A CHINESE WONDER BOOK
NORMAN HINSDALE PITMAN
ILLUSTRATED BY LI CHU-T'ANG
NEW YORK E. P. DUTTON & CO. 681 FIFTH AVENUE
COPYRIGHT, 1919 By E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
All rights reserved
* * * * *
Printed in the United States of America
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Golden Beetle or Why the Dog Hates the Cat 1
The Great Bell 21
The Strange Tale of Doctor Dog 39
How Footbinding Started 52
The Talking Fish 68
Bamboo and the Turtle 88
The Mad Goose and the Tiger Forest 104
The Nodding Tiger 120
The Princess Kwan-Yin 134
The Two Jugglers 147
The Phantom Vessel 160
The Wooden Tablet 172
The Golden Nugget 187
The Man Who Would Not Scold 193
Lu-San, Daughter of Heaven 206
"Snake's blood mixed with powdered deer-horn" Frontispiece
"Here son!" she cried, "look at my treasure!" 8
Clinging to the animal's shaggy hair was Honeysuckle 50
Throwing herself at his feet she thanked him for his mercy 56
"Ah," sighed the turtle, "if only the good god, P'anku, were here" 102
Putting his bill close to her ear, he told Hu-Lin of his recent discovery 108
The tiger gravely nodded his head 130
All day she was busy carrying water 138
Higher and higher he climbed 154
They saw shining in the pathway directly in front of them a lump of gold 188
As she dressed herself she saw with surprise that her fingers were shapely 214
THE GOLDEN BEETLE OR WHY THE DOG HATES THE CAT
"What we shall eat to-morrow, I haven't the slightest idea!" said Widow Wang to her eldest son, as he started out one morning in search of work.
"Oh, the gods will provide. I'll find a few coppers somewhere," replied the boy, trying to speak cheerfully, although in his heart he also had not the slightest idea in which direction to turn.
The winter had been a hard one: extreme cold, deep snow, and violent winds. The Wang house had suffered greatly. The roof had fallen in, weighed down by heavy snow. Then a hurricane had blown a wall over, and Ming-li, the son, up all night and exposed to a bitter cold wind, had caught pneumonia. Long days of illness followed, with the spending of extra money for medicine. All their scant savings had soon melted away, and at the shop where Ming-li had been employed his place was filled by another. When at last he arose from his sick-bed he was too weak for hard labour and there seemed to be no work in the neighbouring villages for him to do. Night after night he came home, trying not to be discouraged, but in his heart feeling the deep pangs of sorrow that come to the good son who sees his mother suffering for want of food and clothing.
"Bless his good heart!" said the poor widow after he had gone. "No mother ever had a better boy. I hope he is right in saying the gods will provide. It has been getting so much worse these past few weeks that it seems now as if my stomach were as empty as a rich man's brain. Why, even the rats have deserted our cottage, and there's nothing left for poor Tabby, while old Blackfoot is nearly dead from starvation."
When the old woman referred to the sorrows of her pets, her remarks were answered by a pitiful mewing and woebegone barking from the corner where the two unfed creatures were curled up together trying to keep warm.
Just then there was a loud knocking at the gate. When the widow Wang called out, "Come in!" she was surprised to see an old bald-headed priest standing in the doorway. "Sorry, but we have nothing," she went on, feeling sure the visitor had come in search of food. "We have fed on scraps these two weeks—on scraps and scrapings—and now we are living on the memories of what we used to have when my son's father was living. Our cat was so fat she couldn't climb to the roof. Now look at her. You can hardly see her, she's so thin. No, I'm sorry we can't help you, friend priest, but you see how it is."
"I didn't come for alms," cried the clean-shaven one, looking at her kindly, "but only to see what I could do to help you. The gods have listened long to the prayers of your devoted son. They honour him because he has not waited till you die to do sacrifice for you. They have seen how faithfully he has served you ever since his illness, and now, when he is worn out and unable to work, they are resolved to reward him for his virtue. You likewise have been a good mother and shall receive the gift I am now bringing."
"What do you mean?" faltered Mrs. Wang, hardly believing her ears at hearing a priest speak of bestowing mercies. "Have you come here to laugh at our misfortunes?"
"By no means. Here in my hand I hold a tiny golden beetle which you will find has a magic power greater than any you ever dreamed of. I will leave this precious thing with you, a present from the god of filial conduct."
"Yes, it will sell for a good sum," murmured the other, looking closely at the trinket, "and will give us millet for several days. Thanks, good priest, for your kindness."
"But you must by no means sell this golden beetle, for it has the power to fill your stomachs as long as you live."
The widow stared in open-mouthed wonder at the priest's surprising words.
"Yes, you must not doubt me, but listen carefully to what I tell you. Whenever you wish food, you have only to place this ornament in a kettle of boiling water, saying over and over again the names of what you want to eat. In three minutes take off the lid, and there will be your dinner, smoking hot, and cooked more perfectly than any food you have ever eaten."
"May I try it now?" she asked eagerly.
"As soon as I am gone."
When the door was shut, the old woman hurriedly kindled a fire, boiled some water, and then dropped in the golden beetle, repeating these words again and again:
"Dumplings, dumplings, come to me, I am thin as thin can be. Dumplings, dumplings, smoking hot, Dumplings, dumplings, fill the pot."
Would those three minutes never pass? Could the priest have told the truth? Her old head was nearly wild with excitement as clouds of steam rose from the kettle. Off came the lid! She could wait no longer. Wonder of wonders! There before her unbelieving eyes was a pot, full to the brim of pork dumplings, dancing up and down in the bubbling water, the best, the most delicious dumplings she had ever tasted. She ate and ate till there was no room left in her greedy stomach, and then she feasted the cat and the dog until they were ready to burst.
"Good fortune has come at last," whispered Blackfoot, the dog, to Whitehead, the cat, as they lay down to sun themselves outside. "I fear I couldn't have held out another week without running away to look for food. I don't know just what's happened, but there's no use questioning the gods."
Mrs. Wang fairly danced for joy at the thought of her son's return and of how she would feast him.
"Poor boy, how surprised he will be at our fortune—and it's all on account of his goodness to his old mother."
When Ming-li came, with a dark cloud overhanging his brow, the widow saw plainly that disappointment was written there.
"Come, come, lad!" she cried cheerily, "clear up your face and smile, for the gods have been good to us and I shall soon show you how richly your devotion has been rewarded." So saying, she dropped the golden beetle into the boiling water and stirred up the fire.
Thinking his mother had gone stark mad for want of food, Ming-li stared solemnly at her. Anything was preferable to this misery. Should he sell his last outer garment for a few pennies and buy millet for her? Blackfoot licked his hand comfortingly, as if to say, "Cheer up, master, fortune has turned in our favour." Whitehead leaped upon a bench, purring like a sawmill.
Ming-li did not have long to wait. Almost in the twinkling of an eye he heard his mother crying out,
"Sit down at the table, son, and eat these dumplings while they are smoking hot."
Could he have heard correctly? Did his ears deceive him? No, there on the table was a huge platter full of the delicious pork dumplings he liked better than anything else in all the world, except, of course, his mother.
"Eat and ask no questions," counselled the Widow Wang. "When you are satisfied I will tell you everything."
Wise advice! Very soon the young man's chopsticks were twinkling like a little star in the verses. He ate long and happily, while his good mother watched him, her heart overflowing with joy at seeing him at last able to satisfy his hunger. But still the old woman could hardly wait for him to finish, she was so anxious to tell him her wonderful secret.
"Here, son!" she cried at last, as he began to pause between mouthfuls, "look at my treasure!" And she held out to him the golden beetle.
"First tell me what good fairy of a rich man has been filling our hands with silver?"
"That's just what I am trying to tell you," she laughed, "for there was a fairy here this afternoon sure enough, only he was dressed like a bald priest. That golden beetle is all he gave me, but with it comes a secret worth thousands of cash to us."
The youth fingered the trinket idly, still doubting his senses, and waiting impatiently for the secret of his delicious dinner. "But, mother, what has this brass bauble to do with the dumplings, these wonderful pork dumplings, the finest I ever ate?"
"Baubles indeed! Brass! Fie, fie, my boy! You little know what you are saying. Only listen and you shall hear a tale that will open your eyes."
She then told him what had happened, and ended by setting all of the left-over dumplings upon the floor for Blackfoot and Whitehead, a thing her son had never seen her do before, for they had been miserably poor and had had to save every scrap for the next meal.
Now began a long period of perfect happiness. Mother, son, dog and cat—all enjoyed themselves to their hearts' content. All manner of new foods such as they had never tasted were called forth from the pot by the wonderful little beetle. Bird-nest soup, shark's fins, and a hundred other delicacies were theirs for the asking, and soon Ming-li regained all his strength, but, I fear, at the same time grew somewhat lazy, for it was no longer necessary for him to work. As for the two animals, they became fat and sleek and their hair grew long and glossy.
But alas! according to a Chinese proverb, pride invites sorrow. The little family became so proud of their good fortune that they began to ask friends and relatives to dinner that they might show off their good meals. One day a Mr. and Mrs. Chu came from a distant village. They were much astonished at seeing the high style in which the Wangs lived. They had expected a beggar's meal, but went away with full stomachs.
"It's the best stuff I ever ate," said Mr. Chu, as they entered their own tumble-down house.
