The story of Dilkusha in Mary Taylor’s words:
From: Chain of Amber, by Mary Linley Taylor.
The Book Guild Ltd. 1992 (written 35 years earlier)
1. The land
Soon after arriving in Seoul, Mary Taylor climbed the hill to the north-west of Seoul just outside the city walls, overlooking Independence Gate on one side and Sajik Shrine on the other. An enormous, very ancient ginkgo tree stood there. She saw it would be a wonderful site for a house. She was told the land belonged to a non-resident Englishman. One day, her husband ‘Bruce’ was playing poker with an acquaintance. Coming home, he tells his wife what happened (p186):
‘The owner of that property with the Ginkgo tree has died. It is for sale,’ said Davie, arranging his poker hand. (He was the trustee of this property.)
‘How much?’ I said, opening.
‘100,000,’ he replied, placing his bet on the table.
‘It's mine,’ I said, calling his hand.
‘Done,’ and Davie pulled in the winnings.
Now, I could drink the toast. Kimboy refilled our glasses and we drank to : 'OUR NEW HOME'.
When Kim Chusa heard the news next day, I expected him to be tremendously excited. But just how he felt about anything no one could ever know, because his Confucian training made it bad form for him to show any emotion. I found this aspect of Kim Chusa disconcerting. I wondered if his family were ever permitted to ruffle this mask of composure that he carried about so consistently with him, so that for me he had become like a character on the stage. I often tried by various ruses to break down some of these fixations. As, for instance, the idea that a gentleman never hurries. I would get ahead and turn back to speak to him over my shoulder. But always I had to stand still, myself, and wait for him to catch up at his normal pace. Sometimes, I tried to get him to carry a parcel - another thing that his code forbade. He took it politely from me and bowed himself out. But, when I looked from the window, he was always followed by Kong Saban, trotting along behind, carrying the parcel as a faithful attendant should.
Bruce and I and even the architect, who accompanied us, were puffing not a little as we climbed up the steep hill towards the Ginkgo tree. But not so Kim Chusa, he did not appear to be making the slightest effort. The dogs rushed ahead and waited for us, wagging their tails and already lying in the cool shade under the tree, so we too paused to catch our breath and to revel in our new possession.
It lay on a slope with the great Pukhan (North Mountain) behind it. Peking Pass was to the west, and it was bounded on the east by the Ancient City Wall of Seoul, that lay in the valley below. The exact site for the house would be determined by the Japanese law which forbade any building to be above the eye-level of the Mejii Shrine, halfway up Nam San, (South Mountain), opposite us, on the other side of the city.
This was familiar ground to Kim Chusa and he brought with him a document from his family archives, which was of tremendous interest to us. This paper, dated 1600 AD, showed that this property bore the name then as today, 'Eum Chong Dong' meaning 'Silver Nut Valley'. He reasoned that the tree must have been at least 200 years old at that time for it to have been important enough to have given its name to the valley. So, by this reckoning, it would be about 600 years old. Now Ginkgos were always planted in Korea, he said, in sacred places. So it was probable that there had been a shrine here at one time.
'In any case,' he continued, 'The Koreans from the villages around about here have worshipped this tree for generations and prayed to it for sons.' 'But why should they pray to the tree for children, Kim Chusa?' I interrupted. He pointed with his hand across the Peking Pass as he replied 'Over there, Puen (lady), once stood another Ginkgo tree as old as this. It died some time ago and without it this one cannot be fertilized. So now as you can see, it bears no silver nuts, but it still stands for fecundity and to this mother tree, women still pray for the blessing of sons.'
As he spoke he picked up a leaf and laid it on his palm. He pointed out that its shape was like a little hand with thumb and half closed fingers. As the leaf hangs front the tree, its movement is a downward drawing-in motion, like the Korean manner of beckoning. Kim Chusa made the gesture and I saw that it was the opposite of ours, which is an upward one. Beckoning hands, I thought, and in all the future years, in my coming and going this tree will beckon to me.
