The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939

[illustration - (A Chinese Fairy Story ]

"HAI YAH!" exclaimed Wang Er, jumping out of bed and running to the window. "What canbe going on?"

The sun was only just beginning to show its great red face above the hilltops, so it was not very light out of doors. But Wang Er's sharp eyes recognized the Emperor's heralds passing by the tiny hut where he and his mother lived all alone.

"Hear! hear!" lustily shouted the heralds. "The princess, the august emperor's only child, has been stolen! Upon him who restores her to her royal father there will lie bestowed not only rare jewels, but a high degree of scholarship!"

"I hope the poor princess is being treated well," said Wang Er, as he turned from the window and began dressing.

After breakfast Wang Er went out in the tiny vegetable garden to pull up weeds; but scarcely had lie begun when he saw before him the tini est, daintiest, loveliest shoe imaginable. It was made of silk, heavily embroidered and encrusted with pearls and rubies.

When Wang Er had recovered from his astonishment enough to be able to move, he picked up the shoe and carried it to his mother, who said at once:

"Surely this is the princess's shoe, and finding it here means that the poor child has been stolen by the fttng-shui (evil fairies) and hidden in the cave."

There was nothing cowardly about Wang Er, and after a few minutes of deep thought, he said very decidedly:

"I must go inot the cave and try to rescue the princess."

His mother began to weep, and sobbed:

"Oh, my son! my son! the terrible fung-shui will kill you!"

"Mother," answered Wang Er, tears in his own eyes, "your son will obey you implicitly; but have not you yourself taught me always to serve the emperor to the best of my ability?—and his only child, the princess, is the power of the fung shui."

The mother choked back her sobs, wiped her eyes, and said:

"True, my son. Hasten to the aid of his imperial majesty's child!"


She held her son in a long, silent embrace, and then watched him through her tears, as he went toward the cave, until he was no longer in sight.

It occurred to Wang Er that it would be wise[illustration - "Filling the pail he went back to the pavilion and threw the water upon the dragon." (See next page)] to ask some one to join him in this perilous undertaking; so he went to the home of his dearest friend—a boy of his own age whose name has long since been forgotten—and persuaded him to go also. It must be confessed, however, that the friend stubbornly refused to accompany Wang Er until assured that riches and a title would be given to the rescuer of the princess.

When the boys reached the entrance to the cave, which was a deep dry well, they fastened one end of a long rope to the well-curb, and dropped the other end down the well. Then Wang Er climbed down, closely followed by his friend.

At the bottom of the well was a narrow passage leading into the cave where the darkness was so intense that Wang Er's lantern threw but a feeble light.

The boys groped through this gloom with loudly beating hearts, wandering helplessly here and there, until at last, when weary and discouraged, they suddenly found themselves close to an enormous rock. Wang Er held up his lantern to get a better view of it, and, to the amazement of the lads, they saw carved upon it:


"This rock is really a great stone door," said Wang Er, "and I am going to open it. But this may be a trick the fung-shuiare playing us—so look out!"

Then he boldly pulled open the door, that, though weighing several tons, moved in response to his touch as easily as a paper screen, and the lantern-light revealed a wretched dungeon. Huddled in a corner, on the damp stone
floor, was a beautiful young girl, weeping despairingly. Her gown was covered with rich embroidery, and rare gems were twined in her hair. On one tiny foot there was no shoe.

"Are you not his imperial majesty's daughter?" asked Wang Er.

"Alas, yes!" sobbed the girl.

"Cease weeping! We are going to take you home to your father. Be brave and hurry, your highness, for the fung-shui may return at any moment."

The princess needed no further urging, but arose at onre, and all three, hand in hand, groped through the darkness, trying to find the narrow passage into the well. By great good fortune they found it in half the time that it had taken to reach the dungeon.

After the friend had climbed out of the well Wang Er tied the rope around the princess, and anxiously watched as she was drawn up the well, sighing happily when she was safely out. Then he impatiently waited for the rope to be lowered that he, too, might leave the dismal place. But, although he waited a long time, and shouted loudly, he saw neither the rope nor heard a sound from his friend. Finally he was forced to acknowledge to himself that he had been deserted and left to perish.

Overcome at the thought of his friend's treachery he wept bitterly. But it occurred to him shortly that the fung-shui might return at any moment and find him there; and it would be well to look for some place to conceal himself. He again entered the cave and wandered about a long time without finding a hiding-place. Finally his lantern went out and he was forced to grope his way through complete darkness. He dared not stop to rest, fearing the fung-shui, but went painfully on and on, occasionally exclaiming, "Oh, my poor mother! I fear I shall never see her again!" At last he saw trees and sky through the opening, and, quickly running forward, emerged from the gloomy cave into bright sunshine that, so dazzled his eyes he was obliged to I close them for a time.

The light in a little while had grown dazzlingly bright and he found he was standing beside a lake.

On the opposite shore there was a large pavilion, its roof supported by immense white pillars.

There was a bridge across the lake and Wang Er walked over it. The path leading to the pavilion was bordered by wondrous plants, and thousands of birds sang constantly. Wang Er was enchanted with all this beauty.

Suddenly a hoarse, awful voice cried out:

"Come here and free me!"

Terribly startled, the lad looked in the direction the voice came from and saw an enormous dragon coiled around one of the pillars. Flames of fire were darting from its nostrils.

"I don't dare go near you I" cried Wang Er, who was trembling violently. " You'll crush or swallow me!"

"I promise you," answered the dragon, "that I will not harm you. I am a prince, son of the mighty king of dragons, who is not a dragon himself, but a sea-fairy. The land-fairies accused me of stealing the emperor's daughter and turned me into a dragon to punish me. I am glued to this pillar and I am doomed to stay here until someone throws over me a pail of water from the lake."

