The star of hope that she kept ever burning bright before her through all this discouragement, was the thought of the inquirers' class that was to be held in two months and which she had promised to attend. In vain had Wang Si Fu threatened and stormed; to every threat she had always replied, "I am going if I have to crawl on my hands and knees."
On this spring evening Wang Sao Tze was particularly down-hearted, for even the little children, warned by their elders to avoid her, refused to come to hear her recite a hymn that had always been a favourite. She saw the women at the well quickly depart at her approach, and she returned with weary feet to her own house and seated herself at the table. Then taking out her book, with slowly pointing finger she began to read. So interested did she become that she did not hear a step behind her, and was rudely brought back to her surroundings by a hand snatching at the book and tear-» ing it into pieces.
Wang Si Fu, his face livid with rage, shouted to her, "How many times have I forbidden you to read that accursed book? I will be obeyed, for the village fathers will turn us out and burn our goods if we do not restore the gods to their places. They say that you are bringing down the wrath of the idols upon us all, for there is not a house where they have not had some misfortune since your return, and it is your evil eye that has done it."
With great difficulty Wang Sao Tze restrained her rising temper; it would be so easy to fell Wang Si Fu with one blow of her sturdy fist. Instead, she looked him steadily in the eye and said, "I will never put back the idols; the true God lives in heaven and these hideous idols do not resemble him. They are an insult to him."
Such heresy added fuel to Wang Si Fu's rage, and snatching up a knife that lay on the table, he stabbed her in the breast. Wang Sao Tze dropped like a log at his feet and lay there without moving. Terrified by her deathlike appearance, he sprang to the door to call for aid. In a moment the room was crowded, and the confusion of barking dogs, crying children, and screaming women made hope of recovery seem most doubtful. At length one woman with clearer head than the rest managed to take command. She saw that unless the bleeding was stopped Wang Sao Tze would die, and so she immediately set about trying to staunch the wound. With a certain rude skill she went about her work, by applying a quantity of dirty rags and cobwebs, and by tying up the injured part very tightly, she was at length successful in her efforts.
It was several hours before Wang Sao Tze opened her eyes. But at length toward midnight she stirred and lifting her eyelids for a moment, she glanced slowly around the room as if uncertain where she was, and weakly whispered, "I still expect to go to Feng Ti Fu," and again closed her eyes.
For the next few days public opinion was very much divided in the village. Of course, every one admitted that a husband had a perfect right to do as he liked to his own wife, but among certain circles there was a feeling that he had gone a little too far. It was really a bad policy to kill as frugal and industrious a wife as Wang Sao Tze. As for Wang Si Fu himself, he had received a fright that greatly subdued him. He was not a hardhearted man, only weak, and when he saw what he had done, his sudden burst of passion ebbed away, and he felt remorseful and uncertain what course to pursue.
In his dilemma he went to the school-teacher, a man renowned for wisdom as one having all the learning of the sages at his finger tips. He was as much at home in the classics of Mencius and Confucius as the frogs were in their native ponds. He had taken his first degree examinations, and in reality he formed the court of last appeal in the village.
It would not be etiquette for Wang Si Fu to mention his wife's name to another man, but by calling her "she," and a good deal of circumlocution, the teacher, who already knew a good many facts in the case, was able to guess his predicament fairly accurately.
"Your home has been quite peaceful, and well looked after this month, the children happy, and the meals tastily cooked, is it not so? This change has been pleasant after years of storm, has it not?"
Wang Si Fu was forced to admit that it was.
"You have saved cash, too, because of this, am I right?"
The seeker for truth consented to this also.
"Well, the classics tell us, 'A perfectly illuminated heart is heaven, a darkened heart is hell.' I advise you to let matters drift a little. The foreigners' doctrine may have something in it, if it teaches peace and diligence."
This so exactly fitted in with Wang Si Fu's innermost feelings that he was glad to accept the suggestion. Still there was one more point, "But the village fathers claim that the gods are angry and will punish us."
"I will talk to the elders," replied the teacher; "the peace of the village is for us to take care of; the gods should protect themselves if they do not want to be torn down."
Wang Si Fu returned home greatly heartened; he could let Wang Sao Tze have her own way when she recovered. In the end it was much easier.
After all, the bleeding was the most serious part of Wang Sao Tze's injury; the knife had escaped the lung, and it was only a matter of time for the wound to heal. By all the laws of hygiene she should have died of infection from the dirty rags, but she was a healthy woman and escaped.
From this day forward life began to take on brighter hues for Wang Sao Tze; the freedom from the petty persecutions of her husband and her neighbours reacted on her character, and she became bright and cheerful. Nevertheless, she was greatly astonished one morning when Wang Si Fu handed her several dollars and told her that they were to be used for her trip to Feng Ti Fu. She showed her appreciation by so much industry and kindliness that when the day arrived for her departure, her family and friends were really loath to see her go. On her return she did not come empty handed, but brought a goodly store of picture postcards, gospels, and other things to attract the interest of her humble Chinese friends. She presented a copy of the gospels to the school-teacher, who seemed very glad to get it, and asked many intelligent questions about the foreigners, the hospital, and particularly about the boys' school.