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Book One, SHANGHAIED TO HEAVEN (pp.1-422), tells the background - the story opens around 1880 in China.
Book Two, THE SHANGHAIED CHILD (pp.423-829), describes my own early experiences in a missionary family of strict Fundamentalists in China. Also certain encounters with out fellow Fundamentalists in the USA.
I find myself back in memory, seated with my doll on a hanging balcony of fragile wood right under the towering ceiling of our haunted home. I contemplate the locked attic door with a loathing yet with a need to understand. I sit at the edge of a dreadful void - seemingly our plunging stairwell below me - and judge everything from my childish point of view. It all began for me when my Grandma Emma first broke to me the news that we were about to move from the Mission on Shanghai's Szechuen Road where I had been so happy, with all my Chinese playmates at a little kindergarten for girls where I was learning to read Chinese, and I'd made some wonderful friends there also. "Dear Beulah Mae," my Grandma summoned me to her side there, and when she addressed me thus I knew the matter was serious. "We are going to move to a new place to live. Won't that be fun? (She was trying to sound brave and cheerful.) "Must we leave this place?" "Yes, of course." "Why?" "Beulah Mae, you know that your parents have been teaching highschool here for over three years in this Mission. They've had a lot of problems, as you yourself have observed, with old Mr. W- and his two daughters ever since the start. So we have decided to move away and your parents have resigned from their teaching posts." "Can I still go to my kindergarten here?" "I'm afraid not," said my grandma, "but soon now you'll be seven and your parents will send you instead to Miss Dearborn's School where you'll have lots of nice white playmates also." "I like my Chinese friends best." I said. "Oh, they'll still be your friends. You can visit them sometimes at their homes. But you do need to have white children also as your friends. You're a little white child yourself." I nodded regretfully, for I felt myself "all-Chinese" inside and had little regard for my own white race and background. Not to argue, however - for with Grandma it could not be done since her arguments outmatched yours - I asked instead: "What's the new house like?" "Well, you'll know when you see it!" She seemed curiously unwilling to discuss it further with me. But I had overheard her with my parents talking around the oval dining-table after I'd been put to bed the other evening. Grandma had said to my parents: "Are you wise to rent such a haunted place? Beulah is very young to have to go through what may prove to be a harrowing experience. I have a feeling that she has mediumistic tendencies and we don't want her to follow in the steps of the founders of Spiritism - those Fox sisters - do we?" I listened sharply, visualizing actual foxes which I'd only seen in pictures; also Chinese fox-ghosts, of which I'd heard stories from my fellow kindergarten playmates. What did the word "haunt" mean? And "mediumistic"? These were new words to me. My missionary mother was saying, "Oh, I have no fear of that! Jesus will protect her. He'll protect us all!" "Well, I hope so," said Grandma doubtfully, "but it's always risky to beard the lion in its den. And that's a notorious place you've gone and rented!" (What did "notorious" mean? Another word I must learn!) "Mother!" My mother's voice was filled with reproach. "Sometimes I fear you have no faith at all. We'll simply send those demons packing in no time, when we name the name of Jesus there." "In `no time?" murmured my Grandma. "What can you possibly mean? We live in a Kingdom of Time and in this same Kingdom of `Time we must send them packing, if we manage it at all. Ghosts are very hard to exorcize. The Roman Catholic priesthood is best at it - probably because they're in league with the Devil. But you aren't, Pansy, even if you do help your Benjamin sometimes when he has nightmares and you `send the devil away' for him." "Mother Emma," broke in Benjamin, "I was never like that - nor had I any nightmares - till my bout with typhus in West China that turned me into a Fundamentalist as a result." "Be thankful you're a Modernist no longer," replied my mother, "they even believe in Darwin's lies, these days. I saved you from that." "You saved me from a lot of things." "And you should be grateful," exclaimed Grandma, hastening to defend her sacred daughter. "I'm sure Modernism did not become you. I've heard how you behaved: challenging your fellow missionaries to Cockadoodle-do contests before you fell so ill." "A pity you told her, Pansy" said he. "I was merely telling my mother how wonderfully you've been transformed, Benjamin. You'd never insult your fellow-missionaries thus today." "It was a harmless game that I learned in Northumberland when I was a boy. One simply crows between the knees of one's opponent and challenges them to knock your head off when and if they manage it. They never do." "I nearly broke our engagement" said my mother, still furious over the memory. "Well, never mind," said my Grandma, "don't start arguing over things dead and gone, in the past. Right now we are facing a new situation and it is too late to retreat." "Having put our hands to the plow we will not turn back" agreed my mother. "So let us don the Whole Armor of God to be able to resist the shafts of the Evil One" my father added. In the adjoining room I yawned. When they talked like that (as they usually did), I grew bored. I knew all the texts they quoted, for I had to learn "a Bible verse before breakfast" every single day, and then we had Family Worship after breakfast when we read a chapter of the Bible regularly. They talked this way sometimes simply not to keep arguing, as I knew. It was "safe". Though, even so, my parents sometimes argued with each other while quoting differing Bible texts, as I'd observed! They loved each other deeply as I knew. But my mother was an American and my father a Britisher and they really disliked the nationalities of each other. I was listed on my father's British passport, but my mother hoped I'd take out U.S. citizenship when I grew up. She'd lost her citizenship upon marrying but hoped to get it back one day too. Grandma still felt like arguing, however, and muttered, "I still think you shouldn't have rented that place. What if those haunts cannot be removed?" "We'll get rid of them all at once, mother!" her daughter cried. "Well, I hope so, Pansy!" My father (Benjamin Surtees) sounded annoyed. "Without faith we cannot please God. Where is your faith?" "Where is `your's, Benjamin? If you'd had any you'd have rented something nicer. There were those nice old foreign houses on Darroch Road itself with some old trees in their gardens. Beulah should have a garden and the place you've chosen hasn't anything more than that horridly haunted little courtyard we will never enjoy, I'm afraid. Those other houses looked quite affordable." "We asked. They're mostly empty but they're still asking exorbitant rents. They're probably far more haunted than the place we chose. Most Chinese and even foreign old houses in China do get haunted somehow. I know of various examples and so do you. Why, our own house back in Huchow had a spirit often appearing" said my mother. "An angel" said Grandma. "The Chinese said it was just a kwei." "Your father met it and it was an angel" said Grandma firmly, and her lower chin jutted forth stubbornly. "Satan also masquerades as an angel of light." "Yes, and so we must be careful when we get to this new place." "The trouble with you, Emma," growled my father, omitting the added title "Mother" probably deliberately, "is that you're just too American. Here, you've even been complaining over the `common street children' there - Eurasian, Portuguese, and so on - whom we hope to convert to Jesus, but all you want is to turn everybody into a `proper American', a mere carbon-copy of all the rest of your fellows in America." "That's a typical remark I'd expect from a Britisher" replied Grandma coldly. "Hush!" cried my mother. (These arguments over nationality really troubled my mother who wanted "sweetness and light" to reign in our little family, but the topic of Britishers served as a red flag to my grandma. She'd get onto political themes also and criticize Britain's behavior ever since the opium wars. There was no end to it, and pretty soon Benjamin would be discussing the `total ignorance of all Yanks, especially Fundamentalists', though he himself was trying his hardest to be one to please his adored wife.) "We'd better shut the door" my mother added. "We may be keeping Beulah awake as our voices rise." "I hope not," said Grandma, "our recent conversation hasn't been particularly edifying." I heard my father push back his chair and cross over to the door. He looked in at me but I was already lying down again "possuming", pretending to be fast asleep, though I knew I never fooled my father, no matter how I tried. He shut the door and I did then fall asleep right away, still wondering what they were discussing.
In the days that followed, our small flat at the great Mission on Szechuen Road was full of confusion and bustle. Dah-Shi-Fu, our devoted cook and chief-bottle-washer, was forever running up and down the short flight of outdoor steps carrying out "rubbish". There were even some dog-eared old Gospel tracts in the heaps to be discarded regretfully. They'd been left piled up in corners and had somehow grown too crummy to be given away. My parents felt very bad about it, muttering, "That comes from having been so crowded. At Dah-Shin-Fong we'll have more room for storing everything." Dah-Shin-Fong meant "Big New Houses" but they were very old. From the last century! Of course we were only in the year 1924 and I'd been born at the close of Great World War, in the year 1917, "beneath Buddha's Shadow by Mount Omei, West China", as I'd learned. Supposedly it was a sad business in some views to have such an origin. But my parents remained strangely nostalgic and sentimental, and often spoke of Mount Omei with longing still, though they condemned Buddha and his followers as proper missionaries must do. Watching our Dah-Shi-Fu making off so happily with all that rubbish, Grandma remarked, "He'll sell it to some rag-man and make a few coppers in the deal and welcome, poor fellow! It's a pity we can't pay him more." "He's very happy with the salary and it's all we can afford," my mother reminded her. "Besides, we've promised we'll start paying a small salary to his old mother too as our amah. And that makes them both feel rich. She's saving up for her coffin." "I - I - don't like discussing that sort of thing!" huffed my Grandma. "I still have hopes that Jesus will return before I - for one - will have to die, and definitely before you, Pansy, have to die. But it's sad to think of someone saving up for a mere coffin." "Well, all the Chinese do, mother!" said my mother very nicely. "We have to be patient with them. We may manage to convince them that `Jesus Saves', but we can't seem to get it into their heads about his imminent Second Coming. They even get it muddled with their `Buddha yet to come', the idol in the temples on top of Mount Omei." "Yes, it's very discouraging" Grandma agreed. "Sometimes I get to feeling like I ought to try to save up for my own coffin too. For all the good that my small Baptist pension does `me! You seem to spend it all on your new Bible-men lately, dear Benjamin." "Beulah," interrupted my mother, "will you run downstairs and pick some pansies for me? There must be some left going to seed in those flowerbeds. I've been missing those pansies you used to pick for me regularly." (My parents' lady bosses had made it a point that I should be put to picking pansies daily, to keep me "out-of-mischief", as they put it.) "Mama! I did bring you pansies day before yesterday. And you threw them away without even putting them into some water." "I was a bit distracted right then. Besides, the little vase I use was already packed" she exclaimed lamely. "That's all right" I forgave her, "but do I have to pick more pansies?" "Yes, please" begged my mother. "Then promise you won't just throw them away!" Grandma interrupted. "Oh, don't make her pick pansies, dear Pansy. Right now, there isn't time for that. Beulah, go to the next room and pack your own doll in your tiny suitcase. We'll be moving already this very afternoon and there's no time to waste." I began moving slowly towards the door she indicated. Forgetting my presence, she turned to my father ready for battle and inquired: "Now, what were we talking about?" I turned back to wait for my father's reply, as I lingered on the neutral territory of the door's threshold, ready to duck out of sight if need be. "Your `coffin!" said my father sourly. "That's what we were discussing right then!" "No, we were not! It was your Bible-men we were discussing" she snapped back. "Please, please!" cried my mother. "This is not the Christian spirit we should be developing in preparation for bearding Satan in his den. Let us kneel and pray and ask for more love and tolerance and -" "And AGAPE!" added my father glaring at his mother-in-law, who did not deign to reply to that thrust. They got down on their knees together and I prepared to retreat urgently out-of-sight and do that packing. But my mother called me back. "Come, dear Beulah! And join us in prayer." So I had to get onto my knees too. I was developing already very knobby knees. (We prayed all day long, as it did seem to me.) My father had just begun the prayer, however, when we heard heavy footsteps outside our living-room door. We recognized them immediately so we all leaped to our feet, and stood staring at the door for an instant unhappily, without making a move. Then my father stepped forward, ready when the knocking would commence.
The door was now firmly knocked upon by invisible bony knuckles. My father flung open the door almost belligerently and muttered, "Good day, Miss Ethel and Miss Anne [or `Miss Ora'?]!" very coldly. "Good day to you," they answered as formally, then turned to look at the rest of us but didn't cross the threshold. Everything was in such a mess, anyway, within the room as they could see. They were real 19-century types, and very old. They were like living skeletons but Grandma had assured me they were "a few years younger" than she happened to be, and Grandma didn't look that old. "We came to see if you needed anything," one of the two declared. (I could never tell them apart from any distance, for I was a very myopic child, and even their voices sounded identical, as identical as did their shapes appear to me.) "But we see you need nothing!" put in the other, quickly. "Nothing!" agreed my Grandma firmly. I knew she detested them both and had detested these two unmarried daughters of "Old Mr. W-, our boss", for the past forty-odd years. Grandma considered them "the haughtiest missionaries of Shanghai and probably of all China". And she could not forgive them for having been the bane of her daughter's life for the past several years, as her employers at the highschool. (And Benjamin's too!) "Well," said the two of them, while surveying our shabby possessions. (Our steamer trunks at least were now al packed and closed!) "So, it's over. Perhaps it's just as well!" "You will find my daughter and Benjamin hard to replace," declared my Grandma icily. "That's as may be. But they've been very intractable. And so have you, Mrs. Mason!" (Addressing my Grandma.) "I will not tolerate younger snippets telling me of my `intractability'!" "Let us not quarrel on this last morning that we have to be together," said the sisters, taking turns as they spoke so that you scarcely noticed when one left off and the other took over. "But as for us being `snippets', it's a long time, Mrs. Emma Mason, since you saw us as `snippets'. And, as we remember it, `you weren't much more than a snippet yourself when you first arrived in Shanghai, in the year 1880 as we've been remembering. Such a foolish brave young woman, following your crazy husband George to `save the lost' and planning to live and dress like Chinese in the process. Why, you were even proud of him when he started growing a queue by 1883, and wore those Chinese garments henceforth. `Following in the steps of Hudson Taylor', of all people." "I trust you are not criticizing Hudson Taylor, are you?" Grandma almost barked. "Oh, no! He's famous and we respect his China Inland Mission, certainly. But it was temerarious of you and your husband to try to follow in Hudson Taylor's steps." "We opened Huchow to the Gospel, whatever you say, and there's a fine Baptist mission still there where we opened the way." [Thus Grandma chose to recall it. But the true story was so different, see Book Four.] "Well, well! Boasting as ever. But we still feel you were temerarious to copy Hudson Taylor of all people." "We are all temerarious when we try to follow Christ!" Grandma snapped, (and I tried to remember that long, long word - tema-rary-yous - but knew I'd surely forget it or leave something out, "timorous" sounded better but meant quite the opposite, probably. Well, Grandma had never been "timorous", as she herself had sometimes insisted. Yet she had her weak points, I knew, and could be timid too, at times - when having to cross a street full of hurtling modern day traffic, for instance. (As for my parents, Grandma had called them "both timorous and foolhardy, which is a bad combination" as she's added. "And you're just plain timid sometimes!" my father had answered her on that occasion, and at once they began quarreling over precise definitions in describing each other not too lovingly right then, though I knew they really liked and admired each other a lot, did my Grandma and my dad. It was this business of being British and not American and vice-versa that stirred them both up.) "Hmmmm!" the W-spinsters were grunting. "Yes, it `is temerarious for you to take Jesus' sayings so literally. Have you a free cent in your pockets?" My father was evidently pretty sure they were not planning to make a little contribution (say some friendly "severance pay", to make up for those years of shocking underpayment), so he answered haughtily, "We've paid our first month rental already - we didn't have to pay any key money as you know. The distant owners would have let us move in for free, I'm sure, but we insisted on paying a nominal rent." "Yes, it's better when you move into haunted houses not to become free boarders," one of the two agreed. "In Beulah's presence, we didn't discuss that sort of thing!" cried my mother hastily. "`Little pitchers have big ears' and I'm sure she's overheard you all discussing the matter already, haven't you, child?" they asked of me. I wore for their benefit my stupidest expression, letting my lower jaw hang down and my myopic eyes gazed vaguely in their general direction. I was proffering my ignorance to them for my parents' sakes. "She's got a face like a stupid Chinese. That comes from sending her to school with all those Chinese girls - it's the only language she knows by now. It's a shame." My Grandma's fury was rising, as I knew. I stepped back, away from their scrutiny and closer to her, and she reach out an old, wrinkled hand and patted my shoulder. `She knew I'd put on an act to avoid saying "Yes" to those two. It wasn't really lying, for I'd been taught strictly to "let my yea be yea and my nay, nay". (But even Jesus "answered not a word" to his tormentors, didn't he?) "So you say you still have a few coppers to rub together?" asked on of the two nastily, addressing my father (for they were as angry as Grandma now). "Certainly! Enough to pay the coolies nicely. For we do not stint! But as for tomorrow, that's God's business," my father replied. "Faith missionaries!" the sisters snapped. (Because my parents were "nobodies" they'd hired them as highschool teachers with a very low salary when they first returned from the USA in 1920, following my father's slow recovery from typhus. He'd been pensioned off by his own Mission Board and sent back from China to the U.S.A. at the start of the year 1918. But when he resolved to return "anyway", they'd cut off his pension: so indeed my parents had "returned to the Field by faith".) But Grandma felt we were being insulted and her reply was heated: "Well, in a sense we were sent out by a Board of our own! A splendid little band of Pentecostals back in California sent us out and promised to start collecting `widows' mites' to send us. You mustn't think so badly of my daughter's and my son-in-law's faith. And of mine too I trust." "Well, `you have your small but regular Baptist pension, at least," they replied. "But why are we standing here arguing?" Why? I knew the reason. It was the only fun they had, the poor old ladies! All day long they spent with their octogenarian father upstairs running all the huge Mission for him. And visiting missionaries were so deferential and boring! Grandma was the only person who dared cross swords with them and the fencing was lively and sharp every time. They'd miss her once she was gone! "I'm sorry we can't offer you to sit down," my mother spoke up. "But Dah-Shi-Fu has already carried our lighter furniture downstairs and we've summoned some coolies to carry the rest of the stuff down by 1:30; and it's now already nearly noon. We'll be going soon and you'll not have us bothering you any longer as we seem to have done," she added forlornly. "Dear Pansy!" they cried. "You were such a precious infant. We both loved you! But they brought you up in `their way and here you are - a replica of your parents, though not quite as snippity. But nobody is, these days," they sighed. "A pity your father died when still so young! But what we came down for was to tell you we're sorry in a way to be losing you, believe it or not. I know we've complained a lot but it was for your benefit, not that you ever took our admonitions seriously, more's the pity! We'll especially feel the loss of you, Benjamin, though we've never approved of you as you know. But the way you teach arithmetic, algebra, and geometry has been much appreciated by your students and by us, and they are all very sorry you must go. You wouldn't want to come back just to give classes in mathematics, still? We could pay you a bit more, maybe?" They looked uncomfortable and added, "You wouldn't have any other duties. Just drop by say three times a week for those classes, and the money will come in handy." My father was tempted. I could see it. But my mother cried, "We did not return to China to teach mathematics!" "But `you don't, Pansy! `You haven't a head for it," the old ladies laughed. "We're simply making this offer now to your husband." But Grandma had her pride and seconded her daughter. "We came back to preach the gospel as our Pentecostal Board back at home expects us to do." "We know! And there you have now your son-in-law and daughter making mountebanks of themselves already on every highway and byway, and I know you don't like that, Emma Mason, any more than we do. Oh, well! There's no convincing you. And so let us not quarrel further at this last minute. God bless you in your new venture - or adventure! And Pansy, forgive us if we caused you too many tears; (your eyes used to fill when we had to scold you!). But since your own mother has not the wit to reprove you, who else would?" Grandma was spluttering furiously, gasping to herself already, "Well I never...", but they hurried on: "But we've always loved you. And Emma - I mean Mrs. Mason - you are sometimes very loveable too. We wish you well and hope you'll drop by for tea - " "For another argument?" "It's refreshing, you know. You enjoy it as much as we do. If only Pansy had your spunk, she and Benjamin could have become missionaries sponsored by our own big Board back at home - we'd have arranged it." "Non-Baptist!" put in my mother shaking her head. (She was a weird cross between Baptist and Pentecostal - a most unlikely blend of the two!) "There you go again. But what we wanted to say, Mrs. Mason, is, please do drop by sometimes. Our father wants it too. He speaks of you as `the lovely young Emma Keeler Mason' even yet and doesn't realize we all have been growing a little old. He sent us down to tell you this now. He's been drifting lately more and more into the Past. He wanted to say goodbye to you himself but the stairs are difficult lately. You wouldn't want to run upstairs, Mrs. Mason now, for his sake? He really wanted to tell you goodbye." "My!" said Grandma, clearly flattered and pleased. "Oh, my!" she added, "but those four flights of stairs are steep." "They are, for us too," said the two old ladies. "They grow steeper daily." "All stairways to Heaven are steep!" said my incorrigible Grandma. "Not that I ever viewed your penthouse apartment as Heaven. Tell your father, I'm not up to climbing. I'm seventy-off years old." "We know your true age - isn't it nearer eighty?" "Certainly not. Go back up to your penthouse apartment - that's as far as `your stairs will take you right now. I never regarded your top floor as Heaven, I must say." "Forever nasty!" They started to turn away, then glanced back to add, "Well, goodbye, before we get onto any further topics of this nature," and they beat a hasty retreat, looking sad and upset, which was unusual. "Mother," complained my mother, "You are always so rude to them. We should respect their age." "I'm their senior, remember, dear Pansy. You better start respecting my age also, not just theirs." "But you hurt them!" "I did not. They went away chuckling to themselves. As they mentioned, had you my spunk, they'd be clinging to you desperately, just as they tried to cling to me." "Oh, mother, you are impossible!" "Really, you are!" my father rose to his adored wife's defense. Grandma cackled (a really `old lady's laugh) then said "Shall we continue our prayers?" She was being nasty, another dig at my father as I realized "We'd better get on with our packing. Beulah, go and pack your dollie," ordered my Ma. "Aren't we going to have dinner? I'm hungry." (We had `dinner' at noon, not to call it `lunch'.) "What's there to eat?" I asked too. "We'll have to sit on the trunks and picnic. Da-Shi-Fu has prepared fried beancurd and pats of rice we can hold in our hands, and it won't crumble. Won't that be nice?" I beamed. I loved rice and beancurd, even when no other vegetables might be present that day. I still hung around, for my parents and Grandma said such fascinating things at times. "I really wish we could have had a happier leave-taking," my mother went on. "You were so inconscionably rude, mother dear!" I knew I'd never learn `that long word! Nobody used it in our family, but my mother was that upset she was remembering words you didn't even find in the Bible, for she's grown up in a very educated, bookish home, speaking in English in private even if they spoke perfect Chinese when with the Chinese. "I'm simply open and frank!" Grandma boasted; she was still pleased that she'd worsted the W-sisters, so they'd fled. "Jesus said we must always speak the truth. We're teaching little Beulah to be open and frank also. Aren't we, dear?" "Yes, Grandma. But when will we eat? I'm very hungry." "There's also salted peanuts!" added my mother approvingly. "Salted peanuts! Blobs of sticky rice! `Beancurd!" groaned my father. "Well, praise the Lord for minor blessings, anyway. I suppose there's not even going to be any hot Chinese tea to wash it down?" "I'm afraid not, Benjamin," my mother apologized. "There's a bottle of boiled water left in the bathroom, if you're thirsty. And we're taking more boiled water with us too. But the charcoal burner is already on its way to the new place with Amah in a rickshaw loaded with all the kitchen things and their own things too. She'll be preparing things there for our arrival." "Peanuts!" muttered my father to himself again. "Benjamin!" cried Grandma. "You're acting like a capricious child. You'd better thank your Lord that your one and only child happens to love salted peanuts and fried beancurd. Otherwise, what would you feed her of that's all you can afford?" "Yes," my father said, pulling himself together. "But perhaps I should have taken that job they offered, teaching arithmetic?" "Benjamin," my mother cried, "Where is your faith?" (Mathematics as a topic of conversation, or for teaching to the Chinese, who had the abacus - and what else did they need? - left her cold.) "Truly we need faith to move mountains!" said my father. "`God will supply all our needs in Christ Jesus' as the text goes. Perhaps we `had better say a little prayer right now." "Later, Benjamin. There's still a bit to pack," my mother reminded him. They all set to work again and so did I. My doll looked cute in its tiny suitcase with a tiny pillow under her head, but when I closed the top of the suitcase I thought of coffins again, (Amah's and Grandma's), and felt both sad and guilty. One shouldn't even treat a doll in such a way!
That same afternoon my parents rode off each in a rickshaw, but they were so hidden from sight by suitcases, boxes, bags, and even a mattress each, they didn't even show. "Soon we'll set off too in our own rickshaw," Grandma assured me. "Will there be room?" "There's always room for you on my lap, in the same rickshaw!" "I mean, under all the boxes." "Which boxes? They're all gone, save the big trunks, the dining-table, the beds, and so on. We have to stay here till we see them all carted away. Then Dah-Shi-Fu will call a rickshaw for the two of us and our few odds and ends." "All this?" I asked, looking down at the heap beside our feet, where we stood in the big central courtyard of the Mission compound. My own toy suitcase with the doll inside reposed on top of the heap. It was a Saturday afternoon, so the usual crowds of Chinese children and students of all ages were not thronging around. My parents had already said goodbye to them all on Friday, and many a girl student had actually wept. My mother had wept in sympathy also. I too had been close to tears as my kindergarten friends said goodbye to their pet, "Lamei", which was my Chinese name. Dah-Shi-Fu was up in our now vacated little two-room apartment, half-a-floor above us. He was setting the place to rights, sweeping it out to leave the floor-boards bare of litter and then he'd wash them clean. We had our pride. And we knew that the W-sisters would descend again to inspect the premises and woe to us if a flaw were found. A couple of years earlier, for instance, I had done a bit of crayoning on a whitewashed wall out of boredom, and how frantic my mother had been till every trace of it had been successfully removed! She's even had that bit whitewashed again, "just in case", so of course the newly whitewashed patch was brighter than the old whitewash around it and that had upset her too. But in due course the patch had become less noticeable and didn't show now. Probably the W-sisters wouldn't notice it, hopefully. Our own broom and mop and pail had been sent ahead with our things and so, for this occasion, Dah-Shi-Fu had borrowed the schools implements out of a downstairs cupboard of the place. He was now sweeping up the last scraps of dust and shredded papers which not even a rag-man would want. He terminated his task and came down the short flight of outdoor stairs with the heaped-up dust-shovel and the cleaning implements. I watched him throwing the dust into a bin, emptying and rinsing the pail and wringing out the mop, all done with extreme care. Then he put the things away and came up to us. "Is there something else I should do, Mei Tai-Tai?" he asked her. (Mei was the Chinese way of saying "Mason" which was her surname.) "Do you wish to inspect how I left the rooms upstairs?" "No, Dah-Shi-Fu. I know you did a good job. And now we can only wait." It had felt so funny a minute ago, as we stood there like "homeless", our beds stranded in the open together with our table and chairs - and nothing properly set up - the beds taken to pieces. I'd felt sad. A home was "breaking up", one I'd greatly enjoyed. I'd loved living right above what grandma had called "that noisome Chinese alleyway", for the sounds and even the scents had held meaning for me. The Chinese lived their fascinating lives and I could listen and watch, even though the glimpses I obtained were blurry. (I still, however, wasn't quite aware that the world didn't look that way to other eyes. They saw things clearly, true, which I failed to see, but since most grownups took my failure to distinguish things sometimes as sign of my stupidity, I'd simply leaned to interpret blurs in a sort of "divining" fashion to figure out what I might be studying from afar. Squinting helped a bit. Actually my Chinese friends recognized my problem and helped me "see" by telling me what I couldn't see. But white folks didn't. "Oh, good!" cried my Grandma. "Here comes the cart!" A huge cart was being pulled into the compound by some five or six coolies. They'd been ordered a day earlier and were arriving now on the dot. They pulled cart along with ropes and sometimes one or another would step backwards to push the cart too. They began loading our things onto the cart with great ease and expertise while Dah-Shi-Fu superintended carefully. Grandma drew me nearer (though we remained out of the way), and said to me in English: "Pity them, dear little Beulah! These are the souls your parents wish to save. Human dray-horses is all they are, and they have to do this sort of work just to have enough to eat - and little of that too!" But I didn't pity them. I wildly admired their strength and beauty; their bare, sleek, coppery torsos shining with sweat in the sunlight. They wore knee-length pants held up at the waist by a sort of sash. They had sandals on, plaited out of coarse straw. They were laughing and joking together as they lifted the heavy trunks and furniture onto the cart. It had all been heaped together down on the sidewalk in advance. My mother had had coolies summoned earlier just to bring it all down, so Dah-Shi-Fu could leave the two rooms we'd vacated shiningly clean before we left that Mission forever. Whatever the Chinese did they seemed to enjoy. Rickshaw coolies pulled their rickshaws so proudly, while the students at the Mission learning all sorts of things studied with equal pleasure and joy. Self-pity did not seem to be a Chinese characteristic. It was found more among white folks, as it seemed to me, and yet the white folks were all "rich" in comparison to most of the Chinese I could observe in Shanghai. Grandma was saying, "Soon, back in America, every family will have their own car. It won't happen soon, here. Always, here, there will be human dray-horses doing all the heavy work, alas." (Grandma seemed to want every Chinese coolie to have a car of his own too.) "Who pulls carts in America?" I asked my Grandma to keep her talking. "Dray-horses, of course. Real big dray-horses. Of course," she added somberly, "Here in China horse would cost a lot to feed and the oats and hay the Chinese would have to grow for them would seem wasteful. On the same land they'd grow food for humans instead. So many human mouths to feed here in China! Such crowds of people!" "I like there to be lots of Chinese," said I. Grandma had to laugh. "There's no way to make you see how necessary we missionaries - and all the white people here - are to the Chinese! Can't you pity these fellows now working so hard?" "No, Grandma." "Why not?" "They're happy Grandma, happier than us!" "What an awful thing to say. In what way are they happy?" "They love to work." "Well, so do we." I wasn't sure about that. We had to work with the "sweat of our brow" because of Adam's Fall so we hated it didn't we? "Grandma, in America now they also have big trucks." I reminded her. "Horrid, stinky things!" was Grandma's reply. "Still, it's better than putting humans to the degradation of having to be dray-horses themselves." The card by now was loaded like a miniature Tower of Babel with our nondescript things. The coolies took up the ropes and began to chant a pulling song together. They looked so pleased with the big job they were accomplishing, it made me feel very proud of them. The beggars at the wide-open courtyard gates, just outside, had been watching. They moved to the sides to let the cart pass, and they studied the contents with attention. "I want to say goodbye to them now, Grandma!" I remembered. "Oh, you and your beggars!" said Grandma. "Anyway, I've no free coppers for you to give them today. I need all I've got in my purse to pay our rickshaw." Dah-Shi-Fu had gone to summon a rickshaw for us and now he returned leading a beaming coolie pulling a ramshackle rickshaw that creaked when we stepped aboard it and groaned still more when our suitcases were piled at our feet, till they towered up before our faces. Dah-Shi-Fu waved us away. I felt myself in a funny sort of "dimension", still "homeless", for my old home would nevermore welcome me, and what of this new haunted place? Would it ever feel like home? Or was I entering - intruding into - a Kingdom of Kwei. I knew many stories about Kwei (ghosts or demons), told me by my little Chinese friends. Some of them had haunted old houses also, crowded together in Chinatown. Now I would have one too. One had to snub kwei whenever possible, treat them like natural phenomena, and sometimes they got discouraged and went away. They were stubborn like the beggars in the streets, however, always wanting handouts of a spiritual kind! In my mind's eye (which due to my myopia was getting a lot of exercise), I visualized Dah-Shi-Fu back at the mission as he descended to his own dark basement room. He cast a quick glance around. Not a scrap or stick remained that was worth saving, only some rubbish which he would not waste time in clearing away. The old white women on top would never descend this far to inspect. He shook his head and carried out the last bundles of his own and his mother's things, and summoned a rickshaw for himself. But he bargained fiercely, for Benjamin had given him more than the rickshaw's proper price and those coppers he'd keep for himself.
Our rickshaw-man delivered us to the doorstep of "No.1 Dah-Shin-Fong, Off-Darroch Road, Shanghai", which would be our full new address. He set down his handle shafts, turned to unload the boxes and suitcases, and watched us stepping off the vehicle. He looked hopeful, and smiled happily when Grandma filled his hand with the copper coins she'd been collecting for just such a purpose. (She also collected scraps of white paper, which she cut from old envelopes and other printed pamphlets, so I'd not run out of drawing paper.) He looked pleased and now I was glad that she hadn't given me some of those coppers for my beggars at the Mission. This rickshaw-man deserved them more. He looked so proud and pleased with his eyes bright and his face flushed, I felt proud of him. I was proud of all my Chinese. They were so brave. Even my beggars back at the gates of the Mission, whom I'd never see again! But there would be beggars here probably. (Actually, as I'd learned later, the wizened Chinese watchman at the great gates of our long Dah-Shin-Fong Lane chased them ruthlessly away. They did sometimes join the dogs to scavenge in the garbage-cans standing at all the back-doors of the long attached building - at least twenty houses in all. And street-hawkers also could enter by that narrow back lane; but none of them were admitted into the wider front lane of Dah-Shin-Fong. That old watchman had many tasks. He might be old and shriveled but he observed everything and reported it to the distant owners. If my parents managed to exorcize the bothersome ghosts of the first house built against the cobbled road outside, he would report to the owners, and our rent would soar accordingly at once! In a way, it suited us to share the place with those ghosts! That first afternoon we spent at Dah-Shin-Fong, the ghosts cowered in their attic. Who dared invade the premises so fearlessly? They'd chased off all other would-be occupants in times gone by. But we seemed to be a different breed, coming with full intentions of crowding them out by the power of our own gods. They considered my mother's Yasu (or Yesu) namely Jesus ***???*** He'd been outwitting demons ever since his visit on Earth so long ago. Nonetheless, he had given Legion "about two-thousand years" longer of tenancy on the planet, for in that story of the Gadarene Swine in the Gospels, each pig had stood for a year as any ghost knew. And the time was not yet up. It was only 1924. No matter how you counted this "Christian Era" (perhaps from the year 4 B.C. when Christ was born, or perhaps from A.D. 30 or 33 when he got crucified), the old reckoning remained firm. The present Siad Era of the World Tree of Space-Time could not end for another few years, at least. Then, certainly, there would be great changes and a lot of `kwei must tumble into the feared Abyss of No-Space and No-Time. A real Black Hole of a place, horrible to have to fall through endlessly: a Bottomless Pit! But they still had a bit of time left to enjoy this dimension of mortality, and if they behaved with care they might avoid being exorcized by these new white folk. I felt the odd thoughts circling around us but couldn't make them out. I watched now my father attending to the cart that had just arrived. The men carried the things up a tall inner stairway to wherever my mother up there indicated. Grandma had drawn me well aside of their way. Now it was done and my father paid them well and they were happy. I admired how they laughed when they shared out the silver bits and extra coppers, tucking their private shares into some sort of a purse attached to their trousers' waist-bands, apparently. Then they went off singing their pulling song, but it was now a light cart they pulled. "Well, that's nice," said Grandma, standing in the Lane still beside me. "Shall we go in? Your mother will already have made up our two beds in our lovely new upper room as she planned to do. She wants the place to look attractive so you'll like it from the start. Isn't that nice of her?" "Yes, Grandma." My mother tried so hard to be kind and thoughtful, and she chiefly succeeded except when she was exhausted. At such times she simply seemed to fade away, her "shining white-dove soul" as I glimpsed it paling to a shadow. She then lay down if she had a chance till she caught her breath and "kept right on going" anew. "We'll have a lot of stairs to climb here," said Grandma. "It'll be hard on your poor mother, I'm afraid..." She spoke of the stairway with intense dislike.
We enter the downstairs front room together and Grandma told me, "This is going to be your papa's chapel. It would have made a nice living room, but never mind. Ah! Here already is your papa's ancient organ. He had it stored away when we lived in the Mission. Tt's at least a hundred years old." "There are no chairs here, Grandma, if it's going to be a chapel." "He'll be getting some backless wooden benches made as soon as the Lord sends him the money for that too." Grandma led me to the backdoor of that future chapel, and we found ourselves in a narrow bright hall. To my left was a half-wall topped by windows, and there was a door in it to match, opening onto a small courtyard. It seemed strangely dark out in the courtyard there, but queerly enough the small hall itself inside was bright, for the light poured down from somewhere overhead. I pressed my nose against the grimy window-pane (which Dah-Shi-Fu would soon scrub till crystal-bright) and studied this courtyard. Its dark cement walls were embossed with mold and moss and the dank stone slabs of the paving looked green with age. Across was a very tall outer wall with huge dark wooden gates sunk into it. I realized it must open onto the cobbled road on the other side of it. "We could come in that way too, couldn't we?" I asked Grandma. "No," was her flat reply. She led me ahead, and at once we reached the kitchen door where Dah-Shi-Fu's mother was already crouched over a brazier of powdered coal briquettes, fanning it so as to heat up a kettle. She welcomed us happily and Grandma greeted her graciously and so did I. We then turned back to study the stairway rising up from that narrow hall. Grandma's head fell backwards as she stared straight up. "The roof is a long way away," she remarked; then she looked back down at me. "It's a high, high climb - all of four floors and more, till you reach the final balcony leading to a drying-terrace at the rear. You'll develop good muscles in your little legs; and, as Benjamin puts it, `Thank God for small blessings'. Maybe," she added, however, doubtfully again. The old wooden stairway zigzagged from the front part of the house to the back part and back again repeatedly - the two parts seemingly built up separately and linked only by the stairway and, of course, the lofty roof and the side walls. The first side wall separated us from the outer airwell above the courtyard, and the second opposite inner wall separated us from the neighboring house (always empty, as I'd soon learn, because of the frightening sounds to be heard from our own place, apparently. We would soon make even more sounds: endless hymns and prayers shouted all day long, with occasional cries of "Begone, Satan", and "God save us" interspersed). One usually thinks of haunted houses as built over dreadful dungeons. But there were no basement quarters here, barring hidden rows of graves of victims who'd been tortured by a former bandit-gang, and those skeletons still lay under the front room's wooden flooring, right beneath our feet, as everyone knew - even my parents. But what to do with them? The downstairs chapel's floor was securely nailed down by now, and only there would you find such burials below. In the kitchen the floor was of cement as also in the little downstairs hall. No burials there, probably. My father would very much have liked to get rid of those legendary skeletons, but had no idea how to tackle such a grave task; so he therefore chose to ignore them, together with the ghosts. "Flying buttresses!" said Grandma. "Those zigzagging stairs hang up there with no visible means of support, as far as I can tell. But of course they must be fastened by pegs to the walls, here and there," she added hopefully. But then she also added sharply, "Don't ever lean against the wooded banisters!" "Why, Grandma?" "The wood is very old and brittle. This house is fifty years old if it isn't a hundred. Only the walls themselves were built of brick. The rest is wood - the floors, the stairs, everything. And of course the roof is of old grey Chinese tiles. I hope they don't leak." (It turned out they didn't leak, but there was much dampness in the haunted attic anyway. We set foot on the first step. The old wood of it creaked. "It really is rickety," sighed Grandma, distrustfully. "Promise to walk slowly and carefully whenever you navigate these stairs, just in case. And they're so uneven - not one stair matches its fellow." The stairs turned like the slats of an opened fan, and we found ourselves now crowded against the dividing wall that separated us from the house next door. Both of us remembered no to hold onto the bannisters as we climbed. This long straight climb brought us to another fanlike turning, and we stepped onto a sort of platform or narrow landing before an open door. Here was the first upstairs room - a room the size of the kitchen below, being built above it, at the back of the house. "Here," said Grandma "- once they partition it into four cubbyholes - will be a small WC, a bathtub adjoining it, then Amah's room, and here in from a tiny entrance hall. There's a bright window over the street for the WC but the light into the entrance from this other window over the courtyard isn't very good. The bathroom will have no window, and this other window looking over the back lane is dark too, because the wall across is so very high. Poor Amah! But it can't be helped. There was no other way to plot how the divisions could be arranged. Now let's go further up the stairs to see the next room, in front." This now was a shorter flight, without any turnings. Right above our heads, in the wall between us and the courtyard, a big glass window had been set, but not the type you could open. It let in a lot of light though grimy. Although it was difficult to reach, Dah-Shi-Fu would soon get it clean with lots of soapy water, using a mop tied to a long bamboo pole. Dah-Shi-Fu (like my mother) took pride in keeping our place clean, wherever we were. He would soon be a familiar figure on these stairs with his mop and pail, creating a waterfall daily of muddy water that would erase human and non-human footprints ruthlessly. This window in the wall overlooking the outer airwell provided the brightness that the stairwell enjoyed by day. It was well above the level of the towering courtyard wall that separated us from the highway. We now reached a big front room with a high ceiling. It was right above the chapel downstairs. "Isn't it a nice big room?" said Grandma. "And with four windows to it! Two above the Lane, one above the cobbled road, and the other over the courtyard inside. Every house on this Lane is built on the same pattern, but they don't have the windows onto the outside street as we do. Ours is the brightest house of all the row." It seemed funny to me to think of all that long row filled with rooms and stairs just like these of our place, but with very different people living inside. "This room will be partitioned into three," Grandma went on. The two windows over the Lane will be for two bedrooms, one each. And here is to be the living-dining-room. It'll also bright, what with the street window and this one over the courtyard. It'll be very nice." "And what's right above us here?" "The attic." "Oh, I always wanted an attic." (We'd read stories of children who had their playrooms in attics.) "Could I have it as my playroom, Grandma?" "No!" "Why not, Grandma?" "It's - too dark!" "May we go and see?" "Not right now. It's - too far to climb." She didn't want to talk about it, as I could see. "And now there's another long flight of stairs to climb, like the one below it we came up already - the one against this wall," indicating the inner wall, separating us from the adjoining attached dwelling. These zigzagging flight circled a wide-mouthed plunging stairwell that opened all the way down. There was but one room at each landing as you climbed. The place had been "modernized" in years gone by. That is to say electricity had been installed; a water tap had been added to the dank courtyard below and my father had further arranged that a pipe be run up to that first back room where it would gush over the future iron bathtub he'd find in some second-hand shop. The drainpipe too was now added, nailed or fastened somehow to the outer wall, so the dirty water could flow downward onto the street's old cobblestones direct. That was as far as our sanitation went. The usual wooden box with a cover enclosing a big porcelain urn played the role of a W.C., once it was installed. Meanwhile for the first night we used "pots" under our beds. We were considering tackling the next lap of our climb when my father ran down those steps and announced: "I've helped Pansy set up your two beds and now she's making them up for you both. You can go up right now - she's still there." At that same moment Dah-Shi-Fu hurried up from below. "Oh, good," said my father to him in Chinese. "You're just in time to help me set up the bed and things here. There's a lot to do before nightfall and the electricity won't be turned on till tomorrow. We've got to use candles for this first night here."
