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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XV THE BUILDERS

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

CHAPTER XV THE BUILDERS

|The house is not for me, it is for Him. His Royal thoughts require many a stair,
Many a tower, many an outlook fair,
Of which I have no thought, and need no care.
Where I am most perplexed, it may be there
Thou makest a secret chamber holy -- dim,
Where Thou wilt come to help my deepest prayer.|
GEORGE MACDONALD.

|Toil, workman, toil; thy gracious Lord
Will give thee soon a full reward;
Then toil, obedient to His word,
Until He come.

Sing, pilgrim, sing; Christ's mighty Hand
Will bring thee safe to that bright land;
Then sing -- it is thy Lord's command --
Until He come.|
ANON.

THE BUILDERS

RELATING HOW THE SUPPLIES WERE USED

IN an incredibly short space of time our compound was overrun by a gang of one hundred men from the province of Honan. The land in Southern Shansi has been too fertile and yielded too rich a crop of opium to leave us good workmen; when therefore we want work quickly and well done, we inquire for a Honan or Shantung man.

Our helpers searched the countryside for likely trees, which were felled and in a few days made their reappearance as pillars and beams. Old buildings were bought, demolished, and sorted into usable and unusable material, so that as the walls went up the empty spaces about the city increased in number.

Before dawn each morning we were aroused by the beating of a loud gong which called the men to work. This work they might not leave until the last streak of daylight had faded, except for the brief space allowed for breakfast and dinner, when huge cauldrons of a sticky mass of boiled millet was ladled out in generous portions. Millet is the cheapest grain food procurable, and the Shansi man cannot thrive upon it; to the Honan man it is the staff of life, and in consequence their rate of wage is lower.

A race of giants they were, handsome, magnificently built, and well skilled in the use of their simple tools. In the use of the adze they were particularly proficient, and able to plane a section of wood to within a hairbreadth of thickness by the use of this alone. They liked to use it for the most delicate work, so certain are they of their accurate manipulation, and on one occasion when I supplied a bandage to bind a wound on the finger of a workman who had met with a slight accident, as I turned to take up my scissors, the head carpenter, without a trace of humour on his face, stepped forward with a four-foot long adze, and offered to sever the calico.

Heavy work requiring the combined strength of several men, such as the beating in of foundations, or the lifting of a great beam, was accompanied by the sound of the weirdest rhythmic chant, sustained for hours if needs be.

A night watchman was employed, who in accordance with the custom of the country constantly beat a loud gong, by means of which any intending thief is made aware that all are not asleep. The English policeman's rubber sole, and the Chinese watchman's noisy methods, strange to relate, attain the same ends.

On one occasion, hearing blood-curdling yells at midday, we inquired and were told that a workman had caught a tramp, red-handed, in the act of stealing his tools. Our informant described him as aged, starved, and infirm, |truly pitiable,| and strung up by his thumbs to a beam. The sound of those yells made us fear that something akin to the famous death by slow degrees, so constantly referred to in Chinese jurisprudence, was being carried into effect at our very door. Pastor Wang, the merciful, was already interceding on the man's behalf, and we sent a peremptory message that the thing must stop. Our desire was acceded to, and the wretched victim made his escape, more terrified than really hurt.

The next reminder of the incident was the following item in the builder's final account: |To missing tools, unclaimed in accordance with missionaries' loving heart, 2s.|

One of the minor expenses connected with our building operations was the inviting of guests to a succession of feasts. The occasion of the stamping of the contract in the Yamen, which marked the conclusion of the middlemen's responsibility in the purchase of property, was celebrated by a handsome meal, to which all in any way connected with the transaction were invited.

The necessity of conciliating our neighbours to the inevitable trouble which the dust and litter of building would entail upon them, caused us to spread another feast, to which all who could shelter beneath the term |neighbour| were asked.

By the building contract we found ourselves obliged to conform to the customary requirement made by workmen that every tenth day we should provide a |reward for work,| which, in fact, amounted to supplying one pound of white flour and a handful of vegetable to each workman. This arrangement ensured pleasant relations between the men and ourselves, for each time they were our guests grievances were forgotten and a fresh start made. The swinging of the huge beams of the church roof was the occasion for extra festivity.

This custom of inviting guests does much to smooth over difficulties, and is customary, not only in matters of building, but also on numerous other occasions. For instance, the autumn rains swelling the river necessitate the use of a ferry boat for about two months of the year. The expense of this is met by public subscriptions from the more important people of the city, and a small fare for each passenger. Those whose names appear on the subscription list are invited to an annual banquet given by the ferrymen; I have often wondered what would happen were some simple soul to accept the invitation, which in reality is only intended to serve as a reminder that subscriptions are now due.

It is part of the convenient social system of this land that no woman would presume to put in an appearance on such occasions. Throughout the building operations the only part of the feast in which we were privileged to share -- which privilege was unquestioningly granted -- was the payment of all expenses.

How glad we should have been to find such an easy solution to the problem of the importunate widow. This aged lady entered a claim for two stones occupying nine square feet of waste land, to the sale of which she declared her consent had never been given. The matter had been referred to middlemen who decided in our favour; nevertheless, we learned to dread the daily tap, tap, of her stick, and the shrill squawk of her strident voice as she came with fresh deeds (some of them dating back to former dynasties) of which she demanded the examination. She was generally accompanied by friends, all of whom were prepared to support her claim.

I have seen her stand by the workmen, and with her nagging tongue drive them, and the foreman, almost to despair. It was impossible to recognise her rights even to the extent of feasting her, so we endured until the walls were built, and then to compensate her for her trouble handed her the equivalent of 2s., which sum she accepted, but every time we meet her she reminds us that we are occupying land which belongs to her.

The first autumn frosts saw a large expanse of waste land, which had formerly lain around our compound, transformed into a neat series of courtyards, and a spacious church occupied seventy feet of the main street frontage, providing sitting accommodation for a congregation of six hundred. In all, we had erected fifty gien of room space, in addition to the church.

Thanks to an unusually profitable rate of silver exchange which held during these few months, and owing to the faithful oversight and scrupulous economy of Pastor Wang and his helpers, our L500 proved sufficient to meet all necessary requirements of Church, School, Bible School, and Dispensary.

FOOTNOTE:

The space between two beams in a Chinese building.

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