The Vermilion Pencil

cover of the novel The Vermillion Pencil, by Homer LeaMichael Turton recently noted that the ashes of Homer Lea are interred in Taipei’s Beitou District. Lea was an all-around colorful character and an adviser to Sun Yat-sen. He was also the author of a pretty awful melodramatic novel, The Vermilion Pencil; a Romance of China (1908).

Here’s a selection. Enjoy!

The Bay of Tai Wan, where the Breton had been for more than a month and upon whose shore he had buried the derelict, is a long distance down the coast southeast of Yingching, and is famous on account of the evil spoken of it. This bay and country has a bad name, which is due to God as well as to those that dwell on its wild wash.

The waters of the bay are not blue, but a reddish-brown, and are serrated with the fins of the spotted shark, which lurk in its depths; for the feed in this bay is sometimes abundant, not only when the gale is upon the sea, but more often when men come together. The mountains that surround the bay on the south, west, and north are not high, but they are sinister; their south slopes desolate; those on the north gloomy with thickets. The narrow valleys extending back from the bay are diked, terraced, and made into paddy-fields, or are walled and made into towns, armed, forbidding. The lowlands below them are also dammed from the sea tides, and in those places not suitable for rice are salt pans, where the sea is evaporated for its salt.

The men that live on the Bay of Tai Wan have no settled occupation. They are farmers when the time comes to sow rice and to harvest it; they are fishermen, who know the bed of the sea; smugglers in their peaceful moods, but pirates always, and months are few when their mountains do not resound with the noise of combat; when the brown surge of the bay is without loitering spars, or dead or wreckage.

The secrets of this turbulent place, the fights fought there; the deeds of valour; the hopes and the end of hopes—gone down in its depths are without number. To look upon its waters is to shudder; to live there is to fear neither God nor His judgment; to go there requires the courage of a child, so the bishop had sent the Breton.

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