The Reward of A Benevolent Life
by J. Macgowan
On the banks of a river flowing through the prefecture of Tingchow,
there stood a certain city of about ten thousand inhabitants. Among
this mass of people there was a very fair sprinkling of well-to-do men,
and perhaps half-a-dozen or so who might have been accounted really
Amongst these latter was one particular individual named Chung, who had
acquired the reputation of being exceedingly large-hearted and
benevolently inclined to all those in distress. Anyone who was in want
had but to appeal to Chung, and his immediate necessities would at once
be relieved without any tedious investigation into the merits of his
case. As may be inferred from this, Chung was an easy-going,
good-natured man, who was more inclined to look kindly upon his
fellow-men than to criticise them harshly for their follies or their
crimes. Such a man has always been popular in this land of China.
Now the whole soul of Chung was centred upon his only son Keng. At the
time when our story opens, this young fellow was growing up to manhood,
and had proved himself to be possessed of no mean ability, for on the
various occasions on which he had sat for examination before the
Literary Chancellor, his papers had been of a very high order of merit.
The rumours of Chung's generosity had travelled further than he had
ever dreamed of. Several reports of the noble deeds that he was
constantly performing had reached the Immortals in the Western Heaven,
and as these are profoundly concerned in the doings of mankind, steps
were taken that Chung should not go unrewarded.
One day a fairy in the disguise of a bonze called upon him. He had
always had a sincere liking for men of this class. He admired their
devotion, and he was moved by their self-sacrifice in giving up home
and kindred to spend their lives in the service of the gods and for the
good of humanity.
No sooner, therefore, had the priest entered within his doors, than he
received him with the greatest politeness and cordiality. The same
evening he prepared a great dinner, to which a number of distinguished
guests were invited, and a time of high festivity and rejoicing was
prolonged into the early hours of the morning.
Next day Chung said to his guest, "I presume you have come round
collecting for your temple. I need not assure you that I shall be most
delighted to subscribe to anything that has to do with the uplifting of
my fellow-men. My donation is ready whenever you wish to accept it."
The bonze, with a smile which lit up the whole of his countenance,
replied that he had not come for the purpose of collecting
"I have come," he said, "to warn you about a far more important matter
which affects you and your family. Before very long a great flood will
take place in this district, and will sweep everything before it. It
will be so sudden that men will not be able to take measures to
preserve either their lives or their property—so instantaneous will be
the rush of the mighty streams, like ocean floods, from the mountains
you can see in the West. My advice to you is to commence at once the
construction of boats to carry you and your most precious effects away.
When the news first comes that the waters are rising, have them
anchored in the creek that flows close by your doors; and when the
crisis arrives, delay not a moment, but hurry on board and fly for your
"But when will that be?" asked Chung anxiously.
"I may not tell you the precise day or hour," replied the bonze; "but
when the eyes of the stone lions in the East Street of the city shed
tears of blood, betake yourselves with all haste to the boats, and
leave this doomed place behind you."
"But may I not tell the people of this approaching calamity?" asked
Chung, whose tender heart was deeply wrung with distress at the idea of
so many being overwhelmed in the coming flood.
"You can please yourself about that," answered the priest, "but no one
will believe you. The people of this region are depraved and wicked,
and your belief in my words will only cause them to laugh and jeer at
you for your credulity."
"But shall I and my family escape with our lives?" finally enquired
"Yes, you will all escape," was the reply, "and in due time you will
return to your home and your future life will be prosperous. But there
is one thing," he continued, "about which I must entreat you to be
exceedingly careful. As you are being carried down the stream by the
great flood, be sure to rescue every living thing that you meet in
distress upon the waters. You will not fail to be rewarded for so
doing, as the creatures you save will repay you a thousandfold for any
services you may render them. There is one thing more that I would
solemnly warn you against. You will come across a man floating
helplessly on the swiftly flowing tide. Have nothing to do with him.
Leave him to his fate. If you try to save him, you will only bring
sorrow upon your home."
As the priest was departing, Chung tried to press into his hand a
considerable present of money, but he refused to accept it. He did not
want money from him, he said. The gods had heard of his great love for
men, and they had sent him to warn him so that he might escape the doom
which would overtake his fellow-citizens.
After his departure Chung at once called the boat-builders who had
their yards along the bank of the stream, and ordered ten large boats
to be built with all possible speed. The news of this spread through
the town, and when the reasons were asked and the reply was given that
the boats were in anticipation of a mighty flood that would ere long
devastate the entire region, everyone screamed with laughter; but Chung
let them laugh.
