What we shall eat to-morrow, I haven’t the slightest idea!” said Widow Wang to her eldest son, as he started out one morning in search of work.
“Oh, the gods will provide. I’ll find a few coppers somewhere,” replied the boy, trying to speak cheerfully, although in his heart he also had not the slightest idea in which direction to turn.
The winter had been a hard one: extreme cold, deep snow, and violent winds. The Wang house had suffered greatly. The roof had fallen in, weighed down by heavy snow. Then a hurricane had blown a wall over, and Ming-li, the son, up all night and exposed to a bitter cold wind, had caught pneumonia. Long days of illness followed, with the spending of extra money for medicine. All their scant savings had soon melted away, and at the shop where Ming-li had been employed his place was filled by another. When at last he arose from his sick-bed he was too weak for hard labour and there seemed to be no work in the neighbouring villages for him to do. Night after night he came home, trying not to be discouraged, but in his heart feeling the deep pangs of sorrow that come to the good son who sees his mother suffering for want of food and clothing.
“Bless his good heart!” said the poor widow after he had gone. “No mother ever had a better boy. I hope he is right in saying the gods will provide. It has been getting so much worse these past few weeks that it seems now as if my stomach were as empty as a rich man’s brain.
Why, even the rats have deserted our cottage, and there’s nothing left for poor Tabby, while old Blackfoot is nearly dead from starvation.”
When the old woman referred to the sorrows of her pets, her remarks were answered by a pitiful mewing and woebegone barking from the corner where the two unfed creatures were curled up together trying to keep warm.
Just then there was a loud knocking at the gate. When the widow Wang called out, “Come in!” she was surprised to see an old bald-headed priest standing in the doorway. “Sorry, but we have nothing,” she went on, feeling sure the visitor had come in search of food. “We have fed on scraps these two weeks—on scraps and scrapings—and now we are living on the memories of what we used to have when my son’s father was living. Our cat was so fat she couldn’t climb to the roof. Now look at her. You can hardly see her, she’s so thin. No, I’m sorry we can’t help you, friend priest, but you see how it is.”
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