Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Eleven)
Chapter 11 In Which To the Library Once More
When Xiao Mei entered the dining hall, she noticed that everyone were huddled in their own groups of friends excitedly gossiping with one another. She saw her friends doing the same at a nearby table. No one seemed to care that some of the masters at the head table were glowering at them reproachfully. It was no surprise that among those masters was Master Da. He surveyed the dining hall, shook his head in disappointment, and then resumed eating his breakfast.
"Good morning," Xiao Mei said to her friends as she took her seat at the table. "What's going on with everyone?"
"Oh, good morning, Xiao Mei," said Ai Hui. "Haven't you heard? Last night, there was an intruder!"
"What? Really?" Xiao Mei exclaimed, her attention caught. "What happened?"
"Well, from what we heard, it sounded like some kind of monster appeared and ruined the library," said Qiang Shi.
"That's a load of baloney," went Diana. "There's no such things as monsters. Someone probably got careless and left the window open all night, allowing a wild animal in and run loose. And that's probably why the library's in such disarray."
"Either way, the librarian's going to be cranky for a while, since it's going to fall on him to clean up the whole mess," said Harold.
"I'd like to say that I feel sorry for him, but I gotta say that he had it coming," said Qiang Shi. "The guy doesn't usually take his duties seriously enough."
Suddenly, there was a low growl that startled them all.
"Is it the monster?" Xiao Mei exclaimed, turning left and right with fright.
"Nope," said Duncan. "Just a really grumpy tiger man librarian."
They all turned toward the tiger man at the head table. His food remained untouched as he was sitting low in his seat with his arms crossed and his teeth bared. He seemed to be mumbling something to himself but as he was too far for her to read his lips, Xiao Mei couldn't guess what it was he was mumbling to himself about.
"Forget about him," said Ai Hui. "I feel sorry for the poor soul that'll have library duty today. That guy can really hold a grudge. You can just tell from looking at him that whoever's got the bad luck to work with him today is going to have a whole lot of trouble coming their way."
Xiao Mei could see that Ai Hui was right. The tiger man had the same look on his face that Fong sometimes got when he was in a bad mood. During those times, it seemed like Fong was giving Xiao Mei even more work than usual. It was a good thing she didn't have library duty.
"Good morning, everyone," Miss Ba said as she approached them.
"Good morning, Miss Ba," said the cluster of children.
"Xiao Mei, I need you, Ai Hui, and Qiang Shi to go to the library and help Master Da Hu, the librarian, with cleaning up the library, today," Miss Ba said. "As you probably know by now, an animal somehow made its way into the library and made a mess of things. Now, none of the masters expect the work to be done within a day, so just try to accomplish what you three can for today. And in case you don't know, Master Da Hu is the half-man, half-tiger."
"Uh, Miss Ba, isn't Dong Lei and Ling Chao supposed to have library duty today?" asked a pale Qiang Shi.
"They were," Miss Ba admitted. "But Dong Lei suddenly caught a fever, and Ling Chao has a stomach bug. Not surprising. That Ling Chao is always eating things off the ground, no matter how many times us adults warned him not to. I'm just surprised that it took this long for him to get sick. He's gone to the nearest hospital at a nearby region and won't be back until the day after today at the earliest. Which means for the next three days, you'll be helping Master Da Hu with his duties."
"Oh, joy," grumbled Ai Hui, who was acting the opposite of joyful.
Xiao Mei glanced toward the tiger man, Da Hu, who was now angrily tearing meat off the bone of a bird leg with his fangs. His blood-shot eyes looked like that of a murderous predator.
"Stinks to be you guys," said Diana. "Didn't you guys say that the ENTIRE library was ruined?"
"Good luck with that," Harold said with a snicker.
The trio who were just put on library duty turned toward the scholars in training and glared at them. Ai Hui opened her mouth as if to retort, but then -
"Oh, Diana, Harold, and Duncan!" Sparrow called out as he approached them. Beneath his armpit was a newspaper, and in his hand was a book. He was shadowed by Elizabeth. "I just got word from Master Taught. Today, you three, me and Elizabeth are going to help out with cleaning up after the animal that broke into the library. He said that it was the least that we could do for our hosts graciously allowing us to study here and research on its secrets and forgotten past. And from what I've heard about the library's destruction, we're going to have a long day ahead of us."
The smiles on the three scholar apprentices were wiped in a flash.
"You're right," Ai Hui said with a grin. Qiang Shi and Xiao Mei tried to suppress their snickering. "It's probably going to be a very long day. After all, didn't we hear that the ENTIRE library was ruined?"
To say that the entire library was ruined was an understatement. Forget animals. It looked like a monster had torn through here. All the shelves had been toppled. Books were lying all around the floor, their spines snapped, their pages ripped, and the furniture were all turned over. Even the posters had been pulled off and thrown around. Some had been torn to shreds. And standing at the door with their jaws dropped were the unfortunate souls who had to clean that mess.
With something that sounded like a whine, the tiger man, Master Da Hu, reluctantly trudged into his work space and surveyed the scene.
"How horrible!" Sparrow exclaimed, looking sorrowfully at the victims of an animal attack while fanning himself with his hat. He looked close to swooning. "What manner of creature could have committed such a terrible act?"
"Well don't just stand there," Master Da Hu said gruffly. Sparrow glared at the librarian behind his back. "Start cleaning. You, boy with the bowler hat, come help me with the furniture."
