Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Edith Maude Eaton
Mrs. Spring Fragrance
The Wisdom of the New
Old Li Wang, the peddler, who had lived in the land beyond the sea, was wont to declare: " For every cent that a man makes here, he can make one hundred there."
"Then, why," would ask Sankwei, "do you now have to move from door to door to fill your bowl with rice?"
And the old man would sigh and answer: "Because where one learns how to make gold, one also learns how to lose it."
"How to lose it!" echoed Wou Sankwei "Tell me all about it."
So the old man would tell stories about the winning and the losing, and the stories of the losing were even more fascinating than the stories of the winning.
"Yes, that was life," he would conclude. "Life, life."
At such times the boy would gaze across the water with wistful eyes. The land beyond the sea was calling to him.
The place was a sleepy little south coast town where the years slipped by monotonously. The boy was the only son of the man who had been the town magistrate.
Had his father lived, Wou Sankwei would have been sent to complete his schooling in another province. As it was he did nothing but sleep, dream and occasionally get into mischief. What else was there to do? His mother and sister waited upon him hand and foot. Was he not the son of the house? The family income was small, scarcely sufficient for their needs; but there was no way by which he could add to it, unless, indeed, he disgraced the name of Wou by becoming a common fisherman. The great green waves lifted white arms of foam to him, and the fishes gleaming and lurking in the waters seemed to beseech him to draw them from the deep; but his mother shook her head.
"Should you become a fisherman," said She," your family would lose face. Remember that your father was a magistrate.''
When he was about nineteen there returned to the town one who had been absent for many years. Ching Kee, like old Li Wang, had also lived in the land beyond the sea; but unlike old Li Wang he had accumulated a small fortune.
'"Tis a hard life over there," said he, "but 'tis worth while. At least one can be a man, and can work at what work comes his way without losing face." Then he laughed at Wou Sankwei's flabby muscles, at his soft, dark eyes, and plump, white hands.
"If you lived in America," said he, "you would learn to be ashamed of such beauty."
Whereupon Wou Sankwei made up his mind that he would go to America, the land beyond the sea. Better any life than that of a woman man.
He talked long and earnestly with his mother. "Give me your blessing," said he. "I will work and save money. What I send home will bring you many a comfort, and when I come back to China, it may be that I shall be able to complete my studies and obtain a degree. If not, my knowledge of the foreign language which I shall acquire, will enable me to take a position which will not disgrace the name of Wou."
His mother listened and thought. She was ambitious for her son whom she loved beyond all things on earth. Moreover, had not Sik Ping, a Canton merchant, who had visited the little town two moons ago, declared to Hum Wah, who traded in palm leaves, that the signs of the times were that the son of a cobbler, returned from America with the foreign language, could easier command a position of consequence than the son of a school-teacher unacquainted with any tongue but that of his motherland?
"Very well," she acquiesced; "but before you go I must find you a wife. Only your son, my son, can comfort me for your loss."
Wou Sankwei stood behind his desk, busily entering figures in a long yellow book. Now and then he would thrust the hair pencil with which he worked behind his ears and manipulate with deft fingers a Chinese counting machine. Wou Sankwei was the junior partner and bookkeeper of the firm of Leung Tang Wou & Co. of San Francisco. He had been in America seven years and had made good use of his time. Self-improvement had been his object and ambition, even more than the acquirement of a fortune, and who, looking at his fine, intelligent face and listening to his careful English, could say that he had failed?
One of his partners called his name. Some ladies wished to speak to him. Wou Sankwei hastened to the front of the store. One of his callers, a motherly looking woman, was the friend who had taken him under her wing shortly after his arrival in America. She had come to invite him to spend the evening with her and her niece," the young girl who accompanied her.
After his callers had left, Sankwei returned to his desk and worked steadily until the hour for his evening meal, which he took in the Chinese restaurant across the street from the bazaar. He hurried through with this, as before going to his friend's house, he had a somewhat important letter to write and mail. His mother had died a year before, and the uncle, to whom he was writing, had taken his wife and son into his home until such time as his nephew could send for them. Now the time had come.
Wou Sankwei's memory of the woman who was his wife was very faint. How could it be otherwise? She had come to him but three weeks before the sailing of the vessel which had brought him to America, and until then he had not seen her face. But she was his wife and the mother of his son. Ever since he had worked in America he had sent money for her support, and she had proved a good daughter to his mother.
