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The Success of a Mistake.

This story has been transcribed exactly as it appeared in the Westerner 8.3 (1908): 18-21. In some places punctuation marks are inconsistent, but the inconsistency is not noted with a [sic]. In one instance, [sic] is used to draw attention to an error in typesetting a character's name.

IN ANSWER to the reporter's knock the door of the Chinese Mission swung open and a good-looking Chinaman appeared.

"Good morning, Wah Lee," said the reporter. "Have you any news for me today?"

"I not know, but I got something to tell you, and perhaps you call it news," returned the Chinaman.

"Well, I'll come in and hear what it is," and the young woman stepped within the Mission. It was a good-sized room, furnished with half a dozen long tables, around which were ranged wooden benches. There was matting on the floor, a few biblical pictures on the wall, and scattered on the tables were Bibles and text books. At the further end of the room, facing the door, was an alcove, the floor of which was raised so that it could be used as a platform. On the back wall of the alcove was an illuminated card on which was printed The Lord's Prayer in Chinese characters.

The reporter had visited the school on other occasions, so she did not waste any time in asking questions, but with notebook and pencil in hand waited for the Chinaman to speak.

"I think now perhaps I better not tell you," he said after some hesitation.

"Why, Wah Lee, of course you will."

"All right. I think what I say. You know Mrs. Wong Lee. She live on Jackson street. She very smart woman, all same American woman and Chinese woman too--and all same lawyer. Well, she have ten children, seven girl and three boy. The name of the eldest boy it is Charlie, and the name of her eldest girl it is Anna. They have Chinese name, too. All the children of the Wong family they born in this country. The eldest daughter she very pretty girl, her skin it smooth and white as rice, her face shaped like a melon seed, her mouth same as red leaf of vine, her nose fine carved piece of jade stone, her eye long and black, and her hair most plenty and shiny and dressed in the first Chinese style. See!"

"Yes, I see, Wah."

The Chinaman, who seemed to have lost himself in his description of his young countrywoman, became suddenly embarrassed.

"That's all right, Wah," encouraged the reporter, removing from him the scrutiny of her eyes. "I like to hear you. It is the first time I have heard a Chinaman acknowledge that he paid any attention to things feminine. I remember that when I called upon Tsing Leang soon after his wife came to America and inquired as to how she was, what she looked like, how old, if she dressed in American or Chinese clothes, and so forth, that his answer to each and every question was 'I don't know."

"That so, Miss Lund. Perhaps you ask same question of American man, he says he not know, too."

The reporter flushed, but answered good naturedly:

"True! But you understand, Wah, that when we Americans ask questions of Chinese people that it is because we want you to enlighten us on subjects about which we are ignorant, and not with the intention of being rude."

"Sure that your case," returned the Chinaman. "I think you very kind lady. Now I complete what I say," and he concluded his remarks with an interesting item of news concerning the Wong family.


"Mrs. Wong, the wife of Wong Chow, well-known Chinese merchant of Jackson street, has gone to San Francisco to find a suitable husband for her eldest daughter, Anna, Mrs. Wong is a Chinese lady of education and refinement, and is resolved to betroth her daughter to none but a man of ability and character. Miss Anna is said to be a very pretty girl, and great festivities and rejoicings will take place at her wedding."

The above, followed by a description of Chinese betrothal and marriage customs, appeared in Miss Lund's paper the evening of her interview with Wah Lee.

Shortly after its appearance Miss Lund met with an accident which confined her to her room for several weeks. When she was able to move around again she wended her way to the Wong family's residence in Chinatown, with the intention of finding out when the wedding would take place.

Mrs. Wong, who took for granted that her visitor was connected with some missionary work, invited her into the sitting-room, furnished in Chinese-American fashion. The reporter made a few remarks about the weather and the pretty little girl clinging to Mrs. Wong's skirts, then began:

"I hear that your eldest daughter is to be married soon. Won't you tell me when the wedding will be? I should very much like to be present."

The Chinese woman's face darkened and her voice was deep with passion as she answered:

"My daughter's wedding! Huh! Speak not of that. It can never be."

"Oh, why?" exclaimed the reporter, gazing in astonishment at the stout, quivering figure of the Chinese matron.

"Because--my daughter--she is ruined for life--and so also all my girls."

Miss Lund did not feel very comfortable, but her newspaper instinct told her that here might be a good story, so she sympathetically enquired as to what had happened.

