“Yes, my boy, whatever happens, be sure to save that tablet. It is the only thing we have left worth keeping.”
K’ang-p’u’s father was just setting out for the city, to be gone all day.
He had been telling K’ang-p’u about some work in the little garden, for the boy was a strong and willing helper.
“All right, father, I’ll do what you tell me; but suppose the foreign soldiers should come while you are gone? I heard that they were over at T’ang Shu yesterday and burned the village. If they should come here, what must I do?”
Mr. Lin laughed heartily. “Why, there’s nothing here for them to burn, if it comes to that!—a mud house, a grass roof, and a pile of ragged bedding. Surely they won’t bother my little hut. It’s loot they’re after—money—or something they can sell.”
“But, father,” persisted the boy, “haven’t you forgotten? Surely you wouldn’t wish them to burn your father’s tablet?”
“Quite right; for the moment I did forget. Yes, yes, my boy, whatever happens be sure to save the tablet. It is the only thing we have worth keeping.”
With that, Mr. Lin went out at the gate, leaving K’ang-p’u standing all alone. The little fellow was scarcely twelve years old. He had a bright, sunny face and a happy heart. Being left by himself did not mean tears and idleness for him.
He went into the poor little house and stood for a moment looking earnestly at the wooden tablet. It was on a shelf in the one-roomed shanty, an oblong piece of wood about twelve inches high, enclosed in a wooden case. Through the carved screen work in the front, K’ang-p’u could see his grandfather’s name written in Chinese characters on the tablet. Ever since babyhood K’ang-p’u had been taught to look at this piece of wood with a feeling of reverence.
“Your grandfather’s spirit is inside,” his father had said one day. “You must worship his spirit, for he was a good man, far better than your dad. If I had obeyed him in all things, I, his only son, should not now be living in this miserable hut.”
“But didn’t he live here, too?” asked K’ang-p’u in surprise.
“Oh, no, we lived in a big house over yonder in another village; in a big house with a high stone wall.”
The little fellow had gasped with surprise at hearing this, for there was not such a thing as a stone wall in his village, and he felt that his grandfather must have been a rich man. He had not asked any more questions, but from that day on he had been rather afraid of the carved wooden box in which his grandfather’s spirit was supposed to live.
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