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xlwoo
September 7th, 2015, 01:46 PM
Chapter 15

Although Linda could swim in the sea when back in America, now she could not cope with the rapid torrent of the Yangtze River and lost her consciousness at last.
When she came to, she felt like she was lying in a cradle. She found that it was a boat rocking with the waves. At first she thought she had been pulled out of water by the yamen bailiffs and had been sleeping in her own bed, but after a careful survey, she knew that she was wrong. It was another boat and from the smell it seemed to be a fishing boat. She fell asleep again.
When it dawned, an old woman came into the cabin to check on Linda, who just woke up.
“How you feeling?” The old woman asked, dressed in coarse clothes.
“I’m fine, thank you.” Linda replied. “Where am I now?”
“Forgot to take up our fishing net last night. You got yourself in it. We already asleep, when felt the boat stir, got up to check. Thought it’s a big fish, but when pulled up the net, it’s you in it.”
Linda knew that she had been saved by the woman, perhaps together with her husband. So she thanked her once more and got on her feet from the bed. She followed the old woman out of the inner cabin to the outer one. There was an old man sitting at a table. It was the husband. They invited her to sit down and the woman served breakfast. Generally the Chinese breakfast was rice porridge. But Linda was used to it now. She had had it when living with the eunuch.
The old couple owned the fishing boat, which was like a mobile home for them. When they caught fish, they would row the boat to the nearest town for sale and bought all the necessities. Then they would return to where they always anchored. The place was near a village, where they had been born and had so many relatives and friends.
Now Linda lived with them happily. Everyday she helped the old woman with cooking and cleaning, and when the net was full of fish, she would lend the old man a hand to pull the net up and put the fish in the hull. The old couple loved her very much and looked upon her as their daughter.
One day, it was the dragon-boat festival. There was a boat race on the river. The old couple took Linda there in their boat and cast anchor near the bank, on which already so many people stood watching. There was an acrobatic performance before the race. A colossal boat served as the stage. The acrobats showed their feats on the mast and on the dragon head. A female performer stood on one leg on the top of the mast, the other leg lifted high in the air and on her toes stood upright a stick with a plate rotating on it. She also held two sticks separately in her hands, with rotating plates. On her head balanced a set of bowls. In the top bowl stuck out a crimson rose.
The performance went on for two hours with only a short break in between. The race started almost at noon. Every rich family in this district had a dragon-boat built and took part in the annual race. Men were hired and trained to row the boat. On the bow just behind the dragon’s head there were a big gong and a big drum, which would sound continuously during the race. Two more men were hired for that. When the boats approached the finis line, the race reached its climax. People’s shouting mixed with the sound of the gongs and drums almost deafened Linda’s ears. One boat darted forth and crossed the finis line. Linda could not recognize whose boat it was.
"The Li’s family won this year." The old man told Linda. The old man regularly sold fish to Li’s family and so he was excited for them.
In the capital, the head eunuch returned the special bronze mirror he had stolen to the storage room. Since he was a favorite with the empress dowager, who asked the emperor to pardon him, the emperor had him released from the prison, and furthermore, gave him back his properties that had been confiscated.
Now the head eunuch was his old self anew and then he thought of Linda and his son. Of course Linda and the boy were also pardoned and should not be exiled. Therefore, the head eunuch, with the consent from the emperor, sent out someone with official document to the place where Linda was supposed to be banished. However, when the man reached there, the official in charge of the exiled people received him and said that they had never reported to him. He added, “Maybe, they are still on the way as they don’t have time limit.” It must be true. So the man rode back to report to the head eunuch. Then a public declaration was made that Linda and the boy were pardoned, no need to go to the place of exile any more. They should return to the capital now.
This message was sent to every local government. Then the two yamen bailiffs learned it because they must report to the local government every time they wanted to pass the night in the government lodging house for free. Therefore, they returned to the capital with the boy.
Since they lost Linda, they were afraid to see the head eunuch, but they had to for two reasons. First, they should give the boy to him. Second, they must explain to him in person how they had lost the girl. As it was not really their fault that Linda fell into the water, the head eunuch did not blame them. The two yamen bailiffs left and went back to their own yamen.
The head eunuch and the boy, his son, had a family reunion. The only regret was that Linda was not with them. They were anxious to know where Linda was now and whether she was dead or alive. So the head eunuch sent out a message to every local government to seek for a girl with the golden hair. All the local governments put an announcement on the government bulletin board for this message with an award of one hundred taels of silver if anyone who saw such a girl could report to the local government. Then a threat added in the announcement, “If anyone conceals the whereabouts of the girl, he will be punished or imprisoned.”
One hundred taels of silver was a lot of money to some poor people. Some people of the village, where the boat Linda lived on anchored, would report to the local government in the nearest town for the award. When the old man came to know it, he hurried back and told Linda, who had already told the couple everything about herself except how she had got in China. It was too weird to be believed. Even she would not have believed it herself though it had actually happened to her. But it was her own experience and she could not shut her eyes to it.
Linda did not want to go back to the head eunuch. No woman wanted to live with a eunuch even if he was rich and powerful. That was an abnormal life. Now Linda had to leave and the old couple understood. They advised her to go west. That way she could be as far as possible from the capital. She should hide in some remote region that no one there knew her. Linda thought that it was a good idea. As she had been robbed of all her money, she was now penniless. So the old couple gave her all the money they had saved.
Linda learned that the announcement put up by the local government mentioned her having golden hair. She wanted to dye her hair before she left, but in the ancient China there was no such technique and no such material to dye hair. There was a joke about dyeing hair. A man had his hoary hair too early in his thirties. People around him always thought that he was already in fifties. He hated that people had this idea about him. He always wanted to show that he was still young. Once he was invited to attend a gathering of poets. He was a poet himself. He wished that other poets would admire his poetic talent as a young poet when he chanted his new poem, a great poem he thought. Then a wonderful idea struck him. He brushed ink on his hoary hair to make the hair look black. Unfortunately, on his way to the gathering place, it suddenly rained hard. The merciless rain washed the ink down his face and neck. Now he looked sorry. How could he go in such an awkward condition? He had to return home and let this golden opportunity slip through his fingers.

Linda did not want to brush her hair black with ink like that stupid man in the story, but she must do something to her appearance so that no one could recognize her. At the suggestion of the old couple, she was attired as a farming girl. She put on some old shabby clothes and wrapped her golden hair tightly in a piece of coarse cloth so that no one could see the color of her hair. To finish her disguise, she carried a basket with eggs in it. Now she looked as if she was going to visit her relatives with the eggs as a gift, or to the closest town to sell them.