2. The neighborhood
Kim Chusa was looking very thoughtful. I could sense that he had something further on his mind. He waited until Bruce joined us. Then he gave his characteristic little cough and held his delicate hand to his mouth before speaking:
'Chuen and Puen (Master and Lady),' he said, looking from one to the other of us, to be sure that he had our undivided attention. 'This property has always been public ground. Even the Englishman though he planted the orchard never built here. There has always been undisturbed access to the tree and the well.' And when I looked about me I saw as many paths from the spot as spokes of a wheel.
'I am afraid there will be trouble if you close it in.'
He concluded his speech by shaking his head and reiterating the mournful Korean expression for bad luck, 'Chamie Upso, Chamie Upso.'
'We won't close all the paths at once,' Bruce replied, as we walked toward the well. This was a spring of very pure water, deep in the ground. It was buttressed all round by rocks and there were broad steps down into it. Kim Chusa unfolded his document and spread it out on the flat surface of a rock. The pointing with his long forefinger to some Chinese characters, he read: 'Gatchi Samuri' (Magpie Spring). He looked up into the Ginkgo tree, under which the spring was situated.
'They named this spring for the gatchis, that have been coming here for centuries. They are the messengers of good omen,' he said, 'and they must never be frightened away.' Above us in the branches these blue-black birds, with their white breasts and white-tipped wings, were busy building their nests and making a great deal of noise about it as though they were trying to frighten us away.
Bruce, who had been examining the well remarked that we would use this one for our drinking water. 'We'll put double doors across it and lock it up,' he said. Kim Chusa glanced up nervously. Bruce read his thoughts. 'Don't worry, Kim Chusa,' he said, 'there are two more wells and we'll keep one open for the Koreans.'
We proceeded down the garden-to-be to look at the 'Stag' and 'Snake' wells; and as we went I pictured terracing these slopes. 'We'll leave the Stag Well for the Koreans,' Bruce said, 'and build a house down there for Kimboy and his family.'
3. Building begins
Before long, the rock had been blasted away and the ground levelled for the foundation of our house. I watched the gang of coolies, with the white cloths bound round their heads, which they used alternately for towels, as they cleared the ground laid out for the house. They used Korean shovels, strange labour-saving tools with handles five feet long with an iron shoe, not as wide as our spades, but with a better cutting capacity. Several ropes were attached on either side of the shoe, and the leader placed the point of it into the ground and the four to six men pulled, lustily, upon the ropes making the earth fly. At the same time, they sang a song in a minor key to keep the timing. The very large boulders were carried in a sort of sling, dangling from a pair of poles laid across the shoulders of two stout coolies. Stakes and strings were laid out. But it seemed to me, glancing at them for the first time, that the space looked much too small. In a contemplative mood, I moved a few stakes and lengthened the strings and thought no more about it.
The next step was to lay the cornerstone. It was a huge block of granite which required the strength of four oxen to pull up the hill on a cart and a large gang of coolies to wrestle it into place. As our site was so high on the hill and there was no road of any consequence leading up to it, all the building materials had to be brought up on ox-cart and jiggy-back. The jiggy is the most useful of all Korean forms of transportation and is a most adaptable contraption. It consists of two strong forked sticks, with two cross pieces. It resembles a chair with the front legs cut off. The back of it lies flat against the bearer's back, and the load is carried on the seat (as it were), supported by loops around the coolie's shoulders. A strong man can carry up to four-hundred pounds in weight on his jiggy. He carries a medium length stick with a small prong at the top which he uses to lever himself up when the weight is on his back, and which he also uses to make a third leg for the jiggy when setting it down. It will stand fully supported while he rests.
4. The neighbors protest
The mass of our materials, such as bricks and cement and the largest stones, were brought on bullock carts. The streets up from the main road of the Peking Pass were so narrow, it was inevitable that these carts drew a great deal of attention to themselves among the villagers, and forcibly advertised the fact that foreigners were about to build a house near the sacred precincts of the Ginkgo Tree. They were aroused to indignation at this sacrilege of their shrine, just as Kim Chusa had feared. They could not be expected to believe but that in the building of the house on the hill they would be shut off from the 'Magpie Well' and the Ginkgo Tree. With intent to protect their privileges, they ruthlessly attacked the carts, overturning them and dumping out the contents. When Bruce heard the uproar in the village, he went down to investigate. 'Suh Yang Saram, Suh Yang Saram,' they shouted. 'Musm Iso? Suh Yang Saram. ' (Foreigner, Foreigner, what is your business here? Foreigner from the Western Seas.) Grasping the situation at once, Bruce approached the headman. It took all his knowledge of Korean psychology, so ably expressed in fluent Korean, plus the impact of his forceful personality to check this demonstration. The crowd dispersed, but not until a Mutang (witch woman) had hurled her imprecations and invoked the Spirits of all the Animistic World to bring down vengeance on the foreigner, who had angered them by taking possession of their stronghold.
