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The Victory of Quang Po by Mary E. Bamford

 

Jo bent down and slipped under the barbed wire fence that separated the field back of the Chinese fishing-village from the other fields that stretched away to the houses of the California seaside resort under the pines. The wind blew pleasantly in from the sparkling bay.

A large number of frames for drying fish stretched away to the back part of the Chinese field. A great net fifty feet long was spread out on the ground to dry. Jo looked at the wooden sinkers that were fastened along one side of the net and smiled. "They're all on again," he thought.

A line of flounders stretched above the narrow, crooked street of the fishing-village. The flounders looked like queer clothes hung to dry on a clothes-line. There were crates of small fish, packed so that they stood on their heads. Underneath a table of drying fish lay a dead gopher.

Red placards spotted the houses. On the roof of one hut a little paper windmill was turning in the breeze. Back of one hut was a bit of garden inclosed with a fence of branches and containing much mustard. Chinese were washing fish. Shells were exposed for sale, since at any hour visitors from the American settlement might come to traverse the Chinese village, and visitors often bought shells.

Even now, as Jo passed through the street, an old Chinaman beckoned to the lad, and with much mystery unrolled a piece of brown paper and showed a pearl that had come into his possession and that he wished to sell.

Young Chinese girls, with red or yellow-capped babies strapped on their backs, packed or spread the fish. Some little Chinese boys were arranging dried squids in boats drawn up on the shore. On one boat was a kind of wooden crane, holding a hanging pan. There were some burnt sticks in the pan, and the whole contrivance was evidently an arrangement whereby a fire could be made in the boat when it was out at sea.

Jo stepped into one deserted hut, and found it to be a kitchen. An oil can was over some ashes, and there were some queer, big kettles near. In another place were Chinese children eating their breakfast. One child had a Chinese cup, out of which she ate with chop-sticks.

Jo sat down on the edge of the village, and watched three women who were setting off in a boat, intending to row out into the surf to get kelp. Small fish lay drying all over the rocks by the sea-beach near Jo, and a Chinaman was lifting up the fish, and letting them drop again by the handful, while the wind blew away the straw or grass that had become mixed with the fish while drying. Then the fish were spread upon matting to dry further.

"Ho'lah!" the Chinaman said to Jo.

"Ho'lah!" responded Jo, and the conversation ceased.

For a few minutes Jo watched two or three Chinese boys who were lying on the beach, sifting the white sand through their fingers, hunting for the small, white "rice shells," that American people often buy.

Presently, Jo pulled a sketch-book out of his pocket, and began to draw the collection of queer huts that composed the Chinese village. By and by the Chinaman who had been tossing fish, Quang Po, sat down on the rocks. He looked at Jo for a time, and then came and glanced over Jo's shoulder, smiling. The Chinamen of the village were used to having artists come and plant their easels here and there on the rocks or at the entrance of the narrow street, and draw the village on their canvas. At such times, a small group of Chinamen usually gathered about each artist, and made in their own tongue comments on the drawing. No artist knew the nature of the criticisms made in his very ears.

Jo smiled over his own drawing, as Quang Po inspected it.

"Wha' fo' you do that?" inquired Quang Po, mustering his English.

"This drawing?" questioned Jo. "Oh, you see, my cousin is an artist on one of the city papers. He's older than I am, and he earns a good deal of money. I'm going to learn to make pictures for papers, too. Some day I'll have as good a position as my cousin has."

Quang Po looked puzzled. He did not understand. He always thought American pictures strange. They were not made as Chinese pictures were.

But Quang Po knew that once he had thought other American things strange, too. Some Americans believed in teaching Chinese girls wonderful stories and words from a wonderful Book. When Quang Po's niece had been taught first by such an American, great was Quang's wrath. To increase his indignation, another thing happened. He had burnt incense at the stone in the middle of the fishing-village, in order to find out what day would be most lucky to go fishing, and had found that according to the stone the twenty-second day of the month would be the most lucky day. He had therefore gone fishing on the twenty-second, and he had come back sulky, having caught almost nothing. Then Quang Po's niece had actually laughed at the ill- fortune of her uncle, and had openly expressed her unbelief in the village stone! Quang Po had been very angry for many days, but there came a time when Quang Po's niece induced him to go with her to the little mission school on the hill-side, and there Quang Po heard that for which his soul thirsted. He saw the picture of the Crucified. He understood the story, and he, like his niece, lost faith in the village stone and in the incense-shelves. Quang Po yielded his will and his life to Christ, and the Christian religion seemed strange to him no longer.

