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Title: My Chinese Marriage
Author: Porter, Katherine Anne, Franking, Mae M.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Chinese Marriage" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



MY CHINESE MARRIAGE

By M. T. F.

JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LIMITED
LONDON       MCMXXII


_Printed in Great Britain by_ Butler & Tanner, _Frome and London_


TO MY CHINESE FATHER AND MOTHER
WITH THE GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION
OF THEIR AMERICAN DAUGHTER THIS
VOLUME IS DEDICATED



CONTENTS

CHAP.                      PAGE
  I IN AMERICA                3

 II IN SHANGHAI              49

III FIRST DAUGHTER-IN-LAW    97

 IV THE ETERNAL HILLS       141



I

IN AMERICA


I saw Chan-King Liang for the first time on a certain Monday morning in
October. It was the opening day of college, and the preceding week had
been filled with the excitement incidental to the arrival of many
students in a small town given over to family life. Every household
possessed of a spare room was impressed with the fact that good
citizenship demanded that it harbour a student. Therefore, when I saw
trunks and boxes and bags being tumbled upon the front porch of our
next-door neighbour, I said to Mother, "Mrs. James has succumbed!" and
set out for my first class with Celia, an old friend.

As we crossed the campus, we noticed a group of boys, gathered on the
steps of College Hall and talking among themselves. Celia turned to me.
"Do you see the one with very black hair, his face turned away a
little--the one in the grey suit, Margaret? Well, that is the new
Chinese student, and the boys all say he is a wonder. My cousin knew him
last year in Chicago, where he was a freshman. Going in for
international law and political science--imagine!"

I turned and glanced with a faint interest at the foreign student, on
whose black hair the sun was shining. My first impression was of a very
young, smiling lad. "Looks well enough," I said rather ungraciously, and
we passed on.

I was a busy student, eagerly beginning my freshman year's work, and I
thought no more of the young Chinese. But a day or so later I
discovered him to be the owner of those trunks and bags I had seen
assembled on Mrs. James's porch. Chan-King was my next-door neighbour.

We were never introduced to each other, as it happened, and, though we
shared studies in German and French, we did not exchange a word for some
time. Later I found myself admiring his feat of learning two foreign
languages through the medium of English, a third, and doing it so very
well. At the same time, though I was not then aware of the fact, he was
also admiring me for proficiency in these subjects, in which I was
working hard, because I intended to teach languages.

The progress of my interest in him was gradual and founded on a sense of
his complete remoteness, an utter failure to regard him as a human being
like the rest of us. He was the first of his race I had ever seen. But
finally we spoke to one another by some chance, and, after that, it
seemed unnecessary to refuse to walk to class with him on a certain
morning when we came out of our houses at the same moment.

We parted at College Hall door with an exchange of informal little nods.
I was happily impressed, but my impulse to friendship suffered a quick
reaction from all that Chan-King was, when viewed against the background
of his race as I saw it. I had no intention whatever of continuing our
association.

Naturally, Chan-King knew nothing of this. I think I was probably a
trifle more courteous to him than was necessary. I remember being uneasy
for fear of wounding him by some thoughtless remark that would reveal my
true state of mind about China. I lost sight of the race in the
individual. I even pretended not to notice that he was waiting for me
morning after morning when I emerged, always a trifle late, hurrying to
classes. By the close of the first semester, we were making the trip
together almost daily as a matter of course.

He was gay and friendly, with a sort of frank joyousness that was his
own special endowment for living. I enjoyed his companionship, his talk,
his splendid spirit. His cheerfulness was a continual stimulant to my
moody, introspective, static temperament. I used to study his face,
which in repose had the true Oriental impassivity--a stillness that
suggested an inner silence or brooding. But this mood was rare in those
days, and I remember best his laughter, his shining eyes that never
missed the merriment to be had from the day's routine events.

For a while we were merely two very conventional young students walking
sedately together, talking with eagerness on what now seem amusingly
sober and carefully chosen subjects. We were both determined to be
dignified and impersonal. I was nineteen, and Chan-King was two years
older.

Finally, Chan-King asked to call and he appeared at the door that
evening, laden with an enormous, irregular package, a collection of
treasures that he thought might interest us. We all gathered about the
library table, where he spread a flaming array of embroidered silks,
carved ivory and sandalwood and curious little images in bronze and
blackwood. They gave out a delicious fragrance, spicy and warm and
sweet, with a bitter tang to it, a mingling of oils and lacquers and
dust of incense.

He was very proud of half a dozen neckties his mother had made him,
patterned carefully after the American one he had sent her as a
souvenir. "She sews a great deal, and everything she does is beautiful,"
he said, stroking one of the ties, fashioned of wine-coloured silk and
embroidered in a thin gold thread.

The simple words, the tangle of the exotic things lying on the table,
in that moment set the whole world between us. I saw him as alien, far
removed and unknowable; I realized how utterly transplanted he must be,
moving as he did in a country whose ideals, manners and customs must
appear, at times, grotesquely fantastic to him. "How queer we must seem
to you!" I exclaimed impulsively, lifting a solid, fat little idol in my
hand.

"Queer? Not at all--but wonderfully interesting in everything. You see,
to me it is all one world!" Our eyes met for a second. Then he offered
me a small embroidered Chinese flag. I hesitated, looking at the
writhing, fire-breathing dragon done in many-coloured silks. Again the
old prejudice swept over me. I was about to refuse. But I saw in his
eyes an expression of hesitating, half-anxious pleading, which touched
me. I took the flag, puzzled a trifle over that look I had surprised.

Chan-King became a frequent visitor at our home in the evenings, making
friends with my father and mother, with true Chinese deference. I like
to remember those times, with all of us sitting around the big table,
the shaded lamp casting a clear circle of light on the books and papers,
the rest of the room in pleasant dimness. It was during these evenings
that Chan-King told us about his father, typical Chinese product of his
clan and time, who had early perceived the limitations of a too
nationalistic point of view and had planned Western education for his
sons, of whom Chan-King was the eldest. From his talk I reconstructed a
half-picture of his home in southern China. It was a large household of
brothers and relatives and servants ruled over by his mother during the
prolonged absences of his father, whose business interests lay in a
far-away island port.

Once he brought a faded photograph of a small boy formally arrayed in
the Chinese velvets and satins of an earlier period. "Myself at the age
of six," he explained.

I examined the picture closely. "Why, Mr. Liang," I said, in wonder,
"you are wearing a--wearing a--queue!"

He smiled, delighted at my confusion. "Yes, a very nice queue it was,"
he declared, "bound with a scarlet silk cord. I remember how it waved in
the wind when I flew my kite on the hills!"

"You wore a black queue yourself, Margaret," interposed my mother, her
eyes twinkling, "shorter than this, but often tied with a red silk
ribbon."

"You see, we had that in common, at least," said Chan-King. And he
flashed a grateful smile at Mother. There was a well-established
friendship between my kindly, understanding mother and Chan-King while
my feeling for him was still uncertain.

Yet, in spite of all these reasons for close sympathy with Chan-King, I
felt towards him at times something amounting almost to dislike. Against
such states of mind my sense of personal justice, a trait I had directly
from my Scotch inheritance, instantly rebelled. I was careful in no way
to reveal my feelings, though I probably should have done so had I even
remotely realized that friendship was verging upon love. As it was, I
had an ideal of genuine comradeship, of a pleasant interlude destined to
end with our college days.

Towards the end of the winter, as our acquaintance advanced, there came
to me a series of those revulsions. I assured myself that so ephemeral a
relation as ours must be was hardly worth the time I was giving to it. I
remembered that, fine as Chan-King was, he belonged to the Chinese race.
I decided to put an end to the entire episode at once. The way in which
I carried out this plan was unnecessarily abrupt. I avoided him
unmistakably, going to class and returning home by a roundabout way, and
refusing to see him either in class or on the campus.

Then, one afternoon at the end of two weeks, he was waiting for me
before the main door of College Hall. I did not speak. He joined me
without a word and walked in silence to the campus edge. I turned
suddenly toward a side street. "Go that way if you like," I said rudely.
"I have an errand this way."

He came with me. "I wish to talk with you," he said, with an oddly
restrained, patient tone of weariness. Our eyes met, and I saw in his a
gentle and touching determination to understand and be understood, which
would have been more significant to me if I had been less engrossed in
my own emotions.

"Why do you wish to end our friendship?" he asked quietly, with his
characteristic frankness.

"I--because I thought it was best," I stammered, completely disarmed.

"It is never best to give up a friendship," he said. "But it happens
that our friendship may end soon after all. It is possible I shall
return to China. To-day I received a cablegram from my father, saying my
mother is dangerously ill. I shall know within a day or so whether I am
to go or to stay."

Human sympathy triumphed over race prejudice. "Come home with me," I
said, "and let Mother talk to you. She always knows what to say."

Another cablegram two days later brought the good news of his mother's
improvement. Chan-King's anxiety during those two days wrung me. He said
nothing, but his face was strained and lined. He walked and we talked a
good deal of other things, and he gave me definite outlines of his
"life-plan," as he called it. He regarded the diplomatic service of his
country as his final goal, but, on the way to it, he wished to take part
in constructive teaching and sociological work in China. He was keenly
enthusiastic about the ancient arts and natural beauties of China and
venerated many of her old customs. "I hope introducing modern education
will not destroy the beauty of the East," he told me, but he was solidly
convinced of the need for new ideas in all the Orient. I began to see
his country through new eyes.

We were soon going about together a great deal. I remember many happy
parties on the lantern-lighted campus, many field-days and tennis
matches, all the innocent freedom of college life that we enjoyed
together. I was rather remote in my personal friendships, and very
little was said to me regarding my association with the Chinese student.
But now I began to hear small murmurs, a vague hum of discussion, and
to observe an interested watching of us by the students and townspeople.
I could not help seeing that curious glances followed us when we entered
a tea-room or concert hall together.

Several friends of my mother's spoke disapprovingly to her of the
matter. "What if they should fall in love--marry?" asked one
conventional-minded old lady. But my mother was born without prejudices
and never sees boundary lines or nationalities. She was infinitely
tactful and kind. I know now that she was rather uneasy, for she felt
that marriage is a difficult enough relation when each person knows the
other's heritage and formulas; but she said nothing to make me
self-conscious, not even repeating the remarks of her acquaintances
until long afterwards.

However, I heard comments from other sources, which irritated me a
trifle and had the perfectly natural effect of stimulating my loyalty
to Chan-King and arousing at times a yearning tenderness to shield him
from injustice. At this time we tentatively expressed our views on
intermarriage. We were sitting in the porch late one afternoon. "I
believe marriage between alien races is a mistake," I said, in the
decisive way I cultivated at that time. "It is better to marry one's own
kind."

"No doubt there are fewer difficulties," he answered without conviction.
"It is all so much a personal problem. Marriages between Americans do
not seem to be always successful."

I flared. "We hear only of the unhappy ones," I retorted.

"But there are many, many unhappy ones, then," he returned gently. "I
wonder if unhappy marriage in all countries is not due to selfishness
and lack of love and to unwillingness to compromise on unimportant
differences."

We could not possibly quarrel here, and our talk proceeded amiably.

My thoughts at dinner that night seem very amusing to me as I recall
them now. Chan-King was so like one of us, as we sat at table together,
that I found myself wondering if it was true that a Chinese wife did not
eat at the same table with her husband; if she actually did wait upon
him and obey him without question in everything; if Chan-King would
return to China soon and there become an insufferable, autocratic
Eastern husband. The thought oppressed me unbearably. Since Chan-King
was leaving next day on a summer-vacation trip, this was a farewell
dinner. He insisted on helping me with the dishes afterwards, for ours
was a simple household, and we usually had no maid. We were very merry
over the task. "In China," he confided, as he stacked the saucers, "the
lot of women is much easier. They have servants for everything of this
kind. I know an Englishwoman who married a Chinese, and she afterwards
taught in a college for the sake of something to do."

"She did quite right," I said. "Idleness is not good for anyone."

"Chinese wives are not idle," he answered gravely, "they have many
duties for everyone in their household."

At this he turned his eyes upon me, with an intent, inner look. Because
I was impressed, I chose to be flippant.

"If I obstruct your view, I will move," I said.

"It would do no good," he answered. "You are always there--wherever I
want to look."

Later he was writing his name in Chinese characters on a photograph he
had given my mother. I stood beside him. He dropped the pen, turned to
me and took both my hands in his own. He bent toward me, and I drew
away, shaking my head decisively. I wrenched one hand free, and the
kiss he meant for my lips reached my fingers instead. I was overwhelmed
with a sense of invasion. We quarrelled, but without bitterness or real
anger. I was simply convinced that, since love was not for us, we were
bound by all ethics to keep our relations in the outward seeming of
friendship. For a moment I felt that one of my ideals had been rudely
shattered.

"Oh, but you have mistaken me!" he declared earnestly, refusing to
release my hand.

"Kisses are not for friendship," I managed to say.

"I'm sorry," he confessed, but I saw in his eyes that he regretted my
misunderstanding of him, nothing more.

During his summer travels he wrote me many letters. I had time to think,
and in my thoughts I admitted that to be a friend of Chan-King was
better than to have the love of anyone else in the world.

When he returned, we wandered together one evening down to the campus
and sat on a stone bench in the moon-shade of a tall tree. I had
overheard a remark, tinged with race prejudice, that had awakened again
in my heart that brooding maternal tenderness, and when Chan-King's eyes
pleaded wistfully I gave him, as a sacrificial offering, the kiss before
denied.

That autumn he transferred for a year to a New England university. He
told me long afterwards it was so that absence might teach me to know my
own heart. I loved him now and admitted it to myself with bitter
honesty. But all fulfilment of love seemed so hopeless and remote, the
chasm fixed between our races seemed so impassable, that I gave up in my
heart and put away his letters as they came, smiling with affected
youthful cynicism at the memory of that kiss, which could mean nothing
more to us than a sweet and troubled recollection.

He came back unexpectedly at the end of the college term. There was an
indescribably hopeful, anxious look in his eyes as he took my hands. My
first sight of his face, grown older and graver in those long months,
brought a shock of poignant happiness, very near to tears. Off guard, we
met as lovers, with all antagonisms momentarily swept away, all
pretences forgotten. I went to his arms as my one sure haven. For this
hour love made everything simple and happy.

My father and mother were astonished when we told them of our intention
to marry. With gentle wisdom, Mother suggested that we should allow
ourselves a year of engagement, "in order to be sure," as she expressed
it. We were very sure, but we consented.

Chan-King wrote at once to his people in south China, telling of his
engagement. For me, he had one important explanation, made in his frank,
straightforward way. "In China," he told me, "it is usual for parents to
arrange their children's marriages, often years in advance. When I was
very young, it was generally understood that I would later marry the
daughter of my father's good friend, three years younger than I. There
was no formal betrothal, and, when I left home to study, I asked my
father not to make any definite plans for my marriage until my return.
The subject has never been mentioned since, and I don't know what his
ideas are now. But they can make no difference with us--you understand
that, Margaret, dear?" Again I felt myself in spiritual collision with
unknown forces and wondered at his calmness in opposing the claims of
his heredity.

His family replied to his letter with a cablegram, forbidding the
marriage. I had never seriously expected any other decision. A letter
followed, conciliatory in tone, in which his father explained that,
since Chan-King's foreign education was nearly completed, arrangements
had been made for his marriage to Miss Li-Ying immediately upon his
return home. He gave a charming description of his bride, whom Chan-King
had not seen for twelve years. She was, he said, young and modest and
kind, she was beautiful and wealthy, and, moreover, had been given a
modern education in order to fit her for the position of wife to an
advanced Chinese. The match was greatly desired by both families. In
conclusion, the letter urgently requested that Chan-King would not make
it impossible for his father to fulfil the contract he had entered into
with a friend, and very gently intimated that by so doing he would
forfeit all right to further consideration.