'The Spirit of the Place will be revenged. You will wither. Many evils will befall your family and your house will be consumed by fire!' She shrieked hysterically in her cracked voice, her snake-like fingers making cabalistic signs. And so it came to pass that the house was built under' the protection of the Japanese police. We gave little credence to the mutang's curse since the house was constructed of stone and brick, with a tiled roof, and stood isolated from neighbours.
Months later when the front of the house with its porches and their pillars were completed, it was noticed that they were unevenly spaced. I was terrified at this evidence of my meddling with the strings; because the whole frontage had to be pulled down and again rebuilt. I kept my own secret. The completion of the building was delayed by several months.
5. The house is finished
When all was in readiness, the cornerstone was engraved with the name of our house. From that moment in India when first I saw 'The Palace of Heart's Delight', I had dreamed of this moment when I would bestow upon our home the name: 'DILKUSHA'. Upon the stone under the name, Bruce had engraved ‘Psalm 127, Verse 1’:
'Except the Lord build the house,
They labour in vain that build it:
Except the Lord keep the city,
The watchman waketh but in vain.'
This verse was more appropriate than might be supposed at a casual reading. For, in the first place, we had encountered exceptional difficulties in building it and, in the second place, the watchman's grinding rattle warding off evil as he paced his beat along Peking Pass Road came up to us every night at midnight during all the years we lived there.
6. The original interior of the house
Building and furnishing a house in Korea is not the simple thing it is in an even climate. The house itself, with its owner, has to enter the battle against the seasons and becomes a friendly ally and bulwark, protecting its occupants from the elements. It changes its dress as drastically as do its inmates from winter to summer. It must both shut out the snows and let in the sunshine, as well as ensnare any vagrant cooling breezes and exclude the blazing heat and downpours of torrential rain. In the winter, there would be double storm doors and windows, heavy draperies and rugs, with screens restricting the areas to be heated by huge stoves augmenting the fireplaces. In the summer, every aperture would be thrown open, covered only by mosquito-tight screening, bamboo poles put over the porches to upheld carefully nurtured and trained vines to invite cooling shade.
It was spring when we moved in. The large hall, downstairs, forty-five feet in length, darkened by the massive porch, was consequently painted with a golden-yellow wash – wallpapers in Korea are taboo due to the heavy rainy seasons which cause the walls to develop mouldy patches.
Whatever they might be painted originally this moss-green colour would inevitably appear on all the walls. There were three French doors, as well as the front door, which opened out on the porch. A massive dark oak staircase with carved balustrade and little landings had come from a dismantled, European-style Korean palace. Each baluster was carved with a Korean peony. Underneath the stairs was a trap door with steps that led to the cellar below. here wood and coal were stored - and wine.
There was a wide deep inglenook with its red brick fireplace in the centre of the back wall, flanked on either side with high-backed settles. At the other end of the room, was an enormous stove, indispensable in winter but which was moved out in summer. From it, trailing diagonally across the ceiling and suspended from the heavy beams, which would otherwise have been a handsome decoration to the room, was a large black stove-pipe which penetrated the fireplace chimney. Its gashing hole in the bricks I covered in the summer with a wooden shield decorated with armorial bearings.
In the corner not far from the stove stood the icebox. It had no choice because that was the only spot where it could drip through the floor without doing damage to anything beneath it in the cellar. The ice was brought in the winter six miles, by ox-cart, from the Han River and was packed in sawdust underground where it remained the whole year through. We only used ice in summer. In winter, anything could be frozen by leaving it in any room without a fire. At the opposite end of the room, the massive sideboard sat smugly at home at last. The elephant's foot in the centre of it no longer appeared aggressively large. At the foot of the stairs a loud-ticking, soft-striking grandfather clock presided over the room. One could not but feel its disapproval of the stove-pipe's antics and the icebox's misbehaviour, This room we used for large dinner parties, receptions, and dances.
