The Fairy Bonze, by J. Macgowan
In a certain well-known and populous city in one of the north-western
provinces of China, there once resided a man of the name of Meng.
Everyone knew about him. His fame had spread not only throughout the
town, but also far away into the country beyond; for of all the
merchants who carried on business in this great commercial centre he
was the wealthiest and the most enterprising.
He had begun life as a poor lad; but through great strength of purpose
and positive genius for business, he had steadily risen step by step,
until by the time our story opens, he had become exceedingly wealthy
and was the acknowledged leader in all the great undertakings for which
the city was famous.
Meng had always gained the admiration and affection of every one who
became acquainted with him. He was of an artless, open-hearted
disposition which won men to him, and his reputation for generosity
made his name fragrant throughout the entire region in which he lived.
Forty years ago he had come to the city in search of employment. His
father was a farmer in one of the outlying country districts; but Meng,
discontented with the dulness of the life and with the strain and
trouble brought upon his home by bad seasons, started out for the great
town to make his fortune.
All that he possessed he carried on his person. His stock-in-trade
consisted simply of a stout bamboo pole and a good strong rope, the
usual signs of a porter; but his willingness to oblige, and the hearty,
pleasant way in which he performed his arduous duties, gained him the
goodwill of all who employed him. Before many months had passed he was
in constant demand, and was slowly saving up money that was to enable
him to rise from the position of a coolie and to enter some business
which would give him a more honourable place in society.
He had a shrewd and common-sense mind which enabled him to take
advantage of any trade-opening that presented itself, and as he had a
genial and happy disposition, everyone who had had any business
relations with him was glad to do all in his power to give him a lift
in the upward road along which he had made up his mind to travel. The
result was that before many years had passed away he had established
himself in a very lucrative line of business which brought a steady
flow of wealth into his coffers.
In time he opened branches in distant cities, and his fame reached the
far-off provinces in the East, where the merchant-princes who had
dealings with him counted him as one of the most trustworthy of their
clients, to whom they were glad to give as much credit as he might
There was one delightful feature about Meng, and that was the intense
sympathy he had for his fellow-creatures. He had a heart of gold that
no prosperity could spoil; no one who ever applied to him for relief
was sent away empty-handed. The struggling shopkeeper made his humble
appeal when fate seemed determined to crush him, and the substantial
loan that Meng made to him without hesitation kept him from closing his
shutters and once more set him on his feet to commence the struggle
again. The widow who had been left in absolute poverty had but to
state her case, when with a countenance beaming with compassion and
with eyes moist at her piteous story, Meng would make such arrangements
for her and her children that the terror of starvation was lifted from
her heart, and she left his presence with a smiling face and with
heart-felt words of praise for the man who by his generosity had given
her a new glimpse of life.
The character of Meng's mind may well be discovered from the manner in
which he distributed a considerable portion of his riches amongst those
who had been born under an unlucky star, and upon whom an unhappy fate
had pressed heavily in the distribution of this world's goods and
The generous men in China are not the rich. It is true that
occasionally one does hear of a munificent donation having been made by
some millionaire, but the public is never deceived by these unusual
outbursts of generosity. There is a selfish motive at the back of
nearly every one of them, for the hope of the donors is that by gaining
the favour of the mandarins they may obtain some high official position
which will enable them to recoup themselves most handsomely for any
sums they may have expended in charity.
Meng's deeds, however, were always purely unselfish, and no idea of
reward ever entered his head. He was moved solely by a sincere desire
to alleviate human suffering. The look of gladness that flashed over
the faces of those whom he assisted, their gleaming eyes, and the words
of gratitude that burst from their lips, were to him the sweetest
payment that could possibly be made to him in return for the sums he
had given away.
That Meng's fame had travelled far was shown by an occurrence which was
destined to have a considerable influence on the fortunes of his only
son, Chin, in whom his whole soul was bound up.
