood, surged to the house of
Hing Fai, calling on him as their deliverer. Hing Fai was partly drunk,
and in a state of recklessness born of his misfortunes. The clamour of
the rabble had its effect, and, arming himself with a sword, he led the
rabble against the mission-house with shouts and the glare of many
torches. The gates of the mission compound were closed, as the noise of
the crowd had already penetrated the mission, and they feared the
intrusion of disorderly persons, imagining that some drunken carousals
had taken place in the neighbourhood. The gate was soon broken down by
Hing Fai’s orders, and someone slew the aged gate-keeper. The sight of
blood roused the lust of killing in the famished and misery-stricken
crowd; headed by Hing Fai they rushed through the compound, hacking and
maiming the terror-stricken Chinese servants, straight to the
missionaries’ house. The Rev. Jones stood in the lighted doorway, his
arms upheld as though commanding silence; but Hing Fai, blind with rage,
rushed forward and cut at his head with his sword. The missionary fell,
and was kicked and clubbed into a shapeless mass of flesh. Lamps were
overturned, doors dashed open, and upstairs was found Mrs. Jones praying
wildly and screaming with fear; twenty knives were plunged into her as
she knelt, and the now frenzied rabble hacked, smashed, and kicked
everything in the house, spreading a ghastly ruin over all. Then arose a
quick alarm of fire. An overturned lamp in the hall had set the wooden
house in a blaze; the stairs were already ignited, and the rush of the
rabble to descend caused them to fall. A frightful scene now ensued: the
house was well alight, the stairs were gone, and a leap from the upper
landing meant leaping into hell. Hither and thither the murderers
rushed, trying to find some means of escape. Wang, the beggar, had
already rushed down the stair before it was destroyed by the flames, but
Hing Fai remained above in an atmosphere already becoming intolerable;
he rushed to a window, cutting down two or three in the way with his
sword, and leapt out. Others remained and suffered an awful death in the
blazing house.

Hing Fai writhed and groaned in the lurid light of the burning mission,
and was soon found by the beggar Wang. He had broken a leg, and was
carried on the back of the evil-smelling Wang to his own residence. The
home authorities were justly indignant, and demanded full reparation
from the Chinese Government, and the Viceroy of the province was ordered
to investigate and punish the guilty parties.

The unfortunate Hing Fai with a broken leg was painfully dragged to the
execution ground and there decapitated. A brand new mission with a
particularly fine stone church and spire was built at the expense of the
already overtaxed and famine-stricken community, and there reside a
yellow-haired Scotch missionary named McTaggart with his wife.

They possess a zealous convert and most efficient colporteur named Ah
Wang. His well-shaved head is covered with scars, and the people say
that formerly he was a beggar, and used to secure the sympathies of the
benevolent by beating his head on a stone.

The pleasant residence of the late Hing Fai is now in ruins, it being
considered unfortunate to reside in any house overshadowed by the lofty
spire erected by the foreign devils.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE BACKSLIDING OF LAO



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE BACKSLIDING OF LAO


NOW Lao Ng Tau was a civil mandarin of the second grade, of a noble
ancestry, considerable learning, and in addition he was tao-tai of Sung
Ying Fu and the surrounding district—which means that he possessed, or
held the power of acquiring to himself, no inconsiderable wealth. He was
a travelled man, moreover, and one possessing a broad mind, and not over
hide-bound with conservative Chinese prejudice. On one of his visits to
the great capital, Peking, he had contracted a marriage with the
beautiful Mah Su. Of the magnificent and costly presents he had
presented to her honourable parents we will not speak, nor of the superb
gifts that he had also received, or of the completely perfect manner in
which the etiquette of their marriage ceremony had been conducted. Poems
were written by seventy-eight poets, many of whom were held in
considerable honour in the capital. Many of these poems can possibly be
purchased in Peking to this day, so it is not necessary for us to enter
into details of the rejoicings on this auspicious occasion. Eighteen
artists of undoubted skill and pre-eminence had been engaged to portray
the dazzling brilliance of the marriage cortège, but they all declared
that the sun-like effulgence of the scene had completely blinded their
ill-conditioned and degenerate eyes to such an extent that they were
quite unable to depict any portion of the picture with the degraded and
low-class pigments at their disposal. When justice and due reward had
been meted out to the poets, painters, and musicians with bowstring, hot
oil, and bamboo rods, according as their several productions merited;
the honourable Lao Ng Tau journeyed with befitting escort to Sung Ying
Fu with the beautiful Mah Su as his wife.

Mah Su was a Manchu lady, and in addition to considerable beauty of face
possessed a remarkable vivacity and cheerfulness, and had not had her
feet bound in her childhood. Lao Ng Tau loved his wife dearly, was
charmed with her wit and accomplishments; and she was no less pleased
with her husband, and the presents of pearls, gold, and jade that he
lavished upon her. So for two years these two lived in the greatest
serenity at Sung Ying Fu. Mah Su’s lips were the reddest and her teeth
the whitest in the world, and these latter were shown to remarkable
advantage when biting some sweetmeat or fruit at the same time as she
chattered and laughed with her husband. She possessed a very marked
penchant for nectarines, and having eaten about half a coolie-load of
these one day, she was taken ill towards nightfall with severe pains
near the lower edge of her embroidered jacket. Her husband was
distracted at the sight of his incomparable wife rolling from side to
side on her honourable bed, and occasionally assuming distressingly
inelegant attitudes when a more excruciating twinge caused her for an
instant to forget the refined deportment so necessary in the wife of a
mandarin of Lao Ng Tau’s importance. The greatly and properly distressed
husband saw at once the necessity of consulting a doctor, but his
honourable mind was undecided whether to summon the foreign missionary
doctor or the wise and justly reverenced Wing Fung.

In earlier days Lao Ng Tau had resided in Hankow, and there had made
great friends with an Englishman, of whose education and knowledge of
the world he held a very high opinion. When the question of foreign
missionaries arose in Lao’s mind, he would always recall the words of
his old friend that “missionaries frequently did as much good as harm.”
This thought rather inclined his acute mind towards the seeking of
advice from the missionary doctor in Sung Ying Fu, but then, what of the
renowned Wing Fung? When the cholera attacked the city of Sung Ying, was
it not Wing Fung who lit small fires on the stomachs of those affected,
had he not even done so to the meanest and most degraded of his
patients, even supplying the firewood from his own store in some cases?
Then, again, had he not cured the honourable Ah Wong of a most
distressing and undignified skin disease by administering pills
cunningly concocted of crabs’ eyes? Had not the noble Phat Cheong been
relieved of an aggravating sprained ankle by rest and the occasional
swallowing of live lob-worms soaked in honey? Again, had not the
honourable wife of Sung Yee Hoy been restored to health after a careful
diet of the thumb nails of the bald-faced monkey? Taking all things into
consideration, Lao decided on employing the renowned and careful Wing
Fung on this soul-moving and entirely discomposing occasion. Herein he
was ill-advised, for had he consulted the missionary doctor he would at
the least have secured a correct diagnosis, for the beautiful Mah Su lay
in great agony, a high fever, and in an inelegant attitude, with her
right leg drawn up. To be accurate, the peerless Mah Su suffered from an
acute attack of that, to Western ideas, fashionable complaint,
appendicitis.

Thus the erudite Wing Fung, he entered with many befitting and seemly
obeisances. He remarked that it ill became his own vile person to
profane the presence of the exalted wife of Lao Ng Tau, and that such
meagre knowledge of the healing art as he possessed was almost rendered
void by the august impressions created on his dull intellect by the
evidences of supreme culture with which he found himself surrounded.

Lao listened to the doctor with impatience, and having paid a compliment
to the doctor’s knowledge of the classics with which his speech had been
liberally sprinkled, begged him to see his wife and prescribe whatever
might alleviate her pain.

The doctor, having adjusted a pair of brass-rimmed spectacles which
magnified about three hundred diameters, entered the room occupied by
Mah Su. Having made a lengthy examination, he returned to Lao, and
explained that there were two treatments possible. One consisted of
rushing the patient up and down the room until she broke into a violent
perspiration and then throwing ice-cold water over her, and the other
consisted in maintaining absolute quietude while the soles of her feet
were burnt with glowing charcoal. Wing Fung explained that no true
decision could be arrived at until he had carefully consulted the stars,
that this occupation would entail his own careful study during the
night, and that the cost would amount to at least six taels. Lao handed
over the six taels, and Wing Fung departed, leaving the
never-to-be-replaced Mah Su still in agony and Lao not less distressed
mentally.

The following morning Wing Fung reappeared. He stated that he had
consulted the stars, and that from their reading he had learnt that the
most honourable Mah Su had been invaded by a most pestilential rat, that
even now the rat was gnawing at her vitals, and that an additional ten
taels would enable him so to study the stars that he would discover by
what means the rat might be driven from its hiding-place in the stomach
of the most honourable wife of the gracious Lao Ng Tau.

Wing Fung received the ten taels and again departed, reappearing the
next day somewhat dishevelled. We must understand that the learned
doctor had now been some forty-eight hours without sleep—his walk was
jagged and uncertain, his speech thick, and he had an unfortunate habit
of chuckling, and hiccoughs somewhat marred his demands for fifteen more
taels to carry out his researches among the stars.

Now Lao got angry. He said that Wing Fung should conduct his researches
among the stars right there on the roof, and he also ordered a coolie to
see that the renowned Wing Fung did not doze, the coolie being supplied
with a heavy and useful bamboo rod.

Throughout the day Wing Fung was kept awake with difficulty and the
bamboo; but when the night came and the stars became visible, he almost
fell asleep in spite of the repeated blows rained on his back by the
attendant. At last Wing Fung begged to see the honourable Lao. He then
explained that he was an outside doctor, that he knew all about things
that one could see, but of the internal arrangements of humanity he was
ignorant. He begged Lao to send for a renowned doctor named Hao Suey,
who understood all such things; and having given directions as to where
Hao Suey might be found, he begged leave to go to sleep.

Lao replied that he was quite willing that Wing Fung should sleep; and
having signed to the executioner, Wing Fung slept—with his fathers.

Then Lao sent post haste for the renowned Hao Suey. So much in earnest
was he, that Hao Suey was given twenty-four blows on the feet and
brought post haste to the house of Lao in a sedan-chair carried by four
coolies.

On his arrival Hao Suey produced a bad impression by being unable to
walk, and Lao’s displeasure was evinced by ordering Hao to receive
twenty-four blows on such portion of his body that, in addition to being
unable to stand, he was now rendered unable to sit. After this
encouragement, the renowned doctor entered the presence of the
distressed Mah Su in a most reverent manner on his hands and knees, that
being the only method of locomotion of which he was capable.

Mah Su was now very ill, and the wretched doctor remained as long in her
presence as he possibly could, fearing further encouragement at the
hands of the distracted husband. At length a peremptory order from Lao
caused the doctor to painfully grovel out of the room to the mandarin’s
presence. Here the unfortunate Hao made another _faux pas_, for, being
ignorant of the fate of the learned Wing Fung, and hoping to gain a
respite and ease his battered body, he requested an advance of twenty
taels to enable him to consult the stars. Lao’s face showed nothing of
the anger boiling within him as he ordered the attendants to remove the
doctor and send the executioner in. The executioner, however, could not
be found. It appeared that after exercising his professional skill on
Wing Fung, he had gone off to the widow to present his bill and collect
the money in person for services rendered to the deceased shortly prior
to and during the latter’s last moments. The executioner’s demands
having met with more success than he had expected, he was led away by
the exuberance of his spirits to rather over-indulge in samshu, so that
on his return very late to the Yamen, his condition was such that it was
hopeless to expect him to exercise his office until he had slept off his
libations. This circumstance proved considerably fortunate for Hao Suey,
as during the night the beautiful and high-born Mah Su died.

Lao was thunderstruck at this awful catastrophe. He took no further
interest in his affairs or the affairs of his country, and after the
first numbness at his loss had worn off, he decided to write to the “Son
of Heaven,” petitioning permission to retire from office.

However, before even the ink had been rubbed upon the stone or the
rabbit-hair brush dipped in the dead-black, sweet-smelling liquid known
to barbarians as “Indian ink,” other events happened to prevent Lao from
inditing his petition to the ruler of the Middle Kingdom. In this wise:
The news of the death of the peerless Mah Su had instantly spread
through Sung Ying Fu, and had furthermore been noised through the
surrounding districts by itinerant merchants and travellers. As a result
of this, before Lao had had any time to indulge his grief, he found
dozens of poor but sympathetic relations arriving at his house with
children, coolies, luggage, mules, and much wailing and lamentation.
Lao, as befitted his station, suitably entertained and housed all, with
their servants and cattle. Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins many
times removed, all came with their servants and hangers-on. Lao was a
rich man, and his house was large, but it soon became necessary to hire
other extra apartments for his guests. In addition to this, the house
was rendered doubly uncomfortable by the presence of numerous
professional mourners. All day and night the house was filled with the
squeaking of fiddles, crying of mourners, howling of relations’ babies,
wrangling of relations’ coolies in the courtyards, and squealing of
relations’ ponies and mules. Between looking after his unbidden guests,
arranging for suitable funeral ceremonies, and indulging his own genuine
grief at his bereavement, Lao naturally neglected his duties to the
State.

At last the heavy lacquered coffin was built, and all seemed ready for
the interment when the question of a suitable site for the grave arose.
Soothsayers were called in to assist in the decision. The wisest
soothsayers that Sung Ying Fu and district could supply were
requisitioned. They consulted the stars, ate eagerly of everything in
the house, but still failed to come to any decision. As soon as one
would find a suitable hillside, another would learn by the stars that
that particular site possessed a certain malign influence on all of the
house of Lao. These procrastinations and disappointments were admirably
borne by the aunts, cousins, cousins many times removed, and other
relations of Lao. With true Oriental self-sacrifice they all said they
were quite indifferent as to how long they stayed with the honourable
Lao, provided everything connected with the funeral was done properly
and in order. The hired mourners, soothsayers, and others who were paid
by the day, also showed an admirable fortitude under the circumstances,
the universal opinion being that no risks should be taken, but that all
should be done in order and according to the decision that would
eventually be arrived at by a due and careful study of the heavenly
omens.

These continued searchings for celestial guidance in the choice of a
burial-place, and other duties in the matter of his unbidden guests, so
occupied the distracted Lao’s mind, that many evil persons found
opportunities of practising their nefarious callings in the district
without let or hindrance from the magistrate. The tao-tai’s district
surrounding the city of Sung Ying became more and more lawless, until
the numerous bands of robbers that roamed unchecked throughout the land
became a positive scandal.

At last, to the tao-tai’s unbounded relief, a decision was arrived at by
the experts, who had eventually settled on the propitious spot for the
interment of the all-too-soon deceased Mah Su. The funeral preparations
were, therefore, hurried forward, and everything was prepared on the
most lavish and expensive scale. The relations of all degrees of
remoteness ordered the most expensive robes at Lao’s expense, and it
really seemed as if Lao’s troubles were about to end. The blue sky,
however, still held a bolt for the unfortunate tao-tai. Just as
everything was complete, one of the most learned of the soothsayers
discovered that a propitious day for the ceremony had not yet been
decided on. This terrible oversight struck everyone, except possibly
Lao, with astonishing force. The aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., were
unanimous in their praises of the astute savant who had saved them from
making what might have proved an irremediable _faux pas_. Again everyone
was resigned to waiting until the all-knowing stars should reveal their
decision.

