The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea

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

Book: The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea by Pearl S. Buck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pearl S. Buck
    The last farewells were said. He stayed alone with Sunia for a few minutes, the wall screens closed between them and all others. He took her in his arms and held her warm soft cheek against his.
    “How can you leave me?” she sighed.
    “How can you let me go?” he retorted.
    She gave him a playful push. “Is everything my fault?”
    They clung together again, as though they could never part.
    “I wonder at us both,” she said at last.
    Then since they must part she drew away from him and they went into the other room where the children waited, the older with his tutor and the younger with his nurse. Again Il-han wondered why the love of country was deeper in him than any other. His elder son began to cry when he saw his father ready to leave, and he caught the child to him and reminded the tutor of his duty.
    “I hold you responsible,” he said sternly. “The child is never to be out of your sight.”
    “I am responsible,” the young man replied.
    With the elder son clinging to his waist, Il-han next took the younger one from the arms of the nurse. This child was tranquil by nature and placid, with content and good health. His face was round, his cheeks were pink, and his dark eyes bright. He smiled at his father and looked about at the assembled servants and at his mother.
    “He never cries, this one!” his nurse said. “Whatever is, he finds it good.”
    “I am glad to have one like him,” Il-han replied and gave the child to her again.
    To her, too, he gave warning. “I hold you responsible,” he said.
    “I am responsible,” the nurse replied.
    Farewells were finished, and since Il-han had visited his father the day before, there was no need to disturb him again, and he left his house and went through the gate to the street beyond, the neighbors bidding him as he went to guard his health, to drink no cold water and to beware of bandits in the mountains. He left them all behind at last and giving rein to horse, he departed from the city by the northwest gate. To the north he would go first, then eastward and south, striking through the center of the great peninsula which was his country. Once more he would move slowly up the western coast northward again until he reached the island of Kanghwa, which lies at the mouth of the river Han.
    This island was dear to Il-han, though he had never seen it, for here began the history of his people. On a mountaintop upon Kanghwa the people believed that their first king, Tangun, had come down from Heaven three thousand years before the era called Christian. For four thousand years after this sacred birth, the people lived in peace under many kings until, seven hundred and more years ago, the fierce men of Mongolia poured their hordes across the Yalu River and swarmed over the land. Then the King and his people retreated to Kanghwa, since they could not hold back the invaders. The King commanded that a wall be built on the landward side of the island, and the people said that Tangun, now returned to Heaven, sent down his three sons to help them build the wall, which thereafter was known as the Wall of the Three Sons.
    Such was legend, and Il-han had heard it in his childhood, for his grandfather spoke often of Kanghwa, not only for the sake of history but because here the Kim clan had its beginning.
    “Kanghwa is the stronghold of our independence and the birthplace of our clan,” his grandfather had told him. “There in every battle a Kim fought to defend our country. When the Mongols had returned to their own country, their hands dripping treasure they stole from us, we had some hundreds of years of peace until certain lawless tribes from beyond China attacked again. Once more Kanghwa was our bastion. Alas, now the Wall was broken down by the enemy but we would not yield. We built the Wall again, a Kim in command under the King, and again we repelled the enemy. When they were gone, we came out to acclaim our land. Yes, my grandson, in Kanghwa is the

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