VIII

Again fate had interfered to further separate the lovers, for, instead of continuing her journey, Uhn Hah had received news that induced her to start for Seoul. While resting, on one occasion, they had some conversation with a passer-by. He was from the capital, and stated that he had gone there from a place near Uhn Hah's childhood home as an attendant of the Ussa You Pang Noo, who had taken sick at his uncle's, the magistrate, and had gone to Seoul, where he was excused from ussa duty and offered service at court. He knew not of the recent changes, but told his eager listener all he knew of Pang Noo's family.

The weary, foot-sore girl and her companion turned their faces toward the capital, hoping at last to be rewarded by finding the object of their search. That evening darkness overtook them before they had found shelter, and spying a light through the trees, they sought it out, and found a little hut occupied by an old man. He was reading a book, but laid it aside as they answered his invitation to enter, given in response to their knock. The usual salutations were exchanged, but instead of asking who the visitors were, where they lived, etc., etc., the old man called her by her true name, Cho Nang Jah. "I am not a Nang Jah" (a female appellation), she exclaimed; "I am a man!"

"Oh! I know you, laughed the old man; "you are Cho Nang Jah in very truth, and you are seeking your future husband in this disguise. But you are perfectly safe here."

"Ask me no questions," said he, as she was about to utter some surprised inquiries. "I have been waiting for you and expecting you. You are soon to do great things, for which I will prepare you. Never mind your hunger, but devour this pill; it will give you superhuman strength and courage." He gave her a pill of great size, which she ate, and then fell asleep on the floor. The old man went away, and soon the tired servant slept also. When they awoke it was bright morning, and the birds were singing in the trees above them, which were their only shelter, for the hut of the previous evening had disappeared entirely, as had also the old man. Concluding that the old man must be some heaven-sent messenger, she devoutly bowed herself in grateful acknowledgment of the gracious manifestation.

Journeying on, they soon came to a wayside inn kept by an old farmer, and here they procured food. While they were eating, a blind man was prophesying for the people. When he came to Uhn Hah he said: "This is a woman in disguise; she is seeking for her husband, who is fighting the rebels, and searching for her. He is now nearly dead; but he will not die, for she will rescue him." On hearing this she was delighted and sad at the same time, and explaining some of her history to the master of the house, he took her in with the women and treated her kindly. She was very anxious to be about her work, however, since heaven had apparently so clearly pointed it out to her, and, bidding the simple but kind friends good-by, she started for the seat of war, where she arrived after a long, tedious, but uneventful tramp.

Almost the first thing she saw was the inscription on the rocks left by the very one she sought, and she cried bitterly at thought that maybe she was too late. The servant cheered her up, however, by reciting the blind man's prophecy, and they went on their way till they came to a miserable little inn, where they secured lodging. After being there some time, Uhn Hah noticed that the innkeeper's wife was very sad, and continually in tears. She therefore questioned her as to the cause of her grief.

"I am mourning over the fate of the poor starved soldiers, killed by the neglect of some one at Seoul, and for the brave young officer, You Pang Noo, whom the rebels have carried away captive." At this Uhn Hah fainted away, and the nurse made such explanation as she could. Restoratives were applied, and she slowly recovered, when, on further questioning, it was found that the inn-people were slaves of You Pang Noo, and had followed him thus far. It was also learned that the absence of stores was generally believed to be due to the corrupt general-in-chief, who not only hated his gallant young officer, but was unwilling to let him achieve glory, so long as he could prevent it.

After consultation, and learning further of the matter, Uhn Hah wrote a letter explaining the condition of affairs, and dispatched it to Pang Noo's father by the innkeeper. The Governor was not at his country place, and the messenger had to go to Seoul, where, to his horror, he found that his old master was in prison, sent there by the influence of the corrupt Genera], his enemy, because his son had been accused of being a traitor, giving over the royal troops to the rebels, and escaping with them himself. The innkeeper, however, secured access to the prison, and delivered the letter to the unfortunate parent. Of course, nothing could be done, and again he blamed his son for his stupid secrecy in concealing bis troubles from his father, and thus bringing ruin upon the family and injury to the young lady. However, he wrote a letter to the good uncle, relating the facts, and requesting him to find the gid, place her in his home, and care for her as tenderly as possible. He could do nothing more. The innkeeper delivered this letter to the uncle, and was then instructed to carry a litter and attendants to his home and bring back the young lady, attired in suitable garments. He did so as speedily as possible, though the journey was a long and tedious one.