There were other letters. An American friend, a missionary, wrote--oh,
very tactfully--of the difficulties he would have in keeping an American
wife happy in the Orient. A Chinese cousin discussed at length the
sorrows a foreign daughter-in-law would bring into his house--the
bitterness of having in the family an alien and stubborn woman, who
would be unwilling to give his parents the honour due to them or to
render them the service they would expect of their son's wife.

Many letters of this kind came in a group. There was a hopeless tone of
finality, a solid clan consciousness in those letters that frightened me
a little. I was uneasy, uncertain. I had found no irreconcilable
elements in our minds, for I was very conservative West, and he was very
liberal East. But here were represented the people with whom his life
must be spent and the social background against which it must
harmoniously unfold. I felt with terrific force that it was not
Chan-King, but Chan-King's traditions and ancestors, his tremendous
racial past, that I must reckon with.

Also, I did not wish to stand in the way of his future. I doubt if I
could have found courage to marry Chan-King, if I had then realized the
importance--especially in diplomatic and political circles--of clan and
family influence in China. But he gave it up so freely, with such
assured and unregretful cheerfulness, that I could not but share his
mood.

In these calm, logical, impersonal family letters, which Chan-King
translated for me, there was a strain of sinister philosophy that
chilled me as I read. The letters dealt entirely with his duty in its
many phases--to his parents, to his ancestors, to his country, to his
own future. Nothing of love! Only one relative--a cousin--mentioned it
at all, and in this wise: "You are young now, and to youth love seems
of great importance. But, as age replaces youth, you will find that love
runs away like water."

"That is not true, Chan-King," I said, with solemn conviction. "Love is
greater than life or age; it lives beyond death. It is love that makes
eternity!"

At this time, Chan-King did not quite comprehend my mystical
interpretation of love. But he answered very happily, "To have you for
my wife is worth everything else the world can offer."

Chan-King continued to write to his family briefly and respectfully,
declining to be influenced in any way. Replies came at lengthening
intervals and then ceased. There was no open breach, no violent tearing
asunder of bonds. Courteously, quite gently, the hands of his people
were removed, and he stood alone.

"But surely your mother will not give you up!" I exclaimed one day when
it dawned on me that not one message had she sent in all the
correspondence.

"Not in her dear heart," he said, with unshaken faith, "but of course
she will not write to me if my father disapproves."

"But a mother, Chan-King!" I protested. "Surely her feelings come first
always!"

Chan-King's tone was patient after the manner of one who has explained
an obvious fact many times. "In China," he reminded me again, "the
family comes always before the individual. But with you and me, Margaret
beloved, love has first importance."

His never-failing insistence upon viewing ours as an individual
instance, not to be judged by any ordinary standards, was a source of
great strength to me always. During the short period that followed
before our marriage, we tiffed a few times in the most conventional
manner, with fits of jealousy that had no foundation; small distrusts
that on my part were mere efforts to uphold what I considered my proper
feminine pride, and on his, were often failures to discount this
characteristic temper of mine. Only, somehow, there was never any
rancour in our quarrels. Not once would we deny our love for each other.

So we planned to be married immediately. There were no reasons why we
should delay further. That is to say, none but practical reasons, and
what have they to do with young people in love? "It is a little late for
us to begin practical thinking," said Chan-King cheerfully, when we
discussed ways and means. "But we might as well make the experiment."

Chan-King was no longer merely a student with a generous allowance from
a wealthy father. On his own resources, with his education not
completed, he was about to acquire a foreign wife and to face an
untried world. We were strangely light-hearted about all this. Chan-King
had regularly put by more than half of his allowance since coming to
America. I meant to be a teacher of languages, economically independent
if circumstances required such aid for a man beginning a career. Our
plans were soon completed. At the end of another term, which we would
finish together, Chan-King would be graduated, and then, after a year of
practice in his profession, he would return to China, there to begin his
life work. I was to follow later. Nothing could have been more
delightfully simple so far as we could see. A few days later we were
married in my mother's house by an Anglican clergyman. "Of course you
will live here with us until you go to China," my parents had said. "We
want our children with us, if you can be happy here."

This seemed a very natural arrangement to Chan-King, accustomed as he
was to family life. But I was apprehensive. The popular Western idea
that people cannot be friends if they are related by law was heavy on my
mind. I did not expect any drastic readjustment of temperament between
my Chinese husband and me, but I did look forward somewhat timorously to
a trying period of small complications due to differences in domestic
customs and the routine of daily living.

I need not have worried a moment; a wonderful spirit of family
co-operation was an important part of Chan-King's Oriental heritage.
From the day of our wedding he took his place with charming ease and
naturalness as a member of the household. The affection that existed
between my husband and my parents simplified that phase of our relation
perfectly, and left us free to adjust ourselves to each other and the
world, though the latter we took very little into account. Until I met
Chan-King, the idea of being conspicuous was unendurable to me. But when
I early perceived that to appear with him anywhere was to invite the
gaze of the curious, I discovered with surprise that it mattered not at
all. (I was very proud of my husband and loved to go about with him.) We
were happy from the beginning.

Discovering life together proved a splendid adventure, which renewed
itself daily. The deep affection and tenderness between us created
subtle comprehensions too delicate to be put into words. A quick look
interchanged during a pause in talk would often convey a complete
thought. I always felt that Chan-King had acuter perceptions, more
reserve, and more imagination than I. Also he was meticulous--as I was
not--in regard to small amenities. I had always been used to having my
own way without causing discomfort to anyone else, but I found that I
could not speak carelessly or act thoughtlessly without the risk of
violating his sense of the fitness of things. My greatest difficulty in
the first few months of our marriage came from my constant effort to
adjust my mode of thought and action to meet a highly trained and
critical temperament, to whom the second-bests of association, spiritual
or mental or material, were not acceptable. Yet, if he exacted much, he
gave more. In everything, he had a generosity so sincere and spontaneous
that it aroused a like quality in me.

I am in many ways the elemental type of woman, requiring, I know, a
certain measure of domination in love. It was imperative that I should
respect my husband, and it pleased me to discover, in our several slight
domestic crises, that his was far the stronger will. I had taken my vow
to obey, having specified that the word was not to be omitted from the
marriage ceremony. How I should have kept it under a tyrannical will I
do not know, for Chan-King was not a domestic dictator. He took it for
granted that we were partners and equals in our own departments of life.
He trusted my judgment in the handling of my share of our affairs, and
in later years often came to me for advice in his own. Nevertheless,
morally, the balance of power was in his hands, and I was glad to leave
it there. Often our disagreements would end in laughter because each one
of us would give way gradually from the position first assumed, until we
had almost changed sides in the discussion. This happened again and
again.

From the very beginning, I saw clearly, by some grace, the point at
which Chan-King's Oriental mind and Occidental education came into the
keenest conflict: my attitude towards other men and their attitude
toward me. He was never meanly jealous or suspicious, but there was in
him that unconquerable Eastern sense of exclusiveness in love, that
cherishing of personal possession, so incomprehensible to the average
Western imagination.

I had planned to instruct a young man in French during the summer
months, as a part of my vacation work, and I casually announced my
intention to Chan-King. He opposed it at once, I thought unfairly. I was
a great while persuading him to admit his real reasons for objecting.
Finally I said, somewhat at random, "If my pupil were a girl, you would
not care."

"You have enough work as it is," he persisted, but without firmness, and
his eyes flickered away from mine. I laughed a little. He turned to me a
face so distressed that my smile died suddenly. "Oh, don't laugh!" he
said, painfully in earnest. "You must keep in mind what you are to me.
I--cannot be different. I am sorry."

I gave up my harmless young pupil and said nothing more. From that
moment I began to form my entire code of conduct where men were
concerned on a rigidly impersonal and formal basis. It was not
difficult, for my first and only affection was centred in my husband,
and the impulse to coquetry was foreign to my nature.

My husband's determination to leave my individuality untrammelled was
sometimes overborne, in small ways that delighted me, by his innate
sense of fitness. We played tennis and he played excellently. One day,
as we left the courts, he said to me, "Tennis just isn't your game,
Margaret. Your dignity is always getting in the way of your drive. I
don't want you to give up your dignity--it is too much a part of you.
But you might leave tennis alone and try archery. I am sure that is
more suited to your type." The amused obedience with which I took his
suggestion soon became enthusiasm for the new sport.

To me, marriage had always seemed the most mystic and important of human
relations, involving at times all the rest--and particularly parenthood.
I am a born mother, to whom the idea of marriage without children is
unthinkable. Since I put away my dolls, dream children had taken their
place in the background of my fancy. I saw them vaguely at first, but
with the coming of love I knew quite clearly how they would look. Now
that I had married Chan-King, I should have liked a child at once as a
surer bond between us and a source of comfort for myself while he would
be making his start in China. I knew that he loved children, for on
several occasions I had deliberately put a tiny neighbour in his way
and had taken note of his warm friendliness and gentleness with the wee
thing. But, fearing that he would be unwilling to accept a new
responsibility while our affairs were still unsettled, I put aside my
desire for a child, though my loved books were growing strangely
irksome. I did not know that my husband shared the usual foreign belief
that the American woman is an unwilling mother.

Then one day he went to call on a friend of his, a Chinese student whose
wife and little son were with him. "I saw the Chinese baby," he told me
with boyish eagerness. "He is going to have a little brother soon. Lucky
baby!"

"Lucky parents!" I corrected him, and sighed enviously. Chan-King looked
at me, the wonder on his face growing into a delighted smile. "Do you
mean it, Margaret?" he asked incredulously. Then we talked long and
earnestly of our children. To Chan-King's old-world mind, children
should follow marriage as naturally as fruit the blossom, and his
happiness in discovering that my ideals were exactly his own brought us
to another plane of understanding and contentment with each other.
Besides, he explained, a grandchild would do much to reconcile his
parents to our marriage.

Happily, when the school term was over, I put aside my books for a
needle. I had always been fond of sewing, but never had I found such
fascinating work as the making of those tiny garments of silk and
flannel and lawn. My practical mother protested against so much
embroidering, but my husband only smiled as he rummaged gently through
the basket of small sewing.

"You are a real Chinese wife, after all," he would say. "A Chinese wife
sews and embroiders a great deal. She even makes shoes for the family."

"Shoes, Chan-King?"

"Shoes, no less. To make shoes beautifully is a fine art, and a Chinese
woman takes pride in excelling at it. She is proud of her feet and makes
all her own shoes."

Then he would tell me stories of his childhood and recall memories of
the closed garden in his old home, where he played at battledore with a
tiny girl, while her mother and his mother sat together, embroidering
and talking in low tones. The two young mothers were friends and were
planning for the marriage of their son and daughter, which would
strengthen the friendship into a family bond.

I took great interest in this little girl, who flitted through
Chan-King's stories like a brilliant butterfly seen through a mist. Her
name was Li-Ying and she was only three years old when she ran, with her
little feet still unbound, through those sweetly remembered green
gardens of his childhood. Somewhere now she was sitting, her lily feet
meekly crossed, embroidering shoes, waiting until her father should
betroth her to another youth.

When Chan-King showed me a portrait of himself, taken in a group with
his mother and father when he was eight years old, I examined very
thoughtfully the austerely beautiful face of the woman who had brought
him into life. She sat on one side of the carved blackwood table. Her
narrow, panelled skirt was raised a trifle to show her amazingly tiny
feet. On the other side of the table sat Chan-King's father, an
irreconcilably stern and autocratic-looking man, magnificently garbed in
the old style. Beside him stood a small, solemn boy, wearing a round
cap, his queue still bound, he told me, with a red cord, his hands lost
in the long velvet sleeves that reached almost to his knees. I put my
finger on the head of this boy. "I hope our son will look exactly like
him," I said.

At last the hoped-for son was born and laid in my arms. He was swaddled
and powdered and new and he wept for obscure reasons. But my husband and
I smiled joyfully at the delicious, incredible resemblance of that tiny
face to his own. Chan-King looked at him a long time, a quizzical, happy
smile in the corners of his mouth. Then he kissed me very gently and
said, "He's a real Liang baby, Margaret. Are you glad?" I answered that
I was glad, as I had been for everything love had brought to me.

Our plans progressed favourably, and, when our son Wilfred was five
months old, Chan-King returned to China. I bid him good-bye in the way I
knew would please him most--calmly and without tears. But, when it came
to the last moment, I felt unable to let him go. Mutely I clung to him,
the baby on my arm between us.

"It won't be for long, this," he assured me. "We shall all be together
at home very soon. You are brave and dear and true, Margaret. You shall
never be made sorry. Be patient."

His first letters told of his new work in one of the older colleges for
which Shanghai is famous. He also began his practice of law in an
official capacity. His first step toward the diplomatic service had been
taken.

At the end of four months, I received his summons and went about making
ready for the journey to China with my young son. My life-work was to
help my husband in making a home. His life-work was in China. The
conclusion was so obvious that neither I nor my parents had ever
questioned it. But, now that the moment had come, the friends of the
family were very much excited. They asked strange questions. Are you
really going? How can you leave your mother? How can you give up
beautiful America? Aren't you afraid to go to China? I answered as
patiently and reasonably as I could. They wearied me very much.

Of China itself I had no clear conception, in spite of Chan-King's
letters, for, though my old prejudice had passed away, still I saw all
the country only as a background for my husband's face.

I followed Chan-King's minute instructions concerning travelling
arrangements, and Wilfred and I had a pleasant voyage. Early one morning
I looked through the port-hole and saw about me the murky waters of the
Yangtze, alive with native craft, while dimly through the mist loomed
the fortifications of Woosung. Already the tender was waiting, and soon
we were aboard, moving rapidly up the mouth of the river. The mist
cleared, green banks arose on each side, and through distant trees
gleamed red brick buildings like any at home, side by side with the
white-plastered walls and tip-tilted roofs of China. In that long ride,
Shanghai grew upon me gradually, a curious mixture of the known and the
unknown, tantalizing me with the feeling that I had seen all this before
and ought to remember it better. In the water about me, steamer, launch
and battle-ship mingled with native junk, river-barge and house-boat.
Suddenly in the waiting group on the customs jetty I saw my husband. In
another moment we had drawn alongside the wharf and he was in the tender
beside me, greeting me in the formally courteous manner he deemed suited
to public occasions. Taking Wilfred in his arms, he drew me up the steps
and to a waiting carriage.

Here again was the confused mingling of the strange and the familiar:
clanging tram-cars, honking motor-cars, smooth-rolling rickshaws,
creaking wheel-barrows and lumbering, man-drawn trucks; dark
coolie-faces under wide straw hats, gently bred features beneath pith
helmets, black, bearded countenances below huge, gay turbans; a
bewildering jumble of alien and English speech.

Even in Chan-King I found it. He was wearing American dress, his face
had not changed, the tones of his voice were the same, but he was
speaking Chinese, and his directions to the _mafoo_ were to me a
meaningless succession of sounds.

But, when he was beside me in the carriage and the horses had started,
he turned suddenly and smiled straight into my eyes. Then, Shanghai,
Borneo or the North Pole--all would have been one to me. I asked no
questions; I was with my husband and child, driving rapidly towards the
home prepared for me. I had come home to China.



