A Chinese Wonder Book


The Golden Beetle or Why the Dog Hates the Cat

“What we shall eat to-morrow, I haven’t the slightest idea!” said Widow

Wang to her eldest son, as he started out one morning in search of work.

“Oh, the gods will provide. I’ll find a few coppers somewhere,” replied

the boy, trying to speak cheerfully, although in his heart he also had

not the slightest idea in which direction to turn.

The winter had been a hard one: extreme cold, deep snow, and violent

winds. The Wang house had suffered greatly. The roof had fallen in,

weighed down by heavy snow. Then a hurricane had blown a wall over, and

Ming-li, the son, up all night and exposed to a bitter cold wind, had

caught pneumonia. Long days of illness followed, with the spending of

extra money for medicine. All their scant savings had soon melted away,

and at the shop where Ming-li had been employed his place was filled by

another. When at last he arose from his sick-bed he was too weak for

hard labour and there seemed to be no work in the neighbouring villages

for him to do. Night after night he came home, trying not to be

discouraged, but in his heart feeling the deep pangs of sorrow that come

to the good son who sees his mother suffering for want of food and

clothing.

“Bless his good heart!” said the poor widow after he had gone. “No

mother ever had a better boy. I hope he is right in saying the gods will

provide. It has been getting so much worse these past few weeks that it

seems now as if my stomach were as empty as a rich man’s brain. Why,

even the rats have deserted our cottage, and there’s nothing left for

poor Tabby, while old Blackfoot is nearly dead from starvation.”

When the old woman referred to the sorrows of her pets, her

remarks were answered by a pitiful mewing and woebegone barking

from the corner where the two unfed creatures were curled up together

trying to keep warm.

Just then there was a loud knocking at the gate. When the widow Wang

called out, “Come in!” she was surprised to see an old bald-headed

priest standing in the doorway. “Sorry, but we have nothing,” she went

on, feeling sure the visitor had come in search of food. “We have fed on

scraps these two weeks–on scraps and scrapings–and now we are living

on the memories of what we used to have when my son’s father was living.

Our cat was so fat she couldn’t climb to the roof. Now look at her. You

can hardly see her, she’s so thin. No, I’m sorry we can’t help you,

friend priest, but you see how it is.”

“I didn’t come for alms,” cried the clean-shaven one, looking at her

kindly, “but only to see what I could do to help you. The gods have

listened long to the prayers of your devoted son. They honour him

because he has not waited till you die to do sacrifice for you. They

have seen how faithfully he has served you ever since his illness, and

now, when he is worn out and unable to work, they are resolved to reward

him for his virtue. You likewise have been a good mother and shall

receive the gift I am now bringing.”

“What do you mean?” faltered Mrs. Wang, hardly believing her ears at

hearing a priest speak of bestowing mercies. “Have you come here to

laugh at our misfortunes?”

“By no means. Here in my hand I hold a tiny golden beetle which you will

find has a magic power greater than any you ever dreamed of. I will

leave this precious thing with you, a present from the god of filial

conduct.”

“Yes, it will sell for a good sum,” murmured the other, looking closely

at the trinket, “and will give us millet for several days. Thanks, good

priest, for your kindness.”

“But you must by no means sell this golden beetle, for it has the power

to fill your stomachs as long as you live.”

The widow stared in open-mouthed wonder at the priest’s surprising

words.

“Yes, you must not doubt me, but listen carefully to what I tell you.

Whenever you wish food, you have only to place this ornament in a kettle

of boiling water, saying over and over again the names of what you want

to eat. In three minutes take off the lid, and there will be your

dinner, smoking hot, and cooked more perfectly than any food you have

ever eaten.”

“May I try it now?” she asked eagerly.

“As soon as I am gone.”

When the door was shut, the old woman hurriedly kindled a fire, boiled

some water, and then dropped in the golden beetle, repeating these words

again and again:

  “Dumplings, dumplings, come to me,

   I am thin as thin can be.

   Dumplings, dumplings, smoking hot,

   Dumplings, dumplings, fill the pot.”

