A String of Chinese Peach Stones

 A Chinese Fairy Tale.

There were once two youths living in adjoining huts on the same hill, whereon was a cave haunted by sprites, who used to come forth and help themselves to the crops, and were even said to carry men away to the cavern. One day a girl’s shoe dropped down at the door of one of the huts. The lad, named Wang Er, who lived there, picked it up, and saw that it belonged to no mean damsel. Before long, Imperial proclamations were issued, promising high office to the man who should bring back a missing princess. The shoe must belong to her; and, having consulted with his friend, Wang Er set off with him to explore the goblin cave.

” They let themselves down by a rope, and wandered ten li in semi-darkness, when they came to a stone door, whereon was written, ‘ None but Wang Er can open me.’ At the approach of the wondering youth, the door opened of itself, and there was the princess inside, whose sorrow now turned to gratitude. When they had reached the mouth of the cave, Wang Er suggested that his friend should first ascend, then draw up the princess, letting down the rope for him to follow. Which latter the false friend omitted to do, spite of the princess’ expostulations.

” When Wang Er realised that they had gone, and that there was no means of exit for him, he was duly distressed and terrified. He would fall a prey to the goblins. But he determined to explore the vast cave, to see if there was no other way of egress. Having walked a long distance, he came to an opening where was a lake glistening in the sunlight. A bridge spanned a narrow part of it, and beyond the bridge was a large house, its roof supported by tall pillars. As he crossed the bridge, he heard his name called, and, looking all around, saw a huge dragon coiled around one of the pillars.

” ‘ Wang Er, come and unloose me! ‘ it cried. ‘ I daren’t: you will surely devour me,’ was the discreet reply. ‘ I will not. Do fetch a bucket of water, and throw it over me. I am the son of the Dragon King, and will reward you for it.’

” Wang Er did as he was requested, and the dragon glided down, to transform itself into a handsome young prince. ‘ It was I who flew off with the Emperor’s daughter, and was condemned by a certain goddess to be glued to the pillar by the solidified froth from my mouth. I cannot sufficiently reward you, but request the favour of your company to my home. Shut your eyes! ‘ And the two flew off to the sea-beach, where they plunged into the briny depths, to find a beautiful causeway, on either side of which were lobster-soldiers and crab-officers, the Imperial guards of the Dragon King. They were soon greeted by great fishes, who, with many marks of respect, hailed the return of their lost prince. The palace doors flew open, and they beheld the mighty monarch himself. To whom the prince related his escapade and its sequel, with loud praises for his deliverer.

” Tea being brought, Wang Er was entertained as an Imperial guest. ‘ We will banquet tonight,’ said the Dragon King, ‘ to celebrate this auspicious occasion.’ But the hour came, and no visible preparation. When the monarch said, ‘ Bring my magical teapot.’ And it was brought. ‘ I want three men,’ he said to it. The lid opened, and out came the three men, who commenced to spread the feast. ‘ Now, some dancers! ‘ And out tripped four beautiful maidens, who sang and danced in a most graceful manner during the sumptuous feast. ‘ Let us have theatricals. Also a royal salute.’ Guns boomed, and a stage and players in gorgeous costumes appeared.

” This over, the King promised Wang Er anything he would like to ask. Who with much diffidence suggested the magical teapot. Even this was not denied him, on the rescued prince’s comparisons of the relative value of sons and teapots.

” The prince then accompanied Wang Er along the ranks of lobster-guard and crab-officers, until they reached the shore, and then the hill where Wang Er lived, where the grateful prince left him.

” ‘ Why have you been so long, my boy? ‘ asked the mother through her tears. ‘ I have been wailing for you. And your friend has been made a great official.’ ‘ Has he! Well, we must have something to eat.’ ‘ Alas! I have only a cash or so to spare; buy the maximum of rice and the minimum of extras.’ ‘ No, mother; we will reverse the poor man’s saying to-day! ‘ and, taking his teapot in hand, he cried, ‘ A feast for mother and me.’ And to the old dame’s unspeakable amazement, the feast was spread in a trice! Then he related his adventures.

” On the morrow he called for carpenters, and they came; for silver, and ingot after ingot came tumbling out. Timber and stone were bought, and the house was eventually completed. When Wang Er’s ‘ friend,’ happening to be in the neighbourhood, thought he would like to give zest to his higher position by coming to see his old home.

” He was met with deserved reproaches, but was equal to the occasion. ‘ The Emperor sent urgent messages,’ he said, ‘and I could not wait for you. But you, too, have fared well.’

” The trustful Wang Er explained the cause, and exhibited the magical teapot. His ‘friend’ seized it, but the pot fell, and was broken. At this the false friend fled.

” Wang Er was stung by this heartless treachery, but learned a needed lesson on the subject of over-trustfulness. He gathered up the fragments, when they united! Off he went post-haste to the capital with his treasure. The Emperor was so pleased therewith that he gave him the highest literary degree possible ” (called Chwang yuen).

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