THE GOOD EARTH
Pearl S Buck
Published 1931  A Guide to Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth



I
IT WAS WANG LUNG'S MARRIAGE DAY. AT FIRST, opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtains about his bed, he could not think why the dawn seemed different from any other. The house was still except for the faint, gasping cough of his old father, whose room was opposite to his own across the middle room. Every morning the old man's cough was the first sound to be heard. Wang Lung usually lay listening to it, and moved only when he heard it approaching nearer and when he heard the door of his father's room squeak upon its wooden hinges.

But this morning he did not wait. He sprang up and pushed aside the curtains of his bed. It was a dark, ruddy dawn, and through a small square hole of a window, where the tattered paper fluttered, a glimpse of bronze sky gleamed. He went to the hole and tore the paper away.

'It is spring and I do not need this,' he muttered.

He was ashamed to say aloud that he wished the house to look neat on this day. The hole was barely large enough to admit his hand, and he thrust it out to feel of the air. A small soft wind blew gently from the east, a wind mild and murmurous and full of rain. It was a good omen. The fields needed rain for fruition. There would be no rain this day, but within a few days, if this wind continued, there would be water. It was good. Yesterday he had said to his father that if this brazen, glittering sunshine contin- ued, the wheat could not fill in the ear. Now it was as if Heaven had chosen this day to wish him well. Earth would bear fruit.

He hurried out into the middle room, drawing on his blue outer trousers as he went, and knotting about the full- ness at his waist his girdle of blue cotton cloth. He left his upper body bare until he had heated water to bathe him- self. He went into the shed which was the kitchen, leaning against the house, and out of its dusk an ox twisted its head from behind the corner next the door and lowed at him deeply. The kitchen was made of earthen bricks: the house was great squares of earth dug from their own fields, and thatched with straw from their own wheat. Out of their own earth had his grandfather in his youth fashion- ed also the oven, baked and black with many years of meal-preparing. On top of this earthen structure stood a deep, round, iron cauldron.

This cauldron he filled partly full of water, dipping it with a half-gourd from an earthen jar that stood neat, but he dippped cautiously, for water was precious. Then, after a hesitation, he suddenly lifted the jar and emptied all the water into the cauldron. This day he would bathe his whole body. Not since he was a child upon his mother's knee had any one looked upon his body. Today one would, and he would have it clean.

He went around the oven to the rear, and selecting a handful of the dry grass and stalks standing in the corner of the kitchen, he arranged it delicately in the mouth of the oven, making the most of every leaf. Then from an old flint and iron he caught a flame and thrust it into the straw and there was a blaze.

This was the last morning he would have to light the fire. He had lit it every morning since his mother died six years before. He had lit the fire, boiled water, and poured the water into a bowl and taken it into the room where his father sat upon his bed, coughing and fumbling for his ("shoes upon the floor. Every morning for these six years the old man had waited for his son to bring in hot water to ease him of his morning coughing. Now father and son 1 could rest. There was a woman coming to the house. Never again would Wang Lung have to rise summer and winter at dawn to light the fire. He could lie in his bed and wait, and he also would have a bowl of water brought to him, and if the earth were fruitful there would be tea-leaves in 'the water. Once in some years it was so.

And if the woman wearied there would be her children to light the fire, the many children she would bear to Wang Lung. Wang Lung stopped, struck by the thought of children running in and out of their three rooms. Three rooms had always seemed much to them, a house half-empty since his mother died. They were always having to resist relatives who were more crowded — his uncle, with his endless brood of children, coaxing.

'Now, how can two lone men need so much room? Can- not father and son sleep together? The warmth of the young one's body will comfort the old one's cough.'

But the father always replied, 'I am saving my bed for my grandson. He will warm my bones in my age.'

Now the grandsons were coming — grandsons upon grandsons! They would have to put beds along the walls and in the middle room. The house would be full of beds. The blaze of the oven died down while Wang Lung thought of all the beds there would be in the half-empty house, and the water began to chill in the cauldron. The shadowy figure of the old man appeared in the doorway, holding his unbuttoned garments about him. He was coughing and spitting, and he gasped :

'How is it that there is not water yet to heat my lungs ?'

Wang Lung stared and recalled himself and was ashamed.

'This fuel is damp,' he muttered from behind the stove. 'The damp wind. '

The old man continued to cough perseveringly, and would not cease until the water boiled. Wang Lung dipped some into a bowl, and then, after a moment, he opened a glazed jar that stood upon a ledge of the stove and took from it a dozen or so of the curled dried leaves and sprinkled them upon the surface of the water. The old man's eyes opened greedily and immediately he began to complain.

'Why are you wasteful? Tea is like eating silver.'

'It is the day,' replied Wang Lung with a short laugh. 'Eat and be comforted.'

The old man grasped the bowl in his shrivelled, knotty fingers, muttering, uttering little grunts. He watched the leaves uncurl and spread upon the surface of the water, unable to bear drinking the precious stuff.

'It will be cold,' said Wang Lung.

'True — true,' said the old man in alarm, and he began to take great gulps of the hot tea. He passed into an animal satisfaction, like a child fixed upon its feeding. But he was jot too forgetful to see Wang Lung dipping the water recklessly from the cauldron into a deep wooden tub. He lifted his head and stared at his son.

'Now there is water enough to bring a crop to fruit,' he said suddenly.

Wang Lung continued to dip the water to the last drop. He did not answer.

'Now then!' cried his father loudly.


‘I have not washed my body all at once since the New Year,' said Wang Lung in a low voice.

He was ashamed to say to his father that he wished his body to be clean for a woman to see. He hurried out, carrying the tub to his own room, The door was hung loosely upon a warped wooden frame and it did not shut closely, and the old man tottered into the middle room and put his mouth to the opening and bawled.

'It will be ill if we start the woman like this — tea in the morning water and all this washing!'

'It is only one day’, shouted Wang Lung. And then he added, 'I will throw the water oh the earth when I am finished and it is not all waste.'

The old man was silent at this, and Wang Lung unfastened his girdle and stepped out of his clothing. In the light that streamed in a square block from the hole he wrung a small towel from the steaming water and he scrubbed his dark, slender body vigorously. Warm though he had thought the air, when his flesh was wet he was cold, and he moved quickly, passing the towel in and out of the water until from his whole body there went up a delicate cloud of steam. Then he went to a box that had been his mother's and drew from it a fresh suit of blue cotton cloth. He might be a little cold this day without the wadding of the winter I garments, but he suddenly could not bear to put them on against his clean flesh. The covering of them was torn and filthy and the wadding stuck out of the holes, grey and sod- den. He did not want this woman to see him for the first time with the wadding sticking out of his clothes. Later she would have to wash and mend, but not the first day. He drew over the blue cotton coat and trousers a long robe made of the same material — his one long robe, which he wore on feast days only, ten days or so in the year, all told. Then with swift fingers he unplaited the long braid of hair that hung down his back, and taking a wooden comb from the drawer of the small, unsteady table, he began to comb out his hair.

His father drew near again and put his mouth to the crack of the door.

'Am I to have nothing to eat this day?' he complained. 'At my age the bones are water in the morning until food is given them.'

'I am coming,' said Wang Lung, braiding his hair quickly and smoothly and weaving into the strands a tasselled, black silk cord.

Then after a moment he removed his long gown and wound his braid about his head and went out, carrying the tub of water. He had quite forgotten the breakfast. He would stir a little water into corn meal and give it to his father. For himself he could not eat. He staggered with the tub to the threshold and poured the water upon the earth nearest the door, and as he did so he remembered he had used all the water in the cauldron for his bathing and he would have to start the fire again. A wave of anger passed over him at his father.

'That old head thinks of nothing except his eating and his drinking,' he muttered into the mouth of the oven; but aloud he said nothing. It was the last morning he would have to prepare food for the old man. He put a very little water into the cauldron, drawing it in a bucket from the well near the door, and it boiled quickly and he stirred meal together and took it to the old man.

'We will have rice this night, my father,' he said. 'Meanwhile, here is corn.'

'There is only a little rice left in the basket,' said the old man, seating himself at the table in the middle room and stirring with his chopsticks the thick yellow gruel.

'We will eat a little less then at the spring festival,' said Wang Lung. But the old man did not hear. He was supping loudly at his bowl.

Wang Lung went into his own room, then, and drew about him again the long blue robe and let down the braid of his hair. He passed his hand over his shaven brow and over his cheeks. Perhaps he had better he newly shaven? It was scarcely sunrise yet. He could pass through the Street of the Barbers and be shaved before he went to the house where the woman waited for him. If he had the money he would do it.

He took from his girdle a small, greasy pouch of grey cloth and counted the money in it. There were six silver dollars and a double handful of copper coins. He had not, yet told his father he had asked friends to sup that night. He had asked his male cousin, the young son of his uncle, and his uncle for his father's sake, and three neighbouring farmers who lived in the village with him. He had planned to bring back from the town that morning pork, a small pond fish, and a handful of chestnuts. He might even buy a few of the bamboo sprouts from the south and a little beef to stew with the cabbage he had raised in his own garden. But this only if there were any money left after the bean oil and the soy-bean sauce had been bought. If . he shaved his head he could not, perhaps, buy the beef. Well, he would shave his head, he decided suddenly.

He left the old man without speech and went out into the early morning. In spite of the dark red dawn the sun was mounting the horizon clouds and sparkled upon the dew on the rising wheat and barley. The farmer in Wang Lung was diverted for an instant and he stooped to ex- amine the budding heads. They were empty as yet and wait- ing for the rain. He smelled the air and looked anxiously at the sky. Rain was there, dark in the clouds, heavy upon the wind. He would buy a stick of incense and place it in the little temple to the Earth God. On a day like this he would do it.

He wound his way in among the fields upon the narrow path. In the near distance the grey city wall arose. .Within that gate in the wall through which he would pass stood the great house where the woman had been a slave girl since her childhood, the House of Hwang. There were those who said, Tt is better to live alone than to marry a woman who has been slave in a great house.' But when he had said to his father, 'Am I never to have a woman?' his father replied, 'With weddings costing as they do in these evil days and every woman wanting gold rings and silk clothes before she will take a man, there remain only slaves to be had for the poor.'

His father had stirred himself then, and gone to the House of Hwang and asked if there were a slave to spare.

'Not a slave too young, and above all, not a pretty one,' he had said.

Wang Lung had suffered because she must not be pretty; it would have been something to have had a pretty wife that other men would congratulate him upon having. His father, seeing his mutinous face, cried out at him:

'And what will we do with a pretty woman? We must have a woman who will tend the house and bear children as she works in the fields, and will a pretty woman do these things? She will be for ever thinking about clothes to go with her face! No, not a pretty woman in our house. We are farmers. Moreover, who has heard of a pretty slave who was virgin in a wealthy house? All the young lords have had their fill of her. It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty. Do you imagine a pretty woman will think your farmer's hands as pleasing as the soft hands of a rich man's son, and your sun-black face as beautiful as the golden skin of the others who have had her for their pleasure?'

Wang Lung knew his father spoke well. Nevertheless, he had "to struggle with his flesh before he could answer. And then he said violently:

'At least, I will not have a woman who is pock-marked, or who has a split upper lip.'

' We will have to see what is to be had,' his father replied. Well, the woman was not pock-marked, nor had she a split upper lip. This much he knew, but nothing more. He and his father had bought two silver rings, washed with gold, and silver ear-rings, and these his father had taken to the woman's owner in acknowledgment of betrothal. Beyond this, he knew nothing of the woman who was to be his, except that on this day he could go and get her.

He walked into the cool darkness of the city gate. Wa- ter-carriers, just outside, their barrows laden with great tubs of water, passed to and fro all day, the water splashing out of the tubs upon the stones. It was always wet and cool in the tunnel of the gate under the thick wall of earth and brick — cool even upon a summer's day — so that the melon vendors spread their fruits upon the stones, melons split open to drink in the moist coolness. There were none yet, for the season was too early, but baskets of small, Tiard green peaches stood along the walls, and the vendors cried out:

c The first peaches of spring — the first peaches! Buy, eat, purge your bowels of the poisons of winter!'

Wang Lung said to himself: If she likes them, I will buy her a handful when we re- turn.' He could not realise that when he walked back through the gate there would be a woman walking behind him.

He turned to the right within the gate and after a moment was in the Street of Barbers. There were few before him so early, only some farmers who had carried their pro- duce into the town the night before in order that they might sell their vegetables at the dawn markets and return for the day's work in the fields. They had slept shivering and crouching over their baskets, the baskets now empty at their feet. Wang Lung avoided them lest some recognise him, for he wanted none of their joking on this day. All down the street in a long line the barbers stood behind their small stalls, and Wang Lung went to the farthest one and sat down upon the stool and motioned to the barber who stood chattering to his neighbour. The barber came at once and began quickly to pour hot water, from a kettle on his pot of charcoal, into his brass basin.

'Shave everything?' he said in a professional tone.

'My head and my face,' replied Wang Lung.

'Ears and nostrils cleaned?' asked the barber.

'How much will that cost extra?' asked Wang Lung cautiously.

'Fourpence,' said the barber, beginning to pass a black cloth in and out of the hot water.

'I will give you two,' said Wang Lung.

'Then I will clean one ear and one nostril' rejoined the barber promptly. 'On which side of the face do you wish it done?' He grimaced at the next barber as he spoke, and the other burst into a guffaw. Wang Lung perceived that he had fallen into the hands of a joker, and feeling inferior in some unaccountable way, as he always did, to these town- dwellers, even though they were only barbers and the low- est of persons, he said quickly: 'As you will — as you will '

Then he submitted himself to the barber's soaping and rubbing and shaving, and being after all a generous fellow enough, the barber gave him without extra charge a series of skilful poundings upon his shoulders and back to loosen his muscles. He commented upon Wang Lung as he shaved his upper forehead :

'This would not be a bad-looking farmer if he would cut off his hair. The new fashion is to take off the braid.'

His razor hovered so near the circle of hair upon Wang Lung's crown that Wang Lung cried out:

'I cannot cut it off without asking my father!' And the barber laughed and skirted the round spot of hair.

When it was finished and the money counted into the barber's wrinkled, water-soaked hand, Wang Lung had a moment of horror. So much money! But walking down the street again with the wind fresh upon his shaven skin, he said to himself:

'It is only once.'

He went to the market, then, and bought two pounds of pork and watched the butcher as he wrapped it in a dried lotus leaf, and then, hesitating, he bought- also six ounces of beef. When all had been bought, even two fresh squares of bean-curd, shivering in a jelly upon its leaf, he went to a candlemaker's shop and there he bought a pair of incense sticks. Then he turned his steps with great shy- ness toward the House of Hwang.

Once at the gate of the house he was seized with terror. How had he come alone? He should have asked his father —   his uncle — even his nearest neighbour, Ching — any one to come with him. He had never been in a great house before. How could he go in with his wedding feast on his arm, and say, 'I have come for a woman?'

He stood at the gate for a long time, looking at it. It was closed fast; two great wooden gates, painted black and bound and studded with iron, closed upon each other. Two lions made of stone stood on guard, one at either side. There was no one else. He turned away. It was impossible.

He felt suddenly faint. He would go first and buy a little food. He had eaten nothing — had forgotten food. He went into a small street-restaurant, and putting twopence upon the table he sat down. A dirty waiting-boy with a shiny black apron came near and he called out to him, 'Two bowls of noodles!' And when they were come, he ate them down greedily, pushing them into his mouth with his bamboo chopsticks, while the boy stood and spun the coppers between his black thumb and forefinger.

'Will you have more?' asked the boy indifferently.

Wang Lung shook his head. He sat up and looked about. There was no one he knew in the small, dark, crowded room full of tables. Only a few men sat eating or drinking tea. It was a place for poor men, and among them he looked neat and clean and almost well-to-do, so that a beggar passing, whined at him:

'Have a good heart, teacher, and give me a small cash — I starve!'

Wang Lung had never had a beggar ask of him before, nor had any even called him "teacher". He was pleased and he threw into the beggar's bowl two small cash, which are one-fifth of a penny, and the beggar pulled back with swiftness his black claw of a hand, and grasping the cash, fum- bled them within his rags.

Wang Lung sat and the sun climbed upwards. The waiting-boy lounged about impatiently. 'If you are buying nothing more,' he said at last with much impudence, 'you will have to pay rent for the stool.'

Wang Lung was incensed at such impudence, and he would have risen except that when he. thought of going into the great House of Hwang and of asking there for a woman, sweat broke out over his whole body as though he were working in a field.

'Bring me tea,' he said weakly to the boy. Before he could turn it was there and the small boy demanded sharply :

'Where is the penny?'

And Wang Lung, to his horror, found there was nothing to do but to produce from his girdle yet another penny.

'It is robbery/ he muttered, unwilling. Then he saw entering the shop his neighbour whom he had invited to the feast, and he put the penny hastily upon the table and drank the tea at a gulp and went out quickly by the side door and was once more upon the street.

'It is to be done/ he said to himself desperately, and slowly he turned his way to the great gates.

This time, since it was after nigh noon, the gates were ajar and the keeper of the gate idled upon the threshold, picking his teeth with a bamboo sliver after his meal. He was a tall fellow with a large mole upon his left cheek, and from the mole hung three long black hairs which had never been cut. When Wang Lung appeared he shouted roughly, thinking from the basket that he had come to sell something.

'Now then, what?'

With great difficulty Wang Lung replied : 'I am Wang Lung, the farmer.'

'Well, and Wang Lung, the farmer, what?' retorted the   gateman, who was polite to none except the rich friends of his master and mistress.

'I am come — I am come ' faltered Wang Lung.

'That I see' said the gateman with elaborate patience, twisting the long hairs of his mole.

'There is a woman' said Wang Lung, his voice sink- ing, in spite of himself, to a whisper. In the sunshine his face was wet.

The gateman gave a great laugh.

'So you are he!' he roared. 'I was told to expect a bride- groom to-day. But I did not recognize you with a basket on your arm.'

'It is only a few meats' said Wang Lung apologetically, waiting for the gateman to lead him within. But the gate- man did not move. At last Wang Lung said with anxiety:

'Shall I go alone?'

The gateman affected a start of horror. 'The Old Lord would kill you!'

Then seeing that Wang Lung was too innocent he said: 'A little silver is a good key.'

Wang Lung saw at last that the man wanted money of 1 him.

'I am a poor man,' he said pleadingly. 'Let me see what you have in your girdle,' said the gateman.

And he grinned when Wang Lung in his simplicity actually put his basket upon the stones and lifting his robe took out the small bag from his girdle and shook into his left hand what money was left after his purchases. There was one silver piece and fourteen copper pence.

'I will take the silver,' said the gateman coolly, and be- fore Wang Lung could protest the man had the silver in his sleeve and was striding through the gate bawling loudly:

'The bridegroom — the bridegroom!'.

Wang Lung, in spite of anger at what had just happened and horror at this loud announcing of his coming, could do nothing but follow, and this he did, picking up his basket and looking neither to the right nor to the left.

Afterwards, although it was the first time he had ever been in a great family's house, he could remember nothing. With his face burning and his head bowed, he walked through court after court, hearing that voice roaring ahead of him, hearing tinkles of laughter on every side. Then suddenly when it seemed to him he had gone through a hundred courts, the gateman fell silent and pushed him into a small waiting-room. There he stood alone while the gateman went into some inner place, returning in a moment to say:

'The Old Mistress says you are to appear before her.'

Wang Lung started forward, but the gateman stopped him, crying in disgust:

'You cannot appear before a great lady with a basket on your arm — a basket of pork and bean-curd! How will you bow!'

'True — true ' said Wang Lung in agitation. But he

did not dare to put the basket down because he was afraid something might be stolen from it. It did not occur to him that all the world might not desire such delicacies as two pounds of pork and six ounces of beef and a small pond-fish. The gateman saw his fear and cried out in great contempt:

'In a house like this we feed these meats to the dogs!' and seizing the basket he thrust it behind the door and pushed Wang Lung ahead of him.

Down a long, narrow veranda they went, the roofs sup- ported by delicate carven posts, and into a hall the like of which Wang Lung had never seen. A score of houses such as his whole house could have been put into it and have disappeared, so wide were the spaces, so high the roofs. Lifting his head in wonder to see the great carven and painted beams above him, he stumbled upon the high threshold of the door and would have fallen except that the gateman caught his arm and cried out:

'Now will you be so polite as to fall on your face like this before the Old Mistress?'

And collecting himself in great shame Wang Lung look- ed ahead of him, and upon a dais in the centre of the room he saw a very old lady, her small, fine body clothed in lustrous, pearly grey satin, and upon the low bench be- side her a pipe of opium stood burning over its little lamp. She looked at him out of small, sharp, black eyes, as sunken and sharp as a monkey's eyes, in her thin and wrinkled face. The skin of her hand that held the pipe's end was stretched over her little bones as smooth and as yellow as the gilt upon an idol. Wang Lung fell to his knees and knocked his head on the tiled floor.

'Raise him,' said the old lady gravely to the gateman; 'these obeisances are not necessary. Has he come for the woman?' .

'Yes, Ancient One,' replied the gateman.

'Why does he not speak for himself?' asked the old lady.

'Because he is a fool, Ancient One' said the gateman, twirling the hairs of his mole.

This roused Wang Lung and he looked with indignation at the gateman.

'I am only a coarse person, Great and Ancient Lady,' he said. 'I do not know what words to use in such a presence.'

The old lady looked at him carefully and with perfect gravity and made as though she would have spoken, except that her hand closed upon the pipe which a slave had been tending for her and at once she seemed to forget him. She bent and sucked greedily at the pipe for a moment and the sharpness passed from her eyes and a film of forgetfulness came over them. Wang Lung remained standing before her until, in passing, her eyes caught his figure.

' What is this man doing here?' she asked with sudden anger. It was as though she had forgotten everything. The gateman's face was immovable. He said nothing.

'I am waiting for the woman, Great Lady,' said Wang Lung in much astonishment.

'The woman? What woman ' the old lady began, but the slave girl at her side stooped and whispered and the lady recovered herself. 'Ah, yes, I forgot for the mo- ment — a small affair — you have come for the slave called O-lan. I remember we promised her to some farmer in marriage. You are that farmer?'

'I am he' replied Wang Lung.

'Call O-lan quickly,' said the old lady to her slave. It was as though she was suddenly impatient to be done with all this and to be left alone in the stillness of the great room with her opium pipe.

And in an instant the slave appeared leading by the hand a square, rather tall figure, clothed in clean blue cotton coat and trousers. Wang Lung glanced once and then away, his heart beating. This was his woman.

'Come here, slave,' said the old lady carelessly. 'This, man has come for you.'

The woman went before the lady and stood with bowed head and hands clasped.   'Are you ready?' asked the lady.

The woman answered slowly as an echo, 'Ready.'  Wang Lung, hearing her voice for the first time, looked at her back as she stood before him. It was a good enough voice, not loud, not soft, plain, and not ill-tempered. The woman's hair was neat and smooth and her coat clean. He saw with an instant's disappointment that her feet were not bound. But this he could not dwell upon, for the old lady was saying to the gateman.