"As you wish," Sparrow said with a depressing slouch. He put his hat back on and followed Da Hu.
Together, the two men helped lift up some tables to their proper position.
"Whoa!" went Duncan when he saw the claw marks on the surface of one of the tables. What looked like a single stroke of a beast's claws stretched from near one side of the long table to the other, and was deep enough that you could see right through the table. "I wouldn't want to get on the bad side of whatever made scratch marks that big."
When Da Hu stopped and started using his own claw to pick his teeth for leftovers from breakfast, the children stared at him.
"What?" he said when he noticed the stares. "I didn't do it."
"I don't doubt you," said Sparrow. "Your claws are much too short and perfectly manicured to do much of anything."
"Hmph," went Da Hu. "Smart-aleck."
Together, Sparrow and Da Hu moved the tables together by the main reception counter for the children and the maid to put the books on.
"You know you don't have to help us," Sparrow had said to Elizabeth before they went into the library. "Go take a break or something."
"As the maid to the party of scholars, it's my duty to see that all your needs are met," Elizabeth said in a soft voice.
"Yes, with tea and some light assistant or secretary work," said Sparrow. "Surely, Dr. Green or Master Taught have more need of your assistance than us here."
"As the maid in the service of your party, I must respectfully decline," said Elizabeth. "But as your cousin, I must ask you to shut your pie hole and stop telling me how to do my job."
The others gaped at the maid in astonishment, but Elizabeth maintained the face of no emotion. Sparrow shook his heads and lifted his hands up in surrender.
As Xiao Mei was picking up pieces of what looked to be a cook book, she heard a pathetic bird call coming from the doorway. She looked up to see Phoenix standing outside the door, calling out to her.
Sorry, Phoenix, Xiao Mei thought. But you know you can't be in here. You're a fire-breathing bird, and this is a place of books, burnable books.
To make sure that Phoenix didn't come into the library where he might accidentally cause a fire, Da Hu had lit a special incense that let out a smell that fire birds don't like. The door was as far as Phoenix could go before the scent was too much for him. So all he could do was snort out flames in frustration as he helplessly waited for Xiao Mei to finish with her duties before they could be reunited.
"Hey," went Ai Hui while they all picked up books. "I've been wondering, but Sparrow really likes that hat, doesn't he? I mean he's wearing it even though we're indoors."
Now that she mentioned it, it was weird that he was still wearing that thing. And looking closely at it, Xiao Mei realized that it was the same hat that he wore when she first met him three years ago.
"What's the story behind it?" Ai Hui continued. "Do any of you know?"
Diana shrugged. Duncan said "Not me."
"We only started working with Sparrow for this trip," said Harold. "So I doubt any of us could have had the opportunity to learn more about Sparrow than we already did. Besides, should something like that matter?"
"I'm just curious," said Ai Hui. "No need to be so high strung."
"I'm not being high strung," Harold protested. "I'm just saying that you shouldn't just poke into people's business like that."
"Guys, can we just get back to work?" said Qiang Shi. "We have a whole lot of things to do."
Ai Hui and Harold reluctantly murmured their apologies and went back to picking up paper and books.
Meanwhile, Xiao Mei started shooting looks toward Sparrow. Now that Ai Hui brought her attention to his hat, Xiao Mei couldn't help but be curious about it now, herself. Could there be some kind of special meaning behind that hat?
"It's just a family thing."
Xiao Mei practically jumped out of her skin.
"Huh?" she exclaimed spinning to face the speaker. Elizabeth the maid was crouching next to her stacking up books.
"The Hawkins Family have a tradition of using the bowler hat as the symbol of their family," she said, her stony face concentrated on her task. "My own mother, Sparrow's father's sister, would never be apart from her bowler hat."
"You don't wear a bowler hat," Harold pointed out.
"There's a good reason for that," Elizabeth said.
"What is it?" asked Qiang Shi.
"That's for me to know and for you to find out."
Xiao Mei picked up book after book, after book. They were all the same in her eyes. Leather-bound and hard covered with yellowing pages, and a grainy feel against her skin. There were also a few paper-bound books as well, but not as much as Xiao Mei thought there should be. Suddenly, she came across a book that was different from the rest. This one was smaller than the average tome, and was kept shut by a heart-shaped lock. On the front cover in big lettering were words that sent a jolt up Xiao Mei's brain when she read it.
"What do you have there?" asked Qiang Shi, noticing how intently Xiao Mei had been staring at the book in her hands.
Startled, Xiao Mei nearly let the book drop from her hand.
"Looks like a diary," Diana remarked. "But whose?"
Soon everyone was gathering around Xiao Mei to get a look at the book she found.
"Hey, let me take a look," said Harold. "My Zhangese might be a bit rusty, but doesn't that say 'Property of Pei Bai'? Who's that?"
" . . . . . "
"Huh? Did you say something, Xiao Mei?"
In a voice that was louder this time but still barely more than a whisper, Xiao Mei repeated: "My mother."
"Your . . . mum?" Diana said in astonishment.
"Yeah," Xiao Mei said. Her heart was beating more rapidly in her chest as she stared at the diary in her hands. "This is my mother's diary."
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Ten)
Now's time for some ancient history lessons.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twelve)
Xiao Mei just found a diary that belonged to her long-lost mother. What could this mean for her?