The Constable

The Chinese Fairy Book February 2, 2015
Chinese
Intermediate
10 min read
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    In a city in the neighborhood of Kaiutschou there once lived a constable by the name of Dung. One day when he returned from a hunt after thieves the twilight had already begun to fall. So before he waded through the stream that flowed through the city he sat down on the bank, lit a pipe and took off his shoes. When he looked up, he suddenly saw a man in a red hat dressed as a constable crouching beside him.

    Astonished, he inquired: “Who are you? Your clothes indicate that you are a member of our profession, but I have never yet seen you among the men of our local force. Tell me, pray, whence you come?”

    The other answered: “I am weary, having come a long journey, and would like to enjoy a pipeful of tobacco in your company. I am sure you will not object to that.”

    Dung handed him a pipe and tobacco.

    But the other constable said: “I do not need them. Just you keep on smoking. It is enough for me to enjoy the odor.”

    So they chatted awhile together, and together waded through the stream. And gradually they became quite confidential and the stranger said: “I will be quite frank with you. I am the head constable of the Nether World, and am subject to the Lord of the Great Mountain. You yourself are a constable of reputation here in the upper world. And, because of my skill, I have standing in the world below. Since we are so well suited to each other, I should like to enter into a bond of brotherhood with you.”

    Dung was agreeable and asked: “But what really brings you here?”

    Said the other: “In your district there lives a certain Wang, who was formerly superintendent of the granaries, and at that time caused the death of an officer. This man has now accused him in the Nether World. The King of the Nether World cannot come to a decision in the case, and therefore has asked the Lord of the Great Mountain to settle it.

    The Lord of the Great Mountain has ordered that Wang’s property and life be shortened. First his property is to be sequestered here in the upper world, and then his soul is to be dragged to the nether one. I have been sent out by the Judge of the Dead to fetch him. Yet the established custom is, when some one is sent for, that the constable has first to report to the god of the city. The god of the city then issues a summons, and sends one of his own spirit constables to seize the soul and deliver it over to me. Only then may I take it away with me.”

    Dung asked him further particulars; but the other merely said: “Later on you will see it all for yourself.”

    When they reached the city Dung invited his colleague to stay at his home, and entertained him with wine and food. But the other only talked and touched neither the goblet nor the chop-sticks.

    Said Dung: “In my haste I could not find any better meal for you. I am afraid it is not good enough.”

    But his guest replied: “Oh no, I am already surfeited and satisfied! We spirits feed only on odors; in which respect we differ from men.”

    It was late at night before he set out to visit the temple of the city god.

    No sooner did morning dawn than he reappeared to take farewell and said: “Now all is in order: I am off! In two years’ time you will go to Taianfu, the city near the Great Mountain, and there we will meet again.”

    Dung began to feel ill at ease. A few days later, in fact, came the news that Wang had died. The district mandarin journeyed to the dead man’s natal village in order to express his sympathy. Among his followers was Dung. The inn-keeper there was a tenant of Wang’s.

    Dung asked him: “Did anything out of the ordinary happen when Sir Wang died?”

    “It was all very strange,” answered the inn-keeper, “and my mother who had been very busy in his house, came home and fell into a violent fever. She was unconscious for a day and a night, and could hardly breathe. She came to on the very day when the news of Sir Wang’s death was made public, and said: ‘I have been to the Nether World and I met him there. He had chains about his neck and several devils were dragging him along. I asked him what he had done, but he said: “I have no time to tell you now. When you return ask my wife and she will tell you all!”’ And yesterday my mother went there and asked her. And Wang’s wife told her with tears: ‘My master was an official, but for a long time he did not make any head-way. He was superintendent of the granaries in Nanking, and in the same city was a high officer, with whom my master became very intimate. He always came to visit at our house and he and my master would talk and drink together.

    One day my master said to him: “We administrative mandarins have a large salary and a good income besides. You are an officer, and have even reached the second step in rank, yet your salary is so small that you cannot possibly make it do. Have you any other income aside from it?” The officer replied: “We are such good friends that I know I can speak openly to you. We officers are compelled to find some additional sources of revenue in order that our pockets may not be altogether empty. When we pay our men we make a small percentage of gains on the exchange; and we also carry more soldiers on our rosters than there actually are present. If we had to live on our salaries we would die of hunger!”

    “‘When my husband heard him say this he could not rid himself of the idea that by disclosing these criminal proceedings the State would be indebted to him, and that it would surely aid his plans for advancement. On the other hand, he reflected that it would not be right to abuse his friend’s confidence. With these ideas in his mind he retired to his inner rooms. In the courtyard stood a round pavilion. Lost in heavy thought, he crossed his hands behind his back, and for a long time walked round and round the pavilion. Finally he said with a sigh: “Charity begins at home; I will sacrifice my friend!” Then he drew up his report, in which the officer was indicted.

    An imperial order was issued, the matter was investigated, and the officer was condemned to death. My husband, however, was at once increased in rank, and from that time on advanced rapidly. And with the exception of myself no one ever knew anything of the matter.’ When my mother told them of her encounter with Wang in the Nether World, the whole family burst into loud weeping. Four tents full of Buddhist and Taoist priests were sent for, who fasted and read masses for thirty-five days in order that Wang might be delivered. Whole mountains of paper money, silk and straw figures were burned, and the ceremonies have not as yet come to an end.”

    When Dung heard this he was very much frightened.

    Two years later he received an order to journey to Taianfu in order to arrest some robbers there. He thought to himself: “My friend, the spirit, must be very powerful indeed, to have known about this trip so far in advance. I must inquire for him. Perhaps I will see him again.”

    When he reached Taianfu he sought out an inn.

    The inn-keeper received him with the words: “Are you Master Dung, and have you come from the bay of Kaiutschou?”

    “I am the man,” answered Dung, alarmed, “how do you happen to know me?”

    The inn-keeper replied: “The constable of the temple of the Great Mountain appeared to me last night and said: ‘To-morrow a man by the name of Dung who is a good friend of mine is coming from the bay of Kaiutschou!’ And then he described your appearance and your clothes to me exactly, and told me to make careful note of them, and when you came to treat you with the greatest consideration, and to take no pay from you, since he would repay me lavishly. So when I saw you coming everything was exactly as my dreams had foretold, and I knew you at once. I have already prepared a quiet room for you, and beg that you will condescend to make yourself at ease.”

    Joyfully Dung followed him, and the inn-keeper waited on him with the greatest consideration, and saw that he had great plenty to eat and to drink.

    At midnight the spirit arrived. Without having opened the door, he stood by Dung’s bedside, gave him his hand, and asked how things had gone with him since he had last seen him.

    Dung answered all his questions and thanked him into the bargain for appearing to the inn-keeper in a dream.

    He continued to live for some days at the inn. During the day he went walking on the Great Mountain and at night his friend came to visit him and talked with him, and at the same time asked him what had happened to Sir Wang.

    “His sentence has already been spoken,” answered the other. “This man pretended to be conscientious, and traitorously brought about the death of his friend. Of all sins there is no greater sin than this. As a punishment he will be sent forth again into the world as an animal.” Then he added: “When you reach home you must take constant care of your health. Fate has allowed you seventy-eight years of mortal life. When your time is up I will come to fetch you myself. Then I will see that you obtain a place as constable in the Nether World, where we can always be together.”

    When he had said this, he disappeared.

    Note: “The Constable” is a tale of modern origin. The Lord of the Great Mountain (Taischan) is even greater than Yan Wang, the God of Death. His Temple of the Easterly Holy Mountain (Dung Yuo Miau), is to be found in every district capital. These temples play an important part in the care of the dead before interment.

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