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LONG BODY AND MADAME THOUSAND FEET
IN the land of Morning Radiance, where the family names have only one syllable, such as Kim, Yi, Pil, Wun, Hap, etc., they wear shoes, but these are not made of black leather. The people neither stand up on wooden clogs as in Japan, nor case their feet in straight soled gaiters, without heels, as in China. The gentlemen put on white socks with tough hide soles, and the ladies don dainty slippers with the pointed toes turned up. Common folks' sandals are made chiefly of straw and twine and it takes a good deal of cordage to complete a pair.
Now there once lived under an old stone below a persimmon tree a fair young creature named Miss Thousand Feet. She wore lead-colored clothes and had so many toes to take care of that any one who tried to count them soon got tired; so he stopped and called the whole amount a thousand, which was a number as round as herself. She was as proud of each one of her many little feet as a Chinese lady, who has only two of them, admires her own, when they fit a velvet shoe no bigger than a pepper pod. Miss Thousand Feet was very modest, however, and if any one stepped on her toes, or touched her, she curled up, first into a ring and then into a ball, so that men, by a pun on her family name, called her "a pill millipede," for she belonged to the Pil family, one of the most famous in all Korea.
Miss Thousand Feet was very happy living under a damp stone in the cool earth and she played a good deal. But by and by, when she grew up, her parents told her it was time for her to get married. So they looked around, to see if any gentleman in the whole creation was worthy of her, not only to make a suitable husband, but also a good match that her friends would be proud of.
Now, in another village lived a rich, fat, young and promising male creature, named Mr. Long Body, of the Wum family. His business was to eat his way through the ground, and pile up little curled heaps of mud on the surface, and at this work he was kept very busy. He had to look out for the birds, for they liked to eat him up, he was so soft and sweet. Constant exercise in moving through the ground kept his body shining, so that altogether, as earthworms go, he was quite handsome and considered a good catch for Miss Thousand Feet. Furthermore, as he had no feet and she had so many, while his body was long and hers quite short, it was supposed that one would make up where the other lacked and that both would be happy together as husband and wife.
Mr. Long Body, when he heard of the charms of Miss Thousand Feet, was of the same opinion. All his friends were pairing off, the males bringing home their brides to their fathers' houses and setting up housekeeping. As he had come of age, he also determined to marry.
So he sent letters and opened the business, according to Korean etiquette, through a "go-between," as the lady who arranges marriages is called. This person goes to see each of the two families, praising to one the beauty and graces of the promised bride and to the other the strength and wealth of the future husband. Indeed, she gives both of them a very good character. Finally the "six proprieties," or "half dozen rules," had been completed and the engagement of Mr. Wum and Miss Pil was announced.
What a clatter of gossip was at once heard in both villages! No one ever thought that such a handsome fellow as Mr. Long Body Wum would ever marry into the Pil family. Some jealous folks hinted that Mr. Long Body, if he took a wife with a thousand feet, would never be able to pay his shoemaker. On the other hand, so long as his bride would be content with plain twine shoes, all might go well; but, for extra occasions, or if his wife were extravagant, and wanted lady's turned up house foot-gear, made of red morocco, such as only the Yang-ban, or rich folks, wear, — well, there would be trouble in the household. How could he keep her in shoes? Other persons, however, who knew that the Pils were famous people, wondered how Mr. Wum ever managed to get such a prize as Miss Pil.
In the other village, the tongues of the gossips ran on in much the same way. What did she see to admire in that fellow without legs? Then, when the honeymoon would be over and it came to making gentleman's clothes for her husband, had she any skill with the needle? Could she make a long coat and one trouser leg big enough to fit him? And think of the many days of work necessary to cut and sew the garment, to say nothing of weary hours to be spent in washing, starching and giving a gloss to such clothes. The idea! Why, she would have to be nothing but a slave.
