"In solemn truth I tell you that unless you turn
"Whoever shall occasion the fall of one of these
"Their angels in heaven have continual access to
"The hope of the glory of God includes the
THE TREASURE HOUSE
WHERE THE READER IS SHOWN THE LAPIDARY AT WORK
MY study is perhaps to me the most sacred spot of the entire compound. Situated in the midst of the school court, it is accessible to teachers and scholars alike. For more than a decade this room has been sanctified by numberless confidences, many too sacred to record.
At any hour of the day, or after dark when it is easier for the girl to knock unseen at my door, I may hear the words, sometimes timidly whispered: "Has the Teacher time to let me speak to her?" A welcome being extended my young guest will usually begin to talk upon general topics, and after a considerable time will gently hint that there is also one small matter in particular of which she wishes to speak. On receiving encouragement she proceeds to unfold the matter, which may vary in gravity from a message conveying a request that employment should be found for a neighbour of hers, to a tearful pleading that I will use all my influence to prevent her parents from engaging her to a heathen bridegroom; it has even been to tell me of a brother who, having entered a College in the provincial capital, is now in jail and likely to lose his life for revolutionary tendencies.
It is during the hour when the schoolgirls are at play, or in the evening when they are in bed, that the teacher will come to me who desires to be certain of no interruption. One whose father was formerly a deacon, but having relapsed into opium smoking has lost his office and Church membership, comes with her sad story. "How can I hope to influence my scholars when this sin is in my own home?" she asks me; and goes on to tell of the downward steps taken, and of the good mother who, with herself, has done all that love could suggest to save the father from public disgrace. A letter from her distant home will sometimes bring her when the work of the day is done, that together we may share its contents. How plain it is to me, that this scorching furnace of shame which seals her lips and makes her blush before her own pupils, is the very test she requires for her perfecting. I know that this is a spiritual crisis when in the thick darkness she will either meet with God, or losing the hope whereby we are saved will grow cold and indifferent.
It is always a personal refreshment when Fragrant Clouds or Pearl Drops comes to see me. A warm friendship exists between these two senior Normal Students, strong, robust young women, prospering in body as in soul. Pearl Drops, keenly humorous, is a famous mimic and I once had the delight of, unnoticed, joining an audience which she was fascinating by her mimicry of an old man well known to us all. Fragrant Clouds is a more serious type, and entered the High School here in answer to her prayers to God for many months, at a time when innumerable obstacles barred her way. She has proved "barriers" to be "for those who cannot fly," and possesses that quiet dignity and confidence which tells of character formed by difficulties overcome. She knows the "All great" to be the "All loving too," and is strong.
Little Goodness is the boldest girl in the school. She is only five years old, but will any moment that she can run away from the Kindergarten Court unseen push open my door, and show me with great delight and most disconcerting self-assurance some treasure she has found -- a grub, or maybe some one else's new handkerchief. The frown I summon to my aid when the offence is repeated more than once a day, is rather a failure, but poor Goodness has had to learn by sterner methods that the teacher's word is law. It is not easy to be stern with her for she is a most fascinating little creature, and yet her parents wanted her so little that she was found, as a wee babe, buried alive. With difficulty her life was saved by the missionary to whom she was taken, who has cared for her ever since. Her most serious offence in this school, and a cause of scandal to the whole Kindergarten, was the helping of herself to five cash from the collection plate when it was handed to her in the Sunday service.
When a new graduate who has been faced for the first time by her class appears at my door, I know before she begins to speak that her errand is to inform me she has found herself to have accepted a burden and responsibility which she is utterly incapable of bearing. I make no great effort to hide my amusement, and call to her remembrance the complete assurance with which she was prepared to enter upon her career during her last term as a Normal Student. I also tell her I have been expecting this interview and, needless to say, from the humorous side we naturally turn to the serious.
Teachers are constantly coming to me for advice as to the best method of dealing with those symptoms of original sin which cause small children to bewilder their elders by the utter depravity of their moral nature. What, for example, could I say to Kingfisher who was heard, when praying audibly, to petition heaven that Rosebud with whom she had quarrelled might lose all her good marks?