18


"Carry her box out to the gate and let them begone.' And then she called Wang Lung and said, 'Stand beside her while I speak.' And when Wang had come forward she said to him, e This woman came into our house when she was a child of ten and here she has lived until now, when she is twenty years old. I bought her in a year of famine when her parents came south because they had nothing to eat. They were from the north in Shantung and there they returned, and I know nothing further of them. You see she has the strong body and the square cheeks of her kind. She will work well for you in the field and drawing water and all else that you wish. She is not beautiful, but that you do not need. Only men of leisure have the need for beautiful women to divert them. Neither is she clever. But she does well what she is told to do and she has a good temper. So far as I know she is virgin. She has not beauty enough to tempt my sons and grandsons even if she had not been in the kitchen. If there has been anything it has been only a serving man. But with the innu- merable and pretty slaves running freely about the courts, I doubt if there has been any one. Take her and use her well. She is a good slave, although somewhat slow and stupid, and had I not wished to acquire merit at the temple for my future existence by bringing more life into the world I should have kept her, for she is good enough for the kitchen. But I marry my slaves off if any will have them and the lords do not want them.'

And to the woman she said :

'Obey him and bear him sons and yet more sons. Bring the first child to me to see.'

'Yes, Ancient Mistress,' said the woman submissively.

They stood hesitating, and Wang Lung was greatly embarrassed, not knowing whether he should speak or what.

'Well, go, will you!' said the old lady in irritation, and Wang Lung, bowing hastily, turned and went out, the woman after him, and after her the gateman, carrying on his shoulder the box. This box he dropped down in the room where Wang Lung returned to find his basket and would carry it no farther, and indeed he disappeared without another word.

Then Wang Lung turned to the woman and looked at her for the first time. She had a square, honest face, a short, broad nose with large black nostrils, and her mouth was wide, a gash in her face. Her eyes were small and of a dull black in colour, and were filled with some sadness that was not clearly expressed. It was a face that seemed habitually silent and unspeaking* as though it could not speak if it would. She bore patiently Wang Lung's look, without embarrassment or response, simply waiting until he had seen her. He saw that it was true there was not beauty of any kind in her face — a brown, common, patient face. But there were no pock-marks on her dark skin, nor was her lip split. In her ears he saw his rings hanging, the gold-washed rings he had bought, and on her hands were the rings he had given her. He turned away with secret exultation. Well, he had his woman!

'Here is this box and this basket,' he said gruffly.

Without a word she bent over and picking up one end of the box she placed it upon her shoulder and, staggering under its weight, tried to rise. He watched her at this and suddenly he said:

'I will take the box. Here is the basket.'

And he shifted the box to his own back, regardless of the best robe he wore, and she, still speechless, took the handle of the basket. He thought of the hundred courts he had come through and of his figure, absurd under its burden.

'If there were a side gate ' he muttered, and she

nodded after a little thought, as though she did not under- stand too quickly what he said. Then she led the way through a small, unused court that was grown up with weeds, its pool choked, and there under a bent pine tree was an old round gate that she pulled loose from its bar, and they went through and into the street.

Once or twice he looked back at her. She plodded along steadily on her big feet as though she had walked there all her life, her wide face expressionless. In the gate of the wall he stopped uncertainly and fumbled in his girdle with one hand for the pennies he had left, holding the box steady on his shoulder with the other hand. He took out twopence and with these he bought six small green peaches.

'Take these and eat them for yourself,' he said gruffly. She clutched them greedily, as a child might, and held them in her hand without speech. When next he looked at her as they walked along the margin of the wheat-fields she was nibbling one cautiously, but when she saw him looking at her she covered it again with her hand and kept her jaws motionless. .

And thus they went until they reached the western field where stood the temple to the earth. This temple was ' a small structure, not higher in all than a man's shoulder and made of grey bricks and roofed with tile. Wang Lung's grandfather, who had farmed the very fields upon which Wang Lung now spent his life, had built it, hauling the bricks from the town upon his wheelbarrow. The walls were covered with plaster on the outside and a village artist had been hired in a good year once to paint upon the white plaster a scene of hills and bamboo. But the rain of generations had poured upon this painting until now there was only a faint feathery shadow of bamboos left, and the hills were almost wholly gone.

Within the temple, snugly under the roof, sat two small, solemn figures, earthen, for they were formed from the earth of the fields about the temple. These were the god himself and his lady. They wore robes of red and gilt paper, and the god had a scant, drooping moustache of real hair. Each year at the New Year, Wang Lung's father bought sheets of red paper and carefully cut and pasted new robes for the pair. And each year rain and snow beat in and the sun of summer shone in and spoiled their robes.

At this moment, however, the robes were still new, since the year was but well begun, and Wang Lung was proud of their spruce appearance. He took the basket from the woman's arm and carefully he looked about under the pork for the sticks of incense he had bought. He was anxious lest they were broken and thus make an evil omen; but they were whole, and when he had found them he stuck them side by side in the ashes of other sticks of incense that were heaped before the gods, for the whole neighbourhood worshipped these two small figures. Then fumbling for his flint and iron he caught, with a dried leaf for tinder, a flame to light the incense.

Together this man and this woman stood before the gods of their fields. The woman watched the ends of the incense redden and turn grey. When the ash grew heavy she leaned over and with her forefinger she pushed the head of ash away. Then as though fearful for what she had done, she looked quickly at Wang Lung, her eyes dumb. But there was something he liked in her movement. It was as though she felt that the incense belonged to them both; it was a moment of marriage. They stood there in complete silence, side by side, while incense smouldered into ashes; and then because the sun was sinking, Wang Lung shouldered the box and they went home.

At the door of the house the old man stood to catch the last rays of the sun upon him. He made no movement as Wang Lung, approached with the woman. It would have been beneath him to notice her. Instead, he feigned great interest in the clouds and he cried:

'That cloud which hangs upon the left horn of the new moon speaks of rain. It will not come later than to-morrow night.' And then as he saw Wang Lung take the basket from the woman he cried out again. 'And have you spent money?'  

Wang Lung set the basket on the table. 'There will be guests tonight,' he said briefly, and he carried the box into the room where he slept and set it down beside the box where his own clothes were. He looked at it strangely. But the old man came to the door and said volubly:

'There is no end to the money spent in this house!'

Secretly he was pleased that his son had invited guests, but he felt it would not do to give, out anything but complaints before his new daughter-in-law lest she be set from the first in ways of extravagance. Wang Lung said nothing, but he went out and took the basket into the kitchen, and the woman followed him there. He took the food piece by piece from the basket and laid it upon the ledge of the cold stove and he said to her:

'Here is pork and here is beef and fish. There ? re seven to eat. Can you prepare food?'

He did not look at the woman as he spoke. It would not have been seemly. The woman answered in her plain voice:

'I have been kitchen slave since I went into the House of Hwang. There were meats at every meal.'

Wang Lung nodded and left her, and did not see her again until the guests came crowding in, his uncle jovial and sly and hungry, his uncle's son an impudent lad of fifteen, and the farmers clumsy and grinning with shyness. Two were men from the village, with whom Wang Lung exchanged seed and labour at harvest-time, and one was his next-door neighbour, Ching, a small, quiet man, ever unwilling to speak unless he were compelled to it. After they had been seated about the middle room with demurring and unwillingness to take seats, for politeness, Wang Lung went into the kitchen to bid the woman serve. Then he was pleased when she said to him:

'I will hand you the bowls if you will place them upon the table. I do not like to come out before men.'

Wang Lung felt in him a great pride that this woman was his and did not fear to appear before him, but would not before other men. He took the bowls from her hands at the kitchen door and he set them upon the table in the middle room and called loudly:

'First my uncle and my brothers' And when the uncle, who was fond of jokes, said, 'Are we not to see the moth- browed bride?' Wang Lung replied firmly, 'We are not yet safe. It is not meet that other men see her until the marriage is consummated.'

And he urged them to eat, and they ate heartily of the good fare, heartily and in silence, and this one praised the brown sauce on the fish and that one the well-done pork, and Wang Lung said over and over in reply:

'It is poor stuff — it is badly prepared.'

But in his heart he was proud of the dishes, for with what meats she had the woman had combined sugar and vinegar and a little wine and soy sauce, and she had skil- fully brought forth all the force of the meat itself, so that Wang Lung himself had never tasted such dishes upon the tables of his friends.

That night, after the guests had tarried long over their tea and had done with their jokes, the woman still lingered behind the stove, and when Wang Lung had seen the last guest away he went in and she cowered there in the straw- piles asleep beside the ox. There was straw in her hair when he roused her, and when he called her she put up her arm suddenly in her sleep as though to defend herself from a blow. When she opened her eyes at last, she looked at him with her strange, speechless gaze, and he felt as though he faced a child. He took her by the hand and led her into the room where that morning he had bathed him- self for her, and he lit a red candle upon the table. In this light he was suddenly shy when he found himself alone with the woman and he was compelled to remind himself:

'There is this woman of mine. The thing is to be done.'

And he began to undress himself doggedly. As for the woman, she crept around the corner of the curtain and began without a sound to prepare for the bed. Wang Lung said gruffly:

'When you lie down, put the light out first.'

Then he lay down and drew the thick quilt about his shoulders and pretended to sleep. But he was not sleeping. He lay quivering, every nerve of his flesh awake. And when, after a long time, the room went dark, and there was the slow, silent, creeping movement of the woman beside him, an exultation filled him fit to break his body. He gave a hoarse laugh into the darkness and seized her.

II

THERE WAS THIS LUXURY OF LIVING. THE NEXT morning he lay upon his bed and watched the woman who was now wholly his own. She rose and drew about her her loosened garments and fastened them closely about her throat and waist, fitting them to her body with a slow writhe and twist. Then she put her feet into her cloth shoes and drew them on by the straps hanging at the back. The light from the small hole shone on her in a bar and he saw her face dimly. It looked unchanged. This was an astonishment to Wang Lung. He felt as though the night must have changed him; yet here was this woman rising from his bed as though she had risen every day of her life. The old man's cough rose querulously out of the dusky dawn and he said to her:

'Take to my father first a bowl of hot water for his lungs.'

She asked, her voice exactly as it had been yesterday when she spoke, 'Are there to be tea-leaves in it?'

This simple question troubled Wang Lung. He would have liked to say, 'Certainly there must be tea-leaves. Do you think we are beggars?' He would have liked the woman to think that they made nothing of tea-leaves in this house. In the House of Hwang, of course, every bowl of water was green with leaves. There, even a slave, perhaps, would not drink only water. But he knew his father would be angry if on the first day the woman served tea to him instead of water. Besides, they really were not rich. He replied negligently, therefore:

'Tea? No — no — it makes his cough worse.'  

And then he lay in his bed warm and satisfied while in the kitchen the woman fed the fire and boiled the water. He would like to have slept, now that he could but his. foolish body, which he had made to arise every 'morning so early for all these years, would not sleep although it could, and so he lay there, tasting and savouring in his mind and in his flesh his luxury of idleness.

He was still half ashamed to think of this woman of his. Part of the time he thought of his fields and of the grains of the wheat and of what his harvest would be if the rains came and of the white turnip seed he wished to buy from his neighbour Ching if they could agree upon a price. But between all these thoughts which were in his mind every day there ran weaving and interweaving the new thought of what his life now was, and it occurred to him, suddenly, thinking of the night, to wonder if she liked him. This was a new wonder. He had questioned only of whether he would like her and whether or not she would be satisfactory in his bed and in his house. Plain though her face was and rough the skin upon her hands, the flesh of her big body was soft and untouched, and he laughed when he thought of it — the short, hard laugh he had thrown out into the darkness the night before. The young lords had not seen, then, beyond that plain face of the kitchen slave. Her body was beautiful, spare and big-boned, yet rounded and soft. He desired suddenly that she should like him as her husband, and then he was ashamed.

The door opened and in her silent way she came in, bearing in both hands a steaming bowl to him. He sat up in bed and took it. There were tea-leaves floating upon the surface of the water. He looked up at her quickly. She was at once afraid and she said:

'I took no tea to the Old One — I did as you said — but to you.'

Wang Lung saw that she was afraid of him and he was pleased, and he answered before she finished, 'I like it — I like it,' and he drew his tea into his mouth with loud sups of pleasure.

In himself there was this new exultation that he was ashamed to make articulate even to his own heart, 'This woman of mine likes me well enough!'

It seemed to him that during these next months he did nothing except watch this woman of his. In reality he worked as he had always worked. He put his hoe upon his shoulder and he walked to his plots of land and he cultivated the rows of grain, and he yoked the ox to the plough and he ploughed the western field for garlic and onions. But the work was luxury, for when the sun struck the zenith he could go to his house and food would be there ready for him to eat, and the dust wiped from the table, and the bowls and the chopsticks placed neatly upon it. Hitherto he had had to prepare the meals when he came in, tired though he was, unless the old man grew hungry out of time and stirred up a little meal or baked a piece of flat, unleavened bread to roll about a stem of garlic.

Now whatever there was, was ready for him, and he could seat himself upon the bench by the table and eat at once. The earthen floor was swept and the fuel pile replenished. The woman, when he had gone in the morning took the bamboo rake and a length of rope and with these she roamed the country-side, reaping here a bit of grass and there a twig or a handful of leaves, returning at noon with enough to cook the dinner. It pleased the man that they need buy no more fueL

In the afternoon she took a hoe and a basket and with these upon her shoulder she went to the main road leading into the city where mutes and donkeys and horses carried burdens to and fro, and there she picked the droppings from the animals and carried it home and jailed the manure in the dooryard for fertiliser for the fields. These things she did without a word and without being commanded to do them. And when the end of the day came she did not rest herself until the ox had been fed in the kitchen and until she had dipped water to hold to its muzzle to let it drink what it would.

And she took their ragged clothes and, with thread that she herself spun on a bamboo spindle from a wad of cotton, she mended and contrived to cover the rents in their winter clothes. Their bedding she took into the sun on the threshold and ripped the coverings from the quilts and washed them and hung them upon a bamboo to dry, and the cotton in the quilts that had grown hard and grey from years she picked over, killing the vermin that had flourished in the hidden folds, and sunning it all. Day after day she did one thing after another, until the three rooms seemed clean and almost prosperous. The old man's cough grew better and he sat in the sun by the southern wall of the house, always half-asleep and warm and content.

But she never talked, this woman, except for the brief necessities of life. Wang Lung, watching her move steadily and slowly about the rooms on her big feet, watching secretly the stolid, square face, the unexpressed, half-fearful look of her eyes, made nothing of her. At night he knew the soft firmness of her body. But in the day her clothes, her plain blue cotton coat and trousers, covered all that he knew, and she was like a faithful, speechless serving-maid, who is only a serving-maid and nothing more. And it was not meet that he should say to her, 'Why do you not speak?' It should be enough that she fulfilled her duty.

Sometimes, working over the clods in the fields, he would fall to pondering about her. What had she seen in those hundred courts? What had been her life, that life she never shared with him? He could make nothing of it. And then he was ashamed of his own curiosity and of his linterest in her. She was, after all, only a woman.

But there is not that about three rooms and two meals a day to keep busy a woman who has been a slave in a great house and who has worked from dawn until midnight. One day when Wang Lung was hard pressed with the swelling wheat and was cultivating it with his hoe, day after day, until his back throbbed with weariness, her shadow fell across the furrow over which he bent himself, and there she stood, with a hoe across her shoulder.

'There is nothing in the house until nightfall,' she said briefly, and without speech she took the furrow to the left of him and fell into steady hoeing.

The sun beat down upon them, for it was early summer, and her face was soon dripping with her sweat. Wang Lung had his coat off and his back bare, but she worked with her thin garment covering her shoulders and it grew wet and clung to her like skin. Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labour. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house sometime return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together — together pro- ducing the fruit of this earth — speechless in their movement together.

When the sun had set he straightened his back slowly and looked at the woman. Her face was wet and streaked with the earth. She was as brown as the very soil itself. Her wet, dark garments clung to her square body. She smoothed a last furrow slowly. Then in her usual plain way she said, straight out, her voice flat and more than usually plain in the silent evening air:

'I am with child.'

Wang Lung stood still. What was there to say to this thing, then ! She stooped to pick up a bit of broken brick and threw it out of the furrow. It was as though she had said, 'I have brought you tea,' or as though she had said, 'We can eat.' It seemed as ordinary as that to her! But to him — he could not say what it was to him. His heart swelled and stopped as though it met sudden confines. Well, it was their turn at this earth!

He took the hoe suddenly from her hand and he said, his voice thick in his throat, 'Let be for now. It is a day's end. We will tell the old man.'

They walked home then, she half a dozen paces behind him, as befitted a woman. The old man stood at the door, hungry for his evening's food, which, now that the woman was in the house, he would never prepare for himself. He was impatient and he called out:

'I am too old to wait for my food like this!'

But Wang Lung, passing him into the room, said:

'She is with child already.'

He tried to say it easily as one might say, 'I have planted the seeds in the western field today,' but he could not. Although he spoke in a low voice it was to him as though he had shouted the words out louder than he would.

The old man blinked for a moment and then comprehended, and cackled with laughter.

'Heh-heh-heh,' he called out to his daughter-in-law as she came, 'so the harvest is in sight!'

Her face he could not see in the dusk, but she answered evenly :

'I shall prepare food now.'

'Yes — yes — food,' said the old man eagerly, following her into the kitchen like a child. Just as the thought of a grandson had made him forget his meal, so now the thought of food freshly before him made him forget the child.

But Wang Lung sat upon a bench by the table in the darkness and put his head upon his folded arms. Out of this body of his, out of his own loins, life!

Ill

WHEN THE HOUR FOR BIRTH DREW NEAR HE SAID to the woman:

"We must have Some one to help at the time — some woman.'

But she shook her head. She was clearing away the bowls after the evening food. The old man had gone to his bed, and the two of them were alone in the night, with only the light that fell upon them from the flickering flame of a small tin lamp filled with bean-oil, in which a twist of cotton floated for a wick.

'No woman?' he asked in consternation. He was be- ginning now to be accustomed to these conversations with her in which her part was little more than a movement of I head or hand, or at most an occasional word dropped un- willingly from her wide mouth. He had even come to feel no lack in such conversing. 'But it will be odd with only jtwo men in the house!' he continued. 'My mother had a woman from the village. I know nothing of these affairs. Is there none in the great house — no old slave with whom you were friends — who could come?'

It was the first time he had mentioned the house from which she came. She turned on him . as he had never seen her, her narrow eyes widened, her face stirred with dull anger.

'None in that house!' she cried out at him.

He dropped his pipe, which he was filling, and stared at her. But her face was suddenly as usual and she was collecting the chopsticks as though she had not spoken.

'Well, here is a thing!' he said in astonishment. But she said nothing. Then he continued in argument, 'We two men, we have no ability in childbirth. For my father it is not fitting to enter your room — for myself, I have never even seen a cow give birth. My clumsy hands might mar the child. Some one from the great house, now, where the slaves are always giving birth '

She had placed the chopsticks carefully down in an orderly heap upon the table and she looked at him and after a moment's looking she said:

'When I return to that house it will be with my son in my arms. I shall have a red coat on him and red-flowered trousers and on his head a hat with a small gilded Buddha sewn on the front and on his feet tiger-faced shoes. And I will wear new shoes and a new coat of black sateen, and I will go into the kitchen where I spent my days, and I will go into the great hall where the Old One sits with her opium, and I will show myself and my son to all of them

He had never heard so many words from her before. They came forth steadily and without a creak, albeit slowly, and he realized that she had planned this whole thing out for herself. When she had been working in the fields be- side him she had been planning all this out! How astonish- ing she was! He would have said that she had scarcely thought of the child, so quietly had she gone about her work, day in and day out. And instead she saw this child, born and fully clothed, and herself as his mother, in a new coat! He was for once without words himself, and he pressed the tobacco diligently into a ball between his thumb and forefinger, and picking up his pipe he fitted the tobacco into the bowl.

'I suppose you will need some money,' he said at last with apparent gruffness.

'If you will give me three silver pieces — ' she said fearfully. 'It is a great deal, but I have counted carefully and I will waste no penny of it. I shall make the cloth- dealer give me the last inch to the foot.'

Wang Lung fumbled in his girdle. The day before he had sold a load and a half of reeds from the pond in the western field to the town market and he had in his girdle a little more than she wished. He put the three silver dollars upon the table. Then, after a little hesitation, he added a fourth piece which he had long kept by him on the chance of his wanting to gamble a little some morning at the tea-house. But he never did more than linger about the tables and look at the dice as they clattered upon the table, fearful lest he lose if he played. He usually ended by spending his spare hours in the town at the storyteller's booth, where one may listen to an old tale and pay no more than a penny into his bowl when it was passed about.

'You had better take the other piece,' he said, lighting his pipe between the words, blowing quickly at the paper spill to set it aflame. 'You may as well make his coat of a small remnant of silk. After all, he is the first.'

She did not at once take the money, but she stood looking at it, her face motionless. Then she said in a half- whisper:

'It is the first time I have had silver money in my hand.' Suddenly she took it and clenched it in her hand and hurried into the bedroom.

Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver — out of his earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from this earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it, and from the food silver. Each time before this that he had taken the silver out to give to any one, it had been like taking a piece of his life and giving it to some one carelessly. But now for the first time such giving was not pain. He saw, not the silver in the alien hand of a merchant in the town; he saw the silver transmuted into something worth even more than itself— clothes upon the body of his son. And this strange woman of his, who worked about, saying no- thing, seeming to see nothing, she had first seen the child thus clothed !

She would have no one with her when the hour came. It came one night, early, when the sun was scarcely set. She was working beside him in the harvest field. The wheat had borne and been cut and the field flooded and the young rice set, and now the rice bore harvest, and the ears were ripe and full after the summer rains and the warm ripening sun of early autumn. Together they cut the sheaves all day, bending and cutting with short-handled scythes. She had stooped stiffly, because of the burden she bore, and she moved more slowly than he, so that they cut unevenly, his row ahead and hers behind, She began to cut more and more slowly as noon wore on to afternoon and evening, and he turned to look at her with impatience. She stopped and stood up then, her scythe dropped. On her face was a new sweat, the sweat of a new agony.

'It is come,' she said. 'I will go into the house. Do not come into the room until I call. Only bring me a newly- peeled reed, and slit it, that I may cut the child's life from mine.'

She went across the fields towards the house as though there were nothing to come, and after he had watched her he went to the edge of the pond in the outer field and chose a slim green reed and peeled it carefully and slit it on the edge of his scythe. The quick autumn darkness was falling then and he shouldered his scythe and went home.

When he reached the house he found his supper hot on the table and the old man eating. She has stopped in her labour to prepare them food! He said to himself that she was a woman such as is not commonly found. Then he went to the door of their room and he called out:

'Here is the reed!'

He waited, expecting that she would call out to him to bring it in to her. But she did not. She came to the door and through the crack her hand reached out and took the reed. She said no word, but he heard her panting as an animal pants which has run for a long way.

The old man looked up from his bowl to say: 'Eat, or all will be cold.' And then he said. 'Do not trouble yourself yet — it will be a long time. I remember well when the first was born to me it was dawn before it was over. Ah, me, to think that out of all the children I begot and your mother bore, one after the other — a score or so — I forget — only you have lived! You see why a woman must bear and bear.' And then he said again, as though he had just thought of it newly, 'By this time to- morrow I may be grandfather to a man child!' He began to laugh suddenly and he stopped his eating and sat chuckling for a long time in the dusk of the room.

But Wang Lung stood listening at the door to those heavy animal pants. A smell of hot blood came through the crack, a sickening smell that frightened him. The panting of the woman within became quick and loud, like whispered screams, but she made no sound aloud. When he could bear no more and was about to break into the room, a thin, fierce cry came out and he forgot everything.

'Is it a man?' he cried importunately, forgetting the woman. The thin cry burst out again, wiry, insistent. 'Is it a man?' he cried again, 'tell me at least this — is it a man?'

