― 113 ―

Roger Blake, Scallawag

A HOWLING wind was blowing, and most of the ground was in the air. It filled eyes and ears and mouth with dust he knew was filthy, and Roger Blake swore vigorously. His China pony, a vicious little brute, bucked and kicked and danced along sideways, and otherwise showed his objections to a North China dust storm.

“You were born to it, you little beast,” cried Blake, losing his temper, and bringing down his lithe cane with force upon the pony's flank.

To do him justice, with all his faults—and from Urga to Peking, and from Peking to Shanghai, Roger Blake was known as a “wrong 'un”—he was merciful to his beast, only this weather and the obstinate pony combined were too much for him. The dust storm and the welting combined were too much for the last remnants of the thing the pony called his temper, and he took several cat jumps along the very edge of the high bank. How high it was Blake could not see, for the depths were hidden in the whirling dust, and before he could get the pony in hand again they were sounding it.

Over they went, but it wasn't very deep. Instinctively Blake flung himself clear, and behold the ground on which he landed was soft enough. He still had the reins, and was congratulating himself, as he endeavoured to scramble to his feet, that he was unhurt, when the pony reared up and brought his forefeet down on the prostrate man's left leg.

“That does it,” said Blake, with an oath, as he sank back on the heaped dust; but he did not let go

  ― 114 ―
the reins, and his mount, perhaps somewhat shaken himself from his fall, stood perfectly still, with drooping head and tail gently flicking the dust from his flanks.

The man on the ground, with his free hand, felt his leg gingerly.

“Broken,” was his verdict, and he was so dismayed that he forgot the usual curse.

He lay still for a moment, considering the situation. Faintly, through the roar of the storm, came the sound of a man's voice urging on an obstinate animal—his servant making a few remarks to the pack mule.

“Tseng Jen, Tseng Jen,” he called.

Through the dust, up the sunken road that he himself had missed in the haze, came a tall Chinaman bestriding a small, meek donkey, and lugging after him an ill-conditioned mule.

He slipped from his donkey, and, with the lead of the mule still in his hand, stood bewailing his master.

Blake tossed his pony's reins to his boy, and took both his hands to his injured leg. The result was a groan or two, and then he considered the situation. He had been in holes before, and always managed to climb out.

“Other leg,” he meditated.

The last time he had broken his leg was when he had been flung, for flagrant cheating, over the porch of the gambling saloon he had kept at New Chang. He had come through that all right. This, he reckoned, was not nearly such a bad break, and he might pull through even though he was in the heart of China. The thing now was to get the bone properly set. He was bound to Kiang Fu, where he hoped to sell arms—strictly under the rose—to an agent of that robber and scoundrel, White Wolf. But Kiang Fu was all of forty li away, and he must get shelter somewhere nearer than that.

Tseng Jen went on bewailing his evil fortune at the top of his voice, till Blake, having got his scattered senses in some sort of order, cut him short.

  ― 115 ―

“How far is the nearest town?”

A Chinaman does not find it easy to answer a simple question directly, and Tseng Jen wandered off into a catalogue of all the desirable towns with welcoming inns, where it would have been so much more convenient that the disaster should have happened. But Blake had not drifted about the country ever since the Boxer trouble without having some working idea of where he was going.

“How far,” he asked, “is Ping Hsien?”

Tseng Jen put up his free hand and scratched his head. He still wore a queue, and, as he had not been shaven for at least three days, when he lifted his round black silk cap with the little red silk button on the top, he presented to view a very respectable blacking-brush.

“Ping Hsien, master, is but a small place, walled, and right off the main road.”

“Damn,” said Blake resignedly in English. “How far off the main road?” he went on in the vernacular.

“It is ten li.”

And again Blake said “Damn,” for how was a man with a broken leg to go over three miles, and what was he to do when he got there?

He wondered if there was a Mission Station, and then he laughed grimly as a pain shot up his leg. What had such as he to do with a Mission Station? But something had to be done.

He made Tseng Jen take from the mule load a towel, and, tearing it into strips, with many a groan, he bound to his leg, to keep some semblance of straightness in it, the cane he carried. He had to make shift with it, for it is useless to look for so much as a chip of wood by the wayside in China.

