29

In these days when Wang Lung had decided a thing he could not do it quickly enough. As he grew older he grew impatient to have done with things and to sit in the latter part of the day at peace and idle and to watch the late sun and sleep a little after he had strolled about his land. So he told his elder son what he had decided and he commanded the young man to arrange the matter, and he sent for his second son to come and help with the moving and on a day when they were ready they moved, first Lotus and Cuckoo and their slaves and goods, and then Wang Lung’s eldest son and his wife and their servants and the slaves.

But Wang Lung himself would not go at once, and he kept with him his youngest son. When the moment came for leaving the land whereon he was born he could not do it easily nor so quickly as he had thought and he said to his sons when they urged him,

“Well then, prepare a court for me to use alone and on a day that I wish I will come, and it will be a day before my grandson is born, and when I wish I can come back to my land.”

And when they urged him yet again, he said,

“Well, and there is my poor fool and whether to take her with me or not I do not know, but take her I must, for there is no one who will see if she is fed or not unless I do it.”

This Wang Lung said in some reproach to the wife of his eldest son, for she would not suffer the poor fool near her, but was finicking and squeamish and she said, “Such an one should not be alive at all, and it is enough to mar the child in me to look at her.” And Wang Lung’s eldest son remembered the dislike of his wife and so now he was silent and said no more. Then Wang Lung repented his reproach and he said mildly,

“I will come when the maid is found who is to wed the second son, for it is easier to stay here where Ching is until the matter is completed.”

The second son, therefore, gave over his urging.

There was left in the house, then, none but the uncle and his wife and son and Ching and the laboring men, besides Wang Lung and his youngest son and the fool. And the uncle and his wife and son moved into the inner courts where Lotus had been and they took it for their own, but this did not grieve Wang Lung unduly, for he saw clearly there were were not many days of life left for his uncle and when the idle old man was dead Wang Lung’s duty to that generation was over and if the younger man did not do as he was told none would blame Wang Lung if he cast him out. Then Ching moved into the outer rooms and the laborers with him, and Wang Lung and his son and the fool lived in the middle rooms, and Wang Lung hired a stout woman to be servant to them.

And Wang Lung slept and rested himself and took no heed of anything, for he was suddenly very weary and the house was peaceful. There was none to trouble him, for his youngest son was a silent lad who kept out of his father’s way and Wang Lung scarcely knew what he was, so silent a lad was he.

But at last Wang Lung stirred himself to bid Ching find a maid for his second son to wed.

Now Ching grew old and withered and lean as a reed, but there was the strength of an old and faithful dog in him yet, although Wang Lung would no longer let him lift a hoe in his hand or follow the oxen behind the plow. But still he was useful for he watched the labor of others and he stood by when the grain was weighed and measured. So when he heard what Wang Lung wished him to do he washed himself and put on his good blue cotton coat and he went hither and thither to this village and that and he looked at many maidens and at last he came back and he said,

“Now would I lief have to choose a wife for myself than for your son. But if it were I and I young, there is a maid three villages away, a good, buxom, careful maid with no fault except a ready laugh, and her father is willing and glad to be tied to your family by his daughter. And the dowry is good for these times, and he has land. But I said I could give no promise until you gave it”

It seemed to Wang Lung then that this was good enough and he was anxious to be done with it and so he gave his promise and when the papers were come he set his mark to them, and he was relieved and he said,

“Now there is but one more son and I am finished with all this wedding and marrying and I am glad I am so near my peace.”

And when it was done and the wedding day set, he rested and sat in the sun and slept even as his father had done before him.

Then it seemed to Wang Lung that as Ching grew feeble with age and since he himself grew heavy and drowsy with his food and his age and his third son was yet too young for responsibility, that it would be well to rent some of his farthest fields to others in the village. This Wang Lung did, then, and many of the men in the villages near by came to Wang Lung to rent his land and to become his tenants, and the rent was decided upon, half of the harvest to go to Wang Lung because he owned the land, and half to the one who hired because of his labor, and there were other things which each must furnish besides: Wang Lung certain stores of manure and beancake and of sesame refuse from his oil mill after the sesame was ground, and the tenant to reserve certain crops for the use of Wang Lung’s house.