"What happen?" returned the angry woman. "Well, my husband he have a friend come to America long time gone by. His name Ju Chu and he have no wife, but he have good business in Seattle and he be very industrious and smart man. He tell my husband that he want marry and he send to China for a wife, and my husband he come tell me what his friend say and I reply, 'What for he send to China for wife?' Why not he marry our eldest daughter? She be eighteen years old and she be well brought up, and as we got six other daughters to be married it would be very excellent thing to make arrangement with your friend to marry the eldest of our daughters: My husband, he say, 'You be wise woman and I am in accord with what you think with regard to our daughter. When a girl is grown to be a woman it is proper that a husband should be found for her.' So, as is the custom of our people, my husband sent a go-between to see Ju Chu's uncle, and ask him to consider the betrothal of our daughter to his nephew, and Ju Chu's uncle he seem very pleased, and Ju Chu pleased too, for one day when he come see my husband, my daughter she pass by the room they be in and he see her, and he tell my husband that he think she be very good to look at."

"If she takes after her mother she certainly must be," said Miss Lund, and Mrs. Wong continued:

"Now, my son Charlie, he also be of age to marry, so I decide that I take trip to San Francisco to find good wife for him at the Mission school. I brought up at Baptist Mission so I want find Baptist girl to be my son Charlie's wife. I leave arrangements for my daughter's betrothal in the hands of my husband and I go to San Francisco. Just before I leave, my husband tell me that Ju Chu, he have the engagement card ready very soon, so I feel satisfied that all is right and I go to San Francisco with peaceful mind. When I get there I find nice little girl to betroth to my son and I arrange that she come here to be marry next month. Then I come back to Seattle. Now, what you think I find when I come home. That all the negotiation my husband and myself make to engage my daughter all come to no good, and Ju Chu he go away for some month and he tell all the Chinese people that [end of page 18] he not want to have anything to do with my family. For why? Because the newspaper publish wicked lying story about me go to San Francisco to find husband for my daughter."

Mrs. Wong paused to take breath. Miss Lund, feeling like a criminal, faintly murmured.

"Well, well!"

"What man in Los Angeles want one of my daughters if he think I want go to San Francisco to find husband for her? And it be not true, it be most wicked lie. I not need go look for husband for my daughters. They be nice looking girls and I teach them all that the Chinese woman should know and at the American school they learn all that the American girl know. Plenty Chinaman make offer for them before the bad story appear, but we particular, we not common class Chinese people, so I say to my husband, "Wait," and then come Ju Chu. Now, the Chinamen in Seattle, they not want have anything more to do with our family. My girls they all be ruined--no man here take them for wife."

"But you went to get a wife for your son, did you not?" said Miss Lund, feeling that she must say something.

"That much different," replied the Chinese woman. "There be few Chinese girls in Seattle--and it is not the same to write that I go to get wife for son as to say I go for husband for daughter. It is not the same when we live in America and we hear that the American people think shame for to do such a thing as for a mother to go to a city where she not live to find husband for her daughter. The Chinese people have same feelings as the American people, only the American people they not seem to understand that. The Chinese men in San Francisco, when they hear what in the paper, say 'What for Wong family want to find husband for their daughter in San Francisco? There be plenty Chinamen in Seattle. Sure there must be something not right with the daughters if the Seattle Chinamen not want them.' I say to my husband this morning, 'Find me the man that wrote that most wicked lie and I pluck his heart out."

"I think I must go now. I am very sorry that you are in trouble, Mrs. Wong. Perhaps it is not as bad as you imagine?'

After reaching the street Miss Lund walked absently along. Her mind was much perturbed by what she had heard. She was a good-hearted young woman and that she should have brought misfortune to the house of Wong was not a pleasant thought, "If I had only made some enquiries of the Chinese mother as I would have of an American mother before sending in the article, this mightn't have happened," she remorsefully mused. She was angry with Wah Lee, too. "That wicked Wah to tell me such a story," she mentally exclaimed and promised herself that she would punish him.

Nevertheless, the situation appealed to her sense of humor and she could scarcely repress an hysterical giggle when in answer to her rap at the Mission door, the Missionary, Miss Hastings, appeared.

"What's the matter?" asked that little woman, drawing her friend into the room.

The reporter's interview with Mrs. Wong was briefly but vividly described. Miss Hastings looked serious.

"I can hardly believe it of Wah Lee," said she, "He is such a good honest fellow."

"He has always appeared so to me," returned the other. "I have depended upon him for my Chinese news for over a year and he has given me some very good points. I consider him really cleverer than most of the educated Chinamen I have met."

"Yes, poor lad! He has considerable ability and despite the fact that he has no "cousins" in America, as most of the other Chinamen have, seems able to make his little laundry yield him an independence. He makes something as well by looking after this place for us."

"How is it he doesn't get married?" asked the reporter.

