|Happy the pure in heart, for they shall see God.|
|A white bird, she told him once, looking at him
gravely. A bird which he must carry in his bosom
across a crowded public place -- his own soul was
|Would it reach the hands of his good genius on
the opposite side, unruffled and
unsoiled?| -- WALTER PATER.
|To radiate the heat of the affections into a
clod, which absorbs all that is poured into it,
but never warms beneath the sunshine of smiles or
the pressure of hand or lip -- this is the great
martyrdom of sensitive beings -- most of all in that
perpetual auto-da-fe where young womanhood is
the sacrifice.| -- O. W. HOLMES.
THE GREAT FURNACE FOR A GREAT SOUL
BEING THE STORY OF AI DO
MRS. FAN'S second daughter came into the world under the shadow of sorrow, for apart from the fact that she was a girl, whereas a boy had been ardently desired, her first lusty yells revealed the fact that she was born with a tooth visible. This was well known by every woman in the village to indicate antagonism to her mother's life, and disaster would surely ensue were she not promptly drowned or thrown out to perish by the riverside.
Her fate seemed sealed, but that a woman seeing what a dear little baby she was, was moved with pity, and declared herself willing to take the responsibility of asserting that the child was hers in order that the demons which were ordering these events might be deceived, and thus her real mother would escape the fate which threatened her life, if the baby were not killed.
An incredible amount of ingenuity is expended in China on deceptions practised to mislead the gwei or demon, whose influence you have cause to fear. Being a malignant spirit, his object is to hurt that which you specially value, therefore it is well to deceive him into thinking that your precious son is only a useless girl, or even a little animal. This is not difficult to manage, for the gwei, though powerful to work evil, is a simple creature, and it is sufficient for him to see earrings dangling from your boy's ears to make him think he sees a girl, or if you call the child by some such name as |puppy,| |little pig,| |kitten,| or |goat,| he will quite fail to perceive that the object of your affection is two legs short of what one might be led to expect.
When a gwei has really determined to injure your child, it is sometimes necessary to kill a dog and wrap your boy in its skin, that it may be perfectly evident to the whole spirit world that if you are bestowing any affection, it is only on a valueless beast. In the case of Mrs. Fan's little girl, no gwei could reasonably be supposed to attach much value to her, and it was therefore sufficient for this neighbour to pronounce herself willing to stand in the place of a mother. She was allowed to live, and with painful frankness given the name of |One too many.|
After the month spent in the Opium Refuge, Mrs. Fan often saw the lady missionaries either at Hwochow or in her own house, and when they were joined by a lady who had no previous knowledge of the Chinese language, Mrs. Fan was asked if little |One too many| might come and live with the missionary so that her childish prattle should help the newcomer in recognising the difficult sounds and tones. She was now eight years old and permission was readily granted, so to Hwochow she went and became an inmate of the Christian household there, her name being altered to the now appropriate one of |greatly loved| -- in Chinese, Ai Do.
The years passed by, and little Ai Do won the love and approval of all. She received her education in the girls' school, and there grew up in her the ambition to be a teacher, as her elder sister was. At fourteen years of age she sat one Sunday evening reading her Bible, and came to the words: |The Lord seeth not as man seeth; man looketh on the outward appearance, the Lord looketh on the heart.| She stopped and pondered, realising with the force that can only come with conviction of the Spirit of God, that while in |the outward| no one had fault to find with her, yet the Lord looking on the heart saw her full of sin and unreconciled to Him. In that hour her peace was made, and henceforth she served and trusted God through all the vicissitudes of her short life. She remained a pupil in the school until the year 1900, when Miss Stevens and Miss Clarke went to Taiyueanfu, never to return. It was a reign of terror during which rapine and murder stalked unhindered through the land, and young women fled to the remotest districts where they might claim a shelter.
The matter of Ai Do's marriage had been under consideration for some time, she having now reached the age when custom exacts that this important matter should be settled. Various suitors presented themselves, but in most cases there was some hitch which prevented the engagement from being finally settled. In one case the man lived on the other side of the river, and this would cause difficulty in the girl's frequent journeys from one home to the other; in another, the matter of the sum required as dowry could not be finally fixed; in a third, she would have been required to worship idols.
Amongst the number was a young man, favoured by Mrs. Fan but known as a wild and dissolute youth, and the missionaries who had cared for Ai Do so many years refused their consent to the engagement. Now they were dead, and Mrs. Fan had scope for the exercise of the domineering will which made her ruler of the home, for while she was an enthusiastic follower of the Church she had never given evidence of personal conversion.
