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Full text of "On a Chinese screen"

BINDTO LIST .] AY 1 1925 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 



BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 

THE LAND OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN 

OF HUMAN BONDAGE 

THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 

THE TREMBLING OF A LEAF 

LIZA OF LAMBETH 

MRS. CRADDOCK 

THE EXPLORER 

THE MAGICIAN 




ON A CHINESE SCREEN 



BY 



W.< 'SOMERSET MAUGHAM 




LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN 



PR 



Printed in Great Britain 



f 

Copyright: London, William Heinemann, 1933 



FOB 

SYRIE 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

I THE RISING OF THE CURTAIN 11 

II MY LADY'S PARLOUR 14* 

III THE MONGOL CHIEF 17 

IV THE ROLLING STONE 19 
V THE CABINET MINISTER 23 

VI DINNER PARTIES 27 

VII THE ALTAR OF HEAVEN 33 

VIII THE SERVANTS OF GOD 35 

IX THE INN 40 

X THE GLORY HOLE 44 

XI FEAR 47 

XII THE PICTURE 55 

XIII HER BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S REPRESENTATIVE 57 

XIV THE OPIUM DEN 60 
XV THE LAST CHANCE 62 

XVI THE NUN 64 

XVII HENDERSON 66 

XVIII DAWN 70 

XIX THE POINT OF HONOUR 73 

XX THE BEAST OF BURDEN 77 

XXI DR. MACALISTER 80 

XXII THE ROAD 85 

XXIII GOD'S TRUTH 90 

XXIV ROMANCE 94 
XXV THE GRAND STYLE 99 

XXVI RAIN 103 

XXVII SULLIVAN 107 

vii 



CONTENTS 



XXVIII THE DINING-ROOM 

XXIX ARABESQUE 

XXX THE CONSUL 

XXXI THE STRIPLING 

XXXII THE FANNINGS 

XXXIII THE SONG or THE RIVER 

XXXIV MIRAGE 
XXXV THE STRAXGER 

XXXVI DEMOCRACY 

XXXVII THE SEVENTH DAY ADVEXTIST 

XXXVIII THE PHILOSOPHER 

XXXIX THE MISSIONARY LADY 

XL A GAME OF BILLIARDS 

XLI THE SKIPPER 

XLII THE SIGHTS OF THE TOWN 

XLI 1 1 NIGHTFALL 

XLIV THE NORMAL MAN 

XLV THE OLD TIMER 

XLVI THE PLAIN 

XL VI I FAILURE 

XLVI II A STUDENT OF THE DRAMA 

XLIX THE TAIPAX 

L METEMPSYCHOSIS 

LI THE FRAGMEXT 

LII OXE OF THE BEST 

LIII THE SEA-DOG 

LIV THE QUESTION 

LV THE SINOLOGUE 

LVI THE VICE-CONSUL 

LVII A CITY BUILT ON A ROCK 

LVIII A LIBATION TO THE GODS 
viii 



PAGE 

109 
113 
114 
122 
124 
129 
131 
134 
140 
144 
147 
159 
162 
164 
166 
171 
173 
179 
183 
186 
188 
193 
204 
206 
211 
214 
221 
223 
225 
231 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 



THE RISING OF THE CURTAIN 

YOU come to the row of hovels that leads 
to the gate of the city. They are built 
of dried mud and so dilapidated that 
you feel a breath of wind will lay them 
flat upon the dusty earth from which they have 
been made. A string of camels, heavily laden, 
steps warily past you. They wear the disdainful 
air of profiteers forced to traverse a world in 
which many people are not so rich as they. A 
little crowd, tattered in their blue clothes, is 
gathered about the gate and it scatters as a 
youth in a pointed cap gallops up on a Mongolian 
pony. A band of children are chasing a lame dog 
and they throw clods of mud at it. Two stout 
gentlemen in long black gowns of figured silk and 
silk jackets stand talking to one another. Each 
holds a little stick, perched on which, with a string 
attached to its leg, is a little bird. They have 
brought out their pets for an airing and in 
friendly fashion compare their merits. Now and 
then the birds give a flutter into the air, the 

11 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

length of the string, and return quickly to their 
perch. The two Chinese gentlemen, smiling, look 
at them with soft eyes. Rude boys cry out at the 
foreigner in a shrill and scornful voice. The city 
wall, crumbling, old and crenellated, looks like the 
city wall in an old picture of some Palestinish 
town of the Crusaders. 

You pass through the gateway into a narrow 
street lined with shops: many of them with their 
elegant lattice work, red and gold, and their elabo- 
rate carving, have a peculiar ruined magnificence, 
and you imagine that in their dark recesses are 
sold all manner of strange wares of the fabulous 
East. A great multitude surges along the uneven 
narrow footwalk or in the deepset street; and 
coolies, bearing heavy loads, shout for way in 
short sharp cries. Hawkers with guttural sound 
call their wares. 

And now at a sedate pace, drawn by a sleek 
mule, comes a Peking cart. Its hood is bright blue 
and its great wheels are studded with nails. The 
driver sits with dangling legs on a shaft. It is 
evening and the sun sets red behind the yellow, 
steep, and fantastic roof of a temple. The Peking 
cart, the blind in front drawn down, passes silently 
and you wonder who it is that sits cross-legged 
within. Perhaps it is a scholar, all the learning 
of the classics at his finger ends, bound on a 
visit to a friend with whom he will exchange 
elaborate compliments and discuss the golden age 
of Tang and Sung which can return no more ; per- 
haps it is a singing girl in splendid silks and richly 



THE RISING OF THE CURTAIN 

embroidered coat, with jade in her black hair, 
summoned to a party so that she may sing a little 
song and exchange elegant repartee with young 
blades cultured enough to appreciate wit. The 
Peking cart disappears into the gathering dark- 
ness : it seems to carry all the mystery of the East. 



13 






II 

MY LADY'S PARLOUR 

I REALLY think I can make something of 
it," she said. 
She looked about her briskly, and the 
light of the creative imagination filled her 
eyes with brightness. 

It was an old temple, a small one, in the city, 
which she had taken and was turning into a dwell- 
ing house. It had been built for a very holy monk 
by his admirers three hundred years before, and 
here in great piety, practising innumerable austeri- 
ties, he had passed his declining days. For long 
after in memory of his virtue the faithful had 
come to worship, but in course of time funds had 
fallen very low and at last the two or three monks 
that remained were forced to leave. It was 
weather-beaten and the green tiles of the roof were 
overgrown with weeds. The raftered ceiling was 
still beautiful with its faded gold dragons on a 
faded red; but she did not like a dark ceiling, so 
she stretched a canvas across and papered it. 
Needing air and sunlight, she cut two large win- 
dows on one side. She very luckily had some blue 
curtains which were just the right size. Blue was 
her favourite colour : it brought out the colour of 



MY LADY S PARLOUR 

her eyes. Since the columns, great red sturdy 
columns, oppressed her a little she papered them 
with a very nice paper which did not look Chinese 
at all. She was lucky also with the paper with 
which she covered the walls. It was bought in a 
native shop, but really it might have come from 
Sandersons'; it was a very nice pink stripe and 
it made the place look cheerful at once. At the 
back was a recess in which had stood a great 
lacquer table and behind it an image of the 
Buddha in his eternal meditation. Here genera- 
tions of believers had burned their tapers and 
prayed, some for this temporal benefit or that, 
some for release from the returning burden of 
earthly existence ; and this seemed to her the very 
place for an American stove. She was obliged to 
buy her carpet in China, but she managed to get 
one that looked so like an Axminster that you 
would- hardly know the difference. Of course, 
being hand-made, it had not quite the smoothness 
of the English article, but it was a very decent 
substitute. She was able to buy a very nice lot of 
furniture from a member of the Legation who was 
leaving the country for a post in Rome, and she 
got a nice bright chintz from Shanghai to make 
loose covers with. Fortunately she had quite a 
number of pictures, wedding presents and some 
even that she had bought herself, for she was very 
artistic, and these gave the room a cosy look. She 
needed a screen and here there was^no help for it, 
she had to buy a Chinese one, but as she very 
cleverly said, you might perfectly well have a Chi- 

15 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

nese screen in England. She had a great many 
photographs, in silver frames, one of them of a 
Princess of Schleswig-Holstein, and one of the 
Queen of Sweden, both signed, and these she put 
on the grand piano, for they give a room an air 
of being lived in. Then, having finished, she sur- 
veyed her work with satisfaction. 

"Of course it doesn't look like a room in Lon- 
don," she said, "but it might quite well be a room 
in some nice place in England, Cheltenham, say, 
or Tunbridge Wells." 



16 



Ill 



THE MONGOL CHIEF 

HEAVEN knows from what mysterious 
distance he had come. He rode down 
the winding pathway from the high 
Mongolian plateau with the moun^ 
tains, barren, stony, and inaccessible, stretching 
on all sides, an impenetrable barrier; he rode 
down past the temple that guarded the head of 
the pass till he came to the old river bed which 
was the gateway into China. It was hedged in by 
the foothills brilliant under the morning sun, with 
sharp shadows ; and the innumerable traffic of the 
centuries had formed on that stony floor a rough 
road. The air was keen and clear, the sky was 
blue. Here all the year round from daybreak till 
sundown, passed an unending stream, camels in 
caravan bearing the brick tea to Urga seven hun- 
dred miles away and so to Siberia, long lines of 
wagons drawn by placid bullocks, and little carts 
in twos and threes behind stout ponies ; and in the 
contrary direction, into China, again camels in 
caravan bringing hides to the markets of Peking, 
and wagons in long procession. Now a mob of 
horses went by and then a flock of goats. But his 
eyes did not rest on the various scene. He seemed 
B 17 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

not to notice that others were travelling the pass. 
He was accompanied by his henchmen, six or seven 
of them, somewhat bedraggled it is true, on sorry 
nags, but they had a truculent air. They ambled 
along in a slovenly bunch. He was dressed in a 
black silk coat and black silk trousers thrust into 
his long riding boots with their turned-up toes, 
and on his head he wore the high sable cap of his 
country. He held himself erect, riding a little 
ahead of his followers, proudly, and as he rode, 
his head high and his eyes steady, you wondered 
if he thought that down this pass in days gone by 
his ancestors had ridden, ridden down upon the 
fertile plain of China where rich cities lay ready 
to their looting. 



18 



IV 



THE ROLLING STONE 

HEARD his extraordinary story before I 
I saw him and I expected someone of strik- 
ing appearance. It seemed to me that any- 
one who had gone through such singular 
experiences must have in his outer man something 
singular too. But I found a person in whose 
aspect there was nothing remarkable. He was 
smaller than the average, somewhat frail, sun- 
burned, with hair beginning to turn grey though 
he was still under thirty, and brown eyes. He 
looked like anybody else, and you might see 
him half a dozen times before remembering who 
he was. If you had happened upon him behind 
the counter of a department store or on a stool in 
a broker's office you would have thought him per- 
fectly in place. But you would have noticed him 
as little as you noticed the counter or the stool. 
There was so little in him to attract attention 
that in the end it became intriguing: his face, 
empty of significance, reminded you of the blank 
wall of a Manchu palace, in a sordid street, be- 
hind which you knew were painted courtyards, 
carved dragons, and heaven knows what subtle 
intricacy of life. 

19 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

For his whole career was remarkable. The son 
of a veterinary surgeon, he had been a reporter 
in the London police courts and then had gone as 
steward on board a merchant ship to Buenos 
Ayres. There he had deserted and somehow or 
other had worked his way across South America. 
From a port in Chili he managed to get to the 
Marquesas where for six months he had lived on 
the natives always ready to offer hospitality to a 
white man, and then, begging a passage on a 
schooner to Tahiti, had shipped to Amoy as 
second mate of an old tub which carried Chinese 
labour to the Society Islands. 

That was nine years before I met him and since 
then he had lived in China. First he got work 
with the B. A. T. Company, but after a couple 
of years he found it monotonous ; and having 
acquired a certain knowledge of the language 
he entered the employment of a firm which dis- 
tributed patent medicines through the length and 
breadth of the land. For three years he wan- 
dered in province after province, selling pills, and 
at the end of it had saved eight hundred dollars. 
He cut himself adrift once more. 

He began then the most remarkable of his ad- 
ventures. He set out from Peking on a journey 
right across the country, travelling in the guise 
of a poor Chinaman, with his roll of bedding, his 
Chinese pipe, and his tooth-brush. He stayed in 
the Chinese inns, sleeping on the kangs huddled 
up with fellow wayfarers, and ate the Chinese 
food. This alone is no mean feat. He used the 
20 



THE ROLLING STONE 

train but little, going for the most part on foot, 
by cart, or by river. He went through Shensi 
and Shansi; he walked on the windy plateaus of 
Mongolia and risked his life in barbaric Turkes- 
tan ; he spent long weeks with the nomads of the 
desert and travelled with the caravans that car- 
ried the brick tea across the arid wilderness of 
Gobi. At last, four years later, having spent his 
last dollar he reached Peking once more. 

He set about looking for a job. The easiest 
way to earn money seemed to write, and the editor 
of one of the English papers in China offered to 
take a series of articles on his journey. I sup- 
pose his only difficulty was to choose from the 
fulness of his experience. He knew much which 
he was perhaps the only Englishman to know. 
He had seen all manner of things, quaint, impres- 
sive, terrible, amusing, and unexpected. He wrote 
twenty-four articles. I will not say that they 
were unreadable, for they showed a careful and 
a sympathetic observation ; but he had seen every- 
thing at haphazard, as it were, and they were 
but the material of art. They were like the cata- 
logue of the Army and Navy Stores, a mine to 
the imaginative man, but the foundation of litera- 
ture rather than literature itself. He was the field 
naturalist who patiently collects an infinity of 
facts, but has no gift for generalisation: they re- 
main facts that await the synthesis of minds more 
complicated than his. He collected neither plants 
nor beasts, but men. His collection was un- 
rivalled, but his knowledge of it slender. 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 



When I met him I sought to discern how the 
variety of his experience had affected him ; but 
though he was full of anecdote, a jovial, friendly 
creature, willing to talk at length of all he had 
seen, I could not discover that any of his adven- 
tures had intimately touched him. The instinct to 
do all the queer things he had done showed that 
there was in him a streak of queerness. The 
civilised world irked him and he had a passion 
to get away from the beaten trail. The oddities 
of life amused him. He had an insatiable curi-" 
osity. But I think his experiences were merely of 
the body and were never translated into experi- 
ences of the soul. Perhaps that is why at bottom^ 
you felt he was commonplace. The insignificance 
of his mien was a true index to the insignificance 
of his soul. Behind the blank wall was blankness. 

That was certainly why with so much to write 
about he wrote tediously, for in writing the im-1 
portant thing is less richness of material than rich 
ness of personality. 



THE CABINET MINISTER 

HE received me in a long room looking 
on to a sandy garden. The roses 
withered on the stunted bushes and the 
great old trees flagged forlorn. He 
sat me down on a square stool at a square table 
and took his seat in front of me. A servant 
brought cups of flowered tea and American 
cigarettes. He was a thin man, of the middle 
height, with thin, elegant hands ; and through his 
gold-rimmed spectacles he looked at me with large, 
dark, and melancholy eyes. He had the look of a 
student or of a dreamer. His smile was very 
sweet. He wore a brown silk gown and over it a 
short black silk jacket, and on his head a billy- 
cock hat. 

"Is it not strange," he said, with his charming 
smile, "that we Chinese wear this gown because 
three hundred years ago the Manchus were horse- 
men?" 

"Not so strange," I retorted, "as that because 
the English won the battle of Waterloo Your Ex- 
cellency should wear a bowler." 

"Do you think that is why I wear it ?" 

"I could easily prove it." 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

Since I was afraid that his exquisite courtesy 
would prevent him from asking me how, I hastened 
in a few well-chosen words to do so. 

He took off his hat and looked at it with the 
shadow of a sigh. I glanced round the room. It 
had a green Brussels carpet, with great flowers on 
it, and round the walls were highly carved black- 
wood chairs. From a picture rail hung scrolls 
on which were writings by the great masters of 
the past, and to vary these, in bright gold frames, 
were oil paintings which in the nineties might very 
well have been exhibited in the Royal Academy. 
The minister did his work at an American roll-top 
desk. 

He talked to me with melancholy of the state 
of China. A civilisation, the oldest the world had 
known, was now being ruthlessly swept away. The 
students who came back from Europe and from 
America were tearing down what endless genera- 
tions had built up, and they were placing nothing 
in its stead. They had no love of their country, 
no religion, no reverence. The temples, deserted 
by worshipper and priest, were falling into decay 
and presently their beauty would be nothing but 
a memory. 

But then, with a gesture of his thin, aristo- 
cratic hands, he put the subject aside. He asked 
me whether I would care to see some of his works 
of art. We walked round the room and he showed 
me priceless porcelains, bronzes, and Tang 
figures. There was a horse from a grave in Honan 
which had the grace and the exquisite modelling 




THE CABINET MINISTER 

of a Greek work. On a large table by the side 
of his desk was a number of rolls. He chose one 
and holding it at the top gave it to me to unroll. 
It was a picture of some early dynasty of moun- 
tains seen through fleecy clouds, and with smiling 
eyes he watched my pleasure as I looked. The 
picture was set aside and he showed me another 
and yet another. Presently I protested that I 
could not allow a busy man to waste his time on 
me, but he would not let me go. He brought out 
picture after picture. He was a connoisseur. He 
was pleased to tell me the schools and periods to 
which they belonged and neat anecdotes about 
their painters. 

"I wish I could think it was possible for you 
to appreciate my greatest treasures," he said, 
pointing to the scrolls that adorned his walls. 
"Here you have examples of the most perfect 
calligraphies of China." 

"Do you like them better than paintings?" I 
asked. 

"Infinitely. Their beauty is more chaste. 
There is nothing meretricious in them. But I can 
quite understand that a European would have 
difficulty in appreciating so severe and so delicate 
an art. Your taste in Chinese things tends a little 
to the grotesque, I think." 

He produced books of paintings and I turned 
their leaves. Beautiful things ! With the dra- 
matic instinct of the collector he kept to the last 
the book by which he set most store. It was a 
series of little pictures of birds and flowers, 
25 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

roughly done with a few strokes, but with such a 
power of suggestion, with so great a feeling for 
nature and such a playful tenderness, that it took 
your breath away. There were sprigs of plum- 
blossom that held in their dainty freshness all the 
magic of the spring ; there were sparrows in whose 
ruffled plumage were the beat and the tremor of 
life. It was the work of a great artist. 

"Will these American students ever produce 
anything like this?" he asked with a rueful smile. 

But to me the most charming part of it was that 
I knew all the time that he was a rascal. Corrupt, 
inefficient, and unscrupulous, he let nothing stand 
in his way. He was a master of the squeeze. He 
had acquired a large fortune by the most abomi- 
nable methods. He was dishonest, cruel, vindic- 
tive, and venal. He had certainly had a share in 
reducing China to the desperate plight which he 
so sincerely lamented. But when he held in his 
hand a little vase of the colour of lapis lazuli his 
fingers seemed to curl about it with a charming 
tenderness, his melancholy eyes caressed it as they 
looked, and his lips were slightly parted as though 
with a sigh of desire. 




VI 
DINNER PARTIES 

I! LEGATION QUARTER 

THE Swiss director of the Banque Sino- 
Argentine was announced. He came with 
a large, handsome wife, who displayed 
her opulent charms so generously that it 
made you a little nervous. It was said that she 
had been a cocotte, and an English maiden lady 
(in salmon pink satin and beads) who had come 
early, greeted her with a thin and frigid smile. 
The Minister of Guatemala and the Charge d'Af- 
faires of Montenegro entered together. The 
Charge d'Affaires was in a state of extreme agita- 
tion ; he had not understood that it was an official 
function, he thought he had been asked to dine en 
petit comite, and he had not put on his orders. 
And there was the Minister of Guatemala blazing 
with stars ! What in heaven's name was to be 
done? The emotion caused by what for a moment 
seemed almost a diplomatic incident was diverted 
by the appearance of two Chinese servants in 
long silk robes and four-sided hats with cocktails 
and zakouski. Then a Russian princess sailed 
in. She had white hair and a black silk dress up 
27 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

to her neck. She looked like the heroine of a play 
by Victorien Sardou who had outlived the melo- 
dramatic fury of her youth and now did crochet. 
She was infinitely bored when you spoke to her of 
Tolstoi or Chekov; but grew animated when she 
talked of Jack London. She put a question to the 
maiden lady which the maiden lady, though no 
longer young, had no answer for. 

"Why," she asked, "do you English write such 
silly books about Russia?" 

But then the first secretary of the British Lega- 
tion appeared. He gave his entrance the signifi- 
cance of an event. He was very tall, baldish but 
elegant, and he was beautifully dressed : he looked 
with polite astonishment at the dazzling orders of 
the Minister of Guatemala, The Charge d'Affaires 
of Montenegro, who flattered himself that he was 
the best dressed man in the diplomatic body, but 
was not quite sure whether the first secretary of 
the British Legation thought him so, fluttered up 
to him to ask his candid opinion of the frilled 
shirt he wore. The Englishman placed a gold- 
rimmed glass in his eye and looked at it for a mo- 
ment gravely ; then he paid the other a devastating 
compliment. Everyone had come by now but the 
wife of the French Military Attache. They said 
she was always late. 

"Elle est insupportable" said the handsome 
wife of the Swiss banker. 

But at last, magnificently indifferent to the fact 
that she had kept everyone waiting for half an 
hour, she swam into the room. She was tall on 
28 



DINNER PARTIES 

her outrageously high heels, extremely thin, and 
she wore a dress that gave you the impression 
that she had nothing on at all. Her hair was 
bobbed and blonde, and she was boldly painted. 
She looked like a post-impressionist's idea of 
patient Griselda. When she moved the air was 
heavy with exotic odours. She gave the Minister 
of Guatemala a jewelled, emaciated hand to kiss; 
with a few smiling words made the banker's wife 
feel passee, provincial, and portly; flung an im- 
proper jest at the English lady whose embarrass- 
ment was mitigated by the knowledge that the wife 
of the French Military Attache was ires bien nee; 
and drank three cocktails in rapid succession. 

Dinner was served. The conversation varied 
from a resonant, rolling French to a somewhat 
halting English. They talked of this Minister 
who had just written from Bucharest or Lima, 
and that Counsellor's wife who found it so dull 
in Christiania or so expensive in Washington. On 
the whole it made little difference to them in what 
capital they found themselves, for they did pre- 
cisely the same things in Constantinople, Berne, 
Stockholm and Peking. Entrenched within their 
diplomatic privileges and supported by a lively 
sense of their social consequence, they dwelt in a 
world in which Copernicus had never existed, for 
to them sun and stars circled obsequiously round 
this earth of ours, and they were its centre. No 
one knew why the English lady was there and 
the wife of the Swiss director said privately that 
she was without doubt a German spy. But she 
29 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

was an authority on the country. She told you 
that the Chinese had such perfect manners and 
you really should have known the Empress 
Dowager; she was a perfect darling. You knew 
very well that in Constantinople she would have 
assured you that the Turks were such perfect 
gentlemen and the Sultana Fatima was a perfect 
dear and spoke such wonderful French. Home- 
less, she was at home wherever her country had a 
diplomatic representative. 

The first secretary of the British Legation 
thought the party rather mixed. He spoke 
French more like a Frenchman than any French- 
man who ever lived. He was a man of taste, and 
he had a natural aptitude for being right. He 
only knew the right people and only read the right 
books ; he admired none but the right music and 
cared for none but the right pictures ; he bought 
his clothes at the right tailor's and his shirts from 
the only possible haberdasher. You listened to 
him with stupefaction. Presently you wished with 
all your heart that he would confess to a liking 
for something just a little vulgar: you would have 
felt more at your ease if only with bold idiosyn- 
crasy he had claimed that The Soul's Awakening 
was a work of art or The Rosary a masterpiece. 
But his taste was faultless. He was perfect and 
you were half afraid that he knew it, for in repose 
his face had the look of one who bears an intoler- 
able burden. And then you discovered that he 
wrote vers libre. You breathed again. 
30 



DINNER PARTIES 
II : AT A TREATY PORT 

There was about the party a splendour which 
has vanished from the dinner tables of England. 
The mahogany groaned with silver. In the middle 
of the snowy damask cloth was a centrepiece of 
yellow silk such as you were unwillingly con- 
strained to buy in the bazaars of your prim youth 
and on this was a massive epergne. Tall silver 
vases in which were large chrysanthemums made 
it possible to catch only glimpses of the persons 
opposite you, and tall silver candlesticks reared 
their proud heads two by two down the length of 
the table. Each course was served with its ap- 
propriate wine, sherry with the soup and hock 
with the fish; and there were the two entrees, a 
white entree and a brown entree, which the careful 
housekeeper of the nineties felt were essential to 
a properly arranged dinner. 

Perhaps the conversation was less varied than 
the courses, for guests and hosts had seen one 
another nearly every day for an intolerable num- 
ber of years and each topic that arose was seized 
upon desperately only to be exhausted and fol- 
lowed by a formidable silence. They talked of 
racing and golf and shooting. They would have 
thought it bad form to touch upon the abstract 
and there were no politics for them to discuss. 
China bored them all, they did not want to speak 
of that; they only knew just so much about it as 
was necessary to their business, and they looked 
with distrust upon any man who studied the Chi- 

31 



ON A CHINESE SCEEEN 

nese language. Why should he unless he were a 
missionary or a Chinese Secretary at the Lega- 
tion? You could hire an interpreter for twenty- 
five dollars a month and it was well known that 
all those fellows who went in for Chinese grew 
queer in the head. They were all persons of con- 
sequence. There was number one at Jardine's 
with his wife, and the manager of the Hong-Kong 
and Shanghai Bank with his wife, the A. P. C. 
man and his wife, and the B. A. T. man with his 
wife, and the B. & S. man with his wife. They 
wore their evening clothes a little uneasily as 
though they wore them from a sense of duty to 
their country rather than as a comfortable 
change from day dress. They had come to the 
party because they had nothing else in the world 
to do, but when the moment came that they could 
decently take their leave they would go with a 
sigh of relief. They were bored to death with one 
another. 



VII 
THE ALTAR OF HEAVEN 

IT stands open to the sky, three round ter- 
races of white marble, placed one above the 
other, which are reached by four marble 

staircases, and these face the four points of 
the compass. It represents the celestial sphere with 
its cardinal points. A great park surrounds it 
and this again is surrounded by high walls. And 
hither, year after year, on the night of the winter 
solstice, for then heaven is reborn, generation after 
generation came the Son of Heaven solemnly to 
worship the original creator of his house. Es- 
corted by princes and the great men of the realm, 
followed by his troops, the emperor purified by 
fasting proceeded to the altar. And here awaited 
him princes and ministers and mandarins, each 
in his allotted place, musicians and the dancers 
of the sacred dance. In the scanty light of the 
great torches the ceremonial robes were darkly 
splendid. And before the tablet on which were 
inscribed the words : Imperial Heaven Supreme 
Emperor, he offered incense, jade, and silk, broth 
and rice spirit. He knelt and knocked his fore- 
head against the marble pavement nine times. 
And here at the very spot where the vice-regent 

c 33 



t)N A CHINESE SCREEN 

of heaven and earth knelt down, Willard B. Unter- 
meyer wrote his name in a fine bold hand and the 
town and state he came from, Hastings, Nebraska. 
So he sought to attach his fleeting personality to 
the recollection of that grandeur of which some 
dim rumour had reached him. He thought that 
so men would remember him when he was no more. 
He aimed in this crude way at immortality. But 
vain are the hopes of men. For no sooner had he 
sauntered down the steps than a Chinese caretaker 
who had been leaning against the balustrade, idly 
looking at the blue sky, came forward, spat neatly 
on the spot where Willard B. Untermeyer had 
written, and with his foot smeared his spittle over 
the name. In a moment no trace remained that 
Willard B. Untermeyer had ever visited that place. 



VIII 
THE SERVANTS OF GOD 

THEY were sitting side by side, two mis- 
sionaries, talking to one another of per- 
fectly trivial things, in the way people 
talk who wish to show each other civility 
but have nothing in common ; and they would have 
been surprised to be told that they had certainly 
one admirable thing in common, goodness, for both 
had this also in common, humility; though per- 
haps in the Englishman it was more deliberate, 
and so, if more conspicuous less natural, than it 
was in the Frenchman. Otherwise the contrasts 
between them were almost ludicrous. The French- 
man was hard on eighty, a tall man, still unbent ; 
and his large bones suggested that in youth he 
had been a man of uncommon strength. Now his 
only sign of power lay in his eyes, immensely large 
so that you could not help noticing their strange 
expression, and flashing. That is an epithet often 
applied to eyes, but I do not think I have ever seen 
any to which it might be applied so fitly. There 
was really a flame in them and they seemed to emit 
light. They had a wildness which hardly sug- 
gested sanity. They were the eyes of a prophet in 
Israel. His nose was large and aggressive, his 
35 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

chin was firm and square. At no time could he 
have been a man to trifle with, but in his prime he 
must have been terrific. Perhaps the passion of 
his eyes bespoke battles long fought out in the 
uttermost depths of his heart, and his soul cried 
out in them, vanquished and bleeding, yet tri- 
umphant, and he exulted in the unclosed wound 
which he offered in willing sacrifice to Almighty 
God. He felt the cold in his old bones and he 
wore wrapped about him like a soldier's cloak a 
great fur and on his head a cap of Chinese sable. 
He was a magnificent figure. He had been in China 
for half a century and thrice he had fled for his 
life when the Chinese had attacked his mission. 

"I trust they won't attack it again," he said, 
smiling, "for I am too old now to make these pre- 
cipitate journeys." He shrugged his shoulders: 
" Je serai martyr." 

He lit a long black cigar and puffed it with 
great enjoyment. 

The other was very much younger, he could not 
have been more than fifty, and he had not been 
in China for more than twenty years. He was a 
member of the English Church Mission and he was 
dressed in a grey tweed suit and a spotted tie. He 
sought to look as little like a clergyman as pos- 
sible. He was a little taller than the average, but 
he was so fat that he looked stumpy. He had a 
round good-natured face, with red cheeks and a 
grey moustache of the variety known as tooth- 
brush. He was very bald, but with a pardonable 
and touching vanity he had grown his hair long 
36 



THE SERVANTS OF GOD 

enough on one side to be brought over the scalp 
and so give himself at all events the illusion that 
his head was well-covered. He was a jovial fellow, 
with a hearty laugh, and it rang out loudly, honest 
and true, when he chaffed his friends or was 
chaffed by them. He had the humour of a school- 
boy and you could imagine him shaking in all his 
bulk when someone slipped on a piece of orange 
peel. But the laughter would be stopped, and he 
would redden, as it struck him suddenly that the 
man who slipped might have hurt himself, and 
then he would be all kindness and sympathy. For 
it was impossible to be with him for ten minutes 
without realising the tenderness of his heart. You 
felt that it would be impossible to ask hitn to do 
anything he would not gladly do, and if perhaps 
at first his heartiness would make it difficult to 
go to him in your spiritual needs you could be 
sure in all practical affairs of his attention, sym- 
pathy, and good sense. He was a man whose purse 
was always open to the indigent and whose time 
was always at the service of those who wanted it. 
And yet perhaps it is unjust to say that in the 
affairs of the soul his help would not be very 
effectual, for though he could not speak to you, 
like the old Frenchman, with the authority of a 
church that has never admitted doubt or with the 
compelling fire of the ascetic, he would share your 
distress with such a candid sympathy, consoling 
you with his own hesitations, less a minister of 
God then than a halting, tremulous man of the 
same flesh as yourself, who sought to share with 
37 



ON A CHINESE SCEEEN 

you the hope and the consolation with which his 
own soul was refreshed, that perhaps in his own 
way he had something as good to offer as the 
other. 

