I saw Chan-King Liang for the first time on a certain Monday morning in October. It was the opening day of college, and the preceding week had been filled with the excitement incidental to the arrival of many students in a small town given over to family life. Every household possessed of a spare room was impressed with the fact that good citizenship demanded that it harbour a student. Therefore, when I saw trunks and boxes and bags being tumbled upon the front porch of our next-door neighbour, I said to Mother, "Mrs. James has succumbed!" and set out for my first class with Celia, an old friend.
As we crossed the campus, we noticed a group of boys, gathered on the steps of College Hall and talking among themselves. Celia turned to me. "Do you see the one with very black hair, his face turned away a little—the one in the grey suit, Margaret? Well, that is the new Chinese student, and the boys all say he is a wonder. My cousin knew him last year in Chicago, where he was a freshman. Going in for international law and political science—imagine!"
I turned and glanced with a faint interest at the foreign student, on whose black hair the sun was shining. My first impression was of a very young, smiling lad. "Looks well enough," I said rather ungraciously, and we passed on.
I was a busy student, eagerly beginning my freshman year's work, and I thought no more of the young Chinese. But a day or so later I discovered him to be the owner of those trunks and bags I had seen assembled on Mrs. James's porch. Chan-King was my next-door neighbour.
We were never introduced to each other, as it happened, and, though we shared studies in German and French, we did not exchange a word for some time. Later I found myself admiring his feat of learning two foreign languages through the medium of English, a third, and doing it so very well. At the same time, though I was not then aware of the fact, he was also admiring me for proficiency in these subjects, in which I was working hard, because I intended to teach languages.
The progress of my interest in him was gradual and founded on a sense of his complete remoteness, an utter failure to regard him as a human being like the rest of us. He was the first of his race I had ever seen. But finally we spoke to one another by some chance, and, after that, it seemed unnecessary to refuse to walk to class with him on a certain morning when we came out of our houses at the same moment.
We parted at College Hall door with an exchange of informal little nods. I was happily impressed, but my impulse to friendship suffered a quick reaction from all that Chan-King was, when viewed against the background of his race as I saw it. I had no intention whatever of continuing our association.
Naturally, Chan-King knew nothing of this. I think I was probably a trifle more courteous to him than was necessary. I remember being uneasy for fear of wounding him by some thoughtless remark that would reveal my true state of mind about China. I lost sight of the race in the individual. I even pretended not to notice that he was waiting for me morning after morning when I emerged, always a trifle late, hurrying to classes. By the close of the first semester, we were making the trip together almost daily as a matter of course.
He was gay and friendly, with a sort of frank joyousness that was his own special endowment for living. I enjoyed his companionship, his talk, his splendid spirit. His cheerfulness was a continual stimulant to my moody, introspective, static temperament. I used to study his face, which in repose had the true Oriental impassivity—a stillness that suggested an inner silence or brooding. But this mood was rare in those days, and I remember best his laughter, his shining eyes that never missed the merriment to be had from the day's routine events.
For a while we were merely two very conventional young students walking sedately together, talking with eagerness on what now seem amusingly sober and carefully chosen subjects. We were both determined to be dignified and impersonal. I was nineteen, and Chan-King was two years older.
Finally, Chan-King asked to call and he appeared at the door that evening, laden with an enormous, irregular package, a collection of treasures that he thought might interest us. We all gathered about the library table, where he spread a flaming array of embroidered silks, carved ivory and sandalwood and curious little images in bronze and blackwood. They gave out a delicious fragrance, spicy and warm and sweet, with a bitter tang to it, a mingling of oils and lacquers and dust of incense.
He was very proud of half a dozen neckties his mother had made him, patterned carefully after the American one he had sent her as a souvenir. "She sews a great deal, and everything she does is beautiful," he said, stroking one of the ties, fashioned of wine-coloured silk and embroidered in a thin gold thread.
The simple words, the tangle of the exotic things lying on the table, in that moment set the whole world between us. I saw him as alien, far removed and unknowable; I realized how utterly transplanted he must be, moving as he did in a country whose ideals, manners and customs must appear, at times, grotesquely fantastic to him. "How queer we must seem to you!" I exclaimed impulsively, lifting a solid, fat little idol in my hand.