And then, since there was not the need for his management that there had been, Wang Lung went sometimes into the town and slept in the court which he caused to be prepared for him, but when day came he was back upon his land, walking through the gate in the wall about the town as soon as it was open after dawn came. And he smelled the fresh smell of the fields and when he came to his own land he rejoiced in it.

Then as if the gods were kind for the once and had prepared peace for his old age his uncle’s son, who grew restless in the house now quiet and without women save for the stout serving woman who was wife to one of the laborers, this uncle’s son heard of a war to the north and he said to Wang Lung,

“It is said there is a war to the north of us and I will go and join it for something to do and to see. This I will if you will give me silver to buy more clothes and my bedding and a foreign firestick to put over my shoulder.”

Then Wang Lung’s heart leaped with pleasure but he hid his pleasure artfully and he demurred in pretense and he said,

“Now you are the only son of my uncle and after you there are none to carry on his body and if you go to war what will happen?”

But the man answered, laughing,

“Well, and I am no fool and I will not stand anywhere that my life is in danger. If there is to be a battle I will go away until it is over. I wish for a change and a little travel and to see foreign parts before I am too old to do it.”

So Wang Lung gave him the silver readily and this time again the giving was not hard so that he poured the money out into the man’s hand and he said to himself,

“Well, and if he likes it there is an end to this curse in my house, for there is always a war somewhere in the nation.” And again he said to himself, “Well, and he may even be killed, if my good fortune holds, for sometimes in wars there are those who die.”

He was in high good humor, then, although he concealed it, and he comforted his uncle’s wife when she wept a little to hear of her son’s going, and he gave her more opium and lit her pipe for her and he said,

“Doubtless he will rise to be a military official and honor will come to us all through him.”

Then at last there was peace, for there were only the two old sleeping ones in the house in the country besides his own, and in the house in the town the hour grew near for the birth of Wang Lung’s grandson.

Now Wang Lung, as this hour drew near, stayed more and more in the house in town and he walked about the courts and he could never have done with musing on what had happened, and he could never have his fill of wonder at this, that here in these courts where the great family of Hwang had once lived now he lived with his wife and his sons and their wives and now a child was to be born of a third generation.

And his heart swelled within him so that nothing was too good for his money to buy and he bought lengths of satin and of silk for them all for it looked ill to see common cotton robes upon the carved chairs and about the carved tables of southern blackwood, and he bought lengths of good blue and black cotton for the slaves so not one of them needed to wear a garment ragged. This he did, and he was pleased when the friends that his eldest son had found in the town came into the courts and proud that they should see all that was.

And Wang Lung took it into his heart to eat dainty foods, and he himself, who once had been well satisfied with good wheaten bread wrapped about a stick of garlic, now that he slept late in the day and did not work with his own hands on the land, now he was not easily pleased with this dish and that, and he tasted winter bamboo and shrimps’ roe and southern fish and shellfish from the northern seas and pigeons’ eggs and all those things which rich men use to force their lagging appetites. And his sons ate and Lotus also, and Cuckoo, seeing all that had come about, laughed and said,

“Well, and it is like the old days when I was in these courts, only this body of mine is withered and dried now and not fit even for an old lord.”

Saying this, she glanced slyly at Wang Lung and laughed again, and he pretended not to hear her lewdness, but he was pleased, nevertheless, that she had compared him to the Old Lord.

So with this idle and luxurious living and rising when they would and sleeping when they would, he waited for his grandson. Then one morning he heard the groans of a woman and he went into the courts of his eldest son and his son met him and said,

“The hour is come, but Cuckoo says it will be long, for the woman is narrowly made and it is a hard birth.”

So Wang Lung went back to his own court and he sat down and listened to the cries, and for the first time in many years he was frightened and felt the need of some spirit’s aid. He rose and went to the incense shop and he bought incense and he went to the temple in the town where the goddess of mercy dwells in her gilded alcove and he summoned an idling priest and gave him money and bade him thrust the incense before the goddess saying,

“It is ill for me, a man, to do it, but my first grandson is about to be born and it is a heavy labor for the mother, who is a town woman and too narrowly made, and the mother of my son is dead, and there is no woman to thrust in the incense.”