As he sat down to write he decided that he would welcome her with a big dinner to his countrymen.
"Yes," he replied to Mrs. Dean, later on in the evening, "I have sent for my wife."
"I am so glad," said the lady. "Mr. Wou" — turning to her niece — "has not seen his wife for seven years."
"Deary me!" exclaimed the young girl. "What a lot of letters you must have written!"
"I have not written her one," returned the young man somewhat stiffly.
Adah Charlton looked up in surprise. "Why — " she began.
"Mr. Wou used to be such a studious boy when I first knew him," interrupted Mrs. Dean, laying her hand affectionately upon the young man's shoulder. "Now, it is all business. But you won't forget the concert on Saturday evening."
"No, I will not forget," answered Wou Sankwei.
"He has never written to his wife," explained Mrs. Dean when she and her niece were alone, "because his wife can neither read nor write."
"Oh, isn't that sad!" murmured Adah Charlton, her own winsome face becoming pensive.
"They don't seem to think so. It is the Chinese custom to educate only the boys. At least it has been so in the past. Sankwei himself, is unusually bright. Poor boy! He began life here as a laundryman, and you may be sure that it must have been hard on him, for, as the son of a petty Chinese Government official, he had not been accustomed to manual labor. But Chinese character is wonderful; and now after seven years in this country, he enjoys a reputation as a business man amongst his countrymen, and is as up to date as any young American."
"But, Auntie, isn't it dreadful to think that a man should live away from his wife for so many years without any communication between them whatsoever except through others."
"It is dreadful to our minds, but not to theirs. Everything with them is a matter of duty. Sankwei married his wife as a matter of duty. He sends for her as a matter of duty."
"I wonder if it is all duty on her side," mused the girl.
Mrs. Dean smiled. "You are too romantic, Adah," said she. "I hope, however, that when she does come, they will be happy together. I think almost as much of Sankwei as I do of my own boy."
Pau Lin, the wife of Wou Sankwei, sat in a corner of the deck of the big steamer, awaiting the coming of her husband. Beside her, leaning his little queued head against her shoulder, stood her six-year-old son. He had been ailing throughout the voyage, and his small face was pinched with pain. His mother, who had been nursing him every night since the ship had left port, appeared very worn and tired. This, despite the fact that with a feminine desire to make herself fair to see in the eyes of her husband, she had arrayed herself in a heavily embroidered purple costume, whitened her forehead and cheeks with powder, and tinted her lips with carmine.
He came at last, looking over and beyond her. There were two others of her country-women awaiting the men who had sent for them, and each had a child, so that for a moment he seemed somewhat bewildered. Only when the ship's officer pointed out and named her, did he know her as his. Then he came forward, spoke a few words of formal welcome, and, lifting the child in his arms, began questioning her as to its health.
She answered in low monosyllables. At his greeting she had raised her patient eyes to his face — the face of the husband whom she had not seen for seven long years — then the eager look of expectancy which had crossed her own faded away, her eyelids drooped, and her countenance assumed an almost sullen expression.
"Ah, poor Sankwei!" exclaimed Mrs. Dean, who with Adah Charlton stood some little distance apart from the family group.
"Poor wife!" murmured the young girl. She moved forward and would have taken in her own white hands the ringed ones of the Chinese woman, but the young man gently restrained her. "She cannot understand you," said he. As the young girl fell back, he explained to his wife the presence of the stranger women. They were there to bid her welcome; they were kind and good and wished to be her friends as well as his.
Pau Lin looked away. Adah Charlton's bright face, and the tone in her husband's voice when he spoke to the young girl, aroused a suspicion in her mind — a suspicion natural to one who had come from a land where friendship between a man and woman is almost unknown.
"Poor little thing! How shy she is!" exclaimed Mrs. Dean.
Sankwei was glad that neither she nor the young girl understood the meaning of the averted face.
Thus began Wou Sankwei's life in America as a family man. He soon became accustomed to the change, which was not such a great one after all. Pau Lin was more of an accessory than a part of his life. She interfered not at all with his studies, his business, or his friends, and when not engaged in housework or sewing, spent most of her time in the society of one or the other of the merchants' wives, who lived in the flats and apartments around her own. She kept up the Chinese custom of taking her meals after her husband or at a separate table, and observed faithfully the rule laid down for her by her late mother-in-law: to keep a quiet tongue in the presence of her man. Sankwei, on his part, was always kind and indulgent. He bought her silk dresses, hair ornaments, fans, and sweetmeats. He ordered her favorite dishes from the Chinese restaurant. When she wished to go out with her women friends, he hired a carriage, and shortly after her advent erected behind her sleeping room a chapel for the ancestral tablet and gorgeous goddess which she had brought over seas with her.