So, when this Chinaman handed back the drawing to Jo, Quang Po smiled and said the kindest thing he could think of, although the drawing did not accord with his Chinese ideas of art.

"You draw like Melican," said Quang Po, winding his queue about his head, and preparing to return to work.

Jo felt somewhat ashamed. He wished that he and the other boys had not cut the sinkers off Quang Po's big net. Perhaps Quang Po did not know that Jo had taken part in that mischief, but the thought of it made Jo uncomfortable. So did the remembrance that he and the other boys had slyly at night cut the line that held the flounders high in air above the village street. The flounders now were safely stretched aloft again, but the last time Jo remembered seeing them they were lying in the dust. Jo was not an ill-natured lad, but he had not objected to helping do the mischief. And now Quang Po had spoken kindly of Jo's drawing! Jo winced a little. He was rather proud of his ability as an artist, himself. He turned his attention, to the flaming yellow pair of trousers worn by a small Chinese boy among the numerous Chinese children in the street below. The brilliant color made the little fellow most conspicuous as he toddled here and there. In watching him, Jo tried to forget his own self-reproach.

So far did he succeed in forgetting it that, that evening, when Louis Rouse, one of the other boys whose parents were staying at the resort during the summer vacation, proposed going over to the Chinese village, Jo did not object, though he knew that the purpose of going was to have some "fun," as Louis called it.

"Was the line of flounders up?" asked Louis gleefully, as the boys went over the fields in the dusk. "Let's cut it again! And, say, let's just tip over one of those frames for drying fish in the field back of the village. We can do it carefully, so they won't hear."

Chuckling softly and speaking in whispers only, the boys crept about the fishing-village and did the mischief planned. They pretended that the Chinese village was a fort of enemies, and the boys were a band of soldiers reconnoitering in the dark. They became quite excited over the idea. Doing mischief seemed so much more glorious than it would if they had allowed themselves to think that they were really American boys doing a contemptible thing to quiet, peaceable people.

Just as the boys had quietly tipped over one of the fish-frames, letting the partially dried fish slide to the ground, there were shouts in the dark of the Chinese village.

"The enemy's coming, boys!" whispered Louis, and the lads rushed for the fence.

Some boys caught their feet in the big, spread-out net, and fell, and rolled over, shaking with laughter. Others stuck between the barbed wires of the fence, but all were outside, running across the fields, before the Chinese had sallied out toward their frames. Some distance from the fishing village, the boys dropped breathless behind the large rocks near the sea, and laughed softly together. Jo laughed with the others, though he said, "I sha'n't dare go near the village for a week, till my hand gets well. The barbed wire gave me some pretty deep scratches on the back of one hand, and the Chinamen might guess how I got the marks."

"I've got one on my forehead, I guess," answered Louis, laughing. "It feels so, anyway, and I guess it's bleeding."

The boys went home. Jo was silent on the way.

"I'm tired, laughing so much," he explained to the rest.

He could not help remembering how kind Quang Po's voice had sounded when he said, "You draw like Melican."

During the next week Jo stayed away from the fishing village. The scratches on his hand and on his cheek were all too plainly visible. He occupied his vacation-time in rambling in other places besides the Chinese village.

One morning, in his rambles, he went to what had once been an old adobe dwelling. It was on a hill, quite a distance outside the town, and was not often visited by any one. The old adobe had long ago lost its tile roof, some of the walls had fallen, its former Spanish inhabitants had long since disappeared, and quick-motioned, small lizards now and then ran over the thick, ruined walls that stood, dark and crumbling, against the light-brown of the wild oats on the hill.

Jo climbed on top of one of the higher adobe walls. It still retained its Spanish thickness, being about five feet through, although crumbling at the sides and somewhat uncertain as to uprightness.

"Must have taken a lot of clay to make it," thought Jo.

Just then a little lizard, that had been sunning itself in a niche in the adobe wall, started, disturbed by Jo's proximity, and ran swiftly over to another part of the wall. Jo was anxious to see where the creature went. The boy jumped over a broken place in the wall, and walked on its top, regardless of the fact that the adobe was trembling.

"Guess it's gone where I can't see it," said Jo to himself. "This is a nice sunny place for a lizard. I--"

Jo had stepped a little too far. There was a sudden trembling of the wall. Jo caught at the adobe, which came away in handfuls, and he fell with a large portion of the old wall.