The next crushing blow came, not from heaven, but from the Viceroy, in
the form of a letter to the tao-tai. This admirably worded screed set
forth that it having come to the ears of the most exalted Viceroy that
the country on which the honourable Lao Ng Tau held jurisdiction was in
a very disturbed state owing to the presence of certain lawless bands,
which bands plundered the subjects of the Son of Heaven, the honourable
Lao Ng Tau was herewith ordered to suppress the same and send the heads
of their leaders to Peking _pour encourager les autres_. The order
concluded with a mild suggestion that the tao-tai’s own head might
possibly adorn a spike in the Imperial city should the rebels not be
suppressed within the month.

With so much to worry him in his private affairs, Lao was nearly
distracted by this order, but as an officer of the State he realised
that private grief must give way to Imperial demands. So he hastened to
equip a military force to engage and subdue the bands of robbers which
now formed such a menace to the peace of Sung Ying Fu.

Starting with a gay band of troops, armed with banners, umbrellas,
matchlocks, singing birds in cages, and other deadly weapons affected by
the Chinese soldier, Lao proceeded against the rebels. At the first
brush with the enemy the tao-tai’s glittering rabble deserted to a man
to the opposing force. Lao, after a gallant resistance, was himself
overpowered and taken prisoner and carried by his captors to the hills.

He learnt from his captors that during his absence on this punitive
expedition his relations had held high revels in his house, and were
entertaining continuously on a lavish scale, and that the would-be
star-gazers were so continually in a state of intoxication that the
discovery of a lucky day on which to bury Mah Su was likely to be
indefinitely postponed.

The news of Lao’s capture soon reached the Viceroy, who at once informed
the Government, with the result that the vermilion pencil issued an
edict that Lao Ng Tau, late tao-tai of Sung Ying Fu, was to be beheaded,
his head to be forwarded to Peking, his property confiscated, his house
razed to the ground, and the land on which it stood to be ploughed up to
a depth of two feet, and that should his schoolmaster be still alive,
that that miserable individual should receive one hundred blows with a
bamboo. The worst punishment of all, however, was the final one, namely,
that Lao’s great-grandfather, dead some sixty years, should be degraded
from the rank of mandarin of the first to mandarin of the third class.

On receipt of this news Lao’s anger was awful, and the chief of the
robbers, choosing this opportunity to request him to become their chief
and war on Society, was at once met with a hearty acceptance.

The news of Lao’s joining the robber band was soon brought to the
Viceroy’s ears, and the latter in a short time fitted out an expedition,
headed by himself, to destroy this recalcitrant tao-tai. In the first,
second, and third engagement Lao’s rabble defeated the Viceroy’s troops
at every turn. Then the authorities at Peking adopted different tactics.
They offered Lao supreme command of Imperial troops, buttons, yellow
jackets, two-eyed peacocks’ feathers—all were offered him if he would
only come into the service of the Supreme Ruler of the Middle Kingdom.

But Lao had his own special vendetta to occupy his mind. He mistrusted
the Government after the way they had treated him, and preferred to be
an outlaw. The cousins, aunts, and very distant relations, not to
mention the soothsayers, who had so long lived at Lao’s expense, now
began to get frightened. Mah Su’s body was interred forthwith, and a
magnificent memorial archway was erected by the relations to her memory.

But unfortunately Lao still remains an outcast. He has killed nearly all
his relations and most of the soothsayers in the neighbourhood of Sung
Ying, but in spite of frequent offers from the Son of Heaven at Peking
making him General of the Imperial troops, Lao Ng Tau still remains a
bandit, because certain of his cousins yet remain alive, and moreover
there is more than one soothsayer still living in the vicinity of Sung
Ying Fu.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE PUNISHMENT OF HONG



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE PUNISHMENT OF HONG


HONG, the massive, burly gate-keeper of the British Consulate, was a
very familiar figure to all in the settlement. In his wide, baggy, white
pantaloons, thick felt-soled shoes, white wide-sleeved jacket with a red
crown on each arm, and white round hat with a red silk fringe spreading
over its conical crown, he made a not unimposing figure.

His large healthy-looking face was generally impassive, but he showed no
cringing servility in his honest gaze, and one might occasionally catch
a glimpse of humour in his always polite but generally inscrutable
countenance. There were times when the humorous eyes took on a more
pronounced twinkle, and when the big honest face assumed the kind,
protecting mien of some faithful dog—this was when he had children to
talk to and pester him. None knew him better than the white children of
the settlement, and of these Jack, the eight-year-old son of the Consul,
and Dorothy, the five-yeared daughter, were treated by the gigantic Hong
with a reverence and love almost amounting to worship.

Dorothy, with her yellow curls and wide blue eyes, was loved by
everyone, and Jack, with his brave boy’s ways, could not fail to attract
the notice of any passing stranger. Passengers alighting from the
steamers always asked their friends, “Whose are those beautiful
children?”

To Jack, Hong always seemed to possess some romantic mystery, and he
pictured him as having been a pirate, or, perhaps, one of the
redoubtable Tai Pings. In the gate-house he always kept a large sword, a
weapon made either for theatrical or processional purposes, but round
this weapon Master Jack had woven volumes of romance, so much so that he
regarded the weapon as something that it would be indelicate or
inquisitive for him to demand of Hong the history.

Both Jack and Dorothy understood and spoke the local dialect, but Hong
was very particular to make his morning salutations in pidgin-English,
and then, if any story were forthcoming, it was told in the vernacular,
which, for the sake of our readers, we will translate.

Thus Master Jack: “Morning, Hong; blong velly hot, my tink.”

“Morning, Master Jack; morning, Missis Dolothy. My tink plenty hot
bymby. This time no blong too hot.”

“Hong, you ever cachee torture? Cachee bamboo beating, or so fashion
thing?” says Jack.

Hong’s face is almost lit up with a smile, but with imperturbable
gravity he replies that he was once sentenced to a painful death, and
that part of the sentence was carried out.

“Tell us at once,” says Jack; but Dorothy pouts and says, “Hong, baby no
wanchee hollible stoly; s’pose you speakee hollible ting, baby go away.”

Hong’s face became at once serious as he says, “No, Missis, Hong no
speakee hollible stoly; s’pose like hear he tell stoly of old time
custom. No blong hollible.”

The wide-eyed Dorothy being reassured, she and Jack sit on the bench by
the gate, while Hong relates as follows:—

“Many years ago, before either of your honourable selves was born, this
person lived in Chin Wen Fu in Foh Kien. The honourable Hop Li was
tao-tai, and many gentle and pleasant amusements could be enjoyed in
Chin Wen. The person who tells this was very fond of visiting the
theatres, and, being a big strong youth, would occasionally take part in
trials of strength in public places, and had, on occasion, appeared on
the public stage in processions and such spectacles where a big man was
needed to represent an emperor, a general, or some other person of
importance.

“Now it happened that at one time a travelling company of actors came to
our town, and while the stage was being erected one of their company
fell sick and died. They were going to perform a very popular and
amusing drama, in which much depended on the performance of one
character, who, as tao-tai, becomes very drunk, thus causing numerous
complications. After some considerable haggling it was at last decided
that this person should play the part—my figure and deportment were
suitable, and as the spoken words were not very numerous, I was fit to
take the part by the time the performance was opened.

“Our tao-tai, Hop Li, was a short man, but by putting cushions under my
coat, and a false moustache on my lip, I made myself resemble him to the
life. My first appearance proved a great success, my drunken scene
evoking much merriment from the audience, and the next night the house
was crammed. That night the audience made me repeat the drunken scene,
and the next night they wanted it three times. I began to get a little
conceited, and suggested to the manager that I should be paid for my
performance or I would not play, and he, knowing that the success of the
play now entirely depended upon me, and that my performances were
bringing him crowded houses every night, assented. The audiences became
more and more enthusiastic over my drunken scene, and I began to
introduce innovations. I had a horse brought on the stage and mounted it
in a fashion not unlike our tao-tai, who was no rider and very nervous.
This brought the house down, and things got to such a pitch that the
manager offered me many taels to make my particular business last for
three hours. It was hard work, but I did it. For three hours every night
I acted that I was drunk. I mounted horses, I gave ridiculous judgments
in the courts, I fought, I dined—in fact, I did everything I could to
please. The fame of this performance was so noised about that it came to
the ears of our own tao-tai, and he decided to see the play himself—an
unfortunate thing for me.

“I think on the night of the tao-tai’s visit to the theatre I surpassed
myself. I was more amusing than usual. I ordered new horses, new
witnesses, new prisoners. I was three and three-quarter hours getting
drunk, and all the time the tao-tai watched me. That night, I think, I
had taken especial care of my make-up, for I was a life-like
representation of Hop Li, and the audience were like people possessed.

“Missis Dolly, the next morning was tellible.

“The congratulations of my friends had kept me up most of the night,
and, when in a very deep sleep, the next morning I was roughly pulled
off the ‘kang’ on which I lay by two of the runners from the tao-tai’s
Yamen.

“I was not brought before the magistrate, but was taken to a small room
in the Yamen and carefully guarded. I could learn nothing from my
gaolers except that the tao-tai was very angry, and that all theatrical
performances had been stopped. For seven days I was kept closely guarded
in that room, and during the whole time I was well and liberally fed; at
the end of the period I was brought before the tao-tai. In many
long-winded and high-sounding phrases he pointed out what a disgustingly
despicable and mean person I was, that the mere attempt to hold up to
ridicule any of the servants of the Son of Heaven was a crime that could
not be too severely dealt with, that although I had signally failed in
this my attempt to ridicule a tao-tai, still, as an example to others,
my punishment should be a severe one,—that I should be trodden to death
by countless feet.

“I was then taken back to my prison, and, as before, continued to be
well fed. The same day the news came to me that the tao-tai had ordered
a theatre of extreme magnificence to be built of bamboo and matting, all
the previous actors were commanded to perform, an order was issued that
every able-bodied man, woman, and child was to attend the performance,
which would take place on the seventh of the seventh moon, and, finally,
that their magistrate, the tao-tai himself, would perform the part in
which I had previously scored such a success. A further order was issued
the same evening that bare feet or soft shoes were _de rigueur_ for all
who attended the performance. I failed to see how these matters could
interest me, and even when my gaolers told me that the tao-tai was word
perfect in his part, and had introduced lots of new ‘business,’ I failed
to show more than a polite interest.

“As soon, however, as the day of the performance dawned, I saw that the
affair was one of the deepest importance to me. At daybreak my gaolers
led me out to the hard sandy plain on which the theatre stood. The
building itself was of enormous proportions, with two fine dragons
fighting for a bright red sun on the roof. The matting forming the front
was brightly painted, representing famous heroes of the past; all round
were booths with hot rice, soups, pea-nuts, samshu, jellies, and
sweetmeats for sale.

“The unusual feature of this theatre was that it had but one entrance,
which was approached by such a narrow passage that it allowed of only
one person passing at a time. It was not long before I discovered the
reason for this. My guards took me to the middle of this narrow passage,
where there were four stakes driven into the earth, and then, making me
lie on my back, they lashed my ankles and wrists flat on the ground. The
play was to commence at seven in the morning and continue until nine at
night, and soon after I had been securely bound in position the would-be
spectators began to arrive. Their surprise was great on finding that
there was no means of entering the theatre except by walking on me, but
they all made suitable apologies, and I, in my turn, begged them not to
mention it, so that the first few hundred passed over me fairly
comfortably; but as the time for the performance drew near they came
more thickly, apologies were dispensed with, and I thought that I should
be surely killed. The majority of them, it is true, tried to tread on my
chest, but some were old and blind, and these trod on my face or
anywhere, and the suffocating dust nearly stifled me. I was afraid to
breathe, as if I relaxed my chest I feared that my ribs would be crushed
in, and during the last four minutes before the play began some twelve
hundred people rushed over my body. So exhausted was I that I feared I
should die, but soon the guards came and revived me with tea and rice.
After that for some hours I was entirely alone, and by the continued
laughter from the theatre, I judged that the tao-tai was acquitting
himself well.

“As the sun mounted higher in the heavens I had dozed off, but was
suddenly aroused by the honourable Hop Li himself. He seemed annoyed
that I was still alive, and after delivering me a neat and
carefully-worded oration on my disgraceful insubordination in still
living after the punishment I had undergone, he proceeded to the booths
outside where food of all kinds could be purchased. He there bought
everything eatable and returned to the theatre, where he announced from
the stage that there would be an interval of seven minutes, during which
time free meals would be served at the stalls outside, and at the
resumption of the performance he would repeat his drunken scene,
undertaking to make it last four hours, and that in that time he would
get genuinely drunk as a special compliment to the audience.

“The sympathies of the audience were undoubtedly with me, but the
prospect of a free meal and the spectacle of their tao-tai intoxicated
were so alluring that the finer feelings of my fellow-townsmen were for
the moment blunted. Out they came helter-skelter. It was no time for
apologies, food was at the other end, so over my poor body rushed the
entire audience. It seemed only a few seconds since the last feet
pounded my unfortunate body, when a gong sounded, and back rushed
everyone, their mouths stuffed with roast duck, stewed pork, rice, melon
seeds, fish, ginger, prunes, hardbake, macaroni—in fact, every eatable
imaginable.

“I fainted. When I recovered it was getting dusk, the theatre was still
full, but I ceased to take much interest. My guards again gave me food,
and at the conclusion of the performance again the people passed over my
bruised body, but on this occasion they did it quietly and without much
discomfort to the miserable being pegged down in their pathway.

“Then came the tao-tai. He wished to walk on me himself, but he was so
drunk that he was unable to do so, and I was taken back to my prison in
the Yamen bruised and exhausted. I slept till late the next day, and the
tao-tai, who had made himself a martyr to art in order to personate a
drunken man to perfection, slept late too.

“He woke about noon feeling very ill, but still burning with rage
against my insignificant self. His first act was to issue an order that
everyone should attend the theatre at four o’clock that afternoon, and
the proclamation also stated that the most honourable and
universally-loved tao-tai would occupy the stage for four hours, that,
in addition to mounting horses, he would attempt to bestride a camel
after drinking sixteen bottles of samshu, besides many diverting
attempts to enter a sedan-chair and a Pekin cart. In addition to this he
ordered a deep pit to be dug in the narrow passage leading to the
theatre, free drinks to be dispensed during the performance, and two of
his most lusty Yamen runners were stationed by the pit with whips to
assist the nervous in jumping it. This miserable person was then led
out, and again pegged down just beyond the pit, so that all who jumped
across must of necessity land on some portion of his miserable body.

“All was ready, the actors were waiting to appear, the audience stood on
the far side of the pit, and I, poor miserable man, remained pegged down
for all to jump on me. The runners had their whips ready to assist the
nervous jumpers when the tao-tai appeared. As principal actor everything
depended on him, but his hatred for me determined him to take one
violent jump on my chest across the pit to encourage the others. He was
by that time full of good wine, but he cautioned the lictors not to use
their whips in his case, as he felt confident of clearing the pit, and
landing on my chest without any stimulus. Waving back the common herd,
he made a generous run but misjudged the distance, and taking a
stupendous jump, he fell in the pit, where he lay unconscious.

