Tales of Chinese Children
The Deceptive Mat
 

When Tsin Yen was about eight years old, he and his little brother were one fine day enjoying a game of battledore and shuttlecock on the green lawn, which their father had reserved as a playground for their use. The lawn was a part of a very elaborate garden laid out with many rare flowers and ferns and exquisite plants in costly porcelain jars. The whole was enclosed behind high walls.

It was a very warm day and the garden gate had been left open, so that the breeze could better blow within. A man stood outside the gate, watching the boys. He carried a small parcel under his arm.

"Will not the jewel eyes of the honorable little ones deign to turn my way?" he cried at last.

Tsin Yen and Tsin Yo looked over at him.

"What is your wish, honorable sir?" asked Tsin Yen.

And the man replied: "That I may be allowed space in which to spread my mat on your green. The road outside is dusty and the insects are more lively than suits my melancholy mood."

"Spread your mat, good sir," hastily answered Tsin Yen, giving a quick glance at the small parcel, and returning to his play.

The man began quietly to unroll his bundle, Tsin Yen and Tsin Yo being too much interested in their play to pay much attention to him. But a few minutes passed, however, before the stranger touched Tsin Yen's sleeve, and bade him stand aside.

"For what reason, honorable sir?" asked Tsin Yen, much surprised.

"Did not you consent to my spreading my mat, most ingenuous son of an illustrious father?" returned the man. He pointed to his mat. Of cobweb texture and cobweb color, it already covered almost the whole green lawn, and there was a portion yet unrolled.

"How could I know that so small a bundle would make so large a mat?" exclaimed Tsin Yen protestingly.

"But you should have thought, my son," said the father of Tsin Yen, who now appeared upon the scene. "If you had thought before consenting to the spreading of the mat, you would not, this fine afternoon, be obliged to yield your playground to a stranger. However, the word of a Tsin must be made good. Stand aside, my sons."

So Tsin Yen and Tsin Yo stood aside and watched with indignant eyes the deceptive mat unrolled over the whole space where they were wont to play. When it was spread to its full capacity, the man seated himself in the middle, and remained thereon until the setting of the sun.

And that is the reason why Tsin Yen, when he became a man, always thought for three minutes before allowing any word to escape his lips.