Chapter 10 Continued

After everyone had left the hall the Magistrate called our Bonze into the study in back, chasing away those already there and heaping exaggerated and condescending praise on him. Naturally he wanted something.

"I've got an important letter and gift parcel to send to a relative over in Qingyuanfu. It's a long and arduous road and there was nobody I could rely on to carry them it until I heard of your great righteousness and heroism, If you're willing to carry out this mission for me all sorts of rewards will be yours the day you return."

"What's one more journey to a wandering monk? replied Bonze Dan. "Why, I'll go wherever your excellency says and I won't fail you!"

The Magistrate was delighted. He called his assistant to take our monk to his new quarters in the Temple of the City God, along with a safe containing two strings of silver coin for the Wizard of that Daoist establishment, to help Bonze Dan bide his time happily until the day when his orders would arrive. Of course nobody told him that the Magistrate had been looting his own office of the entire take of gold, pearls and silver from the myriad trunks and baskets of the homes of Qianyang County.

Upon arrival at the Temple Bonze Dan and and the official paid their formal respects to the Wizard and were then escorted to the reception hall. Our monk noticed the broken down building, the shabby condition of the rooms and even of the Wizard's gown. "Can't you get enough worshippers here?" he asked.

"Tomb visiting is brisk and worship attendance isn't bad either," the Wizard answered, but our monk just remained silent and expressionless. After tea the official handed the two strings of silver cash over to the Wizard with an admonition to do his best. The Daoist Wizard next received the three hundred coins earmarked for Bonze Dan's entertainment, and escorted the man out the door. He then asked Bonze Dan to enjoy some wine and meat and hurriedly despatched the Officer of Sacrifices to search all over town for provisions. Finally he set everything up in tip top shape for the party, arranged the screens in a bedroom and asked Bonze Dan to be seated there. Why, he even brought his own bedding to the room for the sake of his guest's comfortable rest. The feast began and Bonze Dan, eating and drinking to his heart's content, had a question.

"If tomb visits are so brisk and worshippers are pouring into here, why then does the Temple seem so hard-pressed and broken down?"

"That's all so true, and it's all because we've had some losses out the back door, so to speak... money we'll never again see."

"Could the County Magistrate be squeezing the Temple?"

The Wizard's face turned red and he didn't dare answer, while Bonze Dan continued:

"Being new here and not knowing him well, I agreed when the Magistrate asked me to stay here for a while and then carry a letter and gift to Qingyangfu. I don't know what kind of thing it could be, though. I've heard it said that he's a greedy official who gouges and fleeces the people. Sir, you are in a position to know the truth. Please don't be suspicious of me, tell me what's happening here and no harm will come of it. If I've really met up with a thieving dog, well, as a holy man perhaps it would be best if I didn't finish this job."

The Daoist heard the sincerity in these words and with his hands drew a loop of cash on a string.

"This," he declared, "is what his honor the County Magistrate really loves. Why, just talking about this here Temple, he takes ten strings of silver out of our worshippers' sacrifices no matter whether we've had a good month or not. When we haven't got a big enough boodle I've got to make up the difference out of my pocket, and if someone should give us some rice in charity the county snatches it right up. That's why we haven't got the means to fix these broken down buildings in here. He's already lopped off our bookeeper's head on trumped up charges and now he's got even the tomb visitors paying into his fund. Now, although high authority usually commands respect, all this trickery and theft from the poor people is just inexcusable."

"Wherever he's from, whoever he's got in Qingyuanfu and however important that parcel is, I can't see why he needs a monk to carry it" answered Bonze Dan."

"He really is from Qingyuanfu," continued the Daoist, "town of Cixi. His surname's Hou and his given name is Mingzai, and he's been in charge here for the past four years. Every year he sends a certain portion of his booty home. I'm afraid it seems like this here mission of yours is for that very purpose. Last year he used the wrong sort of person, who was robbed while crossing Lake Dongting. I've heard that this time he's retained you, a Zen monk, to take an overland route. This magistrate was once a poor scholar but since taking office he's already sent home a few vaults of stolen treasure and his greed just grows and grows. Maybe he hopes this time his theft won't appear so barefaced if a Zen holy man brings the goods"

"So that's it" said Bonze Dan wryly.

"Now I've told you an awful lot, as you 've asked me to. On your journey you mustn't ever speak of these things, not with his men, not with anybody! Do you understand?"

"My lips are sealed."

Then after eating and drinking his full the Daoist left his Zen visitor.

