Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Edith Maude Eaton
Mrs. Spring Fragrance
The Americanizing of Pau Tsu
When Wan Hom Hing came to Seattle to start a branch of the merchant business which his firm carried on so successfully in the different ports of China, he brought with him his nephew, Wan Lin Fo, then eighteen years of age. Wan Lin Fo was a well-educated Chinese youth, with bright eyes and keen ears. In a few years' time he knew as much about the business as did any of the senior partners. Moreover, he learned to speak and write the American language with such fluency that he was never at a loss for an answer, when the white man, as was sometimes the case, sought to pose him. "All work and no play," however, is as much against the principles of a Chinese youth as it is against those of a young American, and now and again Lin Fo would while away an evening at the Chinese Literary Club, above the Chinese restaurant, discussing with some chosen companions the works and merits of Chinese sages — and some other things. New Year's Day, or rather, Week, would also see him, business forgotten, arrayed in national costume of finest silk, and color "the blue of the sky after rain," visiting with his friends, both Chinese and American, and scattering silver and gold coin amongst the youngsters of the families visited.
It was on the occasion of one of these New Year's visits that Wan Lin Fo first made known to the family of his firm's silent American partner, Thomas Raymond, that he was betrothed. It came about in this wise: One of the young ladies of the house, who was fair and frank of face and friendly and cheery in manner, observing as she handed him a cup of tea that Lin Fo's eyes wore a rather wistful expression, questioned him as to the wherefore:
"Miss Adah," replied Lin Fo, "may I tell you something?"
"Certainly, Mr. Wan," replied the girl. "You know how I enjoy hearing your tales."
"But this is no tale. Miss Adah, you have inspired in me a love —"
Adah Raymond started. Wan Lin Fo spake slowly.
"For the little girl in China to whom I am betrothed."
"Oh, Mr. Wan! That is good news. But what have I to do with it?"
"This, Miss Adah! Every time I come to ,^|v this house, I see you, so good and so beautiful, ^ dispensing tea and happiness to all around, and I think, could I have in my home and ever by my side one who is also both good aruj beauti- ful, what a felicitious life mine would be!".
"You must not flatter me, Mr. Wan!"
"All that I say is founded on my heart. But I will speak not of you. I will speak of Pau Tsu."
"Yes. That is the name of my future wife. It means a pearl."
"How pretty! Tell me all about her!"
"I was betrothed to Pau Tsu before leaving China, My parents adopted her to be my wife. As I remember, she had shining eyes and the good-luck color was on her cheek. Her mouth was like a red vine leaf, and her eyebrows most exquisitely arched. As slender as a willow was her form, and when she spoke, her voice lilted from note to note in the sweetest melody."
Adah Raymond softly clapped her hands.
"Ah! You were even then in love with her."
"No," replied Lin Fo thoughtfully. "I was too young to be in love — sixteen years of age. Pau Tsu was thirteen. But, as I have confessed, you have caused me to remember and love her."
Adah Raymond was not a self-conscious girl, but for the life of her she could think of no reply to Lin Wo's speech.
"I am twenty-two years old now," he continued. "Pau Tsu is eighteen. Tomorrow I will write to my parents and persuade them to send her to me at the time of the spring festival. My elder brother was married last year, and his wife is now under my parents' roof, so that Pau Tsu, who has been the daughter of the house for so many years, can now be spared to me."
"What a sweet little thing she must be," commented Adah Raymond.
"You will say that when you see her," proudly responded Lin Fo. "My parents say she is always happy. There is not a bird or flower or dewdrop in which she does not find some glad meaning."
"I shall be so glad to know her. Can she speak English?"
Lin Fo's face fell.
"No," he replied, "but," — brightening — "when she comes I will have her learn to speak like you — and be like you."
Pau Tsu came with the spring, and Wan Lin Fo was one of the happiest and proudest of bridegrooms. The tiny bride was really very pretty — even to American eyes. In her peach and plum colored robes, her little arms and hands sparkling with jewels, and her shiny black head decorated with wonderful combs and pins, she appeared a bit of Eastern coloring amidst the Western lights and shades.