II

IN SHANGHAI


My first impressions of Shanghai are a blur. My husband and I drove
rapidly along the Bund, over Garden Bridge, which might have been any
bridge in America, past the Astor House, which was very like any
American hotel, and then along the Soochow Creek, which could be only in
China.

On North Szechuan Road we stopped at a _li_, or terrace, of newly built
houses in the style called semi-foreign. This _li_, which was in the
International Settlement, was very bright and clean. It opened upon the
main thoroughfare. The heavy walls of bright red brick were interrupted
at intervals by black doors bearing brass plates. At one of these my
husband stopped and touched a very American-looking push-button. A bell
trilled within, and the door was opened by a smiling "boy" in a long
blue cotton gown. We crossed a small courtyard bright with flowers and
vines, and, coming to the main entrance, stepped directly into a large
square room. It was cool, immaculate and restful. The matting-covered
floors, the skilfully arranged tables, chairs and sofa, the straight
hangings of green and white, threaded with gold, were exactly what I
should have wished to choose for myself. I was pleasantly surprised by
the gas chandelier with its shades of green and gold and white. A dark
green gas radiator along one wall suggested that Shanghai was not always
so warm as then. It was a very modest little home, befitting a man with
his own way to make, Chan-King explained, as he led me through the rooms
for a hasty survey. Then Wilfred was surrendered to his _amah_, a
fresh-cheeked young woman in stiffly starched blue "coat," white
trousers and apron, while we made ready for a tiffin engagement with
Chinese friends of Chan-King's.

After a short rickshaw ride--novel and delightful to me--we turned from
the main road into another series of terraces and entered a real Chinese
household. The host and hostess, who had both been in America and spoke
excellent English, were very cordial in their welcome. I felt more at
home than I had believed could be possible. Tiffin was served in the
Chinese fashion, the guests seated at a great round table, with the
dishes of meat, fish and vegetables placed in the centre, so that each
one could help himself as he chose. Individual bowls of rice, small
plates, chopsticks and spoons were at each plate. Set at intervals, were
small, shallow dishes containing soy, mustard or catsup and also
roasted melon-seeds and almonds. When my hostess, who had thoughtfully
rounded out her delicious Chinese menu with bread and butter and velvety
ice-cream, as thoughtfully produced a silver knife and fork for me, my
husband explained that I was rather deft in the use of chopsticks.
Though he had taught me, during the early days of our marriage, to use a
slender ivory pair that he possessed, I was now very nervous, but I felt
obliged to prove his delighted assertion. So my social conformity as a
Chinese wife began there, before a friendly and amused audience, who
assured me that I did very well.

On the way home Chan-King said, "Will this be difficult for you,
Margaret?"

"Chopsticks?" I asked gaily, well enough knowing that he did not mean
chopsticks. "No, I like them!"

"I mean everything," he said very gravely, "China--customs, people,
home-sickness, everything."

"You will see whether you haven't married a true Oriental," I answered
him. "As for home-sickness, why, Chan-King--I am at home."

The most important thing at first, materially speaking, was that
Chan-King must make his own way without help of any sort. And for the
upper class Chinese this is very difficult. He was teaching advanced
English in one of the largest colleges in Shanghai, maintaining a legal
practice and giving lectures on international law. He was glad to be at
home again, filled with enthusiasm for his work, hopeful as the young
returned students always are at first, and, through sheer inability to
limit his endeavours, working beyond his strength.

Our happiness at being together again made all things seem possible.
From its fragmentary beginnings in America, we gathered again into our
hands the life we expected to make so full and rich. My part, I
recognized, was to be a genuinely old-fashioned wife--the rôle I was
best fitted for, and the one most helpful to Chan-King. And I began by
running my Chinese household with minute attention to providing for his
comfort in small ways that he liked and never failed to appreciate.

Our two-story house consisted of two big rooms downstairs and sleeping
apartments and a tiny roof-garden upstairs. In this roof-garden I spent
most of my time, and there Wilfred and his _amah_ passed many
afternoons. It was a pleasant, sunny place, furnished with painted
steamer chairs, rugs and blooming plants in pottery jars. At the back,
rather removed from the main part of the house, were the kitchen,
servants' quarters and an open-air laundry. We were really very
practical and modern and comfortable. Our kitchen provided for an
admirable compromise between old and new methods. It had an English
gas-range and a Chinese one. But the proper Chinese atmosphere was
preserved by three well-trained servants who called themselves Ah Ching,
Ah Ling and Ah Poh. Most Shanghai servants are called simply "Boy" or
"Amah" or "Coolie," but ours chose those names, as distinctive for
servants there as "James" and "Bridget" are with us. Ah Ching did most
of the house-work and the running of errands; Ah Ling did the marketing
and cooking, giving us a pleasantly varied succession of Chinese and
foreign dishes; Ah Poh, the _amah_, looked after Wilfred and attended to
my personal wants.

From the first I was fond of Ah Poh, with her finely formed, intelligent
features, her soft voice and gentle, unhurried manner. She had served an
American mistress before coming to me, but showed a surprising
willingness to adopt my particular way of doing things, whether in
making beds, in keeping my clothes in order or in entertaining Wilfred.
On the other hand, Ah Ching, elderly, grave and full of responsibility,
was very partial to his accustomed way of arranging furniture and of
washing windows and floors. If left to himself, he would dust odd nooks
and corners faithfully, but if I made any formal inspection of his
labours he would invariably slight them, to intimate that I should not
be suspicious, as a friend explained--a form of logic that I found
highly amusing. Ah Ling, aside from his culinary ability, was chiefly
interesting because his eyes were really oblique--as Chinese eyes are
supposed to be, and usually are not, and because his hair really
curled--as Chinese hair is supposed never to do, and does occasionally.

For a young pair bent on thrift, we may have seemed very extravagant
indeed. In similar circumstances in America, I should probably have
thought it extravagant to have even one servant. But this household was
a very small one for China and, on our modest income, we maintained it
with a satisfactory margin.

Chan-King was helpful and showed great tact and understanding in getting
our establishment under way. I would not confess to my utter
bewilderment in trying to manage servants who did not understand half of
what I said to them. I think he became aware that I was holding on
rather hard at times during those first months, and he never failed me.
In turn, I helped him revise his papers in the evenings and assisted him
with his letters, and he used to call me his secretary. We discovered
during that first year in China that we had formed a true partnership.

Our social life was very pleasant. We entertained a great deal, in a
simple way. We belonged to a club or two and kept in close touch with
the work of the returned students, who have become an important factor
in the national life. Though wishing to conserve what is best in the
civilization of China, they are bringing Western ideas to bear upon the
solution of political, sociological and economic problems. Many of these
students, as well as other interesting people, both Chinese and foreign,
gathered at our house for dinners and teas.

There was a veteran of the customs service, a portly gentleman with
bristling white moustache, who had been one of the first group of
Government students sent to America fifty years before. He told
interesting stories of the trials and joys of those early days and
humorously lamented the fact that real apple-pie was not to be obtained
in China. There was a distinguished editor of English publications, a
tall, spare figure, whose very quietness suggested reserves of mental
power. With him often was a short, energetic man in early maturity--a
far-sighted educator and convincing orator. I remember a lively
discussion opened up by these two concerning the need for a Chinese
magazine devoted to the interests of the modern woman of China--an early
dream, which is now being fulfilled. There was a retired member of
Parliament with an unfailing zeal for political discussion, who has
since returned to the service of his Government. Also a smiling young
man, who went about persuading Old China of her need for progress, but
who could on occasion put aside his dignity to indulge a talent for
diverting bits of comedy. There was the Chinese-American son of a former
diplomat, who--born in America and coming to China as a grown
man--seemed definitely to recognize his kinship with the land of his
fathers, a fact that Chan-King and I found interesting for its possible
bearing on the future of our own sons. Naturally, most of our friends
were the younger modern folk, who were loosening the ancient bonds of
formality in their daily lives. But many of the older and more
conservative people also used to come to our evening gatherings, where
my husband and I received side by side.

As I came to know the Chinese, I was delighted with their social
deftness. They look upon grace of manner and courtesy as the foundations
of all social life. I was pleasantly impressed by the measure of
deference that they showed to wives, daughters, sisters and friends--so
different from the contempt that Western imagination supposes to be
their invariable share. Occasionally I noticed a husband carefully
translating that his wife might fully enjoy the conversation. Many of
the women, however, spoke English excellently. All our receptions and
dinners were delightfully free and full of good talk. The Chinese have
so beautifully the gift of saying profound things lightly; they can
think deeply without being heavy and pedantic.

I remember the first dinner-party I attended in Shanghai. It was rather
a grand affair, with many guests, all Chinese save me--"And I'm almost
Chinese," I said to my husband. The men and women all sat together
around one great table, in excellent humour with each other, and the
talk was very gay.

A little Chinese woman whom I knew rather well said to me later, "And
think of it--only last year in this house we should have been at
separate tables!" When I asked her to explain, she said that once men
did not bring their guests to their homes at all. Then they brought
them, but entertained them in the men's side of the house. Later they
admitted women to dine in the same room, but at separate tables, and
now, here we are, chatting and dining together quite in Western fashion.
"I like this much better," the little lady decided.

I was glad to see that all of them wore Chinese dress, for it is most
impressively beautiful. I wore my first jacket and plaited skirt that
night, a combination of pale green and black satin, and now and then I
would see Chan-King's eyes turned upon me with the look I best loved to
see there--a clear, warm affection shining in them, a certain steady
glow of expression that had love and friendship and understanding in it.
I think the sight of me in the dress of his country confirmed in his
mind my declaration that I loved China--that I wanted to be a real
Chinese wife.

After this, though for certain occasions the American fashion seemed
more appropriate, I wore Chinese dress a great deal. I remember a day
when Dr. Wu Ting-fang came to dinner, and, as he bowed to me, obviously
took note of my garb.

He looked at me very keenly for a moment, as if he meant to ask a
serious question. Then he said, in his abrupt manner, "You are happy in
that dress?"

"Indeed I am," I answered.

"You like it better than you like American clothes?" he persisted.

I nodded firmly, smiling and catching my husband's eye.

"Then wear it always," said the Doctor, with a pontifical lifting of his
fingers.

Oddly enough, my husband did not care for the native feminine fashion of
trousers and never permitted me to wear them. I considered them very
graceful and comfortable, but gladly adopted the severely plain skirts
with the plaits at the sides.

I had put on China, to wear it always, in my heart and mind, and thought
only of my husband, his work and his people. In the beginning, I should
have been perfectly content to remain cloistered, to meet no one save a
few woman friends, to go nowhere. Life flowed by me so evenly that I was
happy to drift with it, filled with dreams. The noises of hurrying,
half-modernized Shanghai reached me but vaguely, deep within my cool,
quiet house where the floors were spread with white matting and the
walls were hung with symbolic panels. The click of the ponies' feet on
the pavement, the thud of the rickshaw coolies' heels as they drew their
noiseless, rubber-tyred vehicles, the strident scream of the motor
horns, the strange, long cries of the street venders, all came to me
muffled as through many curtains that sheltered me from the world. But
my husband insisted that I should go about with him everywhere that he
felt we should go, that I should help him entertain, that I should meet
and mingle with many people, both foreign and Chinese.

He was always ready to advise me on social matters, a more difficult
undertaking than might be supposed. I have already spoken of the many
gradations in the meeting of East and West. These alone are confusing
enough, and there are further complexities due to the fact that in the
two civilizations the fine points of etiquette are often entirely at
variance. A single example will suffice--the custom of serving a guest,
as soon as seated, with some form of refreshment. In the very
conservative Chinese household, if the visitor even touches the cup of
tea, placed beside him on a small table, he is guilty of a gross breach
of good manners. In the ultra-modern household, he must drink the iced
summer beverage or the piping hot winter drink, to avoid giving offence.
Then there are the variously modified establishments, where he attempts
an exact degree of compromise, whether acknowledging the offering
merely by a gracious bow, or going further by raising it to the lips for
a dainty sip, or being still more liberal and consuming one-half the
proffered amount. That such situations are often baffling, even to Young
China, I have heard it laughingly confessed in many lively discussions.
But, though occasional errors are inevitable, sincere good-will is truly
valued and seldom misunderstood. Chan-King's ability to consider all
points of view at once was very helpful to me.

But he forgot to warn me that in Shanghai social calling is proper at
any hour of the day from nine o'clock in the morning until ten o'clock
at night. I was therefore three days in learning, during a short absence
of his, that early morning and late evening calling was an institution,
and not an accidental occurrence, as I at first supposed. Finally, Ah
Ching gave me a hint. I was in _négligé_, preparing for a morning of
lazy play with Wilfred and hoping there would be no interruptions, when
Ah Ching appeared and announced callers. My face must have expressed
surprise and a shade of annoyance, as it had for three days previously
at these summonses, for Ah Ching hesitated a moment and then vouchsafed
what he plainly considered a valuable piece of information. "In
Shanghai," said Ah Ching, "he all time go to see--all time come to see."
He paused. "_All_ time!" he added firmly and departed. I found this to
be literally true and I therefore formed my habits of dress on the
assumption that callers demanding the utmost formality of behaviour and
appearance might be announced at any moment.

Needless to say, Ah Ching's "he" was pidgin-English for "she," for my
personal visitors were all women. They were of many
nationalities--Chinese of course, and also American, Canadian, English,
Scotch and French. With the Chinese women, especially, I found myself in
perfect harmony. Nowhere, I believe, do sincerity and good-will meet
with a warmer response. They accepted me with a cordiality that was very
real and rendered invaluable assistance in my initiation into the new
life. They took me calling, shopping and marketing until Shanghai ceased
to be a bewildering maze of crowded thoroughfares; they helped me to
understand the complexities of Chinese currency; they explained the
intricate points of fashion in dress and recommended skilful tailors.

From the first we were deeply interested in the meeting and blending of
East and West that went on about us everywhere, in every field of
endeavour. We found unique opportunity for fresh impressions in the
Second Far Eastern Olympics held at Shanghai that spring. In the
presence of many thousand spectators, China, the Philippines and Japan
strove for supremacy in athletic prowess. The affair was managed
entirely by Chinese, and during most of the contests my husband was busy
on the grounds in an official capacity. I sat in the grandstand with
Chinese women friends, some of whom were returned students, and the
rousing cheers, the whole-hearted enthusiasm, brought to us vivid
memories of college days in America. The evenings were filled with
receptions and garden parties in honour of the visitors. Of course our
pleasure in the whole affair was immeasurably heightened by China's
well-earned triumph.

As the months passed, Chan-King's high-hearted enthusiasm, his dauntless
will to carry through great work in the education of Young China,
flagged to some degree, from terrible disillusionment.

This is the problem all returned students have sooner or later to face
and conquer. They come home brimming with hope and filled with
aspirations towards their country's betterment. And gradually they are
forced to acknowledge one enormous fact--that China has been her
glorious, grim old self for too many centuries, her feet are sunk too
deeply in the earth of her ancient traditions, to be uprooted by one
generation of youth--or two or three or a hundred.

Chan-King chafed and worried and worked too hard. Strangely enough, he
grew home-sick for America, though I did not.

"America strides like a young boy, and China creeps like an old woman!"
he said bitterly one day after attending a meeting of the college board,
where his modern ideas of education had suffered a defeat at the hand of
the reactionary body.

"But China is a wise, wise old woman!" I replied gently.

And very often during this time I would uphold the traditions of the
East while Chan-King championed the ways of the Western world.

My husband underwent disappointments, irritations and trials that would
have been unendurable in a less securely poised nature. As it was, he
suffered so in the great things that he had but little patience for the
small ones, and I often found him sudden of temper, with a quick
asperity of tone and finality of judgment that showed me clearly how
great a strain he was under.

