HONG THE CURRIER
A Chinese Story
translated by George
"In the time when the Justice of
Heaven was actively employed with
the affairs of the earth, one of my ancestors
had an adventure to which we owe our
present fortune, and of which few men of
to-day have seen the equal."
Thus began my friend Hong; reclining
on the red cushions of the big couch, he
fanned himself gracefully with an ivory
fan painted all over.
"Our family, as you know, originally
came from the town of The-Black-chain in
the province of The-Foaming-rivers. Our
ancestor Hong The-just was a currier by
trade; he cut and scraped the skins that
were entrusted to him. His family was
composed only of his wife, who helped him
as well as she could.
"Notwithstanding this persistent labour,
they were very poor; no furniture ornamented
the three rooms in the small
house that they hired in the Street-of-the-golden-flowers.
"When the last days of the twelfth moon
in that year arrived, they found they were
owing six strings of copper cash to ten
different creditors. With all they possessed,
there only remained 400 cash. What were
they to do? They reflected for a long
time. Hong The-just at last said to his
"'Take these 400 cash; you will be able
to buy rice to live on. As to me, as I
cannot pay my debts before the first day of
the first moon, I am going to leave the
town and hide myself in the mountain.
My creditors, not seeing me, will believe
you when you tell them that I have been
to find money in the neighbouring town.
Once the first day of the first moon passed,
as law ordains to wait till the following term,
I shall then come back, and we shall continue
to live as well as we can.'
"It was indeed the wisest thing to do. His
wife made him a parcel of a blanket and a
few dry biscuits. She wept at seeing him
go away quite bent, walking with difficulty
on the slippery flagstones of the street.
"The snow was falling in thick flakes and
already covered the grey tiled roofs, when
Hong The-just left the city gate and directed
his steps to a cave that he knew of in a lonely
"He arrived at last, and, throwing his
heavy load on the ground, he glanced around
him in order to choose the place where he
"An exclamation of stupor escaped from
him when he saw, seated motionless on a
stone, a man clothed in a long sable cloak,
with a cap of the same fur, looking at him
in a mournful, indifferent way.
"'How strange!' at last said Hong,
laughing. 'Dare I ask your noble name
and the reason that brings you to this
remote refuge? How is it that you are
not with your friends, drinking hot wine
and rejoicing in the midst of the luxuriance
of the tables covered with various eatables
and brilliant lights?'
"'My name is Yang Glow-of-dawn. And
you, what is your precious name?' replied
mechanically the first occupant.
"'I am called Hong The-just, and I am
here to escape from my creditors.'
"'You, also?' sneered Glow-of-dawn.
'The strokes of Fate do not vary much.
As for me, I deal in European goods; my
correspondents have not settled my accounts
and I am in want of nearly a hundred
thousand ounces of silver to close the year.
None of my friends could advance me the
sum, and here I am, obliged to fly away from
"'A hundred thousand ounces!' cried
The-just. 'With a sum like that I should
pass the rest of my days in plenty. Anyhow,
struck by the same misfortune, we
are thus united; let us try to pass cheerfully
the last day of the year, and attempt
to imagine that these humble cakes are
"When they were eating their pastry
and drinking water from the near torrent,
Glow-of-dawn suddenly said:
"'But you, how much do you owe? I
have here a few ounces of silver; maybe you
could balance your accounts with them.'
"'My debts do not exceed six strings of
copper cash. But how could I dare accept
"'Not at all! take these ten ounces;
you will pay your debts and bring me here
food and wine; that will help me to wait
till the end of the festivals.'
"The-just, reiterating his thanks, took the
ingots that were offered him and went
down as quickly as possible towards the
"His wife, on seeing him and hearing
his story, could not restrain her joy. She
hurried to go and buy provisions of all
kinds. Her husband tried to light the
stove, but they had not lit a fire for a
long time; he found the chimney filled with
soot and dust.
"Hong tried to sweep it with a big broom,
but the masonry gave way, filling the room
with the bricks and rubbish.
