The following morning Chang Dah Mah arose earlier than usual so that she would be sure to get away in good time for the mile walk to the foreigner's compound. How her family would-jeer, she thought, if they had known that stupid Chang Dah Mali really imagined that she could learn to read.
She made herself as tidy as she could under the circumstances, and hobbled off stiffly on her poor bound feet. Wu Sao Tze wTas waiting for her impatiently at the corner of the street, so there was no delay in their departure. The bright, sparkling, autumn sunshine seemed to get into their blood, and as they walked along, they chatted almost gaily of the wonders they were about to see.
Wu Sao Tze found, to her surprise, that Chang Dah Mah had not exaggerated the marvels of the missionary house. She put an inquisitive nose into every closet and every drawer to assure herself that there was no baby's skeleton concealed, and at last, being fully satisfied that there was no black art hidden in any sequestered nook, she consented to being beguiled with the other women into the reading class. Chang Dah Mali had proudly acted as guide in seeing all the curiosities. As they seated themselves in the woman's guest-room, Wu Sao Tze confided to her friend in a loud whisper that all the people present could hear:
"Well, the foreigners may not use magic, but they are certainly very, very queer."
It was with difficulty that Wu Sao Tze was restrained from talking during the hymn and prayer that followed; in fact, she kept up a running comment on all that was said and done that was very amusing. Before the reading lesson was begun, a short selection from the Bible was read and commented on by the teacher. The verse on that morning was on the forgiving of one's enemies, and to Wu Sao Tze it seemed an utterly absurd doctrine. In her eagerness and excitement she stood right up, for she felt that such foolish words must be contradicted.
"Hear me! Mrs. Scott," she exclaimed, "such doctrine may be all very well where you come from, but it won't do in China; not for a moment! Why, our enemies would ride right over us; you have to have backbone here, and answer right back when you are reviled, or you would lose face."
All the other women but Chang Dah Mah nodded assent. "She is right and has answered wisely," they murmured; but Chang Dah Mah, thinking of her sisters-in-law and their harsh tongues, felt that there might be something to be said for the new sj^stem.
During the next few months Wu Sao Tze and Chang Dah Mah attended the class regularly and, little by little, were able to recognise a few characters. The kindness and sympathy that they invariably received melted their prejudices and won their love, though Wu Sao Tze would often shake her head and say:
"But I can't understand why they take the trouble, unless it is to acquire merit."
In February the famine that had been threatening fell on the city with its horrors. Those were dark days for Chang Dah Mah, for she felt her strength gradually failing, and she began to fear that the time would come when she would no longer be able to walk to the foreigner's home and see her beloved Mrs. Scott. The only money she could make was by the sewing which she did for that lady. Chang Dah Mah would not complain, so it was not suspected how much she needed food, and if she looked a little thin, so did all the women.
For the first time since it had come into her possession, Chang Dah Mah seriously contemplated the necessity of selling the incense-burner. In former famines she had thought of it, but had always decided that she would rather die than lose it, and the idea of being haunted by her ancestors' spirits had deterred her. But now to be separated from Mrs. Scott seemed even worse than ghosts; besides this a little of the Christian doctrine had begun to sink in, and she began to doubt some of the old superstitions. Night after night she would dig up the treasure, thinking that in the morning she would sell it, but as the day began to dawn, old habits and associations regained their power, and she would return the bowl to its hiding place.
On one warm March afternoon the two friends decided to go and see Mrs. Scott, though it was not the usual time. The notes of a spring bird seemed to assure them that winter and the famine would soon be gone, so they were more cheerful than they had been for many weeks. When they reached the gate of the compound a sad disappointment awaited them, for the foreign doctor was down with typhus fever and the place was in strict quarantine. Mrs. Scott was nursing him and could see no one, so they turned their faces homeward with heavy hearts; several times Chang Dah Mah nearly fell, for she was weighed down with grief and hunger. She thought of the tenderness she had received in the hospital; how gently Dr. Scott had touched her eyes, and now he was dying and she could not tell him of her gratitude.
Chang Dah Mali never knew how she lived through the next few weeks. She received a little sewing from some of the other foreign ladies and that kept her from dying; but they wrere too absorbed with the illness to know that very often Chang Dah Mali's eyes were so dimmed with tears that she could scarcely see her stitches, for the reports were not favourable, but rather worse and worse.
Then one day when she crept to the front door they told her that the doctor was better and if she would come back in three days' time that she could see her beloved foreign lady. No words can tell of Chang Dah Man's joy; she forgot that she was old and weak with hunger and went down the street telling the glad news to the neighbours as she passed.
The minutes dragged on leaden wings until the hour that Mrs. Scott had appointed for Chang Dah Mali's visit, and when she finally stood bowing before the foreigner, she could scarcely speak. She seemed shy and ill at ease and acted as if she had something on her mind. Mrs. Scott, to relieve her embarrassment, talked to her of everything which she thought would interest her, when suddenly in a broken voice Chang Dah Mah said:
"Mrs. Scott, it is such a great happiness to us poor that Dr. Scott is better that I can scarcely talk about it. I hear he took the fever going to see the people who were dying at the temple; now he must not run such risks if I can prevent it, so I have brought him this worthless incense-burner that when he goes into places where there are contagious diseases he will smell the incense and come to no harm." And putting her hand up the ample sleeve of her Chinese coat, Chang Dah Mah drew forth her treasure, carefully wrapped in a blue handkerchief.
Deeply touched, Mrs. Scott looked search-ingly into the woman's eyes and knew that this was a gift that must not be refused, no matter how valuable it might be. But she could never know that Chang Dah Mah had given all that she had.
After this time the days sped rapidly by for Chang Dah Mah, and she was constantly at the home of her new friends, much relieved in spirit by the renunciation she had made. At length came the end of May and it was announced that the next lesson would be the last for the women's reading class, as it was necessary for the foreigners to go away to the mountains.
Once more Chang Dah Mah and Wu Sao Tze made an early start in order not to lose one hioment of the precious time of that last day. As they entered the walk leading up to the door, the garden was a blaze of glory with the spring flowers forming a mass of bloom; the bright colours claimed their attention, and they could scarcely leave them to enter the house. The class was soon assembled and the exercises begun. The chapter read was from the end of Revelation, and Mrs. Scott, who felt that she had recently had a glimpse into the Holy City, talked with her face aglow. She looked down for some answering light in those dull contenances that were just beginning to show some small spark of intelligence, but they looked bewildered and startled. Such profound knowledge was difficult for them to grasp.
Then the teacher's eyes caught those of Chang Dah Mah, who was sitting eagerly forward in her chair so as not to miss one word. It was evident that her long, grey day of sordid existence was ending in a golden sunset shot with the colours of the rainbow. Taught by her love and her great sacrifice, she suddenly exclaimed:
"Oh, Mrs. Scott, it must be very beautiful, even lovelier than the garden, and I want to go! I want to go!" Then, catching sight of her rough, toil-stained hands, and her coarse coat, she felt she would never gain admittance to this wonderful place if she went alone; so looking wistfully up at her friend she continued, "I'll follow you! I'll follow you! if you will only take me to that country!"