"I like it," I told my Grandma. "I'm pretending we're climbing up the inside of a tall mountain." She paused on the long, high stairway to catch her breath and smiled down on me. We were both well away from the balustrade and our finger-tips trailed along the wall dividing us from next door, as we climbed. "I'm glad you like it," said Grandma. "You like the feel of it do you?" "I - I think so, Grandma. Such a nice house has to be nice." What I meant was simply that with all the windows (once Dah-Shi-Fu made them crystal clean and the light could enter freely), how could it not be nice. As for the sense of "something wrong", one might need a broom with a very long handle to sweep away the Shadows high over our heads. I was glancing up again and there seemed to be a hanging balcony instead of yet another lap of stairway right above us now, and beyond that? More Shadows. "There are cobwebs still everywhere!" said Grandma also glancing up. "Dah-Shi-Fu will need a broom with a very long handle to sweep them all away." Just as I'd thought! Though, being so short-sighted, I'd noticed only "Shadows", not cobwebs which Grandma with her far-seeing eyes noticed. "But let's keep on climbing!" said Grandma. "And not just keep standing here like tourists gaping up!" With her left hand she now took my right hand, and her right hand pressed against that inner wall as we resumed our climb. The stairs were so long because each room (save the downstairs back kitchen) had very high ceilings. And the plunging stairwell around which the stairway zigged and zagged was all of four floors deep and more, if you studied it from up near the roof. We felt like ants climbing up a serpenting vine - or perhaps it was more like a web spun by some giant spider long ago? At each turn there sprouted a "leaf", just one leaf which was a minute platform or landing leading to a room all on its own with no companion "leaf" attached. Each room thus was totally isolated from the other rooms, and linked only by the "branches" of the perilous stairway. Jack had climbed a beanstalk (as Grandma had once told me when I kept asking for "for stories"), and reached a new level where giants ruled, on high. But here, no matter how I climbed, only shadows ruled in this strange upper dimension. "Here we are!" Grandma sounded triumphant. We now stood on a landing with the door in front of us open. We were now higher than that side-window that let light into the lower part of the chimney-like "black well"... Well, the stairwell wasn't really "black" to one's normal eyesight, but black it was to the inner eye. My mother stood at the entrance, outlined against the light coming from three windows in that back room. "She likes it!" Grandma announced to my mother, who replied: "Oh, I'm so glad. Thanks be to Jesus. They cannot touch her then, I see." "Let us hope so," Grandma agreed. "But let's not discuss that topic, shall we? Not to give certain `little pitchers' ideas!" I still lingered on the narrow landing studying the next rise of stairs. Here, it was a shorter flight once again going straight upwards to another landing with a closed door facing me. "What's behind that door?" I demanded. "The attic." "Can we go and see it?" "Not right now. Come in and see your new bedroom!" The attic was so close above us here, I couldn't put it out of my mind. It haunted my thoughts already. Still, I entered our new bedroom with Grandma and she praised Pansy for the look of the room. "So brightly whitewashed already!" she exclaimed. "I sent Dah-Shi-Fu especially to whitewash just this room in advance. It had been so dark and smudgy - fingerprints all over the walls." "Hmmmm!" said Grandma, and I knew she was envisioning people locked away in here as prisoners long ago. I glimpsed the picture in her mind. "But now it's all like new," said Grandma determinedly. "And those two snowy bedspreads add a finishing touch. I didn't even know you had them, Pansy!" "I was saving them for this sort of purpose. They're from Pasadena long ago. They're threadbare, but nicely bleached, aren't they?" We admired the bedspreads for a moment, then I crossed to the window above the cobbled street. ""How high we are!" I exclaimed. The window was open and the window-panes had also been washed crystal clean already, obviously done by Dah-Shi-Fu when he whitewashed the room, including even the ceiling. It was all white! The floor of wooden boards was red-varnished. But I noticed that the open window-panes there, kept swinging back and forth as if there were a breeze, but the air was motionless, so I stepped back not to be hit. Grandma looked at my mother. My mother said: "Ever since we entered this room they've been swinging back and forth that way. The other windows too, till I closed and locked them." We'll close and lock this window too," said Grandma and she did so at once. "There, that's better! Anyway, it's turning cooler, and evening will soon set in, so we don't need them open, do we?" "Lie down and rest, Mother," my mother was telling grandma. "You look exhausted. You missed your usual afternoon nap." "So do you look exhausted, Pansy. You lie down this instant on Beulah's bed and she can lie beside me." "I'm much too busy yet, Mother," was her reply and she walked out and closed the door after herself. Grandma sighed and fell backwards onto her bed. I stood more to the center of the room, and not against any wall. My bed stood against the wall above the courtyard and beyond its closed window was a blank wall, obviously the attic's inner wall, windowless. "Lie down!" she commanded me. "I'm not tired." "You - must - rest!" she said. And when she issued a command in that way I knew she meant it. I obeyed. "Tell me a story, then," I suggested, determined to be rewarded for my "instant obedience". I'd flopped onto the bed with abandon, so the springs jumped and creaked. But Grandma was still for a moment, while I listened to the old house groan and creak; and it felt like it was swaying also a bit. Fingers tapped . . . all those fingerprints covered by the whitewash were re-issuing themselves, "trying to come through and be visible". I wondered if Grandma heard them also. At last she spoke up. "We will sing together `Little Drops of Water'. It's your favorite." The finger-tappings turned into raindrops tapping, though beyond the window it wasn't a rainy afternoon. Quite the contrary. Grandma began the song in her cracked old voice. I seconded her with my piping infantile treble: "Little drops of water, Little grains of sand. . ." (Sound of sand drifting over ancient civilizations and peoples, burying them, burying them all.) "Make the mighty oceans, And the beauteous land." (Great waves washing old civilizations away; tall volcanoes growing taller as the lava poured forth anew.) "And the little moments, Little though they be," (A dense new silence filled the house. The Shadows wished to learn the secrets of Time which only the living - we still in the Flesh - experienced even if we didn't understand it.) "Make the mighty ages Through eternity." Our song ended. The whole house groaned with dis-ease, a sense of utter abandonment and guilt. Guilt because it had witnessed most terrible scenes of vicious cruelty in times gone by. Sadistic souls had worshipped Evil here by torturing the helpless and the good, trying thus to win favors from Hell.
Grandma had said, "Promise me to walk slowly on the stairs," but she had not insisted, so I'd withheld making any promise. She must not expect me to crawl about slowly as old ladies do. And now the evening had come and the candles had been lit - one in each room including one down in the kitchen. The stairs were unlit but I carried a burning stub of a candle as I went back and forth inventing imaginary excuses, and I loved the hot wax dripping on my fingertips. It spoke of Reality, and so did the flame, even if fire was dangerous and, could it take possession of this old house and send up smoke and tongues of fire, all the rooms' floors and the stairway too would be instantly consumed leaving just one huge gaping chimney-like hole. The old tiles overhead would fall in too and the sky would look in upon this secret place. "Be careful, be careful with the candle!" cried my mother, but my father reminded her, "It can't set anything on fire if she doesn't leave it burning somewhere, forgotten. Blow out that candle whenever you enter a lighted room, Beulah," he reminded me and I said "I do." A whirling, flaming, fiery sword had guarded the entrance to our lost Eden. A guard of cherubim had wielded that sword. My candle was flaming sword which I thrust at the gathering Shadows, I defied them as they spun up and down this dark stairwell; I watched my own long shadow leap in pursuit, cast by my little candle-flame. I defied them all. They must go. There was no room for them in our new home. I was a child of preternatural brilliance with my own bright source of light within me, as I'd experienced during my visits in infancy to the "River of the Water of Life" that led me to the bright Center of Creation, God's Throne, where he welcomed all little children, and all little creatures of every kind. Imaginatively, I'd visited that spot at nap hour daily, back at the other place, while curled at the foot of Grandma's bed behind the screens in the living room, while she slept. I knew my way from that "platform" (her bed) direct to my Father's Arms. From here, now, however, the way would not be so clear and I must wander through the Shadow of Death for a while still, and not find the River of the Waters of Life easily. Here the Shadows would teach me Sorrow and Darkness and the Father allowed it, for my spark would not be blown out but burn the stronger no matter how often seemingly quenched. And I'd learn... I'd learn through all the years that would follow when the trials of Dah-Shin-Fong were a thing of the past. I'd learn and learn. That was the purpose of my being, my being alive at all. For I chose Life not Death; though I might fall under the spell momentarily of Sorrow's power over our souls, and the "Mystery of Melancholy", as fould illustrated alike in Grecian ruins and in those solemn marble mausoleums found in southern countries, erected by believers of another Faith, not mine. For my mother was a Baptist turned Pentecostal; but those "other ones" might be Catholic or Orthodox. And they had their bits of sacred relics from former saints with which they battled the dark, and it might be valid also, though necromantic. But I preferred a direct vision of brightness, where possible. It wasn't often possible, as I knew. There were dungeons all over our planet. And hidden graves where the victims of evil are repeatedly concealed. I ran happily up and down, brandishing my burning candle-stub. Our picnic supper of beancurd and salt-peanuts, but with hot Chinese tea in bowls to wash it down, and with more of those rice-pats we'd had at noon, was over and cleared away. Dah-Shi-Fu had retired to the dark portion of the kitchen where a curtain would be hung up to separate his sector from the big built-of-bricks old Chinese stove - now freshly whitewashed - where he'd be cooking daily and the amah would stoke it from the rear with bundles of dried straw. (Coal briquettes were expensive and needn't now be used.) Our Amah was already in bed in the first upper-back room that would soon be divided into four cubbyholes, one of which would be her own. We had now just said our evening prayers while sitting right at the oval dining-table in the upper-front room soon to be partitioned into three rooms. (The floor was too dirty to kneel properly.) My parents went on sitting there with a candle stuck into an empty bottle of `tziang-yu (or soya sauce) in the center. They were resting, too tired to start getting ready for bed. Grandma had said goodnight and gone up to our high back room already. I was told to follow quickly, but I kept finding any little excuse to continue circulating between the two rooms, up and down the flight of stairs curving up. I was in a triumphant mood as I used my candle-flame to sweep shadows away repeatedly, and my multiple shadow chased them further too. It was exhilarating. Angels must have fun too when chasing away demons with long spears of light. As I kept popping into my parents' big front room, they began to grow exasperated. "When are you going to get into bed?" my mother asked. "I game skipping up to her and she said, "Blow out your candle!" "I need it to go upstairs again." "You can light it at our candle when you go." I blew it out obediently, but I was restless. I skipped from window to window to look out. The street lights hung at about level with our street window and they danced about, flickering as from poor connections. I didn't like the view from the other inner window that faced the courtyard's airwell. It was frozen and dark. Yes, there was an iciness beyond the closed window-panes there. All four windows were now closed. "Enough rushing around!" my father shouted. He wondered if I too heard the footsteps that were starting above our heads. Someone was walking back and forth on the attic's floor, evidently. And there was nobody there as we all knew. I stopped my own happy noises to listen and looked at my mother inquiringly. "It's next door," she murmured, unhappy to be telling me a lie. I pitied her and asked no questions, but skipped over to the other two windows over the front Lane; but it was dark below there too, so I whirled and executed a happy little dance that really blew my poor father's attempt at calm. I was like a fantastic little sprite myself. "What's the matter with you?" he shouted. "She probably needs to go to the bathroom," my mother explained. "Children do twitch around to keep it in, you know." "I don't want to!" I argued, but she remained unconvinced. "You can use `our pot," suggested my mother. "It's the big one right under our bed over there." Indignantly I denied her accusations. Under no condition would I lower my dignity (or my posterior either) above that clumsy item of furniture. "Well, use your own pot. It's under your bed!" my mother replied. "Go now! But kiss us goodnight first if you can wait." "Of course I can," said I. I kissed her petal-soft cheek, just missing the return kiss she tried to give me, but at times it was bit moist and left a scent on my cheek - not unpleasant, but I liked to keep my smells in place. I mean to say: my nose was like that of some small burrowing animal's snout, and while I welcomed being hugged by my mother, I didn't appreciate a hurried kiss. Proper hugs, yes. Not absent-minded smacks on the face! I then kissed my father's cheek gingerly. He'd had no time that day to shave since early morning long before dawn, when our last day at the Mission commenced. He used an old-fashioned razor and kept it sharpened with a strop that hung beside his shaving mirror that he'd be attaching to a wall down in the bathroom probably, once everything was properly installed. "Can I run up and down just once more first, Mama?" I asked. "Whatever for?" "I'm practicing the stairs." "Practicing the stairs?" "Learning to go up and down them quickly." "Please go slowly up and down those stairs. Your Grandma already warned you." "Yes, Mama, but quicker is best!" "Now why? I'd like to know," asked my father. "I'm playing tag. Pretending someone wants to catch me from behind. And I'm chasing someone in front too." "You are `not to play that game on the stairs," shouted my poor father. "But Papa," I argued. "Sometimes you need to go fast." "Nonsense!" "But if I wanted to go to the bathroom in a hurry, what must I do?" "Use the pot under your own bed. Or even your Grandma's pot." "I don't like using pots." "Enough arguing. Up you go immediately and stay there!" shouted my father, intensely annoyed because the overhead footsteps were growing louder and more threatening as the night moved on toward the witching hour.
Arriving in Grandma's and my upper back room, I found her quietly lying on the top of her counterpane. She already wore her stout white flannel nightgown buttoned up to her neck and that reached her feet, and the arms reached her fragile wrists, but she seemed relaxed. "What a lot of noise you've been making, playing on that stairway," she reproved me. "I wasn't playing, Grandma. I was practicing." "Practicing what?" "Going up and down stairs, Grandma. Not to fall." "You sounded like you were jumping and running." "I only jumped two steps each time, to reach the platform." "The landing," she corrected me automatically. "But why?" "It's like playing hopscotch. Landings are safe, even this one up here so high - probably." (I wondered about this higher landing of ours with the attic just a bit higher beyond and across from us.) "What are you trying to tell me?" "Nothing, Grandma. I was pretending the stairs were like hopscotch squares. I should have hopped up and down with the landing as `home' where you could put down two feet." "Don't you dare hop up and down those stairs!" "I won't Grandma. I just pretend to hop. I hop with my left foot and tell my right foot: `You're not really there!' so it feels that way, anyway." "Dear Lord," said Grandma. "I do think you're a little crazy. There you were, too, back at the Mission when you were four or five, trying to learn to walk on air. I hope you'll never try that here." "Oh no! Not here. They wouldn't let me. I'd fall like a stone. Here you can't levit - er, I've forgotten the word that you used once with mama, when telling her about me." "Oh Heavens. What sharp ears you always have. And the words you pick up! `Levitate' is the word you're seeking and it just means `walking on air'. I was simply telling your mama how you used to keep trying to walk on air when alone with me." "Well, I don't anymore, not since the baptism." "Then that's one good thing that resulted from it. Nothing else, I'm afraid. It was all disastrous". (See Book One for the account) "I only wanted to try to walk on water like Jesus, Grandma. But they put that long old dressing-gown on me that tangled my feet, so I couldn't have walked on water anyway. And I nearly drowned." "No, you did not, you were held properly." "But I swallowed lots of water anyway, Grandma." "Because you started screaming under water. If you'd have held your breath while being baptized -" "I got frightened, Grandma." "Well, never, never discuss it with your mother." "I never do Grandma. It upsets her." "You're a precocious child." The door opened and my mother entered. "Is it Beulah you mean?" she asked. "Yes, she `is advanced for her age, isn't she? I don't really agree with those missionaries who find her stupid." "If that's all they said about her it would be nice," said Grandma with a sigh, lying back on her bed and closing her eyes. "They say I'm still not saved, don't they, mama?" "Beulah!" came Grandma's warning cry, so I shut up. "Of course you're saved!" cried my mama. "You pray to Jesus very nicely. I came up now just to hear your prayers for this first night. Will you begin them now?" "Let her get into her nightie first," put in my grandma. My mother hurried me into it, murmuring, "No chance to wash you face and hands tonight. Well - tomorrow! Now kneel down and begin. Which will you say? `Gentle Jesus, meek and mild'?" "No!" I said firmly, and rattled off the shorter prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take, Amen." "Beulah," remonstrated my mother. "I taught you to say, `If Thou shouldst come before I wake' instead of `If I should die'." "But mama, the missionaries say I'll surely not be taken up in the Second Coming." "Beulah," came Grandma's voice. "You are upsetting your mother again. And Pansy," she went on, "you are not to take seriously what all those old curmudgeons say. This child has a soul that is absolutely pure - there is no evil in her. She takes after you - my dear innocent child that you still are - and after me somewhat. And, while I may be not very saintly, I have no dark fund of evil in me, either, as I trust you'll agree." When Grandma was being "open and frank" in this way I was always fascinated. "We are all desperate sinners in the sight of God," murmured my mother unhappily. "Just being here reminds me of this, somehow. How will we ever exorcise the --" "Pansy! There are little pitchers here. And stop your worrying. If anybody's saved you are, as those old missionaries must agree. They envy you and even your Benjamin." "Oh, they cannot envy us! What is there to envy?" "That's precisely it. You obey Jesus literally. You sacrifice everything to follow him - even your only child," she added, and I felt her resentment when she said that. "Oh, mother!" Pansy's voice broke. "It is so hard to follow Christ." "You make it difficult for yourself - your little daughter has chosen the easy way." "Has she?" "Indeed. When something hurts - even just a bump of scratch - I hear her saying, `Dear Jesus, make me well!' And he does, astonishingly. And I'll tell you this now, for you need reassurance, I've heard her whispering during naptime when she used to share my nap with me there. And she was addressing Our Father, saying all sorts of endearing little things to him as though he were right there. She talks about everything with him - not in our style of prayer-language but in her own simple words - and I only hope this place won't blanket her beautiful innocent faith. You were never like that, Pansy, when little. We couldn't keep you from `fearing God too much. I suppose it was the fright that dragon's huge effigy created in you when you were four or so that has lasted all your life." "What has the dragon to do with God?" "You think of it as the Devil, don't you? So did I at the time. But your father George use to look upon it as a sort of amusing `animal of the skies'. And I do feel he regarded it as a sort of pet. Our little Beulah probably will also. A child needs pets," Grandma went on, and added, "Tonight, Pansy, I'm going to make for Beulah a Shadow-Show. Do you remember how you girls loved it back in Huchow when you were small?" "Mother, I don't know about that. Your `dog' used to frighten me even when I laughed." "Beulah won't be frightened!" Grandma assured her. "Mother, sometimes I think Benjamin is right to worry about all the fantasy you sow in her mind." "Benjamin!" That was her only answer. Grandma certainly didn't think much of Britishers in general. She read to me all sorts of fantasies she borrowed from her old lady-friends who'd kept the books from when they had children. Children's books of which my father did not approve! Mostly by American writers, of course. "Mother, don't keep telling her about `the dragon and my father'!" "She already knows the story by heart." "A pity." My mother looked very saddened as she kissed us goodnight. She left us, closing the door in her wake.
There we were between Earth and Heaven and a terrible Void right beneath us, for the stairwell went down and down...far lower than the apparent level of the ground floor. And above were the processions of stars stretching away towards Infinity, and we such small little ones, God's Mayfly creatures. Grandma would remember them all, his little creatures...summon them all in procession before my delighted eyes, for the first and last time. (Only by candle-light could such magic be achieved.) Grandma sat up and slipped her feet into slippers, and went over to the bureau to adjust the candle that stood in a `tsiang-yu bottle, proud and tall. "When I was a little girl," she told me, "back in the mid-nineteenth century or just a little later, we had no electricity and used a lot of candles. I lived in a lovely big old house back in America; it was once our great-grandfather's and now it belonged to my uncle and his wife and children. My own mother was dead, so I and my little sisters and brothers lived with them and I helped with my sisters and our little cousins. Your Great-aunt Lucy in Ohio now was one of my sisters. Do you remember visiting her when you were two? "Yes." "But you never met the others," Grandma added regretfully. "And what about your father, Grandma, when you were small?" "He was never at home." She grew silent and sad. "Go on, Grandma," I reminded her. She rallied and said, "This nice whitewashed wall reminded me of the shadow-images I used to create to entertain the littler ones. I was good at it. Now watch!" She placed herself where her shadow fell on a wall and it danced there as the candle-flame started flickering. She put her hands together palm-to-palm and at once a shadow-dog reared on the wall. It had a very long neck - really dragon-like - and there was fluffiness beyond. (Her long sleeves had fallen back and her forearms were now bare and formed the dog's neck). "Woof, woof!" said Grandma, and her shadow-dog barked. "Hush, Beulah, don't laugh so loud or you'll disturb your parents." I henceforth giggled quietly. Grandma was creating lovely pet shadows for me that would put the nasty ghosts behind to flight, maybe. Our shadow-dog's tongue came forth and it was panting. A small bright hole appeared for an eye, for the animal was shown in profile. "I want to try!" I cried. "Teach me how." I leaped out of bed and tried but didn't achieve anything. "It takes practice," she explained. "And you won't have a chance. Tomorrow the electricity will be turned on. This is our only chance, except when there'll be storms and they turn the light off at the Power Station. But then one forgets to play this game because of the noisy thunder and the flashing lightning. And now," she went on, "Here's a cat." I got back into my bed to watch. The wonderful Shadow Show went on and on till I suddenly grew too sleepy to attend. She then blew out the light and we climbed into our own beds. A knocking began at one windowpane from without. I looked up. It started up at the next window-pane. I glanced there and the knocking moved to the third window. "What's that, Grandma?" I asked. "Probably a bird." "It jumps around awfully fast, Grandma." "Yes," she had to agree. The room was not dark - the electric lights hanging above the road below us sent up their flickering illumination - a soft half-light. At the windows no outline of any bird could be seen. "Beulah," said Grandma. "Please now, say the other prayer: `Gentle Jesus, meek and mild'! Say it right in bed. You needn't climb out to kneel." My sleepy voice responded: "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon a little child, Pity my simplicity, Suffer me to come to thee. Fain would I -" Grandma emitted a soft snore so I stopped reciting it, but then she woke again and said to me quite sharply, "Never, never open a window when you hear such a knocking. And never, never say `Come in'! Talk to your Jesus instead - He'll take care of you." I promised and she relaxed and was soon back to sleep. I though it over. The knockings at the window-panes had fallen silent. ("The were waiting." I would not reply.) She had said "Talk to your Jesus", but I had chiefly borrowed my "Jesus" from the image Grandma had painted of him for me. I liked him, trusted him, but he had a bit of uncertainty, for in some parts of the story she herself grew vague. Mother's "Jesus" was simpler - not a whit different from the Gospels' account save that Paul's visions of a "Christ" had been sort of "tacked on" as best she could manage it. My father's "Jesus" was terribly sad, but then - ever since his typhus when I was tiny - he too had been mostly a melancholic person save when he fought the tendency and tried to be cheerful; as he managed usually. I didn't like the "Jesuses" of many a missionary who in turn disapproved of me. But it didn't matter - I placed my hands folded below my pillow to look nice "if I should die before I wake", and so fell asleep contentedly.
The situation seemed a bit uncertain, those first few nights at Dah-Shin-Fong. Territories were being staked out, battle-fields selected. Normal people if forced to rent some haunted house due to straitened circumstances would enter such a place either fearfully, belligerently, or even placatingly in some case. We evinced none of these attitudes: we marched in determined to take full possession. My mother had no doubt of the ultimate victory: Jesus would win, even if we evoked him by his Chinese name Yasu or Yesu. Grandma, who'd lived longer, and seen and faced more, knew it wouldn't be that simple. My father, instead, who never could erase from his brain the nightmares he'd undergone during typhus, faced here Satan direct (as he'd met him during the high fever back in 1917) and depended on his Pansy to send the foul fiend packing each time. But it invariably returned to haunt him anew. So he was not fit for the ordeal ahead, and yet being a "never-say-die-Britisher" he would not accept defeat but go down still fighting if need be. As for myself, I came there simply trying to understand, and - understanding - resist: hate: ignore if necessary. It was clearly evident that the attic was "unsafe"; the courtyard was unexplored-as-yet territory; the stairway a dangerous No-man's land. As for the back half of the house, occupied on the lower floors by two sensible realistic Chinese and on the upper floor by Grandma (very level-headed) and myself, as her understudy, the ghosts could not penetrate in there but only knocked from the outside at the window-panes when there seemed an opportune moment by night sometimes. The downstairs front chapel (soon to have its benches, and a box of a pulpit in front) was no place for ghosts to put on a show. There were soon to be too many drunken Russians sleeping off their binges on its floor, as also defeated Chinese soldiers taking refuge on the benches so as to be fed by us and given thus shelter. They slept in their ragged padded garments and wandered in and out as they willed. Beancurd and rice became our staple diet at such times, so there'd be enough for them all too. My parents' front room was like a penumbra between darkness and light, if we term the chapel below (where Jesus was preached) a place of light and the attic overhead a place of darkness. A three-tiered Christian battle was being waged thus in the front half of the building (chapel, my parents' room, and attic) between darkness and light. That was one sector of the Battle. But there was - beyond the No-Man's lands of stairwell and airwell - the other Domain, where "we heathen" dwelt at the rear. And if we were protected it was by Buddha, and the Kitchen God of our Amah which she still venerated privately though without visible iconography. Grandma had mentioned on our first night at Dah-Shin-Fong China's beneficent dragon that continued trying to defend its Chinese people against the White Man's invasion, but without much success. Dragon...Kitchen God...Buddha... And across from us, Yasu versus the Attic Walker, lurking beyond the void, that No-Man's domain yawning between! Who would win at No.1 Dah-Shin-Fong? And how long would it take? Truces were sometimes declared, so all concerned could lick their wounds and continue surviving, during the years ahead. But by 1927 we were thrust forth from Dah-Shin-Fong forever, at last, and not by the ghosts but by a civil war being waged all over Chapei and right under our windows. We managed, after being marooned within for three days behind the high walls and closed gates of the Lane, and barricaded by our stout window-shutters, to escape in a moment of calm, never to return to live there again - we settled instead in another unhaunted old place just inside all the barbed wire. But the leading facet of the Dah-Shin-Fong place was ever the stairway. It occupied so much inner space, as it crowded itself away from the huge airwell, coiling around that well as if to grant the Void plenty of room for unseeing entities to manoeuver in. The stairway's serpentine zigzags, especially at their turning points, where the landing led into the solitary rooms, did seem like ladders to other dimensions. But not to Heaven as in the "Jacob's Ladder" Old Testament tale.
It wasn't long before I demanded that the attic door be unlocked so I might see what lay within. My parents didn't want to do so but found no convincing excuse to say "No". However, they followed me in while watching me closely. Had I mediumistic gifts or not? What would I do in here? I found the room dark and bleak and somehow icy in a way that made the flesh crawl, so I cried, "Open the window, please!" There was just the one dormer window opening high above the front lane. It tried to stick fast but my father flung it open and warm air blew in. I hurried over to look out and found that a comfortable window-seat was available, so I say upon it before my mother could even cry, "Let me dust it off first!" "Too late," said Grandma. "Now her skirt is full of dust, but it can't be helped." There was another side alcove, the one towards the outer region above the cobbled road far beneath. Within this dark and windowless alcove we'd already stored a lot of junk - boxes, boxes, bundles, a broken chair or two waiting to be fixed. (And, when some travelling Chinese carpenter came to the back lane's kitchen door, Dah-Shi-Fu would stop him and bring down whatever needed mending, in the usual way.) But meanwhile, the alcove with its sharply sloping ceiling, was like a shadowy lurking-place at my rear and I simply ignored it. I was studying delightedly the wonderful view from the dormer window. My myopic vision showed me a great and blurry expanse of brilliance and as my eyesight adjusted I distinguished curling grey rooftops stretching away as far as I could see like "hills", with an occasional outcrop of greenery that must be some old tree in a private courtyard afar. "I like it here!" I informed my wondering parents and my anxious Grandma. (She knew that a psychic strain ran in her side of the family, dating back to the start of her clan's stories of life in the New World, and she feared I'd inherited a big dose of it.) "Can I have it as my playroom?" I further asked. "This corner, I man, by the window?" My parents stared at each other. The didn't say "No" and they didn't say "Yes". They didn't know what to answer. Grandma came up and studied my expression closely. Was I going into a trance? No, I was simply blissful to have discovered such a view. There'd been nothing like it in our rooms back at the mission, where my focus of attention had been a fascinating alleyway just half-a-floor below us, where life was going on at a hectic rate from dawn till dark each day. I couldn't see thing clearly but I learned to distinguish shapes by their movements, and sometimes by the "prickling of my skin". But there was more to that dormer window than the view. There was the attic behind it. Could I conquer this space for myself? Here was Loneliness and here was Infinitude, reach far out beyond the confines of Space-Time. Here I would find solace from the frantic pursuit of "salvation" going on in the chapel and my parents' room all the time. I could think cool thoughts and seek reasons here for all I contemplated and tried to understand - even the ghosts, hateful things who must be sent packing, certainly, for I did not like the stench of evil, which I sensed here psychically. Right then, of course, it was a real-life smell that filled the place from top to bottom-floor of the house. The carpenters had come and were putting up the flimsy wooden partitions as planned. They were now painting the structures (that didn't reach much higher than the height of a person) with Ningpo varnish which is mixed with tung-oil and pigs' blood. Some white folk are allergic to it, but we weren't. Pigs' blood for milleniums had been poured into trenches so the ghosts might lap, following the yearly sacrifice of a sacred pig representing "a year elapsed", the world over. (And then the worshippers feasted on the pig - usually a boar specially prepared in advance.) But sometimes sacrifices were carried out by throwing pigs (or even "long pigs" or humans) over a precipice, to mark a year's ending too, and such rituals can be traced in survivals also found the world over. So the stink of tung-oil and pigs' blood filling our place will have placated even the "Walker" as I came to think of the Attic Ghost. Grandma continue to study me warily as I sat at the window-seat admiring my airy domain afar. "Hmmm!" she said at last, looking at my parents. "She's just admiring the scenery!" cried my mother. "Aren't you, Beulah?" (My mother had been a gifted painter until she married.) "Yes mama. The roofs are hills and the big trees are mountains. I'm pretending it's so." "She's a poet like me!" beamed my father very proudly. "She's a level-headed little Britisher - the scenery is all she sees...or feels either." "She's a level-headed American like `me!" said my Grandma indignantly. "As for her being a fanciful poetess, that's from you, Benjamin, certainly! But she's also practical. And that's from me." "And from me!" put in my mother hopefully. "I think it skipped a generation," declared Grandma firmly. "Pansy, dear, you are far too spiritually inclined to be as practical as one must become, simply to survive." "Oh, mother!" protested my mother, very displeased, for she was very practical in managing our finances and running our home, always, and wasn't that sufficient? "Well!" said Grandma briskly. "This attic is full of dust! And, till it's swept and the floor washed and the cobwebs all removed - and if possible the walls and ceiling whitewashed - you can't stay here, Beulah. Don't you agree, Pansy?" "Oh, certainly. I'll ask Dah-Shi-Fu to attend to it as soon as he has time. Come along, Beulah, we're closing the attic up again." "But why do you have to lock it from the outside?" "Because the door swings open all the time, otherwise." "Like our windows when we leave them open?" "It's the wind!" said my poor mother unhappily. (Never had she had to lie so much to me in the past. And it is also true that old words for "wind" can signify "spirit" too, or ghost. So she wasn't really lying!)
The front half of the house had been roofed over by Chinese grey tiles and they sloped in several directions: down towards the cobbled road on the outer side; down a little towards the front lane where the dormer windows jutted all the way down the row of houses; and there was an upward slope in the other direction that went as far as the entrance to the flat drying-roof that topped the back part of the house - the separate sector with no connection but the stairways to the front half. My parents and Grandma and I now stood clustered together on the upper landing while the attic door was being locked. Instead, however, of turning to descend the short flight leading direct to the next landing outside the room that was Grandma's and mine, I turned to contemplate three more fanlike steps leading up to the hanging, sloping balcony with the roof sloping over it in a confining sort of way, it was so near. You could walk up there without actually bumping the head if you were a grownup, but the roof would be only an inch or two away, above you. It just looked snug to me. "I like it here too," I said, contemplating that sloping balcony ahead of us to our right. It hung over the airwell and the lower stairs as if defying gravity. It had no visible supports, but of course it must be attached by pegs to the side wall and the walls too of the front and back portions. It just hung there airily. "I don't like the way it hangs without visible support!" said Grandma. "It's kept itself up for the past fifty or so years so it will probably outlast us all," said my father, and to demonstrate his theory he went up the fanlike steps onto the balcony and walked across it to the terrace door. The wooden boards of the balcony creaked and groaned and even squealed a bit. He threw the outer door open onto the back drying-roof and at once a blaze of daylight poured in and lit the balcony's wooden floorboards with blood-red brilliance. "That varnish looks like new!" observed my grandma suspiciously. It certainly seemed both dustless and also highly polished. There'd been dust on the upper stairs as yet and we'd left footprints. But not up there! "Dust settles lower down," said my mother. "It's just too high up to collect dust, that's why." "It's out of reach," I explained. "Now, what do you mean by that?" asked my Grandma, and I could not explain save that I knew that this top balcony overhanging the entire place was "safe". The Attic was as high as the Ghosts could reach. No further could they ascend. "Aren't you coming up?" called my father, now standing outlined by the brilliant daylight at the terrace door - himself just a black shadow like that of a stranger. "There's lots of air up here!" I ran up the fanlike steps and on along the sloping red-varnished boards of the balcony, and emerged with my father together onto the flat roof. Grandma and my mother followed us distrustfully. Grandma came up to me saying, "I wanted to warn you. Don't ever lean against the balustrade of that balcony. It hangs outward a bit and is probably not securely fastened at all. Treat it as you do the stairway's railings all the way up." I said I would. "And don't lean against this parapet either!" cried my mother, studying the brick and cement parapet that enclosed the drying-terrace above the back lane and the cobbled street, and the third side overlooked the outdoor airwell. The fourth side of the flat roof was fenced in here by old upright wooden slats, dividing us from the next door drying-terrace. My father made the same remark he's made earlier about the balcony - "It's kept up for the past fifty or so years so it'll probably outlast us all!" And Grandma added, "The brickwork of this entire row of houses is just as old and shaky, from top to bottom. But now that you `are here - and have signed a contract for a year so you're stuck with it - for Heaven's sake stop fretting, Pansy, and `trust in God' just as you always say. What else can you do, anyway?" I leaned against the parapet and announced, "It doesn't even shake. But the scenery is boring!" I meant, from this terrace one saw lots of godown roofs, factory chimneys, and walls of tenements across the road that were almost as high as our own house. And no trees! As for "curling rooftops", the attic window had framed that view so nicely and I found myself disappointed with this other view. Besides, I couldn't anyway see it well. My mother and grandma were studying the terrace itself, its cemented floor space covering the same area as our bedroom and - of course - the two back rooms lower still. The house was really built in tiers, and we were now standing on the highest tier - this terrace was higher than the rest of the house including the front attic. "We'll make it nice here," said my mother. "I'll give you some money," said my grandma, "and please tell Dah-Shi-Fu to buy a few plants from the next street-hawker who passes by selling blooms. I suggest a dwarf palm - I've always wanted one myself. They add a ring of fronds each year but they never do grow high." "Beulah and the palm can grow up side-by-side," agreed my mother, already visualizing the future. And indeed that dwarf palm we'd acquire and call always "Grandma's palm" grew up with me, and when we moved we took it with us everywhere. And it never grew beyond my own height. It kept me company, and at last - in my teens - it glorified a really nice downstairs courtyard we'd eventually have, in a newly built place we'd rent nearer to Jessfield Park at the other end of town. My father was testing a structure composed of wooden upright and crossbeams overhead. "They must have had a pergola here years ago," he said. No trace of it remained save for the uprights and the crossbeams. My father considered the central beam that was fastened on one side to the roof itself, testing it to see if it was strong. Rusty wires hung from the two crossbeams over head and had no doubt been used long ago for hanging out the washing. Even criminals sometimes change their clothes! "We've some strong rope," said my father. "We can hang a swing from this middle beam. I'll ask Dah-Shi-Fu to hunt up a bit of wood for the seat. Would you like that, Beulah?" "Oh, yes," I cried enthused. Grandma and my mother went over to study the solidity of the structure too, and agreed it seemed "solid enough"; and, they added, "Even if it collapsed, she wouldn't fall far. It's right in the middle, almost." (They didn't think of the pendulum effect I'd learn how to achieve, that permitted me to swing right over the parapet! Regularly!) "It'll keep her form moping in the dark attic," said my father to my Grandma, and they visualized me "safe on the swing" in the open here. "Benjamin," said my Grandma, "I wish Pansy showed as much sense as you do, sometimes." He looked pleased.
There's the scene in Job where God asks Satan: "Whence comest thou?" and Satan answers: "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it." And in the Book of Daniel, this prophet is told: "Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased." (at the last time). In Zachariah it's four chariots that come forth from between two mountains of brass, and they're the four winds of heaven going "to and fro through the earth", by God's command. And, in our haunted Dah-Shin-Fong the ghost walked to and fro, confined to the high Attic, while I swung far higher triumphantly and a little mockingly, to and fro also, flying through the open air under heaven. My speed grew tremendous - the ghost could not match it no matter how it stepped up its own tempo. I scorned thus all the ghosts of Dah-Shin-Fong, under the bright sunlight which I carried within my own sould by night too. And they feared the Light. Not I! I'd visited its source when I was tiny, though no longer could I find my way there. I too was captured meanwhile at Dah-Shin-Fong, with the ghost. Just as my grandfather years earlier had presented his baby Mary to the dragon's effigy in Huchow, in a playful mood (and to transform an angry crowd into a friendly one), my parents had presented me similarly (and with equal ignorance of what they did - but no humor was present now) to the Ghost or Ghosts (Legion dwelt at Dah-Shin-Fong!). There I was, stranded up near the top by night in my lonely back room (once Grandma was gone), with a short flight leading higher across the chasm to the ghost's own domain, the Attic which I never managed to win over for long, despite occasional attempts on my part. But on this side of the icy locked attic door was my bright red balcony with the wide-open door leading to the terrace outside. And my flying chariot awaited me there each day, that wonderful pendulum of a swing. Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum", which I'd years later read, might chill the veins just to visualize it. But `my Pendulum severed and swept away only nasty things like ghosts (at least temporarily). In Crete girls also had their swings, as little images of girls on a swing from Cretan excavations show. Normally speaking, it is wrong of parents to move into a horridly haunted house with their little children. Those who've read James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW may remember such a tale of children presented to two diabolical figures by ignorant parents. But I came already equipped with "the whole armor of God" though no missionary was aware of it and often mistook my freedom of spirit as evidence that I must be demon-possessed. I'd not studied the items of the armor consciously, and only wore the "girdle", which I came to recognize visibly years later. (I dreamed then of a wide golden belt, utterly plain but solid, fastened in front with a clasp that no one could undo but myself. I wore it on a simple white cotton frock flecked with tiny sprigs of lavender - I'd had such a dress when Grandma sent the material from the U.S.A. when I was in my teens. In the dream my feet were clad in white cloth sneakers - I wore no socks. I was walking through the rooms of a large unpleasant building and behind me officious figures kept sneering: "Take off the golden belt. It doesn't go with such a cheap dress." They couldn't touch me as long as I wore that belt. I replied airily, "I like it," and kept on going and left them behind. The next day I looked up the reference - "Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with Truth" goes the text in Ephesians. Or in a Good News translation: "So stand ready: having truth for a belt tight around your waste". It makes you invulnerable! Yes, I desperately loved Reality, Fact, Truth. I demanded clarification of just everything I came across and tried to be as clear in my own thoughts also, and as honest as possible (but this aspect was tricky as I'd gradually have to recognize). But at least with the Ghosts of Dah-Shin-Fong I honestly hated them: There could be no compromise. I wanted them ousted. I wanted the house rendered bright and beautiful. But it could not be done. Not while we dishonestly continued to keep our chapel going, right over those unshriven skeletons we chose not to face or try to have them decently buried at last elsewhere, and the place cleansed. Ghosts have their rights too, and so did those in the Pigs of Legion (given "abut 2000 years") in the Gospel story, as I may one day explain in more detail, when discussing my language studies separately. I had a job to do, ahead in my present life - till today as I approach my 73rd birthday. It was to do God's will. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious. I'll re-phrase it. It was simply to accept God's will and never demand my own way. Never demand anything. Accept. Trust. I was his child from infancy as I always knew. A pity my freedom of spirit thus acquired seemed "diabolical" to many a missionary of my childhood. It hurt me deeply. I could not speak their language, which bordered all too often on the domains of mere cant. And they resented this in me. I would not compromise. My parents sought to do God's will and they were utterly sincere about it; but how timid they were. A fearless follower is needed too by our Source! At Dah-Shin-Fong I learned daring. I dared face the icy dark when I had to do so, alone. For my parents were no protection. They were so fearful themselves, fearful of the very dogmas preached by their peers (who painted God so grim!).