Then there was nothing else for it; at whatever cost he must mount the donkey. Tseng protested, and prophesied evil; but he lent his strong arm at his master's bidding, and presently a mournful little procession, consisting of a pony and a pack mule led by a troubled-looking Chinaman, and a foreigner

  ― 116 ―
seated with set teeth and grim mouth on the rump of a donkey, one bound leg stretched along its back, went slowly along that dusty sunken road.

At first Blake could see nothing else but those banks and the rough road with deep wheel tracks, hard frozen, running on in front of them. To him it seemed interminable. Then the banks disappeared, a lot of tumbled graves appeared on either side, and in front of them rose the castellated wall of a small town. It was a very small town, and the wall was somewhat tumbledown, but it was a town, and the man on the donkey, aching in every limb, thought thankfully that at least here he could rest.

In the gateway, where they sold pots and cakes, he was stared at, as foreigners always are stared at in the interior; but he went on to the nearest inn, turned into the courtyard, and submitted to be carried inside by Tseng Jen and a coolie. They laid him on the k'ang, and he opened his set teeth and called for whisky.

The landlord himself brought it, and volunteered information.

There was a foreign teacher in the town, and the teacher's old wife tended the sick.

“Whoop! Whirroo! The deuce she does! Tote her along,” said Roger Blake in English, and he thought sardonically it was the very first time in his chequered career he had been glad to hear of missionaries.

The landlord said he had sent to tell the honourable gentleman, and doubtless the tai tai would come too. She always did if anyone was sick; and Blake, more relieved than he could have imagined possible, lay back on the k'ang, and ordered more whisky with a more hopeful curse.

It was a dirty little inn, an inn used by carters, and no very well-to-do carters came along the byways to this hole-and-corner little city.

“Room for a thousand merchant guests,” had been the proclamation over the entrance way, and inside

  ― 117 ―
on the grimy walls the manager prayed his guests to be careful about fire, and declared more than once that he would not be responsible for valuables unless they were entrusted to his care. Blake lay very still, for every movement sent a pang through his leg; he took bad spirits enough to deaden thought, and he dozed a little, and when he wakened the landlord was ushering into the room a tall, slight Chinaman.

He started up with a blasphemous exclamation that died on his lips, for when he looked again he saw that this was no Chinaman. It was old China, though; the China of the last century. The man who came in was clad like an ordinary coolie, in a blue cotton blouse and peg-top trousers caught in at the ankles. His head was shaven, all but a tail of thick yellow hair, which fell down in a heavy plait to the hem of his blouse. His smooth face was tanned a little by exposure, but his complexion was as clear as a girl's, and his big blue eyes, shaded by a fringe of long, thick lashes, were dreamy and far away.

So handsome was he that even the unbecoming, outlandish mode of dressing his hair took little from his beauty. It shone out markedly in that dingy, filthy room, and Blake drew a breath of deep surprise. This was not his idea of a missionary, and his eyes wandered to the woman who had followed him. His wife? Surely not. She was, like him, dressed as a Chinese of the coolie class in blue cotton, with a loose blouse and peg-top trousers; her grey hair was drawn back into a knot at the back of her head, and was sleek and neat like a Chinese woman's, without a hair out of place; her complexion was somewhat weatherbeaten, her piercing grey eyes twinkled kindly, she had a set of most excellent white teeth, and she was at least fifteen or twenty years older than the man. She it was who spoke.

Hi, ya!” she said. “What have we here?”

“I have broken my leg, madam,” said Blake courteously. “If you or”—he hesitated—“your husband——”

  ― 118 ―

“I haven't a husband, young man,” said the missionary woman, with a little cheerful laugh that rang full of the joy of life. “I've managed to get along without any encumbrance.” And not only by her voice, but by a certain independence in her bearing, the Englishman recognised that she came from the other side of the Atlantic. “Now let's have a look at this broken leg. I'm not a doctor, but a simple broken bone——”

Blake's eyes wandered to the man's face, the man who had said nothing as yet, but was looking at him, Blake thought, as intently as if he were praying for him, demanding his soul of God. Probably he was.

“And it's no use your looking at Decimus,” the woman went on, coming forward and laying gentle hands on him—the hurt man noticed how strong and shapely and capable were those hands—“he couldn't be trusted to mend a broken pitcher. He's come along for propriety. I guess these simple people would have fifty fits if a young, beautiful, and unprotected female like me poked her nose into this inn by herself. H'm!”—she had taken off the rough bandages and was feeling the leg gently—“broke the small bone, did you? It's a perfectly good leg, and you shouldn't break it here in the interior.”