But with us there was always love. And Chan-King was very careful to
make me understand, even in the midst of small disappointments and
vexations, that these things were the universal human annoyances that
had nothing to do with regrets or a sense of alienation. I broke into
tears one day when a sharp little scene occurred over nothing at all.
"Oh, Margaret, my dearest!" he said, taking me in his arms, "these
moods mean nothing between us, when we love each other so! Don't take
them seriously! What could destroy our happiness now?" In spite of the
world-wide difference in our race and upbringing, whatever difficulties
of temperamental adaptation we had to meet were merely such as must be
faced by any husband and wife in any land.

Yet Chan-King's personal fascination for me, his never-failing appeal to
my imagination, were definitely founded on the Oriental quality in him.
I found throughout the years, in every phase of our relation, a
constant, irresistible, always recurring thrill in the idea that we were
not of the same race or civilization.

Once when I confessed this fact to him, he said, "Do you love me only
because I am Chinese?"

"No--I think I should have loved you no matter what race you came of.
But how can I know?"

"I like to feel that you love the essential _me_."

"Yes, but the essential _you_ is Chinese."

He thought a moment. "Chinese, yes, but a most respectable member of the
Dutch Reformed Church of America!"

"I won't let that injure you in my eyes!" I assured him, laughing. I was
of the Anglican faith, and we often referred to the strange mixture of
nationalities in our creeds.

My husband, in spite of his firm faith, was not of a deeply religious
mind, and of the two I was much more mystical in my beliefs. Love,
divine and human, had come to mean everything to me, in a literal and
spiritual sense. I believed, obscurely at first, but with increasing
surety and faith as time went on, that human love also was not of time
only, but of eternity as well. And, when I found that Chan-King did not
share this belief, I felt, for the only time in all my marriage, alien
to him, shut out by an impalpable veil from his profoundest inner life,
which I wished passionately to share in everything. The discovery came
hand in hand with our first shadow--only the shadow of a shadow, I might
call it, so vague, at the beginning, that we could not feel more than an
uneasiness.

Chan-King fell ill, though not seriously, and he recovered quickly. But
on the up-curve of returning health he never quite regained the old
plane of physical well-being. Signs--oh, the very smallest of
signs--warned us of a grave, slow breaking down of his system under
phthisis. We could not quite believe it.

His physician advised him to ease the strain of work as much as he
could. We talked together in the early hours of many nights, Chan-King
always insisting that his depression was the result of temporary
fatigue, sure to pass away with a few weeks' repose in the open air of
the hills.

It was during this time that I spoke to him of the everlastingness of
love and my faith in a life farther on. "Where could death take one of
us that the other could not follow?" I asked him, in strange triumph.

His eyes held mine a long minute. His face was very sad. "I am not sure
of that. I have no idea of what we shall be to one another in another
life. I am only sure that we are all things to each other now."

An inexpressible sense of fear took hold of me. Chan-King seemed at once
terribly alien and removed; I could not speak, for I had the feeling of
calling in a strange language across a great chasm. I said nothing for
fear of distressing him, but he must have sensed my disquietude, for he
took my hands and held them to his face and let his eyes shine upon me.
"Don't look like that," he said. "We have much time yet to think of
eternity." But from the day of this illness the shadow was never once
removed from me.

Now we were lured by the residential charms of the French Concession,
with its broad, tree-lined avenues and fresh, windswept spaces. So we
took a new house in a terrace fronting on Avenue Joffre. We liked our
large rooms, each with its tiled fireplace, its polished floors laid
with Tientsin rugs, its electric lights. There was a grassy lawn with
Chinese orchids and a border of palms and magnolias, and just around the
corner from us was a public garden where, to Wilfred's delight, dozens
of children played each day under the care of their respective _amahs_.
Our staff of servants was now increased to five by the addition of a
rickshaw coolie and a second _amah_.

Chan-King received shortly after this a letter from his father, the
first communication he had had from his family since our marriage. It
contained an invitation to return home for a visit, since his mother
wished very deeply to see him again.

"I can interpret this in only one way, Margaret," he said in a puzzled
tone. "It is an offer of reconciliation. That means that they do not
know you are with me."

"Go and see for yourself what it is," I told him. For I would have
consented, for his sake, to a reconciliation on almost any terms. I had
seen enough of Chinese family life to understand the powerful bonds of
affection and interest that bind the clan together, and I felt in my own
heart the cruelty of breaking those between mother and son and brother
and brother.

"I want to tell them about you," Chan-King answered. "This is my
opportunity."

Before accepting their invitation, Chan-King wrote and told them that
his wife was with him. And their replies to this proved him right in his
first surmise. His family knew he had returned to China and, having
heard nothing further of his marriage, had supposed that it was all
over. This was not exactly a surprising conclusion for them to reach.
More than one foreign woman has refused to accompany her Chinese husband
home. I myself came in contact with an occasional half-household, in
which a Chinese was held in China by his business affairs while his wife
waited for him on the other side of the world. Sometimes, too, she did
not wait, and the marriage ended in the conventional way--that is, in
the divorce court. Chan-King's people imagined that something of the
sort had occurred to him, and were quite ready to wipe out old scores
and resume the ties of relationship.

After having written the initial letter of reconciliation, they held to
their attitude in a thoroughbred way, only amending their welcome a
trifle by requesting him to visit them alone. Very tactfully and gently
they put it like this: his father was growing old and any sudden change
disturbed him; the household had lately been added to by marriage and
births, and he would find everything very much more comfortable if he
should come alone.

He went, firmly resolved to change the mind of his family toward me. And
I, too, was anxious for them to know that a foreign marriage had not
harmed Chan-King. During the six weeks of his absence his letters were
cheerfully non-committal, though he spoke of his happiness in being in
his mother's house again. I thought a great deal about that house, the
intricate lives of the people in it and their many degrees of kinship
and authority. Chan-King had told me enough to give me a fairly clear
picture of them. I had always admired their ability to sustain difficult
relations under the same roof with the utmost good temper and mutual
courtesy.

Yet I was Western enough to feel that Chan-King and I knew each other
better and had been more free to learn each other thoroughly, alone in
our own household, which was growing into quite a Chinese fashion. I
expected my second child and looked forward, with much hope, to the new
life, for I had always been deeply maternal and wanted several children.
But to Chan-King and me our love for each other was the greatly
important thing in life--the reason for all the rest of our existence.
We accepted the fact of birth as naturally as we did the change of
seasons. Children were an essential to our happiness, but not the
dominant essential. We ordered our home for ourselves, as two lovers who
had elected to pass their life together.

Chan-King expressed our views thus: "The Chinese idea is that the family
is the end, the children the means of keeping it up. In the West, the
children are the end, and the home merely the means of keeping them up.
You and I have it perfectly adjusted, I think--the home is for all of
us, and all of us have proper places in it."

Chan-King returned early one morning, and I knew, from my first glimpse
of his face, that his visit had been a fruitful one. I flew to his arms,
and, as he kissed me, I saw that his eyes were serene and contented.

"How is your august mother, my lord?" I asked him with a bow.

"My mother is in good health and wishes to meet her daughter-in-law,"
he answered, and, in spite of the bantering tone, I knew he was in
earnest.

I wanted to know how this change of feeling had come about.

"When I told them of you," said Chan-King, "my mother was visibly
amazed. 'I did not understand!' she kept repeating. 'I did not
understand!' And before I left, she said to me, 'If she is all you tell
me she is, why do you not bring her here?' I didn't mention the fact
that this was our first invitation, Margaret! Should you like to go, my
dearest?"

I hesitated a moment. "Yes, but not yet," I answered.

"We will not go for a while," Chan-King assured me.

We talked a great deal about my husband's visit, and I gained new light
on the actual facts of his estrangement from his family and the enormous
significance that his marriage assumed in the minds of his Chinese
relatives.

I can hardly exaggerate the importance of the position held by the
eldest son in the higher class Chinese household. After his father, he
is the male head of the family. His wife is the attendant shadow, the
never-failing companion of his mother. Our phrase, "A man marries," is
expressed in Chinese as "He leads in a new woman." Under the old regime
he literally did so, for he invariably brought his bride to his
ancestral home. The phrase for the marriage of a girl is, "She goes
forth from the family." "A new woman" is the term for a bride. The
Western education of many young men of the Chinese upper class has
resulted in some acute readjustment in the ancestral households. Often
these elder sons return, marry according to the old custom and live in
their parental homes. But often, too, they marry advanced Chinese women,
set up establishments and professions of their own, far from their
native cities, and live after semi-foreign ways.

In this respect, our case was somewhat typical. As I have already
related, Chan-King's mother had been looking forward for years to the
marriage of her eldest son with the little Miss Li-Ying. She had
expected in her middle age the usual release of the Chinese woman from
the bonds of youth. Having been a faithful and obedient wife and
daughter-in-law, she rightfully expected to assume authority over her
family, leaning on the arm of her son's wife. This younger woman would
take her place in the long chain of dutiful daughters; she would help to
welcome guests; she would keep up the family shrines; she would perform
all manner of household duties under the supervision of her
mother-in-law. On the death of her husband's mother, she would become
the woman head of the family, responsible for everything, her
privileges and authority growing with her years, especially if she were
the mother of sons. Her great mission would be to furnish children to
the clan, in order that the ancestral shrines might never be without
worshippers. I explain these matters at this point in order that I may
not be mistaken for a moment when I tell the incident that follows. By
this time, I had lived long enough in China to be almost thoroughly
orientalized, in so far as my sympathies were concerned at least, and
yet, when Chan-King, after talking for a while about the events of his
visit home, came to a full pause and said uncertainly, "There is one
thing I wish to tell you, but I am not sure you will understand," I was
a trifle apprehensive.

But I answered at once: "Of course I shall understand. China has been
kind to me. What have I to fear?"

Chan-King then went on deliberately: "Not until I saw my mother again
did I understand that I had done a really cruel thing to her, in
depriving her of a daughter-in-law on whom she could lean in her old
age. Oh, Margaret, woman's lot is not easy, with all the complexities of
parents and brothers and children! And I would have atoned for my share
in all this if I could--but of course there was nothing I could do,
nothing at all."

And very calmly he told me that shortly after his arrival at home his
mother had conferred with him seriously on her need of a
daughter-in-law. In accordance with ancient customs she wished him to
take a Chinese secondary wife, who would live in the family home, who
would be, in a fashion, proxy for me in the rôle of daughter-in-law.
Chan-King's mother offered to arrange this marriage for him and assured
him that the secondary wife and her children would be well cared for and
treated kindly during his long absences.

I listened incredulously, and the question I could not ask was in my
eyes. I knew, of course, that the custom of taking secondary wives was
not unusual among wealthy families in China, even where both wives lived
under the same roof. But I had given it only the most casual thought.
And not once had it occurred to me that the problem would touch my life.
Brought suddenly level with it, I suffered a shock at the very
foundation of my nature. I could not think, of course, in the moment
that followed my husband's recital. I only felt a great roaring tide of
pain rising about me, a sense of complete helplessness, such as I have
never known before or since. I wonder now at my instant subjective
readiness to believe that my husband had conformed to this custom of his
country; that he had shaken off his Western training at his first
renewed contact with the traditional habits of his race.

"Did--you----?" I asked finally, and stopped.

He came to me instantly, his arms about me. When he saw the distress in
my face, he frowned, with an odd, remorseful twist of the brows.

"I wonder that you ask," he said. "How could I come back to you--and to
your loyalty and trust--with the shadow of that deception between us? I
made it very clear to my mother that I would never have any wife but
you. It's you and I together, dear one, and no one else so long as we
both shall live."

And his words had the solemn sound of a vow renewed. This high honesty
of Chan-King's with me was a rock on which I founded my faith. And his
final repudiation of an accepted form among his people represented a
genuine sacrifice on his part, so far as his material welfare was
concerned. As generously and unhesitatingly as he had made the first
one, at our marriage, he laid the second votive offering on the altar
of our love. He had, you see, according to the view of his father and
mother, hopelessly injured them in his marriage. Above all, he had
denied in himself the great racial instinct of the Chinese to obey his
parents. If he wished to please them, here was his last opportunity. The
taking of a Chinese secondary wife would have been a complete atonement
in their eyes. At the same time it would have meant his instant
restoration to his rightful place among them--first in their affections
and inheritance. The family assistance would have placed him at once in
the position towards which, without it, he would probably have to
struggle for years.

And later I understood how very easily he might have complied without my
needing ever to know of the fact. Indeed, I could have lived in his
mother's house with a second wife and never have suspected that she was
there in that position, so securely welded and impassive is the clan
sense, the reserve and remoteness of the personal relation when the
family peace and dignity are to be considered.

Some of these matters I had been aware of since my life in China began,
some of them I learned that day in talking with Chan-King, and others,
as I have said, I discovered gradually afterwards. But from that day,
certainly, our relation subtly shifted and settled and crystallized. We
both became for ever certain that we could not fail each other in any
smallest thing. Into my heart came a warmth of repose, like a steadily
burning lamp. We were assured of our love beyond any possibility of
doubt, ever again. And for a time we experienced a renascence of
youthful happiness, a fine fervour of renewed hopes and ambitions, as
though spring had come again miraculously, when we had expected October.

The family letters came now regularly to Chan-King, with always a
kindly message for me. Evidently relations were to be resumed on the
plane of a good friendship, nothing more. But that was so much more than
we had dared to hope for that we were perfectly happy to have it so.

Chan-King must have mentioned his slowly failing health, for his mother
sent a worried letter to him and asked him to come home for a while once
more. Chan-King decided that his affairs would not warrant his absence
and wrote to her to that effect.

One morning as I sat in the sun-porch, sewing, Ah Ching appeared
suddenly before me.

"Master's mother, he downstairs," he announced calmly.

I gazed at him without understanding.

"What do you say?"

Ah Ching came nearer. He held up one hand and counted his words off on
his fingers slowly. "Missee-sabe-master-have-got-one mother?" he
inquired patiently.

"Yes, yes!"

"Well, he just now have come. He downstairs!"

I got to my feet. I was more frightened and nervous than I had ever
been. I remembered to be grateful. I was wearing complete Chinese
dress--a black skirt and blue velvet jacket. This fact assumed an
amusing importance in my mind as I stood there, struggling to get myself
in hand. I had planned this meeting a thousand times, and now that it
was fairly upon me I was totally without resource. I progressed
downstairs confusedly, running a few swift steps and then stopping short
and beginning again slowly. If Chan-King had been there, I should have
fled to him and left the entire situation in his hands; but I was alone
and certain of one thing only--I meant to win the love of my Chinese
mother if I could. Subjectively, all the tales I had heard of Chinese
mothers-in-law must have impressed me more than I had admitted, for I
remembered something Chan-King had told me long before: "I cannot
describe to you the importance of the mother in the Chinese household.
She is a complete autocrat, with almost final authority over her sons,
daughters-in-law, servants, relatives, everybody except her husband, who
is usually absent on his business. Her old age is a complete reversal of
the restraint and discipline of her youth."

I stopped short at the door of the drawing-room. I saw my husband's
mother for the first time. She had become to me a personality of almost
legendary grandeur, and I felt a little wave of surprise go over me that
she looked somehow so real and alive and genuine. She sat in a big,
tall-backed chair, her hands spread flat on her knees. Her face was the
face of the young mother in the photograph Chan-King had shown me, only
grown older and a trifle more severe. She was dressed in black brocade,
its stiff folds and precise creases accentuating her dignity. Under the
edges of her skirt glimmered her tiny grey shoes, embroidered in red and
green. At her side stood the male relative who had accompanied her--a
Chinese gentleman of the old school, in a long gown of dark silk. Behind
her chair stood a maid and two menservants.

