Long, long ago, a little Chinese boy named Kwang-Su lived in the city of Yo-chan with his father and mother, who loved him very much. Now, Chinese mothers and fathers will take every care to protect their children from the power of evil Genii, or spirits. There were a great many evil Genii in China at that time, a little Kwang-Su’s mother was very careful to protect him as best she could.
It is well known that a wicked Genii will not come near a Chinese boy if some red silk is braided in with his pigtail, or if he wears a silver chain around his neck; and every wicked Genii has a great dread of old fishing nets, as well.
So Kwang-Su’s mother made him a little shirt out of an old fishing net to wear next his skin, and she took good care that his pigtail should be plaited with the brightest red silk that money could buy.
There is a great deal in having the head shaved in just the right way, too, and it is best to have a little tuft of hair sticking up in the luckiest place, as well. All these things were done for Kwang-Su, and so he passed safely through the troubles of his babyhood and grew from a little boy into a bi one, and from a boy to a tall and handsome youth.
At this time he left off wearing his netted shirt although the silver chain still hung around his neck, and you may be very sure there was red silk braided into his pigtail.
One day Kwang-Su’s father said, “It is time that the boy saw a little more of the world. He must go to Yun-nan and study under the wise men there and find out the things that he should know.” Yun-nan was a very great city indeed, and Shun-Che, the master to whom Kwang-Su was sent, was the wisest man in it.
Under this teacher Kwang-Su learned what the wise men of the world were thinking about, and many other things besides. When he was eighteen years old he took the red silk out of his pigtail and the silver chain from his neck, for grown-up people do not need such charms to protect themselves from the Genii.
When Kwang-Su was twenty years old, Shun-Che told him he could not teach him any more. “It is time for you to go back to your parents and com- fort them in their old age,” he told him; and he was very sorry as he said it, for Kwang-Su was his favorite pupil.
“I will do as you bid me,” replied Kwang-Su, obediently. “I will start tomorrow, and I will leave the city by the Golden Bridge.”
“You must not leave by the Golden Bridge,” said Shun-Che, “you must go by the Indigo Bridge, for there you will meet your future wife.”
“But I have not been thinking of a wife at all,” said Kwang-Su.
“All the better,” said Shun-Che as he wrinkled up his eyes, and laughed, “because when you have once seen her, you will be able to think of nothing else.”
In the morning Kwang-Su was sleepy and did not start on his journey as early as he should have done, but he had studied very hard the night before, and so fell asleep just before sunrise and slept through the coolest hours of the day.
When he did awake the sun was blazing down upon the streets of Yun-nan, and making the town like a furnace. Kwang-Su set off with his stick in his hand, however, for he had promised to start that day. He said to himself: “I will rest a little at the Indigo Bridge, and walk on again in the cool of the evening.”
But when he reached the bridge he was so tired that he fell asleep again, and while he slept he dreamed that a tall and beautiful maiden appeared to him, and showed him her right foot around which a red cord was bound. Kwang-Su could hardly take his eyes from her face to look at her foot, but at last he asked, “What is the meaning of it?”
And the girl replied, “What is the meaning of the red cord around your foot, too?” Kwang-Su looked down at his right foot. Sure enough, his foot and the girl’s foot were tied together by the same thin red cord; and by this he knew that she must be his future wife.
Then he said to the girl, “I have heard my mother say that when a boy is born the Fairy of the Moon ties an invisible red cord around his right foot, and the other end of the cord around the foot of the girl-baby whom he is to marry.”
And the girl replied, “That is true, and this is an invisible cord to people who are awake. Now I am going to tell you my name and you must remember it when you hear it again, It is Ling-Ling.”
Then Kwang-Su began to say, “And I will tell you mine,” but Ling-Ling stopped him, smiling.
“Ah, I know yours and all about you,” she said.
Kwang-Su was very much surprised at this, but he need not have been, for every one in Yun-nan knew him to be the handsomest and wisest and best-loved pupil the wise Shun-Che had ever taught.
Ling-Ling lived quite close to the city, and had often seen Kwang-Su walking through the streets with his books. When Kwang-Su awoke he found as the girl had said, that there was no red cord around his foot, and no fair maiden, either. “I wonder if she is real, or only a dream-maiden, after all,” he said to himself. And then he went on his way, thinking of Ling-Ling all the time.