“It was a good leg,” said Roger, won in spite of himself by her cheery kindliness, “but since I have damaged it, tell me what I can do,” and he hoped he did not reek very badly of whisky. He felt instinctively that these people would dislike the smell of spirits, and would despise the man who drowned his pain in drink.

“I guess you'd better come along to the Mission Station one time. Don't you say, Decimus?”

“Of course, Althea; what else?” said the man quietly, and his voice was rich and full, but dreamy and not of this world.

“If you'll let me,” began Blake; but the missionary woman tapped his boot with a little laugh.

  ― 119 ―

“Here's where we come in. You come just right along and keep quiet till you're well,” and she turned to the landlord of the inn and began giving directions, and presently Blake found himself being borne in a litter to the Mission Station.

It was in a little compound, in a little street close against the crumbling wall, a small and humble place built Chinese fashion; but it looked a home. Another woman came out, a homely girl with a troubled little face freckled like a turkey's egg, and redeemed from plainness by a pair of soft, wistful, dark eyes—eyes that said to the watching newcomer, though they did not know it themselves, that they longed more for the simple joys of this world than for that unknown future glory in which her husband was absorbed. For the young man with the face of a saint was her husband. The other woman introduced them to the stranger.

“This is Decimus Collinson, Congregationalist missionary from Connecticut,” said she, “and this is Janie, his wife. I'm Althea Trelling, also missionary from the same State. It's generally handier to know folk's names. So there you are. We are at your service.”

“It is,” admitted Blake, getting over the clumsiness which makes it so difficult for an Englishman to name himself. “I'm Roger Blake”—he hesitated a moment how to describe himself, and then added, with a little laugh—“Scallawag, at your mercy.”

Just for a moment there was silence, and Blake, a little dismayed, saw pity in the older woman's eyes. The man had apparently forgotten him, and the younger woman was looking with all her eyes at her husband.

“We're glad to have you,” said Miss Trelling simply. “We're so far out 'tisn't often a foreigner comes along our way, and we make the most of him when he does. But we're not looking after you properly. Come right away, Janie, and let's see him safely into bed.”

  ― 120 ―

And that was how it went always in the long days that followed.

Miss Althea Trelling managed everything for the Mission, Janie adored her husband and did exactly what the older woman suggested, and Decimus Collinson followed out her directions when he remembered, and at other times disregarded them dreamily, because he was absorbed in something that seemed to him more important.

They set Blake's leg. They made shift to put it in plaster of Paris, doing the best they could with the Chinese shih kao; and when he was able to go about on crutches, they let him, at his earnest request, for he could not help seeing they were poor, share expenses. They would never have done it, he thought, had they had the slightest idea how that money was earned.

He watched with interest the humble little household, and, with his keen, worldly eyes, he saw how a man absorbed in things not of this world, and very sure he was about his Master's business, could cause a woman almost as much unhappiness as the most selfish brute that ever walked this earth.

He, scallawag and wastrel, conceived a great pity for the wife of the man who was certainly a saint on earth. Decimus Collinson denied himself all things that go to make life pleasant—denied himself, without a backward thought, and the man looking on saw that poor little Janie Collinson, upheld by no high ideals, craving only for a warm fireside and a husband responsive to her tenderness, was eating her heart out in loneliness, and was trying to do it with a brave face.

“I must go,” said the missionary one morning, pushing away his breakfast as he laid down a torn scrap of paper on which something was written in smudgy Chinese characters; “old Mr Hu sends to say his son is off again. That opium is a terrible curse. He has gone to Tong Chuang. If I can reach him and persuade him——”

Something passed over the face of the young wife.

  ― 121 ―
It was hardly like a cloud hiding the sun, because the cloud was always there, but it was as if the cloud deepened.

“Reverend——” said Blake, wondering how he could help.

“I am not ordained,” said Collinson. “I have told you before. It is my dearest hope, and some day——”

“Oh, well,” said Blake hastily, “it's just a manner of speech. What good can you do by going to Tong Chuang? When a man's on the terrible tear, it's best to let him have his whack. No earthly thing that I know of will turn him.”

Decimus Collinson looked at Blake without seeing him.

“No earthly thing that I know of will turn him, either,” he said sadly. “But prayer will do it. I have failed—I have failed some ways. How is it, Lord, I cannot help this man? I have failed—I have failed,” and he was so simply, genuinely cast down, that Blake, his whole soul rebelling, could say not one word.

