HESE events all occurred in China, though it is just as likely that they could have happened in the place where you live. In fact, what happened to Huang could have happened to anyone, provided, of course, he was lucky enough to meet a Thunder Spirit. But let me begin, as is right and proper, at the beginning of the story, when Huang was born, in a hot dry village, what it did not often rain, and the people had hardly enough to drink. By the time Huang's pigtail was fully-grown and he with it, all the villagers loved him and knew him as a generous fellow. For whatever he possessed, Huang would give to those who were poorer— even to the last drop of water in the sun parched well at the bottom of his garden.
Huang's father had died leaving him a good sum of money, but before long the kind young man had given it all away. It is not easy to be generous when you have nothing to be generous with, so Huang decided that he must set up in business. He started in the rice trade, and since the Chinese are all partial to this excellent food, Huang soon became a wealthy general merchant. He bought everyone in the village a new straw hat to protect them from the sun, but no amount of money could protect them from thirst, for it so seldom rained there.
Huang had to make many trips over land and sea to bring in his goods, and on one of these journeys to the city of Nanking; he stopped at an inn, and ordered himself a meal. When it came and Huang raised the first spoonful of bird's nest soup to his lips, he noticed a very thin man across the room, watching him enviously. At once Huang rose and inquired, in his thoughtful way, whether the man was well, for he looked gnarled and hollow- as a withered oak.
The poor man seemed too miserable to reply, and Huang guessed that he was hungry and did not have the price of a meal. At once, he clapped his hands and sent a waiter to brine as much food as he could carry. When the dishes arrived, steaming invitingly, the thin stranger fell to, without a word, and quickly picked the dishes clean with his chopsticks. Then he sighed, well satisfied, and bowed gratefully to Huang. His voice came low and rumbling.
"Sir, you are a generous benefactor. It is all of three years since I have eaten.” Huang was not unnaturally, surprised to hear this.
"It is a rare man indeed who can live without food for so long," he said. "Tell me, what is your name, and from where do you come?”
"My name shall be unknown to you for the while," replied the stranger, "and as for my home, alas, I have none."
"Say no more. I do not wish to pry into your secrets," said Huang “but do take these coins, so that you will not have to fast for another three years.”
The stranger laughed so resoundingly that the dishes on the table clattered. "Put your money away, my good man," he told Huang. "I have need to eat only, once in every year.” His smile vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, and again the stranger took on an air of deep gloom, “and as for secrets, it is I who know all yours." he said. "Take warning from me that soon you will be in very great danger. But fear not. To repay your goodness, I myself shall accompany you on your way." Huang was not altogether pleased at this, but being Chinese, he was far too polite to say so, and he left the inn and continued on the journey, followed by his new companion.
His home lay over the water, and Huang booked their passage on a junk, one of the small boats that sail in that part of the world. When they were well out to sea, the lite wind suddenly changed to a heavy gale. The little junk was buffeted about, and the passengers had to cling fast to the timbers in order not to be thrown into the churning sea. Then a great wave came sweeping towards the junk and swallowed it into the depths of the ocean. Huang, together with his goods and possessions, was flung into the water, and he would surely have been drowned, for he could not swim, had not the stranger grabbed him by the pigtail as they went over the side, and held his head above water until the storm was over.
When the sea was calm again, the stranger lifted Huang upon his shoulders and began to swim away from the wreck. Huang was amazed that the stranger should be able to carry his heavy burden over mile after mile of ocean, without ever growing tired. He seemed to be endowed with far greater strength than any ordinary man.
At last, as the light was beginning to wane, they came in sight of land. Huang's cries managed to attract the attention of some people aboard another junk nearby, and soon they were being pulled out of the water to safety by willing hands.
Huang sat in the junk, so exhausted and upset by the loss of all his valuable merchandise that he did not see the stranger dive overboard again and swim back towards the shipwreck. When Huang did notice that his companion had gone, he began to search the junk anxiously, fearing that the stranger had saved Huang's life, only to lose his own.
Looking ruefully out to sea, Huang was relieved to see a swimmer threshing towards them, bearing a heavy object on his back. When he came nearer, Huang saw that it was the stranger and that he carried with him an enormous box, containing some of the costly goods that had gone down with the wreck. But when the stranger had handed hack Huang’s property, he refused to rest, and swam away instead to return in a while with yet more of the valuables.
The stranger would not come aboard the junk until he had saved all the merchandise from the wreck. Huang could hardly believe his good fortune, as he opened the cases or deck and saw that the water had not damaged his goods.
“To think that all I have lost in that terrible shipwreck is a small gold scarf pin," he said. Before he had finished the sentence the stranger had jumped into the ocean again, and he returned later with the scarf pin in his hand.
"How can I thank you?" Huang asked the stranger. “You have saved my life and all I own.”
"I have done this in return for your kindness to me," replied the stranger. “One good turn deserves another, as the wise men say. However, if you really wish to do me yet another, favor, there is nothing I should like more than to stay with you, in your home, for a year." "Gladly!" exclaimed Huang. You shall be my honored guest for as long as you like.”
