HOK LEE AND THE DWARFS
Retold by Andrew Lang
THERE once lived in a small town in China a man named Hok Lee. He was
a steady, industrious man, who not only worked hard at his trade, but
did all his own housework as well, for he had no wife to do it for him.
"What an excellent, industrious man is this Hok Lee!" said his
neighbors. "How hard he works! He never leaves his house to amuse
himself or to take a holiday as others do!"
But Hok Lee was by no means the virtuous person his neighbors thought
him. True, he worked hard enough by day, but at night, when all
respectable folk were fast asleep, he used to steal out and join a
dangerous band of robbers, who broke into rich people's houses and
carried off all they could lay hands on.
This state of things went on for some time, and though a thief was
caught now and then and punished, no suspicion ever fell on Hok Lee, he
was such a very respectable, hard-working man.
Hok Lee had already amassed a good store of money as his share of the
proceeds of these robberies, when it happened one morning on going to
market that a neighbor said to him:
"Why, Hok Lee, what is the matter with your face? One side of it is
all swelled up."
True enough, Hok Lee's right cheek was twice the size of his left, and
it soon began to feel very uncomfortable.
"I will bind up my face," said Hok Lee. "Doubtless the warmth will
cure the swelling." But no such thing. Next day it was worse, and day
by day it grew bigger and bigger till it was nearly as large as his
head and became very painful.
Hok Lee was at his wits' end what to do. Not only was his check
unsightly and painful, but his neighbors began to jeer and make fun of
him, which hurt his feelings very much indeed.
One day, as luck would have it, a traveling doctor came to the town.
He sold not only all kinds of medicine, but also dealt in many strange
charms against witches and evil spirits.
Hok Lee determined to consult him and asked him into his house. After
the doctor had examined him carefully he spoke thus:
"This, Hok Lee, is no ordinary swelled face. I strongly suspect you
have been doing some wrong deed which has called down the anger of the
spirits on you. None of my drugs will avail to cure you, but if you
are willing to pay me handsomely I can tell you how you may be cured."
Then Hok Lee and the doctor began to bargain together, and it was a
long time before they could come to terms. However, the doctor got the
better of it in the end, for he was determined not to part with his
secret under a certain price, and Hok Lee had no mind to carry his huge
cheek about with him to the end of his days. So he was obliged to part
with the greater portion of his ill-gotten gains.
When the doctor had pocketed the money he told Hok Lee to go on the
first night of the full moon to a certain wood and there to watch by a
particular tree. After a time he would see the dwarfs and little
sprites who live underground come out to dance. When they saw him they
would be sure to make him dance too. "And mind you dance your very
best," added the doctor. "If you dance well and please them they will
grant you a petition and you can then beg to be cured; but if you dance
badly they will most likely do you some mischief out of spite." With
that he took leave and departed.
Happily the first night of the full moon was near, and at the proper
time Hok Lee set out for the wood. With a little trouble he found the
tree the doctor had described, and feeling nervous he climbed up into
He had hardly settled himself on a branch when he saw the little dwarfs
assembling in the moonlight. They came from all sides, till at length
there appeared to be hundreds of them. They seemed in high glee and
danced and skipped and capered about, while Hok Lee grew so eager
watching them that he crept farther and farther along his branch till
at length it gave a loud crack. All the dwarfs stood still, and Hok
Lee felt as if his heart stood still also.
Then one of the dwarfs called out: "Some one is up in that tree. Come
down at once, whoever you are, or we must come and fetch you."
In great terror Hok Lee proceeded to come down; but he was so nervous
that he tripped near the ground and came rolling down in the most
absurd manner. When he had picked himself up he came forward with a
low bow, and the dwarf who had first spoken and who appeared to be the
leader said: "Now, then, who art thou and what brings thee here?"
So Hok Lee told him the sad story of his swelled cheek, and how he had
been advised to come to the forest and beg the dwarfs to cure him.
"It is well," replied the dwarf. "We will see about that. First,
however, thou must dance before us. Should thy dancing please us,
perhaps we may be able to do something; but shouldst thou dance badly
we shall assuredly punish thee, so now take warning and dance away."
With that, he and all the other dwarfs sat down in a large ring,
leaving Hok Lee to dance alone in the middle. He felt half-frightened
to death, and besides was a good deal shaken by his fall from the tree
and did not feel at all inclined to dance. But the dwarfs were not to
be trifled with.
"Begin!" cried their leader, and "Begin!" shouted the rest in chorus.
So in despair Hok Lee began. First he hopped on one foot and then on
the other, but he was so stiff and so nervous that he made but a poor
attempt, and after a time sank down on the ground and vowed he could
dance no more.
The dwarfs were very angry. They crowded round Hok Lee and abused him.
"Thou to come here to be cured, indeed!" they cried. "Thou hast
brought one big cheek with thee, but thou shalt take away two." And
with that they ran off and disappeared, leaving Hok Lee to find his way
home as best he might.
He hobbled away, weary and depressed, and not a little anxious on
account of the dwarfs' threat.
Nor were his fears unfounded, for when he rose next morning his left
cheek was swelled up as big as his right, and he could hardly see out
of his eyes. Hok Lee felt in despair, and his neighbors jeered at him
more than ever. The doctor, too, had disappeared, so there was nothing
for it but to try the dwarfs once more.
He waited a month till the first night of the full moon came round
again, and then he trudged back to the forest and sat down under the
tree from which he had fallen. He had not long to wait. Ere long the
dwarfs came trooping out till all were assembled.
"I don't feel quite easy," said one. "I feel as if some horrid human
being were near us."
When Hok Lee heard this he came forward and bent down to the ground
before the dwarfs, who came crowding round and laughed heartily at his
comical appearance with his two big cheeks.
"'What dost thou want?" they asked; and Hok Lee proceeded to tell them
of his fresh misfortunes and begged so hard to be allowed one more
trial at dancing that the dwarfs consented, for there is nothing they
love so much as being amused.
Now, Hok Lee knew how much depended on his dancing well, so he plucked
up a good spirit and began, first quite slowly and faster by degrees,
and he danced so well and gracefully, and made such new and wonderful
steps, that the dwarfs were quite delighted with him.
They clapped their tiny hands and shouted:
"Well done, Hok Lee, well done. Go on-dance more, for we are pleased."
And Hok Lee danced on and on, till he really could dance no more and
was obliged to stop.
Then the leader of the dwarfs said: "We are well pleased, Hok Lee, and
as a recompense for thy dancing thy face shall he cured. Farewell."
With these words he and the other dwarfs vanished, and Hok Lee, putting
his hands to his face, found to his great joy that his cheeks were
reduced to their natural size. The way home seemed short and easy to
him, and he went to bed happy and resolved never to go out robbing
Next day the whole town was full of the news of Hok's sudden cure. His
neighbors questioned him, but could get nothing from him, except the
fact that he had discovered a wonderful cure for all kinds of diseases.
After a time a rich neighbor, who had been ill for some years, came and
offered to give Hok Lee a large sum of money if he would tell him how
he might get cured. Hok Lee consented on condition that he swore to
keep the secret. He did so, and Hok Lee told him of the dwarfs and
The neighbor went off, carefully obeyed Hok Lee's directions, and was
duly cured by the dwarfs. Then another and another came to Hok Lee to
beg his secret, and from each he extracted a vow of secrecy and a large
sum of money. This went on for some years, so that at length Hok Lee
became a very wealthy man and ended his days in peace and prosperity.