"Queer? Not at all—but wonderfully interesting in everything. You see, to me it is all one world!" Our eyes met for a second. Then he offered me a small embroidered Chinese flag. I hesitated, looking at the writhing, fire-breathing dragon done in many-coloured silks. Again the old prejudice swept over me. I was about to refuse. But I saw in his eyes an expression of hesitating, half-anxious pleading, which touched me. I took the flag, puzzled a trifle over that look I had surprised.
Chan-King became a frequent visitor at our home in the evenings, making friends with my father and mother, with true Chinese deference. I like to remember those times, with all of us sitting around the big table, the shaded lamp casting a clear circle of light on the books and papers, the rest of the room in pleasant dimness. It was during these evenings that Chan-King told us about his father, typical Chinese product of his clan and time, who had early perceived the limitations of a too nationalistic point of view and had planned Western education for his sons, of whom Chan-King was the eldest. From his talk I reconstructed a half-picture of his home in southern China. It was a large household of brothers and relatives and servants ruled over by his mother during the prolonged absences of his father, whose business interests lay in a far-away island port.
Once he brought a faded photograph of a small boy formally arrayed in the Chinese velvets and satins of an earlier period. "Myself at the age of six," he explained.
I examined the picture closely. "Why, Mr. Liang," I said, in wonder, "you are wearing a—wearing a—queue!"
He smiled, delighted at my confusion. "Yes, a very nice queue it was," he declared, "bound with a scarlet silk cord. I remember how it waved in the wind when I flew my kite on the hills!"
"You wore a black queue yourself, Margaret," interposed my mother, her eyes twinkling, "shorter than this, but often tied with a red silk ribbon."
"You see, we had that in common, at least," said Chan-King. And he flashed a grateful smile at Mother. There was a well-established friendship between my kindly, understanding mother and Chan-King while my feeling for him was still uncertain.
Yet, in spite of all these reasons for close sympathy with Chan-King, I felt towards him at times something amounting almost to dislike. Against such states of mind my sense of personal justice, a trait I had directly from my Scotch inheritance, instantly rebelled. I was careful in no way to reveal my feelings, though I probably should have done so had I even remotely realized that friendship was verging upon love. As it was, I had an ideal of genuine comradeship, of a pleasant interlude destined to end with our college days.
Towards the end of the winter, as our acquaintance advanced, there came to me a series of those revulsions. I assured myself that so ephemeral a relation as ours must be was hardly worth the time I was giving to it. I remembered that, fine as Chan-King was, he belonged to the Chinese race. I decided to put an end to the entire episode at once. The way in which I carried out this plan was unnecessarily abrupt. I avoided him unmistakably, going to class and returning home by a roundabout way, and refusing to see him either in class or on the campus.
Then, one afternoon at the end of two weeks, he was waiting for me before the main door of College Hall. I did not speak. He joined me without a word and walked in silence to the campus edge. I turned suddenly toward a side street. "Go that way if you like," I said rudely. "I have an errand this way."
He came with me. "I wish to talk with you," he said, with an oddly restrained, patient tone of weariness. Our eyes met, and I saw in his a gentle and touching determination to understand and be understood, which would have been more significant to me if I had been less engrossed in my own emotions.
"Why do you wish to end our friendship?" he asked quietly, with his characteristic frankness.
"I—because I thought it was best," I stammered, completely disarmed.
"It is never best to give up a friendship," he said. "But it happens that our friendship may end soon after all. It is possible I shall return to China. To-day I received a cablegram from my father, saying my mother is dangerously ill. I shall know within a day or so whether I am to go or to stay."
Human sympathy triumphed over race prejudice. "Come home with me," I said, "and let Mother talk to you. She always knows what to say."
Another cablegram two days later brought the good news of his mother's improvement. Chan-King's anxiety during those two days wrung me. He said nothing, but his face was strained and lined. He walked and we talked a good deal of other things, and he gave me definite outlines of his "life-plan," as he called it. He regarded the diplomatic service of his country as his final goal, but, on the way to it, he wished to take part in constructive teaching and sociological work in China. He was keenly enthusiastic about the ancient arts and natural beauties of China and venerated many of her old customs. "I hope introducing modern education will not destroy the beauty of the East," he told me, but he was solidly convinced of the need for new ideas in all the Orient. I began to see his country through new eyes.
