Chapter XX. Mable's Views Realised.
The little babe up in his armes he bent,
Who with sweet pleasance and bold blandishment
Can smyle on them that rather ought to weep.--SPENSER.
EXCURSIONS were not encouraged by Edward, who had a strong sense of responsibility as to Mabel; though, as she said merrily, there really was no one in England to care greatly about her putting herself into danger.
One expedition they did, however, make. A pair of English travellers, who had brought a letter to Edward from a friend of Mr. Fraser, and stayed at the "Bower of Bliss" for some little time, persuaded Edward and his party to go with them, and a merchant and his wife, to the Great Wall, a journey which from thence could be accomplished in a week, since English curiosity had led to the provision of conveniences for travellers, tolerable roads, and inns, with flowery names, where bearers of chairs could be [212/213] hired. It was beautiful mountainous country, rocky hills festooned with lovely creeping plants, and overhanging precipices; but the wall itself was a great disappointment, being only a huge stone fence, zigzagging over hill and through dale, and of its interminable length there was no means of judging.
On the journey, however, Mabel's vision was accomplished. Just outside a little town, very squalid, very poor and dirty, whence there were shouts and a volley of stones, at the gentlemen who rode, and could be seen to be foreigners, the ladies, who, in closed chairs, had not been visible, and whose Chinese dress was in some measure a protection, had begun to recover from their fright, when a man was overtaken with two baskets hung by cords from a yoke over his shoulders.
Thinking they might contain oranges, the merchant, Mr. Bright, hailed him. He did not seem disposed to attend, but sulkily went on his way, and suddenly a cry proceeded from one of the baskets. "Kittens to be drowned," said the merchant to his wife, evidently wishing to believe so; but, "No, no, it is a baby, a poor baby," exclaimed [213/214] Aline. "Stop him, Edward, stop him."
"You had much better remain ignorant, Mrs. Bryant," objected Mr. Bright, riding up to her. "Interfering is a fatal thing."
"No, no!" was Mabel's cry; "save it! save it!"
Edward was meantime parleying in Chinese with the bearer, who, as usual, was perfectly civil and impassive, and no doubt seeing the way to profit, made known that he was employed to carry four little girl infants to be disposed of in the streams that watered the paddy-field in the valley. The stranger Sing-Sang might have them if he liked, for a certain sum.
The baskets were opened in spite of the protestations of Mr. Bright, and two of the poor little white things proved to be quite dead. Another was feebly moving, evidently at the last gasp; but the one whose cries had been heard looked stronger, and as if her life might be saved. Each little creature might be had for the price of five pence!
This Edward paid, while his two friends wondered at his thinking it worth while to purchase the dying child; but he kept it in his own arms, [214/215] with his handkerchief over it, and gave the other to Mabel, who, happily, had a gourd of milk procured at the inn, and could soak her handkerchief and get a drop or two by that means into the mouth, which seemed to be sustaining to the tiny creature, who, however, appeared as yet to be so young as to need warmth more than food, sleeping when pressed up in Mabel's arms, while Mabel looked every few minutes to make sure that she was alive.
They were not far from a mountain stream, which descended into the rice-field below, and there spread out into a marsh. Here Edward called a halt, and taking off his hat, knelt and baptized the infant he had carried by the name of Mary. There was just enough quivering motion about her to show that she was still alive at the moment, and then he turned to Mabel; "It will be safer thus," he said. "What will you have her called?"
"Bertha," was her answer at once, for it was the name she had given to the mythical babe of her old castles in the air, in honor of the early Queen of Bent, and thus her brother-in-law called the little one.
 "That was worth the price," he said to his companions, as he mounted again, having laid the newly baptized Mary, now evidently dead, in his wife's lap. The answer was a grunt; and, presently, after a few words with his wife, Mr. Bright declared that to carry the remains of the dead child was useless and objectionable, insisting that it should not be done. There was a small Christian station at the next halt for the night, and the Bryants wished to have buried the "child of God" there; but it was thought better not to withstand the general voice and incur suspicion on a change of bearers; so, not without tears from Almne, a tiny grave was hollowed out beneath a wide spreading tree, and there the innocent one was left, while her sister in desertion and adoption rested all unconscious on Mabel's bosom.
It was a great delight to Mabel, the realization of her childish visions. The opportunity had been wanting before, for the foreign influence and Christian leaven of Tientsin and the neighborhood had so discouraged female infanticide, that, if carried on at all, it was in secret, so that in this first year it had not come before her. [216/217] That Edward Bryant was equally glad might be doubted. He would have done the same in any case, and he was thankful for the opportunity of rescuing and baptizing the children; but Mr. Bright did not fail to impress on him that it had been a dangerous action, and he himself had seen Chinese papers representing ladies as taking out the eyes of infants to use them as magic or poisonous ingredients, and this horrible imputation was the cause of the specially rabid fury directed against the Roman Catholic sisterhoods; but Tientsin and the neighboring districts were so far civilized and Christianized that there was every reason to believe that the fanaticism of the secret societies would not affect them; and he saw no reason for disturbing his wife and her sister in their joy at their achievement.