After a while he grew so thirsty that he stopped at a little house by the road-side, and asked an old woman who was sitting in the doorway to give him a drink.
The woman called to her daughter to fill their best cup with fresh spring water and bring it out to the stranger; and when the daughter appeared it was Ling-Ling herself! “Oh!” cried Kwang-Su, “I thought perhaps I should never see you again, and here I have found you so soon.”
Then the girl laughingly asked, “And what is my name ?”
“It is Ling-Ling,” replied Kwang-Su, “Ling-Ling…Ling-Ling,” he repeated, just as he had been saying it all the time as he walked along.
Ling-Ling stood in the door of the little house, with a peach tree in full bloom over her head. She was dressed in white, but her over-dress was bright blue, embroidered with beautiful flowers which she had worked herself, and she made such a picture of youth and loveliness that Kwang-Su was completely bewildered.
“How do you come to know Ling-Ling?” asked the old woman. “Who are you?” she added, peering and blinking at him, with her hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun.
Now, the old woman knew something of magic, and had given Ling-Ling the power of stepping in and out of people’s dreams just as she chose, but when she came to hear of Kwang-Su’s dream, and the red cord, and that Kwang-Su wanted to marry her daughter, she did not look at all pleased.
Kwang-Su was not a bad match at all, for his parents were well off, and he was their only child, but the old woman only grumbled, “If I had two daughters, you might have one of them and welcome.”
The truth of the matter was that Ling-Ling was a very pretty girl, and a mandarin in Yun-nan was anxious to make her his wife. Her mother ex- plained this to Kwang-Su. “He is four times her age, it is true,” she said, “but he is very rich. All his dishes and plates are gold, and they say his drinking cups are gold, set with diamonds.”
“I don’t want to marry him,” said Ling-Ling. “He is old and wrinkled, like a little brown monkey. And, besides, the Fairy of the Moon didn’t tie my foot to his.”
“That is very true,” sighed her mother. She would have liked to tell Kwang-Su to go about his business, but she knew if the red cord really had been tied between his foot and Ling-Ling’s it would not be safe to do it. It does not do to meddle with such matters.
So the old woman invited Kwang-Su into the house. “Come in,” she said, “and I’ll see what I can promise.” The inside of the house was fra- grant with the scent of herbs, which were strewn all over the floor, and on a wooden stool in the middle of the room lay a broken pestle atld mortar.
“On this stool,” said the old woman, “I pound magic drugs given to me by the Genii; but my pestle and mortar is broken. I want a new one.” “I will buy you one in Yun-nan,” replied Kwang-Su.
“That will not do at all, for it is a pestle and mortar of jade, and you can only get one like it by going to the home of the Genii which is on a mountain above the Jeweled Sea. If you will do that, and bring it back to me, you shall marry Ling-Ling.”
“I will do it,” said Kwang-Su, “but I must see my parents first.” He had not the least idea where the home of the Genii was; but Ling-Ling took him out into the garden, and showed him in the far distance a range of snow-capped mountains, with one pea towering above the rest.
“That is where the Genii live,” she said. “Up there on Mount Fumi, where they can sit on the snow and looked down at the Jeweled Sea.” Then she went on: “But to reach Mount Fumi, you must cross the Blue River, the White River, the Red River and the Black River, which are all full of monstrous fishes. That is why my mother is sending you,” sighed Ling-Ling. “She thinks you will never come back alive.”
“Fishes don’t frighten me,” said Kwang-Su, “and I know how to swim.”
“But you must promise me you won’t try to swim,” insisted Ling-Ling. “You would be devoured in a moment. Take this box with you. In it are six red seeds. Throw one in each river as you come to it, and it will shrink to a little brook, over which you can jump.”
So Kwang-Su looked at the six round seeds, each about the size of a pea, and agreed to use them as Ling-Ling directed. Then he kissed her, and set out on his journey. On his way he passed through Yo-Chan, where his parents lived, so he went to see them and told them all that had happened since he left home.
Kwang-Su’s mother was a very wise woman, as mothers generally are, and she told him the Genii would be angry if he turned their four great rivers into brooks, and would probably refuse to give him a pestle and mortar made of jade.