For weeks and months he sent an old man to East Street to see if the
eyes of the stone lions there had overflowed with bloody tears.
One day two pig-butchers enquired of this man how it was that every day
he appeared and looked into the eyes of the lions. He explained that
Chung had sent him, for a prophecy had come from the gods that when the
eyes of the lions shed blood, the flood which was to destroy the city
would be already madly rushing on its way.
On hearing this, these two butchers determined to play a practical
joke. Next day, in readiness for the coming of the old man, they
smeared the stone eyes with pigs' blood. No sooner had Chung's
messenger caught sight of this than, with terror in his eyes, he fled
along the streets to tell his master the dreadful news. By this time
everything had been prepared, and Chung was only waiting for the
appointed sign. The most valuable of his goods had already been packed
in some of the boats, and now his wife and son and household servants
all hurried down to the water's edge and embarked; and remembering the
injunction of the priest that there should be no delay, Chung at once
ordered the anchors to be raised, and the boatmen, as if for dear life,
made for the larger stream outside.
Hardly had the vessels begun to move when the sun, which had been
blazing in the sky, became clouded over. Soon a terrific storm of wind
tore with the force of a hurricane across the land. By-and-by great
drops of rain, the harbingers of the deluge which was to inundate the
country, fell in heavy splashes. Ere long it seemed as though the
great fountains in the heavens had burst out, for the floods came
pouring down in one incessant torrent. The sides of the mountains
became covered with ten thousand rills, which joined their forces lower
down, and developed into veritable cataracts, rushing with fearful and
noisy tumult to the plain below.
Before many hours had passed, the streams everywhere overflowed their
banks, and ran riot amongst the villages, and flowed like a sea against
the city. There was no resisting this watery foe, and before night
fell vast multitudes had been drowned in the seething floods from which
there was no escape.
Meanwhile, carried swiftly along by the swollen current, Chung's little
fleet sped safely down the stream, drawing further and further away
from the doomed city.
The river had risen many feet since they had started on their voyage,
and as they were passing by a high peak, which had been undermined by
the rush of waters hurling themselves against its base, the boats were
put into great danger by the whirl and commotion of the foam-flecked
river. Just as they escaped from being submerged, the party noticed a
small monkey struggling in the water, and at once picked it up and took
it on board.
Further on they passed a large branch of a tree, on which there was a
crow's nest, with one young one in it. This, also, remembering the
solemn injunction of the priest, they carefully took up and saved.
As they were rushing madly on down the tawny, swollen river, they were
all struck with sudden excitement by seeing something struggling in the
boiling waters. Looking at this object more attentively as they drew
nearer to it, they perceived that it was a man, who seemed to be in
great peril of his life.
Chung's tender heart was filled with sympathy, and he at once gave
orders for the boatmen to go and rescue him. His wife, however,
reminded him of the warning of the priest not to save any man on the
river, as he would inevitably turn out to be an enemy, who would in
time work his rescuer great wrong.
Chung replied that at such a time, when a human being was in extreme
danger of being drowned, personal interests ought not to be considered
at all. He had faithfully obeyed the command of the priest in saving
animal life, but how much more valuable was a man than any of the lower
orders of creation? "Whatever may happen," he said, "I cannot let this
man drown before my eyes," and as the boat just then came alongside the
swimmer, he was hauled into it and delivered from his peril.
After a few days, when the storm had abated and the river had gone down
to its natural flow, Chung returned with his family to his home. To
his immense surprise, he found that his house had not been damaged in
the least. The gods who had saved his life had used their supernatural
powers to preserve even his property from the ruin and devastation that
had fallen upon the inhabitants of the city and of the surrounding
Shortly after they had settled down again, Chung enquired of Lo-yung,
the man whom he had saved from the flood, whether he would not like to
return to his family and his home.
"I have no family left," he answered with a sad look on his face. "All
the members of it were drowned in the great flood from which you
delivered me. What little property we had was washed away by the wild
rush of the streams that overflowed our farm. Let me stay with you,"
he begged, "and give me the opportunity, by the devoted service of my
life, to repay you in some slight degree for what you have done in
saving my life."
As he uttered these words his tears began to flow, and his features
showed every sign of profound emotion. Always full of tenderness and
compassion, Chung was profoundly moved by the tears and sobs of
Lo-yung, and hastened to assure him that he need be under no concern
with regard to his future. "You have lost all your relatives, it is
true, but from to-day I shall recognize you as my son. I adopt you
into my family and I give you my name."
