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xlwoo
September 17th, 2015, 01:39 PM
Chapter 25

Linda was vexed with the problem that people always wanted her to marry their sons, but could not find a proper solution. She walked on and on, and finally entered a small town. At the turn of a street she accidentally bumped into a boy. The boy screamed in a shrill voice like a girl. Then he blamed Linda for bumping into him, but the voice was really a girl’s.
Even in old China there were tomboys, who would be attired as a boy and would perform a lot of mischievous deeds. This boy, or rather girl, had just made a practical joke on a pedlar by drawing a pig on his back furtively. The pedlar was her neighbor. When Linda knocked on her, she was on her way to escape.
Then a wonderful idea struck Linda. Why would she not pretend to be a boy, though she was not a tomboy in real life? Now she was looking for a ready-made clothes store, but could not find one. She was not familiar with the town. So she had to ask somebody and was told that there was one two blocks down.
She bought some boy’s clothes and carried them in a bundle to some deserted place. After she made sure that there was no one at the site, she changed into them. “Remember, I’m a boy now.” She reminded herself. She tucked her hair into a boy’s cap. She wanted to make sure if she was looking like a boy, but she could not find a mirror. When she walked past a pond, she stooped to look into the smooth water that reflected her image. A familiar boy smiled at her from the mirror of water. She was satisfied with the disguise. Then she decided that she would play a mute boy lest her voice should betray her.
She continued on her trip. In the evening she reached another small town and put up at an inn. She went up to the counter. As she must play mute, she had to communicate by gestures.
“How can I help you, sir?” The counter clerk asked.
She declined her head to her right side and put her two hands palm to palm together on her cheek, a common gesture for sleep. Another clerk led her to a guest room. At that time there was no lock on a bedroom door. A wooden latch was attached on the inside for a person to secure it when sleeping. “Will you have supper in the room or in the dining hall, sir?” The clerk asked.
Linda pointed to the table in the room, meaning she would have it here. The clerk left in a hurry and presently returned with a teapot and a teacup. He poured a cup of tea for Linda and asked, “What do you want for supper, sir?” Linda could not order as she should not speak. She made a gesture of writing. The clerk took out a piece of paper and a brush and an ink box. Linda wrote down what she wanted and handed it to the clerk. About half an hour later, the clerk came again with the supper.
After the table was cleared, the clerk brought in a hot towel for Linda to clean her face and hands. Then he brought in a basin of hot water for Linda to wash her feet. When the basin was taken away, Linda latched the door and went to sleep.
Next day she set off after breakfast. Soon she was out of the town. When the sun clambered high she felt weary and took a break, sitting on a rock by the road. After a while a wagon came drawn by a donkey. An old man sat on it, looking like a peasant. The wagon was empty. He must have dropped some goods and was returning home. Linda stood up and asked for a ride. Pointing to herself and then pointing to the wagon, she made a sitting posture. The man understood and nodded his consent. So she climbed on it and sat crossed-legged.
The old man was talkative, forgetful that she was mute. Linda only said “ah-ah” in reply. Then the man began to hum a rural tune to himself while from time to time he was smoking some sort of tobacco in a long-stemmed pipe.
It was toward the dusk when they reached a village. Generally a village had no inns. That was why a traveler must depend on the kindness of a host or hostess. Once in the village, the old man stopped his wagon before the gate of a big house and said to Linda, “I think you must stay here for the night. My humble home is very small and untidy, and can’t let a rich young man like you sleep in there. You can lodge in this house. The family never refuses to take in travelers.”
Linda understood why the old man thought her rich because she had by mistake bought silk clothes that rich people wore. She realized it when she put them on and she could not go to change them. Now she had to pretend to be rich.
She got down from the wagon, and taking out a small piece of silver, she gave it to the old man as a sign of thanks for riding on his wagon. He took it and thanked Linda, who already turned to go to knock at the double door of that big house.
The door opened and the head of menservants in uniform appeared from behind the door.