Lin Fo had not been forgotten, and her eyes under their downcast lids discovered him at once, as he stood awaiting her amongst a group of young Chinese merchants on the deck of the vessel.
The apartments he had prepared for her were furnished in American style, and her birdlike little figure in Oriental dress seemed rather out of place at first. It was not long, however, before she brought forth from the great box, which she had brought over seas, screens and fans, vases, panels, Chinese matting, artificial flowers and birds, and a number of exquisite carvings and pieces of antique porcelain. With these she transformed the American flat into an Oriental bower, even setting up in her sleeping-room a little chapel, enshrined in which was an image of the Goddess of Mercy, two ancestral tablets, and other emblems of her faith in the Gods of her fathers.
The Misses Raymond called upon her soon after arrival, and she smiled and looked pleased. She shyly presented each girl with a Chinese cup and saucer, also a couple of antique vases, covered with whimsical pictures, which Lin Fo tried, his best to explain.
The girls were delighted with the gifts, and having fallen, as they expressed themselves, in love with the little bride, invited her through her husband to attend a launch party, which they intended giving the following Wednesday on Lake Washington.
Lin Fo accepted the invitation in behalf of himself and wife. He was quite at home with the Americans and, being a young man, enjoyed their rather effusive appreciation of him as an educated Chinaman. Moreover, he was of the opinion that the society of the American young ladies would benefit Pau Tsu in helping her to acquire the ways and language of the land in which he hoped to make a fortune.
Wan Lin Fo was a true son of the Middle Kingdom and secretly pitied all those who were born far away from its influences; but there was much about the Americans that he admired. He also entertained sentiments of respect for a motto which hung in his room which bore the legend: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
"What is best for men is also best for women in this country," he told Pau Tsu when she wept over his suggestion that she should take some lessons in English from a white woman.
"It may be best for a man who goes out in the street," she sobbed, "to learn the new language, but of what importance is it to a woman who lives only within the house and her husband's heart?"
It was seldom, however, that she protested against the wishes of Lin Fo. As her mother-in-law had said, she was a docile, happy little creature. Moreover, she loved her husband.
But as the days and weeks went by the girl bride whose life hitherto had been spent in the quiet retirement of a Chinese home in the performance of filial duties, in embroidery work and lute playing, in sipping tea and chatting with gentle girl companions, felt very much bewildered by the novelty and stir of the new world into which she had been suddenly thrown. She could not understand, for all Lin Fo's explanations, why it was required of her to learn the strangers' language and adopt their ways. Her husband's tongue was the same as her own. So also her little maid's. It puzzled her to be always seeing this, and hearing that — sights and sounds which as yet had no meaning for her. Why also was it necessary to receive visitors nearly every evening? — visitors who could neither understand nor make themselves understood by her, for all their curious smiles and stares, which she bore like a second Vashti — or rather, Esther. And why, oh! why should she be constrained to eat her food with clumsy, murderous looking American implements instead of with her own elegant and easily manipulated ivory chopsticks?
Adah Raymond, who at Lin Fo's request was a frequent visitor to the house, could not fail to observe that Pau Tsu's small face grew daily smaller and thinner, and that the smile with which she invariably greeted her, though sweet, was tinged with melancholy. Her woman's instinct told her that something was wrong, but what it was the light within her failed to discover. She would reach over to Pau Tsu and take within her own firm, white hand the small, trembling fingers, pressing them lovingly and sympathetically; and the little Chinese woman would look up into the beautiful face bent above hers and think to herself: "No wonder he wishes me to be like her!"
If Lin Fo happened to come in before Adah Raymond left he would engage the visitor in bright and animated conversation. They had so much of common interest to discuss, as is always the way with young people who have lived any length of time in a growing city of the West. But to Pau Tsu, pouring tea and dispensing sweetmeats, it was all Greek, or rather, all American.
"Look, my pearl, what I have brought you," said Lin Fo one afternoon as he entered his wife's apartments, followed by a messenger-boy, who deposited in the middle of the room a large cardboard box.
With murmurs of wonder Pau Tsu drew near, and the messenger-boy having withdrawn Lin Fo cut the string, and drew forth a beautiful lace evening dress and dark blue walking costume, both made in American style.
