Tales of Chinese Children
The Silver Leaves
 

"There was a fringe of trees along an open field. They were not very tall trees, neither were they trees that flowered or fruited; but to the eyes of Ah Leen they were very beautiful. Their slender branches Were covered with leaves of a light green showing a silvery under surface, and when the wind moved or tossed them, silver gleams flashed through the green in a most enchanting way.

Ah Leen stood on the other side of the road admiring the trees with the silver leaves.

A little old woman carrying a basket full of ducks' eggs came happily hobbling along. She paused by the side of Ah Leen.

"Happy love!" said she. "Your eyes are as bright as jade jewels!"

Ah Leen drew a long breath. "See!" said she, "the dancing leaves."

The little old woman adjusted her blue goggles and looked up at the trees. "If only," said she, "some of that silver was up my sleeve, I would buy you a pink parasol and a folding fan."

"And if some of it were mine," answered Ah Leen, "I would give it to my baby brother." And she went on to tell the little old, woman that that eve there was to be a joyful time at her father's house, for her baby brother was to have his head shaved for the first time, and everybody was coming to see it done and would give her baby brother gifts of gold and silver. Her father and her mother, also, and her big brother and her big sister, all had gifts to give. She loved well her baby brother. He was so very small and so very lively, and his fingers and toes were so pink. And to think that he had lived a whole moon, and she had no offering to prove the big feeling that swelled and throbbed in her little heart for him.

Ah Leen sighed very wistfully.

Just then a brisk breeze blew over the trees and as it passed by, six of the silver leaves floated to the ground.

"Oh! Oh!" cried little Ah Leen. She pattered over to where they had fallen and picked them up.

Returning to the old woman, she displayed her treasures.

"Three for you and three for me!" she cried.

The old woman accepted the offering smilingly, and happily hobbled away. In every house she entered, she showed her silver leaves, and told how she had obtained them, and every housewife that saw and heard her, bought her eggs at a double price.

At sundown, the guests with their presents began streaming into the house of Man You. Amongst them was a little old woman. She was not as well off as the other guests, but because she was the oldest of all the company, she was given the seat of honor. Ah Leen, the youngest daughter of the house, sat on a footstool at her feet. Ah Leen's eyes were very bright and her cheeks glowed. She was wearing a pair of slippers with butterfly toes, and up her little red sleeve, carefully folded in a large leaf, were three small silver leaves.

Once when the mother of Ah Leen brought a cup of tea to the little old woman, the little old woman whispered in her ear, and the mother of Ah Leen patted the head of her little daughter and smiled kindly down upon her.

Then the baby's father shaved the head of the baby, the Little Bright One. He did this very carefully, leaving a small patch of hair, the shape of a peach, in the centre of the small head. That peach-shaped patch would some day grow into a queue. Ah Leen touched it lovingly with her little finger after the ceremony was over. Never had the Little Bright One seemed so dear.

The gifts were distributed after all the lanterns were lit. It was a pretty sight. The mother of the Little Bright One held him on her lap, whilst each guest, relative, or friend, in turn, laid on a table by her side his gift of silver and gold, enclosed in a bright red envelope.

The elder sister had just passed Ah Leen with her gift, when Ah Leen arose, and following after her sister to the gift-laden table, proudly deposited thereon three leaves.

"They are silver — silver," cried Ah Leen.

Nearly everybody smiled aloud; but Ah Leen's mother gently lifted the leaves and murmured in Ah Leen's ear, "They are the sweetest gift of all."

How happy felt Ah Leen! As to the old woman who sold ducks' eggs, she beamed all over her little round face, and when she went away, she left behind her a pink parasol and a folding fan.