THE SPIRIT OF THE RIVER
A Chinese Story
translated by George
In a small village along the river Tsz
lived a fisherman named Siu. He
started every night with his nets, and took
very great care not to forget to bring with
him a small jar of spirits. Before throwing
his cast-net, he drank a small cup of the
fragrant liquor and poured some drops into
the slow current, praying aloud:
"O Spirit-of-the-river, please accept these
offerings and favour your humble servant.
I am poor and I must take some of the
fishes that live in your cold kingdom.
Don't be angry against me and don't
prevent the eels and trouts coming to
When every fisherman on the river
brought back only one basket of fishes, he
always proudly bore home a heavy charge
of two or three baskets full to the
Once, on a rosy dawn of early spring,
when the sun, still below the horizon, began
to eat with its golden teeth the vanishing
darkness, he said aloud:
"O Spirit-of-the-river! For many years,
every night I have drunk with you
a good number of wine-cups; but I never
saw your face; won't you favour me with
your presence? We could sit together, and
the pleasure of drinking would be much
Hardly had he finished these words when,
from the middle of the stream, emerged a
beautiful young man clothed in pink, who
slowly walked on the smooth surface of
the limpid water, and sat on the boat's end,
"Here I am."
The fisherman, being half-drunk, was
not troubled in any way; he bowed to the
young man, offered him, with his two hands,
a cup of the strong wine, and said:
"Well! I long wished to receive your
instructions, and I am very glad to see
you. You must be mighty tired of living
in that water; the few drops of wine I
pour every night are quite lost in such a
quantity of tasteless liquid. You had better
come up every night; we will drink together
and enjoy each other's company."
From this day, when darkness closed in,
the Spirit waited for the fisherman and
partook of his provisions. As soon as the
sun rose above the horizon he suddenly
disappeared. The fisherman did not find
that very convenient; he asked his companion
if he could not arrange to stay with
him sometimes in the daytime.
"Impossible; we can't do such a thing,
we spirits and ghosts. We belong to the
kingdom of shadows. When the shadows,
fighting the daylight, bring with them the
Night, we are free to go and wander about.
But as soon as the herald of the morn,
the cock, has proclaimed the daily victory
of the sun, we are powerless and must
On the same day the fisherman was sitting
on the bank, smoking a pipe before going
home with his baskets, when he saw a
woman holding a child in her arms and
hastening along the river towards a ford
some hundred yards up stream. She was
already in the water, when she missed her
footing, fell into the river, and was rolled
away by the stream. The child, by some
happy chance, had fallen on the bank and
lay there, crying.
The fisherman could easily have gone in
his boat and saved the woman, who was
still struggling to regain the bank, but he
was a prudent man:
"This woman, whom I don't know, seems
to be beautiful," thought he. "Maybe it
is my friend The-Spirit-of-the-river who
has arranged all this, and chosen the girl
to be his wife. If I prevent her going down
to his cold lodgings, he will be angry and
ruin my fishing. All I could do is to adopt
this boy until somebody comes and asks
And he did not move, until the poor
woman had disappeared in the yellow
stream; then he took the child. Once
back in the village, he inquired about the
mother; nobody could tell who she was.
The days passed and nobody asked for
the boy. This was strange enough, but,
stranger still, from this day the fisherman
never saw The-Spirit-of-the-river again.
He offered him many cups of wine, and his
fishing was as good as ever, but though he
prayed heartily, his companion of so many
nights did not appear any more.
When the boy was three years old he
insisted on accompanying his adopted father
in his night fishing. Summer had come;
the cold was no more to be feared.
The man consented to take his adopted son
with him; they started together in the
As soon as the darkness closed, the boy's
voice changed; his appearance was different.
"What a silly man you are!" said he.
"Don't you know me now? For more
than two years I waited for an opportunity
to tell you who I was. But you always
went out at night and you never came back
before the sun was high in the sky. You
had never failed to present your offerings;
so I could not resist your prayer when you
asked me to stay with you in the daytime.
Now, here I am, till your death; when
the sun is up I shall only be your son,
but when the night closes I shall be your
companion, and we will enjoy together what
longevity the Fate allows you."