Kwang Su said he had never thought of that. “It need not trouble you, though,” said his mother, “for I will give you a box containing six white seeds. All you have to do is to cast one into each brook when you have crossed it on your way home, and the brook will become a river again.”
In the morning Kwang-Su kissed his mother and went on his way. He rested during the mid-day heat, and continued his journey when it grew cool again; and in this way at the end of seven days he came to the Blue River.
This river was a quarter of a mile wide, and as blue as midsummer skies, and fishes were popping their heads out of the water in every direction. The head of every fish was twice as large as a football, and had two rows of teeth.
But Kwang-Su threw a red seed into the waters which were lapping the shore, and in a moment, instead of a wide blue river, a little brook lay at his feet. The huge fishes were changed into tiny creatures like tadpoles, and he hopped across the brook on one foot.
Not long afterwards he came to the White River which was half a mile wide, so rapid that it was covered with foam, and full of immense sea serpents.
“I shan’t be able to hop over this on one foot,” thought Kwang-Su, throwing one of his red seeds into the water. But to his surprise the White River shrank, as rapidly as the Blue River had done, into a tiny rippling brook, with some wee, wriggling eels at the bottom.
Kwang-Su leaped lightly over it, and walked a long way before he came in sight of the Red River. This was three-quarters of a mile wide, and bright scarlet. It looked like a flood of melted sealing-wax, and a row of alligators with their mouths wide open, stretched right across it like a bridge. “Now for my little red seed!” cried Kwang-Su, opening his box.
Snap! went the jaws of the nearest alligator as the seed struck the water, but he missed it, and the next minute he found himself no bigger than a lizard sitting at the bottom of a stream not half a yard across.
On the other side of the river Kwang-Su was met by one of the Genii who had come down from his snow-peak to see who had dared to play such tricks with three mighty rivers. Kwang-Su showed him the round white seeds in his other box.
“I can make the rivers as large as they were before on my way back,” he told the Geni. “But first I must find the home of the Genii, and get a pestle and mortar of jade for my future mother-in-law to pound her magic drugs in.”
“To get to it you must first cross the Black River,” said the Genii, with rather a scornful laugh. “It is a mile wide, and the fishes in it are six yards long, and covered with spikes like porcupines.”
“Would you mind telling me how you get across?” asked Kwang-Su.
“Not at all. I can fly,” replied the Genii.
“And I can jump,” retorted Kwang-Su, sturdily.
So they set out together and in a little while came to the Black River—a great waste of water, as black as ink, stretching in front of them. Kwang-Su’s heart sank a little, but he took out his fourth seed and watched it disappear beneath a coal-black wave. In an instant the river dried up, leaving only a shallow stream running through the grass at their feet.
The Genii was much impressed by the wonderful things Kwang-Su seemed able to do, and as he was not altogether a bad-hearted fellow, he offered to show him the nearest way to the home of the Genii on the top of Mount Fumi. After a long and wearisome climb they got up there, and found eight of the Genii sitting on eight snow-peaks and looking down on the Jeweled Sea, as Ling-Ling had said.
Kwang-Su could not take his eyes off the Jeweled Sea, for it was a beautiful sheet of water, flashing with all the colors of the rainbow. He forgot all about the pestle and mortar as he watched the waves rippling along the shore, leaving behind them diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls in thousands. Every pebble was a precious stone, and he wanted to go down and fill his pockets with them.
So there he stood while the Genii who had been his guide explained to the others why he had come and told them about the wonderful red and white seeds he carried about with him. “We must let him have the pestle and mortar,” he said, “or he won’t give us our rivers back again.”
Then the eight Genii nodded their eight heads, and spoke all at once with a voice which was like the rumble of thunder among the hills. “Let him take it if he can carry it,” they said. And then they laughed until the snow-peaks shook beneath them, for the mortar made of jade was six feet high and our feet wide, and the pestle was so heavy no mortal could lift it.
When Kwang-Su had finished staring at the Jeweled Sea, he walked around the pestle and mortar, and wondered how he was to carry it down the mountain and across the plains to Yun-nan. He sat down beside it to think the matter over, while the Genii laughed at him again.
“Oh, you can carry it easily enough,” they said, “and if you wish to fill the mortar with precious stones, you may do so. Any man who can carry it away empty, can carry it away full.”