He watched him make rapid preparations for departure, watched him go with his scanty equipment, watched the little girl with the wistful eyes walk by his side to the gate, saw her dismissed casually by a man whose whole thoughts were given over to something that seemed to him higher, and saw her creeping back to her room with a look of hopeless perplexity and sorrow on her face, that he knew he could never clear away. Then he looked at Miss Trelling, and gave vent to his feelings in one round, resonant oath.

“Mr Blake!” she said in remonstrance.

“Miss Althea, don't you feel like that yourself?”

“I don't know that I do,” she said. “Why shouldn't he go? It is his business.”

“Why shouldn't he stop and look after his wife?”

“The burden of men's souls is very heavy, Mr Blake.”

“I'd rather see him think a little about the burden he's making a woman's heart carry,” said Blake, a little surprised at his own poetic flight. “I tell you

  ― 122 ―
what, Miss Althea. What Mrs Decimus wants is a petticoat and a baby in her lap.”

She looked at him with shrewd, kindly eyes. It came to Blake with something of a pang that never since the days of his childhood, when his mother's hand had been on his shoulder, had any woman looked at him with such selfless kindliness. If any had—if any had—well, would he have written himself down “Roger Blake, Scallawag”?

“You think that?” said Miss Althea. “Well, they say the missionaries are to give up Chinese dress, and I guess we are going to manage the baby.”

“Oh,” said Blake, “poor little woman. Why in—” he swallowed a word Miss Trelling would not have liked, “doesn't he stay at home and care for her a little?”

“His business here——” began Miss Trelling, but Blake cut her short.

You manage to combine the Lord's work and a very healthy interest in your relations and friends, with some left over for the strays,” said Blake emphatically.

She smiled at him rather sadly.

“You don't know what Decimus can do when he is really moved,” she said. “He's like his father, just as like as like. When you had gotten really inside the dreaminess there was no one could win you like Decimus Collinson.” She spoke reminiscently, tenderly. “You'd never think this Decimus and I had the same mother, would you? I take after my mother, and he—well, not much of his mother went to the making of Decimus.”

“More's the pity,” said Blake. “A little leavening of your common sense would be good for the Reverend. How the dickens did he ever get such a good little wife?”

“I guess I managed that for him,” said his halfsister with a smile, “just between you and me. Janie wanted him, and if I hadn't, there was a real bad woman would have gotten hold of him; but I'm

  ― 123 ―
thinking sometimes it was rough on Janie. But there, I did the best I could. I judged by his father. He was three years older than me, and he married my mother, and I don't think he ever looked back.”

“He must have come courting you and got astray,” said Blake, and suddenly the hot colour that flooded the woman's face right to the roots of her iron-grey hair told him he had hit the mark. He looked round for something to change the conversation, and Tseng Jen came across the courtyard with a little, long Chinese note in his hand. He beckoned him over gladly.

But the contents of that note brought him to an unpleasant predicament that had been faintly shadowed the day they carried him into the Mission. He had not let it trouble him much. Men of his stamp do not look ahead too far. They cannot afford to. And now the evil was upon him and had to be faced. He made up his mind hastily what to do.

“Miss Althea, do you know why I came here?” he asked.

“Why, no,” she said. “I never thought. You must have some business, I suppose. This broken leg must have upset you more than a bit.”

“No,” he said, and he spoke rather slowly, and he wondered why he was making a clean breast of it to this woman. He was about his business, a business she, of course, would disapprove of, but a man must live, and he had found life hard enough. “I could write, and though Tseng Jen isn't very bright, he can be trusted to take a letter.”

“Just so,” said she, her eyes on her knitting; and now that he was enlightened he saw that she was intent on some little garment, and somewhere dimly in his heart came a pity for the woman who must needs expend all her tenderness on other people's children.

“Well, he took the letters.”

She looked up at him with a smile. “Of course, I know that. Now, what are you trying to tell me, Mr Blake?”

  ― 124 ―

“The letters were to White Wolf.”

She nodded, but a look of surprise came into her keen grey eyes.

“I came here to sell him arms,” said Blake defiantly

She said nothing, only looked at him.

“A man must live,” he said in answer to the look.

Then she spoke.

“You saw that man who came into the compound this morning with both his hands cut off?” He nodded reluctantly. “White Wolf. You saw that woman weeping over her little dead baby?” He didn't even nod this time. “White Wolf again.”

