THE FAITHFUL DANCING-GIRL WIFE

In the city of Nam Won, in Chull Lah Do (the southern province of
Korea), lived the Prefect Ye Tung Uhi. He was the happy father of a son
of some sixteen years of age. Being an only child the boy was naturally
much petted. He was not an ordinary young man, however, for in addition
to a handsome, manly face and stalwart figure, he possessed a bright,
quick mind, and was naturally clever. A more dutiful son could not be
found. He occupied a house in the rear of his father’s quarters, and
devoted himself to his books, going regularly each evening to make his
obeisance to his father, and express his wish that pleasant, refreshing
sleep might come to him; then, in the morning, before breakfasting,
he was wont to go and enquire how the new day had found his father.

The Prefect was but recently appointed to rule over the Nam Won
district when the events about to be recorded occurred. The winter
months had been spent mostly indoors, but as the mild spring weather
approached and the buds began to open to the singing of the joyful
birds, Ye Toh Ryung, or Toh Ryung, the son, felt that he must get out
and enjoy nature. Like an animal that has buried itself in a hole in
the earth, he came forth rejoicing; the bright yellow birds welcomed
him from the willow trees, the soft breezes fanned his cheeks, and the
freshness of the air exhilarated him. He called his pang san (valet)
and asked him concerning the neighboring views. The servant was a
native of the district, and knew the place well; he enumerated the
various places especially prized for their scenery, but concluded with:
“But of all rare views, ‘Kang Hal Loo’ is the rarest. Officers from the
eight provinces come to enjoy the scenery, and the temple is covered
with verses they have left in praise of the place.” “Very well, then,
we will go there,” said Toh Ryung “Go you and clean up the place for
my reception.”

The servant hurried off to order the temple swept and spread with clean
mats, while his young master sauntered along almost intoxicated by the
freshness and new life of every thing around him. Arrived at the place,
after a long, tedious ascent of the mountain side, he flung himself
upon a huge bolster-like cushion, and with half-closed eyes, drank
in the beauty of the scene along with the balmy, perfume-laden spring
zephyrs. He called his servant, and congratulated him upon his taste,
declaring that were the gods in search of a fine view, they could
not find a place that would surpass this; to which the man answered:

“That is true; so true, in fact, that it is well known that the
spirits do frequent this place for its beauty.”

As he said this, Toh Ryung had raised himself, and was leaning on one
arm, gazing out toward one side, when, as though it were one of the
spirits just mentioned, the vision of a beautiful girl shot up into the
air and soon fell back out of sight in the shrubbery of an adjoining
court-yard. He could just get a confused picture of an angelic face,
surrounded by hair like the black thunder-cloud, a neck of ravishing
beauty, and a dazzle of bright silks,–when the whole had vanished. He
was dumb with amazement, for he felt sure he must have seen one of
the spirits said to frequent the place; but before he could speak,
the vision arose again, and he then had time to see that it was but a
beautiful girl swinging in her dooryard. He did not move, he scarcely
breathed, but sat with bulging eyes absorbing the prettiest view he had
ever seen. He noted the handsome, laughing face, the silken black hair,
held back in a coil by a huge coral pin; he saw the jewels sparkling on
the gay robes, the dainty white hands and full round arms, from which
the breezes blew back the sleeves; and as she flew higher in her wild
sport, oh, joy! two little shoeless feet encased in white stockings,
shot up among the peach blossoms, causing them to fall in showers all
about her. In the midst of the sport her hairpin loosened and fell,
allowing her raven locks to float about her shoulders; but, alas! the
costly ornament fell on a rock and broke, for Toh Ryung could hear
the sharp click where he sat. This ended the sport, and the little
maid disappeared, all unconscious of the agitation she had caused in
a young man’s breast by her harmless spring exercise.

After some silence, the young man asked his servant if he had seen
any thing, for even yet he feared his mind had been wandering close
to the dreamland. After some joking, the servant confessed to having
seen the girl swinging, whereupon his master demanded her name. “She
is Uhl Mahs’ daughter, a gee sang (public dancing girl) of this
city; her name is Chun Yang Ye”–fragrant spring. “I yah! superb;
I can see her then, and have her sing and dance for me,” exclaimed
Toh Ryung. “Go and call her at once, you slave.”

The man ran, over good road and bad alike, up hill and down, panting as
he went; for while the back of the women’s quarters of the adjoining
compound was near at hand, the entrance had to be reached by a long
circuit. Arriving out of breath, he pounded at the gate, calling the
girl by name.

“Who is that calls me?” she enquired when the noise had attracted
her attention.

“Oh, never mind who,” answered the exhausted man, “it is great
business; open the door.”

“Who are you, and what do you want?”

“I am nobody, and I want nothing; but Ye Toh Ryung is the Governor’s
son, and he wants to see the Fragrant Spring.”