In the east wing, was the regular dining room, which also contained a fireplace and a stove. Its many windows framed a picture of the Ginkgo tree. Behind this room were the service quarters. The kitchen floor was of stone and the cooking was done on an old-fashioned coal range. There were larders and storerooms and a fine view of the blasted rock wall.
The west wing was closed from the hall by arched double doors, also brought from the ex-palace, as were the buff and blue tiles, that lined all the passages and bathrooms throughout the house. The two large rooms in this wing together with the bath and dressing rooms were now used as a nursery for our small son. It would later be used as a guest wing.
The second floor was laid out in much the same manner as the first. Over the hall in the centre was a drawing room of like proportions. This room was on the second floor by choice as it afforded a superb view of the city below and the mountains beyond and on clear days, a glimpse of the Han River. Here French windows also opened out on the top porch. In hot weather with the aid of bamboo poles and by permitting the wisteria to cover them, the whole terrace was shaded and the pastel blue walls of the room inside became green as a glen. There were windows in the rear wall permitting cross ventilation. Here as downstairs we had a fireplace and an inglenook. We
regulated the size of the room by the use of Korean screens, which were made for this, purpose when used in palaces. There were ten-panelled screens which stood ten feet high, every panel a separate work of art either in embroidery or painting. We could expand and contract the room very much like a concertina.
This room was really the living heart of the house. In it were all the things we treasured most and associated intimately with in our leisure hours. Here were gathered not only Bruce's original collection from the little home at West Gate, but all those other things I had craved when I saw them in the curio store. To the black-lacquered mother-of-pearl inlaid wedding chests were added red-lacquered ones. Comfortable divans and armchairs, with numerous cushions, were keyed to the colouring of the room. Palace tables of red lacquer, low and round, with smooth tops and beautifully carved legs, were ideal for individual refreshment needs.
7. A house full of treasures
The lacquered cupboards were full of treasures and relics of Korea's past – document boxes, painted panels, Buddhist rosaries, and sheathed knives. These latter are peculiar to Korea and are fitted with silver chopsticks. The handles are made from amber, jade, quartz, sharkskin, lapis lazuli, turquoise matrix, or sandal wood, carved or plain according to the fancy of the craftsman.
On the mantelpiece, stood a few superb pieces from Bruce's collection of the Koryo celadons. They were of a translucent green very light in colour. Some of them were inlaid with white kaolin and black clay. Where they were cracked they were mended with pure gold. In between them a set of T'ang horses rolled and romped. On one occasion when the French Consul's wife a keen collector, came to call, she exclaimed in ecstasy over these horses.
'But Madame, surely you do not permit your domestiques to dust these!' she cried out with trepidation. 'Never,' I said, proud of my custodianship. Madame Gallois put out her dainty finger, stroking the piece reverently. To my horror, I saw her finger was coated with dust and answered her accusing stare with, 'Evidently, neither do I.'
To the wedding dress in the bridal chest, I had added many other court costumes. In this collection, Kim Chusa had helped me greatly with his knowledge of their authentic usage. He willingly posed for me in these robes, the while painting verbal pictures of the costumes and manners of Korea's past as I sketched portraits of him. In fact we lived intimately with our treasures, even using them so that they never felt coldly remote as they do in a museum, but were warmed, as it were, to life again over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
In the east wing, was the library and a bedroom with bath and dressing room. The west wing contained my studio and bedroom suite. Here, also, were the household linen and storage cupboards. From each wing there was a bridge, which spanned the gulf between the house and the steeply sloping rock behind the house, leading to a path that ran parallel to the house, and along it all the bath water was carried from the well. These bridges afforded convenient exits when unwanted visitors arrived as well.
