A String of Chinese Peach Stones

Dick Whittington in the Far East.

There was once a fortune-teller who used to sit near the gate of a large yamun. He had the reputation of being a man of great ability and accuracy, and the high mandarin at whose door he sat believed in him thoroughly.

A young water coolie of the place once asked him to tell his fortune well, and offered him eight hundred cash for the job. He had forgotten his ‘eight characters’ [year, month, day, and hour of birth], but having received such a sum, the fortune-teller agreed to find eight propitious characters for him. From these he prophesied that there was a princedom in store for him. The coolie took the paper, but soon afterwards dropped it.

The mandarin being very particular about reverencing written paper, had his bearers pick up a piece lying on the street before them, read it, and found that there was a high destiny awaiting the young coolie. He had him called in, offered to support him, set him to study, and eventually gave him his daughter in marriage.

The fortunate young man, however, was in the habit of exclaiming, ‘ Worth eight hundred cash! Well worth eight hundred cash! ‘ the meaning of which he would not divulge to his wife. One day, however, the exclamation having been made in the mandarin’s presence, he had to confess that it referred to the somewhat manipulated document the fortune-teller gave him. At this the enraged mandarin tried to make his daughter give up her husband. She refused, and he put them into a rudderless boat on the sea. The boat drifted on until it stranded at length on a rocky island which was strewn with remarkable stones.

These they gathered till the boat could hold no more, then set sail again, reaching a certain land where was a large city. The faithful wife left her husband in charge of the boat, went on shore, and soon found a large curio shop, the wares of which attracted her attention, especially a painting of a cat which hung from the wall. This so struck her fancy, that she returned to exhort her husband to try and procure it. A crowd followed her, and collected around the boat, jabbering in some unknown tongue.

After inspecting the cargo, the inhabitants of this foreign realm seemed evidently to be asking the price. Instructed by his wife, the man held up five fingers, which at length was rightly interpreted to mean five hundred ounces of silver. Further signs were made to show that the picture of the cat must be given in. It was done, and they set sail again.

Fortune brought them eventually to a city upon the shores of China, from whence the former water-carrier proceeded home with his wife, but they were treated very shabbily, being put into a stable. Here, however, they learnt that they had no ordinary ‘ treasure ‘ in their picture; and after a while, proclamations were posted everywhere to say that the Emperor was troubled by the ravages of an enormous rat, which had killed many a cat. He offered high rewards to the man who would rid the palace of the insufferable pest. Hearing of which, the wife advised her husband to go off to the capital with his picture. He did so, gaining an Imperial interview. Having fixed the scroll upon the wall, he watched beside it at night. The rat proceeded forth as of old, but the cat leaped from the scroll and killed it. Whereupon the Emperor made the man a prince of the realm.

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