Sim Hyun, or Mr. Sim, was highly esteemed in the Korean village in which he resided. He belonged to the Yang Ban, or gentleman class, and when he walked forth it was with the stately swinging stride of the gentleman, while if he bestrode his favorite donkey, or was carried in his chair, a runner went ahead calling out to the commoners to clear the road. His rank was not high, and though greatly esteemed as a scholar, his income would scarcely allow of his taking the position he was fitted to occupy.
His parents had been very fortunate in betrothing him to a remarkably beautiful and accomplished maiden, daughter of a neighboring gentleman. She was noted for beauty and grace, while her mental qualities were the subject of continual admiration. She could not only read and write her native ernmun, but was skilled in Chinese characters, while her embroidered shoes, pockets, and other feminine articles were the pride of her mother and friends. She had embroidered a set of historic panels, which her father sent to the King. His Majesty mentioned her skill with marked commendation, and had the panels made up into a screen which for some time stood behind his mat, and continually called forth his admiration.
Sim had not seemed very demonstrative in regard to his approaching nuptials, but once he laid his eyes upon his betrothed, as she unveiled at the ceremony, he was completely captivated, and brooked with poor grace the formalities that had to be gone through before he could claim her as his constant companion.
It was an exceptionally happy union, the pair being intellectually suited to each other, and each apparently possessing the bodily attributes necessary to charm the other. There was never a sign of disgust or disappointment at the choice their parents had made for them. They used to wander out into the little garden off the women's quarters, and sit in the moonlight, planning for the future, and enjoying the products of each other's well stored mind. It was their pet desire to have a son, and all their plans seemed to centre around this one ambition ; the years came and went, however, but their coveted blessing was withheld, the wife consulted priestesses, and the husband, from long and great disappointment, grew sad at heart and cared but little for mingling with the world, which he thought regarded him with shame. He took to hooks and began to confine himself to his own apartments, letting his poor wife stay neglected and alone in the apartments of the women. From much study, lack of exercise, and failing appetite, he grew thin and emaciated, and his eyes began to show the wear of overwork and innutrition. The effect upon his wife was also bad, but, with a woman's fortitude and patience, she bore up and hoped in spite of constant disappointment. She worried over her husband's condition and felt ashamed that she had no name in the world, other than the wife of Sim, while she wished to be known as the mother of the Sim of whom they had both dreamed by day and by night till dreams had almost left them.
After fifteen years of childless waiting, the wife of Sim dreamed again; this time her vision was a brilliant one, and in it she saw a star come down to her from the skies above; the dream awakened her, and she sent for her husband to tell him that she knew their blessing was about to come to them; she was right, a child was given to them, but, to their great dismay, it was only a girl. Heaven had kindly prepared the way for the little visitor, however; for after fifteen years weary waiting, they were not going to look with serious disfavor upon a girl, however much their hopes had been placed upon the advent of a son.
The child grew, and the parents were united as they only could be by such a precious bond. The ills of childhood seemed not to like the little one, even the virus of small-pox, that was duly placed in her nostril, failed to innoculate her, and her pretty skin remained fresh and soft like velvet, and totally free from the marks of the dread disease.
At three years of age she bade fair to far surpass her mother's noted beauty and accomplishments. Her cheeks were full-blown roses, and whenever she opened her dainty curved mouth, ripples of silvery laughter, or words of mature wisdom, were sure to be given forth. The hearts of the parents, that had previously been full of tears, were now light, and full of contentment and joy; while they were constantly filled with pride by the reports of the wonderful wisdom of their child that coutinually came to them. The father forgot that his offspring was not a boy, and had his child continually by his side to guide his footsteps, as his feeble eyes refused to perform their office.
Just as their joy seemed too great to be lasting, it was suddenly checked by the death of the mother, which plunged them into a deep grief from which the father emerged totally blind. It soon became a question as to where the daily food was to come from ; little by little household trinkets were given to the brokers to dispose of, and in ten years they had used up the homestead, and all it contained.
The father was now compelled to ask alma, and as his daughter was grown to womanhood, she could no longer direct his footsteps as he wandered out in the darkness of the blind.1 One day in his journeying he fell into a deep ditch, from which he could not extricate himself. After remaining in this deplorable condition for some time he heard a step, and called out for assistance, saying: "I am blind, not drunk," whereupon the passing stranger said: "I know full well you are not drunk. True, you are blind, yet not incurably so."
"Why, who are you that you know so much about me?" asked the blind man.
"I am the old priest of the temple in the mountain fortress."
"Well, what is this that you say about my not being permanently blind?"
"I am a prophet, and I have had a vision concerning you. In case you make an offering of three hundred bags of rice to the Buddha of our temple, you will be restored to sight, you will be given rank and dignity, while your daughter will become the first woman in all Korea."
1 After reaching girlhood persons of respectability are not seen on the streets in Korea.
"But I am poor, as well as blind," was the reply. "How can I promise such a princely offering? "
"You may give me your order for it, and pay it along as you are able," said the priest.
"Very well, give me pencil and paper," whereupon they retired to a house, and the blind man gave his order for the costly price of his sight. Returning home weary, bruised, and hungry, he smiled to himself, in spite of his ill condition, at the thought of his giving an order for so much rice when he had not a grain of it to eat.