Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

wastes and squalid lives and little coffins on the desolate plain.

"Come on, Peter," I said; "we've had enough golf. Let's go and have a stroll round the temple grounds. And after lunch we'll sit and smoke under the trees and listen to the birds, or you can swop words of wisdom with the priest."

"All right," he replied; "I've had all I want of the damn game for a while. Did ever you see anything like the way I've been slicing my drives? All the same, if I'd had a bit of luck. . . .

[ocr errors]

"Post-mortems are barred. To every dog his day. Do you hear that bird, Peter? I shouldn't wonder if he is drawing his mate's attention to the curious spectacle of two middle-aged individuals devoting the first spring morning to the ludicrous business of chasing a ball about with a bundle of funny sticks. Let's hang our clubs on a weepingwillow tree and hearken to the voice of the turtle."

So we paid off our guttersnipes, and, leaving our clubs at the gate-house, made our way amidst the tangled weedcovered ruins of outer courts and shrines fast falling in decay, to pay our respects, as in duty bound, to the high priest. We found him in his private sanctum, adjoining the main buildings of the Temple-a little room all fragrant with freesia, daphne, and lilac,where he sat, as usual, the embodiment of contemplative calm, surrounded by ancient

volumes of the vedas and Thibetan texts. In the old days of the Temple's prosperity, before the Boxer rising, we had known him as one who had more traffic with men than with books, a sturdy pillar of the Church, one who had stood with princes in the gate and served as envoy from the Son of Heaven to the Dalai Lama. Now "the shrine was void, the altar bare." His latticed window opened upon a dilapidated courtyard, beyond which stood the famous marble stupa with its curved bas-relief, all mutilated and defaced by the troops of the Allies quartered here in 1900. Of a truth, the glory had departed. Yet there was something in the atmosphere of the place, and in the courtly serenity of the wise old man with the tired eyes, which evoked a profound impression of the undaunted spirit of man triumphant over evil destiny. As M'Quigg observed, the priest, and everything about him, were typical of the very soul of the East, of patience invincible, upon a fitting monument, smiling at life's brief shadow-play of vain illusions. We sat with him for half an hour, and he talked cheerfully

first of the Tribute Mission coming from Tibet, of the troubles of the Living Buddha at Urga, and other ecclesiastical matters, and then of his beloved flowers and birds. I was conscious all the time of the significance of the Buddhist ideal of emancipation, of the reality of that comfortable faith which is the Light of Asia,

of a creed which regards life as restless foam on the shoreless sea of eternity, and death as a gateway on the path to Nirvana. As an antidote to the humours and vapours of golf, nothing could have been more effective; to M'Quigg's ruffled feelings it brought the very balm of Gilead.

After lunch, as we sat smoking our pipes on the sunny side of an ancient cedar, at peace with all the world, slowly, by twos and threes, a small crowd of children gathered themselves together, silent and wide-eyed, their minds divided between the fearful joy of observing the foreign devil at his ease and the expectancy of crumbs from the rich man's table. There must have been a couple of dozen of them, all between three and ten years of age, representing the not-yetlabouring offspring of a cluster of tumble-down houses clustered around the gateman's lodge. Ragged little waifs they were, unwashed and underfed; on all their faces the same expression of half-patient, halfpuzzled gravity, which is the birthmark of a race born to sorrow as the sparks fly upward, for ever haunted by the menace of hunger.

"There," said M'Quigg, " you have the other side of the medal -the results of their fatalistic creed of passive acquiescence. It's all very well for our venerable friend to ignore the painful realities of existence and to talk of dewdrops gently falling into the shining sea of

VOL. CCXV.-NO. MCCCI.

a

infinity, but I never crowd of Chinese children without wishing it were possible to teach these people to regulate their offspring by the probable contents of their rice - bins. Human misery isn't made much less miserable by teaching its victims that their sufferings are the result of sins committed in a former incarnation. When you remember that, all over China, seventy or eighty out of every hundred babies born go from their cradles to their graves, and that half of those who survive can never be sure of a square meal from one day to another, you begin to regard their callous wastefulness of life and their indifference to death in a new light. Look at those poor little devils-not a toy, and hardly the ghost of a laugh among them."

66

And don't forget that our worthy missionaries are doing their best to intensify the struggle for survival by means of foundling institutions and medical science. I see that one American society alone expects to save a million lives. simply by teaching them that flies are carriers of disease germs, and that drinking-water must be boiled."

Ay, but they never ask where the food is to come from for their extra million, or for any of the other millions who die every year from want of it. Unless they can resuscitate the widow's cruse or repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes, all their benevolent

M 2

our meal. Some of the smaller ones were still wearing several layers of the cotton-wadded rags

activities merely mean that and the meagre remnants of fewer Chinese will die of plague and pestilence and so many more of famine. The patriarchal idea of unlimited paternity was all very well for Noah and his passengers, but since the days of Confucius it has simply resulted in a perfectly horrible infant mortality. Wherever you go, from Kalgan to Canton, you will find signs and proof of a ruthless ceaseless slaughter of the innocents. That pitiful little coffin, dumped yonder on the plain, is more than many of them ever get."

"You're right. The gruesome work which the Black Cart does every morning for Peking goes on, in one form or another, all over the land.'

"And as for cold-blooded callousness, did ever you see anything like the way that caddy of mine started rooting and grubbing for the ball?"

"Quod fecit per alium," I murmured. "It was certainly pretty ghoulish. But perhaps there is something about golf that's destructive even of a caddy's finer feelings?"

"A body blow," Peter admitted. "You needn't rub it in. I know I should have stopped the little monster. But what good would it have done? He'd only have gone back later and retrieved the ball, to sell to me another day."

