"It will give me great honour to call upon your most revered parent," Dong Sien Sung said without much enthusiasm. Then, gathering his courage together for his confession, he announced: "Dr. Scott, I have decided to leave Feng Ti Fu."
In a low voice he recounted his reasons. He gave them eloquently and well, but he saw the glad light die in his friend's face as if wiped out by a sponge, and in its place slowly spread a grey, anxious look. For a long time they discussed every phase of the question; Dr. Scott did not blame Dong Sien Sung one whit for wanting to be more independent, yet he felt his prospective loss terribly. It was long past tiffin time when they parted rather sadly.
In spite of his trouble, Dong Sien Sung was mindful of the courtesies, so late on that afternoon, and clad in his best silk coat, he went to call on the foreign lady. With his graceful carriage, and intelligent, even noble features, Dong Sien Sung was every inch the gentleman, and he made a most favourable impression on the stranger. Through Dr. Scott as interpreter, he asked the proper questions as to her age, and the number of her sons, and complimented her on her "lofty longevity and her great happiness."
After these polite preliminaries the conversation gradually turned to the subject that was in all their minds,ónamely Dong Sien Sung's departure. The lady expressed her regret and, after a slight pause, she said:
"Of course we understand the reasons why you would like to go, and in many ways they seem almost unanswerable, but perhaps there is one side of the question which you have not fully considered. My sons and their friends have made a great sacrifice in leaving their homes and friends in America to come to China. Their prospects were very bright, but they did not hesitate because they loved the Chinese and wanted to help them. Do you not think the Chinese in turn should make sacrifices so as to help their own people? I think there is no doubt your influence can count for more here than in some city where you have no one to co-operate with."
Dong Sien Sung assented, and shortly afterwards withdrew, without apparently having changed his mind. As they left the room together he asked Dr. Scott if he might speak to him a moment in his study. As soon as they were seated he turned to his friend. "Dr. Scott," he exclaimed, "the voice of the aged is as the voice of God. I have decided to remain in Feng Ti Fu."
Dong Sien Sung was as good as his word; he slipped back into his old place and fulfilled his duties as efficiently as he had done in the past. Two years flew by; then once more came a tempting offer from a railroad company, and this time there was a promise of fifteen hundred taels a year if he would look after the health of the workmen. There was a chance for private practice as well.
The Chinese sages say, "Heaven has heaven spirits, earth has earth spirits, man has man spirit, things have indwelling spirits," and they surely ought to know, for they lived in China in the golden age of wisdom. With so many spirits about, it is no wonder that a spirit of restlessness entered into Dong Sien Sung. "The voice of the aged" was now across the Pacific, too far away to be heard by the keenest ears, so he accepted the offer, and, on one autumn morning, with a very red-eyed Dong Si Mu and his three children, he left Feng Ti Fu.
The ambitious practitioner prospered beyond his brightest dreams, yet for some reason he did not feel very contented. Perhaps this was partly due to the news of the terrible famine raging around his old home and that the foreigners were working ceaselessly to relieve the want. In March the soft spring wind reminded him that the plum trees in front of the hospital would soon be in bloom; that the pomegranates on the hillside were turning a delicate pink, and a great wave of homesickness went through him. In the end the little breezes wooed him South again. He told his wife that he needed some medical supplies, and leaving a young doctor in charge of his work, he fared forth with a lighter heart than he had known for some months.
His donkey, too, seemed to feel the holiday spirit and was unusually docile, if the word can ever be truthfully applied to the animal. As they travelled, the character of the country changed, and the fields grew more bare, for every blade of grass had been pulled up by the people in their great hunger. The few men whom they met were mere skeletons, with scarcely strength enough to hold out their hands. Dong Sien Sung gave such relief as he could and was thus so delayed that it was nearly dusk on the third day before he approached the city. He fairly glowed when he thought of the welcome which he would receive.
Suddenly, he recognised one of the Christians in a figure that was walking toward him. But why was his head so bowed and his face clouded with grief? They met and greeted each other with grave courtesy, and after one or more questions on Dong Sien Sung's part, the evangelist exclaimed: "Have you not heard the news? I thought that was the reason that you had come. The poor of Feng Ti Fu all 'eat bitterness' to-night. Dr. Scott is down with typhus fever and he cannot last more than an hour or so! They had all been working like giants over the famine and were worn out. Reports came in that the people were dying like flies in one of the temples where they were harbouring refugees, and Dr. Scott went to see what he could do. He found it worse than he had feared, and he, too, caught the contagion and has been wildly delirious. Liu Sien Sung is ill, too, and no one is having any rest."
The bitterness the poor were eating was sweet compared to the sorrow and remorse in Dong Sien Sung's heart. Would he never hear his teacher's voice again? He urged his donkey on as that surprised animal had never been urged since he fell into Christian hands, and wonder filled that dumb beast's breast. He was so outraged that he actually responded, and very quickly they were at the compound gate and the donkey was delivered into the care of the gatekeeper. Dong Sien Sung hurried up to the house and was met by the foreign nurse.