And the voice of the woman answered as faintly as an echo, 'A man!'

He went and sat down at the table then. How quick it had all been! The food was long cold and the old man was asleep on his bench, but how quick it had all been! He shook the old man's shoulder.

'It is a man child!' he called triumphantly. 'You are grandfather and I am father!'

The old man woke suddenly and began to laugh as he had been laughing when he fell asleep.

'Yes — yes — of course,' he cackled, 'a grandfather — a grandfather.' And he rose and went to his bed, still laughing.

Wang Lung took up the bowl of cold rice and began to eat. He was very hungry all at once and he could not get the food into his mouth quickly enough. In the room he could hear the woman dragging herself about and the cry of the child was incessant and piercing.

'I suppose we shall have no more peace in this house now,' he said to himself proudly.

When he had eaten all that he wished he went to the door again and she called to him to come in and he went in. The odour of spilt blood still hung hot upon the air, but there was no trace of it except in the wooden tub. But into this she had poured water and had pushed it under the bed so that he could hardly see it. The red candle was lit and she was lying neatly covered upon the . bed. Beside her, wrapped in a pair of his old trousers, as the custom was in this part, lay his son.

He went up and for the moment there were no words in his mouth. His heart crowded up into his breast and he leaned over the child to look at it. It had a round, wrinkled face that looked very dark, and upon its head the hair was long and damp and black. It had ceased crying and lay with its eyes tightly shut.

He looked at his wife and she looked back at him. Her hair was still wet with her agony and her narrow eyes were sunken. Beyond this she was as she always was. But to him she was touching, lying there. His heart rushed out to these two, and he said, not knowing what else there was that could be said:

'Tomorrow I will go into the city and buy a pound of red sugar and stir it into boiling water for you to drink.'

And then, looking at the child again, this burst forth from him suddenly as though he had just thought of it, 'We shall have to buy a good basketful of eggs and dye them all red for the village. Thus will every one know I have a son!'


IV



THE NEXT DAY AFTER THE CHILD WAS BORN THE woman rose as usual and prepared food for them, but she did not go into the harvest fields with Wang Lung, and so he worked alone until after the noon hour. Then he dressed himself in his blue gown and went into the town. He went to the market and bought fifty eggs, not new-laid, but still well enough and costing a penny for one, and he bought red paper to boil in the water with them to make them red. Then with the eggs in his basket he went to the sweet shop, and there he bought a pound and a little more of red sugar and saw it wrapped carefully into its brown paper, and under the straw string which held it the sugar- dealer slipped a strip of red paper, smiling as he did so.

'It is for the mother of a new-born child, perhaps?'

'A first-born son,' said Wang Lung proudly.

'Ah, good fortune/ answered the man carelessly, his eye on a well-dressed customer who had just come in.

This he had said many times to others, even every day to some one, but to Wang Lung it seemed special and he was pleased with the man's courtesy and he bowed, and bowed again as he went from the shop. It seemed to him as he walked into the sharp sunshine of the dusty street that there was never a man so filled with good for- tune as he.

He thought of this at first with joy and then with a pang of fear. It did not do in this life to be too fortunate. The air and the earth were filled with malignant spirits who could not endure the happiness of mortals, especially of such as are poor. He turned abruptly into the candle- maker's shop, who sold incense also, and there he bought four sticks of incense, one for each person in his house, and with these four sticks he went into the small temple of the gods of the earth, and he thrust them into the cold ashes of the incense he had placed there before, he and his wife together. He watched the four sticks well lit and then went homeward, comforted. These two small, pro- tective figures, sitting staidly under their small roof — what a power they had!

And then, almost before one could realise anything, the woman was back in the fields beside him. The harvests were past, and the grain they beat out upon the threshing- floor which was also the dooryard to the house. They beat it out with flails, he and the woman together. And when the grain was flailed they winnowed it, casting it up from great flat bamboo baskets into the wind and catching the good grain as it fell, and the chaff blew away in a cloud with the wind. Then there were the fields to plant for winter wheat again, and when he had yoked the ox and ploughed the land the woman followed behind with her hoe and broke the clods in the furrows.

She worked all day now and the child lay on an old torn quilt on the ground, asleep. When it cried the woman stopped and uncovered her bosom to the child's mouth, sitting flat upon the ground, and the sun beat down upon them both, the reluctant sun of late autumn that will no let go the warmth of summer until the cold of the coming winter forces it. The woman and the child were as brown as the soil and they sat there like figures made of earth There was the dust of the fields upon the woman's hair and upon the child's soft black head.

But out of the woman's great brown breast the milk gushed forth for the child, milk as white as snow, and when the child suckled at one breast it flowed like a foun- tain from the other, and she let it flow. There was more than enough for the child, greedy though he was, life enough for many children, and she let it flow out care- lessly, conscious of her abundance. There was always more and more. Sometimes she lifted her breast and let it flow out upon the ground to save her clothing, and it sank into the earth and made a soft, dark, rich spot in the field. The child was fat and good-natured and ate of the inex- haustible life his mother gave him.

Winter came on and they were prepared against it. There had been such harvests as never were before, and the small, three-roomed house was bursting. From the rafters of the thatched roof hung strings and strings of dried onions and garlic, and about the middle room and in the old man's room and in their own room were mats made of reeds and twisted into the shapes of great jars and these were filled full of wheat and rice. Much of this would be sold, but Wang Lung was frugal and he did not, like many of the villagers, spend his money freely at gambling or on foods too delicate for them, and so, like them, have to sell the grain at harvest when the price was low. Instead he saved it and sold it when the snow came on the ground or at the New Year when people in the towns will pay well for food at any price.

His uncle was always having to sell his grain before it was even well ripened. Sometimes, to get a little ready cash, he even sold it standing in the field to save himself the trouble of harvesting and threshing. But then his uncle's wife was a foolish woman, fat and lazy, and forever clamouring for sweet food, and for food of this sort and that, and for new shoes bought in the town. Wang Lung's woman made all the shoes for himself and for the old man and for her own feet and the child's. He would not know what to make of it if she wished to buy shoes!

There was never anything hanging from the rafters in his uncle's crumbling old house. But in his own there was even a leg of pork which he had bought from his neighbour, Ching, when he killed his pig that looked as though it were sickening for a disease. The pig had been caught early before it lost flesh and the leg was a large one and O-lan had salted it thoroughly and hung it to dry. There were, as well, two of their own chickens killed and drawn and dried with the feathers on and stuffed with salt inside.

In the midst of all this plenty they sat in the house, therefore, when the winds of winter came out of the desert to the northeast of them — winds bitter and biting. Soon the child could almost sit alone. They had had a feast of noodles, which mean long life, on his month birthday, when he was a full moon of age, and Wang Lung had invited those who came to his wedding-feast, and to each he had given a round ten of the red eggs he had boiled and dyed, and to all these who came from the village to congratulate him he gave two eggs. And every one envied him his son, a great, fat, moony-faced child with high cheek-bones like his mother. Now as winter came on he sat on the quilt placed on the earthen floor of the house instead of upon the fields, and they opened the door to the south for light, and the sun came in, and the wind on the north beat in vain against the thick earthen wall of the house.

The leaves were soon torn from the date tree on the threshold and from the willow trees and the peach trees near the fields. Only the bamboo leaves clung to the bam- boos in the sparse clump to the east of the house, and even though the wind wrenched the stems double, the leaves clung.

With this dry wind the wheat seed that lay in the ground could not sprout, and Wang Lung waited anxiously for the rains. And then the rains came suddenly out of a still grey day when the wind fell and the air was quiet and warm, and they all sat in the house filled with well-being, watching the rain fall full and straight and sink into the fields about the dooryard and drip from the thatched ends of the roof above the door. The child was amazed and stretched out his hands to catch the silver lines of the rain as it fell, and he laughed and they laughed with him and the old man squatted on the floor beside the child and said: 'There is not another child like this in a dozen villages. Those brats of my brother notice nothing before they walk.'

And in the fields the wheat seed sprouted and pushed spears of delicate green above the wet brown earth.

At a time like this there was visiting, because each farm- er felt that for once heaven was doing the work in the fields and their crops were being watered without their backs being broken for it, carrying buckets to and fro, slung upon a polo across their shoulders; and in the morn- ing they gathered at this house and that, drinking tea here and there, going from house to house barefoot, across the narrow path between the fields under great oiled-paper umbrellas. The women stayed at home and made shoes and mended clothes, if they were thrifty, and thought of preparations for the feast of the New Year.

But Wang Lung and his wife were not frequent at visit- ing. There was no house in the village of small scattered houses, of which theirs was one of a half dozen, which was so filled with warmth and plenty as their own, and Wang Lung felt that if he became too intimate with the others there would be borrowing. New Year was coming and who had all the money he wanted for new clothes and the feasting? He stayed in his house, and while the woman mended and sewed he took his rakes of split bamboo and examined them, and where the string was broken he wove in new string made of hemp he grew himself, and where a prong was broken out he drove in cleverly a new bit of bamboo.

And what he did for the farm implements, his wife, O-lan, did for the house implements. If an earthen jar leak- ed she did not, like other women, cast it aside and talk of a new one. Instead she mixed earth and clay and welded the crack and heated it slowly and it was as good as new.   They sat in their house, therefore, and they rejoiced in each other's approval, although their speech was never anything more than scattered words such as these:

'Did you save the seed from the large squash for the new planting?' Or, 'We will sell the wheat straw and burn the bean-stalks in the kitchen.' Or perhaps rarely Wang Lung would say, 'This is a good dish of noodles,' and O-lan would answer in deprecation, 'It is good flour we have this year from the fields.'

From the produce, Wang Lung in this good year had a handful of silver dollars over and above what they needed, and these he was fearful of keeping in his belt or of telling any except the woman what he had. They plotted where to keep the silver and at last the woman cleverly dug a small hole in the inner wall of their room behind the bed and into this Wang Lung thrust the silver and with a clod of earth she covered the hole, and it was as though there was nothing there. But to both Wang and O-lan it gave a sense of secret richness and reserve. Wang Lung was con- scious that he had money more than he need spend, and when he walked among his fellows he walked at ease with himself and with all.


V



THE NEW YEAR APPROACHED AND IN EVERY HOUSE in the village there were preparations. Wang Lung went into the town to the candlemaker's shop and he bought squares of red paper on which were brushed in gilt ink the letter for happiness and some with the letter for riches, and these squares he pasted upon his farm utensils to bring him luck in the New Year. Upon his plough and upon the ox's yoke and upon the two buckets in which he carried his J fertiliser and his water, upon each of these he pasted a square. And then upon the doors of his house he pasted long strips of red paper brushed with mottoes of good luck, and over his doorway he pasted a fringe of red paper cunningly cut into a flower pattern, and very finely cut. And he bought red paper to make new dresses for the gods, and this the old man did cleverly enough for his old shaking hands, and Wang Lung took them and put them upon the two small gods in the temple to the earth and he burn- ed a little incense before them for the sake of the New Year. And for his house he bought also two red candles to burn on the eve of the year upon the table under the picture of a god, which was pasted on the wall of the middle room above where the table stood.

And Wang Lung went again into the town and he bought pork fat and white sugar, and the woman rendered the fat smooth and white and she took rice flour, which they had ground from their own rice between their millstones to which they could yoke the ox when they needed to, and she took the fat and the sugar and she mixed and kneaded rich New Year's cakes, called moon cakes, such as were eaten in the House of Hwang.

When the cakes were laid out upon the table in strips, ready for heating, Wang Lung felt his heart fit to burst with pride. There was no other woman in the village able to do what his had done — to make cakes such as only the rich ate at the feast. In some of the cakes she had put strips of little red haws and spots of dried green plums, making flowers and patterns.

'It is a pity to eat these,' said Wang Lung.

The old man was hovering about the table, pleased as a child might be pleased with the bright colours. He said:

"Call my brother, your uncle, and his children — let them see!'

But prosperity had made Wang Lung cautious. One could not ask hungry people only to see cakes.

'It is ill luck to look at cakes before the New Year,' he replied hastily. And the woman, her hands all dusty with the fine rich flour and sticky with the fat, said :

'Those are not for us to eat, beyond one or two of the plain ones for guests to taste. We are not rich enough to eat white sugar and lard. I am preparing them for the Old. Mistress at the great house. I shall take the child on the i second day of the New Year and carry the cakes for a gift.'

Then the cakes were more important than ever, and Wang Lung was pleased that to the great hall where he had stood with so much timidity and in such poverty his wife should now go as visitor, carrying his son, dressed in red, and cakes made as these were with the best flour and sugar and lard.

All else at that New Year sank into insignificance beside this visit. His new coat of black cotton cloth, which O-lan had made, when he had put it on only made him say so himself :

'I shall wear it when I take them to the gate of the great house.'

He even bore carelessly the first day of the New Year when his uncle and his neighbours came crowding into the house to wish his father and himself well, all boisterous with food and drink. He had himself seen to it that the coloured cakes were put away into the basket lest he might have to offer them to common men, although he found it very hard when the plain white ones were praised for their flavour of fat and sugar not to cry out:

'You should see the coloured ones!'

But he did not, for more than anything he wished to enter the great house with pride.

Then on the second day of the New Year, when it is the day for women to visit each other, the men having eaten and drunk well the day before, they rose at dawn and the woman dressed the child, in his red coat and in the tiger-faced shoes she had made, and she put on his head, freshly shaven by Wang Lung himself on the last day of the old year, the crownless red hat with the small gilt Buddha sewed in front, and she set him upon the bed. Then Wang Lung dressed himself quickly while his wife combed out afresh her long black hair and knotted it with the brass pin washed with silver which he had bought for her, and she put on her new coat of black that was made from the same piece as his own new robe, twenty-four feet of good cloth for the two, and two feet of cloth thrown in for good measure, as the custom is at cloth-shops. Then, he carrying the child and she the cakes in the basket, they set out on the path across the fields, now barren with winter.

Then Wang Lung had his reward at the great gate of the House of Hwang, for when the gateman came to the woman's call he opened his eyes at all he saw and he twirl- ed the three long hairs on his mole and cried out:

'Ah, Wang the farmer, three this time instead of one!' And then seeing the new clothes they all wore and the child who was a son, he said further, 'One has no need to wish you more fortune this year than you have had in the last.'

Wang Lung answered negligently, as one speaks to a man who is scarcely an equal, 'Good harvests — good harvests' and he stepped with assurance inside the gate.

The gateman was impressed with all he saw and he said to Wang Lung:

'Do you sit within my wretched room while I announce your woman and son within.'

And Wang Lung stood watching them go across the court, his wife and his son, bearing gifts to the head of a great house. It was all to his honour, and when they had dwindled down the long vista of the courts one inside the other, and had turned at last wholly out of sight, he went into the gateman's house and there he accepted as a matter of course from the gateman's pock-marked wife the honour- able seat to the left of the table in the middle room, and he accepted with only a slight nod the bowl of tea which she presented to him and he set it before him and did not drink of it, as though it were not good enough in quailty of tea- leaves for him.

It seemed a long time before the gateman returned, bring- ing back again the woman and child. Wang Lung looked closely at the woman's face for an instant trying to see if all were well, for he had learned now from that impassive square countenance to detect small changes at first invisible to him. She wore a look of heavy content, however, and at once he became impatient to hear her tell of what had happened in those courts of the ladies into which he could not go, now that he had business there.

With short bows, therefore, to the gateman and to his pock-marked wife he hurried O-lan away, and he took into his own arms the child who was asleep and lying all crum- pled in his new coat.

'Well?' he called back to her over his shoulder as she followed him. For once he was impatient with her slowness. She drew a little nearer to him and said in a whisper :

'I believe, if one should ask me, that they are feeling a pinch this year in that house/

She spoke in a shocked tone as one might speak of gods being hungry.

' What do you mean?' said Wang Lung, urging her.

But she would not be hastened. Words were to her things to be caught one by one and released with difficulty.

'The Ancient Mistress wore the same coat this year as last. I have never seen this happen before. And the slaves had no new coats.' And then after a pause she said, 'I saw not one slave with a new coat like mine.' And then after a while she said again, 'As for our son, there was not even a child among the concubines of the Old Master himself to compare to him in beauty and in dress.'

A slow smile spread over her face and Wang Lung laugh- ed aloud and held the child tenderly against him. How well he had done — how well he had done ! And then as he exulted he was smitten with fear. What foolish thing was he doing, walking like this under an open sky, with a beau- tiful man child for any evil spirit passing by chance through the air to see! He opened his coat hastily and thrust the child's head into his bosom and he said in a loud voice:

'What a pity our child is a female whom no one could want, and covered with smallpox as well! Let us pray it may die.'

'Yes — yes,' said his wife as quickly as she could, under- standing dimly what a thing they had done.

And being comforted with these precautions, Wang Lung once more urged his wife:

'Did you find out why they are poorer?'

'I had but a moment for private talk with the cook under whom I worked before,' she replied, 'but she said, "This house cannot stand for ever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concu- bine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.'

'Do they indeed?' murmured Wang Lung, spell-bound.

'Then the third daughter is to be*married in the spring continued O-lan, 'and her dowry is a prince's ransom and enough to buy an official seat in a big city. Her clothes she will have of nothing but the finest satins, with spe- cial patterns woven in Soochow and Hangchow, and she will have a tailor sent from Shanghai with his retinue of under-tailors lest she find her clothes less fashionable than those of the women in foreign parts.'

'Whom will she marry, then, with all this expense?' said Wang Lung, struck with admiration and horror at such pouring out of wealth.

'She is to marry the second son of a Shanghai magistrate,' said the woman, and then after a long pause she added, 'They must be getting poorer, for the Old Mistress herself told me they wished to sell land, some of the land to the south of the house, just outside the city wall, where they have always planted rice each year because it is good land and easily flooded from the moat around the wall.'

'Sell their land!' repeated Wang Lung, convinced. 'Then indeed are they growing poor. Land is one's flesh and blood.'

He pondered for a while and suddenly a thought came to him and he smote the side of his head with his palm.

'What have I not thought of!' he cried, turning to the woman. 'We will buy the land!'

They stared at each other, he in delight, she in stupefaction.

'But the land — the land ' she stammered.

'I will buy it!' he cried in a lordly voice. 'I will buy it from the great House of Hwang!'

'It is too far away,' she said in consternation. 'We would have to walk half the morning to reach it.'

1 will buy it,' he repeated peevishly as he might repeat a demand to his mother who crossed him.

'It is a good thing to buy land,' she said pacifically. 'It is better certainly than putting money into a mud wall. But why not a piece of your uncle's land? He is clamour- ing to sell that strip near to the western field we now have.'

'That land of my uncle's,' said Wang Lung loudly, 'I would not have it. He has been dragging a crop out of it in this way and that for twenty years, and not a bit has he put back of manure or bean-cake. The soil is like lime. No, I will buy Hwang's land.'

He said 'Hwang's land' as casually as he might have said 'Ching's land' — Ching, who was his farmer neigh- bour. He would be more than equal to these people in the foolish, great, wasteful house. He would go with the silver in his hand and he would say plainly:

'I have money. What is the price of the earth you wish to sell?' Before the Old Lord he heard himself saying and to the Old Lord's agent, 'Count me as any one else. What is the fair price? I have it in my hand.'

And his wife, who had been a slave in the kitchens of that proud family, she would be wife to a man who owned a piece of the land that for generations had made the House of Hwang great. It was as though she felt his thought for she suddenly ceased her resistance and she said:

'Let it be bought. After all, rice land is good, and it is near the moat and we can get water every year. It is sure.'

And again the slow smile spread over her face, the smile that never lightened the dullness of her narrow black eyes, and after a long' time she said:

'Last year this time I was slave in that house.'

And they walked on, silent with the fullness of this thought.



VI



THIS PIECE OF LAND WHICH WANG LUNG NOW OWNED was a thing which greatly changed his life. At first, after he had dug the silver from the wall and taken it to the great house, after the honour of speaking as an equal to the Old Lord's equal was past he was visited with a de- pression of spirit which was almost regret. When he thought of the hole in the wall now empty that had been filled with silver he need not use, he wished that he had his silver back. After all, this land, it would take hours of labour again, and as O-lan said, it was far away, more than a til which is a third of a mile. And again, the buying of it had not been quite so filled with glory as he had anticipated. He had gone too early to the great house and the Old Lord was still sleeping. True, it was noon, but when he said in a loud voice:

'Tell his Old Honour I have important business -- tell all who are concerned!' the gateman had answered.

'All the money in the world would not tempt me to wake the old tiger. He sleeps with his new concubine, Peach Blossom, whom he has had but three days. It is not worth my life to waken him.' And then he added some- what maliciously, pulling at the hairs on his mole, 'And do not think that silver will waken him -- he has had silver under his hand since he was born.'

In the end, it had had to be managed with the Old Lord's agent, an oily scoundrel. After all, the silver was more valuable than the land. One could see silver shining.

Well, but the land was his! He set out one grey day in the second month of the new year to look at it None knew yet that it belonged to him, and he walked out to see it alone a long square of heavy black clay that lay stretching and encircling the wall of the town. He paced the land off carefully, three hundred paces lengthwise and a hundred and twenty across. Four stones still marked the corners of the boundaries, stones set with the great seal of the House of Hwang. Well, he would have would have to pull up the stones later for he was not ready for people to know that he was rich enough to buy the land.

When he was more rich it would not matter what he did. And looking at that long square of land he thought to himself:

'This is but a handful of earth, but to me it means much!'

Then he had a turn of his mind and he was filled with a contempt for himself that a small piece of land should seem so important. Why, when he had poured out his silver proudly before the agent the man had scraped it up carelessly in his hands and said:

'Here is enough for a few days of opium for the old lady, at any rate.'

And the wide difference that still lay between him and the great house seemed suddenly impassable as the moat full of water in front of him, and as high as the wall beyond, stretching up straight and hoary before him. He was filled with an angry determination then, and he said to his heart that he would fill that hole with silver again and again until he had bought from the House of Hwang so much land that his own would be less than an inch in his sight.

And so this parcel of land became to Wang Lung a sign and a symbol.

Spring came with blustering winds and torn clouds of rain, and for Wang Lung, the half-idle days of winter were plunged into long days of desperate labour over his land. The old man looked after the child now and the woman worked with the man from dawn until sunset flowed over the fields, and when Wang Lung perceived one day that ' again she was with child, his first thought was of irritation that during the harvest she would be unable to work. He shouted at her, irritable with fatigue:

'So you have chosen this time to breed again, have you!'

She answered stoutly:

'This time it is nothing. It is only the first that is hard.'

Beyond this nothing was said of the second child from the time he noticed its growth swelling her body until the day came in autumn when she laid down her hoe one morn- ing and crept into the house. He did not go back that day even for his noon meal, for the sky was heavy with thun- derclouds and his rice lay dead ripe for gathering into sheaves. Later, before the sun set, she was back beside him, her body flattened, spent, but her face silent and undaunted. His impulse was to say:

Tor this day you have had enough. Go and lie upon your bed.' But the aching of his own exhausted body made him cruel, and he said to himself that he had suffered as much with his labour that day as she with her childbirth, and so he only asked between the strokes of his scythe:

'Is it male or female?'

She answered calmly:

'It is another male.'

They said nothing more to each other, but he was pleas- ed, and the incessant bending and stooping seemed less arduous, and working on until the moon rose above a bank of purple clouds, they finished the field and went home.