I knew that she spoke no English, and as yet I had no knowledge of her
southern dialect. There was a sharp pause in the dead-silent room while
we regarded each other.



III

FIRST DAUGHTER-IN-LAW


I clasped my hands in the Chinese way, smiled and bowed. My Chinese
mother rose at once and took a step towards me, balancing on her tiny
feet with the aid of a thick, gold-headed cane. I saw that she was
unusually tall. Then, surprisingly, she extended her hand, American
fashion, and I shook it, the eyes of each of us still searching the
other's face. I saw in hers the look I needed for reassurance--the
mingled kindness and apprehension--a trace of the anxiety that I am sure
was the very counterpart of my own expression. I knew then that her
heart was no more certain than mine was, and that this meeting was as
important to her as it was to me.

Ah Ching brought forward my chair and we sat down together, smiling at
each other, letting our gestures speak for us. Finally she stretched
forth her right hand, palm down, measuring the height of a small child
from the floor, inclining her head towards me, her eyebrows up in a
question. I made a pillow of my two hands, laid my head upon it, eyes
closed, and then pointed up. We were both delighted at this simple
pantomime. The elderly man--her cousin--looked pleased in sympathy and
even the three solemn servants smiled a little. She asked me in gestures
where my husband was. I waved widely and comprehensively towards the
street, in the general direction of the city. She nodded, settling back
a trifle, drawing a long breath. We had reached the end of our power to
converse without the aid of an interpreter.

When I heard Chan-King's ring at the gate, I hurried out to meet him
with the news. He was even more excited than I was and hastened ahead
of me to the house. I walked very slowly in order that they might have
their first greeting undisturbed, and, when I arrived, they were beaming
upon each other and talking the South Province dialect over a very
sleepy and cherubic infant, whom Chan-King, with paternal pride, had
ordered down to greet his grandmother at once.

The retinue settled, Chan-King informed me that our mother would remain
with us for six weeks. During this time, I learned the art of pantomime
beyond anything I had ever hoped for in one of my undemonstrative
nature. My Chinese mother and I conversed with eyebrows, hands, smiles,
noddings and shakings of the head, much turning of the eyes. I had an
instant affection and admiration for her, and she adopted towards me a
gently confidential attitude that pleased me very much.

She had brought presents for us, in the Chinese way: for me, a
delicately wrought chain of Chinese gold in a box of carved sandalwood;
for Wilfred, a dozen suits of Chinese clothes in the bright patterns
worn by children of the Orient, and so becoming to the proud, wee man
that, arrayed in them, he seemed already to be coming into his heritage.
She also brought great hampers of fresh fruits--pomeloes, lichees and
dragon's-eyes--and countless jars of preserved fish and meats and
vegetables, which had been Chan-King's favourites when he was a boy at
home.

Madame Liang had the Chinese woman's love for shopping. Accompanied by
her cousin and the servants, we went from silk merchant to porcelain
dealer, and from brass worker to rug weaver, gathering treasures. Though
she carried on most of her negotiations through her cousin, she
bargained with a firmness and a sense of values that I admired very
much. In the silk shops she bought marvellous brocaded satins and
embroidered silks and she made me select the pattern I wanted for
myself. Though she preserved most carefully the distinctive features of
the dress of her own province, she was much interested in Shanghai
styles and examined my wardrobe critically, noting the short sleeves
with tight-fitting undersleeves and the skirts with seven plaits--not
five, as in Canton, for example--at each side.

Notwithstanding the popular Western fancy that fashions never change in
China, the Chinese woman is painstakingly particular as to the exact
length and fullness--or scantiness--of her coats, skirts and trousers.
She is carefully precise about the width of bias bands or braid or lace
that she uses for trimming, the number and arrangement of fastenings,
the shape and height of her collar. All of these details vary as
tyrannically from season to season--under Shanghai guidance--as certain
style features do with us under the leadership of New York or Paris.
Moreover, as against our four seasons, the fashion devotee of China
takes account of eight, each with its appropriate style and weight of
clothing.

At home Mother sewed a great deal, using her hands gracefully and very
competently in spite of the long curved fingernails on her left hand. My
American sewing-machine fascinated her. She had an excellent hand-power
machine at home, Chan-King explained, but mine worked with a treadle and
she wished to try it. I took the tiny, brightly shod feet in my hands
and set one forward and one backward on the iron trellis. And she moved
them very well, alternately, and ran several seams with energy.

Chan-King, his mother and I went to Chinese cafés together and Madame
Liang was pleased and amused to see that I not only used chopsticks with
ease but had a real taste for Chinese food. We used to treat ourselves
to all sorts of epicurean dishes: spiced chicken and duck, sharks'
fins, bird's-nest soup with pigeon eggs (my favourite delicacy), seaweed
and bamboo shoots, candied persimmons, lotus-seeds and millet pudding
with almond tea.

Once, in a roof-garden café, where I was wearing American clothes, my
use of chopsticks aroused considerable interest among neighbouring
groups of diners, and stray comments reached us, for the Chinese are
always pleased to see foreigners familiar with their customs. "No doubt
she is a missionary lady," a young woman remarked in my husband's native
dialect. Hearing and understanding, Mother immediately said, in clear,
gracious tones, "My son, perhaps your wife would like to have some
American food now." Chan-King translated for me both comment and
suggestion, and I felt pleased to learn that, at any rate, my Chinese
mother was not ashamed, in a public place, to acknowledge her American
daughter.

Mother was fond of the drama and, since Shanghai had some excellent
theatres, we made up several parties during her stay.

The great semicircular stage on which a famous old historical play that
we saw was acted was hung with gorgeous embroideries, laid with a thick
Peking rug of immense size and brilliantly lighted by electricity--as
was the entire theatre. The actors wore the magnificent official and
military robes of an early dynasty. As on the Elizabethan stage, women's
parts were taken by men, who achieved by cleverly constructed shoes the
effect of bound feet. I found the deafening drums and gongs a little
trying, at moments, and the crude property makeshifts somewhat
incongruous with the wonderfully elaborate hangings and costumes. But,
being familiar with the story, I understood the action and so evidently
enjoyed it that Mother was surprised anew, as Chan-King afterwards told
me. We sat in our balcony box, above the vague tiers of lower seats
packed with a restless audience of men, women and many children in the
arms of their _amahs_. On the wide front rail of our box was the
inevitable pot of tea, with room also for such fruits, sugar-cane,
melon-seeds, or meat-and-rice dishes as we wished to purchase from the
endless variety offered by eager boys in round caps and blue cotton
gowns. Now and then an attendant came with a huge teakettle to refill
our teapot, and once he offered us the usual steaming hot towels for
sticky fingers. Chan-King waved these away energetically. "Awful
custom," he said to me. "Unhygienic. How can they do it?" And he added
something of the kind to his mother in Chinese. She regarded him with
comprehension, a tiny gleam of superior wisdom in her eyes. But she made
no reply.

She had taken a fancy to Wilfred, who by this time had a fair vocabulary
of Chinese, which he always used in talking to his _amah_. He was a
handsome child, typically Chinese, very charming in his manner, very
fond of his _amah_ and his indulgent grandmother. Madame Liang would
take his chin in her hands and study his features intently, nodding her
head with approval. Then she would stroke his round black poll and give
him melon-seeds or almonds from her pocket. Wilfred used a weird mixture
of dialects--a confusion of Mandarin and the Shanghai vernacular, with a
dash of Cantonese from his _amah_. Madame Liang set out patiently to
teach him her own dialect as well.

When her visit was ended, our mother said to Chan-King, "This is a
Chinese house, with a Chinese wife in it. Everything is Chinese. I could
never have believed it without seeing, for I thought your wife was a
Western woman. I am happy." And she told him again that we must come and
visit her, for she needed us.

Chan-King's father, a member of an old, established firm in the import
and export trade in the Philippines, was away, looking after his
business or exchanging visits with friends of his own age and rank. His
home-comings were in the nature of a vacation. The management of the
household depended on Madame Liang.

As she talked, I realized by her face, by Chan-King's answers, by all
that I knew of Chinese family life, that we were a part of that clan and
should be so always. A hint of the solidarity I now feel with my
husband's family came to me. We were not separate from them; nor should
we be.

After our mother was gone, Chan-King said something of this sort to me,
quoting what she had said about my not being Western. "But I love you to
be Western in this sense," he told me, "that you and I have
companionship and freedom and equality in our love. That is what makes
me happiest."

Before Chan-King and I closed the house in Shanghai to depart for the
southern hills, our second son, Alfred, was born. An American woman
asked me, when he was about six weeks old, if I did not feel a sense of
alienation at the sight of the wee, Oriental face at my breast. Quite
simply and truthfully I answered no. My husband was not in any way alien
to me. How, then, could our child be so?

His coming provided me with a welcome excuse to remain at home quietly
for a short while. I now attempted to learn, at the same time, both
Mandarin and the dialect of Chan-King's province--a method of study that
hampered me constantly at first. But my husband was an encouraging
teacher, and I began uncertainly to use my new knowledge, trying it
mostly on my young son Wilfred, who was the real linguist of the family.
He took my Chinese very seriously. I cannot say so much for Chan-King,
who was greatly amused at my inflection.

Towards the close of the year, I decided to take a place as teacher of
English and history in a Chinese girls' high school. Chan-King was
surprised when I told him that I wished to teach, but he offered no
objection, and watched with interest my progress through the year. I
loved my teaching. Still more I loved the girls in my classes.
Collectively and individually I found them supremely worth while in
spirit and mind. I cannot say how lovely the young womanhood of China
seemed to me. I began to yearn for a daughter, and when, towards the
close of the second term, I found that I might, perhaps, have my heart's
desire, I realized that my husband shared it.

In the early autumn, our mother wrote and asked us to come south for the
cold season. She also expressed the hope that the coming grandchild
might be born in her own province. Chan-King had been encouragingly
strong for over a year, but he had always found the northern winters
hard. We decided that the time had come to fulfil our promise of
visiting the ancestral home. Chan-King secured six months' leave of
absence.

Within ten days we had closed our affairs temporarily, dismissed the
servants, with the exception of the _amah_ and the faithful Ah Ching,
got our boxes together and bidden our friends farewell. The leaves were
falling in the avenue; the plants were shrivelled at the edges in the
sun porch; the winds blew ominously shrill under the eaves. Chan-King
grew pale and began to cough again. Out of the teeth of the terrible
Shanghai winter we fled into the hospitable softness of the South.

By a large steamship we started out on what was ordinarily a brief
journey. But, by those war-time schedules, changes and delays were the
invariable rule. After three unforeseen changes and as many delays we
reached a port just over the line in my husband's province. There we
stopped, intending to go on three days later by the little, battered,
tramp steamer that puffed noisily at the dock, putting off dried fruits
and dyes, taking on rice and cloth and sandalwood. But we did not go on,
as it happened. Instead, a tiny, smiling, competent woman physician,
wearing the southern costume and possessed of a curious fund of
practical wisdom in medical matters, attended me in her native hospital
at the birth of our daughter Alicia.

On a vaguely grey, gently stimulating winter morning, ten days later,
our bouncing little ship--for I had cajoled Chan-King into allowing me
to travel--stood to, out from port, and sampans came to meet us. Like
giant fish, bobbing and dipping and swaying upon the waves, these
sampans with their great eyes painted on each side of the prow and their
curious, up-curved sterns, came towards us in a gala-fleet, rowed by
lean, over-muscled men in faded blue cotton garments. I was very gay and
much exhilarated by the soft sunshine that broke through the mist as I
climbed down with Chan-King's help into one of these boats.

The harbour was busy with small craft--flat-bottomed gigs or
baggage-boats besides the junks, whose square brown sails swung creaking
in the wind. Two Chinese men-of-war rose over us, their vast, bulky
sides painted battle-ship grey.

Out and beyond, an island not more than a mile long turned its irregular
profile towards us, a long mass of huge grey boulders jutting abruptly
from a sparkling sea. As we were being rowed in to the mainland, we were
near enough to the island to see quite plainly the tile-roofed houses
surrounded by arched verandas, repeated again and again in long,
undulating lines that gave a pleasantly lacy effect. The island was
shaded with trees in winter foliage, not the brilliant green of summer,
but the sage-green and pale tan of November. Through this intermittent
curtain the walls of the houses shone in dull blue and coral pink and
clear grey. Jagged cacti shot up among the bulbous rocks and everywhere
the scarlet poinsettia set the hills aglow with patches of brilliant
colour. I loved this island instantly. I said to Chan-King, "This is our
Island of the Blest, where we shall live when we are old."

At the jetty, Ah Ching went up to hail sedan-chair bearers, and soon I
was borne rapidly along a few yards ahead of my husband's chair.

I was filled with a delicious elation at being in Chan-King's province,
so near to the very village that he knew as a little boy. With enormous
curiosity, I peeped through the curtain-flaps, which were transparent
from within. We were passing through the town that lay along the water's
edge--a bright, open little place, where the small houses, with curved
tiled roofs, hugged the ground. We went through the crooked streets,
which were really nothing more than broad paths, at a steady pace. We
left the ragged edges of the town and began to ascend the hills. I
raised my curtains a trifle and ventured to look out freely. Emotion
surged up in me. I wished to cry for joy in this home-coming, for it was
our real home-coming together, and I felt a secret share in all the life
my husband had known here.

Up the narrow, twisting path we wound, toward the hills, which were
covered with a smoky, amber mist. Scattered closely along the upward
road, apart from the dwellings, were small terraces enclosing plots of
cultivated ground, filled with growing things. Wherever the folk could
find a lush, flat place on the stony hills, robbed by deforestation of
all but grass, they had planted their vegetables. These little patches
of colour, coaxed by thrifty gardeners out of the soil washed into the
hill-pockets, added a festive, humorous note to the winter landscape,
otherwise so brown and sear. I thought frivolously of a solemn giant
wearing his party nosegays. The hills billowed away immensely, until
they were silhouettes against the dull orange and ashy purple of the
morning sun struggling through the clouds. Solid, steeply curved, narrow
bridges of stone made us a path over the frequent streams that rushed
downward to the valley.

Here we came full upon the ancestral village of my husband's family. It
lay, compact and many-roofed, upon the side of a hill, as intricately
woven and inevitable-looking as a colony of birds' nests, as naturally a
part of the earth as though it had sprung from planted seeds. Rows of
walls ran along the main thoroughfare. There were few people astir yet
and the doors were closed in all the low-eaved plaster and stone houses.

Our chairs were set down before a tall, hooded gate in a wall of
stone-grey. Ah Ching knocked. The gates were opened, and servants came
hurrying out, accompanied by three leaping black Chow-dogs, which barked
in frantic challenge till Chan-King spoke to them and changed their
menace into joyous welcome.

We entered a spacious courtyard and crossed an exquisite garden, one of
the most beautiful I saw in China. An artificial lake rippled placidly,
disturbed only by the darting goldfish. Laurel- and magnolia-trees
darkened the paths. A thicket of bamboo wavered and cast its reflection
in the water at the edge of the lake.