"I'm not sure, but I think I know why. It is said amongst the Chinese here that were he to return to China he would be a slave. He ran away from the family to which he belonged when but twelve years old and came to America with a company of strolling actors. The Chinese have ideas of caste. A freeborn Chinaman will not give his daughter to a slave. This applies as well to the Chinese here as to those in their own country. You see, if Wah Lee is a slave, his wife and children would also be slaves in China."

"But Wah says that he has no intention of returning there."

"Perhaps not; but the father of the Chinese girl he might seek for a wife would not consider a man who had turned his back for good upon his own country."

"Too bad for Wah Lee."

"I'm sorry for him," said Miss Hatsings [sic].

"I'm not," returned her friend emphatically. "That story he told me deprives him of my sympathy. I thought he was such a splendid Chinaman."

"I did think that he had embraced Christianity in all sincerity; but if he could do what you say he has done I have been mistaken," sighed Miss Hastings.

"Would the embracing of Christianity interfere with a Chinaman's other actions?"

"You heathen!"

"There's one that I do feel sorry for. That is the girl who was so nearly betrothed," said Miss Lund, ignoring the epithet bestowed upon her.

Miss Hastings smiled.

"She does not seem to be very sorry for herself," said she. "She's a dear bright little thing and was in here yesterday to tell me all about it. She said she felt that [end of page 19] the person who wrote that story about her mother's trip to San Francisco and its object [is] one of her best friends, as the article had certainly driven away from her a man she abhorred. 'You know, teacher,' said she, 'Mother and father cannot make me marry a man who does not want me, and I am so happy as a bird, only put on sad face before my parents."

"The cute little thing. I am so glad. My conscience is quite relieved."

Miss Lund laughed heartily. Miss Hastings laughed too, then tried to be serious.

"I don't approve of anything like deception," said she.

"I would like to meet this little Anna," Miss Lund was saying, when the door was pushed open and Wah Lee entered. He came towards the young woman with head bared.

"Wah Lee, you are a very bad Chinaman. What do you mean by telling me stories which are not true and causing so much mischief? was the greeting he received. It in no wise, however, perturbed him, for he answered calmly and respectfully:

"If you say I am a bad Chinaman, Miss Lund, then a bad Chinaman I be, but I not tell you any stories that not be true."

"What about Mrs. Wong's trip to San Francisco?"

"Yes, I hear about that; plenty Chinamen talk about it," said Wah Lee, "and I intend first time I see you to tell you that you make mistake. I not say that Mrs. Wong go find husband for her daughter. I say she go find wife for her son Charlie."

"Did you tell me that, Wah?"

"Yes, Miss Lund."

"It may be, dear," said Miss Hastings with a little twinkle in her eye, "that someone else has made a mistake--not Wah Lee."

"Nonsense, it is impossible. You told me just what I wrote, Wah, otherwise it would not have been written."

"Yes, I told you that what you wrote in your book," assented the Chinaman, "but not what you wrote in the paper. ""Perhaps the printer make mistake," he added brightly.

"No, no," said Miss Lund, "it's either you or I, Wah. However, here's the proof. As you say, I put down what you told me in my notes."

She hurriedly turned over the pages of the book referred to until she reached one dated the day she had last been at the Mission, then read aloud:

"Mrs. Wong has gone to San Francisco to find a wife for her son, Charlie--"

She threw the book on the table.

"I knew Wah was all right," exclaimed Miss Hastings.

"Indeed he is and I humbly beg his pardon," said the reporter, extending her hand to the Chinaman, who shook it calmly, a smile on his face.

"Wah has appeared to be very happy these last few days," remarked Miss Hastings.

"That be on account of that story. I be very grateful to you Miss Lund."

The young women laughed at what they took to be a joke and feeling better than when she entered the Mission Miss Lund departed. She had reached the corner of the street when a timid pull at her dress from behind arrested her, and turning she beheld a pretty young Chinese girl.

"Did you wish to speak to me?" asked the reporter.

"I--I Lady, will you be so kind as to tell me if you write for the papers?"

"Why, yes--sometimes."

"I thought so," said the girl, her face brightening. "I have seen you going into the mission across the street and Wah Lee has told me that you visit him to get news of the Chinese."

"Oh, indeed! Are you one of Wah Lee's friends?"

"I am Anna Wong. That is my American name. My Chinese name is Mai Gwi Far, which means a rose."

"Anna Wong! Why, you are just the little girl I have wanted to meet."

"How glad I am. I have been wanting to speak to you for some time. Please don't think I mean to be bold, but may I ask you if you wrote that article in the paper--about my mother."

"I did."

"Ah! I was right then that I had you to thank for saving me from much misery."

"No need to thank me, poor child!"