“Who told Ye Toh Ryung my name?”

“Never mind who told him; if you did not want him to know you, then
why did you swing so publicly? The great man’s son came here to rest
and see the beautiful views; he saw you swinging, and can see nothing
since. You must go, but you need not fear. He is a gentleman, and will
treat you nicely; if your dancing pleases him as did your swinging,
he may present you with rich gifts, for he is his father’s only son.”

Regretting in her proud spirit that fates had placed her in a
profession where she was expected to entertain the nobility whether it
suited her or not, the girl combed and arranged her hair, tightened her
sash, smoothed her disordered clothes, and prepared to look as any vain
woman would wish who was about to be presented to the handsomest and
most gifted young nobleman of the province. She followed the servant
slowly till they reached Toh Ryung’s stopping place. She waited while
the servant announced her arrival, for a gee sang must not enter a
nobleman’s presence unbidden. Toh Ryung was too excited to invite
her in, however, and his servant had to prompt him, when, laughing
at his own agitation, he pleasantly bade her enter and sit down.

“What is your name?” asked he.

“My name is Chun Yang Ye,” she said, with a voice that resembled
silver jingling in a pouch.

“How old are you?”

“My age is just twice eight years.”

“Ah ha!” laughed the now composed boy, “how fortunate; you are twice
eight, and I am four fours. We are of the same age. Your name, Fragrant
Spring, is the same as your face–very beautiful. Your cheeks are like
the petals of the mah hah that ushers in the soft spring. Your eyes
are like those of the eagle sitting on the ancient tree, but soft
and gentle as the moonlight,” ran on the enraptured youth. “When is
your birthday?”

“My birthday occurs at midnight on the eighth day of the fourth moon,”
modestly replied the flattered girl, who was quickly succumbing to
the charms of the ardent and handsome young fellow, whose heart she
could see was already her own.

“Is it possible?” exclaimed he; “that is the date of the lantern
festival, and it is also my own birthday, only I was born at eleven
instead of twelve. I am sorry I was not born at twelve now. But it
doesn’t matter. Surely the gods had some motive in sending us into
the world at the same time, and thus bringing us together at our
sixteenth spring-tide. Heaven must have intended us to be man and
wife”; and he bade her sit still as she started as though to take
her departure. Then he began to plead with her, pacing the room in
his excitement, till his attendant likened the sound to the combat
of ancient warriors. “This chance meeting of ours has a meaning,” he
argued. “Often when the buds were bursting, or when the forest trees
were turning to fire and blood, have I played and supped with pretty
gee sang, watched them dance, and wrote them verses, but never before
have I lost my heart; never before have I seen any one so incomparably
beautiful. You are no common mortal. You were destined to be my wife;
you must be mine, you must marry me.”

She wrinkled her fair brow and thought, for she was no silly,
foolish thing, and while her heart was almost, if not quite won by
this tempestuous lover, yet she saw where his blind love would not
let him see. “You know,” she said, “the son of a nobleman may not
marry a gee sang without the consent of his parents. I know I am
a gee sang by name, the fates have so ordained, but, nevertheless,
I am an honorable woman, always have been, and expect to remain so.”

“Certainly,” he answered, “we cannot celebrate the ‘six customs
ceremony’ (parental arrangements, exchange of letters, contracts,
exchange of presents, preliminary visits, ceremony proper), but we
can be privately married just the same.”

“No, it cannot be. Your father would not consent, and should we be
privately married, and your father be ordered to duty at some other
place, you would not dare take me with you. Then you would marry the
daughter of some nobleman, and I would be forgotten. It must not,
cannot be,” and she arose to depart. “Stay, stay,” he begged. “You
do me an injustice. I will never forsake you, or marry another. I
swear it. And a yang ban (noble) has but one mouth, he cannot speak
two ways. Even should we leave this place I will take you with me,
or return soon to you. You must not refuse me.”

“But suppose you change your mind or forget your promises; words fly
out of the mouth and are soon lost, ink and paper are more lasting;
give me your promises in writing,” she says.

Instantly the young man took up paper and brush; having rubbed the ink
well, he wrote: “A memorandum. Desiring to enjoy the spring scenery,
I came to Kang Hal Loo. There I saw for the first time my heaven-sent
bride. Meeting for the first time, I pledge myself for one hundred
years; to be her faithful husband. Should I change, show this paper to
the magistrate.” Folding up the manuscript with care he handed it to
her. While putting it into her pocket she said: “Speech has no legs,
yet it can travel many thousands of miles. Suppose this matter should
reach your father’s ears, what would you do?”

“Never fear; my father was once young, who knows but I may be following
the example of his early days. I have contracted with you, and we now
are married, even my father cannot change it. Should he discover our
alliance and disown me, I will still be yours, and together we shall
live and die.”