Then as he watched the priest thrust it in the ashes of the urn before the goddess he thought with sudden horror, “And what if it be not a grandson but a girl!” and he called out hastily,

“Well, and if it is a grandson I will pay for a new red robe for the goddess, but nothing will I do if it is a girl!”

He went out in agitation because he had not thought of this thing, that it might be not a grandson but a girl, and he went and bought more incense, although the day was hot and in the streets the dust was a span’s depth, and he went out in spite of this to the small country temple where the two sat who watched over fields and land and he thrust the incense in and lit it and he muttered to the pair,

“Well now, and we have cared for you, my father and I and my son, and now here comes the fruit of my son’s body, and if it is not a son there is nothing more for the two of you.”

Then having done all he could, he went back to the courts, very spent, and he sat down at his table and he wished for a slave to bring him tea and for another to bring him a towel dipped and wrung from steaming water to wipe his face, but though he clapped his hands none came. No one heeded him, and there was running to and fro, but he dared to stop no one to ask what sort of a child had been born or even if any had been born. He sat there dusty and spent and no one spoke to him.

Then at last when it seemed to him it must soon be night, so long he had waited, Lotus came in waddling upon her small feet because of her great weight and leaning upon Cuckoo, and she laughed and said loudly,

“Well, and there is a son in the house of your son, and both mother and son are alive. I have seen the child and it is fair and sound.”

Then Wang Lung laughed also and he rose and he slapped his hands together and laughed again and he said,

“Well, and I have been sitting here like a man with his own first son coming and not knowing what to do of this and that and afraid of everything.”

And then when Lotus had gone on to her room and he sat again he fell to musing and he thought to himself,

“Well, and I did not fear like this when that other one bore her first, my son.” And he sat silent and musing and he remembered within himself that day and how she had gone alone into the small dark room and how alone she had borne him sons and again sons and daughters and she bore them silently, and how she had come to the fields and worked beside him again. And here was this one, now the wife of his son, who cried like a child with her pains, and who had all the slaves running in the house, and her husband there by her door.

And he remembered as one remembers a dream long past how O-lan rested from her work a little while and fed the child richly and the white rich milk ran out of her breast and spilled upon the ground. And this seemed too long past ever to have been.

Then his son came in smiling and important and he said loudly,

“The man child is born, my father, and now we must find a woman to nurse him with her breasts, for I will not have my wife’s beauty spoiled with the nursing and her strength sapped with it. None of the women of position in the town do so.”

And Wang Lung said sadly, although why he was sad he did not know,

“Well, and if it must be so, let it be so, if she cannot nurse her own child.”

When the child was a month old Wang Lung’s son, its father, gave the birth feasts, and to it he invited guests from the town and his wife’s father and mother, and all the great of the town. And he had dyed scarlet many hundreds of hens’ eggs, and these he gave to every guest and to any who sent guests, and there was feasting and joy through the house, for the child was a goodly fat boy and he had passed his tenth day and lived and this was a fear gone, and they all rejoiced.

And when the birth feast was over Wang Lung’s son came to his father and he said,

“Now that there are the three generations in this house, we should have the tablets of ancestors that great families have, and we should set the tablets up to be worshipped at the feast days for we are an established family now.”

This pleased Wang Lung greatly, and so he ordered it and so it was carried out, and there in the great hall the row of tablets was set up, his grandfather’s name on one and then his father’s, and the spaces left empty for Wang Lung’s name and his son’s when they should die. And Wang Lung’s son bought an incense urn and set it before the tablets.

When this was finished Wang Lung remembered the red robe he had promised the goddess of mercy and so he went to the temple to give the money for it.