“His attendants quickly dragged him out, and he was found to be
unconscious and also with a broken leg. Everyone at once showed the
deepest concern, and the tao-tai was carried in a chair to his Yamen.
The consternation at this catastrophe was so great that some of my
friends were able to release me, and so I left Chin Wen for ever.”

“I suppose you then became pylong?” said Master Jack.

Hong looked suggestively at the big hoop-iron sword in the gate-house,
and Jack, feeling that he was treading on holy ground, was silent.

“My tankee you velly much,” said Dorothy; “that no belong hollible
stoly, Hong.”

And Hong smiled inwardly.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            BONE OF MY BONE



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            BONE OF MY BONE


THE amah had caught Dorothy and hauled her away to be washed, seeing
which, Master Jack quickly made his escape from the verandah to the
garden, and through the hot scent-laden evening air to the gate-house,
where stood his chum Hong leaning at the door smoking a rank native
cigarette rolled in an elongated cone of buff-coloured paper. Hong’s
wife had just finished piously burning “joss papers,” and as she gazed
at the last remaining sparks and light charred cinders that floated
upwards in the still air, she stuck a few incense sticks in the crevices
of the brick pavement before the door, and retired to the house to
continue her unending household industries.

Hong’s placid face beamed at the approach of his master’s son, and
setting a low bamboo stool he begged Jack to be seated.

“Tell us a story, Hong. Tell us what you did after you escaped. Did you
then go and fight?”

“Not at once, Excellency,” replied Hong, squatting on his heels and
knocking the ash off his cigarette. “After I ran away from Chin Wen Fu,
having been released by my friends from the ropes and pegs that bound me
down, I travelled fast without resting, in order to put as great a
distance between my miserable, insignificant self and the far-reaching
and all-powerful tao-tai as possible. I was, however, without money, and
existed but badly on the charity of strangers, and it soon looked likely
that I should die of hunger, when by great good chance I fell in with
the theatrical company in which I had performed, they also having fled
hot-foot from Chin Wen Fu and the tao-tai’s wrath. So I joined their
company and became an actor.”

“I should think that was good fun. Father and mother acted here last
winter—that was splendid.”

“I have seen your honourable parents act,” gravely replied Hong. “When
the ignorant scoff I have reproved them. The actor’s life is a good one,
although in my country we receive no honour, being accounted as the
lowest of the low and not being allowed to compete in the examinations;
but in your country your King even honours actors, ennobling their
ancestors and giving them lands and titles. Is it not so?”

Jack replied that it undoubtedly was so, not knowing himself, but not
wishing to throw any doubt on Hong’s knowledge.

“Such actions show merit in a king, and this insignificant person feels
sure that the Son of Heaven would be pleased to hear of such pious acts
being performed by rulers beyond the Middle Kingdom.”

Jack looked rather bored at this digression, so Hong hastened to
continue.

“In this country the actor is never certain of making money for any
length of time, and for quite a while my particular troupe suffered
great privations. No one wanted stage plays just at that time, and we
wandered about, earning a few cash here and there by juggling and
reciting, and I spent much time in learning new parts.”

“I have read a story,” Jack interrupted, “in which a clown describes his
sorrows at having to be funny on the stage while his wife was dying at
home, so I think an actor’s life must often be a sad one.”

“No,” interposed Hong, “I think on the whole it is a merry one. The
clown you speak of, if he were a true actor, forgot his sorrows while on
the stage, infinitely more so than the merchant who has troubles at
home. The true actor feels the part he is acting, whereas the merchant
is always himself.”

“Yes: but when you play sad parts do you feel sad?”

“Undoubtedly while playing the part one could cry, but afterwards one
can laugh, and there is always the feeling that one has done it well if
at the time the sadness was really felt.”

“But what satisfaction does the man who plays the wicked part feel?”

“He feels that he has gained the dis-approbation of the audience. Their
hisses are as food and drink to him, he is delighted, he has played his
part, made himself out horrible and to be despised by the audience, and
therefore feels proud in having interpreted the author’s meaning
properly.”

“I see, I see,” replied Master Jack, who didn’t in the least understand
Hong’s explanation, “but what about the fighting?”

“Oh, the fighting! Yes, I remember. Well, after travelling for many
weeks and earning but little money, we at length reached the village of
Three Bridges. So it was called. Really it possessed but one bridge, of
which the inhabitants were inordinately proud—so proud, in fact, that
they tried still further to impress strangers by naming their village
Three Bridges, so that when the unknowing one had seen and admired the
one he might be led to believe that two others equally fine existed.
When we arrived we found that serious trouble existed between this
village and the neighbouring village called Ten Li village, or Bad
Roads. This other village being so called because in it were several
inns, and whenever travellers arrived there and, wishing to pursue their
journey, inquired how far it might be to the next town, the invariable
answer of the townsfolk was that the nearest halting-place was ‘ten li’
distant, and if question was made of the roads leading thither, the
answer would be invariably that they were bad—in fact, almost
impassable. These two villages, Ten Li village and Three Bridges
village, really depended a good deal on each other. Ten Li possessed
valuable clay pits, and Three Bridges manufactured the clay into pottery
and also sent it away in boats down the river; so really for their
mutual good they should have been friendly. However, at this time war
existed between them, and continuous fights were taking place, in which
frequently people received grievous wounds, even to the death in some
cases. The origin of the dispute had occurred more or less by accident.
The clay for which Ten Li village was famous, and which Three Bridges
village depended on for its pottery industry, was dug to a depth of some
eighteen feet outside the village and near the main road. As the clay
was excavated deep pits were formed, which eventually became deep pools
of water. As the demand for clay increased, the road leading from Three
Bridges to Ten Li became greatly encroached on by the excavators, and a
climax was reached when, the road having become so narrowed by the
clay-diggers, carts were unable to pass. This resulted in the
precipitation of a cart from Three Bridges, laden with manufactured
pottery, into a deep water hole. The spectators of Ten Li, far from
helping the unfortunate merchant from Three Bridges, indulged in
unseemly hilarity at his misfortune, which was serious enough to result
in the drowning of one mule and the loss of a cart-load of pottery. The
ill-feeling generated by this incident led to reprisals, until a state
of warfare practically existed between the two villages.

“Our suggestion to the inhabitants of Three Bridges that we should give
a dramatic performance was met by them with scorn and laughter. They
said they were already impoverished by stagnation of trade and the
necessity of carrying on warfare with the barbarians in Ten Li. They
were willing to let our company fight on their side, but could offer us
no hope of remuneration. Our case indeed looked bad. We could not
proceed further on account of the local disturbances, there was no money
to be made by going back, and it seemed that we should all starve, when
unexpectedly some Heaven-sent intellects thought of arbitration. The
wise old men from each village met, they discussed the loss of trade,
money, and life that these troubles were occasioning, and at last
decided that one more big fight should take place, and that the winners
should have the honour of entertaining the surviving losers at a big
theatrical performance, the performance to last three days, the expenses
of erecting the theatre and supplying the guests with food being borne
by the victors. On hearing this noble counsel we were naturally greatly
rejoiced, and now preparations for war on a large scale were put in
hand. All being completed in a day, the next morning the two villages
entered into a most sanguinary battle, which lasted eight hours. One man
was killed on each side, but the umpires declared Three Bridges the
winner, because their man killed himself with a jingal, whereas the Ten
Li village man was really killed by being thrust into a mud-hole by the
enemy.

“After this, all was bustle and excitement. Land being valuable, our
theatre was soon erected on piles in mid-stream, all our best dresses
were taken out and aired, and a play to last three days was rehearsed
day and night by us. For myself I played the part of a famous warrior. I
wore gorgeous dresses of the Ming Dynasty, with soles to my boots four
inches thick, whiskers eighteen inches long, that I could blow straight
out in front of my face, and my face was painted vermilion to show my
importance.

“It was grand. The first day everything passed off splendidly. I was in
my finest heroic vein. The second day I was even better, and the third
day I could hardly be heard because of the applause of the Three Bridges
people and the vituperations of the low scum from Ten Li village. That
night was a landmark in my life. The villagers of Three Bridges made me
a hero; I was fêted everywhere after the discomfited Ten Li folk had
departed. Undoubtedly everyone in Three Bridges loved me as a brother,
and everyone in Ten Li wanted my blood. Our satisfaction was, however,
but short-lived; next day Ten Li made violent war against us. I say ‘us’
because I had now grown to love the people of Three Bridges. Jealousy
had aroused the evil passions in Ten Li, and Three Bridges was, I fear,
somewhat incapacitated from over-indulgence the previous night. My
friends were defeated, Ten Li was victorious, and they dragged our
company away as their prize, and, making their own terms, ordered Three
Bridges to attend a five days’ performance at the expense of their
conquerors. And now another theatre was built, this time over the clay
pits, and far more gorgeous in appearance than that of Three Bridges.
Rehearsals again occupied our time, and my part was even more heroic
than previously. On this occasion I became superhuman; not only did I
fight against fearful odds on earth, but I ascended to the skies, and
there did battle against demons, foul dragons, and numberless evil
spirits, capable of every transformation, all of whom I vanquished
eventually. My former friends and admirers eyed these performances
sullenly, with rage in their hearts, whereas my previous detractors
extolled me to the skies and gave me food and drink till I nearly burst.
Three Bridges had ruined itself by war, theatre building, and paying our
fees, but Ten Li village must be in debt for all eternity over our
performance in their town. This lavish display, far from pleasing their
guests, only tended to rouse their most evil feelings, and by the end of
the third day of our play my former friends of Three Bridges had become
my bitterest enemies. All their spite was vented upon me, for, being the
most important actor, I secured the greater proportion of praise from my
backers and the maximum of hatred from my enemies.

“The people of Three Bridges were not to be despised as enemies, and
after the fifth day of our performance I was suddenly brought down from
my exalted position as the idol of Ten Li by being arrested by the
village constable on a most serious charge, no less than that of having
murdered my honourable father. Iron fetters were put on my legs and
arms, I was thrust into a small strong room and closely guarded, and
from being the popular idol of the people I suddenly found myself the
most despised and execrated of persons. My erstwhile friends of Three
Bridges, maddened by jealousy at my performing so well for the people of
Ten Li, had concocted a most cruel scheme whereby I should be destroyed.
They had produced the skull and dry bones of a certain person whom they
claimed to be my father; in the skull there still stuck the remains of a
rusty knife thrust through the eye-socket. These bones, they asserted,
were found in my father’s grave, and I alone having been present at his
demise, was proclaimed a parricide. As a matter of fact my father had
died some two years previously in a most pleasant manner, his final end
being caused by a fit, induced by an over-indulgence in fat pork and
wine. It is true that I alone had been present when he died, but the law
required that it should be further proven that those same bones truly
belonged to my parent and no other man. While lying in prison awaiting
trial, Lung Fook, the juggler and conjurer of our troupe, came to visit
me. Having politely inquired after my health and appetite he said:—

“‘This matter, O brother, is most un-mirth-provoking. You will surely
suffer the full penalty of a parricide, which is none other than “Ling
Chi” or death by a thousand cuts. Let me be in all things your friend.
Now it seems to me that you have much money owing you for your
performances. It would be but seemly that you should make some will, and
whom can you think of more worthy to receive the wealth you no longer
desire than I, Lung Fook, your in-every-way bosom friend!’

“I saw the force of Lung Fook’s argument, and told him so, but begged
him to explain further how the bones would be proved to belong to my
honourable parent.

“‘It is a simple matter,’ replied the juggler. ‘The bones are old and
dry, and the test will be by the close affinity of blood for blood. Thus
you will be made to gnaw your finger until the blood flows, the blood
will then drop on the bones, and if it sinks in, then, indeed, the bones
are those of your father; should, however, the blood not soak in, but
remain on the surface of the bones, then they are those of a stranger
and of no one having any blood-tie with you whatever. Alas! the bones
are very dry, and I know any blood will sink into them.’

“‘But,’ I replied, ‘surely this is a very cruel punishment. Come, O
friend, find some means of escape for me.’

“‘Indeed! there is none that I know of. Our laws are indeed just, but I
think they do not err on the side of severity.’

“‘It seems to me they do,’ I replied, ‘for not only shall I suffer death
by a thousand cuts, but my heirs, if over the age of fourteen, have all
to suffer death by decapitation, and, alas! dear brother, I have made
you my heir.’

“‘Our laws may be severe, perhaps,’ replied he, ‘but surely they are not
vindictive, and under the circumstances I decline to receive the
legacy.’

“‘That, poor brother, is I fear unavailing, for the intimate friends of
a parricide suffer death by strangulation, and all know how dear you
have been to me. Yes,’ I concluded, ‘I think, after all, perhaps the
punishment is a just one for such an evil person as one who would kill
his father, and my death will be all the more bitter to me, knowing that
you, my friend, must also suffer with me.’

“At these my words Lung Fook was greatly moved. His anxiety to have me
proved innocent became beautiful to witness. He raved against our
national penal code, he wept for the tortures I was soon to suffer, and
begged and implored me to think of some means whereby the law might be
circumvented. I pointed out that the laws were just, that they did not
err on the side of severity, and I also discoursed at some length on the
painlessness of death by strangulation, provided always that the
executioner were a man of experience. I recalled to mind that the
executioner of Ten Li was but a youth and somewhat slow-witted, but I
trusted that the bystanders would be able to give him helpful advice and
suggestions when occasion might arise. Lung Fook now became quite upset,
and offered me many taels of silver if I could devise some plan whereby
my innocence might be proved. In the tenderest manner I bade him
farewell that day and begged him to come next day when I might have
thought of some scheme. In the meanwhile I begged him to sleep well, to
avoid all worry, and to be certain to bring me money next day.

“Next morning he reappeared greatly agitated, and was much relieved when
I told him I had hopes of successfully proving that the bones did not
belong to my parent. First, however, I begged him to hand over the
money, which he did with some reluctance.

“My plan was this. Lung Fook had one juggling trick in which he put a
small boy in a basket and apparently killed him with a sword, anyway
blood flowed freely during the performance. I told Lung Fook that he
must teach me how to produce this blood and also make it of such a
nature that it would not soak into dry bones. He seemed much relieved
and departed, having two days in which to experiment and find a
blood-like fluid which would not soak in.

“After a day’s absence he returned with a rabbit’s bladder filled with a
red fluid. He explained that he had mixed his ordinary fluid used in
conjuring tricks with lacquer, that he had tested it on several dry
bones, that it absolutely refused to soak in, and so he regarded my
life, and incidentally his own, as safe.

“When the trial came on I was led in chains before the magistrate, and
innumerable witnesses from Chin Wen Fu testified to the notoriously evil
life that I had always lived. Therein I saw the hand of my old enemy the
tao-tai, who having heard of my arrest was only too anxious to again get
me into his clutches. However, all these witnesses were of no real
importance, the great thing was to prove that the bones really belonged
to my father. So at length I was taken to a table on which the skull and
many other relics rested, and was ordered to bite my thumb until the
blood flowed. The bladder containing the liquid was carefully concealed
in my hand, and as I pretended to gnaw my flesh I gradually squeezed out
a few drops. Soon my hand appeared to be covered with blood, and slowly
the drops fell on the bones. Not a particle would soak in. All eyes were
eagerly watching, but soon it was evident that I was innocent. My
enemies were furious, my friends relieved, and the magistrate had
nothing further to do than to acquit me and proclaim me entirely
innocent.