Six months after this important matter had been settled, the city was
placarded with proclamations from its Chief Mandarin. In these he
informed the people that he had received a most urgent Edict from the
Emperor stating that an official seal, which was in constant use in
high transactions of the State, had in a most mysterious manner
disappeared and could not be found. He was therefore directed to
inform the people that whoever informed His Majesty where the seal was,
so that it could be recovered, would receive a considerable reward and
would also be made a high mandarin in the palace of the Emperor.
That very night, whilst Chung was sleeping, a fairy appeared to him in
a dream. "The gods have sent me," he said, "to give you one more proof
of the high regard in which they hold you for your devotion to your
fellow-men. The Emperor has lost a valuable seal which he is most
anxious to recover, and he has promised large and liberal rewards to
the man who shows him where it may be found. I want to tell you where
the seal is. It lies at the bottom of the crystal well in the grounds
behind the palace. It was accidentally dropped in there by the
Empress-Dowager, who has forgotten all about the circumstance, but who
will recollect it the moment she is reminded of it. I want you to send
your own son to the capital to claim the reward by telling where the
When Chung awoke in the morning, he told his wife the wonderful news of
what had happened to him during the night, and began to make
preparations for his son to start for the capital without delay, in
order to secure the honours promised by the Emperor. His wife,
however, was by no means reconciled to the idea of parting with her
son, and strongly opposed his going.
"Why are you so set upon the honours of this life that you are willing
to be separated from your only child, whom perhaps you may never be
able to see again?" she asked her husband, with tears in her eyes.
"You are a rich man, you are beloved of the gods, you have everything
that money can buy in this flowery kingdom. Why not then be contented
and cease to long after the dignities which the State can confer, but
which can never give you any real happiness?"
Just at that moment Lo-yung came in, and hearing the wonderful story,
and seeing the distress of the mother, he volunteered to take the place
of her son and go to the capital in his stead.
"I have never yet had the chance," he said, "of showing my gratitude to
my benefactor for having saved my life, and for the many favours he has
showered upon me. I shall be glad to undertake this journey. I shall
have an audience with His Majesty and will reveal to him the place
where the seal lies hidden, and I shall then insist that all the
honours he may be prepared to bestow on me shall be transferred to your
son, to whom of right they naturally belong."
It was accordingly arranged that Lo-yung should take the place of
Chung's son, and preparations were at once made for his journey to the
capital. As he was saying good-bye to his benefactor, the latter
whispered in his ear: "If you succeed in your enterprise and the
Emperor makes you one of his royal officers, do not let ingratitude
ever enter your heart, so that you may be tempted to forget us here,
who will be thinking about you all the time you are away."
"Nothing of the kind can ever happen," exclaimed Lo-yung impetuously.
"My gratitude to you is too firmly embedded within my heart ever to be
uprooted from it."
On his arrival at the capital, he at once sought an interview with the
Prime Minister, who, on hearing that a man wished to see him about a
state matter of urgent importance, immediately admitted him to his
presence. Lo-yung at once explained that he had come to reveal the
place where the lost seal at that moment lay concealed. "I am
perfectly ready to tell all I know about it," he said, "but if possible
I should prefer to make it known to the Emperor himself in person."
"That can quickly be arranged," eagerly replied the Prime Minister,
"for His Majesty is so anxious to obtain information about the seal,
that he is prepared at any hour of the day or night to give an audience
to anyone who can ease his mind on the subject."
In a few minutes a eunuch from the palace commanded the Prime Minister
to come without delay to the Audience Hall and wait upon the Emperor.
He was also to bring with him the person who said that he had an
important communication to lay before the Throne.
When they arrived they found there not only the King, but also the
Empress-Dowager, waiting to receive them. In obedience to a hasty
command, Lo-yung told in a few words where the seal was, and how it
happened to be there. As he went on with the story the face of the
Empress lit up with wonder, whilst a pleasing smile overspread it, as
she recognized the truth of what Lo-yung was saying.
"But tell me," said the Emperor, "how you get all your information and
how it is that you have such an intimate acquaintance with what is
going on in my palace?"
Lo-yung then described how the Immortals in the Western Heaven, deeply
moved by the loving character of Chung, and wishing to reward him and
bring honour to his family, had sent a fairy, who appeared to him in a
dream and told him the secret of the seal.
"Your home," said the Emperor, "must indeed be celebrated for
benevolent and loving deeds to men, since even the fairies come down
from the far-off Heaven to express their approbation. In accordance
with my royal promise, I now appoint you to a high official position
that will enrich you for life, for I consider that it will be for the
welfare of my kingdom to have a man from a home, which the gods delight
to honour, to assist me in the management of my public affairs."