We were soon going about together a great deal. I remember many happy parties on the lantern-lighted campus, many field-days and tennis matches, all the innocent freedom of college life that we enjoyed together. I was rather remote in my personal friendships, and very little was said to me regarding my association with the Chinese student. But now I began to hear small murmurs, a vague hum of discussion, and to observe an interested watching of us by the students and townspeople. I could not help seeing that curious glances followed us when we entered a tea-room or concert hall together.
Several friends of my mother's spoke disapprovingly to her of the matter. "What if they should fall in love—marry?" asked one conventional-minded old lady. But my mother was born without prejudices and never sees boundary lines or nationalities. She was infinitely tactful and kind. I know now that she was rather uneasy, for she felt that marriage is a difficult enough relation when each person knows the other's heritage and formulas; but she said nothing to make me self-conscious, not even repeating the remarks of her acquaintances until long afterwards.
However, I heard comments from other sources, which irritated me a trifle and had the perfectly natural effect of stimulating my loyalty to Chan-King and arousing at times a yearning tenderness to shield him from injustice. At this time we tentatively expressed our views on intermarriage. We were sitting in the porch late one afternoon. "I believe marriage between alien races is a mistake," I said, in the decisive way I cultivated at that time. "It is better to marry one's own kind."
"No doubt there are fewer difficulties," he answered without conviction. "It is all so much a personal problem. Marriages between Americans do not seem to be always successful."
I flared. "We hear only of the unhappy ones," I retorted.
"But there are many, many unhappy ones, then," he returned gently. "I wonder if unhappy marriage in all countries is not due to selfishness and lack of love and to unwillingness to compromise on unimportant differences."
We could not possibly quarrel here, and our talk proceeded amiably.
My thoughts at dinner that night seem very amusing to me as I recall them now. Chan-King was so like one of us, as we sat at table together, that I found myself wondering if it was true that a Chinese wife did not eat at the same table with her husband; if she actually did wait upon him and obey him without question in everything; if Chan-King would return to China soon and there become an insufferable, autocratic Eastern husband. The thought oppressed me unbearably. Since Chan-King was leaving next day on a summer-vacation trip, this was a farewell dinner. He insisted on helping me with the dishes afterwards, for ours was a simple household, and we usually had no maid. We were very merry over the task. "In China," he confided, as he stacked the saucers, "the lot of women is much easier. They have servants for everything of this kind. I know an Englishwoman who married a Chinese, and she afterwards taught in a college for the sake of something to do."
"She did quite right," I said. "Idleness is not good for anyone."
"Chinese wives are not idle," he answered gravely, "they have many duties for everyone in their household."
At this he turned his eyes upon me, with an intent, inner look. Because I was impressed, I chose to be flippant.
"If I obstruct your view, I will move," I said.
"It would do no good," he answered. "You are always there—wherever I want to look."
Later he was writing his name in Chinese characters on a photograph he had given my mother. I stood beside him. He dropped the pen, turned to me and took both my hands in his own. He bent toward me, and I drew away, shaking my head decisively. I wrenched one hand free, and the kiss he meant for my lips reached my fingers instead. I was overwhelmed with a sense of invasion. We quarrelled, but without bitterness or real anger. I was simply convinced that, since love was not for us, we were bound by all ethics to keep our relations in the outward seeming of friendship. For a moment I felt that one of my ideals had been rudely shattered.
"Oh, but you have mistaken me!" he declared earnestly, refusing to release my hand.
"Kisses are not for friendship," I managed to say.
"I'm sorry," he confessed, but I saw in his eyes that he regretted my misunderstanding of him, nothing more.
During his summer travels he wrote me many letters. I had time to think, and in my thoughts I admitted that to be a friend of Chan-King was better than to have the love of anyone else in the world.
When he returned, we wandered together one evening down to the campus and sat on a stone bench in the moon-shade of a tall tree. I had overheard a remark, tinged with race prejudice, that had awakened again in my heart that brooding maternal tenderness, and when Chan-King's eyes pleaded wistfully I gave him, as a sacrificial offering, the kiss before denied.