Animals mark out their territories with their own urine. Our word "ammonia" goes back to Egypt's god Ammon (or Amen). Outside his temple in the desert hordes of camels congregated, bringing pilgrims from afar. The sands were drenched with camel's urine. It was collected for the ammonia. Hence the word goes back to those days of the god Ammon. `Who would mark my territory? I sat safe on my bright red balcony in the airy shadow, high above the swirling dust motes of the stairwell lit at three at that bright noon-hour. From the high up open terrace door the light descended vertically, from that lower pane of the courtyard wall more or less two floors high; it spread out horizontally; and lastly from the windows of the downstairs passage-way it filtered forth in a dimmer form. I ruled on high, in full control, aided by all the brilliance, and the Attic Ghost was silent and fearful behind the locked door. I soon had a little friend, several years my junior, a blue-eyed golden-haired child. Her parents lived further in, in one of the houses of our same Lane. They were Latvian refugees and felt themselves a cut above most of the white and Eurasian folk of that same Lane; so they only allowed their little girl to play with me occasionally. Harta Bloom was the child's name. She used to bring her doll with her, golden-haired like herself. I had a beloved doll of papier-mache with a broken (missing) nose, and that's why my mother could get it for me at a discount, for Christmas. I'd asked especially for it, for it looked so sad, flung away on a bargain counter, and I lived it a lot. Harta's parents would later give me a doll like her own, but its porcelain head soon got broken by children of missionaries who came to play occasionally with me. We sat there, she and I, on the blood-red balcony so proudly with our dolls, totally fearless; then, when it wasn't so hot, we went out to take turns with the swing. We were very close friends, sharing as we did our task of being "mothers" to our dolls. Now, it happened that mine was the only swing on all the twenty-odd contiguous flat terraces on top, at the long building's rear. Each terrace was separated from the adjoining one by those rows of ancient upright wooden slats. They'd been painted white years ago but were very weather-worn and easy to break down. Children had done so, and these neighboring hooligans kids had treated the entire row of terraces as a place to run and climb and leap. When my swing appeared, they considered it their swing also, whenever I wasn't visibly anywhere around (the outer door being shut at such times). When Harta was visiting, we swung very decorously. I did not initiate her into the fierce, fast style of swinging I'd learned to achieve. As we took turns there contentedly, some neighborhood children - four little girls - who lived in a house further in, appeared on the roof next to our own and asked very nicely for permission to swing, so we welcomed them. However, when we wanted our turns on the swing they refused to give it up and we began to argue. I insisted we had a right to our turns: they let me know that "might is right" and they now possessed the swing and meant to hold on to it. Exasperated, I shouted: "Go away! It's `my swing!" (My father's Northumberland temper was coming out in me, and I quite forgot my Grandma's persistent training to "turn the other cheek", "give thy cloak also", and so on.) After much shouting back and forth, they produced their final insult, coupled with the threat: "We'll pee on you." I thought this was a physical impossibility and told them so. "Ha, ha!" I derided them. "You can't." The girls thought over their anatomical disadvantages somewhat glumly. I'd spoken the truth. How pee on Harta and myself if we didn't stay put beneath them in the process? Then the biggest girl in an inspired moment cried, "We'll put our pee in bottles and throw it at you!" With great rejoicing they ran off and squeezed through the broken slats in all the fences between their rooftop and ours and vanished from view. Harta and I banished the girls from our thoughts and continued our contemplative slow swinging, turn by turn. Utterly contented, we enjoyed the sunny day and the not-too-"clear breezes", for flecks of soot always drifted in, as well, but one learned not to mind. Suddenly Harta (who had good eyesight) warned me - "They're coming back carrying bottles. And there's something yellow inside. Do you think it's pee? Let's run inside and lock the door!" Me? Turn tail and flee from an approaching enemy? Never! "I'm not afraid," I assured Harta. "Besides, if it looks yellow it's tea not pee in their bottles." "How do you know?" "Because you can't pee in bottles. The bottle's mouth is too tiny, so you have to use a pot. And pots are not easy to pour out of so they couldn't." Harta had to agree, and felt braver thanks to my confidence. "You're sure it's tea?" she asked me nonetheless. "Of course. They must have asked it from their mothers." The three bigger girls - and a fourth tiny girl who also carried a tiny bottle, but peeless (one presumes she'd not managed the necessary feat though she may have tried and a drop did seem to lie at the bottom) - now stood on the other side of the slats between our terrace and the one of No. 2. "Let's go near to look," said Harta. We approached warily until we were right on the other side of the fence and the girls lifted their bottle to display the full yellow contents. The little girl lifted her almost empty bottle hopefully too - we were supposed to admire - but the older girls patted her aside, not wishing such a "failure to fill a bottle" to catch our eyes. I studied the bottles up closer now, and - though still blurry enough to my eyes - the sun made the bottles flash with light and the yellow liquid shone with interesting reflections. Was tea or pee? By an act of faith I'd turn bottled pee into harmless tea. Or at least Harta believed it possible. What I said was always true. She had total faith in my integrity. I studied the bottles intently. Simultaneously, my faith increased in the "goodness of all humanity" including these girls. They seemed so friendly, displaying their offerings thus. They were obviously going to perpetrate a harmless joke on us both. `Tea was in the bottles; they'd asked it from their mothers. They were nice girls. Obviously they'd never do such a nasty thing as they were threatening - to throw pee on us instead. At worst, a bit of tea would do us no harm. "It's tea!" I announced aloud, determined to believe still in their good will. "It's pee!" they shouted, deeply offended. (They did not lie. They `said "pee" and it `was "pee"!) My truth was now in conflict with theirs. "Impossible," said I. "Possible." "How did you get it in the bottles without spilling some?" Harta meanwhile pointed to the littlest girl and said to me "Her shoes are splashed!" (The poor tiny child had not managed to get much liquid into the bottle when she made the attempt.) Our "enemies" were growing annoyed. This revelation embarrassed them and should not have been pointed out. "We'll show you how we did it!" they offered, ready to defend their truth against mine, and prove it too. The situation was getting out of hand. How would I deal with it if the four of them suddenly squatted and showed how one could focus one's urine into bottles with such narrow mouths? It would be undignified. I'd be embarrassed for their sakes and for Harta's, for she was so young and trusting she'd be shocked. "No, no!" I cried. They in turn were offended because I not only did not take their word for it but refused to let them demonstrate their truth. "But - " I went on. "I don't believe you. I'm sure it's tea." I kept clinging to the tatters of my faith. I wanted them to see I'd caught the joke. By faith I was certain they were joking for they'd seemed real nice girls even if we had just had a little fight. "It's pee!" they shouted triumphantly, prepared to provide the necessary evidence anyway. "And we're throwing it at you right now!" Before we could step back, they did just that. Like a well-trained little army that fires when the leader shouts the command, the bottle were presented with the mouths focussed in our direction and - swish - there arced three streams (plus a little added splash) right onto our light dresses and onto our white socks (in Harta's case) and stocking (in mine), and our shoes. We were drenched. The four of them shouted with laughter and turned and ran and vanished with their empty bottles down the row of terraces, their ammunition spent. Living by faith is tricky sometimes, even for a Faith missionary's daughter. Harta looked up inquiringly at me. I must render a verdict and she'd accept it trustingly, as I knew. Was it tea or pee? We smelled our skirts to make certain. "It's pee," we had to agree, sorrowfully. I should have gone down a notch or two in Harta's esteem. But she was that loyal, she went right on trusting me. "Our mamas will be angry," she said sadly. "What shall we do? We need to change our dresses." "Yes," I agreed. "And our mamas will say: `How did you get all that pee on your dresses?' And if we say, `Some girls put pee in bottles and threw it at us', will our mamas believe us?" (We hardly believed it ourselves!) Harta looked dubious. "What can we do?" "First we start drying ourselves out like washing in the sun. Then we'll decide." So we stood side-by-side presenting our faces and dresses' fronts and stockings and shoes to the afternoon sun, aiming at it the liquid on our outspread skirts. We stood there poised like a pair of frozen ballet-dancers trustingly. The smiling sunshine went to work at once and soon we were dry. "What do we do now?" asked Harta. "We still smell awful." I hesitated, uncertain of what to say. But right then a nearby chimney sent up a merciful shower of cinders like a "Blessing from the Lord", (and there is a hymn requesting "Showers of Blessing"). The soot soon covered us just as it already covered my mother's new flowering plants in their wooden packing-crates on the terrace. We were now nicely camoflaged. When our mothers would ask: "How did you get so dirty?" we need not lie. We would answer, "A chimney suddenly smoked." And when they scolded, "You should have run indoors immediately", we could honestly answer, "We didn't notice it in time." (We hadn't realized it was bottled pee in time to escape.) My longing to practice total honesty was being thwarted by my inability to talk sense to grownups, who always misunderstood everything. So let them misunderstand! Soon after that, a missionary family came visiting us and sent up their little boy with Harta and me to play on the swing, while the grown-ups sat around the oval dining table below and talked or prayed or argued, or whatever they did. I hoped for my father's sake the Attic Ghost would not start walking right over their heads to embarrass my poor parents. The visitors would then start issuing instructions on "how to exorcize ghosts" and when night fell my parents would get it in the neck. Their bed would start levitating and they hated it. (Mine never did, but then I had another way of "resisting evil", simply by loathing and scorning and ignoring its presence when possible. Not concentrating on fearing it or trying to exorcize it by some approach suggested by visitors, or even thought up on one's own.) The boy swaggered up to the swing and took it over. After a while, I announced "Now it's our turn. It's Harta's turn next." He'd been studying us with scorn. "You're just girls" he informed us as if we didn't know. "Anyway!" "Try to take it from me," he challenged but we knew that if we tried wrestling he'd win. He'd like it. We would not. I got angry. "Get off - it's my swing!" "It's mine while I want it." I wanted to fight with him physically, I was so angry - tear his hair, twist it also. But Grandma before she sailed away so recently hah had several years of bringing me up so conditioned I was unable to practice physical violence any more. Anyway, I was so angry I was shouting at him, "It's `my swing, it's `my swing!" (forgetting Grandma's instructions to "give thy cloak also" when they take away your coat). He got angry. He leaped up. Harta was about to grab the swing when we saw what he planned to do. He was going to pee on us. He had already pulled out his "puppy dog's tail" (as Grandma called it, when quoting that poem: "What are little boys made of?" and the answer is "Toads and snails and puppy-dogs' tails"). We recognized he didn't need a bottle to transfer his urine onto our garments. We screamed and fled all the way down to my high bedroom and slammed the door. Cowering behind it, we whispered together, "Will he try to push in?" "Will he `do it' even here, on us?" "We'd better lock this door!" said Harta "I'm not allowed to!" (though the key was on the inside in its lock). "What shall we do?" "We'll push the door shut and lean on it together when he tries to push in," I replied. After waiting a while, our curiosity got the better of us and we opened the door a crack and spied out. Soon we saw him descending from the upper landing past the attic door. He was properly buttoned up again but he was coming down slowly and looked forlorn. We screamed and slammed our door shut and leaned against it; but he made no attempt to push in. He merely went on down to the living-room to interrupt an exorcism just started by his parents and mine. In a loud voice he complained that we wouldn't let him "use the swing"! We listened now from above, the door ajar. We were indignant. Giving up the attempt at exorcism right then, the grownups got back to their feet, getting up from their knees, and the boy's father said to my father, "What a notoriously unsociable child your daughter is!" "I'll punish her," promised my father. "A good spanking would help." "Yes!" agreed my father, shouting up at me to "come down at once". Harta and I arrived hand-in-hand, for she wasn't going to abandon me in my trouble. She clung to me loyally. "You can go home now, Harta!" said my mother. "My mama told me I'm to stay here till she fetches me," said Harta stoutly. (This was the truth.) "Then stay!" said my father ungraciously. "But we're angry with you, Beulah. If you won't loan your swing to everybody I'll have it taken down." The little boy smirked. He'd had his revenge. "I'll be good next time!" I promised, anxious not to lose my swing. "Say `sorry' to the little boy." "I glared at him. "Sorry," I said grimly, simply to keep my swing. "Forgive her!" his mother prompted him then. "No," he said, which left her in turn at a loss. They took their leave and went away.
What a lot of missionaries used to come visiting when we first moved to Dah-Shin-Fong. They were curious to see how we were managing. And, by daylight, even if the Attic Ghost began to walk above their heads, it wasn't terrifying, just pleasantly titillating, really - an adventure from which they could safely escape before the night set in. Everybody agreed we'd been "crazy" to rent such a haunted place. And they all wanted to find out how we were managing, since we hadn't escaped hastily, defeated. Had we come to terms with the ghosts? We obviously had not exorcized them. But they never remained past the hour of tea, which we always served them though we never had tea when on our own. (Just an early Chinese-style supper, as usual, then "Early to bed", around 9 p.m.) No busses or trams passed our place, though half-a-block further up our cobbled street a railroad line lay, and trains between nearby Kiangwan and Woosung circulated daily. Once, we went to visit acquaintances at Woosung who had a spyglass and loaned it to me to peer through at a passing steamer that looked so tiny and blurry afar on the yellow wide river's mouth. The shock to see it looming nearby so suddenly and clearly, I didn't like it at all. It seemed downright spooky to me. On another occasion we took the train in the opposite direction to Kiangwan where my mother had friends she thought it would be "nice to visit" and I'd "get some fresh air". A rich Chinese woman had converted to Christianity and donated a huge property there to some missionaries who were of a higher echelon than my parents. Such a Chinese woman would never have selected my parents for such a donation. My father would only have told her to give `all her money to the poor as we now did and learn to walk by faith. She still kept a lot of wealth back for herself, and it wasn't "the poor" she was attending, but the more cultured type of Chinese, with the aid of these lady missionaries, my mother's friends, who'd do the running of the new establishment. She'd been very enthusiastic: in this huge old edifice with its spacious grounds, there'd be a Woman's Bible Academy. Not content with that, she'd tried to bring order to the abandoned garden; but the grass grew faster than any lawn-mower could cope with it, so it remained knee-high with noxious-looking weeds, outracing her ministrations. The rank weeds grew everywhere and old hedges stuck their `arms' out in all directions; while here and there towered some ancient tree about to hurl its branches (and its trunk as well) at passersby in any storm. I never saw a place more abandoned. In her eagerness to provide her students with "Prayerful Pathways" as she called them, she'd created gravel walks between the weeds, that led down to a large rectangular pond she'd had dug "for water-lilies". Water-weeds and algae, however, maintained their right to the place. The resulting earth had been piled up high nearby and looked like some huge ancestral gravemound, many meters high, with steps up to the top. Probably there were real gravemounds under the heap which could not be safely removed without triggering Buddhist curses. At any rate, the added earth disguised the burial mounds, and the hillock was now topped with a fancy little shrine or summer-house, open on its sides to non-existent breezes where hordes of mosquitos found shelter. My parents sat around indoors discussing ghostly problems with their hostesses, for this was a haunted old mansion as well. The pupils, girls in their late teens, took me for a walk while we chatted away in Chinese. The teenaged girls and I seemed to have a lot in common. They told me funny stories about the teachers and how scared they were of the ghosts. I laughed and told that we had a "Walker" in our attic that made a nuisance of itself and frightened my parents too. "And you?" I shrugged. "What can one do? I snub it." "That's what we do with the ghost here. It prowls about the upper verandas with the old screens that let in the mosquitos. But we pretend it's not there and it gets annoyed and goes away." We walked down the prayerful pathways and I asked them how they liked their studies. "Bible lessons are boring!" they confessed. "My Grandma knew how to make them interesting, but she's gone back to America," I said. "When we're very bored," they went on, "we take our Bibles so they let us go there and we climb up to the prayer-house on top of this big mound so we can chat, with nobody near. Nobody but the ghosts, of course! But `they don't mind and don't bother us there." We felt very brave, nonetheless, as we climbed the cement steps leading up to the Prayer-House and stood slapping at the mosquitos and studying the ugly scum coating the rectangular "lily-pond" below; and we wondered about the dead members of the ancient family who used to live in this place and whose bones now lay beneath our feet. "They don't like white folk but they won't mind you," they told me. "You're almost a Chinese, aren't you?" I happily agreed. "Do your parents try to pray away your ghosts?" "Yes, all the time." "Do they manage it?" "Not yet." "They've not managed it here either. They think we don't know. We pretend we don't know there's a ghost." "How can one make the ghosts go away?" "You have to give them a good reason, like proving you've more right to the place than they. Some people use firecrackers to frighten them away, but Christians don't, of course." We agreed: "All you can do is ignore them!" And we added, "What else can you do?" And we left it at that. But ghosts aren't always so easy to ignore, and when the sun was covered by looming clouds, the ghosts were better of than we were. And that was a particularly grey day.
I shan't attempt to describe every soul who entered out Dah-Shin-Fong premises, but will evoke now a typical pair with their children, out for an adventure, who have decided to drop in on us unexpectedly. I'll call the man Wilbur and his wife Freda, though I'm not selecting any one particular couple now to describe. We might follow them in from the safer International Settlement, where the artery of Szechuen road runs all the way from Soochow Creek to Hongkew Park. There are no trams or busses where we are, and the family has decided to walk, not to take rickshaws. They stroll down Darroch Road between the weed-grown gardens and the European-style houses in such an advanced state of decay. The trees are so dried out they scarcely acquire new foliage even in Spring. Long ago, Darroch Road must have been beautiful and green and inhabited by an elder class of Shanghai's white community...forever coming and going, in their spanking carriages with well-groomed Chinese servants eager to satisfy their every whim. But they were gone now and not even their ghosts lingered. They'd gone in search of "home", back to their starting-points in foreign lands; but had no graves there where they might rightly linger longer. But their shattered "selves" had left a mark upon this present mournful site, and brushed lightly against the spirits of Freda and Wilbur and their children, reminding them: "Your Shanghai will vanish too as did ours, and a new China will make you unwelcome." Our visitors walked on and came to the sandbags and barbed wire barriers now standing open as yet, where Darroch Road was replaced by cobbled "Off-Darroch Road" that went winding off in a big curve then straightened to plunge towards deeper Chinatown beyond the railway track. But Dah-Shin-Fong itself was located half-a-block before you reached the track. They entered now a region that stank of oldness and decay. Back when Darroch Road had been a nice place of summer residences, with the country-side around and only a few disgruntled Chinese ghosts still roaming - evicted from their properly-placed tombs that had obeyed the laws of Feng-Shui (or Wind-Water's geomantic influences), the Chinese had learned that to cluster close to where foreigners lived meant security, if they were the well-off type. And so, around those fine new foreigners' houses on Darroch Road, went up homes like our Dah-Shin-Fong, raised by some practical as well as wealthy Chinese family. They'd added on the attached matching houses within the fortress-like enclosure, to be rented to medium-well-off, good Chinese families, so there'd always be a bit of extra income coming in. But the years had passed and more and more of the newer, cheaper tenments went up on every hand, as the Chinese flocked as close to the international settlement as could be managed. And yet more years passed away and the tenements became pitifully neglected and tumbling down, and nobody of any importance wanted to live any longer at "nice" places like Dah-Shin-Fong. The whole region became decayed, and white folk and wealthy Chinese moved away across the city to live closer to the newer Jessfield Park, and the Japanese began casting their eyes upon the older Hongkew Park district. But in the 1920's as yet, we didn't realize there would be a Sino-Japanese conflict in the 1930's, so grave that the white folks caught in China would end up in Concentration Camps, as many of my friends did. Freda and Wilbur and their train of children (perhaps four) kept on bravely, though the cobbles twist their unaccustomed feet and ankles repeatedly. "Are we ever going to reach the place?" sighed Freda. "We're nearly there. There's the railway crossing!" A smoking engine was approaching, hooting warningly. The family paused to watch it appear - it came from their left and couldn't be seen yet because of all the buildings. Meanwhile, the guard at the level-crossing was having his usual hysterics as he tried to order all the street children away. But they clung onto the wooden gate that shut of the railway line while leaving the street open for traffic. After his usual ineffective struggle he could delay no longer. They all clung tight and he had to pull the gate open to the train, while they had a free ride on the gate, laughing at him. The train rushed by - he was no longer in a hurry. He furiously tried to attack the children with his fists but now they all ran away. He closed the gate to the railway line again forlornly. Traffic resumed in its noisy tangles of carts and trucks and rickshaws and even wheelbarrows. "Such wild street children!" said Freda. "I wonder if Beulah is among them." "I think not," said Wilbur. "But you never know. She could grow up like just another street Arab in these surroundings. Now, here we are: here's the address, to our right." Our visitors halted and studied the entrance to our Dah-Shin-Fong lane.
The time is "now". We are back at that instant when Wilbur and Freda came for a day's outing and to help exorcize ghosts. Wilbur looks up at the imposing entrance to the lane. On the lofty archway a large and weather-worn wooden signboard is visible. It was once lettered with huge gilt characters which time at the newly increasing industrial smog have nearly erased. The gilt is gone, but the huge characters were originally deeply embossed and the outlines permit Wilbur to distinguish the following:
(I've given here the modern Pinyin spellings, but you must read this label backwards in the old-fashioned way.) I, however, always remembered the place as "Dah-Shing-Fong", but `shing' has to be incorrect. `Shin' or `xin' stands for "new", and `da' for "big". In Grandma's letters to me years later, she used to spell that `shin' as `shing', I don't know why. The family stares up at the legend, waiting for Wilbur to speak. Freda reads Chinese better than he does but she must not seek to excel or put her Lord and Master to embarrassment, so she says not a word. Her sharp-eyed children watch her knowing she's secretly amused. She must never show any sign of disrespect towards the Head of the House. She waits for him to decipher the legend and make his inevitable joke. He makes it! "Big new houses? They look a hundred years old." "They probably are," she agrees. "The entire region is full of these tumbling-down places. Why didn't that Benjamin Surtees rent a hovel right in the Beggar's Town while about it? It's quite nearby. There are lots of souls to save there!" "This is bad enough," Freda replies. They enter the Lane through the wide-open entrance. The towering double gates of heavy old wood are ajar. The sentry in his box, inside, watches them unobserved. He chuckles. Between all the missionaries forever arriving he feels that the ghosts should be soon exorcized. Buddhist priests had never managed it, and no Catholic priests could be persuaded to do the task. They had ghosts of their own to keep at bay. But all these Jesu-jiao missionaries might accomplish it, and then the house next door could be rented again and this first fine house could have its rental put up properly. He waited to pass on the good news to the distant owners. To the right of the visitors now rises a towering, solid outer wall of masonry topped by jagged glass splinters encrusted with soot and dust. To the left rises the long building itself - the row of attached houses stretches far down the Lane and at the inner end a few small children are playing ball in the Lane's ending. They look very tiny and remote. Each house has its individual door-stoop and small entrance alcove. There's a window to each front room opening over the lane, but it's a bit high for anybody who might want to take a peek unofficially. On the next floor one sees two front windows - "That'll be the family room they divided into three," says Wilbur. "And above it? One scarcely sees the attic's window, but you can see all the other dormer windows just like it, thrusting forth from the grey roof all the way down the lane. That's where the ghost is said to lurk." "Will we get to see the ghost, papa?" "No dears, there's no ghost, that's just a rumor. Now: here's another signboard, put up by Benjamin Surtees himself over his chapel entrance. He's turned the downstairs room into a chapel, you know." Wilbur begins reading the sign, then laughs: "`All People's Christian Mission', in three languages, no less! English, Chinese, and even Russian! He goes in for rescuing Russian bums these days. He picks them up out of gutters, brings them here and delouses and bathes them in the family bathtub and he even baptizes them there." The children giggle appreciatively. "What else can he do?" ask Freda keeping the laughter out of her voice. "The W-trio refuse to lend their baptismal pool for `mere Russian bums'. Afraid of the lice, maybe. Or worse sicknesses..." "I doubt such bathtub-baptisms are valid," mutters Wilbur. They still stand right outside the chapel's entrance, beneath the sign. They are speaking in low voices, not to be heard in case someone is at a window upstairs, or even just behind the still closed front door. They are enjoying themselves, getting up courage to enter this ghost-ridden place. A spirit of scorn helps. "Shall we ring the doorbell?" ask the impatient children. "No! We'll just walk in - that's what we'll do! The door is never locked as Benjamin himself always boasts." "I wonder whether there are any Russians inside," Freda says hesitantly. "They can't hurt you," says Wilbur, pushing the door in. It wasn't tightly closed and swings open at once. "He's supposed to be a missionary to the Chinese," Wilbur grunts. "Let others help the Russians, I say. That shouldn't be his task. Besides, in this hovel of a place, what can he do? They're flooding into Shanghai by the hundreds." "I've heard he's sold his stone house in West China lately and is using the proceeds to rent three or more of these old tenements across, to house a few dozens of them at least, right now." "Yes! What a way to employ his savings!" Wilbur disapproves. And he and his wife and child, meanwhile, live in utter misery here still." But they both feel uneasy. "Sell all and give to the poor," Jesus once told a rich young man and this is not easy to forget. Benjamin and Patsy Surtees had done just that." "That poor little girl of theirs," says Freda, "so unprotected from all the rabble that must enter here all the time." "They say they `trust Jesus' to take care of her." Both Freda and Wilbur are now whispering. There's something about the place already that makes their flesh quiver and crawl. An animal fear... "It's quiet, like in a cemetery," whispers Freda. "And there `are the buried dead right beneath our feet, as the rumors go!" Just then a body leaps up... they'd not noticed it. It had looked like a heap of old rags, but it proves to be a Russian drunk sleeping off his vodka. He raises himself, sitting, and screams out a string of Russian curses, then groans and falls back on the floor and snores on. "My Gosh, I had a fright." says Freda. "The General Resurrection?" Wilbur teases her, for they'd both momentarily thought of how the dead will one day rise suddenly, including the skeletons under this chapel's floor. And how startling if a service is going on right then! "Oh, that poor child!" she says again. "It's a wonder she doesn't get raped." "Hush, Freda. Our children are listening. You mustn't get so worked up. I wonder where the family can be?" He gazes all about him. The backless benches are standing askew. The box of a pulpit looks coffinlike, but not so fancy as coffins tend to be. And it's smaller, of course. A child's coffin... "What a place," sighs Freda. "There's an iciness in the air. And those burials under the floor! In British cathedrals you walk over the dead wherever you stroll. Burials everywhere, but it's different." "Hush, Freda. The children are getting nervous. I'm sure I'd never rent such a place in which to bring up our children." "Thank God we don't have to, Wilbur. `We are Board missionaries." "Benjamin got sacked by his Mission Board when he turned a little crazy in West China." "Hush, Wilbur. I've a feeling somebody's at our backs." The husband steps back to look out of the open entrance door apprehensively and reassures her. "No one's there. Children! Ring that front door bell good and hard so someone attends. The children obey. Dah-Shi-Fu immediately emerges from a door at the rear beyond which is a brightish passageway. "Are the family at home?" inquires Wilbur. He speaks correct Mandarin Chinese for he never did manage to pronounce the harsh Shanghai dialect. "The Master and the Lady are out giving out tracts," says Dah-Shi-Fu. "The postman brought a new lot just this morning. The young missy is upstairs. Shall I call her? Would you like to go upstairs to wait?" Dah-Shi-Fu is very poised. No English butler could display more natural dignity. He's a real member of our family, of course, not servile at all but cooperating in his tasks even as we cooperate in ours. The visitors hesitate. Ghost-exorcising is fun... but "not today perhaps". Not with the Surtees couple absent. The ghosts mightn't like having outsiders trying to interfere or tackle them behind the backs of the lawful residents whose business it happens to be momentarily. The children decide the matter. "She's boring! All she has is that stupid swing. No other toys. We don't want to play with her. Let's go away!" The drunk again awakens with a snort and this time his bleary eyes fasten upon the visitors and he greets them in an unfriendly manner. "Chort-tee-sabaka," he roars. Freda and the children hastily retreat back to the Lane. Wilbur stands his ground and hands to Dah-Shi-Fu his card, printed in both English and Chinese, and hurries after his escaping family. "We'll come back another day!" Wilbur informs Dah-Shi-Fu over his shoulder. Off they go, shaking the dust off their feet and escaping, our galloping ghosties right at their heels. Dah-Shi-Fu studies the card in his hand scornfully. He reads the Chinese on it easily for Mrs. Shu (Pansy Surtees) is teaching him daily at Chinese worship to read. She also wants his mother to learn but the old woman insists her eyes are too dim to see the characters clearly. But she listens happily. Dah-Shi-Fu crosses to the door to watch the retreating backs of the vanishing missionaries. The watchman is out studying them too. They exchange comprehensive glances but no words. Both agree: "Silly-looking folk!" is the unvoiced opinion. A peanut-vendor approaches the Lane's gates and shouts `Wassa-me! temptingly. The watchman prepares to chase him away with his cudgel, but the vendor enticingly hands him a little "spill" of freshly-toasted peanuts which the watchman accepts with a rare smile and signals him to penetrate into the long lane. Deep within are some children still playing. They may buy some peanuts from him. He clicks his pair of hollow-bamboo sticks and calls again enticingly, `Wassa-me! (`Hua-sheng-mi, actually.) Dah-Shi-Fu rejects temptation. He knows that home-roasted peanuts are best and freshest of all. He regularly buys a basket-full at a market not far away and he gets it cheap. He then toasts the peanuts in a shallow iron scoop over burning hay in the old Chinese stove, built of brick, when there's a free moment. Finally, he grinds them for peanut butter, another staple of the family. He can eat all the peanuts he wishes. Food is not grudged in the Surtees home. But one must not waste. The Lady - the Mistress Shu - has warned him "Waste is a sin against God". He agrees as any Chinese would heartily agree. Only the White Man is wasteful naturally. And thus another day slips by and it's a pleasant day for Dah-Shi-Fu and his old mother, working non-stop from dawn till late at night, rejoicing because we love them and they love us and they have the important task to watch over me and protect me from danger. No stranger can try to climb our stairs. No beggar can pass the chapel's rear door or enter the bright passageway, for Dah-Shi-Fu will send him packing back to the chapel where alone the bums may congregate. If they need the bathroom there's an empty lot near the railway track. And so I am safe, and our wonderful Chinese retainers are my personal protectors all the years we lived at Dah-Shing-Fong. They and the Angels and Yasu too when he has time! And of course Grandpa's dragon, possibly.
We were entertaining our ghosts. They'd never run into anything like us. Even when they managed to find some excuse permitting them to levitate my parents' big double bed, perhaps by using invisible ropes let down through an invisible hole in the attic floor, the results were quite entertaining. Take Pansy's reaction. Perhaps she had a gift of telekinesis: my own children showed signs of it when they were small, and it may run on our side of the family. Be that as it may, after a heavy day of Christian service, Pansy always fell into bed quite exhausted. She began to dream her favorite dream: she was crossing the Pacific on a wonderful Japanese Maru. She was asleep in her bunk, and the boat was rocking delightfully, to a tune such as "Rocked in the cradle of the Deep, I lay me down in peace to sleep". She tried to awake when she heard a cry of alarm. Was it Simon Peter crying "I'm sinking!" as he did on one occasion when walking - or trying to walk - on the stormy waves of the Lake of Galilee? "Pansy, wake up!" the voice continued to cry, "We're sinking!" No, that wasn't it - "We're rocking!" That's what the voice said. But of course, ships did rock when on the ocean. She tried to sink deeper into her delightful dream. Now the voice was crying: "We're floating!" Well, yes! If a boat didn't float, it sank. All was well, still! But the voice was so persistent, and hands were shaking her by her shoulders. Most reluctantly she opened her eyes. "What's wrong?" she inquired sleepily, remembering where she was and who the person was beside her. "The devil is back! We're high up near the ceiling." She sat up. "No, don't try to get out of bed yet, you might break a leg." said Benjamin. The bed floated enticingly. Pansy longed to fall back to sleep, but remembered that "The Fight Was On", and her adrenal glands awoke and sent a surge of fury through her body. She knew her task: she must tell the ghost or demon to "Begone, in Jesus' Name". So she said it, over and over. Most unkindly, the bed crashed to the floor, on all four legs at once. A jig started up overhead instead. All the ghosts were dancing, having a good time. That had been a great joke achieved thanks to the telekinetic powers they'd channeled out of their sleeping victim. Unable to sleep with all the racket right overhead, my parents climbed out on their knees to pray, and thus they logged another few hours in this position till morning broke. My father found it icily frightening. My mother burned with fiery rage. In that, they differed, but they both felt it very frustrating the way the ghosts paid so little attention to their prayers. I too had my disturbances, when knockings on the window-panes from the outside woke me up. My solution, in my routine of "snubbing the ghosts", was to wiggle down to the foot of my bed under the top sheet and blankets, and fall asleep there in my nice cocoon, quite out of reach and hearing. Waking before dawn each morning, when the factory whistles began to blow and the ghosts fled back to their attic, I'd emerge and lie listening to thousands of weary footsteps below me. A river of human flesh was flowing by beneath my high window; women, children, babes in arms, all on their way to their factories. And I felt so bad about it... those poor tired folk! While I slept in clean white sheets, which they spun at those factories, they worked all day for a mere pittance that scarcely fed them and their little ones, even though their coolie husbands labored as mightily carrying burdens all over town. Pushing carts, pulling rickshaws, transporting heavy loads all day long! I belonged down there with that river of human flesh, not high up here so safe in my clean white bed among the ghosts who couldn't touch me. Grandma had not yet left for the U.S.A and was still sharing with me that high back bedroom, when a little Chinese girl died right below our street window. She was undoubtedly a member of some well-off family, but they didn't want her to die in their own fine home afar for fear her ghost would return to haunt the place. So they'd rented just one downstairs room across from us, in the ramshackle tenement that cut off out view of any scenery. But the road was wide, so light came through to us anyway all day long. Surely the dying child needed privacy. But her family kept the door onto the street wide open all the time, day and night. The dirty panes of a window down there were always closed. Grandma could see the dying girl's bed and spoke to me of how she looked, imagining I saw it as well as did she, and merely needed to have things pointed out - for I seemed curiously `stupid' in recognizing details afar. Buddhist priests came and went; they rang their little bells and chanted their prayers for the dying and to dispel all the fiends. Firecrackers were exploded for the same purpose, and all the relatives clustered around and howled and wept aloud day and night, by turns. Grandma and I spent a lot of time watching from on high, as the scenes continued, right across but far below us. "They think she'll stay around here when she dies!" Grandma explained. "They don't know about Heaven and Hell, which is why we've come to tell the Chinese about it - not `these folk, for they wouldn't listen - you can see they're fanatical Buddhists - but all the Chinese possible." "Don't the Buddhists have Heavens and Hells too, Grandma?" "Well, yes, but it's different. They don't know that Hell is eternal. They believe in Reincarnation - the dead return to inhabit new bodies." "But that's nice, Grandma." "The `bad dead come back to be `pigs!" she jeered. "Is that nice?" "I don't know, Grandma." I had no recollection of ever having been a pig. I knew Christians insisted that Hell was "Eternal", not just lasting "this Age and the next", a phrase you also found in the Bible regarding how long an unpardonable sin must remain "unpardonable". But right then my concern was not for "all the Chinese bound for Eternal Hell" - though it tended to worry me. I was concerned over the fate of this one little girl I would never get to meet, dying right below across the street from me, and I couldn't help her. I knew no way, though Grandma suggested we pray for her salvation. But she wasn't optimistic, as I could see. Meanwhile, all the surrounding residents of Dah-Shin-Fong and the other tenements grew subdued, and the street children shouted less when at play, and hung around waiting. Death would soon intervene and force Life to continue as usual unconcernedly, all of us urgently forgetting this one little child gathered by the Dead. We were all in awe of the incomprehensible. That delicately-bred child was now being abandoned to the raw and evil demons haunting Off-Darroch Road, where so many "lost souls still in the flesh" aimlessly wandered. They crept through the empty tenement rooms by night in rabbit-warrens of rooms throughout the tumble-down structures across from us - there were rows and rows of such tenements reaching deep into the huge city block, and narrow alleyways led into those tenements not bordering the road. The better buildings my father had rented for his Russians, but other edifices were in ruins and there were endless abandoned corners within such structures, inhabited only by rats and cockroaches, and by beggars and ghosts. And yet there were certainly distant owners who employed night watchmen to prowl through those uncountable empty rooms in search of migrants, who might be cowering there for a night, having entered via some broken window. The prowling watchmen's lights could be seen from where we were, high up across, as they progressed from room to room and the lights moved with them. But the lurking homeless folk were prepared to outwit the watchmen always, in this nightly hide-and-seek game that could be deadly sometimes. The girl we were watching lingered on. Her relatives were wearying of the endless waiting. Their voices sounded bored and annoyed as they continued their death-chants for her sake. The Buddhist priests still came and went without emotion and the bell-ringing and the candles and the chants brightened the dark scene for us all. "What happens when she dies, Grandma?" I asked. "Oh, God grant that her unsaved soul might anyway reach Heaven!" Grandma sighed. We were both consumed by helpless pity. All our prayers were of no avail for she'd die a Buddhist, as she'd been one all her life. How terrible, this message brought to China by the cocksure white missionaries and even the foreign businessmen who simply didn't care as to the fate of all the Chinese. "Oh, if she only knew Jesus!" Grandma almost wept. "But Grandma -" I wanted to argue. "It isn't fair - she had no chance." "I trust that'll be taken into account." Then she recited a hymn we never sang but it was in our big hymnbook in English. She quoted it softly: "For the love of God is greater than the measures of man's mind, And the heart of the Eternal is most infinitely kind. We make his love too by false measures of our own, And we magnify his strictness with a zeal he would not own." As I'd learn years later, this poem was written by a Catholic priest. They believe in Purgatory, which I would come to think of as another way of speaking of Reincarnation, till I was furiously warned not to see it that way by yet other Catholic priests I met when we lived in Latin America and I was a grownup and a Catholic convert. I could not accept that that poor child had been born "destined to be lost". Back at the Mission on Szechuen Road when we lived there, more than one missionary - the type who detested my father - warned my parents I looked like the type "born destined to be lost", too, and I always thought it unfair. God shouldn't create anybody destined for eternal torture. Having all foreknowledge, he should avoid it as I'd have done in his place. "Will she be saved, Grandma?" I kept insisting. "I hope so." "But she's not `born again', Grandma." All my parents' friends were Born-agains, or "Bornagens" as I thought of them. "I hope so, anyway," said Grandma. "Though I recognize that she's a rank heathen like them all." I wanted to cry and winked back bitter tears. "Jesus said he loved children, Grandma. Why should he send her to hell when she doesn't even know about him?" "I do wonder!" poor Grandma sighed; but, being a "proper Fundamentalist" - at least she tried to be - she dared not express openly her doubt or rejection of such a misinterpretation of what Jesus had tried to explain so long ago. Dogmas were dogmas: you must not question them but accept. "Blindly obey!" - The blind leading the blind. One gusty midnight when we'd fallen asleep, we were suddenly awakened by the most awful noises. We jumped up and hurried to the window, throwing it open so we could lean out to see. "She's died at last!" said Grandma. The she did a thing only "sinful Catholics" do. She prayed for the dead child's soul. Protestants mustn't. She whispered, "God grant she went to Heaven", knowing full well it wasn't possible. For it suited most missionaries and their supporters back home to visualize "multitudes tumbling into destruction" unless the missionaries rushed around saving them desperately. Those who died still unsaved were "lost". Lost forever... I had nothing to say. We leaned out together and the hanging lights far below us above the street tossed on a rising wind that shook them mercilessly. Below, at the dead girl's open door, tall red candles flickered in the gusts but kept on burning stubbornly. Drums and cymbals and human howls combined deafeningly, rising in crescendo. My thoughts were with the little girl. I visualized her frightened ghost floating somewhere before me in the whirling red night with the stars invisible above us. Could I but invite her in! But better not to do so, for we had such awful ghosts ourselves here already that would only swallow her. Let her escape and "may Yasu be with her", I prayed silently, daringly, defying the edict of all the Bornagens who condemned me too already. She `must escape from this place! For here we hovered over the very entrance to the Abyss (below our airwell and our stairwell). Here we were on the wrong side of the Awful Gulf fixed between Hell and Heaven, and nobody could exorcize such "vortex-type" fiends as dwelt here. You could only ignore them and thus keep them at bay. Never traffic with them. Never try to reprove them. Even St. Michael when battling the demon had said only "May God reprove thee". No "railing words" had he uttered himself, as I recalled we'd read once at family worship. I knew then - and I know it now - if such a lost child were consigned to Hell, it would be my obligation to seek her out there. And I told God so.
In that house of Dah-Shin-Fong where our ghosts dwelt secure in the No-Time area from which my mother found no way to expel them, things happened for me frequently in that same No-Time at the edge of which I seemed to be captured too. In some of my memories I'm not yet seven and grandma is still with us. In other memories I must be seven at least and grandma has sailed away to America. I cannot tell such stories chronologically. My memory places them equidistant from today's Now. In the story I wanted to tell now, my parents' worry over my "unsaved" status had increased because I'd become such a mysterious little child, no longer as forthright as formerly. There was so much I must face alone and which could not possibly be discussed with anybody I'd yet met, save - of course - occasional Chinese friends, but I had so few lately. The Chinese on the whole stayed away from mingling with the throngs of Russian refugees, Eurasians, and other nondescript whites filling the more inhabitable tenements and ,in cases where they could afford it, such "nicer" places as the houses of our Dah-Shin-Fong lane. Seldom indeed lately could I enjoy the company of my Chinese. I had private terrors to cope with on my own, that had nothing to do with any ghosts. Those ghosts treated me with respect, and possibly fear, for my "light was burning brightly"; and, though I might seem dark and inscrutable "like a Chinese" to visiting missionaries, I was on fire within even though I no longer carried a burning candle-stub up and down the stairs by night and often preferred to traverse them without the pale bulb hanging from the distant roof above the stairwell turned on. It flickered so uncertainly and its "Morse-code" messages I preferred to ignore. My leading terror was to be "left behind" by my parents "when Jesus would return". Everybody was sure that would be my fate. I didn't go in for fancier worries. As for being one of those "Foolish Virgins" who'd failed to take extra oil who'd failed to take extra oil when waiting for the Bridegroom to appear to celebrate his Marriage, I didn't plan to be in their midst. They'd been locked out in punishment and they'd banged at the closed door in vain. I'd not be with them, anyway - I'd not even `try to bang at any door in vain. I'd make the best of it elsewhere. There was also the worry some grownups had of being "caught at the Feast without a Wedding Garment" on them. The man in the Parable in this predicament had been "cast into Outer Darkness" too. Well, my parents, at least, had plenty of oil for their lamps. They knew half the Bible by heart already and if they still ran out of oil, the front corner of our downstairs chapel was stacked with tracts and Bibles in all languages for giving out, which literature reposed right on the raised wooden platform floor and was covered by a large canvas. My parents often thought how terrible it would be to find themselves "locked out". I didn't worry. I'd silently accepted my fate: "born to be lost" as everyone diagnosed my case by now. I simply didn't behave like a proper Bornagener, and I was old enough to have learned the terminology, but it never crossed my lips. Constant cries of "Hallelujah!" left me silent, puzzled over all the fervor that did not burst from the heart as I recognized. You should `feel overjoyed when shouting that way! Outside of our chapel the Eurasian and other street children serenenated us with renditions of our hymn "Hallelujah, Thine the Glory", but they sang instead "Hallelujah, I'm a bum", till my father'd look out of the chapel entrance and invite them to come in, to "learn that hymn properly" - but they'd only run away. When my parents set forth to attend distant prayer-meetings in the French Concession, where my father's new Russian converts had settled to practice "living by faith" in my parents' way, we often barely got back before the hour of midnight. That was the hour when our dour old watchman closed the Lane's huge and heavy wooden gates and locked them. So, to enter we must knock and knock, and there was a narrow iron gate to the side which could then be unlocked by the watchman to let us in. But we went to too many distant prayer-meetings to please him. We should stay home and do our praying right where we were, where it might eventually have some effect. To pray afar elsewhere was "wasted effort" as far as he was concerned. `When were we going to rid our house of its ghosts? We were paying far too low a rent, and it wasn't right. Still, nobody planned to evict us - it was better to have folks occupying the house than to have it empty scaring everybody around as it did otherwise. In a sense, we `were keeping those ghosts under control, at least, as he was observing. Not that he could ever get our Dah-Shi-Fu to discuss with him our ghosts or any other detail concerning ourselves either. They were friendly enough on the surface, but not buddies. Well, close onto midnight on one occasion, we'd taken a tram homewards down Szechuen Road as far as the crossroad of Darroch Road, and there we'd gotten off and began rushing along as fast as my poor mother could trot. My father held her by an arm to keep her from stumbling and the two of them rushed on hoping to reach Dah-Shin-Fong before the great gates crashed shut and got bolted firmly, forcing them to cry loudly and belatedly, "Open up, please!" - like those foolish virgins. How they hated that, each time! I skipped along in their wake, yawning but still alert enough to keep up. True, we had our own imposing side entrance we ought to have used, not to bother that watchman. It opened from the cobbled street into that courtyard which I mentioned further back. So why did we always keep it locked? The answer will have occurred to you. The gates and the courtyard were so spooky that the less you had to do with them the better for us all. Open those gates, thought this detail I did not as yet know, and still more ghosts would come trooping in at your heels. It was a thoroughfare leading directly to Hell, especially via the courtyard itself. We turned that curve just beyond the sandbags and barbed-wire barrier, open as yet for pedestrians to enter "Off Darroch Road", and when we reached the straighter part, I saw ahead of us a huge holocaust in progress just behind the nearer tenements across the street from Dah-Shin-Fong. The actual building that was now on fire could not be seen - the nearer buildings concealed it. But it must be another of those rickety old four-floored structures, and it was totally on fire. The flames reached to Heaven lighting the dark night. I thought of all the vagrants and beggars trapped within and was horrified. No fire-engines, of course, would be showing up. Not in overcrowded Chapei! The cobbled road was utterly empty. Nobody seemed aware of what was going on. The fire climbed higher as I watched and volleys of sparks accompanied the gushing flames. I remembered the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Foolish Abram had not dared pray for the salvation of those sinful cities, not properly. He'd insisted they be saved `if `ten `"just men" could be found there but there weren't that many. Only Lot and his family of three females - the females didn't count in that reckoning. Well! I would pray a different prayer now for `all the Chinese - not a soul must be lost despite all those missionaries forever condemning us to Hell. I dropped on my knees on the cobblestones and raised my arms to Heaven, and cried aloud, "Oh, dear Jesus. Please save `all the Chinese. Don't let anybody get lost or hurt." I refused to believe that really bad Chinese existed despite evidence that they did. I kept repeating the plea. My parents now were far ahead. They glanced back and glimpsed this unexpected spectacle. "Beulah, of her own accord, on her knees!" Incredible! "Come on!" they shouted; but still they kept on rushing forward for they were almost abreast now of our Lane. And the gates still had not been closed. They were in time. I kept on praying. The night watchman - who by day was our `day watchman also and I've no idea if or when he ever slept - must have been spying and thoroughly enjoying the unusual spectacle. "Come ON!" shouted my father again over his shoulder as he still accompanied my desperately hurrying mother forward, for her whole attention now was fixed on that entrance-way. She `must reach it "in time". A lifelong conditioning "not to be left out" had short-circuited her normal responses. In any case she had long since resigned herself to an Eternity in Heaven while I'd be spending my Eternity down in Hell, as everybody warned her must be the case. She still hoped, however, that she'd shanghai me to her Fundamentalist Heaven, if she fervently continued to pray. But right now she MUST reach the entrance before the gates were slammed shut in her face. I kneeled on, unseeing. My eyes were fixed on the murky red Heaven above the actual flames. "Dear Jesus," I went right on pleading and I was weeping bitterly now, in my seven-year-old soul, and outwardly too. Tears streamed down my face. "Please save `all the Chinese. Don't let anybody be lost." My parents heard my cry and halted at last, non-plussed. Was I crazy? Every Christian knew that there were lots of lost souls in Hell and many Chinese too simply had to end up lost. The Law of Heavenly Statistics demanded it. Of course, it was very nice that I had suddenly decided to pray so hard of my own accord. But was it necessary that I settle down on my knees for this purpose on the cobble-stones in the middle of the deserted street at midnight? They glanced over at the flames which had probably terrified me and "called me to repentance". But it seemed the fire was slowing down; the building was surely already gutted. It probably wouldn't spread - these fires happened so regularly in tinder-dry old China-town with its leaning hovels and higher structures crowded everywhere. The inner part of such buildings would be of wood, but the outer walls were of grey brick, usually. Most reluctantly my parents retraced their steps to fetch me. They were angry. What a fuss to make over "nothing, really"! One couldn't save everybody and it was time I accepted that fact and ceased insulting God by defying his good will and his plans that required a well-stocked Hell as well as a Heaven. You `needed that Hell to frighten souls into the Fold! My parents arrived. They stood over me. "Get to your feet at once!" they ordered me. But I remained there with my arms up and my back ramrod-stiff, kneeling before the Bright Throne of the Father, so unreachable to me in person ever since we'd gone to live at Dah-Shin-Fong. "Dear Jesus! Please save `all the Chinese!" I wept. They each grabbed an arm and carried me forward, and my legs dangled as I continued to cry, "Dear Jesus, please save all the Chinese." Undoubtedly our Dah-Shin-Fong watchman was an appreciative audience, spying upon the three of us now. We reached the gates just as he slammed them shut in our faces. His timing was exactly right, and I could sense his pleasure as he waited for our next move, lurking there hidden from us as he was now within. My parents set me on my feet where I now remained, swaying, and they began to knock desperately. I'm sure they underwent then the distress of the "Foolish Virgins" knock in vain at the closed door while the "Great Marriage of the Lamb" occurred within. In vain had those maidens sported their brightly-burning lamps. "Too late, too late," cried the Bridegroom from within. My parents knocked and knocked. At last the small side entrance creaked open and the watchman stuck out his head inquisitively and asked the very question my parents most preferred not to be asked: "Why enter this way after midnight? You have your own side-gates that are good enough still to be used. So use them next time." But he knew we'd always keep them locked for we didn't dare start the traffic entering that way to the Bottomless Pit, all over anew. We stumbled up to our beds and the watchman crept into his sentry-box to spend his night propped up there. And, if my parents' bed floated, they were too exhausted to notice it (not even my father!), and Mother could "sail the Pacific" on her favorite Maru undisturbed. How frustrating to the ghosts! But my father was annoyed at me. If I was going to get on my knees of my own volition, what an unsuitable choice of venue I had preferred! Why! even so, he's have gladly knelt down beside me there upon those cobbles if I'd only have uttered a proper prayer, such as "God, be merciful to me, a sinner", and also "What must I do to be saved?" But to pray for all the Chinese instead was sheer nonsense, though the missionaries did include them in their prayers in a routine way. But who expected God to take such a prayer literally and save `all the Chinese? Some deserved to be lost unquestionably. I still refused to be saved "properly" and it worried him. He himself had given up his former Modrenist inclinations so as to follow in his Pansy's steps faithfully, and he wanted me to do the same. Instead, I was praying like a dervish quite ridiculously. He despaired of me, sometimes.
