34

Then as autumn flares with the false heat of summer before it dies into the winter, so with the quick love Wang Lung had for Pear Blossom. The brief heat of it passed and passion died out of him; he was fond of her, but passionless.

With the passing of the flame out of him he was suddenly cold with an age and he was an old man. Nevertheless, he was fond of her, and it was a comfort to him that she was in his court and she served him faithfully and with a patience beyond her years, and he was always kind to her with a perfect kindness, and more and more his love for her was the love of father for daughter.

And for his sake she was even kind to his poor fool and this was comfort to him, so that one day he told her what had long been in his mind. Now Wang Lung had thought many times of what would come to his poor fool when he was dead and there was not another one except himself who cared whether she lived or starved, and so he had bought a little bundle of white poisonous stuff at the medicine shop, and he had said to himself that he would give it to his fool to eat when he saw his own death was near. But still he dreaded this more than the hour of his own death, and it was a comfort to him now when he saw Pear Blossom was faithful.

So he called her to him one day and he said,

“There is none other but you to whom I can leave this poor fool of mine when I am gone, and she will live on and on after me, seeing that her mind has no troubles of its own, and she has nothing to kill her and no trouble to worry her. And well I know that no one will trouble when I am gone to feed her or to bring her out of the rain and the cold of winter or to set her in the summer sun, and she will be sent out to wander on the street, perhaps—this poor thing who has had care all her life from her mother and from me. Now here is a gate of safety for her in this packet, and when I die, after I am dead, you are to mix it in her rice and let her eat it, that she may follow me where I am. And so shall I be at ease.”

But Pear Blossom shrank from the thing he held in his hand and she said in her soft way,

“I can scarcely kill an insect and how could I take this life? No, my lord, but I will take this poor fool for mine because you have been kind to me—kinder than any in all my life, and the only kind one.”

And Wang Lung could have wept for what she said because not one had ever requited him like this, and his heart clung to her and he said,

“Nevertheless, take it, my child, for there is none I trust as I do you, but even you must die one day—although I cannot say the words—and after you there is none—no, not one—and well I know my sons’ wives are too busy with their children and their quarrels and my sons are men and cannot think of such things.”

So when she saw his meaning, Pear Blossom took the packet from him and said no more and Wang Lung trusted her and was comforted for the fate of his poor fool.

Then Wang Lung withdrew more and more into his age and he lived much alone except for these two in his courts, his poor fool and Pear Blossom. Sometimes he roused himself a little and he looked at Pear Blossom and he was troubled and said,

“It is too quiet a life for you, my child.”

But she always answered gently and in great gratitude,

“It is quiet and safe.”

And sometimes he said again,

“I am too old for you, and my fires are ashes.”

But she always answered with a great thankfulness,

“You are kind to me and more I do not desire of any man.”

Once when she said this Wang Lung was curious and he asked her,

“What was it in your tender years that made you thus fearful of men?”

And looking at her for answer he saw a great terror in her eyes and she covered them with her hands and she whispered,

“Every man I hate except you—I have hated every man, even my father who sold me. I have heard only evil of them and I hate them all.”

And he said wondering,

“Now I should have said you had lived quietly and easily in my courts.”

“I am filled with loathing,*” she said, looking away, “I am filled with loathing and I hate them all. I hate all young men.”

And she would say nothing more, and he mused on it, and he did not know whether Lotus had filled her with tales of her life and had threatened her, or whether Cuckoo had frightened her with lewdness, or whether something had befallen her secretly that she would not tell him, or what it was.

But he sighed and gave over his questions, because above everything now he would have peace, and he wished only to sit in his court near these two.

So Wang Lung sat, and so his age came on him day by day and year by year, and he slept fitfully in the sun as his father had done, and he said to himself that his life was done and he was satisfied with it.

