FICTION

Home Is The Hunter

"We buried the lieutenant where he fell," said Kung Mi. It was a lie . . . but it was also the truth

JOHN CLARE May 1 1947
FICTION

Home Is The Hunter

"We buried the lieutenant where he fell," said Kung Mi. It was a lie . . . but it was also the truth

JOHN CLARE May 1 1947

Home Is The Hunter

JOHN CLARE

"We buried the lieutenant where he fell," said Kung Mi. It was a lie . . . but it was also the truth

UP THE mountain side the trail, winding through thick jungle, had been faint as an echo. Now, at the edge of a cultivated clearing, it came to an end.

Captain Stayner, still puffing from the climb, stood looking across the orderly rows of freshly tilled vegetables and asked himself if he were really hearing music.

“Do you hear it, Henry?” he asked his companion.

“I hear a song. Not Chinese song. Children are singing,” said Henry Liu, his interpreter.

“That’s right. And do you know what they are singing? They’re singing ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm.’ ” Stayner chuckled. “Well, Henry, I’ve heard everything now. Here in the middle of China I hear a bunch of kids singing ‘Old Macdonald.’

C’mon, let’s find out what it’s all about.”

They were halfway across the garden when Stayner saw a child watching them from the other side at the point where the path plunged again into the forest. The child was dressed in the padded blue robe of the Chinese peasant. As they drew near, he turned and scampered down the path.

By the time Stayner and Liu had crossed the clearing, the music had stopped, and before they had gone far down the path they saw a Chinese woman coming to meet them.

She walked with tiny firm steps limited by her

narrow slit robe, which was of the same padded blue cotton the child had worn. She was slim and graceful.

“How do you do,” she said in good English. “I am Dr. Kung Mi.”

“Captain Stayner, and this is my interpreter, Henry Liu.”

As they shook hands Stayner noticed her long oval nails, each one perfect and pointed as a candle flame. Her grip was strong for a woman.

Kung Mi spoke to Henry in Chinese, then turned to Stayner.

“I must say, doctor, I never expected to hear ‘Old Macdonald’ under these circumstances,” said Stayner, smiling at her.

“It’s a song I learned when I went to school in Canada. I have taught it to the children and now it’s their favorite,” said Kung Mi. “We have more than a hundred war orphans here. Their parents were killed by the Japanese, or the families were just swept apart and lost to each other. There is no place for them to go and we have taken over an abandoned Buddhist temple. I would be glad to show you our school. In a moment we will be there.”

“You say ‘we,’ doctor. Do you have a large staff here?”

Kung Mi’s voice was small and very quiet. “No, our staff is mainly my husband and myself. And now here we are.”

Up the steps and through a gate flanked by mosscovered carvings, they walked into a courtyard. Here the children were gathered. Scores of bright eyes watched the newcomers.

Kung Mi turned to the two men.

“When I dismiss the children will you come and take tea with me? Our living quarters are at the rear. We use only part of the temple. During the war we had the school here for reasons of safety and now we have become very attached to this old place.”

Kung Mi gave the dismissal signal and the children’s slippers whispered urgently over the stone flags as they ran to the gateway. Stayner was conscious of being watched from behind every pillar as Kung Mi led the way to her quarters.

It was a single barren room, simple to the point of being primitive. Oiled paper served as windows and the furniture consisted of a table, rude benches and a sleeping platform in one comer.

Kung Mi watched Stayner as he took in the room.

“We live simply because there isn’t much money for our work. And also it is hard to bring things up our mountain,” she explained.

“You wouldn’t have many visitors up here, I guess,” said Stayner.

Kung Mi shook her head slowly.

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Home Is the Hunter

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missionary comes to see us but for the most part we are left to ourselves.”

She went to the door and spoke to someone in Chinese.

“Tea will be here in a moment,” she said, and sat down facing her guests.

Stayner looked at her, so tiny, erect and alive. “You’ve got something real and important here, working for these children,” he said slowly.

Kung Mi smiled. “We don’t think much about anything else. We rarely hear of what’s going on in the world. This has become our world. I look after the health of the children, teach the little girls nursing. My husband gives the boys classes in modern farming. We’re trying to prepare them to go out from this shelter equipped for happy and useful living.”

Stayner nodded. “It must be a very good feeling to know you are helping them. But you and your husband must sometimes feel you are giving up a great deal,” he said.

Kung Mi answered in low even tones.

“I came from a wealthy family in Shanghai. I was supposed to lead the life of a young lady of quality, but at university I,became interested in medicine and went to Canada to study. By t he time I returned the war had started and I began this work among the orphans. I have never regretted it. My family thinks I am crazy. For my husband it was even easier to leave the old life. He had no family, and, perhaps because he was an orphan, he feels this work is more important than anything else he could do.”

“Is your husband a doctor, too?” asked Stayner.