"Yes, and I know where it came from," exclaimed his wife. "I saw Widow Wang take a little gold ornament out of the pot and hide it in a cupboard. It must be some sort of charm, for I heard her mumbling to herself about pork and dumplings just as she was stirring up the fire."
"A charm, eh? Why is it that other people have all the luck? It looks as if we were doomed forever to be poor."
"Why not borrow Mrs. Wang's charm for a few days until we can pick up a little flesh to keep our bones from clattering? Turn about's fair play. Of course, we'll return it sooner or later."
"Doubtless they keep very close watch over it. When would you find them away from home, now that they don't have to work any more? As their house only contains one room, and that no bigger than ours, it would be difficult to borrow this golden trinket. It is harder, for more reasons than one, to steal from a beggar than from a king."
"Luck is surely with us," cried Mrs. Chu, clapping her hands. "They are going this very day to the Temple fair. I overheard Mrs. Wang tell her son that he must not forget he was to take her about the middle of the afternoon. I will slip back then and borrow the little charm from the box in which she hid it."
"Aren't you afraid of Blackfoot?"
"Pooh! he's so fat he can do nothing but roll. If the widow comes back suddenly, I'll tell her I came to look for my big hair-pin, that I lost it while I was at dinner."
"All right, go ahead, only of course we must remember we're borrowing the thing, not stealing it, for the Wangs have always been good friends to us, and then, too, we have just dined with them."
So skilfully did this crafty woman carry out her plans that within an hour she was back in her own house, gleefully showing the priest's charm to her husband. Not a soul had seen her enter the Wang house. The dog had made no noise, and the cat had only blinked her surprise at seeing a stranger and had gone to sleep again on the floor.
Great was the clamour and weeping when, on returning from the fair in expectation of a hot supper, the widow found her treasure missing. It was long before she could grasp the truth. She went back to the little box in the cupboard ten times before she could believe it was empty, and the room looked as if a cyclone had struck it, so long and carefully did the two unfortunates hunt for the lost beetle.
Then came days of hunger which were all the harder to bear since the recent period of good food and plenty. Oh, if they had only not got used to such dainties! How hard it was to go back to scraps and scrapings!
But if the widow and her son were sad over the loss of the good meals, the two pets were even more so. They were reduced to beggary and had to go forth daily upon the streets in search of stray bones and refuse that decent dogs and cats turned up their noses at.
One day, after this period of starvation had been going on for some time, Whitehead began suddenly to frisk about in great excitement.
"Whatever is the matter with you?" growled Blackfoot. "Are you mad from hunger, or have you caught another flea?"
"I was just thinking over our affairs, and now I know the cause of all our trouble."
"Do you indeed?" sneered Blackfoot.
"Yes, I do indeed, and you'd better think twice before you mock me, for I hold your future in my paw, as you will very soon see."
"Well, you needn't get angry about nothing. What wonderful discovery have you made—that every rat has one tail?"
"First of all, are you willing to help me bring good fortune back to our family?"
"Of course I am. Don't be silly," barked the dog, wagging his tail joyfully at the thought of another good dinner. "Surely! surely! I will do anything you like if it will bring Dame Fortune back again."
"All right. Here is the plan. There has been a thief in the house who has stolen our mistress's golden beetle. You remember all our big dinners that came from the pot? Well, every day I saw our mistress take a little golden beetle out of the black box and put it into the pot. One day she held it up before me, saying, 'Look, puss, there is the cause of all our happiness. Don't you wish it was yours?' Then she laughed and put it back into the box that stays in the cupboard."
"Is that true?" questioned Blackfoot. "Why didn't you say something about it before?"
"You remember the day Mr. and Mrs. Chu were here, and how Mrs. Chu returned in the afternoon after master and mistress had gone to the fair? I saw her, out of the tail of my eye, go to that very black box and take out the golden beetle. I thought it curious, but never dreamed she was a thief. Alas! I was wrong! She took the beetle, and if I am not mistaken, she and her husband are now enjoying the feasts that belong to us."
"Let's claw them," growled Blackfoot, gnashing his teeth.
"That would do no good," counselled the other, "for they would be sure to come out best in the end. We want the beetle back—that's the main thing. We'll leave revenge to human beings; it is none of our business."
"What do you suggest?" said Blackfoot. "I am with you through thick and thin."
"Let's go to the Chu house and make off with the beetle."
"Alas, that I am not a cat!" moaned Blackfoot. "If we go there I couldn't get inside, for robbers always keep their gates well locked. If I were like you I could scale the wall. It is the first time in all my life I ever envied a cat."
"We will go together," continued Whitehead. "I will ride on your back when we are fording the river, and you can protect me from strange animals. When we get to the Chu house, I will climb over the wall and manage the rest of the business myself. Only you must wait outside to help me to get home with the prize."
No sooner arranged than done. The companions set out that very night on their adventure. They crossed the river as the cat had suggested, and Blackfoot really enjoyed the swim, for, as he said, it took him back to his puppyhood, while the cat did not get a single drop of water on her face. It was midnight when they reached the Chu house.
"Just wait till I return," purred Whitehead in Blackfoot's ear.
With a mighty spring she reached the top of the mud wall, and then jumped down to the inside court. While she was resting in the shadow, trying to decide just how to go about her work, a slight rustling attracted her attention, and pop! one giant spring, one stretch-out of the claws, and she had caught a rat that had just come out of his hole for a drink and a midnight walk.
Now, Whitehead was so hungry that she would have made short work of this tempting prey if the rat had not opened its mouth and, to her amazement, begun to talk in good cat dialect.
"Pray, good puss, not so fast with your sharp teeth! Kindly be careful with your claws! Don't you know it is the custom now to put prisoners on their honour? I will promise not to run away."
"Pooh! what honour has a rat?"
"Most of us haven't much, I grant you, but my family was brought up under the roof of Confucius, and there we picked up so many crumbs of wisdom that we are exceptions to the rule. If you will spare me, I will obey you for life, in fact, will be your humble slave." Then, with a quick jerk, freeing itself, "See, I am loose now, but honour holds me as if I were tied, and so I make no further attempt to get away."
"Much good it would do you," purred Whitehead, her fur crackling noisily, and her mouth watering for a taste of rat steak. "However, I am quite willing to put you to the test. First, answer a few polite questions and I will see if you're a truthful fellow. What kind of food is your master eating now, that you should be so round and plump when I am thin and scrawny?"
"Oh, we have been in luck lately, I can tell you. Master and mistress feed on the fat of the land, and of course we hangers-on get the crumbs."
"But this is a poor tumble-down house. How can they afford such eating?"
"That is a great secret, but as I am in honour bound to tell you, here goes. My mistress has just obtained in some manner or other, a fairy's charm——"
"She stole it from our place," hissed the cat, "I will claw her eyes out if I get the chance. Why, we've been fairly starving for want of that beetle. She stole it from us just after she had been an invited guest! What do you think of that for honour, Sir Rat? Were your mistress's ancestors followers of the sage?"
"Oh, oh, oh! Why, that explains everything!" wailed the rat. "I have often wondered how they got the golden beetle, and yet of course I dared not ask any questions."
"No, certainly not! But hark you, friend rat—you get that golden trinket back for me, and I will set you free at once of all obligations. Do you know where she hides it?"
"Yes, in a crevice where the wall is broken. I will bring it to you in a jiffy, but how shall we exist when our charm is gone? There will be a season of scanty food, I fear; beggars' fare for all of us."
"Live on the memory of your good deed," purred the cat. "It is splendid, you know, to be an honest beggar. Now scoot! I trust you completely, since your people lived in the home of Confucius. I will wait here for your return. Ah!" laughed Whitehead to herself, "luck seems to be coming our way again!"
Five minutes later the rat appeared, bearing the trinket in its mouth. It passed the beetle over to the cat, and then with a whisk was off for ever. Its honour was safe, but it was afraid of Whitehead. It had seen the gleam of desire in her green eyes, and the cat might have broken her word if she had not been so anxious to get back home where her mistress could command the wonderful kettle once more to bring forth food.
The two adventurers reached the river just as the sun was rising above the eastern hills.
"Be careful," cautioned Blackfoot, as the cat leaped upon his back for her ride across the stream, "be careful not to forget the treasure. In short, remember that even though you are a female, it is necessary to keep your mouth closed till we reach the other side."
"Thanks, but I don't think I need your advice," replied Whitehead, picking up the beetle and leaping on to the dog's back.
But alas! just as they were nearing the farther shore, the excited cat forgot her wisdom for a moment. A fish suddenly leaped out of the water directly under her nose. It was too great a temptation. Snap! went her jaws in a vain effort to land the scaly treasure, and the golden beetle sank to the bottom of the river.
"There!" said the dog angrily, "what did I tell you? Now all our trouble has been in vain—all on account of your stupidity."
For a time there was a bitter dispute, and the companions called each other some very bad names—such as turtle and rabbit. Just as they were starting away from the river, disappointed and discouraged, a friendly frog who had by chance heard their conversation offered to fetch the treasure from the bottom of the stream. No sooner said than done, and after thanking this accommodating animal profusely, they turned homeward once more.
When they reached the cottage the door was shut, and, bark as he would, Blackfoot could not persuade his master to open it. There was the sound of loud wailing inside.