It looked like such an ordinary courtyard really. In size, it must have been some three meters by three or four at the most, covering an area to match that of the stairwell and stairs. That would make the central portion of that building some three by six or so meters in size in all, as I figure it out (when you added the two areas of stairwell and airwell together). The front rooms may have been five by six meters in size and the back rooms three meters by five or six again. Or, perhaps the front rooms were larger still - a child's mind sees comparative sizes differently, and I'm guessing here. In any case, that three by three or so courtyard was enclosed by our house walls that towered on three sides all the way up to the fourth floor, or the top, and on the fourth side the wall separating us from the road outside was at least five meters high (as I imagine) - it was all such a formidable place. Only our Amah ever penetrated there into the courtyard. No other member of the family found reason to step out onto those dank flagstones, slippery with mildew and slime. Amah went there repeatedly to wash things and fetch water for the kitchen. Oh, and when he had to wash the floors, of course, Dah-Shi-Fu himself went to fetch water from that tap and he threw out the dirty water too, of course, right onto the flagstones. There was no drain. In the outer wall, there was a tiny low opening through which the water slowly trickled out upon the cobblestones beyond, and that was all. When Amah rinsed the rice and vegetables there, in a finely woven bamboo basket right under the gushing tap, she got thoroughly splashed. Or when she did the hand-laundry in a huge tub constructed of wooden slats, set right on the floor. She was a tiny woman, and her feet had been bound briefly in childhood. Her minute feet in their cotton shoes which she had made for herself, were always soaked, as was her pair of faded cotton trousers. Then she would dry out while she worked at the back of the big brick stove, stuffing straw into its maw so Dah-Shi-Fu standing at the front of it could cook our beancurd and rice and vegetables to perfection regularly. The heat where she crouched in the narrow aisle between the outer street wall and the stove itself was suffocating, but she didn't feel sorry for herself. These were normal conditions one took for granted and here she was living safely now, with a little room and a nice bed in it all her own upstairs, and never now need she know actual hunger. And she was indeed saving all her small salary each month for a lovely coffin when she'd die. Her son would buy it then for her faithfully. Our Amah and Dah-Shi-Fu, their blood heated from their constant exertions, could enter that courtyard without experiencing its uncanny chill. Others couldn't, save I myself - such an indomitable little child. But I entered it always for a purpose: sometimes to exchange a few words with Amah when she was working there, though the gushing tap distracted her, and I also went there to study the problem of how that courtyard might be renovated and made nice. Obviously, because of the high walls, more light must be let in. That required that those huge double gates of heavy wood, varnished black long ago and very weatherworn, be left open frequently. My mother paid no attention each time I broached this idea. She brushed it off in a distracted fashion which she assumed on such occasions. She really did put her mind on other "urgent things to do" at once and so in total honesty could answer "Don't bother me now, I'm busy", and she'd rush off to attend whatever chore had suddenly loomed in her mind as "urgent". I knew I'd get no decision or final answer from her. When the moment seemed right, I turned to Dah-Shi-Fu himself and asked him to unbolt the huge courtyard doors. I'd tried but I'd failed to budge the heavy bar. Now, Dah-Shi-Fu and his mother were not Shanghai-born and bred. They were survivors of some inland trouble (war, possibly, though floods and droughts were equal reasons for fleeing one's own home), and they'd come as country bumpkins years earlier. But my father had taken them in from the streets and we'd trained them to be the excellent servants they were. My mother knew how to make her `help' feel not only essential to us, but self-respecting and full of respect for their mistress and her family too. However, the two servants had a special relationship with me. Not only did they pity me for my loneliness, my vulnerability, but they also recognized my inner strength and will. Furthermore, Dah-Shi-Fu seems to have had an intuition that `my intuitions must always be accepted and obeyed wherever possible, especially in matters of the ghosts. He seems to have recognized that though I did not attempt exorcisms, I had the specters under control and was studying ways of dealing with them and perhaps even sending them packing finally. He would cooperate in whatever I asked him. So I asked him to unbar that street entrance for me. The hour was early in the afternoon: though the sky was lightly overcast and no sun was shining upon us, the day was quite bright with its diffused soft lighting. He unbarred and flung open the heavy gates at once and turned to see what I wished done next. I clapped my hands with glee as I saw now so close to us the regular passersby going about their daily affairs on the cobbled street. "It's lovely," I cried, dancing up and down with triumph. The passersby - Chinese coolies and a few middle-class pedestrians - paid no attention to me or to the open gates. There was nothing extraordinary in some house opening its gates to the public. Many a Chinese shopfront was totally open all day long to passersby. We might be about to fill our courtyard with baskets of vegetables for sale. Those who didn't know the fame of our haunted place would easily think such a thing. But I planned not to turn the courtyard into a miniature market, of course, but into a lovely little park. In my mind's eye, flowering vines were already climbing up the high walls; pots of blooming plants stood on every side lining the walls. Birds were singing in their cages, or perhaps even left free to fly from branch to branch. I studied the dank slabs: could a lawn be encouraged to grow there and cover them? And we'd treat the courtyard as our front garden. It would be our main entrance. We wouldn't have to enter through the chapel ever again. Only the beggars and bums need enter there as they already did. And, even if strangers wandered in, didn't they already do so in our chapel? But the difference was, of course, that the chapel failed to attract most passersby, unless they stepped in for a moment out of curiosity, or because they needed a place to sleep where no prowling watchman would catch them and beat them half-to-death while they slept. Our courtyard would be the "proper family entrance" leading up to the shining crystal window panes set in the upper half of the house wall, with the pale green painted door (of iron, it was) also there with its bright window pane. And beyond, within, was the passageway, looking "proper" there. Nice houses did have gardens that stood before front halls or glassed-in porches with windows thus. As for the imposing, soaring stairway with its carved red-varnished uprights of the banisters, it looked very pretty from the courtyard when you looked in. "Everything" would be all right if we always kept the courtyard gates wide open. Oh, certainly, they could be closed at night - I'd no objection. But not by day! Dah-Shi-Fu studied me still, looking down on me both wonderingly and regretfully. He knew my dreams could not come true. He waited to close and bar the gates again to fulfill my mother's hitherto unspoken wishes. I broke the glad silence and told him, "I'll call my mama now and she'll see how lovely it is." But he shook his head and - pitying me - he closed and barred the gates, while I nonetheless ran upstairs to find my mother. She was at the oval dining-table reckoning up the day's accounts, down to the last copper. Nothing must be misspent. The money was the Lord's, and every spare cent was needed for all the bums and beggars Benjamin kept bringing home. And he needed every extra cent too to help the little nucleus of Russians already learning to "live by Faith" beneath the aegis of a certain earnest pastor Guroff now settled in a humble house built in our own house's typical style but in the distant French Concession - for many a house in Shanghai was built in the general pattern of the Dah-Shin-Fong row of residences. "Oh, Mama," I cried. "It's so lovely!" "What's so lovely!" "I got Dah-Shi-Fu to open the courtyard gates for me and let the light in, and it makes the courtyard a lovely place. And the cinders don't reach down there. We could bring the poor plants from the roof down there instead, so they needn't be black with soot like they are. And there's lots of water, and - and -" "No," she started to answer. "But, mama, that way we'll have a real garden!" She looked unhappy. She knew how I'd loved out weed-grown lawn and back yard in Pasadena where we'd lived till I was nearly three and we returned to China in early 1920. I'd been born in West China and due to my father's grave illness we'd been sent back to the U.S.A. when I was just eight months old. "Mama, it'll be lovely!" She sighed. "It can't be done," she told me, adding "That's just a servants' courtyard where the washing has to be done. Our heavy washing we sent out once a week; it was fetched by a friendly washerman who had quite a big establishment not too far away. He took the huge bundle away, himself, in a rickshaw each time. We paid him four cents a piece, but my mother politely included a few good hankerchiefs as well as the huge sheets and stout cloth dresses and pants, etc. I saw that my mother and I could argue forever without getting anywhere. And yet I knew that had we left those gates wide open, finally we'd have won. The light itself pouring in every day would have expelled the dark mood of the place within. But I also saw we couldn't argue. My parents fought the ghost by approved approaches only, such as Fundamentalists used. I would have swept them away instead with a heavenly besom, a broom!
Furiously implacable was my little soul, but my spirit was heavily impregnated with God's Light, as I remembered His light from earlier days before we had ghosts thronging around! Their darkness and evil must now be fought literally as well as spiritually; but only Dah-Shi-Fu and I really understood this. Hence he worked so hard and long in his free hours forever mopping the rooms and stairs to erase the returning grime and the unwelcome footprints. I am sure - I am quite sure! - had the haunts decided to start bringing forth bits from the skeletons beneath the chapel floor, he'd have simply collected them bit by bit and stuffed them into his big stove's maw and burned them to ashes and thus have released at last the captured victims' souls, tied to their remains that they'd been. And yet - and yet? - his promise to his mother to see her safely into a nice coffin which would be stored till it could be shipped back to their natal village deep inland, he would try to fulfill, too. (The story of her coffin's ending I told in Book Two, when describing her "funeral" held at a horrible coffin warehouse in 1927, when I nearly died right after it too.) Well, I gave up my attempt to convince my mother that the courtyard gates must be left open. I recognized that we could not bring down our terrace plants there as it was, so gloomy and dark, always. The plants would turn virulent, not viridian. But another idea occurred to me. In the center of the courtyard's flooring there was a huge stone or cement slab; it was square, and there was a ring set into it of iron. I tried lifting it, but again my strength was too small. It was tremendously heavy and tightly wedged in among the other slabs around it. I thought it over. Obviously before the waterworks put in their pipes so all the houses now had a tap at least in their courtyards - which other courtyards would be darker, much darker, than ours, being walled in on all four sides - each courtyard would have had a well of its own for convenience' sake, or so I presumed. So here we had a lovely well of our own that we weren't even using, and I loved pools and wells, and thought about the Well of Water "Springing up into Everlasting Life" which Jesus had mentioned to "The Woman at the Well", in Samaria. So here we had indeed this wonderful well and we weren't enjoying it. It too must be opened, even if I wasn't able to open the gates again of our courtyard. But my mother would surely be delighted when I discovered and reported to her the well. How had she not noticed it? She simply was not a bit interested in making our place lovely, save for her attempts to put those plants up on the terrace roof. Still full of my dream of crystal waters bubbling up from beneath, I asked Dah-Shi-Fu to lift the stone for me. I was acting like the women in the Gospels who'd said among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone?" at the entrance to the tomb of Jesus. And earlier, Jesus himself had ordered: "Take ye away the stone" at the tomb of Lazarus. In both cases, a dead person had been laid away within. In the case of Jesus, he came forth leaving the grave-clothes behind; but in the case of Lazarus the dead one appeared still "bound hand and foot" with grave-clothes - floating forth, perhaps. And Jesus told people to unbind him. But another warning text existed which I didn't then recall, in Revelation 9, where the fifth angel blows his trumpet and a star from heaven falls and the star is given a key to the pit of the abyss. "And he opened the pit of the abyss and there went up a smoke...and out of the smoke came locusts...like scorpions..." There was that risk, too. So I asked Dah-Shi-Fu to lift that stone for me and he told me, "You don't want to see what's underneath!" "What's underneath?" "Horrid things." My faith in the ultimate goodness of all things, my conviction that light dispels darkness, was never stronger. The "horrid things" would go away when exposed to the light, I was sure. Hadn't it worked in the case of the ghosts within our place? They never once had cared to appear to me. They only made silly noises which I deliberately scorned and ignored. I had simply opened the upper terrace door regularly whenever the day was bright and the light poured in and the dancing dust-motes of the fearful stairwell below the blood-red balcony turned to gold before my eyes. "I `do want to see! Please!" He looked at me in that special resigned way. At last he strode up to the ring in the heavy slab; he bent over and with his great strength hoisted the slab up so I could peer within. He didn't remove it, just held it up so I could see. I shrank from that glimpse. He stared down at me solemnly, a white-garbed angel of light that he was too. Noble, self-effacing, but always there when needed and as devoted as the Angel of Tobias had been to his master in the Apocrypha which I'd gotten to read in one of the Bibles in a bookcase, but it wasn't usually read by us. Pandora had opened a fatal box once and out had flown the Spites and other dismal ills of humanity. What had I now just done?. For, within, even to my blurry vision, I glimpsed horrid things: filth, stench, and pieces of bodies as it appeared to me, floating and moving about in that bubbling brew. I stepped away aghast, and Dah-Shi-Fu after one last solemn - and almost reproachful - glance at me began closing the slab with elaborate care, fitting the four corners in neatly as though trying to lock back in whatever demons hadn't yet escaped. He stood up and turned away and returned to his kitchen. I walkd as silently and sorrowfully back upstairs to my own high room. We had maintained a total silence. What could we say? I didn't even thank him. He knew I could not thank him for the awful thing he'd done at my request. Neither had the "star" in Revelation - as I began to remember - been happy to turn the key that unlocked the pit and let the awful creatures out to torment mankind. What lay under that slab in the courtyard was worse than what lay in the graves under the chapel floor. In the courtyard the filth still bubbled and human arms reached out, and hands signaled for help but it could not be given. Such dismembered bodies of vanished humans, not totally `gone', could not be resurrected. Not by me. Not safely, anyway. We did not want those horrors to start walking through our hall and up our stairwell again! Well, we still had Dah-Shi-Fu to help us if that occurred. Maybe such squelchy horrors could not be easily burned up in his marvelous stove, but he'd anyway try, if one such apparition tried to frighten him, I was sure. And in the end they would be dried sufficiently to go up in flames, too. God must have the same problem, for surely he did not wish his Hell to be "eternal" in the sense that pleased our missionaries so, "endless torment" going on. But burning up immortal souls till they turned to ash - and ridding Creation of the filth of unregenerate humanity, all the debris that chose evil and "hated the light"... as it's said in the Gospels, they rejected the light "because their deeds were evil". That task must no doubt be done, and it will be costly. Dimly, sorrowfully, I began to comprehend. "Oh, my poor Father!" But I added "Don't send poor little helpless Chinese girls and babies there, please. The bad men, yes, maybe. If they can't be made good otherwise." How sorrowful was I to have to make that acknowledgement. And soon I would brush it aside and again persist, "Save everybody please!"
There he ruled in our home from attic to kitchen, his scepter a mop, his weapons a whisk-broom and a dustpan and duster. He would chase the demons away by his tireless industry, and I would uphold him not by actual prayers of the type recited by missionaries but by my utter fury against evil: filth, stench, cruelty, ignorance... all the ails of humanity worse than mere "sin" as visualized by many a missionary. The "sin" of not being a Baptist but instead a Modernist who believes in Evolution, for instance. There were other sins. You'd go to Hell, even, if you couldn't "speak in tongues", from some Pentecostal points of view. That type of "sin " seemed only silly to me and as for the "sin of doubt" of which I was accused, all I sought was truth, clarification. But that was labeled a sin in me too. It was a terrible battlefield where Dah-Shi-Fu and I marched. He, climbing resolutely the stairs with his mop and pail; I leaping higher above in the upper sectors, in my play. "Practicing the stairs" even now! Mountain-climbing could not be done; but at heart I was climbing already the foothills of the "Mountain of God" in my thoughts. And a bright light shone at the peak, unreachable unless I climbed and climbed never flagging. All my life I have been climbing that same Mountain of God - there are many ascents. A daughter some years ago had a vision - more than a dream - of its glory, and she glimpsed the light at the top; and on all its sides groups of people were steadily ascending. And to one side she saw the other matching symbol, the World Tree, and it too was glorified in its brilliance. "It was lovely," she said. But at Dah-Shin-Fong the ascent was difficult. No longer was the way to our Father's Throne, via the River of the Waters of Life, easy to reach from this camp of the Enemy in which my parents had so ignorantly stranded their little, lonely child. But they did not know. I didn't consult them about the ghosts, so they hoped I had not noticed them. My reason? Not to upset them. But also so they'd not summon an army of missionaries to hold a non-stop exorcism till the house tumbled around our ears, for that would have been the sole result. They went at it the wrong way. To cleanse such a place you must have a fearless inner vision of the Brightness of your God of Truth! `Our God of Truth, against decay! Though it plays its role out in the Fields of Nature, where old leaves crumble to fertilize the soil so new leaves sprout freshly green every new spring. Dah-Shin-Fong was our Dah-Shi-Fu's kingdom, for he had truly conquered it for us with his common-sense, his Chinese point-of-view. He protected us foreigners there. To care for and defend his three favorite white humans in this awful place was no light task. He had accepted the role and was firm in his defense of China's old dignities and decencies, in his behavior towards us. Our new beliefs (so strangely garbled) had not corrupted him. Alas, that a Bible-man or two got totally corrupted which I'll mention further ahead now. To my grief it is so. But Dah-Shi-Fu was too humble to be led astray or to attempt to imitate the free-wheeling ways of the white folk whom the Bible-men had watched and decided to be like. And they botched the attempt and lost their souls in consequence...as more than one missionary who approached us at Dah-Shin-Fong did too. And so the battles went on: Yasu in the chapel and the Walker in the Attic were ever locked in conflict, with my parents' "Middle World" the prize they both would win. And so my parents' bed sometime floated and sometimes it remained staid with its four feet firmly planted on the floor. But if Benjamin let the flesh get the better of him and embraced my mother in an "unseemly way", it appears that her gift of levitation got the better of her, and up they soared, perhaps blissfully, but it was distressing too. I am envisioning now more than I ever witnessed, of course. But I do know their bed sometimes floated, for they confessed it to me years later themselves. And it worried them a lot confirming their recognition that the ghosts were still about - not just walking overhead but able to do untoward things like this! So that was the front half of the house: burials beneath the chapel floorboards, the restless dead there serenaded constantly by the ancient organ and by human voices bellowing out hymns of battle or of praise... And right above it, a middle-world where my parents and an occasional visitor or boarder had their narrow bedrooms, while in the entrance-part of the partitioned room was the oval table, its chairs around it, and a rickety old rattan-chair over by the window, "to rest in", sometimes. Also a sideboard and some other odds and ends, such as a hat-rack. I remember once that that rack managed to frighten me one dark night when I got sent up alone in the flickering darkness to fetch a hymnbook for my parents who were down in the chapel. Of the yawning stairwell and airwell I need say no more for I've intimated that there thronged the hosts of Hell. It was No-Man's land. But the back sector - separately built - was safe, always. Knockings at the window didn't count. Who cared? They could stay out, those ghosts. We could shut and fasten the windows. As for the wooden shutters that sometimes banged shut from the outside, they too could be fastened securely so they failed to slam in that rude way. We preferred not closing them even by night. Who ruled at the rear? Not really "Jesus" or "Yasu". I was at the stage right then of testing all his appearances as presented by the various missionaries who kept reappearing like "stumbling-stones" thronging my pathway. Grandma? All too soon, she had departed, though her gentle, fine imprint lingered on, in my high room. Our Amah, dwelling right beneath me in her little cubbyhole? Oh, yes, she was brave, but she was also unheeding of mere "natural phenomena" like wind and rain, storm and thunder; and as for ghosts, they were "mere natural phenomena also" as far as she was concerned. Besides, she had enshrined my mother's Yasu side-by-side with her faithful old Kitchen-god, in her heart, and they lived there amicably together. Only my mother's "Jesus" was a dreadfully jealous personality, jealous even of me if she allowed herself to love me a bit too much. My father's "Jesus" was very stern. Dah-Shi-Fu's Jesus? A Taoist figure, maybe. `Tao for "the Word, the Way", a character borrowed by Bible translators for Jesus too as the Word. The old "Way of the Head", or the "Wandering Skull" of our pre-history, leading roving clans. Adam's ended up in a shrine at Golgotha, that way. Dah-Shi-Fu's kitchen was dark, and the curtained windowless inner sector there where he slept and where they kept their things, was darker still. The curtain too was darkened by the constant smoke, and its red and black design of tiny flowers I found unattractive but practical. I knew that a covered wooden pot also existed behind that curtain - my mother had warned me never to enter the kitchen without permission, for that sector behind the curtain was a private place. They had their "bathroom" there too, not to use our W.C. above. Amah's own cubbyhole right above the kitchen was just as dark almost, though it had that window. But when she tried to mend some pair of socks, she'd use black wool for brown socks and vice-versa because she simply failed to distinguish any difference. And so the battle-fields were delineated carefully, in due course. "Heathen-sector-to-the-rear" versus "Christian-sector" across the No-man's land, above the Gaping Void, in front. There, in front, Yasu and the demon wrestled over my parents' souls - not mine. For my soul had already been placed by me in my Father's own safekeeping since ever I could remember, always. My poor parents dared approach him only by the approved "Fundamentalist Route to Grace", and it was a thorny way. Three partitioned little rooms in their middle front sector existed where there once had been just one large room! Four tiny cubbyholes instead now occupied Amah's place in the rear: the first one containing the "Throne of the Ancestors" - there's a Chinese character where the "Seated Dead One" sits above his own droppings, to represent `excrement'; the bathtub with its feet of iron, rusty but solid and the feet were lions' paws; the entranceway where only one big trunk had found enough room to be left there - "Grandma's Trunk" it was, which she had given to my mother, and I own it now, still; and, of course, Amah's own inviolate place, always as clean and neat as a pin, which we never enter but if we needed her, we first knocked. Her room contained "The Bank of the Surtees Household", and she was its General Manager. The Lord was tricky. He wanted her to feel important in our menage or domain. The only way was for her to have financial dealings with us repeatedly. She did not regard her endless labor, washing, peeling vegetables, chopping, cooking, etc., as of any account. But to be able to loan us money - now that was a real thrill. Whenever the rent was due and the postman had failed to deliver the envelope with some "widow's mite" miraculously enclosed, my father and mother approached our Amah sheepishly and she beamed with delight and took forth from her store of Mexican dollars which she was saving for her coffin the necessary amount, which we humbly accepted and paid the rent to the sharkish fellow who collected rents each month from all the unhappy residents of our Lane. None of us might have gone to some office to pay the bill! He had to come and press for the monies due! "You'll now have to join us in praying, to get your money back!" my father would warn our good Amah. "Yes, yes!" she'd cackle with glee. Her Kitchen God had never failed her yet and she'd approach him, and even light a small red candle in private once the family was asleep, and she did have the nice small table with its chair right by the window, where she set up the necessary things. She couldn't use incense, for Pansy's sharp nose would bring her investigating. Sure! One could say one burned it against the mosquitoes. And at summer when even the Christians burned incense against the mosquitos throughout the house, she could do that and she did. Anyway, the Kitchen God never failed our Amah, and the widow's mites arrived and Pansy and Benjamin thanked their Jesus and our Amah, returning her wealth, and Dah-Shi-Fu probably thanked his mistress Pansy's Yasu; though, as he kept his own counsel and never discussed either politics or religion, still less our ghosts, I can only make a guess there. As for myself, I simply watched and approved. Already I knew the widows' mites were on their way and the delay was simply to make our Amah happy. God was thoughtful towards his little ones... The Children of Israel walked through the desert for forty years. They carried Joseph's coffin with them wherever they went, not merely the Ark of the Covenant created while they were in the desert. Joseph had been mummified in the Egyptian way and you may be sure his sarcophagus was elegant and magical! Amah's future coffin that caused "showers of manna" to come our way regularly at Dah-Shin-Fong was a "horse of another color". The manna we needed was simply to pay the rent so we'd be able to go on inhabiting our "desert", the haunted house, from month to month. Sure! It was God who sent down the manna in both cases. But he also sent quails sometime and they were lascivious; and lascivious human quails cluttered our home base too "in the flesh", while Dah-Shi-Fu and the Amah stood faithful guard over me in my several fortresses way upstairs where I'd be found - the red balcony, the sunny terrace with its swing, and my high white back bedroom. But a Bible-man once nearly "got in". He was well disguised and the good Dah-Shi-Fu and Amah could scarcely fend off a "saintly Bible-man", could they? It's a very sad little story, I shall tell it to get it over, for to leave it out would be to paint a false portrait of the sorrowful truth of what happens to converts who enter the fold absorbing mere cant.
I was little more than seven when the following incident happened. Grandma had just left for the States; I was on my own and very unprotected. My parents wore blindfolds and saw only what they wished to see. If a convert said "Hallelujah" on cue he was obviously saved and they had no doubt about it. A "trusting" flock of Bible-men never objected to the widows' mites that trickled their way. They counted on same. They happily sat in a row on the straight-backed chairs in front, facing the little audience on their backless benches to the rear, in our chapel. My mother was always seated at the old organ at one side half-way down the room, her back to the audience and with her profile only visible to those at the front - she scarcely saw what was going on up there out of the corner of her left eye. She was too busy reading the music and keeping up with the voices all around her at her rear. And my father stood at the little box or coffin-like pulpit looking over it eagerly, his strong glasses (that corrected his myopia) removed the better to be able to read the Chinese characters in the hymnbook in his hand. Before him sat a throng of hungry Chinese vagrants, defeated soldiers, and a beggar or two who'd got past the watchman by expressing himself a convert of the preacher inside. Without his glasses on, my father saw the world just as blurrily as did I, and I still had no glasses and had no idea that all the world wasn't as blurry to normal eyes as it seemed to me to be. The hymn-singing was in full swing - my father would read out a line, then my mother would play the tune and the audience would shout it out in Chinese. Facing the audience sat our row of proud young Bible-men at my father's rear, in their neat Chinese robes, and they were very bored though they sang along too, desultorily. I was supposed to be present, but my mother didn't force me to sit with the audience on the backless benches - "there might be lice" - and I was supposed to remain beside the clean Bible-men on the platform facing the congregation. The Bible-men had no lice, naturally. They were finer folk than their audience! Their gowns were immaculate. Well, I sat at the end of the line of Bible-men, towards the hall's door, and began to wiggle impatiently. When would the service ever come to an end? It went on and on. To stop me wiggling, perhaps, the Bible-man beside me reached over and lifted me bodily onto his lap. I hated sitting on such people's laps but couldn't make a scandal in public. I wondered how to wiggle away politely but he gripped me with strong arms. Then his left hand wandered beneath my simple, long, and "oh-so-modest" skirts. Next, he discovered that the elastic at the top of my bloomers was loose. He yanked the top down and in went his hand exploring. I let out a cry of shame and horror. He stroked. It felt nice, and I was the more ashamed. I began to wail softly and with his other hand he slapped me. My father glanced back: I was disturbing the hymn-singing with my noise. "Shut up!" hissed my poor, ignorant, myopic dad, and the Bible-man gave me another slap with his free hand. I knew that the entire audience of "nobody-bums" was engrossed in the show going on in front of them. The other Bible-men were also watching fascinated. My mother pumped on and sang away loudly still, oblivious. Her path to heaven was all her own - I was but a stray lamb lost far to her rear already, long ago, and there was no time to turn back to fetch me or save me. I'd chosen to be lost. She could only pray, hoping against hope. My father went on reading out each line of the hymns; my mother still pumped loudly and played and sang; and I wailed desolately, so loudly now the Bible-man grew afraid; he pulled out his erring hand and I could jump away and flee up to my bedroom to weep in a heart-broken way. I felt soiled. Jesus would not love me. I'd been dirtied. I never felt more alone. I got scolded later for not waiting till the end of the service. How "unchristian" of me. I could not explain. Dejectedly I accepted the scolding in silence. "He was reviled, yet he opened not his mouth", went the text. I understood how useless speech would have been. Accuse the saintly Bible-man? What a liar I must be! What sinful, evil thoughts I harbored! After that my hostility towards the Bible-men was so great nothing would induce me to sit beside them facing the audience ever again, at services. I stood beside my mother at the organ, instead, slyly explaining that I wanted to "watch her play" and my mother was pleased. "I must teach her to play soon," said she. "I see she wants it." So I hated the chapel doubly for the shame I experienced there - in public too! Even the middle upstairs front room where my parents ruled was not safe. This time it was a little refugee girl - Armenian, and I remember her full name but shall not repeat it. Her parents expressed themselves as having been "saved" by my parents, so I was told to entertain this little girl upstairs and we'd all soon have a celebratory tea. They were in the chapel worshipping. She took me into the second cubbyhole of a bedroom that at that instant hd no boarder, and she began to pant and say, "Lift up your skirts! I'll teach you a game." Trustingly I obeyed. She yanked down my bloomers, and began to rub my genitals. "Ouch!" I cried and shied away. "I'll do it softer," she offered. "And you must rub 'me that way." She lifted up her skirts and pulled down her pants. Her sour smell offended my sensitive nostrils. I shook my head, shook down my skirts, and returned to the living-dining room. She followed a bit unhappily. She didn't come near me again and when her parents and my parents came up for tea, it wasn't very festive. She looked dour and her parents asked her what was the matter. "She doesn't like me. She doesn't want to play," said the girl. I sat there in disgrace and pushed my plate with its peanut-butter sandwich away. I'd have choked to try to eat it. I wanted to weep. Everything was beyond me to comprehend. And so I got scolded for being "so unchristian" to Chinese Bible-men and "new little converts, who were refugees from Bolshevism", alike. I simply was a `shame to my parents who wanted only to save everybody's soul and I didn't help at all. I only "hindered". How unhappy it made me. But how explain? Impossible.
But I was not defeated - not forever. I was "soiled", nonetheless. I felt myself soiled and alienated from the "good Jesus" of my parents because I'd "let it happen"... my genitals had been touched first by that Bible-man and next by that refugee girl. I'd allowed it, trustingly, at first. And I made certain it would never happen again. No Bible-man could henceforth get at all near. As for that girl, her parents complained I'd hurt her "so deeply" she couldn't even come to worship with all the other Russians who came to our chapel on Sundays, because she didn't want to meet me. I felt bad but helpless. How make her want to return? I didn't know. I couldn't say, "Let's do it next time. I don't mind after all." I was a fastidious child and always had been so. Rubbing genitals seemed to me wildly undignified, and I'd not thought things through. Sex was a total mystery. I didn't know how babies came and never even wondered about it. I was a tiny star in God's garden and my petals hadn't wilted yet or been crushed. Would I then grow up frigid? Not I. Are tiny buds frigid just because they haven't yet bloomed? I wasn't a dried up bit of foliage on our Cosmic tree. I'd simply not reached the stage of maturity when a child does blossom nicely if unmarred and untampered with by those who should not molest the innocent as is all too often done by those who are "proudly experienced" and precocious in some cases also, as with that little girl who failed to win me to her "game". Still, I tidied things up as best I could after those experiences. I made little dolls and cut out cardboard furniture so I could "play house" in a three-dimensional way, and I got cardboard and wooden boxes from Dah-Shi-Fu and brown wrapping-paper, and I drew tiny fireplaces and bookshelves and "pictures on walls", and got Dah-Shi-Fu to make me some paste out of flour, and I created a many-tiered doll-house and furnished it with a "proper family" behaving properly, everybody in their own proper place in the lovely miniature dwelling. I set it up in my upper back room and played intensely, moving my dolls about and helping them behave properly. And everybody started behaving properly "in their own places" and not stepping out of line anymore, in our own many-tiered house too. This was innocent magic. Such a practice when used by voodoo practitioners may do some harm to their victims, when pins are stuck in images of such victims, for instance. I was doing it another way around instinctively: my dolls were good and proper. So must everybody behave in our house. My parents henceforth went about their self-appointed tasks to and fro and to and fro to their many soul-saving activities quietly, and the converts flocked docilely in, and sometimes big Russian bums were cleansed in our bathtub and sometimes they were baptized therein, but it didn't bother me in my high kingdom above them all. I played on, and ordered or controlled the Show. And I didn't know how strongly the "witch" in me was surfacing, going back to forgotten ancestors perhaps in places like Salem, for my mother's forebears had been in the States from early times, as I understood, but I didn't care. I was keeping my World on an even keel in the oceans of iniquity over which we must sail. Sometimes I still sat up on my blood-red balcony when the day was bright and the terrace door wide open. I liked the airiness of the stairwell with its dancing dust-motes ablaze with light - golden flecks delighting my retina... a starry blur, a universe in miniature. Sometimes Harta was present but more usually she was not. Her parents had taken one look at all our bums and they now kept her away as much as possible. They were horrified by the ignorance of my parents leaving me (or so they thought) so helpless and vulnerable in the midst of that rabble of suddenly converted "Christians" so hungry they even appreciated mere meals of beancurd and rice at times. Amah often climbed up to my balcony with her washing, to hang it out on the terrace. I never left anything lying about (books or dolls) up there, so she'd not stumble over them or tumble. If I carried something up, I took it down again to my nearby back room just below, carefully. I didn't want Amah to get hurt, and her eyesight was poor as I knew. And so I kept the actors at Dah-Shin-Fong sorted out in my head, even when not playing with my dollhouse which I soon discarded, for the paper-dolls crumpled finally and the cardboard furniture twisted and bent, and I'd had enough of that game. But I kept it going in my head - I'd had the practice. Dah-Shi-Fu was forever at work at his chores; Amah also. They did not require supervision, they deserved only admiration which I silently bestowed upon them daily and they knew and appreciated it too. My parents went their flustered ways and I knew how to keep them happy by outwardly trying to do whatever they said, barring those dangerous moments when I might be waylaid by some Bible-man or other unsavory convert. I got good at that. I read minds more than ever in the past, and where I saw "darkness" I stayed away, good and far. No matter how heartily they sang our hymns and intoned their prayers vociferously. Pentecostals came. They spoke in tongues. They went away. Many a Baptist arrived and approved of my mother's "indefatigable dedication". Nobody praised my father. He muddled along and tried so hard to do his best, and I always loved him but I pitied him too. Sometimes I thought about trying again to repossess the attic's lovely dormer window, but the place was in constant use of late, for my father was trying his best to crowd out the ghosts by installing the "homeless living" up there. He even tried to get some Russian bums to make it their headquarters. At such times, I hid in my own upper back room and did not emerge save to be present at worship, meals, and so on. But the bums did not remain. They came stumbling down in a hurry; the ghosts gave them delirium tremens. Perhaps it was just all the vodka they drank. Who knows? My father thought of packing in rows of defeated Chinese soldiers up there - lying packed in rows, in their padded garments. Covering the entire attic floor when they slept - would the ghost still manage to trot back and forth so noisily? They'd been through the wars and wouldn't mind a mere phantom. The Chinese were phlegmatic where phantoms were concerned, in any case. This plan did not mature. We had a boarder by then, a Mr. Kennedy, and he flatly refused to dwell in the same house with a pack of Chinese loose on the stairs all day long and at night also. So only the chapel remained the "bedroom" of Chinese and Russian vagrants and bums, till the end. As for our Bible-men, they had their homes elsewhere. My mother had tried very hard to keep my upper bedroom nice and happy. Grandma had sent out from the U.S.A. rolls of big colored pictures - almanac tops, the type that spend a year on people's walls, then are discarded: calendar art! My mother had had a "picture screen" in her childhood and she wanted me to have one too. So she got some white baize cloth and had it stretched on a wooden frame and she herself pasted on all the pictures for me to enjoy. The screen also served to grant privacy to Grandma's former bed, so it could be occupied by spinster missionary ladies, passing through Shanghai, sometimes. They didn't bother me, but how dull they were, and so prudish and embarrassed by me nearby. I had one other lovely thing in the bedroom. It was a quilt filled with "cotton-batting", fluffy and nice, and it was covered by a lovely cotton material printed with tiny bright flowers of every hue on a golden-yellow background. When told to take a nap on some cold bleak afternoon without sunshine, I did not try to find excuses not to obey, but got under that quilt contentedly. With three windows in three walls of that upper room it was always bright by day. And I took advantage of being myopic so I could focus in different ways turning the quilt just as I chose into whole wide meadows of flowers amid which I wandered imaginatively. With the aid of the quilt and with the pictures also on the screen, I enjoyed many adventures. I did not try - for I felt it impossible at Dah-Shin-Fong - to visit any longer the "River of the Water of Life" that led up to the Father's Bright Throne. But I climbed Mount Rushmore and the Matterhorn instead, and admired the Statue of Liberty - all these scenes awaiting me on my picture-screen. And my tiny flowers became blooms of light in Heaven's starry meadows too. Really, the ghosts had little chance to infect me with their ugly world of darkness, for even by night I had a refuge they could not explore: sleep. I slept as well as did my mother, and never had problems falling asleep by bedtime, when I at once grew very sleepy.
I visited El Dorado daily in the W.C. Well, that's a weird sort of statement to make so baldly, but to explain it, I studied the adventures of Mutt and Jeff in the comic pages of Shanghai's English-language dailies, as they sought El Dorado. We received the morning paper regularly because a kind fellow Christian, a member of the Free Christian Church back when it occupied a nice old building near Hongkew Park, made it a practice to give gifts to missionaries, especially my parents' type who really never spent a cent on themselves as was obvious. He took out a subscription as his Christmas gift every year, but he also used to deliver a Christmas Pine so enormously tall the tip touched the high ceiling of our upstairs living-dining room. We had few if any decorations but we made loops out of red and green crepe paper, and whatever tinsel we could come across - there were no gilt candy papers, of course, available - and the tree anyway looked nice. No candles on it, of course - such fire hazards! All the years we lived in Shanghai, Mr. Morton never forgot us each Christmas. When we moved to a nicer place years later, near Jessfield Park, he did an even nicer thing. He hand-lettered in red and green and gold paint enormous Christmas cards, poster-sized, composed of Bible texts adorned with holly and other Christmas decorations. Each year, my mother had the new "card" framed, so we eventually had these bright, framed, Bible texts hanging on all our walls, announcing "With God all things are possible" and "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" and so on. I think Mr. Morton liked the thought that we so valued his art, though he wasn't actually a visitor at our home. He worked in the Shanghai water-works as I seem to recall and would have felt uncomfortable if too closely associated with such missionaries as ourselves. But he was a thoroughly good person - no guile in him, none at all. He'd married a splendid Japanese woman and his children were so fine he could be proud of them all. God certainly blessed him! But getting back to the doings of Mutt and Jeff back when they were searching for El Dorado in the 1920s sometime, I joined their adventures privately, using as my excuse the normal need to occupy our W.C. each morning. I lingered there for - maybe? - hours. Endless blissful moments, anyway, forgetting the passage of the minutes for there was so much to read. I enjoyed total privacy in that cubbyhole with its wide open window above the cobbled road, each day. Nobody knew I was sinning. Sinning? Well, yes, that is to say, if my mother ever learned I read the comics I'd be forbidden to do so ever again. By holding back from her this information, she could not forbid my devotion to the comics, and therefore I wasn't as yet "really sinning", and besides I'd not have openly disobeyed her. I must simply prevent her from discovering this precious pursuit in which I was daily engaged, with the flimsy door of the partitioned cubbyhole securely hooked against invaders. I'd chosen the optimum hour for enjoying privacy. I waited till the grownups were finished with the W.C. As likely as not, they'd then be gone from the house, and Dah-Shi-Fu and the Amah would be engaged in their usual chores of cooking and cleaning. I didn't bother them. They never bothered me. The three of us occupied the house in our individual ways happily, thus. The W.C. was the usual type then commonly in use in the less modernized dwellings of the city - a big square covered box with a large porcelain urn within. It didn't really smell, for before dawn each day it was emptied. Coolies came from outlying farms in search of the precious night-soil. Did we charge them for it? I doubt it. Dah-Shi-Fu made the arrangements, and when they'd departed with their huge buckets hanging from shoulder-poles, he himself scrubbed out his own wooden cover pot and our big porcelain one with a stiff brush and disinfectant, so really with all that disinfectant poured in each morning as well, it wasn't so dreadful. When by chance my parents became aware of the hours I spent on the pot every morning, they began to worry. They had forbidden me to ever to lock my own bedroom door, but I had every right to hook the door of the W.C. and they could scarcely forbid that. So what was I up to? Masturbation? So long? Besides, their books - 19th-century purple-bound volumes - on child-rearing, warned that you detect a child of such evil habits by the smell (sourish). Well, I had a sweet child's scent, that was all - particularly after my Friday night hot bath in the same tub our Russian bums used. But it was scrubbed clean by Dah-Shi-Fu, of course. So if not that, then what? They would look into the pot and discover that I was neither constipated nor with the runs. Somehow, they hesitated to ask me direct, for my poise was developing and my reserve seemed formidable to breach. At last, one Monday morning when we were in the living-room, and the Sunday papers were spread open all over the dining-table, my mother ventured a question when I first appeared there, arriving from the W.C. "What do you do all that time in the bathroom?" "I look at pictures," said I. Comics are "pictures": it wasn't a lie. "What sort of pictures?" I gestured vaguely at the pictorial sections of the newspaper spread out on the table. There were many pages of society photos - yes, I enjoyed studying all those extraordinary people too, decked out so fashionable and posing so self-consciously. But there happened also to be some beautiful studies of Chinese scenery, and my mother took it that I had pointed to these. She was delighted! She too loved beautiful scenery! She used to paint it in every free moment. "You don't need to study them in the bathroom. I can tell Dah-Shi-Fu to save all the scenery for you, and you can keep it in your room. Would you like that?" I had to say that I'd like it, and of course I would enjoy studying all the lovely scenery again. "The stacks of papers in the bathroom are growing too high," put in my father. "We'll never use them all up. Tell Dah-Shi-Fu to get rid of some of it - the older issues." I was alarmed. I still wanted to read and also reread the comic pages of the older issues. What could I do to save them for future perusal? Nothing, as far as I could see. "Yes, I must do that, but not today. I was thinking of keeping them a bit longer," said my mother. "But why?" "When we next whitewash the walls, we need a lot of paper to spread out on the floors to save them from splashes." I sighed with relief. The next time I locked myself into the W.C. I hastily tried to sort out the stacks, making sure the comic pages were hidden at the very bottom of the pile, hopefully. My father knocked at the door. "What 'are you doing there?" he called. Now that I had embarked on a career of deceit, what could I say? I began tearing up some advertising pages noisily, and called, "I was preparing wiping paper," and he replied, "Isn't there enough already cut up and hanging from the peg?" "Oh yes, but I wanted to add more." "Well, hurry up and get out. Other people need to use the bathroom too." We never called it the W.C. "Bathroom" was a euphemistic term, apparently. And so my deception continued as I furtively tried to reach El Dorado with Mutt and Jeff despite my need to prevaricate - I who loved everything open and clear cut! Many years later, I entered another world of mystery, in my study of the South American 17th and 18th century "Search for Linlin", or Elilin or Trapalanda or "City of the Ever-living Gods" or "City of the Caesars", for it had many names. I studied it in sober history books written in Colonial Spanish; I borrowed from Latin American libraries such tomes, for we now lived in South America. And I thought how "Trapalanda", with the R changed to an alternate L, reminded me of Quetzalcoatl of Mexico's mysterious homeland "Tlapallan". And thus I continued my childhood adventures. In that lost golden city "somewhere in Patagonia" the gods lived on; and, as the natives told it: "Gold is the excrement of the gods". So I was correctly located back at Dah-Shin-Fong when I began my own search for the "Truth of El Dorado", at the age of seven. Mother - all through her life - searched for the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. Britain's Dick Whittington thought London had streets of gold and sought them too. But I sought the `gods rather than the gold that was their spoor, that early, in my quest for reality. And the gods I found were angels, good and bad; but impossible for a mere mortal to figure out; so I left them behind too in my search, as I aged. But the tale of those further adventures while exploring South America's lovely wilds and its unique peoples, is for another book, not this one now. When we started having boarders back at Dah-Shin-Fong, however, I gave up my search for El Dorado and never followed Mutt and Jeff to the end of that search. The W.C. was simply too much in demand and I could no longer maintain my right to spend hours there in my private pursuits.
