The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 31

All his life, Wang had never witnessed a war, only heard of it sometimes when men would leave to join the forces for reasons of poverty or restlessness. Now, he sees the price of grain rise because a conflict to the south gets nearer and nearer to their location, but Wang is not afraid, as he once was of being seized, because he is rich now.

One day, Wang sees the ghastly sight of hundreds of armed men in gray uniforms marching through town. When he tries to close the gates, he is stunned to hear that his uncle’s son is among them. To his horror, his nephew tells the troops to rest at Wang’s house, and Wang is unable to prevent the hordes from entering the courts. The men immediately prey upon the pools, dirtying the water and killing the fish, and they spit and idle everywhere.

Wang’s sons are powerless against the men, so they decide to protect the women by guarding them in the innermost court. Though this bars the other men from viewing them, the uncle’s son enters and leaves as he pleases, conversing and flirting with the women. (His preference for the second son’s wife over the first furthers the tension between Wang’s sons.) He also comes in to view his mother, and seeing her emaciated condition, he wonders how Wang has treated her. Wang protests, saying that he has given in to all her requests.

The family abhors the uncle’s son for his lewdness, even though all of the uniformed men contribute to the destruction of their property. Cuckoo declares one day that the only solution is to give in to the boy’s desires and give him a slave for his pleasure, and Wang agrees. The uncle’s son requests the company of Lotus’ slave, Pear Blossom, the young girl purchased in the famine year. When Pear Blossom hears this, she falls to her knees and begs Lotus not to send her. Lotus is unsympathetic and tells her to go immediately, but Pear Blossom continues to bawl and will not go.

Wang’s family dares not speak against their father’s wife, but Wang himself is made uncomfortable by her weeping. The little maid notices the kindness in his eyes and begins to sob and beg him to let her stay. Wang cannot bear the weeping and tells Cuckoo to relay to his cousin that Pear Blossom has an incurable disease but that they will gladly give him another slave. Lotus is extremely offended that Wang has forgiven the slave for not doing as she is told, and she walks angrily away. Wang cautions the pretty little maid to wait until her mistress’ anger has passed before returning to serve her.

The cousin departs after a month and a half, leaving the slave who is given to him pregnant. He boasts of his success in fertility as he leaves the courts with the rest of the men.

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