1. Dorothy James: A Companion from China
A Companion from China
When I was a little girl, I had an uncle who went to China and enlisted in the English army stationed there, and had served on the staff of General Gordon. I had never seen this Uncle Harry, who went away before I was born. He was the youngest of a large family, and the older boys and girls used to refer to him as "mother's baby." This caused great confusion in my mind when I heard of him, and I spent a great deal of time speculating how a baby could be a soldier. While I was still too small to reconcile this contradiction, a letter was received which filled the house with joy. Harry was coming home! There were no other nieces or nephews to rejoice with me, or speculate about this mysterious baby, or soldier, or soldier-baby; and the older people could not understand my difficulty, so I gave the returning hero all kinds of complexions, every size, and all kinds of manners. One time he was a stern general, with sword drawn, who nodded gravely, but never smiled. At another he was a Chinaman such as I had seen in books; for he had lived so long among them that it seemed quite possible to me that he should look just like them. By no possibility could he look like the men about me, because he had lived in that strange country and among such strange people. He was returning on a sailing vessel with the captain, who was a friend; and as the voyage would take three months, there was plenty of time for speculation and preparation. As the time drew near, how anxiously the papers were read for news of the kind of weather at sea! I remember so many walks with my grandfather down to the Battery, where I sat on the seawall, anxiously scanning every coming sail, hoping it might be the expected ship. I learned more about ships and distances between the port of New York and foreign ports than I could have learned in years at school. The geography was a constant companion; and when we learned that a ship was from a certain port, immediately that port was hunted up on the map and her course traced. The time for the arrival of the ship on which the hero sailed came, and then we visited the Battery every day; and I think both grandpa and I trembled as each new sail appeared.
One morning I awoke, and there was a strange excitement in the house. People were walking about hurriedly. I could not understand it. That Uncle Harry could arrive without grandpa and I meeting him on the docks had never occurred to me. I fully expected to stand on the dock while the ship was being made fast, wait for a plank to bo thrown out, run up the plank, and greet this great unknown being who was half man and half child to my imagination. While I was listening to the noise through the house, the door opened, and my grandmother came in, all smiles and tears, holding the hand of a man very sunburned, and yet looking so much like my father that I was startled. I sat up in bed, and you can imagine my surprise when my grandmother, bringing her companion up to my bed, said:
"Dear, this is Uncle Harry. I've told him how often you have been to meet him."
I was half inclined to cry; but the happy face of my grandmother made that quite impossible, and I kissed him and said I was glad he was home.
"And I have brought you a playmate away from China," Uncle Harry announced, at last. "I will not tell you what it is until you come downstairs," he continued, "so you must hurry."
You may be sure I did, and in much shorter time than usual I was downstairs. I went into the parlor where the family were, and shrieked with terror when I met a monkey, almost as tall as myself, who stood bowing with a hat in his hand just inside the parlor door. This was my playfellow from China. I rushed upstairs, and nothing would induce me to come down until I had seen the monkey fastened to the grape arbor in the yard. After a few days I was not so afraid, and really found courage to go into the room where he was. It was too cold for him to sleep in a room without a fire, and he was permanently located in the dining-room and kitchen, where he was a constant source of amusement to the servants, sadly interfering with the work. After he had been rescued from the washtubs three or four times, where he had attempted to wash in imitation of what he saw, he appreciated the danger. He also ceased to attempt to iron after his hands and tail had been scorched by the irons and stove. The only sufferer by these exploits was Tony, as we called him, but as he grew more familiar he became more troublesome. He learned how to remove a pot from the stove without getting burned, and if the cook forgot to chain him to a hook in the wall when she began cooking, he would remove every pot and pan from the range, and then perch on the mantel in the kitchen and look the picture of innocence when she returned to the kitchen. Meat disappeared several times from the oven, and was found in the closet. In the dining-room was a clock that was greatly cherished by my grandfather, who was very fond of Tony in spite of his mischief. But Tony had neither gratitude nor reverence, and one morning, when the maid opened the dining-room door, the clock was on its face on the floor, broken to pieces. Tony had been given free range of kitchen and dining-room, and this was the use he had made of his freedom. It was supposed that he had attempted to wind the clock, and had pulled it over. A week or two later the dining-room was newly papered, much to Tony's delight, who helped the men tear off the old paper, and had found untold amusement in tearing the paper into ribbons. Orders had been given to chain Tony at night after the accident to the clock, but it was forgotten, and two or three nights after the new paper was on the walls Tony was left unchained, and in the morning the paper was hanging in shreds everywhere that Tony could reach it, while he was tumbling about on the floor in perfect delight among the pieces which he had torn up.
There was a coldness between the family and Tony after that, even my grandfather voting him an expensive pet, so he was given to the watchman on the ship's dock, who found him a delightful companion through tho long nights when Tony walked the docks with him. He was taught to scream at strangers, and would snatch a lighted match, a pipe, or a cigar, and throw it in the water; he really became useful.
We were all made sorry the next winter when we heard that Tony died from exposure. The watchman made him a warm coat and trousers, but he could not keep him warm on cold nights; Tony began to cough, and just after Christmas he died.
It was a disappointment to Uncle Harry that I did not enjoy his present, but I could not be happy if Tony came near me, and much preferred being in any part of the house where he was not.