“However, thinking my life unsafe, I thought it better to leave Ten Li
village at once; so I once more started as an outcast and wandered alone
till——”

The sound of wheels cut short Hong’s story, and as the Consul swings
through the gates in a dog-cart a small figure can be seen fleeing
across the lighted verandah. The amah’s shrill scolding is cut short by
two chubby arms being flung round her neck, and any further remarks of
hers are smothered by a small boy’s kisses showered on her ugly old
parchment-like face.

Before going to sleep Jack tells Dorothy in confidence that he thinks
Hong’s next story must be about real fighting, as he has heard up to the
point when he gives up being an actor for ever.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                  THE MELANCHOLY MAGISTRATE OF FOH LIN



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                  THE MELANCHOLY MAGISTRATE OF FOH LIN


THE new “chow” puppy certainly possessed a sense of humour. He was very
funny just now, and appeared to know it, and the more his efforts were
rewarded by laughter the more he strove to satisfy his audience. He
resembled a diminutive square black bear, his small tail curled so
tightly on his back that it appeared to be almost lifting his hind feet
off the ground, and his front legs seemed to be so set on his body that
he would of necessity tumble on his nose should he essay to travel
rapidly. His beady eyes, like animated boot buttons, seemed brimful of
merriment, and his final effort at carrying an old shoe in his mouth
across the compound had reduced Jack and Dorothy to a state of
helplessness from laughter. Hong, the gate-keeper, stood by enjoying the
scene and laughing inwardly. He possessed the trait common to most
Chinamen of being intensely amused without showing any outward sign, and
although possessed of an enormous appreciation of humour, he was seldom
seen to smile, and never known to laugh.

“What for you never laugh?” demanded Jack, turning suddenly on the burly
servant. “Isn’t that funny enough for you?” pointing to the puppy.

“It is funny, very funny indeed,” replied Hong, “but, Excellency, this
person has learned not to laugh and has learned it in a hard school.”

“Come, tell us about it,” orders the youngster; and the two children are
soon seated near Hong, Dorothy cuddling the new puppy and looking up in
the huge Chinaman’s face with big questioning eyes.

“It is hardly a story, Excellencies,” begins Hong, “but such as it is
this person will tell it. After the trial at Ten Li village I left the
Brethren of the Pear Orchard.”

“What’s that?” interrupts Jack.

“Brethren of the Pear Orchard, Excellency, for so we style play-actors
in our country. In addition to the money given me by the juggler, the
good people of Ten Li gave me quite a large sum, for I was still the
popular idol of a play-actor to them. So once more I started on my
travels, and on this occasion in good circumstance, having fine clothes,
a white mule to ride, a servant to carry my baggage, and money in my
pocket. Thus with a light heart I set out from Ten Li, trusting that
fortune would continue to smile on me, and give me employment before my
money should be exhausted. We journeyed some sixteen li that day, and
arrived near nightfall at a fairly big town. Here I engaged the
guest-room in the biggest inn and entertained royally. It was a most
pleasant evening that I spent, for a rich man has no lack of friends,
provided he spend his money freely.

“I awoke late next morning, and found to my dismay that my servant had
robbed me of all my money and had departed with the mule. The landlord
at once clamoured for payment, and the little money I still had
remaining by me and the fairly rich clothes in which I stood were just
sufficient to meet his demands, and left me sufficient to purchase a
blue cotton coat and trousers and bamboo hat. From a prosperous,
well-dressed individual I was in a few hours transformed into a
penniless out-of-work coolie. Pride, however, forbade my returning to my
friends in Ten Li, where I should only meet with ridicule, so having
burnt papers before the image of Lao Lang——”

“Lao Lang?” interrupts Jack.

“Yes, Excellency; he is the god of play-actors, and as I had followed
that calling for some time, I thought he might interfere on my behalf.”

“And did he?”

“Who knows? Perhaps he did. Anyway this person will endeavour to show
what further fortune befell him.

“After this pious exercise I started away from the town, taking a
direction the opposite to that by which I had entered the town from Ten
Li. Although a strong man, I still found it not altogether pleasant to
march all day without anything to eat, and I was greatly exhausted when,
near the hour of sunset, I came to the banks of a large river. This was
crossed by a ferry, consisting of a large flat-bottomed boat, dragged
from side to side by iron chains laid in the river-bed, and by this
means passengers, beasts, baggage, and merchandise were conveyed from
one side to the other. Having no money with which to pay my passage
across, I sat somewhat disconsolately on the bank and debated with
myself whether it were not better to at once end my miserable existence
by drowning. Near me crouched a huge gaunt man in tattered garments,
whose presence I had failed to notice, owing to my self-absorption,
until he addressed me. My melancholy train of thought was broken in upon
by his saying—

“‘Honourable stranger, it seems to me that you contemplate suicide. Many
people attempt to pass over to their ancestors in this river, but almost
invariably before drowning they wish to be saved, and it is then that I
come in—in other words, I save them from death, and moreover I will do
the same for you, for indeed I am sadly in need of funds. So, fair sir,
I beg of you to do the deed speedily, for night approaches.’

“I explained that I was indeed an unhappy person, and at that very
moment had contemplated suicide, being absolutely devoid of even a
single ‘cash.’ At this he altered his tone, and said that if I were
without money then I had his full permission to drown, for that nothing
put him in a worse temper than to save people who were unable to requite
him for his services. I liked the fellow for his honesty, and begged him
to explain further. He then told me that his profession was one of
life-saver, that people frequently fell into the water at the ferry,
that he was always at hand to pull them out, and that by the gratitude
of those he thus saved he made a living, but that unfortunately of late
travellers were few; for days no one had tried to cross the ferry, and
that should trade continue to be in its present stagnant state he would
surely starve. His tale excited my sympathy. Here was a fellow-creature
in as sad a case as myself, and for some time I sat by him in silence,
idly gazing at the muddy stream, and seeing the blue-clothed people
returning by the stone-paved path at the river’s side from their day’s
work in the fields. Suddenly an idea seized me. I jumped up.

“‘Wait,’ said I to the sad man by the ferry, ‘and you shall yet earn
some money by nightfall.’ With which I ran in apparent great haste up
the causeway by the river bank. I kept on at my topmost speed, and
people made way for me on the narrow pathway, but singling out the
better class of wayfarer, I apparently by accident charged into them and
hurled them into the stream. On I kept, in spite of the cries and
execrations behind me. My large bulk and strength forced all to go into
the water whom I deemed worthy of being rescued, and so I continued
until quite exhausted and the darkness was almost complete. I must have
pushed some eight or ten people into the river by the time I stopped,
and then, wishing to rejoin my new friend, I too jumped in, and was
rapidly carried, with little effort, towards the ferry. As I drew near
the spot, swimming just to keep afloat, I heard wild shouts from the
bank, and almost at once I felt myself seized by the collar, my head was
thrust under the water, I received several severe kicks in the back, and
when quite exhausted and almost drowned I was dragged ashore, and found
that the person who had ill-used me so severely was none other than my
friend the life-saver. His annoyance at finding that it was me he had
saved soon gave way to feelings of gratitude for the services I had
rendered by supplying him with material on which to exercise his
professional skill. Of the seven people he had saved all had some money
with them, and the few who had escaped him and had drowned he trusted
possessed nothing of value. So, greatly cheered, we two retired to the
village and dined together in the inn, and over a bottle of samshu that
night we formed a compact to be partners in saving life.

“Being a stranger in the neighbourhood, it was for a few days easy for
me to push people off the tow-path, and we did a good trade, but soon
people became careful and suspicious and would not walk singly near the
river-side. My partner was a man of hasty temper, and his manner became
more and more disagreeable towards me as trade became worse. It became
daily more and more difficult to earn a living, and one night, my
partner having made some disparaging remarks about the zeal with which I
carried out my part of our agreement, I determined to make a desperate
effort the next day to supply him with subjects on which to practise his
professional skill. Warily I trudged near the tow-path, but only the
most indigent dared to use it. I went further afield, but could meet no
one who was unaccompanied. At last, desperate and hungry, late in the
afternoon, I struck away from the river bank towards the foothills. Some
mile and a half from the river I found a woodcutter. He fled from me,
but I rushed on and pounced upon him. A sharp struggle ensued, no one
was by to help him, and his cries passed unheeded. My strength soon
overpowered him, and I carried him screaming and shouting to the
deserted river bank, and with a supreme effort hurled him into the muddy
current. Then, thoroughly exhausted, I wearily made my way back to the
ferry. On arriving there I found my partner in the most evil temper I
had ever seen him in; in fact, he was in such a towering rage with me
that he could scarcely speak. He had saved the man, but it appeared he
was an indigent second cousin of my partner, and so far from being able
to reward he had signified his intention of remaining with and living on
his rescuer, arguing that the person who had prolonged such an unhappy
life as his had incurred the responsibility of keeping that life going,
and that henceforth, if he died of starvation, then his death would lie
at the door of his rescuer. I think some unreasonably offensive remarks
were hurled at me on this occasion, both by the rescuer and the rescued,
so I left their company and that night slept unfed and uncovered in the
fields.”

“But what’s all that got to do with your never laughing?” says Jack.

“And I don’t believe that story,” adds Dorothy. “You wouldn’t drown the
puppies the other day, so I’m certain you never pushed people into a
river.”

It was true. Hong, as a Buddhist, had scruples about the taking of life,
and had recently failed to do away with certain blind puppies that were
considered superfluous in the Consular household. If it were possible
for a Chinaman to look disconcerted, then Hong would have looked it at
that moment, with the eyes of both children fixed on him. His love for
talking to them and engaging their attention had led him into spinning
an endless yarn, but now he was brought up suddenly with a round turn.

“It is true, high-born one, this miserable individual had forgotten; but
wait, and soon, Excellencies, you shall learn how this despicable
individual was taught not to laugh. It being necessary for me to live
somehow, I tried to earn a few cash by reciting passages from my plays
at any small village where I could gather together an audience. I found
that my fine declamations of heroic parts met with but little favour;
but when I repeated some of the ancient jests of our comedian I met with
some slighter success. It so happened that one day, starving and
miserable, I stood on the cement threshing-floor before the inn of a
small village, reciting the funniest jests I could remember, in a
melancholy voice, to a dull and unappreciative audience of rustics,
when, unnoticed by me, a high official, accompanied by his retinue, had
ridden up to the outskirts of the crowd. It appeared that he listened to
my merry jibes, and at the same time carefully scrutinised my miserable
and utterly woe-begone appearance, and when I had finished my recital
and collected what I could from my audience he entered the inn and
summoned me to his presence by one of his servants. On entering the
great man’s presence in the guest-room of the inn, he informed me that
it was his pleasure to take me into his service, that I was to attach
myself to his train, and that my duties would be made plain to me later
on. Being in sorry straits I was willing to accept any fate, and so
journeyed with his retinue to Foh Lin, of which town and district I
found my new master to be magistrate. Arrived at his Yamen, I was given
a room to myself and a generous meal, of which I stood greatly in need;
after which I felt once more a man, my old confidence in myself
returned, and when later a servant entered and burst into uncontrollable
laughter, I felt ready to join in his merriment could I but learn the
cause of it.

“‘Come,’ I said, ‘speak! Why this outward seeming of internal
merriment?’

“After several ineffectual attempts to explain, he managed in the
intervals of laughter to tell me that to laugh was the greatest
privilege imaginable in that Yamen. He then further explained that the
magistrate was a man who had never experienced any of the emotions
common to ordinary mortals, that he was the most amusing person himself;
he knew no fear, no sorrow, no pain, and had never been known to laugh.
The sound of merriment was most objectionable to him, and was invariably
visited with the most rigorous punishments in the case of anyone who so
far forgot himself as to laugh in his magisterial presence. That he had
singled me out as fitted for his service because I could apparently tell
funny stories and at the same time preserve a countenance like a
well-worn boot.

“I also learned from the fellow that my new master was in every way most
excruciatingly funny himself, that his retainers suffered agonies daily
from suppressed amusement at his humorous remarks, and that to smile at
them was a grave offence, but to laugh was a crime punishable by death.
His latest jest had been to build a superb summer-house in his grounds,
and when completed he had taken his mother-in-law to see it. When asked
her opinion of the structure she had, womanlike, offered criticisms and
suggested improvements. The magistrate feigned to agree with her, and
flattered her into making a suggestion as to how the building might be
rendered perfect. She thereupon suggested some sculpture or figurehead
in the centre of the roof as a fitting rounding-off of the structure.
The magistrate concurred in her opinion with enthusiasm, and suggested
her own head as a suitable finish-off of the concern. In vain his
mother-in-law protested that she possessed insufficient beauty for such
an honour, and suggested her daughter’s head—his wife’s—as being
eminently more suitable. He carefully argued the matter out with her,
and so wittily withal that she shook with uncontrollable merriment till
the moment the executioner’s sword curtailed her giggles.

“In spite of these stories I slept well, and felt ready to meet my new
master the next morning with a befittingly lugubrious exterior.
Everything passed off well at the first interview, the extreme thinness
of my face and my general starved condition making a picture
sufficiently unmirthful in the magistrate’s eyes; but as my condition
under good living improved, so I found my powers as an actor more and
more taxed to maintain my gravity in my master’s presence. I would lie
awake all night screaming with laughter, hoping thereby to relieve my
feelings of the strain caused by the previous day’s gravity. My master
never seemed at a loss for a witty remark or humorous suggestion, and
these were always delivered with a Buddha-like impassivity that rendered
them the more ridiculous. One after another of his servants I saw
degraded for levity, until I stood first in his favour; however, I knew
the strain would prove too great for me, my face used to feel like
scorched parchment, my eyes burnt like hot cinders, and often I feared
to choke, and tears would stream down my face from the enormous efforts
I made not to offend. I also became very popular with the other
servants, frequently saving them from disgrace by stepping forward and
drawing the master’s attention upon myself and from any unlucky one
whose merriment had got the better of his prudence. At last I snapped
under the strain, having been made weak and nervous by many sleepless
nights of laughter. On the day of my downfall the magistrate was in an
exceptionally happy vein. He had dispensed justice for five hours, never
repeating a jest, and never failing to send a criminal to the potter’s
field who did not leave the court convulsed with merriment. It came
suddenly on me without warning, falling like a fit of madness, the
restraint of months running riot, my pent-up emotions suddenly gave vent
to themselves in peals of maniacal laughter. I rolled from side to side,
now screaming like a parrot, again whooping like a child with the cough,
hiccuping like any drunkard, squealing like an unbroken mule—every sound
in the animal kingdom I seemed to reproduce as I rolled on the ground
with streaming eyes before the horrified magistrate. He alone remained
calm in the face of my shocking exhibition. Having dwelt upon the
disappointment I had been to him he condemned me to death, pointing out
that my ingratitude was the greater seeing how I had been advanced by
his kindness, and having made a few quotations from the precepts of
Confucius, which latter he rendered in rhyme, interlarded with some
excruciatingly funny puns, he dismissed me, a limp, chuckling mass, from
his presence. I now felt certain that I should end my days by a felon’s
death, but the relief was so great that I passed the night in the
greatest hilarity, enjoying the company of my friends, and entertaining
them with a colossal farewell feast. Merrily the wine bowl passed, until
the hour for the execution arrived, when I was led in the best of
spirits to the potter’s field, and prepared to look my last on this
beautiful world.

