On my way home, in the river close to shore, is a crazy little tea-house. It is furnished with three mats and a paper lantern. The pretty hostess, fresh and sweet from her out-of-door life, brings me rice, tea and fresh eel. She serves it with such gracious hospitality it makes my heart warm. While I eat, she tells me stories of the river life. I am learning about the social life of families of fish and their numerous relatives that sport in the “Thing of Substance River”; the habits of the red-headed wild ducks which nest near; of the god and goddesses who rule the river life, the pranks they play, the revenge they take. And, too, I am learning a lesson in patience through the lives of the humble fishermen. In season seven cents a day is the total of their earnings. At other times, two cents is the limit. On this they manage to live and laugh and raise a family. It is all so simple and childlike, so free from pretension, hurry and rush. Sometimes I wonder if it is not we, with our myriad interests, who have strayed from the real things of life.
On my road homeward, too, there is a crudely carved Buddha. He is so altogether hideous, they have put him in a cage of wooden slats. On certain days it is quite possible to try your fortune, by buying a paper prayer from the priest at the temple, chewing it up and throwing it through the cage at the image. If it sticks you will be lucky.
My aim was not straight or luck was against me to-day. My prayers are all on the floor at the feet of the grinning Buddha.
Jack is in Siberia and Uncle has Sada. I have not heard from her since she left. I am growing truly anxious.
At last I have a letter from Jack. Strange to say I am about as full of enthusiasm over the news he gives me as a thorn-tree is of pond-lilies.
He says he has something like a ton of notes and things on the various stunts of the bubonic germ in Manchuria when it is feeling fit and spry. But he is seized with a conviction that he must go somewhere in northwest China where he thinks there is happy hunting-ground of evidence which will verify his report to the Government. Suppose the next thing I hear he will be chasing around the outer rim of the old world hunting for somebody to verify the Government.
There is absolutely no use of my trying to say the name of the place he has started for. Even when written it looks too wicked to pronounce. It is near the Pass that leads into the Gobi Desert.
Jack wrote me to go to Shanghai and he would join me later. I am writing him that I can’t start till the fate of Sada San is settled for better or for worse.
NANKOW, CHINA. February, 1912.
News of Jack’s desperate illness came to me ten days ago and has laid waste my heart as the desert wind blasts life. I have been flying to him as fast as boat and train and cart will take me.