"I think it is a perfectly splendid idea; how clever you are to think of it, and to use the Chinese methods! Only a person who was steeped in Chinese customs would have dreamed of such a thing."
Pleased with Anne's praise, Miss Matilda forgave the "Mid-Victorian" thrust on the spot. "She really does appreciate age and experience," she thought.
At noon when this latest and rawest recruit entered the compound gate, she realised that Miss Matilda, for all her love of things Chinese, still trailed clouds of her early NewT England training behind her. For before Anne's astonished eyes appeared the goose, and surely no Oriental ever accomplished a purpose as quickly as her friend had acquired that bird. She stood still at the sight that greeted her. Three of the Scott children were chasing the goose, which was half running, half Hying, down the garden walk. Before she could interfere, the scene suddenly changed; the goose turned, and, with loud hisses and out-stretched neck, reversed the order of procedure. Quickly the shouts of glee died away and the children rushed in their terror for the protection of the house.
All day long the thought of her introduction to the goose kept Anne amused and cheerful, and when in the middle of her lesson she remembered the sudden flight of the children she laughed aloud with no apparent cause. The surprise of her dignified Confucian teacher was great, although his passive Oriental features did not allow him to show his feelings. Returning to his home, however, he remarked on the subject to his wife, describing the light and frivolous manner of this foreign lady, and saying this custom of these foreigners was not good; their women should not remain single, but should marry and learn the respect that was due to the "lords of creation"; of course, he did not use that exact expression, but that was what he meant.
In the evening Anne retired early with a sense of security unknown before since she had arrived to find that Miss Matilda and she were to live alone in this strange city, so far from beefsteaks, hairpins, electric lights, and many thousand other necessities of modern civilisation. Was not the goose there to protect them, and had it not shown that it could make a noise? She had scarcely fallen off into her first sweet slumber when she was aroused by a sudden din in the compound directly below her room; at first she was too sleepy to know what was happening; then she realised that it was their valiant protector, the goose. Could it be frightening away a burglar already? She flew to the window to behold the gatekeeper's sturdy figure trudging slowly with its accustomed calm toward the gate-house. Of course, so soon the goose could not be expected to know the difference between friend and foe, but already it had proved itself worthy and vigilant. There were other slight alarms before she crossed the borderland, but when she finally slept, she slept soundly.
On the next morning the two friends congratulated each other on their latest acquisition; their work went better all day for the feeling of safety they had about the coming night. That evening was a repetition of the former one; again the gatekeeper came late, and again the goose awoke the sleeping Anne. This time, however, it took her longer to woo coy slumber, but at length it came, but not to linger, alas, for Anne! In the wee small hours she was again disturbed by a commotion in the compound. It was very dark and cold and she hesitated to stir; then she heard stealthy footsteps on the stair and she tried to reassure herself by thinking it was the loud beating of her heart; but, no, they were coming nearer, they were at her door. She would have to scream! She heard Miss Matilda open the long French window in her room and step out on her porch and then a loud pistol shot. Another report followed. Was Miss Matilda killed, or was she doing the shooting? She must get up and see, but her feet felt like lead and her mouth was so dry she could not call. Then, to her infinite relief, she heard Miss Matilda's voice in the hall, talking apparently to the owner of the footsteps, so her courage revived and she opened the door.
"What has happened, and how many robbers did you kill?" she cried.
Before her stood Miss Matilda and Chang Dah Mah, the anwh3 looking very sheepish.
"It is all right, Chang Dah Mah has no clock, and though it is still dark, she thought it was time to get up, so she began to dress. The goose probably heard her and started to cackle, so I went out on the balcony and fired off my pistol, just to let any would-be burglars know that we were prepared."
"What time is it?" asked poor Anne weakly.
"Just two o'clock, and we must be off to bed or we will be all worn out to-morrow." With these sensible words Miss Matilda disappeared.
Anne found it hard to catch even a nap after this; she would nearly drop off, when she would fancy that she heard a cackle and start up wide awake.
The history of that night was repeated nearly every night thereafter. None passed without two alarms, and Anne would have hated to say how many blank cartridges were fired towards the mountain from whence brigands were supposed to come, for Miss Matilda would not have acknowledged half of them. Chang Dah Mah could never learn the proper hour to dress, and often she would be heard creeping down the stairs. Anne gradually grew braver and, after many false alarms had given her confidence, would join in the midnight march to the balcony, searching dark corners as valiantly as Miss Matilda, until she took so many bad colds that the doctor finally ordered her to stay in bed. Their rest was so disturbed that she was heard to exclaim, when at a safe distance from Miss Matilda's genteel ear,
"I'd like to wring that fowl's neck."
One night the climax came; they were aroused five different times; five different times was the pistol fired off towards the mountain. Anne thought that really "Following the Procession" had some grounds for his fears, and that the foreigners and their whole compound were bewitched. The following night they slept the sleep of exhaustion; the gatekeeper, the amah, Miss Matilda, Anne Waring, and last and strangest of all the gooseŚ none of them stirred. In the morning Anne announced, when Miss Matilda had fairly to shake her to make her wake up,
"What a blissful night! I have had my first good sleep in weeks!"
"And well you may," exclaimed Miss Matilda, and Anne saw with surprise that her eyes were suspiciously red, "for thieves broke in and stole all of my precious silver."
Anne's face was a study; sorrow for Miss Matilda's loss, dismay that their many vigils had been in vain and, above all, a wild desire to burst into peals of laughter, gave her a most bewildered expression. But this was no time for unseemly mirth, and choking back the laugh, she set herself to work to comfort Miss Matilda.
The servants one by one were interviewed, and all protested the greatest innocence, in--eluding "Following the Procession," and the water-coolie. No trace could be found of the thief or of the missing silver. The station decided to take the matter up; there had been numerous other thefts recently which had been allowed to pass because they disliked to appeal to the Yamen, The thieves were becoming dangerous, however, and there seemed need of a more drastic policy. In a mission station, the work of the doctor is best understood and appreciated by the Chinese, who give him the title of the "Great Man"; so with one consent Dr. Scott was chosen as ambassador to the official. He sent his large red calling card an hour or two before him, announcing his intention of visiting the magistrate, and followed it in due time.
He was carried by coolies in the best sedan chair that the station could boast, and which was gay with tassels and curtains. On approaching his destination, he was surprised at being met by an escort of soldiers with banners flying, and when he reached the gates they flew open for him without the usual delay. On inquiry, he found that a famous general was visiting the official; some of his soldiers and officers had been treated in the doctor's hospital, and the general was desirous of showing his gratitude. This circumstance made Dr. Scott's visit seem all the more hopeful.
It took a good two hours to make all the bows, drink all the tea, and ask all the questions demanded by Chinese etiquette. Then they could come down to earth, and Dr. Scott make known his errand. The officials were all politeness and distress that this should occur in their unworthy town. It would be a simple matter to catch the thieves; they would order all the policemen in town arrested and have them beheaded, and the silver would perforce immediately be returned. Dr. Scott knew enough of Chinese standards of justice to realise that they would do just as they had said. He replied exactly as you or I would have done in the same circumstances, and retired a crestfallen man to report to Miss Matilda.
That is the reason that Miss Matilda's old family plate has given way to the best silver-plated, and that with it a most delicious Christmas goose was eaten. Fortunately, geese know no such nice distinctions, and taste equally well from any kind of fork, though Miss Matilda declares that to get their best flavour, one must use a pair of the finest ebony chop-sticks. Anne realised that she ought not to venture an opinion until she had been in China at least fifteen years, but she knows that she never ate a goose with greater relish. Thus departed the goose, "Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung," and Following the Procession picked the bones.