“Soldiers were drawn up in a hollow square, the executioner stood
stripped to the waist in the centre, and a little in advance of the
troops sat the melancholy magistrate on a milk-white pony. The world
never looked brighter, as the early morning sun shone on the bright
uniforms, glittering weapons, and gaudy banners of the soldiery. As a
special mark of favour I was allowed to be unbound, and advancing to the
centre of the square, I politely saluted the magistrate and thanked him
for all his past kindness. He, however, replied with some apt jest,
which again aroused my mirth. Now, thought I, I will have my fling. My
wits were peculiarly sharpened, and I turned to the executioner and
twitted him on his solemn demeanour. The fellow answered me to the best
of his dull intellect, but as I made my preparations in a leisurely
manner I soon had him hopelessly trembling from a mixture of laughter
and fear at offending the great man. Even the soldiers began to snigger
at my repartee and the executioner’s obvious distress, when suddenly a
change came over me. Why should I die? What evil had I done? A feeling
of huge wrath sprang up in me against this unfeeling wretch who never
smiled. With the madness engendered by this reaction of feeling, I
dashed at the now helpless executioner, wrenched the sword from his
grasp, and with a yell of a madman rushed towards the crowd. The
soldiers, cowards to a man, drew back before my onslaught. Blinded with
fury I bounded towards the hated tao-tai, seated calm as ever on his
pony. The sword was raised to strike, and in another moment I should
have killed the callous fiend, when something in his face arrested my
arm in mid-air. Could it be? Yes it was. He smiled, the smile broadened,
and the melancholy magistrate of Foh Lin broke into peals of merriment.
I stared like a fool, and let the sword drop, the situation was unique.
I felt almost sorry for what I had done, shocked, it seemed to me, that
my idol too had been shattered.

“When at last he spoke I listened with bowed head. He, bending a look
almost of kindness upon me, addressed me thus—

“‘Brother, all my life I have never felt any of the emotions common to
men until now, and now I have felt fear. Undoubtedly you have just held
my life in your hands. This, the first emotion of my life, felt so
strange that I laughed at the idea. I thank you for it, but you must
leave me. Should I ever again wish to laugh you might be unable to
afford me that pleasure. So it were better for us both that we parted.
Fare you well, brother.’

“Thus, Excellencies, I learned the secret of gravity.”

“Is that all true, Hong?”

“High-born, I would have you ponder this saying of the philosopher—‘A
bad liar is a better companion than a deaf mute.’”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE HUNCHBACK’S PIETY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE HUNCHBACK’S PIETY


THE people had long laboured and groaned under the oppressive misrule of
Hang Ti, the local magistrate. He was, without doubt, a bad ruler, a man
possessed of none of the tenderer feelings of humanity, and one who
ground the faces of the poor for his own advancement. Under his
mal-administration illegal taxes had been super-imposed on salt, likin
barriers established where none should exist, the gaols were crowded
with those unfortunates who would not submit to his further extortions,
and the whole land cried out for redress.

At last the long-suffering poor took into their own hands the only means
they possessed of calling the “Son of Heaven’s” attention to their
pitiable condition. An insurrection was fomented and quickly blazed into
serious rebellion. Villages were sacked, whole districts laid waste, and
soon accounts of these doings reached Peking. By swiftest messengers a
mandate signed with the “Vermilion Pencil” was conveyed to Hang Ti,
ordering him to raise troops forthwith and to crush the rebels, at the
same time enjoining all peacefully minded persons to abstain from
nervous excitability, but rather to pursue the cultivation of all the
virtues, more especially those of thrift, energy, and the study of the
classics.

Hang Ti’s troops, with their pay long in arrears, no stomach for the
fight, and most of them secretly in sympathy with the rebels, were
routed at the first engagement, and then the whole province was given up
to bloodshed, rapine, and excesses of every description.

A second Imperial Order soon followed the first summoning Hang Ti to the
capital, whither he hastily repaired, having first laid his hands on as
much of his ill-gotten wealth as he could conveniently carry, hoping
thereby to bribe the palace underlings, and so mitigate in some measure
the punishment he deserved.

On his arrival in Peking he was not permitted to enter his Imperial
master’s presence, but was presented by an official with a handsome silk
scarf, a polite hint that he might hang himself and so save his person
the greater indignity of decapitation. So Hang Ti passes out of the
story, and an energetic officer named Yeh Lok reigned in his stead.

Yeh subdued the rebels with a firm hand, and in three months the
district, although somewhat depopulated, was reported to the “Son of
Heaven” as being “Happy, contented, and at peace.” Yeh next turned his
attention to the administration of his district, and found that there
utter chaos reigned in every department. The prisons were overcrowded to
a disgraceful extent, and the majority of the unfortunate prisoners had
not even any crime registered against them. Yeh’s heart bled for them:
this shocking state of affairs had to be at once remedied. The idea of
keeping people in prison for indefinite periods without trial revolted
Yeh’s every sense of what was right and just. He ordered them,
therefore, to be taken out in batches of forty and to be beheaded. Forty
each day till the gaols were empty and cleared of all persons wrongfully
incarcerated.

                             --------------

Lok Hing squatted in tattered blue cotton garments behind a tin of
pea-nuts at the roadside; an old umbrella afforded him a grateful shade
from the blazing sun, and his well-ventilated and roomy clothes allowed
of his scratching any portion of himself with the least possible effort.
He was a man of no ambition, content to earn a few cash by selling
pea-nuts and spend his life in a philosophical melancholy. As he sat
tapping the tin with an elongated finger-nail and droning out a mournful
eulogy of his wares, To Tao, the hunchback, passed.

To Tao by his infirmity was unfitted for heavy manual labour, but his
distorted body seemed to be endowed with some marvellous power of
rendering natural objects equally grotesque. No one for hundreds of li
around could produce small trees in such fantastic shapes and weird
eccentricities of growth as he. Hence to all outward appearances almost
as poverty stricken as Lok Hing, To Tao was a man of some means, seeing
that the wealthy gentry were only too glad to purchase the curious trees
and shrubs that resulted from his untiring care and peculiar skill.

As To Tao passed, Lok Hing softly sang: “Forty yesterday, forty the day
before, in all three hundred and sixty, and now all are finished.”

“What does my brother mean?” asked To Tao, whose close attention to the
cultivation of his plants had left him ignorant of public affairs.

“Forty each day for nine days have been beheaded, and now there remains
but one, whom my lord the magistrate will have strangled this day.”

Then Lok Hing told the hunchback of the one remaining prisoner, an old
woman whose crime no one knew. She had been about forty years in prison,
and had herself forgotten why she had been placed there, and that Yeh
Lok had been so moved at the recital of her wrongs that he had vowed
neither to eat nor drink until justice had been done her by suitable
strangulation.

The hunchback heard the story without any outward emotion, but his heart
was heavy within him. He alone knew the old woman’s story. She was his
mother. His father had been a notable brigand, and his mother had been
seized by the then tao-tai and held as a hostage till the brigand should
be caught or slain. To Tao’s father, however, died a natural death at a
ripe old age, and now for some years the hunchback had ministered to the
material comforts of his remaining parent by sending her food and little
luxuries daily in the prison.

There was nothing more to be done now, however, as already the
procession was approaching along the dusty road with two stout coolies
carrying the old woman in a basket slung on a thick bamboo pole.

Hastily purchasing some pea-nuts from Lok Hing, the hunchback approached
the basket and handed them through its wide meshes to his mother. The
old dame received the nuts gratefully, and continued to munch them with
evident enjoyment until the final tightening of the string round her
neck rendered further deglutition not only unnecessary but impossible.

The magistrates, officials, soldiers, and rabble then returned to pursue
their several occupations or amusements, and To Tao, with rage in his
heart, also departed to his house, where he had long kept a handsome
coffin with which to do the last thing properly by his aged parent. This
action of To Tao in providing a coffin for the aged prisoner was
accounted to him for righteousness, no one being cognisant of the
relationship that had existed between the two.

In this way peace having been restored and all internal affairs of State
set running smoothly, the new magistrate, who was something of a
Sybarite, began to turn his attention to improvements in his yamen, and
to the surrounding of himself with every luxury. He spent money freely,
employing hosts of builders, carpenters, painters, and other workmen in
embellishing his house and grounds, and in this way soon earned a
certain popularity as a beneficent magistrate. Yeh, however, had
unwittingly earned the undying hatred of the hunchback, whose filial
piety would allow him to leave no stone unturned in his endeavour to
avenge the—to his mind—illegal execution of his aged mother. Having
beautified the interior of his yamen, the magistrate turned his
attention to the spacious grounds surrounding his residence, and who
more able to provide fantastic rock-work, design ornamental ponds,
bridges, hills, and valleys, and complete the whole scheme with cunning
dwarf trees and shrubs, than the hunchback gardener, To Tao?

Accordingly, to his huge inward satisfaction, the hunchback was
commanded to wait on the great man, and he failed in no way to please
the magistrate with his original ideas and quaint suggestions. To Tao’s
manner was all that could be desired: he grasped every idea of the
magistrate almost before it was expressed, and his own politely
suggested improvements so entirely corresponded with Yeh’s wishes that
he completely won his employer’s confidence. No tree in To Tao’s
collection was too valuable for Yeh, and soon the grounds of the yamen,
under the magic of the hunchback’s witchery, became a veritable
paradise. When all was completed Yeh insisted upon taking the hunchback
into his permanent service as gardener-in-chief, and the cunning fellow,
after a suitable demur, accepted the position in the magistrate’s
household. Thus the first step in his scheme of revenge was
accomplished.

The hunchback was the only servant in the yamen engaged locally, the
remainder of Yeh’s retinue having followed their master from a distant
province where this official had previously held sway. This fact proved
of the greatest value to To Tao, for as he continued to ingratiate
himself with his master he was employed on various other duties in
addition to gardening, and his local knowledge enabled him to carry out
every commission entrusted to him with complete satisfaction to his
lord. The district having now lapsed into a condition of uneventful
peace and a certain amount of commercial prosperity, Yeh sought
relaxation in every luxury and some small amount of dissipation. To Tao
here again proved most useful and trustworthy, and he took good care to
unobtrusively encourage his master in what, at first, were mild
extravagances, but which with the insidious help of To Tao soon
developed into vices.

The hunchback gardener, having now completely won the confidence of his
master, made frequent journeys on his behalf to the distant city of
Canton, and these journeys resulted in many cases of sweet champagne
finding their way to Yeh’s yamen, to say nothing of dancing and singing
girls, troupes of entertainers and acrobats, and the charming frail
beauties for which that city is so famous. Indulgence seemed to only
whet Yeh’s appetite, and far from any feeling of satiety he more and
more relied on To Tao’s resource and good taste in furnishing him with
the continual novelty and change that now seemed necessary to the
magistrate’s very existence.

After every absence the magistrate would insist on hearing all the
gossip of the great city, and the hunchback, with a vivid imagination,
never failed to interest and amuse his master. Consequently Yeh, in
addition to receiving some new beauty into his establishment, had the
pleasure of hearing of others from his faithful servant, and of many new
delights, polite amusements, and gorgeous scenes that the clever fellow
professed to have witnessed while away.

Yeh’s curiosity had for some time been greatly piqued by hearing the
praises of one Su Sing, a beautiful girl residing in the Flower Boats of
Canton, and at length, after a somewhat prolonged absence, the hunchback
was able to return to the yamen with the much-desired charmer under his
protection. Yeh was entirely delighted with her appearance, manners, and
accomplishments, and the same evening, after a sumptuous meal, he was in
the very best humour for hearing an account of his faithful messenger’s
adventures.

To Tao being summoned found his master reclining with one arm round the
new favourite, smoking a cigar and sipping the sweetest of sweet
champagne, the only other person present being the female attendant of
the new beauty. Yeh ordered the hunchback to speak freely, as the four
of them were safe from any interruption or eaves-dropping, and so
pleased was he with his new inamorata that he was willing to make her
the confidante of all his affairs and intrigues, even of his amours.

For at least an hour To Tao, who was no mean raconteur, amused his
audience with accounts of his doings in the great city, amusing
anecdotes of important persons, the latest gossip and scandals, and even
some account of the doings of the outer barbarians, who were separated
from the Middle Kingdom by the seas.

“And there is one other strange thing I have seen in Canton,” continued
the hunchback. “It is a method of detecting leprosy sometimes practised
by the _jeunesse dorée_ when visiting the Flower Boats.”

To Tao was quick to notice the almost imperceptible start given by Yeh
at the mention of this dreaded disease, and a wild exultation filled his
breast. Here at last was a means to his hand whereby his master should
pay his debt in full for the execution of the old woman.

“Tell us of it,” commanded Yeh, with a forced gaiety; “it will perhaps
amuse us. These superstitions, however, bear seldom any foundation of
truth in them.”

“It is in this way, Excellency. The suspected person and one or two
others known to be untainted are taken into a dark room. Some spirit
mixed with salt is poured in a dish, a small piece of tow is dropped in
to act as a wick, and then a light is applied. As your Excellency knows,
the light produced is of a bluish green, and by this illumination the
faces of all healthy persons look deadly white, but the face of the
leper appears red as fire, although he have no other sign of leprosy
visible to the most careful observer.”

“Come, come, we will test the efficacy of this foolish old
superstition,” cried the magistrate.

The materials having been brought, the four retired to a small unlighted
apartment, and To Tao ignited the spirit. Eagerly Yeh scanned the faces
round him, now rendered ghastly by the green light, when suddenly he
noticed a look of horror spread over the faces of the two women. Su Sing
burst into tears, and her attendant threw herself on her face on the
floor. To Tao alone remained unmoved.

“Speak! speak!” screamed the magistrate. “What means this foolishness?”

With bowed head To Tao meekly responded: “It is nothing, Excellency, the
girls are silly and frightened. Believe me, it is nothing. The girls
must most certainly be low-born, or they would know better how to behave
in your august presence.”

Yeh, however, was far from satisfied. He summoned the attendants,
ordered lights to be brought, dismissed the girls, and ordered To Tao to
remain. The two being left alone, with nervous haste Yeh poured out a
tumbler of champagne and demanded an instant explanation of the
hunchback.

“Speak!” he said, “and the truth, moreover, or it may be my unpleasant
duty to interrogate you under torture.”

To Tao begged his master to excuse him, repeating that the whole affair
was due to the stupidity of the girls. Yeh flew into a violent temper,
and said that if the hunchback did not instantly explain the servants
would be called in and To Tao delivered to the inquisitor. Whereupon,
with downcast eyes, the trembling servant said—

“Excellency, your face by the green light was——”

“Was what?” thundered Yeh.

“Red,” faltered the shivering cripple.

Yeh staggered and looked like to fall had not To Tao supported him.
After gulping down more champagne the magistrate became somewhat more
composed, when he ordered the hunchback to leave him till the morning.
The exulting servant retired well satisfied with the first effects of
his revenge.