His story was a little unusual. He had been a 
soldier and he was pleased to talk of the old days 
when he had hunted with the Quorn and danced 
through the London season. He had no un- 
healthy feeling of past sin. 

"I was a great dancer in my young days," he 
said, "but I expect I should be quite out of it 
now with all these new dances." 

It was a good life so long as it lasted and 
though he did not for a moment regret it, he had 
no feeling of resentment for it. The call had come 
when he was in India. He did not exactly know 
how or why, it had just come, a sudden feeling 
that he must give up his life to bringing the 
heathen to the belief in Christ, but it was a feel- 
ing that he could not resist ; it gave him no peace. 
He was a happy man now, enjoying his work. 

"It's a slow business," he said, "but I see signs 
of progress and I love the Chinese. I wouldn't 
change my life here for any in the world." 

The two missionaries said good-bye to one an- 
other. 

"When are you going home?" asked the Eng- 
lishman. 

"Moi? Oh, in a day or two." 

"I may not see you again then. I expect to go 
home in March." 

But one meant the little town with its narrow 
38 



THE SERVANTS OF GOD 

streets where he had lived for fifty years, since 
when he left France, a young man, he left it for 
ever; but the other meant the Elizabethan house 
in Cheshire, with its smooth lawns and its oak 
trees, where his ancestors had dwelt for three 
centuries. 



39 



IX 

THE INN 

IT seems long since the night fell, and for an 
hour a coolie has walked before your chair 
carrying a lantern. It throws a thin circle 
of light in front of you, and as you pass you 
catch a pale glimpse (like a thing of beauty 
emerging vaguely from the ceaseless flux of com- 
mon life) of a bamboo thicket, a flash of water in 
a rice field, or the heavy darkness of a banyan. 
Now and then a belated peasant bearing two 
heavy baskets on his yoke sidles by. The bearers 
walk more slowly, but after the long day they 
have lost none of their spirit, and they chatter 
gaily; they laugh, and one of them breaks into a 
fragment of tuneless song. But the causeway 
rises and the lantern throws its light suddenly 
on a whitewashed wall: you have reached the first 
miserable houses that straggle along the path 
outside the city wall, and two or three minutes 
more bring you to a steep flight of steps. The 
bearers take them at a run. You pass through 
the city gates. The narrow streets are multi- 
tudinous and in the shops they are busy still. 
The bearers shout raucously. The crowd divides 
and you pass through a double hedge of serried 
40 



THE INN 

curious people. Their faces are impassive and 
their dark eyes stare mysteriously. The bearers, 
their day's work done, march with a swinging 
stride. Suddenly they stop, wheel to the right, 
into a courtyard, and you have reached the inn. 
Your chair is set down. 

The inn it consists of a long yard, partly 
covered, with rooms opening on it on each side 
is lit by three or four oil lamps. They throw a 
dim light immediately around them, but make the 
surrounding darkness more impenetrable. All the 
front of the yard is crowded with tables and at 
these people are packed, eating rice or drinking 
tea. Some of them play games you do not know. 
At the great stove, where water in a cauldron is 
perpetually heating and rice in a huge pan being 
prepared, stand the persons of the inn. They 
serve out rapidly great bowls of rice and fill the 
teapots which are incessantly brought them. 
Further back a couple of naked coolies, sturdy, 
thickset and supple, are sluicing themselves with 
boiling water. You walk to the end of the yard 
where, facing the entrance but protected from the 
vulgar gaze by a screen, is the principal guest 
chamber. 

It is a spacious, windowless room, with a floor 
of trodden earth, lofty, for it goes the whole 
height of the inn, with an open roof. The walls 
are whitewashed, showing the beams, so that they 
remind you of a farmhouse in Sussex. The furni- 
ture consists of a square table, with a couple of 
straight-backed wooden arm-chairs, and three or 
41 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

four wooden pallets covered with matting on the 
least dirty of which you will presently lay your 
bed. In a cup of oil a taper gives a tiny point 
of light. They bring you your lantern and you 
wait while your dinner is cooked. The bearers 
are merry now that they have set down their loads. 
They wash their feet and put on clean sandals 
and smoke their long pipes. 

How precious then is the inordinate length of 
your book (for you are travelling light and you 
have limited yourself to three) and how jealously 
you read every word of every page so that you 
may delay as long as possible the dreaded mo- 
ment when you must reach the end ! You are 
mightily thankful then to the authors of long 
books and when you turn over their pages, reckon- 
ing how long you can make them last, you wish 
they were half as long again. You do not ask 
then for the perfect lucidity which he who runs 
may read. A complicated phraseology which 
makes it needful to read the sentence a second 
time to get its meaning is not unwelcome; a pro- 
fusion of metaphor, giving your fancy ample play, 
a richness of allusion affording you the delight 
of recognition, are then qualities beyond price. 
Then if the thought is elaborate without being 
profound (for you have been on the road since 
dawn and of the forty miles of the day's journey 
you have footed it more than half) you have the 
perfect book for the occasion. 

But the noise in the inn suddenly increases to 
a din and looking out you see that more travellers, 



THE IN 

a party of Chinese in sedan chairs, have arrived. 
They take the rooms on each side of you and 
through the thin walls you hear their loud talking 
far into the night. With a lazy, restful eye, your 
whole body conscious of the enjoyment of lying 
in bed, taking a sensual pleasure in its fatigue, 
you follow the elaborate pattern of the transom. 
The dim lamp in the yard shines through the torn 
paper with which it is covered, and its intricate 
design is black against the light. At last every- 
thing is quiet but for a man in the next room who 
is coughing painfully. It is the peculiar, repeated 
cough of phthisis, and hearing it at intervals 
through the night you wonder how long the poor 
devil can live. You rejoice in your own rude 
strength. Then a cock crows loudly, just behind 
your head, it seems; and not far away a bugler 
blows a long blast on his bugle, a melancholy 
wail; the inn begins to stir again; lights are lit, 
and the coolies make ready their loads for another 
day. 



X 

THE GLORY HOLE 

IT is a sort of little cubicle in a corner of the 
chandler's store just under the ceiling and 
you reach it by a stair which is like a ship's 
companion. It is partitioned off from the 
shop by matchboarding, about four feet high, so 
that when you sit on the wooden benches that sur- 
round the table you can see into the shop with all 
its stores. Here are coils of rope, oilskins, heavy 
sea-boots, hurricane lamps, hams, tinned goods, 
liquor of all sorts, curios to take home to your 
wife and children, clothes, I know not what. There 
is everything that a foreign ship can want in an 
Eastern port. You can watch the Chinese, sales- 
men and customers, and they have a pleasantly 
mysterious air as though they were concerned in 
nefarious business. You can see who comes into 
the shop and since it is certainly a friend bid him 
join you in the Glory Hole. Through the wide 
doorway you see the sun beating down on the 
stone pavement of the roadway and the coolies 
scurrying past with their heavy loads. At about 
midday the company begins to assemble, two or 
three pilots, Captain Thompson and Captain 
Brown, old men who have sailed the China Seas 
44 



THE GLORY HOLE 

for thirty years and now have a comfortable bil- 
let ashore, the skipper of a tramp from Shanghai, 
and the taipans of one or two tea firms. The boy 
stands silently waiting for orders and he brings 
the drinks and the dice-box. Talk flows rather 
prosily at first. A boat was wrecked the other 
day going in to Foochow, that fellow Maclean, 
the engineer of the An-Chan has made a pot of 
money in rubber lately, the consul's wife is com- 
ing out from home in the Empress; but by the 
time the dice-box has travelled round the table 
and the loser has signed the chit, the glasses are 
empty and the dice-box is reached for once more. 
The boy brings the second round of drinks. Then 
the tongues of these stolid, stubborn men are 
loosened a little and they begin to talk of the 
past. One of the pilots knew the port first hard 
on fifty years ago. Ah, those were the great 
days. 

"That's when you ought to have seen the Glory 
Hole," he says, with a smile. 

Those were the days of the tea clippers, when 
there would be thirty or forty ships in the har- 
bour, waiting for their cargo. Everyone had 
plenty of money to spend then, and the Glory 
Hole was the centre of life in the port. If you 
wanted to find a man, why, you came to the Glory 
Hole, and if he wasn't there he'd be sure to come 
along soon. The agents did their business with 
the skippers there, and the doctor didn't have 
office hours; he went to the Glory Hole at noon 
and if anyone was sick he attended to him there 
45 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

and then. Those were the days when men knew 
how to drink. They would come at midday and 
drink all through the afternoon, a boy bringing 
them a bite if they were hungry, and drink all 
through the night. Fortunes were lost and won 
in the Glory Hole, for they were gamblers then 
and a man would risk all the profits of his run in 
a game of cards. Those were the good old days. 
But now the trade was gone, the tea clippers no 
longer thronged the harbour, the port was dead, 
and the young men, the young men of the A. P. C. 
or of Jardine's, turned up their noses at the 
Glory Hole. And as the old pilot talked that 
dingy little cubicle with its stained table seemed 
to be for a moment peopled with those old skip- 
pers, hardy, reckless, and adventurous, of a day 
that has gone for ever. 



46 



XI 
FEAR 

I WAS staying a night with him on the road. 
The mission stood on a little hill just out- 
side the gates of a populous city. The first 
thing I noticed about him was the difference 
of his taste. The missionary's house as a rule is 
furnished in a style which is almost an outrage 
to decency. The parlour, with its air of an un- 
used room, is papered with a gaudy paper, and 
on the wall hang texts, engravings of sentimental 
pictures The Soul's Awakening and Luke Filde's 
The Doctor or, if the missionary has been long 
in the country, congratulatory scrolls on stiff 
red paper. There is a Brussels carpet on the 
floor, rocking chairs if the household is American 
and a stiff arm-chair on each side of the fireplace 
if it is English. There is a sofa which is so placed 
that nobody sits on it and by the grim look of 
it few can want to. There are lace curtains on 
the windows. Here and there are occasional tables 
on which are photographs and what-nots with 
modern porcelain on them. The dining-room has 
an appearance of more use, but almost the whole 
of it is taken up by a large table and when you 
sit at it you are crowded into the fireplace. But 
47 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

in Mr. Wingrove's study there were" books^ from 
floor to ceiling, a table littered with papers, cur- 
tains of a rich green stuff, and over the. fireplace a 
Tibetan bannner. There was a row of Tibetan 
Buddhas on the chimney piece. 

"I don't know how it is, but you've got just the 
feeling of college rooms about the place," I said. 

"Do you think so?" he answered. "I was a 
tutor at Oriel for some time." 

He was a man of nearly fifty, I should think, 
tall -and well-covered through not stout, with grey 
hair cut very short and a reddish face. One im- 
agined that he must be a jovial man fond of 
laughter, an easy talker and a good fellow; but 
his eyes disconcerted you: they were grave and 
unsmiling; they had a look that I could only de- 
scribe as harassed. I wondered if I had fallen 
upon him at an inconvenient moment when his mind 
was taken up with irksome matters, yet some- 
how I felt that this was not a passing expression, 
but a settled one rather, and I could not under- 
stand it. He had just that look of anxiety which 
you see in certain forms of heart disease. He 
chatted about one thing and another, then he said : 

"I hear my wife come in. Shall we go into 
the drawing-room?" 

He led me in and introduced me to a little thin 
woman, with gold-rimmed spectacles and a shy 
manner. It was plain that she belonged to a dif- 
ferent class from her husband. The missionaries 
for the most part with all manner of virtues have 
not those which we can find no better way to de- 
48 



FEAR 

scribe than under the category of good breeding. 
They may be saints but they are not often gen- 
tlemen. Now it struck me that Mr. Wingrove 
was a gentleman, for it was evident that his wife 
was not a lady. She had a vulgar intonation. 
The drawing-room was furnished in a way I had 
never before seen in a missionary's house. There 
was a Chinese carpet on the floor. Chinese pic- 
tures, old ones, hung on the yellow walls. Two 
or three Ming tiles gave a dash of colour. In the 
middle of the room was a blackwood table, elabor- 
ately carved, and on it was a figure in white porce- 
lain. I made a trivial remark. 

"I don't much care for all these Chinese things 
meself," answered my hostess briskly, "but Mr. 
Wingrove's set on them. I'd clear them all out if 
I had my way." 

I laughed, not because I was amused, and then 
I caught in Mr. Wingrove's eyes a flash of icy 
hatred. I was astonished. But it passed in a 
moment. 

"We won't have them if you don't like them, my 
dear," he said gently. "They can be put away." 

"Oh, I don't mind them if they please you." 

We began to talk about my journey and in 
the course of conversation I happened to ask Mr. 
Wingrove how long it was since he had been in 
England. 

"Seventeen years," he said. 

I was surprised. 

"But I thought you had one year's furlough 
every seven?" 

49 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"Yes, but I haven't cared to go." 

"Mr. Wingrove thinks it's bad for the work to 
go away for a year like that," explained his wife. 
"Of course I don't care to go without him." 

I wondered how it was that he had ever come 
to China. The actual details of the call fascinate 
me, and often enough you find people who are 
willing to talk of it, though you have to form 
your own opinion on the matter less from the 
words they say than from the implications of 
them; but I did not feel that Mr. Wingrove was 
a man who would be induced either directly or 
indirectly to speak of that intimate experience. 
He evidently took his work very seriously. 

"Are there other foreigners here?" I asked. 

"No." 

"It must be very lonely," I said. 

"I think I prefer it so," he answered, looking 
at one of the pictures on the wall. "They'd only 
be business people, and you know" he smiled 
"they haven't much use for missionaries. And 
they're not so intellectual that it is a great hard- 
ship to be deprived of their company. 

"And of course we're not really alone, you 
know," said Mrs. Wingrove. "We have two 
evangelists and then there are two young ladies 
who teach. And there are the school children." 

Tea was brought in and we gossiped desul- 
torily. Mr. Wingrove seemed to speak with effort, 
and I had increasingly that feeling in him of per- 
turbed repression. He had pleasing manners and 
was certainly trying to be cordial and yet I had 

50 



FEAR 



a sense of effort. I led the conversation to Ox- 
ford, mentioning various friends whom he might 
know, but he gave me no encouragement. 

"It's so long since I left home," he said, "and 
I haven't kept up with anyone. There's a great 
deal of work in a mission like this and it absorbs 
one entirely." 

I thought he was exaggerating a little, so I 
remarked : 

"Well, by the number of books you have I take 
it that you get a certain amount of time for 
reading." 

"I very seldom read," he answered with abrupt- 
ness, in a voice that I knew already was not quite 
his own. 

I was puzzled. There was something odd about 
the man. At last, as was inevitable, I suppose, 
he began to talk of the Chinese. Mrs. Win- 
grove said the same things about them that I 
had already heard so many missionaries say. They 'P 
were a lying people, untrustworthy, cruel, and 
dirty, but a faint light was visible in the East; 
though the results of missionary endeavour were 
not very noteworthy as yet, the future was prom- 
ising. They no longer believed in their old gods 
and the power of the literati was broken. It is 
an attitude of mistrust and dislike tempered by 
optimism. But Mr. Wingrove mitigated his wife's 
strictures. He dwelt on the good-nature of the 
Chinese, on their devotion to their parents and 
on their love for their children. 
51 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"Mr. Wingrove won't hear a word against the 
Chinese," said his wife, "he simply loves them." 

"I think they have great qualities," he said. 
"You can't walk through those crowded streets 
of theirs without having that impressed on you." 

"I don't believe Mr. Wingrove notices the 
smells," his wife laughed. 

At that moment there was a knock at the door 
and a young woman came in. She had the long 
skirts and the unbound feet of the native Chris- 
tian, and on her face a look that was at once 
cringing and sullen. She said something to Mrs. 
Wingrove. I happened to catch sight of Mr. 
Wingrove's face. When he saw her there passed 
over it an expression of the most intense physical 
repulsion, it was distorted as though by an odour 
that nauseated him, and then immediately it van- 
ished and his lips twitched to a pleasant smile; 
but the effort was too great and he showed only 
a tortured grimace. I looked at him with amaze- 
ment. Mrs. Wingrove with an "excuse me" got 
up and left the room. 

"That is one of our teachers," said Mr. Win- 
grove in that same set voice which had a little 
puzzled me before. "She's invaluable. I put in- 
finite reliance on her. She has a very fine char- 
acter." 

Then, I hardly know why, in a flash I saw the 
truth; I saw the disgust in his soul for all that 
his will loved. I was filled with the excitement 
which an explorer may feel when after a hazardous 
journey he comes upon a country with features 



FEAR 

new and unexpected. Those tortured eyes ex- 
plained themselves, the unnatural voice, the meas- 
ured restraint with which he praised, that air he 
had of a hunted man. Notwithstanding all he 
said he hated the Chinese with a hatred beside 
which his wife's distaste was insignificant. When 
he walked through the teeming streets of the city 
it was an agony to him, his missionary life re- 
volted him, his soul was like the raw shoulders 
of the coolies and the carrying pole burnt the 
bleeding wound. He would not go home because 
he could not bear to see again what he cared for 
so much, he would not read his books because they 
reminded him of the life he loved so passionately, 
and perhaps he had married that vulgar wife in 
order to cut himself off more resolutely from a 
world that his every instinct craved for. He 
martyred his tortured soul with a passionate exas- 
peration. 

I tried to see how the call had come. I think 
that for years he had been completely happy in 
his easy ways at Oxford ; and he had loved his 
work, with its pleasant companionship, his books, 
his holidays in France and Italy. He was a con- 
tented man and asked nothing better than to spend 
the rest of his days in just such a fashion; but I 
know not what obscure feeling had gradually 
taken hold of him that his life was too lazy, too 
contented ; I think he was always a religious man 
and perhaps some early belief, instilled into him 
in childhood and long forgotten, of a jealous God 
who hated his creatures to be happy on earth, 
53 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

rankled in the depths of his heart ; I think because 
he was so well satisfied with his life he began to 
think it was sinful. A restless anxiety seized 
him. Whatever he thought with his intelligence 
his instincts began to tremble with the dread of 
eternal punishment. I do not know what put the 
idea of China into his head, but at first he must 
have thrust it aside with violent repulsion; and 
perhaps the very violence of his repulsion im- 
pressed the idea on him, for he found it haunting 
him. I think he said that he would not go, but I 
think he felt that he would have to. God was pur- 
suing him and wherever he hid himself God fol- 
lowed. With his reason he struggled, but with 
his heart he was caught. He could not help him- 
self. At least he gave in: 

I knew I should never see him again and I had 
not the time to spend on the commonplaces of con- 
versation before a reasonable familiarity would 
permit me to talk of more intimate matters. I 
seized the opportunity while we were still alone. 

"Tell me," I said, "do you believe God will con- 
demn the Chinese to eternal punishment if they 
don't accept Christianity?" 

I am sure my question was crude and tactless, 
for the old man in him tightened his lips. But 
nevertheless he answered. 

"The whole teaching of the gospel forces one 
to that conclusion. There is not a single argu- 
ment which people have adduced to the contrary 
which has the force of the plain words of Jesus 
Christ." 

54 



XII 

THE PICTURE 

I DO not know whether he was a mandarin 
bound for the capital of the province, or 
some student travelling to a seat of learn- 
ing, nor what the reason that delayed him 
in the most miserable of all the miserable inns in 
China. Perhaps one or other of his bearers, hid- 
den somewhere to smoke a pipe of opium (for it is 
cheap in that neighborhood and you must be pre- 
pared for trouble with your coolies) could not be 
found. Perhaps a storm of torrential rain had 
held him for an hour an unwilling prisoner. 

The room was so low that you could easily touch 
the rafters with your hand. The mud walls were 
covered with dirty whitewash, here and there worn 
away, and all round on wooden pallets were straw 
beds for the coolies who were the inn's habitual 
guests. The sun alone enabled you to support 
the melancholy squalor. It shone through the 
latticed window, a beam of golden light, and threw 
on the trodden earth of the floor a pattern of an 
intricate and splendid richness. 

And here to pass an idle moment he had taken 
his stone tablet and mixing a little water with 
the stick of ink which he rubbed on it, seized the 
55 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

fine brush with which he executed the beautiful 
characters of the Chinese writing (he was surely 
proud of his exquisite calligraphy and it was a 
welcome gift which he made his friends when he 
sent them a scroll on which was written a maxim, 
glitteringly compact, of the divine Confucius) and 
with a bold hand he drew on the wall a branch of 
plum-blossom and a bird perched on it. It was 
done very lightly, but with an admirable ease; I 
know not what happy chance guided the artist's 
touch, for the bird was all a-quiver with life and 
the plum-blossoms were tremulous on their stalks. 
The soft airs of spring blew through the sketch 
into that sordid chamber, and for the beating of 
a pulse you were in touch with the Eternal. 



56 



XIII 

HER BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S 
REPRESENTATIVE 

HE was a man of less than middle height, 
with stiff brown hair en brosse, a little 
toothbrush moustache, and glasses 
through which his blue eyes, looking at 
you aggressively, were somewhat distorted. There 
was a defiant perkiness in his appearance which 
reminded you of the cock-sparrow, and as he asked 
you to sit down and inquired your business, mean- 
while sorting the papers littered on his desk as 
though you had disturbed him in the midst of im- 
portant affairs, you had the feeling that he was 
on the look out for an opportunity to put you in 
your place. He had cultivated the official man- 
ner to perfection. You were the public, an un- 
avoidable nuisance, and the only justification for 
your existence was that you did what you were 
told without argument or delay. But even offi- 
cials have their weakness and somehow it chanced 
that he found it very difficult to bring any busi- 
ness to an end without confiding his grievance 
to you. It appeared that people, missionaries 
especially, thought him supercilious and domineer- 
ing. He assured you that he thought there was a 
57 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

great deal of good in missionaries ; it is true that 
many of them were ignorant and unreasonable > 
and he didn't like their attitude; in his district 
most of them were Canadians, and personally he 
didn't like Canadians; but as for saying that he 
put on airs of superiority (he fixed his pince-nez 
more firmly on his nose) it was monstrously un- 
true. On the contrary he went out of his way to 
help them, but it was only natural that he should 
help them in his way rather than in theirs. It 
was hard to listen to him without a smile, for in 
every word he said you felt how exasperating he 
must be to the unfortunate persons over whom he 
had control. His manner was deplorable. He had 
developed the gift of putting up your back to a 
degree which is very seldom met with. He was 
in short a vain, irritable, bumptious, and tiresome 
little man. 

During the revolution, while a lot of firing was 
going on in the city between the rival factions, 
he had occasion to go to the Southern general on 
official business connected with the safety of his 
nationals, and on his way through the yamen he 
came across three prisoners being led out to execu- 
tion. He stopped the officer in charge of the firing 
party and finding out what was about to happen 
vehemently protested. These were prisoners of 
war and it was barbarity to kill them. The officer 
very rudely, in the consul's words told him 
that he must carry out his orders. The consul fired 
up. He wasn't going to let a confounded Chinese 
officer talk to him in that way. An altercation 
58 



HER MAJESTY S REPRESENTATIVE 

ensued. The general informed of what was oc- 
curring sent out to ask the consul to come in to 
him, but the consul refused to move till the pris- 
oners, three wretched coolies green with fear, were 
handed over to his safe-keeping. The officer waved 
him aside and ordered his firing squad to take aim. 
Then the consul I can see him fixing his glasses 
on his nose and his hair bristling fiercely then the 
consul stepped forwards between the levelled rifles 
and the three miserable men, and told the soldiers 
to shoot and be damned. There was hesitation and 
confusion. It was plain that the rebels did not 
want to shoot a British consul. I suppose there 
was a hurried consultation. The three prisoners 
were given over to him and in triumph the little 
man marched back to the consulate. 

"Damn it, Sir," he said furiously, "I almost 
thought the blighters would have the confounded 
cheek to shoot me." 

They are strange people the British. If their 
manners were as good as their courage is great 
they would merit the opinion they have of them- 
selves. 



59 



XIV 
THE OPIUM DEN 

ON the stage it makes a very effective set. 
It is dimly lit. The room is low and 
squalid. In one corner a lamp burns 
mysteriously before a hideous image and 
incense fills the theatre with its exotic scent. A 
pig-tailed Chinaman wanders to and fro, aloof and 
saturnine, while on wretched pallets lie stupefied 
the victims of the drug. Now and then one of 
them breaks into frantic raving. There is a highly 
dramatic scene where some poor creature, unable 
to pay for the satisfaction of his craving, with 
prayers and curses begs the villainous proprietor 
for a pipe to still his anguish. I have read also 
in novels descriptions which made my blood run 
cold. And when I was taken to an opium den by 
a smooth-spoken Eurasian the narrow, winding 
stairway up which he led me prepared me suffi- 
ciently to receive the thrill I expected. I was in- 
troduced into a neat enough room, brightly lit, 
divided into cubicles the raised floor of which, 
covered with clean matting, formed a convenient 
couch. In one an elderly gentleman, with a grey 
head and very beautiful hands, was quietly reading 
a newspaper, with his long pipe by his side. In 
60 



THE OPIUM DEN 

another two coolies were lying, with a pipe between 
them, which they alternately prepared and smoked. 
They were young men, of a hearty appearance, 
and they smiled at me in a friendly way. One 
of them offered me a smoke. In a third four men 
squatted over a chess-board, and a little further 
on a man was dandling a baby (the inscrutable 
Oriental has a passion for children) while the 
baby's mother, whom I took to be the landlord's 
wife, a plump, pleasant-faced woman, watched him 
with a broad smile on her lips. It was a cheerful 
spot, comfortable, home-like, and cosy. It re- 
minded me somewhat of the little intimate beer- 
houses of Berlin where the tired working man could 
go in the evening and spend a peaceful hour. 
Fiction is stranger than fact. 



61 



XV 
THE LAST CHANCE 

IT was pathetically obvious that she had come 
to China to be married, and what made it al- 
most tragic was that not a single man in the 
treaty port was ignorant of the fact. She 
was a big woman with an ungainly figure; her 
hands and feet were large; she had a large nose, 
indeed all her features were large; but her blue 
eyes were fine. She was perhaps a little too con- 
scious of them. She was a blonde and she was 
thirty. In the daytime when she wore sensible 
boots, a short skirt, and a slouch hat, she was 
personable; but in the evening, in blue silk to 
enhance the colour of her eyes, in a frock cut by 
heaven knows what suburban dressmaker from 
the models in an illustrated paper, when she set 
herself out to be alluring she was an object that 
made you horribly ill-at-ease. She wished to be 
all things to all unmarried men. She listened 
brightly while one of them talked of shooting and 
she listened gaily when another talked of the 
freight on tea. She clapped her hands with girlish 
excitement when they discussed the races which 
were to be run next week. She was desperately 
fond of dancing, with a young American, and she 
62 



THE LAST CHANCE 

made him promise to take her to a baseball match ; 
but dancing wasn't the only thing she cared for 
(you can have too much of a good thing) and, 
with the elderly, but single, taipan of an impor- 
tant firm, what she simply loved was a game of 
golf. She was willing to be taught billiards by a 
young man who had lost his leg in the war and 
she gave her sprightly attention to the manager 
of a bank who told her what he thought of silver. 
She was not much interested in the Chinese, for 
that was a subject which was not very good form 
in the circles in which she found herself, but being 
a woman she could not help being revolted at the 
way in which Chinese women were treated. 

"You know, they don't have a word to say about 
who they're going to marry," she explained. "It's 
all arranged by go-betweens and the man doesn't 
even see the girl till he's married her. There's 
no romance or anything like that. And as far as 
love goes . . ." 

Words failed her. She was a thoroughly good- 
natured creature. She would have made any of 
those men, young or old, a perfectly good wife. 
And she knew it. 



XVI 

THE NUN 

THE convent lay white and cool among the 
trees on the top of a hill ; and as I stood 
at the gateway, waiting to be let in, I 
looked down at the tawny river glittering 
in the sunlight and at the rugged mountains be- 
yond. It was the Mother Superior who received 
me, a placid, sweet-faced lady with a soft voice 
and an accent which told me that she came from 
the South of France. She showed me the orphans 
who were in her charge, busy at the lace-making 
which the nuns had taught them, smiling shyly; 
and she showed me the hospital where lay soldiers 
suffering from dysentery, typhoid, and malaria. 
They were squalid and dirty. The Mother Su- 
perior told me she was a Basque. The mountains 
that she looked out on from the convent windows 
reminded her of the Pyrenees. She had been in 
China for twenty years. She said that it was hard 
sometimes never to see the sea ; here on the great 
river they were a thousand miles away from it; 
and because I knew the country where she was 
born she talked to me a little of the fine roads 
that led over the mountains ah, they did not 
have them here in China and the vineyards and 
64 



THE NUN 

the pleasant villages with their running streams 
that nestled at the foot of the hills. But the 
Chinese were good people. The orphans were very 
quick with their fingers and they were industrious ; 
the Chinese sought them as wives because they had 
learnt useful things in the convent, and even after 
they were married they could earn a little money 
by their needles. And the soldiers too, they were 
not so bad as people said; after all les pawures 
petits, they did not want to be soldiers ; they would 
much sooner be at home working in the fields. 
Those whom the sisters had nursed through illness 
were not devoid of gratitude. Sometimes when 
they were coming along in a chair and overtook 
two nuns who had been in the town to buy things 
and were laden with parcels, they would offer to 
take their parcels in the chair. Au fond, they 
were not bad hearted. 

"They do not go so far as to get out and let 
the nuns ride in their stead?" I asked. 

"A nun in their eyes is only a woman," she 
smiled indulgently. "You must not ask from peo- 
ple more than they are capable of giving." 

How true, and yet how hard to remember ! 



65 



xvn 

HENDERSON 

IT was very hard to look at him without a 
chuckle, for his appearance immediately told 
you all about him. When you saw him at 
the club, reading The London Mercury or 
lounging at the bar with a gin and bitters at his 
elbow (no cocktails for him) his unconventionality 
attracted your attention ; but you recognised him 
at once, for he was a perfect specimen of his class. 
His unconventionality was exquisitely convex 
tional. Everything about him was according to 
standard, from his square-toed, serviceable boots 
to his rather long, untidy hair. He wore a loose 
low collar that showed a thick neck and loose, 
somewhat shabby but well-cut clothes. He always 
smoked a short briar pipe. He was very humorous 
on the subject of cigarettes. He was a biggish 
fellow, athletic, with fine eyes and a pleasant voice. 
He talked fluently. His language was often 
obscene, not because his mind was impure, but be- 
cause his bent was democratic. As you guessed 
by the look of him he drank beer (not in fact but 
in the spirit) with Mr. Chesterton and walked 
the Sussex downs with Mr. Hilaire Belloc. He 
had played football at Oxford, but with Mr. Wells 
66 



HENDERSON 

he despised the ancient seat of learning. He 
looked upon Mr. Bernard Shaw as a little out 
of date, but he had still great hopes of Mr. Gran- 
ville Barker. He had had many serious talks with 
Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Webb, and he was a member 
of the Fabian Society. The only point where he 
touched upon the same world as the frivolous was 
his appreciation of the Russian Ballet. He wrote 
rugged poems about prostitutes, dogs, lamp-posts, 
Magdalen College, public houses and country 
vicarages. He held English, French, and Ameri- 
cans in scorn; but on the other hand (he was no 
misanthropist) he would not listen to a word in 
dispraise of Tamils, Bengalis, Kaffirs, Germans, or 
Greeks. At the club they thought him rather a 
wild fellow. 

