Chapter XXI. Martyrdom.
Stand up!--stand up for Jesus!
The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next the victor's song.
To him that overcometh,
A crown of life shall be;
He with the King of Glory
Shall reign eternally.
LITTLE Bertha lived and throve, to Mabel's pride and satisfaction; and, fortunately, she inherited the serene impassivity of the Chinese babes, and would lie quiet while Mabel was teaching, or busy in any way over the small and large children who thronged round the Kuniong MaBee; as they called her, and imbibed her lessons with the docility of their race, and, having nothing to unlearn, readily accepted her teaching, learned to say prayers, and to respond and sing at church with more reality, she declared, than their contemporaries at Awmouth. Probably it was so from the freshness of the occupation, and, [218/219] likewise, from all not coming as a matter of course imposed on them, but as an exceptional privilege possibly involving persecution.
Secret societies were reported to exist, and to have a mortal abhorrence of foreigners, and dark deeds had been done further south; but since the occupation of the ports by Europeans, and the commencement of the railway from Tientsin to Pekin, there was not thought to be any chance of the mischief spreading nearer; and Christian villages were multiplying in the hills around, and more and more missions were undertaken by French, Belgians, and Germans.
Early in the second winter, a son was born to Edward and Aline, a powerful rival, they told Mabel, to Bertha, who was already beginning to toddle, and to talk in monosyllabic English.
They named the boy after his father, not forgetting that he was one of the many generations of Edwards, though probably he would never behold Birkfarm, except in the photograph, which Edward fondly cherished.
It was a hard winter: ice was visible in Chefoo Bay, beggars were found dead round the gates of Pekin and Tientsin, frozen to death; and Mabel's [219/220] scholars came in shivering and almost frost-bitten. Houses were built with no appliances for warmth except pans of charcoal, and though the Bryants did the best they could with imported stoves and paraffin, they were very glad of the advance of spring with all its brilliancy of flowers.
Therewith, however, came reports that the more dangerous society known as Boxers, or Big Swords were afoot, not fanatics, like the Vege tarians, who had made the sudden raid and slain Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and the ladies of Kucheng, but more political enemies, actuated by hatred of all foreigners. However, it seemed like other whispered distant reports that had been heard, and was not much regarded.
Baby Edward was already teething, too early, as Aline thought, and she wanted to show him to Miss Waring, or to the matron at the Tientsin hospital, who had experience in infant ailments, and would tell her how to manage him. Her husband, too, had some business with the clergy there, and had to give in his report; so, just after Easter, they resolved to go together and take a holiday for two nights. Would Mabel go with [220/221] them, leaving Bertha safely with the good-natured Loo?
No; Mabel was much too busy. Not only could she not leave Bertha, but Chang and Ting too, and ever so many more, wanted to be made perfect in the Catechism and text they were to say when Bry Sing-Sang and Ma Kuniong brought the European prizes from Tientsin that the Awmouth children were sending to them.
She came out to the door laughing as she watched Aline and baby packed into a sedanchair, and Edward mount his jinriksha to join the railway. The last sight they had of her was smiling and holding up little Bertha to wave her hand as Edward answered to her from his moving throne.
The last sight! Little they dreamed that it was the last sight. It was the next day, and Aline, having taken some pleasant counsel over her baby, had just left him to sleep under Miss Waring's care, and was going out with Edward to call on Mrs. Bright, when they were aware of a dusty, disordered figure, which they knew to be that of one of the Christian peasants whose land lay on the hills above their village. Holding [221/222] out his hands as one in despair, he sobbed out the words in Chinese: "Big Sword men! Burst the village--slain all there."
Catching up, but scarce crediting, the dreadful tidings, "My sister?" were the first words.
"Slain! slain without doubt. Church burned."
It appeared that Lois (the wife's Christian name) had gone out to feed her silk-worms at twilight, and as she stood high on the hill she could see the tumultuous rush into the village below, and heard the report of firearms (a weapon new in the Chinese popular insurrections). She called up her husband, but it was impossible to do anything except to hide in the rocks above, hoping that their house, which was a good deal shaded by trees, would not in the darkness attract the attention of the Boxers. And so it proved. It was a raid; and after the village had been plundered and set on fire, the marauders departed over the hills toward Pekin. After much terror and trembling, Mat resolved on going down to see what had chanced, since the fire had so died down that it could not disclose him to any lurking enemy; but he durst not enter the village, though he met a boy of one [222/223] of the heathen families, who told him, with tears, that the Kuniong was dead, shot down dead at the entrance of the church.