Early next morning To Tao was summoned to Yeh’s couch. The magistrate’s
appearance was ghastly, and he seemed to have aged a decade since the
previous night.

“I will not live with this loathsome disease in my blood,” he said. “All
my life the fear of contracting it has haunted me, and now it has come.
The foreign devils, however, possess a wonderful poison, and by that
means I will die. The poison is contained in a glass tube fitted with a
piston, and is taken by pushing a needle under the skin. Death by this
means is most pleasant, I have heard. You will go at once to Hong Kong
and procure these things, and during your absence I will set my affairs
in order. Go!”

To Tao would have preferred to stop and gloat over his enemy’s mental
anguish, but this pleasure was denied him. It took him four days to
journey to Hong Kong; there he easily procured a hypodermic syringe, but
the obtaining of morphia was a more difficult matter. It took To Tao a
further two days to make the acquaintance of a hospital orderly and
bribe him to steal the required drug. Then To Tao returned. The ten days
of his absence had been passed by Yeh in a fever. He had ordered all his
affairs, given out that he was seriously ill (as indeed he was), and had
paid and dismissed all his dancing-girls, courtesans, and mountebanks.

The change in Yeh would have struck To Tao as dreadful were it not as a
soothing balm to his revengeful spirit to see how terribly his enemy had
suffered. Yeh was at once all eagerness for the drug which To Tao, much
as he would have wished it, was unable to withhold. And now Yeh had
composed himself on his couch, and To Tao alone silently watched him
with impassive face. Soon the drug’s influence was felt, and a delicious
drowsiness came over the magistrate.

“Excellency, can you hear me? I have much to say.”

“I can hear well, brother. All is peace,” replied the magistrate.

“That is well,” continued the hunchback. “Your life was pleasant before
this disease held you, was it not, my lord?”

“Yes, very, very pleasant, but now I would rather die than live a leper.
Before, life was sweet, but now, death seems far preferable.”

“But you do not suffer from leprosy.”

Yeh started up and leant on his elbow.

“What do you mean?” he demanded, almost thoroughly aroused.

“I mean,” responded To Tao, “that Su Sing and her attendant were my
creatures and with me in a plot to kill you. Many times I could have
killed you by poison, but I wished to make you suffer first, and I think
I have indeed succeeded by persuading you that you had contracted that
loathsome disease.”

Yeh remained silent for a while, and To Tao feared that he would sink
into the sleep of death. At last he dreamily asked—

“Why did you wish me this ill?”

“Because you slew my mother, the old prisoner in the gaol. She is now
avenged.”

Again a silence. The drug was rapidly gaining entire possession of Yeh’s
brain. Very slowly he spoke his last words.

“Brother, you did well. You acted as a filial child should. I have a
wife and two sons in Szechuen. If my sons heard of the manner of my
death they would do the same to you and more also. But they will never
know. I think, perhaps, it is better they should not, for, indeed, you
are a marvellous gardener. Send my body to Szechuen and now—now—I
would—sleep——”

So Yeh the magistrate slept, To Tao religiously carried out his dead
master’s last wishes, and then returned to his gardens.

His fame as a producer of dwarf trees spreads daily further and further
afield, which, coupled with his increasing prosperity, point to rewards
received for a virtuous life.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      HOO, THE DAUGHTER OF TAK WO



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      HOO, THE DAUGHTER OF TAK WO


ON YICK’S residence was quite charmingly situated in a narrow gorge down
which a small torrent ran, winter and summer alike. This small stream
was turned to every use that the ingenious and painstaking Chinaman so
admirably accomplishes invariably where running water is present. This
particular hill stream, although not more than two miles in extent, from
its source where it bubbled as a spring from the rocks some fifteen
hundred feet above sea-level to where it joined the sea across the sandy
beach of the small village of Tai Kok, had been trained and coaxed to
turn three mill-wheels, flood acres of paddy in irregular curved
mud-walled fields, varying in size and shape from a table-cloth to a
barrack square, from a crescent to a hexagon, after which it afforded
nutriment and recreation for numerous ducks, water for the pine-apple
fields on the hillsides and also for cooking purposes, and possibly for
washing, to the peaceable inhabitants of Tai Kok. This little nameless
stream through countless ages unostentatiously has continued to benefit
hundreds of our oblique-eyed fellow-men in Southern China.

All the above was so familiar to On Yick that possibly he had never
given it a thought. To-day, as he sat making bamboo baskets outside his
mill, his mind was more occupied with thoughts of the daughter of Tak Wo
than with the economical conservancy of streams. The stranger
approaching the hills up the rock-strewn gorge was first aware of a
continual stamping noise; on a closer approach the air became, in
addition to the noise, filled with an all-pervading sweet odour of
sandal-wood. Smells are ubiquitous in China, but pleasant smells are
often painfully few and far between. This smell, however, emanates
directly from On Yick’s abode. The mill-wheel turned by the stream has
its axle prolonged on one side, and on this are projecting pieces of
wood, which, as the wheel revolves, press down heavy wooden levers which
pass through the house wall. At the further end of these levers are
heavy balks of timber, which rise and fall into a stone trough in the
mud floor. The trough is filled with chips and odd pieces of
sandal-wood, the revolving wheel and consequent stamping of the levers
breaking it to a fine powder, the smaller particles of which float about
in the air, and soon make their presence felt in the nostrils of anyone
ascending from the village.

The powder when stamped to a sufficient fineness is packed tight in palm
leaves, placed in bamboo baskets, and shipped in junks from Tai Kok to
the nearest city or fu, where it is employed in the manufacture of
“joss-sticks,” so that the fragrant smell may gladden the noses of
innumerable greasy idols and further blacken the roofs of countless
temples and houses.

To-day the middleman of the village had been despatched by On Yick to
the house of Tak Wo to make preliminary talk with a view to a marriage
being arranged between On Yick, mill-owner, and the daughter of Tak Wo,
grass merchant.

The meeting of On Yick and the daughter of Tak Wo had been
unconventional but not unpremeditated as far as the lady was concerned.
It happened in this way. One bright winter morning Hoo, the daughter of
Tak, had gone to the hillside to cut grass, and it so happened that On
Yick sat outside his door in the sun mending a grass sandal. He sat clad
in a pair of blue cotton pantaloons only, his broad, sunburned back
exposed to the cheerful warmth of the sun, when Hoo, passing behind him,
could not resist the temptation of picking up a frog and throwing it at
the handsome young miller. Her aim was true, and the soft, bloated
creature struck On Yick just below the shoulder-blades. Quickly turning
round he was greeted with a merry laugh and the sight of the bare-footed
Hoo scampering away down the hillside.

From that moment the flame of love was kindled in the bosom of On Yick.
The possession of Hoo, the daughter of Tak Wo, became the one object of
his dreams. Cupid has many ways of assailing men’s hearts, sometimes by
the pressure of a hand, the dropping of a handkerchief, the tearing of a
ball dress. So why not by the hurling of a live frog on a susceptible
young man’s back? Love must exist as long as human beings tread this
earth. So what matters it by what incident it was first engendered in
each particular case!

The first day’s talking passed off satisfactorily, and the go-between
came to On Yick’s mill the same evening and reported that Tak Wo was
inclined to look with some favour on the proposition of an alliance
between On Yick and his daughter. On was delighted, and having liberally
rewarded the go-between, retired to his kang and soon fell into the
happiest of dreams, in all of which Hoo, a frog, and a sandal-wood mill
played important parts.

The idea of getting Hoo comfortably married was very pleasing to Tak Wo.
He was a widower, and his daughter, although only sixteen, had
repeatedly given him much anxiety. We can judge from the frog incident
that Hoo sadly lacked that becoming reserve expected of a Chinese girl.
Another instance of her want of conventionality is shown by the fact
that she managed to conceal herself and overhear the conversation
between her father and the go-between with regard to her proposed
marriage.

Unlike On, Hoo had given no further thought to the frog and bare-back
incident, but on overhearing the long conversation between her father
and the go-between, she conceived a most violently passionate affection
for On Yick.

Hoo was a girl of slightly unstable mental equilibrium, and of this her
father was well aware from various unpleasant and hard-to-be-tolerated
jokes that had been perpetrated at his expense by his daughter. Hence
the anxiety of Tak Wo to rid himself of this daughter by a suitable
marriage.

The idea of love and marriage supplied the just sufficient tilt to Hoo’s
mental balance to upset the proverbial apple-cart; the result was that
between romantic fancies, love for On Yick, and a nearly complete
idleness, she became more or less a monomaniac. Her every idea centred
on On Yick, but the small kink in her brain prevented her from doing the
right thing at the right time.

The go-between and On Yick were now much occupied in deciding a suitable
present to be sent to Tak Wo. Of course it was understood that Tak Wo
would only retain a small portion of the gifts sent; still it was
necessary to make as imposing a show as possible.

Eventually the coolies were hired and entrusted with the presents for
the prospective father-in-law. These consisted of half a young pig,
split from his nose to his tail, and varnished, two live geese, two
white fowls, many cakes, a jar of preserved fruits, a thick bundle of
incense sticks, and two bottles of samshu.

Tak Wo was delighted. He selected as many of the presents as were seemly
and returned the balance to the miller, after rewarding the carriers
with a few cash. The versatile Hoo was away from home when the presents
arrived. Her brain was so engrossed with thoughts of her lover, and her
desire to speak with him had so carried her away, that she had resolved
on the unheard-of boldness of despatching him a letter. Being unable to
write herself she had recourse to the village scribe, and in order to
pay him for inditing the letter, she stole her father’s long
tobacco-pipe with the brass bowl and jade mouthpiece. The letter was
sent, and Hoo returned home, where she found her father good-tempered
and smiling but uncommunicative. Two empty bottles near him may possibly
have accounted for his beaming but reticent condition. So Hoo retired to
sleep with her silly head filled with the pleasantest and most romantic
dreams.

On Yick, on receipt of the letter, was at once seized with a great
impatience for the advent of the go-between, as, being unable to read,
he desired that highly educated person to convey the meaning of the
epistle to his illiterate self. The go-between arrived, and already,
from his friend the scribe, was acquainted with the contents of the
letter which On Yick thrust into his hands. Having adjusted his
brass-rimmed spectacles and cleared his throat, the go-between read as
follows:—

“O most honourable and dearly loved one! This insignificant person fades
away for a sight of her lover’s form, for the sound of his voice, for
the clasp of his arms. Come, come, my lord, your slave awaits you at
sundown between the third house and the paved way. Come! Come! Your
handmaid faints and desires you as the sailor desires the land, as the
beggar desires clothing, as the famished desires rice.”

Although not particularly elegant in its phrases, still this letter
filled On Yick’s breast with the liveliest sensations of love and joy,
and he watched the westering of the sun with the greatest impatience.

Meanwhile affairs had proceeded in the house of Tak Wo somewhat
unsmoothly. Tak Wo, in consequence of his previous night’s libations,
awoke somewhat late and withal surly. For a considerable time he
searched about the house, and at last addressed his daughter, demanding
of her the whereabouts of his pipe. Hoo was thereupon obliged, at some
length, to explain that during the previous night she had been awakened
by a small but benevolent dragon who, it appeared, lived in the kang, or
oven, on which Tak Wo slept; that the dragon had requested her to give
him Tak Wo’s pipe; that she had done so, thrusting the pipe into the
glowing embers of millet stalks in the flue; and that the dragon
appeared highly pleased.

Tak was highly annoyed at this recital, and left the house to seek some
of his cronies to obtain a much-desired smoke. Finding congenial
companions, and having told them the news of his daughter’s approaching
marriage, he was suitably entertained with tobacco and fiery spirits,
and so remained absent the whole day.

The love-sick Hoo’s directions to On Yick had been somewhat indefinite,
and the latter, through an insufficient knowledge of the topographical
specialities of the village of Tai Kok and the rapidly falling darkness,
took a wrong direction, which resulted in a breaking of the lover’s
tryst. There were only three houses in Tai Kok which stood on the
sea-shore. Having passed these the wayfarer either passed inland to
other houses of the village, or continued his way along a stone-flagged
causeway which ran along the coast. Inshore this causeway was lined by a
hedge of screw-pines, and inside this again was a narrow pathway, and
then swamp between it and the remainder of the village. Hoo’s intention
was to meet On Yick on the pathway between the swamp and the hedge of
screw-pines, but On Yick continued along the causeway to seaward, which
misunderstanding led to disaster. The screw-pine from a distance is a
picturesque addition to any landscape, but a too close acquaintance with
this form of vegetation is trying. If the Infernal Regions possess any
forms of vegetation, the screw-pine probably figures amongst the flora
of that region. For instance, it will grow in a swamp or on waterless
sand; it seems indifferent whether the water that laves its roots is
born of fever-laden mud swamps or of the pure salt sea. Its stem is of a
gnarled and twisted hardness, but useless as timber; its pretty green
leaves are furnished with spikes that hold like fish-hooks, and hurt the
flesh of human beings like hot needles. No animal will eat its leaves,
and if burnt by fire it grows again as if nothing had injured it; and to
crown all, it possesses a fruit which, to the ordinary observer, differs
little from the luscious and juicy pine-apple, but which possesses no
usefulness whatever, it being about as nourishing and juicy as a lump of
mahogany. To prevent the inroads of cattle or the advance of an enemy
the screw-pine ranks high amongst nature’s impassable obstacles. But
enough of this digression into matters which are more suitable for a
work on Botany or Forestry.

At sundown, true to her appointment, the love-sick Hoo proceeded slowly
along the mud path by the swamp, and the no less impetuous On Yick
arrived at the third house of the village, and with a masterful stride
proceeded along the stone causeway to meet the object of his adoration
in the rapidly forming dusk.

Hoo nervously ran along the mud path, and at last heard footsteps
approaching. The felt-soled boots of On Yick made but little noise on
the stone causeway, and consequently in the dark Hoo imagined that he
approached her along the mud path.

“Is it my lord who approaches his slave?” softly cried Hoo.

“I come, pearl worth a thousand taels, dove with golden wings, little
fawn with horns of jade!” replied On Yick in his most loving tones.

“But your humble handmaid sees not the light of her life, the stream
that satisfies her soul’s thirst. Where art thou? Come to me, or I faint
from desire.”

On Yick heard these most soul-moving expressions of maidenly love, and
made a wild rush from the causeway in the direction of his adored one’s
voice. The result was most regrettable. On Yick fell headlong into the
impenetrable barrier of screw-pines, his silk jacket and overalls were
torn beyond hope of repair, he lost his new velvet-topped white-soled
shoes, and, moreover, sustained many nasty wounds on his legs, arms, and
face from the sharp spines in the hedge. Hoo, of course, did the wrong
thing. Instead of rushing to her lover’s assistance and aiding him in
his dilemma, she burst into uncontrollable merriment and ran home, the
miserable On Yick being allowed to extricate himself from the prickly
hedge alone, whence he proceeded in the dark—muddy and bleeding—to his
house, his raiment torn and his new velvet shoes lost forever in the
sticky mud into which he had fallen.