"Mistress is broken-hearted," whispered the cat, "I will go to her and make her happy."
So saying, she sprang lightly through a hole in the paper window, which, alas! was too small and too far from the ground for the faithful dog to enter.
A sad sight greeted the gaze of Whitehead. The son was lying on the bed unconscious, almost dead for want of food, while his mother, in despair, was rocking backwards and forwards wringing her wrinkled hands and crying at the top of her voice for some one to come and save them.
"Here I am, mistress," cried Whitehead, "and here is the treasure you are weeping for. I have rescued it and brought it back to you."
The widow, wild with joy at sight of the beetle, seized the cat in her scrawny arms and hugged the pet tightly to her bosom.
"Breakfast, son, breakfast! Wake up from your swoon! Fortune has come again. We are saved from starvation!"
Soon a steaming hot meal was ready, and you may well imagine how the old woman and her son, heaping praises upon Whitehead, filled the beast's platter with good things, but never a word did they say of the faithful dog, who remained outside sniffing the fragrant odours and waiting in sad wonder, for all this time the artful cat had said nothing of Blackfoot's part in the rescue of the golden beetle.
At last, when breakfast was over, slipping away from the others, Whitehead jumped out through the hole in the window.
"Oh, my dear Blackfoot," she began laughingly, "you should have been inside to see what a feast they gave me! Mistress was so delighted at my bringing back her treasure that she could not give me enough to eat, nor say enough kind things about me. Too bad, old fellow, that you are hungry. You'd better run out into the street and hunt up a bone."
Maddened by the shameful treachery of his companion, the enraged dog sprang upon the cat and in a few seconds had shaken her to death.
"So dies the one who forgets a friend and who loses honour," he cried sadly, as he stood over the body of his companion.
Rushing out into the street, he proclaimed the treachery of Whitehead to the members of his tribe, at the same time advising that all self-respecting dogs should from that time onwards make war upon the feline race.
And that is why the descendants of old Blackfoot, whether in China or in the great countries of the West, have waged continual war upon the children and grandchildren of Whitehead, for a thousand generations of dogs have fought them and hated them with a great and lasting hatred.
THE GREAT BELL
The mighty Yung-lo sat on the great throne surrounded by a hundred attendants. He was sad, for he could think of no wonderful thing to do for his country. He flirted his silken fan nervously and snapped his long finger-nails in the impatience of despair.
"Woe is me!" he cried at last, his sorrow getting the better of his usual calmness. "I have picked up the great capital and moved it from the South to Peking and have built here a mighty city. I have surrounded my city with a wall, even thicker and greater than the famous wall of China. I have constructed in this city scores of temples and palaces. I have had the wise men and scholars compile a great book of wisdom, made up of 23,000 volumes, the largest and most wonderful collection of learning ever gathered together by the hands of men. I have built watch-towers, bridges, and giant monuments, and now, alas! as I approach the end of my days as ruler of the Middle Kingdom there is nothing more to be done for my people. Better far that I should even now close my tired eyes for ever and mount up on high to be the guest of the dragon, than live on in idleness, giving to my children an example of uselessness and sloth."
"But, your Majesty," began one of Yung-lo's most faithful courtiers, named Ming-lin, falling upon his knees and knocking his head three times on the ground, "if you would only deign to listen to your humble slave, I would dare to suggest a great gift for which the many people of Peking, your children, would rise up and bless you both now and in future generations."
"Only tell me of such a gift and I will not only grant it to the imperial city, but as a sign of thanksgiving to you for your sage counsel I will bestow upon you the royal peacock feather."
"It is not for one of my small virtues," replied the delighted official, "to wear the feather when others so much wiser are denied it, but if it please your Majesty, remember that in the northern district of the city there has been erected a bell-tower which as yet remains empty. The people of the city need a giant bell to sound out the fleeting hours of the day, that they may be urged on to perform their labours and not be idle. The water-clock already marks the hours, but there is no bell to proclaim them to the populace."
"A good suggestion in sooth," answered the Emperor, smiling, "and yet who is there among us that has skill enough in bell-craft to do the task you propose? I am told that to cast a bell worthy of our imperial city requires the genius of a poet and the skill of an astronomer."
"True, most mighty one, and yet permit me to say that Kwan-yu, who so skilfully moulded the imperial cannon, can also cast a giant bell. He alone of all your subjects is worthy of the task, for he alone can do it justice."
Now, the official who proposed the name of Kwan-yu to the Emperor had two objects in so doing. He wished to quiet the grief of Yung-lo, who was mourning because he had nothing left to do for his people, and, at the same time, to raise Kwan-yu to high rank, for Kwan-yu's only daughter had for several years been betrothed to Ming-lin's only son, and it would be a great stroke of luck for Ming-lin if his daughter-in-law's father should come under direct favour of the Emperor.
"Depend upon it, Kwan-yu can do the work better than any other man within the length and breadth of your empire," continued Ming-lin, again bowing low three times.
"Then summon Kwan-yu at once to my presence, that I may confer with him about this important business."
In great glee Ming-lin arose and backed himself away from the golden throne, for it would have been very improper for him to turn his coat-tails on the Son of Heaven.
But it was with no little fear that Kwan-yu undertook the casting of the great bell.
"Can a carpenter make shoes?" he had protested, when Ming-lin had broken the Emperor's message to him.
"Yes," replied the other quickly, "if they be like those worn by the little island dwarfs, and, therefore, made of wood. Bells and cannon are cast from similar material. You ought easily to adapt yourself to this new work."
Now when Kwan-yu's daughter found out what he was about to undertake, she was filled with a great fear.
"Oh, honoured father," she cried, "think well before you give this promise. As a cannon-maker you are successful, but who can say about the other task? And if you fail, the Great One's wrath will fall heavily upon you."
"Just hear the girl," interrupted the ambitious mother. "What do you know about success and failure? You'd better stick to the subject of cooking and baby-clothes, for you will soon be married. As for your father, pray let him attend to his own business. It is unseemly for a girl to meddle in her father's affairs."
And so poor Ko-ai—for that was the maiden's name—was silenced, and went back to her fancy-work with a big tear stealing down her fair cheek, for she loved her father dearly and there had come into her heart a strange terror at thought of his possible danger.
Meanwhile, Kwan-yu was summoned to the Forbidden City, which is in the centre of Peking, and in which stands the Imperial palace. There he received his instructions from the Son of Heaven.
"And remember," said Yung-lo in conclusion, "this bell must be so great that the sound of it will ring out to a distance of thirty-three miles on every hand. To this end, you should add in proper proportions gold and brass, for they give depth and strength to everything with which they mingle. Furthermore, in order that this giant may not be lacking in the quality of sweetness, you must add silver in due proportion, while the sayings of the sages must be graven on its sides."
Now when Kwan-yu had really received his commission from the Emperor he searched the bookstalls of the city to find if possible some ancient descriptions of the best methods used in bell-casting. Also he offered generous wages to all who had ever had experience in the great work for which he was preparing. Soon his great foundry was alive with labourers; huge fires were burning; great piles of gold, silver and other metals were lying here and there, ready to be weighed.
Whenever Kwan-yu went out to a public tea-house all of his friends plied him with questions about the great bell.
"Will it be the largest in the world?"
"Oh, no," he would reply, "that is not necessary, but it must be the sweetest-toned, for we Chinese strive not for size, but for purity; not for greatness, but for virtue."
"When will it be finished?"
"Only the gods can tell, for I have had little experience, and perhaps I shall fail to mix the metals properly."
Every few days the Son of Heaven himself would send an imperial messenger to ask similar questions, for a king is likely to be just as curious as his subjects, but Kwan-yu would always modestly reply that he could not be certain; it was very doubtful when the bell would be ready.
At last, however, after consulting an astrologer, Kwan-yu appointed a day for the casting, and then there came another courtier robed in splendid garments, saying that at the proper hour the Great One himself would for the first time cross Kwan-yu's threshold—would come to see the casting of the bell he had ordered for his people. On hearing this, Kwan-yu was sore afraid, for he felt that somehow, in spite of all his reading, in spite of all the advice he had received from well-wishers, there was something lacking in the mixture of the boiling metals that would soon be poured into the giant mould. In short, Kwan-yu was about to discover an important truth that this great world has been thousands of years in learning—namely, that mere reading and advice cannot produce skill, that true skill can come only from years of experience and practice. On the brink of despair, he sent a servant with money to the temple, to pray to the gods for success in his venture. Truly, despair and prayer rhyme in every language.
Ko-ai, his daughter, was also afraid when she saw the cloud on her father's brow, for she it was, you remember, who had tried to prevent him from undertaking the Emperor's commission. She also went to the temple, in company with a faithful old servant, and prayed to heaven.
The great day dawned. The Emperor and his courtiers were assembled, the former sitting on a platform built for the occasion. Three attendants waved beautiful hand-painted fans about his imperial brow, for the room was very warm, and a huge block of ice lay melting in a bowl of carved brass, cooling the hot air before it should blow upon the head of the Son of Heaven.