"The young man is a mute. He needs food and board." The old man shouted to the manservant, who opened the door wide to let Linda in as he heard what the old man had said and as the young man looked so harmless.
Linda was led to the sitting room. She was received by the host, who was in his fifties. The host was so surprised to see such a handsome young man before him and the young man looked like coming from a rich family.
The host had a daughter of sixteen years old and was at present seeking for a suitable young man for his daughter. He could not find one in this village. Now a young man came to his door.
“Where did you come from, young man?” The host commenced the conversation.
Linda feigned to be mute and asked for paper and brush and ink. She wrote “From Peking” when she got the supplies. She would almost have written, “From America.” She had wanted to write the name of some city closer to here, but she knew few names of the cities or towns in China. Besides Peking or Beijing, the only city she knew was Shanghai. But she seemed to have learned that Shanghai developed in Qing Dynasty (1644—1911 A. D.), not in Ming Dynasty in which she was now.
“He must come from the family of some high officials.” The host thought. “If he can marry my daughter, I will have a strong relationship with the high officialdom. The only defect is that he is mute. But it is also an advantage. He won’t quarrel with my daughter.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Just travel all over the country.” She wrote. She really did not know where she would go.
“If you are not in a hurry, you can stay here a little longer.” He invited.
Since Linda had really no definite destination, she accepted the offer. The host was happy and sent a message to his wife and daughter, who knew his intention.
At dinner the mother and daughter came out to meet Linda. They both were fond of Linda at the first sight. Linda looked at the daughter, too, because young girls would attract each other more easily. The daughter was pretty and had a sweet smile. Linda also liked her.
The daughter often invited Linda to go out in their family coach during her stay. They went to see the mountains some miles away. There was a beautiful waterfall, which formed a clear brook on the gentle slope. The daughter took off her shoes and socks and dipped her feet in the cool water. Linda followed suit.
“You have nicely-shaped feet. Your feet don’t look like a boy’s, so small and so white.” She commented. Linda pointed to her own feet and then pointed to the feet of the daughter. It meant that her feet were also small and white, almost the same size.
“A boy’s feet should be bigger than mine.” She smiled at Linda, who wanted to ask, “Is that a rule?” But they left the paper and brush and ink in the coach, which parked at the foot of the mountain. She just said, “Ah-ah” instead.
It was almost a month when at last the father put up the proposal. “Do you like my daughter?” He asked Linda one evening after dinner when only he and Linda were in the sitting room. The paper and brush and ink were all ready on the table before Linda. She just nodded. She really liked the other girl. She forgot that when Chinese people said “like”, it actually meant “love”.
“Would you like to marry her?”
Linda was stunned. To avoid the possibility that people would ask her to marry their sons, she went through all the trouble to change into a boy’s clothes. But now she was astonished and confused. How could it happen that she was asked to marry someone’s daughter when she was disguised as a boy?
Involuntarily she ejaculated, “Sorry, I can’t.” How could she marry a girl? She was not a lesbian.
Then it was the host’s turn to be astounded. How could the young man speak if he was mute? He did not realize yet that the voice sounded like a girl’s.
“I’m also a girl in a boy’s clothes, which will make me travel more conveniently." Linda confessed. Then she told the father the stories about the proposed marriages to people’s sons. That was why she had put on a boy’s clothes.
The man was delighted by her stories, but disappointed at the disillusion of his dream. He sent for his wife and daughter and repeated the stories to them, who were totally surprised, too. But the daughter did not care. She still liked Linda. She was only sixteen, not eager to get married. She liked a playmate better.
That night when Linda lay in bed, she thought to herself, “I must leave as my secret has been revealed.” Therefore, next day, she bade adieu to the family. The host did not ask her to stay longer. Only the daughter felt sorry that Linda would leave so soon. She gave Linda a white long dress as a token of friendship. “When you are tired of being a boy, you can put on this dress to be a girl again.” The daughter said.