One day he received a letter from the head of a most aristocratic
family in a distant city, begging that he would consent to an alliance
with him. This man wrote that he had a daughter, who was declared by
all who saw her to be possessed of no ordinary beauty, and he wished to
have her betrothed to Meng's son. Meng's reputation for goodness and
for love to his fellow-men had reached his ears, and he was anxious
that their families should be united by the marriage of two young
The rich merchant, whose heart always retained its child-like spirit,
was delighted with this proposal, which had come to him spontaneously,
and not through the intrigues of a middle-woman. He was also touched
by the apparently generous spirit of the writer, so he at once
responded to the appeal. After some little correspondence, the
betrothal was drawn up in due form, and the young couple were bound to
each other by legal ties which no court in the Empire would ever dream
Just at this juncture, when the tide in Meng's affairs seemed at its
highest, there appeared at his doors one day a venerable-looking bonze,
who asked to be received as a guest for a few days, as he was on a
pilgrimage to a famous shrine and was tired out with the long journey
that he had already made.
Meng, who was a very devout and religious man, gave the old priest a
most hearty welcome. He placed one of the best rooms in the house at
his disposal, and treated him with all the generous hospitality which
he was accustomed to bestow upon men of his profession, who in
travelling from one monastery to another had very often stayed with him
for a night or two before proceeding further on their way.
Now, this priest had such pleasing manners, and was so refined and
cultivated, that he completely captured the hearts of all the
household, so much so that Meng insisted upon his prolonging his stay.
The result was that months went by and the bonze still remained with
him as his guest.
Everyone in the house seemed to be attracted by this stranger, so
winning were his ways, and so full of quiet power were his whole
bearing and character. He was affable and pleasant with all, but he
seemed to take most pleasure in the company of Chin, over whom he soon
came to exercise a very powerful influence.
Their habit was to wander about on the hillside, when the priest would
entertain his young friend with stories of the wonderful things he had
seen and the striking adventures he had met with. His whole aim,
however, seemed to be not so much to amuse Chin as to elevate his mind
with lofty and noble sentiments, which were instilled into him on every
It was also their custom to retire every morning to some outhouses at
the extremity of the large garden attached to the dwelling-house, where
undisturbed they could converse together upon the many questions upon
which the bonze was ready to discourse. One thing, however, struck
Chin as very singular, and this was that the bonze made him collect
certain curiously-shaped tiles, and bury them in the earthen floors of
these little-used buildings. Chin would have rebelled against what he
considered a child-like proceeding, but he was restrained by the
profound love and veneration he felt for his companion.
At length the day came when the bonze announced that he must proceed
upon his journey. He had already, he declared, stayed much longer than
he had originally intended, and now the imperative call of duty made it
necessary that he should not linger in the house where he had been so
Seeing that he was determined in his purpose, Meng wanted to press upon
him a considerable sum of money to provide for any expenses to which he
might be put in the future. This, however, the bonze absolutely
refused to accept, declaring that his wants were few, and that he would
have no difficulty in meeting them by the donations he would receive
from the different temples he might pass on his way to his destination.
Little did Meng dream that the guest from whom he was parting with so
heavy a heart was a fairy in disguise. Yet such was the case. The
rulers of the far-off Western Heaven, who had been greatly moved by
Meng's noble and generous life in succouring the distressed and the
forlorn, had sent the bonze to make arrangements to meet a certain
calamitous crisis which was soon to take place in the home of the
A few months after the good bonze had left them, a series of disasters
fell with crushing effect upon the house of Meng. Several firms which
owed him very large sums of money suddenly failed, and he found himself
in such financial difficulties that it was utterly impossible for him
to pay his debts.
In consequence, Meng was utterly ruined, and after paying out all that
he possessed, even to the uttermost cash, found himself absolutely
penniless. This so wrought upon his mind that he became seriously ill,
and after a few days of intense agony, his spirit vanished into the
Land of Shadows, and his wife and son were left desolate and bereaved.
After a time Chin bethought himself of the wealthy and distinguished
man who had been so anxious to recognize him as a son-in-law, and after
consultation with his mother, who was completely broken-hearted, he set
off for the distant city in which his proposed father-in-law lived.
Chin hoped that the latter's heart would be moved by the disasters
which had befallen his father, and that he would be willing to extend
him a helping hand in his hour of dire sorrow, when even Heaven itself
seemed to have abandoned him and to have heaped upon his head
calamities such as do not often occur to the vilest of men.
Weary and worn with the long journey, which he had been compelled to
make on foot, he arrived one day about noon at the gates which led into
the spacious courtyard of the palatial mansion in which his
father-in-law lived. The doors, however, were shut and barred, as
though some enemy was expected to storm them and carry off the property
Chin called loudly to the porter to open them for him, but to his
amazement he was told that orders had been received from the master of
the house that he was not to be admitted on any terms whatsoever.