"A socialist, you know," they said. 

But he was junior partner in a well-known and 
respectable firm, and one of the peculiarities of 
China is that your position excuses your idiosyn- 
crasies. It may be notorious that you beat your 
wife, but if you are manager of a well-established 
bank the world will be civil to you and ask you to 
dinner. So when Henderson announced his social- 
istic opinions they merely laughed. When he 
first came to Shanghai he refused to use the 
jinrickshaw. It revolted his sense of personal 
dignity that a man, a human being no different 
from himself, should drag him hither and thither. 
So he walked. He swore it was good exercise and 
it kept him fit; besides, it gave him a thirst he 
wouldn't sell for twenty dollars, and he drank his 
67 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

beer with gusto. But Shanghai is very hot and 
sometimes he was in a hurry so now and again he 
was obliged to use the degrading vehicle. It made 
him feel uncomfortable, but it was certainly con- 
venient. Presently he came to use it frequently, 
but he always thought of the boy between the 
shafts as a man and a brother. 

He had been three years in Shanghai when I 
saw him. We had spent the morning in the Chi- 
nese city, going from shop to shop and our rick- 
shaw boys were hot with sweat ; every minute or 
two they wiped their foreheads with ragged hand- 
kerchiefs. We were bound now for the club and 
had nearly reached it when Henderson remem- 
bered that he wanted to get Mr. Bertrand Rus- 
sell's new book, which had just reached Shanghai. 
He stopped the boys and told them to go back. 

"Don't you think we might leave it till after 
luncheon?" I said. "Those fellows are sweating 
like pigs." 

"It's good for them," he answered. "You 
mustn't ever pay attention to the Chinese. You 
see, we're only here because they fear us. We're 
the ruling race." 

I did not say anything. I did not even smile. 

"The Chinese always have had masters and they 
always will." 

A passing car separated us for a moment and 
when he came once more abreast of me he had 
put the matter aside. 

"You men who live in England don't know what 
it means to us when new books get out here," he 



HENDERSON 

remarked. "I read everything that Bertrand 
Russell writes. Have you seen the last one? 

"Roads to Freedom? Yes. I read it before I 
left England." 

"I've read several reviews. I think he's got hold 
of some interesting ideas." 

I think Henderson was going to enlarge on 
them, but the rickshaw boy passed the turning 
he should have taken. 

"Round the corner, you bloody fool," cried 
Henderson, and to emphasize his meaning he gave 
the man a smart kick on the bottom. 



69 



XVIII 
DAWN 

IT is night still and the courtyard of the 
inn is rich with deep patches of darkness. 
Lanterns throw fitful lights on the coolies 
busily preparing their loads for the journey. 
They shout and laugh, angrily argue with one 
another, and vociferously quarrel. I go out into 
the street and walk along preceded by a boy with 
a lantern. Here and there behind closed doors 
cocks are crowing. But in many of the shops the 
shutters are down already and the indefatigable 
people are beginning their long day. Here an 
apprentice is sweeping the floor, and there a man 
is washing his hands and face. A wick burning 
in a cup of oil is all his light. I pass a tavern 
where half a dozen persons are seated at an early 
meal. The ward gate is closed, but a watchman 
lets me through a postern and I walk along a wall 
by a sluggish stream in which are reflected the 
bright stars. Then I reach the great gate of the 
city, and this time one half of it is open; I pass 
out, and there, awaiting me, all ghostly, is the 
dawn. The day and the long road and the open 
country lie before me. 

Put out the lantern. Behind me the darkness 
70 



DAWN 



pales to a mist of purple and I know that soon 
this will kindle to a rosy flush. I can make out 
the causeway well enough and the water in the padi 
fields reflects already a wan and shadowy light. 
It is no longer night, but it is not yet day. This 
is the moment of most magical beauty, when the 
hills and the valleys, the trees and the water, have 
a mystery which is not of earth. For when once 
the sun has risen, for a time the world is very 
cheerless, the light is cold and grey like the light 
in a painter's studio, and there are no shadows to 
diaper the ground with a coloured pattern. Skirt- 
ing the brow of a wooded hill I look down on the 
padi fields. But to call them fields is too grandiose. 
They are for the most part crescent shaped 
patches built on the slope of a hill, one below 
the other, so that they can be flooded. Firs 
and bamboos grow in the hollows as though placed 
there by a skilful gardener with a sense of ordered 
beauty to imitate formally the abandon of nature. 
In this moment of enchantment you do not look 
upon the scene of humble toil, but on the pleasure 
gardens of an emperor. Here throwing aside the 
cares of state, he might come in yellow silk em- 
broidered with dragons, with jewelled bracelets on 
his wrists, to sport with a concubine so beautiful 
that men in after ages felt it natural if a dynasty 
was destroyed for her sake. 

And now with the increasing day a mist arises 

from the padi fields and climbs half way up the 

gentle hills. You may see a hundred pictures of 

the sight before you, for it is one that the old 

71 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

masters of China loved exceedingly. The little 
hills, wooded to their summit, with a line of fir 
trees along the crest, a firm silhouette against the 
sky, the little hills rise behind one another, and 
the varying level of the mist, forming a pattern, 
gives the composition a completeness which yet 
allows the imagination ample scope. The bamboos 
grow right down to the causeway, their thin leaves 
shivering in the shadow of a breeze, and they grow 
with a high-bred grace so that they look like 
groups of ladies in the Great Ming dynasty rest- 
ing languidly by the way-side. They have been 
to some temple, and their silken dresses are richly 
wrought with flowers and in their hair are precious 
ornaments of jade. They rest there for a while 
on their small feet, their golden lilies, gossiping 
elegantly, for do they not know that the best use 
of culture is to talk nonsense with distinction ; and 
in a moment slipping back into their chairs they 
will be gone. But the road turns and my God, 
the bamboos, the Chinese bamboos, transformed 
by some magic of the mist, look just like the hops 
of a Kentish field. Do you remember the sweet 
smelling hop-fields and the fat green meadows, 
the railway line that runs along the sea and the 
long shining beach and the desolate greyness of 
the English Channel? The seagull flies over the 
wintry coldness and the melancholy of its cry is 
almost unbearable. 



XIX 
THE OINT OF HONOUR 

NOTHING hinders friendly relations be- 
tween different countries so much as the 
fantastic notions which they cherish 
about one another's characteristics, and 
perhaps no nation has suffered so much from the 
misconception of its neighbours as the French. 
They have been considered a frivolous race, in- 
capable of profound thought, flippant, immoral, 
and unreliable. Even the virtues that have been 
allowed them, their brilliancy, their gaiety, have 
been allowed them (at least by the English) in a 
patronising way; for they were not virtues on 
which the Anglo-Saxon set great store. It was 
never realised that there is a deep seriousness at 
the bottom of the French character and that the 
predominant concern of the average Frenchman 
is the concern for his personal dignity. It is by 
no hazard that La Rochefoucauld, a keen judge 
of human nature in general and of his countrymen 
in particular, should have made I'honneur the pivot 
of his system. The punctiliousness with which our 
neighbours regard it has often entertained the 
Briton who is accustomed to look upon himself 
with humour ; but it is a living force, as the phrase 
73 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

goes, with the Frenchman, and you cannot hope 
to understand him unless you bear in mind always 
the susceptibility of his sense of honour. 

These reflections were suggested to me when- 
ever I saw the Vicomte de Steenvoorde driving in 
his sumptuous car or seated at the head of his own 
table. He represented certain important French 
interests in China and was said to have more power 
at the Quai d'Orsay than the minister himself. 
There was never a very cordial feeling between 
the pair, since the latter not unnaturally resented 
that one of his nationals should deal in diplomatic 
matters with the Chinese behind his back. The 
esteem in which M. de Steenvoorde was held at 
home was sufficiently proved by the red button that 
adorned the lappet of his frock coat. 

The Vicomte had a fine head, somewhat bald, 
but not unbecomingly (une legere calwtie, as the 
French novelists put it and thereby rob the cruel 
fact of half its sting) a nose like the great Duke 
of Wellington's, bright black eyes under heavy eye- 
lids, and a small mouth hidden by an exceedingly 
handsome moustache the ends of which he twisted 
a great deal with white, richly jewelled fingers. 
His air of dignity was heightened by three massive 
chins. He had a big trunk and an imposing 
corpulence so that when he sat at table he sat a 
little away from it, as though he ate under protest 
and were just there for a snack; but nature had 
played a dirty, though not uncommon trick on 
him ; for his legs were much too short for his body 
so that, though seated he had all the appearance 
74 



THE POINT OF HONOUR 

of a tall man, you were taken aback to find when 
he stood up that he was hardly of average height. 
It was for this reason that he made his best effect 
at table or when he was driving through the city 
in his car. Then his presence was commanding. 
When he waved to you or with a broad gesture 
took off his hat, you felt that it was incredibly 
affable of him to take any notice of human beings. 
He had all the solid respectability of those states- 
men of Louis Philippe, in sober black, with their 
long hair and clean-shaven faces, who look out at 
you with portentous solemnity from the canvases 
of Ingres. 

One often hears of people who talk like a book. 
M. de Steenvoorde talked like a magazine, not of 
course a magazine devoted ^to light literature and 
the distraction of an idle hour, but a magazine 
of sound learning and influential opinion. M. de 
Steenvoorde talked like the Revue des Deux 
Mondes. It was a treat, though a little fatiguing, 
to listen to him. He had the fluency of those who 
have said the same thing over and over again. He 
never hesitated for a word. He put everything 
with lucidity, an admirable choice of language, and 
such an authority that in his lips the obvious had 
all the sparkle of an epigram. He was by no 
means without wit. He could be very amusing at 
the expense of his neighbours. And when, having 
said something peculiarly malicious, he turned to 
you with an observation "Les absents out toujours 
tort" he managed to invest it with the freshness 
of an original aphorism. He was an ardent 
75 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

Catholic, but, he flattered himself, no reactionary ; 
a man of standing, substance, and principle. 

A poor man, but ambitious (fame, the last in- 
firmity of noble mind) he had married for her 
enormous dot the daughter of a sugar broker, 
now a painted little lady with hennaed hair, in 
beautiful clothes; and it must have been a sore 
trial to him that when he gave her his honoured 
name he could not also endow her with the sense 
of personal pride which was so powerful a motive 
in all his actions. For, like many great men, M. 
de Steenvoorde was married to a wife who was 
extremely unfaithful to him. But this misfortune 
he bore with a courage and a dignity which were 
absolutely characteristic. His demeanour was so 
perfect that his infelicity positively raised him in 
the eyes of his friends. He was to all an object 
of sympathy. He might be a cuckold, but he re- 
mained a person of quality. Whenever, indeed, 
Mme. de Steenvoorde took a new lover he insisted 
that her parents should give him a sufficient sum 
of money to make good the outrage to his name 
and honour. Common report put it at a quarter 
of a million francs, but with silver at its present 
price I believe that a business man would insist 
on being paid in dollars. M. de Steenvoorde is 
already a man of means, but before his wife 
reaches the canonical age he will undoubtedly be 
a rich one. 



76 



XX 
THE BEAST OF BURDEN 

AT first when you see the coolie on the 
road, bearing his load, it is as a pleas- 
ing object that he strikes the eye. In 
his blue rags, a blue of all colours from 
indigo to turquoise and then to the paleness of a 
milky sky, he fits the landscape. He seems exactly 
right as he trudges along the narrow causeway 
between the rice fields or climbs a green hill. 
His clothing consists of no more than a short 
coat and a pair of trousers; and if he had a 
suit which was at the beginning all of a piece, 
he never thinks when it comes to patching to 
choose a bit of stuff of the same colour. He 
takes anything that comes handy. From sun and 
rain he protects his head with a straw hat shaped 
like an extinguisher with a preposterously wide, 
flat brim. 

You see a string of coolies come along, one 
after the other, each with a pole on his shoulders 
from the ends of which hang two great bales, and 
they make an agreeable pattern. It is amusing 
to watch their hurrying reflections in the padi 
water. You watch their faces as they pass you. 
They are good-natured faces and frank, you would 
77 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

have said, if it had not been drilled into you that 
the oriental is inscrutable ; and when you see them 
lying down with their loads under a banyan tree 
by a wayside shrine, smoking and chatting gaily, 
if you have tried to lift the bales they carry for 
thirty miles or more a day, it seems natural to 
feel admiration for their endurance and their 
spirit. But you will be thought somewhat absurd 
if you mention your admiration to the old resi- 
dents of China. You will be told with a tolerant 
shrug of the shoulders that the coolies are animals 
and for two thousand years from father to son 
have carried burdens, so it is no wonder if they 
do it cheerfully. And indeed you can see for 
yourself that they begin early, for you will en- 
counter little children with a yoke on their shoul- 
ders staggering under the weight of vegetable 
baskets. 

The day wears on and it grows warmer. The 
coolies take off their coats and walk stripped to 
the waist. Then sometimes in a man resting for 
an instant, his load on the ground but the pole 
still on his shoulders so that he has to rest slightly 
crouched, you see the poor tired heart beating 
against the ribs: you see it as plainly as in some 
cases of heart disease in the out-patients' room of 
a hospital. It is strangely distressing to watch. 
Then also you see the coolies' backs. The pres- 
sure of the pole for long years, day after day, 
has made hard red scars, and sometimes even there 
are open sores, great sores without bandages or 
dressing that rub against the wood; but the 
78 



THE BEAST OF BURDEN 

strangest thing of all is that sometimes, as though 
nature sought to adapt man for these cruel uses 
to which he is put, an odd malformation seems 
to have arisen so that there is a sort of hump, like 
a camel's, against which the pole rests. But 
beating heart or angry sore, bitter rain or burn- 
ing sun notwithstanding, they go on eternally, 
from dawn till dusk, year in year out, from child- 
hood to the extreme of age. You see old men 
without an ounce of fat on their bodies, their skin 
loose on their bones, wizened, their little faces 
wrinkled and apelike, with hair thin and grey ; and 
they totter under their burdens to the edge of 
the grave in which at last they shall have rest* 
And still the coolies go, not exactly running, but 
not walking either, sidling quickly, with their eyes 
on the ground to choose the spot to place their 
feet, and on their faces a strained, anxious expres- 
sion. You can make no longer a pattern of them 
as they wend their way. Their effort oppresses 
you. You are filled with a useless compassion. 

In China it is man that is the beast of burden. 

"To be harassed by the wear and tear of life, 
and to pa$s rapidly through it without the possi- 
bility of arresting one's course, is not this pitiful 
indeed? To labour without ceasing, and then, 
without living to enjoy the fruit, worn out, to 
depart, suddenly, one knows not whither, is not 
that a just cause for grief?" 

So wrote the Chinese mystic. 



79 



XXI 
DR. MACALISTER 

HE was a fine figure of a man, hard upon 
sixty, I should think, when I knew him, 
but hale still and active. He was 
stout, but his great height enabled him 
to carry his corpulence with dignity. He had a 
strong, almost a handsome face, with a hooked 
nose, bushy white eyebrows and a firm chin. He 
was dressed in black, and he wore a low collar and 
a white bow tie. He had the look of an English 
divine of a past generation. His voice was 
resonant and hearty, and he laughed boisterously. 
His career was somewhat out of the common. 
He had come to China thirty years before as a 
medical missionary, but now, though still on good 
terms with the mission, he was no longer a mem- 
ber. It had been decided, it appears, to build a 
school on a certain desirable spot which the doctor 
had hit upon, and in a crowded Chinese city it is 
never very easy to find building land, but when 
the mission after much bargaining had eventually 
bought this the discovery was made that the owner 
was not the Chinese with whom the negotiations 
had been conducted, but the doctor himself. 
Knowing that the school must be built and seeing 
80 



DE. MACALISTER 

that no other piece of land was available he had 
borrowed money from a Chinese banker and bought 
it himself. The transaction was not dishonest, 
but perhaps it was a little unscrupulous and the 
other members of the mission did not look upon 
it as the good joke that Dr. Macalister did. They 
displayed even a certain acrimony, and the result 
was that Dr. Macalister, though preserving 
friendly relations with persons with whose aims 
and interests he was in the fullest sympathy, re- 
signed his position. He was known to be a clever 
doctor and he soon had a large practice both 
among the foreigners and the Chinese. He started 
a hostel in which the traveller, at a price, and a 
high one, could have board and lodging. His 
guests complained a little because they were not 
allowed to drink alcohol, but it was much more 
comfortable than a Chinese inn, and some allow- 
ance had to be made for the doctor's principles. 
He was a man of resource. He bought a large 
piece of land on a hill on the other side of the 
river and put up bungalows which he sold one by 
one to the missionaries as summer resorts ; and he 
owned a large store in which he sold everything, 
from picture postcards and curios to Worcester 
sauce and knitted jumpers, which a foreigner 
could possibly want. He made a very good thing 
out of it. He had a commercial bent. 

The tiffin he invited me to was quite an impos- 
ing function. He lived above his store in a large 
apartment overlooking the river. The party con- 
sisted of Dr. Macalister and his third wife, a lady 
81 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

of forty-five in gold-rimmed spectacles and black 
satin, a missionary spending a few days with the 
doctor on his way into the interior, and two silent 
young ladies who had just joined the mission and 
were busily learning Chinese. On the walls of the 
dining-room hung a number of congratulatory 
scrolls which had been presented to my host by 
Chinese friends and converts on his fiftieth birth- 
day. There was a great deal of food, as there 
always is in China, and Dr. Macalister did full 
justice to it. The meal began and ended with a 
long grace which he said in his deep voice, with 
an impressive unction. 

When we returned to the drawing-room Dr. 
Macalister, standing in front of the grateful fire, 
for it can be very cold in China, took a little 
photograph from the chimney piece and showed 
it to me. 

"Do you know who that is?" he asked. 

It was the photograph of a very thin young 
missionary in a low collar and a white tie, with 
large melancholy eyes and a look of profound 
seriousness. 

"Nice looking fellow, eh?" boomed the doctor. 

"Very," I answered. 

A somewhat priggish young man possibly, but 
priggishness is a pardonable defect in youth, and 
here it was certainly counterbalanced by the ap- 
pealing wistfulness of the expression. It was a 
fine, a sensitive, and even a beautiful face, and 
those disconsolate eyes were strangely moving. 
There was fanaticism there, perhaps, but there 
82 



DR. MACALISTER 

was the courage that would not fear martyrdom; 
there was a charming idealism ; and its youth, its 
ingenuousness, warmed one's heart. 

"A most attractive face," I said as I returned 
the photograph. 

Dr. Macalister gave a chuckle. 

"That's what I looked like when I first came 
out to China," he said. 

It was a photograph of himself. 

"No one recognises it," smiled Mrs. Macalister. 

"It was the very image of me," he said. 

He spread out the tails of his black coat and 
planted himself more firmly in front of the fire. 

"I often laugh when I think of my first im- 
pressions of China," he said. "I came out ex- 
pecting to undergo hardships and privations. My 
first shock was the steamer with ten-course dinners 
and first-class accommodation. There wasn't 
much hardship in that, but I said to myself: wait 
till you get to China. Well, at Shanghai I was 
met by some friends and I stayed in a fine house 
and was waited on by fine servants and I ate fine 
food. Shanghai, I said, the plague spot of the 
East. It'll be different in the interior. At last I 
reached here. I was to stay with the head of the 
mission till my own quarters were ready. He 
lived in a large compound. He had a very nice 
house with American furniture in it and I slept in 
a better bed than I'd ever slept in. He was very 
fond of his garden and he grew all kinds of vege- 
tables in it. We had salads just like the salads 
we had in America and fruit, all kinds of fruit; 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

he kept a cow and we had fresh milk and butter. 
I thought I'd never eaten so much and so well in 
my life. You did nothing for yourself. If you 
wanted a glass of water you called a boy and he 
brought it to you. It was the beginning of sum- 
mer when I arrived and they were all packing up 
to go to the hills. They hadn't got bungalows 
then, but they used to spend the summer in a 
temple. I began to think I shouldn't have to put 
up with much privation after all. I had been 
looking forward to a martyr's crown. Do you 
know what I did?" 

Dr. Macalister chuckled as he thought of that 
long passed time. 

"The first night I got here, when I was alone 
in my room, I threw myself on my bed and I just 
cried like a child." 

Dr. Macalister went on talking, but I could not 
pay much attention to what he said. I wondered 
by what steps he had come to be the man I knew 
now from the man he had been then. That is the 
story I should like to write. 



XXII 
THE ROAD 

IT is not a road at all but a causeway, made 
of paving stones about a foot wide and four 
feet broad so that there is just room for 
two sedan chairs with caution to pass each 
other. For the most part it is in good enough 
repair, but here and there the stones are broken 
or swept away by the flooding of the rice fields, 
and then walking is difficult. It winds tortuously 
along the path which has connected city to city 
since first a thousand years ago or more there 
were cities in the land. It winds between the rice 
fields following the accidents of the country with a 
careful nonchalance; and you can tell that it was 
built on a track made by the peasant of dim ages 
past who sought not the quickest but the easiest 
way to walk. The beginnings of it you may see 
when, leaving the main road you cut across coun- 
try, bound for some town that is apart from the 
main line of traffic. Then the causeway is so nar- 
row that there is no room for a coolie bearing a 
load to pass and if you are in the midst of the 
rice fields he has to get on the little bank, planted 
with beans, that divides one from another, till you 
go by. Presently the stones are wanting and you 
85 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

travel along a path of trodden mud so narrow 
that your bearers step warily. 

The journey, for all the stories of bandits with 
which they sought to deter you, and the ragged 
soldiers of your escort, is devoid of adventure ; 
but it is crowded with incident. First there is 
the constant variety of the dawn. Poets have 
written of it with enthusiasm, but they are lie-a- 
beds, and they have trusted for inspiration to 
their fancy rather than to their sleepy eyes. Like 
a mistress known in the dream of a moonlit night 
who has charms unshared by the beauties of the 
wakeful day, they have ascribed to it excellencies 
which are only of the imagination. For the most 
exquisite dawn has none of the splendour of an 
indifferent sunset. But because it is a less accus- 
tomed sight it seems to have a greater diversity. 
Every dawn is a little different from every other, 
and you can fancy that each day the world is 
created anew not quite the same as it was the day 
before. 

Then there are the common sights of the way- 
side. A peasant, thigh deep in water, ploughs his 
field with a plough as primitive as those his fathers 
have used for forty mortal centuries. The water 
buffalo splashes sinister through the mud and his 
cynical eyes seem to ask what end has been served 
by this unending toil. An old woman goes by in 
her blue smock and short blue trousers, on bound 
feet, and she supports her unsteady steps with a 
long staff. Two fat Chinese in chairs pass you, 
and passing stare at you with curious yet listless 
86 



THE ROAD 

eyes. Everyone you see is an incident, however 
trivial, sufficient to arouse your fancy for an in- 
stant ; and now your eyes rest with pleasure on 
the smooth skin, like yellow ivory, of a young 
mother sauntering along with a child strapped 
to her back, on the wrinkled, inscrutable visage 
of an old man, or on the fine bones, visible through 
the flesh of the face, of a strapping coolie. And 
beside all this there is the constant delight with 
which, having climbed laboriously a hill, you see 
the country spread out before you. For days 
and days it just the same, but each time you see 
it you have the same little thrill of discovery. The 
same little rounded hills, like a flock of sheep, 
surrounding you, succeeding one another as far as 
the eye can reach; and on many, a lone tree, as 
though planted deliberately for the sake of the 
picturesque, outlines its gracious pattern against 
the sky. The same groves of bamboo lean deli- 
cately, almost surrounding the same farm houses, 
which with their clustering roofs nestle pleasantly 
in the same sheltered hollows. The bamboos lean 
over the highway with an adorable grace. They 
have the condescension of great ladies which flat- 
ters rather than wounds. They have the abandon 
of flowers, a well-born wantonness that is too sure 
of its good breeding ever to be in danger of de- 
bauchery. But the memorial arch, to virtuous 
widow or to fortunate scholar, warns you that 
you are approaching a village or a town, and you 
pass, affording a moment's sensation to the in- 
habitants, through a ragged line of sordid hovels 
87 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

or a busy street. The street is shaded from the 
sun by great mats stretched from eave to eave; 
the light is dim and the thronging crowd has an 
unnatural air. You think that so must have 
looked the people in those cities of magicians 
which the Arab traveller knew, and where during 
the night a terrible transformation befell you so 
that till you found the magic formula to free you, 
you went through life in the guise of a one-eyed 
ass or of a green and yellow parrot. The mer- 
chants in their open shops seem to sell no com- 
mon merchandise and in the taverns messes are 
prepared of things horrible for men to eat. Your 
eye, amid the uniformity, for every Chinese town, 
at all events to the stranger's eye, much resembles 
every other, takes pleasure in noting trivial dif- 
ferences, and so you observe the predominant in- 
dustries of each one. Every town makes all that 
its inhabitants require, but it has also a speciality, 
and here you will find cotton cloth, there string, 
and here again silk. Now the orange tree, 
golden with fruit, grows scarce and the sugar 
cane makes its appearance. The black silk cap 
gives way to the turban and the red umbrella of 
oiled paper to the umbrella of bright blue cotton. 
But these are the common incidents of every 
day. They are like the expected happenings of 
life which keep it from monotony, working days 
and holidays, meetings with your friends, the 
coming of spring with its elation and the coming 
of winter with its long evenings, its easy intimacies 
and its twilight. Now and then, as love enters 
88 



THE ROAD 

making all the rest but a setting for its radiance 
and lifts the common affairs of the day to a level on 
which the most trifling things have a mysterious 
significance, now and then the common round is 
interrupted and you are faced by a beauty which 
takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault. For 
looming through the mist you may see the fan- 
tastic roofs of a temple loftily raised on a huge 
stone bastion, around which, a natural moat, flows 
a quiet green river, and when the sun lights it you 
seem to see the dream of a Chinese palace, a palace 
as rich and splendid as those which haunted the 
fancy of the Arabian story tellers; or, crossing 
a ferry at dawn you may see, a little above you, 
silhouetted against the sunrise, a sampan in which 
a ferryman is carrying a crowd of passengers ; 
you recognise on a sudden Charon, and you know 
that his passengers are the melancholy dead. 







89 



XXIII 
GOD'S TRUTH 

BIRCH was the agent of the B. A. T. and 
he was stationed in a little town of the 
interior with streets which, after it had 
rained, were a foot deep in mud. Then 
you had to get right inside your cart to prevent 
yourself from being splashed from head to foot. 
The roadway, worn to pieces by the ceaseless 
traffic, was so full of holes that the breath was 
jolted out of your body as you jogged along at a 
foot pace. There were two or three streets of 
shops, but he knew by heart everything that was 
in them; and there were interminable winding 
alleys which presented a monotonous expanse of 
wall broken only by solid closed doors. These 
were the Chinese houses and they were as impene- 
trable to one of his colour as the life which sur- 
rounded him. He was very homesick. He 
had not spoken to a white man for three months. 
His day's work was over. Since he had noth- 
ing else to do he went for the only walk there 
was. He went out of the city gate and strolled 
along the ragged road, with its deep ruts, into 
the country. The valley was bounded by wild, 
barren mountains and they seemed to shut him 
90 



GOD 7 S TRUTH 

in. He felt immeasurably far away from civilisa- 
tion. He knew he could not afford to surrender 
to that sense of utter loneliness which beset him, 
but it was more of an effort than usual to keep 
a stiff upper lip. He was very nearly at the end 
of his tether. Suddenly he saw a white man riding 
towards him on a pony. Behind came slowly a 
Chinese cart in which presumably were his belong- 
ings. Birch guessed at once that this was a mis- 
sionary going down to one of the treaty-ports 
from his station further up country, and his heart 
leaped with joy. At last he would have some one 
to talk to. He hurried his steps. His lassitude 
left him. He was all alert. He was almost run- 
ning when he came up to the rider. 

"Hulloa," he said, "where have you sprung 
from?" 

The rider stopped and named a distant town. 

"I am on my way down to take the train,'* he 
added. 

"You'd better put up with me for the night. I 
haven't seen a white man for three months. There's 
lots of room at my place. B. A. T. you know." 

"B. A. T.," said the rider. His face changed 
and his eyes, before friendly and smiling, grew 
hard. "I don't want to have anything to do with 
you." 

He gave his pony a kick and started on, but 
Birch seized the bridle. He could not believe his 
ears. 

"What do you mean?" 
91 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"I can't have anything to do with a man who 
trades in tobacco. Let go that bridle." 

"But I've not spoken to a white man for three 
months. " 

"That's no business of mine. Let go that 
bridle." 

He gave his pony another kick. His lips were 
obstinately set and he looked at Birch sternly. 
Then Birch lost his temper. He clung to the 
bridle as the pony moved on and began to curse 
the missionary. He hurled at him every term 
of abuse he could think of. He swore. He was 
horribly obscene. The missionary did not answer, 
but urged his pony on. Birch seized the mis- 
sionary's leg and jerked it out of the stirrup; 
the missionary nearly fell off and he clung in a 
somewhat undignified fashion to the pony's mane. 
Then he half slipped, half tumbled to the ground. 
The cart had come up to them by now and 
stopped. The two Chinese who were sitting in it 
looked at the white men with indolent curiosity. 
The missionary was livid with rage. 

"You've assaulted me. I'll have you fired for 
that." 

"You can go to hell," said Birch. "I haven't 
seen a white man for three months and you won't 
even speak to me. Do you call yourself a Chris- 
tian?" 

"What is your name?" 

"Birch is my name and be damned to you." 

"I shall report you to your chief. Now stand 
back and let me get on my journey." 
92 



GOD'S TRUTH 

Birch clenched his hands. 

"GeJ; a move on or I'll break every bone in your 
body." 

The missionary mounted, gave his pony a sharp 
cut with the whip, and cantered away. The Chi- 
nese cart lumbered slowly after. But when Birch 
was left alone his anger left him and a sob broke 
unwillingly from his lips. The barren mountains 
were less hard than the heart of man. He turned 
and walked slowly back to the little walled city. 



93 



XXIV 
ROMANCE 

ALL day I had been dropping down the 
river. This was the river up which 
Chang Chien, seeking its source, had 
sailed for many days till he came to a 
city where he saw a girl spinning and a youth 
leading an ox to the water. He asked what place 
this was and in reply the girl gave him her shuttle 
telling him to show it on his return to the as- 
trologer Yen Chiin-ping, who would thus know 
where he had been. He did so and the astrologer 
at once recognised the shuttle as that of the Spin- 
ning Damsel, further declaring that on the day 
and at the hour when Chang Chien received the 
shuttle he had noticed a wandering star intrude 
itself between the Spinning Damsel and the Cow- 
herd. So Chang Chien knew that he had sailed 
upon the bosom of the Milky Way. 