Once installed in a comfortable home poor Uhn Hah became more and more lonely. She seemed to have nothing now to hope for, and the stagnation of idleness was more than she could endure. She fancied her lover in prison, and suffering, while she was in the midst of comfort and luxury. She could not endure the thought, and prevailed upon her benefactor to convey to His Majesty a petition praying that she be given a body of soldiers and be allowed to go and punish the rebels, reclaim the territory, and liberate her husband. The King marvelled much at such a request, coming from one of her retiring, seclusive sex, and upon the advice of the wicked General, who was still in command, the petition was not granted. Still she persisted, and found other ways of reaching the throne, till the King, out of curiosity to see such a brave and loyal woman, bade her come before him.

When she entered the royal presence her beauty and dignity of carriage at once won attention and respectful admiration, so that her request was about to be granted, when the General suggested, as a last resort, that she first give some evidence of her strength and prowess before the national military reputation be entrusted to her keeping. It seemed a wise thought, and the King asked her what she could dp to show that she was warranted in heading such a perilous expedition. She breathed a prayer to her departed parents for help, and remembering the strange promise of the old man who gave her the pill, she felt that she could do almost any thing, and seizing a large weather-worn stone that stood in an ornamental rock basin in the court, she threw it over the enclosing wall as easily as two men would have lifted it from the ground. Then, taking the General's sword, she began slowly to manipulate it, increasing gradually, as though in keeping with hidden music, till the movement became so rapid that the sword seemed like one continuous ring of burning steel - now in the air, now about her own person, and, again, menacingly near the wicked General, who cowered in abject terror before the remarkable sight. His Majesty was completely captivated, and himself gave the orders for her expedition, raising her to relative rank, and giving her the choicest battalion of troops. In her own peculiarly dignified way she expressed her gratitude, and, bowing to the ground, went forth to execute her sovereign's commands, and attain her heart's desire.

Again donning male attire, she completed her preparations, and departed with eager delight to accomplish her mission. The troops having obtained an inkling of the strange character and almost supernatural power of their handsome, dashing leader, were filled with courage and eager for the fray. But to the dismay of all, they had no sooner arrived at the rebel infested country than severe rains began to fall, making it impossible to accomplish any thing. This was explained, however, by the spirits of the departed soldiers, who appeared to the officers in dreams, and announced that as they had been sacrificed by the cruel General, who had intentionally withheld their rations, they would allow no success to the royal arms till their death was avenged by his death. This was dispatched to court, and believed by His Majesty, who had heard similar reports, oft repeated. He therefore confined the General in prison, and sent his son (the one who wished to marry Uhn Hah) to the front to be executed.

He was slain and his blood scattered to the winds. A feast was prepared for the spirits of the departed soldiers, and this sacrifice having been made, the storm ceased, the sun shone, and the royal troops met and completely vanquished the rebels, restoring peace to the troubled districts, but not obtaining the real object of the leaders' search. After much questioning, among the captives, a man was found who knew all about You Pang Noo, and where he was secreted. Upon the promise of pardon, he conducted a party who rescued the captive and brought him before their commander. Of course for a time the lovers could not recognize each other after the years that had elapsed since their first chance meeting.

You Pang Noo was given command and Uhn Hah modestly retired, adopted her proper dress, and was borne back to Seoul in a litter. The whole country rang with their praises. You Pang Noo was appointed governor of a province, and the father was reinstated in office, while the General who had caused the trouble was ignominiously put to death, and his whole family and his estates were confiscated.

As Cho Uhn Hah had no parents, His Majesty determined that she should have royal patronage, and decreed that their wedding should take place in the great hall where the members of the royal family are united in marriage. This was done with all the pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding, and no official stood so high in the estimation of the King, as the valiant, true-hearted You, while the virtues of his spouse were the subject of songs and ballads, and she was extolled as the model for the women of the country.