Tales of Chinese Children
The Banishment of Ming and Maj
 

I

Many years ago in the beautiful land of China, there lived a rich and benevolent man named Chan Ah Sin. So kind of heart was he that he could not pass through a market street without buying up all the live fish, turtles, birds, and animals that he saw, for the purpose of giving them liberty and life. The animals and birds he would set free in a cool green forest called the Forest of the Freed, and the fish and turtles he would release in a moon-loved pool called the Pool of Happy Life. He also bought up and set free all animals that were caged for show, and even remembered the reptiles.

Some centuries after this good man had passed away, one of his descendants was accused of having offended against the laws of the land, and he and all of his kin were condemned to be punished therefor. Amongst his kin were two little seventh cousins named Chan Ming and Chan Mai, who had lived very happily all their lives with a kind uncle as guardian and a good old nurse. The punishment meted out to this little boy and girl was banishment to a wild and lonely forest, which forest could only be reached by travelling up a dark and mysterious river in a small boat. The journey was long and perilous, but on the evening of the third day a black shadow loomed before Ming and Mai. This black shadow was the forest, the trees of which grew so thickly together and so close to the river's edge" that their roots interlaced under the water.

The rough sailors who had taken the children from their home, beached the boat, and without setting foot to land themselves, lifted the children out, then quickly pushed away. Their faces were deathly pale, for they were mortally afraid of the forest, which was said to be inhabited by innumerable wild animals, winged and crawling things.

Ming's lip trembled. He realized that he and his little sister were now entirely alone, on the edge of a fearsome forest on the shore of a mysterious river. It seemed to the little fellow, as he thought of his dear Canton, so full of bright and busy life, that he and Mai had come, not to another province, but to another world.

One great, big tear splashed down his cheek. Mai, turning to weep on his sleeve, saw it, checked her own tears, and slipping a little hand into his, murmured in his ear:

"Look up to the heavens, brother. Behold, the Silver Stream floweth above us here as bright as it flowed above our own fair home." (The Chinese call the Milky Way the Silver Stream.)

While thus they stood, hand in hand, a moving thing resembling a knobby log of wood was seen in the river. Strange to say, the children felt no fear and watched it float towards them with interest. Then a watery voice was heard. "Most honorable youth and maid," it said, "go back to the woods and rest."

It was a crocodile. Swimming beside it were a silver and a gold fish, who leaped in the water and echoed the crocodile's words; and following in the wake of the trio, was a big green turtle mumbling: "To the woods, most excellent, most gracious, and most honorable."

Obediently the children turned and began to find their way among the trees. The woods were not at all rough and thorny as they had supposed they would be. They were warm and fragrant with aromatic herbs and shrubs. Moreover, the ground was covered with moss and grass, and the bushes and young trees bent themselves to allow them to pass through. But they did not wander far. They were too tired and sleepy. Choosing a comfortable place in which to rest, they lay down side by side and fell asleep.

When they awoke the sun was well up. Mai was the first to open her eyes, and seeing it shining through the trees, exclaimed: "How beautiful is the ceiling of my room!" She thought she was at home and had forgotten the river journey. But the next moment Ming raised his head and said: "The beauty you see is the sun filtering through the trees and the forest where —"

He paused, for he did not wish to alarm his little sister, and he had nearly said: "Where wild birds' and beasts abound."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Mai in distress. She also thought of the wild birds and beasts, but like Ming, she also refrained from mentioning them.

"I am impatiently hungry," cried Ming. He eyed enviously a bright little bird hopping near. The bird had found a good, fat grasshopper for its breakfast, but when it heard Ming speak, it left the grasshopper and flew quickly away.

A moment later there was a great trampling and rustling amongst the grasses and bushes. The hearts of the children stood still. They clasped hands. Under every bush and tree, on the branches above them, in a pool near by, and close beside them, almost touching their knees, appeared a great company of living things from the animal, fish, fowl, and insect kingdoms.