The weeping Butterfly was peremptorily ushered into my presence, accused of using bad language. I could see by the expression on the teacher's face that it was no trifling matter. She had said: "Chrysanthemum, when you walk it is like the hopping of a frog." She had thus compared a fellow-scholar to an animal, a form of speech which in Chinese, as I well knew, amounts to a curse.
Peach Blossom, ever since the first day she came to me has been a care and responsibility. Conscious of her good looks and of her capacity to secure a following of devotees, she has conducted her small court with increasing joy to herself, and annoyance to me and my Staff. It was impossible to ignore her presence, and while she was scrupulously within the rules and regulations of school discipline she somehow managed to sail so near, and yet avoid, the point of defiance that we were baffled.
I am sometimes called upon to fulfil the vocation of motherhood in a very real sense, as when I have to announce to some child who has no mother that the arrangements for her engagement are about to be completed, but that her father, who feels he could not expect her to speak of such a matter, has asked me to find out her desires regarding the proposed bridegroom. After an inevitable tear, shed at the suggestion that she must some day leave her father's home, she asks me if I am satisfied with the plan; on my answering in the affirmative her face brightens, though she conventionally begs me to use my influence to dissuade her father from any such intention. I, seeing that no difficulty presents itself, change the subject and bring her a few days later the gifts and silver ornaments which indicate that all is settled. She, having no mother to do the necessary grumbling at the inferior quality of the bridegroom's presents, comes to my room later on, and says: "I have been examining these, and perceive that the silver used is not pure in quality." Having shown that she, though motherless, is not easily taken in, she accepts my exhortation to be a good child and to be thankful for what she has, and without further ado begins her preparations for the day when she will "change her home."
The more modern parent is sometimes desirous that his daughter, who has reached years of discretion, should from time to time correspond with her fiance. The letters all being sent to the girl's father, he forwards them to me, and the fear lest any fellow-student should know of so immodest a proceeding always leads the girl to read them in my room, and place them in my hand for safe keeping. It was enlightening to receive a request on one occasion that I would, at the close of term, return "those letters which are of no possible use." I knew to what she referred, and mentally noted that the "useless" paper found a very safe place in the recesses of her luggage!
[Illustration: LING AI, HER CHILDREN, AND HER MOTHER, MRS. LIANG.
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Tragedy is interwoven with the life of almost every woman in this land. Disappointment at her birth finds its only consolation in the recognition of her value in the home as family drudge. Only as mother of her son does she enter on an inheritance of sufficient consideration to make her well worth the clothes she wears and the food she consumes.
How pathetic it is to see the efforts put forth by a child whose school life has been interrupted to endeavour to find some means of paying the necessary fees! One girl of thirteen, by making hair-sieves during the summer months renders it possible for her father to send her to school; and many weave during the holidays all the cloth necessary for their own clothes. One little girl who had no other means of helping herself, gleaned so industriously that she gathered sufficient for her first month's expenses, only to find one day that her little hoard had been used by her opium-smoking father for his own indulgence.
Even the high ethics of Confucianism can recognise no higher position for woman than one of obedient dependence throughout life. In youth she must be subject to her father, in middle age to her husband, and in old age to her son. The revolutionary power of Christianity has established a new order, and in the Christian community we see her welcomed in babyhood, cared for in childhood, and receiving the honour due to her womanhood when she becomes a bride. I have been amazed at the sacrifices I have seen made by parents for their daughters. I have known a father, too poor to afford the hire of a donkey, carry his little girl nearly thirty miles to school. I have known the only bedcovering in the home to be spared for the use of the little daughter during term, and a man to endure the winter cold with the scantiest clothing that his child might be warmly clad.
One class, a small one, has outstripped me in the race, and graduated to a higher school to render service more needed there than here. I can think of each one with joy as in the Great Teacher's Hand, learning lessons which as yet are beyond me.
The one it seemed I could least spare was needed by Him, and since most of this book was written my beloved Ling Ai went to serve, face to face, the Lord she loves.
The intimate sympathy required to enter into the joys and sorrows of so many lives is perhaps the heaviest strain laid upon the missionary, and the mental discipline necessary to hold all in right proportion can only be exercised where there is true adjustment of spiritual vision, whereby we see "through the travail to the triumph, perfectly assured of the ultimate victory of God," and rejoice, "cheering the battle by song and shortening the marches by music."