Sometimes, but seldom, he went into the other courts and sometimes, but more seldom, he saw Lotus, and she never mentioned the maid he had taken, but she greeted him well enough and she was old too and satisfied with the food and the wine she loved and with the silver she had for the asking. She and Cuckoo sat together now after these many years as friends and no longer as mistress and servant, and they talked of this and that, and most of all the old days with men and they whispered together of things they would not speak aloud, and they ate and drank and slept, and woke to gossip again before eating and drinking.

And when Wang Lung went, and it was very seldom, into his sons’ courts, they treated him courteously and they ran to get tea for him and he asked to see the last child and he asked many times, for he forgot easily,

“How many grandchildren have I now?”

And one answered him readily,

“Eleven sons and eight daughters have your sons together.”

And he, chuckling and laughing, said back,

“Add two each year, and I know the number, is it so?”

Then he would sit a little while and look at the children gathering around him to stare. His grandsons were tall lads now, and he looked at them, peering at them to see what they were, and he muttered to himself,

“Now that one has the look of his great-grandfather and there is a small merchant Liu, and here is myself when young.”

And he asked them,

“Do you go to school?”

“Yes, grandfather,” they answered in a scattered chorus, and he said again,

“Do you study the Four Books?”

Then they laughed with clear young scorn at a man so old as this and they said,

“No, grandfather, and no one studies the Four Books since the Revolution.”

And he answered, musing,

“Ah, I have heard of a Revolution, but I have been too busy in my life to attend to it. There was always the land.”

But the lads snickered at this, and at last Wang Lung rose, feeling himself after all but a guest in his sons’ courts.

Then after a time he went no more to see his sons, but sometimes he would ask Cuckoo,

“And are my two daughters-in-law at peace after all these years?”

And Cuckoo spat upon the ground and she said,

“Those? They are at peace like two cats eyeing each other. But the eldest son wearies of his wife’s complaints of this and that—too proper a woman for a man, she is, and always talking of what they did in the house of her father, and she wearies a man. There is talk of his taking another. He goes often to the tea shops.”

“Ah?” said Wang Lung.

But when he would have thought of it his interest in the matter waned and before he knew it he was thinking of his tea and that the young spring wind smote cold upon his shoulders.

And another time he said to Cuckoo,

“Does any ever hear from that youngest son of mine where he is gone this long time?”

And Cuckoo answered, for there was nothing she did not know in these courts,

“Well, and he does not write a letter, but now and then one comes from the south and it is said he is a military official and great enough in a thing they call a Revolution there, but what it is I do not know—perhaps some sort of business.”

And again Wang Lung said, “Ah?”

And he would have thought of ft, but the evening was falling and his bones ached in the air left raw and chill when the sun withdrew. For his mind now went where it would and he could not hold it long to any one thing. And the needs of his old body for food and for hot tea were more keen than for anything. But at night when he was cold, Pear Blossom lay warm and young against him and he was comforted in his age with her warmth in his bed.

Thus spring wore on again and again and vaguely and more vaguely as these years passed he felt it coming. But still one thing remained to him and it was his love for his land. He had gone away from it and he had set up his house in a town and he was rich. But his roots were in his land and although he forgot it for many months together, when spring came each year he must go out on to the land; and now although he could no longer hold a plow or do anything but see another drive the plow through the earth, still he must needs go and he went. Sometimes he took a servant and his bed and he slept again in the old earthen house and in the old bed where he had begotten children and where O-lan had died. When he woke in the dawn he went out and with his trembling hands he reached and plucked a bit of budding willow and a spray of peach bloom and held them all day in his hand.

Thus he wandered one day in a late spring, near summer, and he went over his fields a little way and he came to the enclosed place upon a low hill where he had buried his dead. He stood trembling on his staff and he looked at the graves and he remembered them every one. They were more clear to him now than the sons who lived in his own house, more clear to him than anyone except his poor fool and except Pear Blossom. And his mind went back many years and he saw it all clearly, even his little second daughter of whom he had heard nothing for longer than he could remember, and he saw her a pretty maid as she had been in his house, her lips as thin and red as a shred of silk—and she was to him like these who lay here in the land. Then he mused and he thought suddenly,

“Well, and I shall be the next”

Then he went into the enclosure and he looked carefully and he saw the place where he would lie below his father and his uncle and above Ching and not far from O-lan. And he stared at the bit of earth where he was to lie and he saw himself in it and back in his own land forever. And he muttered,

“I must see to the coffin.”