Upon the child both parents lavished affection. He was a quaint, serious little fellow, small for his age and requiring much care. Although naturally much attached to his mother, he became also very fond of his father who, more like an elder brother than a parent, delighted in playing all kinds of games with him, and whom he followed about like a little dog. Adah Charlton took a great fancy to him and sketched him in many different poses for a book on Chinese children which she was illustrating.
"He will be strong enough to go to school next year," said Sankwei to her one day. "Later on I intend to put him through an American college."
"What does your wife think of a Western training for him?" inquired the young girl.
"I have not consulted her about the matter," he answered. "A woman does not understand such things."
"A woman, Mr. Wou," declared Adah, "understands such things as well as and sometimes better than a man."
"An American woman, maybe," amended Sankwei; "but not a Chinese."
From the first Pau Lin had shown no disposition to become Americanized, and Sankwei himself had not urged it.
"I do appreciate the advantages of becoming westernized," said he to Mrs. Dean whose influence and interest in his studies in America had helped him to become what he was, "but it is not as if she had come here as I came, in her learning days. The time for learning with her is over."
One evening, upon returning from his store, he found the little Yen sobbing pitifully.
"What!" he teased, "A man — and weeping."
The boy tried to hide his face, and as he did so, the father noticed that his little hand was red and swollen. He strode into the kitchen where Pau Lin was preparing the evening meal.
"The little child who is not strong — is there anything he could do to merit the infliction of pain?" he questioned.
Pau Lin faced her husband. "Yes, I think so," said she.
"I forbade him to speak the language of the white women, and he disobeyed me. Tie had words in that tongue with the white boy from the next street."
Sankwei was astounded.
"We are living in the white man's country," said he. "The child will have to learn the white man's language."
"Not my child," answered Pau Lin.
Sankwei turned away from her. "Come, little one," said he to his son, "we will take supper tonight at the restaurant, and afterwards Yen shall see a show."
Pau Lin laid down the dish of vegetables which she was straining and took from a hook a small wrap which she adjusted around the boy.
"Now go with thy father," said she sternly.
But the boy clung to her — to the hand which had punished him. "I will sup with you," he cried, "I will sup with you."
"Go," repeated his mother, pushing him from her. And as the two passed over the threshold, she called to the father: "Keep the wrap around the child. The night air is chill."
Late that night, while father and son were peacefully sleeping, the wife and mother arose, and lifting gently the unconscious boy, bore him into the next room where she sat down with him in a rocker. Waking, he clasped his arms around her neck. Backwards and forwards she rocked him, passionately caressing the wounded hand and crooning and crying until he fell asleep again.
The first chastisement that the son of Wou Sankwei had received from his mother, was because he had striven to follow in the footsteps of his father and use the language of the stranger.
"You did perfectly right," said old Sien Tau the following morning, as she leaned over her balcony to speak to the wife of Wou Sankwei. "Had I again a son to rear, I should see to it that he followed not after the white people."
Sien Tau's son had married a white woman, and his children passed their grandame on the street without recognition.
"In this country, she is most happy who has no child," said Lae Choo, resting her elbow upon the shoulder of Sien Tau. "A Toy, the young daughter of Lew Wing, is as bold and free in her ways as are the white women, and her name is on all the men's tongues. What prudent man of our race would take her as wife?"
"One needs not to be born here to be made a fool of," joined in Pau Lin, appearing at another balcony door. "Think of Hum Wah. From sunrise till midnight he worked for fourteen years, then a white man came along and persuaded from him every dollar, promising to return doublefold within the moon. Many moons have risen and waned, and Hum Wah still waits on this side of the sea for the white man and his money. Meanwhile, his father and mother, who looked long for his coming, have passed beyond returning."
"The new religion — what trouble it brings!" exclaimed Lae Choq. "My man received word yestereve that the good old mother of Chee Ping — he who was baptized a Christian at the last baptizing in the Mission around the corner — had her head secretly severed from her body by the steadfast people of the village, as soon as the news reached there. 'Twas the first violent death in the records of the place. This happened to the mother of one of the boys attending the Mission corner of my street."