Would those three minutes never pass? Could the priest have told the

truth? Her old head was nearly wild with excitement as clouds of steam

rose from the kettle. Off came the lid! She could wait no longer. Wonder

of wonders! There before her unbelieving eyes was a pot, full to the

brim of pork dumplings, dancing up and down in the bubbling water, the

best, the most delicious dumplings she had ever tasted. She ate and ate

till there was no room left in her greedy stomach, and then she feasted

the cat and the dog until they were ready to burst.

“Good fortune has come at last,” whispered Blackfoot, the dog, to

Whitehead, the cat, as they lay down to sun themselves outside. “I fear

I couldn’t have held out another week without running away to look for

food. I don’t know just what’s happened, but there’s no use questioning

the gods.”

Mrs. Wang fairly danced for joy at the thought of her son’s return and

of how she would feast him.

“Poor boy, how surprised he will be at our fortune–and it’s all on

account of his goodness to his old mother.”

When Ming-li came, with a dark cloud overhanging his brow, the widow saw

plainly that disappointment was written there.

“Come, come, lad!” she cried cheerily, “clear up your face and smile,

for the gods have been good to us and I shall soon show you how richly

your devotion has been rewarded.” So saying, she dropped the golden

beetle into the boiling water and stirred up the fire.

Thinking his mother had gone stark mad for want of food, Ming-li stared

solemnly at her. Anything was preferable to this misery. Should he sell

his last outer garment for a few pennies and buy millet for her?

Blackfoot licked his hand comfortingly, as if to say, “Cheer up, master,

fortune has turned in our favour.” Whitehead leaped upon a bench,

purring like a sawmill.

Ming-li did not have long to wait. Almost in the twinkling of an eye he

heard his mother crying out,

“Sit down at the table, son, and eat these dumplings while they are

smoking hot.”

Could he have heard correctly? Did his ears deceive him? No, there on

the table was a huge platter full of the delicious pork dumplings he

liked better than anything else in all the world, except, of course, his

mother.

“Eat and ask no questions,” counselled the Widow Wang. “When you are

satisfied I will tell you everything.”

Wise advice! Very soon the young man’s chopsticks were twinkling like

a little star in the verses. He ate long and happily, while his good

mother watched him, her heart overflowing with joy at seeing him at last

able to satisfy his hunger. But still the old woman could hardly wait

for him to finish, she was so anxious to tell him her wonderful secret.

“Here, son!” she cried at last, as he began to pause between mouthfuls,

“look at my treasure!” And she held out to him the golden beetle.

“First tell me what good fairy of a rich man has been filling our hands

with silver?”

“That’s just what I am trying to tell you,” she laughed, “for there was

a fairy here this afternoon sure enough, only he was dressed like a bald

priest. That golden beetle is all he gave me, but with it comes a secret

worth thousands of cash to us.”

The youth fingered the trinket idly, still doubting his senses, and

waiting impatiently for the secret of his delicious dinner. “But,

mother, what has this brass bauble to do with the dumplings, these

wonderful pork dumplings, the finest I ever ate?”

“Baubles indeed! Brass! Fie, fie, my boy! You little know what you are

saying. Only listen and you shall hear a tale that will open your eyes.”

She then told him what had happened, and ended by setting all of the

left-over dumplings upon the floor for Blackfoot and Whitehead, a thing

her son had never seen her do before, for they had been miserably poor

and had had to save every scrap for the next meal.

Now began a long period of perfect happiness. Mother, son, dog and

cat–all enjoyed themselves to their hearts’ content. All manner of new

foods such as they had never tasted were called forth from the pot by

the wonderful little beetle. Bird-nest soup, shark’s fins, and a hundred

other delicacies were theirs for the asking, and soon Ming-li regained

all his strength, but, I fear, at the same time grew somewhat lazy, for

it was no longer necessary for him to work. As for the two animals, they

became fat and sleek and their hair grew long and glossy.

[Illustration: “HERE SON!” SHE CRIED, “HAVE A LOOK AT MY TREASURE!”]

