Now after Hu Yong'r had conjured up that tiger and had it attack the youth she didn't dare travel on the same road again. "I'll go by myself to Zhengzhou, and I'll take my time about it, too!" she decided. The weather was now scorching hot and so she could only travel in short legs, resting often. Later that very morning she spotted a nice shade tree and was resting there confortably when she heard the rumbling of wheels. Sure enough, she spotted a peddler with a broad-brimmed felt hat and commercial traveller's coat. There was a cloth band round his waist and he wore baggy pants and hemp sandals. As he pushed his cart into the shade for a rest Hu Yong'r stood to greet him.
"Hello there, traveller!"
The merchant acknowledged her with a bow. "And whereabouts might the young lady be headed?" he asked.
"I'm trying to get to Zhengzhou to see my parents but my feet are aching, so I'm resting here. What are you selling, sir, and where are you off to with this cart?"
"I'm from Zhengzhou," he answered, "and I'm on my way back there after selling soap in Kaifeng."
"If you can carry me to Zhengzhou in your cart I'll give you five hundred coppers to get some wine with."
Now the merchant thought it over. He had sold all his wares and Zhengzhou was his destination all right, and in the end he would get five hundred copper coins. "It won't do any harm do help her out!" he thought. And so he told Yong'r to get into the cart.
The peddler pushed that cart with all his mortal strength, neither speaking nor casting eyes upon Yong'r. He just pressed on with his head bowed down. "This merchant is a solid fellow," she thought. "How rare and wonderful! Not at all like that rascal last night, frightening me with those awful words. He sure got a taste of my powers, not enough to harm him but just to teach him a lesson, and he sure looked funny. It's really great that I've run into this merchant, though. He'll come in handy in the future."
The man pushed that cart right up to the East Gate of Zhengzhou. "Where are your mum and dad?" he asked Yong'r.
"Master! I don't know the name of the place. When we get there I'll recognise it!"
He pushed the cart into the city, down the main avenue. "Here's my home!" shouted Yong'r as they came to a crossing. The merchant set the handles down and checked, finding only a small room with a locked door.
"It's a locked-up room. Are you sure it's your home?" he asked her.
Yong'r scampered down from the cart, uttered a sound and the the lock just fell off. She then pushed one of the doors open and went inside. The peddler then waited for more than an hour without a sign of her oer anybody else. As twilight approached he could be seen slowly edging toward the door and peeking inside. Suddenly he was startled by a voice from behind.
"Why are you snooping around this door, and who unlocked it?"
The peddlar turned and stared, frightened, as an old man appeared. "Please listen to my story, grandpa. Earlier, while passing about ten li outside the city I met a young woman who sid she couldn't walk because her feet hurt. She promised me five hundred coppers if I would take her into town on my cart and I brought her here. She went in and hasn't come out again, and I've been waiting all afternoon. Please, sir, can I trouble you to go in there and just tell her to come out and pay me my fare?"
"This is a neighborhood court for troublemakers, and I am the guard. I'm asking you again, who's responsibele for opening that lock?"
"Your own daughter!"
"Nonsense, nobody lives here!" the old man snarled. "Are you trying to bamboozle me with that weird story?"
"This is terrible!" said the merchant. "I bring your daughter here and she doesn't pay the fare, and then I'm accused of telling ghost tales! Let's you and me go in, and if she isn't there I'll bow down at your feet in sincere apology!"
"Now, don't forget those words! And don't you go running away when we don't see anyone in there!"
The old man opened the door and led the way in. In they went from foyer to meeting room toward the rear hall, where they spotted Yong'r way in the back. "Over there! Isn't that your daugher?" shouted the peddler, pointing. The old man was really puzzled as the vendor came up behind him shouting noisily. "Why doesn't your girl pay up? What kind of business is this?"
Seeing the angry merchant approaching, Hu Yong'r got up and ran just as he entered the hall. With nowhere to hide she ran out by the well, looked into it and leapt down the shaft.
"Oh, no!" shouted the peddlar. "No! This is horrible!" He tried to escape but was struck down by the old man's club.
"That woman was a stranger to you but you brought her here and then hounded her until she jumped into the well! As Heaven and Earth are my witness you drove her to end her life, and then you tried to run away! What if the woman's family hears of her fate and comes to have a word with you? You must be detained!" Holding on tightly to the merchant he called out for the neighbors to help as he bound his captive and took him directly downtown. But there is more to come of all this. The sturdy peddler will soon meet some shadey officials and an illiterate magistrate, and quite a few tricks will be done. The punishment suits the accused, in other words. Now to see what happens next, read the coming chapter's text.
Conclusion of Chapter 24 Click to continue to Chapter 25 Table of Contents