Despite their great faith in God, to which my parents clung, they found themselves at the start just a little forlorn, having to turn so regularly to our "Bank" in Amah's quarters where she ruled. Borrowing from her nest-egg which she'd destined for her future coffin seemed wrong in their minds. God ought to be more prompt! I don't think they realized just how subtle our Father can be. He cares for sparrows and for us who are worth "many sparrows", said Jesus. Perhaps quotations on the Cosmic Stock Exchange fluctuate, but we do know that each soul is also worth a whole world, "and what can a man give in exchange for his soul"? Thus, "many sparrows" are equal to "one human soul", which is valued at a world, a `whole `world, imagine! At any rate, out subtle Father made out Amah so very happy and delighted each time she loaned us our rent "till the money came in" as it always did. Just "a little late" each time! Enough to make our Amah and her Kitchen God happy, maybe! But my parents did think that paying boarders would cover at least the rent each month and keep that shark of a rent collector from sneering down his nose at us and our "All People's Christian Mission". And we wouldn't have to be borrowing from poor Amah all the time, for they felt so bad about that. I didn't. I shared with her her pride and delight, her sense of being on an equal footing with us, in that way. Our first boarder came from the worldly sector of Shanghai. A gentleman who managed the leading hotel, or one of them, had married a lovely but crazy wife. This Russian lady suffered from "acute melancholia". Well, back in 1917 my father had suffered from it also, following his bout with typhus and "brain fever", so my mother felt that we could take care of her. I'll call her Mrs. Astor. I don't recall her actual name. She arrived with her favorite rocking-chair in which she rocked constantly while her knitting-needles clicked as though she were among the women of the days of France's Revolution, watching the heads of nobles come rolling away from the guillotine. It really got on my parent's nerves and on Grandma's nerves, for this was early on. Grandma hadn't yet sailed off for the U.S.A., escaping from hr son-in-law and his Russians - she could stand the Chinese - and from having to watch her favorite ever-childlike daughter Pansy suffer all she had to suffer because of Benjamin's enthusiasm to "serve the Lord" in his own crazy way. Our boarder was profitable in the sense that her husband was so anxious for us to keep her on, he insisted on paying a worthy sum for her, far more than my parents had felt it right to ask. Though in a short time they began to feel that no price at all covered what they now were enduring, and by "no price" I do not mean it in the sense, say, of "no time" - something non-existent. She rocked and she knitted and she sang her Russian dirges gleaned from her favorite operas. She set on edge every remaining tooth in our grownup's heads. I was fascinated. I'd watch her knit, mesmerized. Her speed was incredible. Flattered, she began teaching me to knit and got out a smaller pair of knitting-needles and some wool and placed me seated on a lower child's bamboo chair at her side. We knitted away. The rhythm rather knocked out the footwork of our Attic Ghost overhead. He or it had accomodated himself nicely to the rhythms of our hymns, but the endless clicking could not be matched by anything human or inhuman. Grandma hunted through her things and discovered a tatting instrument she'd used as a girl and saved among her other odds and ends by chance. She decided it was time for me to learn tatting, and thus she'd remove me from the lady's proximity. I was learning to sing snatches of the doleful Russian tunes and I was no longer humming Christian tunes when happy. The Russian lady glared at "da old vooman" - my grandma - and recognized that they were now in open competition for my butterfly soul. "Come here!" said Grandma, over by the table, seated across the room as far away as possible from that ever-clacking rocking-chair and the needles. I recognized her command voice and went, leaving my poor attempt at knitting abandoned on my little chair. But Grandma's attempt to teach me tatting (in which the Russian lady could not compete) didn't go very well. I kept tangling the thread and getting impatient. Mrs. Astor, our knitter, sympathized `vid' me - I mean "with me". Russian accents are so catching and I have had a Russian mother-in-law of my own from 1936 till she died, in the early 1970s; so I speak with that accent frequently, even now, when I'm absent-minded. Very annoyed became Mrs. Astor, and the rocking-chair grew motionless, the fervent knitting ceased, and she inquired, "Vat ees tatting?" "It's a way of making lace by hand I knew as a girl," offered my Grandma. "She ees not old leddy. Vy she needing know seelly ting? Come here, child! Continue your neeteeng." Grandma bristled up. "Let her at least complete this lesson now with me." "Awh, as you veesh - I not veeshing eentruding. I only not'ing here, I knowing dat alreddy," and so on, and so on. She was blowing up; her acute melancholy was growing worse and we must keep her calm "or else"! She had swooning fits and heart-attacks but her husband had left pills and assured us the attacks weren't genuine. Only the melancholy was a bonafide problem, of course. My father looked up from his Greek and Hebrew Bibles into which he's tried to escape - he hadn't gone off to preach or anything, because he knew he was needed when these scenes regularly occurred. He said, "Enough tatting for now, Mother Emma. We don't want to stir her up. And besides it is true, why should Beulah learn to make lace?" "Handmade lace today is very costly to purchase. It's a rarer skill than mere knitting is," Grandma replied. Our boarder leapt to her feet and stood glaring down at my imperturbable grandma. She was speechless with rage. "Beulah," said my Grandma, "Please run up and fetch my white crocheted shawl from the top left-hand drawer of our bedroom. It's a little chilly here right now." I set off to obey, but couldn't find the shawl where she'd said it would be. When I finally found it, it was in the bottom drawer instead. I don't believe Grandma consciously supplied incorrect directions. By the time I returned with the shawl, Mrs. Astor was knitting again and rocking fiercely, and my Grandma was studying her Bible, and my father was studying his, and my mother was studying hers, the three of them seated at the table with its heavy lace table-cloth made by some Chinese friend, and the silence (save for the clicking and clacking and some experimental dance-steps above our heads) was acute. Grandma donned her shawl for a minute then took it off and sent me upstairs to put it back in the drawer. I put it back in the left-hand top drawer where she'd originally said it should be found. We might have kept Mrs. Astor living on with us forever, but one night it was discovered that when everybody slept, she prowled the stairs with our carving-knife. When I asked why she did this, Mrs. Astor explained, "I was fighting ghosts. Poor leetle girl, she so lonely and de ghosts dey get her eef nobuddy protecting her." "She's got Jesus," said my mother stoutly. "Huh," said Mrs. Astor. "Jesus!" (very scornfully). My parents gave up and asked the husband to take her away. "Oh," said he. "Has she reached that stage? Yes, I'll have to put her in an asylum till she gets over it again. Thank you very much." My Grandma felt herself vindicated. But she made no further attempt to teach me tatting and I was very glad.
Our next boarder was an opium sot. Well, we didn't have to feed him. His well-off Chinese family had this rich old uncle who was absolutely besotted over opium and they'd had enough of his whims. They decided to lock him up where he'd not obtain further opium on the sly. They knew about our haunted attic. But since the old fellow already was so drugged he couldn't tell reality from hallucination, one more ghost might make little difference to him. They asked my parents to loan them our attic. They insisted on paying us for the inconvenience, and the price they offered for the room's rent was tempting, so we agreed. They would keep him locked in and bring him his meals and take care of his pot and so on. He would cause us no trouble. All went well for a time, if you exclude the sounds we used to hear above our heads when at worship around the dining-table. Two pairs of feet walking to and fro over our heads, apparently amicably, all the time! My father had hoped the ghost would fall silent with this new `volunteer' (albeit not a voluntary volunteer) up in the attic bothering the ghost. Well, we listened and hoped and prayed for the poor drug-addict's soul, though the latter pursuit caused a change in the overhead rhythms. Like `you'd dance also, if you found yourself standing in the middle of a huge antheap - that sort of a sound. We peppered them with our prayers, that way. But still the dance went on... But one morning there was total silence overhead. The sot's family arrived that the usual hour with his food and to empty his night-pot. They found the attic empty; the pot still unused. Where had the fellow gone? The dormer window stood wide open. But it was so very high; he could not have fled that way. They rushed down to check for remains down in the Lane. Nothing! They ran around. My parents joined them. I can't recall Grandma present at that episode - maybe she was away visiting her lifelong fellow China-hands right then. I retreated to my upper room to be out of the way, and watched through a crack in the door all the excitement. He was never found. There could only be two solutions. Either the ghost flew away with him - after all, it could even levitate big double beds - or he climbed down the drainpipe that collected rain-water from the sloping roof. What a to-do that had been. Already, by then, we had another regular boarder, "Old Mr. Kennedy", occupying the cubbyhole of a bedroom next to my parents' bedroom - above the chapel; below the attic. He and I avoided the excitement, as the stairs were filled with rushing searchers that morning. I simply watched as I always watched our home's daily doings, through a crack in my own door. He lurked lower down. He hid in his bedroom grimly waiting till the excitement died away, so he could make his regular morning's visit to our "bathroom". Living with the Surtees family played havoc with his habits of a lifetime. Still, he liked it with us for it gave him a wonderful sense of superiority. As for the sot who never reappeared, opium was his religion, and our religion never replaced opium for him. So Marx was wrong to say "Religion is the opium of the people". It's the other way around if you're a bonafide opium sot! You don't need "faith" then. You already have your hallucinations, your sense when under the drug's influence, maybe. Sometimes we had too many boarders, all missionaries too. There were occasional troubles inland and a host of missionaries came fleeing to the International Settlement of Shanghai. Those who could afford it stayed at the more comfortable Missionary Home on Quinsan Gardens; but those of a lower echelon (like my parents) came to stay with us. We were so crowded out one icy winter, my parents put up cot-beds in the attic where we ourselves slept during the dilemma which had stranded so many missionaries under our roof. They suffered patiently the inconveniences of our way of life and were glad to be gone when the opportunity returned to get away. But meanwhile, we ourselves endured the iciness and the sense of being suspended right over an Abyss. And the footsteps brushed right past us at night. I think it was a defiant gesture on my father's part by which he silently informed those superior missionaries who so scorned my father: "You dare not face our ghost. Well, we dare, see?" But we did get awful colds that winter, and the attic was so dark and damp. Well, we survived, anyway... Shanghai in the 1920s was full of the homeless and hungry. Refugees from the Communist Revolution of Russia swarmed into Shanghai continually and my father took them all to heart. He found he really preferred working among the Russians rather than among the Chinese. Oh, he got along well with the Chinese; `they respected him for his scholarly abilities and his sense of dignity despite the crazy things he chose to do. But the Russians practically bowed in his presence, for through him they received food and shelter, and by his exertions even visas to enter desirable lands like North America and Australia. My father was indefatigable in helping them all out, rushing around to show them the ropes for getting visas, teaching them English, and reforming those who needed to be reformed, like our vodka-scented bums, his favorites. Despite the money he'd received for the sale of his house in West China, there was never enough. He had rented three or four tall tenements with some of the proceeds, and was always ready to give a few silver coins to anyone who expressed the need. Coppers were for Chinese beggars such as the defeated Chinese soldiers who also made our chapel a stopping-place when with no place to sleep by night, sometimes. Our meals now were cooked in larger amounts of rice and beancurd. So we all got fed and the "loaves and fishes" multiplied as we shared what we had, and Elijah's ravens - the Chinese postman - kept returning with further supplies, widow's mites and checks even for ten dollars lately from new friends abroad who had heard of our crazy doings and approved! "That's the way, if you're going to serve God!" "The Barrel of Meal and The Cruze of Oil" were never empty in our home, though no visible miracles occurred; and I did think that was a pity. I'd have so enjoyed watching such a "barrel" refilling itself whenever some meal got dipped out regularly. Oh well! You couldn't have everything. But Grandma found it very hectic. It didn't even please her that my father had bullied the W-Trio back at the Mission to lend their huge front basement to the Russians for a "Red Cross soup kitchen", temporarily. My father had further bullied the International Community and its Red Cross officials into providing the wherewithall to supply the huge loaves of bread and the meaty bones and the vegetables for the enormous kettle of borsht that got cooked down in that basement daily by the Russians themselves, and my father now called them all "my Russians" which they gladly accepted as true. He was like an elder brother to them all. Not a father. He wasn't the fatherly type, boyish even when he became a little old man. But the old W-Trio never, never allowed Benjamin to baptize his Russians in their impeccable baptismal pool in the auditorium above the basement, so my father found no solution - China's creeks and rivers being crowded, dirty, and remote - but to use our own bathtub, as I've said. The smaller sizes could be baptized more easily. The hulking types stuck out at both ends but my father solved this my pushing them in firstly by the head, then by the feet, so they got wet all over anyway. The more self-respecting types he was helping urgently assured him they'd "already been baptized back in Russia". "But sprinkling by the Orthodox Church has no value," my father would argue, to please my Baptist to whose views he adhered with devotion and loyalty. "Surely there were no Baptists in Communist Russia?" "Oh, there were!" "And they baptized you?" "`Knetchna (of course)." Grandma, despairing of any dignity to be found in our pursuit of souls at Dah-Shin-Fong, booked her passage on a Japanese maru and sailed away from Shanghai forever. She hoped our new boarder, Mr. Kennedy, would keep us sensible - just a bit, still.
We had skulls beneath our chapel floorboards, though none had been brought forth to display to us by the ghosts. Our understanding of the character tau, moreover, evoked "Jesus as the Word", despite the fact the character showed "a hairy head going, (showing the "Way of the Head)", and in books apart which I've written but never showed a publisher---(for I hate rejections and my stuff is only published for free in privately circulated "fanzines" of fellow science-fiction fans abroad), I assembled worldwide legends and superstitions still lingering where we now are, concerning the "Rolling Head" that shows the way.
So, anyway, what we needed at Dah-Shin-Fong was a literal "Hideous Head," (like an ancestral skull, maybe), to show us the way. What should it be called? "Kennedy"? I came across in a dictionary the meaning of that name: "Hideous Head" it meant originally. So now we presented our own Relic to match and counter those to which our haunts might choose to cling. Mr. Kennedy was a real genuine old relic, but my Grandma approved of him, for he dated back more or less to her own times in China at the close of the 19th century. Maybe he'd admired her a lot when they both were young. (Only admired, of course. What did you think?) Look! I am not making up our boarder's name. He really was "Mr. Kennedy" and it's just a coincidence that I lately learned what the name means.
Now: there's another Chinese character where a bald head (or skull) has legs and it walks off sorrowfully, for it must ford its last river in search of some Avalon where continuity can be enjoyed. And in one phonetic usage it suggests the apple or apple tree. We all know what a "apple" signified metaphorically. To the Jews a man's "apple" is the bulge in his windpipe that's been there ever since Adam took a bit of the fruit offered him by Eve. Furthermore, "apple" is said to be a cognate of "Avalon", but also of "Apollyon". "Trapalanda" of Patagonia, which I mentioned further back, was also called by the natives "Apple-land" and also "the Hunting-grounds of the Dead". (As for what sort of pre-Columbian apples where found there, maybe some sort of crabapples? The good kind that grow there now in the Lake Region supposedly were imported originally.) Well, in any case, our "Hideous Head" has come to be linked in my thoughts with "Mr. Kennedy's apples", the story of which follows now. Our house was beginning to look elegant. Mr. Kennedy, a retired missionary with private means as well, had no wish to sail off to America and leave all his precious furniture behind. It was of solid oak, (if not walnut; anyway, it wasn't mahogany or teak); and it was beautifully crafted, beautifully polished, and he was very attached to it still. He wanted to find a way whereby it could be not only safely stored (for free) but maintained in a high state of polish. And so he convinced my parents to get rid of some of our own odds and ends and replace them with this marvelous furniture we would take care of for him. We sold some bits of our old stuff; but chiefly gave it away to our Russian friends, (those who'd decided to settle in Shanghai). Mr. Kennedy was never bothered by our ghosts. In the first place, he was deaf enough not to hear the footsteps. In the second place he was a sound sleeper. In the third place no ghost would ever have dared even try to levitate his bed, in the alcove adjoining my parents' bedroom. And, in the fourth place, the poor man was totally non-psychic and there'd have been no way to bother him anyway. My parents still had occasional "joy-rides" if you can call it so. How the ghost ever managed to levitate their bed so regularly, lacking any take-off space is in itself remarkable. Their room was now jam-full of some of "Mr. Kennedy's furniture": a bureau and a wardrobe or two. These pieces were now to be found all over the house, to add to Dah-Shi-Fu's task of joyously keeping our place and its possessions spick and span so proudly. Mr. Kennedy remained for three or so years with us and with his furniture in China, for he didn't want to take it with him to the USA and he didn't want to leave it behind. He would have to relinquish his right to it once he'd die, but he felt that if he left it with us, we'd go on thinking of it as "Mr. Kennedy's furniture" till we were parted from it in turn ourselves by wars, death, or whatever. (And indeed we always called it his till we left China and the furniture behind.) He trusted us that much! Dear man, he was a gentleman but very dour. How he loathed all children. He did not consign them to Hell, and it never occurred to him that I looked like the sort "born to be lost". But he simply required that I obey the old dictum "Little children should be seen and not heard". (Preferably not seen also). I complied. I most carefully stayed out of his way save at mealtimes when I was "quiet as a mouse" and extremely well-behaved, with careful table-manners. He could forget my presence and feel at ease with us. Our house now was absolutely full of things that were Mr. Kennedy's. That may have been one reason he chose to become our permanent boarder---we made room for all his things. But he also liked my pariah father as much as he disliked all his other fellow missionaries of Shanghai; so much so he made my father the heir of a huge theological library. (It was my father's downfall, as I shall mention again. His own lively style of sermon got ruined by memorizing all the "Great Sermons of our Bygone Evangelists," in due course.) At any rate, Mr. Kennedy regarded my father as possessing a brilliant intellect on a par with his own. They enjoyed discussing theological conundrums together logically. My mother was quite at a loss at such times, and often left the living-room due to utter boredom and a little distress. (God never meant us to be so clever! And "it wasn't good for a Benjamin"!) My mother could have been brilliant herself, but when not more than eight at the most she'd closed up shop in her upper story ad consigned her mind to the care of the more Fundamental of Fundamentalists whom she'd somehow come to admire. And she never again studied a single written work that wasn't written by Fundamentalists she could trust. Her brain never was allowed to mature. Years later, I was shown pamphlets translated into Spanish here containing sermons by "great preachers" like Jimmy Swaggart, whose swaggering poses never impressed me, as I must confess. (More, his fondness for photographing prostitutes in the nude, as per reports published in the press by those set on his trail by competing evangelists, would have embarrassed my mother were she living at that time. But his pamphlets on the Gospel, now? She'd have found them "perfect", "faithful to the Old Time Gospel". But I for one developed an allergy that has lasted me till now for such literature that was forced upon me constantly in my childhood by me own beloved mother, who simply couldn't see through to what lay hidden beneath all the phraseology.) Well, anyway, when we had our Mr. Kennedy boarding with us at Dah-Shin-Fong, he kept us from going too far astray, as regards filling all our corners with derelicts. He frowned upon our Russian bums; he glared fiercely upon our defeated Chinese soldiers. They all squirmed in his presence, when he marched stoutly from the Lane through the chapel and into the back hall. Nobody felt easy with him around and it came in handy, I'm sure. Why! They were afraid even to loiter in the chapel when they knew it was the hour for him to take his short morning walk! How useful he was, therefore! All sorts of special things were "Mr. Kennedy's". A big tin of imported candied biscuits. A special brand of imported tea. Tins of imported condensed milk. You name it. We had it: "for Mr. Kennedy," put away! Just for him! He paid a decent rent and my mother tried to give him full value. He didn't have to eat beancurd and rice. Special meals (foreign style) were prepared for him and he generously allowed my father to share such foods, as also his afternoon teas, with his special dishes and cutlery. (My poor father never did digest beancurd and other Chinese foods easily.) And then there was his special imported fruit, fresh from California. My mother bought only a couple of staples thereof at a time, for they were costly. So once I opened the sideboard drawer and saw the most gloriously red big apple I'd ever seen in my life. I am not alleging that any serpent whispered to me, "Try just a bit"! but---well---there it was and my eyes drank in its color and form and I wanted just to touch it and smell its fragrance, so I held it in my hand wonderingly. Lovely! "Dear Lord!" I'd already bitten into it. Just a tiny bite! I was astonished at myself. I'd done it without realizing it, like in a trance. Horrified, I put the apple back in the drawer with the bit underneath so it wouldn't show. I returned to my room to resume my pastime of drawing. Grandma had left China for good by then, but she had bequeathed to me her collection of bits of blank paper which she cut off of whatever published material came her way before throwing the pamphlets, envelopes, etc., away. That way I'd fallen heir t endless snippets of blank paper in all sizes and it inspired me t draw non-stop in my plentiful free time. So I got engrossed in my drawing and forgot my sin. A day or so later my mother reached into the drawer to take out "Mr. Kennedy's desert" and found the bite. She was very amused and touched. She called up to me in such a merry voice I came running down. Some nice surprise must be awaiting me! "Guess what!" she smiled. "There's a little mouse in this house." Oh, that was very good news to come for I'd suddenly remembered about the bite. It was nice to think she was blaming a little mouse and not about to scold me. "I wonder how it got into the drawer," she went on. "I'm sure I left it tightly closed the other day." We studied my toothmarks together. Then she added: "And now I have nothing to give poor Mr. Kennedy for his dessert." "Couldn't he eat it anyway? It's just a little tiny bite!" "Oh no! I'm afraid he'd be very angry and offended if I tried to feed him something already nibbled by a mouse." Suddenly my eyes filled with tears. I felt so sorry both for that fictitious little mouse and for my sinful self and also for my mother. But not for Mr. Kennedy. He got enough apples and other special foods reserved just for him and for nobody else. He didn't need my pity. My mother hastened to reassure me. "It's all right, dear. I just wanted to let you know that I knew. You were that little mouse, weren't you, darling?" I nodded dumbly. "I'm sorry we can't buy nice American apples for you too, my dear. But it's not as if you never get any fruit. We have lots of fruits in season of the locally-grown varieties. The framers hawk it right at our door and we get a lot for just a few coppers. And I can it so we have it even out of season." I nodded. It was true. My mother went on brightly, very keen not to waste such a good apple. "However not to waste this apple you can eat it now yourself, all of it! That's why I called you down---so you can enjoy this nice apple." I recoiled, pushing her hand with the apple away. I flinched when she tried to insist. "But it's a pity to waste it!" she pleaded, and she now played the role of the serpent tempting a very young Eve to accept a second bite. But I rejected it totally, horrified. To eat it now would be to compound my crime. I'd repented. I didn't want to enjoy now the fruits of my sin. At last she giggled in her wonderful girlish way, (in the manner that I best remember her, so uninhibited suddenly), and said, "I'll give it to your father instead. He'll enjoy it. But he'll have to eat it in secret---not at mealtime. We can't have Mr. Kennedy watching your father eat this lovely apple and no apple for Mr. Kennedy, can we?" I joined her in the giggles. We both collapsed with delight at the funny imagery she'd just evoked. We thought we heard Mr. Kennedy's slow footsteps ascending from below. Hastily she covered the apple wth a clean napkin, looking guiltily around. (No, it wasn't Mr. Kennedy approaching. Who? We did not know. The footsteps had ceased. I looked out of the door and down the stairway. No one! I came back to watch her. She looked more furtive still.) "I'll find your papa and get him to eat it at once," said she. "We can't leave this apple lying around, just in case." And off she went in search of my father, who happened to be in the chapel going through a new shipment of Gospel tracts in many languages that had just arrived from the USA. A minute later my father slunk up-the-stairs holding the napkin-enfolded apple and went into his bedroom without a word to me. My mother wandered off to see what was going on in the kitchen, superintending our noonday meal. I ran upstairs elated. All had turned our well. Between us, we'd granted our "Head of the House", (mother's husband; my father); a real, unexpected treat. Two Eves were we, and "Adam" (my father) could safely say if God chose to scold him, "Those two women---they gave it to me and I did eat." If my mother had really been honest she'd have turned Mr. Kennedy's apple into applesauce instead for his dessert, as it occurs to me right now!
Summing up those years that we spent at Dah-Shin-Fong, there were many amusing and pleasant times enjoyed there, despite occasional icy sensations of horror. Living at the lip of the Pit, with invisible traffic continually pouring up and down via our airwell and stairwell, was not always delightful though you learned to survive. But the traffic of humans forever coming in and out again could fascinate. My father found the Russians easier to fathom than the Chinese. After all, his first encounter with a Chinese had been in his thirties when he came out to be a Methodist missionary in China. My mother, on the other hand, had grown up like a Chinese child herself in an inland Chinese city from babyhood. She instead found the Russians difficult to fathom, just as she found most white folk (even her fellow Americans) very different from her easy-to-understand Chinese, and not quite so "sincere" in her view. She found the Chinese sincere. With her, they did indeed find it easy to be open and frank. (If they weren't the scheming sort reciting Bible texs for hand-outs.) And so a division developed at Dah-Sing-Fong between my parents as concerns goals. My mother went right on "saving Chinese"; but my father preferred to "save Russians". As far as statistics went, (and there should be no color-bar when seeking "stars in our crowns", though all-colored stars would be prettiest, no doubt), my father now was saving more Russians than my mother could possibly find any way to match, when trying to save China's great massed ranks on their way down to Hell, tumbling in daily. In a Christian sort of way, competition became strong, and our little "All-People's Christian Mission" became the threshold of argument, that continued attic-wards, throughout our house. At times my mother would pick her way from the Lane through the tangled legs of sleeping Russian bums and Chinese soldiers, and ascend our stairs in search of her Benjamin, and she'd be both breathless and a little indignant. Finding him preparing his next sermon in Russian, (for his brilliant gifts at languages he now focussed on learning that tongue), she'd interrupt to cry, "Benjamin! That same old sot," (referring to the worst of the ever-reappearing Russian drunks), "is back downstairs sleeping off his vodka. And I nearly tripped over him just now. It's the limit, Benjamin. How many times have you cleaned him up? And I do feel you baptized him in that inadequate bathtub prematurely." "Pansy! We've got to have faith in his eventual reformation!" "I know, Benjamin! I know! But his presence, in particular, in our downstairs chapel, is making our better-class Chinese converts stay away. He's so rude to them. He feels himself, as a white man, their superior." "That's regrettable!", my father agreed. "And we must keep teaching him to love all his neighbors equally in the Lord. But you must remember that Jesus rejected nobody." "He said he came to save the lost sheep of the House of Israel and he didn't attend the Gentiles much while he was on Earth," she tried to match him in his arguments. "But in the end he sent forth his disciples to all nations," my father reminded her. "And another text comes to mind: Jesus also said, `Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost' following the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. These are fragments---thrown-away scraps of humanity I'm trying to save, and I obey the Lord in so doing." Pansy stuttered, "But---but---" and Benjamin went on, "And as you yourself always say, `Waste not, want not!' The Father desires not the death of a sinner but wishes that all men be saved. Lost souls are wasted souls. It's our duty to save them. And here's another text: Jesus said: `Him that cometh to me I shall in no wise cast out.'" My mother personally doubted that those drunks were in search of Jesus. Mere handouts they sought, in her view. But what could she do? Put up an opposing sign above our chapel entrance: "Only Chinese admitted to our All People's Christian Mission?" Benjamin had his heart set on converting specimens of every available nationality in Cosmopolitan Shanghai. He dreamed of an "all-colored" jeweled crown in Heaven, obviously. When his fellow missionaries appeared up there with crowns containing jewels of only one color, he'd at last outshine them and when comparing crowns, boast, "Let there be no further argument!" His would be the most colorful crown, the Father himself would admire! So the All People's Christian Mission awaited all the nationalities who might be passing by. And of course under the heading "Russian" came Latvians, Serbians, Estonians, Armenians, and such. They all sounded "Russian" to my mother when they spoke, of course. And looked Russian to her too! My father recognized that he'd never stir up in his Pansy's soul any eagerness to convert humans of Slavic extract. She simply didn't fancy them as specimens of the human race. Their breath smelt of vodka, at least in the cases of those she met face-to-face. Even the nicer Russian ladies professing to have been baptized by Baptists in Russia before fleeing that land, smelt a bit of vodka at times, (at least to my mother's sensitive nostrils. And a total teetotaler's sense of smell is powerful. So was mine, another teetotaler that I happened to be. Incidentally, did you know Jesus drank only fresh, unfermented grapejuice? My mother said so, and she never lied.) Well, my father studied the situation. It was obvious to both my parents I'd never become a "Third Generation China Missionary" as had been my mother's dream for me. But what if I became a "Missionary to the Russians" instead, backing my father in his new dream? (The laugh is I subsequently would marry a young Russian when I was 18, foregoing my trip to the U.S. though my passage was booked, my aunts in the USA awaited me and I was to enter college that same Fall. So I stayed and married my Russian and for his sake and following in my father's footsteps took on his very difficult old Russian parents. The mother was only a stepmother; his own lost mother had been Jewish as we only learned when the old man died.) "Yes," thought my father, back in the early 1920's already. While his only child seemed to prefer the Chinese unconverted, there was no question but that these Russians really needed a bit of polishing, and it had better be accomplished using a British approach rather than a Yankee one, as he felt. Russians with an American accent might seem singularly unattractive to us all. But if they acquired a British accent, instead, they'd be charming, and all the better as followers of our dignified Christ." American when "under the Spirit" evoked a very wild sort of "Jesus" sometimes.) So my father watched me and studied how best to turn me into a Russophile. He decided to take me along when he'd be visiting his favorite Russians afar. We would share with them a bowlful of borsch! Those a bit to near us, (sleeping off their vodka on our chapel floor), he didn't of course expect me to want to help him try to save. So the regular task of delousing "former Russian generals and princely nobles" fell to him and to our Dah-Sin-Fu ever ready to help. And the fact my father so appreciated this assistance that he always gave him an extra handful of silver coins, (not quite a dollar's worth), warmed Dah-Shi-Fu's heart towards derelict Russians too, so he never chased them away surreptitiously, though he didn't himself fancy the Chinese beggars and other down-in-outs of his own race.)
So my father started taking me for a "spin", perched on the back of his wobbly new bicycle, of ancient vintage which he'd come across as a bargain, and it could be kept together still with bits of wire. (He had a knack of fixing things.) He'd always hated riding in rickshaws, particularly as his own short legs could keep up with any rickshaw man's when need be. Not that he allowed himself to be glimpsed on Shanghai's thoroughfares practicing races with rickshaw men. (That pursuit became mine in my teens instead, as in another book ahead I'll mention.) No, sir! He raced past al the coolie-powered traffic of Shanghai on that new bicycle of his, that jingled and jangled and rattled and creaked as he shot between the carts and rickshaws precariously. My mother, of course, would not even have dreamed of becoming a passenger at his rear on that bike. Or even riding it alone, less still. I visualize the sight she would have been, in her 19th-centruy styles with her long full skirts, bouncing over the cobbles past astonished Chinese pedestrians. Unthinkable! But my father looked very perky on his bike, like an elderly delivery man. (He'd delivered newspapers and messages as a boy thus in Northumberland!) My father was very proud of his bicycle's individualistic squeaks despite oilings. Like all wheelbarrow-pushers of China, they take pride in each squeak: indeed each wheelbarrow has its own distinctive squeal, announcing the approach of its owner. My father felt welded to his new form of transportation as devotedly. So when he offered me a ride on that bike, I was delighted, and climbed onto the wobbly baggage-rack and off we rode bouncing off to victory. (For only "to victory" would my father ever go. Defeat was unthinkable, save when ghosts circled by night and they simply refused to be exorcised, not properly, though temporary exorcisms his Pansy did achieve when necessary. To avoid being airborne too frequently, for instance!) Well, my attempts to maintain my balance as we swerved and avoided collisions repeatedly should have been admired. But it was the least my father expected of his half-British progeny. Now, if I went and behaved like a silly American, (faithful to the other half of myself), I'd be lectured and told not to be like the Americans save for my own mother whom I must copy faithfully. Well, all went well till my foot caught in the back wheel and a spoke snapped. He'd not told me to keep my feet sticking our horizontally, so I'd "fallen into sin" in my ignorance. How eloquent became my father as we stood by the roadside studying the ruined spoke. After a while, he rallied and we walked forward together handling the bicycle while seeking the nearest bicycle shop. Lots of young Chinese fellows back there rode bicycles too and the Chinese had bicycle-repair shops at every other corner. Once fixed, I was warned to keep my legs "sticking straight out", which new feat I achieved successfully, and soon developed quite a head for balancing. So we rode along jauntily together like a well-matched team "in search of Russians to save and help". Often our destination would be the offices of "the King's Daughters' Society" near the Garden Bridge. The title had awed me at first. I was led in to meet the King's Daughters, and had I known how to curtsy I'd have curtsied. Or bowed the knee totally. But not knowing how to behave in the presence of Royalty I merely stood shyly and watched the transactions going on. "Oh, there you are again, Mr. Surtees!" my father would be greeted by the very king voices of the ladies, who didn't wear any ermine or red velvet and certainly lacked jeweled crowns. (Maybe they too sought to earn the invisible kind that would become visible when you reached Heaven.) I knew they called my father "Mister" rather than "Reverend" at his own request. He wanted to practice humility. He was very proud that he still was by right an ordained Methodist minister, (though unofficially now a Baptist to make his Pentecostal-Baptist Pansy happy). But though he always acknowledged his right to the title Reverend, he at once added eagerly, "But just call me Mister," s everybody did, save a few stubborn nice people. (A pity the nice folk I met frequently too, wont get big billing in my stories; but only because we met them so seldom, somehow. They found us awesome folk and didn't much risk seeking us out though when we visited them they treated us wonderfully with full affection.) Upon being thus greeted by these nice ladies, (wives of leading member of Shanghai's business community, doing their "good deed for today"), my father seemed to grow in height and his chest puffed out and I swear he appeared in my eyes as a cute Bantam rooster. (Usually his "wounded sparrow" aspect was more in view). "Yes, here I am," he boasted. "And it's for my Russians again." "What can we do for you now?" "Well, we've given out the clothes in the bundles you sent the other time. We could do with some more. New refugees have just arrived." "And are you putting them all up in those big old houses you rented?" "Yes! I managed to sell my own big stone house in Szechuen so I could afford to rent still mroe tenements!" "Mr. Surtees, you're extraordinary! And very dedicated as we must say. We'll get the bundles to your place shortly. `Number One Dah-Sing-Fong, Off-Darroch road', is it still?" "That's right" beamed my father, intensely flattered that they even knew our address by heart. Out on the street again I asked my father, "Papa! Are they really the King's Daughters?" for doubts were assailing my soul. They'd looked so ordinary to me. (No sceptres in their hands either, and surely daughters of royalty didn't spend their free time collecting and giving away bundles of old clothes?) My father did so hate having to reply truthfully, "Not the daughters of some British king, no! But of the King of Heaven, you see" My face fell and he felt sorry to have to tell the truth and spoil my amazement. (To have entered the presence of British royalty, whose images my father put right below God's own Trinitarian appearances and that of his greatest angels and saints, ah, what reward that would have been for a lifetime of labor! I stood there frowning over the differences in "Kings of Earth" and "the One in Heaven"; so to distract me my father said cheerfully, "Now back on our bicycle and we'll drop in now for a bowl of borsch with all my Russians, shall we?" I climbed back onto the baggage-rack, (legs stuck out horizontally, fingers clinging to the edge of the rack), and off we rode. I wasn't at all keen on borsch but it made my father so happy to get a sip. The fellowship of lunching with all his Russians, triumphantly, in the basement of the very Mission where he'd labored earlier, (treated by the W-trio so thanklessly), gave him joy. He was boss in that basement. All the Russians crowded around him with their new tales of woe and misery, hope and fragmentation. (For traveling to other lands meant leaving their souls scattered in so many bits all over the difficult terrain they'd traveled from Russian to Manchuria and finally Shanghai.) (Some had come by boat from Vladivostok. In one case that I recall, such a boat was two years at sea, rejected at every port where it tried to unload its passengers. Babies were born aboard---one such little girl got adopted by my parents later when her father left China for other lands and her mother died of T-B in Shanghai's General Hospital, for the passengers finally unloaded in Shanghai.) The Russians felt so close to my little father. Most of them towered over him so he never dwarfed them nor made them feel small. He listened intently to their Russian soliloquies and he answered in his newly acquired Russian too, so they felt he understood all they had to say. It went on and on, those soliloquies. My father was fascinated, while I was growing more and more bored but patient still, for I was glad my father assuaged their distress simply by paying them such alert attention and bothering to learn their language. He also gave them lessons in English (using the King James version for his teaching) both at our chapel at home and in the basement of the great Mission. On some occasions, back in my early childhood on a bicycle, I might protest that I didn't like borsch. So my father, (just once that I remember), took me to a "soda-fountain" as I'd expressed myself "only thirsty", and ordered for me a tall glass of soda with a scoop of icecream in it. I'll never forget the taste. It remains a precious memory. Do you think I pity myself for my semi-starved childhood, (so much rice and beancurd as our mainstay at home and often little else)? Indeed not. I pity those who grew up satiated with all the different flavors that left them bloated even before reaching maturity. Poor dears, their treasured memories concern "walnut-topped chocolate-and-strawberry icecream Sundays" and so on. And I have instead the sparse, sweet memory of my initiation into the taste of a simple icecream soda which my father watched me enjoy and he even took a sip or so through my straw. (One piece of silver less for his Russians, of course, and we both felt a bit guilty!) Yes, I love my parents in retrospect more and more, and enjoy the details of their bumbling attempts to be "Proper Fundamentalists". But real Fundamentalists only looked down their noses at my folks. We weren't "proper" at all, but mere ragamuffin types. And I was being raised to be an even worse ragamuffin, "less Christian still," as I turned out to be. (For nothing could prevent me from thinking things out for myself.) When I'd complain to my father that "I'd rather go home," for I didn't want to be late for the noon-hour meal. (Dah-Shi-Fu with the aid of tziang-yu, chopped garlic, etc. made even fried beancurd delicious in my view!) my father argues doggedly, "You'll yet learn to love borsch!" And of course he was right: borsch was our mainstay at home all the years I shared my married life with my parents-in-law and their only child, (my husband) and our children. Though in Buenos Aires, where I made many friends while working as an English-Spanish translator and secretary, I often had lunch with some Jewish old ladies who always served me kosher borsch, and it was the most delicious thing I've ever tasted yet. (I am kosher at heart, I suspect.) Well, there I was around the age of seven, descending the wide flight of steps into the darkness (lit by feeble electric overhead bulbs) there in the W-Trio's huge front basement. It swallowed us; we walked through clouds of steamy vapor and tremendous noise, groping our way. Huge shadows loomed near and embraced us. I was patted on the head but with real affection so I did not shrink. I was blessed: "Boshamoi" was summoned to grant me his Russian blessing. It was wonderful. It was terrible. I was simply stunned as I always have been even after years of being a daugher-in-law to an aged Russian pair. My father was never thus stunned, his solution, when the noise grew too loud for his British sensibility, was to pull out of pocket his new little Russian Bible and start reading out to his Russian friends "verses that will give you hope and cheer you", and they'd all fall silent and nod and listen intently, muttering, "Horoshaw, horoshaw!" (Good, good.) So my training began when I was seven, to become a Russophile. We sat on a bench in that basement, near a table heaped with thick slices of brown bread, and bowls and some spoons, and were handed huge bowls of borsch so hot it burned my fingers and my tongue. I sipped cautiously, then noisily, as everybody around me did also. All over the huge basement we sipped noisily. Hunger assuaged, conversations started up all over the huge basement auditorium. I heard shouts and curses, Boshamoi! they were crying. What wouldn't they do if they got a chance to hold a Bolshevik by the neck! Details of the types of revenge they'd best enjoy executing were discussed and laughter as well as roars of approval circulated. Bottles of vodka hidden in coat pockets were not brought forth till we departed from the basement and even then sips were shared only cautiously, for if the W-Trio (sending in an occasional Chinese servant to spy a bit) learned that vodka was being consumed right in that free soup-kitchen, trouble would result. Oh, they couldn't cast the Russians out, but Benjamin would be in serious trouble and no Russian wanted their champion, "little Benjamin", to be downed or hurt. He was too precious to them all---their leading hope for the future.
While we had many "Baptist" Russians, (mysteriously baptized just before escaping Russia by Baptists lurking there), and these folk did not need to be baptized again in our bathtub, certain bonafide Russian drunks gladly accepted not only regular baths administered by my father and Dah-Shi-Fu as a team, but even baptism when required. Anything! When welcoming home one of our "Prodigal Sons" from the regions where pigs rooted, the procedure seldom varied. Dah-Shi-Fu would be the first to "welcome" such a reeling forlorn figure...he'd watch him settled nicely as near to the dying ashes of the chapel grate as possible. If the fellow was too soaked, and chattered too much and might run a fever, Dah-Shi-Fu would bring in a new newspapers, (even with comics for he was unaware that I treasured those pages), and a few precious briquettes of powdered coal, and light a temporarily roaring fire for the poor fellow. Did he do this because he saw Jesus in the poor man? (Or Yasu?) Not really. But "saved Russian drunks" added to his store of smaller silver coins, as Benjamin duly praised him and rewarded him, once the heavy tasks were done at last. Besides, he admired by father too, did Dah-Shi-Fu. My father made no distinction between "former Russian princes" and "former Russian generals". There seemed to be no other kind needing our ministrations. As for bonafide Russian aristocrats, I suppose we did meet a few, but the genuine article I only got to know when I acquired my own old parents-in-law. My father-in-law really had been a prince, (by birth, but only on his mother's side, so his first cousins, not he, would inherit the title and the estate). Well, anyway, the "Russian generals" my father rescued were probably common foot-soldiers originally, the hulking type, but very trusting where we were concerned. (Baptism needed? "Baptize me by all means.") Now; how do you cleanse a returnee from the underworlds of Shanghai, again covered with lice and filthy to boot? Well, you first allow him to sleep off his binge. That takes a day or two, down in the chapel. He awakes; he lurches to his feet and struggles forth to that outdoor "bathroom" near the railway, a vacant, rubbish-heaped lot. (Later, a tree-devil would be glimpsed there in a spindly bush and the Buddhists were ready to buy the lot and raise there a temple to protect the little demon, but my father cut the tree or bush down one midnight so the temple didn't get built. I guess we needed that outdoor bathroom, since my mother flatly refused to share our upstairs W.C. with lice-ridden folk.) Next? The poor filthy fellow reappeared so hungry even rice and beancurd might seem acceptable t him. But "No," said my gather. "First, you need a bath and a complete change of garments!" Dah-Shi-Fu went hurrying off to buy some wooden pails full of boiling water from a nearby open-fronted shop that had only the one commodity, boiling-water, on sale constantly for all the region. The store's coolies then arrived at once with the huge brimming pails and trotted upstairs and filled the old bathtub and went away. My father already had selected clothes from out of the bundles that we regularly got from the King's Daughters Society. He'd chosen carefully. The shoes must be too disreputable to be sold for another glass of vodka somewhere. The same held true for the upper garments. The finer garments that also came in such bundles were reserved for finer folk, all the "nice Baptist ladies and gentlemen" who'd been baptized before fleeing Russia. (Or so they maintained.) Now came the great moment when our soon-to-be-reformed drunk would be led upstairs---as far as the first back landing, anyway, and into the "bath", in its separate, windowless cubbyhold, but a bare lightbulb was turned on. There he'd be stripped of his own filthy shredded garments, (whatever he'd not sold for vodka so far, i.e., the unsaleable portions for already he lacked shoes!), and Dah-Shi-Fu would carry the bundle forth gingerly to the empty lot where a lurking beggar would pounce upon same as "still valuable". Back to our bathroom Dah-Shi-Fu would hurry, this time bringing in a pair of sharp shears. The gentleman's locks would be cut; then my father's razor would be put to good use. (Only way to get rid of all the nits). It is possible my father considered the remaining body-lice as "impossible to evict". (You couldn't tamper with the poor fellow's pubic-parts and shave them also. But we did the best we could under the circumstances.) Meanwhile, the tub of boiling-water steamed on. My father tested it. "Too hot to bear?" A dollop of cold water was let in via the cold water tap. He looked questioningly at his shivering, naked victim. "Check if it's too hot for you!" he warned the poor man. But proud Russians fear neither heat nor cold, fire nor ice. The poor fellow stepped gingerly in, raised his eyes heavenwards courageously, ad submerged, at least the lower portions of his anatomy vanished beneath the steaming brew. Carbolic soap was produced and a stout bristly brush. The scrubbing began, though his genitals he had to attend to himself, of course, nits and all. I was never present, but I have a vivid imagination. No satyr could have remained ithyphallic under this regenerative treatment. In legendary times, very old men used to get boiled in Greece in rejuvenatory cauldrons, (after being cut up). Our victims suffered no cuts. Dah-Shi-Fu had safely manipulated both the shears and my father's old-fashioned razor. He was an expert by now at such tasks. At last, the ordeal over, and our lobster-red soul donned the garments proffered to him. He studied them regretfully. My father was growing sly. Every new set of clothes was less valuable than the earlier sets. (Less vodka would result from their sale, eventually.) And now downstairs again, to share a bowl of rice and beancurd wth other members of our flock, (beggars and Chinese soldiers included), in our own "minor soup-kitchen!" of the chapel. Amah had attened both to stoking the stove at the rear and keeping the food from burning at the front of the stove, al on her own, while Dah-Shi-Fu helped his baster Benjamin. The food was well-cooked anyway. She had not failed. But our newly-cleansed victim looked suddenly ill. He held his midriff in anguish and explained brokenly that his liver was poor. "Cirrhosis!" thought my father but only thought it, regretfully. The man hesitated then blurted out chiefly in Russian "I'm able to walk. I'll just be in time for the borsch in the soup-kitchen you have in the basement down there. Goodbye! and he staggered forth from our front door. My father sighed. The inevitable would happen. He'd meet up with his old cronies there, and they'd work out a plot on the overthrow of the Communists. And, with the aid of a smuggled flask of vodka, they'd exult, And?---Well, my father would have to start all over again to reform his favorite drunk-of-the hour. (All of them!) As a boy he'd often wished he could help his own whiskey-loving father as devotedly, but it was impossible when he was small. Now he could help dozens of drunks, though vodka stank even worse than did whisky, in his view. He too tee-totaled, and always did from youth up. My father's bicycle tires wore out even more quickly than did my father himself. He had his regular English and Bible lessons to teach and preach all over the place too. He used as his textbook the King James version of the Bible. And so in due course hundreds of Russians who eventually sought jobs in Canada, the USA and Australia, astonished their interviews with wonderfully quaint Shakespearean phraseology. ("Suffer me to request thy help", and so on.) Russian girls abounded around Dah-Shin-Fong, over-flowing out of the tenements my father had rents. They were wonderously clothed in the latest flapper styles, for Shanghai's worldly folk kept up with the latest fashions and discarded last year's wear invariably. I, instead, went on wearing my awful-looking missionary-style clothes, so the other girls could look down their noses at me. But once, as I watched my mother dutifully sorting out a new consignment of old garments from Shanghai's "rich", I caught sight of a wonderful wisp of chiffon and pounced upon it before my mother could make it disappear. (For she knew my garish tastes all too well!) It was so wonderful, I remember it vividly still. It was a flapper's sleeveless dancing frock. It was printed in huge, polka dots of rose and purple, green and orange, and other bright hues, that overlapped. I didn't consciously know it then, (but I know it now): my soul recognized in it a diagram of stellar orbs, (or perhaps just the asteroids of Saturn's rings when lit by sunlight). Whatever it represented I wanted to be clothed in it immediately. "May I try it on?" asked I. "You're not taking off your nice Korean-cloth dress to put that on!" "I'll put it over the dress. Please, mama." To avoid a lengthy argument she said, "Well, all right", and I presumed it was now my property. I slipped it over my head and my mother winced. "Don't let Mr. Kennedy see you!" she cried. (We were in the living-dining-room, for where else could the task be done? He was out, but might suddenly return.) "You'd better take it off now right away." "Oh, let me wear it a little," I pleaded. "Well, only up in you own room," she replied. I rushed upstairs and opened a window to serve as my mirror. I postured and admired---reveling in the lovely colors, more than in how they looked on me. But worn on a body, they could be seen to better effect. I was beautiful. Never mind my funny-looking face, my long braids, my cotton stockings and heavy shoes. I was robed in a robe of light, over my white and blue-striped dress so suitable for a 19th century missionary child. I had to take it off to come down for supper. I then retired for bed, leaving it right beside me, to don again on the morrow. But next morning it had vanished. I knew my mother had stolen it while I slept, but she refused to discuss it with me when I asked. What did she do with it? I'd have been intensely saddened had some little Russian girl appeared at our Sunday service in the chapel, clad therein. But it never appeared on anybody. What did my mother do with it? To throw it in the rubbish-can would be sinful. But to send it to some whorehouse where it might have been valued, did not occur to her. (She would not condone iniquity.) I really don't know. My father wanted an all-colored crown of stars in Heaven. I wanted an all-colored robe of stars covering all my body, not just a crown on top. (Maybe it's up, somewhere, in some quaint, unusual "Heaven" waiting for me to don it when I arrive?) As for the Russian girls who had to come to sing hymns at our place on Sundays with their parents? They tolerated us because they must, but on weekdays they joined the Lane's children (when my parents weren't home) to serenade me, as I remained alone upstairs, and they sang together "Hallelujah, I'm a bum," earnestly, while I wept into the fur of my mother's cat (at the foot of her bed). "Frisky, you're my only friend," I told her as she purred cozily.