After his meal and after he had washed his sunburnt body in cool water and had rinsed his mouth with tea, Wang Lung went in to look at his second son. O-lan had lain herself upon the bed after the cooking of the meal and the child lay beside her— a fat, placid child, well enough, but not so large as the first one. Wang Lung look- ed at him and then went back to the middle room well content. Another son, and another and another each year —one could not trouble with red eggs every year; it was enough to do it for the first. Sons every year; the house was full of good fortune— this woman brought him no- thing but good fortune. He shouted to his father:

'Now, Old One, with another grandson we shall have to put the big one in your bed!'

The old man was delighted. He had for a long time been desiring this child to sleep in his bed and warm his chilly old flesh with the renewal of young bones and blood, but the child would not leave his mother. Now, however, staggering in with feet still unsteady with babyhood, he stared at this new child beside his mother, and seeming to comprehend with his grave eyes that another had his place, he allowed himself without protest to be placed in his grandfather's bed.

And again the harvests were good and Wang Lung gathered silver from the selling of his produce and again he hid it in the wall. But the rice he reaped from the land of [the Hwangs brought him twice as much as that from his own rice land. The earth of that piece was wet and rich and the rice grew on it as weeds grow where they are not wanted. And every one knew now that Wang Lung owned this land and in his village there was talk of making him die head.  

WANG LUNG'S UNCLE BEGAN AT THIS TIME TO become the trouble that from the beginning Wang Lung had surmised he might become. This uncle was the younger brother of Wang Lung's father, and by all the claims of relationship he might depend upon Wang Lung if he had not enough for himself and his family. So long as Wang Lung and his father were poor and scantily fed the uncle made muster to scratch about on his land and gather enough to feed his seven children and his wife and himself. But once fed none of them worked. The wife would not stir herself to sweep the floor of their hut, nor did the children trouble to wash the food from their faces. It was a disgrace that as the girls grew older, and even to mar- riageable age, they still ran about the village street and left uncombed their rough, sun-browned hair, and some- times even talked to men. Wang Lung, meeting his oldest girl cousin thus one day, was so angered for the disgrace done to his family that he dared to go to his uncle's wife and say:

'Now, who will marry a girl like my cousin, whom any man may look on? She has been marriageable these three years and she runs about, and today I saw an idle lout on the village street lay his hand on her arm and she answered him only with brazen laughter!'

His uncle's wife had nothing active in her body except her tongue and this she now loosed upon Wang Lung.

'Well, and who will pay for the dowry and for the wed- ding and for the middleman's fees? It is all very well for those to talk who have more land than they know what to do with and who can yet go and buy more land from the great families with their spare silver, but your uncle is an unfortunate man and he has been so from the first. His destiny is evil, and through no fault of his own. Heaven wills it. Where others can produce good grain, for him the seed dies in the ground and nothing but weeds spring up; and this though he break his back!'

She fell into loud, easy tears and began to work herself up into a fury. She snatched at her knot of hair on the back of her head and tore down the loose hairs about her face and she began to scream freely:

'Ah, it is something you do not know — to have an evil destiny! Where the fields of others bear good rice and wheat, ours bear weeds; where the houses of others stand for a hundred years, the earth itself shakes under ours so that walls crack; where others bear men, I, although I conceive a son, will yet give birth to a girl — ah, evil des- tiny!'

She shrieked aloud and the neighbour women rushed out of their houses to see and to hear. Wang Lung stood stoutly, however, and would finish what he came to say.

'Nevertheless,' he said, 'although it is not for me to presume to advise the brother of my father, I will say this : it is better that a girl be married away while she is yet vir- gin; and whoever heard of a bitch dog who was allowed on the streets who did not give birth to a litter?'

Having spoken thus plainly, he went away to his own house and left his uncle's wife screaming. He had it in his mind to buy more land this year from the House of Hwang and more land year after year as he was able, and he dream- ed of adding a new room to his house, and it angered him that as he saw himself and his sons rising into a landed family, this shiftless brood of his cousins should be run- ning loose, bearing the same name as his own.

The next day his uncle came to the field where he was working. O-lan was not there, for ten moons had pass- ed since the second child was born and a third birth was close upon her, and this time she was not so well, and for a handful of days she had not come to the fields, and so Wang Lung worked alone. His uncle came slouching along a furrow, his clothes never properly buttoned about him, but caught together and held insecurely with his girdle, so that it always seemed that if a gust of wind blew at him he might suddenly stand naked. He came to where Wang Lung was, and he stood in silence while Wang Lung hoed a narrow line beside the broad beans he was cultivating. At last Wang Lung said maliciously and without look- ing up:

'I ask your pardon, my uncle, for not stopping in my | work. These beans must, if they are to bear, as you know, I be cultivated twice and thrice. Yours, doubtless, are finished.   I am very slow — a poor farmer — never finishing my work in time to rest.'

His uncle understood perfectly Wang Lung's malice, but he answered smoothly:

'I am a man of evil destiny. This year out of twenty I seed beans, one came up, and in such a poor growth as I that there is no use in putting the hoe down. We shall have   to buy beans this year if we eat them' and he sighed heavily.

Wang Lung hardened his heart. He knew that his uncle had come to ask something of him. He put his hoe down into the ground with a long, even movement and with I great care, breaking up the tiniest clod in the soft earth already well cultivated. The bean-plants stood erect in thrifty order, casting as they stood little fringes of clear shadow in the sunshine. At last his uncle began to speak.

'The person in my house has told me,' he said, 'of your interest in my worthless oldest slave creature. It is wholly true what you say. You are wise for your years. She should be married. She is fifteen years old, and for these three or four years could have given birth. I am terrified constantly lest she conceive by some wild dog and bring shame to me and to our name. Think of this happening in our respect- able family, to me, the brother of your own father!'

Wang Lung put his hoe down hard into the soil. He would have liked to speak plainly. He would have liked to say:

'Why do you not control her, then? Why do you not keep her decently in the house and make her sweep and clean and cook and make clothes for the family?'   But one cannot say these things to an older generation. 1 He remained silent, therefore, and hoed closely about a small plant, and he waited.

If it had been my good destiny,' continued his uncle mournfully, 'to have married a wife as your father did, one who could work and at the same time produce sons, h as your own does also, instead of a woman like mine, who grows nothing but flesh and gives birth to nothing but females and that one idle son of mine who is less than a male for his idleness, I, too, might have been rich now as you are. Then might I have — willingly would I have — shared my riches with you. Your daughters I would have wed to good men, your son would I have placed in a merchant's shop as apprentice and willingly paid the fee of guaranty; your house would I have delighted to repair, and you I would have fed with the best I had, you and your father and your children, for we are of one blood.'

Wang Lung answered shortly :

'You know I am not rich. I have the five mouths to feed now and my father is old and does not work, and still he eats, and another mouth is being born in my house at this very moment, for aught I know.'

His uncle replied shrilly:

"You are rich — you are rich! You have bought the land from the great house at the gods know what heavy price — is there another in the village who could do this thing?'

At this Wang Lung was goaded to anger. He flung down his hoe and he shouted suddenly, glaring at his uncle: 'If I have a handful of silver it is because I work and my wife works, and we do not, as some do, sit idling over i a gambling-table or gossiping on doorsteps never swept, letting the fields grow to weeds and our children go half-fed!'

The blood flew into his uncle's yellow face and he rushed at his nephew and slapped him vigorously on both cheeks.

'Now that,' he cried, 'for speaking so to your father's generation! Have you no religion, no morals, that you are so lacking in filial conduct? Have you not heard it said that in the Sacred Edicts it is commanded that a man is never to correct an elder?'

Wang Lung stood sullen and immovable, conscious of his fault but angry to the bottom of his heart against this man who was his uncle.

'I will tell your words to the whole village!' screamed his uncle in a high, cracked voice of fury. 'Yesterday you attack my house and call aloud in the streets that my daughter is not a virgin; today you reproach me, who if your father passes on, must be as your own father to you! Now may my daughters all not be virgins, but not from one of them would I hear such talk!' And he repeated over and over, 'I will tell it to the village — I will tell it to the village . . ' until at last Wang Lung said unwillingly: 'What do you want me to do?'

It touched his pride that this matter might indeed be called out before the village. After all, it was his own flesh and blood.

His uncle changed immediately. Anger melted out of him. He smiled and he put his hand on Wang Lung's arm.

'Ah, I know you — good lad — good lad', he said softly. 'Your old uncle knows you — you are my son. Son, a little silver in this poor old palm — say, ten pieces, or even nine, and I could begin to have arrangements with a matchmaker for that slave of mine. Ah, you are right! It is time — it is time!' He sighed and shook his head and he looked piously to the sky.

Wang Lung picked up his hoe and threw it down again.

'Come to the house,' he said shortly. 'I do not carry silver on me like a prince,' and he strode ahead, bitter beyond speech because some of the good silver with which he had planned to buy more land was to go into this palm of his uncle's, from whence it would slip on to the gambling- table before night fell.

He strode into the house, brushing out of his way his two small sons who played, naked, in the warm sunshine about the threshold. His uncle, with easy good nature, called to the children and took from some recess in his crumpled clothing a copper coin for each child. He pressed the small fat shining bodies to him, and putting his nose into their soft necks he smelled of the sun-browned flesh with easy affection.

'Ah, you are two little men,' he said, clasping one in either arm.

But Wang Lung did not pause. He went into the room where he slept with his wife and the last child. It was very dark, coming in as he did from the outer sunshine, and except for the bar of light from the hole he could see nothing. But the smell of warm blood which he remembered so well filled his nostrils and he called out sharply :

'What now — has your time come?'

The voice of his wife answered from the bed more feebly than he had ever heard her speak:

"It is over once more. It is only a slave this time — not worth mentioning'

Wang Lung stood still. A sense of evil struck him. A girl! A girl was causing all this trouble in his uncle's house. Now a girl had been born into his house as well.

He went without reply then to the wall and felt for the roughness which was the mark of the hiding-place and he removed the clod of earth. Behind it he fumbled among the little heap of silver and he counted out nine pieces.

' Why are you taking the silver out?' said his wife suddenly in the darkness.

'I am compelled to lend it to my uncle/ he replied shortly.

His wife answered nothing at first and then she said in her plain, heavy way:

'It is better not to say "lend." There is no lending in that house. There is only giving.'

'Well I know that' replied Wang Lung with bitterness. 'It is cutting my flesh out to give to him and for nothing except that we are of a blood.'

Then going out into the threshold he thrust the money at his uncle and he walked quickly back to the field and there he fell to working as though he would tear the earth from its foundations. He thought for the time only of the silver; he saw it poured out carelessly upon a gambling- table, saw it swept up by some idle hand — his silver, the silver he had so painfully collected from the fruits of his fields, to turn it back again for more earth of his own.

It was evening before his anger was spent and he straightened himself and remembered his home and his food. And then he thought of that new mouth come that day into his house, and it struck him with heaviness that^ the birth of daughters had begun for him, daughters who do not belong to their parents, but are born and reared for other families. He had not even thought, in his anger at his uncle, to stop and see the face of this small, new creature.

He stood leaning upon his hoe and he was seized with sadness. It would be another harvest before he could buy that land now, a piece adjoining the one he had, and there was this new mouth in the house. Across the pale, oyster- coloured sky of twilight a flock of crows flew, sharply black, and whirred over him, cawing loudly. He watched them disappear like a cloud into the trees about his house, and he ran at them, shouting and shaking his hoe. They rose again slowly, circling and re-circling over his head, mocking him with their cries, and they flew at last into the darkening sky.

He groaned aloud. It was an evil omen.



VIII



IT SEEMED AS THOUGH ONCE THE GODS TURNED against a man they would not consider him again. The rains, which should have come in early summer, withheld themselves, and day after day the skies shone with fresh and careless brilliance. The parched and starving earth was nothing to them. From dawn to dawn there was not a cloud, and at night the stars hung out of the sky, golden and cruel in their beauty.

The fields, although Wang Lung cultivated them des- perately, dried and cracked, and the young wheatstalks, which had sprung up courageously with the coming of spring and had prepared their heads for the grain, when they found nothing coming for them from the soil or the sky, ceased their growing and stood motionless at first under the sun and at last dwindled and yellowed into a barren harvest. The young rice beds which Wang Lung had sowed were squares of jade upon the brown earth. He carried water to them day after day after he had given up the wheat, the heavy wooden buckets slung upon a bamboo pole across his shoulders. But though a furrow grew upon his flesh and a callous formed there as large as a bowl, no rain came.

At last the water in the pond dried into a cake of clay and even the water in the well sunk so low that O-lan said to him:

'If the children must drink and the old man have his hot water the plants must go dry.'

Wang Lung answered with anger that broke into a sob:

"Well, and they must all starve if the plants starve.' It was true that all their lives depended upon the earth.

Only the piece of land by the moat bore harvest, and this because at last when summer wore away without rain, Wang Lung abandoned all his other fields and stayed the day out at this one, dipping water from the moat to pour upon the greedy soil. This year for the first time he sold his grain as soon as it was harvested, and when he felt the silver upon his palm he gripped it hard in defiance. He would, he told himself, in spite of gods and drought, do that which he had determined. His body he had broken and his sweat he had spilled for this handful of silver, and he would do what he would with it. And he hurried to the House of Hwang and he met the land agent there and he said without ceremony:

'I have that with which to buy the land adjoining mine by the moat.'

Now Wang Lung had heard here and there that for the House of Hwang it had been a year verging upon poverty. The old lady had not had her dole of opium to the full for many days and she was like an old tigress in her hunger so that each day she sent for the agent and she cursed him and struck his face with her fan, screaming at him:

'And are there not acres of land left, yet?' until he was beside himself.

He had even given up the moneys which ordinarily he held back from the family transactions for his own use, so beside himself had he been. And as if this were not enough, the Old Lord took yet another concubine, a slave who was the child of a slave who had been his creature in her youth, but who was now wed to a manservant in the house, because the Old Lord's desire for her failed before he took her into his room as concubine. This child of the slave, who was not more than sixteen, he now saw with fresh lust, for as he grew old and infirm and heavy with flesh he seemed to desire, more and more, women who were slight and young, even to childhood, so that there was no slaking his lust. As the Old Mistress with her opium, so he with his lusts; and there was no making him understand there was not money for jade ear-rings for his favourites, nor gold for their pretty hands. He could not comprehend the words "no money" who all his life had but to reach out his hand and fill it as often as he would.

And seeing their parents thus, the young lord shrugged their shoulders and said there must still be enough for their lifetime. They united in only one thing, and this was to berate the agent for his ill-management of the estates, so that he who had once been oily and unctuous, a man of plenty and of ease, was now become anxious and harried and his flesh gone so that his skin hung upon him like an old garment.

Neither had Heaven sent rain upon the fields of the House of Hwang, and there, too, there were no harvests, and so when Wang Lung came to the agent crying, 'I have, silver,' it was as though one came saying to the hungry, 'I have food.'

The agent grasped at it, and where before there had been dickering and tea-drinking, now the two men spoke in eager whispers, and more quickly than they could speak whole words, the money passed from one hand to the other and papers were signed and sealed and the land was Wang Lung's.

And once again Wang Lung did not count the passing of silver, which was his flesh and his blood, a hard thing. He bought with it the desire of his heart. He had now a vast field of good land, for the new field was twice as large as the first. But more to him than its dark fertility was the fact that it had belonged once to the family of a prince. And this time he told no one, not even O-lan, what he had done.

Month passed into month and still no rain fell. As autumn approached the clouds gathered unwillingly in the sky, small, light clouds, and in the village street one could see men standing about, idle and anxious, their faces up- turned to the sky, judging closely of this cloud and that discussing together as to whether any held rain in it. But before sufficient cloud could gather for promise, a bitter wind rose out of the north-west, the acrid wind of the distant desert, and blew the clouds from the sky as one gathers dust from a floor with a broom. And the sky was empty and barren, and the stately sun rose each morning and made its march and set solitary each night. And the moon in its time shone like a lesser sun for clearness.

From his fields Wang Lung reaped a scanty harvest of hardy beans, and from his cornfield, which he h^d planted in despair when the rice beds had yellowed and died be- fore ever the plants had been set into the watered field, he plucked short stubby ears with the grains scattered here and there. There was not a bean lost in the threshing. He set the two little boys to sifting the dust of the thresh- ing-floor between their fingers after he and the woman had flailed the bean vines, and he shelled the corn upon the floor in the middle room, watching sharply every grain that flew wide. When he would have put the cobs away for fuel, his wife spoke out:

'No — do not waste them in burning. I remember when I was a child in Shantung when years like this came, even the cobs we ground and ate. It is better than grass.'

When she had spoken they all fell silent, even the children. There was foreboding in these strange brilliant days when the land was failing them. Only the girl child knew no fear. For her there were the mother's two great breasts as yet filled for her needs. But O-lan, giving her suck, muttered:

'Eat, poor fool — eat, while there is yet that which can be eaten.'

And then, as though there were not enough evil, O-lan was again with child, and her milk dried up, and the frightened house was filled with the sound of a child con- tinually crying for food.

If one had asked Wang Lung, c And how are you fed through the autumn?' he would have answered, 'I do not know — a little food here and there.'

But there was none to ask him that. None asked of any other in the whole countryside, 'How are you fed?' None asked anything except of himself. "How shall I be fed this day?' And parents said, 'How shall we be fed, we and our children?'

Now Wang Lung's ox he had cared for as long as he could. He had given the beast a bit of straw and a hand- ful of vines as long as these lasted, and then he had gone out and torn leaves from the trees for it until winter came and these were gone. Then since there was no land to plough, since seed, if it were planted, only dried in the earth, and since they had eaten all their seed, he turned the ox out to hunt for itself, sending the eldest boy to sit upon its back all day and hold the rope passed through its nostrils so that it would not be stolen. But latterly he had not dared even to do this, lest men from the village, even his neighbours, might overcome the lad and seize the ox for food and kill it. So he kept the ox on the threshold until it grew lean as its skeleton.

But there came a day when there was no rice left and no wheat left and there were only a few beans and a meagre store of corn, and the ox lowed with its hunger and the old man said:

'We will eat the ox, next.'

Then Wang Lung cried out, for it was to him as though one said, 'We will eat a man next.' The ox was his com- panion in the fields and he had walked behind and praised it and cursed it as his mood was, and from his youth he had known the beast, when they had bought it a small calf. And he said:

'How can we eat the ox? How shall we plough again?'

But the old man answered, tranquil enough:

'Well, and it is your life or the beast's, and your son's life or the beast's, and a man can buy an ox again more •easily than his own life.'

But Wang Lung would not that day kill it. And the next day passed and the next, and the children cried out for food and they would not be comforted and O-lan looked at Wang Lung, beseeching him for the children, and he saw at last that the thing had to be done. So he said roughly:

'Let it be killed then, but I cannot do it.'

He went into the room where he slept and he laid himself upon the bed and he wrapped the quilt about his head that he might not hear the beast's bellowing when it died.

Then O-lan crept out and she took a great iron knife she had in the kitchen and she cut a great gash in the beast's neck, and thus she severed its life. And she took a bowl and caught its blood to cook for them to eat in a pudding, and she skinned and hacked to pieces the great carcass, and Wang Lung would not come out until the thing was wholly done and the flesh was cooked and upon the table. But when he tried to eat the flesh of his ox his gorge rose and he could not swallow it and he drank only a little of the soup. And O-lan said to him:

'An ox is but an ox and this one grew old. Eat, for there will be another one day and far better than this one.'

Wang Lung was a little comforted then, and he ate a morsel and then more, and they all ate. But the ox was eaten at last and the bones cracked for the marrow, and it was all too quickly gone, and there was nothing left of it except the skin, dried and hard and stretched upon the rack of bamboo O-lan had made to hold it spread.

At first there had been hostility in the village against Wang Lung because it was supposed that he had silver which he was hiding and food stored away. His uncle, who was among the first to be hungry, came importuning to his door, and indeed the man and his wife and his seven children had nothing to eat. Wang Lung measured unwillingly into the skirt of his uncle's robe a small heap of beans and a precious handful of corn. Then he pid with firmness:

'It is all I can spare and I have first my old father to consider, even if I had no children.'

When his uncle came again Wang Lung cried out:

'Even filial piety will not feed my house!' and he sent his uncle empty away.

From that day his uncle turned, against him like a dog that has been kicked, and he whispered about the village in this house and in that:

'My nephew there, he has silver and he has food, but he will give none of it to us, not even to me, and to my children, who are his own bones and flesh. We can do nothing but starve.'

And as family after family finished its store in the small village and spent its last coin in the scanty markets of the town, and the winds of winter came down from the desert, cold as a knife of steel and dry and barren, the hearts of the villagers grew distraught with their own hunger and with the hunger of their pinched wives and crying children, and when Wang Lung's uncle shivered about the streets like a lean dog and whispered from his famished lips, 'There is one who has food — there is one whose children are fat, still,' the men took up poles and went one night to the house of Wang Lung and beat upon the door. And when he had opened to the voices of his neighbours, they fell upon him and pushed him out of the doorway and threw out of the house his frightened children, and they fell upon every corner, and they scrabbled every surface with their hands to find where he has hidden his food. Then when they found his wretched store of a few dried beans and a bowlful of dried corn they gave a great howl of disappointment and despair, and they seized his bits of furniture, the table and the benches and the old man lay, frightened and weeping.

Then O-lan came forward and spoke, and her plain, slow voice rose above the men:

'Not that — not that yet,' she called out. 'It is not yet time to take our table and the benches and the bed from our house. You have all our food. But out of your own houses you have not sold yet your table and your benches. Leave us ours. W T e are even. We have not a bean or a grain of corn more than you — no, you have more than we, now, for you have all of ours. Heaven will strike you if you take more. Now, we will go out together and hunt for grass to eat and bark from the trees, you for your children, and we for our three children, and for this fourth who is to be born in such times.' She pressed her hand to her belly as she spoke, and the men were ashamed before her and went out one by one, for they were not evil men except when they starved.

One lingered, that one called Ching, a small, silent, yel- low man with a face like an ape's in the best of times, and now hollowed and anxious. He would have spoken some good word of shame, for he was an honest man and only his crying child had forced him to evil. But in his bosom was a handful of beans he had snatched when the store was found and he was fearful lest he must return them if he spoke at all, and so he only looked at Wang Lung with haggard, speechless eyes and he went out.

Wang Lung stood there in his yard where year after year he had threshed his good harvests, and which had lain now for many months idle and useless. There was nothing left in the house to feed his father and his children — no- thing to feed this woman of his who besides the nourish- ment of her own body had this other one to feed into growth, this other one who would, with the cruelty of new and ardent life, steal from the very flesh and blood of its mother. He had an instant of extreme fear. Then into his blood like soothing wine flowed this comfort. He said in his heart:

'They cannot take the land from me. The labour of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I haa bought with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.'


IX

WANG LUNG, SITTING AT THE THRESHOLD OF HIS door, said to himself that now surely something must be done. They could not remain here in this empty house and die. In his lean body, about which he daily wrapped more tightly his loose girdle, there was a determination to live. He would not thus, just when he was coming into the fullness of a man's life, suddenly be robbed of it by a stupid fate. There was such anger in him now as he often could not express. At times it seized him like a frenzy so that he rushed out upon his barren threshing-floor and shook his arms at the foolish sky that shone above him, eternally blue and clear and cold and cloudless.

'Oh, you are too wicked, you Old Man in Heaven!' he would cry recklessly. And if for an instant he were afraid, he would the next instant cry sullenly, and what can happen to me worse than that which has happened!'