For a moment there was silence in the room. Lin Fo looked at his wife in surprise. Her face was pale and her little body was trembling, while her hands were drawn up into her sleeves.
"Why, Pau Tsu!" he exclaimed, "I thought to make you glad."
At these word the girl bent over the dress of filmy lace, and gathering the flounce in her hand smoothed it over her knee; then lifting a smiling face to her husband, replied: "Oh, you are too good, too kind to your unworthy Pau Tsu. My speech is slow, because I am overcome with happiness."
Then with exclamations of delight and admiration she lifted the dresses out of the box and laid them carefully over the couch.
"I wish you to dress like an American woman when we go out or receive," said her husband. "It is the proper thing in America to do as the Americans do. You will notice, light of my eyes, that it is only on New Year and our national holidays that I wear the costume of our country and attach a queue. The wife should follow the husband in all things."
A ripple of laughter escaped Pau Tsu's lips.
"When I wear that dress," said she, touching the walking costume, "I will look like your friend, Miss Raymond."
She struck her hands together gleefully, but when her husband had gone to his business she bowed upon the floor and wept pitifully.
During the rainy Reason Pau Tsu was attacked with a very bad cough. A daughter of Southern China, the chill, moist climate of the Puget Sound winter was very hard on her delicate lungs. Lin Fo worried much over the state of her health, and meeting Adah Raymond on the street one afternoon told her of his anxiety. The kind-hearted girl immediately returned with him to the house. Pau Tsu was lying on her couch, feverish and breathing hard. The American girl felt her hands and head.
"She must have a doctor," said she, mentioning the name of her family's physician.
Pau Tsu shuddered. She understood a little English by this time.
"No! No! Not a man, not a man!" she cried.
Adah Raymond looked up at Lin Fo.
"I understand," said she. "There are several women doctors in this town. Let us send for one."
But Lin Fo's face was set.
"No!" he declared. "We are in America. Pau Tsu shall be attended to by your physician."
Adah Raymond was about to protest against this dictum when the sick wife, who had also heard it, touched her hand and whispered: "I not mind now. Man all right."
So the other girl closed her lips, feeling that if the wife would not dispute her husband's will it was not her place to do so; but her heart ached with compassion as she bared Pau Tsu's chest for the stethoscope.
"It was like preparing a lamb for slaughter," she told her sister afterwards. "Pau Tsu was motionless, her eyes closed and her lips sealed, while the doctor remained; but after he had left and we two were alone she shuddered and moaned like one bereft of reason. I honestly believe that the examination was worse than death to that little Chinese woman. The modesty of generations of maternal ancestors was crucified as I rolled down the neck of her silk tunic."
It was a week after the doctor's visit, and Pau Tsu, whose cough had yielded to treatment, though she was still far from well, was playing on her lute, and whisperingly singing this little song, said to have been written on a fan which was presented to an ancient Chinese emperor by one of his wives :
"Of fresh new silk, All snowy white, And round as a harvest moon, A pledge of purity and love, A small but welcome boon.
While summer lasts, When borne in hand, Or folded on thy breast, 'Twill gently soothe thy burning brow, And charm thee to thy rest.
But, oh, when Autumn winds blow chill, And days are bleak and cold, No longer sought, no longer loved, 'Twill lie in dust and mould.
This silken fan then deign accept, Sad emblem of my lot, Caressed and cherished for an hour, Then speedily forgot."
"Why so melancholy, my pearl?" asked Lin Fo, entering from the street.
"When a bird is about to die, its notes are sad," returned Pau Tsu.
"But thou art not for death — thou art for life," declared Lin Fo, drawing her towards him and gazing into a face which day by day seemed to grow finer and more transparent.
A Chinese messenger-boy ran up the street, entered the store of Wan Horn Hing & Co. and asked for the junior partner. When Lin Fo came forward he handed him a dainty, flowered missive, neatly folded and addressed. The receiver opened it and read:
Mechanically Lin Fo folded the letter and thrust it within his breast pocket. A customer inquired of him the price of a lacquered tray. "I wish you good morning," he replied, reaching for his hat. The customer and clerks gaped after him as he left the store"
Out in the street, as fate would have it, he met Adah Raymond. He would have turned aside had she not spoken to him.