Kwan-yu's wife and daughter stood in a corner at the back of the room, peering anxiously towards the cauldron of molten liquid, for well they knew that Kwan-yu's future rank and power depended on the success of this enterprise. Around the walls stood Kwan-yu's friends, and at the windows groups of excited servants strained their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of royalty, and for once afraid to chatter. Kwan-yu himself was hurrying hither and thither, now giving a final order, now gazing anxiously at the empty mould, and again glancing towards the throne to see if his imperial master was showing signs of impatience.
At last all was ready; everyone was waiting breathlessly for the sign from Yung-lo which should start the flowing of the metal. A slight bow of the head, a lifting of the finger! The glowing liquid, hissing with delight at being freed even for a moment from its prison, ran forward faster and faster along the channel that led into the great earthen bed.
The bell-maker covered his eyes with his fan, afraid to look at the swiftly-flowing stream. Were all his hopes to be suddenly dashed by the failure of the metals to mix and harden properly? A heavy sigh escaped him as at last he looked up at the thing he had created. Something had indeed gone wrong; he knew in the flash of an eye that misfortune had overtaken him.
Yes! sure enough, when at last the earthen casting had been broken, even the smallest child could see that the giant bell, instead of being a thing of beauty was a sorry mass of metals that would not blend.
"Alas!" said Yung-lo, "here is indeed a mighty failure, but even in this disappointment I see an object lesson well worthy of consideration, for behold! in yonder elements are all the materials of which this country is made up. There are gold and silver and the baser metals. United in the proper manner they would make a bell so wonderfully beautiful and so pure of tone that the very spirits of the Western heavens would pause to look and listen. But divided they form a thing that is hideous to eye and ear. Oh, my China! how many wars are there from time to time among the different sections, weakening the country and making it poor! If only all these peoples, great and small, the gold and silver and the baser elements, would unite, then would this land be really worthy of the name of the Middle Kingdom!"
The courtiers all applauded this speech of the great Yung-lo, but Kwan-yu remained on the ground where he had thrown himself at the feet of his sovereign. Still bowing his head and moaning, he cried out:
"Ah! your Majesty! I urged you not to appoint me, and now indeed you see my unfitness. Take my life, I beg you, as a punishment for my failure."
"Rise, Kwan-yu," said the great Prince. "I would be a mean master indeed if I did not grant you another trial. Rise up and see that your next casting profits by the lesson of this failure."
So Kwan-yu arose, for when the King speaks, all men must listen. The next day he began his task once more, but still his heart was heavy, for he knew not the reason of his failure and was therefore unable to correct his error. For many months he laboured night and day. Hardly a word would he speak to his wife, and when his daughter tried to tempt him with a dish of sunflower seed that she had parched herself, he would reward her with a sad smile, but would by no means laugh with her and joke as had formerly been his custom. On the first and fifteenth day of every moon he went himself to the temple and implored the gods to grant him their friendly assistance, while Ko-ai added her prayers to his, burning incense and weeping before the grinning idols.
Again the great Yung-lo was seated on the platform in Kwan-yu's foundry, and again his courtiers hovered round him, but this time, as it was winter, they did not flirt the silken fans. The Great One was certain that this casting would be successful. He had been lenient with Kwan-yu on the first occasion, and now at last he and the great city were to profit by that mercy.
Again he gave the signal; once more every neck was craned to see the flowing of the metal. But, alas! when the casing was removed it was seen that the new bell was no better than the first. It was, in fact, a dreadful failure, cracked and ugly, for the gold and silver and the baser elements had again refused to blend into a united whole.
With a bitter cry which touched the hearts of all those present, the unhappy Kwan-yu fell upon the floor. This time he did not bow before his master, for at the sight of the miserable conglomeration of useless metals his courage failed him, and he fainted. When at last he came to, the first sight that met his eyes was the scowling face of Yung-lo. Then he heard, as in a dream, the stern voice of the Son of Heaven:
"Unhappy Kwan-yu, can it be that you, upon whom I have ever heaped my favours, have twice betrayed the trust? The first time, I was sorry for you and willing to forget, but now that sorrow has turned into anger—yea, the anger of heaven itself is upon you. Now, I bid you mark well my words. A third chance you shall have to cast the bell, but if on that third attempt you fail—then by order of the Vermilion Pencil both you and Ming-lin, who recommended you, shall pay the penalty."
For a long time after the Emperor had departed, Kwan-yu lay on the floor surrounded by his attendants, but chief of all those who tried to restore him was his faithful daughter. For a whole week he wavered between life and death, and then at last there came a turn in his favour. Once more he regained his health, once more he began his preparations.
Yet all the time he was about his work his heart was heavy, for he felt that he would soon journey into the dark forest, the region of the great yellow spring, the place from which no pilgrim ever returns. Ko-ai, too, felt more than ever that her father was in the presence of a great danger.
"Surely," she said one day to her mother, "a raven must have flown over his head. He is like the proverb of the blind man on the blind horse coming at midnight to a deep ditch. Oh, how can he cross over?"
Willingly would this dutiful daughter have done anything to save her loved one. Night and day she racked her brains for some plan, but all to no avail.
On the day before the third casting, as Ko-ai was sitting in front of her brass mirror braiding her long black hair, suddenly a little bird flew in at the window and perched upon her head. Immediately the startled maiden seemed to hear a voice as if some good fairy were whispering in her ear:
"Do not hesitate. You must go and consult the famous juggler who even now is visiting the city. Sell your jade-stones and other jewels, for this man of wisdom will not listen unless his attention is attracted by huge sums of money."
The feathered messenger flew out of her room, but Ko-ai had heard enough to make her happy. She despatched a trusted servant to sell her jade and her jewels, charging him on no account to tell her mother. Then, with a great sum of money in her possession she sought out the magician who was said to be wiser than the sages in knowledge of life and death.
"Tell me," she implored, as the greybeard summoned her to his presence, "tell me how I can save my father, for the Emperor has ordered his death if he fails a third time in the casting of the bell."
The astrologer, after plying her with questions, put on his tortoise-shell glasses and searched long in his book of knowledge. He also examined closely the signs of the heavens, consulting the mystic tables over and over again. Finally, he turned toward Ko-ai, who all the time had been awaiting his answer with impatience.
"Nothing could be plainer than the reason of your father's failure, for when a man seeks to do the impossible, he can expect Fate to give him no other answer. Gold cannot unite with silver, nor brass with iron, unless the blood of a maiden is mingled with the molten metals, but the girl who gives up her life to bring about the fusion must be pure and good."
With a sigh of despair Ko-ai heard the astrologer's answer. She loved the world and all its beauties; she loved her birds, her companions, her father; she had expected to marry soon, and then there would have been children to love and cherish. But now all these dreams of happiness must be forgotten. There was no other maiden to give up her life for Kwan-yu. She, Ko-ai, loved her father and must make the sacrifice for his sake.
And so the day arrived for the third trial, and a third time Yung-lo took his place in Kwan-yu's factory, surrounded by his courtiers. There was a look of stern expectancy on his face. Twice he had excused his underling for failure. Now there could be no thought of mercy. If the bell did not come from its cast perfect in tone and fair to look upon, Kwan-yu must be punished with the severest punishment that could be meted out to man—even death itself. That was why there was a look of stern expectancy on Yung-lo's face, for he really loved Kwan-yu and did not wish to send him to his death.
As for Kwan-yu himself, he had long ago given up all thought of success, for nothing had happened since his second failure to make him any surer this time of success. He had settled up his business affairs, arranging for a goodly sum to go to his beloved daughter; he had bought the coffin in which his own body would be laid away and had stored it in one of the principal rooms of his dwelling; he had even engaged the priests and musicians who should chant his funeral dirge, and, last but not least, he had arranged with the man who would have charge of chopping off his head, that one fold of skin should be left uncut, as this would bring him better luck on his entry into the spiritual world than if the head were severed entirely from the body.
And so we may say that Kwan-yu was prepared to die. In fact, on the night before the final casting he had a dream in which he saw himself kneeling before the headsman and cautioning him not to forget the binding agreement the latter had entered into.
Of all those present in the great foundry, perhaps the devoted Ko-ai was the least excited. Unnoticed, she had slipped along the wall from the spot where she had been standing with her mother and had planted herself directly opposite the huge tank in which the molten, seething liquid bubbled, awaiting the signal when it should be set free. Ko-ai gazed at the Emperor, watching intently for the well-known signal. When at last she saw his head move forward she sprang with a wild leap into the boiling liquid, at the same time crying in her clear, sweet voice:
"For thee, dear father! It is the only way!"
The molten white metal received the lovely girl into its ardent embrace, received her, and swallowed her up completely, as in a tomb of liquid fire.
And Kwan-yu—what of Kwan-yu, the frantic father? Mad with grief at the sight of his loved one giving up her life, a sacrifice to save him, he had sprung forward to hold her back from her terrible death, but had succeeded only in catching one of her tiny jewelled slippers as she sank out of sight for ever—a dainty, silken slipper, to remind him always of her wonderful sacrifice. In his wild grief as he clasped this pitiful little memento to his heart he would himself have leaped in and followed her to her death, if his servants had not restrained him until the Emperor had repeated his signal and the liquid had been poured into the cast. As the sad eyes of all those present peered into the molten river of metals rushing to its earthen bed, they saw not a single sign remaining of the departed Ko-ai.