"No doubt, the poor old mother, having lost face, minded not so much the losing of her head," sighed Pau Lin. She gazed below her curiously. The American Chinatown held a strange fascination for the girl from the seacoast village. Streaming along the street was a motley throng made up of all nationalities. The sing-song voices of girls whom respectable merchants' wives shudder to name, were calling to one another from high balconies up shadowy alleys. A fat barber was laughing hilariously at a drunken white man who had fallen into a gutter; a withered old fellow, carrying a bird in a cage, stood at the comer entreating passersby to have a good fortune told; some children were burning punk on the curbstone. There went by a stalwart Chief of the Six Companies engaged in earnest confab with a yellow-robed priest from the joss house. A Chinese dressed in the latest American style and a very blonde woman, laughing immoderately, were entering a Chinese restaurant together. Above all the hubbub of voices was heard the clang of electric cars and the jarring of heavy wheels over cobblestones!
Pau Lin raised her head and looked her thoughts at the old woman, Sien Tau.
"Yes," nodded the dame, "'tis a mad place in which to bring up a child."
Pau Lin went back into the house, gave little Yen his noonday meal, and dressed him with care. His father was to take him out that afternoon. She questioned the boy, as she braided his queue, concerning the white women whom he visited with his father.
It was evening when they returned — Wou Sankwei and his boy. The little fellow ran up to her in high glee. "See, mother," said he, pulling off his cap, "I am like father now. I wear no queue."
The mother looked down upon him — at the little round, head from which the queue, which had been her pride, no longer dangled.
"Ah!" she cried. "I am ashamed of you; I am ashamed!"
The boy stared at her, hurt and disappointed.
"Never mind, son," comforted his father. "It is all right."
Pau Lin placed the bowls of seaweed and chickens' liver before them and went back to the kitchen where her own meal was waiting. But she did not eat. She was saying within herself: "It is for the white woman he has done this; it is for the white woman!"
Later, as she laid the queue of her son within the trunk wherein lay that of his father, long since cast aside, she discovered a picture of Mrs. Dean, taken when the American woman had first become the teacher and benefactress of the youthful laundryman. She ran over with it to her husband. "Here," said she; "it is a picture of one of your white friends." Sankwei took it from her almost reverently, "That woman," he explained, "has been to me as a mother."
"And the young woman — the one with eyes the color of blue china — is she also as a mother?" inquired Pau Lin gently.
But for all her gentleness, Wou Sankwei flushed angrily.
"Never speak of her," he cried. "Never speak of her!"
"Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Pau Lin. It was a soft and not unmelodious laugh, but to Wou Sankwei it sounded almost sacrilegious.
Nevertheless, he soon calmed down. Pau Lin was his wife, and to be kind to her was not only his duty but his nature. So when his little boy climbed into his lap and besought his father to pipe him a tune, he reached for his flute and called to Pau Lin to put aside work for that night. He would play her some Chinese music. And Pau Lin, whose heart and mind, undiverted by change, had been concentrated upon Wou Sankwei ever since the day she had become his wife, smothered, for the time being, the bitterness in her heart, and succumbed to the magic of her husband's playing — a magic which transported her in thought to the old Chinese days, the old Chinese days whose impression and influence ever remain with the exiled sons and daughters of China.
That a man should take to himself two wives, or even three, if he thought proper, seemed natural and right in the eyes of Wou Pau Lin. She herself had come from a home where there were two broods of children and where her mother and her father's other wife had eaten their meals together as sisters. In that home there had not always been peace; but each woman, at least, had the satisfaction of knowing that her man did not regard or treat the other woman as her superior. To each had fallen the common lot — to bear children to the man, and the man was master of all.
But, oh! the humiliation and shame of bearing children to a man who looked up to another woman — and a woman of another race — as a being above the common uses of women. There is a jealousy of the mind more poignant than any mere animal jealousy.
When Wou Sankwei's second child was two weeks old, Adah Charlton and her aunt called to see the little one, and the young girl chatted brightly with the father and played merrily with Yen, who was growing strong and merry. The American women could not, of course, converse with the Chinese; but Adah placed beside her a bunch of beautiful flowers, pressed her hand, and looked down upon her with radiant eyes. Secure in the difference of race, in the love of many friends, and in the happiness of her chosen work, no suspicion whatever crossed her mind that the woman whose husband was her aunt's protégé tasted everything bitter because of her.