It was true then — what the sailors had told them — only worse; for whereas they had expected to meet the denizens of the forest, either singly or in couples, here they were all massed together.

A tiger opened its mouth. Ming put his sister behind him and said: "Please, honorable animals, birds, and other kinds of living things, would some of you kindly retire for a few minutes. We expected to meet you, but not so many at once, and are naturally overwhelmed with the honor."

"Oh, yes, please your excellencies," quavered Mai, "or else be so kind as to give us space in which to retire ourselves, so that we may walk into the river and trouble you no more. Will we not, honorable brother?"

"Nay, sister," answered Ming. "These honorable beings have to be subdued and made to acknowledge that man is master of this forest. I am here to conquer them in fight, and am willing to take them singly, in couples, or even three at a time; but as I said before, the honor of all at once is somewhat overwhelming."

"Oh! ah!" exclaimed Mai, gazing awestruck at her brother. His words made him more terrible to her than any of the beasts of the field. Just then the tiger, who had politely waited for Ming and Mai to say their say, made a strange purring sound, loud, yet strangely soft; fierce, yet wonderfully kind. It had a surprising effect upon the children, seeming to soothe them and drive away all fear. One of little Mai's hands near, whilst Ming gazed straight into the tiger's eyes and smiled as at an old friend. The tiger smiled in return, and advancing to Ming, laid himself down at his feet, the tip of his nose resting on the boy's little red shoes. Then he rolled his body around three times. Thus in turn did every other animal, bird, fish, and insect present. It took quite a time and Mai was glad that she stood behind her brother and received the, obeisances by proxy. ;

This surprising ceremony over, the tiger sat back upon his haunches and, addressing Ming, said:

"Most valorous and honorable descendant of Chan Ah Sin the First: Your coming and the coming of your exquisite sister will cause the flowers to bloom fairer and the sun to shine brighter for us. There is, therefore, no necessity for a trial of your strength or skill with any here. Believe me, Your Highness, we were conquered many years ago — and not in fight."

"Why! How?" cried Ming.

"Why! How?" echoed Mai.

And the tiger said:

"Many years ago in the beautiful land of China, there lived a rich and benevolent man named Chan Ah Sin. So kind of heart was he that he could not pass through a market street without buying up all the live fish, turtles, birds, and animals that he saw, for the purpose of giving them liberty and life. These animals and birds he would set free in a cool green forest called the Forest of the Freed, and the fish and turtles he would release in a moon-loved pool called the Pool of Happy Life. He also bought up and set free all animals that were caged for show, and even remembered the reptiles."

The tiger paused.

"And you," observed Ming, "you, sir tiger, and your forest companions, are the descendants of the animals, fish, and turtles thus saved by Chan Ah Sin the First."

"We are, Your Excellency," replied the tiger, again prostrating himself. "The beneficent influence of Chan Ah Sin the First, extending throughout; the centuries, has preserved the lives of his young descendants, Chan Ming and Chan Mai."

II. The Tiger's Farewell

Many a moon rose and waned over the Forest of the Freed and the Moon-loved Pool of Happy Life, and Ming and Mai lived happily and contentedly amongst their strange companions. To be sure, there were times when their hearts would ache and their tears would flow for their kind uncle and good old nurse, also for their little playfellows in far-away Canton; but those times were few and far between. Full well the children knew how much brighter and better was their fate than it might have been.

One day, when they were by the river, amusing themselves with the crocodiles and turtles, the water became suddenly disturbed, and lashed and dashed the shore in a very strange manner for a river naturally calm and silent.

"Why, what can be the matter?" cried Ming.

"An honorable boat is coming," shouted a goldfish.

Ming and Mai clasped hands and trembled.

"It is the sailors," said they to one another; then stood and watched with terrified eyes a large boat sail majestically up the broad stream.

