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Authors: Pearl S. Buck

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BOOK: The Patriot
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“So that morning I had been reading through the foreign words toward that beauty, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud.’ … Miss Maitland was saying slowly, ‘This is a poem by a great English poet, whose name was Wordsworth.’

“At this moment something struck the door and we all looked toward it. It was a flimsy door, and it burst open at once, as indeed you know it does, even in a little wind. How then could it withstand the blow of a gun? Soldiers stood there, at least twenty of them, and one shouted, ‘Where is Liu En-lan?’

“When I heard my name I stood up at once. No one said anything.

“‘Are you Liu En-lan?’ the sergeant shouted.

“‘Yes, I am,’ I answered quietly, though I was very much astonished.

“‘You are under arrest!’ the sergeant roared. ‘Come with us!’

“‘But why—why—’ I stammered, and could not talk. I could not imagine why I was arrested, nor indeed that even my name was known except to my teachers and a very few of my fellow students. ‘I think there is a mistake,’ I said to the sergeant.

“‘No mistake!’ cried the sergeant. ‘Liu En-lan of the Liu village in the province of Shensi!’

“‘That is certainly I and that is my village,’ I replied, ‘but why should I be arrested?’

“At this the sergeant grew very red in the face. ‘You dare to talk to me!’ he bellowed, and rushing to me he seized me by the collar and jerked me off my feet. I felt to my horror that my collar was torn and I would have to buy a new coat. But I had no time for anything more than the bare thought, because the sergeant was a large man and very angry. He shook me and shouted, ‘You dare—you dare!’ I wanted to fight back, but I knew it would be foolish, with all the guns of the soldiers pointed at me.

“At this Miss Maitland grew very angry. You know her small mild face, under her parted white hair—it is always gentle and proper. None of us had ever seen it otherwise. But suddenly she flew at the sergeant and grasped his arm and shook it.

“‘You stop behaving like that in my classroom!’ she said severely. ‘I say stop it—do you hear me?’

“Since she spoke in English the sergeant understood nothing that she said. He looked at her as a tomcat looks at a furious mouse.

“‘What is this foreign female saying?’ he asked me.

“‘She begs you to desist,’ I translated.

“‘Tell her you are arrested,’ he ordered.

“‘I am arrested,’ I said to Miss Maitland in English.

“‘What for?’ she demanded.

“‘I do not know,’ I replied truthfully.

“‘That’s silly!’ Miss Maitland cried. ‘Ask him, the big beast! And tell him I say he is a beast!’

“But I dared only say to the sergeant, ‘This honorable foreign lady, who is our teacher, asks why I am arrested.’

“‘Tell her it’s not her affair,’ the sergeant replied loftily.

“‘He says he is not allowed to say,’ I translated to Miss Maitland.

“‘Now that’s just too silly!’ Miss Maitland said. ‘Tell him to get out and stop interfering—tell him he can’t come arresting my students like this—I’ll speak to the British consul!’

“I hesitated.

“‘Tell him all I said!’ Miss Maitland commanded.

“‘She says,’ I began, ‘she will ask her consul to inquire—’

“The sergeant glared at Miss Maitland, but she glared back, and he turned away with dignity.

“‘I was told to arrest you,’ he said more loftily.

“‘But why?’ I now demanded for myself.

“‘Oh, what’s all this about?’ Miss Maitland cried.

“But before she could say another word the sergeant shouted to the soldiers, ‘Forward, march!’ Instantly the soldiers seized my arms and I was hustled out before anyone could help me—if, indeed, I could have been helped. The students all sat silent and still as stone, and Miss Maitland only screamed.

“I was marched down the street, and then into a great gate and thrust into the jail. I had written of this jail in my composition.

“‘We have also a model prison in our country,’ I had written. ‘It is said that prison is one of the best in the world, and American and English visitors go to see how well China treats her captives in her model prison.’

