A Nose for the King by Jack London
In the morning calm of Korea, when its peace and tranquillity truly
merited its ancient name, "Cho-sen," there lived a politician by name Yi
Chin Ho. He was a man of parts, and—who shall say?—perhaps in
no wise worse than politicians the world over. But, unlike his brethren in
other lands, Yi Chin Ho was in jail. Not that he had inadvertently
diverted to himself public moneys, but that he had inadvertently diverted
too much. Excess is to be deplored in all things, even in grafting, and Yi
Chin Ho's excess had brought him to most deplorable straits.
Ten thousand strings of cash he owed the Government, and he lay in prison
under sentence of death. There was one advantage to the situation—he
had plenty of time in which to think. And he thought well. Then called he
the jailer to him.
"Most worthy man, you see before you one most wretched," he began. "Yet
all will be well with me if you will but let me go free for one short hour
this night. And all will be well with you, for I shall see to your
advancement through the years, and you shall come at length to the
directorship of all the prisons of Cho-sen."
"How now?" demanded the jailer. "What foolishness is this? One short hour,
and you but waiting for your head to be chopped off! And I, with an aged
and much-to-be-respected mother, not to say anything of a wife and several
children of tender years! Out upon you for the scoundrel that you are!"
"From the Sacred City to the ends of all the Eight Coasts there is no
place for me to hide," Yi Chin Ho made reply. "I am a man of wisdom, but
of what worth my wisdom here in prison? Were I free, well I know I could
seek out and obtain the money wherewith to repay the Government. I know of
a nose that will save me from all my difficulties."
"A nose!" cried the jailer.
"A nose," said Yi Chin Ho. "A remarkable nose, if I may say so, a most
The jailer threw up his hands despairingly. "Ah, what a wag you are, what
a wag," he laughed. "To think that that very admirable wit of yours must
go the way of the chopping-block!"
And so saying, he turned and went away. But in the end, being a man soft
of head and heart, when the night was well along he permitted Yi Chin Ho
Straight he went to the Governor, catching him alone and arousing him from
"Yi Chin Ho, or I'm no Governor!" cried the Governor. "What do you here
who should be in prison waiting on the chopping-block?"
"I pray Your Excellency to listen to me," said Yi Chin Ho, squatting on
his hams by the bedside and lighting his pipe from the fire-box. "A dead
man is without value. It is true, I am as a dead man, without value to the
Government, to Your Excellency, or to myself. But if, so to say, Your
Excellency were to give me my freedom—"
"Impossible!" cried the Governor. "Beside, you are condemned to death."
"Your Excellency well knows that if I can repay the ten thousand strings
of cash, the Government will pardon me," Yi Chin Ho went on. "So, as I
say, if Your Excellency were to give me my freedom for a few days, being a
man of understanding, I should then repay the Government and be in
position to be of service to Your Excellency. I should be in position to
be of very great service to Your Excellency."
"Have you a plan whereby you hope to obtain this money?" asked the
"I have," said Yi Chin Ho.
"Then come with it to me to-morrow night; I would now sleep," said the
Governor, taking up his snore where it had been interrupted.
On the following night, having again obtained leave of absence from the
jailer, Yi Chin Ho presented himself at the Governor's bedside.
"Is it you, Yi Chin Ho?" asked the Governor. "And have you the plan?"
"It is I, Your Excellency," answered Yi Chin Ho, "and the plan is here."
"Speak," commanded the Governor.
"The plan is here," repeated Yi Chin Ho, "here in my hand."
The Governor sat up and opened his eyes. Yi Chin Ho proffered in his hand
a sheet of paper. The Governor held it to the light.
"Nothing but a nose," said he.
"A bit pinched, so, and so, Your Excellency," said Yi Chin Ho.
"Yes, a bit pinched here and there, as you say," said the Governor.
"Withal it is an exceeding corpulent nose, thus, and so, all in one place,
at the end," proceeded Yi Chin Ho. "Your Excellency would seek far and
wide and many a day for that nose and find it not!"
"An unusual nose," admitted the Governor.
"There is a wart upon it," said Yi Chin Ho.
"A most unusual nose," said the Governor. "Never have I seen the like. But
what do you with this nose, Yi Chin Ho?"
"I seek it whereby to repay the money to the Government," said Yi Chin Ho.
"I seek it to be of service to Your Excellency, and I seek it to save my
own worthless head. Further, I seek Your Excellency's seal upon this
picture of the nose."
And the Governor laughed and affixed the seal of State, and Yi Chin Ho
departed. For a month and a day he travelled the King's Road which leads
to the shore of the Eastern Sea; and there, one night, at the gate of the
largest mansion of a wealthy city he knocked loudly for admittance.
