She greeted him with great surprise. "But you must not come in," she said, "the house is quarantined; you might take the fever and you must think of your own life and that of your family."
"I have come to help," he replied firmly. "Did Dr. Scott ever think of himself when he could relieve suffering? He had a wife and family when he went to the temple, but that did not keep him from doing his duty," and he walked into the house.
In the sad days of suspense that followed, none was more untiring than Dong Sien Sung. Foreigners and this Chinese doctor vied with each other in loving service; often it would be four o'clock in the afternoon before they could leave the sick room long enough to snatch a mouthful of breakfast. They were fighting against a treacherous foe, and they simply would not acknowledge themselves defeated. Three times they thought the loved patient had gone, only to see some slight flicker of life return, which encouraged them to work on.
Dong Sien Sung was invaluable; his quiet manner soothed the patient, and it was a pleasure to see how softly he moved about the room, and with what skill he used his shapely hands. He was always on the alert, ready for any emergency, and when not needed would keep himself absolutely in the background. Even when the crisis was past and the foreigners felt that it was safe to relax their watchfulness, they could not persuade Dong Sien Sung to leave the sufferer. It was a mystery when he ate and never did he seem to sleep. He was like the faithful shepherd dog who will not leave his wounded master's side.
At length came a day when Dr. Scott sat bolstered up in a chair, and radiant with joy. Dong Sien Sung sat beside him.
"Dong Sien Sung, you will soon be going back to your work, and I want to try to thank you, but no words can ever express the love and gratitude I bear you. If only I could afford to keep you near me, I would never let you go. I shall always think of you when I hear the words, 'Faithful unto death'," said the foreigner, turning to his friend with deep feeling.
For once Dong Sien Sung forgot the formal sentiments demanded by Chinese custom, and he replied simply, "Dr. Scott, I cannot leave you. What you have gone through has made the next world seem all important, and advancement appears worthless in comparison to fidelity to duty. When I saw how quietly you spoke that day when we all came to say goodbye, and how sweetly Mrs. Scott bore it, and helped to keep your courage strong with her own, I made up my mind to stay in Feng Ti Fu. I plainly saw that it is true that 'None of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself,' and I felt that I must be in a place that is doing work for other people." Thus Dong Sien Sung turned his back on his ambitions and a competency of fifteen hundred taels a year. Do such men deserve the name of rice Christians?
Let no one make the mistake of thinking that life in the Middle Kingdom is monotonous. In the following autumn a little fire started that was spread all over the country to sweep away the monarchy. Like all conflagrations, it did not amount to much at first, and people smiled when they spoke of the revolution. The foreigners returned as usual to their stations after their vacations, but the fire of the uprising crept nearer; Nanking was besieged, and the American consul telegraphed that the women and children must go to Shanghai. Reluctantly they departed, leaving Dr. Scott at the hospital with Dong Sien Sung as his right hand man.
The uncertainty and suspense that followed would be diificult to describe. Mails were infrequent and the anxious friends in Shanghai could hear nothing, except at long intervals; but the wildest rumours of the happenings of that period did not convey any real idea of the atrocities that actually occurred. At Feng Ti Fu matters were even worse; the country round about was full of bands of robbers, who attacked the unprotected villages while the inhabitants fled into the city for safety. Once Dr. Scott got as far as a three or four hours' trip from home on his way to Nanking for news, when a messenger came after him with the report that brigands had surrounded Feng Ti Fu and had been repulsed in a sharp little encounter, and would he return, as the chief official had been wounded ? There was nothing to do but to go back as quickly as possible.
Things grew worse and worse; the helpers and evangelists were forced to take their families to their own province for safety. Thus far no foreigners had been killed; monarchists and revolutionists alike had orders to protect them, but the brigands were looting under no man's orders. Dong Sien Sung came to Dr. Scott again and again, pleading with him to leave. Finally, word came that the trains were no longer to run, and that people who fled along the railroad tracks were murdered every day.
Dong Sien Sung and the city elders went to the foreigner and said, "You must go; staying here you endanger all our lives, for the robbers, knowing you are here, will be tempted all the more to come. They have an idea that every foreigner is rich."
"But," Dr. Scott protested, "I have only a few dollars; they will get nothing."
"That is all the worse! They will not believe you and think you have it hidden, and will torture both you and us."
This was unanswerable, so he turned to Dong Sien Sung: "Of course you will come too, your family in Shanghai will expect it?"
The young doctor shook his head: "My duty is to stay and guard the compound; the news would quickly spread if there was no one in charge, and it would be pillaged immediately. I speak the dialect and could disguise myself, perhaps, in case of trouble, but you would be umnistakable. But," and his eyes filled with tears, "if anything happens to me you will look after my family?"
Much moved by the request, Dr. Scott promised the brave fellow that he would do so, and they set to work over last plans. One of the hardest things Dr. Scott ever did was to say good-bye to his faithful friend, whom he left standing calm and brave at the gate of the hospital. He caught the last train out to Shanghai and arrived there without accident. Dong Sien Sung's task was anything but easy; he had to guard the compounds, not only against brigands, but from sneak thieves as well, and he scarcely knew rest day or night. Town after town in the neighbourhood was looted and the inhabitants slaughtered, but though as by a miracle, the robbers passed by the hospital buildings. Each day a rumour came that on the morrow the brigands would surely arrive, but several weeks elapsed and still the compound was undisturbed. At last the unhappy country began to settle down once more; a republic was established, and the
American consul gave Dr. Scott permission to return to Feng Ti Fu.
At the hospital he met the same calm friend that he had left, very much worn, it is true, from his many vigils, but loyal to the last. Together they went over the hospital and houses, while Dong Sien Sung told the story of those hard weeks with not one word of boasting. Everything was as it had been left; nothing seemed to have been taken. It was wonderful I Even on the nursery floor lay a little toy horse that had been dropped by one of the babies in the hurry of departure. To hide his emotion Dr. Scott stooped down to pick it up. Fingering it nervously he said, "Dong Sien Sung, we can really never thank you enough, for you have saved our homes at the risk of your own life, and you never counted the cost; what are thanks compared to such an act?"
Dong Sien Sung was equally moved. But in China they find it hard to speak the language of the heart, and to his lips came only the conventional words that cloak so many shades of thought. "It is nothing!"
Then the American did a thing that was contrary to all Oriental etiquette; he held out his hand and his friend clasped it warmly. The man from the East and the man from the West both knew that they were joined together by a bond that no distance or time could ever sever.