“Well, I want the Reverend back,” said Blake, “for White Wolf is certainly going to attack Ping Hsien, and though they wouldn't touch you, I guess, if they knew, you never can tell what may happen when the row begins. I've been wasting myself trying to instil a wholesome fear into the Reverend this ten days, but——”

“You might as well have talked to the town pump.”

“He's been full of Hu Ling and the opium,” and he nipped a curse word between his teeth.

“Mr Blake! Mr Blake!”

It was as if what he had told her was slowly sinking in, and the reproach in her tones stung him like the flick of a whip across his face, and he sought to defend himself.

“Do you know why Ping Hsien has not been attacked before?”

“It is on the road to nowhere,” she said. “God is good. He has us in his keeping.”

“There's a good lot of kaoliang stored here that White Wolf wants for his braves, and if I had not been here——”

“Mr Blake, is this true——?”

“On my——” He was going to say “honour,” but there came to him a sudden recollection of what North China would say to Roger Blake's honour, and he changed the expression. “I wouldn't lie to you, Miss Althea. You may bet your bottom dollar that's the

  ― 125 ―
reason why we haven't been attacked, but I can't hold things long, and if I don't see that contract carried out I can't hold him at all.”

“Mr Blake! Mr Blake! Decimus! And Janie!”

“Don't look as if I'd done it,” he implored. “You're the only woman I know who has ever been good to me, unselfishly good, and I'd do a deal for you. I didn't raise White Wolf. I haven't sold him so much as a single cartridge; but I came to do it, and if I don't there's going to be trouble.”

“And that boy,” moaned Althea Trelling, “and poor little Janie, and the baby that's coming! Oh dear Lord! show us a way!”

“I can sell White Wolf ten thousand cartridges,” went on Blake simply, “make a bargain with him, and we can clear out.”

“For pity's sake!” cried the woman, horrified, “and leave these poor people at his mercy!”

“He will come, anyhow,” said Blake significantly.

“No, no, for heaven's sake don't sell him the cartridges, Mr Blake. If we have done anything to help you——”

“You have, you certainly have.”

“Then for heaven's sake have pity, and don't sell him the cartridges.”

“I put my all, my pitiful little all into those rifles and cartridges,” said Blake bitterly. “The parcel's waiting for me at Kiang Fu, labelled iron pots and walnuts, and if I don't sell it I'm a ruined man.”

The knitting dropped on the stone floor as Althea Trelling rose to her feet, a homely-looking woman in the unbecoming Chinese dress that denied her tall, angular figure the dignity of skirts.

“Roger Blake,” she said, clasping her hands, “are you going to buy gold that is soaked in the blood of unfortunate women and little helpless children?”

“I'm hanged if I expect so much luck as that,” said Blake, with a laugh that had no joy in it; “it won't run even to much silver, but it's my all.”

  ― 126 ―

“Mr Blake, for the love of God, if we've helped you, don't bring this shame upon us.”

“It's the only way to save you,” protested Blake again.

“Neither Janie, nor I, nor Decimus—oh, certainly not Decimus, since he's his father's son—would be saved at such a cost.”

“You would rather die?”

“Of course we would rather die. God forbid that we should think differently.”

She spoke so simply, so quietly, that her words carried conviction.

Blake rose up with a sigh and reached for his crutch.

“I was a blamed fool ever to hope any different,” said he.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, and in her voice was a trace of the wistful anxiety she was trying to keep out of her looks.

“Bring the Rev. Decimus back, if I have to yank him in by the scruff of his neck,” he said savagely. “Confound the souls of these people. We've got to see about the saving of our own bodies, and look slick about it, I can tell you. You see to the packing, and we'll make for Kiang Fu.” He turned away from the earnest grey eyes that were constraining him against his will, and, with a flood of angry blasphemy such as she had never in her life heard, called to Tseng Jen to bring him a donkey, and to be quick about it.

“You may hurt your leg if you ride,” called out Miss Trelling. “I can't guarantee that plaster.”

But he looked back at her with a scowl that had held a dozen howling coolies in check, and remonstrance died on her lips.

The Rev. Decimus, as Blake persisted in calling him, had of necessity walked so persistently ever since he had come to China that he was a past-master at the business, and he was half way to Tong Chuang before Blake overtook him. He paid no attention to a couple of hails, but he looked up with questioning eyes as the man on the donkey rode straight across his path

  ― 127 ―

“You've got to come back, Reverend,” said Blake curtly.

