The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1923
"The One Sinner Who Repenteth"
"The One Sinner Who Repenteth"
Kling Yen became a Christian in the year of the Great Plague. Outside the many-pagodaed town where, in the painted Mission House, dwelt the Missionary and his wife, the fields were filled only with the naked brown bodies of the dead. In their last agonies they had sought the native earth, so faithless to them in their hour of need, when, weak with disease and seeking food, they needs must face also famine and its ghastly effects. In the town it was had enough; but there the people had at least granaries that would open to the music of the chink of copper. In the country there were neither granaries nor copper—only skeleton life and stinking death.
Small blame to Kling Yen that he forsook the faith of his fathers for the belly-satisfying religion of the Mission House. Although here at least he had rice and blankets in plenty, in his quaint Chinese way he wondered why he must worship his venerable ancestors, not as he was used at the close of the day, but at the morning meal, when the Missionary recited aloud praise to his ancestors. It seemed strange to the Chinese lad that the congregation at church service should pray only to the forefathers of the Missionary; but, like his race, he said nothing, and bowed unshaken before the storm. The Missionary often remarked to his wife of the deep devotion shown by their protege in his prayers.
"Paul, dear," she would answer (his name was Paul, and by virtue of its association he would wax sarcastic in the pulpit to a nodding, blinking, uncomprehending, but well-fed and perfectly-satisfied Chinese congregation); "Paul, dear, the Spirit of the Lord surely moves him. Who can tell for what high destiny he is born He may be the anointed One who shall lead the East before the Footstool." And then she would give Kling Yen a piece of Chinese candy, which is betwixt and between our English sugared fruit and the American sugar-candy. Kling. Yen would eat the sweetmeat, and return even more reverent thanks to his ancestors.
When the Missionary became ill and was recalled by an Omniscient Executive from the strenuous life of the lazy Mission house to the ease of an American pulpit-appeal for funds, he sought to bring Kling. Yen with him. At first he was surprised to find that the youth would not come, notwithstanding the promised joys and delights of School and a Missionary career. It took three days and three nights to convince him that the Sacred Sun shone elsewhere than in Canton, and it was only after a long night's absence from the Station—during which, as the Missionary's wife remarked: "The Spirit of the, Lord has shown a way"— that he agreed in his unemotional way to "Come 'Melica with you, thank you, please."
The Lord had indeed shown the way; but not the Lord of the silver crucifix. That night of absence had been passed in the presence of Fen Foo Ling, of whom all that is known to the uninitiated is an impressive silence when his name is mentioned and a dozen sticks of incense that habitually burn in the Moi Fachoi josshouse, the House of the Blue Dragon's Teeth. The Lord com page 33 manded, and Kling Yen, prostrated to the floor as never he had been before the 'Klistian altar, answered in humble accents, "Light of Canton, I shall be true to the Yellow Button. By the ashes of my Fathers, I swear it."
On the wonderful trip to the Eastward, when the stars hung in burning clusters in a purple sky and the waters that trailed the huge steamer flashed and leapt in the devil-light, Kling Yen used to sit at the stern-end watching with all-seeing eyes the fireworks of the tropic night. If the Missionary were to ask him his thoughts he would answer as his astute mind prompted: "Me pray," he would murmur, and again Left alone by the other he would return to his thoughts.
Only the little Chinese steward could tell of the joss-sticks burned that voyage in the tiny shrine between pantry and kitchen; and only the long-dissipated ashes of his fathers could tell of the prayers of the exile to the prop of his faith and hope.
The Missionary settled in Berkeley over the water from San Francisco and the Chinese Quarter, and there he sent Kling Yen, now a youth of seventeen, to the world-famous University. During the week the boy studied, and on Sunday he attended the neighbouring church, sitting with devoutly closed eyes through the long service. Once a week he visited Chinatown across the water, "to set," as he explained to the Missionary with eager readiness, "the Light in the Darkness," or, as he explained equally fluently to the Missionary's wife, "to sow the seed of life for such as will receive it." The main thing to notice is that by hook or crook every Wednesday morning saw him on the San Francisco Ferry Wharf stepping into a Market Street tram car.
For three more years he lived the same life, dwelling under a Christian roof, studying under a European system, and only once a week hearing the speech of his people in the narrow alleys of Chinatown.
