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xlwoo
September 9th, 2015, 02:03 PM
Chapter 17

Linda proceeded on her way to the west. She passed a pond, the water in it so clear and transparent. There were some boys of about ten years old swimming in it, their bare butts submerging in water, but still discernible. Seeing this, Linda had an impulse to plunge in for a hearty swimming, but she remembered that she did not even have a bikini on her. Besides, she noticed that no girls would swim in public in the sixteenth century in China.
The boys saw her, shouting and waving their fists at her. Linda understood from their gesture that they wanted her to get lost at once. At that time a girl should not look at boys, especially with bare butts. To avoid further trouble, Linda ran away as fast as her legs could carry her.
Presently Linda came to a village. From seeing the boys she concluded that there must be a village close by and she wanted to find her lodging for the night there. Generally she eluded to stay in a town for the night. She preferred the village because the villagers might not know the government announcement about her and so she would be safe.
On entering the village, she was attracted by the voices of the boys reading some books aloud. She followed the sound to a house where she could see through the window that an old man was giving lessons to some ten boys. Linda had already learned something about the education in the ancient China. There were public schools then, but only in the capital and main cities. Somewhere else there might be private schools built at the donations of local wealthy families. Mostly boys got education from private tutors in the house of the tutor and the parents paid the tutor certain amount of money every month. The textbooks were the works of Confucius and Mencius. Linda had studied some when she had lived with the head eunuch. Girls were not encouraged to learn reading and writing. They were taught to sew and cook, and how to serve their future husbands satisfactorily. Girls only in rich families could have a tutor coming to teach them or were taught by their mothers, who were literate.
Linda listened for a while and walked away. She wanted to find a family that could take her in for the night. Soon she found one. Hospitality was a common virtue in the ancient time everywhere. The family was well-to-do and had a daughter of eight. The girl loved to read and write, and refused to learn sewing and cooking. The parents doted on her and had to give in at length. She had learned hundreds of Chinese characters. When a pupil reached such a stage, a tutor would train him to write parallel sentences or structures. The practice was like that: when the tutor gave two characters, say, meaning “mountain”, the pupil must use two characters, say, meaning “river”. If he said something meaning “orange”, it was wrong, because “mountain” and “river” belonged to the same category of words, the geographic category while “orange” was in a different category. If the pupil was right, the tutor would add another character like “stands” and the pupil must say “flows”. That made “mountain stands” and “river flows”.
The girl implored Linda to play that kind of word game with her. Luckily Linda had had such practice before and so had no difficulty thereupon. The girl said “wolf” and Linda replied with “dog”. Then the girl said “howls” and Linda added “barks”. The girl continued with “in woods” and Linda paralleled with “in house”. The girl was so delighted that when Linda wanted to leave next morning she importuned her to stay a little longer. As Linda had really nowhere to go, she was glad to comply.
They could not play the word game all day long. The girl went out with Linda to sightsee the village. When they were passing a house, they noticed some people crowding before the open door. They wondered what had happened inside that house and so squeezed in to have a look.
On the table in the center of the room some candles and joss sticks were burning and behind the table sat a woman in her fifties. With her eyes shut she began to chant something like “Open the door wide. Your ancestors will come.” Then her mouth foamed and she leaned back. Suddenly her voice changed sounding like that of an old man.
Linda asked a woman beside her, “What’s the matter? Is the woman sick?”
“No.” The woman replied, “The woman is a witch. She’s summoning the ghost of the old man, who was the father of the woman standing at the side of the table. Now the old man’s ghost has got into the body of the witch. It’s the old man’s voice speaking now."
The woman standing at the side of the table was asking some questions while sobbing and the woman with an old man’s voice was answering. Linda did not quite catch what they were saying.
After a while the voice of the witch came back and she opened her eyes. It seemed that the ghost was gone. The woman paid the witch, who left soon. The woman came to close the door and the crowd dispersed.
Linda and the girl strolled in the main street and saw a tea house a few paces ahead. They went into it and took seats at an unoccupied table. The house was half full. Four men sat next to them, talking and laughing. Some of their words wafted into Linda’s ears because it concerned her.
Man A said, "I read in the city yesterday a government announcement. They are seeking for a girl with golden hair and offering a hundred taels of silver."
Linda’s heart went wild. She was terrified, but did not show it on her face, still sipping tea, but her hand holding the cup was a little trembling. Only no one noticed it. The girl was interested and turned to look at the four men.
Man B asked, “Is she a criminal? Did she break the prison wall and run away?”
Linda calmed down and sipped some more tea.
Man A said, “Not likely from the announcement. Seems her husband wants her back.”
Linda had already learned it. That was no news for her.
Man C said, “Did she elope with another man or what?”
Linda was amused by the notion of elopement.
Man A said, “Doesn’t say anything about that.”
Man D said, “One hundred taels is not much. Not worth the effort to look for her.”
Presently she left the tea house with the girl.