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Football on a lake

The two Chais, father and son, were known for miles round their home as first-class football players. Even up to the time he was forty the father went on with the game, and might have been playing till sixty if he hadn't come to a sad end, being drowned in the great lake near by. Now, about eight years afterwards, young Chai had to go a long journey which took him across this same lake, and as it was already evening, he determined to anchor his boat for the night. It was a lovely moonlight night, when suddenly, as he sat enjoying the view, he saw a very strange sight. Up out of the lake came five men carrying a huge mat, which they spread on the top of the water. Next they brought up bowls of food, and wine in kettles, -- they could scarcely have been ordinary bowls and kettles, because when the men knocked them together there was no sound of crockery or metal, but a funny, wooden-like sound difficult to describe. When the food was all spread on the mat, three of the men sat down to eat, while the other two, one a grown man and the other a boy, handed the dishes round. Chai couldn't see their faces, but he noticed that the three who were waited upon were grandly dressed, one in yellow and two in white, with big black turbans on their heads ; as for the servants, they had only black serge robes. While he watched the supper party, it struck Chai that the older servant was decidedly like his own father, so he listened hard to catch his voice, and was very disappointed when he found it quite different. By and by, when the three men had eaten and drunk as much as they could, Chai heard one of them say, " Let's have a game of football ; " and while he was wondering what they could possibly mean by this, he saw the boy dive into the water, right out of sight, and come up in a moment with a monster ball. It was so large that he could scarcely carry it, and it seemed full of quicksilver, and it glittered inside and out so that Chai's eyes were quite dazzled with it. The three men got up from their supper, and called to the older servant to come and join the game. Up went the ball, ten, fifteen feet high in the air, sparkling and shining ; down it came ; up again, until at last, when the game had got to its most exciting point, down it fell in quite the wrong place, in fact, right in the middle of Chai's boat ! This was more than Chai could bear, and in an instant he had kicked it as hard as he could. But there was something queer about the ball too. It was as light as a feather, and as soft as rice-paper, and Chai's foot went right through it. Still, he sent it up into the sky, many-coloured lights streaming from the hole he had made, until at last down it fell in a big curve like a comet, touched the water, fizzed, and then went out. "Ho! ho! " cried the players in a rage, "Who is this miserable man who dares to meddle in our game ? " "Well kicked, well kicked indeed ! " said the old servant. "Why, that's a favourite kick of my own." But the other players only got twice as angry when they heard this, and cried out, "You old wretch, how dare you joke when we have just had our game spoilt? Look out for yourself, or you'll get a touch of the bamboo. Go at once, and take the boy with vou, and bring back this man, or it will be the worse for you ! " Now when Chai heard these words, and saw the two coming for him, with swords in their hands, he didn't feel a scrap frightened, but picked up his sword and stood ready for them in the very middle of the boat.

By this time the old man and the boy were on the boat, and Chai saw at once that his father stood before him. So he called out, "Father ! father ! look at me. I'm your son, young Chai." The old man was startled almost out of his wits, and was so overjoyed at finding his son that he didn't notice for an instant that the boy had slipped away, and had gone back to the players. But next moment he remembered the danger they were in, and was just calling to young Chai to hide when the three players jumped on board the boat. Seen close, they were absolutely terrifying, with faces as black as pitch, and rolling eyes as big as pomegranates. They pounced upon the old man, and were just going to carry him off, when young Chai who had untied his boat from her moorings, wheeled round with his sword, cut off one man's arm, and chopped off another man's head, so that his body fell splash into the water. When the third man saw what had happened to his friends, he disappeared in a moment no one could tell how; and Chai and his father finding themselves clear, made haste to get the boat away.

Suddenly, however, a great mouth yawned open in the lake. It was as big and as deep as a well, and out of it blew a roaring wind, which lashed the water into monster waves, and made the other boats and junks pitch and toss. On it came, nearer and nearer, and in a moment more Chai's boat would have been swallowed whole, had he not seized one of two huge round stones which were kept to use as anchors, and thrown it into the huge mouth, which immediately shut upon it. After this Chai heaved the other stone overboard, and in an instant the wind died down, and the water became calm again. Then, as they were sailing quietly along, Chai's father told him his story. "I was never drowned," he said. "All the men who were with me when the boat was lost were eaten by the fish-goblins down below. I was spared because I could play football. What do you think that football was made of, the one you broke ? It was part of a fish. And that arm you cut off, look at it. It is a fish's fin ; and the men you saw playing with me are the fish-goblins who serve the Dragon King. Now let us make haste, and get away from this place before he catches us."


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