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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER X THE STORY OF AN OPIUM SMOKER

The Fulfilment Of A Dream Of Pastor Hsis by A. Mildred Cable

CHAPTER X THE STORY OF AN OPIUM SMOKER

|I know that, because of this money-grasping, trade-compelling feature of England's dealings
with my country, millions of wretched people of
China have been made more miserable; stalwart men
and women have been made paupers, vagrants, and
the lowest of criminals; and hundreds of thousands
of the weaker ones of my race -- mainly among the
women -- have been sent to suicide graves. All this
because gold and territory are greater in the eyes
of the British Government, than the rights and
bodies of a weak people.| -- H. E. LI HUNG-CHANG.

|O my brothers and all my friends,
If you would hearken to good advice,
Avoid the poppy juice for ever and aye,
As it is a plague most noxious and vile!
It will eat out your minds,
It will rot away your vitals,
It will shrivel up your bowels,
It will make you walk as a leper,
It will cast you into prison,
It will send you to your death!|
H. E. LI HUNG-CHANG.

THE STORY OF AN OPIUM SMOKER

THE first man to enter the Opium Refuge in Hwochow, as patient, was named Fan of the village of Southern Springs. He came from a once wealthy clan, now reduced through opium smoking to comparative poverty. He had not yet reached the stage of positive want, but that condition is never far from the habitual heavy smoker, and should he continue a few years longer, beggary will be the ultimate fate of his wife and family.

The temptation was at his very door, for all the best-watered land surrounding Southern Springs was given up to poppy cultivation. During the time when the plant was in flower, the village nestled amidst some hundreds of acres of exquisite iridescent bloom. The beauty was shortlived, even as the seeming prosperity of the grower, and but a few days later Southern Springs stood amidst bare brown fields of dry poppy heads, scarred by the cutter's knife, exuding in thick drops the poisonous juices -- a striking picture in the eyes of all men of the fate awaiting the smoker, who, lulled by the insidious charm of the fascinating drug, would finally be the only one unable to see himself a hopeless, helpless, degraded wreck.

At the close of three weeks' treatment in the Refuge, Fan returned home a new creature, restored in body and mind, and with a heart renewed in hope. In his own immediate family were several members, victims as himself of the deadly drug, and amongst these was his nephew, adopted into the family on the footing of a son since death had robbed him of the last boy who might pay the filial sacrifice of tears and lamentations at his tomb. Moreover, his wife's keen intelligence and strong will were gradually being subjugated by a growing apathy, result of her secret habit. On these two Fan urged a plea to give the Refuge a trial, and his nephew, impressed by the evident good result in his uncle's case and the assurance that the treatment had induced very slight suffering, pronounced himself willing to try the experiment; his wife, on the other hand, repudiated with scorn any such suggestion. Another few weeks saw the young man return to Southern Springs loud in praise of all he had seen and heard in Hwochow. He recounted all his experiences, every detail of the treatment, the number of pills swallowed, and the care with which the strength of the pills was graded from the powerful |Pill of life| to the lesser |Pill of strength| and the final |Pill of restoration.|

He also knew by heart a number of verses from the New Testament, and could sing hymns written by Pastor Hsi on the subjects of salvation and the sin of opium smoking, several of which numbered twelve verses in length.

All this caused much stir in the village, and became the general subject of conversation when the men were home from the fields, during the twilight hour devoted to social intercourse. He was referred to as a competent authority on all matters relating to the ways and habits of those |foreign devils| who went to and fro between the various stations which they had opened, and even penetrated into the villages amongst the homes of any who were rash enough to risk having them under their roof.

Both uncle and nephew had secretly entirely changed their opinion concerning the foreigner and the Christian doctrine which he inculcated. Fear had given place to confidence, and one or other would frequently walk the four miles to Hwochow on a week day, or better still on Sunday, to sit an hour with the Refuge-keeper, whom it was hard indeed not to trust, and who always had some good matter to unfold and kind, earnest words with which to help a man in the hour when his old vice threatened to ensnare his soul afresh. Little sympathy was to be gained at home. Mrs. Fan still took opium, endangering her husband's and nephew's principles as they returned, weary from work, to a room reeking with the odour so attractive to them.