"'How very annoying!' grumbled the
currier. 'Now the stove is destroyed let us
take away what remains, and we will make
the fire beneath the opening in the roof!'
"When his wife returned, he was still
working. She put down her basket and
helped to raise a huge stone that formed
the bottom of the hearth. What was their
astonishment in seeing a chest, half-broken,
from which big ingots of gold were falling!
"'What are we to do with this?' said
his wife. 'If we sell this gold, everybody
will think that we have stolen it, and we
shall be put in prison.'
"'We have only one thing to do,' replied
Hong. 'Let us entrust our fortune to my
companion in the cave; he is a good man.
We shall save him, and he will make our
money prosper; I will hurry and tell him.'
"When Hong arrived, it was nearly nightfall;
Yang was standing under flakes of
snow at the entrance of the grotto; he
received him with reproaches:
"'You have come so late that my eyes
are sore in looking out for you in vain!'
"'Do not abuse me, Old Uncle; drink
this wine and eat these cakes that are still
warm, and I will tell you what delayed me.'
"And while Glow-of-dawn ate and drank,
the other told him of his adventure and of
his intentions about the treasure.
"Surprised and touched, the merchant did
not know how to express his wonder and
gratitude. They talked over the best way
of proceeding to bring the gold and settle
"Then, by the glimmer of a bad lantern,
they returned to the town and entered the
merchant's house. There the currier washed
himself, did his hair, and clothed himself
in rich garments. A sedan-chair was
waiting for him, followed by sturdy servants;
he went away....
"The next day Glow-of-dawn's creditors
presented themselves at the house of their
debtor. He was standing at the entrance,
and bowed in wishing them a thousand
times happiness. They entered; tea was
brought in by busy servants. They at last
discussed the settlement of their yearly
accounts. The master of the house found
out that he owed 180,000 ounces of silver.
"'We have been informed that larger
sums of silver are due to you, but you know
the custom; you must settle everything
to-day. In order to save you, we are
content to make an estimate of your wealth,
your goods and lands.'
"'Do not give yourselves such a trouble,'
replied the merchant, laughing and waving
his hand. 'I thought you would be relentless,
so I have been to speak to my elder
brother, who has an immense fortune; he
has put at my disposal several hundred
thousand ounces. But here! I hear the
cry of the bearers; it must be him with
the chests of white metal.'
"The major domo came hurrying in, carrying
high in the air the huge red card with
the names and surnames written in black.
"'The venerable Old Great Uncle The-just
"'Allow me?' said Yang, getting up,
and going towards the door, of which both
sides were open. Hong entered. They
made each other a thousand affectionate
greetings, as all brothers do who are animated
with right feelings.
"'Dear elder brother! here are the gentlemen
who have come for the settlement of
my accounts about which I spoke to you.'
"'Gentlemen!' and the currier bowed,
not without a certain grace that his new
fortune had already given him. 'Well!
how much is the total amount? I have
brought you ten thousand ounces of gold,
which is nearly 350,000 ounces of silver.
Will you have enough?'
"While he was speaking, bearers were
trooping in, and laid down on the ground
heavy chests, the lids of which being raised,
one could see the bars of precious metal.
"The merchants, thunderstruck by all
these riches and generosity, remained silent
for a moment; then they bowed low and
bade the currier sit in the place of honour.
"Many delicate and exquisite dishes were
brought in of which The-just did not even
know the names; sweet wines were handed
round in small transparent china cups.
"At last the secretaries counted the ingots,
and they all returned home paid. When
every one had retired, Glow-of-dawn knelt
before the currier and, striking the earth
with his forehead, he said:
"'Now you are my elder brother. You
have rescued me, and I henceforth wish you
to live here. My house, my properties,
everything I possess belongs to you. Your
wife is my sister-in-law.'
"The currier hurried to raise him up and,
much moved, said:
"'I do not forget that it is you who saved
me when you were still in misfortune.
Your good genius has rewarded you. I am
only the instrument of Fate.'"