"But are you aware who I am?" he asked. "Do you not know that the man
who owns this building is my father-in-law, and that his daughter is my
promised wife? It ill becomes you therefore to keep me standing here,
when I should be received with all the honours that a son-in-law can
"But I have been specially warned against you," replied the surly
gatekeeper. "You talk of being a son-in-law, but you are greatly
mistaken if you imagine that any such kinship is going to be recognized
in this house. News has reached my master of the utter failure of your
father's business, and of his death, and he declares that he does not
wish to be mixed up in any way with doubtful characters or with men who
have become bankrupt."
Chin, who was imbued with the fine and generous spirit of his father,
was so horrified at these words that he fled from the gate, determined
to suffer any indignity rather than accept a favour from a man of such
an ignoble disposition as his father-in-law apparently possessed.
He was crossing the road with his heart completely cast down, and in
absolute despair as to how he was ever to get back to his home again,
when a woman in one of the low cottages by the roadside, beckoned him
to come in and sit down.
"You seem to be in distress, sir," she said, "and to be worn out with
fatigue, as though you had just finished a long journey. My children
and I are just about to sit down to our midday meal, and we shall be so
pleased if you will come and partake of it with us. I have just been
watching you as you stood at the gate of that wealthy man's house, and
I saw how roughly you were treated. Never mind," she continued,
"Heaven knows how you have been wronged, and in time you will be
avenged for all the injury you have suffered."
Comforted and gladdened by these kindly words and by the motherly
reception given him by this poor woman, Chin started out on his return
journey, and after much suffering finally reached his home. Here he
found his mother in the direst poverty, and with a heart still full of
the deepest woe because of the death of her noble-minded husband.
Almost immediately after Chin had been refused admission to the house
of his father-in-law, the latter's daughter, Water-Lily, became aware
of the insulting way in which he had been treated. She was grieved
beyond measure, and with tears in her eyes and her voice full of
sorrow, she besought her mother to appeal to her father on her behalf,
and to induce him to give up his purpose of arranging a marriage for
her with a wealthy man in the neighbourhood.
"My father may plan another husband for me," she said, "but I shall
never consent to be married to anyone but Chin. All the rites and
ceremonies have been gone through which bind me to him as long as I
live, and to cast him off now because calamity has fallen upon his home
is but to invite the vengeance of the Gods, who will surely visit us
with some great sorrow if we endeavour to act in a way contrary to
The piteous appeals of Water-Lily had no effect upon her father, who
hurried on the arrangements for his daughter's wedding to the new
suitor, anxious to marry her off in order to prevent the unfortunate
Chin from appearing again to claim her as his wife.
She, however, was just as determined as her father, and when she
realized that all her entreaties and prayers had produced not the
slightest effect upon him, and that in the course of a few days the
crimson bridal chair would appear at the door to carry her away to the
home of her new husband, she determined to adopt heroic methods to
prevent the accomplishment of such a tragedy.
Next morning, as dawn began to break, the side-gate of the rich man's
house was stealthily opened, and a degraded-looking beggar-woman
stepped out into the dull grey streets, and proceeded rapidly towards
the open country beyond.
She was as miserable a specimen of the whining, cringing beggar as
could have been met with in any of the beggar-camps where these unhappy
outcasts of society live. She was dressed in rags which seemed to be
held together only by some invisible force. Her hair was tied up in
disjointed knots, and looked as if no comb had ever tried to bring it
into order. Her face was black with grime, and a large, dirty patch
was plastered over one of her ears in such a way that its shape was
completely hidden from the gaze of those who took the trouble to cast a
passing glance upon her.
Altogether she was a most unattractive object; and yet she was the most
lovely woman in all that region, for she was none other than
Water-Lily, the acknowledged beauty of the town, who had adopted this
disguise in order to escape from the fate which her father had planned
For several weary months she travelled on, suffering the greatest
hardships, and passing through adventures, which, if some gifted writer
had collected them into a volume, would have thrilled many a reader
with admiration for this brave young maiden. Though reared and
nurtured in a home where every luxury was supplied her, yet she endured
the degradation and privations of a beggar's life rather than be forced
to be untrue to the man whom she believed Heaven had given her as a
One evening, as the shadows were falling thickly on the outer courtyard
of the desolate house where Chin lived, a pitiful-looking beggar-woman
stood timidly at the front door, gazing with wistful looks into the
room which faced the street. Not a sound did she utter, not a single
word escaped her lips to indicate that she had come there to obtain
In a few minutes Chin's mother came out from a room beyond. When she
saw this ragged, forlorn creature standing silently as though she were
afraid that some word of scorn and reproach would be hurled at her, she
was filled with a great and overmastering pity, and stepping up to her
she began to comfort her in loving, gentle language.
