Chinese Fairy Tales (H. Giles, 1920)/3
When I was a little boy, I went one day to the fair. There were crowds of people there, and the noise, with everyone talking at the top of their voices, drums beating, and music playing, was enough to make a man deaf. In the middle of it all, I saw a man suddenly walk into an open space. He was leading a boy by the hand, and cried out that he would do any trick anyone asked him to do. Now it was a cold day, with snow lying on the ground, and when one of the crowd asked him to get some peaches, the magician didn't seem to like the idea at all. He grumbled and grunted for a bit, but suddenly cheered up, and cried: "Done! Of course I can't get peaches here, in this frosty weather. But I know where they grow, up in the Great Sky Garden. We must try to fetch them from there." So saying, he took out of his box a huge ball of cord. He unfastened a good length of this, and threw it high into the air, where it seemed to hook on to something no one could see. Quickly the man unrolled and unrolled the ball, and all the time the end of the cord that was in the air kept on going higher and higher, till it reached the clouds, and went right out of sight. By this time only a short end of rope remained in the man's hand, and this he threw across to his son, telling him to go up it at once, as he himself was too heavy. The boy begged his father not to make him go, lest the rope should break, and he should fall from a height and get killed; but his father wouldn't listen to a word, and only told him to be quick about it. So up went the boy, hand over hand, until he too disappeared in the clouds.
A few minutes passed, while I, and all the people round, stood open-mouthed, looking upwards. Then, all of a sudden, down fell the hugest peach I have ever seen. It was quite as big as a basin. The father picked it up with a smiling face, and was just showing the men nearest him that it was a real peach, and inviting them to taste it, when down came the rope with a run, and fell, yards and yards of it, on the ground close to him. "Ai-yah! ai-yah!" he shrieked out, "what will my son do now? How will he get down?" The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when something else fell with a bang. It was the boy's head! Then the poor father began to weep, and tears ran down his cheeks. "The gardener up there must have caught him, poor lad. Why did I send him up? Why did you ask me for peaches? My poor boy, my poor boy, I shall never see you again." While he was speaking, and hugging the dead boy's head, first the arms, then the legs, and last of all, the body of the lad, fell down from the sky. We were all filled with horror at the sight, and the father, gathering the limbs together, put them and the head into his box, and turned to us, saying, "He was my only son. Wherever I used to go, he went. Now I am left alone, to bury him. He lost his life for your peach; will you not give me some money to help pay for his funeral?" By this time nearly everyone was snuffling or actually weeping outright, and as the father went round, most of us emptied our pockets into his hands. When he had got the money, the father went back to the box, which was lying on the ground, and rapped on it hard. "Sonny, sonny!" he called out, "why don't you come and thank these gentlemen for the money?"
From the inside of the box I heard, quite clearly, a thump. The lid opened by itself, and out jumped the boy, alive and well. The next moment both he and his father had disappeared in the crowd.