It was certainly advisable that a young woman of Ai Do's age should not be unmarried at that difficult time. Christians went in daily peril of their lives, and the soldier was scarcely less to be dreaded than the Boxer.
|No one uses good iron to make nails, and no one will use a good man to make a soldier,| says a Chinese proverb, which has been proved to be only too true in many cases.
Hastily, and almost secretly, the formalities of the engagement were performed, cards were exchanged which fixed the contract, and the earrings, rings, and silk and satin garments were brought from the bridegroom's home. Ai Do had heard much of this man, and his reputation was such as to cause her the gravest misgivings. The household which she was to enter as a bride would not require her to join in the offering of nuptial sacrifices to idols because her future mother-in-law had come under the sound of the Gospel, but more than this can scarcely be said. The son to whom she was engaged had been brought up on a regime of such extreme indulgence as can only be met with amongst an Oriental people. His mother had never once restrained him in a childish selfishness nor a manly vice. From a spoilt, inconsiderate, wilful childhood he passed to a cruel, passionate, licentious manhood; finally, he took to opium smoking and ruin threatened the home. His mother reaped a bitter harvest of sorrow from the planting of those wasted years, and now her urgent plea was: |My son is good at heart, and a virtuous bride will soon work a reform in him.|
Every relation and friend and neighbour had a say in the transaction, only Ai Do must not be consulted, and though she weep and plead to be left unmarried for a time yet, her tears and supplications can cause no effect. In vain were the silver ornaments and fine clothes displayed before her; she refused to take food and wept bitterly, not with the conventional tears of the Chinese girl bewailing her virginity and begging that she may not be torn from the shelter of her maiden home, but with a real horror of the fate which awaited her.
The day dawned when she was dressed in the scarlet bridal clothes, a voluminous embroidered satin gown over all; this came with the sedan chair which was to carry her to her future home, being hired for the occasion. Scarlet shoes were on her feet, a high tinsel crown on her head, and covering her tear-stained face was a scarlet veil. In accordance with the custom which demanded that the forehead of the bride must be perfectly smooth, her front hair had been dragged out by the roots and left her with an aching head.
At last all was ready, and she was in the embroidered sedan chair and caught the last glimpse of the familiar faces. They disappear, and alone she meets a cruel, loveless, unknown world.
A Chinese village wedding is a terrible ordeal for the bride. Her life until that day has been guarded from every contact with the outer world, and she has never spoken with a man outside the family circle. Her arrival at her mother-in-law's home is the signal for a wild rush of rough men to surround her chair. The curtain is lifted, insolent faces stare, her personal appearance is commented upon in vile terms, her feet being specially noticed because the artificial compression of this member has resulted in giving it sexual importance in a woman's appearance. Ai Do had a normal, unbound foot, and had to listen to lewd insinuations levelled at her on this subject. All the while she must patiently sit and wait until the appointed women of the bridegroom's family are ready to conduct her indoors. The waiting is often for a considerable time, for these new relations are going to make her feel that she is a most unimportant and undesirable person, and her mother-in-law is not even going to see her until the next day; moreover, the longer she waits, the greater her chances of longevity.
When at last she is told to leave her chair she is followed by a crowd, and holding the end of a scarlet sash which is thrust into her hand, she finds herself in a courtyard where the ceremony is to take place.
In accordance with the contract made by the middleman, she is not asked to worship heaven and earth nor the tablets of her husband's ancestors, but two cups of wine are placed on the table, and she and her bridegroom must each take one and sip the wine, the cups being joined together by a scarlet thread. When this ceremony is over, she follows her bridegroom to a room, still led by the sash, and when he enters he stands upon the kang and by walking around it demonstrates his position as head of the new home.
Meanwhile the chair-bearers are clamouring for her dress, as another young woman is waiting for the same gown and chair, and delay may cause trouble. The bride is assisted on to the kang by the women, her husband having departed to make merry with his friends, and the ragged opium smokers who carried her there leave, one wearing the crown of tinsel on his head, laughing and joking at much which they have seen and heard. From the moment that she is seated upon the kang, the bride becomes the centre of attraction to an insulting crowd. Her shoes are stolen, but knowing that this is likely she has provided herself with additional pairs. For hours she sits there and hears the remarks made. One will whisper that she is married to an irresponsible idiot, others will tell her that he is blind or dumb, and knowing how often the middlemen deceive, she waits with dread the moment when she will see for herself more than she was able to do on arrival. At last the room is cleared, and she has to face the final ordeal when she is left alone with a totally unknown man. Even the hours of darkness are not respected, and every youngster in the village has the right to enter the courtyard at any hour of the night, tear down the paper windows, and heap shame upon her head.
Christianity and the influence of the foreigner has done much to revolutionise the wedding customs, but all this and more was endured by Ai Do, and she found herself withal the wife of a depraved and vicious man.
