Tales of Chinese Children
The Peacock Lantern
 

It was such a pretty lantern — the prettiest of all the pretty lanterns that the lantern men carried. Ah Wing longed to possess it. Upon the transparent paper which covered the fine network of bamboo which enclosed the candle, was painted a picture of a benevolent prince, riding on a peacock with spreading tail. Never had Ah Wing seen such a gorgeous lantern, or one so altogether admirable.

"Honorable father," said he, "is not that a lantern of illuminating beauty, and is not thy string of cash too heavy for thine honorable shoulders?"

His father laughed.

"Come hither," he bade the lantern man. "Now," said he to Ah Wing, "choose which lantern pleaseth thee best. To me all are the same."

Ah Wing pointed to the peacock lantern, and hopped about impatiently, whilst the lantern man fumbled with the wires which kept his lanterns together.

"Oh, hasten! hasten!" cried Ah Wing.

The lantern man locked into his bright little face.

"Honorable little one," said he, "would not one of the other lanterns please thee as well as this one? For indeed, I would, if I could, retain the peacock lantern. It is the one lantern of all which delights my own little lad and he is sick and cannot move from his bed."

Ah Wing's face became red.

"Why then dost thou display the lantern?" asked the father of Ah Wing.

"To draw attention to the others," answered the man. "I am very. poor and it is hard for me to provide my child with rice."

The father of Ah Wing looked at his little son.

"Well?" said he.

Ah Wing's face was still red.

"I want the peacock lantern," he declared.

The father of Ah Wing brought forth his string of cash and drew therefrom more than double the price of the lantern.

"Take this," said he to the lantern man. "'Twill fill thy little sick boy's bowl with rice for many a day to come."

The lantern man returned humble thanks but while unfastening the peacock lantern from the others, his face looked very sad.

Ah Wing shifted from one foot to another.

The lantern man placed the lantern in his hand. Ah Wing stood still holding it.

"Thou hast thy heart's desire now," said his father. "Laugh and be merry."

But with the lantern man's sad face before him, Ah Wing could not laugh and be merry.

"If you please, honorable father," Said he, "may I go with the honorable lantern man to see his little sick boy?"

"Yes," replied his father. "And I will go too."

When Ah Wing stood beside the bed of the little sick son of the lantern man, he said:

"I have come to see thee, because my father has bought for my pleasure the lantern which gives thee pleasure; but he has paid therefor to thy father what will buy thee food to make thee strong and well."

The little sick boy turned a very pale and very small face to Ah Wing.

"I care not," said he, "for food to make me strong and well — for strong and well I shall never be; but I would that I had the lantern for the sake of San Kee."

"And who may San Kee be?" inquired Ah Wing.

"San Kee," said the little sick boy, "is an honorable hunchback. Every evening he comes to see me and to take pleasure in my peacock lantern. It is the only thing in the world that gives poor San Kee pleasure. I would for his sake that I might have kept the peacock lantern."

"For his sake!" echoed Ah Wing.

"Yes, for his sake," answered the little sick boy. "It is so good to see him happy. It is that which makes me happy."

The tears came into Ah Wing's eyes.

"Honorable lantern man," said he, turning to the father of the little sick boy, "I wish no more for, the peacock lantern. Keep it, I pray thee, for thy little sick boy. And honorable father" — he took his father's hand — "kindly buy for me at the same price as the peacock lantern one of the other beautiful lanterns belonging to the honorable lantern man."