A CERTAIN literary official was at one time Governor of the city of Kyong-ju. Whenever he visited the Mayor of the place, it was his custom, on seeing dancing-girls, to tap them on the head with his pipe, and say, "These girls are devils, ogres, goblins. How can you tolerate them in your presence?"
Naturally, those who heard this disliked him, and the Mayor himself detested his behaviour and manners. He sent a secret message to the dancing-girls, saying, "If any of you, by any means whatever, can deceive this governor, and put him to shame, I'll reward you richly." Among them there was one girl, a mere child, who said she could.
The Governor resided in the quarter of the city where the Confucian Temple was, and he had but one servant with him, a young lad. The dancing-girl who had decided to ensnare him, in the dress of a common woman of the town, used frequently to go by the main gateway of the Temple, and in going would call the Governor's boy to her. Sometimes she showed her profile and sometimes she showed her whole form, as she stood in the gateway. The boy would go out to her and she would speak to him for a moment or two and then go. She came sometimes once a day, sometimes twice, and this she kept up for a long time. The Governor at last inquired of the boy as to who this woman was that came so frequently to call him.
"She is my sister," said the boy. "Her husband went away on a peddling round a year or so ago, and has not yet returned; consequently she has no one else to help her, so she frequently calls and confers with me."
One evening, when the boy had gone to eat his meal and the Governor was alone, the woman came to the main gateway, and called for the boy.
His Excellency answered for him, and invited her in. When she came, she blushed, and appeared very diffident, standing modestly aside.
The Governor said, "My boy is absent just now, but I want a smoke; go and get a light for my pipe, will you, please."
She brought the light, and then he said, "Sit down too, and smoke a little, won't you?"
She replied, "How could I dare do such a thing?"
He said, "There is no one else here now; never mind."
There being no help for it, she did as he bade her, and smoked a little. He felt his heart suddenly inclined in her favour, and he said, "I have seen many beautiful women, but I surely think that you are the prettiest of them all. Once seeing you, I have quite forgotten how to eat or sleep. Could you not come to me to live here? I am quite alone and no one will know it."
She pretended to be greatly scandalized. "Your Excellency is a noble, and I am a low-class woman; how can you think of such a thing? Do you mean it as a joke?"
He replied, "I mean it truly, no joke at all." He swore an oath, saying, "Really I mean it, every word."
She then said, "Since you speak so, I am really very grateful, and shall come."
Said he, "Meeting you thus is wonderful indeed."
She went on to say, "There is another matter, however, that I wish to call to your attention. I understand that where your Excellency is now staying is a very sacred place, and that according to ancient law men were forbidden to have women here. Is that true?"
The Governor clapped her shoulder, and said, "Well, really now, how is it that you know of this? You are right. What shall we do about it?"
She made answer, "If you'll depend on me, I'll arrange a plan. My home is near by, and I am also alone, so if you come quietly at night to me, we can meet and no one will know. I shall send a felt hat by the boy, and you can wear that for disguise. With this commoner's felt hat on no one will know you."
The Governor was greatly delighted, and said, "How is it that you can plan so wonderfully? I shall do as you suggest. Now you be sure to be on hand." He repeated this two or three times.
The woman went and entered the house indicated. When evening came she sent the hat by the boy. The Governor arrived as agreed, and she received him, lit the lamp, and brought him refreshments and drink. They talked and drank together, and he called her to come to him. The woman hesitated for a moment, when suddenly there was a call heard from the outside, and a great disturbance took place. She bent her head to listen and then gave a cry of alarm, saying, "That's the voice of my husband, who has come. I was unfortunate, and so had this miserable wretch apportioned to my lot. He is the most despicable among mortals. For murder and arson he has no equal. Three years ago he left me and I took another husband, and we've had nothing to do with each other since. I can't imagine why he should come now. He is evidently very drunk, too, from the sound of his voice. Your Excellency has really fallen into a terrible plight. What shall I do?"
The woman went out then and answered, saying, "Who comes thus at midnight to make such a disturbance?"
The voice replied, "Don't you know my voice? Why don't you open the door?"
She answered, "Are you not Chol-lo (Brass Tiger), and have we not separated for good, years ago? Why have you come?"
The voice from without answered back, "Your leaving me and taking another man has always been a matter of deepest resentment on my part; I have something special to say to you," and he pounded the door open and came thundering in.
The woman rushed back into the room, saying, "Your Excellency must escape in some way or other."
In such a little thatched hut there was no place possible for concealment but an empty rice-box only. "Please get into this," said she, and she lifted the lid and hurried him in. The Governor, in his haste and déshabille, was bundled into the box. He then heard, from within, this fellow come into the room and quarrel with his wife. She said, "We have been separated three years already; what reason have you to come now and make such a disturbance?"
Said he, "You cast me off and took another man, therefore I have come for the clothes that I left, and the other things that belong to me."
Then she threw out his belongings to him, but he said, pointing to the box, "That's mine."
She replied, "That's not yours; I bought that myself with two rolls of silk goods."
"But," said he, "one of those rolls I gave you, and I'm not going to let you have it."
"Even though you did give it, do you mean to say that for one roll of silk you will carry away this box? I'll not consent to it." Thus they quarrelled, and contradicted each other.
"If you don't give me the box," said he, "I'll enter a suit against you at the Mayor's."
A little later the day dawned, and so he had the box carried off to the Mayor's office to have the case decided by law, while the woman followed. When they entered the court, already the Mayor was seated in the judgment-place, and here they presented their case concerning the box.
The Mayor, after hearing, decided thus: "Since you each have a half-share in its purchase, there is nothing for me to do but to divide it between you. Bring a saw," said he.
The servants brought the saw and began on the box, when suddenly from the inner regions came forth a cry, "Save me; oh, save me!"
The Mayor, in pretended astonishment, said, "Why, there's a man's voice from the inside," and ordered that it should be opened. The servants managed to find the key, and at last the lid came back, and from the inner quarters there came forth a half-dressed man.
On seeing him the whole place was put into convulsions of laughter, for it was none other than the Governor.
"How is it that your Excellency finds yourself in this box in this unaccountable way?" asked the Mayor. "Please come out."
The Governor, huddling himself together as well as he could, climbed on to the open verandah. He held his head down and nearly died for shame.
The Mayor, splitting his sides with laughter, ordered clothes to be brought, and the first thing that came was a woman's green dress-coat. The Governor hastily turned it inside out, slipped it on, and made a dash for his quarters in the Confucian Temple. That day he left the place never to return, and even to the present time in Kyong-ju they laugh and tell the story of the Boxed-up Governor.