So far, at least, was a consolation that Mabel had not been made captive, to be in danger of the cruel tortures of savage Chinese. Aline, who had stood pale as death, let her lips move in a moment's thanksgiving as she heard it; but no sound passed them. Edward, whose friends, infinitely shocked, had begun to gather round him, said: "I must go at once and see how much of this is true, and----"
Voices arose that he could not be allowed to go alone, and two or three Englishmen and some sailors and others quickly fetched revolvers, and resolved on going with him. Archdeacon Goodrich, the friend of his boyhood, arrived in time to be of the party, who went as far as they could by train and then walked up the remainder of the hill. It was one of the first attacks made by the Secret Society on Christian settlements, and did not then seem to be more extensive than the Vegetarian raid on Kucheng, where there was no popular rising.
The result of their journey may best be told in [223/224] the words of Edward to Aline, when, by-and-by, he returned--white, worn, exhausted and battered. After the first fact had been confirmed, and he had been refreshed enough to tell more, he sat by her and spoke. "Yes, we found the dear one. We may be thankful over her, Aline, not only for her Crown of Martydom, but that it was won without those horrors we dreaded for her. She was shot down at the entrance of the church. There was no mark of injury, except where the bullet had pierced the forehead. By God's mercy to her, those fiends now use firearms. Yes, we can be sure. The compound has been burned and destroyed; but a beam had fallen over the doorway, and under it she lay untouched, only her dress a little singed, and her sweet face as calm and noble as ever."
"But the child, Bertha? You said--"
"She is with good old Loo. It was thus: there was smoke still rising from the houses, and cries, but of lamentation not hostility, and we went on--coming to the ruins, with our own people lamenting and proceeding to find their dead. I must tell you who are taken another time. Oh, why did we yield to Mabel and leave her?"
 "No, no; don't reproach yourself. We could not guess."
"The village is, as you know, so scattered that many escaped; "and he mentioned a few names dear to them both. "Thus it seems to have been, as far as we can collect. The alarm was given only just before the Boxers arrived, about thirty of them, with swords and firelocks, yelling; 'Death to the foreign devils.' They came straight on our compound, slaughtering by the way those who could not escape. The children were in school with Mabel. She took them through the church, putting Bertha into Loo's arms, and bidding her send them off to the hills, as safer than their houses; and she began putting them out at the farther door, so that they might run through the fountain court into the garden, and so escape, telling them to be good and run away, and God would take care of them. They crowded one upon the other, and were not half gone, alas! when the rush of Boxers came on, yelling at her, and waving their weapons. She stood in the doorway, with faithful Joe behind her, "Let no man take thy crown," she said; and, to the men: 'Let the poor children go safe [225/226]--I am the stranger.' And at that moment the shot was fired, and she fell over the chair, so that she was not trampled on. Indeed, I think Joe managed to draw her aside, even as he was cut down, for he lay, barely living, a terrible spectacle, in front of her, and ten of the poor children--innocents--had been killed, there and in the court."
"She was guarding them. Oh, my Mab, it was glorious; I wish I could get to feel it! It was always what she held up as best of all. My Mab, my Mab, my dear one! And good Joe: he told you?"
"Or, rather, he told Loo: he was too far gone to speak when we came; but Loo, with the child, had gone no further than the reeds round the fountain which, happily, we had not had cut, and they were long enough to hide her till the slaughter was over, and the burning. As the murderers passed on and the flames diminished, she ventured out and found her husband and our dear one as I told you. We laid them and the children out on the stones, near where the altar was. The enemy have done less mischief there than could have been expected; they did not [226/227] understand enough, and the fire did not take hold. It is our own rooms where the havoc is. We laid them there, and the Archdeacon, with some of the faithful ones, have stayed to watch and pray; but they made me go home to you. Bat, to-morrow, early, I shall go up again, and we will lay her for her last rest!"
"All she would have chosen. It was her own day dream," said the sister, with sobbing breath. "What I do believe her childish hopes always centred in--to give her life, her dear life, to her Master for Ms little ones was always what she thought most beautiful and precious! Now she has done it, my sweet sister, and I ought to be glad."
"We shall be able, in. time, to think of her in the noble army of Martyrs," said Edward: "we who laughed at her childish enthusiasms; and, as the Archdeacon said, as we saw the stains on the altar steps, depend upon it, this is the seed of the Church."
What more shall we tell? The end is not yet. Mabel and her children, and the other martyrs of the "Bower of Bliss," had the blessing of [227/228] the suffering for their faith, and her sister and brother-in-law are waiting, still at Tientsin, to resume the work that she has made dearer than ever.