Chan-King helped me from the chair and together we passed into the main
hall through the wide-flung doors. Madame Liang, early apprised of our
arrival, was standing there, and my first sight of her gave me a renewed
sense of home-coming. I was dimly aware of a large hall, at the back of
which stood a high altar, with wreaths of sweet-smelling smoke rising in
straight columns before lettered tablets and brilliant images under
glass cases. The glitter of golden and scarlet embroideries against the
wall splintered the dimness with rays of light like sunshine through a
prism. Heavily carved blackwood chairs with tea-tables and also
marble-topped stools with gay, brocaded cushions were ranged about the
room.

We passed through this main hall into the apartment of Madame Liang,
where I was given a chair, and I sat down, suddenly remembering that I
was very tired.

Other members of the family, distant relatives and first cousins, and
guests, all women, came in and I was presented to them. Madame
Springtime, wife of the second son, did first honours for the family.
She was so very youthful--only seventeen--and so wistfully other-worldly
that among those mature housewives, clever and practical managers of
their households and husbands' estates, she seemed like a branch of
peach-bloom. In festal garb of jade-green and lavender, embroidered
shoes on her tiny feet and an embroidered head-dress crowning her
shining black hair and framing the oval of her shy, smiling face, with
its sloe-black eyes, she came bearing a lacquered tray and presenting to
each of us sweet tea, in cups of finest porcelain with standards and
covers of silver and with tiny silver spoons having flower-shaped bowls.

The pretty little tea ceremony was then repeated by various members of
the family, while the small sons were given hot milk and cakes. An eager
group gathered about the tiny new daughter, still sleeping peacefully.

A bubbling, busy little lady, about the age of Madame Liang, leaned over
me, with a quizzical smile, and bobbed her gay, pretty head emphatically
at me when my mother introduced her as Madame Chau. Elaborately dressed
in rich colours, in direct contrast to my soberly garbed mother, she was
as merry as Madame Liang was grave and she tripped about on her almost
invisible "golden lily" feet with an energy that yet did not destroy the
grace of her "willow walk."

But the many-coloured costumes, the great curtained bed on one side, the
voices--all suddenly seemed far away. And, as I wavered, smiling
determinedly, I heard my husband's voice. "Mother thinks you are tired;
so this woman will show you to your room, where you must lie down and
rest."

Some time later, as I lay resting--with Alicia sleeping on my arm--on
the bed, which had purple curtains and soft white blankets, Chan-King
stepped quietly into the room.

"Feel as comfortable as you look?" he asked and, when I nodded drowsily,
he touched a box of cakes.

"These were brought to you by Madame Chau, the busy little lady out
there. You know"--he hesitated a moment--"she would have been my
mother-in-law, if I hadn't insisted on your mother instead!" and he gave
my cheek a gentle pinch.

I was now wide-awake. "The little bird-lady out there--mother of
Li-Ying?" I asked. "Where is Li-Ying, then?"

"They didn't tell me anything directly," Chan-King answered. "But I
gather from several pointed conversations carried on in my hearing that
Madame Chau has just returned from her daughter's house in Singapore.
Just imagine: little Li-Ying is married too, and also has three
children--two girls and a boy. I think," said my Chinese husband, with
charming complacence, putting a hand over mine and stooping to kiss
Alicia's pink, sleeping face, "our arrangement is much better. Sons
should be older; then daughters are properly appreciated!"

At noon, after an hour's quiet sleep, I was again aroused by Chan-King,
who stood beside a maidservant with a tray.

I sat up. "I expected to be out for luncheon," I said, preparing to
rise.

Chan-King looked perturbed. "Stay where you are," he warned. "My mother
has just been scolding me for allowing you to travel with a ten-days-old
baby. 'As if I could do anything about it!' I told her, blaming it all
on Eve in the most approved Christian fashion! She admires your spirit,
but thinks that, for your health's sake, you should rest two weeks
longer at least!"

I lay down meekly. "Very well," I said. "Obedience is my watchword!"

And for the prescribed time I lay in my pretty room--all my senses
deeply responsive to the life going on in a Chinese household: the clang
of small gongs that summoned the servants; much laughter coming in
faintly or clearly as my doors were opened or shut; the tap of lily feet
along the passage; the glimmer of Madame Springtime's radiant pink or
blue robes as she entered to inquire after my welfare or bring some new
delicacy that had been procured for me; the smoke of incense from the
altar floating into the room at intervals, with a pungent sweetness that
roused vague memories and emotions. Everything in the house--hangings,
clothes, furnishings--was saturated with this aroma. Mingled with a
bitter smell, which is distilled by immense age, and touched with the
irritative quality of dust, this odour now means China to me and it is
more precious than all other perfumes in the world.

"But, Chan-King, life is nothing but food!" I protested, about the third
day, when my fourth meal had been served to me early in the afternoon.

"But the quantities are small," he answered. "Much better way, don't you
think, than taking great meals many hours apart?"

Early in the morning, the young maid assigned to me would bring in a
bowl of hot milk and biscuit. In our apartment, at half-past eight, she
would serve breakfast, consisting of soft-boiled rice--congee--with
various kinds of salty, sweet and sour preparations. At eleven o'clock
there was turtle soup or chicken broth. At noon came tiffin, which
consisted of substantial meat and vegetable dishes, fish and soup, and
dry-boiled rice. Our mid-afternoon refreshment was noodles of wheat or
bean-flour, or perhaps a variety of fancy cakes. Tea, kept hot by a
basket-cosy, was always on hand in every room. At seven the family
dined, and, after the two weeks were up, I joined them, sitting at the
first table with Mother and my husband. Dinner was an elaborate meal, in
courses, with rice at the close. At bedtime came hot milk again, or
sweet congee or perhaps tea, brewed from lotus-seed or almonds. I was
continually nibbling. I thought Chinese food delicious, particularly in
my husband's province, noted for its delicious "crunchy" fried things.

But Chan-King had yearnings for American dishes. I gave the head cook
minute instructions for preparing fricasseed chicken, fresh salads,
beefsteak with Spanish sauce--even American hot cakes, and he enjoyed
the American canned goods, with butter, cheese, jams and bread, which
were brought in frequently from the port.

An episode that caused much merriment was Chan-King's initiation of his
family into the mystery--and history--of chop suey. The rich joke of
that "made-in-America" Chinese dish is penetrating to every household
where the returned student is found. In Shanghai we had heard with
amusement how the bewildered _chef_ of the Y.M.C.A. café had gone down
to one of the great trans-Pacific liners lying in port, to learn from
the head cook on board just what this "chop suey," which all his
returned student patrons were demanding, might be. Now, with memories of
old college club activities prompting us, and with a skilful cook to
carry out our directions, Chan-King and I introduced into the ancestral
home that most misunderstood dish in all the world. The family agreed
that, though vaguely familiar, it was unlike anything they had ever
tried before, and they decided without dissenting vote that it was
superior to fricasseed chicken, Spanish steak or hot cakes.

At this time, my husband's brother, Lin-King, came home for a brief
stay. I decided from photographs that he resembled his father, who was
still away. Lin-King and Madame Springtime seemed well-suited to each
other and happy, although the marriage had been arranged by their
families and they had never seen each other before the ceremony. I
decided that the old custom had much merit, after all--for other
people--and said so to my husband, adding, "When our children are
grown, we must have them all marry Chinese." Chan-King looked at me long
in silence and then, sighing humorously, he asked, "What of their
father's example my dear?"

Since my Chinese was still bookish and unpractised in the all-important
matters of tone and local idiom, I could not converse with the family,
and at the dinner-table and in my mother's apartment I was as silent and
meek and pleasant of manner as Madame Springtime herself. Madame
Springtime served formal tea to our many guests in absolute silence,
with a sweet, fixed smile at the corners of her red mouth. I watched her
with consuming interest, for she was acting as first daughter-in-law in
my stead.

The machinery of life ran with the smoothness of long habit and complete
discipline. The meals were served, the apartments kept in exquisite
order and the children cared for by a corps of servants trained in
minutiæ by an exacting mistress, who knew precisely what she wanted. Our
days were left free for the practice of small courtesies, the exchange
of pretty attentions and the care of the ancestral altar.

From the ceremonies that took place before this altar at various times,
my husband kept himself, his wife and children sedulously aloof. It was
neither asked nor expected that he would do otherwise, just as our
attendance at the little mission church was accepted without question.
At other times, however, I had ample opportunity to study the altar and
to enjoy the beauty of its massive carvings, its elaborate
incense-burners and candlesticks, its exquisitely wrought embroideries.
A porcelain image of the Buddhistic Goddess of Mercy in her character of
Son-Giver, set within a large glass case, fascinated me by its
remarkable resemblance to certain Catholic images. But the ancestral
tablets interested me more, and the respect that I have always accorded
objects sacred to others was in this instance mingled with profoundly
personal feelings: the inter-blended characteristics of those men and
women so many years dead and gone lived on in the man who was my
husband; their life currents pulsed warmly in the veins of my children;
perhaps some deep insight gained beyond the grave enabled them to know
how truly I acknowledged my debt to them, how earnestly I hoped those
children might not prove unworthy of their heritage.

With the help of Chan-King's coaching and my personal observations, I
soon learned the gracious routine of the house. At ten o'clock every
morning I presented myself at the door of Madame Liang's apartment and
sat with her for several hours, often over tiffin, even till tea-time,
if she signified a desire for my company. If the weather was fair, we
would walk in the garden, she leaning lightly on my arm, her cane
tapping on the flagstones. At times, also, tea was served here, with the
small children joining us for hot milk and sweet cakes.

I was several days in getting the members of the household identified in
their proper relations, for there were thirty persons gathered in that
big, low-roofed, rambling compound behind the high, enveloping wall.
They were nearly all women, and two-thirds of them servants. The quiet,
soft-mannered woman relatives spent nearly all of their time in their
own apartments. Madame Liang's powerful personality, silent and
compelling, paled the colours of nearly all the temperaments around her.
Her friend, Madame Chau, was immensely comforting to her, for she could
not be persuaded to take anything very seriously. Madame Liang laughed
with her more than with anyone else. While they busily embroidered, they
gossiped, and I listened to their musical speech with its soft southern
accents and chiming, many-toned cadences.

I used to think, as I sat in a deep-cushioned chair, nursing the small
Alicia, with a pot of tea at my elbow, that Madame Liang, in her
gorgeous, heavily carved, black-and-orange bed, enclosed on three sides
by panels of painted silk and draped over the front with silk curtains
held back by tasselled brocaded bands, was a link in the Chain of
Everlasting Things. She had come into the house exactly as "new women"
had done century after century, and she had lived out her life
unquestioningly according to their precepts and example. There was a
monumental, timeless dignity about her as she sewed and talked of simple
matters. In her presence, I felt young and facile and terribly
unanchored.

I talked these things over with Chan-King in the dark of the night, when
all the household was silent. He was interested in my reactions,
knowing they were the outcome of a profound personal love for his family
and sympathy with everybody in it. Spiritually, Chan-King also was in
sympathy with his family. Practically--well, as I have said, there were
moments when he longed for American food, and his first deed in the
house was to order the bed curtains removed from our apartment.

They were removed, and nothing was said. A wonderful spirit of courtesy
and toleration prevailed in the family life, with a complete absence of
that criss-cross of personal criticism that our Western freedom of
speech permits. Not that there were not undercurrents, intimate
antagonisms here and there, personal sacrifices and sorrows. But they
were not recognized, for in Chinese life individual claims are eternally
relinquished in the interest of clan peace and well-being. There was one
authority, and it was vested in Madame Liang. Such a system makes for
harmony and preserves the institution of the family, on which all China
is founded.

Making no conscious effort, I myself yet became so imbued with this
spirit that, when the Government summons came for Chan-King to report in
Peking early in the new year, I choked down my anguish and said, "How
splendid for us all, Chan-King! When are you going?"

We were in the last week of the old year, and at Madame Liang's earnest
entreaty my husband delayed his departure (as the summons permitted),
that, in the midst of his family, he might celebrate the most delightful
of all holidays. Delicious cooking odours now drifted about everywhere,
new clothes for every one were made ready, and faces took on a shining
happiness.

One evening after a visit to his mother, Chan-King came to me, laughing
heartily. "Mother reminds me," he said, "that for three days it is
customary for the maids, when sweeping the floor, to pile the dust
carefully in a corner instead of throwing it out, lest the family good
fortune should be thrown out with it. But she says of course it is only
an old superstition and if you like you may tell the maid to remove the
sweepings as usual." I laughed too. Then I said, "Tell Mother we shall
do our part towards keeping good fortune in the family." "For three
days, also," continued Chan-King, "no harsh or scolding word is to be
spoken by anyone. And therefore," he went on sonorously, "your
tyrannical Chinese husband will cease to lecture his American wife--who
is certain to need it, though." I looked into his eyes, bright with
irrepressible gaiety, and suddenly I kissed them shut, my own eyes
misty. "Oh, my dearest," I whispered, "you are just a little boy at home
again, in spite of the silver threads." And I smoothed the black locks,
already sprinkled with grey. "Chan, I love the Chinese New Year!" I
said.

Even now I see it all again. My husband was wearing a long, dignified
gown of dark green satin--unfigured, as is customary for officials--dark
green trousers, short brown jacket, lined with soft fur, black satin cap
and black boots. Wilfred was quite a young gentleman in long gown of
blue-green silk, braid-trimmed jacket of dark green, blue trousers and
red-tufted cap. Chubby Alfred was dressed in lavender jacket, scarlet
trousers, a tiger-face apron of red, white and black, embroidered shoes
and a gay little knitted cap. Alicia, whom the whole family loved best
in her frilled white American dresses, added now a pink silk jacket and
an adorable little pink and black cap, which gave an Oriental grace to
her features. I wore my latest Shanghai creation, in pale
lilac-and-black figured satin. Guests came and went incessantly, and we
made our calls in the village. The air was filled with odours of spice,
molasses, roasted meats, seed-cakes and millet candy and with sounds of
fire-crackers, gongs and happy voices.

But it was over at last. The time for my husband's departure had come.

With silent expertness, Ah Ching set about packing. In three days
Chan-King was ready to go. He was coaching me in the household phrases I
should need most in making myself understood without his help. Madame
Liang decided that, during my husband's absence, I should assume my
position as first daughter-in-law. I had no apprehension in regard to
the minute, exacting duties that would devolve upon me as a right-hand
companion to my husband's mother, for I loved her, but I was not sure of
my tact or my deftness, and I felt strung up painfully at the thought of
my immediate future.

After the hourly companionship of months, parting from Chan-King was
very terrible indeed. He was in and out of our apartment, moving about
the house with restless energy, arranging final details. At last he came
and stood beside me. "Say good-bye now, dearest," he whispered.
"Afterwards--out there--we shall have no opportunity." He drew me close
and we kissed with deep feeling, the tears in my eyes refusing to be
suppressed any longer.

"Don't cry," he begged, with unaccustomed emotion. "Don't cry, or I
can't leave you!" Then he held my face up and dried my tears with his
handkerchief and said solemnly, "Smile at me!" And I smiled.

We went across to his mother's apartment, and she came out, the tears on
her cheeks not stanched. Joined by the rest of the family, we
accompanied him to the entrance and then to the gate, which stood open,
almost blocked by the waiting sedan-chair. Chan-King was in Chinese
dress, and as he stood there--profile towards me--among the group of
servants, giving his final directions, he seemed more Oriental, more
absorbed into his country, than I remembered ever to have seen him.

He made a profound bow to his mother, with formal words of leave-taking,
and gave me a grave little nod. Then, without looking back, he stepped
into the chair, the curtains were drawn, and the coolies trotted off
down the steep path, followed a little way by the bounding black dogs.