“Oh no,” said Collinson gently. “I am bound for Tong Chuang. I must have Hu Ling's soul.”

“And the devil or White Wolf may have your wife's body, I conclude, while you go shilly-shallying into heaven,” said Blake angrily, and he leant over and took the astonished young man by the shoulder and shook him until a pain shot up his own injured leg. “Do you know that White Wolf's likely to come down on Ping Hsien to-morrow or the next day? You may take your Bible oath if it doesn't snow or rain, and it won't, he'll have been through it by next Sunday.”

“Janie—White Wolf—Janie,” repeated the bewildered young man, looking at his guest as if he thought he had suddenly gone mad.

“I'm sick as a poisoned cat of this talk about souls and the saving of them,” went on Blake angrily, “when you neglect the poor little girl who loves you and who is needing all your care. Shameful isn't the word. She looks at you with dog's eyes, begging just a kind look, and you're wrapped up in a stinking, besotted, opium-smoking lot of Chinamen, who aren't likely to be a scrap of good to any man. The Lord can range 'em up and make their bloomin' souls white I guess if He wants to.”

And then he swore an oath that made the young man shrink away from him in disgust and horror, and added:

“I don't believe you've sense enough to come in out of the rain, let alone convert a Chinaman. Do you think it 'ud please the Lord if he was like you?”

Decimus Collinson stood still for a moment, his hand to his eyes, as if a great light were beating in on them. At length he said slowly, as if something had been revealed to him:

“There may be some truth in what you say. There may be. My God, if this man should speak truth!”

“There is. You may bet on that, wholeheartedly,” said Blake, and he was surprised to find the relief with

  ― 128 ―
which he heard the words. After all, what was it to him whether little Janie Collinson was happy or not?

“And this man, this man,” went on Collinson in the tones of one but half awake, “this man I brought to my house——” He paused, and Blake took it up.

“This foul-mouthed, God-forsaken brute, whom you took in and sheltered, asking neither whence he came nor where he was going, nor what he was doing, this man sees what you in your single-hearted zeal have overlooked. You've laid him, you and yours, under a heavy obligation. Come, Reverend, let's make a bargain. I'll keep a decent tongue in my head, you'll look at your wife just occasionally—it hurts me to see her watching you, makes me feel a bounder—and together we'll do the best we can to get her and Miss Althea—I guess the Lord reckons her the best of the lot of us—away from this town before White Wolf goes through it.”

“Will White Wolf go through the town?” asked Collinson, still as one awaking from a dream.

“He will, you can stake your immortal soul on that,” said Blake emphatically, and the other never thought to ask him why he was so sure.

“Then—then—we must warn the people and go for——” He looked ahead of him helplessly, as if his thoughts were still drawn towards Tong Chuang.

“We must go for Kiang Fu,” said Blake decisively. “It's a walled city, and they'll defend it or try to make terms.”

“He will not touch us missionaries.”

“He will—he surely will,” asseverated Blake, who had the best of all reasons for thinking that White Wolf was not likely to be merciful to the people who had sheltered him. “I might make terms, but Miss Althea says it is out of the question. You'd rather die than accept life at such a price, and, such being the case, the only thing is to scoot. We can't be lost in the population—at least, your women certainly can't travel far and fast enough. A cart would about finish up your missus, so the only thing is Kiang Fu.”

  ― 129 ―

“But you can?”

“And leave you? I'll see you hanged, drawn, and quartered first. Come along, Reverend. We can't let the grass grow. We must clear this afternoon.”

Janie Collinson left that compound, her first home of her own, with tears in her eyes, a smile upon her lips, and a face from which the wistful look was gone. Blake looked across at Miss Althea and smiled. It was so evident she did not care if all her poor little household goods were burnt and destroyed, and what did she care for the possible wrecking of the Mission? The man she loved so passionately was bending over her tenderly, anxiously, like a lover, making her feel that she was all the world to him, and in her heart she blessed White Wolf and the dire necessity that was driving them out, fleeing for their lives to a walled city.

Only Miss Althea of the three thoroughly grasped the reason why they were so fleeing, only she thoroughly understood that the man they had sheltered was at the bottom of it all, and she busied herself cheerfully about the business of packing the scanty possessions they could take with them, helped Blake in every way, and said not one word of reproach.

