The steamship America, bound for Hongkong, was leaving the dock at San Francisco. All was bustle and noise and stir. Friends called a last farewell from the deck, handkerchiefs waved, many of them wet with tears. The long boom of a gun roared out over the harbor, a bell rang, and the signal was given. Up came the anchor, and slowly and with dignity the great vessel moved out through the Golden Gate into the wide Pacific.
Crowds stood on the deck to get a last glimpse of home and loved ones, and to wave to friends as long as they could be distinguished. There was one young man who stood apart from the crowd, and who did not wave farewell to any one. He had come on board with a couple of men, but they had gone back to the dock, and were lost in the crowd. He seemed entirely alone. He leaned against the deck-railing and gazed intently over the widening strip of tumbling wafers to the city on the shore. But he did not see it. Instead, he saw a Canadian farmhouse, a garden and orchard, and gently sloping meadows hedged in by forest. And up behind the barn he saw a stony field, where long ago he and his brother and the neighbor boys had broken the stones for the new house.
His quick movements, his slim, straight figure, and his bright, piercing eyes showed he was the same boy who had broken the big rock in the pasture-field long before. Just the same boy, only bigger, and more man than boy now, for he wore an air of command and his thin keen face bore a beard, a deep black, like his hair. And now he was going away, as he had longed to go, when he was a boy, and ahead of him lay the big frowning rock, which he must either break or be broken upon.
He had learned many things since those days when he had scampered barefoot over the fields, or down the road to school. He had been to college in Toronto, in Princeton, and away over in Edinburgh, in the old homeland where his father and mother were born. And all through his life that call to go and do great deeds for the King had come again and again. He had determined to obey it when he was but a little lad at school. He had encountered many big stones in his way, which he had to break, before he could go on. But the biggest stone of all lay across his path when college was over, and he was ready and anxious to go away as a missionary. The Presbyterian Church of Canada had never yet sent out a missionary to a foreign land, and some of the good old men bade George Mackay stay at home and preach the gospel there. But as usual he conquered. Every one saw he would be a great missionary if he were only given a chance. At last the General Assembly gave its consent, and now, in spite of all stones in the way, here he was, bound for China, and ready to do anything the King commanded. Land was beginning to fade away into a gray mist, the November wind was damp and chill, he turned and went down to his stateroom. He sat down on his little steamer trunk, and for the first time the utter loneliness and the uncertainty of this voyage came over him. He took up his Bible and turned to the fly-leaf. There he read the inscription:
REV. G. L. MACKAY
First missionary of the Canadian Presbyterian Church to China,
by the Foreign Mission Committee, as a parting token of their
esteem, when about to leave his native land for the sphere of his
future labors among the heathen.
WILLIAM MACLAREN, Convener.
Ottawa, 9th October, 1871.
Matthew xxviii: 18-20. Psalm cxxi
It was a moment of severe trial to the young soldier. But he turned to the Psalm marked on the fly-leaf of his Bible, and he read it again and again.
"My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.". . .
"The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand."
"The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night."
The beautiful words gave him comfort. Homesickness, loneliness, and fears for the future all vanished. He was going out to an unknown land where dangers and perhaps death awaited him, but the Lord would be his keeper and nothing could harm him.
Twenty-six days on the Pacific! And a stormy voyage it was, for the Pacific does not always live up to her beautiful name, and she tossed the America about in a shocking manner. But the voyage did not seem long to George Mackay. There were other missionaries on board with whom he had become acquainted, and he had long delightful talks with them and they taught him many things about his new work. He was the same busy G. L. he had been when a boy; always working, working, and he did not waste a moment on the voyage. There was a fine library on the ship and he studied the books on China until he knew more about the religion of that country than did many of the Chinese themselves.
One day, as he was poring over a Chinese history, some one called him hastily to come on deck. He threw down his book and ran up-stairs. The whole ship was in a joyous commotion. His friend pointed toward the horizon, and away off there against the sky stood the top of a snow-capped peak -- Fujiyama! -- the majestic, sacred mountain of Japan!
It was a welcome sight, after the long ocean voyage, and the hours they lay in Yokahama harbor were full of enjoyment. Every sight was thrilling and strange to young Mackay's Western eyes. The harbor fairly swarmed with noisy, shouting, chattering Japanese boatmen. He wondered why they seemed so familiar, until it suddenly dawned on him that their queer rice-straw coats made them look like a swarm of Robinson Crusoes who had just been rescued from their islands.
When he landed he found things still funnier. The streets were noisier than the harbor. Through them rolled large heavy wooden carts, pulled and pushed by men, with much grunting and groaning. Past him whirled what looked like overgrown baby carriages, also pulled by men, and each containing a big grown-up human baby. It was all so pretty too, and so enchanting that the young missionary would fain have remained there. But China was still farther on, so when the America again set sail, he was on board.