One embarrassing visiting event was that which extended over the two weeks of the Korean New Year. I did not know this custom until one day a Korean family, which included grandmother and grandfather, mother and father, and several children, sauntered into my bedroom in their New Year dress. The padded white clothing and fur-trimmed hats of the men gave them the appearance of Eskimos. The women were more elegant in green and wine-coloured silk coats and the children wore brilliant little jackets, with sleeves striped in all the colours of the rainbow. They all wore padded white socks and had left their shoes outside. They bowed politely as though permitting me to remain where they had found me. After exclaiming, 'Aigo, Aigo' an expression of admiration which sounded to me like 'I go, I go,' they actually did go! I followed them out of curiosity and saw them enter every room in the house, including the toilets, where they gazed with curiosity into what they took to be a little well. Not even the children put out a hand to touch anything and when they spoke, it was in whispers. I took Kimboy aside and asked him what this was all about. 'A New Year Koogyang,' (Look see), he said that gave them the privilege of entering and exploring any or all foreign houses that aroused their interest. Better mannered people I never saw outside of a church.
9. Bruce’s collection of treasures
These are the experiences that lend a fairy-tale quality to life in the Orient. In some ways, one gets so much more than one expects and, in others, so much less than what one counts on, that life is filled with an infinite variety. On the third floor, were several small rooms. In the best of these, with a good north light, was Bruce's 'museum'. Here he had cupboards lined with black velvet, to house his collection of Korean Art. There were shelves on shelves of reference books and catalogues, to facilitate his exhaustive study of these things. It was during the early days of mining in Korea that most of these treasures had come to light. When the Korean miners found that foreigners were mad enough to exchange tobacco and even money for broken bowls and pots, they did some extra excavating on their own.
Among Bruce's collection, were a variety of things, which I found most fascinating: there were very long-bowled and handled spoons, green with the patina of age. There were coins that were most decorative and interesting. Among these were pony-coins. They were saucer-size brass discs, with the heads of horses, numbering from one to ten, cut through in silhouette, one profile behind the other. These were granted to travellers of importance by the local magistrate and gave the recipient the right to demand as many horses on his journey as were depicted on the coin. There were animals in baked clay that had been thrown about the mountain slopes to persuade their living counterparts to remain up there and not come down and trample the rice fields. There were seals and buckles and buttons of most unusual design and a spirit tablet believed by the natives to actually contain the departed spirit itself. No Korean was ever told about this possession, as his feelings would have been inexpiably outraged.
But it was the pottery and its history that Bruce loved most. Mingling in the many specimens were unglazed earthenware bowls, some stone pots with three legs that stood on stands, evidently for heating food. But the finest of all the glazed pieces dated from 900 to 1300 AD. These were so delicate and restrained in design that authorities say they were unequalled by the finest ever produced anywhere in the world. China, who was the neighbour with whom Korea at this time shared a remarkable development in ceramic art, each contributing to the other's growth, admitted this supremacy.
It is interesting that there is a museum specimen of a wine vessel from an early period in Korea of a clumsily-mounted horseman with saddle and stirrups, modelled centuries before stirrups were known in Europe. During the Hideyoshi invasion, of Korea, when many of the cities were looted, some of these great potters were taken back to Japan, where this art has continued to flourish to the present day.
I was the only other person besides himself whom Bruce trusted to handle and take care of these pieces, many of which were undeniably masterpieces. He shared with me fragments of his remarkable knowledge on this subject, we would work together in his museum for hours on end, and it was a bond which drew us very closely together.
10. The garden
While the house was being finished and the furniture installed, work was going on in the garden. It was being terraced and graded, rutted and planted. Mountains of azaleas were moved down by jiggy on the backs of small boys who with their rosy cheeks and long pigtails looked like girls. Box, forsythia, and hibiscus hedges were planted so that there were gardens within gardens; rose gardens, vegetable and strawberry gardens, gardens where we had tea and even gardens wherein one could lose oneself to enjoy hours of contemplation.
As I stood on the massive one-piece slabs of granite used for our front steps – all Korea is a country of granite – I looked down the newly completed driveway. It levelled in a wide arc before the house, then curving under the Ginkgo tree it swept down the hill to the gatehouse at the bottom. I knew I was ready to welcome our first guest - none other than my mother from England.
