Chapter XIX. The Bower of Bliss.
A blessed family is this,
Assembled in the bower of bliss.--SOUTHEY.
THE Bower of Bliss was well named. It was a very happy time that had thus begun in the lives of Aline and Mabel. The Gospels and Prayerbooks were printed in Roman letters, though in Chinese words, and this saved them the difficulty of struggling with the strange Chinese hieroglyphics. A Chinese teacher was found for them, and they did not find it difficult to be understood. They went into the school with Edward, and found rows upon rows of little baldheaded boys with long queues, seated on the ground round the old Sing-Sang, or teacher, and looking just fit to be packed up in a box, and sent off as curiosities to England.
Girls were not there, not being supposed worth education; and till the ladies came it was not possible to do much for them. Even the [206/207] Christian mothers, whom the Kuniongs, as the ladies were called, visited, did not seem to think it possible to bring or send their baptized little girls to the hall in the house which had been set apart for a girls' school. The women, whether Christians or not, were all very civil, well mannered, and neat in their persons; but it was difficult to stir them out of any custom, and unless their husbands accepted the Faith, nothing could be done with them, and indeed, the Archdeacon, as well as Mr. Bryant, recommended that they should be left alone except in the way of kindness, such as offering medicine and treatment when they were too poor for the native doctors to attend them. They were modest, docile, down-trodden creatures, and could make and put on their own clothes as well as or better than the English ladies, so that there was not much to allure them with in the way of the arts of life. The headdresses of those a little above want were elaborate studies.
The Christian women were, however, delightful to teach and hold intercourse with. To them all was now new life and joy, in the opening of hope for another life and release from dreary [207/208] servitude in the present. They were in general far from unintelligent, and listened eagerly when the newcomers were able to teach them, and their behavior in church was always most devout, and there was reason to think that, with most, it went beneath the docile and mechanical surface.
Of the men there was less to say, so far as the sisters were concerned. Edward spent much of his time in discussions in public and in private with the disciples of Confucius or of Gautama, who held the theory of morality, but lacked the motive power to apply it to their lives; and in most cases had an undercurrent of national conceit which despised the foreigner, and even if the loathing of him, and all belonging to him, was overcome, they could go no further than believing that his religion might be good for him, even raise him to heights above themselves, but that theirs was the one for their own nation, to be held as good and faithful Chinese. The obloquy of a change to the hated and despised foreign Faith. no doubt went for a great deal with them. and also the absolute danger from their countrymen, of which they knew more than did the mission. Still, there were converts, and these dared [208/209] enough to prove their sincerity and sterling worth; and happy and blessed was the day when there was an adult baptism.
Boys of the heathen families resorted to the school of the Sing Sang, or teacher, an old man, more than half-convinced at heart, and not unwilling to let the foreigner come in, take a class, and open their minds to something new. Even the Kuniongs, were not unwelcome when they came in with the missionary, and showed pictures, even though the boys made no difficulty in telling them how much better were their own pictures of warriors, giants, and dragons, which certainly had the advantage in brilliant coloring.
But the little girls were Mabel's especial sphere and joy, from babyhood upward. When once a Christian mother had been coaxed to trust a child in the power of Ma-Bee Kuniong, as the women learned to call her, and it had been made extraordinarily happy with kindergarten sports, pictures, songs, flowers, and verses, more little ones began to flock in--Christian and Buddhist--boys and girls alike, till they were about seven years old, when the boys of the unconverted were carried off to the hovel of old Sing-Sang, or, rather, held [209/210] it beneath their dignity to listen to a Kuniong. All of them loved any amount of kindergarten "gifts," and exercise in the drill, the songs and other sports, and likewise in the Scripture stories that Edward freely allowed her to teach to all. A short prayer to the God of all nations began and ended the whole; but the little Christians had some amount of separate instruction in the Faith, and learned about their salvation and the benefits and obligations of their baptism.
All seemed to Mabel extraordinarily alike, both in face and character: she could hardly tell one from another at first, except by their size and the colors of their dresses; and they were so quiet, so free from quarrels or tempers, that she longed to hold them up as examples to Sunday-school classes at home. She actually did write letters to her friends at Langbridge full of descriptions of their passive charms, and, by-and-by, of their wonderful progress. Was there ever an eager teacher, who was not delighted with the children's proficiency?
Little ones were, of course, less easily dealt with, and yelled if touched by any one save their parents; and in some streets of Pekin, and in [210/211] many of the more distant villages, there were shouts against the "foreign devils."
The chief industry of the place was the rearing of silk-worms, and on this the women were employed. The eggs were-laid out on frames made of bamboo and the worms fed with shredded mulberry leaves, and during their growth the English were not allowed, even by the Christians, to come near them, since the sound of the foreign voice was supposed to agitate them so as to be fatal to their spinning, nor could they endure any close or noxious smell. There was a wild caterpillar besides, which was caught on trees, and produced a darker cocoon, whence a coarse kind of silk, called "'Ponga," was made, and women and children turned out in search of these. Hawkers or middlemen came round after the cocoons had been spun, and purchased them, to be disposed of afterward at Shanghai.
Most of the men were small farmers growing wheat and millet, or, in the valley, rice, also tobacco. At the various harvests, at which men, women, and children all turned out to gather in the crop, the fields were a gay sight, while the classes were deserted.