“Miss Althea, you're a woman in a thousand,” he said, as he stood by the mule litter in which the two women were going to ride.

They went along slowly to the main road, and by four o'clock in the afternoon the mountains began to rise on either side of them, and the road itself, narrow and winding, was sunk between high banks.

Man of one idea as Collinson was, he had thought of no one but his wife once Blake's rough speech had waked him to his shortcomings. Blake saw then the truth of his sister's boast. The man had charm.

No more tender, thoughtful husband could be found upon this earth than he who rode a donkey alongside the mule litter, and the dark eyes that looked out from the little freckled face there were so

  ― 130 ―
brimming over with happiness that Blake turned his own away. It made him feel lonely to think that never, in all probability, could he make such happiness for any woman. And then he looked at Miss Althea, and she gave a little sigh and a smile.

“And he never forgets,” she said. “Get us out of this, if you can, and let them be happy, and the Lord will bless you a thousandfold.”

“I doubt the blessing,” said Blake, “but I'll do the best I can. I give you my word for that.”

“Ah, never doubt the blessing,” said the woman who, to all appearance, had got so little out of life; and Blake rode on in front and pondered over it.

The north wind blew cutting and cold. It had snowed heavily a couple of days before, so there was no dust, and the frost held the land in a merciless grip. It was February, but there was no sign of spring in the air as yet.

On they went and on, passing little fields covered in snow and nestling among jagged rocks blackened and charred as if a fire had passed over them. Here and there was a wilted tree, and here and there was a gravestone with a heavily chiselled inscription, and once there was a tablet to the memory of a man who in past ages had mended the road.

At length they found themselves on a narrow track on one side of which was a precipice, on the other side a steep, grey brick wall forty feet high. Ahead the wall came out in a semicircle, and right in the fairway was a gate heavily barred—the wall and West Gate of the city of Kiang Fu.

But why was the gate barred before sundown? Blake looked behind. After him came the mule litter, filling up the roadway; it was impossible to turn without flinging mules and litter down the precipice. Behind was Collinson, and three laden mules in the rear brought up the small possessions of the four foreigners. Why was the gate barred? Was the danger from White Wolf pressing?

Blake raised his voice in a shout, and even as he

  ― 131 ―
did so he saw men running along, leaning over the parapet of the wall above his head, and he saw, too, they were armed with old matchlocks and with long spears.

The cold rays of the setting sun lighted up the old grey walls. Here and there were the bare branches of a little shrub growing out of them, and here and there they were uneven where they had been cracked by the rain; but they had been repaired, and the sun-light caught the points of the spears and was reflected on the gun-barrels and on the silver that adorned the stocks of some of the guns. It lighted up, too, the yellow faces that looked down on the newcomers threateningly.

Sha, sha—kill, kill!” they shouted. “Friend of White Wolf sha!”

So his reputation had followed him here, and there was no turning back. There was the mule litter with the women just behind. And then the great gates were flung open, and right in the fairway stood an old cannon. He could see quite plainly the dragons carved all round the muzzle, so close was he; and, worse still, beside it stood a man with a piece of burning rope in his hand. A movement, and the match would be applied to the touch-hole, the whole charge would sweep down the narrow road, and the little company would be swept out of existence: he, Roger Blake who wrote himself down failure, the woman who had succoured him, the girl who was just tasting bliss, the man whose beauty had so struck him—all, all must die.

“I come in peace—I come in peace!” cried Blake, flinging down on the ground his rifle and revolver, and snatching the knife from his boot, he threw it handle forward in front of him, and then raised his hands to show that they were empty. “I come in peace, and the teachers have done naught but good.”

The man who stood there was a soldier of the old sort. He wore a doubtlet of dark blue embroidered with red characters, and on his head was a blue, folded cloth, while his eyes were shaded from the sun by a

  ― 132 ―
sort of lampshade. He bent a little closer to the gun, and Blake could see behind him in the gateway quite a cluster of his fellows, while the walls above were manning rapidly, and the faces that peered over were very threatening.

And yet a temptation came to Blake. Should he surprise them all by slipping round the arc of the gateway and get on into the country beyond? It was well worth the risk. The evening was falling fast, and the chances were the coming night would hide all trace of him. He could join White Wolf, and together they could come back and sack the city and get his little all. The missionaries—his going might precipitate the firing of that gun, and then they would all be killed to a certainty; but if once they passed the gates, his impression was they would be safe enough.

