Mrs. Spring Fragrance
The Prize China Baby
 

The baby was the one gleam of sunshine in Fin Fan's life, and how she loved it no words can tell. When it was first born, she used to lie with her face turned to its little soft, breathing mouth and think there was nothing quite so lovely in the world as the wee pink face before her, while the touch of its tiny toes and fingers would send wonderful thrills through her whole body. Those were delightful days, but, oh, how quickly they sped. A week after the birth of the little Jessamine Flower, Fin Fan was busy winding tobacco leaves in the dark room behind her husband's factory. Winding tobacco leaves had been Fin Fan's occupation ever since she had become Chung Kee's wife, and hard and dreary work it was. Now, however, she did not mind it quite so much, for in a bunk which was built on one side of the room was a most precious bundle, and every now and then she would go over to that bunk and crow and coo to the baby therein.

But though Fin Fan prized her child so highly, Jessamine Flower's father would rather she had not been born, and considered the babe a nuisance because she took up so much of her mother's time. He would rather that Fin Fan spent the hours in winding tobacco leaves than in nursing baby. However, Fin Fan managed to do both, and by dint of getting up very early in the morning and retiring very late at night, made as much money for her husband after baby was born as she ever did before. And it was well for her that that was so, as the baby would otherwise have been taken from her and given to some other more fortunate woman. Not that Fin Fan considered herself unfortunate. Oh, no! She had been a hard-working little slave all her life, and after her mistress sold her to be wife to Chung Kee, she never dreamt of complaining, because, though a wife, she was still a slave.

When Jessamine Flower was about six months old one of the ladies of the Mission, in making her round of Chinatown, ran in to see Fin Fan and her baby.

"What a beautiful child!" exclaimed the lady. "And, oh, how cunning," she continued, noting the amulets on the little ankles and wrists, the tiny, quilted vest and gay little trousers in which Fin Fan had arrayed her treasure.

Fin Fan sat still and shyly smiled, rubbing her chin slowly against the baby's round cheek. Fin Fan was scarcely more than a child herself in years.

"Oh, I want to ask you, dear little mother," said the lady, "if you will not send your little one to the Chinese baby show which we are going to have on Christmas Eve in the Presbyterian Mission schoolroom."

Fin Fan's eyes brightened.

"What you think? That my baby get a prize?" she asked hesitatingly.

"I think so, indeed," answered the lady, feeling the tiny, perfectly shaped limbs and peeping into the brightest of black eyes.

From that day until Christmas Eve, Fin Fan thought of nothing but the baby show. She would be there with her baby, and if it won a prize, why, perhaps its father might be got to regard it with more favor, so that he would not frown so blackly and mutter under his breath at the slightest cry or coo.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Chung Kee brought into Fin Fan's room a great bundle of tobacco which he declared had to be rolled by the evening, and when it was time to start for the show, the work was not nearly finished. However, Fin Fan dressed her baby, rolled it in a shawl, and with it in her arms, stealthily left the place.

It was a bright scene that greeted her upon arrival at the Mission house. The little competitors, in the enclosure that had been arranged for them, presented a peculiarly gorgeous appearance. All had been carefully prepared for the beauty test and looked as pretty as possible, though in some cases bejewelled head dresses and voluminous silken garments almost hid the competitors. Some small figures quite blazed in gold and tinsel and then there were solemn cherubs almost free from clothing. The majority were plump and well-formed children, and there wasn't a cross or crying baby in the forty-five. Fin Fan's baby made the forty-sixth, and it was immediately surrounded by a group of admiring ladies.

How Fin Fan's eyes danced. Her baby would get a prize, and she would never more need to fear that her husband would give it away. That terrible dread had haunted her ever since its birth. "But surely," thought the little mother, "if it gets a prize he will be so proud that he will let me keep it forever."

And Fin Fan's baby did get a prize — a shining gold bit — and Fin Fan, delighted and excited, started for home. She was so happy and proud.

Chung Kee was very angry. Fin Fan was not in her room, and the work he had given her to do that morning was lying on the table undone. He said some hard words in a soft voice, which was his way sometimes, and then told the old woman who helped the men in the factory to be ready to carry a baby to the herb doctor's wife that night. "Tell her," said he, "that my cousin, the doctor, says that she long has desired a child, and so I send her one as a Christmas present, according to American custom."

Just then came a loud knocking at the door. Chung Kee slowly unbarred it, and two men entered, bearing a stretcher upon which a covered form lay.

"Why be you come to my store?" asked Chung Kee in broken English.

The men put down their burden, and one pulled down the covering from that which lay on the stretcher and revealed an unconscious woman and a dead baby.

"It was on Jackson Street. The woman was trying to run with the baby in her arms, and just as she reached the crossing a butcher's cart came around the corner. Some Chinese who knows you advised me to bring them here. Your wife and child, eh?"

Chung Kee stared speechlessly at the still faces — an awful horror in his eyes.

A curious crowd began to fill the place. A doctor was in the midst of it and elbowed his way to where Fin Fan was beginning to regain consciousness.

"Move back all of you; we want some air here!" he shouted authoritatively, and Fin Fan, roused by the loud voice, feebly raised her head, and looking straight into her husband's eyes, said:

"Chung Kee's baby got first prize. Chung Kee let Fin Fan keep baby always."

That was all. Fin Fan's eyes closed. Her head fell back beside the prize baby's — hers forever.