"Yes, you and Wah Lee, for I know he told you. Wah Lee and I are friends, though my parents do not know. If they did, they would be very angry, for they keep to all the Chinese customs and think it is not proper for a man and a maid to become friends with one another until after they are married."

"And you think differently!"

"Lady," said she, "When a Chinese girl is born in America and learns in an American school, how can be the same as a Chinese girl who is born and brought up in China?"

"I see," said Miss Lund, "You were born and brought up here. That accounts for your American tongue, I suppose. Wah Lee is a clever boy, but he does not speak as well you do."

"That is because he has had to work all day while I have been at school."

"Come with me to Leschi Park? I would like to have a chat with you," proposed the American girl. The Chinese girl assented, a passing car was hailed and the two were soon out in the open, the blue sky above them, the mountains in the distance, the still lake before them, and peace and pleasantness around.

Miss Lund drew in a big breath of the sweet invigorating air, then turned to her young companion.

"Does Wah Lee love you?" she enquired.

Anna started, then answered happily enough, "He has not said so, but as he told you to write that in the paper I am sure that he does. I suppose he thought when Ju Chu heard about it that he would give up the idea of marrying me."

"Here's another mistake to be rectified," thought the reporter, but kept her silence.

"Sometimes I have thought that he did not care, but this proves I was wrong, does it not?"

"From what Wah Lee has said to me I am sure that he cares for you," replied Miss Lund, remembering Wah Lee's thanks, and Anna continued:

"Mother did go to San Francisco to see about a wife for my brother, Charlie, so it was not all untrue--what Wah Lee said. Don't you think a story like that can be excused? It was just to save me from Ju Chu."

"But your mother doesn't approve of your being saved, does she?"

"No! poor mother and father! They say no Chinaman will want me now. But I think one will, don't you?"

This question was put most anxiously.

"I know one who will," answered Miss Lund, contemplating the red vine leaf mouth, the long black eyes and pretty form Wah Lee had so admirably described.

The Chinese girl smiled a happy smile.

"You are most sweet to say that," lisped she.

"Do you love Wah Lee?"

"I have not let him know."

"But you will now that he has let you know, will you not?"

"Do you think that would be wise?"


"But my father and mother--they would not approve of my marrying a man who is a slave in China."

"He is not a slave here, and you are an American girl."

"No, I am Chinese and so is Wah Lee."

"Yes, but you have always lived in this country and can have no wish to live in China."

"Oh, lady, that has been the fear of my life--that my parents would marry me to some Chinaman who would take me away from America. This is the country in which I was born. I know no other."

"If you marry Wah Lee, you can stay here always, for he tells me he will never return to China."

"But my parents!"

"No matter what they have said, I do not think they will object to Wah Lee now. Have you not just now told me that their great fear is that no man will take you from them."

"Ah, yes."

"Naturally then they will be very glad if Wah Lee makes an offer. And when you are safely married other Chinamen will come forward for your sisters. You will help your family by becoming Wah Lee's wife."

"Do you really think so?"

"Of course. The thing now to be done is to let Wah Lee [end of page 20] understand that you care for him."

"And it will be all right--it will not be bold."

"It will be all right."

"You will not tell my mother that it was Wah Lee who said that she had gone to San Francisco to find a husband for me."

"How could I tell such a story about Wah Lee?"

Miss Lund and Miss Hastings were discussing the event of the day to them.

"It is the prettiest wedding that has ever taken place here," murmured Miss Hastings. "If all mistakes turned out as happily as did this one of yours, there would be little to regret."

"Oh," replied Miss Lund, laughing mischievously, "There were more mistakes than mine. Little Anna took for granted that Wah got the article published in order to drive Ju Chu away, and thereupon came to the conclusion that Wah was in love with her."

"You don't mean to say that you allowed Anna to believe that and encouraged her to reveal her love for the man before he had spoken himself."

"I acknowledge my transgression. My sin is ever before me."

"You wicked girl!"

"I only wish it were true that Wah had manufactured the tale to gain his ends. It would have been so much more romantic."

"I don't care for romance; I like a man I can trust."

"Then, as he still remains a man after your own heart, you need not scold, Fan. It was plain to me that those two children loved one another. Wah would never have dared to reveal what he felt had he not received some encouragement. As to Anna--how could I rob her of the proof to her of her lover's love?"

"I'm afraid you allow your good nature to override your principles."

"So would you in my place. Now, own up that "All's well that ends well," and be glad over the success of my mistake."

Even as she said this, Wah Lee and Mai Gwi Far were telling one another that their coming together had surely been ordained by Heaven.
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Author:Far, Sui Sin
Publication:Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Article Type:Short story
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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