After the visitors had gone, Pau Lin, who had been watching her husband's face while the young artist was in the room, said to him:
"She can be happy who takes all and gives nothing."
"Takes all and gives nothing," echoed her husband. "What do you mean?"
"She has taken all your heart," answered Pau Lin, "but she has not given you a son. It is I who have had that task."
"You are my wife," answered Wou Sankwei. "And she — oh! how can you speak of her so? She, who is as a pure water-flower — a lily!"
He went out of the room, carrying with him a little painting of their boy, which Adah Charlton had given to him as she bade him goodbye and which he had intended showing with pride to the mother."
It was on the day that the baby died that Pau Lin first saw the little picture. It had fallen out of her husband's coat pocket when he lifted the tiny form in his arms and declared it lifeless. Even in that first moment of loss Pau Lin, stooping to pick up the portrait, had shrunk back in horror, crying; "She would cast a spell! She would cast a spell!"
She set her heel upon the face of the picture and destroyed it beyond restoration.
"You know not what you say and do," sternly rebuked Sankwei. He would have added more, but the mystery of the dead child's look forbade him.
"The loss of a son is as the loss of a limb," said he to his childless partner, as under the red glare of the lanterns they sat discussing the sad event.
"But you are not without consolation," returned Leung Tsao. "Your firstborn grows in strength and beauty."
"True," assented Wou Sankwei, his heavy thoughts becoming lighter.
And Pau Lin, in her curtained balcony overhead, drew closer her child and passionately cried:
"Sooner would I, heart of my heart, that the light of thine eyes were also quenched, than that thou shouldst be contaminated with the wisdom of the new."
The Chinese women friends of Wou Pau Lin gossiped among themselves, and their gossip reached the ears of the American woman friend of Pau Lin's husband. Since the days of her widowhood Mrs. Dean had devoted herself earnestly and whole-heartedly to the betterment of the condition and the uplifting of the young workingmen of Chinese race who came to America. Their appeal and need, as she had told her niece, was for closer acquaintance with the knowledge of the Western people, and that she had undertaken to give them, as far as she was able. The rewards and satisfactions of her work had been rich in some cases. Witness Wou Sankwei.
But the gossip had reached and much perturbed her. What was it that they said Wou Sankwei's wife had declared — that her little son should not go to an American school nor learn the American learning. Such bigotry and narrow-mindedness! How sad to think of! Here was a man who had benefited and profited by living in America, anxious to have his son receive the benefits of a Western education — and here was this man's wife opposing him with her ignorance and hampering him with her unreasonable jealousy.
Yes, she had heard that too. That Wou Sankwei's wife was jealous — jealous — and her husband the most moral of men, the kindest and the most generous.
"Of what is she jealous?" she questioned Adah Charlton. "Other Chinese men's wives, I have known, have had cause to be jealous, for it is true some of them are dreadfully immoral and openly support two or more wives. But not Wou Sankwei. And this little Pau Lin. She has everything that a Chinese woman could wish for."
A sudden flash of intuition came to the girl, rendering her for a moment speechless. When she did find words, she said:
"Everything that a Chinese woman could wish for, you say. Auntie, I do not believe there is any real difference between the feelings of a Chinese wife and an American wife. Sankwei is treating Pau Lin as he would treat her were he living in China. Yet it cannot be the same to her as if she were in their own country, where he would not come in contact with American women. A woman is a woman with intuitions and perceptions, whether Chinese or American, whether educated or uneducated, and Sankwei's wife must have noticed, even on the day of her arrival, her husband's manner towards us, and contrasted it with his manner towards her. I did not realize this before you told me that she was jealous. I only wish I had. Now, for all her ignorance, I can see that the poor little thing became more of an American in that one half hour on the steamer than Wou Sankwei, for all your pride in him, has become in seven years."
Mrs. Dean rested her head on her hand. She was evidently much perplexed.
"What you say may be, Adah," she replied after a while; "but even so, it is Sankwei whom I have known so long, who has my sympathies. He has much to put up with. They have drifted seven years of life apart. There is no bond of interest or sympathy between them, save the boy. Yet never the slightest hint of trouble has come to me from his own lips. Before the coming of Pau Lin, he would confide in me every little thing that worried him, as if he were my own son. Now he maintains absolute silence as to his private affairs."