Wang Er pitied the dragon king's son, for well he knew that the fung-shui had carried away the princess. He ran down to the shore of the lake, where, to his joy, he found a pail, and, filling it, he went back to the pavilion and threw the water upon the dragon. It instantly fell from the pillar and changed into a handsome fairy prince—who embraced Wang Er, saying:

"You must come home with me that my father may behold the brave lad who has released me from a frightful enchantment Close your eyes and be sure not to open I hem until I direct you to do so. And whatever happens do not be frightened." Wang Er closed his eyes and immediately felt, himself flying through the air, his hand clasped tightly in the prince's. A sudden plunge into the lake quickly ended this delightful flight.

"Now open your eyes!"

It was a command Wang Er lost no time in obeying. Indeed, he opened his eyes to their fullest extent in wonder at the extraordinary sight he beheld. Although water pressed upon him from above and from all sides, he felt not at all uncomfortable, and he and the prince were moving over the bed of the lake as swiftly as when they were flying through the air. On every
side were wonderful plants, as big as trees, and their leaves shone as if made of gold and silver, while fish with scales that sparkled like diamonds, darted here and threre through waving branches and arches of rocks.

"We will soon reach the sea," said the prince; "and then we will travel over the royal high-way."

Wang Er was not at all preparted for that amazing highway. On either side and as far as he could see were immense crabs, lbosters, and[illustration - Wang Er was not at all prepared for that amazing highway."] fish standing upright, balancing themselves on their tails, and dressed in splendid uniforms.

Over this long road and through this double line of strange guards the prince and Wang Er moved with great speed, finally reaching a palace built of the pearly lining of shells. As they ascended the steps leading to an enormous door, if flew open and the prince led Wang Er into a spacious hall hung with marvelous draperies of delicate seaweed thickly strewn with pearls. Seated upon a throne at the further end of the hall was the dragon king surrounded by his courtiers, who, like himself, were sea-fairies.

The king, who had been grieving over his son's disappearance, sprang up in joyful surprise, descended from his throne, and clasped his son in his arms. Then he warmly thanked Wang Er and exclaimed:

"We will have a banquet in your honor!" and led the way to the banquet hall, everybody following him.

In the banquet hall was an enormous table made entirely of shells, and around it were chairs formed from coral branches.

At the king's command all were seated at the table, with Wang Er on the left and the prince on the right of his majesty.

Wang Er was terribly hungry, but, to his chagrin, there was not a thing on the table but a small china teapot.

"Hai yah! Is thisa banquet?" thought he.

But just then the king lifted up the teapot and said:

"Spread on this table a magnificent repast."

Then he set the teapot back on the table. At once its lid flew back and out sprang three liveried servants who set the table with gold and silver dishes that poured out of the teapot. Delicious food appeared in these dishes—rice as
white as a snowdrift; all sorts of fish; fruit and nuts and sweets.

Everyone was bountifully served, and the banquet lasted several hours.

Just as the king signalled for all to rise and return to the throne room, there boomed out deafeningly the royal salute. Instantly the servants, dishes and food vanished.

When the king was again seated upon his throne, he said to Wang Er: "What do you desire more than any other thing in the world?"

"To see my mother, your royal highness," ansered Wang Er, tears filling his eyes as he thought how troubled and sad she must be because of his long absence.

The king smiled approvingly, saying:

"So you shall, my lad;" and he directed the prince to lead Wang Er home.

Wang Er thanked the king, and, bidding his majesty and the court farewell, went down the palace steps. But Wang Er carried with him the magic teapot, presented to him, just as he was leaving the palace, by the king.

Suddenly Wang Er found himself standing in front of his own home. Joyfully he ran into the house where he found his mother weeping.

"Mother! Mother!" he cried, "do not weep. See! here I am, safe and well!"

The mother's tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy; and, after their happy greeting was over, Wang Er related all that had happened. Then he ordered the magic teapot to spread a fine feast for his mother. The three servants covered the rickety table with fine linen; and with gold and silver dishes filled with delicious food. Never before had the mother eaten such good things nor seen such wonderful dishes. Even the chopsticks were made of ivory and inlaid with gold.

Wang Er decided that so long as the teapot could give him everything he desired he would not claim the reward offered by the emperor to the rescuer of the princess. So he stayed happily at home and began building a house entirely of gold pieces. He employed a great many workmen, and, as the gold pieces were needed, they fell in shining heaps from the magic teapot.

One day, when the house was nearly completed, the false friend passed by. He was filled with amazement when he beheld the golden house with its many turrets from which hung hundreds of golden bells that constantly sent forth exquisite music. He saw Wang Er sitting beneath a tree, holding the precious teapot that was pouring out a stream of gold pieces.

The false friend crept up cautiously and pounced upon Wang Er, trying to snatch from him the teapot; but Wang Er held it firmly until in the struggle it was broken into hundreds of pieces. Then the false friend ran away laughing over poor Wang Er's unhappiness.

With tears in his eyes, Wang Er sorrowfully gathered up the pieces of the broken teapot.

As he picked up the last fragment, instantly the pieces fitted themselves together, and there in his hands was the teapot perfectly whole, just as good as ever, without even one tiny crack!

Wang Er commanded the teapot to give him enough gold pieces to finish building his house and enough more to enable him and his mother to live in luxury all their lives. Then he sent the teapot to the emperor. Of course the emperor was delighted with the gift, but he never found out who sent it to him, for Wang Er did not care to have the emperor know, fearing he would be obliged to accept from his majesty the title of scholar. Wang Er was an honest lad, and he desired no button of scholarship on hiscap until he had earned it through study.