(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

On the first night of spring, young Marco Polo deserted his work in his father’s countinghouse and wandered restlessly through the streets of Venice. He entered a wineshop in the hope of talking with some of the foreign people gathered there. The people inside were gambling and drinking, except for one man who sat by himself at a table. Marco recognized him as a Chinese sea captain and sat down to talk to him. In a friendly argument over the merits of their native countries, the sea captain got the better of young Marco by describing the beauty of Golden Bells, the daughter of Kubla Khan.

From that night on, the image of Golden Bells haunted Marco Polo. When his father and uncle, Nicholas and Matthew Polo, returned from China, Marco told them that he wished to go with them on their next trip. Kubla Khan had told the Polos to bring a Christian missionary back with them from Venice, and they chose young Marco to play the part. He was delighted, for he had convinced himself that it was his mission to convert Golden Bells to Christianity.

The wise old Pope gave his blessing to Marco as he started out for China, but he warned the young man not to expect to convert many pagans. Marco, his uncle, and his father set out with their camel caravan for the court of Kubla Khan. On the way, Marco saw many strange countries and cities. At last, the travelers came to the Desert of the Singing Sands. Many deserted or died until there were only six of the caravan left. When a great sandstorm came upon them, Marco struggled until his strength gave out and he lay down to die.

Meanwhile, Golden Bells sat in the garden of Kubla Khan and talked with Li Po, the court poet. Sanang, the court magician, joined them. He told Golden Bells that he could see the troubles of Marco Polo in his crystal ball. Golden Bells felt pity for the...

(The entire section is 754 words.)