"Chinese principles," observed Adah, resuming her work. "Yes, I admit Sankwei has some puzzles to solve. Naturally, when he tries to live two lives — that of a Chinese and that of an American."
"He is compelled to that," retorted Mrs. Dean. "Is it not what we teach these Chinese boys — to become Americans? And yet, they are Chinese, and must, in a sense, remain so.
Adah did not answer.
Mrs. Dean sighed. "Poor, dear children,' both of them," mused she. "I feel very low-spirited over the matter. I suppose you wouldn't care to come down town with me. I should like to have another chat with Mrs. Wing Sing."
"I shall be glad of the change," replied Adah, laying down her brushes.
Rows of lanterns suspended from many balconies shed a mellow, moonshiny radiance. On the walls and doors were splashes of red paper inscribed with hieroglyphics. In the narrow streets, booths decorated with flowers and banners and screens painted with immense figures of josses diverted the eye; while bands of musicians in gaudy silks, shrilled and banged, piped and fluted.
Everybody seemed to be out of doors — men, women, and children — and nearly all were in holiday attire. A couple of priests, in vivid scarlet and yellow robes, were kotowing before an altar covered with a rich cloth, embroidered in white and silver. Some Chinese students from the University of California stood looking on with comprehending, half-scornful interest; three girls lavishly dressed in colored silks, with their black hair plastered back from their faces and heavily bejewelled behind, chirped and chattered in a gilded balcony above them like birds in a cage. Little children, their hands full of half-moon-shaped cakes, were pattering about, with eyes, for all the hour, as bright as stars.
Chinatown was celebrating the Harvest Moon Festival, and Adah Charlton was glad that she had an opportunity to see something of the celebration before she returned East. Mrs. Dean, familiar with the Chinese people and the mazes of Chinatown, led her around fearlessly, pointing out this and that object of interest and explaining to her its meaning. Seeing that it was a gala night, she had abandoned her idea of calling upon the Chinese friend.
Just as they turned a corner leading up to the street where Wou Sankwei's place of business and residency was situated, a pair of little hands grasped Mrs. Dean's skirt and a delighted little voice piped: "See me! See me!" It was little Yen, resplendent in mauve-colored pantaloons and embroidered vest and cap. Behind him was a tall man whom both women recognized.
"How do you happen to have Yen with you?" Adah asked."
"His father handed him over to me as a sort of guide, counsellor, and friend. The little fellow is very amusing."
"See over here," interrupted Yen. He hopped over the alley to where the priests stood by the altar. The grown people followed him.
"What is that man chanting?" asked Adah. One of the priests had mounted a table, and with arms outstretched towards the moon sailing high in the heavens, seemed to be making some sort of an invocation.
Her friend listened for some moments before replying:
"It is a sort of apotheosis of the moon. J have heard it on a like occasion in Hankow and the Chinese bonze who officiated gave me a translation. I almost know it by heart. May I repeat it to you?"
Mrs. Dean and Yen were examining the screen with the big josses.
"Yes, I should like to hear it," said Adah.
"Then fix your eyes upon Diana."
"Dear and lovely moon, as I watch thee pursuing thy solitary course o'er the silent heavens, heart-easing thoughts steal o'er me and calm my passionate soul. Thou art so sweet, so serious, so serene, that thou causest me to forget the stormy emotions which crash like jarring discords across the harmony of life, and bringest to my memory a voice scarce ever heard amidst the warring of the world — love's low voice.
"Thou art so peaceful and so pure that it seemeth as if naught false or ignoble could dwell beneath thy gentle radiance, and that earnestness — even the earnestness of genius — must glow within the bosom of him on whose head thy beams fall like blessings.
"The magic of thy sympathy disburtheneth me of many sorrows, and thoughts, which, like the songs of the sweetest sylvan singer, are too dear and sacred for the careless ears of day, gush forth with unconscious eloquence when thou art the only listener.
"Dear and lovely moon, there are some who say that those who dwell in the sunlit fields of reason should fear to wander through the moonlit valleys of imagination; but I, who have ever been a pilgrim and a stranger in the realm of the wise, offer to thee the homage of a heart which appreciates that thou graciously shinest — even on the fool."
"Is that really Chinese?" queried Adah.
"No doubt about it — in the main. Of course, I cannot swear to it word for word."
"I should think that there would be some reference to the fruits of the earth — the harvest. I always understood that the Chinese religion was so practical."
