The Man Who Sold Words
Continued to last issue
He traveled all through the night, and next day, towards nightfall, arrived at his home.
Now, in the meantime, Lo Shi's wife, having had no news from her husband, had taken a lodger from among a gang of robbers. At that very moment when Lo Shi knocked at the gates she was sitting at home having supper with the robber. Straightaway she recognized her husband's voice, and hid the robber, but in her haste forgot to clear the rice bowls from the table.
When she had let her husband in and greeted him as a dutiful wife is obliged to do, she sat him down at the table and brought some tea. Lo Shi noticed the two pairs of chopsticks and two rice bowls already on the table.
'Why are there two pairs of chopsticks and two bowls of rice if you were here alone?' he asked his wife suspiciously.
'What an ungrateful man you are,' his wife shouted back. 'All the time you've been away I've though of no one but you, just as if you were sitting here with me.'
Lo Shi said nothing. He drank his tea and finished the food in bowl from which the robber had just been eating. After his meal, he lay down and was soon fast asleep. His wife meanwhile proceeded with her sewing in the light of the oil lamp, but being nervous she knocked over the lamp as she rose to go to bed, spilling some oil on Lo Shi's head.
The hot oil made him jump up at once. But being as clever as she was deceitful, the wife calmed him down and offered to wash the oil out of her husband's hair even at the late hour. It was then that Lo Shi recalled the fourth warning of the old sage and declined his wife's offer.
They tuned out the lamp and lay down to sleep. It was at that moment the robber decided to leave his hiding place, a sharp dagger in his hand. His plan was to slit the throat of Lo Shi; thus all the host's belonging could be shared out between the wife and himself.
However, in the darkness the robber could not make out exactly where Lo Shi and his wife were lying. Then he had an idea.
"I know,' he said to himself, 'women put oil on their hair, men do not.'
He felt one head and as the hair was oily, he quickly cut the throat of the other sleeper. Instead, therefore, of slitting the throat of Lo Shi, he mistakenly slit the throat of Lo Shi's wife.
In the morning, when Lo Shi awoke from his innocent slumbers, he saw with horror the dead body of his wife, her throat slit from ear to ear. Rushing from the house, he called his neighbors and told them what had happened. But the neighbors pointed an accusing finger at poor Lo Shi, believing him to be the murderer of his wife.
All this was reported to the district governor who sent his guards to apprehend the bewildered Lo Shi. In no time at all he found himself dragged before the governor, Chou Win.
'Speak up, you rogue,' shouted Chou Win. 'Why did you kill your wife?'
As soon as Lo Shi learned the governor's name, he remembered the fifth instruction of the old sage. Now he fell on his knees before Chow Win and began his story.
"Most honorable lord, I went to the Great Wall to trade and before my return purchased words from a white-bearded old sage for twenty coins.'
'What sort of words did the old man sell you?' asked the governor.
Lo Shi repeated the five instructions:
'Beware of an inn in a valley.
Take no shelter from the rain.
Harken well to a wayfarer's tale.
Wash not your head that's damp with oil.
Learn these words and tell them to Chou Win:
Ee du gootsai, san shin me
(One du of grain, three shins of rice).'
The governor set to thinking, then asked, 'And did the words of the safe come true?'
'All of them expect the last,' replied Lo Shi.
Chou Win again was lost in thought.
'That old sage was undobtedly an immortal shin san,' he said at last. 'This business needs looking into very carefully. Sol all the words came true except the last: ee du gootsai, san shin me. Let me think: Du Goo - that could be someone's name, and Me San too.'
The governor called in his guards and asked them whether tow men by the names od Du Goo and Me San indeed, two such people; they earned their living by robbing and pestering poor people. At one the guards were sent to arrest the pair and bring them to the governor.
When the frightened brigands were dragged before the governor, they straightaway owned up to all their crimes. They told him how they had made friends with Lo Shi's wife and plotted with her to rob Lo Shi of his home and fortune. But one of them had slit her throat in error.
On his anger, the governor sentenced the worthless pair to death. When the guards had led them out, Chow Win turned to Lo Shi and said, 'Now I know you have a heart. You are good man, Go back to your home and find yourself a wife worthy of your devotion.'
Lo Shi thanked the governor and retuned home. Before a month was out, he did indeed find himself a worthy wife, a girl poor and humble like himself. Together they lived in modesty and harmony to a venerable old age.