Mother and I stood together, after the others had gone, and watched his
chair jostling down the narrow, paved way. Then we turned and looked at
each other--rueful smiles on our mouths, tears in our eyes. We shook our
heads at each other. I half raised a hand to my heart, then let it fall.
I think both of us found our lack of mutual language a welcome excuse
for silence.

Madame Liang turned toward the house. The gates closed behind us. I
gave her my arm in support until we reached the doorway; then I stepped
a pace behind her as she entered. Without speaking, I waited until she
had knelt at the altar, and the incense was rising in clouds before the
imperturbable images under their glass cases. Then I attended her to her
own apartment. My life as a real Chinese daughter-in-law had begun.



IV

THE ETERNAL HILLS


As I followed my Chinese mother into her apartments, I thought of the
benevolent croakings of friends. Their words rattled through my memory
like pebbles shaken in a pail: "She can never be happy with a Chinese
husband!" Later it was, "It is all very well in America, but wait until
she goes to China." When I had happily established myself there, "Heaven
help her," said they, "if she tries to live with her Chinese
mother-in-law!" In Shanghai, foreign friends had predicted, "Oh, yes,
she's lovely in _your_ house, but wait until you try living in _her_
house!"

"This is the last ditch, Margaret," I said to myself. "Take it clear!
Either you are about to make one more argument against intermarriage or
you are going to settle the question for ever so far as your case is
concerned."

Mother and I went in to dinner together, somewhat later than usual. We
attacked our food very bravely, eyes down. I glanced up inadvertently,
and the sight of tears on her cheeks released mine too. I leaned forward
and took her hand and we struggled with a sentence or two. "No tears!" I
said. "Be patient!" she answered.

Next morning after the _amah_ had dressed young Alicia, while the
cheerful child was following me about the room with her eyes and talking
merry baby talk, I took her up and went, earlier than usual, to see
Mother. I found her sitting up in bed. She was dressed for the day, and
the blankets were rolled back against the side of the wall, making a
comfortable couch for her. Thinking of Chan-King, I looked at the row
of little cabinets extending across the back, half-way up towards the
canopy. I remembered Chan-King's telling me of the year when he was
still small enough to stand under these fascinatingly carved cabinets,
where his mother stored her trinkets and toilet articles, embroidery
silks, perfumes and the endless paraphernalia of her quiet life, and of
the pride he felt when he bumped his head one day and found that he must
stoop to be comfortable.

Wilfred was just high enough now to stand easily under the cabinets,
but, in some mysterious fashion, the little image of him presented at
this moment to my fancy became that of the small, far-away Chan-King,
whom I was for ever re-creating in my mind as I went about the house
where he had lived his pleasant youth.

This morning I laid Alicia on the bed near Madame Liang. She bent over
her and made a _moue_ into the rosy face. I was much pleased when
Madame Liang was unusually attentive to Alicia, though my sense of
justice always reminded me that my own Scotch mother would probably have
made more of the boys. But our Alicia was the first daughter in two
generations of my husband's family, and, even though the sons were of
priceless value to the clan, she was loved and cherished tenderly. It
seemed to me at times that the household was more fond of her than of
all the boys together, including Madame Springtime's young Kya-Song, who
filled the left wing of the compound with his shouts of glee as he
played riding-horse on his precarious bamboo stool. I remembered with
amusement the Western idea that daughters are unwelcome, always, in
Chinese families.

While Madame Liang patted the baby, talking to her coaxingly, I asked
what she wished me to do.

She indicated on her dressing-table a box of stereoscopic views, which
I brought to her. They formed a complete story, but had become very much
confused. As I could read the foreign titles, would I kindly arrange the
pictures in proper sequence? The ease and speed with which I
accomplished this task won her instant approbation.

This was merely one of the numberless small things I did for her
thereafter. In my new estate I was in attendance on my mother during
many hours of the day. I walked with her in the garden in fine weather,
I sat with her and sewed, threading needles as for my own mother and
even helping her to make those marvellous small shoes that she fashioned
so carefully to the form of her feet. One day I told her how amazed I
had been when I first learned from Chan-King that Chinese wives made the
family shoes, but how readily I could understand, when I saw the dainty
embroidered foot-wear he referred to, that shoemaking was indeed a
womanly craft.

She and Madame Chau used to take great pride in making for themselves
the most frivolous of shoes. Madame Chau's were the smaller, being
barely two and a half inches long, whereas those of my mother were twice
that length and different in shape. I discovered the reason for this:
Madame Chau clung tenaciously to the old style; but Mother had gradually
let out her bandages and altered their arrangement, keeping pace with
the change that followed the abolition of the old custom.

I became deeply interested in the custom of foot-binding. In Shanghai,
all the pupils of my school and (with certain notable exceptions) the
women of my social world had natural feet, and the majority of them wore
American pumps and Oxfords or English boots. Bound feet, though I saw
them frequently in public, seemed very remote. But now, save the girls
of twelve and under, who had profited by the new order of things, the
women among whom I lived all had bound feet. It may be worth noting,
when one remembers how America, with its own great unwashed, jokes at
the expense of the Chinese of whatever rank or station, that, in
accordance with the fastidious cleanliness of upper-class Chinese, the
bound feet were exquisitely cared for, and the narrow, white, specially
woven bandages were changed every two or three days. As I watched the
daintily shod women of my mother's household, I realized that never
before had I appreciated, in reading the literature of my adopted
country, the aptness of comparing the walk of a woman with bound feet to
the grace of bamboo swaying in the breeze. Never had I suspected the
charm attached to twinkling flashes of embroidery beneath a panelled,
many-plaited skirt. My own number-four feet assumed alarming
proportions. I grew positively ashamed of them. One day as Mother and I
sat together in arm-chairs, with a blackwood tea-table between us, I
placed my feet in line with hers and said, sighing, "Ah, they look very
bad, indeed!" She waved a deprecating hand. "Never mind," she said with
courtesy and truth, "they may not look so well, but they certainly walk
better."

Of course I was glad that the small Alicia belonged to Young China, and
would purchase no golden lilies with a cask of tears, as I had often
read that every woman with bound feet must do. But I now decided that
the cask must have been filled in the years of girlhood. For the women
about me seemed to suffer no pain--only an occasional numbness, relieved
by brisk massage from knee to ankle under the hands of a maid. I was
surprised at the ease and energy with which they got about, merely
balancing with small forward and backward steps when stopping--unless
they had a servant's arm, or a cane, for support.

I thought our mother infinitely superior in the grace and dignity of her
carriage. Madame Springtime, who had slightly enlarged her feet, at the
command of her husband, moved slowly and with a lack of grace
characteristic of the younger generation. Madame Chang moved ponderously
and with difficulty. Madame Chau hurried with quick, fluttering steps.
On occasion she would even run races with Alfred, our merry second son,
now two and a half years old. She would catch his hand, lean forward and
hurry him the length of the hall, the two of them laughing gaily. Now
and then I would fold my hands, balance on my heels and essay a "willow
walk," to the great amusement of Mother and Madame Chau.

Life went on very evenly for me in my Chinese mother's house after my
husband's departure. His father had not come home for his semi-annual
visit, and the second son was away again. Even the quiet-mannered third
son, who looked just like his mother, and who used to bring me roses
from the garden every day, had sailed for the island port to take his
place in the family business. We were under a benevolent matriarchate in
the snug compound among the brown hills now brightening to springtime
green.

Madame Liang was infallibly generous and kind. I never heard her speak
sharply except occasionally to servants who had by their carelessness
caused something to go amiss, impeding the smooth progress of daily
family life. I used to watch her with interest as she directed the
household affairs from the throne of her great bed. She rarely gave her
orders at first hand, but would summon a relative or an upper servant,
who would receive and pass them down to those for whom they were
intended. This imparted to her orders an empress-like finality and
importance. The servants gave her complete allegiance.

She took great pride in conducting me through the complicated structure
where generations of Liangs had lived and died. Extending back from the
main establishment was a series of smaller ones like it, each with its
own courtyard, its main hall containing the family altar, its private
chambers opening on each side. Similar chains of "homes within a home"
extended east and west, at right angles to this central chain. Mother
showed me the rooms she had occupied as a bride, with the chamber where
Chan-King was born, when the older Madame Liang ruled affairs with a
firm yet kindly hand. I felt deeply moved by all this, more than ever a
part of the family.

I made many small mistakes, I know, in my effort to practise the
toleration, industry and courtesy exemplified in that family group, but
Mother, unlike many of the over-sensitive, easily offended Chinese women
of her class, was divinely patient. She never asked of me anything that
she deemed unfitting for me and she showed a wise discrimination in all
the small tasks she assigned. I sometimes accompanied her to the temple,
or to the ancestral graves, but only as a spectator. Her religious
toleration required no compromise. She wanted me to see where
grandparents and great-grandparents were laid to rest. She knew I was
interested and filled with respect. To Madame Springtime fell the task
of caring for the family altar and keeping up the daily devotions before
the sacred shrine.

This young wife was in every way so typical of the old-fashioned Chinese
woman, trained but not educated, disciplined but not broken, that I
found her a continual source of interest. She was naturally shy and
silent, but after a time we talked a little, and one day she showed me
her bridal trunks of white lacquer with red and gold decorations, filled
to the top with her bridal finery, exquisitely folded, and the clothes
for her first child, which had been provided by her parents as a part of
her wedding outfit.

This latter custom of Chan-King's native province appealed to me. It was
typical of the many simplicities I found among my adopted people. Those
small, brilliant-coloured garments of padded silk and brocade and linen
were symbols of hope, good omens for happiness and a fruitful marriage.
Accustomed as I was to falsely Puritanic ideals concerning the important
realities of life--marriage and birth--their frank attitude toward
fundamentals, their unquestioning acceptance of the facts of existence
came as a pleasant surprise to me.

I liked also the curious contrast between their simple view of
elemental things and the formality and rigour of their personal
etiquette. It is the manner of an old and ever cultivated race, who have
long since ceased building at the foundation and are now occupied with
the decorations of life.

Their scheme of daily living is based on the firm belief that the normal
mode of human existence is family life. To this end it must be preserved
at any cost. Life cannot develop in discord. If the amenities are worth
anything at all, they are worth preserving constantly and at whatever
personal sacrifice.

Life behind the arched gate was so pleasant and so filled with small,
daily occupations that I thought little of going about. The village had
no theatre. On festal days performances were given by travelling
troupes, on temporary stages, in temples or private houses. But we
occasionally attended the theatre in the great city near, and, when we
had guests staying with us for several days, they sometimes accompanied
us. We were rather an impressive sight, I fancy, borne at a brisk trot,
in half a dozen sedan-chairs, down the irregular path at dusk, preceded
and followed by menservants carrying lanterns.

The children led a sheltered, happy existence, with servants and young
relatives to amuse them indoors or without, as the weather permitted.
They were liberally supplied, by their indulgent grandmother, with
pocket-money in the form of handfuls of coppers instead of the strings
of cash that sufficed an earlier generation. From passing venders they
bought bows and arrows of brightly painted bamboo, whistling birds and
theatrical figures of coloured earthenware, inflated rubber toys and an
endless variety of rice-flour cakes, sesame-seed confections, peanut
taffy and millet candy. On festal days the choice was wider than ever,
with fluffy bunches of sugar wool (fine-spun syrup) and brittle candy
toys blown from molten taffy with all the glass-blower's art, in the
form of lanterns, birds and fish, mounted on slender sticks. At certain
seasons, there were huge fish made of bamboo frames, paper-covered and
realistically painted, which swam in a breeze with lazy grace, or kites
similarly fashioned to represent birds and dragons which winged upward
in fascinating flight.

There was a limited foreign settlement in this same city and several of
the American and British women came to call on me. Some of them were
frankly curious to know how I had come through the "ordeal by family,"
as one of them expressed it, though of course they were very tactful.

Mother was much interested in these visitors, many of whom--if able to
speak Chinese--I presented to her. When they left, she would often ask
questions as to their nationality, their husbands' occupation, the
number of their children. As for that question, most of them confessed
to one child or, occasionally, two. But I shall never forget the call of
a strikingly handsome, auburn-haired woman and the conversation that
followed her departure. In reply to the usual inquiry, I said, "No
children at all! But she has five _dogs_ and has just bought, in
Shanghai, two more, which are coming down on the next steamer."

"No children at all, and five--_seven dogs_!" said Mother in tones of
horror. And then we burst out laughing. But quickly she grew sober.
"Foreign women do not care for children," she said.

"I do," I protested. "I like many children."

"You," said my mother with a smile, "are a Chinese wife."

But happily my next caller was a sweet-faced American woman, the proud
mother of six, two of whom she brought with her. So our national
reputation was saved.

In these days, I thought a great deal about intermarriage as a problem.
When in Shanghai, a returned student who stayed with us for several days
had said to Chan-King afterward, "I almost married an American girl
while I was in college. I wish now I had been brave enough to do so." At
that time I felt very sorry for the unknown girl who had missed all the
happiness that was coming to me, and now I was more sure than ever of
the true quality of my happiness. There was no doubt at all on that
score. But I realized the many, many ways in which everything might have
been spoiled. Had my husband been less considerate, less sincere and
loyal, had his family been less kindly and broad-minded, had I myself
been capricious and wilful or unable to adapt myself to surroundings, I
might every day have plumbed the depths of misery. I decided that no
rules could be made about intermarriage. It was an individual problem,
as indeed all marriage must be. So, when a young girl from home wrote to
me for advice, believing herself in love with a Chinese classmate, and
concluded, "You, Mrs. Liang, must settle the question for me," I
answered, as I should not have done a year earlier: "That is a question
that you two alone are competent to settle. No one can advise you
safely, for a mistake either way may result in lifelong unhappiness. But
I might venture to suggest that love strong enough to stand the test of
intermarriage does not seek advice. It is sure of itself."

In a household where only my eldest son and I spoke English, my lingual
struggles were unexpectedly mild. Chan-King had left me a list of
everyday phrases, and my ear grew very keen in my constant efforts to
understand the rapid speech going on around me all day long. In a short
while I could understand virtually everything said to me.

During the long conversations that Mother and I had in the quiet of the
evening, we talked much of Chan-King and she displayed treasured relics
of his boyhood: a small jacket of deep red velvet, a worn cap, a silver
toy and the identical schoolbook in which he began the study of English.
I loved them all, loved her the more for cherishing them and was made
supremely happy by being given a photograph of Chan-King at an earlier
age than any he possessed. She was very much interested in all our
photographs too. She was vastly amused at Chan-King arrayed for college
theatricals and, when I brought out pictures of myself at all ages, of
my parents and grandparents, she traced family resemblances with
unerring perception. Sometimes we looked at magazines that Chan-King
sent us from the capital or talked of various foreign customs. I soon
found it very easy to talk with her and with her help I learned also to
read and write simple Chinese characters, for a very liberal-minded
father had given her educational advantages enjoyed by few girls of her
generation.

When the hands of her small ebony clock pointed to twelve, she would
touch my hand gently and say, "Time for you to sleep."

"But first I must write to Chan-King," I would answer.

She would shake her finger at me with kindly caution. "It is too late,"
she would answer. "You must sleep."

I would hold out firmly on this point. "But, my mother, if I do not
write to Chan-King, I cannot sleep!"

She would assent then, and next day I would carry the pages to show her,
for my letters to Chan-King and his voluminous responses were a source
of much amusement to her. I translated these letters to her as
faithfully as my limited Chinese would allow, and in my letters always
added messages dictated by her.

I was learning the romanized method of writing Chinese, which for our
dialect has been remarkably developed and standardized. Mother was much
interested when I showed her how to write familiar words with foreign
letters, and Chan-King always answered these messages in kind, though
his mother and he carried on a regular correspondence in the Chinese
characters.