"Confucianism is. But the Chinese mind requires two religions. Even the most commonplace Chinese, has yearnings for something above everyday life. Therefore, he combines with his Confucianism, Buddhism — or, in this country, Christianity."
"Thank you for the information. It has given me a key to the mind of a certain Chinese in whom Auntie and I are interested."
"And who is this particular Chinese in whom you are interested."
"The father of the little boy who is with us tonight."
"Wou Sankwei! Why, here he comes with Lee Tong Hay. Are you acquainted with Lee Tong Hay?"
"No, but I believe Aunt is; Plays and sings in vaudeville, doesn't he?"
"Yes; he can turn himself into a German, a Scotchman, an Irishman, or an American, with the greatest ease, and is as natural in each character as he is as a Chinaman. Hello, Lee Tong Hay."
"Hello, Mr. Stirason."
While her friend was talking to the lively young Chinese who had answered his greeting, Adah went over to where Wou Sankwei stood speaking to Mrs. Dean.
"Yen begins school next week," said her aunt, drawing her arm within her own. It was time to go home.
Adah made no reply. She was settling her mind to do something quite out of the ordinary. Her aunt often called her romantic and impractical. Perhaps she was.
Auntie went out of town this morning," said Adah Charlton. "I, 'phoned for you to come up, Sankwei because I wished to have a personal and private talk with you."
"Any trouble, Miss Adah," inquired the young merchant. "Anything I can do for you?"
Mrs. Dean often called upon him to transact little business matters for her or to consult with him on various phases of her social and family life.
"I don't know what I would do without Sankwei's head to manage for me," she often said to her niece.
"No," replied the girl, "you do too much for us. You always have, ever since I've known you. It's a shame for us to have allowed you."
"What are you talking about, Miss Adah? Since I came to America your aunt has made this house like a home to me, and, of course, I take an interest in it and like to do anything for it that a man can. Tarn always happy when I come here."
"Yes, I know you are, poor old boy," said Adah to herself.
Aloud she said: "I have something to say to you which I would like you to hear. Will you listen, Sankwei?"
"Of course I will," he answered.
"Well then," went on Adah, "I asked you to come here today because I have heard that there is trouble at your house and that you? wife is jealous of you."
"Would you please not talk about that, Miss Adah. It is a matter which you cannot understand."
"You promised to listen and heed. I do understand, even though I cannot speak to your wife nor find out what she feels and thinks. I know you, Sankwei, and I can see just how the trouble has arisen. As soon as I heard that your wife was jealous I knew why she was jealous."
"Why?" he queried.
Because," she answered unflinchingly, "you are thinking far too much of other women."
"Too much of other women?" echoed Sankwei dazedly. "I did not know that."
"No, you didn't. That is why I am telling you. But you are, Sankwei. And you are becoming too Americanized. My aunt encourages you to become so, and she is a good woman, with the best and highest of motives; but we are all liable to make mistakes, and it is a mistake to try and make a Chinese man into an American — if he has a wife who is to remain as she always has been. It would be different if you were not married and were a man free to advance. But you are not."
"What am I to do then, Miss Adah? You say that I think too much of other women besides her, and that I am too much Americanized. What can I do about it now that it is so?"
"First of all you must think of your wife. She has done for you what no American woman would do — came to you to be your wife, love you and serve you without even knowing you — took you on trust altogether. You must remember that for many years she was chained in a little cottage to care for your ailing and aged mother — a hard task indeed for a young girl. You must remember that you are the only man in the world to her, and that you have always been the only one that she has ever cared for. Think of her during all the years you are here, living a lonely hard-working life — a baby and an old woman her only companions. For this, she had left all her own relations. No American woman would have sacrificed herself so."
"And, now, what has she? Only you and her housework. The white woman reads, plays, paints, attends concerts, entertainments, lectures, absorbs herself in the work she likes, and in the course of her life thinks of and cares for a great many people. She has much, to make her happy besides her husband. The Chinese woman has him only."
"And her boy."
"Yes, her boy," repeated Adah Charlton, smiling in spite of herself, but lapsing into seriousness the moment after. "There's another reason for you to drop the American for a time and go back to being a Chinese. For sake of your darling little boy, you and your wife should live together kindly and cheerfully. That is much more important for his welfare than that he should go to the American school and become Americanized."