The stranger went home with Huang, and lived with him most contentedly for a year. At the end of this time, he had not eaten a single meal, and Huang decided that a banquet should be held for the stranger, to celebrate the anniversary of their meeting. He invited his friends and neighbors, and provided enough food for a hundred people. But when the meal was served, the stranger, forgetting manners for the moment, so hungry was he after his year's fast, ate up everything! The other guests had to go home and come again another day. Of course the stranger was very sorry when he realized what he had done, and bowed until his pointed hat touched the ground, to show his shame. But Huang only laughed, well pleased that the stranger had enjoyed his hospitality. For he still felt much indebted to this unusual friend.
“The time has come," said the stranger, “when I must leave you, my good and generous friend. Know now that my name is Thunder Spirit." Huang was amazed.
"Then you have come from the heavens," he gasped. "I am much honored to have shared my humble roof with one so great. But why then, Thunder Spirit, do you visit us here?”
“It is a punishment, for up there in the clouds I grew idle, and caused no rain to fall. Thus, I was condemned to spend one year on earth, without home or, money. But for your kindness, I should indeed have been an unhappy wanderer." Now at last Huang understood why the stranger spoke so roundly and resonantly. His was the voice of thunder as it echoes over the distant hills, gently heralding the storm.
"Before I depart, let us make one more journey together. Where would you go?" the Thunder Spirit asked Huang.
"To catch a shooting star," said Huang. "I have always wanted to do that more than anything." The Spirit laughed, and as he did so there came a thunderclap, and a flash of lightning lit the room. When it was dark again the room had vanished, and with it the Thunder Spirit. Huang found himself out in the cool night air, high above the village, floating on a soft white cloud. The stars gleamed and winked so near that he could almost touch them. As he stretched out an arm, one of the stars shot downwards right held on carefully to the treasure. Far away in the sky, a black speck grew nearer and larger, until Huang saw that it was a grand chariot, drawn by two dragons whose flapping wings set up quite a breeze.
Their steely-scaled bodies clashed against each other with a noise like a gong, and Huang felt rather afraid until he saw that one of the occupants of the chariot was his friend the Thunder Spirit. The dragons brought the chariot right overhead and hovered while Huang was helped aboard. Inside the chariot with the Thunder Spirit was a man in whose helmet burned a jet of flame, and Huang knew that he was looking at the Spirit of the Sun. Another man sat puffing out his cheeks as if they were a pair of bellows, whistling shrilly. This was the Spirit of the Wind. The Moon Spirit was bathed all over in pale light, and the Snow Spirit wore a shimmery white fur coat.
"Now that you have caught a shooting star, you may have your heart's desire, Huang," said the Thunder Spirit. Huang looked over the side of the chariot at the twinkling lights of his village, and thought of the dried out wells, and fields whose crops had been scorched by the sun.
"I want nothing for myself, Thunder Spirit," he said. Only let me give the people of my village some rain, and I shall be content forever.
"This you shall do," said the Thunder Spirit, and gave Huang a large copper pail. The Spirit clapped his hands loudly over the pail several times, and as he did so, it filled with water. Huang took the pail and poured a steady stream of water down towards his village. Strangely enough, the pail remained full until the Thunder Spirit clapped his hands again. Below in the village, people were running from their houses with bowls and jugs and barrels, to catch the precious rain that had come with a thunderclap.
Huang and the Thunder Spirit bade each other a fond farewell and the Spirit promised never again to neglect his duties with the rain pail. Huang let himself down to earth nimbly, with the aid of a long rope that trailed from the back of the chariot, and the Spirits watched to see him land safely. When his feet were firmly on the ground, Huang released the rope, which went snaking upwards into the sky again.
The chariot vanished behind a cloud, and that was the last Huang ever saw of his friend the Thunder Spirit. Or at least, almost the last…
That night, as he undresses for bed, the star fell out of his sleeve. Now all the light and glitter had gone, and it was grey and cold as a stone. Even so, Huang decided to keep the star, because it was a gift from the Thunder Spirit placing it on a table near bed, he fell asleep. During the night, a dazzling glare made him open his eyes, to see the star shining once more brilliantly. Huang rose and approached the table. As he got nearer, the star burst asunder in a shower of bright sparks, and there, on the table in its place, stood a lovely lady.
"My Lord," she said, in silvery tones, "I am Star Light, sent by the Thunder Spin to be your wife and love you always." Huang felt most gratified and he and Star Light were married that day. And they drank the wedding toasts in water, for the people of that village thought it tasted better than wine. No one guessed that Huang had been the means of causing the rain to fall, and he, modest as ever, told not a soul.
It was reward enough for Huang to know that the Thunder Spirit had not forgotten his promise, for when the water had been used up again, dark clouds gathered at once, and the needed rain came pouring. And once, when Huang looked out of the window, he seemed to see, in a flash of lightning, someone wearing a high pointed hat, who looked downwards, clapping his hands as the thunder crashed.