"Those children write long letters to each other, fifteen and twenty
pages at a time," she often told her friends with manifest delight.

Beyond this personal companionship with my mother, which I enjoyed very
much, there was no restraint put upon me in any way. I was free to walk
out alone, to return calls and to shop in the city.

My own sense of fitness prompted me always to present myself at the door
of my mother's apartment before I left the house, to explain to her the
nature of my errand and to ask for her approval. Accepting the little
formality for the courtesy it was, she never once demurred. She was
accustomed to this respect, and I saw no reason for withholding it. All
the invitations I received from acquaintances, either foreign or
Chinese, I declined or accepted as she advised, because I relied upon
her unfailing knowledge of people and social customs.

Twice during those months of Chan-King's absence death came near. Once
it was a clever young boy, an only son, in whom high hopes had been
centred; and, then, the young girl who had accompanied Mother to
Shanghai. She was no servant in the ordinary sense, but an orphaned
distant relative of Mother's. Madame Liang was always kind and generous
with her, and when, soon after her return from the trip to Shanghai,
which had been a great event in her quiet life, a promising marriage
offer was made, she was sent forth to her new home with a complete
bridal outfit. Hearing at last of our presence in the family home, she
put on her wedding-dress of pale green and came to see me. Her evident
pleasure in the meeting touched me poignantly. With bright eagerness she
told me of her husband, her kind mother-in-law. With pride she described
her tiny son. After a gay hour with the children she left, promising to
come again. But I never saw her afterwards. Death took her abruptly from
her happiness.

I began to think of death as something not so remote after all. Several
times a group of us--children and cousins and friends and servants--made
short chair-trips into the hills. The sight of thousands of graves,
their stones whitening the hillsides for miles in some places, impressed
me more and more with the comparative shortness of life.

Scattered over many of these hills are curious monuments of stone,
called "widow arches," each one standing alone, usually by a roadside,
in commemoration of a faithful wife who, in ancient days, killed herself
at the death of her husband. A widow who wished to make this sacrifice
would, after a short lapse of time, announce her intention of committing
suicide. The members of her family would erect a high stage for her and
invite relatives and friends to attend the ceremony. At the chosen hour,
the lady would hang herself, and a high stone arch would later be
erected as a memorial of her devotion and heroism.

In the Chinese family, the widow who does not remarry receives honour
and veneration second only to the mother-in-law. With age, she acquires
added authority. She is not forbidden to remarry, but the conditions of
second marriage are made difficult enough to discourage any but the
most intrepid. The children of her first husband remain in the house of
his people, and the family of her second husband do not give her any too
cordial a welcome.

One naturally prefers free will in these things. Yet I had a
whole-hearted sympathy with the idea of life-widowhood, long before I
dreamed it was to be my portion. Painful as the sight of the "widow
arches" was to me at first, my convictions made the Chinese view of them
seem not unnatural, though I knew the custom had been forbidden by
imperial edict some two centuries earlier.

Even in the days when Chan-King and I believed that our love would
somehow give us earthly immortality, the idea was strong in me that, to
those who loved truly, death could only extinguish the torch for a
moment to relight it in the clearer flame of eternity. Then, I cherished
this thought in the background of my mind. Now, I live by it.

For this reason, too, I have always found the Chinese attitude towards
the dead very comforting. They never for a moment relinquish hold on
their loved ones. The anniversary of the day of death is as festal an
occasion as the day of birth. The pageant of life marches without a
break, birth to death and beyond, and birth again, the generations
endlessly touching mystical hands, until the individual feels himself to
be part of an endless procession that passes for a moment into a white
light and out again, feels himself touching those who came before and
those who come after--one of a long line, bound together irrevocably.

With all their ethics of personal sacrifice and their preoccupation with
the idea of eternity, the Chinese have no ascetic contempt for the
material world and they earnestly desire and seek length of days. Among
the varied symbols and characters used to express good wishes--as
health, honour, riches--those for "long life" hold pre-eminence. They
are wrought in rings, bracelets, hair ornaments, and are sewed into
bridal garments and upon children's little coats and caps. I always felt
this enormous respect for life in all their daily customs--the preparing
of the baby clothes when the bride left her father's house, the
nurturing and strengthening of the clan with many children, the reverent
regard for the graves of the ancestors to whom the living owed their
grace of existence.

On several occasions I accompanied my mother on her visits to the
ancestral graves. I remember the last time, only a few days before
Chan-King's return, that I walked with her, holding one of her hands,
while with the other she grasped her gold-headed cane. She wore a light
costume--a plaited black skirt and lavender "coat" and lovely black kid
shoes. Servants followed with her baskets of offerings.

We stood at a respectful distance, in silence, while she performed her
rites. All about were placed papers, weighted with small stones. She
knelt and, clasping her hands, devoutly repeated her prayers under her
breath. Then, assisted by a servant, she burned the paper symbols of
refreshment and replenishment for the dead. Fire-crackers were exploded
to clear the air of evil spirits, and the ceremony was over.

As we returned to the village, everywhere people called out to her from
their doorways and she invariably replied with friendly courtesy. In the
outskirts we stopped for rest and a visit to the house of a cousin. When
we left, many of the relatives and friends went with us a little way,
crying out repeatedly, "Good-bye!" and "Come again, come again soon!" I
saw the sunlight on Tiger Mountain; I smelled the saltness of the sea.
As we passed around the great boulders that hid them from our sight, the
modulated cadence of their "Come again, come again soon!" floated to
us. It was the last time I should hear it as I was then, and I did not
even dream that it was so.

For a month I had been expecting the arrival of Chan-King. His letters
were always love-letters, with added paragraphs saying that he was
getting on well with his work and would have much to tell me of it when
he came home. At last a letter told us to expect him by a certain
steamer, on a certain day. But schedules were still in confusion because
of the war. That steamer was delayed, and Chan-King sailed for another
port, meaning to change there. More delays followed. More letters of
explanation. More delays again. Mother and I both became heart-sick with
hope deferred. At last, one morning, worn out with watching, I slept
later than usual, and on that morning Chan-King came home.

Awakened out of a long drowse, I heard a stir in the quiet house, the
clang of a gong, a rush of padded footfalls in the outer hall. Happy
voices mingled in greeting at the door of my mother's apartment. I threw
on my robe, tucked Alicia under my arm and ran across the room, flinging
the door open even as Chan-King had his hand raised to knock at the
panel. I saw him dimly in the wavering light. He was smiling, and behind
him stood his mother, also smiling. Each of us solemnly spoke the
other's name, trying to erase, with a long look, the memory of all those
months of absence. Then he saw the baby. "Li-Sia, my thousand catties of
gold!" he said, in Chinese. Alicia smiled and held out her arms to him.
"She recognizes him!" said Mother, in pleased surprise. We three stood
together a moment, silently, gathered around the child. I felt myself
more deeply absorbed into the clan--a Chinese woman, dedicated anew,
heart and spirit, to my adopted people.

Later, Chan-King explained to me the reason for his home-coming. His
legal service for the Government had been completed and his expected
appointment had come at last. We were to return to America, where he
would be in the Chinese consular service. After a period in this work, a
bright future in the diplomatic field seemed assured. It meant leaving
my beloved China, where I had firmly taken root. But we agreed that the
exile would be for only a few years and that we would return surely to
our Promised Land, there to enjoy our span of "long life with honour."

Now our leisurely existence was broken up to a degree. Almost
immediately we set about preparations for our new life in America.
Chan-King looked forward with absorbing interest to the change, almost
as if he were going home. My instant reaction was one of joy, swiftly
followed by sorrow at giving up things now loved and familiar. I wanted
to appear cheerful, as a duty to those around me. I did not want to
seem too cheerful, lest Mother should think me glad to go.

In this period, at last, I met my Chinese father. One beautiful day in
early autumn, Chan-King and I went down to the city, returning in
mid-afternoon. As our chairs were set down before the entrance, the
gatekeeper announced to Chan-King his father's arrival. I was filled
with swift apprehension. Again chance had decided my costume: I was
wearing, not the conservative Chinese garb in which I had met my mother,
but a frilly American dress of blue and white summer silk, a white lace
hat with black velvet and pink rosebuds and white kid shoes. Chan-King
had on white flannels and a Panama hat. The latter he handed to a
servant, as also his cane. As we entered the main room together, a
figure rose from beside Mother to receive us. I saw an elderly man of
medium height, with grim, smooth-shaven face and grey hair. He was
wearing a long gown of deep blue silk, with a black outer jacket and the
usual round cap of black satin. My husband first greeted him and then
presented me. While I stood uncertain, there was a courteous inclination
of the grey head, the grimness of expression dissolved in a wonderfully
winning smile, and, surprisingly, as Mother had done, my Chinese father
extended his hand. I felt that he was interpreting me in the light of
all she had told him, that his cordial handclasp and kindly words of
welcome were his ratification of her judgment. Then, with a courtly
gesture, he assigned me to his lately occupied chair beside Mother,
while he and Chan-King took seats together opposite us. Mother smiled
into my eyes with her happiest expression. I felt that Chan-King's
background was complete. Long before, I had conceived of it as harsh and
threatening, but I had now proved it to be wholly kind and protecting.
At my recent fear of this last test I wondered and smiled.

Father was much gratified at finding his grandsons able to converse
fluently in his native tongue. He would gather them all about him for an
hour at a time, asking questions to test their practical knowledge, or
telling stories to amuse them. Alicia also delighted him. At simple
Chinese commands, she would now clasp her hands or fold them and bow
profoundly. Mother was very proud of her wee granddaughter and would
often say, "She is just as Chan-King was at her age!" And her husband
would invariably assent with an indulgent smile. There existed between
these two--conservative types though they were--an evidence of mutual
affection and respect, of real companionship, that touched me
profoundly. I was glad that Father was to be with Mother when Chan-King
and I took ourselves and our three children from the home where,
according to the old Chinese custom, we all rightfully belonged.

The question of leaving one or more of our children there for a time was
discussed one afternoon later.

"Under ordinary circumstances," said Father to Chan-King, "you would go
alone, as your brother does, leaving your entire family with us. At the
very least, you would allow one child to remain in your stead. But of
course your mother and I understand that these are not ordinary
circumstances. Your wife is an American. She has been considerate of our
point of view in many ways--more than we expected--and in this matter we
do not fail to consider hers, which is no doubt your own as well. We
understand that according to the American view the children belong with
their parents, always. We cannot, of course, deny your right to this
manner of living. But we want you to feel that, if you can leave even
one child with us, we shall be very happy. You understand what
protection and care will be given it."

For a moment there was silence. My heart was very full, and, even had it
been my place to speak, I should have been unable to do so. Mentally I
pictured Mother's loneliness at losing so many of her children. Vainly I
tried to imagine our home in America with even one small face missing. I
watched my husband, noted the tiny traces of conflict in his face,
impassive perhaps to the casual glance. At last he spoke.

"Father, mother," he began earnestly, "we do indeed appreciate your
great kindness and generosity. You will understand that, just as you
understand most truly our situation. We know that here with you our
children would have many advantages that we, perhaps, cannot give them.
But which one could we leave to enjoy those advantages? Not Wilfred, for
he is our eldest son, on whom we place great dependence. And Alfred--of
us all he seems least fitted for the southern climate. The summer heat
has left him a little pale and listless. He needs the sea voyage. As for
Alicia, she is the baby, and our only daughter. Do not think us
unmindful of all you have done. But I fear we should not know how to
make our home without our children."

After all, it was evidently not unexpected. They shook their heads a
trifle ruefully at each other and then smiled.

"Very well," Father assented. "But this you must promise: that at
intervals, whenever your work permits, you will come back--all of
you--and spend a year with us again. Do not let the children forget us
nor their Chinese speech. In four years, at most, all come back
together."

We promised readily, Mother and I repeating the phrase to each other,
"In four more years, all come back together." Our eyes were full of
tears.

That night I said to my husband, "We should have left one of them."

But Chan-King was a clearer thinker, just then, and knew the truth of
this situation better than I did. "Which one?" he asked me
significantly, in a tone that made me see the essential hollowness of my
protest.

On the Sunday before our ship sailed, Chan-King and I bade farewell to
China. In company with our parents and many other relatives we walked to
the top of a very high hill, where an old temple, which commanded a
magnificent view for miles around, crouched contentedly among the rocks,
in the grey sunshine. It was a temple of the three religions, with huge
stone images of Confucius, Buddha and Lao-tse grouped in its outer
court. Together, Chan-King and I climbed to the crest of the terraced
rock. I looked about me, down upon the proud, bright little village,
alert and colourful on the hill-side, upon the scattered fertile
patches in the midst of the barren mountains where tigers build their
lairs. The eternal hills swept the lowering, clouded skies, rolling away
from us, silent, shadow-filled. A surging love of the very soil under my
feet, a clinging to the earth of China, overwhelmed me. I wished to
kneel down and kiss that beloved dust. "Oh, Chan-King," I said, shaking
with emotion, "This is home! I wish we were not leaving, even for a
day!"

"We will come again soon," he said, in Chinese, "and we will live here
when we are old."

That evening we sat together in the quiet garden. From Mother's
apartments came the sound of her young nephew's voice as he chanted his
morrow's lessons. We heard the subdued merriment of two little maids,
teasing each other in the hall beyond. Along the outer path a
sedan-chair passed with rhythmic sway, the bamboo supports creaking a
soft accompaniment to the pad-pad of the bearers' sandalled feet.

From varying distances came the clang of a brass gong, shuddering on the
stillness, the staccato sound of slender bamboo sticks shaken together
in a cylindrical box, the measured beat of a small drum-rattle, as the
different street venders announced their wares. Over the hills, now
purple in twilight, the round moon swung leisurely into the violet sky.
Strange breaths of incense were wafted about us. The sea-breeze stirred
the branches of a dragon's-eye tree close by, where the ripening
fruit-balls tapped gently against each other like little swaying
lanterns. For long moments we sat in silence, with clasped hands.

Out of that silence my husband spoke softly, words I had long yearned to
hear: "Absence, Margaret, teaches many things. Once it showed you your
own heart. This time it has taught me to believe with you in the
immortality of love like ours. Physically, we may be separated at
times, but mentally, spiritually, you and I are one for all eternity."

The moon rose higher, golden, perfect, even as our love.

A few days later, we sailed for America. The rest may be told in a few
words, for, after all, no words could adequately tell it. A week after
our arrival in America, Chan-King was stricken with influenza. For
several years he had been in the shadow of a slow illness, but with
stout resistance and such buoyant recurring periods of good health that
we had for a time almost forgotten that early and sinister threat. But
those years of struggle were all thrown into the balance against him
when the decisive hour came. After six days, he died. Quietly, with
terrible implacability, death closed over him. We feared a sudden end,
it is true, but were still incredulous of such a calamity. We gave each
other what assurance we could: our ultimate farewells were simple
renewals of faith, a firmer tightening of our hands for our walk in
darkness. "Of all the world, you are my love," he said, many times.
"More than anyone else you have understood, you have been unfailing--you
have been my wife." And, almost as he spoke, my arms held no longer my
living beloved, but only the clay where his spirit had been and would
come no more.

So, by the visible evidences, my history is finished. But it has begun
anew for me, not as I wished, not as I hoped, but on a level that I can
endure. For I have my children and my memories and my home in China,
which waits with the gentle healing of sight and sound and place ... and
I have learned that in love, and only in love, we can wring spiritual
victory out of this defeat of the body.





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