From the moment when the royal favour was bestowed on Lo-yung, it
seemed as though every particle of gratitude and every kindly
remembrance of Chung had vanished completely out of his heart. He cut
himself off from the home he had left only a few days ago, as
completely as though it had never existed.
Weeks and months went by, but no news came from him, and the heart of
Chung was wrung with anguish, for he knew that Lo-yung's unnatural
conduct would in the end bring retribution upon Lo-yung himself.
At last he determined to send his son, Keng, to the capital to find out
what had really become of Lo-yung. Attended by one of his household
servants, the young man reached his journey's end in a few days. On
enquiring at his inn about Lo-yung, he was informed that he was a
mandarin of great distinction in the city, and was under the special
protection of the Emperor, whose favourite he was.
Hearing this joyful news, Keng, followed by his servant, at once
hastened to the residence of Lo-yung, and was lucky enough to meet him
as he rode out on horseback from his magnificent yamen, attended by a
long retinue of officers and attendants.
Running up to the side of his horse, Keng cried out joyfully, "Ah! my
brother, what a joy to meet you once more! How glad I am to see you!"
To his astonishment, Lo-yung, with a frown upon his face, angrily
exclaimed; "You common fellow, what do you mean by calling me your
brother? I have no brother. You are an impostor, and you must be
severely punished for daring to claim kinship with me."
Calling some of the lictors in his train, he ordered them to beat Keng,
and then cast him into prison, and to give strict injunctions to the
jailer to treat him as a dangerous criminal. Wounded and bleeding from
the severe scourging he had received, and in a terrible state of
exhaustion, poor Keng was dragged to the prison, where he was thrown
into the deepest dungeon, and left to recover as best he might from the
shock he had sustained.
His condition was indeed a pitiable one. Those who could have helped
and comforted him were far away. He could expect no alleviation of his
sorrows from the jailer, for the heart of the latter had naturally
become hardened by having to deal with the criminal classes. Besides
he had received precise orders from the great mandarin, that this
particular prisoner was to be treated as a danger to society. Even if
he had been inclined to deal mercifully with him, he dared not disobey
such definite and stringent commands as he had received from his
The prison fare was only just enough to keep body and soul together.
Keng had no money with which to bribe the jailer to give him a more
generous diet, and there was no one to guarantee that any extra
expenses which might be incurred would ever be refunded to him.
And then a miracle was wrought, and once more the fairies interfered,
this time to save the life of the only son of the man whose fame for
tenderness and compassion had reached the far-off Western Heaven.
One morning, as Keng lay weary and half-starved on the blackened heap
of straw that served him as a bed in the corner of the prison, a monkey
climbed up and clung to the narrow gratings through which the light
penetrated into his room. In one of its hands it held a piece of pork
which it kept offering to Keng. Very much surprised, he got up to take
it, when to his delight he discovered that the monkey was the identical
one which had been picked up by his father on the day of the great
The same thing was repeated for several days in succession, and when
the jailer asked for some explanation of these extraordinary
proceedings, Keng gave him a detailed account of their wonderful
deliverance by the fairies, the picking up of the monkey, and the
rescue of Lo-yung, now the great mandarin, who was keeping him confined
in prison. "Ah!" muttered the jailer under his breath, "the lower
animals know how to show gratitude, but men do not."
A few days after this another messenger of the gods came to give his
aid to Keng. A number of crows gathered on a roof which overlooked the
narrow slits through which the prisoner could catch a glimpse of the
blue sky. One of them flew on to the ledge outside, and Keng
immediately recognized it as the one which had been saved from the
floating branch in the turbid river. He was overjoyed to see this
bird, and besought the jailer to allow him to write a letter to his
father, telling him of his pitiful condition. This request was
granted, and the document was tied to the leg of the crow, which flew
away on its long flight to Chung with its important news.
Chung was greatly distressed when he read the letter that his son had
written in prison, and with all the speed he could command, he
travelled post haste to the capital. When he arrived there he made
various attempts to obtain an interview with Lo-yung, but all in vain.
The mandarin had not sense enough to see that the threads of fate were
slowly winding themselves around him, and would soon entangle him to
Very unwillingly, therefore, because he still loved Lo-yung and would
have saved him if possible, Chung entered an accusation against him
before Fau-Kung, the famous criminal judge.
The result of the investigation was the condemnation of Lo-yung, whose
execution speedily followed, whilst Keng was promoted to the very
position that had been occupied by the man who had tried to work his