11. Bishop Trollope blesses the house
At a tea
party given in her honour at which Bishop Trollope and Father Hunt were
present, the subject of the Korean curse on the house came up. They suggested
we offset its ill effects, if any, by performing the ceremony of blessing the
house. This delightful rite appealed to us all, including Una, Florence, and
Brother Bill. Bruce ever impatient to translate ideas into action promptly set
a date for this observance. When the day arrived and we were all gathered
together, we followed the Bishop, looking very grand with staff and mitre, from
room to room as he pronounced a brief blessing. The ceremony ended with the
singing of a hymn, which still rings in my memory. This always, vividly,
recalls to me the peculiar blending of incense with the smell of fresh plaster
- a strange intermingling of the very new with the very old.
beneath thy starry dome
We light this little lamp of home,
And where bewildering shadows throng
Uplift our prayer and evensong.
Dost Thou with heaven in Thy Ken
Still seek a dwelling place with men?
Wandering the earth in ceaseless quest
O Man of Nazareth be our Guest.'
And, so, it happened that one woman's dream came true. Thoughts are powerful factors in our lives and, as I looked back, it seemed to me that every desire of which I had been capable had been fulfilled, and that the beads upon my chain of amber were symbols of these things, and that the chain, itself, had fashioned the pattern of my life from earliest childhood. Had I not dreamed to the point of certainty that I would travel and visit many lands? Had I not believed that there was an art of living that could be applied so that I could be happy under any circumstances – an art that would make it possible for one whose roots had been set in English soil to flourish in this far-off land of Korea? Had I not dreamed that love embellished by romance, without which I would not have been able to recognize it, would be mine? Had I not envisaged a home that would be a fitting sanctuary for this love, and was it not now a fact in brick and stones? And was not a child the necessary fruit of all this planning, and had I not been thus blest?
Next morning, the first flight of pigeons flew in and came to roost upon our roof. I listened to them saying - 'ped-dul-ky, ped-dul-ky' and thought how right it was that the Korean's name for them is ped-dul-ky. It seemed that the harsh 'gatchi' cries of the magpies in the Ginkgo tree were somewhat counteracted by their soft little cooing 'ped-dul-kies' as they strutted in and out busily building their nests in the dovecotes we had built on the roof. Watching these birds should have reminded us of the one thing in the building of our own home that we had forgotten!
[Bruce falls gravely ill with a kind of sprue, and he leaves for California to be treated while Mary takes her mother around Korea before going to join her husband in California, together with her son and her mother.]
I put our son into boarding school and sought solace by attending the California School of Fine Arts. (. . .) Here I made many good and lasting friendships – the one bright spot in those terrible years. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I know not which, Bruce was at the apartment at the time the cable from Seoul was delivered. I opened it and read:
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING,
COMPLETELY DESTROYED. Signed Bill.'
'Chamie Upso, Chamie Upso.' (Bad Luck, Bad Luck). The words forced themselves to my lips. I could not hold them back. Bitterly, I remembered and believed for the only time that the curse was working actively in our lives. For from the day the altar had been bared, bad luck had dogged our footsteps. The loss of our house was a terrible blow to Bruce, and casting about in my mind for words to comfort him, as well as myself, I recalled the incident that had occurred during that afternoon when I was crossing on the ferryboat to Alameda from school. My amber chain whose cord had worn threadbare had caught and snapped. But for the knots between each bead, the whole string would have been lost to me forever for they would have rolled into the sea. That they had not, and that I still possessed my chain and amulet seemed to encourage my faith and trust and gave me hope that tomorrow things would surely take a turn for the better. The next day's mail brought us the news of Kimboy's death.
The doctors had said that if Bruce could pass six months without a recurrence of the sprue, he could go back to Korea. Though he had actually only reached the five-month-mark Bruce said that if he had to stay in California another month he would surely die. Everything needed his attention in Korea, and there was little doubt in my mind that Bruce would have his way with the doctor.
But, since there was no home to go back to, it was decided that when he left for Korea, I should proceed with our little boy to England, where he could be left in the care of my brother and sister-in-law and attend school. After a few uneasy months in England, I tore myself away in time to intercept at San Francisco the first of several cables advising me to return at once to Korea. In Honolulu, I received yet another and I thought I would never arrive in time to see Bruce alive.
14. Mary returns to Korea and to Dilkusha
On 14 September 1930, my birthday, [this date seems doubtful, it might rather have been a year earlier, in 1929] the ship docked at Yokohama, Japan, and Bruce was there to greet me! Again he had obstinately defied doctor's orders to carry out his fixed principle of meeting me however, wherever, and whenever I might arrive !
