21

It was not to be supposed that the coming of this one called Lotus and of her serving woman Cuckoo into Wang Lung’s house could be accomplished altogether without stir and discord of some sort, since more than one woman under one roof is not for peace. But Wang Lung had not foreseen it. And even though he saw by O-lan’s sullen looks and Cuckoo’s sharpness that something was amiss, he would not pay heed to it and he was careless of anyone so long as he was still fierce with his desire.

Nevertheless, when day passed into night, and night changed into dawn, Wang Lung saw that it was true the sun rose in the morning, and this woman Lotus was there, and the moon rose in its season and she was there for his hand to grasp when it would, and his thirst of love was somewhat slaked and he saw things he had not seen before.

For one thing, he saw that there was trouble at once between O-lan and Cuckoo. This was an astonishment to him, for he was prepared for O-lan to hate Lotus, having heard many times of such things, and some women will even hang themselves upon a beam with a rope when a man takes a second woman into the house, and others will scold and contrive to make his life worthless for what he has done, and he was glad that O-lan was a silent woman for at least she could not think of words against him. But he had not foreseen that whereas she would be silent of Lotus, her anger would find its vent against Cuckoo.

Now Wang Lung had thought only of Lotus and when she begged him,

“Let me have this woman for my servant, seeing that I am altogether alone in the world, for my father and my mother died when I could not yet talk and my uncle sold me as soon as I was pretty to a life such as I have had, and I have no one.”

This she said with her tears, always abundant and ready and glittering in the corners of her pretty eyes, and Wang Lung could have denied her nothing she asked when she looked up at him so. Besides, it was true enough that the girl had no one to serve her, and it was true she would be alone in his house, for it was plain enough and to be expected that O-lan would not serve the second one, and she would not speak to her or notice that she was in the house at all. There was only the uncle of Lotus then, and it was against Wang Lung’s stomach to have that one peeping and prying and near to Lotus for her to talk to of him, and so Cuckoo was as good as any and he knew no other woman who would come.

But it seemed that O-lan, when she saw Cuckoo, grew angry with a deep and sullen anger that Wang Lung had never seen and did not know was in her. Cuckoo was willing enough to be friends, since she had her pay from Wang Lung, albeit she did not forget that in the great house she had been in the lord’s chamber and O-lan a kitchen slave and one of many. Nevertheless, she called out to O-lan well enough when first she saw her,

“Well, and my old friend, here we are in a house together again, and you mistress and first wife—my mother—and how things are changed!”

But O-lan stared at her and when it came into her understanding who it was and what she was, she answered nothing but she put down the jar of water she carried and she went into the middle room where Wang Lung sat between his times of love, and she said to him plainly,

“What is this slave woman doing in our house?”

Wang Lung looked east and west. He would have liked to speak out to say in a surly voice of master, “Well, and it is my house and whoever I say may come in, she shall come in, and who are you to ask?” But he could not because of some shame in him when O-lan was there before him, and his shame made him angry, because when he reasoned it, there was no need for shame and he had done no more than any man may do who has silver to spare.

Still, he could not speak out, and he only looked east and west and feigned to have mislaid his pipe in his garments, and he fumbled in his girdle. But O-lan stood there solidly on her big feet and waited and when he said nothing she asked again plainly in the same words,

“What is this slave woman doing in our house?”

Then Wang Lung seeing she would have an answer, said feebly,

“And what is it to you?”

And O-lan said,

“I bore her haughty looks all during my youth in the great house and her running into the kitchen a score of times a day and crying out ‘now tea for the lord’—’now food for the lord’—and it was always this is too hot and that is too cold, and that is badly cooked, and I was too ugly and too slow and too this and too that…”

But still Wang Lung did not answer, for he did not know what to say.

Then O-lan waited and when he did not speak, the hot, scanty tears welled slowly into her eyes, and she winked them to hold back the tears, and at last she took the corner of her blue apron and wiped her eyes and she said at last,

“It is a bitter thing in my house, and I have no mother’s house to go back to anywhere.”