Once he walked, dragging one foot after another in his famished weakness, to the temple of the earth, and de- liberately he spat up on the face of the small, impertubable god who sat there with his goddess. There were no sticks of incense now before this pair, nor had there been for many moons, and their paper clothes were tattered and showed their clay bodies through the rents. But they sat there unmoved by anything and Wang Lung gnashed his teeth at them and walked back to his house groaning and fell upon his bed.

They scarcely rose at all now, any of them. There was no need, and fitful sleep took the place, for a while, at least, of the food they had not. The cobs of the corn they had dried and eaten, and they stripped the bark from trees, and all over the countryside people were eating what grass they could find upon the wintry hills. There was not an animal anywhere. A man might walk for a handful of days and see not an ox nor an ass nor any kind of beast or fowl.

The children's bellies were swollen out with empty wind, and one never saw in these days a child playing upon the village street. At most the two boys in Wang Lung's house crept to the door and sat in the sun, the cruel sun that never ceased its endless shining. Their once rounded bodies were angular and bony now, sharp small bones like the bones of birds, except for their ponderous bellies. The girl child never even sat alone, although the time was past for this, but lay uncomplaining hour after hour wrapped in an old quilt. At first the angry insistence of her crying had filled the house, but she had come to be quiet, sucking feebly at whatever was put into her mouth and never lifting up her voice. Her little hollowed face peered out at them ail, little sunken blue lips like a toothless old woman's lips, and hollow black eyes peering.

This persistence of the small life in some way won her father's affection, although if she had been round and merry as the others had been at her age he would have been careless of her for a girl. Sometimes, looking at her he whispered softly:

'Poor fool — poor little fool'. And once when she essayed a weak smile with her toothless gums showing, he broke into tears and took into his lean hard hand her small claw and held the tiny grasp of her fingers over his forefinger. Thereafter he would sometimes lift her, all naked as she lay, and thrust her inside the scant warmth of his coat a- gatnst his flesh and sit with her so by the threshold of the house, looking out over the dry, flat fields.

As for the old man, he fared better than any, for if there was anything to eat he was given it, even though the chil- dren were without. Wang Lung said to himself proudly that none should say in the hour of death he had forgotten his father. Even if his own flesh went to feed him the old man should eat. The old man slept day and night and ate what was given him, and there was still strength in him to creep about the dooryard at noon when the sun was warm. He was more cheerful than any of them and he quavered forth one day in his old voice that was like a little wind trembling among cracked bamboos:

'There have been worse days — there have been worse days. Once I saw men and women eating children.'

'There will never be such a thing in my house,' said Wang Lung, in extremist horror.

There was a day when his neighbour, Ching, worn now to less than the shadow of a human creature, came to the door of Wang Lung's house and he whispered from his lips that were dried and black as earth:

'In the town the dogs are eaten and everywhere the horses and the fowls of every sort. Here we have eaten the beasts that ploughed our fields and the grass and the bark of trees. What now remains for food?'

Wang Lung shook his head hopelessly. In his bosom lay the slight, skeleton-like body of his girl child, and he looked down into the delicate bony face, and into the sharp, Isad eyes that watched him unceasingly from his breast.

When he caught those eyes in his glance, invariably there wavered upon the child's face a flickering smile that broke his heart.

Ching thrust his face nearer.

'In the village they are eating human flesh,' he whisper- ed. 'It is said your uncle and his wife are eating. How else are they living and with strength enough to walk about — they, who, it is known, have never had anything?'

Wang Lung drew back from the deathlike head which Ching had thrust forward as he spoke. With the man's eyes close like this, he was horrible. Wang Lung was sud- denly afraid with a fear he did not understand. He rose quickly as though to cast off some entangling danger.

'We will leave this place,' he said loudly. 'We will go south ! There are everywhere in this great land people who starve. Heaven, however wicked, will not at once wipe out the sons of Han.'

His neighbour looked at him patiently. 'Ah, you are young,' he said sadly. 'I am older than you and my wife is old and we have nothing except one daughter. We can die well enough.'

'You are more fortunate than I', said Wang Lung. 'I have my old father and these three small mouths and an- other about to be born. We must go lest we forget our na- ture and eat each other as the wild dogs do.'

And then it seemed to him suddenly that what he said was very right, and he called aloud to O-lan, who lay upon the bed day after day without speech, now that there was no food for the stove and no fuel for the oven.

'Come, woman, we will go south!'

There was cheer in his voice such as none had heard in many moons, and the children looked up and the old man hobbled out from his room and O-lan rose feebly from her bed and came to the door of their room and clinging to the door frame she said :

'It is a good thing to do. One can at least die walking.'

The child in her body hung from her lean loins like a" knotty fruit and from her face every particle of flesh was gone, so that the jagged bones stood forth rock-like under her skin. 'Only wait until tomorrow,' she said. 'I shall have given birth by then. I can tell by this thing's move- ments in me.'

'Tomorrow, then,' answered Wang Lung, and then he saw his wife's face and he was moved with a pity greater than any he had had for himself. This poor creature was dragging forth yet another!

'How shall you walk, you poor creature!' he muttered, and he said unwillingly to his neighbour Ching, who still leaned against the house by the door, 'If you have any food left, for a good heart's sake give me a handful to save the life of the mother of my sons, and I will forget that I saw you in my house as a robber.'

Ching looked at him ashamed and he answered humbly :

'I have never thought of you with peace since that hour. It was that dog, your uncle, who enticed me, saying that you had good harvests stored up. Before this cruel heaven I promise you that I have only a little handful of dried red beans buried beneath the stone of my doorway. This I and my wife placed there for our last hour, for our child and ourselves, that we might die with a little food in our stomachs. But some of it I will give to you. To-morrow go south, if you can. I stay, I and my house. I am older than you and I have no son, and it does not matter whether I live or die.'

And he went away and in a little while he came back, bringing tied in a cotton kerchief a double handful of small red beans, mouldy with the soil. The children clam- bered about at the sight of the food, and even the old man's eyes glistened, but Wang Lung pushed them away for once and he took the food in to his wife as she lay and she ate a little of it, bean by bean, unwillingly, but her hour was upon her and she knew that if she had not any food she would die in the clutches of her pain.

Only a few of the beans did Wang Lung hide in his own hand and these he put into his own mouth and he chewed them into a soft pulp and then putting his lips to the lips of his daughter he pushed into her mouth the food, and watching her small lips move he felt himself fed.

That night he stayed in the middle room. The two boys were in the old man's room, and in the third room O-lan gave birth alone. He sat there as he had sat during the birth of his first-born son and listened. She would not even yet have him near her at her hour. She would give birth alone, squatting over the old tub she kept for the purpose, creeping about the room afterwards to remove the traces of what had been, hiding .as an animal does the birth stains of its young.

He listened intently for the small sharp cry he knew so well, and he listened with despair. Male or female, it mat- tered nothing to him now — there was only another mouth coming which must be fed.

'It would be merciful if there were no breath,' he mut- tered, and then he heard the feeble cry — how feeble a cry! — hang for an instant upon the stillness. 'But there is no mercy of any kind in these days,' he finished bitterly, and he sat listening.

There was no second cry, and over the house the still- ness became impenetrable. But for many days there had been stillness everywhere — the stillness of inactivity and of people, each in his own house, waiting to die This house was filled with such stillness. Suddenly Wang Lung could not bear it. He was afraid. He rose and went to the door of the room where O-lan was and he called into the crack and the sound of his own voice heartened him a little.

'You are safe?' he called to the woman. He listened. Suppose she had died as he sat there! But he could hear a slight rustling. She was moving about and at last she an- swered, her voice a sigh :

'Come!'

He went in then, and she lay there upon the bed, her body scarcely raising the cover. She lay alone. 'Where is the child?' he asked.

She made a slight movement of her hand upon the bed and he saw upon the floor the child's body. 'Dead!' he exclaimed. 'Dead,' she whispered.

He stooped and examined the. handful of its body — a wisp of bone and skin — a girl. He was about to say. 'But I heard it crying — alive'; and then he looked at the woman's face. Her eyes were closed and the colour of her flesh was the colour of ashes and her bones stuck up under the skin — a poor silent face that lay there, having endured to the ut- most, and there was nothing he could say. After all, during these months he had had only his own body to drag about. What agony of starvation this woman had endured, with the starved creature gnawing at her from within, desperate for its own life!

He said nothing, but he took the dead child into the other room and laid it upon the earthen floor and searched until he found a bit of broken mat and this he wrapped about it. The round head dropped this way and that and upon the neck he saw two dark, bruised spots, but he finish- ed what he had to do. Then he took the roll of matting, and going as far from the house as he had strength, he laid the burden against the hollowed side of an old grave. This grave stood among many others, worn down and np long- er known or cared for, on a hillside just at the border of wang Lung's western field. He had scarcely put the burden down before a famished, wolfish dog hovered almost at once behind him, so famished that although he took up a small stone and threw it and hit its lean flank with a thud, the animal would not stir away more than a few feet. At last Wang Lung felt his legs sinking beneath him and covering his face with his hands he went away.

'It is better as it is,' he muttered to himself, and for the first time was wholly filled with despair.

The next morning when the sun rose unchanging in its sky of varnished blue it seemed to him a dream that he could ever have thought of leaving his house with these helpless children and this weakened woman and this old man. How could they drag their bodies over a hundred miles, even to plenty? And who knew whether or not even in the south there was food? One would say there was no end to this brazen sky. Perhaps they would wear out all their last strength only to find more starving people, and strangers at that. Far better to stay where they could die in their beds. He sat desponding on the threshold of the door and gazed bleakly over the dried and hardened fields from which every particle of anything that could be called food or fuel had been plucked.

He had no money. Long ago the last coin was gone. But even money would do little good now, for there was no food to buy. He had heard earlier that there were rich men in the town who were hoarding food for themselves and for sale to the very rich, but even this ceased to anger him. He did not feel this day that he could walk to the town, even were it to be fed for nothing. He was, indeed, not hungry.

The extreme gnawing in his stomach which he had had at first was now past and he could stir up a little of the earth from a certain spot in one of his fields and give it to the children without desiring any of it for himself. This earth they had been eating in water for some days — god- dess of mercy earth, it was called, because it had some slight nutritious quality in it, although in the end it could not sustain life; but made into a gruel it allayed the children's craving for a time and put something into their distended, empty bellies. He steadfastly would not touch the few beans that O-lan still held in her hand, and it comforted him vaguely to hear her crunching them, one at a time, a long time apart.

And then, as he sat there in the doorway, giving up his hope and thinking with a dreamy pleasure of lying upon his bed and sleeping easily into death, some on.", came across the fields — men walking towards him. He continued to sit as they drew near and he saw that one was his uncle and with him were three men whom he did not know.

I have not seen you these many days' called his uncle with loud and affected good humour. And as he drew near- er he said in the same loud voice. ' And how well you have fared! And your father, my elder brother, he is well?'

Wang Lung looked at his uncle. The man was thin, it is true, but not starved, as he should be. Wang Lung felt in his own shrivelled body the last remaining strength of life gathering into a devastating anger against this man, I his uncle.

'How you have eaten — how you have eaten!' he muttered thickly. He thought nothing of these strangers or of any courtesy. He saw only his uncle with flesh on his bones, still. His uncle opened wide his eyes and threw, up his hands to the sky.

'Eaten!' he cried. 'If you could see my house! Not a sparrow even could pick up a crumb there. My wife — do you remember how fat she was ? How fair and fat and oily her skin? And now she is like a garment hung on a pole — nothing but the poor bones rattling together in her skin. And of our children only four are left — the three little ones gone — gone — and as for me, you see me!' He took the edge of his sleeve and wiped the corner of each eye carefully.

'You have eaten,' repeated Wang Lung dully.

'I have thought of nothing but of you and of your fa- ther, who is my brother,' retorted his uncle briskly, 'and now I prove it to you. As soon as I could, I borrowed from these good men in the town a little food on the promise that with the strength it gave me I would help them to buy some of the land about our village. And then I thought of your good land first of all, you, the son of my brother. They have come to buy your land and to give you money — food — life!' His uncle, having said these words, stepped back and folded his arms with a flourish of his dirty and ragged robes.

Wang Lung did move. He did not rise nor in any way recognise the men who had come. But he lifted his head to look at them and he saw that they were indeed men from the town, dressed in long robes of solid silk. Their hands were soft and their nails long. They looked as though they had eaten and as if blood still ran rapidly in their veins. He suddenly hated them with an immense hatred. Here were these men from the town, having eaten and drunk, standing beside him whose children were starv- ing and eating the very earth of the fields; here they were, come to squeeze his land from him in his extremity. He looked up at them sullenly, his eyes deep and enormous in his bony, skull-like face.

'I will not sell my land,' he said.

His uncle stepped forward. At this instant the younger of Wang Lung's two sons came creeping to the doorway upon his hands and knees. Since he had so little strength in these latter days the child at times had gone back to crawling as he used in his babyhood.

'Is that your lad?' cried the uncle, 'the little fat lad I gave a copper to in the summer ?'

And they all looked at the child, and suddenly Wang Lung, who through all this time had not wept at all, began to weep silently, the tears gathering in great knots of pain in his throat and rolling down his cheeks.

'What is your price?' he whispered at last. Well, there were these three children to be fed — the children and the old man. He and his wife could dig themselves graves in the land and lie down in them and sleep. Well, but here were these,

And then one of the men from the city spoke, a man with one eye blind and sunken in his face, and unctuously he said:

'My poor man, for the sake of the boy who is starving, we will give you a better price than could be got in these times anywhere. We will give you' — he paused and then he said harshly — 'we will give you a string of a hundred pence for an acre!'

Wang Lung laughed bitterly. 'Why, that,' he cried, 'that is taking my land for a gift. Why, I pay twenty times that when I buy land!'  

'Ah, but not when you buy it from men who are star- ving,' said the other man from the city. He was a small, slight fellow with a high thin nose, but his voice came out of him unexpectedly large and coarse and hard.

Wang Lung looked at the three of them. They were sure of him, these men! What will not a man give for his starving children and his old father ! The weakness of sur- render in him melted into an anger such as he had never known in his life before. He sprang up and at the men as a dog springs at an enemy, 'I shall never sell the land!' he shrieked at them. 'Bit by bit I will dig up the fields and feed the earth itself to the children and when they die I will bury them in the land, and I and my wife and my old father, even he, we will die on the land that has given us birth!'

He was weeping violently and his anger went out of him as suddenly as a wind and he stood shaking and weep- ing. The men stood here smiling slightly, his uncle among them, unmoved. This talk was madness and they waited until Wang's anger was spent.

And then suddenly O-lan came to the door and spoke to them, her voice flat and commonplace as though every day such things were.

'The land we will not sell, surely,' she said, 'else when we return from the south we shall have nothing to feed us. But we will sell the table and the two beds and the bedding and the four benches and even the cauldron from the stove. But the rakes and the hoe and the plough we will not sell, nor the land.'

There was some calmness in her voice which carried more strength than all Wang Lung's anger, and Wang Lung's uncle said uncertainly:

'Will you really go south?'

At last the one-eyed man spoke to the others and they muttered among themselves and the one-eyed man turned and said:

'They are poor things and fit only for fuel. Two silver bits for the lot and take it or leave it.'

He turned away with contempt as he spoke, but O-lan answered tranquilly:

'It is less than the cost of one bed, but if you have the silver give it to me quickly and take the things.'

The one-eyed man fumbled in his girdle and dropped the silver into her outstretched hand, and the three men came into the house and between them they took out the table and the benches and the bed in Wang Lung's room I with its bedding, and they wrenched the cauldron from the I earthen oven in which it stood. But when they went into the old man's room Wang Lung's uncle stood outside. He mid not wish his elder brother to see him, nor did he wish to be there when the old man was laid on the floor and the bed taken from under him. When all was finished and the house was wholly empty except for the two rakes and the two hoes and the plough in one corner of the middle room, O-lan said to her husband:

'Let us go while we have the two bits of silver and before we must sell the rafters of the house and have no hole into which we can crawl when we return.'

And Wang Lung answered heavily, 'Let us go.'

But he looked across the fields at the small figures of the men receding and he muttered over and over, 'At least I have the land — I have the land.'



X


THERE WAS NOTHING TO DO BUT TO PULL THE door tight upon its wooden hinges and fasten the iron hasp. All their clothes they had upon them. Into each child's hands O-lan thrust a rice bowl and a pair of chopsticks and the two little boys grasped at them eagerly and held them tight as a promise of food to come. Thus they started across the fields, a dreary small procession moving so slowly that it seemed they would never reach the wail of the town.

The girl Wang Lung carried in his bosom until he saw that the old man would fall and then he gave the child to O-lan and stooping under his father he lifted him on his back and carried him, staggering under the old man's dry, wind-light frame. They went on in complete silence past the little temple with the two small stately gods within, who never noticed anything that passed. Wang Lung was sweating with his weakness in spite of the cold and bitter wind. This wind never ceased to blow on them and against them, so that the two boys cried of its cold. But Wang Lung coaxed them saying:

'You are two big men and you are travellers to the south. There is warmth there and food every day, white rice every day for all of us and you shall eat and you shall eat.'

In time they reached the gate of the wall, resting con- tinually every little way, and where Wang Lung had once delighted in its coolness, now he clenched his teeth against the gust of wintry wind that swept furiously through its channel as icy water will rush between cliffs. Beneath their feet the mud was thick and speared through with needles of ice and the little boys could make no headway and O-lan was laden with the girl and desperate under the weight of her own body. Wang Lung staggered through with the old man and set him down and then went back and lifted each child and carried him through, and then when it was over at last his sweat poured out of him like rain, spending all his strength with it, so that he had to lean for a long time against the damp wall, his eyes shut and his breath coming and going quickly, and his family stood shivering and wait- ing about him.

They were close to the gate of the great house now, but it was locked fast, the iron doors reared full to their height and the stone lions grey and windbitten on either side. Up- on the doorsteps lay cowering a few dingy shapes of men and women, who gazed, famished, upon the closed and barred gate, and when Wang Lung passed with his miser- able little procession one cried out in a cracked voice.

'The hearts of these rich-axe hard like the hearts of the gods. They have still rice to eat and from the rice they do not eat they are still making wine, while we starve.'

And another moaned forth:

'Oh, if I had an instant's strength in this hand of mine I would set fire to the gates and to those houses and courts within, even though I burned in the fire. A thousand curses to the parents that bore the children of Hwang!'

But W T ang Lung answered nothing to all this and in si- lence they went on towards the south.

When they had passed through the town and had come out on the southern side, which they did so slowly that it was evening and near to darkness, they found a multitude of people going toward the south. Wang Lung was be- ginning to think of what corner of the wall they had better choose for sleeping as well as they could huddled together, when he suddenly found himself and his family caught in a multitude, and he asked of one who pressed against him :

'Where is all this multitude going?'

And the man said:

'We are starving people and we are going to catch the fire-wagon and ride to the south. It leaves from yonder house and there are wagons for such as we for the price of less than a small silver piece'.

Fire- wagons! One had heard of them. Wang Lung in days past in the tea-shop had heard men tell of these wagons, chained one to the other and drawn neither by man nor beast, but by a machine breathing forth fire and water like a dragon. He had said to himself many times then that on a holiday he would go and see it, but with one thing and an- other in the fields there was never time, he being well to the north of the city. Then there was always distrust of that which one did not know and understand. It is not well for a man to know more than is necessary for his daily living.

Now, however, he turned doubtfully to the woman and said:

'Shall we also then go on this fire-wagon?'

They drew the old man and the children a little away from the passing crowd and looked at each other anxiously and afraid. At the instant's respite the old man sank upon the ground and the little boy lay in the dust, heedless of the feet trampling everywhere about them. O-lan carried the girl child still, but the child's head hung over her arm with such a look of death on its closed eyes that Wang Lung, forgetting all else, cried out:

'Is the little slave already dead?'

O-lan shook her head.

'Not yet. The breath flutters back and forth in her. But she will die this night and all of us unless '

And then as if she could say no other word she looked at him, her square face exhausted and gaunt. Wang Lung answered nothing, but to himself he thought that another day of walking like this one and they would all be dead by night, and he said with what cheer there was to be found in his voice:

'Up, my sons, and help the grandfather up. We will go on the fire-wagon and sit while we walk south.'

But whether or not they could have moved none knows, had there not come thundering out of the darkness a noise like a dragon's voice and two great eyes puffing fire out, so that every one screamed and ran. And pressing forward in the confusion they were pushed hither and thither, but always clinging desperately together, until they were pushed somehow in the darkness and in the yelling and crying of many voices into a small open door and into a box-like room, and then with an incessant roaring the thing in which they rode tore forth into the darkness, bearing them in its vitals.



XI



WITH HIS TWO PIECES OF SILVER WANG LUNG PAID for a hundred miles of road and the officer who took his silver from him gave him back a handful of copper pence, and with a few of these Wang Lung bought from a vendor, who thrust his tray of wares in at a hole in the wagon as soon as it stopped, four small loaves of bread and a bowl of soft rice for the girl. It was more than they had had to eat at one time for many days^and although they were star- ved for food, when it was in their mouths desire left them and it was only by coaxing that the boys could be made to I swallow. But the old man sucked perseveringly at the bread i between his toothless gums.

'One must eat/ he cackled forth, very friendly to all who pressed about him as the fire-wagon rolled and rocked on its way. 'I do not care that my foolish belly is grown lazy after all these days of little to do. It must be fed. I will not s die because it does not wish to work.' And men laughed suddenly at the smiling, wizened little old man, whose sparse white beard was scattered all over his chin.

But not all the copper pence did Wang Lung spend on I food. He kept back all he was able to buy mats to build a shed for them when they reached the south. There were men and women in the fire-wagon who had been south in other years; some who went each year to the rich cities of the south to work and to beg and thus save the price of food. And Wang Lung, when he had grown used to the I wonder of where he was and to the astonishment of seeing the land whirl by the holes in the wagon, listened to what these men said. They spoke with the loudness of wisdom where others are ignorant.

'First you must buy six mats/ said one, a man with coarse, hanging lips like a camel's mouth. These are two pence for one mat, if you are wise and do not act like a country bumpkin, in which case you will be charged three pence, which is more than is necessary, as I very well know. I cannot be fooled by the men in the southern cities, even if they are rich.' He wagged his head and looked about for admiration. Wang Lung listened anxiously.

'And then?' he urged. He sat squatting upon his haunch- es on the bottom of the wagon, which was, after all. only an empty room made of wood, with nothing to sit upon and the wind and the dust flying up through the cracks in the floor.

'Then,' said the man more loudly still, raising his voice above the din of the iron wheels beneath them, 'then you bind these together into a hut and then you go out to beg, first smearing yourself with mud and filth to make your- selves as piteous as you can.'

Now Wang Lung had never in his life begged of any man and he disliked this notion of begging of strange peo- ple in the south.

'One must beg?' he repeated.

'Ah, indeed,' said the coarse-mouthed man, 'but not until you have eaten. These people in the south have so much rice that each morning you may go to a public kitch- en and for a penny hold as much as you can in your belly of the white rice gruel. Then you can beg comfortably and buy bean-curd and cabbage and garlic'

Wang Lung withdrew a little from the others and turned himself about to the wall and secretly with his hand in his girdle he counted out the pence he had left. There was enough for the six mats and enough each for a penny for rice and beyond that he had three pence left. It came over him with comfort that thus they could begin the new life. But the notion of holding up a bowl and begging of any one who passed continued to distress him. It was very well for the old man and for the children and even for the wom- an, but he had his two hands.

