Tales of Chinese Children
The Wild Man and the Gentle Boy
 

Will you come with me?" said the Wild Man.

"With pleasure," replied the Gentle Boy.

The Wild Man took the Gentle Boy by the hand, and together they waded through rice fields, climbed tea hills, plunged through forests and at last came to a wide road, shaded on either side by large evergreen trees, with resting places made of bamboo sticks every mile or so.

"My honorable father provided these resting places for the poor carriers," said the Gentle Boy. "Here they can lay their burdens down, eat betel nuts, and rest."

"Oh, ho," laughed the Wild Man. "I don't think there will be many carriers resting today. I cleared the road before I brought you."

"Indeed!" replied the Gentle Boy. "May I ask how?"

"Ate them up."

"Ah!" sighed the Gentle Boy. He felt the silence and stillness around. The very leaves had ceased to flutter, and only the soul of a bird hovered near.

The Wild Man had gigantic arms and legs and a broad, hairy chest. His mouth was exceeding large and his head was unshaved. He wore a sack of coarse linen, open in front with holes for arms. On his head was a rattan cap, besmeared with the blood of a deer.

The Gentle Boy was small and plump; his skin was like silk and the tips of his little fingers were pink. His queue was neatly braided and interwoven with silks of many colors. He wore a peach-colored blouse and azure pantaloons, all richly embroidered, and of the finest material. The buttons on his tunic were of pure gold, and the sign of the dragon was worked on his cap. He was of the salt of the earth, a descendant of Confutze, an aristocrat of aristocrats.

"Of what are you thinking?" asked the Wild Man.

"About the carriers. Did they taste good?" asked the Gentle Boy with mild curiosity.

"Yes, but there is something that will taste better, younger and tenderer, you know."

He surveyed the Gentle Boy with glistening eyes.

The Gentle Boy thought of his father's mansion, the frescoed ceilings, the chandeliers hung with pearls, the great blue vases, the dragon's smiles, the galleries of glass through which walked his mother and sisters; but most of all, he thought of his noble ancestors.

"What would Your Excellency be pleased to converse about?" he inquired after a few minutes, during which the Wild Man had been engaged in silent contemplation of the Gentle Boy's chubby cheeks.

"About good things to eat," promptly replied the Wild Man.

"Very well," politely replied the Gentle Boy. "There are a great many," he dreamily observed, staring into space.

"Tell me about some of the fine dishes in your father's kitchen. It is they who have made you."

The Gentle Boy looked complacently up and down himself.

"I hope in all humility," he said, "that I do honor to my father's cook's dishes."

The Wild Man laughed so boisterously that the trees rocked.

"There is iced seaweed jelly, for one thing," began the Gentle Boy, "and a ragout of water lilies, pork and chicken dumplings with bamboo shoots, bird's-nest soup and boiled almonds, ducks' eggs one hundred years old, garnished with strips of sucking pig and heavenly fish fried in paradise oil, white balls of rice flour stuffed with sweetmeats, honey and rose-leaves, candied frogs and salted crabs, sugared seaweed and pickled stars."

He paused.

"Now, tell me," said the Wild Man, "which of all things would you like best to eat?"

The Gentle Boy's eye wandered musingly over the Wild Man's gigantic proportions, his hungry mouth, his fanglike teeth. He flipped a ladybird insect off his silken cuff and smiled at the Wild Man as he did so.

"Best of all, honorable sir," he slowly said, "I would like to eat you."

The Wild Man sat transfixed, staring at the Gentle Boy, his mouth half open, the hair standing up on his head. And to this day he sits there, on the high road to Cheang Che, a piece of petrified stone.