A Chinese Story

translated by George Souliť


Lost in the heart of Peking, in one of the most peaceful neighbourhoods of the Yellow City, the street of Glowing-happiness was sleeping in the silence and in the light.

On the right and left of the dusty road was some waste ground, where several red mangy, and surly dogs were sleeping. Five or six low houses, their white walls forming a line not well defined, whose low roofs were covered with grey tiles, bordered the road.

In the first year of the Glorious-Strength, four hundred years ago, a young man with long hair tied together under the black gauze cap of the scholars, clothed in a pink dress with purple flowers, was walking in the setting sun, stepping cautiously in order not to cover with dust his shoes with thick felt soles.

When the first stars began to shine in the darkening sky, he entered one of the houses. A wick in a saucer, soaking in oil, burning and smoking, vaguely lighted an open book on the table: one could only guess, in the shadow, the form of a chair, a bed in a corner, and a few inscriptions hanging on the whitewashed walls.

The scholar seated himself before his table and resumed, as he did every evening, his reading of the Classics, of which he sought to penetrate the entire meaning. Late passers-by in this lonely thoroughfare still saw his lamp shining across the trellises of the windows far into the night.

Golden-dragon lived alone. Now, on that evening an inexplicable languor made him dreamy; his eyes followed in vain the text; his rebellious thoughts were scattered.

Impatiently at last he was just going to put out his lamp and go to bed, when he heard some one knocking at the door.

"Come in!" he cried.

The door grinding on its hinges, a young woman appeared clothed in a long gown of bright green silk, gracefully lifting her foot to cross the threshold, and bowing with her two hands united. Golden-dragon, hurriedly rising to reply, waved in his turn his fists joined together at the same height as his visage and said, according to the ritual: "Be kind enough to be seated! What is your noble name?" The visitor did not pronounce a word; her large black eyes, shadowed by long eyelashes, were fixed on the face of her host, while she tried to regain her panting breath.

As she advanced, Golden-dragon felt a strange feeling of admiration and love.

He did not think such a perfect beauty could exist. As he remained speechless, she smiled, and her smile had on him the effect of a strong drink on a hungry man; troubled and dazed, he lost the conscience of his personality and his acts.

The next morning the sun was shining when he awoke, asking himself if he had not been dreaming. He thought all day long of his strange visitor, making thousands of suppositions.

Evening coming on, she suddenly entered, and it was as it had been the night before.

Two months passed; then the young girl's visits abruptly ceased. The night covered everything with its black veil, but nobody appeared at the door. Golden-dragon the first night, waited for her till the hour of the Rat; at last he went to his couch and fell asleep. Almost immediately he saw her carried away by two horny yecha; she was calling him:

"My beloved, I am drawn away towards the inferior regions. I shall never be able to get away if prayers are not said for me. My body lies in the next house."

He started out of sleep in the efforts he made to fly to her, and could not rest again in his impatience to assert what she had said.

As soon as the sun was up, he ran towards the only house that was next to his. He knocked; no one replied. Pushing the door, he entered. The house seemed to be recently abandoned, the rooms were empty, but in a side hall a black lacquered coffin rested on trestles; on a table the "Book of Liberation" was open at the chapter of "The great recall."

Golden-dragon doubted no longer; he sang in a high voice the entire chapter, shut the book, and returned home full of a strange peacefulness.

Every evening from that time, at the hour when she had appeared to him, he lit a lantern, went to the house next door and read a chapter of the holy text.

Years passed by; he got beyond his fiftieth year, grew bent, and walked with difficulty, but he never missed performing the duty he had imposed on himself for his unknown friend.

The house where the coffin was placed had successively been let to several families; but he had arranged that the funereal room should never be touched. The lodgers bowed to the scholar when he came, and talked to him; the whole town was entertained with this touching example of such everlasting love.

"So much constancy and such fidelity cannot remain without reward," they said.

But time slipped by and nothing came to change the regular life of the old man.

On his seventieth birthday, as he went to his neighbours, he remarked a violent excitement.

"My wife has just had a child," said the chief of the family, going to meet him. "Come and wish her happiness; she does not cease to ask for you."

"Is it a boy?"

"No, unhappily, a girl, but such a pretty little thing."

Followed by the happy father, the scholar with white hair penetrated into the room; the mother smiled, holding out the baby to him. Golden-dragon suddenly started; the child held out her arms to him and on her little lips, hardly formed, hovered the shadow of a disappeared smile, the smile of the unknown woman.

And as he looked an extraordinary sensation troubled him; he felt he was growing younger, more vigorous. Soon, in the midst of the cries of admiration of the whole family, the bent old man grew straight again; his grey hair turned black, and the change continued; he became a young man, a boy, and soon a child.

When the Bell of the great Tower struck the hour of the Rat, he was a fat pink baby playing and laughing with the little girl.

The governor of the town, being informed, personally directed an inquiry. It was discovered that the coffin had disappeared at the same hour when the transformation had happened.

The Emperor, on the report of the governor, ordered the two children to receive a handsome dowry.

As to them, they grew up, loved each other, and lived happy and well as far as the limits of human longevity.