I, however, had not been so far. All day, as 
for seven days before, my five rowers, standing 
up, had rowed, and there rang still in my ears the 
monotonous sound of their oars against the wooden 
pin that served as rowlock. Now and again 
the water became very shallow and there was a 
jar and a jolt as we scraped along the stones 
94 



ROMANCE 

of the river bed. Then two or three of the rowers 
turned up their blue trousers to the hip and let 
themselves over the side. Shouting they drag^ :d 
the flat-bottomed boat over the shoal. Now and 
again we came to a rapid, of no great consequence 
when compared with the turbulent rapids of the 
Yangtze, but sufficiently swift to call for trackers 
to pull the junks that were going up stream; and 
we, going down, passed through them with many 
shouts, shot the foaming breakers and presently 
reached water as smooth as any lake. 

Now it was night and my crew were asleep, 
forward, huddled together in such shelter as they 
had been able to rig up when we moored at dusk. 
I sat on my bed. Bamboo matting spread over 
three wooden arches made the sorry cabin which 
for a week had served me as parlour and bedroom. 
It was closed at one end by matchboarding so 
roughly put together that there were large chinks 
between each board. The bitter wind blew through 
them. It was on the other side of this that the 
crew fine sturdy fellows rowed by day and slept 
by night, joined then by the steersman who had 
stood from dawn to dusk, in a tattered blue gown 
and a wadded coat of faded grey, a black turban 
round his head, at the long oar which was his 
helm. There was no furniture but my bed, a 
shallow dish like an enormous soup-plate in which 
burned charcoal, for it was cold, a basket con- 
taining my clothes which I used as a table, and a 
hurricane lamp which Hung from one of the arches 
and swayed slightly with the motion of the water. 
95 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

The cabin was so low that I, a person of no great 
height (I comfort myself with Bacon's observation 
that with tall men it is as with tall houses, the 
top story is commonly the least furnished) could 
only just stand upright. One of the sleepers 
began to snore more loudly, and perhaps he awoke 
two of the others, for I heard the sound of speak- 
ing; but presently this ceased, the snorer was 
quiet, and all about me once more was silence. 

Then suddenly I had a feeling that here, facing 
me, touching me almost, was the romance I sought. 
It was a feeling like no other, just as specific as 
the thrill of art; but I could not for the life of 
me tell what it was that had given me just then 
that rare emotion. 

In the course of my life I have been often in 
situations which, had I read of them, would have 
seemed to me sufficiently romantic ; but it is only 
in retrospect, comparing them with my ideas of 
what was romantic, that I have seen them as at 
all out of the ordinary. It is only by an effort 
of the imagination, making myself as it were a 
spectator of myself acting a part, that I have 
caught anything of the precious quality in circum- 
stances which in others would have seemed to me 
instinct with its fine flower. When I have danced 
with an actress whose fascination and whose genius 
made her the idol of my country, or wandered 
through the halls of some great house in which 
was gathered all that was distinguished by lineage 
or intellect that London could show, I have only 
recognized afterwards that here perhaps, though 
96 



ROMANCE 

in somewhat Ouidaesque a fashion, was romance. 
In battle, when, myself in no great danger, I 
was able to watch events with a thrill of in- 
terest, I had not the phlegm to assume the part 
of a spectator. I have sailed through the night, 
under the full moon, to a coral island in the 
Pacific, and then the beauty and the wonder of 
the scene gave me a conscious happiness, but 
only later the exhilarating sense that romance 
and I had touched fingers. I heard the flutter 
of its wings when once, in the bedroom of a 
hotel in New York, I sat round a table with 
half a dozen others and made plans to restore 
an ancient kingdom whose wrongs have for a 
century inspired the poet and the patriot ; but my 
chief feeling was a surprised amusement that 
through the hazards of war I found myself en- 
gaged in business so foreign to my bent. The 
authentic thrill of romance has seized me under 
circumstances which one would have thought far 
less romantic, and I remember that I knew it first 
one evening when I was playing cards in a cottage 
on the coast of Brittany. In the next room an old 
fisherman lay dying and the women of the house 
said that he would go out with the tide. Without 
a storm was raging and it seemed fit for the last 
moments of that aged warrior of the seas that his 
going should be accompanied by the wild cries of 
the wind as it hurled itself against the shuttered 
windows. The waves thundered upon the tortured 
rocks. I felt a sudden exultation, for I knew that 
here was romance. 

97 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

And now the same exultation seized me, and 
once more romance, like a bodily presence, was 
before me. But it had come so unexpectedly that 
I was intrigued. I could not tell whether it had 
crept in among the shadows that the lamp threw 
on the bamboo matting or whether it was wafted 
down the river that I saw through the opening 
of my cabin. Curious to know what were the 
elements that made up the ineffable delight of 
the moment I went out to the stern of the boat. 
Alongside were moored half a dozen junks, going 
up river, for their masts were erect; and every- 
thing was silent in them. Their crews were long 
since asleep. The night was not dark, for though 
it was cloudy the moon was full, but the river in 
that veiled light was ghostly. A vague mist 
blurred the trees on the further bank. It was an 
enchanting sight, but there was in it nothing un- 
accustomed and what I sought was not there. I 
turned away. But when I returned to my bamboo 
shelter the magic which had given it so extraordi- 
nary a character was gone. Alas, I was like a 
man who should tear a butterfly to pieces in order 
to discover in what its beauty lay. And yet, as 
Moses descending from Mount Sinai wore on his 
face a brightness from his converse with the God 
of Israel, my little cabin, my dish of charcoal, 
my lamp, even my camp bed, had still about 
them something of the thrill which for a moment 
was mine. I could not see them any more quite 
indifferently, because for a moment I had seen 
them magically. 

98 



XXV 
THE GRAND STYLE 

HE was a very old man. It was fifty- 
seven years since he came to China as 
a ship's doctor and took the place in 
one of the Southern ports of a medical 
officer whose health had obliged him to go home. 
He could not then have been less than twenty-five 
so that now he must have been well over eighty. 
He was a tall man, very thin, and his skin hung 
on his bones like a suit of clothes much too large 
for him: under his chin was a great sack like the 
wattle of an old turkey-cock; but his blue eyes, 
large and bright, had kept their colour, and his 
voice was strong and deep. In these seven and 
fifty years he had bought and sold three or four 
practices along the coast and now he was back 
once more within a few miles of the port in which 
he had first lived. It was an anchorage at the 
mouth of the river where the steamers, unable 
owing to their draught to reach the city, dis- 
charged and loaded their cargo. There were only 
seven white men's houses, a small hospital, and 
a handful of Chinese, so that it would not have 
been worth a doctor's while to settle there ; but he 
was vice-consul as well, and the easy life at his 
99 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

great age just suited him. There was enough to 
do to prevent him from feeling idle, but not enough 
to tire him. His spirit was still hale. 

"I'm thinking of retiring," he said, "it's about 
time I gave the youngsters a chance." 

He amused himself with plans for the future: 
all his life he had wanted to visit the West Indies 
and upon his soul he meant to now. By George, 
Sir, he couldn't afford to leave it much longer. 
England? Well, from all he heard England was 
no place for a gentleman nowadays. He was last 
there thirty years ago. Besides he wasn't Eng- 
lish. He was born in Ireland. Yes, Sir, he took 
his degree at Trinity College, Dublin; but what 
with the priests on one side and the Sinn Feiners 
on the other he could not believe there was much 
left of the Ireland he knew as a boy. A fine coun- 
try to hunt in, he said, with a gleam in his open 
blue eyes. 

He had better manners than are usually found 
in the medical profession which, though blest with 
many virtues, neglects somewhat the amenities of 
polite behaviour. I do not know whether it is 
commerce with the sick which gives the doctor an 
unfortunate sense of superiority; the example of 
his teachers some of whom have still a bad tradi- 
tion of rudeness which certain eminent practi- 
tioners of the past cultivated as a professional 
asset; or his early training among the poor pa- 
tients of a hospital whom he is apt to look upon 
as of a lower class than himself; but it is certain 
100 



THE GRAND STYLE 



that no body of men is on the whole so wanting 
in civility. 

He was very different from the men of my gen- 
eration ; but whether the difference lay in his voice 
and gesture, in the ease of his manner, or in the 
elaborateness of his antique courtesy, it was not 
easy to discover. I think he was more definitely 
a gentleman than people are nowadays when a 
man is a gentleman with deprecation. The word 
is in bad odour and the qualities it denotes have 
come in for a deal of ridicule. Persons who by 
no stretch of the fancy could be so described have 
made a great stir in the world during the last 
thirty years and they have used all the resources 
of their sarcasm to render odious a title which 
they are perhaps all too conscious of never de- 
serving. Perhaps also the difference in him was 
due to a difference of education. In his youth he 
had been taught much useless learning, the classics 
of Greece and Rome, and they had given a founda- 
tion to his character which in the present is some- 
what rare. He was young in an age which did 
not know the weekly press and when the monthly 
magazine was a staid affair. Reading was more 
solid. Perhaps men drank more than was good 
for them, but they read Horace for pleasure and 
they knew by heart the novels of Sir Walter Scott. 
He remembered reading The Newcomes when it 
came out. I think the men of that time were, if 
not more adventurous than the men of ours, more 
adventurous in the grand manner : now a man will 
101 




ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

risk his life with a joke from Comic Cuts on his 
lips, then it was with a Latin quotation. 

But how can I analyse the subtle quality which 
distinguished this old man ? Read a page of Swift : 
the words are the same as those we use to-day 
and there is hardly a sentence in which they are 
not placed in the simplest order; and yet there is 
a dignity, a spaciousness, an aroma, which all our 
modern effort fails to attain: in short there is 
style. And so with him ; there was style, and there 
is no more to be said. 



102 



XXVI 

RAIN 

"IT TTES, but the sun does not shine every day. 
^L/ Sometimes a cold rain beats down on 
you and a northeast wind chills you 
to the bone.. Your shoes and your coat 
are wet still from the day before and you have 
three hours to go before breakfast. You tramp 
along in the cheerless light of that bitter dawn, 
with thirty miles before you and nothing to look 
forward to at the end but the squalid discom- 
fort of a Chinese inn. There you will find bare 
walls, a clammy floor of trodden earth, and you 
will dry yourself as best you can over a dish of 
burning charcoal. 

Then you think of your pleasant room in Lon- 
don. The rain driving in squalls against the win- 
dows only makes its warmth more grateful. You 
sit by the fire, your pipe in your mouth, and read 
the Times from cover to cover, not the leading 
articles of course but the agony column and the 
advertisements of country houses you will never 
be able to afford. (On the Chiltern Hills, stand- 
ing in its own park of one hundred and fifty acres, 
with spacious garden, orchard, etc., a Georgian 
house in perfect condition, with original woodwork 
103 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

and chimney pieces, six reception rooms, fourteen 
bedrooms and usual offices, modern sanitation, 
stabling with rooms over and excellent garage. 
Three miles from first rate golf course.) I know 
then that Messrs. Knight, Frank, and Rutley are 
my favourite authors. The matters that they 
treat of like the great commonplaces which are 
the material of all fine poetry never stale; and 
their manner like that of the best masters is char- 
acteristic but at the same time various. Their 
style, as is that of Confucius according to the 
sinologues, is glitteringly compact: succinct but 
suggestive it combines an admirable exactness with 
a breadth of image which gives the imagination an 
agreeable freedom. Their mastery of words such 
as rood and perch of which I suppose I once knew 
the meaning but which for many years have been 
a mystery to me, is amazing, and they will use 
them with ease and assurance. They can play 
with technical terms with the ingenuity of Mr. 
Rudyard Kipling and they can invest them with 
the Celtic glamour of Mr. W. B. Yeats. They 
have combined their individualities so completely 
that I defy the most discerning critic to discover 
traces of a divided authorship. Literary history 
is acquainted with the collaboration of two writ- 
ers, and the names of Beaumont and Fletcher, 
Erckman Chatrian, Besant and Rice spring to the 
excited fancy; but now that the higher criticism 
has destroyed that belief in the triple authorship 
of the Bible which I was taught in my youth, I 
104 



RAIN 

conjecture that the case of Knight, Frank and 
Rutley is unique. 

Then Elizabeth, very smart in the white squirrel 
I brought her from China, comes in to say good- 
bye to me, for she, poor child, must go out what- 
ever the weather, and I play trains with her while 
her pram is being got ready. Then of course I 
should do a little work, but the weather is so bad 
that I feel lazy, and I take up instead Professor 
Giles' book on Chuang-Tzu. The rigid Con- 
fucianists frown upon him because he is an in- 
dividualist, and it is to the individualism of the 
age that they ascribe the lamentable decay of 
China, but he is very good reading; he has the 
advantage on a rainy day that he can be read 
without great application and not seldom you 
come across a thought that sets your own wan- 
dering. But presently ideas, insinuating them- 
selves into your consciousness like the lapping 
waves of a rising tide, absorb you to the ex- 
clusion of those which old Chuang-Tzu sug- 
gested, and notwithstanding your desire to idle, 
you sit down at your table. Only the dilettante 
uses a desk. Your pen goes easily and you 
write without effort. It is very good to be alive. 
Then two amusing people come to luncheon 
and when they are gone you drop into Christie's. 
You see some Ming figures there, but they are not 
so good as those you brought from China your- 
self, and then you watch being sold pictures you 
are only too glad not to possess. You look at 
your watch; there is pretty sure to be a rubber 
105 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

going at the Garrick, and the shocking weather 
justifies you in wasting the rest of the afternoon. 
You cannot stay very late, for you have seats for 
a first night and you must get home and dress 
for an early dinner. You will be just in time 
to tell Elizabeth a little story before she goes to 
sleep. She looks really very nice in her pyjamas 
with her hair done up in two plaits. There is 
something about a first night which only the 
satiety of the critic can fail to be moved by. It 
is pleasant to see your friends and amusing to 
hear the pit's applause when a favourite of the 
stage, acting, better than she ever does behind the 
footlights, a delightful embarrassment at being 
recognised, advances to take her seat. It may 
be a bad play that you are going to see, but it has 
at least the merit that no one has seen it before; 
and there is always the chance of a moment's 
emotion or of a smile. 

Towards you in their great straw hats, like the 
hat of love-sick Pierrot, but with a huge brim, 
come a string of coolies, lolloping along, bent for- 
ward a little under the weight of the great bales 
of cotton that they carry. The rain plasters 
their blue clothes, so thin and ragged, against 
their bodies. The broken stones of the causeway 
are slippery, and with toil you pick your muddy 
way. 



106 



XXVII 
SULLIVAN 

HE was an Irish sailor. He deserted his 
ship at Hong-Kong and took it into his 
head to walk across China. He spent 
three years wandering about the coun- 
try, and soon acquired a very good knowledge of 
Chinese. He learned it, as is common among nien 
of his class, with greater ease than do the more 
highly educated. He lived on his wits. He made 
a point of avoiding the British Consul, but went 
to the magistrate of each town he came to and 
represented himself as having been robbed on the 
way of all his money. His story was not improb- 
able and it was told with a wealth of convincing 
detail which would have excited the admiration 
of so great a master as Captain Costigan. The 
magistrate, after the Chinese fashion, was anxious 
to get rid of him and was glad to do so at the cost 
of ten or fifteen dollars. If he could get no money 
he could generally count on a place to sleep in 
and a good meal. He had a certain rough humour 
which appealed to the Chinese. So he continued 
very successfully till he hit by misfortune on a 
magistrate of a different stamp. This man when 
he told his story said to him : 
107 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"You are nothing but a beggar and a vagabond. 
You must be beaten." 

He gave an order and the fellow was promptly 
taken out, thrown on the ground, and soundly 
thrashed. He was not only very much hurt, but 
exceedingly surprised, and what is more strangely 
mortified. It ruined his nerve. There and then 
he gave up his vagrant life and making his way 
to one of the out-ports applied to the commis- 
sioner of customs for a place as tide-waiter. It 
is not easy to find white men to take such posts 
and few questions are asked of those who seek 
them. He was given a job and you may see him 
now, a sun-burned, clean-shaven man of forty-five, 
florid and rather stout, in a neat blue uniform, 
boarding the steamers and the junks at a little 
riverside town, where the deputy-commissioner, the 
postmaster, a missionary, and he are the only 
Europeans. His knowledge of the Chinese and 
their ways makes him an invaluable servant. He 
has a little yellow wife and four children. He 
has no shame about his past and over a good stiff 
whisky he will tell you the whole story of his ad- 
venturous travels. But the beating is what he 
can never get over. It surprises him yet and he 
cannot, he simply cannot understand it. He has 
no ill-feeling towards the magistrate who ordered 
it; on the contrary it appeals to his sense of 
humour. 

"He was a great old sportsman, the old black- 
guard," he says. "Nerve, eh?" 



108 



XXVIII 
THE DINING-ROOM 

IT was an immense room in an immense house. 
When it was built, building was cheap, and 
the merchant princes of that day built 
magnificently. Money was made easily then 
and life was luxurious. It was not hard to make 
a fortune and a man, almost before he had reached 
middle age, could return to England and live the 
rest of his days no less splendidly in a fine house 
in Surrey. It is true that the population was hos- 
tile and it was always possible that a riot might 
make it necessary for him to fly for his life, but 
this only added a spice to the comfort of his ex- 
istence ; and when danger threatened it was fairly 
certain that a gunboat would arrive in time to 
offer protection or refuge. The foreign com- 
munity, largely allied by marriage, was sociable, 
and its members entertained one another lavishly. 
They gave pompous dinner parties, they danced 
together, and they played whist. Work was not 
so pressing that it was impossible to spend now 
and again a few days in the interior shooting duck. 
It was certainly very hot in summer, and after a 
few years a man was apt to take things easily, but 
the rest of the year was only warm, with blue skies 
109 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

and a balmy air, and life was very pleasant. There 
was a certain liberty of behaviour and no one was 
thought the worse of, so long as the matter was not 
intruded on the notice of the ladies, if he had to 
live with him a little bright-eyed .Chinese girl. 
When he married he sent her away with a present 
and if there were children they were provided for 
at a Eurasian school in Shanghai. 

But this agreeable life was a thing of the past. 
The port lived on its export of tea and the change 
of taste from Chinese to Ceylon had ruined it, 
For thirty years the port had lain a-dying. Be- 
fore that the consul had had two vice-consuls to 
help him in his work, but now he was able to do 
it easily by himself. He generally managed to 
get a game of golf in the afternoon and he was 
seldom too busy for a rubber of bridge. Nothing 
remained of the old splendour but the enormous 
hongs, and they were mostly empty. The tea 
merchants, such as were left of them, turned their 
hands to all manner of side lines in the effort to 
make both ends meet. But the effort was listless. 
Everyone in the port seemed old. It was no place 
for a young man. 

And in the room in which I sat I seemed to read 
the history of the past and the history of the man 
I was awaiting. It was Sunday morning and when 
I arrived after two days on a coasting steamer, 
he was in church. I tried to construct a portrait 
of him from the room. There was something 
pathetic about it. It had the magnificence of a 
past generation, but a magnificence run to seed, 
110 



THE DINING-ROOM 

and its tidiness, I know not why, seemed to empha- 
size a shame-faced poverty. On the floor was a 
huge Turkey carpet which in the seventies must 
have cost a great deal of money, but now it was 
quite threadbare. The immense mahogany table, at 
which so many good dinners had been eaten, with 
such a luxury of wine, was so highly polished that 
you could see your face in it. It suggested port, 
old and tawny, and prosperous, red faced gentle- 
men with side whiskers discussing the antics of 
the mountebank Disraeli. The walls were of that 
sombre red which was thought suitable for a dining 
room when dinner was a respectable function and 
they were heavy with pictures. Here were the 
father and mother of my host, an elderly gentle- 
man with grey whiskers and a bald head and a 
stern dark old lady with her hair dressed in the 
fashion of the Empress Eugenie, and there his 
grandfather in a stock and his grandmother in a 
mob cap. The mahogany sideboard with a mirror 
at the back, was laden with plated salvers, and a 
tea service, and much else, while in the middle of 
the dining table stood an immense epergne. On 
the black marble chimney piece was a black marble 
clock, flanked by black marble vases, and in the 
four corners of the room were cabinets filled with 
all manner of plated articles. Here and there 
great palms in pots spread their stiff foliage. The 
chairs were of massive mahogany, stuffed, and 
covered with faded red leather, and on each side 
of the fireplace was an arm-chair. The room, 
large though it was, seemed crowded, but because 
111 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

everything was rather shabby it gave you an im- 
pression of melancholy. All those things seemed 
to have a sad life of their own, but a life subdued, 
as though the force of circumstances had proved 
too much for them. They had no longer the 
strength to struggle against fate, but they clung 
together with a tremulous eagerness as though 
they had a vague feeling that only so could they 
retain their significance, and I felt that it was 
only a little time before the end came when they 
would lie haphazard, in an unlovely confusion, with 
little numbers pasted on them, in the dreary cold- 
ness of an auction room. 



XXIX 
ARABESQUE 

THERE in the mist, enormous, majestic, 
silent, and terrible, stood the Great Wall 
of China. Solitarily, with the indiffer- 
ence of nature herself, it crept up the 
mountain side and slipped down to the depth of 
the valley. Menacingly, the grim watch towers, 
stark and foursquare, at due intervals stood at 
their posts. Ruthlessly, for it was built at the 
cost of a million lives and each one of thos-e great 
grey stones has been stained with the bloody tears 
of the captive and the outcast, it forged its dark 
way through a sea of rugged mountains. Fear- 
lessly, it went on its endless journey, league upon 
league to the furthermost regions of Asia, in utter 
solitude, mysterious like the great empire it 
guarded. There in the mist, enormous, majestic, 
silent, and terrible, stood the Great Wall of China. 



H 



113 



XXX 
THE CONSUL 

MR. PETE was in a state of the liveliest 
exasperation. He had been in the con- 
sular service for more than twenty 
years and he had had to deal with all 
manner of vexatious people, officials who would 
not listen to reason, merchants who took the Brit- 
ish Government for a debt collecting agency, mis- 
sionaries who resented as gross injustice any at- 
tempt at fair play ; but he never recollected a case 
which had left him more completely at a loss. He 
was a mild-mannered man, but for no reason he 
flew into a passion with his writer and he very 
nearly sacked the Eurasian clerk because he had 
wrongly spelt two words in a letter placed before 
him for his official signature. He was a conscien- 
tious man and he could not persuade himself to 
leave his office before the clock struck four, but 
the moment it did he jumped up and called for his 
hat and stick. Because his boy did not bring them 
at once he abused him roundly. They say that 
the consuls all grow a little odd; and the mer- 
chants who can live for thirty-five years in China 
without learning enough of the language to ask 
their way in the street, say that it is because they 
114 



THE CONSUL 

have to study Chinese; and there was no doubt 
that Mr. Pete was decidedly odd. He was a 
bachelor and on that account had been sent to a 
series of posts which by reason of their isolation 
were thought unsuited to married men. He had 
lived so much alone that his natural tendency to 
eccentricity had developed to an extravagant de- 
gree, and he had habits which surprised the 
stranger. He was very absent-minded. He 
paid no attention to his house, which was always 
in great disorder, nor to his food; his boys gave 
him to eat what they liked and for everything he 
had made him pay through the nose. He was un- 
tiring in his efforts to suppress the opium traffic, 
but he was the only person in the city who did not 
know that his servants kept opium in the consulate 
itself, and a busy traffic in the drug was openly 
conducted at the back door of the compound. He 
was an ardent collector and the house provided 
for him by the government was filled with the 
various things which he had collected one after 
the other, pewter, brass, carved wood ; these were 
his more legitimate enterprises ; but he also col- 
lected stamps, birds' eggs, hotel labels, and post- 
marks: he boasted that he had a collection of 
postmarks which was unequalled in the Empire. 
During his long sojourning in lonely places he 
had read a great deal, and though he was no 
sinologue he had a greater knowledge of China, 
its history, literature, and people, than most of 
his colleagues ; but from his wide reading he had 
acquired not toleration but vanity. He was a 
115 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

man of a singular appearance. His body was 
small and frail and when he walked he gave you 
the idea of a dead leaf dancing before the wind; 
and then there was something extraordinarily odd 
in the small Tyrolese hat, with a cock's feather 
in it, very old and shabby, which he wore perched 
rakishly on the side of his large head. He was 
exceedingly bald. You saw that his eyes, blue and 
pale, were weak behind the spectacles, and a droop- 
ing, ragged, dingy moustache did not hide the 
peevishness of his mouth. And now, turning out 
of the street in which was the consulate, he made 
his way on to the city wall, for there only in the 
multitudinous city was it possible to walk with 
comfort. 

He was a man who took his work hardly, worry- 
ing himself to death over every trifle, but as a rule 
a walk on the wall soothed and rested him. The 
city stood in the midst of a great plain and often 
at sundown from the wall you could see in the 
distance the snow-capped mountains, the moun- 
tains of Tibet; but now he walked quickly, look- 
ing neither to the right nor to the left, and his 
fat spaniel frisked about him unobserved. He 
talked to himself rapidly in a low monotone. The 
cause of his irritation was a visit that he had that 
day received from a lady who called herself Mrs. 
Yii and whom he with a consular passion for pre- 
cision insisted on calling Miss Lambert. This 
in itself sufficed to deprive their intercourse of 
amenity. She was an Englishwoman married to 
a Chinese. She had arrived two years before with 
116 



THE CONSUL 

her husband from England where he had beeri 
studying at the University of London; he had 
made her believe that he was a great personage 
in his own country and she had imagined herself 
to be coming to a gorgeous palace and a position 
of consequence. It was a bitter surprise when 
she found herself brought to a shabby Chinese 
house crowded with people: there was not even a 
foreign bed in it, nor a knife and fork: 
everything seemed to her very dirty and smelly. 
It was a shock to find that she had to live with 
her husband's father and mother and he told her 
that she must do exactly what his mother bade 
her; but in her complete ignorance of Chinese it 
was not till she had been two or three days in the 
house that she realised that she was not her hus- 
band's only wife. He had been married as a boy 
before he left his native city to acquire the knowl- 
edge of the barbarians. When she bitterly up- 
braided him for deceiving her he shrugged his 
shoulders. There was nothing to prevent a Chi- 
nese from having two wives if he wanted them and, 
he added with some disregard to truth, no Chinese 
woman looked upon it as a hardship. It was 
upon making this discovery that she paid her first 
visit to the consul. He had already heard of her 
arrival in China everyone knows everything 
about everyone and he received her without sur- 
prise. Nor had he much sympathy to show her. 
That a foreign woman should marry a Chinese at 
all filled him with indignation, but that she should 
do so without making proper inquiries vexed him 
117 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

like a personal affront. She was not at all the sort 
of woman whose appearance led you to imagine 
that she would be guilty of such a folly. She was 
a solid, thick-set, young person, short, plain, and 
matter of fact. She was cheaply dressed in a 
tailor-made suit and she wore a Tam-o'-shanter. 
She had bad teeth and a muddy skin. Her hands 
were large and red and ill cared for. You could 
tell that she was not unused to hard work. She 
spoke English with a Cockney whine. 

"How did you meet Mr. Yii?" asked the consul 
frigidly. 

"Well, you see, it's like this," she answered. 
"Dad was in a very good position, and when he 
died mother said: 'Well, it seems a sinful waste 
to keep all these rooms empty, I'll put a card in 
the window.' ' 

The consul interrupted her. 

"He had lodgings with you?" 

"Well, they weren't exactly lodgings," she said. 

"Shall we say apartments then?" replied the 
consul, with his thin, slightly vain smile. 

That was generally the explanation of these 
marriages. Then because he thought her a very 
foolish vulgar woman he explained bluntly that 
according to English law she was not married to 
Yii and that the best thing she could do was to 
go back to England at once. She began to cry 
and his heart softened a little to her. He prom- 
ised to put her in charge of some missionary ladies 
who would look after her on the long journey, and 
indeed, if she liked, he would see if meanwhile she 
118 



THE CONSUL 

could not live in one of the missions. But while 
he talked Miss Lambert dried her tears. 

"What's the good of going back to England?" 
she said at last. "I 'aven't got nowhere to go to '* 

"You can go to your mother." 

"She was all against my marrying Mr. Yii. I 
should never hear the last of it if I was to go back 
now." 

The consul began to argue with her, but the 
more he argued the more determined she became, 
and at last he lost his temper. 

"If you like to stay here with a man who isn't 
your husband it's your own look out, but I wash 
my hands of all responsibility." 

Her retort had often rankled. 

"Then you've got no cause to worry," she said, 
and the look on her face returned to him when- 
ever he thought of her. 

That was two years ago and he had seen her 
once or twice since then. It appeared that she 
got on very badly both with her mother-in-law 
and with her husband's other wife, and she had 
come to the consul with preposterous questions 
about her rights according to Chinese law. He 
repeated his offer to get her away, but she re- 
mained steadfast in her refusal to go, and their 
interview always ended in the consul's flying into a 
passion. He was almost inclined to pity the ras- 
cally Yii who had to keep the peace between three 
warring women. According to his English wife's 
account he was not unkind to her. He tried to 
act fairly by both his wives. Miss Lambert did 
119 



ON A CHINESE SCEEEN 

not improve. The consul knew that ordinarily 
she wore Chinese clothes, but when she came to 
see him she put on European dress. She was be- 
come extremely blowsy. Her health suffered from 
the Chinese^ food she ate and she was beginning to 
look wretchedly ill. But really he was shocked 
when she had been shown into his office that day. 
She wore no hat and her hair was dishevelled. She 
was in a highly hysterical state. 

"They're trying to poison me," she screamed 
and she put before him a bowl of some foul smell- 
ing food. "It's poisoned," she said. "I've been 
ill for the last ten days, it's only by a miracle I've 
escaped." 

She gave him a long story, circumstantial 
and probable enough to convince him: after all 
nothing was more likely than that the Chinese 
women should use familiar methods to get rid of 
an intruder who was hateful to them. 

"Do they know you've come here?" 

"Of course they do ; I told them I was going to 
show them up." 

Now at last was the moment for decisive action. 
The consul looked at her in his most official man- 
ner. 

"Well, you must never go back there. I refuse 
to put up with your nonsense any longer. I in- 
sist on your leaving this man who isn't your hus- 
band." 

But he found himself helpless against the wo- 
man's insane obstinacy. He repeated all the argu- 
ments he had used so often, but she would not 



THE CONSUL 

listen, and as usual he lost his temper. It was 
then, in answer to his final, desperate question, 
that she had made the remark which had entirely 
robbed him of his calm. 

"But what on earth makes you stay with the 
man?" he cried. 

She hesitated for a moment and a curious look 
came into her eyes. 

"There's something in the way his hair grows 
on his forehead that I can't help liking," she an- 
swered. 

The consul had never heard anything so out- 
rageous. It really was the last straw. And now 
while he strode along, trying to walk off his anger, 
though he was not a man who often used bad 
language he really could not restrain himself, and 
he said fiercely: 

"Women are simply blood} 7 ." 