Bonze Dan was indignant. "Oh, these poor tenant farmers, why, he's asking me to carry away their stolen blood money. It's wrong, so wrong..." he thought as he nodded off to sleep, not to awaken until the drumming of the fifth watch. He then resolutely took up that staff and sack of his, walked right out the temple gate and slipped away in the darkness.

Next day the Wizard couldn't find his guest though he searched frantically. Finally he gave up looking and informed the Magistrate.

"It's a good thing I didn't get to actually entrust the goods to him," said the official. "These wandering monks are so unreliable!" And he didn't rebuke the Daoist but only hounded him for the return of the two strings of cash. The poor priest, having spent it all entertaining his guest as instructed, was then forced to scrape together the money, begging and borrowing all three hundred coins of it.

Some time after these events the Magistrate managed to make some well placed bribes and was thus appointed mayor of the capital city of Kaifeng, a world capital, and his family erected an ancestral temple back in the county. But after leaving to take up his new duties the people of his home district rose up and entered that temple at midnight, broke his idol off its legs and dumped it it into a pit of manure. And at that very moment on a highway in the capital, Magistrate Hou's horse reared in fright and threw him to earth, breaking his legs and killing him. And so we can see that God's law will never fail, and that is the moral of this tale. Here is a poem that tells it well:

Very little food in fact do people really need
Why then do they so strenuously go all out in greed?

We've seen how a corrupt official came upon his fall
Never sentenced by a court but doomed by ghostly call.

To continue with our story, Bonze Dan left Qianyang County and Sizhou that very day, and again wandered through the Xingnan region of Hubei. He once more enjoyed the dramatic mountains and lakes as he came upon them, reveling in their glorious beauty, until befor he knew it another year had passed. Seeing the red of Li Bo's peaches, the yellow of the early plums and the purple of the apricot leaves he suddenly remembered his original purpose. Procuring many big sheets of purest white paper, he then returned to his straw hut at the foot of Mt Dream-of-the Clouds. Upon settling in he numbered the blank sheets before wrapping them ever so neatly in that fine sewn cloth of Shi Toutuo's, and then went for a bath in a sparkling clear mountain pool.

When the Duan Wu Day once again dawned he rose early, ate his bellyfull of baked rice and lashed his kit together in tip top order for the mission, only to see the mountaintop hidden in dark cloud with sheets of heavy rain lashing the hut. "This sure isn't my idea of fair weather" he thought. "This kind of rain doesn't fall everyday, it seems it's been served up just for me!"

Well, all he could do was stay in that pine hut, face the sky and kowtow earthward while praying to Heaven. "If I'm indeed fated to see the face of Heaven's writings, I beg thee to harvest up the clouds and rain and let the round, red sun shine through!" And lo and behold, after much watching and waiting, by the time the sundial's shadow had passed nine o'clock the rain had already stopped. Our monk was immensely pleased, picked up his neatly wrappped paper, shouldered his staff and sack and was off. Now as this was his third attempt the way was really familiar. He pressed right on through that mountainside swamp, over the high crags and precipices and then plunged confidently into the sudden fog, only afraid of being too late. Throwing himself blindly forward he finally arrived at the stone bridge over that deadly chasm. Now, when Bonze Dan set his eyes on the narrow span he drew up short in fright. For this bridge was made of the smoothest polished gemstone, and after the rain it was as slippery as if coated with oil. Even one short step at a time he couldn't hope to get a foothold on it.

"Wasn't the bridge itself the source of this local fog?" I hear one of you asking. Well, there are things that I, your narrator, can't say for sure. But your usual fog is the rising qi of earth, not an effect of heavenly qi; its mists swirl and form wildy, wetting our clothes with its dew and coating stone with its droplets without evaporating. But this White Cloud Cave's fog came from the Curtain of Fog and was of the dry sort. Obviously it was all a mirage, real from afar, nothing at all up close. It was only because of the rain that the bridge was now wet and slippery.

Well, even if it were only three or four feet across that was one long distance under those conditions, even with the surest and steadiest of tread! And the inestimably deep gorge awaiting below seemed to be smiling, almost laughing at him hungrily! It was like this:

Unless he had some beating wings with which to safely fly
Setting foot upon that span he'd surely fall and die!

Under these kind of circumstances it sure seems as though he's he's going to come up short yet yet a third time. But needless to say, human ingenuity might yet rise to the challenge of the fog and rain.

To see the course he finally took
Just turn the page and have a look.

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