And when Wang Lung was still silent and answered nothing at all, but he sat down to his pipe and lit it, and he said nothing still, she looked at him piteously and sadly out of her strange dumb eyes that were like a beast’s eyes that cannot speak, and then she went away, creeping and feeling for the door because of her tears that blinded her.

Wang Lung watched her as she went and he was glad to be alone, but still he was ashamed and he was still angry that he was ashamed and he said to himself and he muttered the words aloud and restlessly, as though he quarreled with someone,

“Well, and other men are so and I have been good enough to her and there are men worse than I.” And he said at last that O-lan must bear it.

But O-lan was not finished with it, and she went her way silently. In the morning she heated water and presented it to old man, and to Wang Lung if he were not in the inner court she presented tea, but when Cuckoo went to find hot water for her mistress the cauldron was empty and not all her loud questionings would stir any response from O-lan. Then there was nothing but that Cuckoo must herself boil water for her mistress if she would have it. But then it was time to stir the morning gruel and there was not space in the cauldron for more water and O-lan would go steadily to her cooking, answering nothing to Cuckoo’s loud crying,

“And is my delicate lady to lie thirsting and gasping in her bed for a swallow of water in the morning?”

But O-lan would not hear her; only she pushed more grass and straw into the bowels of the oven, spreading it as carefully and as thriftily as ever she had in the old days when one leaf was precious enough because of the fire it would make under food. Then Cuckoo went complaining loudly to Wang Lung and he was angry that his love must be marred by such things and he went to O-lan to reproach her and he shouted at her,

“And cannot you add a dipperful of water to the cauldron in the mornings?”

But she answered with a sullenness deeper than ever upon her face,

“I am not slave of slaves in this house at least.”

Then he was angry beyond bearing and he seized O-lan’s shoulder and he shook her soundly and he said,

“Do not be yet more of a fool. It is not for the servant but for tbe mistress.”

And she bore his violence and she looked at him and she said simply,

“And to that one you gave my two pearls!”

Then his hand dropped and he was speechless and his anger was gone and he went away ashamed and he said to Cuckoo,

“We will build another stove and I will make another kitchen. The first wife knows nothing of the delicacies which the other one needs for her flower-like body and which you also enjoy. You shall cook what you please in it”

And so he bade the laborers build a little room and an earthen stove in it and he bought a good cauldron. And Cuckoo was pleased because he said,”You shall cook what you please in it.”

As for Wang Lung, he said to himself that at last his affairs were settled and his women at peace and he could enjoy his love. And it seemed to him freshly that he could never tire of Lotus and of the way she pouted at him with the lids drooped like lily petals over her great eyes, and at the way laughter gleamed out of her eyes when she glanced up at him.

But after all this matter of the new kitchen became a thorn in his body, for Cuckoo went to the town every day and she bought this and that of expensive foods that are imported from the southern cities. There were foods he had never even heard of: lichee nuts and dried honey dates and curious cakes of rice flour and nuts and red sugar, and horned fish from the sea and many other things. And these all cost money more than he liked to give out, but still not so much, he was sure, as Cuckoo told him, and yet he was afraid to say, “You are eating my flesh,” for fear she would be offended and angry at him, and it would displease Lotus, and so there was nothing he could do except to put his hand unwillingly to his girdle. And this was a thorn to him day after day, and because there was none to whom he could complain of it, the thorn pierced more deeply continually, and it cooled a little of the fire of love in him for Lotus.

And there was yet another small thorn that sprang from the first, and it was that his uncle’s wife, who loved good food, went often into the inner court at meal times, and she grew free there, and Wang Lung was not pleased that out of his house Lotus chose this woman for friend. The three women ate well in the inner courts, and they talked unceasingly, whispering and laughing, and there was something that Lotus liked in the wife of his uncle and the three were happy together, and this Wang Lung did not like.

