Finally, weary of responding to so much insistent curiosity, and remembering his purpose in coming, the stranger thought that it was his turn to lead the conversation. Turning to the necromancer, he said, "I have come to your village to tell you about one of our sages that lived many years ago." The people, however, were too interested in the present to stop to hear past history and they would not listen.
Then a bright idea struck the traveller. He said, "I see that this inn room is very large. I will ride this wheel around the place for twenty minutes and let you see how it works, if after I have finished you will promise to listen to me for twenty minutes."
This proposition appealed to his audience and a space was quickly cleared. Amid the "Ahs!" and "Ehs!" of the crowd, he mounted the wheel and rode around and around for a long twenty minutes; then he dismounted, saying, "Now it is my turn to talk," and he began to tell his story. True to their bargain, the
Chinese listened quietly, interrupting only with a question now and then, so that they might fully understand.
After he had concluded his story, a number of the curious ones bought his tracts and copies of the gospels, and one old man asked, "How long ago did you say this good man lived?"
"Over nineteen hundred years ago," the foreigner replied.
The old man looked very sad. "And you foreigners have known this glad news for nineteen hundred years, and have only just come to tell us about it now! I cannot understand that."
Some of the more intelligent of the group lingered for a few moments, but it was growing late and they at last said a reluctant goodbye. With a weary sigh the foreigner turned to undress, when he heard a quiet voice behind him say, "Good evening, honourable sir, may I ask your revered name?"
On looking around, he beheld the village teacher, Mr. Chang, making deep bows of greeting. Snatching his spectacles from his eyes to show that he knew the rules of Chinese etiquette, the stranger replied, with an equally deep bow, "My humble name is Doctor Scott."
"May I also inquire your lofty longevity?" continued the teacher.
"My years are few and small; I am only forty," replied Dr. Scott.
"Ah!" exclaimed the other, "I thought you were a great deal older. Now will you kindly inform me the name of your renowned country?"
"The name of my country is America."
At the word "America," Mr. Chang's face brightened visibly. "Why that is the country of Washington and Lincoln," he said joyfully.
Interested at once, Dr. Scott invited him to be seated, and inquired where he had heard of Washington and Lincoln. The teacher eagerly explained that when he had gone to Nanking to pass his examination for his degree, he had met a foreigner at the door of the examination hall who had sold him a book containing the lives of Washington and Lincoln.
"They were great and good men. Could you tell me more about them?" he asked.
Very gladly Dr. Scott did so, and finished by saying, "Washington and Lincoln were true lovers of freedom and of their fellowmen, but their ideas were received from a still greater teacher who taught nineteen hundred years ago. Let me read you what he says," and drawing the Gospel of St. John from his pocket he read, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."
"Yes," said the teacher, "those are wise words; that is the kind of freedom we need in China. Will it weary you too much to tell me about this very wise man?"
Delighted at this wonderful opportunity, Dr. Scott told him about that life which was the most perfect of all lives, and the teacher eagerly drank in every word. At length he rose to go, saying he would return in the morning to hear more. Sadly Dr. Scott explained that he had to hurry on at daylight to see a dying friend, but he gave the teacher a book of the Gospels, and promised to return at some future time.
It was now late, and very softly Mr. Chang stole through the deserted street and quietly opened the door of his rude home, hoping not to disturb his sleeping spouse. The hope was vain; she had lain awake and full of protest. He was greeted with questions such as, "Where in the world have you been? A pretty hour this to be coming in! What will the neighbours say?"
"A good deal," the poor teacher thought, "if they could hear you talk," but he wisely replied, "I have been to the inn and talked to the foreigner, and he told me a most wonderful thing about a sage who came to earth to teach us to love everybody—our neighbours, and even strangers."
"Foolish words they were! Why, think what a difference it would make if I should love Wang Mali!" and turning herself scornfully in bed, she went soundly to sleep.
What a difference indeed! His wife's daily battles with Wang Mah were the scandal and excitement of the whole village; combat was waged from dawn to dewy eve, year in and year out. Mrs. Chang had the sharper tongue, but Wang Mali reviled more effectively, and could scream louder. By a course of watchful waiting, the former often got in the last word when the latter had screamed herself hoarse. For these women to love one another would be restful and beautiful beyond his wildest hope.
Having assured himself that his wife was really asleep, Mr. Chang sat down by the little flickering lamp and began to read his new book. Thoughtfully and slowly he read it in order to comprehend the wonderful story. Not once did he look up until a faint streak of dawn reminded him that he must retire, if he wished any peace for the next fortnight.
It was a very much puzzled necromancer who arose on the next morning, pondering over the follies of foreigners in general and this one in particular; to have perfectly good magic at one's command and fail to make a profit from it, was worse than foolish; it was madness.
Mrs. Chang, too, was very much disturbed by the foreigner's visit. Surely he had bewitched her husband. Loud was her lamenting over the wasted oil; the long day through she could talk and think of nothing else. But all day long the teacher did not hear her, for his thoughts were elsewhere following his newly found Master through the fields of Galilee, and ever in his ears rang the words, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."