That autumn he transferred for a year to a New England university. He told me long afterwards it was so that absence might teach me to know my own heart. I loved him now and admitted it to myself with bitter honesty. But all fulfilment of love seemed so hopeless and remote, the chasm fixed between our races seemed so impassable, that I gave up in my heart and put away his letters as they came, smiling with affected youthful cynicism at the memory of that kiss, which could mean nothing more to us than a sweet and troubled recollection.
He came back unexpectedly at the end of the college term. There was an indescribably hopeful, anxious look in his eyes as he took my hands. My first sight of his face, grown older and graver in those long months, brought a shock of poignant happiness, very near to tears. Off guard, we met as lovers, with all antagonisms momentarily swept away, all pretences forgotten. I went to his arms as my one sure haven. For this hour love made everything simple and happy.
My father and mother were astonished when we told them of our intention to marry. With gentle wisdom, Mother suggested that we should allow ourselves a year of engagement, "in order to be sure," as she expressed it. We were very sure, but we consented.
Chan-King wrote at once to his people in south China, telling of his engagement. For me, he had one important explanation, made in his frank, straightforward way. "In China," he told me, "it is usual for parents to arrange their children's marriages, often years in advance. When I was very young, it was generally understood that I would later marry the daughter of my father's good friend, three years younger than I. There was no formal betrothal, and, when I left home to study, I asked my father not to make any definite plans for my marriage until my return. The subject has never been mentioned since, and I don't know what his ideas are now. But they can make no difference with us—you understand that, Margaret, dear?" Again I felt myself in spiritual collision with unknown forces and wondered at his calmness in opposing the claims of his heredity.
His family replied to his letter with a cablegram, forbidding the marriage. I had never seriously expected any other decision. A letter followed, conciliatory in tone, in which his father explained that, since Chan-King's foreign education was nearly completed, arrangements had been made for his marriage to Miss Li-Ying immediately upon his return home. He gave a charming description of his bride, whom Chan-King had not seen for twelve years. She was, he said, young and modest and kind, she was beautiful and wealthy, and, moreover, had been given a modern education in order to fit her for the position of wife to an advanced Chinese. The match was greatly desired by both families. In conclusion, the letter urgently requested that Chan-King would not make it impossible for his father to fulfil the contract he had entered into with a friend, and very gently intimated that by so doing he would forfeit all right to further consideration.
There were other letters. An American friend, a missionary, wrote—oh, very tactfully—of the difficulties he would have in keeping an American wife happy in the Orient. A Chinese cousin discussed at length the sorrows a foreign daughter-in-law would bring into his house—the bitterness of having in the family an alien and stubborn woman, who would be unwilling to give his parents the honour due to them or to render them the service they would expect of their son's wife.
Many letters of this kind came in a group. There was a hopeless tone of finality, a solid clan consciousness in those letters that frightened me a little. I was uneasy, uncertain. I had found no irreconcilable elements in our minds, for I was very conservative West, and he was very liberal East. But here were represented the people with whom his life must be spent and the social background against which it must harmoniously unfold. I felt with terrific force that it was not Chan-King, but Chan-King's traditions and ancestors, his tremendous racial past, that I must reckon with.
Also, I did not wish to stand in the way of his future. I doubt if I could have found courage to marry Chan-King, if I had then realized the importance—especially in diplomatic and political circles—of clan and family influence in China. But he gave it up so freely, with such assured and unregretful cheerfulness, that I could not but share his mood.
In these calm, logical, impersonal family letters, which Chan-King translated for me, there was a strain of sinister philosophy that chilled me as I read. The letters dealt entirely with his duty in its many phases—to his parents, to his ancestors, to his country, to his own future. Nothing of love! Only one relative—a cousin—mentioned it at all, and in this wise: "You are young now, and to youth love seems of great importance. But, as age replaces youth, you will find that love runs away like water."
"That is not true, Chan-King," I said, with solemn conviction. "Love is greater than life or age; it lives beyond death. It is love that makes eternity!"
At this time, Chan-King did not quite comprehend my mystical interpretation of love. But he answered very happily, "To have you for my wife is worth everything else the world can offer."
Chan-King continued to write to his family briefly and respectfully, declining to be influenced in any way. Replies came at lengthening intervals and then ceased. There was no open breach, no violent tearing asunder of bonds. Courteously, quite gently, the hands of his people were removed, and he stood alone.
"But surely your mother will not give you up!" I exclaimed one day when it dawned on me that not one message had she sent in all the correspondence.