But still there was nothing to be done, for when he said gently and to coax her,

“Now, Lotus, my flower, and do not waste your sweetness on an old fat hag like that one. I need it for my own heart, and she is a deceitful and untrustworthy creature, and I do not like it that she is near you from dawn to sunset.”

Lotus was fretful and she answered peevishly, pouting her lips and hanging her head away from him,

“Now and I have no one except you and I have no friends and I am used to a merry house and in yours there is no one the first wife who hates me and these children of yours who are a plague to me, and I have no one.”

Then she used her weapons against him and she would not let him into her room that night and she complained and said,

“You do not love me for if you did you would wish me to be happy.”

Then Wang Lung was humbled and anxious and he was submissive and he was sorry and he said,

“Let it be only as you wish and forever.”

Then she forgave him royally and he was afraid to rebuke her in any way for what she wished to do, and after that when he came to her Lotus, if she were talking or drinking tea or eating some sweetmeat with his uncle’s wife, would bid him wait and was careless with him, and he strode away, angry that she was unwilling for him to come in when this other woman sat there, and his love cooled a little, although he did not know it himself.

He was angry, moreover, that his uncle’s wife ate of the rich foods that he had to buy for Lotus and that she grew fat and more oily than she had been, but he could say nothing for his uncle’s wife was clever and she was courteous to him and flattered him with good words, and rose when he came into the room.

And so his love for Lotus was not whole and perfect as it had been before, absorbing utterly his mind and his body. It was pierced through and through with small angers which were the more sharp because they must be endured and because he could no longer go even to O-lan freely for speech, seeing that now their life was sundered.

Then like a field of thorns springing up from one root and spreading here and there, there was yet more to trouble Wang Lung. One day his father, whom one would say saw nothing at any time so drowsy with age he was, woke suddenly out of his sleeping in the sun and he tottered, leaning on his dragon-headed staff which Wang Lung had bought for him on his seventieth birthday, to the doorway where a curtain hung between the main room and the court where Lotus walked. Now the old man had never noticed the door before nor when the court was built and seemingly he did not know whether anyone had been added to the house or not, and Wang Lung never told him, “I have another woman,” for the old man was too deaf to make anything out of a voice if it told him something new and of which he had not thought.

But on this day he saw without reason this doorway and he went to it and drew the curtain, and it happened that it was at an hour of evening when Wang Lung walked with Lotus in the court, and they stood beside the pool and looked at the fish, but Wang Lung looked at Lotus. Then when the old man saw his son standing beside a slender painted girl he cried out in his shrill cracked voice,

“There is a harlot in the house!” and he would not be silent although Wang Lung, fearing lest Lotus grow angry—for this small creature could shriek and scream and beat her hands together if she were angered at all—went forward and led the old man away into the outer court and soothed him, saying,

“Now calm your heart, my father. It is not a harlot but a second woman in the house.”

But the old man would not be silent and whether he heard what was said or not no one knew only he shouted over and over, “There is a harlot here!” And he said suddenly, seeing Wang Lung near him, “And I had one woman and my father had one woman and we farmed the land. “And again he cried out after a time, “I say it is a harlot!”

And so the old man woke from his aged and fitful sleeping with a sort of cunning hatred against Lotus. He would go to the doorway of her court and shout suddenly into the air,

“Harlot!”

Or he would draw aside the curtain into her court and then spit furiously upon the tiles. And he would hunt small stones and throw them with his feeble arm into the little pool to scare the fish, and in the mean ways of a mischievous child he expressed his anger.

And this too made a disturbance in Wang Lung’s house, for he was ashamed to rebuke his father, and yet he feared the anger of Lotus, since he had found she had a pretty petulant temper that she loosed easily. And this anxiety to keep his father from angering her was wearisome to him and it was another thing to make of his love a burden to him.