Only the Lord of the Missionary's prayers (and perhaps the Chinese ashes of Kling Yen's much lamented and highly respected ancestors) knows what would have been the end of it all had Sun Fang not slid a curved blade from his silken sleeve into the heart of Foo Ling, leaving him on the Market Square lying in a pool of blood. Foo Ling was a high-binder, and deserved death; but he was a member of the high-binders' Tong, which is the most drastic and terrible in all Chinatown. Sun Fang was, it is true, a wearer of the Yellow Button, a Mandarin, and a Lord among the Cantonese, but Cantonese were scarce in the Quarter, and fear of the sweep of the midnight blade left him almost friendless in the whole of the labyrinth of the narrow alleys. Nor was this all, for Detective Willis had resolved to clean the Quarter, and had pulled the net as tightly as he dared to capture the fugitive murderer.
Hemmed in at last in a low opium cellar in the Street of the Crimson Peacock, with his dozen faithful at his side, he lay hidden for two days and two nights waiting for the silent watcher at the street corner to vanish. If he were to leave the street clear but for a brief five minutes then they might escape to a securer retreat.page 34
That five minutes never came. For two days and two nights the black silk skull-cap of the watcher gave way only to the skullcap of another, and Sun Fang knew only too well what was hidden in that crooked suggestive sleeve, and who they were who lounged ready for action within the house behind. On the third morning the high-binders attacked in force.
Aristocrats fight well; and it was not until a good hour later that thirty Tong men stood breathless around the bound body of Sun Fang, while the dark corners, shadow-hidden by the flickering tapers, concealed the ghastly work of the curved bowel-stabbing knife. Sun Fang alone lived; for him was reserved a death apart.
Slowly and at suitable intervals they denailed with red hot pincers each quivering hand and foot. As the end drew near and the eye-sockets ceased to smoke and the grinning mouth cavity ceased to bleed, abandoning hope of further mirth, they plied their knives conscientiously, making the hacked body a warning to the enemies of the Tong. Then they returned to their couches, their opium and their loves.
The early arrivals at the Market Place that morning shrank back in terror from a shapeless trunk that lay in a clotted pool of blood upon the flagstones. On the stone bench whereon on sunny days the old candy-seller displayed his succulent wares was a featureless head and, halved by a knife-cut, there lay beside it a Yellow Mandarin's Button.
On Wednesday morning Kling Yen, with his transfer neatly tucked into his pocket -book and a Virginian cigarette smoking between his lips, while stepping on to a tram car at the Market Street terminus, was touched on the arm by an old Chinese pedlar who whispered swiftly to him in his native tongue. In his interest at the old man's words he missed the car; and the next and the next clanged away Leaving the ill-assorted pair still fluent in Cantonese.
Kling Yen, with a lighted match in his hand raised to an unlit cigarette, suddenly threw the tobacco into the gutter.
"By their ashes I have sworn it!" he said softly, blowing out the match unceremoniously.
The oath had been taken—there wanted now hut the fulfilment.
When the next Tong meeting of the society, that exists as expert murderers in every Chinese community, gathered in Yat Foo's couch-littered reception room, it was to a very happy and opium-comforted evening. High-binders command large payments, and the Tong was rich and powerful, so that there was liberal provision for each man's personal comfort both of body and soul. Around the room, al the head of each silk-covered couch, stood little brass trays of white pellets—the opium of the Asiatic. Every now and then a grave and dignified oriental would refill his long pipe from a tray and would return to his smoke-clouded repose. Every now page 35 and again a monosyllabic answer would be tossed through the murky atmosphere to a grunted question. Except for this there was silence.
Presently Yat Foo, chief among San Francisco high-binders both by wealth and ability, spoke from his cushioned couch: "So perish all that insult our Tong!" he proclaimed with a faint ring of exultation in hissing-song voice. "And the people cower while a Canton Mandarin becomes like the mud on the winter street." And at the thought he wrinkled his nose, which is the supreme expression of Chinese disgust,
"He fought well, O Yat Foo," grunted an ivory-faced dreamer, whose reputation was that of the fiercest among all the Tong.
"True, Sing Yet "Tung," replied the other."And his rats with him took many to their Fathers. But so died the dog"—here he wrinkled his nose again—"and so die all who oppose the Tong!"
"But what of Foi Chee's daughter, Sing Yet Fung? She has loved a white man"—for a moment his voice changed into a hiss —"and We have hem paid. To-night in the Street of the Crimson Poppies—" .... So was murder bought and sold for a bag of Foi Chee's silver dollars.
As the night grew on the Ton gradually disbanded, and Yat Foo retired to his couch for the night.
