The second wire reached me in Peking last night. Jack has typhus fever and the disease is nearing the crisis. I have read the message over and over, trying to read between the lines some faint glimmer of hope; but I can get no comfort from the noncommittal words except the fact that Jack is still alive. I am on my way to the terminus of the railroad, from where the message was sent. I came this far by train, only to find all regular traffic stopped by order of the Government. The line may be needed for the escape of the Imperial Family from Peking if the Palace is threatened by the revolutionists.
Orders had been given that no foreigner should leave the Legation enclosure. I bribed the room boy to slip me through the side streets and dark alleys to an outside station. I must go the rest of the distance by cart when the road is possible, by camel or donkey when not. Nothing seems possible now. Everything within sight looks as if it had been dead for centuries, and the people walking around have just forgotten to be buried.
I am wild with impatience to be gone but neither bribes nor threats will hurry the coolies who take their time harnessing the donkeys and the camels.
A ring of ossified men, women and children have formed about me, staring with unblinking eyes, till I feel as if I was full of peep holes. It is not life, for neither youth nor love nor sorrow has ever passed this way. The tiniest emotion would shrivel if it dared begin to live. Maybe they are better so. But then, they have never known Jack.
How true it is that one big heart-ache withers up all the little ones and the joy of years as well. With this terror upon me, even Sada’s desperate trouble has faded and grown pale as the memory of a dream. Jack is ill and I must get to him, though my body is racked with the rough travel, and the ancient road holds the end of love and life for me.
Around the sad old world I am stretching out my arms to you, Mate, for the courage to face whatever comes, and your love which has never failed me.
Such wild unbelievable things have happened!
After twenty miles of intolerable shaking on the back of a camel, my battered body fell off at the last stopping-place, which happened to be here. There is no hotel. But three blessed European hoys living at this place—agents for a big tobacco firm—took me into their little home. From that time—ten days ago—till now, they have served and cared for me as only sons who have not forgotten their mothers could do.