The next thing he knew, he was lying, choked with dust, on what was once the floor of the old Spanish dwelling. He was overtopped by a heavy pile of debris, from under which he struggled in vain to extricate himself. He had one free hand, with which, when he found that other exertions did not avail, he tried to dig himself out; but the more he dug, the more the great pile of adobe above him slid down on his face, till he was in such imminent danger of being smothered that he was forced to desist.

It was almost all he could do to breathe with such a weight upon him, but after a few moments' rest he tried to shout for help. His shouts were not very loud, and soon he had to stop. He lay breathing heavily and looking up at the pile of dull earth.

"I wish," he panted, "I hadn't--come here."

He fervently hoped that some sight-seer like himself might be attracted to the old, out-of-the-way adobe, for Jo was now convinced that it was impossible for him to set himself free. He tried again and again, but always with the same result of semi-suffocation under the sliding debris.

The forenoon passed away. The sun, mounting higher, shone over the dilapidated walls, and fell full on Jo's face. He shielded his eyes with his free hand. The sun beat heavily on his head. Sometimes he thought he heard a rustle in the wild oats, and he cried out for help, but he afterward concluded the sound had been made by the wind or by some lizard.

Gradually the shade began to lengthen in the adobe. Jo looked wistfully at the shadow of the wall as it stretched a little farther toward him, and he sighed with relief when at length the sun that had made his head so hot was guarded from his face by the shadow that reached him. He had lain here a number of hours, and now, as he began to think about evening, he wondered what his father and mother would do when he did not come home. If they had not worried about him during the day, they would be alarmed at night.

"There are some coyotes around the neighborhood," thought Jo.

He knew that a number of poultry-yards had suffered from coyotes. Jo did not suppose that a coyote would usually attack a person. Chickens, lambs, young pigs, were a coyote's prey, but in Jo's present situation he did not care to be visited by a coyote.

"I could throw clods at him," thought Jo. "I hope that would scare him away."

As the sun sank, Jo shouted repeatedly, till his breath was gone. He hoped that some laborer might take his homeward way across the unfrequented hill. But the prospect of such relief seemed very slight, so unused was this place to visitors. Jo saw a wild bird fly far overhead in the glow of the evening sky. The bird could go home, but he could not. He could only wait--how long?

After a while, there was the sound of clumsy feet that jolted by the adobe. Jo heard.

"Come here!" he cried with all his strength. "Come here! Come here!"

The clumsy feet stopped. There was a creaking sound, as of baskets swung to the ground. A face peered through a break in the wall, and Quang Po climbed into the adobe.

"Ho'lah!" he said.

"Ho'lah!" faintly responded Jo.

Quang Po wasted no more words, but set to work. He had not much to dig with, save his tough, yellow hands and a stick, but after nearly an hour's exertion, he released Jo.

"You' bones bloke?" asked Quang anxiously.

"No," responded Jo, wincing. "My arm hurts, but I guess it's only a sprain."

"Me cally fish to lady," explained Quang. "Me go closs hill to lady's house. Hear you holler."

Jo tried to stand, but found himself dizzy and faint, and Quang Po, leaving his baskets, went home with the lad.

Next day, Quang Po, going his rounds, was carrying his fish-baskets past Jo's house. Jo, sitting on the steps, his arm in a bandage, made a sign to Quang to stop.

"My mother wants to buy some fish of you," Jo said.

The fish were bought, and Quang was thanked by Jo's mother for helping her boy. Quang went back to his baskets again, but Jo followed.

"Quang Po," he said, choking a little, "you very good to me."

Quang Po smiled.

"Quang," confessed Jo, "I helped the other boys cut the sinkers from your big net, once."

Quang nodded.

"Me sabe," (understand) he answered, "me sabe long time ago."

"I helped the other boys cut the line that held up your flounders," faltered Jo. "I helped tip over the fish-frame."

Quang Po nodded.

"Me t'ink so," he said.

"What for you good to me?" demanded Jo.

"Me Clistian," responded Quang Po with gravity, as if that one word explained everything. "Clistian must do lite."

Jo looked at him. Quang lifted his heavy baskets on his pole.

"Goo' by," he said.

"Say--Quang Po," burst out Jo, "I'm sorry! I won't bother you any more! I won't let the other boys do it, either! I can stop it."

Quang Po smiled.

"Me glad you solly," he said. "We be good flends, now." And he trotted away, the heavy baskets creaking.

Jo looked after him.

"And I thought you were the heathen!" he whispered.