She arose to go, and pointing with her jade-like hand to a clump of
bamboos, said: “There is my house; as I cannot come to you, you must
come to me and make my mother’s house your home, as much as your duty
to your parents will allow.”

As the sun began to burn red above the mountains’ peaks, they bade
each other a fond adieu, and each departed for home accompanied by
their respective attendants.

Ye Toh Ryung went to his room, which now seemed a prison-like place
instead of the pleasant study he had found it. He took up a book,
but reading was no satisfaction, every word seemed to transform itself
into Chun or Yang. Every thought was of the little maid of the spring
fragrance. He changed his books, but it was no use, he could not even
keep them right side up, not to mention using them properly. Instead
of singing off his lessons as usual, he kept singing, Chun Yang Ye
poh go sip so (I want to see the spring fragrance), till his father,
hearing the confused sounds, sent to ascertain what was the matter
with his son. The boy was singing, “As the parched earth cries for
rain after the seven years’ drought, so my heart pants for my Chun
Yang Ye, whose face to me is like the rays of the sun upon the earth
after a nine years’ rain.” He paid no heed to the servants, and soon
his father sent his private secretary, demanding what it was the boy
desired so much that he should keep singing. “I want to see, I want to
see.” Toh Ryung answered that he was reading an uninteresting book,
and looking for another. Though he remained more quiet after this,
he still was all impatience to be off to his sweetheart-wife, and
calling his attendant, he sent him out to see how near the sun was
to setting. Enjoying the sport, the man returned, saying the sun was
now high over head.

“Begone,” said he, “can any one hold back the sun; it had reached
the mountain tops before I came home.”

At last the servant brought his dinner, for which he had no
appetite. He could ill abide the long delay between the dinner hour
and the regular time for his father’s retiring. The time did come,
however, and when the lights were extinguished and his father had
gone to sleep, he took his trusty servant, and, scaling the back wall,
they hurried to the house of Chun Yang Ye.

As they approached they heard someone playing the harp, and singing of
the “dull pace of the hours when one’s lover is away.” Being admitted,
they met the mother, who, with some distrust, received Toh Ryung’s
assurances and sent him to her daughter’s apartments.

The house pleased him; it was neat and well-appointed. The public room,
facing the court, was lighted by a blue lantern, which in the mellow
light resembled a pleasure barge drifting on the spring flood. Banners
of poetry hung upon the walls. Upon the door leading to Chun Yang’s
little parlor hung a banner inscribed with verses to her ancestors
and descendants, praying that “a century be short to span her life
and happiness, and that her children’s children be blessed with
prosperity for a thousand years.” Through the open windows could
be seen moonlight glimpses of the little garden of the swinging
girl. There was a miniature lake almost filled with lotus plants,
where two sleepy swans floated with heads beneath their wings, while
the occasional gleam of a gold or silver scale showed that the water
was inhabited. A summer-house on the water’s edge was almost covered
with fragrant spring blossoms, the whole being enclosed in a little
grove of bamboo and willows, that shut out the view of outsiders.

While gazing at this restful sight, Chun Yang Ye herself came out,
and all was lost in the lustre of her greater beauty. She asked
him into her little parlor, where was a profusion of choice carved
cabinets and ornaments of jade and metal, while richly embroidered
mats covered the highly-polished floor. She was so delighted that
she took both his hands in her pretty, white, soft ones, and gazing
longingly into each other’s eyes, she led him into another room,
where, on a low table, a most elegant lunch was spread. They sat
down on the floor and surveyed the loaded table. There were fruits
preserved in sugar, candied nuts arranged in many dainty, nested boxes;
sweet pickles and confections, pears that had grown in the warmth of
a summer now dead, and grapes that had been saved from decay by the
same sun that had called them forth. Quaint old bottles with long,
twisted necks, contained choice medicated wines, to be drunk from
the little crackled cups, such as the ancients used.

Pouring out a cup, she sang to him: “This is the elixir of youth;
drinking this, may you never grow old; though ten thousand years pass
over your head, may you stand like the mountain that never changes.” He
drank half of the cup’s contents, and praised her sweet voice, asking
for another song. She sang: “Let us drain the cup while we may. In the
grave who will be our cup-bearer. While we are young let us play. When
old, mirth gives place to care. The flowers can bloom but a few days
at best, and must then die, that the seed may be born. The moon is
no sooner full than it begins to wane, that the young moon may rise.”

The sentiments suited him, the wine exhilarated him, and his spirits
rose. He drained his cup, and called for more wine and song; but
she restrained him. They ate the dainty food, and more wine and song
followed. She talked of the sweet contract they had made, and anon they
pledged themselves anew. Not content with promises for this short life,
they went into the future, and he yielded readily to her request, that
when death should at last o’ertake them, she would enter a flower,
while he would become a butterfly, coming and resting on her bosom,
and feasting off her fragrant sweetness.