'Is there no work for a man's hands?' he asked of the man suddenly, turning about.

'Aye, work!' said the man with contempt, and he spat upon the floor. c You can pull a rich man in a yellow rick- shaw if you like, and sweat your blood out with heat as you run and have your sweat freeze into a coat of ice on you when you stand waiting to be called. Give me begging! And he cursed a round curse, so that Wang Lung would not ask anything of him further.

But still it was a good thing that he had heard what the man said, for when the fire-wagon had carried them as far as it would and had turned them out upon the ground, Wang Lung had ready a plan and he set the old man and the children against a long grey wall of a house, which stood there, and he told the woman to watch them, and he went off to buy the mats, asking of this one and that where the market streets lay. At first he could scarcely understand what was said to him, so brittle and sharp was the sound which these southerners made when they spoke, and sever- al times when he asked and they did not understand, they were impatient, and he learned to observe what sort of man he asked of and to choose one with a kindlier face, for these southerners had tempers which were quick and easily ruffled.

But he found the mat shop at last on the edge of the city and he put his pennies down upon the counter as one who knew the price of the goods and he carried away his roll of mats. When he returned to the spot where he had left the others, they stood there waiting, although when he came the boys cried out at him in relief, and he saw that they had been filled with terror in this strange place. Only the old man watched everything with pleasure and astonish- ment and he murmured at Wang Lung:

'You see how fat they all are, these southerners, and how pale and oily are their skins. They eat pork every day, doubt- less.'

But none who passed looked at Wang Lung and his family. Men came and went along the cobbled highway to the city, busy and intent and never glancing aside at beg- gars, and every little while a caravan of donkeys came patter- ing by, their small feet fitting neatly to the stones, and they were laden with baskets of brick for the building of houses and with great bags of grain crossed upon their swaying backs. At the end of each caravan the driver rode on the hindermost beast, and he carried a great whip, and this whip he cracked with a terrific noise over the backs of the beasts, shouting as he did so. And as he passed Wang Lung each driver gave him a scornful and haughty look, and no prince could have looked more haughty than these drivers in their rough work coats as they passed by the small group of persons, standing wondering at the edge of the roadway. It was the especial pleasure of each driver, seeing how strange Wang Lung and his family were, to crack his whip just as he passed them, and the sharp explo- sive cut of the air made them leap up, and seeing them leap the drivers guffawed, and Wang Lung was angry when this happened two and three times and he turned away to see where he could put his hut.

There were already other huts clinging to the wall behind them, but what was inside the wall none knew and there was no way of knowing. It stretched out long and grey and very high, and against the base the small mat sheds clung like fleas to a dog's back. Wang Lung observed the huts and he began to shape his own mats this way and that, but they were stiff and clumsy things at best, being made of split reeds, and he despaired, when suddenly O-lan said :

"That I can do. I remember it in my childhood.'

And she placed the girl upon the ground and pulled the mats thus and thus, and shaped a rounded roof reaching to the ground and high enough for a man to sit under and not strike the top, and upon the edges of the mats that were upon the ground she placed bricks that were lying about and she set the boys to picking up more bricks. When it was finished they went within and with one mat she had contrived not to use they made a floor and sat down and were sheltered.

Sitting thus and looking at each other, it seemed less than possible that the day before they had left their own house and their land and that these were now a hundred miles away. It was a distance vast enough to have taken them weeks of walking and at which they must have died, some of them, before it was done.

Then the general feeling of plenty in this rich land, where no one seemed even hungered, filled them, and when Wang Lung said, 'Let us go and seek the public kitchens,' they rose up almost cheerfully and went out once more, and this time the small boys clattered their chopsticks against their bowls as they walked, for there would soon be some- thing to put into them. And they found soon why the huts were built to that long wall, for a short distance beyond the northern end of it was a street and along the street many people walked carrying bowls and buckets and vessels of tin, all empty, and these persons were going to the kitchens for the poor, which were at the end of the street and not far away. And so Wang Lung and his family mingled with these others and with them they came at last to two great buildings made of mats, and every one crowded into the open end of these buildings.

Now in the rear of each building were earthen stoves, but larger than Wang Lung had ever seen, and on them iron cauldrons as big as small ponds; and when the great wooden lids were pried up, there was the good white rice bubbling and boiling, and clouds of fragrant steam rose up. Now when the people smelled this fragrance of rice it was the sweetest in the world to their nostrils, and they all pressed forward in a great mass and people called out and mothers shouted in anger and fear lest their children be trodden upon and little babies cried, and the men who opened the cauldron roared forth:

'Now there is enough for every man and each in his turn!'

But nothing could stop the mass of hungry men and women and they fought like beasts until all were fed. Wang Lung, caught in their midst, could do nothing but cling to his father and his two sons and when he was swept to the great cauldron he held out his bowl and when it was filled threw down his pence, and it was all he could do to stand sturdily and not be swept on before the thing was done.

Then when they had come to the street again and stood eating their rice, he ate and was filled and there was a little left in his bowl, and he said:

'I will take this home to eat in the evening.'

But a man stood near who was some sort of a guard of the place for he wore a special garment of blue and red, and he said sharply:

'No, and you can take nothing away except what is in your belly.' And Wang Lung marvelled at this and said:

'Well, if I have paid my penny what business is it of yours if I carry it within or without me?'

The man said then:

'We must have this rule, for there are those whose hearts are so hard that they will come and buy this rice that is given for the poor — for a penny will not feed any man like this — and they will carry the rice home to feed to their pigs for slop. And the rice is for men and not for pigs.'

Wang Lung listened to this in astonishment and he cried:

'Are there men as hard as this!' And then he said, 'But why should any give like this to the poor, and who is it that gives?'

The man answered then:

'It is the rich and the gentry of the town who do it, and some do it for a good deed for the future, that by saving lives they may get merit in heaven, and some do it for righteousness that men may speak well of them.

'Nevertheless it is a good deed for whatever reason,' said Wang Lung, 'and some must do it out of a good heart.' And then seeing that the man did not answer him, he added in his own defence, 'at least there are a few of these?'

But the man was weary of speaking with him and he turned his back, and he hummed an idle tune. The chil- dren tugged at Wang Lung then, and Wang Lung led them all back to the hut they had made, and there they laid themselves down and they slept until the next morning, for it was the first time since summer they had been filled with food, and sleep overcame them with fullness.

The next morning it was necessary that there be more money, for they spent the last copper coin upon the morn- ing's rice. Wang Lung looked at G-lan, doubtful as to what should be done. But it was not with the despair with which he had looked at her over their blank and empty fields. Here with the coming and going of well-fed people upon the streets, with meat and vegetables in the markets, with fish swimming in the tubs in the fish market, surely it was npt possible for a man and his children to starve. , It was not as it was in their own land, where even silver could not buy food because there was none. And O-lan answered him steadily, as though this were the life she had known always:

'I and the children/tan beg and the old man also. His grey hairs will move some who will not give to me.'

And she called the two boys to her, for, like children they had forgotten everything except that they had food again and were in a strange place, and they ran to the street and stood staring at all that passed, and she said to them:

'Each of you take your bowls and hold them thus and cry out thus '

And she took her empty bowl in her hand and held it out and called piteously:

'A heart, good sir — a heart, good lady! Have a kind heart — a good deed for your life in heaven! The small cash — the copper coin you throw away — feed a starving child!'

The little boys stared at her, and Wang Lung also. Where had she learned to cry thus? How much of this woman there was that he did not know! She answered his look saying:

'So I called when I was a child and so I was fed. In such a year as this I was sold a slave/

Then the old man, who had been sleeping, awoke, and they gave him a bowl, and the four of them went out on the road to beg. The woman began to call out and to shake her bowl at every passer-by. She had thrust the girl child into her naked bosom, and the child slept, and its head bobbed this way and that as she moved, running hither and thither with her bowl outstretched before her. She pointed to the child as she begged, and she cried loudly:

'Unless you give, good sir, good lady — this child dies — we starve — we starve. And indeed the child looked dead, its head shaking this way and that, and there were some, a few, who tossed her unwillingly a small cash.

But the boys after a while began to take the begging as play and the elder one was ashamed and grinned sheepishly as he begged, and then their mother perceiving it dragged them into the hut and she slapped them soundly upon their jaws, and she scolded them with anger.

'And do you talk of starving and then laugh at the same time! You fools, starve then!' And she slapped them again and again until her own hands were sore and until the tears were running freely down their faces and they were sobbing, and she sent them out saying:

'Now you are fit to beg! That and more if you laugh again!'

As for Wang Lung, he went into the streets and asked hither and thither until he found a place where jinrickshaws were for hire, and he went in and hired one for the day for the price of half a round of silver to be paid at night, and then dragged the thing after him out to the street again.

Pulling this rickety, wooden wagon on its two wheels behind him, it seemed to him that every one looked at him for a fool. He was as awkward between its shafts as an ox yoked for the first time to the plough, and he could scarcely walk; yet must he run if he were to earn his living, for here and there and everywhere through the streets of this city men ran as they pulled other men in these. He went into a narrow side street where there were no shops but only doors of homes closed and private, anc he went up and down for a while pulling to accustom himself, and just as he said to himself in despair that he had better beg, a door opened, and an old man, spectacled, and garbed as teacher, stepped forth and hailed him.

Wang Lung at first began to tell him that he was too new at it to run, but the old man was deaf, for he hearc nothing of what Wang Lung said, only motioning to him tranquilly to lower the shafts and let him step in, and Wang Lung obeyed, not knowing what else to do, and feeling compelled to it by the deafness of the old man and by his well-dressed and learned looks. Then the old man, sitting erect, said:

'Take me to the Confucian temple,' and there he sat, erect and calm, and there was that in his calmness which allowed no question, that Wang started forward as he saw others do, although he had not the faintest knowledge of where the Confucian temple stood.

But as he went he asked, and since the road lay along crowded streets, with the vendors passing back and forth with their baskets and women going out to market, and carriages drawn by horses, and many other vehicles like the one he pulled, and everything pressing against another so that there was no possibility of running, he walked as swiftly as he was able, conscious always of the awkward bumping of his load behind him. To loads upon his back he was used, but not to pulling, and before the walls of the temple were in sight his arms were aching and his hands blistered, for the shafts pressed spots where the hoe did not touch.

The old teacher stepped forth out of the rickshaw when Wang Lung lowered it as he reached the temple gates, and feeling in the depths of his bosom he drew out a small silver coin and gave it to Wang Lung, saying:

'Now I never pay more than this, and there is no use in complaint.' And with this he turned away and went into the temple.

Wang Lung had not thought to complain for he had not seen this coin before, and he did not know for how many pence it could be changed. He went to a rice shop near by where money is changed, and the changer gave him for the coin twenty-six pence, and Wang Lung mar- velled at the ease with which money comes in the south. But another rickshaw-puller stood near and leaned over as he counted, and he said to Wang Lung:

'Only twenty-six. How far did you pull that old head?' And when Wang told him, the man cried out, 'Now there is a small-hearted old man ! He gave you only half the proper fare. How much did you argue for before you started?'

'I did not argue,' said Wang Lung. 'He said "Come" and I came.'

The other man looked at Wang Lung pityingly,

'Now there is a country lout for you, pigtail and all!' he called out to the bystanders. 'Some one says come and he comes, and he never asks, this idiot born of idiots, "How much will you give me if I come? Know this, idiot, only white foreigners can be taken without argument! Their tempers are like quicklime, but when they say "Come" you may come and trust them, for they are such fools they do not know the proper price of anything, but let the silver run out of their pockets like water.' And every one listening laughed.

Wang Lung said nothing. It was true that he felt very humble and ignorant in all this crowd of city people, and he pulled his vehicle away without a word in answer.

'Nevertheless, this will feed my children tomorrow,' he said to himself stubbornly, and then he remembered that he had the rent of the vehicle to pay at night and that indeed there was not yet half enough to do that.

He had one more passenger during the morning and with this one he argued and agreed upon a price, and in the afternoon two more called to him. But at night, when he counted out all his money in his hand he had only a penny above the rent of the rickshaw, and he went back to his hut in great bitterness, saying to himself that for labour greater than the labour of a day in a harvest field he had earned only one copper penny. Then there came flooding over him the memory of his land. He had not remembered it once during this strange day, but now the thought of it lying back there, far away, it is true, but waiting and his own, filled him with peace, and so h came to his hut.

When he entered there he found that O-lan had fo her day's begging received forty small cash, which is less than fivepence, and of the boys, the elder had eight cash and the younger thirteen, and with these put together there was enough to pay for the rice in the morning. Only when they put the younger boy's in with all, he howled for his own, and he loved the money he had begged, and slept with it that night in his hand, and they could not take it from him until he gave it himself for his own rice.

But the old man had received nothing at all. All day- long he had sat by the roadside obediently enough, but he did not beg. He slept and woke and stared at what passed him, and when he grew weary he slept again. And being of the older generation, he could not be reproved. When he saw that his hands were empty he said merely:

'I have ploughed land, and I have sown seed, and I have reaped harvest, and thus have I filled my rice bowl. And I have beyond this begotten a son and son's sons.'

And with this he trusted like a child that now he would be fed, seeing that he had a son and grandsons.



XII



NOW AFTER THE FIRST SHARPNESS OF WANG LUNG'S hunger was over, when he saw that children had daily something to eat, when he knew there was every morn- ing rice to be had and of his day's labour and of O-lan's begging enough to pay for it, the strangeness of his life passed, and he began to feel what this city was to whose fringes he clung. Running about the streets every day and all day long he learned to know the city after a fashion, and he saw this and that of its secret parts. He learned that in the morning the people he drew in his vehicle, if they were women, went to the market, and if they were men, they went to the schools and to the house of business. But what sort of schools these were he had no way of knowing, beyond the fact that they were called such names as "The Great School of Western Learn ing" or as "The Great School of China", for he never went beyond the gates, and if he had gone in well he knew some one would have come to ask him what he did out of his place. And what houses of business they were to which he drew men he did not know, since when he was paid it was all he knew.

And at night he knew that he drew men to big teahouses and to places of pleasure, the pleasure that is open and streams out upon the streets in the sound of music and of gaming with pieces of ivory and bamboo upon a wooden table, and the pleasure that is secret and silent and hidden behind walls. But none of these pleasures did Wang Lung know for himself, since his feet crossed no threshold except that of his own hut, and his road was / always ended at a gate. 'He lived in the rich city as alien as a rat in a rich man's house that is fed of scraps thrown away, and hides here and there, and is never a part of the real life of the house.'

So it was that, although a hundred miles are not so far as a thousand, and land road never so far as water road, yet Wang Lung and his wife and children were like foreigners in this southern city. It is true that the people who went about the streets had black hair and eyes as Wang Lung and all family had, and as all did in the coun- try where Wang Lung was born, and it is true that if one listened to the language of these southerners it could be understood, if with difficulty.

But Anhwei is not Kiangsu. In Anhwei, where Wang Lung was born, the language is slow and deep and it wells from the throat. But in the Kiangsu city where they now lived the people spoke in syllables which splintered from their lips and from the ends of their tongues. And where Wang Lung's fields spread out in slow and leisurely harvest twice a year of wheat and rice and a bit of corn and beans and garlic, here in the farms about the city men urged their land with perpetual stinking fertilising of human wastes to force the land to a hurried bearing of this ve- getable and that besides their rice.

In Wang Lung's country a man, if he had a roll of good wheat bread and a sprig of garlic in it, had a good meal and needed no more. But here the people dabbled with pork balls and bamboo sprouts and chestnuts stewed with chicken and goose giblets and this and that of vege- tables, and when an honest man came by smelling of yesterday's garlic, they lifted their noses and cried out, 'Now here is a reeking, pig-tailed northerner!' The smell of the garlic would make the very shopkeepers in the cloth- shops raise the price of blue cotton cloth as they might raise the price for a foreigner.

But then the little village of sheds clinging to the wall never became a part of the city or of the countryside which stretched beyond, and once when Wang Lung heard a young man haranguing/Sfcrowd at the corner of the Con- fucian temple, where any man may stand, if he have the courage to speak out, and the young man said that China must have a revolution and must rise against the hated foreigners, Wang Lung was alarmed and slunk away, feeling that he was the foreigner against whom the young man spoke with such passion. And when on another day he heard another young man speaking — for this city was full pf young men speaking — and he said at his street corner that the people of China must unite and must educate themselves in these times, it did not occur to Wang Lung that any one was speaking to him.

It was only one day when he was on the street of the silk markets looking for a passenger that he learned better than he had known, and that there were those who were more foreign than he in this city. He happened on this day to pass by the door of a shop from whence ladies sometimes came after purchasing silks within, and some- times thus he secured one who paid him better than most. And on this day some one did come out on him suddenly, a creature the like of whom he had never seen before. He had no idea of whether it was male or female, but it was tall and dressed in a straight black robe of some rough harsh material and there was the skin of a dead animal wrapped about its neck. As he passed, the person, whether male, or female, motioned to him sharply to lower the shafts, and he did so, and when he stood erect again, dazed at what had befallen him, the person, in broken accents, directed that he was to go to the Street of Bridges. He began to run hurriedly, scarcely knowing what he did, and once he called to another puller whom he knew casually in the day's work:

'Look at this — what is this I pull?'

And the man shouted back at him:

'A foreigner — a female from America — you are rich'

But Wang Lung ran as fast he could for fear of the strange creature behind him, and when he reached the Street of Bridges he was exhausted and dripping with his sweat.

This female stepped out then and said in the same broken accents, 'You need not have run yourself to death,' and left him with two silver pieces in his palm, which was double the usual fare.

Then Wang Lung knew that this was indeed a foreigner and more foreign yet than he in this city, and that after all people of black hair and black eyes are one sort and people of light hair and light eyes of another sort, and after that he was no longer wholly foreign in the city.

When he went back to the hut that night with the silver he had received still untouched, he told O-lan, and she said:

'I have seen them. I always beg of them, for they alone will drop silver rather than copper into my bowl.'

But neither Wang Lung nor his wife felt that the for- eigner dropped silver because of any goodness of heart but rather because of ignorance and not knowing that copper is more correct to give to beggars than silver. Nevertheless, through this experience Wang Lung learned what the young men had not taught him, that he belonged to his own kind, who have black hair and black eyes.

Clinging thus to the outskirts of the great, sprawling, opulent city it seemed that at least there could not be any lack of food. Wang Lung and his family had come from a country where if men starve it is because there is no food, since the land cannot bear under a relentless heaven. Silver in the hand was worth little because it could buy nothing where nothing was.

Here in the city there was food everywhere. The cobbled streets of the fish market were lined with great baskets of big silver fish, caught in the night out of the teeming river; with tubs of small shining fish, dipped out of a net cast over a pool; with heaps of yellow crabs, squirming and nipping in peevish astonishment; with writhing eels for gourmands at the feasts. At the grain markets there were such baskets of grain that a man might step into them and sink and smother and none know it who did not see it; white rice and brown, and dark yellow wheat and pale gold wheat, and yellow soy-beans and red beans and green broad beans, and canary-coloured millet, and grey sesame. And at the meat markets whole hogs hung by their necks, split open the length of their great bodies to show the red meat and the layers of goodly fat, the skin soft and thick and white. And in duck-shops hung, row upon row, over the ceilings and in the doors, the brown baked ducks that had been turned slowly on a spit before coals, and the white salted ducks, and the strings of duck giblets; and so with the shops that sold geese and pheasant and every kind of fowl.

As for the vegetables, there was everything which the hand of man could coax from the soil; glittering red rad- ishes and white, hollow lotus root and taro, green cab- bages and celery, curling bean sprouts and brown chestnuts and garnishes of fragrant, cress. There was nothing which the appetite of man might desire that was not to be found upon the streets of the markets of that city. And going hither and thither were the vendors of sweets and fruits and nuts and of hot delicacies of sweet potatoes browned in sweet oils and little delicately spiced balls of pork wrapped in dough and steamed, and sugar cakes made from glutinous rice; and the children of the city ran out to the vendors of these things with their hands full of pennies and they bought and they ate until their skins glistened with sugar and oil.

Yes, one would say that in this city there could be none who starved.

Still, every morning a little after dawn Wang Lung and his family came out of their hut and with their bowls and chopsticks they made a small group in a long procession of people, each issuing from his hut, shivering in clothes too thin for the damp river fog, w r alking curved against the chill morning wind in the public kitchens, where for a penny a man may buy a bowl of thin rice gruel. And with all Wang Lung's pulling and running before his rickshaw and with all O-lan's begging, they never could gain enough to cook rice daily in their own hut. If there was a penny over and above the price of the rice at the kitchens for the poor, they bought a bit of cabbage. But the cabbage was dear at any price, for the two boys must go to hunt for fuel to cook it between the two bricks O-lan had set up for a stove, and this fuel they had to snatch by handfuls as they could from the farmers who carried the loads of reed and grass into the city fuel markets. Sometimes the chil- dren were caught and cuffed soundly and one night the elder lad, who was more timid than the younger and more ashamed of what he did, came back with an eye swollen shut from the blow of a farmer's hand. But the younger lad grew adept and indeed more adept at petty thieving than at begging.

To O-lan this was nothing. If the boys could not beg without laughing and play, let them steal to fill their bellies. But Wang Lung, although he had no answer for her, felt his gorge rise at this thievery of his sons, and he did not blame the elder when he was slow at the business. The life in the shadow of the great wall was not the life Wang Lung loved. There nothing as his land waiting for him.

One night he came late and there was in the stew of cabbage a good round piece of pork. It was the first time they had had flesh to eat since they killed their own ox, and Wang Lung's eyes widened.

'You must have begged of a foreigner this day,' he said to O-lan. But she, according to her habit, said no- thing. Then the younger boy, too young for wisdom and filled with his own pride of cleverness, said:

'I took it — it is mine, this meat. When the butcher looked the other way after he had sliced it off from the big piece upon the counter, I ran under an old woman's arm who had come to buy it and I seized it and ran into an alley and hid in a dry water jar at a back gate until Elder Brother came.'

'Now will I not eat this meat!' cried Wang Lung angrily. 'We will eat meat that we can buy or beg, but not that which we steal. Beggars we may be but thieves we are not.' And he took the meat out of the pot with his two fingers and threw it upon the ground and was heed- less of the younger lad's howling.

Then O-lan came forward in her stolid fashion and she picked up the meat and washed it off with a little water and thrust it back into the boiling pot.

'Meat is meat,' she said quietly.

Wang Lung said nothing then, but he was angry and" afraid in his heart because his sons were growing into thieves here in this city. And although he said nothing when O-lan pulled the tender cooked flesh apart with her chopsticks, and although he said nothing when she gave great pieces of it to the old man and to the boys and even filled the mouth of the girl with it and ate of it herself, he himself would have none of it, contenting himself with the cabbage he had bought. But after the meal was over he took his younger son into the street out of hearing of the woman and there behind a house he took the boy's head under his arm and cuffed it soundly on this side and that, and would not stop for the lad's bellowing.

'There and there and there!' he shouted. 'That for a thief!'

But to himself, when he had let the lad go snivelling home, he said:

'We must get back to the land.'

XIII

DAY BY DAY BENEATH THE OPULENCE OF THIS city Wang Lung lived in the foundations of poverty upon which it was laid. With the food spilling out of the markets, with the streets of the silk shops flying brilliant banners of black and red and orange silk to announce their wares, With rich men clothed in satin and in velvet, soft-fleshed rich men with their skin covered with garments of silk and then hands like flowers of softness, and perfume and the beauty of idleness, with all of these for the regal beauty of the! city, in that part where Wang Lung lived there was not food enough to feed savage hunger, and not clothes enough to cover bones.