This, then, my children, is the time-worn legend of the great bell of Peking, a tale that has been repeated a million times by poets, story-tellers and devoted mothers, for you must know that on this third casting, when the earthen mould was removed, there stood revealed the most beautiful bell that eye had ever looked upon, and when it was swung up into the bell-tower there was immense rejoicing among the people. The silver and the gold and the iron and the brass, held together by the blood of the virgin, had blended perfectly, and the clear voice of the monster bell rang out over the great city, sounding a deeper, richer melody than that of any other bell within the limits of the Middle Kingdom, or, for that matter, of all the world. And, strange to say, even yet the deep-voiced colossus seems to cry out the name of the maiden who gave herself a living sacrifice, "Ko-ai! Ko-ai! Ko-ai!" so that all the people may remember her deed of virtue ten thousand years ago. And between the mellow peals of music there often seems to come a plaintive whisper that may be heard only by those standing near, "Hsieh! hsieh"—the Chinese word for slipper. "Alas!" say all who hear it, "Ko-ai is crying for her slipper. Poor little Ko-ai!"
And now, my dear children, this tale is almost finished, but there is still one thing you must by no means fail to remember. By order of the Emperor, the face of the great bell was graven with precious sayings from the classics, that even in its moments of silence the bell might teach lessons of virtue to the people.
"Behold," said Yung-lo, as he stood beside the grief-stricken father, "amongst all yonder texts of wisdom, the priceless sayings of our honoured sages, there is none that can teach to my children so sweet a lesson of filial love and devotion as that one last act of your devoted daughter. For though she died to save you, her deed will still be sung and extolled by my people when you are passed away, yea, even when the bell itself has crumbled into ruins."
THE STRANGE TALE OF DOCTOR DOG
Far up in the mountains of the Province of Hunan in the central part of China, there once lived in a small village a rich gentleman who had only one child. This girl, like the daughter of Kwan-yu in the story of the Great Bell, was the very joy of her father's life.
Now Mr. Min, for that was this gentleman's name, was famous throughout the whole district for his learning, and, as he was also the owner of much property, he spared no effort to teach Honeysuckle the wisdom of the sages, and to give her everything she craved. Of course this was enough to spoil most children, but Honeysuckle was not at all like other children. As sweet as the flower from which she took her name, she listened to her father's slightest command, and obeyed without ever waiting to be told a second time.
Her father often bought kites for her, of every kind and shape. There were fish, birds, butterflies, lizards and huge dragons, one of which had a tail more than thirty feet long. Mr. Min was very skilful in flying these kites for little Honeysuckle, and so naturally did his birds and butterflies circle round and hover about in the air that almost any little western boy would have been deceived and said, "Why, there is a real bird, and not a kite at all!" Then again, he would fasten a queer little instrument to the string, which made a kind of humming noise, as he waved his hand from side to side. "It is the wind singing, Daddy," cried Honeysuckle, clapping her hands with joy; "singing a kite-song to both of us." Sometimes, to teach his little darling a lesson if she had been the least naughty, Mr. Min would fasten queerly twisted scraps of paper, on which were written many Chinese words, to the string of her favourite kite.
"What are you doing, Daddy?" Honeysuckle would ask. "What can those queer-looking papers be?"
"On every piece is written a sin that we have done."
"What is a sin, Daddy?"
"Oh, when Honeysuckle has been naughty; that is a sin!" he answered gently. "Your old nurse is afraid to scold you, and if you are to grow up to be a good woman, Daddy must teach you what is right."
Then Mr. Min would send the kite up high—high over the house-tops, even higher than the tall Pagoda on the hillside. When all his cord was let out, he would pick up two sharp stones, and, handing them to Honeysuckle, would say, "Now, daughter, cut the string, and the wind will carry away the sins that are written down on the scraps of paper."
"But, Daddy, the kite is so pretty. Mayn't we keep our sins a little longer?" she would innocently ask.
"No, child; it is dangerous to hold on to one's sins. Virtue is the foundation of happiness," he would reply sternly, choking back his laughter at her question. "Make haste and cut the cord."
So Honeysuckle, always obedient—at least with her father—would saw the string in two between the sharp stones, and with a childish cry of despair would watch her favourite kite, blown by the wind, sail farther and farther away, until at last, straining her eyes, she could see it sink slowly to the earth in some far-distant meadow.
"Now laugh and be happy," Mr. Min would say, "for your sins are all gone. See that you don't get a new supply of them."
Honeysuckle was also fond of seeing the Punch and Judy show, for, you must know, this old-fashioned amusement for children was enjoyed by little folks in China, perhaps three thousand years before your great-grandfather was born. It is even said that the great Emperor, Mu, when he saw these little dancing images for the first time, was greatly enraged at seeing one of them making eyes at his favourite wife. He ordered the showman to be put to death, and it was with difficulty the poor fellow persuaded his Majesty that the dancing puppets were not really alive at all, but only images of cloth and clay.
No wonder then Honeysuckle liked to see Punch and Judy if the Son of Heaven himself had been deceived by their queer antics into thinking them real people of flesh and blood.
But we must hurry on with our story, or some of our readers will be asking, "But where is Dr. Dog? Are you never coming to the hero of this tale?" One day when Honeysuckle was sitting inside a shady pavilion that overlooked a tiny fish-pond, she was suddenly seized with a violent attack of colic. Frantic with pain, she told a servant to summon her father, and then without further ado, she fell over in a faint upon the ground.
When Mr. Min reached his daughter's side, she was still unconscious. After sending for the family physician to come post haste, he got his daughter to bed, but although she recovered from her fainting fit, the extreme pain continued until the poor girl was almost dead from exhaustion.
Now, when the learned doctor arrived and peered at her from under his gigantic spectacles, he could not discover the cause of her trouble. However, like some of our western medical men, he did not confess his ignorance, but proceeded to prescribe a huge dose of boiling water, to be followed a little later by a compound of pulverized deer's horn and dried toadskin.
Poor Honeysuckle lay in agony for three days, all the time growing weaker and weaker from loss of sleep. Every great doctor in the district had been summoned for consultation; two had come from Changsha, the chief city of the province, but all to no avail. It was one of those cases that seem to be beyond the power of even the most learned physicians. In the hope of receiving the great reward offered by the desperate father, these wise men searched from cover to cover in the great Chinese Cyclopedia of Medicine, trying in vain to find a method of treating the unhappy maiden. There was even thought of calling in a certain foreign physician from England, who was in a distant city, and was supposed, on account of some marvellous cures he had brought to pass, to be in direct league with the devil. However, the city magistrate would not allow Mr. Min to call in this outsider, for fear trouble might be stirred up among the people.
Mr. Min sent out a proclamation in every direction, describing his daughter's illness, and offering to bestow on her a handsome dowry and give her in marriage to whoever should be the means of bringing her back to health and happiness. He then sat at her bedside and waited, feeling that he had done all that was in his power. There were many answers to his invitation. Physicians, old and young, came from every part of the Empire to try their skill, and when they had seen poor Honeysuckle and also the huge pile of silver shoes her father offered as a wedding gift, they all fought with might and main for her life; some having been attracted by her great beauty and excellent reputation, others by the tremendous reward.
But, alas for poor Honeysuckle! Not one of all those wise men could cure her! One day, when she was feeling a slight change for the better, she called her father, and, clasping his hand with her tiny one said, "Were it not for your love I would give up this hard fight and pass over into the dark wood; or, as my old grandmother says, fly up into the Western Heavens. For your sake, because I am your only child, and especially because you have no son, I have struggled hard to live, but now I feel that the next attack of that dreadful pain will carry me away. And oh, I do not want to die!"
Here Honeysuckle wept as if her heart would break, and her old father wept too, for the more she suffered the more he loved her.
Just then her face began to turn pale. "It is coming! The pain is coming, father! Very soon I shall be no more. Good-bye, father! Good-bye; good——." Here her voice broke and a great sob almost broke her father's heart. He turned away from her bedside; he could not bear to see her suffer. He walked outside and sat down on a rustic bench; his head fell upon his bosom, and the great salt tears trickled down his long grey beard.
As Mr. Min sat thus overcome with grief, he was startled at hearing a low whine. Looking up he saw, to his astonishment, a shaggy mountain dog about the size of a Newfoundland. The huge beast looked into the old man's eyes with so intelligent and human an expression, with such a sad and wistful gaze, that the greybeard addressed him, saying, "Why have you come? To cure my daughter?"
The dog replied with three short barks, wagging his tail vigorously and turning toward the half-opened door that led into the room where the girl lay.
By this time, willing to try any chance whatever of reviving his daughter, Mr. Min bade the animal follow him into Honeysuckle's apartment. Placing his forepaws upon the side of her bed, the dog looked long and steadily at the wasted form before him and held his ear intently for a moment over the maiden's heart. Then, with a slight cough he deposited from his mouth into her outstretched hand, a tiny stone. Touching her wrist with his right paw, he motioned to her to swallow the stone.
"Yes, my dear, obey him," counselled her father, as she turned to him inquiringly, "for good Dr. Dog has been sent to your bedside by the mountain fairies, who have heard of your illness and who wish to invite you back to life again."
Without further delay the sick girl, who was by this time almost burned away by the fever, raised her hand to her lips and swallowed the tiny charm. Wonder of wonders! No sooner had it passed her lips than a miracle occurred. The red flush passed away from her face, the pulse resumed its normal beat, the pains departed from her body, and she arose from the bed well and smiling.