The father did not know of his son’s recent alliance, though the
young man honestly went and removed Chun Yang’s name from the list
of the district gee sang, kept in his father’s office; for, now
that she was a married woman, she need no longer go out with the
dancing-girls. Every morning, as before, the dutiful son presented
himself before his father, with respectful inquiries after his health,
and his rest the preceding night. But, nevertheless, each night the
young man’s apartments were deserted, while he spent the time in the
house of his wife.

Thus the months rolled on with amazing speed. The lovers were in
paradise. The father enjoyed his work, and labored hard for the
betterment of the condition of his subjects. Never before had so
large a tribute been sent by this district. Yet the people were
not burdened as much as when far less of their products reached the
government granaries. The honest integrity of the officer reached
the King in many reports, and when a vacancy occurred at the head of
the Treasury Department, he was raised to be Ho Joh Pansa (Secretary
of Finance). Delighted, the father sent for his son and told him the
news, but, to his amazement, the young man had naught to say, in fact
he seemed as one struck dumb, as well he might. Within himself there
was a great tumult; his heart beat so violently as to seem perceptible,
and at times it arose and filled his throat, cutting off any speech he
might wish to utter. Surprised at the conduct of his son, the father
bade him go and inform his mother, that she might order the packing
to commence.

He went; but soon found a chance to fly to Chun Yang, who, at first,
was much concerned for his health, as his looks denoted a serious
illness. When he had made her understand, however, despair seized her,
and they gazed at each other in mute dismay and utter helplessness. At
last she seemed to awaken from her stupor, and, in an agony of despair,
she beat her breast, and moaned: “Oh, how can we separate. We must
die, we cannot live apart”; and tears coming to her relief, she cried:
“If we say good-by, it will be forever; we can never meet again. Oh,
I feared it; we have been too happy–too happy. The one who made
this order is a murderer; it must be my death. If you go to Seoul
and leave me, I must die. I am but a poor weak woman, and I cannot
live without you.”

He took her, and laying her head on his breast, tried to soothe
her. “Don’t cry so bitterly,” he begged; “my heart is almost broken
now. I cannot bear it. I wish it could always be spring-time; but
this is only like the cruel winter that, lingering in the mountain,
sometimes sweeps down the valley, drives out the spring, and kills
the blossoms. We will not give up and die, though. We have contracted
for one hundred years, and this will be but a bitter separation that
will make our speedy reunion more blissful.”

“Oh,” she says, “but how can I live here alone, with you in Seoul? Just
think of the long, tedious summer days, the long and lonely winter
nights. I must see no one. I cannot know of you, for who will tell me,
and how am I to endure it?”

“Had not my father been given this great honor, we would perhaps
not have been parted; as it is I must go, there is no help for it,
but you must believe me when I promise I will come again. Here,
take this crystal mirror as a pledge that I will keep my word”;
and he gave her his pocket-mirror of rock crystal.

“Promise me when you will return,” said she; and then, without awaiting
an answer, she sang: “When the sear and withered trunk begins to bloom,
and the dead bird sings in the branches, then my lover will come to
me. When the river flows over the eastern mountains, then may I see him
glide along in his ship to me.” He chided her for her lack of faith,
and assured her again it was as hard for one as the other. After
a time she became more reconciled, and taking off her jade ring,
gave it to him for a keepsake, saying: “My love, like this ring,
knows no end. You must go, alas! but my love will go with you, and
may it protect you when crossing wild mountains and distant rivers,
and bring you again safely to me. If you go to Seoul, you must not
trifle, but take your books, study hard, and enter the examinations,
then, perhaps, you may obtain rank and come to me. I will stand with
my hand shading my eyes, ever watching for your return.”

Promising to cherish her speech, with her image in his breast, they
made their final adieu, and tore apart.

The long journey seemed like a funeral to the lover. Everywhere her
image rose before him. He could think of nothing else; but by the time
he arrived at the capital he had made up his mind as to his future
course, and from that day forth his parents wondered at his stern,
determined manner. He shut himself up in his room with his books. He
would neither go out, or form acquaintances among the young noblemen
of the gay city. Thus he spent months in hard study, taking no note
of passing events.

In the meantime a new magistrate came to Nam Won. He was a hard-faced,
hard-hearted politician. He associated with the dissolute, and devoted
himself to riotous living, instead of caring for the welfare of the
people. He had not been long in the place till he had heard so much
of the matchless beauty of Chun Yang Ye that he determined to see,
and if, as reported, marry her. Accordingly he called the clerk
of the yamen, and asked concerning “the beautiful gee sang Chun
Yang Ye.” The clerk answered that such a name had appeared on the
records of the dancing girls, but that it had been removed, as she
had contracted a marriage with the son of the previous magistrate,
and was now a lady of position and respectability.