Actually, I don't think my parents' bed ever levitated with the cat aboard it. Frisky, the old feline's name, had been named by me when we lived at the Mission years earlier. (Dah-Shi-Fu had brought her to Dah-Shin-Fong in a basket.) But she was on old cat now and her kittens never survived. She'd run out of milk and it was a sad business each time for my mother and for me. We'd try feeding them with a medicine dropper, but they died anyway. In any case, I think cats and witches may go together as everybody supposes. But the cats are not pro-spookiness, they're more protective against such manifestations in my view. In any case, Frisky spent her nights outdoors, so could not have been present on the occasions that startled my father and infuriated my mother so much. We grew quite accustomed to sharing our Dah-Shin-Fong place with the ghosts, though we never grew familiar with them nor missed them during their silent periods when they seemed to lose their strength, (I've no idea why). They always returned for a new onslaught, in any event. And meanwhile, life went on, and I seldom had reasons to feel mournful. The street children had other things to do beside singing "Hallelujah, give us a hand-out to revive us again", (a verse where a bum asks for the wherewithal to buy another drink). Our bums got their wherewithalls cautiously doled out by my father, hopefully not for a drink but just to keep "body-and-soul" together. As for myself, I was starting school, having reached the age of seven. This was after Grandma had sailed for the USA. My mother would have liked me to be accompanied to school and back daily, but my father wanted me to grow-up self-resourceful and independent. So what was decided (behind my back) was this: they gave me my tram fare for the Szechuen Road stretch of the journey, so I could lessen the journey by foot. I was supposed to take a tram daily to Quinsan Road where the school was, that crossed Szechuen Road, adn back to Darroch Road, all by myself thus twice a day. Meanwhile, my father sneaked after me by bicycle far to the rear to make sure I caught the tram safely, when going to school. He then buzzed after that tram to watch me getting off at the right street. Soon he recognized that I handled myself well on such journeys. He still checked now and then in this sneaky way. In due course, he discovered I was no longer taking the tram. I skipped along the pavements stopping at every shop display, lingering so long I then had to run full-speed the rest of the way to get to school in time. He found it very boring to have to watch me from a distance while I studied all the fascinating displays. I particularly loved to linger before a shop selling knitting wools, simply to enjoy the innumerable hues of every possible brilliant color imaginable. It wasn't that I wanted to do any knitting, thought my mother upon learning this and knowing how I'd been willing to be taught stitches by Mrs. Astor, took me there one day to select wool for me to knit my own sweater. I selected some bright crimson, but didn't knit the sweater and my mother had to give it to someone to knit for me. She was a young Chinese reformed prostitute from the `Door of Hope', we were training to be an Amah in the future in some white family's home. Mother did these favors regularly for her missionary friends who ran that "Door of Hope" to rescue girls sold into slavery as children. They were very nice and happy girls, too. So glad, they all were, to be restored to a new dignified way of life, and provided with a skill other than the subservient one of servicing passing males, who treated them brutally, all too frequently. Well, indeed, Szechuen Road down which I ran at full-speed daily, was the most wonderful road in the world in my view, and the coppers for tram fare burned in my pocket till I'd decide how they should be spent. My father warned my mother that I was beginning to buy pickled mango-seeds to suck. I was then told by my parents an elaborate story of how unhygienic the Chinese were to buy pickled mango-seed "full of germs" because they'd been "slobbered over" earlier by the devourers of the whole mangos in question. (As if my parents feared germs, ha!) I ceased buying pickled mango-seeds. My father also observed me raptly watching the makers of candied gods spin their magic right on the street, surrounded by worshipful children including myself. The makers licked their fingers in the process. I reached home to learn that "candied gods and goddesses" were not only costly, (twenty silver cents each which was more than I had per day for tram fare), but unhygienic, and diabolical too. To eat a candied god was to worship in a sense the demon masquerading as the god in question. So I never got such a deity for myself. In any case, it would have seemed to me a crime to eat such a perfect work of art. Furthermore, my parents soon wisely ceased giving me tram fare each day. So there were these very good days around this adventure-packed period when I was seven, going to school for the first time, exploring all the sights and sounds of Szechuen Road and the adjoining alley-ways, even running past Quinsan Road at times just to explore further afield. Being on my own thus was a novelty in which I absolutely gloried, and could not run far enough or fast enough to take it all in. Even though so short-sighted, I saw a lot and felt still more, as I extended my invisible feelers also on all sides of myself. I was an "actress" in the "Great Chinese Show," not the leading figure by any means, but the player of every bit part there might be, identifying as I did with all the other thronging actors and actresses of our "Daily Show". On one occasion I joined a crowd standing around a little apparently dead Chinese boy, lying supine o his back, his face deathly white. I looked around at the onlookers. Nobody did anything, just looked. I didn't know what to do, then remembers I was late for school and began running furiously to get there in time, carrying the image of that poor little boy with me. "Children died too," as I was beginning to realize. (Note just old age!) I loved halting at a narrow store with an open front where cotton-batting was on sale. Standing at opposite ends of a long wooden table inside, two barebacked coolies held each of the one end of an enormous "bowstring" of an instrument and they threshed with it at a heap of raw cotton piled on the table, till it foamed high and higher reaching the status of "miniature cumulus clouds". It was all so beautiful, and the bare, brown, glistening torsos of the threshers were in exquisite contrast to the foaming white cotton-wool. No one noticed me as I stood admiring; and, when I'd finally run off to make up for lost time, I danced along to the rhythm of the thump-thump of that giant bowstring calling heaven's own clouds to attention. "Rise up and stand in formation, oh, ye cumulus on high!" Life was wonderful. A daily operetta, I enjoyed. But I was soon destined to have friends who were filming real Chinese operettas right next door to me at Dah-Sing-Fong too. This is my next story...
On the other side of the high wall of our back lane at Dah-Shin-Fong was a property that was suddenly no longer vacant. Into the big old airy house, (not at all fortress-like and it had a dangerously overhanging wooden balcony right above the cobbled street, open to all the breezes, but with a tin roof to keep off the sun and rain, jutting precariously overhead), there moved in old friends of my mother's especially. This did not fill my parents with joy. The trouble was these new-comers had decided to cash in on the new craze for making movies, but the movies they made were all in Chinese, (i.e., the captions accompanying the action were in Chinese characters for the lettered few), and the action was all Chinese also. Based on famous old Chinese operatic plays, they began their venture optimistically, succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. They were soon in competition with Hollywood for winning the hearts of their fellow Chinese. (Hollywood may not have realized this, of course.) What made matters worse was this: the family had been educated at the Mission where my parents used to teach. My father had dreamed of turning the promising young sons into Bible-men, and my mother had dreamed of turning the promising young daughters into Bible-women. Why! my father had baptized them in rows, not so many years earlier, and their own mothers and aunts had been in the row when I'd had baptism administered to me at the age of five. The topic of ghosts of ancient Chinese heroes and heroines", embodied in the most handsome of young Chinese movie actors and the most exquisite young Chinese actresses, enters now my story. Well, I didn't actually come face-to-face with those lovely old ghosts, (no relation to the haunts of Dah-Shin-Fong), but I lingered in their vicinity, as the promising young sons and daughters of this family conjured them up for their Chinese fans. Thus I explored the dreams of my Chinese friends who came to live next door to us soon after we ourselves moved into Dah-Shin-Fong. And, in an ample back lot also part of their property, they erected scaffoldings that were draped with painted cloth and adorned with pained cardboard and wood, so that towering "castles and mountains" rose high. And I got to climb all that scaffolding with my former kindergarten playmates, the younger daughters of this thriving clan! This is how it occurred... As I've said, my parents wee deeply disappointed because those promising young folk had turned back to the "gentiles of Egypt" rejecting the manna from Heaven (and the apparently "sinful" quails of the wilderness too). Note: "The Burning Bush" of the desert versus Vice President Quayle makes my heart quail with foreboding! (an aside note for inclusion). So I wasn't allowed to visit my former playmates at their place. They must visit me at my home instead. Their parents and relatives cried "No!" horror-stricken. All those Russian bums downstairs? And the defeated Chinese soldiers contemplating banditry, (no doubt inspired by the thugs now mere ghosts who'd occupied our place formerly)? The poor girls would be kidnapped and held for ransom for certain, (why miss the opportunity?), and if sufficient ransom was not regular paid---the funds needed for making more moving-pictures thus wasted no matter how much you paid out---the children would be returned to their parents piece by piece, finger by finger. No, they simply didn't dare let their children visit me at Dah-Shin-Fong. And why wasn't I then kidnapped? Laugh if you like at a penniless child being viewed as worth kidnapping. (Of course I was, I was precious in the sight of God, anyway, as well I knew. He watched me from afar, not showing his face. Similarly, I never learned that my own father followed me on that bicycle til years later!) Thus, my Chinese friends and I had nowhere to meet and they could only wave at me from a distance, if they happened to be going somewhere and I going elsewhere in another direction. Not that I glimpsed them from afar nor waved back till my mother at my side might say, "Why aren't you waving at Ching-Ling and her sisters?" Of course, then, I'd wave wildly where she pointed. My friends knew how short-sighted I was, so didn't mind the way I behaved. But one day when my mother was out on the road alone hurrying somewhere, she came face to face with the matrons who'd been her most fervent followers back when she taught Bible classes at the Mission years earlier. They welcomed her proximity and begged her to send me visiting that very afternoon. Mother found no way to politely refuse. She accepted the kind invitation for my sake, but dreaded what her Benjamin would say. (He was deeply under the influence right then of Mr. Kennedy's theological library and of Mr. Kennedy too. Grandma had already departed for the USA.) I was present when she interviewed my father, both of them facing each other, standing in our living-dining-room by the big sideboard. (I lurked just outside the door, on the landing, ready to fade out-of-sight if my father glanced my way.) I listened anxiously. Oh, how I wanted my father to say, "Yes, she may go!" The following is the gist of their conversation. My mother was trying to find a way not to obey St. Paul who'd ordered, "Wives, obey your husbands". All her married life, she'd sought and sometimes found ways to circumvent that order without precisely disobeying it. (Sometimes it was necessary.) There were those other commands: "Women must keep silent in church". The commanding husbands no doubt could waive that order. My father certainly did, for when my mother spoke at any religious gathering, (or even the non-religious type when holding some street meeting), converts were made simply by her marvelous command of the Chinese language, and her guileless sincerity and affection and charm. Mother now fortified herself with a Bible text or two secretly remembered, and ventured, "Benjamin! I met the Chu ladies on the streets again." "Those reprobates!" said he. Many an hour spent in enjoying Mr. Kennedy's special tea and the candied biscuits while entertaining our valued boarder with discussions on the "Doctrines of St. Paul," had steeled my father's heart towards sinners. "Don't even eat with them," St. Paul had once warned. (Treat them as pariahs! My father, a pariah himself in the view of many a board missionary, found great comfort in Mr. Kennedy's respect and admiration for his mental skills. A Protestant "Thomas Aquinas" my dad was becoming with such venerable tutorage. Incidentally, Mr. Kennedy was absent when this present incident occurred. Away at some summer-resort, possibly, where he went whenever the weather grew too clammy. He still paid his room-rent but mother deducted the cost of his board at such times.) My mother sighed. "Do you think so?" she murmured, collecting her energies for a more impressive reply. "Certainly! They're reprobates and worse than heathen. They're denying their Lord and serving the Devil." (Thus spoke the great Evangelists of the 19th century, when discussing both "the Lost and the Backsliders," etc.) "Oh Benjamin!" sighed my mother then. "It isn't as bad as that. We were talking just now, they and I, and I asked them how they feel about Christ lately. And they assured me they still read their Bibles and pray." "Following afar!" scoffed Benjamin, feeling himself filling with "the Spirit", even if he never did manage to speak in tongues. (But Paul had said "better a few words spoken with understanding than all the messages in tongues in the world", or words to that effect. Mr. Kennedy also never spoke in tongues.) "Unwilling to bear the Cross of Christ," my father went on, in marvelous fettle, (even without old Mr. Kennedy present to listen and admire). "No longer testifying against the worldly pursuits of their menfolk. Sinful pursuits!" "Chinese operetta isn't actually sinful, Benjamin!" "Pansy! How can you talk like that?" "Well, they don't kiss in foreign style like in those movie posters we're lately seeing on the streets." Benjamin refused to be drawn into such a vain argument. He merely grunted scornfully. "And besides," my mother went on. "They're not filming anything right now. I especially asked. So Beulah won't have to watch any of it. She's simply going to sit with the women-folk up on that high front balcony and eat peanuts and watermelon seeds. And you know how Beulah loves it. And they'll have other nice Chinese pastries and tidbits for sure, and of course it's always washed down with the most fragrant Chinese tea", my mother added wistfully. (Our own brand of Chinese tea was the cheapest!) Though she did keep a better brand "for visitors".) "Ruin her liver!" muttered my father. "Though she eats all sorts of rubbish---like beancurd---and doesn't seem to get ill," he added a bit bitterly. How he hated beancurd! Having to eat it daily was a cross he must bear for Jesus' sake and the worst thing about it was that nobody appreciated his sacrifice. The women of his house merely found him capricious not to love eating "this delicious fare!" Nor dared he grumble. Where had all the money gone? To Russian bums and Chinese Bible-men! (Another act of virtue not always appreciated by his Pansy.) My parents now faced each other absolutely bristling with hostility. "And besides," went on my father, "I won't have her on display to all the public up on that balcony---" "Her skirts are long enough, Benjamin. Her legs won't show---" "It's not that, Pansy. It's al those painted Chinese actresses sitting up bawdily there, too, with whom she'll be screaming with laughter, like they do. What will the public think? And all our converts? Why, I've been preaching against the movies that are attracting the Chinese to the English-language theaters lately. And now Chinese movies are in the offing and I'll have to preach against them too. Mr. Kennedy and I were discussing their iniquitous influence just the other day." "Oh, Benjamin," sighed my mother inadequately. Against Mr. Kennedy's edicts there was no Court of Appeal, as she'd found. "Oh, not bawdily!" she picked on the insulting word he'd used. "Bawdily," said he firmly. "What are they but whores?" "Some of them are very nice girls I taught personally, at the Mission. And I'm sure they haven't changed. As for their way of laughing noisily, all Chinese do when happy." "Huh! And I'm sure they were playing Mahjong up there the other day. I heard the pieces click!" "You may be mistaken, Benjamin. What they do all day long at that table on the balcony is string together lots of fake jewelry for their actors and actresses to wear---creating imitation antique headdresses and so on! There's nothing wrong with that, surely?" "Nothing wrong? Let Beulah acquire a taste for fake jewelry and she'll acquire a taste for real jewelry when she grows up." "I doubt that. Her tastes are sane." "Sane?" He was ready to argue that point too, next, but my mother brought him back to the main topic of discussion. "About Beulah's invitation---" "I won't have her watching them play mahjong. It's a gambling game." "They will certainly not play it in her presence, Benjamin." "So you acknowledge they do play that game?" "Benjamin! I don't know, but probably they do. Most Chinese sometimes play it. Like foreigners play what-do-you-call-it---'poke her'?" My father had to smile and he regarded her tenderly. How innocent she was. "Poker," he corrected her automatically, but he hurried on, "Furthermore, I've never seen any of those females up there quietly bending their heads to pray."
This type of argument could go on forever. But mother's back was up by then. She knew just how to handle her Benjamin. A Scripture text might come in handy, allowing her to defend her viewpoint without actually disobeying St. Paul. She was remembering that "a soft answer turneth away wrath". So she ventured softly, "Jesus said we must go into our closet and pray in secret to our Father. And they do!" My father looked really put out. It wasn't fair on my mother's part for her to start quoting the Bible at him. However, he had a return salvo ready and he fired it at once: "Jesus also said that those who deny him before men will be denied by him in return." I was losing hope by then. I saw that they were preparing for an afternoon's session of Biblical dueling and when that began there was no stopping them. My father stuck to the old King James version. My mother had two Bibles she valued; the first going back to the year 1884 was a "modern Revised" version. I have it still, and it dated back to her girlhood. ...of a Flat Earth, which even my mother found hard to accept. It was full of pasted-in pages containing "Summaries", written up in her lovely, copybook handwriting, now faded till nearly illegible, and the underlining of the text was done according to instructions, for she obeyed her teachers totally. She'd also pasted in a printed pamphlet titled SWORD PRACTICE written by a certain Rev. Adams, Professor of Biblical History in Zion College, (which pamphlet testifies to the fact that some of her time devoted to learning Biblical theology was spent indeed at Zion City, Illinois. From 1899 till 1905 approximately. See book four ahead. But this period of her life was now taboo to discuss for reasons that used to puzzle me. Something to do with that particular Theological School turning out to be "not quite Fundamentalist enough", somehow. Anyway, the instructions in the pamphlet required that the student sit in front of six bottles of ink of the following hues: "Black for Satan"; "Red for Christ"; "Green for the Great Physician"; "Purple for the Holy Spirit"; "Orange for Christ's Second Coming"; and finally "Blue for the Word". (Poor students who were color blind!) And if you weren't certain of which colors to use for underlining any given text, there were 250 topics listed with instructions as to the right hue in each case. Under "S" you marked with black ink "Sickness and Sin", "Slander and Sorcery", "Spiritism and Swine", for instance. Every page in my mother's Bible thus is still marked up today with those fading inks. Hardly a line (save the genealogies) but has its hue underneath. I've gone into details here to show how much more prepared was my mother than my father, despite his erudition and fine education in a Wesleyan University in Canada years ago. But he'd become a "mere Modernist" by the time he met my mother, and never had he sat before a battery of six hues of ink to underline every single line of his King James edition of the Bible. Lately he'd taken to following her example, but only using red and blue inks, and never slavishly following Rev. Adams' instructions of so many years ago. My mother had another modern American Revised edition. (The other was "Revised" also). Her newer edition never did get marked up by her, (she must have run our of ink), but it dates from 1901, and I have it still too. It has a Concordance I find valuable. My father stood little a chance if she got out her two Bibles to argue against the beautiful diction of his King James, with its "errors" corrected in her two editions, (though my father argues against that, and he could read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. She couldn't. Simple Bible students did not need those old languages to "obey the Word implicitly". They trusted their scholarly translators!) If you noted here a shade of annoyance in my way of discussing "Bible-marking", it's because I grieve that they never let my mother do a thing on her own volition---not even marking her Bible as she might personally have preferred if she'd dared to be a little less Fundamentalist sometimes. (And think things our for herself!) And yet---she was marvelous in surviving even all that dreadful early conditioning. For she became more and more a "real person" to me as I grew and learned to understand her, and help her out of the rut too, frequently, so she could find occasions for happy laughter with me and over my doings too, sometimes. Well, there they were, and the afternoon was going, and I'd soon be too late for my tryst with the "bawdy actresses" on that upper stage of a balcony, on display for the edification of all chance passersby. Soon my parents would turn to our oval dining table there and get out their Bibles, seated facing each other, and they'd furiously assail each other with alternating quotations. (The Devil quotes scripture also, but do ot think badly of my poor mom and dad. Neither of them was diabolical, they were just misled and trusting sheep, perfectly inoffensive save "by accident", for sheep do not know how to lead the way. They only dare follow some leader, and my father was now following Mr. Kennedy and his richly varied books of that theological library we'd inherit someday.) My mother's eyes were flaming. My father's British bulldog-jaw jutted threateningly. "Mama! It's getting late!" I ventured, desperately. My father turned and glared: "What are you doing here?" But my mother did not permit him to get thus distracted. She brought the conversation back to the here and now "Benjamin! It is almost time. She's invited over for four this afternoon. They'll be wondering if she doesn't show up or arrives late. I've still got to change her dress---look how dirty she's got herself up on the drying roof where the cinders turn even our clean laundry grey. And I don't want them thinking we neglect our child, Benjamin!" She reached for me and I came willingly for a change. She inspected me carefully and cried in shock, "Her ears, Benjamin! And her fingernails! And Benjamin, her knees!" "How do you manage even to dirty you knees?" snapped my father unguardedly. (He could scold me at least for that). But I had my reply. "By praying, Papa! I try not to dirty my dress so I lift it when we pray, you see. You always scold me for my skirt looking so dirty, so now I keep it clean that way." What could he say to that? It was the truth as he recognized. Our floors, no matter how Dah-Shi-Fu scrubbed them daily, acquired dirt at an amazing rate. He was very annoyed. My "one-up-manship" had exceeded his, once again! "Benjamin! I've got to take her down to wash her up and change her right this minute. Forgive me, please, and excuse it for just this once. It's a social obligation and I've got to carry it out. Youjust don't understand the Chinese as I do!" "A lick and a promise" was often all that got administered to me when we'd be rushing off to some prayer-meeting afar, perhaps at Pastor Guroff's! But she wanted me "spick and span" now. I was glad I'd be cleaned up in our bathroom, not on the street, as happened when we were rushing off in other directions frequently. My father would suddenly cry out in fury: "Pansy, I just noticed! She's filthy! We can't appear there with her like that!" "It's just her ears and her face," my mother would say, getting out her clean handkerchief, wrapping it around her forefinger, and beginning to excavate into my eardrums after having given the kerchief a good like. How I hated that! When I complained, she'd say, "Well, lick it yourself if you prefer", but neither did I like the smell of my own saliva all over my face, either. Without another word to her husband, my mother fetched out of her bureau drawer clean clothes for me, (for she kept them there not to run upstairs each time I got a bath, to get them from my bureau). And she pushed me ahead of herself down the short flight to our "bathroom" and started stripping and scrubbing me like mad, with a rough washrag. (With cold water, of course. I wasn't a Russian bum in need of reforming.) My father, meanwhile, watched our departure forlornly. He'd been "left behind", the one experience none of us ever wanted to undergo! All our lives we dreaded it, though my mother dreaded it the least because she desired the Second Coming the most, maybe. Off I ran leaving my parents to battle it out with their Bibles face-to-face at the dining-table in peace. Somehow mother would win. All she knew was the Bible. My father had wasted too many hours at Britain's music halls as a boy learning ditties like the one where a certain "Harry Bates" reaches Heaven's Gates simply because he went skating when the ice was too thin. Skating on thin ice: that was what my father did when arguing with aid of Bible texts with "Pansy Curtis Mason", (as her name appears in gold lettering still on that oldest Bible of hers, with me till now).
So I ate and ate with the "painted actresses" and the matrons of the family, all working full-speed at getting the headdresses completed before filming began on the morrow again. I ate till satisfied, then my former kindergarten playmates, (such wonderful Chinese girls), rushed me down to explore the sets for the next day's filming. While my parents threshed the problem out, armed by their respective Bibles in front of them back at home, I ascended mountains, penetrated castles, and riskily descended precipices which would again be entered and ascended and descended by the actors and actresses on the morrow, while maidens fled from evil villians and heros pursued them with ornate old swords. I got to see the swords also in the prop room. They looked heavy. They were light, made of papier-mache and well-gilded. Thus at home my father shored up his crumbling fortifications against my mother's attack, (countering her with Bible texts most of which he kept forgetting in his urgency), and my mother fired yet further salvos, for she was unencumbered by a single song that wasn't a hymn. No Music Hall ditties assailed her head as they did my father's at such times, like his evil genius taking unfair advantage of him then. She'd been raised "like Timothy" on the "milk of the Scriptures" from infancy. So she definitely enjoyed an unfair advantage over him. He might quote the Bible in Hebrew, Greek and Latin too. But what if she answered him in tongues? (Not that she ever did. It would have been unkind since he couldn't answer her similarly, lacking the gift of tongue.) As for him quoting the original texts to her what was the use since she couldn't understand Hebrew or Greek! So my father's fortifications crumbled while I ascended the scaffoldings of Time, entering a past that seems to me altogether lovely, (China's own past of a legendary age!) the scaffolding there was wobbly and everything might crash; but then isn't the scaffolding of our very Universe very uncertain? What keeps us up? An occasional electron dancing around? The subtle "Underpinnings of Creation" challenge our scientists even now as I write this book. And maybe it's best to cling to our illusions, for this underlying reality of ours would dissolve us all if we could but investigate it properly. And what's left? The Dreamer? The One who imagines everything so we seem "real"? Let us dream on with him. (Or her or it!) Thus I climbed the heights of time with my little Chinese friends, who so proudly escorted me into every corner and even behind the scaffolding, right onto the precarious beams to see how it was done. (All illusion! All mere facades!) And meanwhile, at the other side of the towering glass-splintered top of the wall rearing between Dah-Shin-Fong and the movie lot, clung the little tormentors who used to sing "Hallujah, I'm a bum" to me. They'd piled garbage-cans upon garbage-cans in our back lane so as to climb up to watch us enviously. The cans were wobbling. The "scaffold" was also insecure. A sudden curse was heard from that region---servants were coming forth with brooms from all the Dah-Shin-Fong kitchens to chase the wild boys away, where they perched on high endeavoring to study our doings, while so poorly balanced. The cans crashed and screams ascended. Brooms were wielded. More screams. Curses followed as the servants of all the nearby kitchens argued as to who should clean up. Beggars and dogs arrived to "help", adding to the confusion. When I finally came forth from the Den of Vice, (and from consuming the "lentiles of Egypt"), the street children were clustered outside the street entrance there and regarded me with awe. "Is it nice inside?" they asked wistfully. "Lovely," I assured them, and spread my wings and flew home---in through the chapel entrance, triumphantly. I ran up to the living-dining room. My parents were still sitting at the table with their Bibles, but they looked a little exhausted and both had an expression of defeat. You can't really prove things by the Scriptures, for there are sure to be yet other texts to disprove the ones you chose to quote. And experts like my parents were perennially foiled when they used "the Sword of the Spirit" in such arguments. Certainly, "the letter killeth: the Spirit giveth life," to quote an old text I learned when tiny. But to discover "the spirit" or deeper meaning of each text is not easy: for example when I started comparing archaic Chinese terms (and their echoes found elsewhere) with strange sayings in the Book of Job, for instance, it struck me that some very elaborate and funny puns were being made by "the One in the Whirlwind" at the expense of poor Job and his friends. It is a pity I came across such delightful, insouciant coincidences only lately. I'd have loved to share them with my father, at least---it would have lightened his burden of trying to be a Fundamentalist to please his Pansy, and via him I'd have probably reached her funnybone and started her giggling, so she'd have felt more at ease with Our Father in Heaven. (As joke-loving as her own father used to be and as my own father used to be till she improved him.) Yet she loved a good joke herself, rather guiltily! It is further pity that we all are fixed to our own places along different and widely separated junctions of time's scaffoldings so I cannot have a chat face-to-face now with my joke-loving Grandfather George, who'd have especially appreciated these puns I came across (in the Bible, remember! of all places). God, having a laugh with us if we care to catch the joke, or about us if we behave so funnily in our ignorances! Well, my "Book of Biblical Jokes" has yet to be compiled: the jokes are there, already studied and annotated. They take us back to most ancient ways of thinking, and the authors of such jokes, (for human hands penned and material even if "God said so"), those long-forgotten folk, came alive for me throughout my studies. (My primary clues being the oracle-bone Chinese symbols and their early bronze examples up to the Small Seal style. No further. For the modern Chinese language tells another story again of modern minds trying to make sense of the old enigmas of vanished ancestors. What was wonderful to my mind was finding the "same old jokes" embodied in myths and old key terms elsewhere too.) So I stood at the door into the living-dining room at Dah-Shin-Fong and waited till my parents looked up and said "Uh, hello!" And my mother added, "Did you have a nice time?" "Lovely." "What did you eat?" asked my mother eagerly for she---like me---adored all the tidbits that the Chinese know how to enjoy. I told her, adding, "And the Chinese tea was delicious. I had a blossom floating in mine." The news filled my mother's soul with joy, especially the blossom in my tea. My father then asked: "What did you do besides eating?" "The girls and I played Yang-Ching-Pao". Now, this is no lie for we did pause to play that favorite game of mine between other activities like eating and climbing scaffolding. I loved the game and nobody had played it with me since I ceased going to my Chinese kindergarten, so I'd pleaded with my former kindergarten mates that we play it a bit again. For my sake, they'd agreed. Yang-ching-pao is played with one hand, which can be roled into a fist to represent "Stone", or one extends the first two fingers for "Scissors", or one flings open all five fingers for "Paper". The rules are that Scissors cuts Paper but Paper wraps Stone but Stone breaks Scissors, so nobody loses and nobody really wins either, round by round. You sat or stood in a cluster shouting "Yang-Ching-pao" and at the cry of pao ("Paper"; "to wrap", etc.) participants must fling their threatening fists and reveal the symbol they're representing. If all three aspects appear at once, that round is invalid and you try again. I usually won and that was why few Chinese children cared to play with me. I simply made my mind a blank---(image of red light glimpsed through closed eyelids, even if I kept my eyes open during the game)---and only upon the cry of pao I sensed what the other fists would reveal when they'd respond. A row of papers might flash before my mind's eye, and I'd be prompt with my "Scissors", delighted to "cut them all to pieces" playfully. Similarly, if they grimly selected in their private inner thinking "stone" next to revenge themselves upon my "scissors", I was ready with paper, to wrap them all excitedly. The Chinese were good at the game after thousands of years of practice. I was better still and dimly recognized the threefold "sides" of this game as an image of real life ahead for me. I'd meet the grim, stony folk. No sharp cutting weapon could dent them. But "paper" could. Wrap them up in paper, (I'm doing it right now, studying Fundamentalists in this book); enfold them in paper and they can hammer us into shape no more. But "paper" can be overdone. Bureaucracies thrive; nonsense is published; whole forests are cut down just to provide space for all the nonsense in our heavy Sunday papers. Time for "scissors" to come into play! "Cut out the jargon", "let the blood flow", (or so say our Communists, who have been hammered lately by "Stone"...stony populations who do not throb with delight over "socialism"---not one bit, thank you.) Communism didn't work. "The poor ye have always with you!" Let the poor reach the top and turn the rich poor and injustices continue as usual. Jesus said we need a change of heart: individual transformations are required. A "turning-of-our-other-checks" just might work. We've not tried it yet though my Grandma did her best to condition me so by the time I grew up I was a pathetic "Check-Tunrer par excellence" for all too long. I then needed electro-and-insuline-shock by 1958 ("stone-cum-scissors" combined, and "paper" to enfold me), to be restored to the status of the indomitable child I was at the start so long ago. But that's another story, not for this series of books right now. "So you played Stone-paper-scissors!" said my father musingly. "A very noisy game. You used to infuriate the W-Trio with that game when you played it at recess with your Chinese friends, down in the Mission compound." I smiled and agreed. "I loved playing it as a child," my mother spoke up. "It is very exciting, and harmless too, of course." "Well, as long as you only play Stone-paper-scissors next door, you may go there again, provided no filming is going on," my father pronounced. (So my mother had won as usual, as she always did when their "Battles of the Bibles" took place!)
At Dah-Shin-Fong where "anything" could happen, (even the experience of coming to comprehend Biblical sayings concerning a future "when Time shall be no more"), I once witnessed actual Protestant Bibles jumping out of a heap of literature on our chapel floor to send little Catholic girls fleeing in terror. As this may sound unlikely to you, I'll explain how it occurred. It was the occasion when the girls in questions taught me to make the Sign on the Cross to protect myself against the ghosts. I can more or less pinpoint the "Earth-date" despite its occurring during that No-Time period when we stayed at Dah-Shin-Fong. It happened soon after my Grandma left for America's "saner domains", for she isn't present in this story. (Of course, she might simply have been away visiting some old friend inland, maybe.) It may have been, furthermore, right after my triumph on that upper stage of our next-door Movie-making Establishment, "laughing bawdily" with all the "painted actresses" up there, as already told. And eating salted and candied peanuts, etc., in the process! At any rate, there came an afternoon when our chapel floor was empty of sleeping bums (of any description) though the backless benches were standing still askew. Dah-Shi-Fu would soon be tackling the floor with mop and plenty of disinfectant in his pail of water, but meanwhile he was attacking the footprints on the stairs and that took time. (He worked all day nonstop!) My parents were away; the house had no other occupants right then than the Amah and the ghosts. At loose ends myself, (and I evidently wasn't away at school yet, so it must have been early on, and I barely seven), I descended to the Lane and sat on our front steps to watch the children at play. They'd ceased bothering me and seemed inclined to be friendly. Well, there were other times right after we first arrived, when we'd not yet put up the fatal signboard threatening to convert them "in all languages", when I'd been almost accepted by the gang. (And at that time Grandma was still with us.) I remember this because of having had once to purloin one of my mother's clean lace window-curtains from her little neatly-folded heap, put away in a shelf in the living-dining room somewhere. On this earlier occasion, it happened that I'd evaded my Grandma's watchful eye and descended to the front stoop to watch the children play. They'd invited me to join them and we'd played "kick-the-can" noisily. (Grandma must have been in the "bathroom" and unable at that instant to rush out to collect me from such a `wild pack of street-children".) They then decided to play "marriages"---the girls, especially wanted that. And that's why I was asked whether I could lend a curtain for a veil. They'd observed curtains going up in the windows of our house! I ran up to see and Grandma still didn't catch me. I purloined the necessary white lace curtain triumphantly and we all ran away together for that game. There was an old and lovely Chinese house nearby, hidden deep in our own huge city block; but it was now being torn down, and its formerly lovely spacious courtyard was filled with rubble. Its ancient trees would be cut down too; inevitably. There were no workers around---perhaps it was the hour when they went away to eat somewhere, but more likely the work had been halted, perhaps for lack of funds. Anyway, the half-ruined building was only fit to add its quota of "accomodation" for beggars and ghosts, in its present state. I followed my pack in, a bit warily. Ruins needed caution to approach. Not just for lurking bandits-in-the-flesh but for the "thieves-of-souls" that also haunt ruins. I knew this instinctively. The boys in the pack now selected a good pulpit of rubble, in the old courtyard, onto which one boy climbed. He became an officiating priest. (In real life he was no doubt an acolyte of the nearest Catholic church, for he knew his lines well, and every gesture.) Another boy lined up the girls and the boys, facing each other. Each boy selected a girl. As I'd provided the veil I did think my turn should come as well but no boy expressed any interest in being wedded to me; I realized the extra lads preferred to remain single, so I watched a bit forlornly as the service began. Pair by pair, they got married. Each girl in turn placed my curtain on her head and had the sacred words in Latin pronounced over her and her new spouse. Suddenly, in the far distance, I heard my grandma calling almost hysterically. "Beulah, Beulah, where are you?" Regretfully, I departed from the wedding events, leaving the curtain behind me, for they refused to return it till the last couple had been wed. I straggled out from the alleyway and was pounced upon by my furious grandma. Actually, the game of Kick the Can entails not only running but hiding too, for it's like "Hide-and-seek" only you kick the can loudly to announce your safe arrival, instead of merely shouting out your triumph over reaching "home" safely without being caught. I therefore explained, (when Grandma demanded), "And what were you playing?" "Well, first, we played hide-and-seek." "Oh, so that's where they all are. Hidden! let them stay out-of-sight, that's fine." My need for honesty got the better of me. "And now they're playing marriages!" She actually shrieked. "What's the world coming to! I forbid you to play with those wild street children ever again," and she hustled me inside. I dared not, after that, creep out to demand the return of my mother's curtain. So I never saw it again, and even kept silent, (out of shame and timidity), when I heard my mother wondering "Where on Earth can that curtain be?" I knew, but failed to enlighten her; and I am ashamed (just a bit) even now to remember this. She was really frustrated to have only one of a pair left, for the surviving curtain was useless without its fellow. (Incidentally, I remember our own high bedrooms three windows as always curtainless. It was the chapel, the attic, and the "bathroom" devoid of lace curtains. Really just the middle front room had sported curtains so far.) Actually, life goes on unchanged from generation to generation. In Jesus' time, children played "Marriages" in the market-place, and "Funerals" also. I don't know whether my own little Dah-Shin-Fong gang ever played the latter game canonically. They'd have needed my father's box of pulpit for a child's coffin! And I'd scarcely have risked borrowing it to "loan" to them! They might have made a bonfire of it, piously instead. Besides, a Protestant pulpit would have brought dire consequences upon little Catholic children, had they asked for it and put it to use in any religious ceremony. You may be sure of that. Look what our mere Protestant Bibles did to the girls I'll describe now. Grandma was definitely absent when the following incident occurred. I must have been all of seven, but at that time, I still didn't know about the burials under the chapel floorboards, and definitely I'd not yet demanded that Dah-Shi-Fu "lift the stone" to reveal the impossible-to-resurrect dismembered corpses under the courtyard's flagging. I did know there were ghosts. The Walker in the Attic was familiar in our family, the footsteps disturbing us daily at morning worship, though my parents tried to convince me the sounds came from "next door" (a little white lie). Nobody lived next door.