Tak Wo returned to his house at dusk expecting a warm meal and
afterwards a comfortable sleep on the pleasantly warmed kang. He was
greatly incensed, however, at finding his daughter absent and no rice
and pork prepared, and on the appearance of Hoo shortly after his
return, he flew into such an ungovernable rage, that he gave her a
severe beating and retired to bed in a very ill temper. Hoo also retired
to bed supperless, but in sullen ill humour. She passed a sleepless
night, bent upon revenging herself upon her father, who had so suddenly
brought her down from her heights of romantic love-dreams.

The unfortunate incidents of the previous night were obliterated from
the memory of the healthy-minded On Yick after a night’s sleep, so with
a good heart he arrayed himself next morning in order to present himself
to Tak Wo to make the final arrangements for his marriage with Hoo.

Tak was feeling very evil-minded, but he received the suitor for his
daughter’s hand with becoming formality. Anything would be better than
having this awful daughter in his house, and On Yick found all his
proposals most willingly acquiesced in by his prospective father-in-law.
Hoo had disappeared without partaking of or preparing any morning meal,
and the two men talked and talked, and smoked innumerable pipes of
tobacco. The conversation between these two continued in the politest
manner possible, and every detail of etiquette was observed by each
party. Tak Wo was occupied in delivering a most erudite and polite
discourse on the duties of a son-in-law to his wife’s father when On
Yick became conscious of a strong smell of burning in the house. Soon he
saw a thin snake of flame creep along one of the beams overhead, but
still politeness held him silent. It was not for such an insignificant
person as himself to interrupt the discourse of Tak Wo and inform him
that his honourable house was on fire.

The admirable precepts of Tak Wo, however, were suddenly cut short by a
burning spark falling on his shaven pate. Forgetful of his dignity he
jumped up and rushed from the house, followed by On Yick. The
disgraceful sight that met their gaze once outside the door will ever be
a reproach to the descendants of Tak Wo. Two large stacks of dry grass
were ablaze, as well as the roof of the house, and the crowning horror
was Hoo, now evidently possessed of hundreds of devils, dancing with a
burning brand in her hand, and shouting most unseemly remarks
disparaging her father and all his ancestors. On her father’s appearance
Hoo betook herself to the hills, and the efforts of the people of Tai
Kok being at once turned on extinguishing the conflagration, her escape
was easy.

The fire resulted in the loss of two stacks of grass and the house, but
most of Tak Wo’s property was in silver, buried some three feet beneath
the mud floor of his house, consequently his pecuniary loss was not
great; but the disgraceful behaviour of his daughter had caused him such
a serious “loss of face” that he decided on having recourse to severe
measures.

The junk of Man Yuen was lying in the harbour of Tai Kok. Man Yuen
carried much of the village’s produce to the larger towns, and in
addition was probably, if occasion offered, a pirate. Tak Wo went to the
honourable Man Yuen and explained (with the aid of fifteen taels) that
he (Man Yuen) was welcome to carry off Hoo and sell her as a slave to
whoever would buy her, that Man Yuen could take the purchase money,
provided he captured and removed Hoo, who undoubtedly was possessed of
devils.

Man Yuen’s crew were successful in their search, and Hoo departed from
Tai Kok for ever. On Yick possesses now a wife who has never dreamt of
frogs or of throwing them at young men, and his mill prospers as his
family increases.

Also there is a Mrs. Jones, living in Heatherbell Villas, Deepdeen Road,
Peckham Rye. This good lady regales her visitors with extracts from her
daughter’s letters, the daughter being in China. The latest extract from
Mrs. Jones’ daughter reads as follows:—

“It is so difficult to understand the Chinese, but dear George is so
hopeful. So far we have made no converts, but the captain of a junk, who
seems to wish to learn ‘The Truth,’ has supplied me with such a nice
young Chinese girl as a servant, and we already have great hopes of
leading her from darkness. Her Chinese ideas are very funny. She has
mended my stockings with patches of orange-peel and has sewn black boot
buttons all round the bottoms of George’s white duck trousers. Her wages
are small, and we pay them monthly to Man Yuen, her uncle. Her name is
‘Hoo,’ and although her carelessness has nearly caused the mission-house
to be burnt down on three separate occasions, we can’t help loving her,
and George will receive her into the ‘Church’ as soon as she shows a
desire for true knowledge.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            KWA NIU’S DERBY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            KWA NIU’S DERBY


YOU know Shelford? What! Don’t know Shelford of the Customs? Then you’ve
never heard how he won the Ping Tu Derby. Shelford, as I said, was in
the Customs, and fate made him spend many years in the port of Ping Tu.
You probably won’t find Ping Tu on the map, but, then, maps of China are
often inaccurate, and the varieties of European spelling adopted by
cartographers have led to confusion. Anyway Ping Tu is a not unimportant
town. The river is navigable above it for some fifty miles, and Shelford
was the head representative in that community of the Imperial Chinese
Maritime Customs. In addition to this he probably knew more about the
Chinese than any other European in the neighbourhood, and was moreover
an all-round sportsman.

There were many sportsmen in Ping Tu, or, rather, everyone of the small
community was entitled to style himself so. They possessed a club on the
river bank where cocktails and whiskies and sodas were consumed,
billiards and bowls could be indulged in, and, moreover, where ladies
could entertain and be entertained on the verandah between the hours of
three and seven in the afternoon.

Ping Tu, in addition, possessed a golf-links and a racecourse, and of
the racecourse and Kwa Niu’s memorable Derby I will tell.

The Ping Tu race-meeting took place annually in February, and everyone
who could afford to do so entered a horse. Horse, I say—I mean a China
pony. And of course the great event of the meeting was the Derby. The
ponies came from up North, and were drawn for by the subscribers as one
draws in a sweepstake. Having drawn your pony, the next thing was to
train it, and for many weeks the performances of these unattractive
animals formed the sole topic of conversation at the Club bar, in
verandahs, on the bund, and in ladies’ boudoirs.

Shelford drew a most unpromising brute of a flea-bitten Mongol pony. It
was a pale yellow colour, had a head much too heavy for its forelegs,
and a nose like a Roman senator. In addition to its unattractive
appearance it possessed a violent dislike of white men, and in the first
week bit the biceps out of a “ma foo” and the knee-cap off a
grass-cutter. Shelford might have condoned these offences had the brute
shown any promise, but the wretched animal proved to be exceptionally
slow in its trials, so he named it “Kwa Niu” (The Snail).

The training proceeded, excitement in view of the forthcoming races in
Ping Tu grew intense, and moreover a new Englishman had arrived in the
port. He was a lank callow youth, fresh from Ireland, and burdened with
the name of Gubbins.

Gubbins might be described as “young.” China had till the last few weeks
been nothing to him but a name. Still, here he was, clerk in the firm of
Sardine and Butterworth, and full of that home energy so often lacking
in the old China hand.

Gubbins with his hearty manners and youthful enthusiasm at once won his
way into the hearts of society in Ping Tu, and Shelford, in default of a
better jockey (everyone having refused to ride the now famous Kwa Niu),
engaged Gubbins to ride for him in the Ping Tu Derby.

About a fortnight before the race-meeting the number of corpses that
floated down the river became burdensome. Many of the men and officers
in the merchant ships lying in the stream were attacked with typhoid,
and from all accounts there was a severe epidemic raging in Whang Chai,
a town some six miles higher up the river. Something had to be done, as
the matter was becoming serious, and Shelford, from his intimate
knowledge of the language and ideas of thought of the natives, was
despatched in a steam launch to Whang Chai to discover the state of
affairs, and if possible to suggest some means of arresting the ravages
of the disease. Shelford arrived at the highly insanitary little town,
and without further delay interviewed the head official, one To Phat, an
indolent and superstitious civil mandarin. The chief military officer, a
man with Western ideas and well educated, was at the time absent from
Whang Chai. Shelford found the people dying by hundreds in the dirty
little town, and as far as he could see there was every prospect of
their continuing to do so until they appreciated the fact that
drinking-water need not necessarily be drawn from the main sewers.

To Phat, comfortably seated in his yamen, admitted the fact of the
enormous death-rate then registered in Whang Chai, but to all Shelford’s
suggestions of its cause or prevention he turned the deaf ear of pompous
ignorance. He—To Phat—could put his finger at once on the cause of the
dreadful mortality. The disease was perfectly natural and only to be
expected; in fact, the whole matter had been satisfactorily explained to
him by a certain Ching. Ching was therefore sent for that he might
explain to the dull-witted foreign devil why this fatal epidemic
harassed the peace-loving citizens of Whang Chai. Shelford at once
recognised in Ching the typical bully of a yamen runner, the promoter of
disturbances, the paid spy and informer. However, Shelford listened with
polite attention to the lying scoundrel.

Ching explained that, although perhaps unknown to the honourable
stranger, still it was a matter of universal knowledge in Whang Chai
that the gentle slope on which the town had the felicity to be built was
occupied by a dragon. This benign animal had for centuries caused
innumerable blessings to fall on the happy inhabitants, but that
recently certain grave indignities had been offered him. Firstly,
foreigners, preachers of strange doctrines, had built a house on the
dragon’s head: this had resulted in the loss of several vessels trading
from Whang Chai; but the crowning insult had been the building of a
school-house on their benefactor’s stomach. This final indignity had
been visited on the erring town by pestilence, and what the end would be
no one could foresee.

Shelford eyed Ching during this recital, and the bully appreciated the
fact that Shelford read his coward heart like a book; but the flabby To
Phat sat in greasy self-satisfaction, and was politely relieved when
Shelford withdrew from the audience.

Shelford then visited the mission-house. On his walk through the town he
saw many signs that made his face grave. The pastor welcomed him
effusively, and was delighted to talk with a fellow white man. He
admitted with sorrow the frightful ravages of the epidemic, but was
evidently quite unaware that any danger threatened himself or his, and
spoke cheerfully of the progress that Christianity ought to make in
Whang Chai in the future. Shelford also found out that Ching, the yamen
runner, had been one of the earliest of their converts, but had sadly
fallen away from grace, and after repeated petty thefts had been
dismissed with disgrace for blackmailing the girl converts who attended
the mission school.

On leaving the mission to return to the inn at which he proposed to
sleep, Shelford had further cause for anxiety. He had already observed
that he was being everywhere followed, but now he saw placards freshly
posted about the town. These cunningly worded notices urged calmness and
abstinence from violence against foreigners; they further alluded to the
present prevailing epidemic, and besought the people by piety and prayer
to discover the cause of the present disasters and the means to be
adopted for restoring health to the community.

The notices were all unsigned, but in the present state of feeling of
the populace they amounted to nothing more nor less than an incitement
to murder the missionaries. Shelford decided not to send his steam
launch back to Ping Tu for assistance, as that would cut off his and the
missionaries’ only hope of escape. Then, again, any appearance of fear
or running away would probably precipitate matters, and a riot would
ensue. He therefore unconcernedly strolled to his inn and ordered
supper. Before, during, and after the meal he talked with large numbers
of the townsfolk who came out of curiosity and nearly crushed Shelford
against the wall in their eagerness to speak with the foreign devil. The
foreign devil good-naturedly endured their importunities, although
disagreeably conscious the whole time of the strong anti-foreign feeling
that existed. So early in the evening he feigned sleepiness, and
politely saying good-night to his unbidden guests, requested the
landlord to show him his sleeping-room. The room to which the obsequious
landlord conducted him was as bare as one would expect, and the kang, or
raised oven, on which the guest must sleep was directly in front of the
door, in which were numerous holes and cracks.

Shelford quickly retired to bed, and blew out the miserable oil-wick
which served as a lamp. Then noticing that all was quiet in the inn, he
cautiously got up, put on his clothes in the dark, arranged the blankets
on the kang to look as if a man were sleeping there, and sat in a corner
of the room with his revolver ready, awaiting events.

He waited for quite two hours before anything occurred, and then faint
footsteps could be heard approaching the door, and a glimmer of light
appeared through its chinks. There was some whispering. The light rays
through the chinks grew brighter, and at last a brilliant ray of light
was directed through a hole in the door on the apparently sleeping
figure on the kang. The light steadied on the recumbent figure, and then
pistol shots rang out with a deafening noise in the small room, filling
it with smoke and causing Shelford to grip his pistol and jump to his
feet ready to sell his life dearly. Then a conversation occurred outside
the door in which Shelford easily recognised the voice of the bully
Ching, who asserted that the man was dead. Another voice urged him to go
in and assure himself of the fact that the man on the kang was really
dead. Ching argued that the sleeping figure had not moved after the
explosion of their pistols, and that consequently he could not be asleep
but must have been killed. Everyone outside the door seemed to show
reluctance to enter the room, and after further whispered conversation
the would-be murderers departed, but not before Shelford had heard Ching
say—

“Now we have slain this devil we can quietly kill the missionaries
to-morrow night and loot their house. The men in the glass boat (steam
launch) have been bribed, so will tell nothing.”

After this they retired. Shelford left his strained position in the
corner, and with his revolver ready to his hand slept on the comfortably
warmed kang until daylight.

When he appeared next morning the innkeeper would have fled from fear,
had not his desire to “save face” at all cost made him bear an outwardly
calm demeanour. Shelford didn’t fail to notice the impression that he
created on everyone who saw him in the inn, but he felt that no further
attempt on his life would be made during daylight; so having taken
breakfast, he told the innkeeper that he should again sleep at the inn
that night, and that the previous night he had been so comfortable and
had slept so deeply that he thought there must be some beneficial
essence in the air of Whang Chai that induced refreshing slumbers.

To go again to the mission-house would arouse suspicion, so Shelford
wandered about the town all the forenoon in the hope of accidentally
meeting someone from the mission. As time went on he became more and
more anxious. That he was being closely watched he knew, and at last he
dared no longer wander about apparently aimlessly, so he once more
returned to the inn and ate. If only by good providence the missionaries
would send a message to him! Two more hours were wasted, Shelford
sitting and smoking in apparent calmness in the chief room of the inn,
holding conversations with all who addressed him, but inwardly chafing
and cursing his forced inaction.

There was now only an hour of daylight left; something had to be done.
He called the innkeeper and begged him to send on board the steam launch
for a change of clothes and some necessaries, and to order the skiff to
wait by the bank till he should arrive and give some further orders for
being ready to proceed to Ping Tu at ten o’clock the next morning. After
which Shelford, almost bursting with anxiety, left the inn, and again
walked through the town praying for the sight of someone from the
mission. The people, though offering no molestations, evinced a thinly
veiled hostility, and he knew that if he continued to wander about after
dark his life would be in danger, but a direct attempt on his part to
enter the mission-house might lead to a siege of the place and the
massacre of all the inmates.

At last, some fifteen minutes before dark, he met his missionary friend
of the day before. Shelford met him calmly and shook hands. He then said
in his most matter-of-fact tone: “Don’t show any surprise at what I am
going to say; we are now closely watched. Go home at once, put on
Chinese clothes, and bring all your people as soon as possible and get
to the river, where you’ll find a small white boat. If I’m not there
take the boat at once and push off to the launch and make the sailors
take you to Ping Tu. You may get through safely, but don’t attempt to
bring anything away with you. The next half-hour will, I think, prove
rather exciting. Good night!”