It was indeed a deliverance when the Hwochow girls' school reopened and Ai Do was invited to teach in place of her elder sister, whose family claims had increased so as to prevent her holding the post as formerly. School was opened in a small courtyard which adjoined our own, and twenty girls entered as pupils. Ai Do had all the characteristics of a natural leader, and she easily controlled the girls and was much beloved by them, for she had a kind disposition and the hidden sorrows of her life had made her both strong and tender.
I think that her life in school was a time of unmixed happiness to her, but the holidays had to be faced and contact with the man whom she could only strive not to hate. His opium smoking habits increased, and the pinch of poverty was felt in the home from which he was able to steal so cunningly every article of value which might be exchanged for money and spent on the drug.
A great joy came into Ai Do's life with the birth of a little son, and she realised for the first time that matrimony was not solely a horror, since it brought so much compensation in its train. The child was publicly dedicated to God, and was its mother's joy for six brief months.
At the end of that time, in the hot weather, it sickened with dysentery, and in spite of her prayers and entreaties that she might be allowed to deal with the disease as she had seen me deal with similar ailments, she had to endure the torture of seeing it operated upon by a heathen Chinese doctor, whose method of treatment was to use long needles which he ran into its tender flesh. The needles were of course unclean, and the child's death was doubtless hastened by the shock thus sustained.
She was spared the last sorrow of seeing its body thrown out to be devoured by dogs and wolves through the fortunate advent of her father, who insisted at her request that decent burial be given. This was a cause of thankfulness for her to her life's end.
A year later, when her second son was born, the home was in a pitiful condition. All the land which provided daily bread for the family was gambled away, furniture and clothes had been sold or pawned for opium, the wages she earned were all turned to the same use, and the poorest, coarsest food was all that was procurable at a time when her strength was quite insufficient to the strain imposed upon it.
As soon as the required month of purification was over, she returned to us and then received all the care that love could suggest, but we soon saw that she was going to escape from our poor, inadequate efforts to protect and comfort her, into the care of the only One who could save her from further sorrow. Phthisis took a rapid hold of her constitution, and her strength daily declined. During this time she for the first time opened her heart, and spoke out her sorrows and sufferings and those deepest wrongs she had suffered which women have from time immemorial hidden as a shameful secret. She spoke it all out now, and left me with a determination that henceforth any one placed as she was should find an advocate and protector in me to the extent of my ability.
Three months later she was carried back to her home, a dying woman, to end her days. We were able to ride out and see her almost daily, and once we found her very happy because in a dream she had seen a messenger who called to her to cross the river, and when she shrank back I had been there to assure her that angels would receive her to her Heavenly Home.
That day her husband came into the room, and in my presence she for the last time pleaded with him to leave the ways of sin and seek forgiveness through repentance. To our care she committed her child, asking that we would see that it was brought up as a Christian, and she also begged us to insist on a Christian burial for herself. To the schoolgirls she sent the message that they must meet her in her Master's presence, and a few hours later |the bells of the city rang out for joy, and it was said to her: 'Enter into the joy of thy Lord.'| The wail that went up from the schoolgirls when I told them, I shall not forget; she was the first of our company to pass over. Two days later the pupils of her class and ourselves gathered with the family for a simple service in the courtyard of her home. On the coffin the words were written at her own request, |Until He come| -- symbolic of the hope which sustained her through those years of suffering, and kept her eyes ever upward turned to the promise of the great day of deliverance. A congregation of some hundreds assembled to see the unique sight of so many girls mourning for a teacher and following the bier to the border of the village. The girls and their parents showed their appreciation of Ai Do and her work by presenting a large banner to the school in her memory. It was unveiled on their behalf by the elders of the Church, and above the names of one hundred girls who had been her pupils were inscribed the words: |She rests from her labours, and her works do follow her.|
We returned to take up the work which she had left, but with heavy hearts, and the school and my study seemed empty without her presence. I missed her help in consultation over difficulties and dealings with the raw material which came into our hands at the beginning of each term.
Who could replace her? Her friend and companion who had helped her during the past months was the only one to whom I could look, and she was seemingly of too retiring a disposition to bear such responsibility; but the |trees of the Lord are full of sap,| and if a leaf has fallen there is always a fresh one developing to replace it, and Ling Ai was preparing for a development which was going to make her that which she still is, my faithful and beloved fellow-missionary in this place. With her quiet, gentle spirit she has won the confidence of her pupils, and made possible for me that which apart from her comradeship would have been impossible, the establishment of a large school and training-college where in happy fellowship Chinese young women are working together for the women and girls of their country.