Flinging her arms about her father's neck, she cried out in joy, "Oh, I am well again; well and happy; thanks to the medicine of the good physician."
The noble dog barked three times, wild with delight at hearing these tearful words of gratitude, bowed low, and put his nose in Honeysuckle's outstretched hand.
Mr. Min, greatly moved by his daughter's magical recovery, turned to the strange physician, saying, "Noble Sir, were it not for the form you have taken, for some unknown reason, I would willingly give four times the sum in silver that I promised for the cure of the girl, into your possession. As it is, I suppose you have no use for silver, but remember that so long as we live, whatever we have is yours for the asking, and I beg of you to prolong your visit, to make this the home of your old age—in short, remain here for ever as my guest—nay, as a member of my family."
The dog barked thrice, as if in assent. From that day he was treated as an equal by father and daughter. The many servants were commanded to obey his slightest whim, to serve him with the most expensive food on the market, to spare no expense in making him the happiest and best-fed dog in all the world. Day after day he ran at Honeysuckle's side as she gathered flowers in her garden, lay down before her door when she was resting, guarded her Sedan chair when she was carried by servants into the city. In short, they were constant companions; a stranger would have thought they had been friends from childhood.
One day, however, just as they were returning from a journey outside her father's compound, at the very instant when Honeysuckle was alighting from her chair, without a moment's warning, the huge animal dashed past the attendants, seized his beautiful mistress in his mouth, and before anyone could stop him, bore her off to the mountains. By the time the alarm was sounded, darkness had fallen over the valley and as the night was cloudy no trace could be found of the dog and his fair burden.
Once more the frantic father left no stone unturned to save his daughter. Huge rewards were offered, bands of woodmen scoured the mountains high and low, but, alas, no sign of the girl could be found! The unfortunate father gave up the search and began to prepare himself for the grave. There was nothing now left in life that he cared for—nothing but thoughts of his departed daughter. Honeysuckle was gone for ever.
"Alas!" said he, quoting the lines of a famous poet who had fallen into despair:
"My whiting hair would make an endless rope, Yet would not measure all my depth of woe."
Several long years passed by; years of sorrow for the ageing man, pining for his departed daughter. One beautiful October day he was sitting in the very same pavilion where he had so often sat with his darling. His head was bowed forward on his breast, his forehead was lined with grief. A rustling of leaves attracted his attention. He looked up. Standing directly in front of him was Dr. Dog, and lo, riding on his back, clinging to the animal's shaggy hair, was Honeysuckle, his long-lost daughter; while standing near by were three of the handsomest boys he had ever set eyes upon!
"Ah, my daughter! My darling daughter, where have you been all these years?" cried the delighted father, pressing the girl to his aching breast. "Have you suffered many a cruel pain since you were snatched away so suddenly? Has your life been filled with sorrow?"
"Only at the thought of your grief," she replied, tenderly, stroking his forehead with her slender fingers; "only at the thought of your suffering; only at the thought of how I should like to see you every day and tell you that my husband was kind and good to me. For you must know, dear father, this is no mere animal that stands beside you. This Dr. Dog, who cured me and claimed me as his bride because of your promise, is a great magician. He can change himself at will into a thousand shapes. He chooses to come here in the form of a mountain beast so that no one may penetrate the secret of his distant palace."
"Then he is your husband?" faltered the old man, gazing at the animal with a new expression on his wrinkled face.
"Yes; my kind and noble husband, the father of my three sons, your grandchildren, whom we have brought to pay you a visit."
"And where do you live?"
"In a wonderful cave in the heart of the great mountains; a beautiful cave whose walls and floors are covered with crystals, and encrusted with sparkling gems. The chairs and tables are set with jewels; the rooms are lighted by a thousand glittering diamonds. Oh, it is lovelier than the palace of the Son of Heaven himself! We feed of the flesh of wild deer and mountain goats, and fish from the clearest mountain stream. We drink cold water out of golden goblets, without first boiling it, for it is purity itself. We breathe fragrant air that blows through forests of pine and hemlock. We live only to love each other and our children, and oh, we are so happy! And you, father, you must come back with us to the great mountains and live there with us the rest of your days, which, the gods grant, may be very many."
The old man pressed his daughter once more to his breast and fondled the children, who clambered over him rejoicing at the discovery of a grandfather they had never seen before.
From Dr. Dog and his fair Honeysuckle are sprung, it is said, the well-known race of people called the Yus, who even now inhabit the mountainous regions of the Canton and Hunan provinces. It is not for this reason, however, that we have told the story here, but because we felt sure every reader would like to learn the secret of the dog that cured a sick girl and won her for his bride.
HOW FOOTBINDING STARTED
In the very beginning of all things, when the gods were creating the world, at last the time came to separate the earth from the heavens. This was hard work, and if it had not been for the coolness and skill of a young goddess all would have failed. This goddess was named Lu-o. She had been idly watching the growth of the planet, when, to her horror, she saw the newly made ball slipping slowly from its place. In another second it would have shot down into the bottomless pit. Quick as a flash Lu-o stopped it with her magic wand and held it firmly until the chief god came dashing up to the rescue.
But this was not all. When men and women were put on the earth Lu-o helped them greatly by setting an example of purity and kindness. Every one loved her and pointed her out as the one who was always willing to do a good deed. After she had left the world and gone into the land of the gods, beautiful statues of her were set up in many temples to keep her image always before the eyes of sinful people. The greatest of these was in the capital city. Thus, when sorrowful women wished to offer up their prayers to some virtuous goddess they would go to a temple of Lu-o and pour out their hearts before her shrine.
At one time the wicked Chow-sin, last ruler of the Yins, went to pray in the city Temple. There his royal eyes were captivated by the sight of a wonderful face, the beauty of which was so great that he fell in love with it at once, telling his ministers that he wished he might take this goddess, who was no other than Lu-o, for one of his wives.
Now Lu-o was terribly angry that an earthly prince should dare to make such a remark about her. Then and there she determined to punish the Emperor. Calling her assistant spirits, she told them of Chow-sin's insult. Of all her servants the most cunning was one whom we shall call Fox Sprite, because he really belonged to the fox family. Lu-o ordered Fox Sprite to spare himself no trouble in making the wicked ruler suffer for his impudence.
For many days, try as he would, Chow-sin, the great Son of Heaven, could not forget the face he had seen in the temple.
"He is stark mad," laughed his courtiers behind his back, "to fall in love with a statue."
"I must find a woman just like her," said the Emperor, "and take her to wife."
"Why not, most Mighty One," suggested a favourite adviser, "send forth a command throughout the length and breadth of your Empire, that no maiden shall be taken in marriage until you have chosen yourself a wife whose beauty shall equal that of Lu-o?"
Chow-sin was pleased with this suggestion and doubtless would have followed it had not his Prime Minister begged him to postpone issuing the order. "Your Imperial Highness," began the official, "since you have been pleased once or twice to follow my counsel, I beg of you to give ear now to what I say."
"Speak, and your words shall have my best attention," replied Chow-sin, with a gracious wave of the hand.
"Know then, Great One, that in the southern part of your realm there dwells a viceroy whose bravery has made him famous in battle."
"Are you speaking of Su-nan?" questioned Chow-sin, frowning, for this Su-nan had once been a rebel.
"None other, mighty Son of Heaven. Famous is he as a soldier, but his name is now even greater in that he is the father of the most beautiful girl in all China. This lovely flower that has bloomed of late within his household is still unmarried. Why not order her father to bring her to the palace that you may wed her and place her in your royal dwelling?"
"And are you sure of this wondrous beauty you describe so prettily?" asked the ruler, a smile of pleasure lighting up his face.
"So sure that I will stake my head on your being satisfied."
"Enough! I command you at once to summon the viceroy and his daughter. Add the imperial seal to the message."
The Prime Minister smilingly departed to give the order. In his heart he was more than delighted that the Emperor had accepted his suggestion, for Su-nan, the viceroy, had long been his chief enemy, and he planned in this way to overthrow him. The viceroy, as he knew, was a man of iron. He would certainly not feel honoured at the thought of having his daughter enter the Imperial Palace as a secondary wife. Doubtless he would refuse to obey the order and would thus bring about his own immediate downfall.
Nor was the Prime Minister mistaken. When Su-nan received the imperial message his heart was hot with anger against his sovereign. To be robbed of his lovely Ta-ki, even by the throne, was, in his eyes, a terrible disgrace. Could he have been sure that she would be made Empress it might have been different, but with so many others sharing Chow-sin's favour, her promotion to first place in the Great One's household was by no means certain. Besides, she was Su-nan's favourite child, and the old man could not bear the thought of separation from her. Rather would he give up his life than let her go to this cruel ruler.
"No, you shall not do it," said he to Ta-ki, "not though I must die to save you."
The beautiful girl listened to her father's words, in tears. Throwing herself at his feet she thanked him for his mercy and promised to love him more fondly than ever. She told him that her vanity had not been flattered by what most girls might have thought an honour, that she would rather have the love of one good man like her father, than share with others the affections of a king.
After listening to his daughter, the viceroy sent a respectful answer to the palace, thanking the Emperor for his favour, but saying he could not give up Ta-ki. "She is unworthy of the honour you purpose doing her," he said, in conclusion, "for, having been the apple of her father's eye, she would not be happy to share even your most august favour with the many others you have chosen."