But could they pass the gate? Could they? Anyhow, it was no fault of his if they had not, in the years they had been here, made sufficient impression to be welcomed. His staying or going could not make any difference one way or another. Yet—

“Stay your hand,” he said—and it seemed to him it was not he who spoke, but some other man with whom he had no doings—“stay your hand. I come in peace. Let me and these teachers in, and I pledge you by my father's grave that I will show you how to keep off White Wolf.

The hand of the old-world soldier with his old-world match moved ever so little from the gun. The westering sun, falling full into the gateway, showed up every little detail—the cracks in the mortar, the wrought-iron hinges of the great doors, the lumbering wooden wheels of the gun-carriage, even the worn footgear of the man beside it, and there was still time to get away— more of a chance now. But even these people upon the walls threatening him with gun and spear could be trusted to keep their word.

“Lo, we have come to help,” he went on. “The cry of the country suffering under White Wolf has

  ― 133 ―
reached my ears, and I can give you guns and cartridges—guns such as the foreigners and the great Northern army use. Let us in. If you do not believe, ask the teacher if I do not speak truth.”

A man pressed forward and pushed aside the gunner. Some whisperings of modern equipment had reached him, and he wore an ordinary German khaki cap and khaki jacket, but a silken petticoat was about his nether man.

The way was clear, and he, Blake, had only to stumble round the arc of the wall and roll down where the slope was steepest. He would trust a regiment to shoot from the wall with those guns they had, and he would bet every time on their missing, even if the target were a haystack.

But if he went, what would they do to the mission-aries? Nothing, nothing—surely nothing. He could make it up to them afterwards. The man who had pushed aside the gunner was evidently the Captain of the Guard.

“How can you help?” he asked—“you with your little company?”

“In your city,” said Blake, “I have stored guns and cartridges. Let me in and I will show you. If I speak not truth, you can kill me. Ask the teachers if I did not tell them there were arms stored and hidden in your city. We are but a small company—look for yourselves; but if you let me come in peace, I will surely show you how to arm your men and beat off White Wolf, and the country round Kiang Fu shall have peace, and great will be your glory.”

Still they hesitated. But the match was not near the gun, and he was sure now he could get away. He would go. Why not? Why not? He had made them a fair offer, and they were rejecting it. It was only fair to himself now that he should go.

Althea Trelling slipped down at the back of the foremost mule and, stooping under the shaft, came and joined him.

“Do you want to die?” she cried to the people on

  ― 134 ―
the wall—“you and your mothers and your fathers and your little children? If you do not let this man in to get you the arms, you will surely die. I speak truth. Can you stand against White Wolf with that?” —and she pointed with scorn to the old-world gun and the little company beside it. “Let us in. What can so small a company do against so many? If we speak not truth, can you not kill us?' '

And Blake groaned. His little all! His little all! He was to make no terms, and this meant he must start life again penniless here in the heart of China.

He did not even look at Miss Althea as the Captain of the Guard, in his queer rig-out, came forward and looked at them both gravely. Once inside, he might withold the name of the place where the arms were hidden till he had exacted at least a promise of some small return. He looked back. Decimus Collinson was standing beside the mule litter, holding his wife's hand. Together they were waiting—for life or death? Miss Althea's eyes followed his.

“Your doing,” she said. “God bless you!”

And to Blake's unaccustomed eyes came the hot burning of unshed tears.

“Before Born,” he said in his best Chinese, turning to the Captain of the Guard, “on the west street of your city, close to the Bell Tower, is the inn of the Heavenly Peace, and there are large packing-cases addressed to ‘Bei.’ Open and take enough guns and ammunition to fight off White Wolf. They are my sole possessions, and because of my elder sister here, the teacher, I put them freely at your service.”

“The Before Born,” said the Captain of the Guard, bowing almost to the ground, “is heaven-sent. Enter, then, you and your company,” and with a wave of his hand he motioned aside the ancient gun-carriage.

Blake limped forward, and Miss Althea followed in his wake—true Chinese fashion.

He thought she did not understand, but she did.

  ― 135 ―

“The blessing of God was surely upon this city,” she said. “When He sent you to our compound.”

“Let's hope there's something left over for me,” said Roger Blake, Scallawag, “for,” he added below his breath, “I surely am a ruined man.”