“You lying rascal!” yelled the enraged officer, who could ill brook
any interference with plans he had formed. “A nobleman’s son cannot
really marry a dancing girl; leave my presence at once, and summon
this remarkable ‘lady’ to appear before me.” The clerk could only do
as he was bidden, and, summoning the yamen runners, he sent to the
house of Chun Yang Ye to acquaint her with the official order.

The runners, being natives of the locality, were loath to do as
commanded, and when the fair young woman gave them “wine money” they
willingly agreed to report her “too sick to attend the court.” Upon
doing so, however, the wrath of their master came down upon them. They
were well beaten, and then commanded to go with a chair and bring
the woman, sick or well, while if they disobeyed him a second time
they would be put to death.

Of course they went, but after they had explained to Chun Yang Ye their
treatment, her beauty and concern for their safety so affected them,
that they offered to go back without her, and face their doom. She
would not hear to their being sacrificed for her sake, and prepared
to accompany them. She disordered her hair, soiled her fair face, and
clad herself in dingy, ill-fitting gowns, which, however, seemed only
to cause her natural beauty the more to shine forth. She wept bitterly
on entering the yamen, which fired the anger of the official. He
ordered her to stop her crying or be beaten, and then as he looked
at her disordered and tear-stained face, that resembled choice jade
spattered with mud, he found that her beauty was not overstated.

“What does your conduct mean?” said he. “Why have you not presented
yourself at this office with the other gee sang?”

“Because, though born a gee sang, I am by marriage a lady, and not
subject to the rules of my former profession,” she answered.

“Hush!” roared the Prefect. “No more of this nonsense. Present yourself
here with the other gee sang, or pay the penalty.”

“Never” she bravely cried. “A thousand deaths first. You have no
right to exact such a thing of me. You are the King’s servant, and
should see that the laws are executed, rather than violated.”

The man was fairly beside himself with wrath at this, and ordered her
chained and thrown into prison at once. The people all wept with her,
which but increased her oppressor’s anger, and calling the jailer he
ordered him to treat her with especial rigor, and be extra vigilant
lest some sympathizers should assist her to escape. The jailer
promised, but nevertheless he made things as easy for her as was
possible under the circumstances. Her mother came and moaned over
her daughter’s condition, declaring that she was foolish in clinging
to her faithless husband, who had brought all this trouble upon
them. The neighbors, however, upbraided the old woman for her words,
and assured the daughter that she had done just right, and would yet
be rewarded. They brought presents of food, and endeavored to make
her condition slightly less miserable by their attentions.

She passed the night in bowing before Heaven and calling on the gods
and her husband to release her, and in the morning when her mother
came, she answered the latter’s inquiries as to whether she was alive
or not, in a feeble voice which alarmed her parent.

“I am still alive, but surely dying. I can never see my Toh Ryung
again; but when I am dead you must take my body to Seoul and bury it
near the road over which he travels the most, that even in death I may
be near him, though separated in life.” Again the mother scolded her
for her devotion and for making the contract that binds her strongly
to such a man. She could stand it no longer, and begged her mother that
she would go away and come to see her no more if she had no pleasanter
speech than such to make. “I followed the dictates of my heart and my
mind. I did what was right. Can I foretell the future? Because the
sun shines to-day are we assured that to-morrow it will shine? The
deed is done. I do not regret it; leave me to my grief, but do not
add to it by your unkindness.”

Thus the days lengthened into months, but she seemed like one dead,
and took no thought of time or its flight. She was really ill,
and would have died but for the kindness of the jailer. At last
one night she dreamed that she was in her own room, dressing,
and using the little mirror Toh Ryung had given her, when, without
apparent cause, it suddenly broke in halves. She awoke, startled,
and felt sure that death was now to liberate her from her sorrows,
for what other meaning could the strange occurrence have than that
her body was thus to be broken. Although anxious to die and be free,
she could not bear the thought of leaving this world without a last
look at her loved husband whose hands alone could close her eyes when
her spirit had departed. Pondering much upon the dream, she called
the jailer and asked him to summon a blind man, as she wished her
fortune told. The jailer did so. It was no trouble, for almost as
she spoke they heard one picking his way along the street with his
long stick, and uttering his peculiar call. He came in and sat down,
when they soon discovered that they were friends, for before the
man became blind he had been in comfortable circumstances, and had
known her father intimately. She therefore asked him to be to her as
a kind father, and faithfully tell her when and how death would come
to her. He said: “When the blossoms fade and fall they do not die,
their life simply enters the seed to bloom again. Death to you would
but liberate your spirit to shine again in a fairer body.”