Still Kwang-Su sat there with folded arms, and thought, and thought, and paid no attention to their sneers. He had not studied three years with the wisest man in Yun-nan for nothing, and besides, he was determined to marry Ling-Ling.
Then all at once the right idea came to him; and he jumped up and asked the friendly Geni if he would make a little heap of stones at one side of the mortar. “I want to look inside of it, and I am not tall enough,” he said.
“Why don’t you do it yourself ?” asked the Geni; and Kwang-Su replied, “Because I must go down to the Jeweled Sea and collect precious stones.” So he ran down to the water and gathered diamonds and rubies and pearls and emeralds and sapphires, as many as he could carry.
Again and again he did this, emptying them into the mortar each time, until it was quite full, and held gems enough to make him the richest man in China.
You see, the yellow-faced mandarin was only the richest man in Yun-nan, but if Kwang-Su could be the richest man in the whole kingdom he would have a much better chance of marrying Ling-Ling.
When Kwang-Su had finished filling the mortar, the Genii said to him, “Well, what next? Are you going to take it on your shoulder or on your head?” and Kwang-Su replied easily, “I will just carry it under my arm!”
Then he took out his little box and dropped one of the red seeds on top of the gems; and in a mo- ment the pestle and mortar shrank to one of ordinary size! Then Kwang-Su put the pestle in his pocket, and lifting the mortar carefully so as not to spill the precious stones, he made a low bow to the Genii and said, “Good-bye, and thank you very much.”
Then what a roar the Genii set up. It sounded as if thirteen lions were waiting for their dinners. There was no laughing this time, for they were in a rage; but they did not dare to stop him for they knew he had the power to turn the four brooks into four rivers again.
On his way back Kwang-Su did exactly as he had promised the Genii. He jumped across the first brook, and threw a white seed into it, and turned it into a terrible inky black waste of waters, a mile wide, full of fishes six yards long, and every fish covered with spikes. The roars of the Genii ceased when they saw the Black River rolling once more between them and the outer world.
At the Red River, the White River, and the Blue River, Kwang-Su did the same thing; and from that day to this, no one has been able to find the home of the Genii, because no one but Kwang-Su could ever cross the Blue River, much less the other three.
Then for seven days Kwang-Su journeyed on, and came at last to his father’s and mother’s home in Yo-Chan. Then he told them all that had happened since he had left them; and for every white seed his mother had given him, he gave her a diamond, a ruby, an emerald, a pearl, a sapphire, and a pink topaz, each as large as a robin’s egg.
After that he went on to Yun-nan, and there he found that although he had been away but a month, Ling-Ling’s mother had told every one that he was dead. Besides this, she had invited all her friends to a wedding feast in honor of her daughter’s marriage with the yellow-faced mandarin.
Luckily the wedding had not taken place when Kwang-Su arrived; but Ling-Ling stood under the peach tree in her wedding dress, which was of pink silk, all embroidered with silver. When she saw Kwang-Su she threw herself into his arms and cried for joy.
Kwang-Su put down the mortar while he comforted here, and just then her mother came running out to look at it. “You have come too late to marry Ling-Ling,” she said, “but I will buy the pestle and mortar from you with some of the money the mandarin has given me.”
“Not a bit of it,” replied Kwang-Su. And then he dropped one of his white seeds into the mortar, which at once increased in size until it filled the plot of grass under the peach tree, and was full to the top with glittering jewels.
The next thing Kwang-Su did was to climb onto one of the branches above them, and from there he threw down among the wedding guests rubies and diamonds and all kinds of precious stones. The busiest one among the guests was the yellow-faced mandarin. “One cannot have too much of a good thing,” he chuckled as he picked up the glittering gems.
“Just look at him!” cried the others indignantly. “Just see him scramble, as though he had no drinking cups set with diamonds!”
Then Kwang-Su offered him three rubies, each as large as a hen’s egg, if he would go away and say nothing about marriage to Ling-Ling ever again. So the yellow-faced mandarin took the rubies and went away. Perhaps he knew that he had no chance against a lover who scattered jewels about as though they were pebbles; and perhaps he preferred the three great rubies to Ling-Ling.
When the yellow-faced mandarin was gone, Kwang-Su and Ling-Ling were married; and in the city where his father and mother lived they were as happy as two young people deserve to be when they love each other very dearly.