“Now I was thrust into a cell in this prison and the door was locked. It was, as a matter of fact, not uncomfortable at all. I think I must have been the first one there. It was clean—not as you saw it when hundreds had been through it. The cell was much better than most of the little earth huts in which the villagers lived in my home village, and indeed quite as good even as the tiny room I had been able to afford when I had first come to school in Shanghai, before I was given a room in the dormitory. In the cell there was a board bed, a dark blue cotton quilt, quite clean, and some bricks piled into a seat, and the small window. The house in which I had spent my childhood had no window at all. But then the door was open to the threshing floor, which was also the dooryard, so that the wide sky was always to be seen. As a small boy I sat on the high doorstep and watched my father and mother threshing wheat or beans and sifting out the chaff and husks in the strong dry winds. But the food in the prison was certainly better than what I had as a child.

“The food, in fact, was so good that I enjoyed it and when I had finished my breakfast of rice and salt fish, with a bit of bread, on the second morning, I could not believe that in such a beautiful prison I would not receive the utmost justice. Besides, I told myself, this new government was just. They would allow me to explain at the trial. Every morning I thought, ‘Today I shall be summoned.’ I had long prepared in my mind what I would say. Lying upon the board bed at night, and staring at the square of sky by day, I planned every word until it was put together something like this.

“‘Sirs, I beg you, of what am I accused? I belong to no revolutionary party.’ For at that time, I-wan, I did not. It was only afterwards that I truly was a communist.—‘I work hard every day and I do not leave the school grounds. I have only one ambition. It is to graduate with honors, to get a good job, and to pay back debts. When that is done, I wish to establish a school in my home village. The people are very poor. The winds are dry and the crops are scanty. The earth gives barely enough food against starvation, and not always enough, so that sometimes we have famine. And the taxes are very high—military taxes, taxes on opium—all taxes. For though we can sell all our opium quite easily to the government, the government taxes us first and so heavily that it pays us only a little better to grow opium instead of grain. All these difficulties keep my people poor, so there is no money for schools. But I have always been for learning. From my childhood I have wanted to learn all that there is to know. So my people saved and pinched and gathered enough to send me to this beautiful city to school. Here I have been happy. Sirs, where is my fault?’

“I practiced saying all this and much more, as I imagined myself standing before the judges—grave, kind, intelligent men who would soon see they had made a mistake. Then I would be set free. When I went home next summer it would be a thing to tell, how I was arrested by mistake—I would tell them what a fine prison this was, how comfortable the quilt was, and how twice a day I had quite good food. Nobody ate more than twice a day in my village, and in winter when work was slack, perhaps only once a day. Then, the winter days being short, we all slept a good deal. I tried to sleep in the cell, but though it was quiet and comfortable, I could not sleep, expecting at any moment to be summoned for trial. I kept hot on the end of my tongue what I would say.

“But I was not summoned. Day followed day, and the only face I saw was that of the guard who brought me my food. To this man I cried out at last, ‘Are they not going to give me a trial?’

“‘I don’t know about such things,’ the guard replied. ‘Here is your rice.’ And he went away.

“I grew mad at last with impatience. I began to beg the guard. ‘Please find out about my trial! I beg you—I beg you!’

“But the guard only shook his head. ‘I am forbidden to speak to the prisoners,’ he said, and went away.

“I always carried in my belt my little store of money for the term. This I still had, because when I came, although it was the rule in this prison to make the new prisoners bathe and change their clothes before going to their cells, they had let me pass, saying that the bathroom keeper had gone out that day to drink wine at his brother’s wedding feast, and so I was put straight into the cell, locked up and forgotten, and I still had my money. One day I took out my money, divided it in half, and putting one half in my hand, I said to the guard, holding it out, ‘Please inquire when I am to be tried. Here is a little small silver.’

“The guard opened his eyes very wide at this, but he took the silver, without reply. The next day he said abruptly, ‘There is to be no trial. You are a political prisoner and your crime is proved.’

“‘But I do not even know what it is!’ I cried.

“‘That I did not ask,’ the guard said.

“I tore off my belt and poured all I had into the guard’s hand.

“‘Find out what my crime is,’ I begged. ‘This is all I have.’

“When the guard went away I sat on the bed, my body tense and sweating. I should not have told the guard I had no more. Perhaps he would keep the money and do nothing, knowing there was no more to expect.