My parents were so strict we didn't even use the sign of the cross on our walls in any form. It was "too close" to the "adoration of crucifixes" practiced by the Catholic Church in their view. We sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" with the line that runs: "With the cross of Jesus going on before", certainly. (Did you know that the author when criticized for that mention of the cross, suggested we might change the line to: "With the cross of Jesus hid behind the door"?) We kept our invisible symbol of a cross "behind the door": no other place. We used it like a broomstick to sweep all sin away! It certainly wasn't visible but it swept. (Not mere ghosts, of course, which problem we learned to leave to Dah-Shi-Fu to solve, if possible, with his mop and whiskbroom.) Well, on one occasion when I wasn't being serenaded by "Hallelujah, I'm a bum," I ventured out once again, (no Grandma around to scold), and sat on the front door-stoop under the signboard announcing our "All People's Christian Mission" and watched the children play. The chapel was so nicely empty, right then! On rare and rainy occasions, also, when no bums were around, I'd been permitted by my parents to upturn all the backless benches, borrow the canvas in the front corner covering a towering stack of Christian literature standing on the floor, and with the help of all the benches and this canvas I'd construct a "house" into which I could climb with my doll. That had been nice; and the street children---if they caught a glimpse of me, when the front door was standing slightly ajar---could well have been not only puzzled but envious of me. One didn't usually treat chapel furnishings thus nor home furnishings either. It wasn't raining now, though it was a gloomy sort of afternoon, the type when "nothing happens" and "everything is boring". But the children still played outside, and I watched them quietly, with admiration. They in turn stole admiring glances at me: wasn't I now "among the painted actresses" on that lofty platform-stage next door? By this time I'm certain I'd already been "marked with the mark of Ammon", (not of Cain, anyway), i.e. the bottles full of urine that had sprayed Harta and me, upon our roof-terrace one fine day, (as already told). With Ammon's mark now upon me to signify me as the "property of the sprayers, (if not the prayers)", I sat there with an aura of mystery and magic surrounding me. So I sat there looking as best I could like "just another of the gang of street children". (My missionary garments made it difficult, but I think I managed it.) Suddenly, two little girls dashed up to me and courageously plunked on either side of me, their shoulders touching mine. This was a friendly act and I smiled at them gratefully. I suppose they were "among the sprayers" months earlier, (or "weeks or days", either "earlier" or even "later", really, for in speaking now of that No-Time world I cannot even yet discuss it chronologically). They would teach me now my prayers, out of the goodness of their hearts. I looked forlorn. I looked even frightened, surely. They sat protectively on either side of me, huddled closely, and both of them stared into my face eagerly. At last they spoke: (or they took turns in speaking): (The language was a brand of English mixed with Pidgin). "Do you ever see the ghosts?" I was asked. "No." (As Jesus said, "Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay," and I tried to obey when it seemed wisest. "But you hear them? Even we do sometimes from outside." "Yes." "Are you afraid?" "A bit. Sometimes." "The bandits who used to live here killed a lot of people right in your house. Did you know?" "No." (I still hadn't learned the details, and only dimly recognized how evilly haunted was our place.) "The bodies are still buried under the floorboards of your chapel, right behind us here, now." I was stricken and I looked it. I hadn't known! I could make no reply. "Your father ought to dig them up and give them a proper burial to lay the ghosts. We'd have called in a priest to exorcise the place. But you can't do that. You're only Protestants." I felt very deprived---and looked it also. "But tell you what!" said they very kindly. "You can make the Sign of the Cross and then all the ghosts will run away. Come! We'll take you up to visit our aunt in our attic. She'll pray for you." We flitted off at once, and I found that their attic was bright and full of flowers and lighted candles and holy pictures and statues. It was utterly unlike our icy attic haunted by the ghost, which I hadn't vanquished yet. The old lady spoke only Portuguese but she welcomed me in her language fluently, then talked a lot in the same tongue to the two girls. They then led me around to meet the old lady's favorite saints and virgins, who stood in rows along the walls, their sizes depending on their importance in her life. Mere third-rate saints were represented only be postcard-sized holy pictures, stuck up here and there. Never was an old lady more securely armed against all ghosts, even the ones in distant No. 1 of the same Lane. All that was lacking was garlic, said to be very effective also against ghosts. (No doubt because of the smell on people's breath if they eat it raw.) I didn't notice the aroma of garlic, only incense. The girls crossed themselves and genuflected, repeatedly, while I stood there like a polite ignoramus watching intently. (So that's how Catholics behaved!) I was then led back to my front stoop where we seated ourselves again. The other children had all run off to play noisily on the cobbled road beyond. My new friends told me: "Our Aunt said to teach you first the `Sign of the Cross' to protect yourself from all your ghosts. Let's begin?" I willingly accepted indoctrination. They found me a fast learner and were extremely pleased with me. They felt braver themselves, like they were being invisibly patted on their heads by their special heavenly sponsors, in this attempt to rescue me from the Hell to which my parents definitely had already been consigned by the Church. (They were heretics obviously.) Now I'd got it perfect they told me: "You must try it out now on your ghost. It's up in your attic, isn't it? Shall we go up?" I shook my head, not to deny its existence up there but because under no condition would I experiment in this amateurish way with it. So far it had left me alone recognizing me as a formidable adversary, armed with my sheer hatred towards it, so ferocious, I could blast it with my own focussed blaze of remembered Heavenly brilliance. But, if I began to use tricks or aids, it would find a way to use its own tricks back at me. (Like it treated my parents what with their attempts at "Proper Fundamentalist prayers".) Still, I didn't want to let down my two new friends or discourage them. So I simply said, "No!" at last, (about going up there). "Why?" they asked. I remembered that Dah-Shi-Fu would be somewhere upstairs, going from room to room with his mop and pail and running up and down the staircase constantly to change the water. I told my friends, "We can't. The servant's cleaning upstairs right now." But they weren't to be defeated. The very chapel itself looked to them scary. We did have the shutters half-way closed that hung at the windows above the outside cobbled road. And another pair of shutters existed at the window facing the Lane, while the fourth window shutters were permanently closed to shut off the view into the servant's small courtyard to and fro whenever they wished, for there was no keeping them properly open, somehow. (Too many "future homeless ghosts" as yet in-the-flesh, made such things possible, in that downstairs room at least.) The shutters outside the closed glass window-panes now began to wing in a "watchful" way, and the girls grew nervous, but they tried to hide their fears from their new convert----myself. We couldn't, of course, rip up the floorboards to face the skeletons and test the Sign on them directly. But surely the ghosts lurked here right above-the-floor too? The two girls studied the inadequate pulpit. As I'm recalling it now, there was a tiny elevation like a "platform" there in front---a few long boards had been stretched out there a little above the level f the rest of the floor, and these boards supported not only the pulpit and the row of straight-backed chairs for Bible-men, facing the audience, but the far corner away from the hall door was piled up with religious literature for distribution in English, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, though the latter specimens had found no acceptance when my father tried to hand them around. "No, thank you," the alley-children always said when my father would try to hand them a tract in their own tongue. Well, that stack of material was covered now with the big canvas I mentioned further back, and it looked lumpy and no doubt mysterious in the eyes of my friends. Indeed, as I absorbed their emotions, in our close unity now, I felt their fear. (Not actually borrowing it but sympathizing!) Ah, yes, it did look scary through their eyes, but not through mine. I knew what boring literature lay beneath the canvas---stuff not even the nastiest ghost would wish to be near. The girls studied my face. "You're afraid!" They challenged me. "Make the Sign of the Cross---we will do it too." The three of us performed the sign perfectly again, standing there at the open chapel entrance while deciding what next to do. I waited for their decision. I was game. "Well," said they, "you must try out the Sign now you've learned it." Their eyes lingered upon our heap of shrouded literature up in front. "What's there?" they asked. "It's only---" But they weren't interested. I might not dare exorcise the ghost in the attic, but they'd insist that I practice now with them exorcising the ghosts in that heap. I was not allowed to make further excuses. "Come on," said they, and we marched bravely shoulder to shoulder between the askew benches and up onto the low platform and glared down at the fearful, towering corner heap. I alone feared it not. Mere tracts and Bibles, who could fear? "Now let's make the sign!" We did. The three of us performed perfectly and in unison. "Now lift up the cloth," said the girls, and they expected to glimpse the ghosts hiding within come rushing forth to escape. Such defeated apparitions they would not fear. Instead, I dislodged all the tracts and Bibles so poorly stacked that they happened to be. A veritable avalanche came tumbling down upon the three of us, and heaped itself up around our legs and on our feet. My two friends screamed and fled instantly. Protestant tracts and Bibles attacking them! How terrifying. I stood there still wondering how to stack them up again before my father returned from a morning of giving out tracts and holding street meetings, accompanied by my mother, who'd be utterly exhausted. The sight of all those books and tracts tumbled about would be to them like "the last straw". Oh, what must I do? I thought of calling Dah-Shi-Fu down to help. In any case, he'd soon be arriving with his mop and pail to do the chapel, but I hesitated to bother him. He had enough to do. The trouble was, how did one begin? Visualize for yourself hundred of books and tracts in all sizes lying in uncontrollable heaps all over a floor. How stack them up again? And even the bottom layers that had stayed put were insecurely standing now in uneven little piles. I'd have to move them all aside and start from the bare floor anew to begin piling it all up again somehow. Dah-Shi-Fu was good at it. Only he! He'd often solved this same problem of "stacking Bibles and tracts" for my father. He simply ignored the tracts' tendencies to slide off in all directions and firmly secured them in place in their stacks. How? Who knows! (Intimidating them possibly! Stern follower of the spirit of the Tao, was he, even though he was no real Taoist.) My two friends who'd abandoned me to face all this pernicious material all on my own, now stuck their heads around the door jams of the chapel entrance and asked me, "What are you going to do?" (Making the Sign of the Cross now wouldn't solve anything. Action was required.) Dared I ask them to come and help me in stacking everything? No. I couldn't ask them for help. They had always firmly resisted "the very appearance of evil" each time my father ran into them in the Lane and offered them a tract. They turned away most coldly from temptation, even if the tract was in pretty colors and in the Portuguese language too. I answered them drearily, "I've got to pick it all up and put it all back before my parents come." I felt their sympathy, coupled with their determination to remain aloof from my problem right then. "Are they coming soon?" they asked. "Any minute now." They glanced back at the entrance to the Lane, then shrieked, "Here they come!" and vanished like ghosts themselves into the alley's depths. My father entered first and asked me, "Why didn't you invite those little girls in? I think they wanted to be friendly." He walked up nearer. "What have you been up to?" he shouted. My mother entered and also walked in. "Good Heavens!" she cried, "What have you been up to, Beulah?" What could I reply? While seeking to find a reply that would omit mention of my near conversion to Catholicism, yet be the truth, my father came to my rescue: "I've told you not to pull off that canvas on your own when you want to play house. You must always ask Dah-Shi-Fu to remove it carefully for you." And my mother added, "But why did you want to play house when it isn't raining?" I sighed. What should I reply? Dah-Shi-Fu appeared at the hall-door right then with a fresh pail full of water and disinfectant and his mop. He studied us inquiringly. "Dah-Shi-Fu," said my father. "Don't wash yet the chapel floor. Help me first in stacking up all this literature again." Dah-Shi-Fu instantly obeyed. I slunk away towards the stairway with my mother at my heels, and our ways parted at the first landing. She vanished into the W.C. and I charged the rest of the way up till I reached my higher landing, and vanished into my own bedroom. I hoped the ghosts would not feel they now had a right to heckle me. I'd only made the Sign on the Cross "under duress", in the final analysis. They had no right to hold it against me. Besides, I had Jesus. Grandma's version, still, and he was nice! Though I preferred "the Father" personally. Yes, I could always call upon him. (Or them!)
Dah-Shin-Fong was not only a way-station for drunks and bums, or for ghosts traveling between dimensions, it was a friendly way-station for other folk too. I mentioned the refugee missionaries fleeing from inland conflicts whom we sometimes put up. But we also provided a haven for some rather sweet and innocent souls like the lady I'll describe next. She was no ordinary street-walker: she was the colporteur type. Miss Carlton (as I recall her name) was tall: she was gaunt. She was wistful and lonely and out-of-place anywhere in Earth's Kingdom of Mammon. And yet she'd found a niche for herself on Shanghai's streets. She had never been a glamour-girl. Never had any male regarded her as a possible mate long ago. But she really loved the Lord, so she wasn't sad nor feeling at all cast away. Other Bornagen folk might find her queer and avoid her. She didn't even notice it. For the love of her Lord Jesus she did the only thing that seemed possible for her to do: she gave out tracts in Chinese from dawn till dark, winter and summer, rain or shine, never taking a day off save for Sundays when she appeared at the Free Christian Church back when it occupied its old building near Hongkew Park. That's where my mother got to know her, and we really admired her dedication. Who supported her? Probably the Lord direct with those little daily miracles he achieves so they may be labeled "natural phenomena". We enjoyed similar miracles from day to day, and you could always explain it as "mere coincidence" if you so preferred. Miss Carlton could not even speak Chinese. She'd come out on her own, (no Mission Board behind her), years ago, but found she had no aptitude for languages. So she finally gave up even trying to learn any Chinese. This did not discourage her. She love the Chinese. She could at least become what used to be labeled a "colporteur" with a heavy sack hanging from a shoulder full of Bibles, Testaments and tracts of all kinds, for freely giving away. (She herself obtained them as freely, for no Bible Society could refuse her when she came asking for more such literature. Anybody could see she made not a copper from handing around such material.) I really would have liked to tell you how the Lord kept her fed and clothed. I've explained how it was arranged in our own case. But in her case? I don't know. My father, for example, was a systematic sort of person and had things well-organized. Instead of writing the same letter over and over two dozen times, in response for every dollar that arrived by mail, he got a cheap little Chinese printing shop to print up that letter, (full of printing errors, too, which he corrected by hand, for they simply didn't know a word of English at the shop!), and to this "newsletter" he'd add a personal bit or my mother would write it if it happened to be her dear lifelong friends who'd sent the dollar, as was usually the case. It paid for the return postage anyway, (and some of the printing), and if the gift were five, not just one of those U.S. dollars, (three Mex was the usual exchange rate per dollar), why, there was something left over even for helping out with the rent, for feeding all the hungry including ourselves, and so on! But Miss Carlton? It would never have occurred to her to seek or cultivate sponsors abroad in any fashion. She approached her Lord direct when in need, and you can well believe my parents therefore revered her, (though she wasn't aware of it, of course). She was doing precisely what they ought to have been doing themselves. Keeping their needs and their very work secret from everybody but God himself, to be perfect. ("Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth". And "let you good works be done in secret", saith the Lord, you know!) Indeed, my father's organizing abilities might have launched us on a gaudy career, where his "All People's Christian Mission" might have established itself soon in competition with, say, the W-Trio's Mission on Szechuen Road, (only my father would never have included arithmetic in his curriculum). Or we might even have ended up as a new sort of C.I.M. (or China Inland Mission, the one founded by the 19th century British pioneer, Hudson Taylor) though he never directly solicited funds, just -like. But it wasn't allowed. Besides, my mother was so very honest, she really insisted that donations remain mere "widows' mites", not to exploit all her dear friends. And so we got slapped down each time my father grew too ambitious, and richer sponsors learned to send their donations to more serious outfits than ours. Well, as you thus can see, my parents' lived by Faith in a different fashion than did this favorite figure of my childhood: Miss Carlton. Not that she ever exchanged a word with me. I was just my mother's dear little daughter like our Frisky was my mother's dear old cat. (And mine too sometimes, when I needed to bury my face in her fur and sob just a little.) Well, lacking any visible means of support, who fed and clothed Miss Carlton? you may ask. I told you: the Lord. But how? you well may ask too. I must answer: "I can make you some guesses!" She used to have old fashioned hats donated to her by charitable members of the Free Christian Church till she flatly refused them. She once, however, accepted a gorgeously soft Cashmere scarf, (a bit faded in hue), that had come in a bundle for the Russian refugees, and my mother had kept it especially to give Miss Carlton the next time she'd appear at Dah-Shin-Fong. As for the rest of her clothing? Well, it looked like it came out of old bundles donated for the poor, but I'm sure nothing would have been suitable for her to wear in the bundles coming our way. (I mean, imagine her craving for that bit of chiffon that struck my fancy---covered with huge, all-colored polka dots!) As for where she lived? I visualize some corner in a godown owned by some Chinese Christian somewhere, kindly reserved for her. And what did she eat? Or did she ever eat? Was manna from Heaven supplied to her directly? Well she ate peanuts when offered to her at out place, anyway. And she did sometimes have a few coppers in her huge bag of tracts. How they got there, I can only surmise. Another miracle, probably. Who'd ever have thought of making a donation of even mere coppers to her? She was never mistaken for a beggar on the streets of Shanghai. Colporteurs aren't---not anywhere. They look like folks going about their business, which isn't begging but rather spreading the good news, the Gospel. Very properly attired was she: she wore good, serviceable, shoes that never fit, (being hand-me-downs, and they hurt her bunions); stout serge dresses of an indefinable hue; black cotton stockings, so thick they didn't develop hold easily. Somehow, the Lord saw to it that she was well provided, exactly as her tastes required. Now we get down to the topic of her hats. Why such a series of donations by kindly ladies of our Free Christian Church? Well, she kept reappearing hatless, no matter how many hats you foisted upon her, you see. Every proper woman in Christian society back then obeyed St. Paul and wore a towering old-fashioned hat to church. Seeing ahead beyond the forest of towering hats in front of you at church became quite a problem if you sat at the back! So why her rebellious, "indecent" attitude---forever returning hatless all over again, no matter how the good ladies tried to preserve an appearance of decency throughout the aristocratic Christian congregation? The answer is simple. Her hair was the offender---simply her hair. It was the softest and most intractable head of hair available on any Christian head throughout our planet as I'm sure. Mary Magdalene might have envied it: be sure Mary's hair was thicker, coarser, more easy to keep tidy too. And it was so useful for drying up the tears and the perfume after washing Jesus feet. It is possible the Lord admired not only that sweet and innocent spirit of Miss Carlton, but also her hair. I merely venture such a guess with due timidity and an anxiety not to offend either Christians nor their Lord by such a remark. (But I do think the Lord must have been touched by "Miss Carlton's hair".) Did then the modest Miss Carlton go to church simply to display this marvelous head of hair? Absolutely not. She was ashamed of it, despairing of it; she begged the Lord to help her solve the problem. For every time she tried to do it up in a tightly-screwed bun with plenty of hairpins, (and worse, formerly, onto that erection of screwed-up hair she had to pin on a towering, old fashioned hat), the inevitable happened. The hairpins abandoned their life raft one by one, slinking away undiscovered; the hatpin found itself no longer anchored safely; the hat followed the hatpin unnoted at the read of the plodding Miss Carlton ad was picked up by some passing coolie who---after a careful study of the object---would merely throw it away as "utterly valueless and meaningless and of no possible use". That's how she felt about those hats too. But to walk down the roads of Shanghai with her silky grey hair flying in all directions, (for it was remarkably long), did not go with the colporteur's sack. So what to do? She'd discussed it when dropping by at Dah-Shin-Fong and heard my mother pronounce on the sinful new flapper-fashions, where every female now wore her hair short, cut in a shingle and a bob. She went off reciting to herself: "A shingle, and a bob!" And she prayed as she plodded along, begging for guidance on how to get for herself such a practical shingle-cum-bob. She studied the occasional passing flapper; yes, what a practical way of solving the problem of one's hair. Her prayers were mixed with ejaculations in which the words "a shingle and a bob" were repeated till Heaven rang with the sound. And she prayed for guidance as to how to become practical and never have to worry about her wildly floating silken strands of hair, ever again! And so the inevitable happened. The Lord heard her prayer. He always does, you know, so you'd better be specific. I read a Spanish translation of a horrid tract written by a famous South Korean evangelist proving you must be precise when requiring something of God. So he required a mahogany desk, (specifications given in detail), and he got the mahogany desk. And now our World magnates have won for themselves, (due to that prayer of that preacher), the right to mow down the last mahogany (or "caoba" in Spanish) forests of our planet, so they all can have great mahogany desks to match our Evangelist's. So watch our what you pray for! So anyway, surely, Miss Carlton was not to blame for our new deserts replacing Earth's grassy meadows and verdant forests on our planet today? She knew nothing about "symbolic magic" or that "hair represents the grasses of the Earth" in primitive thought everywhere. No, I refuse to lay the blame on her now. Heaven watched and pitied her. And she was guided in the following way. She'd already decided to get the bob-and-shingle as soon as she could find where such a haircut might be obtainable. It did not occur to her to seek a ladies' hair-dressing salon. After all, you'd probably require at least one silver Mexican dollar to pay the bill. All she carried about were coppers, and she felt guilty even about that. Mammon's coinage she preferred never to touch. She did not take trams. She walked everywhere, though Benjamin (as she knew) often traveled in the trailer of the trams for ever passing by, everywhere right among the third-class coolies, just to supply each of them with a tiny tract printed in big characters and with pictures. Knowing they couldn't read themselves, but they might get someone t read some to them. (But to travel by tram even for such a divine purpose, meant you still had to pay the fare.)
Inspiration enlightened her. There were Chinese traveling barbers on every street corner of Shanghai. All the coolies got their haircuts and shaves from such men. They set up shop each morning at their established corners, with an array of shiny creams and hair-stuffs if you wanted to pay extra; sharp razors, straps; scissors; all on display in glass-sided boxes that hung from the usual bamboo shoulder-pole. (Plus a three-legged stool for the client's use meanwhile.) She would approach one such entity for the haircut, that's what she'd do. She was certain the price wouldn't be more than a few coppers. She'd watched discreetly when she saw some coolie paying some barber on some street sometimes, so she felt assured. This, she could afford! She did not, however, plan to stand in line with all those coolies, patiently waiting her turn. She'd walk and walk, all day if necessary, all week too, till she ran into a street barber totally unoccupied. Then she'd get her haircut. She was at that moment, furthermore, hatless again. And so it was that she eventually encountered such a barber standing idly beside his tools of trade, and he was merely sharpening a razor without a single client anywhere near. Seeing this as a sign that it was the right time for the right event, she plunked herself down on the available three-legged low stool standing invitingly unoccupied. The barber was, of course, astonished at first. Oh, certainly, he knew her by sight. Every hairdo came suddenly undone with hairpins falling and winds arrived eagerly to have a little fun with her. And how she'd leave her hat behind her, forgotten. So here she was, poor old dear, hatless again, and comfortably resting her poor feet, as she sat on his stool. The barber did not grudge this as long as he remained clientless. But her presence militated against new clients starting to appear. Rickshaw-coolies in need of a shave or a haircut, would keep right on going in search of another disoccupied barber. Suddenly, however, Miss Carlton herself grew impatient. When would the hair-cutting operation begin? She began making shearing motions with her fingers at her own head, then she took down the few surviving hairpins, dropping them into her colporteur's bag carelessly, though she never planned to use them again. Her hair floated away in all direction and she repeated the shearing motions. A Chinese crowd was gathering. This was fascinating: the Good White Lady wanted her hair cut, did she? Miss Carlton suddenly noticed her new audience. She immediately forgot her wildly flying hair and leaped to her feet and began distributing tracts with enthusiasm. This would not do. The barber called to her and pointed to the stool. Did she want her hair cut or not? She had better decide quickly. She hastened back to the stool to occupy it before another client took it over. In order to resist further temptation she got out her big, worn English-language Bible, (for this her own mother language, she read perfectly), and settled down for a cozy read. One must not waste an hour or even a minute. How nice to feel the aches dissipating while "the morning dawned and the shadows fled away" like in that lovely Bible text. Since there was no way to budge or convince her that the three-legged stool was not for public use but for clientele only, the poor man reached for his sharpest scissors and began to snip away tentatively. She didn't complain so he snipped a bit further. Finally it seemed to him that he'd cut off enough hair. He attracted her attention by placing his hand over her Bible so she had to look up. He pointed at her head. She understood and put a hand to feel the hair. Huh! He hadn't shingled her at all, and the bob (Chinese style like some modern Chinese girls were lately wearing) was much too long. Emphatically she made further cutting motions with her fingers and returned to her perusal of God's Word. In her terrible loneliness she was not lonely. She knew no loneliness. And believe me God was right at her side. I've never doubted it. She was splendid and lovely in her own unique, unconventional way, and not a lowly coolie but recognized the touch of God upon her, as she passed, greeting each soul with the gift of a tract and a trusting eager smile. She would never demand of God a mahogany desk and he happily would withhold such gifts from her in consequence, knowing she had no need for such bagatelles, used to teach his erring children hard lessons. She had Him! The Father watching, and the Son really flattered by this newest, all-innocent, "Mary Magdalene" of Shanghai's streets. But the barber now was puzzled, till he figured it out. "Ah," he now cried, conversing with his admiring audience. "She wants it all shaved off. I didn't understand. But I am surprised! Her scalp is clean. I didn't see a single nit in it. It's sensible to shave the head completely to get rid of the lice. But she doesn't have any, I'm certain. However, if that's what she wants, I shall comply." And he got out his sharpest razor and set to work. His watching audience approved. "Yes, shave it all off and be quick about it!" They were well entertained and wanted now their own haircuts too. "We haven't all day to wait!" they playfully warned him. The breezes arrived. They began caressing Miss Carlton's bare skull as it was revealed increasingly. What a lovely cool feeling it was, and how light she felt, suddenly. "It is finished!" the barber announced and he inserted two fingers between her eyes and her Bible. She studied them perplexedly wondering, "Is it two coppers or twenty coppers he wants?" She decided it had to be twenty. She hunted and fished till she brought forth that entire bounty from amongst the loose tracts and the few remaining abandoned hairpins in that huge colporteur's sack and she handed him the reward. He took it, counted the coppers carefully, then grinned at his audience and announced: "All correct! But without a tip! Well, the poor old dear! She hasn't much more than that in her bag as you may be sure. I wonder how she feeds herself." "She probably doesn't!" "That's true," agreed the barber unhappily, then he brightened and shook his head and returned 18 coppers to her, explaining by gesture that the haircut cost just "two, not twenty" cents. His watchers chuckled and he glared at them: "For you, it'll be twenty-two cents, this time!" he warned them merrily. "And no bargaining!" Miss Carlton sat on. She hadn't yet reached the end of the chapter she'd been reading. Then she put the Bible back and glanced around at the growing crowd. This barber must cut hair extraordinarily well judging by the great number of clients waiting now for their turns. She considered handing out a few more tracts, but her feminine curiosity got the better of her. She knew there were mirrors in the shops further down the street. They were there to frighten demons away but she knew she herself was no demon and a quick glance might inform her of her improved appearance. She got to her feet, bowed to the assembled courtiers, like the veritable "Queen of Heaven's Colporteurs" that she was, and with a final grateful nod to her barber, she hurried away, hastening towards the first mirror just a little way off. She took one look and let out a tiny, controlled scream, then a sob, and finally---gasping---she got up tremendous speed and rushed forward towards the only haven where solace awaited her. (Even if Pansy were absent, Dah-Shi-Fu would always attend; had offer her to go up to sit on that comfortable old ratten-chair and he'd give her a bowl of Chinese tea and some peanuts too. And she could rest her feet, really, at last. Now, of course, she simply needed to hide there from all the public, and she ran and ran and ran.) She burst through our never-locked front door. She stumbled over a sleeping bum, never seeing him. Reaching the foot of our stairway she began to cry, "Pansy, oh, Pansy!" (The ghosts all fled. When a soul this pure and humble and filled with Heaven's own light---totally incorruptible by any Earth fashion of more---appeared, all evil fled from the hearts of her fellow-humans.) "Oh, Pansy!" she wailed. My mother looked over the balustrade of her landing. I looked over the balustrade of my landing higher up. I saw a round moon of a head, in my blurry way, but recognized the voice. My mother, however, took longer to figure it out. Who was this stranger with such a stricken cry? Then it dawned on her. Why! Miss Carlton had gone and got herself a `haircut' obviously from some incomprehending street barber! My mother flew down the stairs and embraced the sobbing baldy. She led her up t our living-dining-quarters and set her on the old rattan-chair by the street window, and fetched a three-legged little stool and cried, "Put up your feet! And relax! We'll fix everything." (I believe Miss Carlton's faith in my mother was so high she expected my mother to cause the hair to grow out instantly. Though on second thought, better not, for in former arguments recutting-of-the-hair, my mother had maintained that "A woman's glory is her hair" as the Bible says, and when Miss Carlton argued, "It doesn't say long hair" my mother had answered, "But it's implied!" Oh, certainly, no such miracle of having her long hair suddenly restored could be desired. God forbid, even!) Miss Carlton sat there looking quite bewildered while my mother hurried on to add: "And now I'll call down to Dah-Shi-Fu to bring up some nice hot Chinese tea for you. It'll pick you up." When my mother finished calling down, (and Dah-Shi-Fu called back, "Immediately I'll have it ready"), she returned and Miss Carlton began crying, "Pansy! He went and shaved it all off! He didn't understand, that horrid man!" "You went to a Chinese barber?" "Yes! Where else would I go?" My mother couldn't answer that. She'd never had her hair cut, though she approved of Benjamin getting his hair cut regularly. (Dah-Shi-Fu did the job happily and gladly received the price for the task too.) I stood admiringly by. I too had often wondered: How does one get a bob and a shingle? But such a haircut would never replace my long braids, as I well knew. My mother wouldn't allow it. How brave of Miss Carlton, and how unfortunate that the barber had failed to understand! "Pansy!" Miss Carlton went on. "I can't walk down Shanghai's street bald like this. Could you lend me a scarf? A suitable grey one or even black would do!" "I have just the scarf for you!" my mother beamed, thinking of the Cashmere scarf she'd saved out of the last bundle of old things, especially to give Miss Carlton. How providential! The Lord always supplied. As the text had it: "Before he calls I will answer, and while he is yet speaking I will hear." ("He" could include us females too, in that text, of course.) "But first drink your tea!" my mother ordered. Dah-Shi-Fu had just appeared with two bowls of hot tea and a dish of salted peanuts on a tray. He stood before us aghast. (Why no tea for me? He'd not realized I was present, but he knew that if I wanted tea I'd ask, and I didn't. The peanuts, yes, I'd eat some.) Yes, Dah-Shi-Fu simply stood there staring at Miss Carlton for a moment till he remembered his manners, lowered his eyes and discreetly left the room. Mother went on trying to soothe our Miss Carlton. "I do want to assure you, dear, that it's said to be very healthy once in a while to shave the head like that. When the hair grows in again it's even stronger, as they say." "I don't want stronger hair! I want hair that takes no time to keep tidy. I wanted so much to have it shingled, just shingled. But I couldn't make him understand!" "It'll grow back in soon now, very quickly!" my mother tried to sound reassuring. "Not too quickly, I hope!" Miss Carlton trembled between relief and alarm. "I want it just long enough so I won't look crazy. But not so long that I'll have to start trying to pin it up all over again." In due course we sent a comforted Miss Carlton forth again onto Shanghai's streets. The scarf now tied onto her head like a turban gave her a rakish and almost glamorous look. The colporteur's bag was now heavy again---she'd replenished it from that pile of tracts in the front corner of our chapel, for otherwise she'd have had to walk all the way to the Bible Society's premises way into the center of Shanghai. She'd been given a glimpse of her new look in my father's shaving mirror which had left her astonished and pleased. And off she went with our Lord on her side, and she looked as happy as a nun. (Both Buddhist and Catholic nuns used to shave their heads too.)
Miss Carlton----so pure-souled and innocent--never sensed the evil lurking at our Dah-Shin-Fong abode. To her it was ever a haven of rest and goodness where she could recoup her vitality and set forth on yet another day's peregrination down the endlessly stretching highways and byways surrounding the center of Shanghai. You would not find her wandering down some busy central street surrounded by important office buildings...but wherever there were hovels, she was there trying to alleviate the sufferers' miseries by the only thing she had to offer them: printed matter, even if they couldn't read. But they were flattered to suppose that she imagined they could read somehow! And it made them happy. The written word in China was sacred: any bit of paper with a character inscribed on it was treated reverently. So she went away from us...Miss Carlton went away. And one day she did not return, but we too were gone by then. By 1927, there'd been a conflict that took place right outside our house-walk on the cobbled thoroughfare, and Chinese soldiers fought other Chinese soldiers. And we marooned behind our now tightly-fastened and closed house shutters for three days and nights listening to the shooting. Our Dah-Shin-Fong watchman had securely closed and bolted the great heavy gates and we were all thus safe behind the high walls of that fortress. Bullets might pockmark the outer walls but not break them. (Years later, ammunition improved! Such walls in today's forms of warfare would have crumbled instantly.) Then came a lull in the fighting and Dah-Shi-Fu set off to hire rickshaws for us all. We left the house all ready to be abandoned: things stored away meanwhile, and our suitcases packed. So off we all rode and the place itself remained intact. So when the battled moved away elsewhere my parents could return to disoccupy the place forever. We moved then to another derelict house (one of a long block) just inside those same barriers that had separated Darroch Road from Off-Darroch Road and which were now being closed by authority on another road leading to Hongkew Park. Meanwhile, we did stay for a bit at Miss Dearborn's huge premises till my parents could rent this other place and move our things there. I meanwhile was left as a boarder at the school, temporarily. I was nearly ten by then. (Mr. Kennedy had left by then for the USA leaving us as custodians of his furniture.) Dah-Shin-Fong itself, where we lived when I was six and till I was nearly ten, was ever a place of battle, but waged silently. (By me, anyway. Discounting the noisy praying sessions that had repercussions my parents would have preferred to avoid. Floating about at midnight is no fun!) The following story where I find it necessary to "curse the Holy Ghost" to preserve my own sanity, occurred when I was scarcely more than seven and grandma could have sailed for America only recently. And yet so dreadful was that incident, the echoes go on forever and they ring in the Law-Courts of Heaven still. A missionary lost his soul at Dah-Shin-Fong and I saved my own soul in consequence, as I'd sum it up right now. On the lip of the Abyss where No-Time reigns, these things are possible. Heroic Dah-Shi-Fu was ever our Heracles, slaying monsters with his brush and mop, while we were there. But it was a real Augean Stable requiring a spiritual Heracles to deviate the River of Life itself to wash all the filth away. And he couldn't do that. But he did his best and I'd loved watching him create those waterfalls daily with his mop and pail, starting from the lofty landing of the Attic and all the way down to the little back hall. Not to get splashed myself, I'd watch from the safety of the chapel's inner door there, (provided no Bible-men or bums were about), and feel a sense of rightness and righteousness linked somehow with that daily event. He was coping. The ghosts couldn't leave their mark upon our place; not with him there. But so little could he do in the way of sending evil packing. He did his best and that was all---his "heathen" best. And it was good. Fouled by the Beast in Men, had our dwelling at Dah-Shin-Fong become long since. Which is why my parents finally had to acknowledge defeat, when the outer walls of our house and the very window-shutters (of such thick old wood) got pockmarked with bullet-holes also. It was time, they felt, to give up this most convenient place, take the signboard down, give the backless benches to Pastor Gureff who needed then as his work expanded. My father would give him the little box of a pulpit too. Like mushrooms that spread their spores and spring up again afar, the original "mushroom", (my father's little Mission), had sprung up overnight, it had grown formidable temporarily, and now instead other new mushroom growths called themselves by similar names. "All People's Christian Missions" were sprouting up everywhere, and not necessarily beneath my father's control. Far from it, indeed. It's how he'd wanted things to be. His desire to see me standing on my own feet, to face life sturdily on my own as far as possible when I was tiny, he extended to his converts, especially the Slavic ones. Getting drunks to stand on their own feet took some doing, but he managed it, frequently. (For a time, anyway). Had the civil conflict not have erupted, would we ever have moved from Dah-Shin-Fong? My parents grew to love the place, it was so convenient for their work. And they never realized I was their tethered lamb useful for attracting passing tigers which they could never quite shoot down though they tried. But my greatest danger came from a certain zealous missionary whose story I shall now relate. It was his soul or mine that must tumble, and I saved myself by cursing his "Holy Ghost," which was in a league with the Attic Ghost---no doubt about it, as will seem evident. This occurrence was certainly something that happened early on, during our stay at Dah-Shin-Fong, yet it looms in my memory as a "Final Conclusion".
I don't recall his name. He looked like a turkey-buzzard. Let us call him simply Mr. B, (or "Reverend Buzzard"). Mr. B. arrived with his four children who'd been made in his own image; and they were accompanied by his timid wife. They dropped by one afternoon with no prior warning, so we were quite unprepared. He was an overwhelming type, and so were his children. His wife was utterly colorless and empty inside. He'd long since sucked her dry of spirit and life, not by and physical desire for her but simply because he needed her life-forces to keep himself on his toes, "doing the Lord's work in season and out of season", as he'd have put it. She was pitiful and I felt sorry for her. She'd sold he soul to him to keep the peace in her own home. They'd already visited us on another occasion, but only briefly, and hadn't stayed for tea. The children had gotten themselves so dirty playing up on my swing, their horrified mother had pleaded that they must hurry home to change the poor children's clothes; so there'd been no dramatic encounter on that earlier occasion. Now, however, he came primed for a fight with our friends hidden in us too, possibly. Otherwise, why had we survived in this haunted house so far? He must find out the facts and uncover the culprit in our midst. It happened that Mr. B. already detested my father. The enmity dated back to the days long ago when we'd say around with various Board Missionaries up in the penthouse apartment of our former bosses at the Mission run by the W-Trio. He and my father were in direct competition for the approval of their fellow missionaries. He won it thumbs up? My father went on being regarded as something of a freak. Well, we of course invited our visitors up to our only place for receiving such callers, and we sat them around the oval dining-table in the middle front room upstairs. At once the battle began, Mr. B. making the first move: "Well, Brother Surtees, have you converted any more souls lately?" "The Russians are just flocking into Jesus' Fold!" "Apart from Russians?" "Armenians...Serbians...Latvians, any amount of refugees from the Bolshies." "And among the Chinese---your primary interest, of course?" My mother hastily interposed: "Oh, our Bible-men are bringing in a great number of Chinese converts." "Do you adjudge them sincere? You have to watch out, you know. They're always after material benefits." "We have no material benefits to offer them," boasted my father, (who discounted those meals of beancurd and rice, and a few extra coppers or even an occasional silver bit for their pockets.) Again, he was cut off by the sharp reply: "We've heard that before! Now, in my own case, I've started building a splendid new mission as my Board has suggested. It's out in the newer part of Shanghai amongst some really cultured and well-off Chinese, from whom we get our new recruits for God's Kingdom. We offer them course in the Bible and in English too, and they flock in." "I would call those `material benefits' also," countered my father. This led to quite an argument. The two men were soon quarrelling bitterly over whether we should teach the Chinese the "British Way" or the "American Way". Mr. B. declared, "The British way was to force opium upon the Chinese, by fighting those wars." My mother rushed in to provide a distraction. "Well, I'm not defending the British Way, even if I'm listed on Benjamin's British passport ever since I married. But I'm still an American at heart." My father once wrote a long poem about those Opium Wars which I illustrated in black and white. I still have a copy I'm saving for my daughter when she grows up. I was shown one of those pamphlets. Huh! Where did you learn how to draw so vividly those opium dens of your illustrations?" My mother blushed. "My father described them to me." "I wonder how he knew?" "Someone described them to him. And I had seen a real opium pipe once. So it was easy enough to visualize such a den. There are bunks where the addicts lie down when they plan to smoke a pipe." "Is that all they do?" asked Mr. B. challengingly. Mother's blushes increased. "I believe so!" she wavered. My father decided to rescue her from further embarrassment and broke in: "You talk about the wars of the last century. But let me tell you what I think of you American sailors today when they get into port. They thrown dollars around scornfully just to watch the coolies scramble to pick them up. They kick those who demand more. They jump into the rickshaws and practically flog the poor coolies in races down our wide avenues. And where are they going? Straight to the lowest brothels in town." "The British soldiers aren't any better," argues Mr. B. finally getting a word in. "Well, they haven't that many dollars to throw around. And I'm certain they don't despise the poor ladies of ill-repute when they ---" "Benjamin, the conversation isn't edifying for the children!" cried my mother. "When they ---" my father endeavored to insist. "Benjamin, please!" "I only wanted to say Britishers marry these Chinese women who make excellent wives. WE know of cases personally." "And produce Eurasian children", Mr. B. sneered. "Benjamin," my mother pleaded, for she'd noticed how fascinated the listening children had become. "Let's change the subject. We were talking about the recent convert God has been sending us..." "Russians, Eurasians, Chinese!" agreed my father, practically crowing. "Not for nothing have we that signboard up above our chapel door, already in three languages and I hope to be adding more." "Do your Chinese converts mind all your Russian bums swarming in?" "They're not bums," said my father. "They're just down on their luck, having gone through many troubles. But you should see how well many of them are turning out!" "Talking about Chinese converts, however---" said Mr. B. firmly, "I had the pleasure of baptizing fifteen new Chinese converts only last week---" "Well, we haven't a baptismal pool here," interrupted my father. "We were thinking of digging one, if we could only solve the problem of how it might be drained." "And, of course, you don't know what you'll find under the floorboards," replied Mr. B. rather nastily. "Yes, yes," replied my father hurriedly. "Well, not till the Lord sends us funds specifically earmarked for a baptismal pool, will we carry out that plan." (We couldn't invite in exorcising priests of the Catholic Fold to solve the problem of all the skeletons under the floorboards. Nor could we dig up without some good excuse. Funds earmarked: "For a baptismal pool" would do the trick, possibly! We'd then dig our pool---it would serve maybe, thought I, as my swimming pool too, when no Bible-men or bums were around. And the skeletons would receive "proper burial" so the ghosts would have to go, having no further excuse to remain.) "A baptismal pool would be real nice, Papa," I ventured my opinion aloud. It was the first I'd heard of this wonderful idea. Mr. B. had started chuckling nastily. He must have heard of my "temporary baptism" in the huge baptismal pool of the W-Trio's Mission, when I wasn't much more than five. I'd staged a spectable, screaming with terror before a crowded auditorium at the last minute! Very anxious to be done with the topic now of baptismal pools, my father glared at me warningly, while my mother hastily interposed, "Talking about converts---I mean Chinese converts---(and now they were on neutral ground! Each convert would be individually described and his sincerity carefully appraised, argued over, and evaluated). Mr. B.'s children began to grow bored and started to whine. Their father turned to me and said, "Take them up and show them your toys." "I could take them up to the swing," I offered. Mrs. B. came t life and cried, "Please, no! The last time you took them up there they came down like little niggers. It was hard to get the cinders out of their clothes!" "Go on! Take them up just to your room!" my father added his command to Mr. B.'s. I led the way up to my high back bedroom, while the four disapproving children trooped after me and entered in my wake, superciliously.
They stood in the middle of that plain, white-washed, uncurtained room, and stared around. Then they peered behind the new picture-screen my mother had made from the old calendar pictures Grandma had mailed from the USA right after her arrival there. (Her Methodist minister-son-in-law's congregation saved such old prints for sending out to the missions in Africa and elsewhere.) Behind the screen there was Grandma's former bed, covered by a white counterpane, but it was slightly dusty after a week or so without occupancy. Sometimes I did get a spinster missionary or so staying there in that bed behind the screen for a little while. Poor thing, it was agony for her to have me present in the same room. She tried to use the pot, for instance, as any pot-user can testify. She undressed also in secret, terribly ashamed because I was maybe "peering". I wasn't, save my mind's eye knew of her misadventures. Then she turned out the light in her nightie and carefully locked us both in, turning the key that was always in the door's lock, so we'd not be raped by Bible-men and bums while we slept. "Who sleeps here?" my visitor's now asked. "Nobody, since Grandma went back to America." They studied next my bed, carefully noting the folded-back top-sheet. (Clean, as they had to admit!) We changed one sheet a week of each bed in our house, putting the used top-sheet down for the bottom-sheet and adding a freshly-clean. bleached sheet on top for the week ahead. Pillow cases were changed each week too. Our washer-man came to fetch the big things each Monday regularly and took them away by rickshaw. He charged four cents per piece; and out of politeness my mother always included a few little things too like handkerchiefs, so he'd not lose face with us.) The children now turned to examine the room's three windows, which were closed as usual; for why should I have to put up with their tendency to swing significantly when I preferred to pay them no attention. They threw open the window over the street and looked out. The panes remained motionless, "at bay" as it were, with these invaders bothering. "You got no view!" they said. "We got nice views from our windows." "It is a nice view!" I defended the expanse of highway beneath, despite the walls of tenements right opposite where dramas were continually staged by night, as homeless bums evaded prowling watchmen armed with clubs. "Just Chinatown!" they sneered. They went over next to throw open the window above the narrow back alleyway, to peer out. "Smelly! All those garbage-cans below stink even this far up!" No comment on my part. I couldn't deny that fact. "And what are those lumpy things on the other side of that wall down there?" "Mountains and castles." "Don't be silly! Are you crazy?" "Yes, they are. Some Chinese Christians are making movies down there and those are the stages they put up." "Take us to see!" "I can't. They're filming right now so my father won't let me go." "I don't see anybody." "They're probably doing an indoors scene." I was studied suspiciously. So I knew about movie-making, did I? How worldly of me! "Do you watch when they film outside down there? You can see good from here." "No, I don't watch. Anyway, I can't see from this far." "What's wrong with your eyes?" "Nothing". I still didn't know that there was anything wrong with my eyesight. I accepted missionary allegations that I was "just stupid" because I had such a "vague stare" and didn't see anything properly. (But I could read fine print better than most people. That had never been taken into account.) The children studied me with scorn. They'd heard the prevailing opinion regarding my lack of intellect and they definitely agreed. Finally, they got onto my bed, (just kneeling there), and threw open the window above the dank courtyard far below. There was just a blank wall opposite us, for the attack had no window except for the one above the front lane. "It smells here too!" they announced. I felt I could argue that point. The smell wasn't from garbage-cans anyway. It was just the natural scent of mold and mildew that ascended always. "It does not!" I maintained. (What was wrong with natural smells?) "And what's in your attic?" they challenged me next. "Nothing. We just store boxes and trunks up there." "You've got a ghost there, haven't you?" I didn't reply. Ghosts, I refused to discuss with this type of individual so avid for a thrill and crazy to experience the sort of terror that draws crowds till now to horror movies all over the world. I knew what would happen to these children if I let them go up there. The vortex would swallow their souls at once. They themselves were already little vortexes and could therefore be gulped or assimilated by the ghost. So I did not answer. "Let's go up and look!" the children suggested. "No." "You're afraid?" "I'm not afraid." "Yes, you are! We can see." To change the subject I suggested, "Don't you want to look at my toys?" "What toys? I don't see any." "There's this doll!" I indicated my "idol", now reposing on my bed, her head on the pillow. It was the one my mother could get for me cheaply because it lacked a nose. It had been abandoned so forlornly on the bargain counter of the store we'd entered, (just before Christmas, to get some more sheets for our visitors), I'd pitied it and felt it needed mothering. My mother had agreed and so I owned that doll. My young visitors picked it up; they laughed at it rudely, then sneered: "Throw it away! It's got no face!" And they deliberately dropped it on the floor. I rescued it and opened the top drawer of the bureau to hide it amongst a pair of clean sheets reserved for the unexpected spinster visitor who might turn up at any hour of day or night suddenly. They crowded around me to peer in. "What else you got in these drawers?" "Sheets, blankets, some clothes." "Nothing else?" "I've got a lovely Child's Bible you might like to see!" and I pulled it out carefully from the bottom drawer, for its pages were brown with age and the hard cloth-bound covers were loose, so it had to be handled very carefully. I loved its pictures and had studied every detail of them since I was very small. "It's broken to bits," they laughed scornfully. "But look at its pictures", I insisted. This one, for instance of all the animals, and the little boy taking them to water. And there's one of Daniel in the Lion's Den, with lovely lions. "Bah!" they said. "It's all just black-and-white." They turned away, so I put it back in its place with a sigh. What boring, boring children! How entertain them? Under no condition would I let them visit the ugly attic ghost, with which they probably had an affinity. Bit it would be dangerous for us all, maybe. "So what else is there?" they demanded. "Don't you want to look at this lovely picture-screen?" I was so proud of it. Sometimes, (since I could no longer find my way to the River of the Water of Life from this ghost-haunted place), I climbed Mount Rushmore, studied the Statue of Liberty and other famous American scenes, and enjoyed it also meanwhile. It seemed that the ghosts approved of the carvings on the cliffs, displaying bygone US president, and even of the Statue of Liberty. I was allowed to study that sort of display undisturbed by static interference. But my visitors only sneered again. "They're just cheap calendar-prints for throwing away. What else have you got to show us?" "Nothing else," I sadly replied. We would never agree on anything, as I recognized. "You're not allowed up to the swing." "We could explore the attic instead." "No." "You're afraid?" "No." I was growing annoyed. "Yes, you are." "No." "Did you make friends with the ghost?" "No." "All you say is `no'. Why don't you tell the truth?" "It's true. Here, there are no ghosts." (They'd never been allowed in by me!) "There are! Everybody knows it. All the missionaries talk about your haunts." "Not here!" I was positive. "You made friends!" they persisted. I got tired of saying "no" and fell silent. They began taunting me and I got angrier still but maintained my dignity and refused to reply. They may have sensed in me a certain rectitude of spirit. At any rate, they developed a great desire to impress me and I watched them taking in great gulps of air till they swelled visibly, as they began boasting: "You haven't got any toys! Not anything! Our Grandma in America sends us expensive toys and books with proper colored pictures---not cheap like yours. And she sends us toy guns and meccano-sets and dolls and big doll-houses with furniture, and everything! We've more than we ever can play with all the time. So let's go downstairs. There's nothing to do here. Isn't your mother going to give us any tea?" I wasn't certain. Had we any foreign-style tea left in the house? (This incident, by the way, occurred when we were "between boarders", and Mr. Kennedy had not yet entered our lives permanently. But he'd occasionally already dropped in for a week at a time, to get the feel of things, and we knew he eventually planned to settle with us, simply because he liked us and detested the majority of his fellow-missionaries.) Well, I hoped my mother would somehow manage to fix up some tea for these critical children and their disapproving parents. (She might have a bit of English tea saved especially for my father if he felt not too well.) Down the stairs the children rushed and I followed them. They broke into the room where the grownups still sat at the table. Our mothers looked alarmed; their eyes were wide with anxiety. My father and Mr. B. had worked themselves into a state. My father was shouting: "We must reach the Chinese through their hearts!" Mr. B. shouted back, "Neither hearts nor heads have they. You have to hammer the message home. Sock it to them!" "Papa, when are we having tea?" whined the spokesman of the four children. Mr. B. looked inquiringly at my mother. She hastily summoned Dah-Shi-Fu and gave him suggestions resolving the problem of "tea for all present". Dah-Shi-Fu began to set the table while our guests watched critically. Even Mr. B. got distracted and gave up his argument so as to watch more carefully. Unmatched cups, saucers and side plates! Ordinary napkins without embroidery! Cutlery that was probably just tin. Why! Any Board missionary could afford better. Faith missionaries, bah! "No wonder their converts were all mere beggars and bums!"