"Not in her dear heart," he said, with unshaken faith, "but of course she will not write to me if my father disapproves."
"But a mother, Chan-King!" I protested. "Surely her feelings come first always!"
Chan-King's tone was patient after the manner of one who has explained an obvious fact many times. "In China," he reminded me again, "the family comes always before the individual. But with you and me, Margaret beloved, love has first importance."
His never-failing insistence upon viewing ours as an individual instance, not to be judged by any ordinary standards, was a source of great strength to me always. During the short period that followed before our marriage, we tiffed a few times in the most conventional manner, with fits of jealousy that had no foundation; small distrusts that on my part were mere efforts to uphold what I considered my proper feminine pride, and on his, were often failures to discount this characteristic temper of mine. Only, somehow, there was never any rancour in our quarrels. Not once would we deny our love for each other.
So we planned to be married immediately. There were no reasons why we should delay further. That is to say, none but practical reasons, and what have they to do with young people in love? "It is a little late for us to begin practical thinking," said Chan-King cheerfully, when we discussed ways and means. "But we might as well make the experiment."
Chan-King was no longer merely a student with a generous allowance from a wealthy father. On his own resources, with his education not completed, he was about to acquire a foreign wife and to face an untried world. We were strangely light-hearted about all this. Chan-King had regularly put by more than half of his allowance since coming to America. I meant to be a teacher of languages, economically independent if circumstances required such aid for a man beginning a career. Our plans were soon completed. At the end of another term, which we would finish together, Chan-King would be graduated, and then, after a year of practice in his profession, he would return to China, there to begin his life work. I was to follow later. Nothing could have been more delightfully simple so far as we could see. A few days later we were married in my mother's house by an Anglican clergyman. "Of course you will live here with us until you go to China," my parents had said. "We want our children with us, if you can be happy here."
This seemed a very natural arrangement to Chan-King, accustomed as he was to family life. But I was apprehensive. The popular Western idea that people cannot be friends if they are related by law was heavy on my mind. I did not expect any drastic readjustment of temperament between my Chinese husband and me, but I did look forward somewhat timorously to a trying period of small complications due to differences in domestic customs and the routine of daily living.
I need not have worried a moment; a wonderful spirit of family co-operation was an important part of Chan-King's Oriental heritage. From the day of our wedding he took his place with charming ease and naturalness as a member of the household. The affection that existed between my husband and my parents simplified that phase of our relation perfectly, and left us free to adjust ourselves to each other and the world, though the latter we took very little into account. Until I met Chan-King, the idea of being conspicuous was unendurable to me. But when I early perceived that to appear with him anywhere was to invite the gaze of the curious, I discovered with surprise that it mattered not at all. (I was very proud of my husband and loved to go about with him.) We were happy from the beginning.
Discovering life together proved a splendid adventure, which renewed itself daily. The deep affection and tenderness between us created subtle comprehensions too delicate to be put into words. A quick look interchanged during a pause in talk would often convey a complete thought. I always felt that Chan-King had acuter perceptions, more reserve, and more imagination than I. Also he was meticulous—as I was not—in regard to small amenities. I had always been used to having my own way without causing discomfort to anyone else, but I found that I could not speak carelessly or act thoughtlessly without the risk of violating his sense of the fitness of things. My greatest difficulty in the first few months of our marriage came from my constant effort to adjust my mode of thought and action to meet a highly trained and critical temperament, to whom the second-bests of association, spiritual or mental or material, were not acceptable. Yet, if he exacted much, he gave more. In everything, he had a generosity so sincere and spontaneous that it aroused a like quality in me.
I am in many ways the elemental type of woman, requiring, I know, a certain measure of domination in love. It was imperative that I should respect my husband, and it pleased me to discover, in our several slight domestic crises, that his was far the stronger will. I had taken my vow to obey, having specified that the word was not to be omitted from the marriage ceremony. How I should have kept it under a tyrannical will I do not know, for Chan-King was not a domestic dictator. He took it for granted that we were partners and equals in our own departments of life. He trusted my judgment in the handling of my share of our affairs, and in later years often came to me for advice in his own. Nevertheless, morally, the balance of power was in his hands, and I was glad to leave it there. Often our disagreements would end in laughter because each one of us would give way gradually from the position first assumed, until we had almost changed sides in the discussion. This happened again and again.