When the Emperor learned of Su-nan's reply he could hardly believe his ears. To have his command thus disobeyed was an unheard-of crime. Never before had a subject of the Middle Kingdom offered such an insult to a ruler. Boiling with rage, he ordered his prime minister to send forth an army that would bring the viceroy to his senses. "Tell him if he disobeys that he and his family, together with all they possess, shall be destroyed."
Delighted at the success of his plot against Su-nan, the Prime Minister sent a regiment of soldiers to bring the rebel to terms. In the meantime the friends of the daring viceroy had not been idle. Hearing of the danger threatening their ruler, who had become a general favourite, hundreds of men offered him their aid against the army of Chow-sin. Thus when the Emperor's banners were seen approaching and the war drums were heard rolling in the distance, the rebels, with a great shout, dashed forth to do battle for their leader. In the fight that took place the Imperial soldiers were forced to run.
When the Emperor heard of this defeat he was hot with anger. He called together his advisers and commanded that an army, double the size of the first one, should be sent to Su-nan's country to destroy the fields and villages of the people who had risen up against him. "Spare not one of them," he shouted, "for they are traitors to the Dragon Throne."
Once more the viceroy's friends resolved to support him, even to the death. Ta-ki, his daughter, went apart from the other members of the family, weeping most bitterly that she had brought such sorrow upon them. "Rather would I go into the palace and be the lowest among Chow-sin's women than to be the cause of all this grief," she cried, in desperation.
But her father soothed her, saying, "Be of good cheer, Ta-ki. The Emperor's army, though it be twice as large as mine, shall not overcome us. Right is on our side. The gods of battle will help those who fight for justice."
One week later a second battle was fought, and the struggle was so close that none could foresee the result. The Imperial army was commanded by the oldest nobles in the kingdom, those most skilled in warfare, while the viceroy's men were young and poorly drilled. Moreover, the members of the Dragon Army had been promised double pay if they should accomplish the wishes of their sovereign, while Su-nan's soldiers knew only too well that they would be put to the sword if they should be defeated.
Just as the clash of arms was at its highest, the sound of gongs was heard upon a distant hill. The government troops were amazed at seeing fresh companies marching to the rescue of their foe. With a wild cry of disappointment they turned and fled from the field. These unexpected reinforcements turned out to be women whom Ta-ki had persuaded to dress up as soldiers and go with her for the purpose of frightening the enemy. Thus for a second time was Su-nan victorious.
During the following year several battles occurred that counted for little, except that in each of them many of Su-nan's followers were killed. At last one of the viceroy's best friends came to him, saying, "Noble lord, it is useless to continue the struggle. I fear you must give up the fight. You have lost more than half your supporters; the remaining bowmen are either sick or wounded and can be of little use. The Emperor, moreover, is even now raising a new army from the distant provinces, and will soon send against us a force ten times as great as any we have yet seen. There being no hope of victory, further fighting would be folly. Lead, therefore, your daughter to the palace. Throw yourself upon the mercy of the throne. You must accept cheerfully the fate the gods have suffered you to bear."
Ta-ki, chancing to overhear this conversation, rushed in and begged her father to hold out no longer, but to deliver her up to the greed of the wicked Chow-sin.
With a sigh, the viceroy yielded to their wishes. The next day he despatched a messenger to the Emperor, promising to bring Ta-ki at once to the capital.
Now we must not forget Fox Sprite, the demon, who had been commanded by the good goddess Lu-o to bring a dreadful punishment upon the Emperor. Through all the years of strife between Chow-sin and the rebels, Fox Sprite had been waiting patiently for his chance. He knew well that some day, sooner or later, there would come an hour when Chow-sin would be at his mercy. When the time came, therefore, for Ta-ki to go to the palace, Fox Sprite felt that at last his chance had come. The beautiful maiden for whom Chow-sin had given up so many hundreds of his soldiers, would clearly have great power over the Emperor. She must be made to help in the punishment of her wicked husband. So Fox Sprite made himself invisible and travelled with the viceroy's party as it went from central China to the capital.
On the last night of their journey Su-nan and his daughter stopped for rest and food at a large inn. No sooner had the girl gone to her room for the night than Fox Sprite followed her. Then he made himself visible. At first she was frightened to see so strange a being in her room, but when Fox Sprite told her he was a servant of the great goddess, Lu-o, she was comforted, for she knew that Lu-o was the friend of women and children.
"But how can I help to punish the Emperor?" she faltered, when the sprite told her he wanted her assistance. "I am but a helpless girl," and here she began to cry.
"Dry your tears," he said soothingly. "It will be very easy. Only let me take your form for a little. When I am the Emperor's wife," laughing, "I shall find a way to punish him, for no one can give a man more pain that his wife can, if she desires to do so. You know, I am a servant of Lu-o and can do anything I wish."
"But the Emperor won't have a fox for a wife," she sobbed.
"Though I am still a fox I shall look like the beautiful Ta-ki. Make your heart easy. He will never know."
"Oh, I see," she smiled, "you will put your spirit into my body and you will look just like me, though you really won't be me. But what will become of the real me? Shall I have to be a fox and look like you?"
"No, not unless you want to. I will make you invisible, and you can be ready to go back into your own body when I have got rid of the Emperor."
"Very well," replied the girl, somewhat relieved by his explanation, "but try not to be too long about it, because I don't like the idea of somebody else walking about in my body."
So Fox Sprite caused his own spirit to enter the girl's body, and no one could have told by her outward appearance that any change had taken place. The beautiful girl was now in reality the sly Fox Sprite, but in one way only did she look like a fox. When the fox-spirit entered her body, her feet suddenly shrivelled up and became very similar in shape and size to the feet of the animal who had her in his power. When the fox noticed this, at first he was somewhat annoyed, but, feeling that no one else would know, he did not take the trouble to change the fox feet back to human form.
On the following morning, when the viceroy called his daughter for the last stage of their journey, he greeted Fox Sprite without suspecting that anything unusual had happened since he had last seen Ta-ki. So well did this crafty spirit perform his part that the father was completely deceived, by look, by voice, and by gesture.
The next day the travellers arrived at the capital and Su-nan presented himself before Chow-sin, the Emperor, leading Fox Sprite with him. Of course the crafty fox with all his magic powers was soon able to gain the mastery over the wicked ruler. The Great One pardoned Su-nan, although he had fully intended to put him to death as a rebel.
Now the chance for which Fox Sprite had been waiting had come. He began at once, causing the Emperor to do many deeds of violence. The people had already begun to dislike Chow-sin, and soon he became hateful in their sight. Many of the leading members of the court were put to death unjustly. Horrible tortures were devised for punishing those who did not find favour with the crown. At last there was open talk of a rebellion. Of course, all these things delighted the wily fox, for he saw that, sooner or later, the Son of Heaven would be turned out of the palace, and he knew that then his work for the goddess Lu-o would be finished.
Besides worming his way into the heart of the Emperor, the fox became a general favourite with the ladies of the palace. These women saw in Chow-sin's latest wife the most beautiful woman who had ever lived in the royal harem. One would think that this beauty might have caused them to hate Fox Sprite, but such was not the case. They admired the plumpness of Fox Sprite's body, the fairness of Fox Sprite's complexion, the fire in Fox Sprite's eyes, but most of all they wondered at the smallness of Fox Sprite's feet, for, you remember, the supposed Ta-ki now had fox's feet instead of those of human shape.
Thus small feet became the fashion among women. All the court ladies, old and young, beautiful and ugly, began thinking of plans for making their own feet as tiny as those of Fox Sprite. In this way they thought to increase their chances of finding favour with the Emperor.
Gradually people outside the palace began to hear of this absurd fashion. Mothers bound the feet of their little girls, in such a manner as to stop their growth. The bones of the toes were bent backwards and broken, so eager were the elders to have their daughters grow up into tiny-footed maidens. Thus, for several years of their girlhood the little ones were compelled to endure the most severe tortures. It was not long before the new fashion took firm root in China. It became almost impossible for parents to get husbands for their daughters unless the girls had suffered the severe pains of foot-binding. And even to this day we find that many of the people are still under the influence of Fox Sprite's magic, and believe that a tiny, misshapen foot is more beautiful than a natural one.
But let us return to the story of Fox Sprite and the wicked Emperor. For a number of years matters grew continually worse in the country. At last the people rose in a body against the ruler. A great battle was fought. The wicked Chow-sin was overthrown and put to death by means of those very instruments of torture he had used so often against his subjects. By this time it had become known to all the lords and noblemen that the Emperor's favourite had been the main cause of their ruler's wickedness; hence they demanded the death of Fox Sprite. But no one wished to kill so lovely a creature. Every one appointed refused to do the deed.
Finally, a grey-headed member of the court allowed himself to be blindfolded. With a sharp sword he pierced the body of Fox Sprite to the heart. Those standing near covered their eyes with their hands, for they could not bear to see so wonderful a woman die. Suddenly, as they looked up, they saw a sight so strange that all were filled with amazement. Instead of falling to the ground, the graceful form swayed backward and forward for a moment, when all at once there seemed to spring from her side a huge mountain fox. The animal glanced around him, then, with a cry of fear, dashing past officials, courtiers and soldiers, he rushed through the gate of the enclosure.
