Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version

Chun Wa
To Henry de C. Ward
His name was Chun Wa; possibly there was some more of it, but that is all I can
remember. He was about four or five years old, and I made his acquaintance the
day we arrived at the temple. It was at the end of September. We had left
Mukden in order to take part in what they said was going to be a great battle. I
don't know what the village was called at which we arrived on the second day of
our march. I can only remember that it was a beautiful and deliciously quiet spot,
and that we established ourselves in a temple; that is to say not actually in the
temple itself, but in the house of the priest. He was a Buddhist who looked after
the deities of the place, which were made of carved and painted wood, and lived
in a small pagoda. The building consisted of three quadrangles surrounded by a
high stone wall. The first of these quadrangles, which you entered from the road,
reminded me of the yard in front of any farm. There was a good deal of straw
lying about, some broken ploughshares, buckets, wooden bowls, spades, and
other implements of toil. A few hens hurried about searching for grains here and
there; a dog was sleeping in the sun. At the further end of the yard a yellow cat
seemed to have set aside a space for its exclusive use. This farmyard was
separated from the next quadrangle by the house of the priest, which occupied
the whole of the second enclosure; that is to say the living rooms extended right
round the quadrangle, leaving a square and open space in the centre. The part of
the house which separated the second quadrangle from the next consisted solely
of a roof supported by pillars, making an open verandah, through which from the
second enclosure you saw into the third. The third enclosure was a garden,
consisting of a square grass plot and some cypress trees. At the further end of
the garden was the temple itself.
We arrived in the afternoon. We were met by an elderly man, the priest, who put
the place at our disposal and established us in the rooms situated in the second
quadrangle to the east and west. He himself and his family lived in the part of the
house which lay between the farmyard and the second enclosure. The Cossacks
of the battery with which I was living encamped in a field on the other side of the
farmyard, but the treasure chest was placed in the farmyard itself, and a sentry
stood near it with a drawn sword.
The owner of the house had two sons. One of them, aged about thirteen, had
something to do with the temple services, and wore a kind of tunic made of white
silk. The second was Chun Wa. It was when the sentry went on guard that we
first made the acquaintance of Chun Wa. His cheeks were round and fat, and his
face seemed to bulge out towards the base. His little eyes were soft and brown
and twinkled like onyxes. His tiny little hands were most beautifully shaped, and
this child moved about the farmyard with the dignity of an Emperor and the
serenity of a great Pontiff. Gravely and without a smile he watched the Cossacks
unharnessing their horses, lighting a fire and arranging the officers' kit.
He walked up to the sentry who was standing near the treasure chest, a big,
grey-eyed Cossack with a great tuft of fair hair, and the expression of a faithful