And then, on his way back, as if the gods cannot bear to give freely and not hide sting somewhere in the gift one came running from the harvest fields to tell him that Ching lay dying suddenly and had asked if Wang Lung would come to see him die. Wang Lung hearing the panting runner, cried angrily,

“Now I suppose that accursed pair in the temple are jealous because I gave a red robe to a town goddess and I suppose they do not know they have no power over childbirth and only over land.”

And although his noon meal stood ready for him to eat he would not take up his chopsticks, although Lotus called loudly to him to wait until after the evening sun came; he would not stay for her, and he went out. Then when Lotus saw he did not heed her she sent a slave after him with an umbrella of oiled paper, but so fast did Wang Lung run that the stout maid had difficulty in holding the umbrella over his head.

Wang Lung went at once to the room where Ching had been laid and he called out loudly to anyone,

“Now how did all this come about?”

The room was full of laborers crowding about and they answered in confusion and haste,

“He would work himself at the threshing…” “We told him not at his age…” “There was a laborer who is newly hired…” “He could not hold the flail rightly and Ching would show him…” “It is labor too hard for an old man…”

Then Wang Lung called out in a terrible voice,

“Bring me this laborer!”

And they pushed the man in front before Wang Lung, and he stood there trembling and his bare knees knocking together, a great, ruddy, coarse, country lad, with his teeth sticking out in a shelf over his lower lip and round dull eyes like an ox’s eyes. But Wang Lung had no pity on him. He slapped the lad on both his cheeks and he took the umbrella from the slave’s hand and he beat the lad about the head, and none dared stop him lest his anger go into his blood and at his age poison him. And the bumpkin stood it humbly, blubbering a little and sucking his teeth.

Then Ching moaned from the bed where he lay and Wang Lung threw down the umbrella and he cried out,

“Now this one will die while I am beating a fool!”

And he sat down beside Ching and took his hand and held it, and it was as light and dry and small as a withered oak leaf and it was not possible to believe that any blood ran through it, so dry and light and hot it was. But Ching’s face, which was pale and yellow every day, was now dark and spotted with his scanty blood, and his half-opened eyes were filmed and blind and his breath came in gusts. Wang Lung leaned down to him and said loudly in his ear,

“Here am I and I will buy you a coffin second to my father’s only!”

But Ching’s ear were filled with his blood, and if he heard Wang Lung he made no sign, but he only lay there panting and dying and so he died.

When he was dead Wang Lung leaned over him and he wept as he had not wept when his own father died, and he ordered a coffin of the best kind, and he hired priests for the funeral and he walked behind wearing white mourning. He made his eldest son, even, wear white bands on his ankles as though a relative had died, although his son complained and said,

“He was only an upper servant, and it is not suitable so to mourn for a servant”

But Wang Lung compelled him for three days. And if Wang Lung had had his way wholly, he would have buried Ching inside the earthen wall where his father and O-lan were buried. But his sons would not have it and they complained and said,

“Shall our mother and grandfather lie with a servant? And must we also in our time?”

Then Wang Lung, because he could not contend with them and because at his age he would have peace in his house, buried Ching at the entrance to the wall and he was comforted with what he had done, and he said,

“Well, and it is meet, for he has ever stood guardian to me against evil.” And he directed his sons that when he himself died he should lie nearest to Ching.

Then less than ever did Wang Lung go to see his lands, because now Ching was gone it stabbed him to go alone and he was weary of labor and his bones ached when he walked over the rough fields alone. So he rented out all his land that he could and men took it eagerly, for it was known to be good land. But Wang Lung would never talk of selling a foot of any piece, and he would only rent it for an agreed price for a year at a time. Thus he felt it all his own and still in his hand.

And he appointed one of the laborers and his wife and children to live in the country house and to care for the two old opium dreamers. Then seeing his youngest son’s wistful eyes, he said,

“Well, and you may come with me into the town, and I will take my fool with me too, and she can live in my court where I am. It is too lonely for you now that Ching is gone, and with him gone, I am not sure that they will be kind to the poor fool seeing there will be none to tell if she is beaten or ill fed. And there is no one now to teach you concerning the land, now that Ching is gone.”

So Wang Lung took his youngest son and his fool with him and thereafter he came scarcely at all for a long time to the house on his land.

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