We returned to Korea and went to the Chosen Hotel. Nothing was said about 'Dilkusha' or Kimboy. We avoided the subject of our tragedy, except that Bruce did tell me that my dogs had also died.
As soon as Bruce was sufficiently recovered from the exertions of the trip, we drove up to 'Dilkusha'. I could see the top of the Ginkgo tree from afar, but I was not trying to see anything else. I steeled my heart to the picture of the bare ground, piled with debris. The gateman, Hang Doo, and his family met us. I noticed that his younger brother, Nom Doo, had grown into a fine young man during our several years absence.
As we went on foot up the drive, I saw that the bushes of box had grown so that they now joined each other and formed the border that we had planned. At the 'magpie well' we paused under the Ginkgo tree. Unable to speak, I looked towards the altar and saw a five-storeyed, stone pagoda standing to the right of it. Pagodas, unlike their counterparts in India that are associated with the dead, are placed in Korea near shrines and temples. This one was covered with green moss and looked as though it had been there for centuries.
'Was it spirited here?' I asked, still in a daze.
'By ox-cart,' Bruce laughed, 'and carried piece by piece on jiggies. It's my birthday gift to you, Peter.'
'Thank you, beloved,' I said. 'Perhaps it will dispel the curse the mutang put on us when we first built here. And, now that the spirits have seen their words come true and the house destroyed by fire, they will find it in their hearts to forgive us.'
'Curse, nothing. Forget it. It was our fault. We forgot to install a lightning-conductor. Remember, Mary, that blessings are just as omnipotent as curses, and the house was blessed.'
'I've never forgotten that,' I said. 'I'm counting on that through thick and thin.'
I turned to follow Bruce who had walked ahead. I stared. Was I dreaming? For there ... there instead of a blackened ruin stood 'Dilkusha', rebuilt.
'Brother Bill did it,' Bruce said. 'He thought we'd like to find a place to hang our hats. Good old Bill.'
With full hearts we stepped inside the house together. But I was unprepared for what I saw, and it was a distinct shock. Piled in the middle of the room were odds and ends of furniture - all styles, materials, and colours. Throw it out was my first thought. 'What awful junk,' I said out loud.
'Bill picked it up at auctions. It's all we've got,' said Bruce.
My eyes sought the clock, the sideboard, the elephants foot, but there was nothing in the familiar places. 'All gone!' l said, hollowly. 'The very heart of the house 'Not the heart,' Bruce corrected, emphatically, 'only the stomach. You can put the heart back,' and he patted me as one pats a good dog whom one encourages to do his trick. Then, tenderly he added: 'Don't forget that crushed amber can be made again into bright beads.'
As we walked about the house, our feet echoed on the as yet unstained floors. Wherever I looked, blank walls returned my stare. What had been saved, such as the staircase, I took for granted—cupboards, chests, screens, and the entire library were conspicuous by their absence. And suddenly, I thought of Bruce's collection of art treasures in the attic and turned to go up. But there were no more stairs. I found myself gazing into a void.
'The Koryo celadons?' I whispered.
'All gone,' Bruce replied in a low tight tone. At that, we caught each other's hands in a strong grip of sympathy and understanding and walked out on the top porch and looked across the city to Kwanik San.
'Will the pigeons come back, do you suppose?' l asked, to break the spell, listening vainly for their ped-dul-kies. And the magpies, who probably never had left except to migrate, reassured us by their belligerent chatter.
15. Starting again
One can lose the material bulwark of a home, but home is a product of the heart and mind and imagination. No matter that we had lost all our treasures – we had the walls of brick and mortar and we accepted the challenge to re-create the home which we had thought a fait accompli. It is much more stimulating to take the raw material again and dream them with diligent perseverance into the finished product than to merely bask in their ownership, if only such a point of view can be grasped.
Beautiful objects enrich our lives. It is not always necessary that we possess them permanently. I was grateful for what they had given me while I had them. Such gifts can never be taken away, once they have become an intrinsic part of us – part of our eternal selves, as it were. I hoped that I might be able to carry this understanding newly-awakened with these earthly losses, with me into the forming of a philosophy so comforting that it would make me able to accept and bear and rise above even the loss of loved ones, when such might occur.