"Papa!" piped the littlest girl. "She hasn't any toys!" "Poor child!" murmured the child's mother, glancing at me with sympathy. "And she's not afraid of ghosts!" added the eldest boy. "She says there aren't any!" I hadn't said that, but why argue? I let it pass. Just let them get onto the topic of ghosts and we'd be given further lessons on exorcising. "Reverend B., will you kindly say grace?" asked my mother, to provide an interruption. The table now was laid and Dah-Shi-Fu stood there ready to put before us a plate of bread sliced thin, with peanut-butter already spread on it. And Amah had also arrived with a tray containing the tea under its cosy; also a newly-punctured tin of unsweetened condense Carnation Milk we kept for visitors; and also of course a pot of hot-water. (Sugar too was available.) Mr. B.'s grace was long and flourishing as you'd expect of that type of Reverend. Over at last, we each took our piece of bread and peanut-butter which I loved, and I took a bite. I managed to swallow it and took another bite. I was afraid they'd get back onto the topic of ghosts, but hoped for the best. I took a sip of my "Cambric tea", (mostly hot water with a dash of milk), and burned my lips. My mouth turned dry and I found my bite of bread difficult to swallow. It remained in my mouth momentarily till I could take another sip. There was, of course, no cake. Our Chinese stove had no oven. but we sometimes had fried doughnuts or pancakes for a treat. But it took time to prepare. The bread that had been used was the kind we usually reserved for my father's breakfast. He liked a slice or two of toast. Mother and I preferred salted peanuts and softboiled rice, which the servants had too. There weren't even any biscuits and the children were looking my way scornfully. What sort of a tea was this? Everybody was suddenly staring at me. Mrs. B. at my side was looking me up and down till I worried. Was my dress inside-out again? No, she was looking at my sleeve, from which she now seemed to be recoiling fastidiously. Well, yes, it was dirty, as I knew. I had the habit of rubbing off the sweat and grime on my face onto the sleeve, and so my dresses' sleeves showed it always, too. I felt so ashamed. I was letting my parents down again. I didn't even have on a clean dress when the visitors dropped by so unexpectedly. Suddenly the older girl spoke out in a stage-whisper to her father: "She hasn't any real books. Just some boring stuff." (She was referring to a row of 19th century editions I'd made, "dirt cheap"..."Pilgrim's Progress", for instance. Also some wonderful books in very fine print from the 19th century, descriptions of the patriarchs, told in three volumes. I'd read them again and again.) "And her Child's Bible is all broken to bits!" added the other girl scornfully. Mr. B. was suddenly alert. His suspicions were increasing. Here I was pretending there were "no ghosts" and that I wasn't afraid of them, as his children had reported. I was probably in league with them, that's why. It would explain a lot of things. And, above all, it would go to prove that Benjamin wasn't on the right track if his only child trafficked in demonology. "A broken Bible?" he cried, very shocked. "One should at least treat the Bible reverently!" "Oh, she does!" cried my mother. "It's that she reads it so much it wore out at last. It was second-hand in the first place and dates from the last century." "Hmmmmm!" Mr. B. wasn't convinced that I read my Bible regularly. "If she reads her Bible so much," he sniffed, "let's hear her reciting some texts." My mouth turned so dry I was caught with the last bite I'd just taken and couldn't swallow. The food turned to dust and I tried not to choke. I didn't dare move, not even to reach for my cup of tea. I was immobilized with terror. I felt that the danger ahead would be terrible but failed to foresee what it would be like. "Recite the Fourteenth Chapter of John", said my tormentor. He was ignoring the food on his own plate. His appetite was whetted for gorier fare. Here was a chance to devour me whole and engulf as well my poor father, with my mother for dessert. I could not reply to his command. My throat was locking and my mouth was full of ash and dust. "Well, she hasn't learned the whole chapter yet," my other apologized. "What? Not yet? Our children---as you'll probably remember---were reciting it already word-perfect, when at the W-trio's flat. That time, your daughter refused to recite a single verse when we asked. I tell you, by now our children know by heart half the Bible...most of John's Gospel; many chapters out of the Psalms; much of Isaiah too. And more! They hope to be missionaries and they are preparing for it already as you see. But why go on?" He turned to me. "Surely you know a single text?" he prodded. My mouth was full and my throat had locked. I could not answer. He swiveled around to my father at the head of the table and with saccharine sympathy said, "Perhaps you should try some incentive to encourage her to study her texts. My mother in the States is always sending my children books and toys---so many, we have decided that for each new chapter of the Bible my children memorize, they get a new toy---one for each child. And it works! They really recite an astonishing number of chapters now by heart!" He actually smirked. He was rubbing it in: My children have toys and your child has none, he was implying. My father had no weapon to use in return. I was a weapon the enemy was using. My father was not a scion of a Consumer Society. He'd not even had enough to eat during his boyhood in Newcastle-on-Tyne, and felt his "inferiority" before this well-fed specimen in consequence. It was an atavistic reaction. But he couldn't help it. He experienced now a sense of shameful defeat and I was the cause of it, somehow. The dreadful inquisitor turned back to me and insisted: "Come now, little girl! Try to remember a text. What about John Three Sixteen? You haven't forgotten that most important of texts in the Bible, have you? Listen! I'll help you! It starts: `For God so love the world that---'. That what? Surely you know the rest of the text?" That was too much. Of course I knew that text and also the ones that followed, for example: "He that believeth not hath been judged already", which was the portion of that bit of scripture which preachers best loved to harp upon. But I still could not open my mouth to reply. My tormentor was gloating. He stared at me piercingly while his children stared triumphantly at me also. My bumble-bee soul had fled in terror leaving me behind, a mere lump of witless, quivering, skin and bone. (Uneatable, from a normal cannibal's point of view---but luscious in his and his children's eyes! Just ripe for spiritual demolition and digestion!) Overhead the ghost tried a dance step then subsided, eager to witness further attacks on its one little enemy, myself. Mr. B. turned upon my father and with the ghastliest of grins pantomimed his disgust over me. My father exploded at me: "Answer him at once! You know that text!" But my mother put in, "She's not always like that. She's just a bit shy." "So you say," he said to my mother. "But I've never seen her otherwise. And her behavior now confirms what I've said all along. I'd advise you to lock her up and feed her only bread and water. It might help, but I doubt it. A case of this sort can only be helped by constant whippings if you want to drive the devil out of her!"
The four little children, such good Born-again creatures, Bornageners to the backbone already, listened avidly. They were absolutely gloating over my downfall at their father's hand. The mother made little sounds of distress. She'd gone through it also and been rendered helpless. Now she saw it was to be my turn. And my mother? And my father? Helpless also before this terrible weight of Bornagen authority so solemnly pronounced by our visitor! Terrified. They were growing terrified. Mesmerized and utterly conditioned by years of this sort of approach to salvation by their fellow-preacher ad infinitum! Very alone, I stared back--a small helpless animal caught in a trap and the dogs bayed closely and their fangs snapped at me. My parents weren't my parents. This metamorphosis happened to them periodically, especially when worshippers at some prayer-meeting got "inspired" with everybody absolutely raving "with the Spirit" all in one voice. It was always terrifying to me that my father ever spoke in tongues but he got cowed sometimes. This man now peered at me with the "love" a tiger bestows on its victim as it purrs over it, with the caught creature already in its claws. But he wanted that my father join him in the joy of the hunt, to be followed by a kill. My father must no longer see in me his "only beloved child" I was being revealed as "Satan incarnate", stripped of my innocent look. My guilt was now plain. I was white with terror! My mother too was terrified! Could it all be true? I was such a strangely naughty child! So willful. So full of hatred towards the saintly Bible-men! So naughty towards certain little Christian children I refused to befriend! "Answer him at once!" roared my father again. "You know that text!" (How terrible---for my father---that this man had four saintly children who knew the Bible by heart, while poor Benjamin had a child who'd hitherto refused to be saved, at least properly. And where were my brains of which my father hitherto had privately boasted?) I stared back witlessly. As witless as my tormentor who had got through college only because he was good at sports and won games for his team. He'd gotten a scholarship, and then he'd gone on to star at some Bible School. Mr. B.'s jaw sagged to express his pity for my lost soul. He turned to my parents solemnly and in sorrow announced: "As I've told you on former occasions, your daughter looks like the type born to be lost. Many missionaries by now agree with me, for we've discussed her together. Furthermore, she is obviously mediumistic. But it's your duty as parents to try to save her soul till she finally gives up the ghost, her own, I mean, when she passes away." I saw it coming: he'd not visited us for nothing. He'd come on a safari to capture and deliver a final coup de grace upon me. I felt all the region's phantoms gathering to applaud such zeal, urging him on! I'd been the "unconquerable". But he would conquer me, render me mindlessly abject and afraid. he'd break my stubborn will: he'd had practice already in destroying females like his own wife...and there'd been other little girls as I was soon to learn. This was the most dangerous moment of my life. He was a powerful medium. Hitler was too, you know! Focussing now upon me, he cried, "I feel the Holy Spirit in me! It warns me against her. I am driven to prophesy. I warn you: if this child lives she will be sworn enemy of our Christian faith. She will topple many a believer, create doubt, turn people atheistic and Communist. "Like my own sister Mary!" my mother gasped. "Yes! It must run in your side of the family too. Though your husband is a prime example. He takes nothing on faith! He never could hide his doubts. We've all noticed it in him. Oh, your poor child," he wailed, (or his "Holy Spirit" wailed), "what a terrible background! You two are saved, as I recognize!" he glanced at my parents "But she?" My parents stared at him in stark dismay. They were mere puppets now. Unthinkingly under his spell! In a moment they'd turn me over to him for him to treat me just as he preferred. His children would be able to watch , to learn "how". He'd call in others to aid in destroying me: the pack would cluster, he'd insist my parents join in. And I was only seven and unable to escape. Where could I flee? They would kill me, alright---that was his purpose now. But what of my soul? Must it ascend to the Bornageners' Heaven to endure further persecution through all Eternity? Better make sure I got to Hell instead, away from them all! There was a way! I suddenly remembered. I must simply curse the Holy Ghost, and then there'd be "no forgiveness". How I hated this "Holy Ghost" of his!
My courage was returning as I recognized that I had thought of a way of escape. I must simply avoid my mother's attempts henceforth to shanghai me to her Bornageners' heaven. I'd forestall her by performing a real proper cursing, as soon as I had a moment to myself. Then this awful man could never reach me. No devil could be as cruel, as vicious, as he! Not even our Attic Ghost could be so cruel! (Though they were of the same pattern---vortex types, both of them!) He was studying me intently, and muttering, "Yes, she looks mediumistic! No wonder you failed to get rid of the ghosts with her in league with them! We were talking just the other day about the Fox sisters---" "Hush," said my mother automatically. "We never discuss them in her presence." "Perhaps you should, if only to warn her that we are not fooled. There's a spirit of malevolence here and I feel it centers around her. Yes, and the Holy Ghost inside of me right now is warning me against her." (Oh, I must, I must, blaspheme that `Holy Ghost' to be safe! felt I, desperately. It was the only way to survive a while longer.) "Perhaps you should speak out openly if only to warn her that we are not fooled," he repeated. "We must face Satan out openly!" He turned fiercely upon me again. "Do you hear knocking?" "I think she does," piped up his eldest, his "dearly beloved son." "She refused to discuss the ghosts when we asked." "Quiet!" exploded his father who brooked no interruptions even if he approved of the son's zeal. "Well, do you?" he demanded of me. I would certainly not say "yes". But how say "no?" I avoided lying as much as I could even if I sometimes did allow misunderstandings to linger, by my very silence. I was so distressed. I saw myself being exorcised repeatedly by this man and his confreres, and by my own poor dead whipped parents, and by the man's children, and the Bible-men, and---and! And of course the ghosts would all help! I did not even shake my head in denial of this awful thing. It would be lying also. In any case, my mouth was still full of bread and peanut-butter and I could not speak. How like moldy dust did the food taste now! I was being presented with an evil "Jesus" and evil "Holy Spirit" I must face now, as this "good man" fought his image of "evil" in me! I had no one left to whom I could now turn. Yes, even Jesus was now to be seen as evil, as this dreadful, exorcising evangelist was making plentifully apparent to me! (Like some medieval inquisitor!) So I didn't even shake my head. I merely stared, horrified. "Look at her guilty look!" he cried. "And do you answer the knocks?" I shook my head indignantly. "Ah, she knows what we're talking about!" he gloated. Suddenly I understood. The "Fox sisters" weren't mere Chinese-type fox-ghosts as I'd formerly supposed, but the very same "little girls" grandma had once discussed with me. They'd answered some knocks so the devil had walked in and become their friend. I must never answer knocks, she'd warned me, unless I knew real people were knocking. And only when the knocking was at my door---not when it was at the windows. Of course I'd appreciated that warning. I wished to have no truck with abnormal psychology in humans or in spooks. I wanted everything and everyone to make sense. But most folks didn't; not in my life, right then! "Ahah!" the wretched man shouted. "We've caught her! So you do hear the knocks, do you?" Again I didn't answer, thinking: "Let them starve me, kill me! I shall not repent like he wants of me. I will not grovel at his feet like he wants." Courage flooded back into me at that resolve and I swallowed the dry morsel at last. But I left the rest on my plate untouched nor tried to finish my cup of tea. "What you must do!" the man now told my parents, "is invite certain missionaries whom I shall recommend. They will come with me and we shall help you in your problem. They are skilled exorcists accustomed to dealings with hard cases of this kind. We've vanquished the devils in several little Chinese girls of Christian homes already. Before that last child died, we got her to repent. It was a great triumph for the Kingdom of Heaven. So, with your permission, Brother Benjamin," he went on with unctuous pseudo-affection now, "I shall arrange it for you. What about this coming Monday?" My mother panicked. So soon? She was appalled. Even parents of perverts and murders do not find it easy to turn their children over to some executioner. "Not next week!" she cried. "Benjamin, all next week we're busy, remember?" "That's quite true," my father mumbled, as though awaking from some hypnotic state. "Well, we could anyway come. Just give me your permission and I'll get it organized. You can trust the efficiency of these Christian brothers I've mentioned. We'll have the devil out of her in no time." (No Time? That meant never.) "We'd better pray it over first!" my father muttered, like someone half-conscious and not fully awake. "Yes, yes!" my mother cried. "It's a serious matter and Benjamin and I had better pray over it first." I felt her mindless terror wiping out her normal common-sense usually present in her when facing the problems of ordinary life. But she was a Bornagener and there was that certain compartment in her brain she had always kept locked where she must not think things out, not ever, and if she tried the alarm-bells rang and a short-circuit occurred. Such was her lifelong conditioning! "Don't delay too long or the devil will be too entrenched to get him out," my parents were warned. Mr. B. and his following pushed back their chairs and left their teacups and plates of food scarcely touched. I recognized that the bread was a little stale for a loaf lasted three days since only my father cared for morning toast. I supposed that was why. Though I'm afraid that awful man would have quoted Jesus own words again. Jesus once told his disciples, (when they wondered why he was no longer hungry): "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me." Quoting the Bible made it all for me the more terrible, for I liked most parts of the Bible a lot. So the invaders prepared to depart and I glanced up at my parents anxiously. Usually they'd displayed a modicum of sanity in our daily relationships. But now? Were they still infected by that awful man's zeal? We saw the visitors off downstairs and I then followed my parents back upstairs to our living-dining-room where Dah-Shi-Fu was clearing away the remains of the feast. My parents were frightened. The voice of authority had spoken. He'd quoted the "Holy Ghost", hadn't he? And they did not see what I already instinctively recognized: that that had left our place doomed. He'd harmed one of our Lord's "little ones" almost irreparably. There was no hope for him. But I myself was lost, because of him, I felt.
It was a night of dreadful pressures. My soul was being squeezed from out of me as from a tube, or from the spinnerets of some ungainly tiny insect, (my own frail self, at the age of seven). My new exposed thread of selfhood wavered. Other stouter "threads" would bind me into a web of their own creation and I must harden within that pattern never to escape. No! I must break away at once or it would be too late! If I let myself be shaped into their moldings, I would remain thus till death, a dust-coated relic amid other relics in an ancient Cobweb mislabeled Truth. Yet in truth such a cobweb did exist, spun around me already by elder Spinners. They would press and squeeze out the remainder of my unformed soul. If I refused the role required of me, my thin thread of existence would be snapped and I'd be consigned to perdition. I glimpsed my mother within the great Cobweb, a lovely thread of silver still. But immobile! She could not help me. She wanted me added to the Web. And I glimpsed my father there, gray, lifeless, tied into knots he himself could never untie. And the I saw Mr. B., no mere strand of spider-silk but a fang of a monstrous and hairy spider crouching over our house. Its scaly back was the slopping tiled rooftop above the attic, its jointed legs the stairway. Voracious infant spiders came forth from its egg-ducts. He might be male, (that Great Fang), but his mother was the Mother of Darkness itself, on guard over the vortex of Eternal Death and Decay. Very horrible was my intuitive recognition of this terrible night as a fatal one for us all. There would never be another quite like it---not for me. The three of us (father, mother, only child) stood uneasily in the living-dining room waiting for Dah-Shi-Fu to complete his task of clearing the table. I knew my father was impatient and would have sent him away, task still unfinished, but my mother might have intervened and said, "Let's have the table tidy, first", so he waited, all tied into knots that had been cruelly pulled the tighter now by Mr. B. Dah-Shi-Fu knew well what was in store for me: he could clearly recognize the evil in our recent visitors and pity me for falling afoul of them. But what could he do? He was no member of our white and supposedly "Christian" society, even though he sang our hymns and read our Bible docilely, in Chinese each morning, with my mother and our Amah, as they had their special worship apart from our own. No, he could not help. With a final regretful glance towards me, he carried away the tray of dirty plates and half-full cups and discarded bits of bread and peanut-butter. My mother said to him, "You need not return. I'll place the cloth back on the table," which she did. And now we faced each other, as the night approached---just the three of us in a room besmirched by the recent emanations of a Great Consumer, who cried, "Toys, toys, toys in exchange for Bread!" (The Bread of Life in his Bible, his children could use as coinage to purchase toys for themselves.) And I, toyless, but complete in myself still, stood guard over the thin thread of being that was forcibly being squeezed forth from my insectile small body, tonight. I had not yet chosen a final personal shape for my mobile and pliable new selfhood. They would mold me, if they gained the power over me to do so. But the whole Universe waited beyond me, as it waits for all of us, till we recognize just what we are, (essential portions of Creation, and our loyalties must remain to a Creator beyond Man's mind to assume or investigate). My father shouted at last: (the cry was squeezed out of him now, like the last shreds of an old soul seeking extinction): "Why do you refuse to learn your Bible texts?" Overhead the Walker trotted with a peculiarly jaunty step. All was going as required and his emmisary had done a splendid job of destroying the three of us. "And even the texts that you do know," my father added bitterly, "for you do know John Three Sixteen, you refuse to recite when requested." My mother ventured: "She does, Benjamin. With most missionaries she does recite her texts when they ask her nicely. It was this man---" "Be quiet!" my father exploded, his whole remaining soul battered as it appeared now, exposed to cruel gales. And he was already Mr. B.'s new slave, his soul tangled more terribly than ever in the past, as he tried to "be a proper Fundamentalist" to please his wife. And his mind was shattered into a myriad shards! Those shards I must carefully rescue and put together to restore to his head. I must not die now and leave him so mindless and bereft! My father had whirled on my mother shouting to her "Be quiet!" He could not think. He could no longer reason. The "Holy Ghost" of Mr. B. had frightened him utterly, for it spoke of things he already feared. I stood there stolidly, unflinchingly, telling myself: "Let them kill me as they killed that poor Chinese girl. I will not repent." But would I not also break at last? Skilled, are our inquisitors, of the past and the present. They not only break their victims' bodies but destroy their sanity. When they do it "in Jesus' name" it is worse, for they take from their victims their only remaining image of hope. The scolding continued: my poor father's last shred of soul stuff came pouring forth and he couldn't switch off the pressure, or turn off the anger destroying him. "Why can't you be like those children?" he shouted. I looked at him reproachfully. He knew how awful they were. In his saner moments he'd have been the first to recognize this fact. As for myself trying to be like them? Kill me first! was my silent thought, pitying him for not recognizing the reality we were facing, the awful moment of doom if we took a wrong step. I sense his shame and defeat. I sense my mother's pain. I was their sounding-board, I had always been so. They needed me for their own sanity's sake: I must not give up my new solidity, my determination to be my own new self. My "thread of life" solidified, faced them unwaveringly. True, the Bible said, "Stone disobedient children till they die". I would carefully evince no outward disobedience to give them an excuse. (They would "stone" me with the dry bread instead, which they'd been ordered to feed me with henceforth. Though Jesus had said that true parents do not give stones to their children who ask for bread.) Noting my silent defiance, the explosion came. For the first and last time in his life, the Northumberland, Stone-Age instincts in my father got the better of him. He shouted, "I shall really lock you up on bread and water for two weeks!" and he threw me across the room, towards the outer wall above the cobbled street. I fell there, shocked at the outburst. He'd always controlled his ability to give way to fury thus, in the past. (Though it was in him as it was in me. I'd inherited his temper, only Grandma had so woven her delicate skeins of love around me, I couldn't any longer break forth uninhibitedly. I was conditioned as few children can be.) "Oh Benjamin!" cried my mother lamely. "Don't you `Oh, Benjamin' me!" My mother had tremendous courage when facing ghosts; in Szechuen she'd once saved her new bridegroom from a man-eating Szechuen pony. (Story told in Book Two). She was fearless, save when Benjamin reverted to his Stone Age self without coherent thought. Only I understood him then. He now told her, "We're late for Pastor Guroff's and they expect you there too. You cannot beg off. We'll have to take rickshaws---it's too late to walk all that way to catch a tram." My mother obeyed. She too was a gentle product of Grandma's early training. She obeyed and abandoned me to destruction as might well have occurred. For she could not be certain that I would not commit suicide while the two of them were absent, in my despair. Yet she obeyed. "Wives, obey your husbands", said Saint Paul. She turned her back on me and went to the bedroom to get herself ready, though knowing that I too could experience a grief beyond that of normal children, due to having watched from infancy my father's tussles with the Fundamentalists gods and demons my mother had introduced to him. And he had lost.... Poor mother, she'd closed up shop in her own head when small. They'd squeezed her once too much and the thin silver thread had solidified and no further essence had come forth and they'd locked her then and there into that terrible Cobweb, from which she still shone with brilliance sometimes and I loved her. But she could not escape. She had tied or helped tie the knots too in her Benjamin, and so they were fastened together in a dreadful Mindless Web till they vanished beneath the very dust that thickened upon it. (I think too of "St. Peter's Barque" as encrusted with barnacles till it almost seems to founder.) But in a Baptist-Pentacostal dimension at times dewdrops do sparkle on some of the webs being spun all over our planet. But the purpose remains the same: to trap flies. Mayflies, too, like myself, at times. My father strode over to me where I still lay huddled and I prepared myself for another blow. But he only yanked me up by my ear, gave it a tug, and said to me, "Consider yourself in disgrace. Go up to your room and stay there till we get back and we'll decide on what punishment to try next on you." With quiet dignity I turned away, turned away from that poor, wracked soul whom I could not help. I knew how he hated his prison of Fundamentalism but for him there was no escape. All for his love of his Pansy! If he lost her, the Universe was an empty place. She was his only true deity. He glimpsed his god in her. He would never be a successful missionary because he wasn't made for it. They despised him the more he tried to show to them how hard he worked to save souls and do things their way. He'd failed and he knew it and Mr. B. had made it clear that afternoon to him.
From my parents' landing, I mounted the long stairs that huddled steeply against the nest-door wall. The creaking was loud as usual, but no louder, as I slowly climbed. Jacob's Ladder could not have creaked louder, but I paid no attention. I was listening for softer sounds, infinitely more dangerous. "Climb to the balcony! There's a straight drop of four floors from there. And it will not hurt! But, ah, how you'll punish your parents. You'll be out of it all. Suicides go to hell. You'll not reach his Heaven which you wish at all costs to avoid." I slowed my steps. I glanced at the precarious railings against which I never leaned my weight. I stayed away. Close to the wall I continued upwards, my finger tracing a wavering message on the wall. I reached my own landing at last. Only a short flight from thence rose up to the closed Attic door, and it had no fanlike curves but took one directly to that entrance to our Enigma, still waiting. "Climb on! The balcony awaits you. Your blood sacrifice is required to keep those boards a shining red!" I merely stood and stared up at the Attic Door. A friendly little scratching seemed to emanate from behind it: "Come and let me absorb you, and find comfort in me!" Ah, but I'd not unlock the door, (with its key on the outside), neither to let it out nor to enter myself into that darkness. For, by night, the Attic was a gloomy, gloomy place and held no attraction. The view from the dormer window by night I could not see. I needed sunlight to establish my Domain over the territory, and rejoice over the mystic view of curling grey rooftops and green foliage. "You are losing your chance! Break their hearts! Let them watch you jumping! That will finish them as they deserve!" My parents' hurried footsteps now sounded on the landing below. I did not peer over to see them go. I stood back out-of-sight against my own closed door, but outside it. My mother called up timidly, "Goodbye, dear! Will you be all right?" And I did not answer for I would not be "all right". I had a terrible choice to make now, alone. And my father said to her, "Come on, don't linger. We're late!" And their footsteps clattered downwards, and the whole house erupted in creaks and groans and snapping noises. They hurried through the chapel and were gone. I turned away, opened my bedroom door and closed it behind myself and stood there waiting, I wasn't sure yet for what. My parents caught their rickshaws and rode further and further away from their abandoned only child. And my mother prayed, (oh, I know what she prayed), "Please, Father, don't let poor Beulah become devil-possessed!" And the good Father filled her soul with reassurance, and she knew right then it will never happen. Beulah is as her grandma said, Untouchable! She cannot be harmed. And joy returned to her heart, knowing that she---like Miss Carlton---was one of the Father's Little Ones, and I was another. And our task was to help Benjamin save his own poor soul. But, oh, she must never let that horrid Mr. B. hurt me again. She would hide me from him when next he returned! But where? Oh, she had no place, no place, safe for me! I had not locked my door behind me, for it was forbidden to me to do so. I wanted to lock it against the ghost---could it get out of the attic on such a dread night and even enter my room? Invade it against my resistance? I still thought not, but I risked opening the window-panes above the cobbled street to let the evening in, for it was lovely outside. The last gleam of twilight was not yet faded, and the dancing street lights made stepping-stones of brilliance inviting me forth, as their circles of light flickered and merged together, then retreated. Polka-dots of light, suspended aloft, stepping-stones to the stars! Might I not venture forth on that way up and out and find some dimension that was neither the Heaven nor the Hell of the missionaries? Buddha's Nirvana perhaps? Had my soul in earlier incarnations leaped into Buddha's arms repeatedly in search of Nirvana, from that precipice on Mount Omei? Beneath Buddha's visible Shadow there I had been born. Was I not that Chinese woman in search of the Buddha, lifetime after lifetime returning to Omei, for the great leap? No. That was not the way, either. I knew that much now. I must find yet another route of escape. I was now saying "Goodbye", preparing for my soul to be usurped, flung down some unimaginable Abyss to destruction, and all to escape Mr. B. and the other ones he threatened to be bringing to assist him in the rape of my soul. Escape was the only thing on my mind. But I must escape his Heaven. It wasn't a simple thing, with my mother busily praying to make certain I'd end up feasting at the same table with her and all those other missionaries with whom she identified, at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Yes, to curse the Holy Ghost was my only hope. The night was deepening and the wind came questing down the highway in search of souls. I must make haste. But where should it be? Not on the wind-tossed terrace on top, sitting on my swing. I'd spent too many happy hours there, and I didn't want to mar that period of reality, for it had been Real within its brackets of Space-Time. The blood-red balcony's sloping floor of boards was not a place to be. Nor the Attic itself, of course. Nor anywhere on this stairway, with its serpentine zigzags and its perils. Certainly not in my parents' quarters either divided as it was into Three like their Holy Trinity. (Reddish partitions stained by tung-oil and pigs' blood!) Where else must I go---or could I go? Certainly not the dreary courtyard. The kitchen would be bright and safe with the fire of wood, hay and stubble roaring in the Chinese stove, and both our servants busily bringing supper to perfection. I longed to be down there with the amah at the narrow rear passage behind the stove watching her stoke the flames of Hell in miniature. The few times I'd been with her there, however I'd looked for an imaginative vision instead, evoking the Bible's Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego walking in the midst of the "Fiery Furnace" unharmed, with the Son of Man at their side, and I'd pretended I too walked beside the four of them. But when my mother learned where I sometimes vanished thus, she'd forbidden me ever to go behind there again to watch the flames. Her premonition was correct: when I was thirteen (and in a following book the story will be told), I sat before a roaring stove after a bath one night, in my fresh flannel nightie. A sheet of lovely flame enveloped me and I knew the bliss then of turning into cool flame myself, transparent, seraphine! But my mother would not permit it. She made her swift passes, the sheet of flame was extinct at once. But the nightie was too scorched to wear, ever again. I, however, was untouched. I'd not been flesh when it happened. My seraphine self came to the fore to unite with flame! Yes, we all are angels if we only would recognize it. But tonight what sort of angel would I become? A lost child in a Kingdom of Darkness in a house of ghosts, forced to curse the Head Ghost, (Mr. B.'s) to survive another day ahead. You couldn't always trust the spirits...the Bible itself told how God permitted a lying spirit to enter a certain prophet to "lead the children of Israel astray." He not only permitted it, he'd summoned that spirit in the first place. Greek and Hebrew and Latin Bibles together, which my father in desperation constantly perused, had only tied him into further knots. My mother's way was safer: she simply practiced Bibliomancy all day long. And I? I read the Bible of Creation, open and available on all sides of me, trying to learn to understand it at last. I began to consider the practical aspects of my situation. If I must be locked in and fed bread and water, I'd have to use the horrid nightpot which poor Dah-Shi-Fu would be forced to empty. How embarrassing. And besides this, they'd have to order more loaves of bread, regularly. Why not feed me on rice and water instead? We had lots of rice and it was cheaper than bread. I might suggest it to my parents, in due course. I could not help a faint smile. Being practical helps cheer one up. I thought next of the whippings my tormentor planned. I visualized them lining up on the stairway to take turns. All the exorcists, Mr. B.'s pals who disposed of little Chinese girls in similar fashion. And when their arms grew tired, they'd call in the Bible-men, how horrible! Better be dead. I hoped they'd not so demolish my father's inner decency as to get him to join in the fun of whipping me. (On my bare bottom, as I presumed. I'd occasionally received light whacks with a ruler on my open hand, but that didn't hurt.) The thought of the whippings made me ill, and the bite of bread and peanut-butter already swallowed rose in my throat and I had to choke it back down repeatedly. My parents would have reached by now Pastor Guroff's. I knew it was some sort of a celebration. They'd sing hymns and say some prayers, and then would come the festivities: cream cakes and peroshkis. I had loved the cream cakes the last time I got taken to such a feast there. Milk was rare in our diet. But on this present occasion, it was anyway too late to have got me ready to go, and besides I was being punished. Probably already the command had been issued: "Don't serve supper to her!" (I had heard my mother stick her head into the kitchen before leaving, but hadn't heard what she said.) My parents would try to get back before midnight, but it wouldn't be much earlier. I knew how they hated to have the watchman taunt them for being afraid to use their own side street-gates. Well, I still had time. Midnight was far away. But yet I lingered. It was so hard to make up my mind. I was saying goodbye to everything: to my parents firstly for it was very possible I'd be carried off to Hell instantly once I did my cursing successfully. How eagerly would Satan arrive to collect my soul!
In my own bedroom, I could not attempt to do any cursing. Grandma's presence was still not totally erased here. And what if I left this house altogether and wandered away into the distant regions of beggarly folk and beyond into deep country-side where the stars overhead might venture to appear, dimly, for me? But one wouldn't curse even the Holy Ghost beneath the lovely distant stars. The only remaining space within the house was the back room over the kitchen with its four cubbyholes. (Four, a death number and a number representing mortality too.) Not in the W.C., that friendly place where I'd adventured in search of Eldorado with Mutt and Jeff. Not in the Holy of Holies where our pure-souled Amah slept. (And where her future coffin's nest egg awaited a new approach of my parents, asking for a loan yet again!) That left only one place: on grandma's old trunk, in that same fourfold room's entrance sector. I'd have to do my cursing right there, and I'd better hurry up about it for it might take time. Who knew? The house was silent, the stairs did not even creak as I slipped down the long flight that leaned against the next-door wall, firstly to my parents' landing, and then the shorter flight backwards again to the landing of our heathen "Servants' and Bathroom Quarters". I entered: the room was quite dark, though never was our house "pitch dark" for the street-lamps filtered in wherever you were, even if only indirectly in some places. I felt the Universe watching, the whole Universe holding its breath in terror over the knowledge that a tiny child had been driven to curse the Holy Ghost, by one who mouthed prophecies in the same Holy Ghost's name supposedly. It was as if Eternities hung in the balance. Would our race continue or be wiped out? For it is better to lose the whole world than one's own soul.... Before the law courts of Heaven I lodged my complaint against these traffickers in souls of our Earthly dimension. I would state my case and be damned. Actually, I was obeying without knowing it the command to "hate" one's loved ones to follow Christ. I was denying my own parents because I loved justice and truth more than I loved them. And their Mr. B. was the very soul of untruth and falsification! A disgrace to the One he pretended to follow! And my poor cowed parents accepted the trappings of piety but did not recognize the fact that deep sincerity of heart requires no trappings. Grandma's trunk, I thought, was a safe place for this final step I must take. It was a much traveled trunk. It dated back to her first crossing of the Pacific with her husband and her little Pansy (age two), when they came out to China as missionaries from the USA in 1880. It was a very strongly-built trunk. I have it still. It is still as strong as ever with all its wooden slats (highly polished by age itself) and its hundreds of brass-headed little nails studding it all over. It was not a personal object, nonetheless. A thousand stevedores in the leading ports of China and the USA had hurled it around, winches had flung it into the bowel of many a steamer. It had no personal "touch" I could label: "Grandma's!" So I sat on it thinking, Now I must curse. Many years later, when living in Central Argentina, on another day of making a grave decision, that trunk erupted into a tattoo of knocks as though all the imps of legion were locked within, wanting to get out. All I had inside it right then were some sets of old knitting-needles, some old papers, and other odds and ends. I had been trying to decide, (it was noon and the sun of South America's heights poured in brightly), whether to risk studying certain symbols that Christians termed "diabolical". The Trident, for example. I wasn't afraid, but was it right or wrong to study forbidden stuff, so carefully? The room turned icy, the trunk erupted with knocks. I was back in Dah-Shin-Fong again. I said aloud then: "I am protected by Jesus. He said `Seek and ye shall find!' I am tired of mumbo-jumbo, I'll go on studying. So do your worst!" Silence resulted and lovely warmth returned to the room and an Abiding Presence seemed to reassure me, "Seek and you shall find", and I did. I knocked, I asked, too. But as I sat on that same trunk so many years earlier when barely seven as yet, little did I know of the future where I'd battle my way through thickets of mumbo-jumbo and win out. The trouble was, I knew no adequate curse words. Once or twice I'd heard my father say "Damn it" and he'd get looked at by mother, so he blushed with shame. Damn it didn't seem to me a curse word that would fit. But what else? I had overheard fulsome curses on the street shouted when coolies were angry. What was it? The worst one had sounded to me like Tzao-nyee-ga-poe. I'd have to try that. As for the position to take: kneeling would not, of course, be suitable, in this approach to dirty. So I sat firmly upright, my legs curled under me, on the trunk, and began repeating to the gathering night: "Holy Ghost? Tzao-nyee-ga-poe!" Nobody seemed to be paying any attention. But ghosts were sneaky sorts---they listened at keyholes and hung about outside windows too. I wouldn't give up. I knew the Holy Ghost had to hear me. Not only did this god of the Bornageners have an "all-seeing Eye". His hearing was excellent also as he looked for excuses to keep his Hells well-stocked! Grimly I repeated my formula over and over till at last the enormity of the deed struck me. My puny rage evaporated. I was aghast. I'd cut myself off from my mother whom I adored as passionately as my father adored her always. She just was that sort of person, adored by all nice people, and detested by the rest, simply because she was so imperviously good and innocent---and foolish and unreachable by any sort of barb, even the missionary (especially the missionary) type, though how they tried sometimes. And I watched and pitied them and her together. I'd ceased uttering my malediction and sat there with wide-open mouth suddenly realizing that I'd crossed the impassable Gulf and was now forever separated from my lovely mother. (And my poor dear father too). Tears began to flow; they flooded me; I crumpled, and in a tiny heap still on the trunk wept out the remainder of my soul...and the tendril of it reached Heaven that night. I tried to visualize how it would be. My parents feasting with Mr. B. and his buddies in Heaven with a clear view of the torments of the damned. The rich man and I would be down in Hell. The rich Mr. B. and his children would be sitting near the beggar Lazarus, who'd still be there "in Abraham's bosom", and they'd be shrinking from any contact with him. It all seemed so unimaginable and I wept again. It didn't make any sense at all. At last my parents returned but I didn't hear them. I wasn't asleep, I wasn't awake. I sat on in the dark stupefied and stunned and resigned to my fate, whatever happened. I'd always been resigned to my fate. From early childhood I'd accepted the fact that my parents would be "caught up" when the Second Coming occurred, and I'd be left behind because I just couldn't stand the type that would accompany them up on that cloud. All the Mr. B. types, and there were so many! My parents returned and my mother rushed up to my bedroom hoping to find me asleep. Her worst fears were confirmed. I wasn't there. She ran downstairs again gasping, planning to inform her husband, who was sorting out the mess in the chapel desultorily, because he hadn't the courage to go upstairs to face the night at Pansy's side. She'd be weeping, possibly. But first, poor Pansy rushed into the kitchen next and found the two servants sitting quietly beneath the harsh overhead bulb with its feeble light. Dah-Shi-Fu was trying to read the Bible in Chinese: Amah was just seated there drowsing and waiting for my parents' return. "Where is my daughter?" she gasped. They both leaped to their feet and Dah-Shi-Fu cried out alarmed. "Didn't she go with you? When I knocked at her door to call her down for supper, she didn't answer. I knocked and knocked. I got frightened. I opened the door just a crack and she wasn't inside. Then I realized: `Of course!' She must have gone with you and wasn't home." "We must look for her." My mother ran back to her husband in the chapel then, crying, "Beulah has vanished! See if you can find her outside somewhere. We didn't see any body on the cobblestones, for if she'd fallen from the window, there'd have been a crowd." My father rushed out of the house, guilty and panic-stricken, to scour all the alleyways and darkest retreats. Dah-Shi-Fu and the Amah followed my mother as she ran upstairs again. All the way to the drying-roof firstly---had I fallen asleep on the swing? The lonely stars looked down upon her negatively. (The stars she'd so loved to admire on warm summer evenings from that same terrace, on nights when the sky cleared a bit after the rain.) She thought of the Attic with horror. The ghost could levitate double-beds with people in them. Had it flown off with me? She looked into the Attic---the dormer window was open which frightened her. But the light bulb did not reveal anything---not even any spook. And then she remembers: I might have fallen asleep in the W.C. It had happened once or twice, when we returned very late from some prayer-meeting afar, and I'd been sent to the "bathroom" before going to bed. And the next thing they knew, I was fast asleep already, bolt upright on the commode! She rushed now there. As she switched the feeble light on, she heard a feeble sob, at the entrance, and glancing my way, there I was with a ravaged face, huddled there crumpled altogether. I stared back uncomprehendingly. Hadn't the devil yet come for my soul? At least Mr. B. would have no further right to it he'd have no excuse now to want to "save it" before I'd die. "What are you doing there?" she gasped. She turned to the servants and said, "You may go, but please Dah-Shi-Fu find my husband and tell him she's been found." They went away and I stared up at her uncomprehendingly still. My grief was too great to rejoice in the sight of her now. She was herself terrified. "Who raped her?" was the thought in her head. Subconsciously, she'd feared it always. I looked blotchy and swollen, and just as a child thus misused might appear. But only my soul so far had suffered attempted rape by Mr. B. At last I spoke. "Mama, I'm lost." "How?" "I said tzo-nyee-ga-pao to the Holy Ghost because I was so angry at those missionaries. So I said tzo-nyee-ga-pao." (What did it mean? Well, tzao we won't translate. It would require a four-letter word and you'd not expect it in a story about a missionary's daughter, would you? Nvee-ga? Your. Pee or Bee? Buttocks. Only now I know. I didn't then, of course.) My mother collapsed, sobbing and laughing simultaneously. She was so relieved, the shock had been so great and the reassurance that "All was well after all" so tremendous. She laughed and wept and giggled and wept again, keening and sobbing and rejoicing, all at once. I was horrified. I knew the saved rejoiced and gloated over the sufferings of the Lost. Every day they did that, while feasting continuously. But why all the hurry? How could she love me so little that she was already delighted to learn what I was lost and she need bother about trying to save me no longer? But she hastened to get control of herself before Benjamin would arrive and complicate things and start lecturing. (He must never know I'd done this thing---it would really unsettle him.) And she hurriedly explained that the unpardonable sin was simply hardening one's heart against God's love. As for having hated these missionaries, well, she'd found them very unlovable herself and had had to pray for a special installment of love so she could go on loving them anyway. But she understood and didn't blame me. She took me in her arms and hugged me and assured me she loved me, I was still safely saved, and the Holy Ghost still loved me more even than did she. And my father then entered and stood forlornly at the door till my mother forgave him in her heart and said to me, "Kiss your papa, too. He's very sad." And I did. Happy as happy could be!
So all was well. I'd cursed the Holy Ghost and my mother had absolved me, assured me that no harm had been done. That awful Mr. B. never did return to our place, I don't know why. Perhaps God allowed a thunderbolt to strike him. I hope so for the sake of all those little Chinese girls he'd yet have destroyed. More children, puzzled because their parents had gotten "converted", when they and their old grandparents still preferred old Buddha and Lao-tze; but such loyalty was deemed "diabolical" by their parents' "saviours", and so the "demons" had to be "driven out". Poor people, "converted" in such a muddled way! Well, "a hundred years" have elapsed for me since then, I today can say with poor tormented Paul, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering. The time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith". Paul expected a crown of righteousness as his reward. And I? Guess what? I want that gauzy bright polka-dotted robe back, which my mother didn't let me keep when I was tiny. A robe of all-colored stars I'd don and stretch my soul like a beam of light to hurdle the galaxy and wonder beyond, crying, "Father, oh, Father, where are you?" And if he answers, I'll cry, "Here I come."