"It is my ambition to put him through both American and Chinese schools."
"But what he needs most of all is a loving mother."
"She loves him all right."
"Then why do you not love her as you should? If I were married I would not think my husband loved me very much if he preferred spending his evenings in the society of other women than in mine, and was so much more polite and deferential to other women than he was to me. Can't you understand now why your wife is jealous?"
Wou Sankwei stood up.
"Goodbye," said Adah Charlton, giving him her hand.
"Goodbye," said Wou Sankwei.
Had he been a white man, there is no doubt that Adah Charlton's little lecture would have had a contrary effect from what she meant it to have. At least, the lectured would have been somewhat cynical as to her sincerity. But Wou Sankwei was not a white man. He was a Chinese, and did not see any reason for insincerity in a matter as important as that which Adah Charlton had brought before him. He felt himself exiled from Paradise, yet it did not occur to him to question, as a white man would have done, whether the angel with the flaming sword had authority for her action. Neither did he lay the blame for things gone wrong upon any woman. He simply made up his mind to make the best of what was.
It had been a peaceful week in the Wou household — the week before little Yen was to enter the American school. So peaceful indeed that Wou Sankwei had begun to think that his wife was reconciled to his wishes with regard to the boy. He whistled softly as he whittled away at a little ship he was making for him. Adah Charlton's suggestions had set coursing a train of thought which had curved around Pau Lin so closely that he had decided that, should she offer any further opposition to the boy's attending the American school, he would not insist upon it. After all, though the American language might be useful during this century, the wheel of the world would turn again, and then it might not be necessary at all. Who could tell? He came very near to expressing himself thus to Pau Lin.
And now it was the evening before the morning that little Yen was to march away to the American school. He had been excited all day over the prospect, and to calm him, his father finally told him to read aloud a little story from the Chinese book which he had given him on his first birthday in America and which he had taught him to read. Obediently the little fellow drew his stool to his mother's side and read in his childish sing-song the story of an irreverent lad who came to great grief because he followed after the funeral of his grandfather and regaled himself on the crisply roasted chickens and loose-skinned oranges which were left on the grave for the feasting of the spirit.
Wou Sankwei laughed heartily over the story. It reminded him of some of his own boyish escapades. But Pau Lin stroked silently the head of the little reader, and seemed lost in reverie.
A whiff of fresh salt air blew in from the Bay. The mother shivered, and Wou Sankwei, looking up from the fastening of the boat's rigging, bade Yen close the door. As the little fellow came back to his mother's side, he stumbled over her knee.
"Oh, poor mother!" he exclaimed with quaint apology. "'Twas the stupid feet, not Yen."
"So," she replied, curling her arm around his neck, "'tis always the feet. They are to the spirit as the cocoon to the butterfly. "Listen, and I will sing you the song of the Happy Butterfly."
She began singing the old Chinese ditty in a fresh birdlike voice. Wou Sankwei, listening, was glad to hear her. He liked having everyone around him cheerful and happy. That had been the charm of the Dean household.
The ship was finished before the little family retired. Yen examined it, critically at first, then exultingly. Finally, he carried it away and placed it carefully in the closet where he kept his kites, balls, tops, and other treasures. "We will set sail with it tomorrow after school," said he to his father, hugging gratefully that father's arm.
Sankwei rubbed the little round head. The boy and he were great chums.
What was that sound which caused Sankwei to start from his sleep? It was just on the border land of night and day, an unusual time for Pau Lin to be up. Yet, he could hear her voice in Yen's room. He raised himself on his elbow and listened. She was softly singing a nursery song about some little squirrels and a huntsman. Sankwei wondered at her singing in that way at such an hour. From where he lay he could just perceive the child's cot and the silent child figure lying motionless in the dim light. How very motionless! In a moment Sankwei was beside it.
The empty Cup with its dark dregs told the tale.
The thing he loved the best in all the world — the darling son who had crept into his heart with his joyousness and beauty — had been taken from him — by her who had given.
Sankwei reeled against the wall. The kneeling figure by the cot arose. The face of her was solemn and tender.
"He is saved," smiled she, "from the Wisdom of the New."
In grief too bitter for words the father bowed his head upon his hands.
"Why! Why!" queried Pau Lin, gazing upon him bewilderedly. "The child is happy. The butterfly mourns not o'er the shed cocoon."
Sankwei put up his shutters and wrote this note to Adah Charlton: