The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea

The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea by Pearl S. Buck

Book: The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea by Pearl S. Buck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pearl S. Buck
away at once, but this child, being what he is, will only plunge himself into new peril.”
    “Then why do you go?” she demanded.
    “I would not go,” he said, “unless I knew it to be my duty.” And as was his habit when he did not wish to speak further at a given moment, he rose and left her.
    From Sunia he went to the room where his elder son slept. The child lay on the floor bed, his arms upflung, his face beautiful in peace. This stormy boy, this being of his creation, who could so twist and tear at his father’s heart, lay there now in such calm innocence that Il-han could have wept. Yet this same child could turn into a devil of anger and mischief and destruction and there were times when Il-han wondered if he were possessed. Once, because a kitten would not come to him, the child had strangled it. Once he had bitten his baby brother’s tiny hand so that blood came. Once he had taken a stone and broken a turtle’s new shell. When he thought of these times Il-han shivered. Yet there were other times. Into the bitten hand the elder brother had pressed a favorite toy of his own. Once he had wept for a brood of birdlings when the wind blew down their nest and they were too young to take food from his hand. And there were the times, how many times, when the child had curled himself into his father’s arms, hungry for love. Did he dare leave this child? Yes, for what he did was for the child, too. The country must be safe for his sons more than for himself.
    That night he was so silent and so grave that Sunia did not dare to speak to him. She was afraid because of what he had told her and before they slept she crept close to him and he was won by her gentleness and dread and he took her to his heart.
    When he announced himself next day at the gate of the Secret Garden, where the Queen’s palace stood, he waited in the anteroom until the guard came back after a while to tell him that the Queen took her leisure today in the bower of the garden. There he was led when she declared herself ready to receive him and he found her in the small room under the triangular roofs of the bower. She stood by a carved table heaped with flowers and autumn leaves and to suit the season she wore a full skirt and short jacket of russet and wine-red satin.
    She was in a good mood, he could see, for she did not demand ceremony and was not herself ceremonious.
    “Enter,” she said. “You see me in disarray. I am amusing myself. I hope you have not come with troubles. You are always so grave that I cannot tell what goes on inside that skull of yours. It is full of secrets, I daresay.”
    She spoke with willfulness and smiles, and it occurred to him again that beyond being royal she was also a beautiful woman. He wondered at himself that he could continue to have such thoughts about his Queen and he put them hastily away.
    “Majesty,” he said, “I have come not to disturb your pleasure but with a request.”
    “Speak on,” she commanded. She took a pin from the knot of her hair and caught into it a golden chrysanthemum and then put the pin into her dark hair again and the flower glowed there like a jewel against the pale cream of her nape. He looked away.
    “I ask that I be excused from attendance upon your Majesty for the space of months—a few months. I cannot declare the number of months, for my purpose is to travel everywhere over our country to observe the people, high and low, and measure their strength, their skills, their temper. Then when I return to give report to you, I shall know well what to say. Only thus can I know how strong our people are for defending our land.”
    He made his request in a low, even voice, measuring his tones with reverence for her royal presence although she deigned to appear before him as a woman. He was horror-struck to see the change in her. She took swift steps to him and seized his right arm in both hands and clung to him.
    “No,” she whispered. “No—no—”
    He tried to step back,

Similar Books

Cloud Country

Andy Futuro

Behind the Walls

Merry Jones

After Midnight

Katherine Garbera

The Denver Cereal

Claudia Hall Christian

The Fall of Chance

Terry McGowan

Outside the Box

H. M. Montes