Away they sailed farther and farther east, or was it west? He often asked himself that question in some amusement as they approached the coast of China. They entered a long winding channel and steamed this way and that until one day they sailed into a fine broad harbor with a magnificent city rising far up the steep sides of a hill. It was an Oriental city, and therefore strange to the young traveller. But for all that there seemed something familiar in the fine European buildings that lined the streets, and something still more homelike in that which floated high above them -- something that brought a thrill to the heart of the young Canadian -- the red-crossed banner of Britain!
It was Hongkong, the great British port of the East, and here he decided to land. No sooner had the travelers touched the dock, than they were surrounded by a yelling, jostling crowd of Chinese coolies, all shouting in an outlandish gibberish for the privilege of carrying the Barbarians' baggage. A group gathered round Mackay, and in their eagerness began hammering each other with bamboo poles. He was well-nigh bewildered, when above the din sounded the welcome music of an English voice.
"Are you Mackay from Canada?"
He whirled round joyfully. It was Dr. E. J. Eitel, a missionary from England. He had been told that the young Canadian would arrive on the America and was there to welcome him.
Although the Canadian Presbyterian Church had as yet sent out no missionaries to a foreign land, the Presbyterian Church of England had many scattered over China. They were all hoping that the new recruit would join them, and invited him to visit different mission stations, and see where he would like to settle.
So he remained that night in Hongkong, as Dr. Eitel's guest, and the next morning he took a steamer for Canton. Here he was met on the pier by an old fellow student of Princeton University, and the two old college friends had a grand reunion. He returned to Hongkong shortly, and next visited Swatow. As they sailed into the harbor, he noticed two Englishmen rowing out toward them in a sampan.* No sooner had the ship's ladder been lowered, than the two sprang out of their boat and clambered quickly on deck. To Mackay's amazement, one of them called out, "Is Mackay of Canada on board?"
"Mackay of Canada," sprang forward delighted, and found his two new friends to be Mr. Hobson of the Chinese imperial customs, and Dr. Thompson of the English Presbyterian mission in Swatow.
The missionaries here gave the stranger a warm welcome. At every place he had visited there had awaited him a cordial invitation to stay and work. And now at Swatow he was urged to settle down and help them. There was plenty to be done, and they would be delighted to have his help.
But for some reason, Mackay scarcely knew why himself, he wanted to see another place.
Away off the southeastern coast of China lies a large island called Formosa. It is separated from the mainland by a body of water called the Formosa Channel. This is in some places eighty miles wide, in others almost two hundred. Mackay had often heard of Formosa even before coming to China, and knew it was famed for its beauty.
Even its name shows this. Long, long years before, some navigators from Portugal sailed to this beautiful island. They had stood on the deck of their ship as they approached it, and were amazed at its loveliness. They saw lofty green mountains piercing the clouds. They saw silvery cascades tumbling down their sides, flashing in the sunlight, and, below, terraced plains sloping down to the sea, covered with waving bamboo or with little water-covered rice-fields. It was all so delightful that no wonder they cried,
"Illha Formosa! Illha Formosa!"
"Beautiful Isle! Beautiful Isle." Since that day the "Beautiful Isle," perhaps the most charming in all the world, has been called Formosa.
And, somehow, Mackay longed to see this Beautiful Isle before he decided where he was going to preach the gospel. And so when the kind friends at Swatow said, "Stay and work with us," he always answered, "I must first see Formosa."
So, one day, he sailed away from the mainland toward the Beautiful Isle. He landed at Takow in the south of the island, just about Christmas-time. But Formosa was green, the weather was hot, and he could scarcely believe that, at home in Oxford county, Ontario, they were flying over the snow to the music of sleigh-bells. On New Year's day he met a missionary of this south Formosa field, named Dr. Ritchie. He belonged to the Presbyterian Church of England, which had a fine mission there. For nearly a month Mackay visited with him and studied the language.
And while he visited and worked there the missionaries told him of the northern part of the island. No person was there to tell all those crowded cities of Jesus Christ and His love. It would be lonely for him there, it would be terribly hard work, but it would be a grand thing to lay the foundations, to be the first to tell those people the "good news," the young missionary thought. And, one day, he looked up from the Chinese book he was studying and said to Dr. Ritchie:
"I have decided to settle in north Formosa."
And Dr. Ritchie's quick answer was:
"God bless you, Mackay."
As soon as the decision was made, another missionary, Dr. Dickson, who was with Mr. Ritchie, decided to go to north Formosa with the young man, and show him over the ground. So, early in the month of March in the year 1872, the three men set off by steamship to sail for Tamsui, a port in north Formosa. They were two days making the voyage, and a tropical storm pitched the small vessel hither and thither, so that they were very much relieved when they sailed up to the mouth of the Tamsui river.