She thanked him for his kind generalities, but was impatient, and
telling her dream, she begged a careful interpretation of it. He
promptly answered, that to be an ill omen a mirror in breaking must
make a noise. And on further questioning, he found that in her dream
a bird had flown into the room just as the mirror was breaking.

“I see,” said he. “The bird was bearer of good news, and the breaking
of the mirror, which Toh Ryung gave you, indicates that the news
concerned him; let us see.” Thereupon he arranged a bunch of sticks,
shook them well, while uttering his chant, and threw them upon the
floor. Then he soon answered that the news was good. “Your husband
has done well. He has passed his examinations, been promoted, and
will soon come to you.”

She was too happy to believe it, thinking the old man had made it up
to please his old friend’s distressed child. Yet she cherished the
dream and the interpretation in her breast, finding in it solace to
her weary, troubled heart.

In the meantime Ye Toh Ryung had continued his studious work day and
night, to the anxiety of his parents. Just as he began to feel well
prepared for the contest he awaited, a royal proclamation announced,
that owing to the fact that peace reigned throughout the whole country,
that the closing year had been one of prosperity, and no national
calamity had befallen the country, His Gracious Majesty had ordered
a grand guaga, or competitive examination, to be held. As soon as it
became known, literary pilgrims began to pour in from all parts of
the country, bent on improving their condition.

The day of the examination found a vast host seated on the grass in
front of the pavilion where His Majesty and his officers were. Ye Toh
Ryung was given as a subject for his composition, “A lad playing in
the shade of a pine tree is questioned by an aged wayfarer.”

The young man long rubbed his ink-stick on the stone, thinking very
intently meanwhile, but when he began to write in the beautiful
characters for which he was noted he seemed inspired, and the
composition rolled forth as though he had committed it from the ancient
classics. He made the boy express such sentiments of reverence to age
as would have charmed the ancients, and the wisdom he put into the
conversation was worthy of a king. The matter came so freely that his
task was soon finished; in fact many were still wrinkling their brows
in preliminary thought, while he was carefully folding up his paper,
concealing his name so that the author should not be recognized till
the paper had been judged on its merits. He tossed his composition
into the pen, and it was at once inspected, being the first one, and
remarkably quickly done. When His Majesty heard it read, and saw the
perfect characters, he was astonished. Such excellence in writing,
composition, and sentiment was unparalleled, and before any other
papers were received it was known that none could excel this one. The
writer’s name was ascertained, and the King was delighted to learn
that ’twas the son of his favorite officer. The young man was sent
for, and received the congratulations of his King. The latter gave
him the usual three glasses of wine, which he drank with modesty. He
was then given a wreath of flowers from the King’s own hands; the
court hat was presented to him, with lateral wings, denoting the
rapidity–as the flight of a bird–with which he must execute his
Sovereign’s commands. Richly embroidered breast-plates were given him,
to be worn over the front and back of his court robes. He then went
forth, riding on a gayly caparisoned horse, preceded by a band of
palace musicians and attendants. Everywhere he was greeted with the
cheers of the populace, as for three days he devoted his time to this
public display. This duty having been fulfilled, he devotedly went to
the graves of his ancestors, and prostrated himself with offerings
before them, bemoaning the fact that they could not be present to
rejoice in his success. He then presented himself before his King,
humbly thanking him for his gracious condescension in bestowing such
great honors upon one so utterly unworthy.

His Sovereign was pleased, and told the young man to strive to imitate
the example of his honest father. He then asked him what position he
wished. Ye Toh Ryung answered that he wished no other position than
one that would enable him to be of service to his King. “The year has
been one of great prosperity,” said he. “The plentiful harvest will
tempt corrupt men to oppress the people to their own advantage. I
would like, therefore, should it meet with Your Majesty’s approval,
to undertake the arduous duties of Ussa”–government inspector.

He said this as he knew he would then be free to go in search of his
wife, while he could also do much good at the same time. The King was
delighted, and had his appointment–a private one naturally–made at
once, giving him the peculiar seal of the office.

The new Ussa disguised himself as a beggar, putting on straw sandals,
a broken hat, underneath which his hair, uncombed and without the
encircling band to hold it in place, streamed out in all directions. He
wore no white strip in the neck of his shabby gown, and with dirty
face he certainly presented a beggarly appearance. Presenting himself
at the stables outside of the city, where horses and attendants are
provided for the ussas, he soon arranged matters by showing his seal,
and with proper attendants started on his journey towards his former
home in the southern province.

Arriving at his destination, he remained outside in a miserable hamlet
while his servants went into the city to investigate the people and
learn the news.