Men laboured all day at the baking of breads and cakes for feasts for the rich, and children laboured from dawn to midnight and slept all greasy and grimed as they were upon rough pallets on the floor and staggered to the ovens next day, and there was not money enough given them to buy a piece of the rich breads they made for others. And men and women laboured at the cutting and contriving of heavy furs for the winter and of soft light furs for the spring and at the thick brocaded silks, to cut and shape them into sumptuous robes for the ones who ate of the profusion at the markets, and they themselves snatched a bit of coarse blue cotton cloth and sewed it hastily together to cover their bareness:

Wang Lung, living among these who laboured at feast- ing others, heard strange things of which he took little heed. The older men and women, it is true, said nothing to any one. Greybeards pulled rickshaws, pushed wheelbarrows of coal and wood to bakeries and palaces, strained their backs until the muscles stood forth like ropes as they pushed and pulled the heavy carts of merchandise over the cobbled roads, ate frugally of their scanty food, slept their brief nights out, and were silent. Their faces were like the face of O-lan, inarticulate, dumb. None knew what was in their minds. If they spoke at all it was of food or of pence. Rarely was the word silver upon their lips because rarely was silver in their hands.

Their faces in repose were twisted as though in anger, only it was not anger. It was the years of straining at loads too heavy for them which had lifted their upper lips to bare their teeth in a seeming snarl, and this labour had set deep wrinkles in the flesh about their eyes and their mouths. They themselves had no idea of what manner of men they were. One of them once, seeing himself in a mirror that passed on a van of household goods had cried out, 'There is an ugly fellow!' And when others laughed at him loudly he smiled painfully, never knowing at what they laughed, and looking about hastily to see if he had offended some one.

At home in the small hovels where they lived, around Wang Lung's hovel, heaped one upon another, the women sewed rags together to make a covering for the children they were for ever breeding, and they snatched at bits of cabbage from farmer's fields and stole handfuls of rice from the grain markets, and gleaned the year round ther grass on the hillsides; and at harvest they followed the reapers like fowls, their eyes piercing and sharp for every dropped grain or stalk. And through these huts passed children; they were born and dead and born again until neither mother or father knew how many had been borm or had died, and scarcely knew even how many were living, thinking of them only as mouths to be fed.

These men and these women and these children passed in and out of the markets and the cloth-shops and wandered about the countryside that bordered on the city, the men working at this and that for a few pence, the women and children stealing and begging and snatching; and Wang Lung and his woman and his children were among them.

The old men and the old women accepted the life they had. But there came a time when the male children grew to a certain age, before they were old when they ceased to be children, and then they were filled with discontent. "There was talk among the young men, angry, growling talk. And later when they were men and married and the dismay of increasing numbers filled their hearts, the scat- tered anger of their youth became settled into a fierce despair and into a revolt too deep for mere words because all their lives they laboured more severely than beasts, and for nothing except a handful of refuse to fill their bellies; Listening to such talk one evening, Wang Lung heard for the first time what was on the other side of the great wall to which their rows of huts clung.

It was at the end of one of those days in late winter when for the first time it seems possible that spring may come again. The ground about the huts was still muddy with the melting snow and the water ran into the huts so that each I family had hunted here and there for a few bricks upon which to sleep. But with the discomfort of the damp earth there was this night a soft mildness in the air and this mild- ness made Wang Lung exceedingly restless, so that after he had eaten he could not sleep at once as was his wont, but went out to the street's edge and stood there idle.

Here his old father habitually sat, squatting on his thighs and leaning against the wall, and here he sat now, having taken his bowl of food there to sup it, now that the chil- dren filled the hut to bursting when they were clamouring. The old man held in one hand the end of a loop of cloth which O-lan had torn from her girdle, and within this loop the girl child staggered to and fro without falling. Thus he spent his days looking after this child who had now grown rebellious at having to be in her mother's bosom as she begged. Besides this, O-lan was again with child and the pressure of the larger child upon her from without was too painful to bear.

Wang Lung watched the child falling and scrambling and falling again and the old man pulling at the loop ends, and standing thus he felt upon his face the mildness of the evening wind and there arose within him a mighty longing for his fields.

'On such a day as this,' he said aloud to his father, 'the fields should be turned and the wheat cultivated.'

'Ah,' said the old man tranquilly. 'I know what is in your thought. Twice and twice again in my years I have had to do as we did this year and leave the fields and know that there was no seed in them for fresh harvests.'

'But you always went back, my father.'

'There was the land, my son,' said the old man simply.

Well, they also would go back, if not this year, then next, said Wang to his own heart. As long as there was the land! And the thought of it lying there, waiting for him, rich with the spring rains, filled him with desire. He went back to the hut and he said roughly to his wife :

'If I had anything to sell I would sell it and go back to the land. Or if it were not for the old head, we would walk though we starved. But how can he and the small child walk a hundred miles? And you, with your burden!'

O-lan had been rinsing the rice bowls with a little water and now she piled them in a corner of the hut and looked up at him from the spot where she squatted.

'There is nothing to sell except the girl,' she answered slowly.

Wang Lung's breath caught.

'Now, I would not sell a child!' he said loudly.

'I was sold,' she answered very slowly. 'I was sold to a great house so that my parents could return to their home.'

"And would you sell the child, therefore?'

'If it were only I, she would be killed before she was sold . . . the slave of slaves was I! But a dead girl brings nothing. I would sell this girl for you — to take you back to the land.'

'Never would I,' said Wang Lung stoutly, 'not though I spent my life in this wilderness.'

But when he had gone out again the thought, which would never spontaneously have come to him, tempted him against his will. He looked at the small girl, staggering persistently at the end of the loop her grandfather held. She had grown greatly on the food given her each day, and although she had as yet said no word at all, still she was plump as a child will be on slight care enough. Her lips that had been like an old woman's were smiling and red, and as of old she grew merry when he looked at her and she smiled.

'I might have done it,' he mused, 'if she had not lain in my bosom and smiled like that.'

And then he thought again of his land and he cried out passionately:

'Shall I never see it again! With all this labour and beg- ging there is never enough to do more than feed us today.'

Then out of the dusk there answered him a voice, a deep burly voice:

'You are not the only one. There are a hundred hundred like you in the city.'

The man came up, smoking a short bamboo pipe, and it was the father of the family in the hut next but two to Wang Lung's hut. He was a man seldom seen in the day- light, for he slept all day and worked at night pulling heavy wagons of merchandise which were too large for the streets by day when other vehicles must continually pass each other. But sometimes Wang Lung saw him come creeping home at dawn, panting and spent, and his great knotty shoulders drooping. Wang Lung passed him thus at dawn as he went out to his own rickshaw-pulling, and sometimes at dusk before the night's work the man came out and stood with the other men who were about to go into their hovels to sleep.

'Well, and is it for ever?' asked Wang Lung bitterly.

The man puffed at his pipe thrice and then spat upon the ground. Then he said:

'No, and not for ever. When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor there are ways. Last winter we sold two girls and endured, and this win- ter, if this one my woman bears is a girl, we will sell again. One slave I have kept— the first. The others it is better to sell than to kill, although there are those who prefer to kill them before they draw breath. This is one of the ways when the poor are too poor. When the rich are too rich there is a way, and if I am not mistaken, that way will come soon.' He nodded and pointed with the stem of his pipe to the wall behind them. 'Have you seen inside that wall?'

Wang Lung shook his head, staring. The man continued:

'I took one of my slaves in there to sell and I saw it. You would not believe it if I told you how money comes and goes in that house. I will tell you this — even the ser- ants eat with chopsticks of ivory bound with silver, and even the slave women hang jade and pearls in their ears! and sew pearls upon their shoes, and when the shoes have a bit of mud upon them or a small rent comes such as you and I would not call a rent, they throw them away, pearls and all!'

The man drew hard on his pipe and Wang Lung listened, his mouth ajar. Over this wall, then, there were indeed such things!

'There is a way when men are too rich,' said the man, and he was silent for a time and then as though he had   said nothing he added indifferently:   'Well, work again,' and was gone into the night.   But Wang Lung that night could not sleep for thinking of silver and gold and pearls on the other side of this wall, against which his body rested, his body clad in what he wore day after day, because there was no quilt to cover him and only a mat upon bricks beneath him. And temptation fell on him again to sell the child, so that he said to himself: 'It would be better^perhaps that she be sold into a rich house so that she can eat daintily and wear jewels, if it be that she grow up pretty and please a lord.' But against his own wish he answered himself and he thought again, 'Well, and if I did, she is not worth her weight in gold and rubies. If she bring enough to take us back to the land where will come enough to buy an ox and a table and a bed and the benches once more? Shall I sell a child that we may starve there instead of here? We have not even seed to put into the land.'

And he saw nothing of the way of which the man spoke when he said, 'There is a way, when the rich are too rich.'

XIV

SPRING SEETHED IN THE VILLAGE OF HUTS. OUT TO the hills and the grave lands those who had begged now could go to dig the small green weeds, dandelions and shepherd's purse that thrust up feeble new leaves, and it was not necessary as it had been to snatch at vegetables here and there. A swarm of ragged women and children issued forth each day from the huts, and with bits of tin and sharp stones or worn knives, and with baskets made of twisted bamboo twigs or split reeds they searched the countrysides and the roadways for the food they could get without begging and without money. And every day O-lan went out with this swarm, O-lan and the two boys.

But men must work, and W'ang Lung worked on as he had before, although the lengthening warm days and the sunshine arid sudden rains filled every one with longings and discontents. In the winter they had worked and been silent, enduring stolidly the snow and ice under their straw- sandalled feet, going back at dark to their huts and eating without words such food as the day's labour and begging had brought, falling heavily to sleep, men, women and chil- dren together, to gain that for their bodies which the food was too poor and too scanty to give. Thus it was in Wang Lung's hut, and well he knew it must be so in every other.

But with the coming of spring talk began to surge up out of their hearts and to make itself heard on their lips. In the evening when the twilight lingered they gathered out of their huts and talked together, and Wang Lung saw this one and that of the men who had lived near him and whom through the winter he had not known. Had O-lan been one to tell him things he might have heard, for in- stance, of this one who beat his wife, of that one who had a leprous disease that ate his cheeks out, of that other who was king of a gang of thieves; but beyond the spare questions and answers she asked and gave she was silent. And so Wang Lung stood diffidently on the edge of the circle and listened to the talk.

Most of these ragged men had nothing beyond what they took in the day's labour and begging, and he was always conscious that he was not truly one of them. He owned land and his land was waiting for him. These others thought of how they might to-morrow eat a bit of fish, or of how they might idle a bit, and even how they might gamble a little, a penny or two, since their days were alike all evil and filled with want and a man must play sometimes, though desperate.

But Wang Lung thought of his land and pondered this way and that, with the sickened heart of deferred hope, how he could get back to it.fHe belonged, not to this scum which clung to the walls of a rich man's house; nor did he belong to the rich man's house. He belonged to the land and he could not live with any fullness until he felt the land under his feet and followed a plough in the spring time and bore a scythe in his hand at harvest. [He listened, there- fore, apart from the others, because hidden in his heart was the knowledge of the possession of his land, the good wheat land of his fathers, and the strip of rich rice land which he had bought from the great house.

They talked, these men, always and for ever of money; of what pence they had paid for a foot of cloth, and of what they had paid for a small fish as long as a man's fin- ger, or of what they could earn in a day, and always at last of what they would do if they had the money which the man over the wall had in his coffers. Every day the talk ended with this :

'And if I hid the gold that he has and the silver in my hand that he wears every day in his girdle and if I had the pearls his concubines ^rear-and the rubies his wife wears. .

And listening to all the things which they would do if they had these things, Wang Lung heard only of how much they would eat and sleep, and of what dainties they would eat that they had never yet tasted, and of how they would gamble in this great tea-shop and in that, and of what pretty women they would buy for their lust, and, above all, how none would ever work again, even as the rich man behind the wall never worked.

Then Wang Lung cried out suddenly:

'If I had the gold and the silver and the jewels, I would buy land with it, good land, and I would bring forth har- vests from the land!'

At this they united in turning on him and in rebuking him.

'Now here is a pig-tailed country bumpkin who under- stands nothing of city life and of what may be done with money. He would go on working like a slave behind an ox or an ass !' And each one of them felt he was more wor- thy to have the riches than was Wang Lung, because they knew better how to spend it.

But this scorn did not change the mind of Wang Lung. It only made him say to himself instead of aloud for others to hear:

'Nevertheless, I would put the gold and the silver and the jewels into good rich lands.'

And thinking this, he grew more impatient every day for the land that was already his.

Being possessed continually by this thought of his land, Wang Lung saw as in a dream the things that happened about him in the city every day. He accepted this strange- ness and that without questioning why anything was, except that in this day this thing came. There was, for an example, the paper that men gave out here and there, and sometimes even to him.

Now Wang Lung had never in his youth or at any time learned the meaning of letters upon paper, and he could not, therefore, make anything out of such paper covered with black marks and pasted upon city gates or upon walls or sold by the handful or even given away. Twice had he had such paper given him.

[The first time it was given by a foreigner such as the one he had pulled unwittingly in his rickshaw one day, only this one who gave him the paper was a man, very tall, and lean as a tree that has been blown by bitter winds. This man had eyes as blue as ice and a hairy face, and when he gave the paper to Wang Lung it was seen that his hands were also hairy and red-skinned. He had, moreover, a great nose projecting beyond his cheeks like a prow beyond the sides of a ship and Wang Lung, although frightened to take anything from his hand, was more frightened to refuse, seeing the man's strange eyes and fearful nose. He took what was thrust at him, then, and when he had courage to look at it after the foreigner had passed on, he saw on the paper a picture of a man, white-skinned, who hung upon a cross-piece of wood. The man was without clothes except for a bit about his loins, and to all appearances he was dead, since his head dropped upon his shoulder and his eyes were closed above his bearded lips. Wang Lung looked at the pictured man in horror and with increasing interest. There were characters beneath, but of these he could make no- thing.

He carried the picture home at night and showed it to the old man. But he also could not read and they discussed its possible meaning, Wang Lung and the old man and the two boys. The two boys cried out in delight and horror: 'And see the blood streaming out of his side!' And the old man said:

'Surely this was a very evil man to be thus hung.'

But Wang Lung was fearful of the picture and pondered as to why a foreigner had given it to him: whether or not some brother of this foreigner's had not been so treat- ed and the other brethren sought revenge. He avoided, therefore, the street on which he had met the man and after a few days, when the paper was forgotten, O-lan took it and sewed it into a shoe sole together with other bits of paper she picked up here and there to make the soles firm.

But the next time one handed a paper freely to Wang Lung it was a man of the city, a young man well clothed, who talked loudly as he distributed sheets hither and thither among the crowds who swarm about anything new and strange in a street. This paper bore also a picture of blood and death, but the man who died this time was not white- skinned and hairy but a man like Wang Lung himself, a common fellow, yellow and slight and black of hair and eye and clothed in ragged blue garments. Upon the dead figure a great fat one stood and stabbed the dead figure again and again with a long knife he held. It was a piteous sight and Wang Lung stared at it and longed to make something of the letters underneath. He turned to the man beside him and he said:

'Do you know a character or two so that you may tell me the meaning of this dreadful thing?'

And the man said:

'Be still and listen to the young teacher; he tells us all.'

And so Wang Lutlg listened, and what he heard was what he had never heard before.

'The dead man is yourselves,' proclaimed the young teacher, 'and the murderous one who stabs you when you are dead and do not know it are the rich and the capitalists, who would stab you even after you are dead. You are poor and down-trodden and it is because the rich seize everything.'

Now, Wang Lung knew full well he had heretofore blamed it that he was poor on a heaven that would not rain in its season, or, having rained, would continue to rain as though rain were an evil habit. When there was rain and sun in proportion so that the seed would sprout in the land and the stalk bear grain, he did not consider himself poor. Therefore he listened in interest to hear further wham, the rich man had to do with this thing, that heaven would not rain in its season. And at last when the young man had talked on and on but said nothing of this matter where Wang Lung's interest lay, Wang Lung grew bold and asked :

'Sir, is there any way whereby the rich who oppress us can make it rain so that I can work on the land?'

At this the young man turned on him with scorn and replied:

'Now how ignorant you are, you who still wear your hair in a long tail. No one can make it rain when it will not, but what has this to do with us? If the rich would share with us what they have, rain or not would matter to none, because we would all have money and food.'

A great shout went up from those who listened, but Wang Lung turned away unsatisfied. Yes, but there was the land. Money and food are eaten and gone, and if there is not sun and rain in proportion, there is again hunger. Nevertheless, he took willingly the papers the young man gave him, because he remembered that O-lan had never enough paper for the shoe soles-, and so he gave them to her when he went home, saying:

'Now there is some stuff for the shoe soles,' and he worked as before.

But of the men in the huts with whom he talked at eve- ning there were many who heard eagerly what the young man said, the more eagerly because they knew that over the wall there dwelt a rich man and it seemed a small thing that between them and his riches there was only this layer of bricks, which might be torn down with a few knocks of a stout pole, such as they had, to carry their heavy bur- dens every day upon their shoulders.

And to the discontent of the spring there was now add- ed the new discontent which the young man and others like him spread abroad in the spirits of the dwellers in the huts, the sense of unjust possession by others of those things which they had not. And as they thought day after day on all these matters and talked of them in the twilight, and above all as day after day their labour brought in no added wage, there arose in the hearts of the young and the strong a tide as irresistible as the tide of the river swollen with winter snows — the tide of the fullness of savage desire.

But Wang Lung, although he saw this and heard the talk and felt their anger with a strange unease, desired nothing but his land under his feet again.

Then in this city out of which something new was al- ways springing at him, Wang Lung saw another new thing he did not understand. He saw one day, when, looking for a customer, he gulled his rickshaw empty down a street i a man seized as he stood by a small band of armed soldiers,   and when the man protested, the soldiers brandished knives in his face, and while Wang Lung watched in amazement, another was seized and another, and it came to Wang Lung that those who were seized were all common fellows who worked with their hands, and while he stared, yet another man was seized, and this one a man who lived in the hut nearest his own against the wall.

Then Wang Lung perceived suddenly out of his astonish- ment that all these men seized were as ignorant as he as to why they were thus being taken, willy-nilly, whether they would or not. And Wang Lung thrust his rickshaw into a side alley and he dropped it and darted into the door of a hot- water shop lest he be next and there he hid, crouched low behind the great cauldrons, until the soldiers passed. And then he asked the keeper of the hot- water shop the meaning of the thing he had seen, and the man, who was old and shrivelled with the steam rising continually about him out of the copper cauldrons of his trade, answered with indifference:

'It is but another war somewhere. Who knows what all this fighting to and fro is about? But so it has been since I was a lad and so will it be after I am dead and well I know it.'

'Well, and but why do they seize my neighbour, who is as innocent as I who have never heard of this new war?' asked Wang Lung in great consternation. And the old man clattered the lids of his cauldrons and answered:

'These soldiers are going to battle somewhere and they need carriers for their bedding and their guns and their ammunition and so they force labourers like you to do it. But what part are you from? It is no new sight in this city.'

'But what then?' urged Wang Lung breathless. 'What wage — what return '

Now the old man was very old and he had no great hope in anything and no interest in anything beyond his cauldrons and he answered carelessly:

'Wage there is none and but two bits of dry bread a day and a sup from a pond, and you may go home when the destination is reached if your two legs can carry you.'

'Well, but a man's family ' said Wang Lung, aghast.

Well, and what do they know or care of that?' said the old man scornfully, peering under the wooden lid of the nearest cauldron to see if the water bubbled yet. A cloud of steam enveloped him and his wrinkled face could scarce- ly be seen peering into the cauldron. Nevertheless he was kindly, for when he came forth again out of the steam he saw what Wang Lung could not see from where he crouch- ed, that once more the soldiers approached, searching the streets from which now every able-bodied working man had fled.

'Stoop yet more,' he said to Wang Lung. 'They are come again..'

And Wang Lung crouched low behind the cauldrons and the soldiers clattered down the cobbles to the west, and when the sound of their leathern boots was gone Wang Lung darted out and seizing his rickshaw he ran with it empty to the hut.

Then to O-lan, who had but just returned from the road- side to cook a little of the green stuff she had gathered, he told in broken, panting words what was happening and how nearly he had not escaped, and as he spoke this new horror sprang up in him — that he be dragged to battle- fields, and that not only his old father and his family be left alone to starve, but that he be slain upon a battlefield and his blood be spilled out, and he nevermore be able to see his own land. He looked at O-lan haggardly and he said :

'Now am I truly tempted to sell the little slave and go north to the land.'

But she, after listening, mused and said in her plain and unmoved way:

'Wait a few days. There is strange talk about.'

Nevertheless, he went out no more in the daylight, but he sent the eldest lad to return the rickshaw to the place from where he hired it and he waited until the night came and he went to the houses of merchandise and for half what he had earned before he pulled all night the great wagon-loads of boxes to each wagon a dozen men pulling and straining and groaning. And the boxes were filled with silks and with cottons and with fragrant tobacco, so fragrant that the smell of it leaked through the wood. And there were great jars of oils and of wines.

All night through the dark streets he strained against the ropes, his body naked and streaming with sweat, his bare feet slipping on the cobbles, slimy and wet as they were with dampness of the night. Before them to show the way ran a little lad carrying a flaming torch and in the light of this torch the faces and the bodies of the men and the wet stones glistened alike. And Wang Lung came home before dawn, gasping and too broken for food until he had slept. But during the bright day when the soldiers searched the street he slept safely in the furthermost corner of the hut behind a pile of straw O-lan gathered to make a shield for him.

What battles there were or who fought which other one Wang Lung did not know. But with the further coming of spring the city became filled with the unrest of fear. All during the days carriages drawn by horses pulled rich men and their possessions of clothing and satin-covered bedding and their beautiful women and their jewels to the river's edge where ships carried them away to other places, and some went to that other house where fire-wagons came and went. Wang Lung never went upon the streets in the day, but his sons came back with their eyes wide and bright, crying :

'We saw such an one and such an one, a man as fat and monstrous as a god in a temple, and his body covered with many feet of yellow silk and on his thumb a great gold ring set with green stone like a piece of glass, and his flesh was all bright with oil and eating!'

Or the elder cried.

'And we have seen such boxes and boxes and when I asked what was in them one said: 'There is gold and silver in them, but the rich cannot take all they have away, and some day it will all be ours.' Now, what did he mean by this, my father?' And the lad opened his eyes inquisitively to his father.

But when Wang Lung answered shortly: 'How should I know what an idle city fellow means?' the lad cried wist- fully:

'Oh, I wish we might go even now and get it if it is ours. I should like to taste a cake. I have never tasted a sweet cake with sesame seed sprinkled on the top.'

The old man looked up from his dreaming at this and he said as one croons to himself:

'When we had a good harvest we had such cakes at the autumn feast, when the sesame had been threshed and before it was sold we kept a little back to make such cakes.'

And Wang Lung remembered the cakes that O-lan had once made at the New Year's feast, cakes of rice-flour and lard and sugar, and his mouth watered and his heart pained him with longing for that which was passed.

'If we were only back on our land,' he muttered.