Meanwhile down from the forest had rushed the tiger with his tigress and cubs, the leopard with his leopardess and cubs, and all the other animals with their young, and all the birds, and all the insects, and all the living things that lived in the Forest of the Freed and the Moon-loved Pool. They surrounded Ming and Mai, crouched at their feet, swarmed in the trees above their heads, and crowded one another on the beach and in the water.

The boat stopped in the middle of the stream, in front of the strip of forest thus lined with living things. There were two silk-robed men on it and a number of sailors, also an old woman carrying a gigantic parasol and a fan whose breeze fluttered the leaves in the Forest of the Freed.

When the boat stopped, the old woman cried: "Behold, I see my precious nurslings surrounded by wild beasts. A-ya, A-ya, A-ya." Her cries rent the air and Ming and Mai, seeing that the old woman was Woo Ma, their old nurse, clapped their little hands in joy.

"Come hither," they cried. "Our dear friends will welcome you. They are not wild beasts. They are elegant and accomplished superior beings."

Then one of the men in silken robes commanded the sailors to steer for the shore, and the other silk-robed man came and leaned over the side of the boat and said to the tiger and leopard:

"As I perceive, honorable beings, that you are indeed the friends of my dear nephew and niece, Chan Ming and Chan Mai, I humbly ask your permission to allow me to disembark on the shore of this river on the edge of your forest."

The tiger prostrated himself, so also did his brother animals, and all shouted: "Welcome, most illustrious, most benevolent, and most excellent Chan Ah Sin the Ninth."

So Mai crept into the arms of her nurse and Ming hung on to his uncle's robe, and the other silk-robed man explained. how and why they had come to the Forest, of the Freed and the Moon-loved Pool.

A fairy fish, a fairy duck, a fairy butterfly, and a fairy bird, who had seen the children on the river when the cruel sailors were taking them from their home, had carried the news to the peasants of the rice fields, the tea plantations, the palm and bamboo groves. Whereupon great indignation had prevailed, and the people of the province, who loved well the Chan family, arose in their might and demanded that an investigation be made into the charges against that Chan who was reputed to have broken the law, and whose relatives as well as himself had been condemned to suffer therefor. So it came to pass that the charges, which had been made by some malicious enemy of high official rank, were entirely disproved, and the edict of banishment against the Chan family recalled.

The first thought of the uncle of Ming and Mai, upon being liberated from prison, was for his little nephew and niece, and great indeed was his alarm and grief upon learning that the two tender scions of the house of Chan had been banished to a lonely forest by a haunted river, which forest and river were said to be inhabited by wild and cruel beings. Moreover, since the sailors who had taken them there, and who were the only persons who knew where the forest was situated, had been drowned in a swift rushing rapid upon their return journey, it seemed almost impossible to trace the little ones, and Chan Ah Sin the Ninth was about giving up in despair, when the fairy bird, fish, and butterfly, who had aroused the peasants, also aroused the uncle by appearing to him and telling him where the forest of banishment lay and how to reach it.

"Yes," said Chan Ah Sin the Ninth, when his friend ceased speaking, "but they did not tell me that I should find my niece and nephew so tenderly cared for. Heaven alone knows why you have been so good to my beloved children."

He bowed low to the tiger, leopard, and all the living things around him.

"Most excellent and honorable Chan Ah Sin the Ninth," replied the Tiger, prostrating himself, "we have had the pleasure and privilege of being good to these little ones, because many years ago in the beautiful land of China, your honorable ancestor, Chan Ah Sin the First, was good and kind to our forefathers."

Then arising upon his hind legs, he turned to Ming and Mai and tenderly touching them with his paws, said:

"Honorable little ones, your banishment is over, and those who roam the Forest of the Freed, and dwell in the depths of the Pool of Happy Life, will behold no more the light of your eyes. May heaven bless you and preserve you to be as good and noble ancestors to your descendants as your ancestor, Chan Ah Sin the First, was to you."