Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Edith Maude Eaton
Tales of Chinese Children
The baby was asleep. Ku Yum looked curiously at her little brother as he lay in placid slumber. His head was to be shaved for the first time that afternoon, and he was dressed for the occasion in three padded silk vests, sky-blue trousers and an embroidered cap, which was surmounted by a little gold god and a sprig of evergreen for good luck. This kept its place on his head, even in sleep. On his arms and ankles were hung many amulets and charms, and on the whole he appeared a very resplendent baby. To Ku Yum, he was simply gorgeous and she longed to get her little arms around him and carry him to some place where she could delight in him all by herself.
Ku Yum's mind had been in a state of wonder concerning the boy, Ko Ku, ever since he had been born. Why was he so very small and so very noisy? What made his fingers and toes so pink? Why did her mother always smile and sing whenever she had the baby in her arms? Why did her father, when he came in from his vegetable garden, gaze so long at Ko Ku? Why did grandmother make so much fuss over him? And yet, why, oh why, did they give him nothing nice to eat?
The baby was sleeping very soundly. His little mouth was half open and a faint, droning sound was issuing therefrom. He had just completed his first moon and was a month old. Poor baby! that never got any rice to eat, nor nice sweet cakes. Ku Yum's heart swelled with compassion. In her hand was a delicious half-moon cake. It was the time of the harvest-moon festival and Ku Yum had already eaten three. Surely, the baby would like a taste. She hesitated. Would she dare, when it lay upon that silken coverlet? Ku Yum had a wholesome regard for her mother's bamboo slipper.
The window blind was torn on one side. A vagrant wind lifted it, revealing an open window. There was a way out of that window to the vegetable garden. Beyond the vegetable garden was a cool, green spot under a clump of trees; also a beautiful puddle of muddy water.
An inspiration came to Ku Yum, born of benevolence. She lifted the sleeping babe in her arms, and with hushed, panting breaths, bore him slowly and laboriously to where her soul longed to be. He opened his eyes once and gave a faint, disturbed cry, but lapsed again into dreamland.
Ku Yum laid him down on the grass, adjusted his cap, smoothed down his garments, ran her small fingers over his brows, or where his brows ought to have been, tenderly prodded his plump cheeks, and ruffled his straight hair. Little sighs of delight escaped her lips. The past and the future were as naught to her. She revelled only in the present.
For a few minutes thus: then a baby's cries filled the air. Ku Yum sat up. She remembered the cake. It had been left behind. She found a large green leaf, and placing that over the baby's mouth in the hope of mellowing its tones cautiously wended her way back between the squash and cabbages.
All was quiet and still. It was just before sundown and it was very warm. Her mother still slept her afternoon sleep. Hastily seizing the confection, she returned to the babe, her face beaming with benevolence and the desire to do good. She pushed some morsels into the child's mouth. It closed its eyes, wrinkled its nose and gurgled; but its mouth did not seem to Ku Yum to work just as a proper mouth should under such pleasant conditions.
"Behold me! Behold me!" she cried and herself swallowed the remainder of the cake in two mouthfuls. Ko Ku, however, did not seem to be greatly edified by the example set him. The crumbs remained, half on his tongue and half on the creases of his cheek. He still emitted explosive noises.
Ku Yum sadly surveyed him.
"He doesn't know how to eat. That's why they don't give him anything," she said to herself, and having come to this logical conclusion, she set herself to benefit him in other ways than the one in which she had failed.
She found some worms and ants, which she arranged on leaves and stones, meanwhile keeping up a running commentary on their charms.
"See! This very small brown one — how many legs it has, and how fast it runs. This one is so green that I think its father and mother must have been blades of grass, don't you? And look at the wings on this worm. That one has no wings, but its belly is pretty pink. Feel how nice and slimy it is. Don't you just love slimy things that creep on their bellies, and things that fly in the air, and things with four legs? Oh, all kinds of things except grown-up things with two legs."
She inclined the baby's head so that his eyes would be on a level with her collection, but he screamed the louder for the change.
"Oh, hush thee, baby, hush thee, And never, never fear The bogies of the dark land, When the green bamboo is near,"
she chanted in imitation of her mother. But the baby would not be soothed.
She wrinkled her childish brow. Her little mind was perplexed. She had tried her best to amuse her brother, but her efforts seemed in vain.
Her eyes fell on the pool of muddy water. They brightened. Of all things in the world Ku Yum loved mud, real, good, clean mud. What bliss to dip her feet into that tempting pool, to feel the slow brown water oozing into her little shoes! Ku Yum had done that before and the memory thrilled her. But with that memory came another — a memory of poignant pain; the cause, a bamboo cane, which bamboo cane had been sent from China by her father's uncle, for the express purpose of helping Ku Yum to walk in the straight and narrow path laid out for a proper little Chinese girl living in Santa Barbara.
Still the baby cried. Ku Yum looked down on him and the cloud on her brow lifted. Ko Ku should have the exquisite pleasure of dipping his feet into that soft velvety water. There would be no bamboo cane for him. He was loved too well. Ku Yum forgot herself. Her thoughts were entirely for Ko Ku. She half dragged, half carried him to the pool. In a second his feet were immersed therein and small wiggling things were wandering up his tiny legs. He gave a little gasp and ceased crying. Ku Yum smiled. Ah! Ko Ku was happy at last! Then:
Before Ku Yum's vision flashed a large, cruel hand. Twice, thrice it appeared, after which, for a space of time, Ku Yum could see nothing but twinkling stars.
"My son! My son! the evil spirit in your sister had almost lost you to me!" cried her mother.
"That this should happen on the day of the completion of the moon, when the guests from San Francisco are arriving with the gold coins. Verily, my son, your sister is possessed of a devil," declared her father.
And her grandmother, speaking low:, said:
"Tis fortunate the child is alive. But be not too hard on Ku Yum. The demon of jealousy can best be exorcised by kindness."
And the sister of Ko Ku wailed low in the grass, for there were none to understand.