But alas! according to a Chinese proverb, pride invites sorrow. The

little family became so proud of their good fortune that they began to

ask friends and relatives to dinner that they might show off their good

meals. One day a Mr. and Mrs. Chu came from a distant village. They were

much astonished at seeing the high style in which the Wangs lived. They

had expected a beggar’s meal, but went away with full stomachs.

“It’s the best stuff I ever ate,” said Mr. Chu, as they entered their

own tumble-down house.

“Yes, and I know where it came from,” exclaimed his wife. “I saw Widow

Wang take a little gold ornament out of the pot and hide it in a

cupboard. It must be some sort of charm, for I heard her mumbling to

herself about pork and dumplings just as she was stirring up the fire.”

“A charm, eh? Why is it that other people have all the luck? It looks as

if we were doomed forever to be poor.”

“Why not borrow Mrs. Wang’s charm for a few days until we can pick up a

little flesh to keep our bones from clattering? Turn about’s fair play.

Of course, we’ll return it sooner or later.”

“Doubtless they keep very close watch over it. When would you find them

away from home, now that they don’t have to work any more? As their

house only contains one room, and that no bigger than ours, it would be

difficult to borrow this golden trinket. It is harder, for more reasons

than one, to steal from a beggar than from a king.”

“Luck is surely with us,” cried Mrs. Chu, clapping her hands. “They are

going this very day to the Temple fair. I overheard Mrs. Wang tell her

son that he must not forget he was to take her about the middle of the

afternoon. I will slip back then and borrow the little charm from the

box in which she hid it.”

“Aren’t you afraid of Blackfoot?”

“Pooh! he’s so fat he can do nothing but roll. If the widow comes back

suddenly, I’ll tell her I came to look for my big hair-pin, that I lost

it while I was at dinner.”

“All right, go ahead, only of course we must remember we’re borrowing

the thing, not stealing it, for the Wangs have always been good friends

to us, and then, too, we have just dined with them.”

So skilfully did this crafty woman carry out her plans that within an

hour she was back in her own house, gleefully showing the priest’s charm

to her husband. Not a soul had seen her enter the Wang house. The dog

had made no noise, and the cat had only blinked her surprise at seeing a

stranger and had gone to sleep again on the floor.

Great was the clamour and weeping when, on returning from the fair in

expectation of a hot supper, the widow found her treasure missing. It

was long before she could grasp the truth. She went back to the little

box in the cupboard ten times before she could believe it was empty, and

the room looked as if a cyclone had struck it, so long and carefully did

the two unfortunates hunt for the lost beetle.

Then came days of hunger which were all the harder to bear since the

recent period of good food and plenty. Oh, if they had only not got used

to such dainties! How hard it was to go back to scraps and scrapings!

But if the widow and her son were sad over the loss of the good meals,

the two pets were even more so. They were reduced to beggary and had to

go forth daily upon the streets in search of stray bones and refuse that

decent dogs and cats turned up their noses at.

One day, after this period of starvation had been going on for some

time, Whitehead began suddenly to frisk about in great excitement.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” growled Blackfoot. “Are you mad from

hunger, or have you caught another flea?”

“I was just thinking over our affairs, and now I know the cause of all

our trouble.”

“Do you indeed?” sneered Blackfoot.

“Yes, I do indeed, and you’d better think twice before you mock me, for

I hold your future in my paw, as you will very soon see.”

“Well, you needn’t get angry about nothing. What wonderful discovery

have you made–that every rat has one tail?”

“First of all, are you willing to help me bring good fortune back to our

family?”

“Of course I am. Don’t be silly,” barked the dog, wagging his tail

joyfully at the thought of another good dinner. “Surely! surely! I will

do anything you like if it will bring Dame Fortune back again.”

“All right. Here is the plan. There has been a thief in the house who

has stolen our mistress’s golden beetle. You remember all our big

dinners that came from the pot? Well, every day I saw our mistress take

a little golden beetle out of the black box and put it into the pot. One

day she held it up before me, saying, ‘Look, puss, there is the cause of

all our happiness. Don’t you wish it was yours?’ Then she laughed and

put it back into the box that stays in the cupboard.”

“Is that true?” questioned Blackfoot. “Why didn’t you say something

about it before?”