She was a woman of no ordinary character, exceptionally intelligent, strong-minded and wilful, capable in every duty which falls to the woman's share in the home; by nature hard working and ambitious, in physique of a pronounced Jewish type. Not easily led, and impossible to drive, she flew into such a passion when her husband ventured to tell her that two lady missionaries had arrived, and were prepared to receive women as patients in the Hwochow Refuge, and gave such rein to her tongue that he, poor man, was thankful to escape beyond earshot of her loud recriminations and curses.

If his words were silenced we may believe that his actions were speaking louder and more effectually, for influences stronger than the woman realised were even now at work, preparing to overturn all her preconceived prejudices and hatred of Christianity and its followers.

The climax came more suddenly than could have been anticipated, revealing to herself and others the extraordinary change of viewpoint which had been silently working during weeks of apparently unchanged opposition.

On returning from the fields one evening, Fan found his wife in an unusual state of activity, whilst the three little girls who constituted his family formed a tearful group on the kang. With characteristic abruptness Mrs. Fan delivered the information: |I am preparing to go to the city Opium Refuge.| Scarcely able to credit her statement the husband stood aghast, and she explained: |It is no good, the children are taking it too.|

A terrible statement, yet true, for whereas she knew that she had often pacified the tiny baby's fretfulness by puffing a few whiffs of the smoke into its mouth, she had that day made the discovery that, as soon as she herself lay down to sleep off the effect of her dose, the two elder girls would seize on the opium pipe and share all they could get from it, so that already, unknown to herself, the craving was well developed in them.

To the Refuge they must all go, and the next evening saw a cart at the door into which were being stowed various bundles of clothing wrapped in blue-and-yellow cloths, each bundle having attached to it a small piece of scarlet cotton to ensure luck on the journey. Flour and millet for food, and other necessaries were piled up behind the cart, and the children were packed inside and told to keep quiet, for they were leaving at night to avoid the jeers of the villagers. The father sat upon the shafts, the mother cross-legged inside, and after an hour's drive the city gates were sighted, and soon the party was welcomed at the Mission House.

A very few days in the Refuge served to largely alter the tenor of Mrs. Fan's mind. The woman who took charge of her was a kind, confidence-inspiring body, with nothing of the |foreign devil| about her. She would hear no harm of the missionaries, and flatly denied that children were enticed on to the premises to be done to death by foul means, or that the foreigner's blue eye could see corpses in their coffins, or that magic incantations were used by means of which all who drank their tea must become their followers.

All these questions and many others relating to the personal character of the strange beings were asked during the long night watches when sleep evades the opium patient, and the nurse helps to while away the dreary hours by satisfying her curiosity. Then at dawn the longed-for dose of medicine is administered, after a prayer that the |medicine may heal her body, and the blood of Jesus cleanse her soul,| and she may settle to a doze which daily becomes more natural and peaceful as the body returns to a normal condition of being.

Mrs. Fan saw that much was introduced by the foreigner in the wake of Christianity which her alert mind recognised as being all to the advantage of women. Even the old Refuge-keeper could read a little, but she was quite dull and slow, whereas without much trouble Mrs. Fan herself could master quite a number of new characters every day, and a few hours had been enough for the initial lesson of reading the large print rhyme:

|There is but one true God, the Heavenly Father He, Who feeds and clothes and pities me.
The only Saviour, too, who can my sins forgive,
I trust and hearken to His word, Jesus my Lord and Saviour. Jesus loves the sinner, Jesus pities me,
He gave His life, He washed me clean, He verily hath loved me.|

It was quite evident that a certain amount of education lay within her own grasp, and quite unlimited possibilities were open to her three daughters. The sinfulness of binding up the feet of girls was touched upon, and a strong determination took form in her mind that her girls should be among the first who would have natural feet in the neighbourhood, in spite of the lurking fear that all three might be left as old maids upon her hands if no man might be found bold enough to risk the disgrace of a wife with normal feet. A short length of white cotton material was procured, and the three little ones were soon free of compressing bandages, each wearing a pair of calico socks and little red-and-yellow shoes, ornamented on the toe with a grinning, whiskered, tiger's face.

These girls were all destined to lives of signal usefulness in the Church. Two of them labour still as teachers and evangelists among their own people; the third was early prepared by intense suffering and deep wrongs to be removed by death to the realm where the |wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.|

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