One day he heard a shriek from the inner courts and he ran in for he heard it was the voice of Lotus, and there he found that the two younger children, the boy and the girl born alike, had between them led into the inner court his elder daughter, his poor fool. Now the four other children were constantly curious about this lady who lived in the inner court, but the two elder boys were conscious and shy and knew well enough why she was there and what their father had to do with her, although they never spoke of her unless to each other secretly. But the two younger ones could never be satisfied with their peepings and their exclamations, and sniffing of the perfume she wore and dipping their fingers in the bowls of food that Cuckoo carried away from her rooms after she had eaten.

Lotus complained many times toWang Lung that his children were a plague to her and she wished there were a way to lock them out so that she need not be plagued with them. But this he was not willing to do, and he answered her in jest,

“Well, and they like to look at a lovely face as much as their father does.”

And he did nothing except to forbid them to enter her courts and when he saw them they did not, but when he did not see them they ran in and out secretly. But the elder daughter knew nothing of anything, but only sat in the sun against the wall of the outer court, smiling and playing with her bit of twisted cloth.

On this day, however, the two elder sons being away at school, the two younger children had conceived the notion that the fool must also see the lady in the inner courts, and they had taken her hands and dragged her into the court and she stood before Lotus, who had never seen her and sat and stared at her. Now when the fool saw the bright silk of the coat Lotus wore and the shining jade in her ears, she was moved by some strange joy at the sight and she put out her hands to grasp the bright colors and she laughed aloud, a laugh that was only sound and meaningless. And Lotus was frightened and screamed out, so that Wang Lung came running in, and Lotus shook with her anger and leaped up and down on her little feet and shook her finger at the poor laughing girl and cried out,

“I will not stay in this house if that one comes near me, and I was not told that I should have accursed idiots to endure and if I had known it I would not have come—filthy children of yours!” and she pushed the little gaping boy who stood nearest her, clasping his twin sister’s hand.

Then the good anger awoke in Wang Lung, for beloved his children, and he said roughly,

“Now I will not hear my children cursed, no and not by any one and not even my poor fool, and not by you who have no son in your womb for any man.” And he gathered the children together and said to them, “Now go out, my son and my daughter, and come no more to this woman’s court, for she does not love you and if she does not love you she does not love your father, either.” And to the elder girl he said with great gentleness, “And you, my poor fool, come back to your place in the sun.” And she smiled and he took her by the hand and led her away.

For he was most angry of all that Lotus dared to curse this child of his and call her idiot, and a load of fresh pain for the girl fell upon his heart, so that for a day and two days he would not go near Lotus, but he played with the children and he went into the town and he bought a circle of barley candy for his poor fool and he comforted himself with her baby pleasure in the wet sticky stuff.

And when he went in to Lotus again neither of them said anything that he had not come for two days, but she took special trouble to please him, for when he came his uncle’s wife was there drinking tea, and Lotus excused herself and said,

“Now here is my lord come for me and I must be obedient to him for this is my pleasure,” and she stood until the woman went away.

Then she went up to Wang Lung and took his hand and drew it to her face and she wooed him. But he, although he loved her again, loved her not so wholly as before, and never again so wholly as he had loved her.

There came a day when summer was ended and the sky in the early morning was clear and cold and blue as sea water and a clean autumn wind blew hard over the land, and Wang Lung woke as from a sleep. He went to the door of his house and he looked over his fields. And he saw that the waters had receded and the land lay shining under the dry cold wind and under the ardent sun.

Then a voice cried out in him, a voice deeper than love cried out in him for his land. And he heard it above every other voice in his life and he tore off the long robe he wore and he stripped off his velvet shoes and his white stockings and he rolled his trousers to his knees and he stood forth robust and eager and he shouted,

“Where is the hoe and where the plow? And where is the seed for the wheat planting? Come, Ching, my friend—come—call the men—I go out to the land!”

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