“You remember the day Mr. and Mrs. Chu were here, and how Mrs. Chu

returned in the afternoon after master and mistress had gone to the

fair? I saw her, out of the tail of my eye, go to that very black box

and take out the golden beetle. I thought it curious, but never dreamed

she was a thief. Alas! I was wrong! She took the beetle, and if I am not

mistaken, she and her husband are now enjoying the feasts that belong

to us.”

“Let’s claw them,” growled Blackfoot, gnashing his teeth.

“That would do no good,” counselled the other, “for they would be sure

to come out best in the end. We want the beetle back–that’s the main

thing. We’ll leave revenge to human beings; it is none of our business.”

“What do you suggest?” said Blackfoot. “I am with you through thick and

thin.”

“Let’s go to the Chu house and make off with the beetle.”

“Alas, that I am not a cat!” moaned Blackfoot. “If we go there I

couldn’t get inside, for robbers always keep their gates well locked. If

I were like you I could scale the wall. It is the first time in all my

life I ever envied a cat.”

“We will go together,” continued Whitehead. “I will ride on your back

when we are fording the river, and you can protect me from strange

animals. When we get to the Chu house, I will climb over the wall and

manage the rest of the business myself. Only you must wait outside to

help me to get home with the prize.”

No sooner arranged than done. The companions set out that very night on

their adventure. They crossed the river as the cat had suggested, and

Blackfoot really enjoyed the swim, for, as he said, it took him back to

his puppyhood, while the cat did not get a single drop of water on her

face. It was midnight when they reached the Chu house.

“Just wait till I return,” purred Whitehead in Blackfoot’s ear.

With a mighty spring she reached the top of the mud wall, and then

jumped down to the inside court. While she was resting in the shadow,

trying to decide just how to go about her work, a slight rustling

attracted her attention, and pop! one giant spring, one stretch-out of

the claws, and she had caught a rat that had just come out of his hole

for a drink and a midnight walk.

Now, Whitehead was so hungry that she would have made short work of this

tempting prey if the rat had not opened its mouth and, to her amazement,

begun to talk in good cat dialect.

“Pray, good puss, not so fast with your sharp teeth! Kindly be careful

with your claws! Don’t you know it is the custom now to put prisoners on

their honour? I will promise not to run away.”

“Pooh! what honour has a rat?”

“Most of us haven’t much, I grant you, but my family was brought up

under the roof of Confucius, and there we picked up so many crumbs of

wisdom that we are exceptions to the rule. If you will spare me, I will

obey you for life, in fact, will be your humble slave.” Then, with a

quick jerk, freeing itself, “See, I am loose now, but honour holds me as

if I were tied, and so I make no further attempt to get away.”

“Much good it would do you,” purred Whitehead, her fur crackling

noisily, and her mouth watering for a taste of rat steak. “However,

I am quite willing to put you to the test. First, answer a few polite

questions and I will see if you’re a truthful fellow. What kind of food

is your master eating now, that you should be so round and plump when

I am thin and scrawny?”

“Oh, we have been in luck lately, I can tell you. Master and mistress

feed on the fat of the land, and of course we hangers-on get the

crumbs.”

“But this is a poor tumble-down house. How can they afford such eating?”

“That is a great secret, but as I am in honour bound to tell you, here

goes. My mistress has just obtained in some manner or other, a fairy’s

charm—-“

“She stole it from our place,” hissed the cat, “I will claw her eyes out

if I get the chance. Why, we’ve been fairly starving for want of that

beetle. She stole it from us just after she had been an invited guest!

What do you think of that for honour, Sir Rat? Were your mistress’s

ancestors followers of the sage?”

“Oh, oh, oh! Why, that explains everything!” wailed the rat. “I have

often wondered how they got the golden beetle, and yet of course I dared

not ask any questions.”

“No, certainly not! But hark you, friend rat–you get that golden

trinket back for me, and I will set you free at once of all obligations.

Do you know where she hides it?”

“Yes, in a crevice where the wall is broken. I will bring it to you in

a jiffy, but how shall we exist when our charm is gone? There will be

a season of scanty food, I fear; beggars’ fare for all of us.”