XXXI 
THE STRIPLING 

HE walked along the causeway with an 
easy confident stride. He was seven- 
teen, tall and slim, with a smooth and 
yellow skin that had never known a 
razor. His eyes, but slightly aslant, were large 
and open and his full red lips were tremulous with 
a smile. The happy audacity of youth was in his 
bearing. His little round cap was set jauntily on 
his head, his black gown was girt about his loins, 
and his trousers, as a rule gartered at the ankle, 
were turned up to the knees. He went barefoot 
but for thin straw sandals, and his feet were 
small and shapely. He had walked since early 
morning along the paved causeway that wound its 
sinuous path up the hills and down into the val- 
leys with their innumerable padi fields, past burial 
grounds with their serried dead, through busy vil- 
lages where maybe his eyes rested approvingly for 
a moment on some pretty girl in her blue smock 
and her short blue trousers, sitting in an open 
doorway (but I think his glance claimed admira- 
tion rather than gave it), and now he was near- 
ing the end of his journey and the city whither 
he was bound seeking his fortune. It stood in the 



THE STRIPLING 

midst of a fertile plain, surrounded by a crenel- 
lated wall, and when he saw it he stepped forward 
with resolution. He threw back his head boldly. 
He was proud of his strength. All his worldly 
goods were wrapped up in a parcel of blue cot- 
ton which he carried over his shoulder. 

Now Dick Whittington, setting out to win fame 
and fortune, had a cat for his companion, but the 
Chinese carried with him a round cage with red 
bars, which he held with a peculiar grace between 
finger and thumb, ond in the cage was a beautiful 
green parrot. 



XXXII 
THE FANNINGS 

THEY lived in a fine square house, with a 
verandah all round it, on the top of a 
low hill that faced the river, and below 
them, a little to the right, was another 
fine square house which was the customs ; and to 
this, for he was deputy commissioner, Fanning 
went every day. The city was five miles away and 
on the river bank was nothing but a small village 
which had sprung up to provide the crews of 
junks with what gear or food they needed. In 
the city were a few missionaries but these they 
saw seldom and the only foreigners in the village 
besides themselves were the tide-waiters. One of 
these had been an able seaman and the other was 
an Italian; they both had Chinese wives. The 
Fannings asked them to tiffin on Christmas day 
and on the King's Birthday; but otherwise their 
relations with them were purely official. The 
steamers stayed but half an hour, so they never 
saw the captains or the chief engineers who were 
the only white men on them, and for five months in 
the year the water was too low for steamers to 
pass. Oddly enough it was then they saw most 
foreigners, for it happened now and again that a 



THE FANNINGS 

traveller, a merchant or consular official perhaps, 
more often a missionary, going up stream by junk, 
tied up for the night, and then the commissioner 
went down to the river and asked him to dine. 
They lived very much alone. 

Fanning was extremely bald, a short, thickset 
man, with a snub nose and a very black moustache. 
He was a martinet, aggressive, brusque, with a 
bullying manner ; and he never spoke to a Chinese 
without raising his voice to a tone of rasping 
command. Though he spoke fluent Chinese, when 
one of his "boys" did something to displease him 
he abused him roundly in English. He made a 
disagreeable impression on you till you discovered 
that his aggressiveness was merely an armour put 
on to conceal a painful shyness. It was a triumph 
of his will over his disposition. His gruffness was 
an almost absurd attempt to persuade those with 
whom he came in contact that he was not fright- 
ened of them. You felt that no one was more 
surprised than himself that he was taken seriously. 
He was like those little grotesque figures that 
children blow out like balloons and you had an 
idea that he went in lively fear of bursting and 
then everyone would see that he was but a hollow 
bladder. It was his wife who was constantly alert 
to persuade him that he was a man of iron and 
when the explosion was over she would say to him : 

"You know, you frighten me when you get in 
those passions," or "I think I'd better say some- 
thing to the boy, he's quite shaken by what you 
said." 

125 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

Then Fanning would puff himself up and smile 
indulgently. When a visitor came she would say: 

"The Chinese are terrified of my husband, but 
of course they respect him. They know it's no 
good trying any of their nonsense with him." 

"Well, I ought to know how to treat them," he 
would answer with beetling brows, "I've been over 
twenty years in the country." 

Mrs. Fanning was a little plain woman, wizened 
like a crab-apple, with a big nose and bad teeth. 
She was always very untidy, her hair, going a lit- 
tle grey, was continually on the point of falling 
down. Now and then, in the midst of conversa- 
tion, she would abstractedly take out a pin or two, 
give it a shake, and without troubling to look in 
the glass insecurely fix its few thin wisps. She had 
a love of brilliant colour and she wore fantastic 
clothes which she and the sewing amah ran up to- 
gether from the fashion papers; but when she 
dressed she could never find anything that went 
with anything else and she looked like a woman 
who had been rescued from shipwreck and clothed 
in any oddments that could be found. She was a 
caricature, and you could not help smiling when 
you looked at her. The only attractive thing she 
had was a soft and extremely musical voice and 
she spoke with a little drawl which came from I 
know not what part of England. The Fannings 
had two sons, one of nine and one of seven, and 
they completed the solitary household. They were 
attractive children, affectionate and demonstra- 
tive, and it was pleasant to see how united the 
126 



THE TANNINGS 



family was. They had little jokes together that 
amused them hugely, and they played pranks with 
one another as though not one of them was more 
than ten. Though they had so much of one an- 
other's society it really looked as though they 
could not bear to be out of one another's sight, 
and each day when Fanning went to his office his 
boys would hardly let him go and each day when 
he returned they greeted him with extravagant 
delight. They had no fear of his gruff bluster. 

And presently you discovered that the centre of 
this concord was that little, grotesque, ugly wo- 
man ; it was not chance that kept the family united, 
nor peculiarly agreeable dispositions, but a pas- 
sion of love in her. From the moment she got up 
in the morning till the time she went to bed her 
thoughts were occupied with the welfare of the 
three male persons who were in her charge. Her 
active mind was busy all the time with schemes for 
their happiness. I do not think a thought of self 
ever entered her untidy head. She was a miracle 
of unselfishness. It was really hardly human. She 
never had a hard word for anyone. She was very 
hospitable and it was she who caused her husband 
to go down to the houseboats and invite travellers 
to come up to dinner. But I do not think she 
wanted them for her own sake. She was quite 
happy in her solitude, but she thought her hus- 
band enjoyed a talk with strangers. 

"I don't want him to get in a rut," she said. 
"My poor husband, he misses his billiards and his 
127 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

bridge. It's very hard for a man to have no one 
to talk to but a woman." 

Every evening when the children had been put 
to bed they played piquet. She had no head for 
cards, poor dear, and she always made mistakes, 
but when her husband upbraided her, she said : 

"You can't expect everyone to be as clever as 
you are." 

And because she so obviously meant what she 
said he could not find it in his heart to be angry 
with her. Then when the commissioner was tired 
of beating her they would turn on the gramophone 
and sitting side by side listen in silence to the 
latest songs from the musical comedies of London. 
You may turn up your nose. They lived ten 
thousand miles away from England and it was 
their only tie with the home they loved: it made 
them feel not quite so utterly cut off from civilisa^ 
tion. And presently they would talk of what they 
would do with the children when they grew up; 
soon it would be time to send them home to school 
and perhaps a pang passed through the little 
woman's gentle heart. 

"It'll be hard for you, Bertie, when they go," 
she said. "But perhaps we shall be moved then 
to some place where there's a club and then you'll 
be able to go and play bridge in the evenings." 



128 



XXXIII 
THE SONG OF THE RIVER 

YOU hear it all along the river. You hear 
it, loud and strong, from the rowers as 
they urge the junk with its high stern, 
the mast lashed alongside, down the 
swift running stream. You hear it from the 
trackers, a more breathless chaunt, as they pull 
desperately against the current, half a dozen of 
them perhaps if they are taking up a wupan, a 
couple of hundred if they are hauling a splendid 
junk, its square sail set, over a rapid. On the 
junk a man stands amidships beating a drum in- 
cessantly to guide their efforts, and they pull with 
all their strength, like men possessed, bent double ; 
and sometimes in the extremity of their travail 
they crawl on the ground, on all fours, like the 
beasts of the field. They strain, strain fiercely, 
against the pitiless might of the stream. The 
leader goes up and down the line and when he sees 
one who is not putting all his will into the task 
he brings down his split bamboo on the naked back. 
Each one must do his utmost or the labour of all 
is vain. And still they sing a vehement, eager 
chaunt, the chaunt of the turbulent waters. I do 
not know how words can describe what there is in 
129 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

it of effort. It serves to express the straining 
heart, the breaking muscles, and at the same time 
the indomitable spirit of man which overcomes the 
pitiless force of nature. Though the rope may 
part and the great junk swing back, in the end 
the rapid will be passed; and at the close of the 
weary day there is the hearty meal and perhaps 
the opium pipe with its dreams of ease. But the 
most agonising song is the song of the coolies who 
bring the great bales from the junk up the steep 
steps to the town wall. Up and down they go, 
endlessly, and endless as their toil rises their 
rhythmic cry. He, aw ah, oh. They are bare- 
foot and naked to the waist. The sweat pours 
down their faces and their song is a groan of 
pain. It is a sigh of despair. It is heart-rending. 
It is hardly human. It is the cry of souls in infinite 
distress, only just musical, and that last note is 
the ultimate sob of humanity. Life is too hard, 
too cruel, and this is the final despairing protest. 
That is the song of the river. 



130 



XXXIV 
MIRAGE 

HE is a tall man with bulging, sky blue 
eyes and an embarrassed manner. He 
looks as though he were a little too 
large for his skin and you feel that he 
wrould be more comfortable if it were a trifle looser. 
His hair, very smooth and crisp, fits so tightly on 
his head that it gives you the impression of a wig, 
and you have an almost irresistible inclination to 
pull it. He has no small talk. He hunts for 
topics of conversation and, racking his brain to 
no purpose, in desperation offers you a whisky and 
soda. 

He is in charge of the B. A. T., and the build- 
ing in which he lives is office, godown, and residence 
all in one. His parlour is furnished with a suite 
of dingy upholstered furniture placed neatly 
round the walls, and in the middle is a round table. 
A hanging petroleum lamp gives a melancholy 
light, and an oil stove heat. In appropriate places 
are richly framed oleographs from the Christmas 
numbers of American magazines. But he does not 
sit in this room. He spends his leisure in his bed- 
room. In America he has always lived in a board- 
ing house where his bedroom was the only privacy 
131 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

he knew, and he has gotten the habit of living in 
one. It seems unnatural to him to sit in a sitting- 
room ; he does not like to take his coat off, and he 
only feels at home in shirt sleeves. He keeps his 
books and his private papers in his bedroom; he 
has a desk and a rocking chair there. 

He has lived in China for five years, but he 
knows no Chinese and takes no interest in the 
race among whom in all likelihood the best years 
of his life will be spent. His business is done 
through an interpreter and his house is managed 
by a boy. Now and then he takes a journey of 
several hundred miles into Mongolia, a wild and 
rugged country, either in Chinese carts or on 
ponies ; and he sleeps at the wayside inns where 
congregate merchants, drovers, herdsmen, men at 
arms, ruffians, and wild fellows. The people of the 
land are turbulent; when there is unrest he is 
exposed to not a little risk. But these are purely 
business undertakings. They bore him. He is 
always glad to get back to his familiar bedroom 
at the B. A. T. For he is a great reader. He 
reads nothing but American magazines and the 
number of those he has sent to him by every mail 
is amazing. He never throws them away and 
there are piles of them all over the house. The 
city in which he lives is the gateway into China 
from Mongolia. There dwell the teeming Chinese, 
and through its gates pass constantly the Mon- 
gols with their caravans of camels; endless pro- 
cessions of carts, drawn by oxen, which have 
brought hides from the illimitable distances of 



MIRAGE 

Asia rumble noisily through its crowded streets. 
He is bored. It has never occurred to him that he 
lives a life in which the possibility of adventure is 
at his doors. He can only recognise it through 
the printed page ; and it needs a story of derring- 
do in Texas or Nevada, of hairbreadth escape in 
the South Seas, to stir his blood. 



133 



XXXV 
THE STRANGER 

IT was a comfort in that sweltering heat to get 
out of the city. The missionary stepped out 
of the launch in which he had dropped lei- 
surely down the river and comfortably set- 
tled himself in the chair which was waiting for him 
at the water's edge. He was carried through the 
village by the river side and began to ascend the 
hill. It was an hour's journey along a pathway 
of broad stone steps, under fir trees, and now and 
again you caught a delightful glimpse of the 
broad river shining in the sun amid the exultant 
green of the padi fields. The bearers went along 
with a swinging stride. The sweat on their backs 
shone. It was a sacred mountain with a Buddhist 
monastery on the top of it, and on the way up 
there were rest houses where the coolies set down 
the chair for a few minutes and a monk in his 
grey robe gave you a cup of flowered tea. The 
air was fresh and sweet. The pleasure of that 
lazy journey the swing of the chair was very 
soothing made a day in the city almost worth 
while ; and at the end of it was his trim little bun- 
galow where he spent the summer, and before him 
the sweet-scented night. The mail had come in 
134 



THE STRANGER 

that day and he was bringing on letters and 
papers. There were four numbers of the Satur- 
day Evening Post and four of the Literary Digest. 
He had nothing but pleasant things to look for- 
ward to and the usual peace (a peace, as he often 
said, which passeth all understanding), which filled 
him whenever he was among these green trees, away 
from the teeming city, should long since have de- 
scended upon him. 

But he was harassed. He had had that day an 
unfortunate encounter and he was unable, trivial 
as it was, to put it out of his mind. It was on 
this account that his face bore a somewhat peevish 
expression. It was a thin and sensitive face, al- 
most ascetic, with regular features and intelligent 
eyes. He was very long and thin, with the spin- 
dly legs of a grasshopper, and as he sat in his 
chair swaying a little with the motion of his 
bearers he reminded you, somewhat grotesquely, 
of a faded lily. A gentle creature. He could 
never have hurt a fly. 

He had run across Dr. Saunders in one of the 
streets of the city. Dr. Saunders was a little 
grey-haired man, with a high colour and a snub \ 
nose which gave him a strangely impudent expres- 
sion. He had a large sensual mouth and when he 
laughed, which he did very often, he showed de- 
cayed and discoloured teeth; when he laughed his 
little blue eyes wrinkled in a curious fashion and 
then he looked the very picture of malice. There 
was something faunlike in him. His movements 
were quick and unexpected. He walked with a 
135 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

rapid trip as though he were always in a hurry. 
He was a doctor who lived in the heart of the city 
among the Chinese. He was not on the register, 
but someone had made it his business to find out 
that he had been duly qualified ; he had been struck 
off, but for what crime, whether social or purely 
professional, none know; nor how he had hap- 
pened to come to the East and eventually settle on 
the China coast. But it was evident that he was a 
very clever doctor and the Chinese had great faith 
in him. He avoided the foreigners and rather dis- 
agreeable stories were circulated about him. 
Everyone knew him to say how do you do to, but 
no one asked him to his house nor visited him in 
his own. 

When they had met that afternoon Dr. Saunders 
had exclaimed: 

"What on earth has brought you to the city 
at this time of year?" 

"I have some business that I couldn't leave any 
longer," answered the missionary, "and then I 
wanted to get the mail." 

"There was a stranger here the other day ask- 
ing for you," said the doctor. 

"For me?" cried the other with surprise. 

"Well, not for you particularly," explained the 
doctor. "He wanted to know the way to the 
American Mission. I told him; but I said he 
wouldn't find anyone there. He seemed rather sur- 
prised at that, so I told him that you all went up 
to the hills in May and didn't come back till Sep- 
tember." 

136 



THE STRANGER 

"A foreigner ?" asked the missionary, still won- 
dering who the stranger could be. 

"Oh, yes, certainly." The doctor's eyes twin- 
kled. "Then he asked me about the other mis- 
sions ; I told him the London Mission had a set- 
tlement here, but it wasn't the least use going 
there as all the missionaries were away in the hills. 
After all it's devilish hot in the city. 'Then I'd 
like to go to one of the mission schools,* said the 
stranger. 'Oh, they're all closed,' I said. 'Well, 
then I'll go to the hospital.' 'That's well worth 
a visit,' I said, 'the American hospital is equipped 
with all the latest contrivances. Their operating 
theatre is* perfect.' 'What is the name of the doc- 
tor in charge?' 'Oh, he's up in the hills.' 'But 
what about the sick?' 'There are no sick between 
May and September/ I said, 'and if there are they 
have to put up with the native dispensers.' ' 

Dr. Saunders paused for a moment. The mis- 
sionary looked ever so slightly vexed. 

"Well?" he said. 

"The stranger looked at me irresolutely for a 
moment or two. 'I wanted to see something of the 
missions before I left,' he said. 'You might try * 
the Roman Catholics,' I said, 'they're here all the 
year round.' 'When do they take their holidays 
then?' he asked. 'They don't,' I said. He left me 
at that. I think he went to the Spanish convent." 

The missionary fell into the trap and it irri- 
tated him to think how ingenuously he had done so. 
He ought to have seen what was coming. 

"Who was this anyway?" he asked innocently. 
137 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"I asked him his name," said the doctor. 'Oh, 
I'm Christ,' he said." 

The missionary shrugged his shoulders and 
abruptly told his rickshaw boy to go on. 

It had put him thoroughly out of temper. It 
was so unjust. Of course they went away from 
May to September. The heat made any useful 
activity quite out of the question and it had been 
found by experience that the missionaries pre- 
served their health and strength much better if 
they spent the hot months in the hills. A sick 
missionary was only an encumbrance. It was a 
matter of practical politics and it had been found 
that the Lord's work was done more efficiently if a 
certain part of the year was set aside for rest and 
recreation. And then the reference to the Roman 
Catholics was grossly unfair. They were un- 
married. They had no families to think of. The 
mortality among them was terrifying. Why, in 
that very city, of fourteen nuns who had come 
out to China ten years ago all but three were dead. 
It was perfectly easy for them, because it was 
more convenient for their work, to live in the 
middle of the city and to stay there all the year 
round. They had no ties. They had no duties to 
those who were near and dear to them. Oh, it was 
grossly unjust to drag in the Roman Catholics. 

But suddenly an idea flashed through his mind. 
What rankled most was that he had left the ras- 
cally doctor (you only had to look at his face all 
puckered with malicious amusement to know he 
was a rogue) without a word. There certainly 
138 



THE STRANGER 

was an answer, but he had not had the presence of 
mind to make it ; and now the perfect repartee oc- 
curred to him. A glow of satisfaction filled him 
and he almost fancied that he had made it. It was 
a crushing rejoinder and he rubbed his very long 
thin hands with satisfaction. 'My dear Sir,' he 
ought to have said, 'Our Lord never in the whole 
course of his ministry claimed to be the Christ." 
It was an unanswerable snub, and thinking of it 
the missionary forgot his ill-humour. 



139 



XXXVI 
DEMOCRACY 

IT was a cold night. I had finished my dinner, 
and my boy was making up my bed while I 
sat over a brazier of burning charcoal. Most 
of the coolies had already settled themselves 
for the night in a room next to mine and through 
the thin matchboarding of the wall that separated 
us I heard a couple of them talk. Another party 
of travellers had arrived about an hour before and 
the small inn was full. Suddenly there was a 
commotion and going to the door of my room to 
look out I saw three sedan chairs enter the court- 
yard. They were set down in front of me and 
from the first stepped out a stout Chinese of im- 
posing aspect. He wore a long black robe of fig- 
ured silk, lined with squirrel, and on his head a 
square fur cap. He seemed taken aback when he 
saw me at the door of the principal guest chamber 
and turning to the landlord addressed him in 
authoritative tones. It appeared that he was an 
official and he was much annoyed to find that the 
best apartment in the inn was already taken. He 
was told that but one room was available. It was 
small, with pallets covered with tumbled straw lin- 
ing the walls, and was used as a rule only by 
140 



DEMOCRACY 

coolies. He flung into a violent passion and on a 
sudden arose a scene of the greatest animation. 
The official, his two companions, and his bearers 
exclaimed against the indignity which it was 
sought to thrust upon him, while the landlord and 
the servants of the inn argued, expostulated, and 
entreated. The official stormed and threatened. 
For a few minutes the courtyard, so silent before, 
rang with the angry shouts; then, subsiding as 
quickly as it began, the hubbub ceased and the offi- 
cial went into the vacant room. Hot water was 
brought by a bedraggled servant, and presently 
the landlord followed with great bowls of steaming 
rice. All was once more quiet. 

An hour later I went into the yard to stretch 
my legs for five minutes before going to bed and 
somewhat to my surprise, I came upon the stout 
official, a little while ago so pompous and self-im- 
portant, seated at a table in the front of the inn 
with the most ragged of my coolies. They were 
chatting amicably and the official quietly smoked 
a water-pipe. He had made all that to-do to give 
himself face, but having achieved his object was 
satisfied, and feeling the need of conversation had 
accepted the company of any coolie without a 
thought of social distinction. His manner was 
perfectly cordial and there was in it no trace of 
condescension. The coolie talked with him on an 
equal footing. It seemed to me that this was 
true democracy. In the East man is man's equal 
in a sense you find neither in Europe nor in 
America. Position and wealth put a man in a 
141 




ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

relation of superiority to another that is purely 
adventitious, and they are no bar to sociability. 

When I lay in my bed I asked myself why in 
the despotic East there should be between men an 
equality so much greater than in the free and 
democratic West, and was forced to the conclu- 
sion that the explanation must be sought in the 
cess-pool. For in the West we are divided from 
our fellows by our sense of smell. The working 
man is our master, inclined to rule us with an iron 
hand, but it cannot be denied that he stinks : none 
can wonder at it, for a bath in the dawn when you 
have to hurry to your work before the factory bell 
rings is no pleasant thing, nor does heavy labour 
tend to sweetness; and you do not change your 
linen more than you can help when the week's 
washing must be done by a sharp-tongued wife. I 
do not blame the working man because he stinks, 
but stink he does. It makes social intercourse 
difficult to persons of a sensitive nostril. 'The ma- 
tutinal tub divides the classes more effectually 
than birth, wealth, or education. It is very sig- 
nificant that those novelists who have risen from 
the ranks of labour are apt to make it a symbol of 
class prejudice, and one of the most distinguished 
writers of our day always marks the rascals of 
his entertaining stories by the fact that they take 
a bath every morning. Now, the Chinese live all 
their lives in the proximity of very nasty smells. 
They do not notice them. Their nostrils are 
blunted to the odours that assail the Europeans 
and so they can move on an equal footing with the 



DEMOCRACY 

tiller of the soil, the coolie, and the artisan. I 
venture to think that the cess-pool is more neces- 
sary to democracy than parliamentary institu- 
tions. The invention of the "sanitary conven- 
ience" has destroyed the sense of equality in men. 
It is responsible for class hatred much more than 
the monopoly of capital in the hands of the few. 

It is a tragic thought that the first man who 
pulled the plug of a water-closet with that negli- 
gent gesture rang the knell of democracy. 




143 



XXXVII 
THE SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST 

HE was a big man, and his bones were 
well covered. He gave you the im- 
pression that he had put on flesh since 
he bought his clothes, for they seemed 
somewhat tight for him. He always wore the same 
things, a blue suit, evidently bought ready-made 
in a department store (the lapel decorated with a 
small American flag) a high starched collar and a 
white tie on which was a pattern of forget-me-nots. 
His short nose and pugnacious chin gave his clean- 
shaven face a determined look; his eyes, behind 
large, gold-rimmed spectacles, were large and 
blue; and his hair receding on the temples, lank 
and dull, was plastered down on his head. But on 
the crown protruded a rebellious cock's feather. 

He was travelling up the Yangtze for the first 
time, but he took no interest in his surroundings. 
He had no eye for the waste of turbulent waters 
that was spread before him, nor for the colours, 
tragic or tender, which sunrise and sunset lent the 
scene. The great junks with their square white 
sails proceeded stately down the stream. The 
moon rose, flooding the noble river with silver and 
giving a strange magic to the temples on the bank, 
144 




THE SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST 

among a grove of trees. He was frankly bored. 
During a certain part of the day he studied Chi- 
nese, but for the rest of the time he read nothing 
but a New York Times three months old and the 
Parliamentary debates of July, 1915, which, 
heaven knows why, happened to be on board. He 
took no interest in the religions which flourished 
in the land he had come to evangelise. He classed 
them all contemptuously as devil worship. I do 
not think he had ever read the Analects of Con- 
fucius. He was ignorant of the history, art, and 
literature of China. 

I could not make out what had brought him to 
the country. He spoke of his work as a profes- 
sion which he had entered as a man might enter 
the civil service, and which, though it was poorly 
paid (he complained that he earned less than an 
artisan) he wanted notwithstanding to make a 
good job of. He wanted to increase his church 
membership, he wanted to make his school self- 
supporting. If ever he had had a serious call to 
convert the heathen there was in him no trace of 
it now. He looked upon the whole matter as a 
business proposition. The secret of success lay 
in the precious word organization. He was up- 
right, honest, and virtuous, but there was neither 
passion in him nor enthusiasm. He seemed to be 
under the impression that the Chinese were very 
simple people, and because they did not know the 
same things that he did he thought them ignorant. 
He could not help showing that he looked upon 
himself as superior to them. The laws they made 
K 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

were not applicable to the white man and he re- 
sented the fact that they expected him to con- 
form to their customs. But he was not a bad fel- 
low; indeed he was a good-humoured one and so 
long as you did not attempt to question his au- 
thority there is no doubt that he would have done 
everything in his power to serve you. 



146 



XXXVIII 
THE PHILOSOPHER 

IT was surprising to find so vast a city in a 
spot that seemed to me so remote. From 
its battlemented gate towards sunset you 
could see the snowy mountains of Tibet. It 
was so populous that you could walk at ease only 
on the walls and it took a rapid walker three hours 
to complete their circuit. There was no railway 
within a thousand miles and the river on which 
it stood was so shallow that only junks of light 
burden could safely navigate it. Five days in a 
sampan were needed to reach the Upper Yangtze. 
For an uneasy moment you asked yourself whether 
trains and steamships were as necessary to the 
conduct of life as we who use them every day con- 
sider ; for here, a million persons throve, married, 
begat their kind, and died ; here a million persons 
were busily occupied with commerce, art, and 
thought. 

And here lived a philosopher of repute 
the desire to see whom had been to me one of 
the incentives of a somewhat arduous journey. 
He was the greatest authority in China on the 
Confucian learning. He was said to speak Eng- 
lish and German with facility. He had been for 
147 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

many years secretary to one of the Empress Dow- 
ager's greatest viceroys, but he lived now in re- 
tirement. On certain days in the week, however, 
all through the year he opened his doors to such 
as sought after knowledge, and discoursed on the 
teaching of Confucius. He had a body of dis- 
ciples, but it was small, since the students for the 
most part preferred to his modest dwelling and his 
severe exhortations the sumptuous buildings of 
the foreign university and the useful science of the 
barbarians : with him this was mentioned only to 
be scornfully dismissed. From all I heard of him 
I concluded that he was a man of character. 

When I announced my wish to meet this dis- 
tinguished person my host immediately offered to 
arrange a meeting; but the days passed and 
nothing happened. I made enquiries and my host 
shrugged his shoulders. 

"I sent him a chit and told him to come along,'* 
he said. "I don't know why he hasn't turned up. 
He's a cross-grained old fellow." 

I did not think it was proper to approach a 
philosopher in so cavalier a fashion and I was 
hardly surprised that he had ignored a summons 
such as this. I caused a letter to be sent asking 
in the politest terms I could devise whether he 
would allow me to call upon him and within two 
hours received an answer making an appointment 
for the following morning at ten o'clock. 

I was carried in a chair. The way seemed in^ 
terminable. I went through crowded streets and 
through streets deserted till I came at last to one, 
148 



THE PHILOSOPHER 

silent and empty, in which at a small door in a 
long white wall my bearers set down my chair. 
One of them knocked, and after a considerable 
time a judas was opened; dark eyes looked 
through; there was a brief colloquy; and finally 
I was admitted. A youth, pallid of face, wizened, 
and poorly dressed, motioned me to follow him. I 
did not know if he was a servant or a pupil of the 
great man. I passed through a shabby yard and 
was led into a long low room sparsely furnished 
with an American roll-top desk, a couple of black- 
wood chairs and two little Chinese tables. Against 
the walls were shelves on which were a great num- 
ber of books: most of them, of course, were Chi- 
nese, but there were many, philosophical and sci- 
entific works, in English, French and German; 
and there were hundreds of unbound copies of 
learned reviews. Where books did not take up the 
wall space hung scrolls on which in various callig- 
raphies were written, I suppose, Confucian quo- 
tations. There was no carpet on the floor. It 
was a cold, bare, and comfortless chamber. Its 
sombreness was relieved only by a yellow chrysan- 
themum which stood by itself on the desk in a long 
vase. 

I waited for some time and the youth who had 
shown me in brought a pot of tea, two cups, and 
a tin of Virginian cigarettes. As he went out the 
philosopher entered. I hastened to express my 
sense of the honour he did me in allowing me to 
visit him. He waved me to a chair and poured out. 
the tea. 

149 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"I am flattered that you wished to see me," 
he returned. "Your countrymen deal only with 
coolies and with compradores ; they think every 
Chinese must be one or the other." 

I ventured to protest. But I had not caught 
his point. He leaned back in his chair and looked 
at me with an expression of mockery. 

"They think they have but to beckon and we 
must come." 

I saw then that my friend's unfortunate com- 
munication still rankled. I did not quite know 
how to reply. I murmured something compli- 
mentary. 

He was an old man, tall, with a thin grey queue, 
and bright large eyes under which were heavy 
bags. His teeth were broken and discoloured. He 
was exceedingly thin, and his hands, fine and small, 
were withered and claw-like. I had been told that 
he was an opium-smoker. He was very shabbily 
dressed in a black gown, a little black cap, both 
much the worse for wear, and dark grey trousers 
gartered at the ankle. He was watching. He did 
not quite know what attitude to take up, and he 
had the manner of a man who was on his guard. 
Of course the philosopher occupies a royal place 
among those who concern themselves with the 
things of the spirit and we have the authority of 
Benjamin Disraeli that royalty must be treated 
with abundant flattery. I seized my trowel. Pres- 
ently I was conscious of a certain relaxation in 
his demeanour. He was like a man who was all 
set and rigid to have his photograph taken, but 
150 



THE PHILOSOPHER 

hearing the shutter click lets himself go and eases 
into his natural self. He showed me his books. 

"I took the Ph. D. in Berlin, you know," he 
said. "And afterwards I studied for some time in 
Oxford. But the English, if you will allow me to 
say so, have no great aptitude for philosophy." 

Though he put the remark apologetically it was 
evident that he was not displeased to say a slightly 
disagreeable thing. 

"We have had philosophers who have not been 
without influence in the world of thought," I sug- 
gested. 

"Hume and Berkeley? The philosophers who 
taught at Oxford when I was there were anxious 
not to offend their theological colleagues. They 
would not follow their thought to its logical con- 
sequences in case they should jeopardise their 
position in university society. 

"Have you studied the modern developments of 
philosophy in America ?" I asked. 

"Are you speaking of Pragmatism? It is the 
last refuge of those who want to believe the in- 
credible. I have more use for American petroleum 
than for American philosophy." 

His judgments were tart. We sat down once 
more and drank another cup of tea. He began to 
talk with fluency. He spoke a somewhat formal 
but an idiomatic English. Now and then he helped 
himself out with a German phrase. So far as it 
was possible for a man of that stubborn character 
to be influenced he had been influenced by Ger- 
many. The method and the industry of the Ger- 
151 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

mans had deeply impressed him and their philo- 
sophical acumen was patent to him when a labori- 
ous professor published in a learned magazine an 
essay on one of his own writings. 