As her husband's semptress, tailor, and laundress she would get no rest. Think of washing, starching, and beating to a fine gloss the one-legged trousers, which Mr. Wum would often have to change; for he lived in the dirt!
Now, Mr. Long Body Wum was so busy with his work of excavating the ground that he had no time to hear, or pay attention to the village chatterboxes. Miss Pil, however, couldn't help hearing what the women and others said about her, and especially the talk concerning the terribly hard duties that awaited her if she took a husband. While Mr. Wum kept digging at the tunnel three yards long, which he was excavating underground, so as to save up and be ready for his wedding, Miss Pil brooded over what the gossips talked about and over those awfully long coats and one-legged trousers she would be obliged to sit up at nights to make, wash, starch and gloss. Already she imagined her arms tired in anticipation of starching and beating on the Korean lustre, without which no gentleman in the Land of Morning Calm ever goes outdoors. If his coat didn't have that fashionable shine which long beating gives, the women would notice it immediately and pretty soon the men also.
Miss Pil's brooding night and day over the matter did not help affairs, and finally wore upon her nerves. She refused to prepare her own trousseau, and, finally, despite all her friends told her in praise of Mr. Long Body Wum, she decided to write a letter to him, telling him that on account of his long trunk without limbs, and the great labor necessary to make him proper clothing and of starching and glossing it, to say nothing of keeping it in order, she felt unable to hold to the marriage engagement and must break it off.
But before she had dropped the water on the ink stone and begun to rub up the ink, or taken brush-pen and paper in hand, Mr. Long Body had got wind of her complaining and it worried him. Why should he marry one who didn't want him?
Then, as he thought it over, being a very thrifty and economical bachelor, he began to doubt whether he could buy shoes enough to fit all the feet of his betrothed. He had not looked on her face or figure yet. Indeed it was hardly Korean etiquette that he should — openly at least. So far, he had not seen her tiny feet to count them up, but he suspected that, since she belonged to the Pil family, she must have a thousand feet according to her reputation. When he came to calculate what it would cost him, even in cheap twine sandals, he was startled. When he figured out what ladies' turned up kids would come to he was so alarmed that he nearly fainted. At the sight of two thousand pairs of shoes, however tiny, his breath almost failed him and he saw himself ruined. What should he do?
And when she took off her foot-gear at night, where should he stow it away? Then, what a noise she would make, if she put on rough-soled shoes, while at her work around the house and yard. It was horrible for a quiet bachelor even to think of the clatter she would make. Already he felt deafness coming on. Should he break off the engagement? Yet how could any one of the Wum family honorably do such a thing? What would the neighbors say? Could he, if prone to breaking his word, get another bride of a family so respectable as that of the Pil?
However he would sleep over it, as there were some days before the wedding. But next morning the matter cleared up, and he was able to crawl into his hole and out of sight with comfort. He sent a letter to Miss Pil, setting forth the facts, and asking for a release from the engagement to marry. The substance of what he wrote was this: that owing to his small fortune he would be unable to buy her all the shoes, and of the kind which a lady of her quality and tastes required. He therefore could not think of asking her to share his poverty, but begged her to secure another husband who could buy several sets of a thousand slippers, gaiters, high cut and low cut shoes and boots such as a lady needed for both fine and bad weather, etc., etc.
Now it happened that the letters crossed on the road. Both messengers were boys, who acted as postmen. As they passed, each one, knowing that the other was from the opposite village, suspected what the other was carrying, for both knew how the gossips had talked.
So there was no wedding, nor any frolic among the young folks, or feasting of relatives, and to this day Miss Pil remains single and Mr. Wum has no wife. They were very severe on the girl. All the gossips say that it served the thousand-footed hussy right. Folks had better look on the good points in a person's character and not dwell upon his faults and defects. On the other hand, in Mr. Wum's village, all declare with one voice that bachelors should count up all the expense in getting married. Miss Pil still goes shoeless hiding from her light under a stone, and Mr. Wum keeps out of sight underground, for he has nothing to wear.