From the very beginning, I saw clearly, by some grace, the point at which Chan-King's Oriental mind and Occidental education came into the keenest conflict: my attitude towards other men and their attitude toward me. He was never meanly jealous or suspicious, but there was in him that unconquerable Eastern sense of exclusiveness in love, that cherishing of personal possession, so incomprehensible to the average Western imagination.
I had planned to instruct a young man in French during the summer months, as a part of my vacation work, and I casually announced my intention to Chan-King. He opposed it at once, I thought unfairly. I was a great while persuading him to admit his real reasons for objecting. Finally I said, somewhat at random, "If my pupil were a girl, you would not care."
"You have enough work as it is," he persisted, but without firmness, and his eyes flickered away from mine. I laughed a little. He turned to me a face so distressed that my smile died suddenly. "Oh, don't laugh!" he said, painfully in earnest. "You must keep in mind what you are to me. I—cannot be different. I am sorry."
I gave up my harmless young pupil and said nothing more. From that moment I began to form my entire code of conduct where men were concerned on a rigidly impersonal and formal basis. It was not difficult, for my first and only affection was centred in my husband, and the impulse to coquetry was foreign to my nature.
My husband's determination to leave my individuality untrammelled was sometimes overborne, in small ways that delighted me, by his innate sense of fitness. We played tennis and he played excellently. One day, as we left the courts, he said to me, "Tennis just isn't your game, Margaret. Your dignity is always getting in the way of your drive. I don't want you to give up your dignity—it is too much a part of you. But you might leave tennis alone and try archery. I am sure that is more suited to your type." The amused obedience with which I took his suggestion soon became enthusiasm for the new sport.
To me, marriage had always seemed the most mystic and important of human relations, involving at times all the rest—and particularly parenthood. I am a born mother, to whom the idea of marriage without children is unthinkable. Since I put away my dolls, dream children had taken their place in the background of my fancy. I saw them vaguely at first, but with the coming of love I knew quite clearly how they would look. Now that I had married Chan-King, I should have liked a child at once as a surer bond between us and a source of comfort for myself while he would be making his start in China. I knew that he loved children, for on several occasions I had deliberately put a tiny neighbour in his way and had taken note of his warm friendliness and gentleness with the wee thing. But, fearing that he would be unwilling to accept a new responsibility while our affairs were still unsettled, I put aside my desire for a child, though my loved books were growing strangely irksome. I did not know that my husband shared the usual foreign belief that the American woman is an unwilling mother.
Then one day he went to call on a friend of his, a Chinese student whose wife and little son were with him. "I saw the Chinese baby," he told me with boyish eagerness. "He is going to have a little brother soon. Lucky baby!"
"Lucky parents!" I corrected him, and sighed enviously. Chan-King looked at me, the wonder on his face growing into a delighted smile. "Do you mean it, Margaret?" he asked incredulously. Then we talked long and earnestly of our children. To Chan-King's old-world mind, children should follow marriage as naturally as fruit the blossom, and his happiness in discovering that my ideals were exactly his own brought us to another plane of understanding and contentment with each other. Besides, he explained, a grandchild would do much to reconcile his parents to our marriage.
Happily, when the school term was over, I put aside my books for a needle. I had always been fond of sewing, but never had I found such fascinating work as the making of those tiny garments of silk and flannel and lawn. My practical mother protested against so much embroidering, but my husband only smiled as he rummaged gently through the basket of small sewing.
"You are a real Chinese wife, after all," he would say. "A Chinese wife sews and embroiders a great deal. She even makes shoes for the family."
"Shoes, no less. To make shoes beautifully is a fine art, and a Chinese woman takes pride in excelling at it. She is proud of her feet and makes all her own shoes."
Then he would tell me stories of his childhood and recall memories of the closed garden in his old home, where he played at battledore with a tiny girl, while her mother and his mother sat together, embroidering and talking in low tones. The two young mothers were friends and were planning for the marriage of their son and daughter, which would strengthen the friendship into a family bond.
