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The Spirit Of The River






In a small village along the river Tsz lived a fisherman named Siu. He
started every night with his nets, and took very great care not to
forget to bring with him a small jar of spirits. Before throwing his
cast-net, he drank a small cup of the fragrant liquor and poured some
drops into the slow current, praying aloud:

"O Spirit-of-the-river, please accept these offerings and favour your
humble servant. I am poor and I must take some of the fishes that live
in your cold kingdom. Don't be angry against me and don't prevent the
eels and trouts coming to me!"

When every fisherman on the river brought back only one basket of
fishes, he always proudly bore home a heavy charge of two or three
baskets full to the brim.

Once, on a rosy dawn of early spring, when the sun, still below the
horizon, began to eat with its golden teeth the vanishing darkness, he
said aloud:

"O Spirit-of-the-river! For many years, every night I have drunk with
you a good number of wine-cups; but I never saw your face; won't you
favour me with your presence? We could sit together, and the pleasure of
drinking would be much greater."

Hardly had he finished these words when, from the middle of the stream,
emerged a beautiful young man clothed in pink, who slowly walked on the
smooth surface of the limpid water, and sat on the boat's end, saying:

"Here I am."

The fisherman, being half-drunk, was not troubled in any way; he bowed
to the young man, offered him, with his two hands, a cup of the strong
wine, and said:

"Well! I long wished to receive your instructions, and I am very glad to
see you. You must be mighty tired of living in that water; the few drops
of wine I pour every night are quite lost in such a quantity of
tasteless liquid. You had better come up every night; we will drink
together and enjoy each other's company."

From this day, when darkness closed in, the Spirit waited for the
fisherman and partook of his provisions. As soon as the sun rose above
the horizon he suddenly disappeared. The fisherman did not find that
very convenient; he asked his companion if he could not arrange to stay
with him sometimes in the daytime.

"Impossible; we can't do such a thing, we spirits and ghosts. We belong
to the kingdom of shadows. When the shadows, fighting the daylight,
bring with them the Night, we are free to go and wander about. But as
soon as the herald of the morn, the cock, has proclaimed the daily
victory of the sun, we are powerless and must disappear."

On the same day the fisherman was sitting on the bank, smoking a pipe
before going home with his baskets, when he saw a woman holding a child
in her arms and hastening along the river towards a ford some hundred
yards up stream. She was already in the water, when she missed her
footing, fell into the river, and was rolled away by the stream. The
child, by some happy chance, had fallen on the bank and lay there,
crying.

The fisherman could easily have gone in his boat and saved the woman,
who was still struggling to regain the bank, but he was a prudent man:

"This woman, whom I don't know, seems to be beautiful," thought he.
"Maybe it is my friend The-Spirit-of-the-river who has arranged all
this, and chosen the girl to be his wife. If I prevent her going down
to his cold lodgings, he will be angry and ruin my fishing. All I could
do is to adopt this boy until somebody comes and asks for him."

And he did not move, until the poor woman had disappeared in the yellow
stream; then he took the child. Once back in the village, he inquired
about the mother; nobody could tell who she was. The days passed and
nobody asked for the boy. This was strange enough, but, stranger still,
from this day the fisherman never saw The-Spirit-of-the-river again. He
offered him many cups of wine, and his fishing was as good as ever, but
though he prayed heartily, his companion of so many nights did not
appear any more.

When the boy was three years old he insisted on accompanying his adopted
father in his night fishing. Summer had come; the cold was no more to be
feared. The man consented to take his adopted son with him; they
started together in the twilight.

As soon as the darkness closed, the boy's voice changed; his appearance
was different.

"What a silly man you are!" said he. "Don't you know me now? For more
than two years I waited for an opportunity to tell you who I was. But
you always went out at night and you never came back before the sun was
high in the sky. You had never failed to present your offerings; so I
could not resist your prayer when you asked me to stay with you in the
daytime. Now, here I am, till your death; when the sun is up I shall
only be your son, but when the night closes I shall be your companion,
and we will enjoy together what longevity the Fate allows you."





Next: The-devils-of-the-ocean

Previous: The Mysterious Island



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