“But the guard had a good enough heart. He said to me next day, ‘I asked a guard whose brother is a scribe in the court and has to do with records, and he says you wrote something in a foreign paper where foreigners could read it that our country was poor and full of famine, and that the government taxes the people too heavily, and that they buy the opium which the farmers raise. And so the foreigners read it and laughed at us and despised us. This is your crime.’

“‘But—it is not what I said!’ I cried in horror.

“‘The record is so,’ replied the guard, and went away.

“I could not sleep at all that night. I sat up remembering every word of that composition. I had been very proud of it, and Miss Maitland had praised it greatly and had read it aloud to the class. She said, ‘This is so beautiful a piece that I wish English people could read it to see how young Chinese love their country. Liu En-lan, suppose you send it to the English newspaper for the prize competition.’

“I had felt the blood run all over my body under my skin, until I was warm with pleasure, and I had spent my spare hours for weeks copying the composition with all the corrections. Then I had sent it with a letter to the editor of the English paper. It was given the prize and the editor printed it with a note, saying, ‘It is not often that we receive so honest and thoughtful an analysis of a country as this young Chinese patriot has sent us.’ When I saw these words I was joyful with pride.”

I-wan paused in his reading. Yes, he remembered that essay. From his school also that year they had all written essays for the competition, and Liu En-lan—that had indeed been the name of the one who wrote the best. But nobody had ever heard of him and it was soon forgotten. He himself had not thought of it until this moment.

He began to read again.

“For this I was now in prison. Day followed day in an endless chain of morning and night which were different only in dark and light. I lost count of the days and the nights, so that I did not know how long I had been in prison. I had no friends and no one came to visit me. Miss Maitland tried, but she was told they had sent me home, and she believed then I was safe. She told me afterwards. And there was not even any reason to speak to the guard any more, since all my money was gone.

“I sat, therefore, hour after hour, or I stood, my face against the bars, staring at the bit of sky, and thinking over and over of what I had said in my composition…. I had written it one day in spring, a beautiful day when the winds were warm and flowers were for sale in the markets. The streets were gay and motor cars were flying back and forth, the rickshas swerving out of their way. Time and again I had stopped to watch the quick beauty of a motor car, speeding along the wide street. In the afternoon after school I had walked outside the city and I had stood looking over the miles of green country, my heart full of a strange great feeling I did not understand. It was like the ache of love—not love for a girl, for I knew no girls, but love for my country spread before me, spread so far to the north where my home was, spread here in this new modern city, spread further still to the southern seas I had never seen. And as I stood this great love began to distil itself into words. I wanted to put down all that I felt about my country. The words began to shape like drops of shining water from a glorious mist. I hurried back to my small room and began to write, word by word, what had been my vision.

“It was not easy to do this. I remember I was sweating with the effort to write exactly what I felt and saw. Night came but I did not eat. I lit a candle and wrote on by its small light. All over the city there were bright electric lights and neon signs springing out of the darkness, though I was too poor to rent a room in a house with electric lights. But this made no difference to me. I was proud that there were such lights. If I had not been working I would have been out on the streets, staring at them as I never tired of doing.

“I put the electric lights into my composition, I put the whole city, the strong new city growing out of the sea. I put in motor cars and motor trucks carrying the heavy loads that human beings had once carried. I put in the schools, the fine markets, the luscious imported fruits, the flowers from greenhouses. I smiled and put in the beauty shops where women curled their hair. I put in the fine new buildings, finer than any palaces of emperors. I put in the miles of country, the fields, the skies I had seen that afternoon, and I laid down my pen.

“When I read it over I found that it was still not all of my country. There was also my home village, my father and mother, the dry stubborn fields of the north, the desert winds, the famine we had suffered two years ago, the little earthen huts, the opium we grew instead of grain, hopeful of a little more money. But there were the taxes—the taxes which went to build the government. I put them in, too. Pondering on all these things, I did not at all feel that the taxes had not been well spent—not at all. Only I wished, as I remembered them, that the faces of my parents and of the others in the village were not quite so weathered with harsh winds, their bodies not so lean with scanty food, their hands less scarred with grubbing in cloddy earth for roots for food and fuel…. So I put all these things in also.

BOOK: The Patriot
12.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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