“No, he was an artist. But, now— well, he no longer paints. Don’t feel sorry for us, Captain. Neither of us wants to go back and we are really quite happy here with our large family and our abandoned temple. Ah, here is the tea.”

She took the thick crockery cups with their steaming fragrant tea from one of the older girls who shot shy glances at Stayner.

Stayner sipped his tea and said, “I imagine you are wondering what brings us to this out of the way spot.”

Kung Mi smiled. “It is rather out of the way for travellers.”

“I am with the Air Corps and it is my job to try and find out what happened to all our fliers who went missing during the war. Even though the war has been over for almost two years we are still piecing together the stories of many of these men,” said Stayner. “It means so much to their families.”

Kung Mi nodded.

Stayner continued. “Our reports show that a fighter plane fell on the mountain, not far from your school, a couple of days after the end of the war in China. I wonder if by any chance you could . . .”

“You would mean Lieutenant Moore,” said Kung Mi putting down j her cup.

“That’s right,” said Stayner a little I excitedly. “Can you help us locate him?”

“We buried him where he fell. In the morning I will take you to the place. It is too late in the day to start out now over such a rocky path,” said Kung Mi putting down her cup and standing up.

“That’s fine,” said Stayner. “We’d be very grateful for your help.”

“I will be glad to assist,” said Kung Mi, at the door. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have many things to do. I am sorry, but I wall be unable to join you for supper, there is so much to be done. You see we grow most of our own food here and try to make most of

our clothing. Now if Mr. Liu will come with me I will show him where you can stay tonight. Please feel free to walk around the grounds if you wish. I will see you in the morning.”

She smiled and went out.

KUNG MI led the way into the forest the next morning, followed by Stayner and Henry Liu. The path was overgrown and progress was slow. Several times Kung Mi stumbled and Stayner’s hand saved her from falling.

Her young face still had the glow of old ivory, but there were lines of weariness in it. And the music had almost gone from her voice. It was taut and thin.

Stayner didn’t feel so spry himself. The restless night on a sleeping mat, and the altitude, were taking toll of his middle age.

The grave was in a small open space in the trees where the plane had cut a swath. Stayner noticed the bushes had been cut recently, and the ground was trampled.

Kung Mi watched him.

“I had some work done, Captain,” she said.

The grave was a heap of rocks, almost in the shadow of the broken body of the fighter. A cross made from the slashed hide of the aircraft bore the name, “Lieutenant R. J. Moore.” Stayner walked to the head of the grave and stood there looking down at it. Kung Mi remained near the airplane with one hand grasping a piece of the broken wing. She seemed very small and very taut. Suddenly Stayner noticed her hand on the broken wing. The nails were broken. The slim, strong fingers were cut, the knuckles raw.

Stayner loosened his shirt collar. The air was heavy-charged with pressure, as though it were going to rain. He looked directly at Kung Mi. Her dark eyes never faltered. No one spoke for a long moment.

Slowly Stayner unslung the musette bag he carried on his shoulder. Kung Mi’s eyes gazed at him without wavering. Then Stayner smiled at her gently.

“I have to take some pictures,” he said.

He took out a small camera and made

several shots, moving quickly around the grave. When he was finished he spoke to Kung Mi again.

“Thank you, doctor. Thank you for what you have done,” he said. “And now shall 1 lead the way this time?”

There were no words spoken as they threaded their way down the rocky path to the threshold of Kung Mi’s house. There Stayner paused and waited for the woman and Henry Liu to catch up with him. The universal sound of children at play mingled with the small cries of birds in the forest that crouched over the old temple.

As Kung Mi approached there was a new sound. It came from inside the house. Kung Mi’s eyes turned with alarm to t he door. The sound—a steady tapping—became clearer and a man appeared at the entrance to the house.

He was tall and sandy-haired. He walked with a limp and carried a stick. He wore a much-patched army flying jacket. His eyes were blue and Stayner knew they were sightless.

The man paused at the door and rested his hands on the stick.

“Have they gone, my dear?” he asked in English. “Is it all right?”

Kung Mi’s hands went out to him in a swift gesture of tenderness. Then she checked herself and turned to look at Stayner.

Stayner nodded his head up and down slowly. His lips formed a “Yes.”

Gone was the anxiety and fear that had clouded her face. Kung Mi was smiling now. Her voice tinkled gaily, almost triumphantly as she answered.

“Yes, everything is all right.”

The man smiled.

“Good,” he said. “Now I must go to the children.”

The three stood quietly until he had tapped out of sight, in the direction of the laughing children.

Later, at the jeep, Henry watched Stayner write in his notebook.

“And how will you report this, Captain?” he asked.

Stayner looked back up the mountain trail for a moment without replying.

“Don’t worry about that, Henry,” he said. “They’ll understand. I’ll explain to them that Lieutenant Moore isn’t missing at all—-he’s come home.” jy