Far up in the mountains of the Province of Hunan in the central part of China, there once lived in a small village a rich gentleman who had only one child. This girl, like the daughter of Kwan-yu in the story of the Great Bell, was the very joy of her father’s life.
Now Mr. Min, for that was this gentleman’s name, was famous throughout the whole district for his learning, and, as he was also the owner of much property, he spared no effort to teach Honeysuckle the wisdom of the sages, and to give her everything she craved. Of course this was enough to spoil most children, but Honeysuckle was not at all like other children. As sweet as the flower from which she took her name, she listened to her father’s slightest command, and obeyed without ever waiting to be told a second time.
Her father often bought kites for her, of every kind and shape. There were fish, birds, butterflies, lizards and huge dragons, one of which had a tail more than thirty feet long. Mr. Min was very skilful in flying these kites for little Honeysuckle, and so naturally did his birds and butterflies circle round and hover about in the air that almost any little western boy would have been deceived and said, “Why, there is a real bird, and not a kite at all!” Then again, he would fasten a queer little instrument to the string, which made a kind of humming noise, as he waved his hand from side to side.
“It is the wind singing, Daddy,” cried Honeysuckle, clapping her hands with joy; “singing a kite-song to both of us.” Sometimes, to teach his little darling a lesson if she had been the least naughty, Mr. Min would fasten queerly twisted scraps of paper, on which were written many Chinese words, to the string of her favourite kite.
“What are you doing, Daddy?” Honeysuckle would ask. “What can those queer-looking papers be?”
“On every piece is written a sin that we have done.”
“What is a sin, Daddy?”
“Oh, when Honeysuckle has been naughty; that is a sin!” he answered gently. “Your old nurse is afraid to scold you, and if you are to grow up to be a good woman, Daddy must teach you what is right.”
Then Mr. Min would send the kite up high—high over the house-tops, even higher than the tall Pagoda on the hillside. When all his cord was let out, he would pick up two sharp stones, and, handing them to Honeysuckle, would say, “Now, daughter, cut the string, and the wind will carry away the sins that are written down on the scraps of paper.”
“But, Daddy, the kite is so pretty. Mayn’t we keep our sins a little longer?” she would innocently ask.
“No, child; it is dangerous to hold on to one’s sins. Virtue is the foundation of happiness,” he would reply sternly, choking back his laughter at her question. “Make haste and cut the cord.”
So Honeysuckle, always obedient—at least with her father—would saw the string in two between the sharp stones, and with a childish cry of despair would watch her favourite kite, blown by the wind, sail farther and farther away, until at last, straining her eyes, she could see it sink slowly to the earth in some far-distant meadow.
“Now laugh and be happy,” Mr. Min would say, “for your sins are all gone. See that you don’t get a new supply of them.”
Honeysuckle was also fond of seeing the Punch and Judy show, for, you must know, this old-fashioned amusement for children was enjoyed by little folks in China, perhaps three thousand years before your great-grandfather was born. It is even said that the great Emperor, Mu, when he saw these little dancing images for the first time, was greatly enraged at seeing one of them making eyes at his favourite wife. He ordered the showman to be put to death, and it was with difficulty the poor fellow persuaded his Majesty that the dancing puppets were not really alive at all, but only images of cloth and clay.
No wonder then Honeysuckle liked to see Punch and Judy if the Son of Heaven himself had been deceived by their queer antics into thinking them real people of flesh and blood.
But we must hurry on with our story, or some of our readers will be asking, “But where is Dr. Dog? Are you never coming to the hero of this tale?”