Before very long, the house began to look like a real home again. The family were all so sorry for us, that they sent out things that they would not otherwise have parted with. Father sent a rhinoceros foot made into a tobacco jar to replace the elephant's. Its lid was a solid piece of hide, polished until it looked like clouded amber and had a huge eye-tooth for a handle. Mother sent old silver that took the place of new, some fine old Indian drapes, family pictures, etchings and paintings. Even the 'Linley Sisters' dresses, heirlooms for which I had always hankered.
From our Curio Store, in Seoul, we gathered a new collection of cupboards, chests, and screens to replenish the house. Bruce collected books, which gradually lined the walls of his room again, with an occasional piece of very rare Koryo celadon. I made trips to Peking and came back with mandarin coats, embroideries and objets d'art of all sorts.
A garden always benefits by time. Every tree, bush, and perennial had flourished under Nam Han's and later, Nam Doo's care, for they were accomplished gardeners. We soon recognized that Nam Doo could make a good houseboy, as he was interested in foreign ways and customs, and in a short time he took up Kimboy's duties. It amused me to watch the skilful way Fatima, the housemaid, padded the Korean clothes and the eebuls (Bed covers). The raw cotton was laid on top of an envelope of cloth and sewn there. Then, putting her knees on it, she rolled it, turned it quickly inside out, and, as if by magic, the article was finished!
16. Problems with cooking
In the earliest days of the foreigners in Korea, the ambassadors and ministers from Europe brought with them for their legations, their own, finely-trained chefs. Incidentally these artists trained their Korean assistants to cook. So that the standard of cooking was very high. Then, came the period of the extensive missionary expansion, when their converts were trained in the traditions of American cooking. The standards were still quite high. But now had come the time when these coveted cooks were growing scarce and foreigners were reduced to drawing on an untrained source for their domestic service.
Our new cook, Yi Saban, a former basket-weaver, had to be taught by me. This meant that we gave no dinner parties, for some time to come. And when we did, I could always count on someone offering to teach him something. I never failed to avail myself of such an offer and eventually his culinary education was really quite broad.
One instance when he tried to demonstrate his progress in recognizing and solving difficulties I think I shall never forget. The fish, which was to have been served for that course, had not been available. But, fish we must have. When I came down before dinner to arrange the flowers, I was in time to catch him diligently dipping out the biggest and fattest gold fish from the aquarium. These he had planned to fry!
Kong Saban, who like Puck still showed no sign of age, continued to carry the bath water from the well on his creaking harness, to chop firewood, make coal-dust balls, carry pingies (notes), feed the dogs, and water the garden in his spare time.
17. The dogs
Brother Bill knowing my sorrow over the loss of my dogs, brought me a thoroughbred seven-months-old Alsatian puppy, when he returned from Japan. I called him Jaeger and he was the founder of a dynasty of dogs. All of whom, we taught 'by the book'. In the garden, we had a big wire enclosure with jumps and ladders and other training contraptions. Later, we entered them in contests against their Japanese-owned and trained brethren. Jaeger and his son Rin Tin invariably came off winners. This puzzled the Japanese but even when I told them the secret – that the dogs out of devotion to us gave that last ounce of effort – they could not credit the fact. They do not pet their dogs, as we do.
When the puppies were born they lived in a nursery kennel in the big room under the west wing. This room, with its front glass doors, was a carpenter and dye shop, a storeroom for root vegetables, and bulbs, and held the pump for our water tank in the attic. But for Kong Saban it was a covert, where he could retire for a nap or a smoke, when he thought he was overworked. One day when hunting down the missing Kong Saban, I found him in this cellar-room, very busy laying out a long row of dead rats. Each little body had a small wooden cross stuck in its tummy.
'All same Chlistian,' he said, proudly, and went steadily on at his self-appointed task.
So, little by little, and year by year, 'Dilkusha' rose like a Phoenix from its ashes, and our sense of loss gave place to a perception of gain and achievement. By now I felt assured that the Blessing had asserted itself and the Curse had run out. When Una had returned from the States, feeling quite fit, she came to live with us and used the west wing.