"I have written twenty books," he said. "And 
that is the only notice that has ever been taken of 
me in a European publication." 

But his study of Western philosophy had only 
served in the end to satisfy him that wisdom after 
all was to be found within the limits of the Con- 
fucian canon. He accepted its philosophy with 
conviction. It answered the needs of his spirit 
with a completeness which made all foreign learn- 
ing seem vain. I was interested in this because it 
bore out an opinion of mine that philosophy is 
an affair of character rather than of logic: the 
philosopher believes not according to evidence, 
but according to his own temperament; and his 
thinking merely serves to make reasonable what 
his instinct regards as true. If Confucianism 
gained so firm a hold on the Chinese it is because 
it explained and expressed them as no other sys- 
tem of thought could do. 

My host lit a cigarette. His voice at first had 
been thin and tired, but as he grew interested in 
what he said it gained volume. He talked ve- 
hemently. There was in him none of the repose of 
the sage. He was a polemist and a fighter. He 
loathed the modern cry for individualism. For 
him society was the unit, and the family the foun- 
dation of society. He upheld the old China and 
the old school, monarchy, and the rigid canon of 
152 



THE PHILOSOPHER 

Confucius. He grew violent and bitter as he 
spoke of the students, fresh from foreign universi- 
ties, who with sacrilegious hands tore down the 
oldest civilisation in the world. 

"But you, do you know what you are doing?" 
he exclaimed. "What is the reason for which you 
deem yourselves our betters? Have you excelled 
us in arts or letters? Have our thinkers been less 
profound than yours? Has our civilisation been 
less elaborate, less complicated, less refined than 
yours ? Why, when you lived in caves and clothed 
yourselves with skins we were a cultured people. 
Do you know that we tried an experiment which 
is unique in the history of the world? J We sought 
to rule this great country not by force, but by 
wisdom. And for centuries we succeeded. Then 
why does the white man despise the yellow? 
Shall I tell you? Because he has invented 
the machine gun. That is your superiority. 
We are a defenceless horde and you can blow us 
into eternity. You have shattered the dream of 
our philosophers that the world could be governed 
by the power of law and order. And now you are 
teaching our young men your secret. You have 
thrust your hideous inventions upon us. Do you 
not know that we have a genius for mechanics? 
Do you not know that there are in this country 
four hundred millions of the most practical and 
industrious people in the world? Do you think 
it will take us long to learn? And what will be- 
come of your superiority when the yellow man can 
make as good guns as the white and fire them as 
153 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

straight ? You have appealed to the machine gun 
and by the machine gun shall you be judged." 

But at that moment we were interrupted. A 
little girl came softly in and nestled close up to 
the old gentleman. She stared at me with curious 
eyes. He told me that she was his youngest child. 
He put his arms round her and with a murmur of 
caressing words kissed her fondly. She wore a 
black coat and trousers that barely reached her 
ankles, and she had a long pig-tail hanging down 
her back. She was born on the day the revolu- 
tion was brought to a successful issue by the abdi- 
cation of the emperor. 

"I thought she heralded the Spring of a new 
era," he said. "She was but the last flower of 
this great nation's Fall." 

From a drawer in his roll-top desk he took a 
few cash, and handing them to her, sent her away. 

"You see that I wear a queue," he said, taking 
it in his hands. "It is a symbol. I am the last 
representative of the old China." 

He talked to me, more gently now, of how phi- 
losophers in long past days wandered from state 
to state with their disciples, teaching all who were 
worthy to learn. Kings called them to their coun- 
cils and made them rulers of cities. His erudition 
was great and his eloquent phrases gave a multi- 
coloured vitality to the incidents he related to me 
of the history of his country. I could not help 
thinking him a somewhat pathetic figure. He felt 
in himself the capacity to administer the state, 
but there was no king to entrust him with office; 
154 



THE PHILOSOPHER 

he had vast stores of learning which he was eager 
to impart to the great band of students that his 
soul hankered after, and there came to listen but 
a few, wretched, half-starved, and obtuse pro- 
vincials. 

Once or twice discretion had made me suggest 
that I should take my leave, but he had been un- 
willing to let me go. Now at last I was obliged 
to. I rose. He held my hand. 

"I should like to give you something as a recol- 
lection of your visit to the last philosopher in 
China, but I am a poor man and I do not know 
what I can give you that would be worthy of your 
acceptance." 

I protested that the recollection of my visit was 
in itself a priceless gift. He smiled. 

"Men have short memories in these degenerate 
days, and I should like to give you something more 
substantial. I would give you one of my books, 
but you cannot read Chinese." 

He looked at me with an amicable perplexity. 
I had an inspiration. 

"Give me a sample of your calligraphy," I 
said. 

"Would you like that?" He smiled. "In my 
youth I was considered to wield the brush in a 
manner that was not entirely despicable." 

He sat down at his desk, took a fair sheet of 
paper, and placed it before him. He poured a 
few drops of water on a stone, rubbed the ink 
stick in it, and took his brush. With a free move- 
ment of the arm he began to write. And as I 
155 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

watched him I remembered with not a little amuse- 
ment something else which had been told me of 
him. It appeared that the old gentleman, when- 
ever he could scrape a little money together, spent 
it wantonly in the streets inhabited by ladies to 
describe whom a euphemism is generally used. His 
eldest son, a person of standing in the city, was 
vexed and humiliated by the scandal of this be- 
haviour; and only his strong sense of filial duty 
prevented him from reproaching the libertine with 
severity. I daresay that to a son such looseness 
would be disconcerting, but the student of human 
nature could look upon it with equanimity. Phi- 
losophers are apt to elaborate their theories in the 
study, forming conclusions upon life which they 
know only at second hand, and it has seemed to 
me often that their works would have a more defi- 
nite significance if they had exposed themselves to 
the vicissitudes which befall the common run of 
men. I was prepared to regard the old gentle- 
man's dalliance in hidden places with leniency. 
Perhaps he sought but to elucidate the most in- 
scrutable of human illusions. 

He finished. To dry the ink he scattered a 
little ash on the paper and rising handed it to me. 

"What have you written?" I asked. 

I thought there was a slightly malicious gleam 
in his eyes. 

"I have ventured to offer you two little poems of 
my own." 

"I did not know you were a poet." 

"When China was still an uncivilised country," 
156 



THE PHILOSOPHER 

he retorted with sarcasm, "all educated men could 
write verse at least with elegance.'* 

I took the paper and looked at the Chinese char- 
acters. They made an agreeable pattern upon it. 

"Won't you also give me a translation?" 

"Tradwtore tradittore" he answered. "You 
cannot expect me to betray myself. Ask one of 
your English friends. Those who know most 
about China know nothing, but you will at least 
find one who is competent to give you a rendering 
of a few rough and simple lines." 

I bade him farewell, and with great politeness 
he showed me to my chair. When I had the op- 
portunity I gave the poems to a sinologue of my 
acquaintance, and here is the version he made. 1 
I confess that, doubtless unreasonably, I was 
somewhat taken aback when I read it. 

You loved me not: your voice was sweet; 

Your eyes were full of laughter; your hands were 

tender. 

And then you loved me: your voice was bitter; 
Your eyes were full of tears; your hands were cruel. 
Sad, sad that love should make you 
Unlovable. 



I craved the years would quickly pass 

That you might lose 
The brightness of your eyes, the peach-bloom of your 

skin, 
And all the cruel splendour of your youth. 

Then I alone would love you 

And you at last would care. 

1 1 owe it to the kindness of my friend Mr. P. W. David- 
son. 

157 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

The envious years have passed full soon 

And you have lost 
The brightness of your eyes, the peach-bloom of 

your skin, 
And all the charming splendour of your youth. 

Alas, I do not love you 
And I care not if you care. 



158 




XXXIX 
THE MISSIONARY LADY 

SHE was certainly fifty, but a life of convic- 
tions harassed by never a doubt had left 
her face unwrinkled. The hesitations of 
thought had never lined the smoothness of 
her brow. Her features were bold and regular, 
somewhat masculine, and her determined chin bore 
out the impression given you by her eyes. They 
were blue, confident, and unperturbed. They 
summed you up through large round spectacles. 
You felt that here was a woman to whom com- 
mand came easily. Her charity., .was above all 
things competent and you were certain that she 
ran the obvious goodness of her heart on thor- 
oughly business lines. It was possible to suppose 
that she was not devoid of human vanity (and 
this is to be counted to her for grace) since she 
wore a dress of violet silk, heavily embroidered, 
and a toque of immense pansies which on a less 
respectable head would have been almost saucy. 
But my Uncle Henry, for twenty-seven years Vicar 
of Whitstable, who had decided views on the 
proper manner of dress for a clergyman's wife, 
never objected to my Aunt Sophie wearing violet, 
and he would have found nothing to criticise in 
159 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

the missionary lady's gown. She spoke fluently 
with the even flow of water turned on at a tap. 
Her conversation had the admirable volubility of 
a politician at the end of an electioneering cam- 
paign. You felt that she knew what she meant 
(with most of us so rare an accomplishment) and 
meant what she said. 

"I always think," she remarked pleasantly, 
"that if you know both sides of a question you'll 
judge differently from what you will if you only 
know one side. But the fact remains that two and 
two make four and you can argue all night and 
you won't make them five. Am I right or am I 
wrong?" 

I hastened to assure her that she was right, 
though with these new theories of relativity and 
parallel lines behaving at infinity in such a sur- 
prising manner I was in my heart of hearts none 
too sure. 

"No one can eat their cake and have it," she 
continued, exemplifying Benedetto Croce's the- 
ory that grammar has little to do with expression, 
"and one has to take the rough with the smooth, 
but as I always say to the children you can't ex- 
pect to have everything your own way. No one is 
perfect in this world and I always think that if 
you expect the best from people you'll get the 
best." 

I confess that I was staggered, but I determined 
to do my part. It was only civil. 

"Most men live long enough to discover that 
every cloud has a silver lining," I began earnestly. 
160 



THE MISSIONARY LADY 

"With perseverance you can do most things that 
are not beyond your powers, and after all, it's 
better to want what you have than to have what 
you want." 

I thought her eyes were glazed with a sudden 
perplexity when I made this confident statement, 
but I daresay it was only my fancy, for she nodded 
vigorously. 

"Of course, I see your point," she said. "We 
can't do more than we can." 

But my blood was up now and I waved aside the 
interruption. I went on. 

"Few people realise the profound truth that 
there are twenty shillings in every pound and 
twelve pence in every shilling. I'm sure it's better 
to see clearly to the end of your nose than indis- 
tinctly through a brick wall. If there's one thing 
we can be certain about it is that the whole is 
greater than the part." 

When, with a hearty shake of the hand, firm 
and characteristic, she bade me farewell, she said : 

"Well, we've had a most interesting chat. It 
does one good in a place like this, so far away from 
civilisation, to exchange ideas with one's intellec- 
tual equals." 

"Especially other people's," I murmured. 

"I always think that one should profit by the 
great thoughts of the past," she retorted. "It 
shows that the mighty dead have not lived in vain." 

Her conversation was devastating. 



161 



XL 
A GAME OF BILLIARDS 

I WAS sitting in the lobby of the hotel, reading 
a number, several days old, of the South 
China Times, when the door of the bar was 
somewhat brusquely thrown open and a very 
long, thin man appeared. 

"Do you care for a game of billiards ?" he said. 

"By all means.'' 

I got up and went with him into the bar. It 
was a small hotel, of stone, somewhat pretentious 
in appearance, and it was kept by a half-caste 
Portuguese who smoked opium. There were not 
half a dozen people staying there, a Portuguese 
official and his wife waiting for a ship to take them 
to a distant colony, a Lancashire engineer who 
was sullenly drunk all day long, a mysterious lady, 
no longer young but of voluptuous appearance, 
who came to the dining room for meals and went 
back to her room immediately afterwards, and I 
had not seen the stranger before. I supposed he 
had come in that evening on a Chinese boat. He 
was a man of over fifty, I should think, shrivelled 
as though the sap had been dried out of him by 
tropical suns, with a face that was almost brick 
red. I could not place him. He might have been 
162 



A GAME OF BILLIARDS 

a skipper out of a job or the agent of some foreign 
firm in Hong Kong. He was very silent and he 
made no answer to the casual remarks that I made 
in the course of the game. He played billiards well 
enough, though not excellently, but he was a very 
pleasant fellow to play with; and when he pock- 
eted my ball, instead of leaving me a double balk, 
gave me a reasonable shot. But when the game 
was over I should never have thought of him 
again, if suddenly, breaking his silence for the 
first time, he had not put me a very odd question. 

"Do you believe in fate?" he asked. 

"At billiards ?" I retorted not a little astonished 
at his remark. 

"No, in life." 

I did not want to answer him seriously. 

"I hardly know," I said. 

He took his shot. He made a little break. At 
the end of it, chalking his cue, he said : 

"I do. I believe if things are coming to you, 
you can't escape them." 

That was all. He said nothing more. When 
we had finished the game he went up to bed, and 
I never saw him again. I shall never know what 
strange emotion impelled him to put that sudden 
question to a stranger. 



163 



XLI 
THE SKIPPER 

I KNEW he was drunk. 
He was a skipper of the new school, a neat 
little man, clean-shaven, who might easily 
have passed for the commander of a sub- 
marine. In his cabin there hung a beautiful new 
coat with gold braid on it, the uniform which for 
its good service in the war has been granted to 
the mercantile marine, but he was shy of using 
it; it seemed absurd when he was no more than 
captain of a small boat on the Yangtze ; and he 
stood on his bridge in a neat brown suit and a 
homburg hat ; you could almost see yourself in 
his admirably polished shoes. His eyes were clear 
and bright and his skin was fresh. Though he had 
been at sea for twenty years and could not have 
been much less than forty he did not look more 
than twenty-eight. You might be sure that he 
was a clean-living fellow, as healthy in inind as he 
was in body, and the depravity of the East of 
which they talk had left him untouched. He had 
a pleasant taste in light literature and the works 
of E. V. Lucas adorned his book-case. In his 
cabin you saw a photograph of a football team 
in which he figured and two of a young woman 
164 



THE SKIPPER 

with neatly waved hair whom it was possible 
enough he was engaged to. 

I knew he was drunk, but I did not think he 
was very drunk, till he asked me suddenly: 

"What is democracy?" 

I returned an evasive, perhaps a flippant an- 
swer, and for some minutes the conversation 
turned on less unseasonable topics to the occa- 
sion. Then breaking his silence, he said : 

"I hope you don't think I'm a socialist because 
I said, what is democracy." 

"Not at all," I answered, "but I don't see why 
you shouldn't be a socialist." 

"I give you my word of honour I'm not," he 
protested. "If I had my way I'd stand them 
up against a wall and shoot them." 

"What is socialism?" I asked. 

"Oh, you know what I mean, Henderson and 
Ramsay Macdonald and all that sort of thing," 
he answered. "I'm about fed up with the working 
man." 

"But you're a working man yourself, I should 
have thought." 

He was silent for quite a long time and I thought 
his mind had wandered to other things. But I 
was wrong; he was thinking my statement over 
in all its bearings, for at last he said: 

"Look here, I'm not a working man. Hang it 
all, I was at Harrow." 



165 



- 



XLII 
THE SIGHTS OF THE TOWN 

I AM not an industrious sight-seer, and when 
guides, professional or friendly, urge me to 
visit a famous monument I have a stubborn 
inclination to send them about their busi- 
ness. Too many eyes before mine have looked with 
awe upon Mont Blanc; too many hearts before 
mine have throbbed with deep emotion in the pres- 
ence of the Sistine Madonna. Sights like these 
are like women of too generous sympathies : you 
feel that so many persons have found solace in 
their commiseration that you are embarrassed 
when they bid you, with what practised tact, to 
whisper in their discreet ears the whole tale of 
your distress. Supposing you were the last straw 
that broke the camel's back ! No, Madam, I will 
take my sorrows (if I cannot bear them alone, 
which is better) to someone who is not quite so 
certain of saying so exactly the right thing to 
comfort me. When I am in a foreign town I 
prefer to wander at random and if maybe I lose 
the rapture of a Gothic cathedral I may happen 
upon a little Romanesque chapel or a Renaissance 
doorway which I shall be able to flatter myself no 
one else has troubled about. 
166 



F THE TOWN 

But of course this was a very extraordinary 
sight indeed and it would have been absurd to miss 
it. I came across it by pure chance. I was saun- 
tering along a dusty road outside the city wall and 
by the side of it I saw a number of memorial 
arches. They were small and undecorated, stand- 
ing not across the way but along it, close to one 
another, and sometimes one in front of the other, 
as though they had been erected by no impulse 
of gratitude to the departed or of admiration for 
the virtuous but in formal compliment, as knight- 
hoods on the King's birthday are conferred on 
prominent citizens of provincial towns. Behind 
this row of arches the land rose sharply and since 
in this part of the country the Chinese bury their 
dead by preference on the side of a hill it was 
thickly covered with graves. A trodden path led 
to a little tower and I followed it. It was a 
stumpy little tower, ten feet high perhaps, made 
of rough-hewn blocks of stone ; it was cone shaped 
and the roof was like a Pierrot's hat. It stood on 
a hillock, quaint and rather picturesque against 
the blue sky, amid the graves. At its foot were 
a number of rough baskets thrown about in dis- 
order. I walked round and on one side saw an 
oblong hole, eighteen inches by eight, perhaps, 
from which hung a stout string. From the hole 
there came a very strange, a nauseating odour. 
Suddenly I understood what the queer little build- 
ing was. It was a baby tower. The baskets were 
the baskets in which the babies had been brought, 
two or three of them were quite new, they could 
167 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

not have been there more than a few hours. And 
the string? Why, if the person who brought the 
baby, parent or grandmother, midwife or obliging 
friend, were of a humane disposition and did not 
care to let the new-born child drop to the bottom 
(for underneath the tower was a deep pit), it 
could be let down gently by means of the string. 
The odour was the odour of putrefaction. A 
lively little boy came up to me while I stood there 
and made me understand that four babes had 
been brought to the tower that morning. 

There are philosophers who look upon evil with 
a certain complacency, since without it, they 
opine, there would be no possibility of good. 
Without want there would be no occasion for char- 
ity, without distress of sympathy, without danger 
of courage, and without unhappiness of resigna- 
tion. They would find in the Chinese practice of 
infanticide an apt illustration of their views. Ex- 
cept for the baby tower there would not be in this 
city an orphanage: the traveller would miss an 
interesting and curious sight, and a few poor 
women would have no opportunity to exercise a 
beautiful and touching virtue. The orphanage is 
shabby and bedraggled; it is situated in a poor 
and crowded, part of the city; for the Spanish 
nuns who conduct it there are but five of them 
think it more convenient to live where they may 
be most useful; and besides, they have not the 
money to build commodious premises in a salubri- 
ous quarter. The institution is supported by the 
168 






THE SIGHTS OF THE TOWN 

work, lace and fine embroidery, which they teach 
the girls to do, and by the alms of the faithful. 

Two nuns, the Mother Superior and another, 
showed me what there was to see. It was very 
strange to go through the whitewashed rooms, 
work-rooms, playrooms, dormitories, and refec- 
tory, low, cool, and bare ; for you might have been 
in Spain, and when you passed a window you half 
expected to catch a glimpse of the Giralda. And 
it was charming to see the tenderness with which 
the nuns used the children. There were two hun- 
dred of them and they were, of course, orphans 
only in the sense that their parents had abandoned 
them. There was one room in which a number 
were playing, all of the same age, perhaps four, 
and all of the same size ; with their black eyes and 
black hair, their yellow skins, they all looked so 
much alike that they might have been the children 
of a Chinese Old Woman who lived in a Shoe. 
They crowded round the nuns and began to romp 
with them. The Mother Superior had the gen- 
tlest voice I ever heard, but it became gentler still 
when she joked with the tiny mites. They nestled 
about her. She looked a very picture of charity. 
Some were deformed and some were diseased, some 
were puny and hideous, some were blind ; it gave 
me a little shudder: I marvelled when I saw the 
love that filled her kind eyes and the affectionate 
sweetness of her smile. 

Then I was taken into a parlour where I was 
made to eat little sweet Spanish cakes and given a 
glass of Manzanilla to drink, and when I told them 
169 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

that I had lived in Seville a third nun was sent for, 
so that she might talk for a few minutes with 
someone who had seen the city she was born in. 
With pride they showed me their poor little chapel 
with its tawdry statue of the Blessed Virgin, its 
paper flowers, and its gaudy, shoddy decoration; 
for those dear faithful hearts, alas ! were possessed 
of singularly bad taste. I did not care: to me 
there was something positively touching in that 
dreadful vulgarity. And when I was on the point 
of leaving the Mother Superior asked me whether 
I would care to see the babies who had come in 
that day. In order to persuade people to bring 
them they gave twenty cents for every one. 
Twenty cents ! 

"You see," she explained, "they have often a 
long walk to come here and unless we give them 
something they won't take the trouble." 

She took me into a little anteroom, near the en- 
trance, and there lying on a table under a counter- 
pane were four new-born babes. They had just 
been washed and put into long clothes. The coun- 
terpane was lifted off. They lay side by side, on 
their backs, four tiny wriggling mites, very red in 
the face, rather cross perhaps because they had 
been bathed, and very hungry. Their eyes seemed 
preternaturally large. They were so small, so 
helpless : you were forced to smile when you looked 
at them and at the same time you felt a lump in 
your throat. 



170 



XLIII 
NIGHTFALL 

TOWARDS evening perhaps, tired of walk- 
ing, you get into your chair and on the 
crest of a hill you pass through a stone 
gateway. You cannot tell why there 
should be a gateway in that deserted spot, far 
from a village, but a fragment of massive wall sug- 
gests the ruin of fortifications against the foes of 
a forgotten dynasty. And when you come 
through the gateway you see below you the shining 
water in the rice fields, diapered, like the chess- 
board in some Chinese Alice in Wonderland, and 
then the rounded, tree-clad hills. But making 
your way down the stone steps of the narrow 
causeway which is the high road from city to city, 
in the gathering darkness you pass a coppice, and 
from it waft towards you chill woodland odours 
of the night. Then you hear no longer the meas- 
ured tread of your bearers, your ears are on a 
sudden deaf to their sharp cries as they change 
the pole from shoulder to shoulder, and to the 
ceaseless chatter or the occasional snatch of song 
with which they enliven the monotonous way, for 
the woodland odours are the same as those which 
steal up from the fat Kentish soil when you pass 
171 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

through the woods of Bleane ; and nostalgia seizes 
you. Your thoughts travel through time and 
space, far from the Here and Now, and you re- 
member your vanished youth with its high hopes, 
its passionate love, and its ambition. Then if 
you are a cynic, as they say, and therefore a 
sentimentalist, tears come to your unwilling eyes. 
And when you have regained your self-control the 
night has fallen. 



17* 



XLIV 
THE NORMAL MAN 

I WAS once obliged to study anatomy, a very 
dreary business, since there is neither rhyme 
nor reason for the vast number of things 
you have to remember; but one remark made 
by my teacher, when he was helping me in the dis- 
section of a thigh, has always remained in my 
memory. I was looking in vain for a certain nerve 
and it needed his greater skill to discover it in a 
place in which I had not sought it. I was ag- 
grieved because the text book had misled me. He 
smiled and said: 

"You see, the normal is the rarest thing in the 
world." 

And though he spoke of anatomy he might have 
spoken with equal truth of man. The casual ob- 
servation impressed itself upon me as many a pro- 
founder 'one has not and all the years that have 
passed since then, with the increasing knowledge 
of human nature which they have brought, have 
only strengthened my conviction of its truth. I 
have met a hundred men who seemed perfectly 
normal only to find in them presently an idiosyn- 
crasy so marked as to put them almost in a class 
by themselves. It has entertained me not a little 
173 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

to discover the hidden oddity of men to all appear- 
ances most ordinary. I have been often amazed 
to come upon a hideous depravity in men who you 
would have sworn were perfectly commonplace. 
I have at last sought the normal man as a 
precious work of art. It has seemed to me that 
to know him would give me that peculiar satis- 
faction which can only be described as aesthetic. 

I really thought I had found him in Robert 
Webb. He was a consul in one of the smaller ports 
and I was given a letter to him. I heard a good 
deal about him on my way through China and I 
heard nothing but good. Whenever I happened to 
mention that I was going to the port in which he 
was stationed someone was sure to say: 

"You'll like Bob Webb. He's an awfully good 
chap." 

He was no less popular as an official than he was 
as a private person. He managed to please the 
merchants because he was active in their interests, 
without antagonising the Chinese who praised his 
firmness or the missionaries who approved his 
private life. During the revolution by his tact, 
decision, and courage he had not only saved from 
great danger the foreign population of the city 
in which he then was, but also many Chinese. He 
had come forward as a peacemaker between the 
warring parties and by his ingenuity had been 
able to bring about a satisfactory settlement. He 
was marked down for promotion. I certainly found 
him a very engaging fellow. Though he was 
not good-looking his appearance was pleasing; 
174 



THE NORMAL, MAN 

he was tall, perhaps a little more than of average 
height, well covered without being fat, with a fresh 
complexion inclined now (for he was nearly fifty) 
to be somewhat bloated in the morning. This was 
not strange, for in China the foreigners both eat 
and drink a great deal too much, and Robert Webb 
had a healthy liking for the good things of life. 
He kept an excellent table. He liked eating in 
company and it was seldom that he did not have 
one or two people to tiffin or to dinner with him. 
His eyes were blue and friendly. He had the social 
gifts that give pleasure: he played the piano quite 
well, but he liked the music that other people 
liked, and he was always ready to play a one step 
or a waltz if others wanted to dance. With a wife, 
a son, and a daughter in England he could not 
afford to keep racing ponies, but he was keenly 
interested in racing ; he was a good tennis player, 
and his bridge was better than the average. Un- 
like many of his colleagues he did not allow himself 
to be overwhelmed by his position, and in the eve- 
ning at the club he was affable and unaffected. 
But he did not forget that he was His Britannic 
Majesty's Consul and I admired the skill with 
which without portentousness he preserved the dig- 
nity which he thought necessary to his station. 
In short he had very good manners. He talked 
agreeably, and his interests, though somewhat or- 
dinary, were varied. He had a nice sense of 
humour. He could make a joke and tell a good 
story. He was very happily married. His son 
was at Charterhouse and he showed me a photo- 
175 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

graph of a tall, fair lad in flannels, with a frank 
and pleasant face. He showed me also the photo- 
graph of his daughter. It is one of the tragedies 
of life in China that a man must be separated for 
long periods from his family, and owing to the 
war Robert Webb had not seen his for eight years. 
His wife had taken the children home when the boy 
was eight and the girl eleven. They had meant to 
wait till his leave came so that they could go all 
together, but he was stationed in a place that 
suited neither of the children and he and his wife 
agreed that she had better take them at once. His 
leave was due in three years and then he could 
spend twelve months with them. But when the time 
for this came the war broke out, the Consular staff 
was short-handed, and it was impossible for him to 
leave his post. His wife did not want to be sepa- 
rated from young children, the journey was diffi- 
cult and dangerous, no one expected the war to 
last so long, and one by one the years passed. 

"My girl was a child when I saw her last," he 
said to me when he showed me the photograph. 
"Now she's a married woman." 

"When are you going on leave?" I asked him. 

"Oh, my wife's coming out now." 

"But don't you want to see your daughter?" 
I asked. 

He looked at the photograph again and then 
looked away. There was a curious look in his 
face, a somewhat peevish look, I thought, and he 
answered : 

176 



THE NORMAL MAN 

"I've been away from home too long now. I 
shall never go back." 

I leaned back in my chair, smoking my pipe. 
The photograph showed me a girl of nineteen with 
wide blue eyes and bobbed hair; it was a pretty 
face, open and friendly, but the most noticeable 
thing about it was a peculiar charm of expres- 
sion. Bob Webb's daughter was a very alluring 
young person. I liked that engaging audacity. 

"It was rather a surprise to me when she sent 
along that photograph," he said presently. "I'd 
always thought of her as a child. If I'd met her 
in the street I shouldn't have known her." 

He gave a little laugh that was not quite natu- 
ral. 

"It isn't fair. . . . When she was a child she 
used to love being petted." 

His eyes were fixed on the photograph. I 
seemed to see in them a very unexpected emotion. 

"I can hardly realise she's my daughter. I 
thought she'd come back with her mother, and 
then she wrote and said she was engaged." 

He looked away now and I thought there was a 
singular embarrassment in the down-turned cor- 
ners of his mouth. 

"I suppose one gets selfish out here, I felt aw- 
fully sore, but I gave a big dinner party to all the 
fellows here the day she was married, and we all 
got blind." 

He gave an apologetic laugh. 

"I had to, you know," he said awkwardly. "I 
had such an awful hump." 
M 177 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"What's the young man like?" I asked. 

"She's awfully in love with him. When she 
writes to me her letters are about nothing else." 
There was an odd quaver in his voice. "It's a bit 
thick to bring a child into the world and to edu- 
cate her and be fond of her and all that sort of 
thing just for some man whom you've never even 
seen. I've got his photograph somewhere, I don't 
know where it is. I don't think I'd care about 
him very much." 

He helped himself to another whisky. He was 
tired. He looked old and bloated. He said 
nothing for a long time, and then suddenly he 
seemed to pull himself together. 

"Well, thank God, her mother's coming out 
soon." 

I don't think he was quite a normal man after 
all. 



178 



XLV 
THE OLD TIMER 

HE was seventy-six years old. He had 
come to China when he was little more 
than a boy as second mate of a sailing 
vessel and had never gone home again. 
Since then he had been many things. For long 
years he had commanded a Chinese boat that ran 
from Shanghai to Ichang and he knew by heart 
every inch of the great and terrible Yangtze. He 
had been master of a tug at Hong-Kong and had 
fought in the Ever-Victorious Army. He had got 
a lot of loot in the Boxer troubles and had been 
in Hankow during the revolution when the rebels 
shelled the city. He had been married three times, 
first to a Japanese woman, then to a Chinese, and 
finally when he was hard upon fifty to an English- 
woman. They were all dead now and it was the 
Japanese who lingered in his memory. He would 
tell you how she arranged the flowers in the house 
in Shanghai, just one chrysanthemum in a vase 
or a sprig of cherry blossom; and he always re- 
membered how she held a tea-cup, with both hands, 
delicately. He had had a number of children, but 
he took no interest in them; they were settled in 
the various ports of China, in banks and shipping 
179 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

offices, and he seldom saw them. He was proud 
of his daughter by his English wife, the only girl 
he ever had, but she had married well and was 
gone to England. He would never see her again. 
The only person now for whom he had any affec- 
tion was the boy who had been with him for five 
and forty years. He was a little wizened China- 
man, with a bald head, slow of movement and 
solemn. He was well over sixty. They quarrelled 
incessantly. The old timer would tell the boy that 
he was past his work and that he must get rid of 
him, and then the boy would say that he was tired 
of serving a mad foreign devil. But each knew 
that the other did not mean a word he said. They 
were old friends, old men both of them, and they 
would remain together till death parted them. 