"Whatever is the matter with you, Mr. Wan?" she inquired. "You don't look yourself at all."
"The density of my difficulties you cannot understand," he replied, striding past her.
But Adah Raymond was persistent. She had worried lately over Pau Tsu.
"Something is wrong with your wife," she declared.
Lin Fo wheeled around.
"Do you know where she is?" he asked with quick suspicion.
"Why, no!" exclaimed the girl in surprise.
"Well, she has left me."
Adah Raymond stood incredulous for a moment, then with indignant eyes she turned upon the deserted husband.
"You deserve it!" she cried, "I have seen it for some time: your cruel, arbitrary treatment of the dearest, sweetest little soul in the world."
"I beg your pardon, Miss Adah," returned Lin Fo, "but I do not understand. Pau Tsu is heart of my heart. How then could I be cruel to her?"
"Oh, you Stupid!" exclaimed the girl. "You're a Chinaman, but you're almost as stupid as an American. Your cruelty consisted in forcing Pau Tsu to be — what nature never intended her to be — an American woman; to adapt and adopt in a few months' time all our ways and customs. I saw it long ago, but as Pau Tsu was too sweet and meek to see any faults in her man I had not the heart to open her eyes — or yours. Is it not true that she has left you for this reason?"
"Yes," murmured Lin Fo. He was completely crushed; "And some other things."
"What other things?"
" She — is — afraid — of — the — doctor."
"She is!" — fiercely — "Shame upon you!"
Lin Fo began to walk on, but the girl kept by his side and continued:
"You wanted your wife to be an American woman while you remained a Chinaman. For all your clever adaptation of our American ways you are a thorough Chinaman. Do you think an American would dare treat his wife as you have treated yours?"
Wan Lin Fo made no response. He was wondering how he could ever have wished his gentle Pau Tsu to be like this angry woman. Now his Pau Tsu was gone. His anguish for the moment made him oblivious to the presence of his companion and the words she was saying. His silence softened the American girl. After all, men, even Chinamen, were nothing but big, clumsy boys, and she didn't believe in kicking a man after he was down.
"But, cheer up, you're sure to find her," said she, suddenly changing her tone. "Probably her maid has friends in Chinatown who have taken them in."
"If I find her," said Lin Fo fervently, "I will not care if she never speaks an American word, and I will take her for a trip to China, so that our son may be born in the country that Heaven loves."
"You cannot make too much amends for all she has suffered. As to Americanizing Pau Tsu — that will come in time. I am quite sure that were I transferred to your country and commanded to turn myself into a Chinese woman in the space of two or three months I would prove a sorry disappointment to whomever built their hopes upon me."
Many hours elapsed before any trace could be found of the missing one. All the known friends and acquaintances of little Pau Tsu were called upon and questioned; but if they had knowledge of the young wife's hiding place they refused to divulge it. Though Lin Fo's face was grave with an unexpressed fear, their sympathies were certainly not with him.
The seekers were about giving up the search in despair when a little boy, dangling in his hands a string of blue beads, arrested the attention of the young husband. He knew the necklace to be a gift from Pau Tsu to the maid, A-Toy. He had bought it himself. Stopping and questioning the little fellow he learned to his great joy that his wife and her maid were at the boy's home, under the care of his grandmother, who was a woman learned in herb lore.
Adah Raymond smiled in sympathy with her companion's evident great relief.
"Everything will now be all right," said she, following Lin Fo as he proceeded to the house pointed out by the lad. Arrived there, she suggested that the husband enter first and alone. She would wait a few moments.
"Miss Adah," said Lin Fo, "ten thousand times I beg your pardon, but perhaps you will come to see my wife some other time — not today?"
He hesitated, embarrassed, and humiliated.
In one silent moment Adah Raymond grasped the meaning of all the morning's trouble — of alt Pau Tsu's sadness.
"Lord, what fools we mortals be!" she soliloquized as she walked home alone. "I ought to have known. What else could Pau Tsu have thought? — coming from a land where women have no men friends save their husbands. How she must have suffered under her smiles! Poor, brave little soul!"