Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Edith Maude Eaton
Tales of Chinese Children
The Inferior Man
Ku Yum, the little daughter of Wen Hing, the schoolmaster, trotted into the school behind her father and crawled under his desk. From that safe retreat, her bright eyes looked out in friendly fashion upon the boys. Ku Yum was three years old and was the only little girl who had ever been in the schoolroom. Naturally, the boys were very much interested in her, and many were the covert glances bestowed upon the chubby little figure in red under the schoolmaster's desk. Now and then a little lad, after an unusually penetrating glance, would throw his sleeve over or lift his slate up to his face, and his form would quiver strangely. Well for the little lad that the schoolmaster wore glasses which somewhat clouded his vision.
The wife of Wen Hing was not very well, which was the reason why the teacher had been bringing the little Ku Yum to school with him for the last three weeks. Wen Hing, being a kind husband, thought to help his wife, who had two babies besides Ku Yum to look after.
But for all his troubled mind, the schoolmaster's sense of duty to his scholars was as keen as ever; also his sense of smell.
Suddenly he turned front the blackboard upon which he had been chalking.
"He who thinks only of good things to eat is an inferior man," and pushing back his spectacles, declared in a voice which caused his pupils to shake in their shoes:
"Some degenerate son of an honorable parent is eating unfragrant sugar."
"Unfragrant sugar! honorable sir!" exclaimed Han Wenti.
"Unfragrant sugar!" echoed little Yen Wing.
The murmur passed around the room.
"Silence!" commanded the teacher.
There was silence.
"Go Ek Ju," said the teacher, "why is thy miserable head bowed?"
"Because, O wise and just one, I am composing," answered Go Ek Ju.
"Read thy composition."
"A wild boar and a sucking pig were eating acorns from the bed of a sunken stream," shrilly declaimed Go Ek Ju.
"Enough! It can easily be perceived what thy mind is on. Canst thou look at me behind my back and declare that thou art not eating unfragrant sugar?"
"To thy illuminating back, honorable sir, I declare that I am not eating unfragrant sugar."
The teacher's brow became yet sterner.
"You, Mark Sing! Art thou the unfragrant sugar eater?"
"I know not the taste of that confection, most learned sir."
The teacher sniffed.
"Some one," he reasserted, "is eating unfragrant sugar. Whoever the miserable culprit is, let him speak now, and four strokes from the rattan is all that he shall receive."
He paused. The clock ticked sixty times; but there was no response to his appeal. He lifted his rattan.
"As no guilty one," said he, "is honorable enough to acknowledge that he is dishonorably eating unfragrant sugar, I shall punish all for the offense, knowing that thereby the offender will receive justice. Go Ek Ju, come forward, and receive eight strokes from the rattan."
Go Ek Ju went forward and received the eight strokes. As he stood trembling with pain before the schoolmaster's desk, he felt a small hand grasp his foot. His lip tightened. Then he returned to his seat, sore, but undaunted, and unconfessed. In like manner also his schoolmates received the rattan.
When the fifteen aching but unrepentant scholars were copying industriously, "He who thinks only of good things to eat is an inferior man," and the schoolmaster, exhausted, had flung himself back on his seat, a little figure in red emerged from under the schoolmaster's desk and attempted to clamber on to his lap. The schoolmaster held her back.
"What! What!" he exclaimed. "What! what!" He rubbed his head in puzzled fashion. Then he lifted up the little red figure, turning its face around to the schoolboys. Such a chubby, happy little face as it was. Dimpled cheeks and pearly teeth showing in a gleeful smile. And the hands of the little, red figure grasped two sticky balls of red and white peppermint candy — unfragrant sugar.
"Behold!" said the teacher; with a twinkle in his spectacles, "the inferior man!"
Whereupon the boys forgot that they were aching. You see, they loved the little Ku Yum and believed that they had saved her from eight strokes of the rattan.