To her astonishment this draggled, uncleanly object became violently
affected by the tender, motherly way in which she was addressed. Great
tear-drops trickled down her grimy face, leaving a narrow, snow-like
line in their wake. Presently she was convulsed with sobs that shook
her whole body, whilst she wrung her hands as though some great sorrow
was gripping her heart.
Mrs. Meng was deeply affected by the sight of this unhappy woman, and
whilst she was gazing at her with a look of profound sympathy, the
broad patch which had concealed and at the same time disfigured the
beggar's countenance, suddenly dropped to the ground.
The effect of this was most startling, for a pair of as beautiful black
eyes as ever danced in a woman's head were now revealed to Mrs. Meng's
astonished gaze. Looking at the stranger more intently, she saw that
her features were exquisitely perfect, and had the grace and the poetry
which the great painters of China have attributed to the celebrated
beauties of the Empire.
"Tell me who you are," she cried, as she laid her hand tenderly and
affectionately on her shoulder, "for that you are a common beggar-woman
I can never believe. You must be the daughter of some great house, and
have come here in this disguise in order to escape some great evil.
"Confide in me," she continued, "and everything that one woman can do
for another, I am willing to do for you. But come in, dear child, and
let us talk together and devise some plan by which I can really help
you, for I feel my heart drawn towards you in a way I have never felt
for any stranger before."
Mrs. Meng then led her into her bedroom, where Water-Lily threw off the
outer garments in which she had appeared to the public as a beggar, and
telling her wonderful story to Chin's mother, she revealed herself as
But though her romantic arrival into this gloomy and distressed home
brought with it a sudden gleam of happiness, the great question as to
how they were to live had still to be solved. They were absolutely
without means, and they could only hope to meet their meagre expenses
by the sale of the house in which they were living.
At last this plan was discussed, and it was decided that the unused
buildings, in which Chin and the Buddhist priest had been accustomed to
spend a part of every day together, should be first of all disposed of.
In order to have some idea as to how much these outhouses were worth,
Chin went to see what condition they were in, so that he might fix a
price for them. As they had not been used for some time, the grass had
grown rank about them, and they had a dilapidated and forlorn air which
made Chin fear that their market value would not be very great.
Entering in by an open door, which a creeping vine, with the luxuriance
of nature, was trying to block up, Chin looked round with a feeling of
disappointment sending a chill into his very heart.
The air of the place was damp and musty. The white mould could be seen
gleaming on the walls, as if it wished to give a little colour to the
sombre surroundings. Great cobwebs flung their streaming banners from
the beams and rafters overhead, whilst smaller ones, with delicate
lace-like tracery, tried to beautify the corners of the windows,
through which the light from the outside world struggled to enter the
Throwing the windows wide open to let in as much sunshine as was
possible, Chin soon became convinced that the market value of this
particular part of his property would be very small, and that unless he
carried out extensive repairs, it would be impossible to induce any one
to entertain the idea of buying it.
While he was musing over the problem that lay before him, his eye
caught a silvery gleam from a part of the earthen floor, where the
surface had evidently been scratched away by some animal that had
Looking down intently at the white, shining thing which had caught his
attention, Chin perceived that it was one of the tiles that the bonze
had made him bury in the earth, and when he picked it up, he discovered
to his amazement that in some mysterious manner it had been transformed
into silver! Digging further into the earth, he found that the same
process had taken place with every tile that had been hidden away
beneath the floor of this old and apparently useless building.
After some days occupied in transporting his treasure to a safe place
in his dwelling-house, Chin realized by a rough calculation that he was
now the possessor of several millions' worth of dollars, and that from
being one of the poorest men in the town he had become a millionaire
with enormous wealth at his command.
Thus did the Gods show their appreciation of the noble life of Mr.
Meng, and of his loving sympathy for the poor and the distressed, by
raising his fallen house to a higher pinnacle of prosperity than it had
ever attained even during his lifetime.