On the afternoon in question, hearing Mr. Taylor speak of going ashore at Sung-kiang Fu, Peter asked to be allowed to accompany him, and listen to anything further he might have to say. To this unexpected proposal Mr. Taylor gladly acceded, and then went into the cabin of the boat to prepare tracts and books for distribution on landing with his Chinese friend.
Suddenly, while thus engaged, he was startled by a loud splash and cry from without. He sprang on deck, and took in the situation at a glance. Peter was gone! The other men were all there, on board, looking helplessly at the spot where he had disappeared, but making no effort to save him. A strong wind was carrying the junk rapidly forward in spite of a steady current in the opposite direction, and the low-lying, shrubless shore afforded no landmark to indicate how far they had left the drowning man behind.
A few moments sufficed for Mr. Taylor to drop the heavy sail and spring overboard in the hope of finding him. Unsuccessful, however, he had to relinquish the effort, and looking around in agonising suspense, discovered some fishermen in a boat at no great distance, manipulating a peculiar kind of dragnet furnished with hooks—just fitted for the purpose he required.
“Come!” cried the missionary at once, as hope revived in his heart. “Come and drag over this spot directly; a man is drowning just here!”
“Veh bin” (It is not convenient), was the unwilling answer.
“Don’t talk of convenience!” cried Mr. Taylor in an agony; “a man is drowning, I tell you!”
“We are busy fishing,” they responded, “and cannot come.”
“Never mind your fishing,” insisted the stranger. “I will give you more money than many a day’s fishing will bring; only come—come at once!”
“How much money will you give us?”
“We cannot stay to discuss that now! Come, or it will be too late. I will give you five dollars” (then worth about thirty shillings in English money).
“We won’t do it for that,” replied the men. “Give us twenty dollars, and we will drag.”
“I do not possess so much,” cried the missionary in despair. “But come quickly, and I will give you all I have!”
“How much may that be?”
“I don’t know exactly, about fourteen dollars.”
At last, but even then slowly enough, the boat was paddled over, and the net let down. Less than a minute sufficed to bring up the body of the missing man, and every effort was promptly made to recall him to consciousness; but all in vain. Clamorous and indignant because their exorbitant demand was not immediately met, the fishermen would hardly wait while efforts at resuscitation were attempted. No thought of the tragedy that had occurred seemed to solemnise their hearts; and none but the missionary in that little group could in the least degree appreciate what had really happened, or the momentous change that had so suddenly overtaken one of their number—all unprepared.
To Mr. Taylor this incident was profoundly sad and full of significance, suggesting a far more mournful reality ever present to his soul. “Were not those fishermen actually guilty,” he writes, “of this poor Chinaman’s death, in that they had the means of saving him at hand, if they would but have used them?
Assuredly they were guilty. And yet, let us pause ere we pronounce judgment against them, lest a greater than Nathan answer, ‘Thou art the man.’ Is it so hard-hearted, so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? Of how much sorer punishment, then, is he worthy who leaves the soul to perish? ‘If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain, … doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth He not know it? and shall He not render to every man according to his works?’ ”
M. Geraldine Guinness, The Story of the China Inland Mission