In the night he awoke to feel a knee on his chest and a cushion tight pressed on his mouth. After a few intense moments he realised the futility of the struggle and lay quiet, to hear a softly-modulated voice revile him in fluent Cantonese. Something like a hair was laid upon his throat, and he waited for death.
It was not so long in coming as it had been to Sun Fang. The pincers were missing. So too was the cord, the brazier, and the blunt horse hair that is used to explore each de-nailed finger and toe. But even by aid of the knife alone a Chinaman can exact a vengeance. Yat Foo was not a pretty sight when the intruder lifted him to the window and lowered him, wrapped in his own couch cover, to the ground outside.
Detective Willis was on the track of a vanishing black-caped knifer who had left, under the carven shadow of a balcony in the street of the Crimson Poppies, a Quarter policeman lying dead beside the body of Foi Chee's daughter. As he turned the abrupt corner into the Market Place he stopped in his tracks.
"Hold on, Mike!" he whispered to the leading patrol-man. "Something's up over there."
A dark figure was bending over a crumpled heap on the Market Place, and a silver arc gleamed in the light of the moon.
"Mother of Mercies! He's chopping him up!" shouted Mike, rushing forward as the full import of the scene dawned upon him. Surprising feature of a Chinese assassin, the native offered no resistance, but held up his wrists quietly for the steel hand-cuffs. The murderer secured, the others turned to view his handiwork.page 36
What Mike had said was only too true. The headless trunk of Yat Foo, crowned by dismembered arms and legs, lay in a slippery ooze on the ground, and on the stone bench of the sweet-seller there lay for a second time a grinning, mutilated head.
There was no doubt from the beginning as to the Court's verdict. The Missionary indeed procured the best lawyer in San Francisco, but in the face of the facts and Kling Yen's appalling frankness nothing could be done. The Missionary prayed, his wife wept, and Kling Yen smiled.
Two days before the execution the Missionary made a final visit to the prison. All through the gloomy period that followed the sentence he had been bringing small delicacies to the condemned cell, but this was to be the last meeting of the two in this life. His tender heart would not permit him to wait the dread, dread night with his dearly loved convert.
"You know, dear," he had said to his wife as he quitted the neat little bungalow over the water, "I scarcely like to intrude on his communings. I am quite sure that he talks with God when he his and thinks, and thinks, and doesn't even notice my presence. It is all surely a terrible mistake." And his wife, weeping to think of her Appointed Preacher under sentence of death, agreed that it must be a terrible, terrible mistake.
When the Missionary entered the cell, Kling Yen was speaking in his native language to an old Chinese pedlar, who, pack deposited on the stone floor, spoke of nothing but poverty and misery. The warders in searching for anything banned to the prisoners, had left it lying open, displaying a scanty collection of low-grade Chinese candy and fruits. The old man himself resembled his pack in that his clothes were obviously few and well-worn, and his face, grimed by the dusty streets, was that of a pedlar born.
But Kling Yen in beseeching voice addressed this stranger as if a prince.
"And you have purchased with the money of the Lord Ken Fn Ling, who is the Staff and the Life of all Canton, a silver-covered coffin with carved ivory handles.?" he asked, his Chinese face filled as far as it might be with that expression we Europeans call awe.
The old man shook his head gravely in assent.
The Missionary, hearing the eager note in the supplication, thought, poor man, that "the Seed" was being sown "to such as will receive it."
"Is he too a kneeler at the Footstool?" he asked, laying a gentle hand on the youth's shoulder.
Kling Yen looked up angrily to discover the invader of his privacy. On recognising the Missionary his anger overcame him.
"You go and chase yourself to hell!" he snarled, and turning to the yellow emissary of his Canton Lord, he eagerly continued his humble petit ion.
The Sacred Light of China will burn joss-sticks for me in the Temple of the Dragon's teeth?" he begged.
Again the old man nodded assent.page 37
An indescribable expression of peace flooded Kling Yen's flat features. His was to be the burial for which each Chinese peasant prays and for which each emigrant hoards his scanty gold. Even to the joss-sticks would it be complete.
In turning he saw the Missionary still lingering, not able to realise the full import of what he had heard. Kling Yen wrinkled his nose.
"You damn Christian, go to the devil!" he said in his best University English. "You make me sick."
Outside the grey, granite walls of the prison the Missionary confided to his Comforter his shattered hopes and dreams, and received by reason of that very faith the consolation that is beyond all price. Within his plastered cell Kling Yen spent the fading hours before a stick of incense left to him by his visitor. The God of the Missionary is a jealous God, and asks faith full and undivided—but so do the Ashes of the Chinese Fathers.