It was when he married his English wife that he 
retired from the water and put his savings into a 
hotel. But it was not a success. It was a little way 
from Shanghai, a summer resort, and it was before 
there were motor cars in China. He was a sociable 
fellow and he spent too much of his time in the 
bar. He was generous and he gave away as many 
drinks as were paid for. He also had the peculiar 
habit of spitting in the bath and the more 
squeamish of his visitors objected to it. When his 
last wife died he found it was she who had kept 
things from going to pieces and in a little while he 
could no longer bear up against the difficulty of 
his circumstances. All his savings had gone into 
buying the place, now heavily mortgaged, and in 
making up the deficit year by year. He was 
180 



THE OLD TIMER 

obliged to sell out to a Japanese and having paid 
his debts at the age of sixty-eight found him- 
self without a penny. But, by God, sir, he was a 
sailor. One of the companies running boats up 
the Yangtze, gave him a berth as chief officer he 
had no master's certificate and he returned to 
the river which he knew so well. For eight years 
he had been on the same run. 

And now he stood on the bridge of his trim little 
ship, not so large as a penny steamer on the 
Thames, a gallant figure, upright and slender as 
when he was a lad, in a neat blue suit and the com- 
pany's cap set jauntily on his white hair, with 
his pointed beard nattily trimmed. Seventy-six 
years old. It is a great age. With his head 
thrown back, his glasses in his hand, the Chinese 
pilot by his side, he watched the vast expanse of 
the winding river. A fleet of junks with their 
high sterns, their square sails set, descended on 
the swift current, and the rowers chanted a mo- 
notonous chant as they worked at their creaking 
oars. The yellow water in the setting sun was 
lovely with pale soft tints, it was as smooth as 
glass ; and along the flat banks the trees and the 
huts of a bedraggled village, hazy in the heat of 
the day, were now silhouetted sharply, like the 
shadows of a shadowgraph, against the pale sky. 
He raised his head as he heard the cry of wild 
geese and he saw them flying high above him in a 
great V to what far lands he knew not. In the 
distance against the sunlight stood a solitary 
hill crowned with temples. Because he had seen 
181 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

all this so often it affected him strangely. The 
dying day made him think, he knew not why, of 
his long past and of his great age. He regretted 
nothing. 

"By George," he muttered, "I've had a fine 
life." 



182 



XLVI 

THE PLAIN 

THE incident was of course perfectly triv- 
ial, and it could be very easily explained ; 
but I was surprised that the eyes of the 
spirit could blind me so completely to 
what was visible to the eyes of sense. I was taken 
aback to find how completely one could be at the 
mercy of the laws of association. Day after day 
I had marched among the uplands and to-day I 
knew that I must come to the great plain in 
which lay the ancient city whither I was bound; 
but when I set out in the morning there was no 
sign that I approached it. Indeed the hills seemed 
no less sheer and when I reached the top of one, 
thinking to see the valley below, it was only to see 
before me one steeper and taller yet. Beyond, 
climbing steadily, I could see the white causeway 
that I had followed so long, shining in the sunlight 
as it skirted the brow of a rugged tawny rock. 
The sky was blue and in the west hung here and 
there little clouds like fishing boats becalmed to- 
wards evening off Dungeness. I trudged along, 
mounting all the time, alert for the prospect that 
awaited me, if not round this bend, then round the 
next, and at last, suddenly, when I was thinking 
183 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

of other things, I came upon it. But it was no 
Chinese landscape that I saw, with its padi fields, 
its memorial arches and its fantastic temples, with 
its farmhouses set in a bamboo grove and its way- 
side inns where under the banyan trees the poor 
coolies may rest them of their weary loads; it 
was the valley of the Rhine, the broad plain all 
golden in the sunset, the valley of the Rhine with 
its river, a silvery streak, running through it, and 
the distant towers of Worms; it was the great 
plain upon which my young eyes rested, when, a 
student in Heidelberg, after walking long among 
the fir-clad hills above the old city, I came out 
upon a clearing. And because I was there first 
conscious of beauty ; because there I knew the first 
glow of the acquisition of knowledge (each book 
I read was an extraordinary adventure) ; because 
there I first knew the delight of conversation (oh, 
those wonderful commonplaces which each boy 
discovers as though none had discovered them be- 
fore) ; because of the morning stroll in the sunny 
Anlage, the cakes and coffee which refreshed my 
abstemious youth at the end of a strenuous walk, 
the leisurely evenings on the castle terrace, with 
the smoky blue haze over the tumbled roofs of the 
old town below me; because of Goethe and Heine 
and Beethoven and Wagner and (why not?) 
Strauss with his waltzes, and the beer-garden 
where the band played and girls with 'yellow plaits 
walked sedately; because of all these things 
recollections which have all the force of the appeal 
of sense to me not only does the word plain mean 
184 



THE PLAIN 

everywhere and exclusively the valley of the Rhine ; 
but the only symbol for happiness I know is a wide 
prospect all golden in the setting sun, with a shin- 
ing stream of silver running through it, like the 
path of life or like the ideal that guides you 
through it, and far away the grey towers of an 
ancient town. 



185 



XL VII 
FAILURE 

A LITTLE man, portly, in a fantastic hat, 
like a bushranger's, with an immense 
brim, a pea-jacket such as you see in 
Leech's pictures of the sea-faring man, 
and very wide check trousers of a cut fashionable 
heaven knows how many years ago. When he takes 
off his hat you see a fine head of long curly hair, 
and though he is approaching the sixties it is 
scarcely grey. His features are regular. He 
wears a collar several sizes too large for him so 
that his whole neck, massive and statuesque, is 
shown. He has the look of a Roman Emperor in a 
tragedy of the sixties and this air of an actor of 
the old school is enhanced by his deep booming 
voice. His stumpy frame makes it slightly ab- 
surd. You can imagine his declaiming the blank 
verse of Sheridan Knowles with an emphasis to 
rouse the pit to frenzy, and when he greets you, 
with too large a gesture, you guess how that 
resonant organ would tremble when he wrung 
your heart (in 1860) over the death of his child. 
It was splendid a little later to hear him ask the 
Chinese servant for "me boots, boy, me boots. A 
186 



FAILURE 

kingdom for me boots." He confessed that he 
should have been an actor. 

"To be or not to be, that was the question, but 
me family, me family, dear boy, they would have 
died of the disgrace, and so I was exposed to the 
slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." 

In short he came out to China as a tea-taster. 
But he came when the Ceylon tea was already 
ousting the Chinese and it was no longer possible 
for the merchant to enrich himself in a few years. 
But the old lavishness endured and life was led in 
a grand style when the means to pay for it no 
longer existed. The struggle became harder. 
Finally came the Sino-Japanese war, and with the 
loss of Formosa, ruin. The tea-taster looked 
about for other means of livelihood. He became 
a wine-merchant, an undertaker, an estate-agent, 
a broker, an auctioneer. He tried every way of 
making money that his ardent imagination sug- 
gested, but with the diminishing prosperity of the 
port his efforts were bootless. Life was too much 
for him. And now at last he had the pitiful air of 
a broken man ; there was even something touching 
in it, like the appeal of a woman who cannot be 
lieve in the loss of her beauty and implores the 
compliment which reassures but no longer con- 
vinces her. And yet, notwithstanding, he had a 
solace: he had still a magnificent assurance; he 
was a failure and he knew it ; but it did not really 
affect him, for he was the victim of fate: no 
shadow of a doubt in his own capacity had ever 
crossed his mind. 

187 



XLVIII 
A STUDENT OF THE DRAMA 

HE sent in a neat card of the correct 
shape and size, deeply bordered in 
black, upon which under his name was 
printed Professor of Comparative 
Modern Literature. He turned out to be a young 
man, small, with tiny elegant hands, with a larger 
nose than you see as a rule in the Chinese and gold 
rimmed spectacles. Though it was a warm day 
he was dressed, in European clothes, in a suit of 
heavy tweed. He seemed a trifle shy. He spoke 
in a high falsetto, as though his voice had never 
broken, and those shrill notes gave I know not 
what feeling of unreality to his conversation. He 
had studied in Geneva and in Paris, Berlin and 
Vienna, and he expressed himself fluently in Eng- 
lish, French, and German. 

It appeared that he lectured on the drama and 
he had lately written, in French, a work on the 
Chinese theatre. His studies abroad had left him 
with a surprising enthusiasm for Scribe, and this 
was the model he proposed for the regeneration 
of the Chinese drama. It was curious to hear 
him demand that the drama should be exciting. 
He was asking for the piece bien faite, the scene 
188 



A STUDENT OF THE DRAMA 

a faire, the curtain, the unexpected, the dramatic. 
The Chinese theatre, with its elaborate symbolism, 
has been what we are always crying for, the theatre 
of ideas ; and apparently it has been perishing of 
dullness. It is true that ideas do not grow on 
every gooseberry bush, they need novelty to make 
them appetising, and when they are stale they 
stink as badly as stale fish. 

But then, remembering the description on the 
card, I asked my friend what books, English and 
French, he recommended his students to read in 
order to familiarise themselves with the current 
literature of the day. He hesitated a little. 

"I really don't know," he said at last, "you see, 
that's not my branch, I only have to do with 
drama; but if you're interested I'll ask my col- 
league who lectures on European fiction to call 
on you." 

"I beg your pardon," I said. 

"Have you read Les Avaries?" he asked. "I 
think that is the finest play that has been pro- 
duced in Europe since Scribe." 

"Do you?" I said politely. 

"Yes, you see our students are greatly inter- 
ested in sociological questions." 

It is my misfortune that I am not, and so as 
deftly as I could I led the conversation to Chinese 
philosophy which I was desultorily reading. I 
mentioned Chuang-Tzu. The professor's jaw fell. 

"He lived a very long time ago," he said, per- 
plexed. 

"So did Aristotle," I murmured pleasantly. 
189 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"I have never studied the philosophers," he said, 
"but of course we have at our university a pro- 
fessor of Chinese philosophy and if you are inter- 
ested in that I will ask him to come and call on 
you." 

It is useless to argue with a pedagogue, as the 
Spirit of the Ocean (somewhat portentously to 
my mind) remarked to the Spirit of the River and 
I resigned myself to discuss the drama. My pro- 
fessor was interested in its technique and indeed 
was preparing a course of lectures on the subject, 
which he seemed to think both complicated and 
abstruse. He flattered me by asking me what 
were the secrets of the craft. 

"I know only two," I answered. "One is to have 
common-sense and the other is to stick to the 
point." 

"Does it require no more than that to write 
a play?" he inquired with a shade of dismay in 
his tone. 

"You want a certain knack," I allowed, "but no 
more than to play billiards." 

"They lecture on the technique of the drama 
in all the important universities of America," 
said he. 

"The Americans are an extremely practical 
people," I answered. "I believe that Harvard is 
instituting a chair to instruct grandmothers how 
to suck eggs." 

"I do not think I quite understand you." 

"If you can't write a play no one can teach 
190 



A STUDENT OF THE DRAMA 

you and if you can it's as easy as falling off a 
log." 

Here his face expressed a lively perplexity, 
but I think only because he could not make up 
his mind whether this operation came within the 
province of the professor of physics or within 
that of the professor of applied mechanics. 

"But if it is so easy to write a play why do 
dramatists take so long about it?" 

"They didn't, you know. Lope de la Vega and 
Shakespeare and a hundred others wrote copiously 
and with ease. Some modern playwrights have 
been perfectly illiterate men and have found it an 
almost insuperable difficulty to put two sentences 
together. A celebrated English dramatist once 
showed me a manuscript and I saw that he 
had written the question: will you have sugar in 
your tea, five times before he could put it in this 
form. A novelist would starve if he could not on 
the whole say what he wanted to without any 
beating about the bush." 

"You would not call Ibsen an illiterate man 
and yet it is well known that he took two years 
to write a play." 

"It is obvious that Ibsen found a prodigious 
difficulty in thinking of a plot. He racked his 
brain furiously, month after month, and at last 
in despair used the very same that he had used 
before." 

"What do you mean?" the professor cried, his 
voice rising to a shrill scream. "I do not under- 
stand you at all." 

191 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"Have you not noticed that Ibsen uses the same 
plot over and over again? A number of people 
are living in a closed and stuffy room, then some 
one comes (from the mountains or from over the 
sea) and flings the window open; everyone gets 
a cold in the head and the curtain falls." 

I thought it just possible that the shadow of a 
smile might lighten for a moment the professor's 
grave face, but he knit his brows and gazed for 
two minutes into space. Then he rose. 

"I will peruse the works of Henrik Ibsen once 
more with that point of view in mind," he said. 

I did not omit before he left to put him the 
question which one earnest student of the drama 
always puts another when peradventure they meet. 
I asked him, namely, what he thought was the 
future of the theatre. I had an idea that he said, 
oh hell, but on reflection I believe his exclamation 
must have been, 6 ciel! He sighed, he shook his 
head, he threw up his elegant hands ; he looked the 
picture of dejection. It was certainly a comfort 
to find that all thoughtful people considered the 
drama's state in China no less desperate than all 
thoughtful people consider it in England. 



192 



XLIX 
THE TAIPAN 

NO one knew better than he that he was an 
important person. He was number one 
in not the least important branch of the 
most important English firm in China. 
He had worked his way up through solid ability 
and he looked back with a faint smile at the cal- 
low clerk who had come out to China thirty years 
before. When he remembered the modest home 
he had come from, a little red house in a long row 
of little red houses, in Barnes, a suburb which, 
aiming desperately at the genteel, achieves only a 
sordid melancholy, and compared it with the mag- 
nificent stone mansion, with its wide verandahs 
and spacious rooms, which was at once the office of 
the company and his own residence, he chuckled 
with satisfaction. He had come a long way since 
then. He thought of the high tea to which he sat 
down when he came home from school (he was at 
St. Paul's), with his father and mother and his 
two sisters, a slice of cold meat, a great deal of 
bread and butter and plenty of milk in his tea, 
everybody helping himself, and then he thought of 
the state in which now he ate his evening meal. 
He always dressed and whether he was alone or 
N 193 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

not he expected the three boys to wait at table. 
His number one boy knew exactly what he liked 
and he never had to bother himself with the details 
of housekeeping; but he always had a set dinner 
with soup and fish, entree, roast, sweet and sav- 
oury, so that if he wanted to ask anyone in at the 
last moment he could. He liked his food and he 
did not see why when he was alone he should have 
less good a dinner than when he had a guest. 

He had indeed gone far. That was why he did 
not care to go home now, he had not been to 
England for ten years, and he took his leave in 
Japan or Vancouver where he was sure of meeting 
old friends from the China coast. He knew no one 
at home. His sisters had married in their own 
station, their husbands were clerks and their sons 
were clerks; there was nothing between him and 
them ; they bored him. He satisfied the claims of 
relationship by sending them every Christmas a 
piece of fine silk, some elaborate embroidery, or 
a case of tea. He was not a mean man and as 
long as his mother lived he had made her an allow- 
ance. But when the time came for him to retire 
he had no intention of going back to England, he 
had seen too many men do that and he knew how 
often it was a failure; he meant to take a house 
near the race-course in Shanghai: what with 
bridge and his ponies and golf he expected to get 
through the rest of his life very comfortably. But 
he had a good many years before he need think 
of retiring. In another five or six Higgins 
would be going home and then he would take 
194 



THE TAIPAN 

charge of the head office in Shanghai. Mean- 
while he was very happy where he was, he could 
save money, which you couldn't do in Shanghai, 
and have a good time into the bargain. This 
place had another advantage over Shanghai: he 
was the most prominent man in the community and 
what he said went. Even the consul took care to 
keep on the right side of him. Once a consul and 
he had been at loggerheads and it was not he who 
had gone to the wall. The taipan thrust out his 
jaw pugnaciously as he thought of the incident. 
But he smiled, for he felt in an excellent hu- 
mour. He was walking back to his office from a 
capital luncheon at the Hong-Kong and Shanghai 
Bank. They did you very well there. The food 
was first rate and there was plenty of liquor. He 
had started with a couple of cocktails, then he 
had some excellent sauterne and he had finished up 
with two glasses of port and some fine old brandy. 
He felt good. And when he left he did a thing that 
was rare with him; he walked. His bearers with 
his chair kept a few paces behind him in case he 
felt inclined to slip into it, but he enjoyed stretch- 
ing his legs. He did not get enough exercise these 
days. Now that he was too heavy to ride it was 
difficult to get exercise. But if he was too heavy 
to ride he could still keep ponies, and as he 
strolled along in the balmy air he thought of the 
spring meeting. He had a couple of griffins that 
he had hopes of and one of the lads in his office 
had turned out a fine jockey (he must see they 
didn't sneak him away, old Higgins in Shanghai 
195 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

would give a pot of money to get him over there) 
and he ought to pull off two or three races. He 
flattered himself that he had the finest stable in 
the city. He pouted his broad chest like a pigeon. 
It was a beautiful day, and it was good to be alive. 

He paused as he came to the cemetery. It stood 
there, neat and orderly, as an evident sign of the 
community's opulence. He never passed the ceme- 
tery without a little glow of pride. He was pleased 
to be an Englishman. For the cemetery stood in 
a place, valueless when it was chosen, which with 
the increase of the city's affluence was now worth 
a great deal of money. It had been suggested that 
the graves should be moved to another spot and 
the land sold for building, but the feeling of the 
community was against it. It gave the taipan a 
sense of satisfaction to think that their dead rested 
on the most valuable site on the island. It showed 
that there were things they cared for more than 
money. Money be blowed ! When it came to "the 
things that mattered" (this was a favourite phrase 
with the taipan) well, one remembered that money 
wasn't everything. 

And now he thought he would take a stroll 
through. He looked at the graves. They were 
neatly kept and the pathways were free from 
weeds. There was a look of prosperity. And as 
he sauntered along he read the names on the tomb- 
stones. Here were three side by side; the captain, 
the first mate, and the second mate of the barque 
Mary Baxter, who had all perished together in 
the typhoon of 1908. He remembered it well. 
196 



THE TAIPAN 

There was a little group of two missionaries, their 
wives and children, who had been massacred during 
the Boxer troubles. Shocking thing that had 
been! Not that he took much stock in mission- 
aries; but, hang it all, one couldn't have these 
damned Chinese massacring them. Then he came 
to a cross with a name on it he knew. Good chap, 
Edward Mulock, but he couldn't stand his liquor, 
drank himself to death, poor devil, at twenty-five: 
the taipan had known a lot of them do that ; there 
were several more neat crosses with a man's name 
on them and the age, twenty-five, twenty-six, or 
twenty-seven; it was always the same story; they 
had come out to China: they had never seen so 
much money before, they were good fellows and 
they wanted to drink with the rest : they couldn't 
stand it, and there they were in the cemetery. You 
had to have a strong head and a fine constitution 
to drink drink for drink on the China coast. Of 
course it was very sad, but the taipan could hardly 
help a smile when he thought how many of those 
young fellows he had drunk underground. And 
there was a death that had been useful, a fellow 
in his own firm, senior to him and a clever chap 
too: if that fellow had lived he might not have 
been taipan now. Truly the ways of fate were 
inscrutable. Ah, and here was little Mrs. Turner, 
Violet Turner, she had been a pretty little thing, 
he had had quite an affair with her; he had been 
devilish cut up when she died. He looked at her 
age on the tombstone. She'd be no chicken if she 
were alive now. And as he thought of all those 
197 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

dead people a sense of satisfaction spread through 
him. He had beaten them all. They were dead 
and he was alive, and by George he'd scored them 
off. His eyes collected in one picture all those 
crowded graves and he smiled scornfully. He very 
nearly rubbed his hands. 

"No one ever thought I was a fool,'* he muttered. 

He had a feeling of good-natured contempt 
for the gibbering dead. Then, as he strolled 
along, he came suddenly upon two coolies digging 
a grave. He was astonished, for he had not heard 
that anyone in the community was dead. 

"Who the devil's that for?" he said aloud. 

The coolies did not even look at him, they went 
on with their work, standing in the grave, deep 
down, and they shovelled up heavy clods of earth. 
Though he had been so long in China he knew no 
Chinese, in his day it was not thought necessary to 
learn the damned language, and he asked the 
coolies in English whose grave they were digging. 
They did not understand. They answered him in 
Chinese and he cursed them for ignorant fools. He 
knew that Mrs. Broome's child was ailing and it 
might have died, but he would certainly have heard 
of it, and besides that wasn't a child's grave, it 
was a man's and a big man's too. It was uncanny. 
He wished he hadn't gone into that cemetery ; he 
hurried out and stepped into his chair. His good 
humour had all gone and there was an uneasy 
frown on his face. The moment he got back to 
his office he called to his number two : 

"I say, Peters, who's dead, d'you know?" 
198 



THE TAIPAN 

But Peters knew nothing. The taipan was puz- 
zled. He called one of the native clerks and sent 
him to the cemetery to ask the coolies. He began 
to sign his letters. The clerk came back and said 
the coolies had gone and there was no one to ask. 
The taipan began to feel vaguely annoyed : he did 
not like things to happen of which he knew nothing. 
His own boy would know, his boy always knew 
everything, and he sent for him ; but the boy had 
heard of no death in the community. 

"I knew no one was dead," said the taipan irri- 
tably. "But what's the grave for?" 

He told the boy to go to the overseer of the 
cemetery and find out what the devil he had dug 
a grave for when no one was dead. 

"Let me have a whisky and soda before you 
go," he added, as the boy was leaving the room. 

He did not know why the sight of the grave had 
made him uncomfortable. But he tried to put it 
out of his mind. He felt better when he had drunk 
the whisky, and he finished his work. He went 
upstairs and turned over the pages of Punch. 
In a few minutes he would go to the club and play 
a rubber or two of bridge before dinner. But it 
would ease his mind to hear what his boy had to 
say and he waited for his return. In a little while 
the boy came back and he brought the overseer 
with him. 

"What are you having a grave dug for?" he 
asked the overseer point blank. "Nobody's dead." 

"I no dig glave," said the man. 
199 



ON A CHINESE SCKEEN 

"What the devil do you mean by that? There 
were two coolies digging a grave this afternoon.'* 

The two Chinese looked at one another. Then 
the boy said they had been to the cemetery to- 
gether. There was no new grave there. 

The taipan only just stopped himself from 
speaking. 

"But damn it all, I saw it myself," were the 
words on the tip of his tongue. 

But he did not say them. He grew very red 
as he choked them down. The two Chinese looked 
at him with their steady eyes. For a moment his 
breath failed him. 

"All right. Get out," he gasped. 

But as soon as they were gone he shouted for 
the boy again, and when he came, maddeningly im- 
passive, he told him to bring some whisky. He 
rubbed his sweating face with a handkerchief. His 
hand trembled when he lifted the glass to his lips. 
They could say what they liked, but he had seen 
the grave. Why, he could hear still the dull thud 
as the coolies threw the spadefuls of earth on the 
ground above them. What did it mean? He could 
feel his heart beating. He felt strangely ill at 
ease. But he pulled himself together. It was all 
nonsense. If there was no grave there it must 
have been an hallucination. The best thing he 
could do was to go to the club, and if he ran across 
the doctor he would ask him to give him a look 
over. 

Everyone in the club looked just the same as 
ever. He did not know why he should have ex- 

' 



THE TAIPAN 

pected them to look different. It was a comfort. 
These men, living for many years with one another 
lives that were methodically regulated, had ac- 
quired a number of little idiosyncrasies one of 
them hummed incessantly while he played bridge, 
another insisted on drinking beer through a straw 
and these tricks which had so often irritated the 
taipan now gave him a sense of security. He 
needed it, for he could not get out of his head that 
strange sight he had seen; he played bridge very 
badly ; his partner was censorious, and the taipan 
lost his temper. He thought the men were looking 
at him oddly. He wondered what they saw in 
him that was unaccustomed. 

Suddenly he felt he could not bear to stay in 
the club any longer. As he went out he saw the 
doctor reading The Times in the reading-room, 
but he could not bring himself to speak to him. 
He wanted to see for himself whether that grave 
was really there and stepping into his chair he 
told his bearers to take him to the cemetery. You 
couldn't have an hallucination twice, could you? 
And besides, he would take the overseer in with 
him and if the grave was not there he wouldn't 
see it, and if it was he'd give the overseer the 
soundest thrashing he'd ever had. But the over- 
seer was nowhere to be found. He had gone out 
and taken the keys with him. When the taipan 
found he could not get into the cemetery he felt 
suddenly exhausted. He got back into his chair 
and told his bearers to take him home. He would 
lie down for half an hour before dinner. He was 
201 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

tired out. That was it. He had heard that peo- 
ple had hallucinations when they were tired. When 
his boy came in to put out his clothes for dinner 
it was only by an effort of will that he got up. 
He had a strong inclination not to dress that 
evening, but he resisted it: he made it a rule to 
dress, he had dressed every evening for twenty 
years and it would never do to break his rule. 
But he ordered a bottle of champagne with his 
dinner and that made him feel more comfortable. 
Afterwards he told the boy to bring him the best 
brandy. When he had drunk a couple of glasses 
of this he felt himself again. Hallucinations be 
damned ! He went to the billiard room and prac- 
tised a few difficult shots. There could not be 
much the matter with him when his eye was so 
sure. When he went to bed he sank immediately 
into a sound sleep. 

But suddenly he awoke. He had dreamed of 
that open grave and the coolies digging leisurely. 
He was sure he had seen them. It was absurd to 
say it was an hallucination when he had seen them 
with his own eyes. Then he heard the rattle of the 
night watchman going his rounds. It broke upon 
the stillness of the night so harshly that it made 
him jump out of his skin. And then terror seized 
him. He felt a horror of the winding multitudi- 
nous streets of the Chinese city, and there was 
something ghastly and terrible in the convoluted 
roofs of the temples with their devils grimacing 
and tortured. He loathed the smells that as- 
saulted his nostrils. And the people. Those 
202 



THE TAIPAN 

myriads of blue clad coolies, and the beggars in 
their filthy rags, and the merchants and the magis- 
trates, sleek, smiling, and inscrutable, in their long 
black gowns. They seemed to press upon him 
with menace. He hated the country. China. 
Why had he ever come? He was panic-stricken 
now. He must get out. He would not stay an- 
other year, another month. What did he care 
about Shanghai? 

"Oh, my God," he cried, "if I were only safely 
back in England." 

He wanted to go home. If he had to die he 
wanted to die in England. He could not bear to 
be buried among all these yellow men, with their 
slanting eyes and their grinning faces. He wanted 
to be buried at home, not in that grave he had 
seen that day. He could never rest there. Never. 
What did it matter what people thought? Let 
them think what they liked. The only thing that 
mattered was to get away while he had the chance. 

He got out of bed and wrote to the head of the 
firm and said he had discovered he was dangerously 
ill. He must be replaced. He could not stay 
longer than was absolutely necessary. He must go 
home at once. 

They found the letter in the morning clenched 
in the taipan's hand. He had slipped down be- 
tween the desk and the chair. He was stone dead. 



203 



METEMPSYCHOSIS 

HE was decently though far from richly 
clad. He had a small round cap of 
black silk on his head, and on his feet 
black silk shoes. His robe was pale 
green of the flowered silk which is made in Chia- 
ting, and over it he wore a short black jacket. He 
was an old man, with a white beard, long and for 
a Chinese full; his broad face, much wrinkled, 
especially between the brows, was benign, and his 
large horn spectacles did not conceal the friendli- 
ness of his eyes. He had all the look of one of 
those sages whom you may see in an old picture 
seated by a bamboo grove at the foot of a great 
rocky mountain contemplating the Eternal Way. 
But now his face bore an expression of great an- 
noyance and his kindly eyes were frowning, for he 
was engaged in the singular occupation (for a man 
of his appearance) of leading a little black pig 
along the causeway between the flooded padi fields. 
And the little black pig, with sudden jerks, with 
unexpected dodging, ran hither and thither, in 
every direction but that in which the old gentle- 
man wished to go. He pulled the string violently, 
but the pig, squealing, refused to follow; he ad- 
204 



METEMPSYCHOSIS 

dressed it in terms of expostulation and of abuse, 
but the little pig sat on his haunches and looked 
at him with malicious eyes. Then I knew that in 
the Tang dynasty the old gentleman had been a 
philosopher who had juggled with facts, as phi- 
losophers will, making them suit the whims which 
he called his theories; and now, after who knows 
how many existences, he was expiating his sins in 
suffering in his turn the stubborn tyranny of the 
facts which he had outraged. 



205 



LI 



THE FRAGMENT 

WHEN you travel in China I think 
nothing amazes you more than the 
passion for decoration which pos- 
sesses the Chinese. It is not aston- 
ishing that you should find decoration in memorial 
arches or in temples; here the occasion for it is 
obvious ; and it is natural enough to find it in 
furniture; nor does it surprise, though it de- 
lights you, to discover it on the commoner objects 
of household use. The pewter pot is enriched 
with a graceful design; the coolie's rice bowl has 
its rough but not inelegant adornment. You may 
fancy that the Chinese craftsman does not look 
upon an article as complete till by line or colour 
he has broken the plainness of a surface. He will 
even print an arabesque on the paper he uses for 
wrapping. But it is more unexpected when you 
see the elaborate embellishment of a shop-front, 
the splendid carving, gilt or relieved with gold, of 
its counter, and the intricate sculpture of the sign- 
board. It may be that this magnificence serves as 
an advertisement ; but it does so only because the 
passer-by, the possible customer, takes pleasure 
in elegance; and you are apt to think that the 
9106 



THE FRAGMENT 

tradesman who owns the shop takes pleasure in 
it too. When he sits at his door, smoking his 
water pipe and through his great horn spectacles 
reading a newspaper, his eyes must rest with good 
humour sometimes on the fantastic ornamentation. 
On the counter, in a long-necked pot, stands a soli- 
tary carnation. 

You will find the same delight in the ornate in 
the poorest villages where the severity of a door 
is mitigated by a charming piece of carving, and 
where the trellis of the windows forms a compli- 
cated and graceful pattern. You can seldom 
cross a bridge, in however unfrequented a district, 
without seeing in it the hand of an artist. The 
stones are so laid as to make an intricate decora- 
tion, and it seems as though these singular people 
judged with a careful eye whether a flat bridge or 
an arched one would fit in best with the surround- 
ing scene. The balustrade is ornamented with 
lions or with dragons. I remember a bridge that 
must have been placed just where it was for the 
pure delight of its beauty rather than for any 
useful purpose, since, though broad enough for a 
carriage and pair to pass over it, it served only to 
connect a narrow path that led from one ragged 
village to another. The nearest town was thirty 
miles away. The broad river, narrowing at this 
point, flowed between two green hills, and nut 
trees grew on the bank. The bridge had no balus- 
trade. It was constructed of immense slabs of 
granite and rested on five piers; the middle pier 
consisted of a huge and fantastic dragon with a 
207 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

long and scaly tail. On the sides of the outer 
slabs, running the whole length of the bridge, was 
cut in very low relief a pattern of an unimagin- 
able lightness, delicacy and grace. 

But though the Chinese take such careful pains 
to avoid fatiguing your eye, with sure taste m$k- 
ing the elaborateness of a decoration endurable by 
contrasting it with a plain surface, in the end 
weariness overcomes you. Their exuberance be- 
wilders. You cannot refuse your admiration to 
the ingenuity with which they so diversify the 
ideas that occupy them as to give you an im- 
pression of changing fantasy, but the fact is plain 
that the ideas are few. The Chinese artist is like 
a fiddler who with infinite skill should play infin- 
ite variations upon a single tune. 