“Live on the memory of your good deed,” purred the cat. “It is splendid,

you know, to be an honest beggar. Now scoot! I trust you completely,

since your people lived in the home of Confucius. I will wait here for

your return. Ah!” laughed Whitehead to herself, “luck seems to be coming

our way again!”

Five minutes later the rat appeared, bearing the trinket in its mouth.

It passed the beetle over to the cat, and then with a whisk was off for

ever. Its honour was safe, but it was afraid of Whitehead. It had seen

the gleam of desire in her green eyes, and the cat might have broken her

word if she had not been so anxious to get back home where her mistress

could command the wonderful kettle once more to bring forth food.

The two adventurers reached the river just as the sun was rising above

the eastern hills.

“Be careful,” cautioned Blackfoot, as the cat leaped upon his back for

her ride across the stream, “be careful not to forget the treasure. In

short, remember that even though you are a female, it is necessary to

keep your mouth closed till we reach the other side.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think I need your advice,” replied Whitehead,

picking up the beetle and leaping on to the dog’s back.

But alas! just as they were nearing the farther shore, the excited cat

forgot her wisdom for a moment. A fish suddenly leaped out of the water

directly under her nose. It was too great a temptation. Snap! went her

jaws in a vain effort to land the scaly treasure, and the golden beetle

sank to the bottom of the river.

“There!” said the dog angrily, “what did I tell you? Now all our trouble

has been in vain–all on account of your stupidity.”

For a time there was a bitter dispute, and the companions called each

other some very bad names–such as turtle and rabbit. Just as they were

starting away from the river, disappointed and discouraged, a friendly

frog who had by chance heard their conversation offered to fetch the

treasure from the bottom of the stream. No sooner said than done, and

after thanking this accommodating animal profusely, they turned homeward

once more.

When they reached the cottage the door was shut, and, bark as he would,

Blackfoot could not persuade his master to open it. There was the sound

of loud wailing inside.

“Mistress is broken-hearted,” whispered the cat, “I will go to her and

make her happy.”

So saying, she sprang lightly through a hole in the paper window, which,

alas! was too small and too far from the ground for the faithful dog to

enter.

A sad sight greeted the gaze of Whitehead. The son was lying on the bed

unconscious, almost dead for want of food, while his mother, in despair,

was rocking backwards and forwards wringing her wrinkled hands and

crying at the top of her voice for some one to come and save them.

“Here I am, mistress,” cried Whitehead, “and here is the treasure you

are weeping for. I have rescued it and brought it back to you.”

The widow, wild with joy at sight of the beetle, seized the cat in her

scrawny arms and hugged the pet tightly to her bosom.

“Breakfast, son, breakfast! Wake up from your swoon! Fortune has come

again. We are saved from starvation!”

Soon a steaming hot meal was ready, and you may well imagine how the old

woman and her son, heaping praises upon Whitehead, filled the beast’s

platter with good things, but never a word did they say of the faithful

dog, who remained outside sniffing the fragrant odours and waiting in

sad wonder, for all this time the artful cat had said nothing of

Blackfoot’s part in the rescue of the golden beetle.

At last, when breakfast was over, slipping away from the others,

Whitehead jumped out through the hole in the window.

“Oh, my dear Blackfoot,” she began laughingly, “you should have been

inside to see what a feast they gave me! Mistress was so delighted at

my bringing back her treasure that she could not give me enough to eat,

nor say enough kind things about me. Too bad, old fellow, that you are

hungry. You’d better run out into the street and hunt up a bone.”

Maddened by the shameful treachery of his companion, the enraged dog

sprang upon the cat and in a few seconds had shaken her to death.

“So dies the one who forgets a friend and who loses honour,” he cried

sadly, as he stood over the body of his companion.

Rushing out into the street, he proclaimed the treachery of Whitehead

to the members of his tribe, at the same time advising that all

self-respecting dogs should from that time onwards make war upon the

feline race.

And that is why the descendants of old Blackfoot, whether in China or

in the great countries of the West, have waged continual war upon the

children and grandchildren of Whitehead, for a thousand generations of

dogs have fought them and hated them with a great and lasting hatred.

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