It was spring-time again. The buds were bursting, the birds were
singing, and in the warm valley a band of farmers were plowing with
lazy bulls, and singing, meanwhile, a grateful song in praise of
their just King, their peaceful, prosperous country, and their full
stomachs. As the Ussa came along in his disguise he began to jest with
them, but they did not like him, and were rude in their jokes at his
expense; when an old man, evidently the father, cautioned them to be
careful. “Don’t you see,” said he, “this man’s speech is only half
made up of our common talk; he is playing a part. I think he must be a
gentleman in disguise.” The Ussa drew the old man into conversation,
asking about various local events, and finally questioning him
concerning the character of the Prefect. “Is he just or oppressive,
drunken or sober? Does he devote himself to his duties, or give himself
up to riotous living?” “Our Magistrate we know little of. His heart
is as hard and unbending as the dead heart of the ancient oak. He
cares not for the people; the people care not for him but to avoid
him. He extorts rice and money unjustly, and spends his ill-gotten
gains in riotous living. He has imprisoned and beaten the fair Chun
Yang Ye because she repulsed him, and she now lies near to death in
the prison, because she married and is true to the poor dog of a son
of our former just magistrate.”

Ye Toh Ryung was stung by these unjust remarks, filled with the deepest
anxiety for his wife, and the bitterest resentment toward the brute of
an official, whom, he promised himself, soon to bring to justice. As he
moved away, too full of emotion for further conversation, he heard the
farmers singing, “Why are some men born to riches, others born to toil,
some to marry and live in peace, others too poor to possess a hut.”

He walked away meditating. He had placed himself down on the
people’s level, and began to feel with them. Thus meditating he
crossed a valley, through which a cheery mountain brook rushed merrily
along. Near its banks, in front of a poor hut, sat an aged man twisting
twine. Accosting him, the old man paid no attention; he repeated his
salutation, when the old man, surveying him from head to foot, said:
“In the government service age does not count for much, there rank
is every thing; an aged man may have to bow to a younger, who is
his superior officer. ‘Tis not so in the country, however; here age
alone is respected. Then why am I addressed thus by such a miserable
looking stripling?” The young man asked his elder’s pardon, and then
requested him to answer a question. “I hear,” says he, “that the new
Magistrate is about to marry the gee sang, Chun Yang Ye; is it true?”

“Don’t mention her name,” said the old man, angrily. “You are not
worthy to speak of her. She is dying in prison, because of her loyal
devotion to the brute beast who married and deserted her.”

Ye Toh Ryung could hear no more. He hurried from the place, and
finding his attendants, announced his intention of going at once
into the city, lest the officials should hear of his presence and
prepare for him. Entering the city, he went direct to Chun Yang Ye’s
house. It presented little of the former pleasant appearance. Most of
the rich furniture had been sold to buy comforts for the imprisoned
girl. The mother, seeing him come, and supposing him to be a beggar,
almost shrieked at him to get away. “Are you such a stranger, that you
don’t know the news? My only child is imprisoned, my husband long since
dead, my property almost gone, and you come to me for alms. Begone,
and learn the news of the town.”

“Look! Don’t you know me? I am Ye Toh Ryung, your son-in-law,” he said.

“Ye Toh Ryung, and a beggar! Oh, it cannot be. Our only hope is in you,
and now you are worse than helpless. My poor girl will die.”

“What is the matter with her?” said he, pretending.

The woman related the history of the past months in full, not sparing
the man in the least, giving him such a rating as only a woman can. He
then asked to be taken to the prison, and she accompanied him with a
strange feeling of gratification in her heart that after all she was
right, and her daughter’s confidence was ill-placed. Arriving at the
prison, the mother expressed her feelings by calling to her daughter:
“Here is your wonderful husband. You have been so anxious to simply
see Ye Toh Ryung before you die; here he is; look at the beggar,
and see what your devotion amounts to! Curse him and send him away.”

The Ussa called to her, and she recognized the voice. “I surely must
be dreaming again,” she said, as she tried to arise; but she had the
huge neck-encircling board upon her shoulders that marked the latest
of her tormentor’s acts of oppression, and could not get up. Stung
by the pain and the calmness of her lover’s voice, she sarcastically
asked: “Why have you not come to me? Have you been so busy in official
life? Have the rivers been so deep and rapid that you dared not cross
them? Did you go so far away that it has required all this time to
retrace your steps?” And then, regretting her harsh words, she said:
“I cannot tell my rapture. I had expected to have to go to Heaven
to meet you, and now you are here. Get them to unbind my feet, and
remove this yoke from my neck, that I may come to you.”

He came to the little window through which food is passed, and looked
upon her. As she saw his face and garb, she moaned: “Oh, what have we
done to be so afflicted? You cannot help me now; we must die. Heaven
has deserted us.”

“Yes,” he answered; “granting I am poor, yet should we not be happy in
our reunion. I have come as I promised, and we will yet be happy. Do
yourself no injury, but trust to me.”

