House of God
"Last night I looked down on a city in China," said the Moon. "My beams shone on the long bare walls that formed its streets; here and there was a door, of course, but it was always shut, for what has a Chinese to do with the world outside? Tight blinds concealed the windows behind the walls; only from within the temple was there light, which shone faintly through its windows.
I looked in and observed its colorful grandeur. From floor to ceiling the walls are painted with many pictures, in vivid colors and rich gilt, representing the actions of the gods on earth. In every niche is the statue of a deity, almost entirely concealed by colored draperies and hanging banners. Before each of the gods – they are all made of tin – is a little altar, with flowers, holy water, and burning candles. But foremost in the temple was Fu, the principal deity, clad in a silken robe of the sacred color, yellow.
"At the foot of his altar sat a living figure, a young priest, seemingly lost in prayer; but in the midst of his prayers he seemed to fall into a deep reverie, and he must have had some sinful thought on his conscience, for his cheeks burned, and his head was bent to the ground. Poor Soui-houng! Could he perhaps be dreaming of working in his little bed of flowers, one such as separates every Chinese house from the long street wall? And was that work more agreeable to him than sweeping the temple and snuffing wax tapers? Or did he long to be seated at the richly laden table, wiping his lips with silver paper between courses? Or was his sin so great that, if he dared confess it, the Celestial Empire would punish him with death? Or were his thoughts bold enough to follow the barbarian's ships to their home in distant England? No, his thoughts did not wander so far, and yet they were as sinful as the hot passions of youth could make them – doubly sinful in the temple here, in the presence of Fu and the other holy gods. I know where his thoughts were.
"In the outskirts of the city, upon a flat, flagged roof, where the railing seemed to be of porcelain, and where there were beautiful vases with large white bellflowers, sat the beautiful Pe, with her small roguish eyes, full lips, and the tiniest feet. The shoes pained her feet, but in her there was a still greater pain. And the satin rustled as she raised her delicate, round arms. Before her was a glass globe with four goldfish. With a many-colored, varnished stick she stirred the water, oh, so slowly, for she was lost in thought. Perhaps she was thinking how richly clothed in gold the fish were, how safely they lived in the glass bowl, how generously they were supplied with food, and yet how much happier they would have been free. Her thoughts roamed far away from her home; her thoughts wandered to the temple, but it was not with homage for the gods. Poor Pe! Poor Soui-houng! Their earthly thoughts met, but my cold beam lay between them like the sword of and angel!"