It was low tide and a bare sand-bar stretched across the mouth of the harbor, so the anchor was dropped, and they waited until the tide should cover the bar, and allow them to sail in.
This wait gave the travellers a fine opportunity to see the country. The view from this harbor of the "Beautiful Island" was an enchanting one. Before them, toward the east, rose tier upon tier of magnificent mountains, stretching north and south. Down their sloping sides tumbled sparkling cascades and here and there patches of bright green showed where there were tea plantations. Farther down were stretches of grass and groves of lovely feathery bamboo. And between these groves stretched what seemed to be little silvery lakes, with the reflection of the great mountains in them. They were really the famous rice-fields of Formosa, at this time of the year all under water. There were no fences round their little lake-fields. They were of all shapes and sizes, and were divided from each other by little green fringed dykes or walls. Each row of fields was lower than the last until they came right down to the sea-level, and all lay blue and smiling in the blazing sunlight.
As the young missionary stood spellbound, gazing over the lovely, fairylike scene, Mr. Ritchie touched his arm.
"This is your parish, Mackay," he whispered smilingly.
And then for the first time since he had started on his long, long journey, the young missionary felt his spirit at peace. The restlessness that had driven him on from one Chinese port to another was gone. This was indeed HIS parish.
Suddenly out swung a signal; the tide had risen. Up came the anchor, and away they glided over the now submerged sand-bar into the harbor.
A nearer view showed greater charms in the Beautiful Isle. On the south, at their right, lay the great Quan Yin mountain, towering seventeen hundred feet above them, clothed in tall grass and groves of bamboo, banyan, and fir trees of every conceivable shade of green. Nestling at its feet were little villages almost buried in trees. Slowly the ship drifted along, passing, here a queer fishing village close to the sandy shore, yonder a light-house, there a battered Chinese fort rising from the top of a hill.
And now Tamsui came in sight -- the new home of the young missionary. It seemed to him that it was the prettiest and the dirtiest place he had ever seen. The town lay along the bank of the river at the foot of a hill. This bluff rose abruptly behind it to a height of two hundred feet. On its face stood a queer-looking building. It was red in color, solid and weather worn, and above it floated the grand old flag of Britain.
"That's an old Dutch fort," explained Mr. Ritchie, "left there since they were in the island. It is the British consulate now. There, next to it, is the consul's residence."
It was a handsome house, just below the fort, and surrounded by lovely gardens. But down beneath it, on the shore, was the most interesting place to the newcomer, the town of Tamsui proper, or Ho Be, as the Chinese called it. The foreigners landed and made their way up the street. To the two from south Formosa, Tamsui was like every other small Chinese town, but Mackay had not yet become accustomed to the strange sights and sounds and stranger smells, and his bright eyes were keen with interest.
The main thoroughfare wound this way and that, only seven or eight feet wide at its best. It was filled with noisy crowds of men who acted as if they were on the verge of a terrible fight. But the older missionaries knew that they were merely acting as Chinese crowds always do. On each side were shops, -- tea shops, rice shops, tobacco shops, and many other kinds. And most numerous of all were the shops where opium, one of the greatest curses of Chinese life, was sold. The front wall of each was removed, and the customers stood in the street and dickered with the shopkeeper, while at the top of his harsh voice the latter swore by all the gods in China that he was giving the article away at a terrific loss. Through the crowd pushed hawkers, carrying their wares balanced on poles across their shoulders. Boys with trays of Chinese candies and sugar-cane yelled their wares above the din. The visitors stumbled along over the rough stones of the pavement until they came to the market-place. Foreigners were not such a curiosity in Tamsui as in the inland towns, and not a great deal of notice was taken of them, but occasionally Mackay could hear the now familiar words of contempt -- "Ugly barbarian" -- "Foreign devil" from the men that passed them. And one man, pointing to Mackay, shouted "Ho! the black-bearded barbarian!" It was a name the young missionary was destined to hear very frequently. Past opium-dens, barber shops, and drug stores they went and through the noise and bustle and din of the market-place. They knew that the inns, judging by the outside, would be filthy, so Mr. Ritchie suggested, as evening was approaching, that they find some comfortable place to spend the night.
There was a British merchant in Tamsui named Mr. Dodd, whom the missionaries knew. So to him they went, and were given fine quarters in his warehouse. They ate their supper here, from the provisions they had bought in the market, and stretching themselves out on their grass mats they slept soundly. The next day was Sunday, but the three travelers spent it quietly in the warehouse by the river, studying their Bibles and discussing their proposed trip. They concluded it was best not to provoke the anger of the people against the new missionary by preaching, so they did not go out. To-morrow they would start southward and take Mackay to the bounds of their mission field, and show him the land that was to be "his parish."