Chapter 20 continued

To get back to our story, we look in on Hu Yong'r just after she was beaten by her father and forced to hand over the book for burning. All alone she shed tears of sadness; Mama noticed and tried to comfort her. Next day the Squire went out again and once more Mama went next door to gossip. Yong'r then locked the front and back doors and sadly went back to her room to reflect. Why, a book like that couldn't be had for a fortune, she reckoned. That old woman had given it to her with all the best of intentions, and with the money and rice conjured up from it they had managed to live quite a few days without begging. She now realized that with daddy having burnt the book she would never find out what it had said in its later parts, and would never learn its important secret charms and skills. Then she remembered how the old woman had told her that when in danger she could just shout "Holy Auntie" and the woman would come straight away to guide her. And if she were indeed to come perhaps she'd have another copy of that book stored away to give her. Yong'r was just afraid that the appearance of the old woman might frighten Mama and reveal the secret, but nonetheless she tread into the courtyard and faced the sky, shouting "H-o-l-y A-u-n-t-i-e" in a husky voice. And sure enough there she was, bamboo cane in hand, lowering herself from a ceiling beam into one of the rooms without making a sound! Yong'r rushed in and greeted her with the customary blessings, and then related in its entirety the story of how her father had burnt the book.

"The book didn't really burn," said the woman; "I've got it on me now!" And then she slipped it sideways out of her sleeve, wrapped in its purple sack and completely unharmed.

Yong'r fell to her knees in awe. "My child!" said the woman, helping the girl to her feet, "I was your natural mother in a previous life of yours! I've come to give you the book out of pity for your suffering. If you want it you must never open or reveal it at home, and it must remain unused there. Here are my instructions to you. Get a lot of sleep today and store up your strength. Come nightfall don't undress but rather wait until after twilight when all is still and then listen for the sound of wings of the stork I'll be sending for you. Carefully leave your room and mount the stork, and ride it up to meet me. I'll then present the magic charms of that book for the second time, and you'll be back home by the drumming of the fifth watch, near dawn. When you've received the Way you'll find the vastness of its miraculous power and the total joy of the freedom it gives you to be beyond the power of words!"

"This is all so wonderful!" said Yong'r. "But I'm just afraid mom and dad will sense that I'm gone and come to check up on me. What can I say when I return at dawn?"

"This is simple!" said the woman, handing her bamboo cane to Yong'r. "My child, take this cane and hide it well, and when the time comes for you to leave this evening just put it in your bed under the quilt. When your mom and dad come to check it will look just as if you are sleep. This is a body substitution trick that the fairies use!"

Yong'r took hold of the cane and watched as the old woman flew up to the rafters and vanished. She was delighted and hid it under her mat, following the instructions to not undress. And sure enough, come twilight she heard the swoosh of wings. Reaching under the mat she took out the cane and placed it under her quilt, then carefully walked out into the courtyard where she saw a fairy crane waiting, dipping its neck invitingly. After climbing astride the bird's back she soared up into the sky, arriving in a short while at her destination. And there she saw the old woman already awaiting her, no longer made up in mufti but wearing a crown of stars atop her head, her body dressed in an overcoat trimmed with stork's down, ever so neat and handsome. One wave of her hand and that stork disappeared right up her sleeve, to be taken out again as a folded paper crane! Yong'r fell to her knees in terror.

"My child," said the old woman, helping her back to her feet, "put your fears to rest!" Yong'r sensed that she was standing in a very high place.

"Where am I?" she asked.

"This is the first level of the pagoda at the center of the Great Temple of the State, a place never visited by humans. Now at last I can teach you everything! First, let me instruct you in charms for concealing shape, so that you may enter through windows and cracks, passing in and out without need for doors. Next I'll teach you flight charms. You recite these when straddling a bench which will then perform magically as you desire, rising up and soaring into the sky. So every night you can enjoy the freedom and convenience of coming and going as you please!"