"A fox!" cried the people, full of wonder.
At that moment Ta-ki fell in a swoon upon the floor. When they picked her up, thinking, of course, that she had died from the sword thrust, they could find no blood on her body, and, on looking more closely, they saw that there was not even the slightest wound.
"Marvel of marvels!" they all shouted. "The gods have shielded her!"
Just then Ta-ki opened her eyes and looked about her. "Where am I?" she asked, in faint voice. "Pray tell me what has happened."
Then they told her what they had seen, and at last it was plain to the beautiful woman that, after all these years, Fox Sprite had left her body. She was herself once more. For a long time she could not make the people believe her story; they all said that she must have lost her mind; that the gods had saved her life, but had punished her for her wickedness by taking away her reason.
But that night, when her maids were undressing her in the palace, they saw her feet, which had once more become their natural size, and then they knew she had been telling the truth.
How Ta-ki became the wife of a good nobleman who had long admired her great beauty is much too long a story to be told here. Of one thing, however, we are certain, that she lived long and was happy ever afterwards.
THE TALKING FISH
Long, long before your great-grandfather was born there lived in the village of Everlasting Happiness two men called Li and Sing. Now, these two men were close friends, living together in the same house. Before settling down in the village of Everlasting Happiness they had ruled as high officials for more than twenty years. They had often treated the people very harshly, so that everybody, old and young, disliked and hated them. And yet, by robbing the wealthy merchants and by cheating the poor, these two evil companions had become rich, and it was in order to spend their ill-gotten gains in idle amusements that they sought out the village of Everlasting Happiness. "For here," said they, "we can surely find that joy which has been denied us in every other place. Here we shall no longer be scorned by men and reviled by women."
Consequently these two men bought for themselves the finest house in the village, furnished it in the most elegant manner, and decorated the walls with scrolls filled with wise sayings and pictures by famous artists. Outside there were lovely gardens filled with flowers and birds, and oh, ever so many trees with queer twisted branches growing in the shape of tigers and other wild animals.
Whenever they felt lonely Li and Sing invited rich people of the neighbourhood to come and dine with them, and after they had eaten, sometimes they would go out upon the little lake in the centre of their estate, rowing in an awkward flat-bottomed boat that had been built by the village carpenter.
One day, on such an occasion, when the sun had been beating down fiercely upon the clean-shaven heads of all those on the little barge, for you must know this was long before the day when hats were worn—at least, in the village of Everlasting Happiness—Mr. Li was suddenly seized with a giddy feeling, which rapidly grew worse and worse until he was in a burning fever.
"Snake's blood mixed with powdered deer-horn is the thing for him," said the wise-looking doctor who was called in, peering at Li carefully through his huge glasses, "Be sure," he continued, addressing Li's personal attendant, and, at the same time, snapping his long finger-nails nervously, "be sure, above all, not to leave him alone, for he is in danger of going raving mad at any moment, and I cannot say what he may do if he is not looked after carefully. A man in his condition has no more sense than a baby."
Now, although these words of the doctor's really made Mr. Li angry, he was too ill to reply, for all this time his head had been growing hotter and hotter, until at last a feverish sleep overtook him. No sooner had he closed his eyes than his faithful servant, half-famished, rushed out of the room to join his fellows at their mid-day meal.
Li awoke with a start. He had slept only ten minutes. "Water, water," he moaned, "bathe my head with cold water. I am half dead with pain!" But there was no reply, for the attendant was dining happily with his fellows.
"Air, air," groaned Mr. Li, tugging at the collar of his silk shirt. "I'm dying for water. I'm starving for air. This blazing heat will kill me. It is hotter than the Fire god himself ever dreamed of making it. Wang, Wang!" clapping his hands feebly and calling to his servant, "air and water, air and water!"
But still no Wang.
At last, with the strength that is said to come from despair, Mr. Li arose from his couch and staggered toward the doorway. Out he went into the paved courtyard, and then, after only a moment's hesitation, made his way across it into a narrow passage that led into the lake garden.
"What do they care for a man when he is sick?" he muttered. "My good friend Sing is doubtless even now enjoying his afternoon nap, with a servant standing by to fan him, and a block of ice near his head to cool the air. What does he care if I die of a raging fever? Doubtless he expects to inherit all my money. And my servants! That rascal Wang has been with me these ten years, living on me and growing lazier every season! What does he care if I pass away? Doubtless he is certain that Sing's servants will think of something for him to do, and he will have even less work than he has now. Water, water! I shall die if I don't soon find a place to soak myself!"
So saying, he arrived at the bank of a little brook that flowed in through a water gate at one side of the garden and emptied itself into the big fish-pond. Flinging himself down by a little stream Li bathed his hands and wrists in the cool water. How delightful! If only it were deep enough to cover his whole body, how gladly would he cast himself in and enjoy the bliss of its refreshing embrace!
For a long time he lay on the ground, rejoicing at his escape from the doctor's clutches. Then, as the fever began to rise again, he sprang up with a determined cry, "What am I waiting for? I will do it. There's no one to prevent me, and it will do me a world of good. I will cast myself head first into the fish-pond. It is not deep enough near the shore to drown me if I should be too weak to swim, and I am sure it will restore me to strength and health."
He hastened along the little stream, almost running in his eagerness to reach the deeper water of the pond. He was like some small Tom Brown who had escaped from the watchful eye of the master and run out to play in a forbidden spot.
Hark! Was that a servant calling? Had Wang discovered the absence of his employer? Would he sound the alarm, and would the whole place soon be alive with men searching for the fever-stricken patient?
With one last sigh of satisfaction Li flung himself, clothes and all, into the quiet waters of the fish-pond. Now Li had been brought up in Fukien province on the seashore, and was a skilful swimmer. He dived and splashed to his heart's content, then floated on the surface. "It takes me back to my boyhood," he cried, "why, oh why, is it not the fashion to swim? I'd love to live in the water all the time and yet some of my countrymen are even more afraid than a cat of getting their feet wet. As for me, I'd give anything to stay here for ever."
"You would, eh?" chuckled a hoarse voice just under him, and then there was a sort of wheezing sound, followed by a loud burst of laughter. Mr. Li jumped as if an arrow had struck him, but when he noticed the fat, ugly monster below, his fear turned into anger. "Look here, what do you mean by giving a fellow such a start! Don't you know what the Classics say about such rudeness?"
The giant fish laughed all the louder. "What time do you suppose I have for Classics? You make me laugh till I cry!"
"But you must answer my question," cried Mr. Li, more and more persistently, forgetting for the moment that he was not trying some poor culprit for a petty crime. "Why did you laugh? Speak out at once, fellow!"
"Well, since you are such a saucy piece," roared the other, "I will tell you. It was because you awkward creatures, who call yourselves men, the most highly civilized beings in the world, always think you understand a thing fully when you have only just found out how to do it."
"You are talking about the island dwarfs, the Japanese," interrupted Mr. Li, "We Chinese seldom undertake to do anything new."
"Just hear the man!" chuckled the fish. "Now, fancy your wishing to stay in the water for ever! What do you know about water? Why you're not even provided with the proper equipment for swimming. What would you do if you really lived here always?"
"What am I doing now?" spluttered Mr. Li, so angry that he sucked in a mouthful of water before he knew it.
"Floundering," retorted the other.
"Don't you see me swimming? Are those big eyes of yours made of glass?"
"Yes, I see you all right," guffawed the fish, "that's just it! I see you too well. Why you tumble about as awkwardly as a water buffalo wallowing in a mud puddle!"
Now, as Mr. Li had always considered himself an expert in water sports, he was, by this time, speechless with rage, and all he could do was to paddle feebly round and round with strokes just strong enough to keep himself from sinking.
"Then, too," continued the fish, more and more calm as the other lost his temper, "you have a very poor arrangement for breathing. If I am not mistaken, at the bottom of this pond you would find yourself worse off than I should be at the top of a palm tree. What would you do to keep yourself from starving? Do you think it would be convenient if you had to flop yourself out on to the land every time you wanted a bite to eat? And yet, being a man, I doubt seriously if you would be content to take the proper food for fishes. You have hardly a single feature that would make you contented if you were to join an under-water school. Look at your clothes, too, water-soaked and heavy. Do you think them suitable to protect you from cold and sickness? Nature forgot to give you any scales. Now I'm going to tell you a joke, so you must be sure to laugh. Fishes are like grocery shops—always judged by their scales. As you haven't a sign of a scale, how will people judge you? See the point, eh? Nature gave you a skin, but forgot the outer covering, except, perhaps at the ends of your fingers and your toes You surely see by this time why I consider your idea ridiculous?"
Sure enough, in spite of his recent severe attack of fever, Mr. Li had really cooled completely off. He had never understood before what great disadvantages there were connected with being a man. Why not make use of this chance acquaintance, find out from him how to get rid of that miserable possession he had called his manhood, and gain the delights that only a fish can have? "Then, are you indeed contented with your lot?" he asked finally. "Are there not moments when you would prefer to be a man?"
"I, a man!" thundered the other, lashing the water with his tail. "How dare you suggest such a disgraceful change! Can it be that you do not know my rank? Why, my fellow, you behold in me a favourite nephew of the king!"