•  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
" SWEET-PLUM," for that is the English meaning of his Chinese name, was at the time my story begins a schoolboy of not more than nine or ten years old, as fond of fun and frolic as any of the boys I know.
English boys would, I expect, think Sweet-plum had very long school hours, as school began about seven o'clock in the morning, and went on (for seven days in the week) till six or seven in the evening, holidays being few and far between. Sweet-plum was not an only child. His brother, several years older than himself, was named Happy-day, his sister Cinnamon Cloud, and the baby—well, as a rule, little girls are not of much account in China, but her name was Little Beauty.
One evening, as Sweet-plum and some of his companions were leaving school, they noticed a stranger, who they saw at once was not a Chinaman, riding a very tired pony. Strangers did not often come to their village, which was fourteen miles from the nearest town, so the boys were quite excited and showed their surprise by shouting after him in a very impolite manner. But the stranger, who was a medical missionary, had lived too long in China to take much notice of rude remarks, so went quietly on.
Not long after, Sweet-plum, who was getting a ride by hanging on to the tail-board of a loaded cart, slipped and fell. Before he had time to get up, the cart just behind came up and the mule drawing it stepped upon his leg and broke it in two places. He was carried home and laid upon the floor; his mother cried and scolded by turns, and the place was filled with people, all talking at once, but no one seemed to know what ought to be done.
At last they put some clay on the broken leg and tied it up with straw; they then went away, leaving the poor boy in great pain. All that night he could not sleep, his leg hurt him so badly. The next day his father brought a native doctor, who looked at his leg and said it must be pricked to let the pain out, but instead of letting the pain out, the pricking with a large and not very clean needle put more pain in, and Sweet-plum got worse instead of better.
Then his father brought another doctor, who danced and screamed, and called upon wicked spirits to help him cure the leg, till at last the boy was so frightened that the doctor had to be asked to go away. Day after day Sweet-plum lay there with only a straw mat upon the hard bricks for his bed. The time seemed very long. How he longed to be with the other boys at school or play, but he could not walk a step, or even stand.
So nearly a year went by, when one day his father met a man who used to live in their village, and who on hearing of the accident to Sweet-plum said, "Why don't you take him to the Jesus hospital? Only last year I was very ill and I went there, and the doctor is so clever, and the nurses are so kind, that I was soon well again and able to go to my work. Take my advice and carry your son there.”
On his return home the father of Sweet-plum told his wife of the strange news he had heard. She exclaimed in terror, "Oh, no! do not take our son there. I have heard that these foreign doctors cut off children's legs, and take out their eyes to make medicine with. No; it would be too dreadful.”
But the father could not forget what he had heard, and as his son seemed to get weaker and thinner every day, and as he began to be afraid he would die, at last he made up his mind that Sweet-plum should go to the hospital. It was a long way and the family were too poor to afford the hire of a cart, so Sweet-plum was tied up into a parcel which his father, after having slipped a pole through the knotted corners, slung over his shoulder; the mother, carrying Little Beauty, walked by his side.
That night they slept at a Chinese inn, reaching the town early the next morning. The hospital looked just like any other Chinese house, only cleaner, and the words "Jesus Hospital" in large Chinese characters were over the door. They had not long to wait for the doctor, but when Sweet-plum saw him he was frightened, for it was the stranger to whom he and the other village boys had been so rude. How he hoped the doctor did not know him; but if he did, he did not appear to be thinking about it. Turning to the father he said, "Poor little fellow! how he must have suffered; why did you not bring him before?" To Sweet-plum he said, so kindly that he forgot to be afraid, "Now, little man, we are going to put you to sleep, and when you wake up I think the pain will have gone away.”
When the boy awoke, he found himself in such a bed as he had never slept in, or ever seen. The pain had nearly all gone, and a lady who, though she wore a Chinese dress and spoke Chinese, was he felt sure a foreigner, came to his side and gave him a nice cooling drink. Every morning, all the time he was in the hospital, either the foreign lady or Sister Peace, the native Bible-woman, would sit by his bed and read out of a wonderful book. He was not the only listener, for his mother never seemed to get tired of listening to the story of the Lord Jesus, His life, His death, His rising again.
After some weeks Sweet-plum was able to walk quite nicely. I cannot tell you how pleased and thankful his parents were. In thanking the doctor, his father bowed so low that his forehead touched the ground (a Chinese way of saying "Thank you very much," you know).
But this is not all. Before Sweet-plum left the hospital both he and his mother had begun to love and wish to learn more about the Lord Jesus, and his father was greatly pleased with a Chinese New Testament, a parting gift from the kind doctor. He took it to his home and read it first to his family. He, too, began to love the book, and the idols were taken down from the shelf where they had stood for years. The more he read the book the more he loved it. Soon he began to tell his neighbors about his wonderful book, and when any of them said they wished to hear it too, he told them to come to his house on the first day of the week and he would read it to them.
All this happened many years ago. Now, when the doctor visits Sweet-plum's village, a warm welcome is given him. Sweet-plum's mother runs to meet him (her small feet will not allow her to run very fast), for she is glad to see him, and says, "Come into our house, and while you drink tea, Sweet-plum shall call in the neighbors and you will tell us more of the Jesus doctrine.”