I took great interest in this little girl, who flitted through Chan-King's stories like a brilliant butterfly seen through a mist. Her name was Li-Ying and she was only three years old when she ran, with her little feet still unbound, through those sweetly remembered green gardens of his childhood. Somewhere now she was sitting, her lily feet meekly crossed, embroidering shoes, waiting until her father should betroth her to another youth.
When Chan-King showed me a portrait of himself, taken in a group with his mother and father when he was eight years old, I examined very thoughtfully the austerely beautiful face of the woman who had brought him into life. She sat on one side of the carved blackwood table. Her narrow, panelled skirt was raised a trifle to show her amazingly tiny feet. On the other side of the table sat Chan-King's father, an irreconcilably stern and autocratic-looking man, magnificently garbed in the old style. Beside him stood a small, solemn boy, wearing a round cap, his queue still bound, he told me, with a red cord, his hands lost in the long velvet sleeves that reached almost to his knees. I put my finger on the head of this boy. "I hope our son will look exactly like him," I said.
At last the hoped-for son was born and laid in my arms. He was swaddled and powdered and new and he wept for obscure reasons. But my husband and I smiled joyfully at the delicious, incredible resemblance of that tiny face to his own. Chan-King looked at him a long time, a quizzical, happy smile in the corners of his mouth. Then he kissed me very gently and said, "He's a real Liang baby, Margaret. Are you glad?" I answered that I was glad, as I had been for everything love had brought to me.
Our plans progressed favourably, and, when our son Wilfred was five months old, Chan-King returned to China. I bid him good-bye in the way I knew would please him most—calmly and without tears. But, when it came to the last moment, I felt unable to let him go. Mutely I clung to him, the baby on my arm between us.
"It won't be for long, this," he assured me. "We shall all be together at home very soon. You are brave and dear and true, Margaret. You shall never be made sorry. Be patient."
His first letters told of his new work in one of the older colleges for which Shanghai is famous. He also began his practice of law in an official capacity. His first step toward the diplomatic service had been taken.
At the end of four months, I received his summons and went about making ready for the journey to China with my young son. My life-work was to help my husband in making a home. His life-work was in China. The conclusion was so obvious that neither I nor my parents had ever questioned it. But, now that the moment had come, the friends of the family were very much excited. They asked strange questions. Are you really going? How can you leave your mother? How can you give up beautiful America? Aren't you afraid to go to China? I answered as patiently and reasonably as I could. They wearied me very much.
Of China itself I had no clear conception, in spite of Chan-King's letters, for, though my old prejudice had passed away, still I saw all the country only as a background for my husband's face.
I followed Chan-King's minute instructions concerning travelling arrangements, and Wilfred and I had a pleasant voyage. Early one morning I looked through the port-hole and saw about me the murky waters of the Yangtze, alive with native craft, while dimly through the mist loomed the fortifications of Woosung. Already the tender was waiting, and soon we were aboard, moving rapidly up the mouth of the river. The mist cleared, green banks arose on each side, and through distant trees gleamed red brick buildings like any at home, side by side with the white-plastered walls and tip-tilted roofs of China. In that long ride, Shanghai grew upon me gradually, a curious mixture of the known and the unknown, tantalizing me with the feeling that I had seen all this before and ought to remember it better. In the water about me, steamer, launch and battle-ship mingled with native junk, river-barge and house-boat. Suddenly in the waiting group on the customs jetty I saw my husband. In another moment we had drawn alongside the wharf and he was in the tender beside me, greeting me in the formally courteous manner he deemed suited to public occasions. Taking Wilfred in his arms, he drew me up the steps and to a waiting carriage.
Here again was the confused mingling of the strange and the familiar: clanging tram-cars, honking motor-cars, smooth-rolling rickshaws, creaking wheel-barrows and lumbering, man-drawn trucks; dark coolie-faces under wide straw hats, gently bred features beneath pith helmets, black, bearded countenances below huge, gay turbans; a bewildering jumble of alien and English speech.
Even in Chan-King I found it. He was wearing American dress, his face had not changed, the tones of his voice were the same, but he was speaking Chinese, and his directions to the mafoo were to me a meaningless succession of sounds.
But, when he was beside me in the carriage and the horses had started, he turned suddenly and smiled straight into my eyes. Then, Shanghai, Borneo or the North Pole—all would have been one to me. I asked no questions; I was with my husband and child, driving rapidly towards the home prepared for me. I had come home to China.