The missionary fortunately was a clever man and a bit of an actor—he saw
that this was no jest on Shelford’s part but deadly earnest. It was now
nearly dark, and the bully Ching’s agents followed close on Shelford’s
heels as he proceeded to the inn. On pretext of speaking to the
innkeeper, Shelford left the common room and walked towards his host’s
private apartments which he knew opened on to a small courtyard, from
which there might have been no means of escape, but that it was
necessary to risk. He drew the innkeeper into the room, the spies
watching them both. Shelford continued in conversation and pushed the
door-to with his foot. His host, instantly suspicious, made a movement
to reopen it, but Shelford, quick as thought, dealt him a violent blow
on the temple with his pistol, and catching the Chinaman as he was
falling in a heap, so as to avoid any noise being heard by the spies in
the outer room, he laid the unconscious man noiselessly on the floor,
still keeping up his conversation in Chinese to deceive the watchers.
Then, still talking, he edged towards the courtyard. A hasty glance in
the now almost complete darkness showed him that the wall could be
easily scaled. Quick as thought he was over and speeding through the
empty streets to the water’s edge. As he ran towards the river he was
followed by three Chinamen. Should he shoot? His revolver was ready, one
of his pursuers tripped and fell, the boat was close at hand, and
Shelford was about to turn and fire on his pursuers when—thank God!—he
heard an exclamation in English. They were the missionaries, but now
others came running with lights. His escape had been noticed! The four
of them tumbled into the boat and, falling on the oars, attempted to
push off with all their might. The Chinaman in the boat hurled himself
on Shelford and shouted to the rapidly approaching Chinese. Wrenching
himself free, Shelford struck the man a crushing blow between the eyes
and flung him overboard, then, jumping into the stream, with a mighty
effort he pushed the boat into deep water just as Ching’s hirelings
reached the water’s edge. The boat seemed to be alongside the launch in
a few seconds, but already a howling mob with flickering lanterns were
lining the bank. Shelford pushed his companions on board and quickly
jumped up himself, leaving the small boat to drift down-stream.

“Go forward and get up the anchor at once,” he gasped to the
missionaries, who obeyed him with alacrity. Shelford ran to the wheel
and found a strange Chinaman standing near it. Quick as thought he took
him by the throat, saying, “Cry out and I strangle you!” The man
struggled to free himself, but Shelford forced him towards the wire rail
of the launch and, bending him backwards over it, gave a side kick to
his ankles and tipped him into the river; then running back to the
wheel, he rang down to the engine-room.

“Getting up anchor! Stand by to go ahead! The foreign devils are all
killed and we must go up-stream, beach the launch, and loot her.”

The Chinaman in the engine-room, thinking one of his fellows was
speaking, carried out his orders, and in a few moments the anchor was up
and the steam launch moving down-stream towards Ping Tu.

Shelford felt fairly confident now, but there still remained one danger,
that of a pursuit in boats; and in the event of their running aground in
the dark they would then be captured and——

Slowly the launch crept down the river with Shelford at the wheel, the
missionaries sitting near in cowed silence, and everyone longing for the
daylight and the passing of the weary night.

Towards dawn one of the missionaries whispered to Shelford—

“My wife feels very faint—the reaction, I suppose. Have you any spirits
or wine on board?”

“Good God! Is one of you a woman?” said Shelford. “Yes, there’s whisky
in plenty in the cabin. Take her down and let her lie on the settee—and,
padré, when you’ve given her some whisky you might bring me a peg and
I’ll drink to the health of a brave woman. Forgive me for my seeming
brutality, but I thought you were all men. Anyway I think we’ve all
earned a drink, and you’ll also find some tins of biscuits in the
locker.”

Shelford’s further remarks to himself and the way in which he
undeservedly accused himself for lack of feeling for a female in
distress were fortunately inaudible and equally fortunately
unpublishable.

The whisky-and-soda and biscuits had a wonderful revivifying effect on
the small party of Europeans, and now, as the steam launch crept slowly
down the river, the first grey streaks of dawn began to appear. The
married missionary and his wife were asleep on the settees in the cabin,
the other missionary dozed in a cane chair near the wheel, and as the
light increased Shelford recognised the land on either side and rang
down to the engine-room for full speed ahead. In less than an hour of
sunrise they were safe in Ping Tu. Friends came off to meet them, the
missionaries were tenderly cared for by the ever hospitable people
ashore, the two engine-room hands, to their great surprise, suddenly
found themselves arrested for having been participators in the plot to
kill the white men, and Shelford proceeded to the British Consul to make
his report. A letter of protest was then sent to the obese and somnolent
To Phat, but everyone knew that no reforms could take place in the town
of Whang Chai till the return of the enlightened military officer, Hop
Chu Tung, who was at present away.

Shelford didn’t talk much in the Club, and the missionaries were too
bewildered by their exciting few hours to give much of an account of
what had happened, so the incident was soon lost in the more important
event of the approaching races.

Gubbins had proved full of energy and had been able to walk the famous
Kwa Niu round the course, a great advance, as for some time the animal
had refused to go between the rails at any price. Now Gubbins was
confident that if Kwa Niu started he’d either win or savage every other
pony on the track.

At last the opening day arrived. A Ping Tu race-meeting is worthy of a
short description.

The racecourse is situated some two miles from the town, and is
approached by a good road. The track is laid round a hollow, oval in
shape, nearly seven furlongs in length, bounded on one side by the river
and on the other by low scrubby hills. The centre is cultivated by
market-gardeners to the n-th term.

On the outer side, when turning the corner to come down the straight to
the winning-post, is a thick clump of screw-pines, but more of that
clump anon. Opposite the winning-post is the grand-stand, built of
brick, with stalls beneath for the stabling of the ponies. Every lady in
Ping Tu goes to the races because she has a new dress from England for
the occasion, and every man goes because he has a pony entered or, at
least, a share of a pony. There is a paddock of hard bamboo grass, a
bar, and a fenced-in promenade for ladies and members, outside which the
Chinese swarm in every degree of blue cotton garment, from the newest
and most stiff of the well-to-do to the washed-out and carefully-patched
garments of the impecunious.

You can depend on fine weather in the month of February in Ping Tu; so
every lady feels happy knowing she can wear her best clothes.

There is a general air of holiday in the community when the races begin,
business is at a standstill, the men repair to the Club and split their
pints of “the boy,” while the ladies put the finishing touches to their
toilets. And now everyone is arriving on the course, the English,
French, Russian, German, and other Consuls with their wives. The members
of all the “hongs,” or business firms, with their belongings, and lastly
Cretes, Jews, Arabians, etc., as it says in the Book of Common Prayer.

The British Consul had brought his consular guard of twelve Sikh police,
and the Military Governor of Whang Chai had just returned in time to
witness the races, and arrived that morning with two hundred Chinese
troops to keep the course clear. All was bustle and excitement, the
popping of champagne corks mingled with the pleasant hum of innumerable
voices, and the Chinese Military Governor, with his Cambridge education,
moved everywhere among the assembled crowd talking in perfect English.

Foh, the military official of Whang Chai, had only arrived at his
headquarters the day before, and although deeply concerned at finding
the mission gutted and at the outrageous treatment Shelford had
received, his sporting instincts had led him to attend the races before
executing summary justice upon the perpetrators of the outrage. So far
Foh had had no opportunity of speaking to Shelford.

And then approached the great event of the day, the Derby. The Pari
Mutuel was besieged by the Europeans and wealthier Chinese, and
excitement was great as the numbers went up for the race. There were
seven starters—Kwa Niu, pink with black cap; Stone Broke, blue and white
check; Fuji San, green, white cap; Try Again, cerise; Greyfoot, yellow
jacket, blue cap; Dai Nippon, blue and white hoops, yellow cap; and The
Dodger, scarlet and old gold quartered.

The race is a mile and a half, and every occupant of the grand-stand was
eagerly waiting with glasses fixed on the starting-point to see the
ponies off. So keen was their attention that the clamour rising from the
swarming hordes of Chinese outside the enclosure was unheard. At last
they were off to a good start, and Kwa Niu, acting up to his usual
reputation, appears to be left. At once a hail of good-natured chaff
fell on Shelford, when all at once the eyes of all in the stand were
directed to the railings round the enclosure. A fight of more than usual
violence appeared to be going on there: the Sikh police were being
assaulted, railings were torn up and used by the Chinese against the
Indians, the latter being crushed down by weight of superior numbers.
The mob surged across the course, several of the men ran and shut the
wooden doors by which the grand-stand was entered. Shelford was the
first to grasp the situation. He had recognised Ching urging on the mob.
Foh also had seen how grave matters looked and rushed to the edge of the
balcony, shouting orders to his soldiers. These, however, were busily
tearing off their uniform jackets and mingling with the surging mob.
Cries of “Kill! Kill!” resounded on all sides, and a fierce fight
proceeded round the doors to the grand-stand between the few remaining
Sikhs and the mob. The men tore off the iron rails round the balcony,
and, headed by Shelford and Foh, ran to the gates and engaged with the
mob, dealing deadly blows right and left on the shaven heads round them.
What a position! Here were unarmed Europeans about to be destroyed by a
mob of equally unarmed Chinese, and the women above in a frail structure
of bricks and wood. Foh was nearly insane with rage. He felt himself
more or less responsible for the good behaviour of the people, and here
he was, powerless and deserted by his soldiers. The others had to
restrain him from rushing into the mob alone to certain death. Now came
a diversion. A horseman dashed through the mob at a furious gallop,
scattering the people right and left, his steed savagely biting and
snapping at everyone within reach. The unknown rider was gone like a
flash, and the Chinese returned to the attack. Lustily the white people
rained blows on their yellow brethren, and many a blood-stained European
proved that the Chinese were getting some home themselves. The fight was
desperate as far as the white men were concerned, for were not their
women-folk above in the grand-stand. Once again the Chinese drew off
with loud cries, and once more this desperate rider appeared; he threw
himself from the saddle and joined the small band of defenders, and then
a most extraordinary scene was enacted. A small pony, apparently all
hoofs and teeth, took on the fight. Savaging, kicking, biting, he rushed
among the frightened Chinese, while the exhausted white defenders
marvelled at the supernatural animal and regained their breath for a
fresh onslaught. The pony was Kwa Niu and his rider Gubbins. Kwa Niu
played the very devil with his own compatriots, not because he owed any
allegiance to his English owner, but because he was a devil from start
to finish.

Suddenly a bugle rang out above the noise of the yelling mob, some
horsemen in gaudy silk jackets dashed among the disordered Chinese, and
deliverance arrived in the shape of a small party of American marines,
headed by a young ensign with drawn sword.

“Why, there’s something doing in this one-horse little burg after all!”
quietly remarked the smiling officer as his handful of marines turn and
face the mob now fleeing in all directions. “Say, are the ladies all
right? Good boys, I knew you’d look after them. Guess the rest of your
Derby winners turned up in about time to turn us out.”

Now there was sudden relaxation from grave to gay. People rolled about
in uncontrollable laughter, the tears streaming down their cheeks. Even
the stolid marines smiled. And the cause for this unexpected merriment
was Gubbins. There he stood in a black cap, but otherwise as nature made
him. Finding all eyes directed on him, he assumed the colour known as
salmon pink. However, his blushes were quickly hidden under a Newmarket
coat, provided by someone who had sufficient control over his risibility
to think intelligibly. None too soon was the youthful Gubbins covered
up, for the ladies were now all anxiety to leave the racecourse and
return to the safer protection of their own houses. The American marines
and Sikhs escorted the ladies to their houses, guards were stationed and
sentries posted about the town, and a somewhat anxious night passed off
without further incident.

At an early hour next morning Foh arrived on horseback. He had ridden to
Whang Chai and back, and had done many things during the night. He
visited the various Consuls and principal business people of the
community and explained that Ching and the other ringleaders of the riot
had been captured and executed, that he had an efficient guard of
fifteen hundred trusted soldiers then on their way to Ping Tu, and that
for the prestige of all Europeans it was absolutely necessary that the
races should be continued that day. The Europeans were at first
doubtful, but they soon saw Foh’s arguments, and in due course the
various wives had the proposal laid before them. To the everlasting
credit of the tender sex be it told that not a woman hesitated. As the
men thought it was the right thing to do, they all did it, and again the
smart frocks from “home” adorned the grand-stand of the racecourse.

So far we have not understood why Gubbins made his opportune entry on
Kwa Niu clad only in a black cap. The explanation discloses a little
side-plot in the drama. In certain parts of the coast of England it used
to be the practice of little children when going to bed to pray somewhat
as follows: “Please, God, bless father! Please, God, bless mother; and
please, God, send a wreck ashore before morning!” The prayer of these
innocents possessed a counterpart in the feelings of some of the
peaceable people of Ping Tu during race week. Their prayer, however, was
that a rider might be thrown at the bend by the screw-pines in order
that they might strip him of his coveted gaudy silk coat, his silk
breeches, and good leather boots. To assist “providence” it occasionally
happened that a jockey’s stirrup leathers were partly cut through with a
sharp knife, so that on rounding a corner sharply one leather might give
way and so unseat the rider. On this occasion they had chosen Gubbins
for their victim, and his leathers were duly faked by his “mah foo.”
Everything happened in due order for the benefit of the gentle
Celestials. Kwa Niu was well behind the others, and threw his rider at
the bend as desired. Gubbins got a nasty toss, and was for a few seconds
unconscious, during which time he was stripped of everything except his
cap. Suddenly regaining consciousness, he found himself surrounded by
Chinese, and jumped up in great excitement, thinking he was about to be
murdered. Fortunately for him, Kwa Niu was kicking and bucking around
within a few yards. Wild with fear Gubbins rushed at the pony, vaulted
into the saddle, and, as we know, went once round the course, and only
managed to pull the brute up the second time he reached the grand-stand,
where his arrival proved so opportune.

The second day of the races passed off with perfect quiet and order.
Foh’s soldiers arrived in good time, and were more than sufficient to
overawe the rabble. At last Mrs. British Consul stood up to give the
prizes for the various races. The prizes for the first three races are
given, and then comes the handsome bowl for the Derby.

“The Derby! Why, Kwa Niu was the only horse that finished!” says
everyone, and the blushing Gubbins is pushed forward.

“Objection,” says the American Consul; “he never weighed in.”

“Go and weigh in,” says Shelford.

Of course it was quite unorthodox, but anyway Gubbins got his saddle
and, amidst a laughing crowd of men, weighed in wearing a black cap
only. Fortunately he had carried over weight, and as he stood his weight
was exact. The decision was received with cheer upon cheer. Shelford had
undoubtedly won the Derby, and Gubbins, hastily regaining his clothes,
was carried before Mrs. British Consul.

Shyly he received the bowl, but when Mrs. Consul said, “I think your
colours were pink with a black cap, Mr. Gubbins,” well, Mr. Gubbins’
colours might very well have been described as scarlet. “But we were all
too upset to notice you,” kindly added the lady, “and, at all events, we
think you and Kwa Niu saved our lives.”

Yes, it was a very popular win, and the missionaries are back in Whang
Chai again. The pig-like To Phat has been removed to another district,
and the mission-house and school have been rebuilt, and, I am glad to
say, their new sites do not in any way encroach on the anatomy of the
famous guardian dragon that lives beneath the hill in Whang Chai.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                PLYMOUTH
                    WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LIMITED
                                PRINTERS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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