This thought he held fast and painfully in his mind and he went back to the town and he sent for his eldest son, and he said,

“There is something I have to say.”

“Then say on,” answered the son, “I am here.”

But when Wang Lung would have said he suddenly could not remember what it was, and the tears stood in his eyes because he had held the matter so painfully in his mind and now it had slipped wilfully away from him. So he called Pear Blossom and he said to her,

“Child, what was it I wanted to say?”

And Pear Blossom answered gently,

“Where were you this day?”

“I was upon the land,” Wang Lung replied, waiting, his eyes fixed on her face.

And she asked gently again,

“On what piece of land?”

Then suddenly the thing flew into his mind again and he cried, laughing out of his wet eyes,

“Well, and I do remember. My son, I have chosen my place in the earth, and it is below my father and his brother and above your mother and next to Ching, and I would see my coffin before I die.”

Then Wang Lung’s eldest son cried out dutifully and properly,

“Do not say that word, my father, but I will do as you say.”

Then his son bought a carved coffin hewn from a great log of fragrant wood which is used to bury the dead in and for nothing else because that wood is as lasting as iron, and more lasting than human bones, and Wang Lung was comforted.

And he had the coffin brought into his room and he looked at it every day.

Then all of a sudden he thought of something and he said,

“Well, and I would have it moved out to the earthen house and there I will live out my few days and there I will die.”

And when they saw how he had set his heart they did what he wished and he went back to the house on his land, he and Pear Blossom and the fool, and what servants they needed; and Wang Lung took up his abode again on his land, and he left the house in the town to the family he had founded.

Spring passed and summer passed into harvest and in the hot autumn sun before winter comes Wang Lung sat where his father had sat against the wall. And he thought no more about anything now except his food and his drink and his land. But of his land he thought no more what harvest it would bring or what seed would be planted or of anything except of the land itself, and he stooped sometimes and gathered some of the earth up in his hand and he sat thus and held it in his hand, and it seemed full of life between his fingers. And he was content, holding it thus, and he thought of it fitfully and of his good coffin that was there; and the kind earth waited without haste until he came to it.

His sons were proper enough to him and they came to him every day or at most once in two days, and they sent him delicate food fit for his age, but he liked best to have one stir up meal in hot water and sup it as his father had done.

Sometimes he complained a little of his sons if they came not every day and he said to Pear Blossom, who was always near him,

“Well, and what are they so busy about?”

But if Pear Blossom said, “They are in the prime of life and now they have many affairs. Your eldest son has been made an officer in the town among the rich men, and he has a new wife, and your second son is setting up a great grain market for himself,” Wang Lung listened to her, but he could not comprehend all this and he forgot it as soon as he looked out over his land.

But one day he saw clearly for a little while. It was a day on which his two sons had come and after they had greeted him courteously they went out and they walked about the house on to the land. Now Wang Lung followed them silently, and they stood, and he came up to them slowly, and they did not hear the sound of his footsteps nor the sound of his staff on the soft earth, and Wang Lung heard his second son say in his mincing voice,

“This field we will sell and this one, and we will divide the money between us evenly. Your share I will borrow at good interest, for now with the railroad straight through I can ship rice to the sea and I…”

But the old man heard only these words, “sell the land,” and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger,

“Now, evil, idle sons—sell the land!” He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up, and he began to weep.

Then they soothed him and they said, soothing him,

“No—no—we will never sell the land—”

“It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land—”

And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered,

“If you sell the land, it is the end.”

And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over, the elder son and the second son,

“Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”

But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

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