Then suddenly it seemed to him that not one more day could he lie in this wretched hut, which was not wide enough for him even to stretch his length in behind the pile of straw, nor could he another night strain the hours through, his body bent against a rope cutting into his flesh, and dragging the load over the cobble stones. Each stone he had come to know now as a separate enemy, and he knew each rut by which he might evade a stone and so use an ounce less of his life. There were times in the black nights, especially when it rained and the streets were wet and more wet than usual, that the whole hatred of his heart went out against these stones under his feet, these stones that seemed to cling and to hang to the wheels of his inhuman load.

'Ah, the fair land!' he cried out suddenly and fell to weeping so that the children were frightened and the old man, looking at his son in consternation, twisted his face this way and that under his sparse beard, as a child's face twists when he sees his mother weep.

And again it was O-lan who said in her flat, plain voice:

'Yet a little while and we shall see a thing. There is talk everywhere now.'

From his hut where Wang Lung lay hid he heard hour after hour the passing of feet, the feet of soldiers marching to battle. Lifting sometimes a very little the mat which stood between thern and him, he put one eye to the crack and he saw these feet passing, passing, leather shoes and cloth covered legs, marching one after the other, pair by pair, score upon score, thousands upon thousands. In the night when he was at his load he saw their faces flickering past him, caught for an instant out of the darkness by the flaming torch ahead. He dared ask nothing concerning them, but he dragged his load doggedly, and he ate hastily his bowl of rice, and slept the day fitfully through in the hut behind the straw. None spoke in those days to any other. The city was shaken with fear and each man did quickly what he had to do and went into his house and shut the door.

About the huts there was no more idle talk at twilight. In the market places the stalls where food had been were now empty. The silk shops drew in their bright banners and closed the fronts of their great shops with thick boards fitting one into the other solidly, so that passing through the city at noon it was as though the people slept.

It was whispered everywhere that the enemy approached, and all those who owned anything were afraid. But Wang Lung was not afraid, neither were the dwellers in the huts afraid. They did not know, for one thing, who this enemy was, nor had they anything to lose since even their lives were no great loss. If this enemy approached, let him ap- proach; seeing that nothing could be worse than it now was with them. But every man went on his own way and none spoke openly to any other.

Then the managers of the houses of merchandise told the labourers who pulled the boxes to and fro from the river's edge that they need come no more, since there were none to buy and sell in these days at the counters, and so Wang Lung stayed in his hut day and night and was idle. At first he was glad, for it seemed his body could never get enough rest and he slept as heavily as a man dead. But if he did not work neither did he earn, and in a few short days what they had of extra pence was gone and again he cast about desperately as to what he could do. And as if there were not enough evil befallen them, the public kitchens closed their doors and those who had in this way provided for the poor went into their own houses and shut the doors, and there was no food and no work and no one passing upon the streets of whom any one could beg.

Then Wang Lung took his girl child into his arms and he sat with her in the hut and he looked at her and said softly:

'Little fool, would you like to go to a great house where there is food and drink and where you may have a whole coat to your body?'

Then she smiled, not understanding anything of what he said, and put up her small hand to touch with wonder his staring eyes and he could not bear it and he cried out to the woman:

'Tell me, and were you beaten in that great house?' And she answered him flatly and sombrely: 'Every day I was beaten.'

And he cried again:

'But was it just with a girdle of cloth or was it with bam- boo or rope?'

And she answered in the same dead way:

'I was beaten with a leather thong which had been halter for one of the mules, and it hung upon the kitchen wall.'

Well he knew that she understood what he was think- ing, but he put forth his last hope and he said :

'This child of ours is a pretty little maid, even now. Tell me, were the pretty slaves beaten also?'

And she answered indifferently, as though it were no- thing to her this way or that:

'Aye, beaten or carried to a man's bed, as the whim was, and not to one man's only but to any that might desire her that night, and the young lords bickered and bartered with each other for this slave or that and said, 'Then if you to-night, I tomorrow,' and when they were all alike wearied of a slave the men servants bickered and bartered for what the young lords left; and this before a slave was out of childhood — if she were pretty.'

Then Wang Lung groaned and held the child to him and said over and over to her softly, 'Oh, little fool — oh, poor little fool. ' But within himself he was crying as a man cries out when he is caught in a rushing flood and cannot stop to think. 'There is no other way — there is no other way '

Then suddenly as he sat there came a noise like the crack- ing of heaven and every one of them fell unthinking on the ground and hid their faces, for it seemed as though the hideous roar would catch them all up and crush them. And Wang Lung covered the girl child's face with his hand, not knowing what horror might appear to them out of this dreadful din, and the old man called out into Wang Lung's ear, 'Now this I have never heard before in all my years,' and the two boys yelled with fear.

But O-lan, when silence had fallen as suddenly as it had gone, lifted her head and said, 'Now that which I have heard of has come to pass. The enemy has broken in the gates of the city.' And before any could answer her there was a shout over the city, a rising shout of human voices, at first faint, as one may hear the wind of a storm approaching, then gathering in a deep howl, louder and more loud till it filled the streets.

Wang Lung sat erect then, on the floor of his hut, and a strange fear crept over his flesh, so that he felt it stirring among the roots of his hair, and every one sat erect and they all stared at each other waiting for something they knew not. But there was only the noise of the gathering of human beings and each man howling.

Then over the wall and not far from them they heard the sound of a great door creaking upon its hinges and groaning as it opened unwillingly, and suddenly the man who had talked to Wang Lung once at dusk asjd smoked a short bamboo pipe, thrust his head in at the hut's open- ing and cried out:   'Now do you still sit here? The hour has come — the gates of the rich man are open to us!' And as if by magic of some kind O-lan was gone, creeping out under the man's arm as he spoke.

Then Wang Lung rose up, slowly and half dazed, and he set the girl child down and he went out and there before the great iron gates of the rich man's house a multitude of clamouring common people pressed forward, howling together the deep, tigerish howl that he had heard rising and swelling out of the streets, and he knew that at the gates of all rich men there pressed this howling multitude of men and women who had been starved and imprisoned and now were for the moment free to do as they would. And the great gates were ajar and the people pressed for- ward so tightly packed together that foot was on foot and body wedged tightly against body so that the whole mass moved together as one. Others hurrying from the back caught Wang Lung and forced him into the crowd so that whether he would or not he was taken forward with them, although he did not himself know what his will was, be- cause he was so amazed at what had come about.

Thus was he swept along over the threshold of the great gates, his feet scarcely touching the ground in the pressure of people, and like the continuous roar of angry beasts there went on all around the howling of the people.

Through court after court he was swept, into the very inner courts, and of those men and women who had lived in the house he saw not one. It was as though here were a palace long dead except that early lilies bloomed among the rocks of the gardens and the golden flowers of the early trees of spring blossomed upon bare branches. But in the rooms food stood upon a table and in the kitchens fire burned. Well this crowd knew the courts of the rich for they swept past the front courts, where servants and slaves lived and where the kitchens are, into the inner courts, where the lords and ladies have their dainty beds and where stand their lacquered boxes of black and red and gold, their boxes of silken clothing, where carved ta- bles and chairs are, and upon the walls painted scrolls. And upon these treasures the crowd fell, seizing at and tearing from each other what was revealed in every newly opened box or closet, so that clothing and bedding and curtains and dishes passed from hands to hand, each hand snatching that which another held, and none stopping to see what he had.

Only Wang Lung in the confusion took nothing. He had never in all his life taken what belonged to another, and not at once could he do it. So he stood in the middle of the crowd at first, dragged this way and that, and then coming somewhat to his senses, he pushed with persever- ance toward the edge-a^K^found himself at last on the fringe of the multitude, and here She stood, swept along slightly as little whirlpools are at the edge of a pool of current; but still he was able to see where he was.

He was at the back of the innermost court where the ladies of the rich dwell, and the back gate was ajar, that gate which the rich have for centuries kept for their escape in such times, and therefore called the gate of peace. Through this gate doubtless they had all escaped this day and were hidden here and there through the streets, listening to the howling in their courts. But one man, whether because of his size or whether because of his drunken heaviness of sleep, had failed to escape, and this one Wang Lung came upon suddenly in an empty inner room from whence the mob had swept in and out again, so that the man, who had been hidden in a secret place, had not been found, and now, thinking he was alone, crept out to escape. And thus Wang Lung, always drifting away from the others until he too was alone, came upon him.

He was a great fat fellow, neither old nor young, and he had been lying naked in his bed, doubtless with a pretty woman, for his naked body gaped through a purple satin robe he held about him. The great yellow rolls of his flesh doubled over his breasts and over his belly and in the moun- tains of his cheeks his eyes were small and sunken as a pig's eyes. When he saw Wang Lung he shook all over and yelled out as though his flesh had been stuck with a knife, so that Wang Lung, weaponless as he was, wondered and could have laughed at the sight. But the fat fellow fell upon his knees and knocked his head on the tiles of the floor and he cried forth:

'Save a life — save a life — do not kill me. I have money for you — much money.'

It was this word "money" which suddenly brought to Wang Lung's mind a piercing clarity. Money! Aye, and he needed that! And again it came to him clearly, as a voice speaking. 'Money — the child saved — the land!'

He cried out suddenly in a harsh voice such as he did not himself know was in his breast:

'Give me the money then!'

And the fat man rose to his knees, sobbing and gibber- ing and feeling for the pocket of the robe, and he brought forth his yellow hands dripping with gold, and Wang Lung held out the end of his coat and received it. And again he cried out in that strange voice that was like another man's:

'Give me more!'

And again the man's hands came forth dripping with gold and he whimpered:

'Now there is none left and I have nothing but my wretched life,' and he fell to weeping, his tears running like oil down his hanging cheeks.

Wang Lung, looking at him as he shivered and wept, suddenly loathed him as he had loathed nothing in his life and he cried out with the loathing surging up in him:

'Out of my sight, lest I kill you for a fat worm!"

This Wang Lung cried, although he was a man so soft- hearted that he could not kill an ox. And the man ran past him like a cur and was gone.

Then Wang Lung was. left alone with the gold. He did not stop to count it, but thrust it into his bosom and went out of the open gate of peace and across the small back streets to his hut. He hugged to his bosom the gold that was yet warm from the other man's body and to him- self he said over and over :

'We go back to the land — tomorrow we go back to the land!'

XV

BEFORE A HANDFUL OF DAYS HAD PASSED IT SEEM- ed to Wang Lung that he had never been away from his land, as indeed, in his heart he never had. With three pieces of the gold he bought good seed from the south, full grains of wheat and of rice and of corn, and for very recklessness of riches he bought seeds the like of which he had never planted before, celery and lotus for his pond and great red radishes that are stewed with pork for a feast dish and small red fragrant beans.

With five gold pieces he bought an ox from a farmer ploughing in the field, and this before ever he reached his own land. He saw the man ploughing and he stopped and they all stopped, the old man and the children and the woman, eager as they were to reach the house and the land, and they looked at the ox. Wang Lung had been struck with its great strong neck and noticed at once the sturdy pulling of its shoulder against the wooden yoke and he called out:

'That is a worthless ox! What will you sell it for in silver or gold, seeing that I have no animal and am hard put to it and willing to take anything?'

And the farmer called back:

'I would sooner sell my wife than this ox which is but three years old and in its prime,' and he ploughed on and would not stop for Wang Lung.

Then it seemed to Wang Lung as if out of all the oxen the world held he must have this one, and he said to O-lan and to his father:

"How is it for an ox?'

And the old man peered and said, 'It seems a beast well castrated.'

And O-lan said, 'It is a year older than he says.'

But Wang Lung answered nothing because upon this ox he had set his heart because of its sturdy pulling of the soil and because of its smooth yellow coat and its full, dark eye. With this ox he could plough his fields and cultivate them, and with this ox tied to his mill he could grind the grain. And he went to the farmer and said:

'I will give you enough to buy another ox and more, but this ox I will have.'

At last after bickering and quarrelling and false starts away the farmer yielded for half again the worth of an ox in those parts. But gold w T as suddenly nothing to Wang Lung when he looked at this ox, and he passed it over to the farmer's hand and he watched while the farmer unyoked the beast, and Wang Lung led it away with a rope through its nostrils, his heart burning with his possession.

When they reached the house they found the door torn away and the thatch from the roof gone and within their hoes and rakes that they had left were gone, so only the bare rafters and the earthen walls remained, and even the earthen walls were worn down with the belated snows and the rains of winter and early spring. But after the first astonishment all this was as nothing to Wang Lung. He went away to the town and he bought a good new plough of hard wood and two rakes and two hoes and mats to cover the roof until they could grow thatch again from the harvest.

Then in the evening he stood in the doorway of his house and looked across the land, his own land, lying loose and fresh from the winter's freezing, and ready for planting. It was full spring and in the shallow pool the frogs croaked drowsily. The bamboos at the corner of the house swayed slowly under a gentle night wind and through the twilight he could see dimly the fringe of trees at the border of the near field. They were peach trees, budded most delicately pink, and willow trees thrusting forth tender green leaves. And up from the quiescent, waiting land a faint mist rose, silver as moonlight, and clung about the tree trunks.

At first and for a long time it seemed to Wang Lung that he wished to see no human being but only to be alone on his land. He went to no houses of the village, and when his neighbours came to him — those who were left of the winter's starving — he was surly with them.

'Which of you tore away my door and which of you have my rake and my hoe and which of you burned my roof in his oven?' Thus he bawled at them.

And they shook their heads, full of virtue; and this one said, 'It was your uncle,' and that one said, 'Nay, with bandits and robbers roving over the land in these evil times of famine and war, how can it be said that this one or that stole anything? Hunger makes thief of any man.'

Then Ching, his neighbour, came creeping forth from his house to see Wang Lung and he said: 'Through the winter a band of robbers lived in your house and preyed ujDon the village and the town as they were able. Your uncle, it is said, knows more of them than an honest man should. But who knows what is true in these days? I would not dare to accuse any man.'

This man was nothing but a shadow indeed, so close did his skin stick to his bones and so thin and grey had his hair grown, although he had not yet reached forty-five years of his age. Wang Lung stared at him awhile and then in compassion he said suddenly:

'Now you have fared worse than we and what have you eaten?'

And the man sighed forth in a whisper:

'What have I not eaten? Offal from the streets like dogs, when we begged in the town, and dead dogs we ate,   and once before she died my woman brewed some soup from flesh I dared not ask what it was, except that I knew she had not the courage to kill; and if we ate it was some- thing she found. Then she died, having less strength than j I to endure, and after she died I gave the girl to a soldier because I could not see her starve and die also.' He paused and fell silent and after a time he said 'If I had a little seed I I would plant once more, but no seed have I.'

'Come here!' cried Wang Lung roughly and dragged him into the house by the hand and he bade the man hold up the ragged tail of his coat and into it Wang Lung poured from the store of seed he had brought from the south. Wheat he gave him and rice and cabbage seed and he said:

'Tomorrow I will come and plough your land with my good ox.'

Then Ching began to weep suddenly and Wang Lung rubbed his own eyes and cried out as if he were angry, 'Do you think I have forgotten that you gave me that' handful of beans ?' But Ching could answer nothing, only he walked away weeping and weeping without stop.

It was joy to Wang Lung to find that his uncle was no longer in the village; and where he was none knew certainly. Some said he had gone to a city and some said he was in far distant parts with his wife and his son. But there was not one left in his house in the village. The girls, and this Wang Lung heard v/ith stout anger, were sold, the prettiest first, for the price they could bring, but even the last one, who was pock-marked, was sold for a handful of pence to a soldier who was passing through to battle.

Then Wang Lung set himself robustly to the soil and he begrudged even the hours he must spend in the house for food and sleep. He loved rather to take his roll of bread and garlic to the field and stand there eating, planning and thinking. 'Here shall I put the black-eyed peas and here the young rice beds.' And if he grew too weary in I the day he laid himself into a furrow, and there, with the good warmth of his own land against , his flesh, he slept.

And O-lan in the house was not idle. With her own hands she lashed the mats firmly to the rafters and took earth from the fields and mixed it with water and mended the walls of the house, and she built again the oven and filled the holes in the floor that the rain had washed.

Then she went into the town one day with Wang Lung and together they bought beds and a table and six benches and a great iron cauldron and then they bought for pleasure a red clay teapot with a black flower marked on it in ink, and six bowls to match. Last of all they went into an incense shop and bought a paper god of wealth to hang on the wall over the table in the middle room, and they bought two pewter candlesticks and a pewter incense-urn and two red candles to burn before the god, thick red candles of cow's fat and having a slender reed through the middle for wick.

And with this, Wang Lung thought of the two small gods in the temple to the earth and on his way home he went and peered in at them, and they were piteous to behold, their features washed from their faces with rain and the clay of their bodies naked and sticking through the tatters of their paper clothes. None had paid any heed to them in this dreadful year and Wang Lung looked at them grimly and with content and he said aloud, as one might speak to a punished child:

'Thus it is with gods who do evil to men!'

Nevertheless, when the house was itself again, and the pewter candlesticks gleaming and the candles burning in them shining red, and the teapot and the bowls upon the table and the beds in their places with a little bedding once more, and fresh paper pasted over the hole in the room where he slept and a new door hung upon its wooden hinges, Wang Lung was afraid of his happiness. O-lan grew great with the next child; his children tumbled like brown puppies about his threshold and against the southern wall his old father sat and dozed and smiled as he slept; in his fields the young rice sprouted as green as jade and more beautiful, and the young beans lifted their hooded heads from the soil. And out of the gold there was still enough left to feed them until the harvest, if they ate sparingly. Looking at the blue heaven above him and the white clouds driving across it, feeling upon his ploughed fields as upon his own flesh the sun and rain in proportion, Wang Lung muttered unwillingly:

'I must stick a little incense before those two in the small temple. After all, they have power over earth.’



XVI



ONE NIGHT AS WANG LUNG LAY WITH HIS WIFE HE felt a hard lump the size of a man's closed hand between her breasts and he said to her:

'Now what is this thing you have on your body?'

He put his hand to it and he found a cloth-wrapped bundle that was hard yet moved to his touch. She drew back violently at first and then when he laid hold of it to pluck it away from her she yielded and said:

'Well, look at it then, if you must,' and she took the string which held it to her neck and broke it and gave him the thing.

It was wrapped in a bit of rag and he tore this away. Then suddenly into his hand fell a mass of jewels. Wang Lung gazed at them stupefied. There were such a mass of jewels as one had never dreamed could be together, jewels red as the inner flesh of watermelons, golden as wheat, green as young leaves in spring, clear as water trickling out of the earth. What the names of them were Wang did not know, having never heard names and seen jewels together in his life. But holding them there in his hand, in the hollow of his brown hard hand, he knew from the gleaming and the glittering in the half-dark room that he held wealth. He held it motionless, drunk with colour and shape, speechless, and together he and the woman stared at what he held. At last he whispered to her, breathless:

'Where— where?''

And she whispered back as softly:

'In the rich man's house. It must have been a favourite's treasure. I saw a brick loosened in the wall and I slipped there carelessly so no other soul could see and demand a share. I pulled the brick away, caught the shining, and put them into my sleeve.'

'Now how did you know?' he whispered again, filled with admiration, and she answered with the smile on her lips that was never in her eyes :

'Do you think I have not lived in a rich man's house? The rich are always afraid. I saw robbers in a bad year once rush into the gate of the great house and the slaves and the concubines and even the Old Mistress herself ran hither and thither and each had a treasure that she thrust into some secret place already planned. Therefore I knew the meaning of a loosened brick.'

And again they fell silent, staring at the wonder of the stones. Then after a long time Wang Lung drew in his breath and said resolutely:

'Now treasure like this one cannot keep. It must be sold and put into safety — into land, for nothing else is safe. If any knew of this we should be dead by the next day and a robber would carry the jewels. They must be put into land this very day or I shall not sleep tonight.'

He wrapped the stones in the rag again as he spoke and tied them hard together with the string, and opening his coat to thrust them into his bosom, by chance he saw the woman's face. She was sitting cross-legged upon the bed at its foot and her heavy face that never spoke of anything was moved with a dim yearning of open lips and face thrust forward.

'Well, and now what?' he asked, wondering at her.

'Will you sell them all?' she asked in a hoarse whisper.

'And why not then?' he answered, astonished. 'Why should we have jewels like this in an earthen house?'

'I wish I could keep two for myself,' she said with such helpless wistfulness, as of one expecting nothing, that he was moved as he might be by one of his children longing for a toy or for a sweet.

'Well, now!' he cried in amazement.

'If I could have two,' she went on humbly, 'only two small ones — the two small white pearls even . . .'

'Pearls!' he repeated, agape.

'I would keep them — I would not wear them,' she said, 'only keep them.' And she dropped her eyes and fell to twisting a bit of the bedding where a thread was loosened, and she waited patiently as one who scarcely expects an answer.

Then Wang Lung, without comprehending it, looked for an instant into the heart of this dull and faithful creature,   who had laboured all her life at tasks for which she won no reward and who in the great house had seen others wearing jewels that she never once even felt in her hand.  

'I could hold them in my hand sometimes,' she added, as if she thought to herself.

And he was moved by something he did not under- stand and he pulled the jewels from his bosom and unwrap- ped them and handed them to her in silence, and she searched among the glittering colours, her hard brown hand turning over the stones delicately and lingeringly until she found the two smooth white pearls, and these she took, and tying up the others again, she gave them back to him. Then she took the pearls and she tore a bit of the corner of her coat away and wrapped them and hid them between her breasts and was comforted.

But Wang Lung watched her astonished and only half understanding, so that afterwards during the day and on other days he would stop and stare at her and say to himself :

'Well now, that woman of mine, she has those two pearls between her breasts still, I suppose.' But he never saw her take them out or look at them and they never spoke of them at all.

As for the other jewels, he pondered this way and that, and at last he decided he would go to the great house and see if there were more land to buy.

To the great house he now went, and there was in these days no gateman standing at the gate, twisting the long hairs of his mole, scornful of those who could not enter past him into the House of Hwang. Instead the great gates were locked and Wang Lung pounded against them with both fists and no one came. Men who passed in the streets looked up and cried out at him;

'Aye, you may pound now and pound again. If the Old Lord is awake he may come and if there is a stray dog of a slave about she may open, if she is inclined to it.'

But at last he heard slow footsteps coming across the threshold, slow wandering footsteps that halted and came on by fits, and then he heard the slow drawing of the iron bar that held the gate and the gate creaked and a cracked voice whispered:

'Who is it?'

Then Wan Lung answered loudly, although he was amazed :

'It is I, Wang Lung!'

Then the voice said peevishly:

'Now who is an accursed Wang Lung?'

And Wang Lung perceived by the quality of the curse that it was the Old Lord himself, because he cursed as one accustomed to servants and slaves. Wang Lung an- swered, therefore, more humbly than before:

'Sir and lord, I am come on a little business, not to disturb your lordship, but to talk a little business with the agent who serves your honour.'

Then the Old Lord answered without opening any wider the crack through which he pursed his lips:

'Now curse him, that dog left me many months ago and he is not here.'

Wang Lung did not know what to do after this reply. It was impossible to talk of buying land directly to the Old Lord, without a middleman, and yet the jewels hung in his bosom hot as fire, and he wanted to be rid of them and more than that he wanted the land. With the seed he could plant as much land again as he had, and he wanted the good land of the House of Hwang.

'I came about a little money,' he said hesitatingly.

At once the Old Lord pushed the gates together.

'There is no money in this house,' he said more loudly than he bad yet spoken. 'The thief and robber of an agent — and may his mother and his mother's mother be cursed for himi — took all that I had. No debts can be paid.'

'No — no' called Wang Lung hastily, 'I came to pay out, not to collect debt.'

At this there was a shrill scream from a voice Wang