Now, I happened upon a French doctor who had 
been in practice for many years in the city in 
which I then found myself ; and he was a collector 
of porcelain, bronze, and embroidery. He took me 
to see his things. They were beautiful, but they 
were a trifle monotonous. I admired perfuncto- 
rily. Suddenly I came upon the fragment of a 
bust. 

"But that is Greek," I said, in surprise. 

"Do you think so? I am glad to hear you say 
it." 

Head and arms were gone, and the statue, for 
such it had been, was broken off just above the 
waist, but there was a breastplate, with a sun in 
the middle of it, and in relief Perseus killing the 
dragon. It was a fragment of no great impor- 
208 



THE FRAGMENT 

tance, but it was Greek, and perhaps because I 
was surfeited with Chinese beauty it affected me 
strangely. It spoke in a tongue with which I was 
familiar. It rested my heart. I passed my hands 
over its age-worn surface with a delight I was 
myself surprised at. I was like a sailer who, 
wandering in a tropic sea, has known the lazy love- 
liness of coral islands and the splendours of the 
cities of the East, but finds himself once more in 
the dingy alleys of a Channel port. It is cold 
and grey and sordid, but it is England. 

The doctor he was a little bald man, with 
gleaming eyes and an excitable manner rubbed 
his hands. 

"Do you know it was found within thirty miles 
of here, on this side of the Tibetan frontier?" 

"Found!" I exclaimed. "Found where?" 

"Mon Dieu, in the ground. It had been buried 
for two thousand years. They found this and sev- 
eral fragments more, one or two complete statues, 
I believe, but they were broken up and only this 
remained." 

It was incredible that Greek statues should have 
been discovered in so remote a spot. 

"But what is your explanation?" I asked. 

"I think this was a statue of Alexander," he 
said. 

"By George!" 

It was a thrill. Was it possible that one of the 
commanders of the Macedonian, after the expedi- 
tion into India, had found his way into this mys- 
terious corner of China under the shadow of the 
o 209 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

mountains of Tibet? The doctor wanted to show 
me Manchu dresses, but I could not give them my 
attention. What bold adventurer was he who had 
penetrated so far towards the East to found a 
kingdom? There he had built a temple to Aphro- 
dite and a temple to Dionysus, and in the theatre 
actors had sung the Antigone and in his halls at 
night bards had recited the Odyssey. And he and 
his men listening may have felt themselves the peers 
of the old seaman and his followers. What mag- 
nificence did that stained fragment of marble call 
up and what fabulous adventures ! How long had 
the kingdom lasted and what tragedy marked its 
fall? Ah, just then I could not look at Tibetan 
banners or celadon cups ; for I saw the Parthenon, 
severe and lovely, and beyond, serene, the blue 
^Egean. 



210 



LII 
ONE OF THE BEST 

I COULD never remember his name, but when- 
ever he was spoken of in the port he was 
always described as one of the best. He was 
a man of fifty perhaps, thin and rather tall, 
dapper and well-dressed, with a small, neat head 
and sharp features. His blue eyes were good- 
natured and jovial behind his pince-nez. He was 
of a cheerful disposition, and he had a vein of 
banter which was not ineffective. He could turn 
out the sort of jokes that make men standing at 
the club bar laugh heartily, and he could be agree- 
ably malicious, but without ill-nature, about any 
member of the community who did not happen to 
be present. His humour was of the same nature 
as that of the comedian in a musical play. When 
they spoke of him they often said: 

"You know, I wonder he never went on the stage. 
He'd have made a hit. One of the best." 

He was always ready to have a drink with you 
and no sooner was your glass empty than he was 
prompt with the China phrase : 

"Ready for the other half?" 

But he did not drink more than was good for 
him. 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"Oh, he's got his head screwed on his shoulders 
the right way," they said. "One of the best." 

When the hat was passed round for some char- 
itable object he could always be counted on to 
give as much as anyone else, and he was always 
ready to go in for a golf competition or a billiards 
tournament. He was a bachelor. 

"Marriage is no use to a man who lives in 
China," he said. "He has to send his wife away 
every summer and then when the kids are beginning 
to be interesting they have to go home. It costs a 
deuce of a lot of money and you get nothing out 
of it." 

But he was always willing to do a good turn to 
any woman in the community. He was number one 
at Jardine's, and he often had the power to make 
himself useful. He had been in China for thirty 
years, and he prided himself on not speaking a 
word of Chinese. He never went into the Chinese 
city. His compradore was Chinese, and some of 
the clerks, his boys of course, and the chair 
coolies ; but they were the only Chinese he had any- 
thing to do with, and quite enough too. 

"I hate the country, I hate the people," he said. 
"As soon as I've saved enough money I mean to 
clear out." 

He laughed. 

"Do you know, last time I was home I found 
everyone cracked over Chinese junk, pictures and 
porcelain, and stuff. Don't talk to me about 
Chinese things, I said to 'em. I never want to see 
anything Chinese as long as I live." 



ONE OF THE BEST 

He turned to me. 

"I'll tell you what, I don't believe I've got a 
single Chinese thing in my house." 

But if you wanted him to talk to you about 
London he was prepared to do so by the hour. 
He knew all the musical comedies that had been 
played for twenty years and at the distance of 
nine thousand miles he was able to keep up with 
the doings of Miss Lily Elsie and Miss Elsie Janis. 
He played the piano and he had a pleasing voice ; 
it required little persuasion to induce him to sit 
down and sing you the popular ditties he had 
heard when last he was at home. It was quite 
singular to me, the unfathomable frivolity of this 
grey-haired man; it was even a little uncanny. 
But people applauded him loudly when he finished. 

"He's priceless, isn't he?" they said. "Oh, one 
of the best." 



THE SEA-DOG 



^^^^^ **" "w -w T-* /^* A .1 



HIPS' captains for the most part are very 
dull men. Their conversation is of freights 
and cargoes. They have seen little more 
in the ports they visit than their agent's 
office, the bar which their kind frequents, and the 
bawdy houses. They owe the glamour of romance 
which their connection with the sea has cast over 
them to the imagination of the landsman. To 
them the sea is a means of livelihood and they 
know it, as an engine-driver knows his engine, from 
a standpoint which is aridly practical. They are 
men, working men, of a narrow outlook, with 
small education for the most part and little cul- 
ture; they are all of a piece, and they have 
neither subtlety nor imagination. Straightfor- 
ward, courageous, honest, and reliable, they stand 
four-square on the immutability of the obvious ; 
and they are definite: they are placed in their 
surroundings like the objects in a stereoscopic 
photograph so that you seem to see all round 
them. They offer themselves to you with salient 
traits. 

But no one could have adhered less to type than 
Captain Boots. He was the master of a little 



THE SEA-DOG 

Chinese steamer on the Upper Yangtze and be- 
cause I was his only passenger we spent a good 
deal of time in one another's company. But 
though he was fluent of speech, garrulous even, I 
see him shadowly ; and he remains in my mind in- 
distinctly. I suppose it is on account of his 
elusiveness that he engages my imagination. 
There was certainly nothing elusive in his ap- 
pearance. He was a big man, six foot two, 
powerfully built, with large features and a red, 
friendly face. When he laughed he showed a row 
of handsome gold teeth. He was very bald, and 
clean-shaven; but he had the most bushy, abun- 
dant, and aggressive eyebrows that I have ever 
seen, and under them mild blue eyes. He was a 
Dutchman and though he had left Holland when 
he was eight, he still spoke with an accent. He 
could not pronounce th, but always made it d. 
His father, a fisherman who sailed his own 
schooner on the Zuyder Zee, hearing that fishing 
was good in Newfoundland, had set out with his 
wife and his two sons across the broad Atlantic. 
After some years there and in Hudson's Bay all 
this was hard on half a century ago they had 
sailed round the Horn for the Behring Straits. 
They hunted seal until the law stepped in to save 
the beasts they were exterminating, and then 
Boots, a man now and a brave one, God knows, 
sailed here and there, as third, then as second 
mate, on sailing vessels. He had been almost all 
his life in sail and now on a steamer could not 
make himself at home. 

215 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

"It's only in a sailing boat you get comfort," 
he said. "Dere's no comfort anywhere when you 
got steam." 

He had been all along the coast of South Amer- 
ica after nitrates, then to the west coast of Africa, 
then again, fishing cod off the coast of Maine, to 
America ; and after that with cargoes of salt fish 
to Spain and Portugal. A tavern acquaintance 
in Manila suggested that he should try the 
Chinese Customs. He went to Hong-Kong, 
where he was taken on as a tide-waiter, and 
presently was put in command of a steam launch. 
He spent three years, chasing the opium smug- 
glers, and then, having saved a little money, built 
himself a forty-five ton schooner with which he 
determined to go to the Behring Straits and try 
his luck again with the seal fishery. 

"But I guess my crew got scared," he said. 
"When I got to Shanghai they deserted and I 
couldn't get no oder, so I had to sell de boat and 
I shipped on a vessel what was going to Van- 
couver." 

It was then he first left the sea. He met a man 
who was pushing a patent hay-fork and this he 
agreed to take round the States. It was a queer 
occupation for a sailor-man, and it was not a suc- 
cessful one, for at Salt Lake City, the firm that 
employed him having gone bankrupt, he found 
himself stranded. Somehow or other he got back 
to Vancouver, but he was taken with the idea of 
life ashore, and he found work with an estate- 
agent. It was his duty to take the purchasers of 
216 



THE SEA-DOG 

land to their plots and if they were not satisfied 
persuade them that they need not regret their 
bargain. 

"We sold one fellow a farm on de side of a 
mountain," he said, his blue eyes twinkling at the 
recollection, "an' it was so steep dat de chickens 
had one leg longer dan de oder." 

After five years he had the idea that he would 
like to go back to China. He had no difficulty 
in getting a job as mate of a ship sailing west 
and soon he was at the old life once more. 
Since then he had been on most of the China 
runs, from Vladivostok to Shanghai, from Amoy 
to Manila, and on all the big rivers; on steam- 
ers now, rising from second to first mate, and 
at last, on Chinese owned ships, to master. He 
talked willingly of his plans for the future. He 
had been in China long enough, and he hankered 
after a farm on the Fraser River. He would build 
himself a boat and do a bit of fishing, salmon and 
halibut. 

"It's time I settled down," he said. "Fifty-dree 
years I've been to sea. An' I shouldn't wonder but 
what I did a bit of boat building too. I'm not one 
to stick to one ding." 

There he was right and this restlessness of his 
translated itself into a curious indecision of char- 
acter. There was something fluid about him so 
that you did not know where to take hold of him. 
He reminded you of a scene of mist and rain in a 
Japanese print where the design, barely suggested, 
almost escapes you. He had a peculiar gentle- 
217 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

ness which was somewhat unexpected in the rough 
old salt. 

"I don't want to offend anyone," he said. 
"Treat 'em kindly, dat's what I try to do. If 
people won't do what you want talk to 'em nicely, 
persuade 'em. Dere's no need to be nasty. Try 
what coaxing'll do." 

It was a principle which it was unusual to find 
used with the Chinese, and I do not know that it 
answered very well, for after some difficulty he 
would come into the cabin, wave his hands, and 
say: 

"I can do noding wid dem. Dey won't listen 
to reason." 

And then his moderation looked very like weak- 
ness. But he was no fool. He had a sense of 
humour. At one place we were drawing over seven 
feet and since the river at its shallowest was barely 
that and the course was dangerous the harbour 
authorities would not give us our papers till part 
of the cargo was unloaded. It was the ship's last 
trip and she was carrying the pay of regiments 
stationed several days down stream. The military 
governor refused to let the ship start unless the 
bullion was taken. 

"I guess I got to do what you tell me," said 
Captain Boots to the harbour master. 

"You don't get your papers till I see the five 
foot mark above the water," answered the harbour 
master. 

"I'll tell the compradore to take out some of 
dat silver." 



THE SEA-DOG 

He took the harbour master up to the Customs' 
Club and stood him drinks while this was being 
done. He drank with him for four hours, and 
when he returned he walked as steadily as when 
he went. But the harbour-master was drunk. 

"Ah, I see dey've got it down two foot," said 
Captain Boots. "Dat's all right den." 

The harbour-master looked at the numbers on 
the ship's side and sure enough the five foot mark 
was at the water's edge. 

"That's good," he said. "And now you can 

go-" 

"I'll be off right away," said the captain. 

Not a pound of cargo had been removed, but an 
astute Chinaman had neatly repainted the num- 
bers. 

And later when mutinous regiments with an eye 
on the silver we carried sought to prevent us from 
leaving one of the riverside cities he showed an 
agreeable firmness. His equable temper was tried 
and he said : 

"No one's going to make me stay where I don't 
want to. I'm de master of dis ship and I'm de 
man what gives de orders. I'm going." 

The agitated compradore said the military 
would fire if we attempted to move. An officer 
uttered a command and the soldiers, going down 
on one knee, levelled their rifles. Captain Boots 
looked at them. 

"Rundown de bullet proof screen," he said. "I 
tell you I'm going and de Chinese army can go to 
hell." 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

He gave his orders to raise the anchor and at 
the same time the officer gave the order to fire. 
Captain Boots stood on his bridge, a somewhat 
grotesque figure, for in his old blue jersey, with 
his red face and burly frame, he looked the very 
image of those ancient fishermen that you see 
lounging about Grimsby docks, and he rang his 
bell. We steamed out slowly to the spatter of rifle 
shots. 



220 



LIV 
THE QUESTION 

THEY took me to the temple. It stood on 
the side of a hill with a semi-circle of 
tawny mountains behind it, staging it, as 
it were, with a formal grandeur; and 
they pointed out to me with what exquisite art the 
series of buildings climbed the hill till you reached 
the final edifice, a jewel of white marble encircled 
by the trees ; for the Chinese architect sought to 
make his creation an ornament to nature and he 
used the accidents of the landscape to complete 
his decorative scheme. They pointed out to me 
how cunningly the trees were planted to contrast 
with the marble of a gateway, to give an agree- 
able shadow here, or there to serve as a back- 
ground ; and they made me remark the admirable 
proportion of those great roofs, rising one be- 
yond the other, in rich profusion, with the grace 
of flowers ; and they showed me that the yellow 
tiles were of different hues so that the sensibility 
was not offended by an expanse of colour but 
amused and pleased by a subtle variety of tone. 
They showed me how the elaborate carving of a 
gateway was contrasted with a surface without 
adornment so that the eye was not wearied. All 
221 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

this they showed me as we walked through elegant 
courtyards, over bridges which were a miracle of 
grace, through temples with strange gods, dark 
and gesticulating; but when I asked them what 
was the spiritual state which had caused all this 
mass of building to be made, they could not tell me. 



222 



LV 
THE SINOLOGUE 

HE is a tall man, rather stout, flabby as 
though he does not take enough exer- 
cise, with a red, clean-shaven, broad 
face and grey hair. He talks very 
quickly, in a nervous manner, with a voice not 
quite big enough for his body. He lives in a 
temple just outside the city gate, inhabiting the 
guest chambers, and three Buddhist priests, with 
a tiny acolyte, tend the temple and conduct the 
rites. There is a little Chinese furniture in the 
rooms and a vast number of books, but no comfort. 
It is cold and the study in which we sit is insuf- 
ficiently warmed by a petroleum stove. 

He knows more Chinese than any man in China. 
He has been working for ten years on a dictionary 
which will supersede that of a noted scholar whom 
for a quarter of a century he has personally dis- 
liked. He is thus benefiting sinological studies and 
satisfying a private grudge. He has all the man- 
ner of a don and you feel that eventually he will 
be professor of Chinese at the University of Ox- 
ford and then at last exactly in his place. He is 
a man of wider culture than most sinologues, who 
may know Chinese, and this you must take on 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

trust, but who, it is lamentably obvious, know 
nothing else; and his conversation upon Chinese 
thought and literature has in consequence a full- 
ness and a variety which you do not often find 
among students of the language. Because he has 
immersed himself in his particular pursuits and 
has cared nothing for racing and shooting the 
Europeans think him queer. They look upon him 
with the suspicion and awe with which human 
beings always regard those who do not share their 
tastes. They suggest that he is not quite sane 
and some accuse him of smoking opium. It is the 
charge which is always brought against the white 
man who has sought to familiarise himself with the 
civilisation in which he is to pass the greater part 
of his career. You have only to spend a little 
while in that apartment bare of the most common 
luxury to know that this is a man who leads a 
life wholly of the spirit. 

But it is a specialised life. Art and beauty 
seem not to touch him, and as I listen to him talk 
so sympathetically of the Chinese poets I cannot 
help asking myself if the best things have not after 
all slipped through his fingers. Here is a man who 
has touched reality only through the printed page. 
The tragic splendour of the lotus moves him only 
when its loveliness is enshrined in the verse of Li 
Po and the laughter of demure Chinese girls stirs 
his blood but in the perfection of an exquisitely 
chiselled quatrain. 



LVI 

THE VICE-CONSUL 

HIS bearers set down his chair in the 
yamen and unfastened the apron which 
protected him from the pouring rain. 
He put out his head, like a bird looking 
out of its nest, and then his long thin body and 
finally his thin long legs. He stood for a 
moment as if he did not quite know what to 
do with himself. He was a very young man 
and his long limbs with their ungainliness some- 
how added to the callowness of his air. His 
round face (his head looked too small for the 
length of his body) with its fresh complexion was 
quite boyish, and his pleasant brown eyes were 
ingenuous and candid. The sense of importance 
which his official position gave him (it was not 
long since he had been no more than a student- 
interpreter) struggled with his nativ^ shyness. 
He gave his card to the judge's ^ecretary and was 
led by him into an ijinfifi, court and asked to sit 
down. It was cold and draughty and the vice- 
consul was glad of his heavy waterproof. A rag- 
ged attendant brought tea and cigarettes. The 
secretary, an emaciated youth in a very shabby 
P 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

black gown, had been a student at Harvard and 
was glad to show off his fluent English. 

Then the judge came in, and the vice-consul 
stood up. The judge was a portly gentleman in 
heavily wadded clothes, with a large smiling face 
and gold-rimmed spectacles. They sat down and 
sipped their tea and smoked American cigarettes. 
They chatted affably. The judge spoke no Eng- 
lish, but the vice-consul's Chinese was fresh in 
his mind and he could not help thinking that he 
acquitted himself creditably. Presently an at- 
tendant appeared and said a few words to the 
judge, and the judge very courteously asked the 
vice-consul if he was ready for the business which 
had brought him. The door into the outer court 
was thrown open and the judge, walking through, 
took his place on a large seat at a table that 
stood at the top of the steps. He did not smile 
now. He had assumed instinctively the gravity 
proper to his office and in his walk, notwith- 
standing his obesity, there was an impressive 
dignity. The vice-consul, obeying a polite 
gesture, took a seat by his side. The secre- 
tary stood at the end of the table. Then the 
outer gateway was flung wide (it seemed to the 
vice-consul that there was nothing so dramatic as 
the opening of a door) and quickly, with an odd 
sort of flurry, the criminal walked in. He walked 
to the centre of the courtyard and stood still, fac- 
ing his judge. On each side of him walked a 
soldier in khaki. He was a young man and the 
vice-consul thought that he could be no older than 
226 



THE VICE-CONSUL 

himself. He wore only a pair of cotton trousers 
and a cotton singlet. They were faded but clean. 
He was bare-headed and bare-foot. He looked no 
different from any of the thousands of coolies in 
their monotonous blue that you passed every day 
in the crowded streets of the city. The judge and 
the criminal faced one another in silence. The 
vice-consul looked at the criminal's face, but then 
he looked down quickly: he did not want to see 
what was there to be seen so plainly. He felt sud- 
denly embarrassed. And looking down he noticed 
how small the man's feet were, shapely and slender ; 
his hands were tied behind his back. He was 
slightly built, of the middle height, a lissome crea- 
ture that suggested the wild animal, and standing 
on those beautiful feet of his there was in his 
carriage a peculiar grace. But the vice-consul's 
eyes were drawn back unwillingly to the oval, 
smooth, and unlined face. It was livid. The 
vice-consul had often read of faces that were green 
with terror and he had thought it but a fanciful 
expression, and here he saw it. It startled him. 
It made him feel ashamed. And in the eyes too, 
eyes that did not slant as the Chinese eye is 
wrongly supposed always to do, but were straight, 
in the eyes that seemed unnaturally large and 
bright, fixed on those of the judge, was a terror 
that was horrible to see. But when the judge put 
him a question trial and sentence were over and 
he had been brought there that morning only for 
purposes of identification he answered in a loud 
plain voice, boldly. However his body might be- 
227 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

tray him he was still master of his will. The judge 
gave a brief order, and, flanked by his two soldiers, 
the man marched out. The judge and the vice- 
consul rose and walked to the gateway, where their 
chairs awaited them. Here stood the criminal with 
his guard. Notwithstanding his tied hands he 
smoked a cigarette. A squad of little soldiers had 
been sheltering themselves under the overhanging 
roof, and on the appearance of the judge the offi- 
cer in charge made them form up. The judge and 
the vice-consul settled themselves in their chairs. 
The officer gave an order and the squad stepped 
out. A couple of yards behind them walked the 
criminal. Then came the judge in his chair and 
finally the vice-consul. 

They went quickly through the busy streets and 
the shopkeepers gave the procession an incurious 
stare. The wind was cold and the rain fell stead- 
ily. The criminal in his cotton singlet must have 
been wet through. He walked with a firm step, his 
head held high, jauntily almost. It was some 
distance from the judge's yamen to the city wall 
and to cover it took them nearly half an hour. 
Then they came to the city gate and went through 
it. Four men in ragged blue they looked like 
peasants were standing against the wall by the 
side of a poor coffin, rough hewn and unpainted. 
The criminal gave it a glance as he passed by. 
The judge and the vice-consul dismounted from 
their chairs and the officer halted his soldiers. The 
rice fields began at the city wall. The criminal 
was led to a pathway between two patches and 
228 



THE VICE-CONSUL 

told to kneel down. But the officer did not think 
the spot suitable. He told the man to rise. He 
walked a yard or two and knelt down again. 
A soldier was detached from the squad and took 
up his position behind the prisoner, three feet from 
him perhaps; he raised his gun; the officer gave 
the word of command ; he fired. The criminal fell 
forward and he moved a little, convulsively. The 
officer went up to him, and seeing that he was not 
quite dead emptied two barrels of his revolver into 
the body. Then he formed up his soldiers once 
more. The judge gave the vice-consul a smile, but 
it was a grimace rather than a smile; it distorted 
painfully that fat good-humoured face. 

They stepped into their chairs ; but at the city 
gate their ways parted; the judge bowed the vice- 
consul a courteous farewell. The vice-consul was 
carried back towards the consulate through the 
streets, crowded and tortuous, where life was going 
on just as usual. And as he went along quickly, 
for the consular bearers were fine fellows, his 
mind distracted a little by their constant shouts 
to make way, he thought how terrible it was to 
make an end of life deliberately: it seemed an im- 
mense responsibility to destroy what was the result 
of innumerable generations. The human race has 
existed so long and each one of us is here as the 
result of an infinite series of miraculous events. 
But at the same time, puzzling him, he had a sense 
of the triviality of life. One more or less mattered 
so little. But just as he reached the consulate he 
looked at his watch, he had no idea it was so late, 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

and he told the bearers to take him to the club. 
It was time for a cocktail and by heaven he could 
do with one. A dozen men were standing at the 
bar when he went in. They knew on what errand 
he had been that morning. 

"Well," they said, "did you see the blighter 
shot?" 

"You bet I did," he said, in a loud and casual 
voice. 

"Everything go off all right?" 

"He wriggled a bit." He turned to the bar- 
tender. "Same as usual, John." 



230 



LVII 
A CITY BUILT ON A ROCK 

THEY say of it that the dogs bark when 
peradventure the sun shines there. It is 
a grey and gloomy city, shrouded in mist, 
for it stands upon its rock where two 
great rivers meet so that it is washed on all sides 
but one by turbid, rushing waters. The rock is 
like the prow of an ancient galley and seems, as 
though possessed of a strange unnatural life, all 
tremulous with effort; it is as if it were ever on 
the point of forging into the tumultuous stream. 
Rugged mountains hem the city round about. 

Outside the walls bedraggled houses are built on 
piles, and here, when the river is low, a hazardous 
population lives on the needs of the watermen; 
for at the foot of the rock a thousand junks are 
moored, wedged in with one another tightly, and 
men's lives there have all the turbulence of the 
river. A steep and tortuous stairway leads to 
the great gate guarded by a temple, and up and 
down this all day long go the water coolies, with 
their dripping buckets ; and from their splashing 
the stair and the street that leads from the gate 
are wet as though after heavy rain. It is difficult 
to walk on the level for more than a few minutes, 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

and there are as many steps as in the hill towns 
of the Italian Riviera. Because there is so little 
space the streets are pressed together, narrow and 
dark, and they wind continuously so that to find 
your way is like finding it in a labyrinth. The 
throng is as thick as the throng on a pavement in 
London when a theatre is emptying itself of its 
audience. You have to push your way through 
it, stepping aside every moment as chairs come 
by and coolies bearing their everlasting loads : 
itinerant sellers, selling almost anything that any- 
one can want to buy, jostle you as you pass. 

The shops are wide open to the street, without 
windows or doors, and they are crowded too. 
They are like an exhibition of arts and crafts, and 
you may see what a street looked like in medieval 
England when each town made all that was neces- 
sary to its needs. The various industries are hud- 
dled . together so that you will pass through a 
street of butchers where carcasses and entrails 
hang bloody on each side of you, with flies buzzing 
about them and mangy dogs prowling hungrily be- 
low ; you will pass through a street where in each 
house there is a hand-loom and they are busily 
weaving cloth or silk. There are innumerable eat- 
ing houses from which come heavy odours and 
here at all hours people are eating. Then, gener- 
ally at a corner, you will see tea-houses, and here 
all day long again the tables are packed with men 
of all sorts drinking tea and smoking. The bar- 
bers ply their trade in the public view and you will 
see men leaning patiently on their crossed arms 



A CITY BUILT ON A ROCK 

while their heads are being shaved ; others are hav- 
ing their ears cleaned, and some, a revolting spec- 
tacle, the inside of their eyelids scraped. 

It is a city of a thousand noises. There are 
the peddlers who announce their presence by a 
wooden gong ; the clappers of the blind musician or 
of the masseuse; the shrill falsetto of a man sing- 
ing in a tavern ; the loud beating of a gong from 
a house where a wedding or a funeral is being 
celebrated. There are the raucous shouts of the 
coolies and chair-bearers ; the menacing whines 
of the beggars, caricatures of humanity, their 
emaciated limbs barely covered by filthy tatters 
and revolting with disease; the cracked melan- 
choly of the bugler who incessantly practises a call 
he can never get ; and then, like a bass to which all 
these are a barbaric melody, the insistent sound of 
conversation, of people laughing, quarrelling, jok- 
ing, shouting, arguing, gossiping. It is a cease- 
less din. It is extraordinary at first, then confus- 
ing, exasperating, and at last maddening. You 
long for a moment's utter silence. It seems to you 
that it would be a voluptuous delight. 

And then combining with the irksome throng 
and the din that exhausts your ears is a stench 
which time and experience enable you to distin- 
guish into a thousand separate stenches. Your 
nostrils grow cunning. Foul odours beat upon 
your harassed nerves like the sound of uncouth in- 
struments playing a horrible symphony. 

You cannot tell what are the lives of these thou- 
sands who surge about you. Upon your own peo- 
233 



ON A CHINESE SCREEN 

pie sympathy and knowledge give you a hold ; you 
can enter into their lives, at least imaginatively, 
and in a way really possess them. By the effort of 
your fancy you can make them after a fashion 
part of yourself. But these are as strange to 
you as you are strange to them. You have no clue 
to their mystery. For their likeness to 3 r ourself 
in so much does not help you; it serves rather to 
emphasize their difference. Someone attracts 
your attention, a pale youth with great horn spec- 
tacles and a book under his arm, whose studious 
look is pleasant, or an old man, wearing a hood, 
with a grey sparse beard and tired eyes : he looks 
like one of those sages that the Chinese artists 
painted in a rocky landscape or under Kang-hsi 
modelled in porcelain ; but you might as well look 
at a brick wall. You have nothing to go upon, 
you do not know the first thing about them, and 
your imagination is baffled. 

But when, reaching the top of the hill, you come 
once more to the crenellated walls that surround 
the city and go out through the frowning gate, 
you come to the graves. They stretch over the 
country, one mile, two miles, three, four, five, in- 
terminable green mounds, up and down the hills, 
with grey stones to which the people once a year 
come to offer libation and to tell the dead how 
fare the living whom they left behind; and they 
are as thickly crowded, the dead, as are the living 
in the city ; and they seem to press upon the living 
as though they would force them into the turbid, 
swirling river. There is something menacing 



A CITY BUILT ON A ROCK 

about those serried ranks. It is as though they 
were laying siege to the city, with a sullen ruth- 
lessness, biding their time; and as though in the 
end, encroaching irresistibly as fate, they would 
drive those seething throngs before them till the 
houses and the streets were covered by them, and 
the green mounds came down to the water gate. 
Then at last silence, silence would dwell there un- 
disturbed. 

They are uncanny, those green graves, they are 
terrifying. They seem to wait. 



235 



LVIII 
A LIBATION TO THE GODS 

SHE was an old woman, and her face was 
wizened and deeply lined. In her grey hair 
three long silver knives formed a fantastic 
headgear. Her dress of faded blue con- 
sisted of a long jacket, worn and patched, and a 
pair of trousers that reached a little below her 
calves. Her feet were bare, but on one ankle she 
wore a silver bangle. It was plain that she was 
very poor. She was not stout, but squarely built, 
and in her prime she must have done without effort 
the heavy work in which her life had been spent. 
She walked leisurely, with the sedate tread of an 
elderly woman, and she carried on her arm a bas- 
ket. She came down to the harbour; it was 
crowded with painted junks ; her eyes rested for a 
moment curiously on a man who stood on a narrow 
bamboo raft, fishing with cormorants ; and then 
she set about her business. She put down her bas- 
ket on the stones of the quay, at the water's edge, 
and took from it a red candle. This she lit and 
fixed in a chink of the stones. Then she took sev- 
eral joss-sticks, held each of them for a moment 
in the flame of the candle and set them up around 
it. She took three tiny bowls and filled them with 
236 




A LIBATION TO THE GODS 

a liquid that she had brought with her in a bottle 
and placed them neatly in a row. Then from her 
basket she took rolls of paper cash and paper 
"shoes," and unravelled them, so that they should 
burn easily. She made a little bonfire, and when 
it was well alight she took the three bowls and 
poured out some of their contents before the 
smouldering joss-sticks. She bowed herself three 
times and muttered certain words. She stirred the 
burning paper so that the flames burned brightly. 
Then she emptied the bowls on the stones and 
again bowed three times. No one took the smallest 
notice of her. She took a few more paper cash 
from her basket and flung them in the fire. Then 
without further ado, she took up her basket, and 
with the same leisurely, rather heavy tread, walked 
away. The gods were duly propitiated, and like 
an old peasant woman in France who has satis- 
factorily done her day's housekeeping, she went 
about her business. 



THE END. 



237 



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