Just outside the walls of a Chinese city there lived a young woodcutter named T’ang and his old mother, a woman of seventy. They were very poor and had a tiny one-room shanty, built of mud and grass, which they rented from a neighbour. Every day young T’ang rose bright and early and went up on the mountain near their house. There he spent the day cutting firewood to sell in the city near by.
In the evening he would return home, take the wood to market, sell it, and bring back food for his mother and himself. Now, though these two people were poor, they were very happy, for the young man loved his mother dearly, and the old woman thought there was no one like her son in all the world. Their friends, however, felt sorry for them and said, “What a pity we have no grasshoppers here, so that the T’angs could have some food from heaven!”
One day young T’ang got up before daylight and started for the hills, carrying his axe on his shoulder. He bade his mother good-bye, telling her that he would be back early with a heavier load of wood than usual, for the morrow would be a holiday and they must eat good food. All day long Widow T’ang waited patiently, saying to herself over and over as she went about her simple work, “The good boy, the good boy, how he loves his old mother!”
In the afternoon she began watching for his return—but in vain. The sun was sinking lower and lower in the west, but still he did not come.
At last the old woman was frightened. “My poor son!” she muttered.
“Something has happened to him.”
Straining her feeble eyes, she looked along the mountain path. Nothing was to be seen there but a flock of sheep following the shepherd.
“Woe is me!” moaned the woman. “My boy! my boy!” She took her crutch from its corner and limped off to a neighbour’s house to tell him of her trouble and beg him to go and look for the missing boy.
Now this neighbour was kind-hearted, and willing to help old Mother T’ang, for he felt very sorry for her. “There are many wild beasts in the mountains,” he said, shaking his head as he walked away with her, thinking to prepare the frightened woman for the worst, “and I fear that your son has been carried off by one of them.” Widow T’ang gave a scream of horror and sank upon the ground. Her friend walked slowly up the mountain path, looking carefully for signs of a struggle.
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