It began to be very hot about the
middle of May. The Ku family had put their wadded
clothes away and taken to cottons and thin silks.
Nelly and Little Yi were also supplied with some very
plain unwadded cotton coats and trousers at the same
time. But in spite of this the little foreigner,
as the Chinese called her, began to feel the heat and
confinement of the small compound. She thought
of her friends, who would all be preparing to go to
the hills with their parents, and the days seemed
very long. It was hard just to wait, with nothing
at all happening. One day was just like another.
There were no Sundays, no letters, no books, no lessons.
The time was not even divided into weeks. Nelly
quite lost count of the date. She only knew it
Chinese fashion, by the number of new moons there
had been since the Chinese New Year.
It appeared as though Hung Li never
would go to Peking as he had said, but he did start
one day at the end of May, and An Ching told the children
that he intended to see the barber and arrange for
them to be handed over to their parents. He had
business to do on the way to Peking as well as in
that city, so that he would be away some time, An Ching
Nelly was very glad to see Hung Li
start, and she leaped through the round hole in the
wall again and again, really and truly jumping for
joy. She made An Ching and Little Yi sing their
very best and loudest, until the small court resounded
with the strains of ‘Art thou weary,’
and Ku Nai-nai, who was rather deaf, and shouted a
good deal when she talked, heard the singing in her
room, where she was sitting smoking on the kang.
Little Yi and An Ching soon tired of singing so hard
this hot day, but Nelly was too full of delight at
the thought that Hung Li was actually off to feel
any fatigue. She was more like little Nelly Grey
of the British Legation than she had been since that
unlucky day on which she wandered from home.
She kept up her spirits and energy for two or three
days, and then something happened.
One morning the two children and An
Ching had been singing and Nelly giving her English
lessons as usual, when Ku Nai-nai came out, and in
her usual rough, loud, screaming voice when angry,
demanded why they were wasting time there instead
of helping to get the mid-day meal ready. An
Ching had quite forgotten that the old woman-servant
was not well, and was shut up in her room out of the
way. The children began to follow An Ching; but
Ku Nai-nai, who certainly appeared to have got out
of bed the wrong side that morning (only you can’t
get off a kang except at one side), would not allow
Nelly in the cook-house. ’No foreigners
shall meddle with my food,’ she said;
whereat Nelly was very glad, for she had only offered
to go and help on An Ching’s account.
So Ku Nai-nai hustled off An Ching
and Little Yi, at the same time telling Nelly to stay
where she was. Nelly, left to herself, drew the
bench upon which she had been sitting quite near the
wall, so as to be in the shade. Presently she
heard something scraping against the wall on the other
side, and it seemed as though there were voices quite
The Chinese being very fond or privacy,
all the compound walls are built very high and solid,
and as the houses are only one storey high, no one
can see into his neighbour’s premises. Nelly
did not remember to have heard any sounds coming from
the next compound before; but noises there were, sure
enough, and the talking became more and more distinct.
Nelly got up from her seat to look at the wall.
As she did so, she saw what was evidently a Chinaman’s
head just above the top, and she heard him quite distinctly
tell some one below ‘to hold the ladder tight.’
Nelly was just wondering what she should do, and was
half inclined to run through the hole into the next
court, when the rest of the head came into view, and
she saw that it belonged to a plump, pleasant looking
Chinaman. It was very round, and Nelly was at
once reminded of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.
It and she looked at each other for some seconds.
Nelly was the first to speak.
‘Oh!’ she said.
‘A fine day,’ said the head.
‘Rather hot,’ replied Nelly.
‘Was that you singing?’ asked the head.
‘Yes,’ answered Nelly.
‘I can sing that too,’ said the head.
Nelly was too much astonished to reply.
Then the head rose a little higher,
and showed a pair of shoulders and arms. ‘He
does not look like the Cheshire cat now,’ thought
Nelly, ’but a rather nice Chinaman.’
’How is it that you have large
feet? You look like a foreigner. Don’t
be afraid of me.’
Thus encouraged, Nelly replied:
‘I am a foreigner, and of course I have large
‘What are you doing here?’ asked the man.
‘I have been brought here,’
replied Nelly vaguely, ’and I want to get away,
but Ku Nai-nai will be very angry if she knows I am
talking to you.’
‘Then don’t tell her,’
said the man. ’I shan’t. She
is the woman who speaks so loudly, I suppose.
I’ll bob down if she comes. Where do you
‘Peking, the British Legation.’
And then Nelly told the man all about
Little Yi and herself being brought to Yung Ching
by Hung Li and Ku Nai-nai. When she had finished
the man seemed to be considering for some time.
At length he said:
’Perhaps I can help you to escape.
You had better not say a word to any one. Would
you come with me and leave the Chinese girl?’
‘Oh no,’ replied Nelly.
’Little Yi does not mind being here nearly so
much as I do, but she does not want to stay, and I
am afraid they would never take her home without me.
I wish An Ching could come with us.’
‘Who is An Ching?’
‘She is Hung Li’s wife,’
Nelly replied, ’and is very kind to me.
Hung Li and Ku Nai-nai don’t care for her.
They make fun of her and call her stupid, but she
isn’t, although Little Yi can cook and help with
the work better than she can. Her feet are very
small, so of course she can’t run about much.
She is pretty, too. Her skin is almost white,
and she can embroider beautifully, and I want her
to come and be my maid and learn English. Mayn’t
I tell her about you? Little Yi might let it out,
but I don’t think An Ching would.’
‘No,’ said the man.
’Tell no one yet. I will talk to my family
about it, but I don’t think we can take An Ching.
She belongs to Hung Li, but you don’t.
I will come again to-morrow or the next day when you
are alone. Look here,’ he continued, thrusting
his right hand up his left sleeve and producing some
red paper, which he threw down; ’pick this up
quickly and hide it.’
Nelly did so at once, thrusting the
precious paper into her sleeve.
‘When you are alone,’
he continued, ’tear off a bit of paper and throw
it over the wall. If any one comes, and you hear
me on the ladder, begin to talk loudly, and I shall
keep away. Could you be here to-morrow morning
while the women are brushing their hair?’
‘Oh yes,’ replied Nelly,
delighted. ’I could easily come. Little
Yi likes to watch the hairdressing, and I don’t.
I am often here alone then.’
‘Very well, expect me to-morrow morning.
I will go now.’
‘Stop,’ said Nelly.
’How is it that you can sing that hymn?
Are you sure you can?’
The man smiled, and in a low voice began:
Lao-lu kun-fa fu
chung tan ti
Hsin li chiao ku-nan
Yu i wei k’ai
en-tien ch’ing ni
As he went on Nelly opened her eyes
and mouth wider and wider, so surprised was she.
‘Why,’ she exclaimed,
when he stopped, ‘I don’t know it in Chinese,’
and she was too puzzled to say more.
‘The hymn has been translated
by a missionary,’ the man said. ’I
am a Christian. See you again.’
And he bowed and bobbed down out of
sight, leaving Nelly in the middle of the court, too
astonished to move.