She called her mother, who sneeringly inquired of what service she
could be, now that the longed-for husband had returned in answer to
her prayers. She paid no attention to these cruel words, but told
her mother of certain jewels she had concealed in a case in her
room. “Sell these,” she said, “and buy some food and raiment for my
husband; take him home and care for him well. Have him sleep on my
couch, and do not reproach him for what he cannot help.”

He went with the old woman, but soon left to confer with his
attendants, who informed him that the next day was the birthday of
the Magistrate, and that great preparations were being made for the
celebration that would commence early. A great feast, when wine would
flow like water, was to take place in the morning. The gee sang from
the whole district were to perform for the assembled guests; bands
of music were practising for the occasion, and the whole bade fair
to be a great, riotous debauch, which would afford the Ussa just the
opportunity the consummation of his plans awaited.

Early the next morning the disguised Ussa presented himself at the
yamen gate, where the servants jeered at him, telling him: “This is
no beggars’ feast,” and driving him away. He hung around the street,
however, listening to the music inside, and finally he made another
attempt, which was more successful than the first, for the servants,
thinking him crazy, tried to restrain him, when, in the melée, he
made a passage and rushed through the inner gate into the court off
the reception hall. The annoyed host, red with wine, ordered him at
once ejected and the gate men whipped. His order was promptly obeyed,
but Ye did not leave the place. He found a break in the outside wall,
through which he climbed, and again presented himself before the
feasters. While the Prefect was too blind with rage to be able to
speak, the stranger said: “I am a beggar, give me food and drink that
I, too, may enjoy myself.” The guests laughed at the man’s presumption,
and thinking him crazy, they urged their host to humor him for their
entertainment. To which he finally consented, and, sending him some
food and wine, bade him stay in a corner and eat.

To the surprise of all, the fellow seemed still discontented, for he
claimed that, as the other guests each had a fair gee sang to sing a
wine song while they drank, he should be treated likewise. This amused
the guests immensely, and they got the master to send one. The girl
went with a poor grace, however, saying: “One would think from the
looks of you that your poor throat would open to the wine without
a song to oil it,” and sang him a song that wished him speedy death
instead of long life.

After submitting to their taunts for some time, he said, “I thank
you for your food and wine and the graciousness of my reception, in
return for which I will amuse you by writing you some verses”; and,
taking pencil and paper, he wrote: “The oil that enriches the food
of the official is but the life blood of the down-trodden people,
whose tears are of no more merit in the eyes of the oppressor than
the drippings of a burning candle.”

When this was read, a troubled look passed over all; the guests shook
their heads and assured their host that it meant ill to him. And
each began to make excuses, saying that one and another engagement of
importance called them hence. The host laughed and bade them be seated,
while he ordered attendants to take the intruder and cast him into
prison for his impudence. They came to do so, but the Ussa took out his
official seal, giving the preconcerted signal meanwhile, which summoned
his ready followers. At sight of the King’s seal terror blanched the
faces of each of the half-drunken men. The wicked host tried to crawl
under the house and escape, but he was at once caught and bound with
chains. One of the guests in fleeing through an attic-way caught
his topknot of hair in a rat-hole, and stood for some time yelling
for mercy, supposing that his captors had him. It was as though an
earthquake had shaken the house; all was the wildest confusion.

The Ussa put on decent clothes and gave his orders in a calm manner. He
sent the Magistrate to the capital at once, and began to look further
into the affairs of the office. Soon, however, he sent a chair for
Chun Yang Ye, delegating his own servants, and commanding them not
to explain what had happened. She supposed that the Magistrate, full
of wine, had sent for her, intending to kill her, and she begged the
amused servants to call her Toh Ryung to come and stay with her. They
assured her that he could not come, as already he too was at the yamen,
and she feared that harm had befallen him on her account.

They removed her shackles and bore her to the yamen, where the Ussa
addressed her in a changed voice, commanding her to look up and
answer her charges. She refused to look up or speak, feeling that
the sooner death came the better. Failing in this way, he then asked
her in his own voice to just glance at him. Surprised she looked up,
and her dazed eyes saw her lover standing there in his proper guise,
and with a delighted cry she tried to run to him, but fainted in the
attempt, and was borne in his arms to a room. Just then the old woman,
coming along with food, which she had brought as a last service to
her daughter, heard the good news from the excited throng outside, and
dashing away her dishes and their contents, she tore around for joy,
crying: “What a delightful birthday surprise for a cruel magistrate!”

All the people rejoiced with the daughter, but no one seemed to
think the old mother deserved such good fortune. The Ussa’s conduct
was approved at court. A new magistrate was appointed. The marriage
was publicly solemnized at Seoul, and the Ussa was raised to a high
position, in which he was just to the people, who loved him for his
virtues, while the country rang with the praises of his faithful wife,
who became the mother of many children.

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