"None other than the master of the house will I see," said he fiercely to
the frightened servants. "I travel upon the King's business."
Straightway was he led to an inner room, where the master of the house was
roused from his sleep and brought blinking before him.
"You are Pak Chung Chang, head man of this city," said Yi Chin Ho in tones
that were all-accusing. "I am upon the King's business."
Pak Chung Chang trembled. Well he knew the King's business was ever a
terrible business. His knees smote together, and he near fell to the
"The hour is late," he quavered. "Were it not well to—"
"The King's business never waits!" thundered Yi Chin Ho. "Come apart with
me, and swiftly. I have an affair of moment to discuss with you.
"It is the King's affair," he added with even greater fierceness; so that
Pak Chung Chang's silver pipe dropped from his nerveless fingers and
clattered on the floor.
"Know then," said Yi Chin Ho, when they had gone apart, "that the King is
troubled with an affliction, a very terrible affliction. In that he failed
to cure, the Court physician has had nothing else than his head chopped
off. From all the Eight Provinces have the physicians come to wait upon
the King. Wise consultation have they held, and they have decided that for
a remedy for the King's affliction nothing else is required than a nose, a
certain kind of nose, a very peculiar certain kind of nose.
"Then by none other was I summoned than His Excellency the Prime Minister
himself. He put a paper into my hand. Upon this paper was the very
peculiar kind of nose drawn by the physicians of the Eight Provinces, with
the seal of State upon it.
"'Go,' said His Excellency the Prime Minister. 'Seek out this nose, for
the King's affliction is sore. And wheresoever you find this nose upon the
face of a man, strike it off forthright and bring it in all haste to the
Court, for the King must be cured. Go, and come not back until your search
"And so I departed upon my quest," said Yi Chin Ho. "I have sought out the
remotest corners of the kingdom; I have travelled the Eight Highways,
searched the Eight Provinces, and sailed the seas of the Eight Coasts. And
here I am."
With a great flourish he drew a paper from his girdle, unrolled it with
many snappings and cracklings, and thrust it before the face of Pak Chung
Chang. Upon the paper was the picture of the nose.
Pak Chung Chang stared upon it with bulging eyes.
"Never have I beheld such a nose," he began.
"There is a wart upon it," said Yi Chin Ho.
"Never have I beheld—" Pak Chung Chang began again.
"Bring your father before me," Yi Chin Ho interrupted sternly.
"My ancient and very-much-to-be-respected ancestor sleeps," said Pak Chung
"Why dissemble?" demanded Yi Chin Ho. "You know it is your father's nose.
Bring him before me that I may strike it off and be gone. Hurry, lest I
make bad report of you."
"Mercy!" cried Pak Chung Chang, falling on his knees. "It is impossible!
It is impossible! You cannot strike off my father's nose. He cannot go
down without his nose to the grave. He will become a laughter and a
byword, and all my days and nights will be filled with woe. O reflect!
Report that you have seen no such nose in your travels. You, too, have a
Pak Chung Chang clasped Yi Chin Ho's knees and fell to weeping on his
"My heart softens strangely at your tears," said Yi Chin Ho. "I, too, know
filial piety and regard. But—" He hesitated, then added, as though
thinking aloud, "It is as much as my head is worth."
"How much is your head worth?" asked Pak Chung Chang in a thin, small
"A not remarkable head," said Yi Chin Ho. "An absurdly unremarkable head;
but, such is my great foolishness, I value it at nothing less than one
hundred thousand strings of cash."
"So be it," said Pak Chung Chang, rising to his feet.
"I shall need horses to carry the treasure," said Yi Chin Ho, "and men to
guard it well as I journey through the mountains. There are robbers abroad
in the land."
"There are robbers abroad in the land," said Pak Chung Chang, sadly. "But
it shall be as you wish, so long as my ancient and
very-much-to-be-respected ancestor's nose abide in its appointed place."
"Say nothing to any man of this occurrence," said Yi Chin Ho, "else will
other and more loyal servants than I be sent to strike off your father's
And so Yi Chin Ho departed on his way through the mountains, blithe of
heart and gay of song as he listened to the jingling bells of his
There is little more to tell. Yi Chin Ho prospered through the years. By
his efforts the jailer attained at length to the directorship of all the
prisons of Cho-sen; the Governor ultimately betook himself to the Sacred
City to be Prime Minister to the King, while Yi Chin Ho became the King's
boon companion and sat at table with him to the end of a round, fat life.
But Pak Chung Chang fell into a melancholy, and ever after he shook his
head sadly, with tears in his eyes, whenever he regarded the expensive
nose of his ancient and very-much-to-be-respected ancestor.