Khing-Chu-Fu, Empress of China, was doing her hair when her maids who, on their knees witnessed the delicate operation of artistically arranging the imperial hair of her majesty, burst into cries of admiration scarcely repressed by the etiquette of the palace.
“What is the matter?” Khing-Chu-Fu deigned to ask, turning her head.
“Ah, lady!” exclaimed the maids in a chorus. “Brahma has deigned to favour you with a sign of his protection.”
“And what is that?” inquired the empress.
“A silver thread which appears amidst your beautiful hair.”
“That is to say I have a white hair.”
“So it is called amongst simple mortals, but in the Daughter of the Sun they are threads of silver, to which poets spontaneously sing verses under the penalty of being quartered like dogs.”
“Let the seers and astrologers come at this very moment. I must know what this foretells.”
Five minutes afterwards the royal boudoir was full of moustached men with eye-protectors, who, kneeling, waited to be consulted.
“To-day a white hair has appeared in my head!” exclaimed the empress.
The seers tugged at their moustaches in desperation, leaving the floor covered with hairs.
“Hail!” said the eldest, “Daughter of the Sun, who hast all the brilliance of the diamond, the beauty of the iris, the wisdom of Confucius, and the sweetness of the honey! This silver thread foretells a terrible calamity in the empire. Know that Brahma has decreed it horrifies me to say so! that one of your imperial teeth will commence to ache.”
Terror was depicted on every countenance, and all who witnessed this scene pulled their pigtails, a sign of terrible desperation among the Chinese. The pages and maids groaned in chorus; the mandarins sat down on their hats, passing the time by eating tangerine oranges and rubbing their eyes with the peel. The news spread into the city, and very soon the whole of Pekin came out into the streets and places weeping salt tears over the terrible aching of the too—, for simple subjects were forbidden to pronounce completely the names of the imperial members or other parts of their illustrious sovereign’s body.
“The too—, the too—!” shouted the maddened people, making Pekin seem like an immense enclosure of bulls: and as if to make the illusion still more complete, there were not lacking people who produced cattle-bells with which the faithful are called to the pagoda—the church of the Chinese.
In those days there came to Pekin a young Spaniard, a native of Seville, a sharp and witty youth, who had arrived at the capital of the Chinese Empire after having wandered over half the world on foot, without money and without shame. He was thought to be very wide-awake and even clever, and all because he had been a groom and bull-ring attendant in his own town where he was nicknamed Pinchauvas.
Well, our Pinchauvas was astonished to see the desperation of those Chinese and above all when he heard the sound of too—! too—! which made him fear he was going to meet a drove of bulls. In case it was so, he thought it better to climb up to the first window which came to hand.
He had hardly reached the window, when from the interior of the house came forth a hand, and then an arm, which, catching hold of him firmly by the neck, pulled him up and made him enter the house in a most original way.
The arm was that of a palace guard who, on seeing our Sevillian climbing up to a window of one of the imperial rooms, detained him in order to deliver him up to justice.
This crime was a terrible one. In China it was something daring to profane one of the windows of the empress! That crime was punishable, at the least, with death.
The worst of it was that Pinchauvas did not know a word of Chinese, and was therefore amazed when the guard said to him, with a terrible air:
“What is this fellow saying to me?” thought Pinchauvas. “He seems to have a stomach-ache and is telling me that he has indigestion. Well, let him get better.” And he shrugged his shoulders.
But the guard was nasty and, seizing him again by the neck, took him through the passages of the palace to the rooms of the great chancellor. The latter was found praying to God that the terrible prediction might not be fulfilled, as it might cost him his destiny. “If the empress’s tooth hurts her, she will hurt me,” said he.
So when he was told of the horrible sacrilege committed by a foreigner, he became exceedingly angry and wished to have him beheaded.
“Take me to this youth, that I may settle him,” he said to the guard.
And facing the Spaniard he said sharply:
“Another stomach-ache! The same as the horses in the bull-ring. But perhaps they have worries!”
By good fortune the great chancellor spoke broken French and Pinchauvas also, so that at last they almost came to understand each other.
“And what may you have been in your country?” asked the chancellor.
“I? A wise monkey*.”
*A wise monkey is a boy attendant in a Spanish bull-ring.
The chancellor did not understand the word monkey, but did understand the word wise, and full of joy he said:
“I am going to ask you a question, and if you answer me rightly, count on my protection.”
The chancellor then informed Pinchauvas of the cause which had sown such sorrow in Pekin, and the lad, smiling, said to him with the greatest sang-froid:
“Is that all? Well I will restore calm to the Chinese Empire. I will make this white hair disappear and with it the presages of these charlatans. What has the hair to do with the teeth? Introduce me to the empress and you will see something interesting.”
From Fairy Tales from Spain, by J. Muñoz Escamez.London: J. M. Dent and Sons limited. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1913.