Now Yong'r was able to learn all of this magic and achieve a thorough understanding of that Ruyi Baoce between her arrival at sunset and departure at dawn. One reason was that she was so bright and clever, and another was that the magic charms were the end result of Holy Auntie's own laborious cultivation, all well known to her and taught so very efficiently.

Let's now put aside Yong'r and her study of secret lore for and get back to Squire Hu. When he burnt that book the pantry was stocked with rice and the bed full of money. Now as the ancients say, one eats proudly sitting on an open mountaintop, but standing ignominiously when trapped in an earthen pit! Time flew by little by little and and soon a fortnight had passed, and again they were running low on food and short on funds. And in a little while both were completely gone and they were missing meals again. When they tried begging they were coldly snubbed as before and once more had nothing to eat. Mama though wistfully of how Yong'r had conjured up money and rice and angrily scolded her husband with cold sarcasm and fiery abuse.

"You beat Yong'r and burnt up her book"! she shouted. "And now as a result you're starving to death and dragging us down with you in your misery! How can you be like this, starving in your own ricebin and demanding that your wife and daughter go hungry too"!

"I can't bear the way things have turned out either!" said the Squire. "Why are you tearing into me like this"?

"If only we can get a little food to eat life will hold out some hope for us. If you'd only beaten her she might still be able to make us some money or rice. But no, you had to go and burn that book of hers and so now we're at the end of our lives"!

"I realize I was wrong, a thousand times wrong. I should have known to save it for a time like this"!

"It's too late now!"

I'll just have to do some apologizing to our daughter. I think she may still remember a bit of it and maybe she'll be able to save us all by making another little batch of money and rice! Why don't you go ask her"?

"Ever since you beat her my daughter hasn't come near us. She just mopes darkly in her room all day and at night she sleeps just like a log, not even stirring in her dreams. Last night when I went to the toilet I noticed that the back door had been blown open by the wind and I was afraid she'd catch cold. When I lit up a lantern and went in for a look she was sleeping stiffly with the quilt pulled tight over her. No matter how you tug at her cover she won't even stir. Such a fine and bright daughter we had, struck dumb by a few blows of those stupid fists of yours!" And then she remembered about the book. "If you want to ask her something go in and do it yourself"! she continued. "I don't have that kind of crust"!

The Squire then strolled right into her room. "My daughter!" he said in a gently laughing voice. "Daddy just wants to ask if maybe you remember a bit of those secret formulas for making money and rice."

"Honest daddy"! answered Yong'r dreamily, "I don't!"

"My child! It's your own father and mother to be saved, not some strangers. Please, forgive your father's mistake"!

Yong'r remained silent even as Mama burst angrily into the room, grabbing the Squire by his tunic and shaking him with both hands. "Get out of here, you living corpse!" she shouted. She then approached her daughter. "Child!" she pleaded. "If you won't forgive father, please consider your poor old mother! For better or worse, please try to remember a bit of that magic and save at least your mother's life!"

"I'll never strike you again"! said the Squire.

"Oh, I've already forgotten all about that!" said Yong'r, flatly. I do recall a bit of the magic but I don't know if it'll really work. Daddy! Get a bench and sit down on it. I'll show you". Accordingly the Squire brought over a wooden bench and sat down astride it, just watching his daughter as she recited some poem and then shouted "To life"!. Suddenly that bench just rose up! Mama gasped once and went silent, simply dumbstruck. Why, the Squire's head was pressed up against the roofbeam! "H-e-l-p!" he screamed, but he was not to be brought down. If it weren't for the roof he'd have risen half way to Heaven! It was really just like this:

Not yet ready to extend that fairy's helping hand
First she had a little joke upon her father planned!

To see how Squire Hu at last comes down to earth again
In the coming chapter you will find out how and when!

Conclusion of Chapter 20 Click to Continue to Chapter 21 Table of Contents Homepage