While we talked, our juvenile audience, increasing in numbers, had gradually been drawing nearer, all stolidly silent, with solemn eyes of covetousness fixed on our empty bottles

gradually accumulated (and sewn) upon their little bodies as winter advanced; not even M'Quigg's Boer tobacco could alleviate the pungent discomfort of their closer advances. We therefore made a bundle of everything that was left, and, giving it to the largest female infant, bade them all begone and discuss the matter of distribution some

where else. So they went, and in a little while high words and sounds of woe were borne to us upon the breeze.

"Talking of callousness," said M'Quigg, lighting another pipe, "that grisly business of this morning reminds me of another experience with a coffin which opened my eyes to some of the grim realities underlying the struggle for existence in this country.

"It happened a good many years ago, when I was in the Customs and serving at Hankow. I had got a new pony and was trying to teach him to jump. One afternoon I was riding along the river's bank, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the present Japanese Concession, and putting him at such banks as there were. very low that winter. It was the year of the great drought, and refugees from the famine districts in Kiangsu were making for the upper Yangtsze; you could buy a baby-even a boy-for fifty cents. Well,

and ditches The river was

as I was looking for jumps, I caught sight of one just about the right size and height ahead of me the foreshore-a bit of No Man's Land that in the flood season would probably be under water. It was, as I saw, a newly-made grave, the coffin covered with a little loose earth and sunk a few inches only into the soil. I remember that as I put the pony at it I wondered in a vague sort of way at any one putting a grave in such a place.

"Well, the pony baulked and finally scrambled at the jump; and in getting over it somehow one of his hind-legs caught the lid of the coffin and crashed through it as if it were made of paper. The animal thereupon bolted, and galloped half a mile before I pulled him up. I then turned back, intending to put him at the jump again, when, looking in the direction of the grave, to my amazement and horror I saw, protruding from the hole which the pony's hoof had made, a ghostly hand and arm feebly beckoning to the world at large. I tell you it gave me the shivers, and my first instinct was to bolt. However, I got off, hitched the pony to a tree, and proceeded to investigate. The arm, still beckoning, had been followed by another; and as I began to enlarge the opening a faint voice from the interior cried for help. The thin pine boards were easily dealt with, and in a minute or two I had the lid off-revealing, amidst a

tangle of coarse cerements and loose earth, a wretched creature, miserably emaciated but undeniably alive, and apparently about thirty years of age. Disentangled from his sackcloth, he sat up and expressed a strong desire for food and drink; also to go home. His name, he said, was Sheng, and his father was a shupan, or native clerk, in the Customs. He knew that he had been ill in his father's house, but did not remember anything about losing consciousness; he only realised that he had been buried when he awoke to find himself cabined and confined in that narrow bed which I had so suddenly disturbed.

"I left him sitting up in his coffin, his legs still swathed in his shroud, while I went to the nearest village to try and get the poor devil some food and find a messenger to carry word to his parents and fetch a chair or other conveyance. I was able to buy some boiled rice and sweet potatoes, and to dispatch a youngster to the city, bidding Sheng senior come out and welcome his resurrected son; but although the whole village speedily gathered around the coffin and watched its occupant devour the food, not one of them would come near "the ghost," or paid any attention to his piteous appeals to be released from the durance of the dead. of the dead. A buried man, in all their experience, was a dead man; and if he wasn't, it was the family's business and not theirs. No good ever came from meddling with corpses or

ghosts. So I gave the poor have anything to do with him, wretch a cigarette, and ad- the Mission people finally had vised him to wait patiently to find him a coolie's job until his people arrived. The somewhere. His father's deciscigarette, which he smoked ion in the matter was inspired sitting up in his coffin, seemed not so much by prejudice about to afford him more comfort ghosts as by the fact that, than my advice. being an epileptic and feebleminded, his son had become a source of expense instead of a prop of maintenance. But the incident gave me, for the first time, an idea of the mentality produced by the reckless over-production and ruthless scrapping of human life which, humanly speaking, remains a weak spot in the wisest and strongest social system ever produced by humanity. And now it's getting on for tea-time; let's go."

As we passed the gate-house I caught in its murky recesses a fleeting glimpse of M'Quigg's caddy. Then from its depths there emerged an abject-looking creature, a thing of rags and wretchedness, who came sidling towards us.

"In about an hour the messenger came back. He had told the tale, not only to the elder Mr Sheng, as I had bidden him, but to every one he met by the way, with the result that already hundreds of curious folk were streaming out from the city to see a sight so rare as that of a talking ghost. But the Sheng family were not among the sight-seers. The father acknowledged that the coffin was that of his recently buried son, who had died of an epileptic fit a week before, but advised all and sundry to pay no attention to the ghost, and to put back the body as they found it. To many of the spectators this advice seemed sound enough. Ghosts are notoriously tricky in their ways; and in any case, if a father declared that his son is dead, there's an end to the business. If I hadn't been there, and if Père Etienne of the Missions Étrangères hadn't turned up at the right moment, they might easily have buried the poor devil again. As it was, after he had sat in his coffin for several hours more, Père Etienne succeeded in persuading a neighbouring temple to receive the ghost as our paying guest, pending further "The penalty for lifting one's arrangements. As his own ball is sometimes postponed," I family absolutely refused to observed. "Of course it's not

"Lao nin chia," he whined, addressing M'Quigg. "I delay your Excellencies. But the tajen will forgive me, for that of which I speak though a small matter, is serious for a poor man. It was all an accident, I know, and no fault of the tajen, this destruction of my little daughter's humble grave.

a

[ocr errors]

"I knew it before he said word," observed M'Quigg. "It was too good a chance to miss."

« AnkstesnisTęsti »