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The Salt Smuggler.

WANG SHIH, of Kaowan, a petty salt huckster, was inordinately fond of gambling. One night he was arrested by two men, whom he took for lictors of the Salt Gabelle; and, flinging down what salt he had with him, he tried to make his escape. He found, however, that his legs would not move with him, and he was forthwith seized and bound. “We are not sent by the Salt Commissioner,” cried his captors, in reply to an entreaty to set him free; “we are the devil constables of Purgatory.” Wang was horribly frightened at this, and begged the devils to let him bid farewell to his wife and children; but this they refused to do, saying, “You aren’t going to die; you are only wanted for a little job there is down below.” Wang asked what the job was; to which the devils replied, “A new Judge has come into office, and, finding the river and the eighteen hells choked up with the bodies of sinners, he has determined to employ three classes of mortals to clean them out. These are thieves, unlicensed founders, and unlicensed dealers in salt, and, for the dirtiest work of all, he is going to take musicians.”
Wang accompanied the devils until at length they reached a city, where he was brought before the Judge, who was sitting in his Judgment hall. On turning up his record in the books, one of the devils explained that the prisoner had been arrested for unlicensed trading; whereupon the Judge became very angry, and said, “Those who drive an illicit trade in salt, not only defraud the State of its proper revenue, but also prey upon the livelihood of the people. Those, however, whom the greedy officials and corrupt traders of today denounce as unlicensed traders, are among the most virtuous of mankind—needy unfortunates who struggle to save a few cash in the purchase of their pint of salt. Are they your unlicensed traders?” The Judge then bade the lictors buy four pecks of salt, and send it to Wang’s house for him, together with that which had been found upon him; and, at the same time, he gave Wang an iron scourge, and told him to superintend the works at the river. So Wang followed the devils, and found the river swarming with people like ants in an anthill. The water was turbid and red, the stench from it being almost unbearable, while those who were employed in cleaning it out were working there naked. Sometimes they would sink down in the horrid mass of decaying bodies: sometimes they would get lazy, and then the iron scourge was applied to their backs. The assistant superintendents had small scented balls, which they held in their mouths. Wang himself approached the bank, and saw the licensed salt merchant of Kaowan in the midst of it all, and thrashed him well with his scourge, until he was afraid he would never come up again. This went on for three days and three nights, by which time half the workmen were dead, and the work completed; whereupon the same two devils escorted him home again, and then he waked up.
As a matter of fact, Wang had gone out to sell some salt, and had not come back. Next morning, when his wife opened the house door, she found two bags of salt in the courtyard; and, as her husband did not return, she sent off some people to search for him, and they discovered him lying senseless by the wayside. He was immediately conveyed home, where, after a little time, he recovered consciousness, and related what had taken place. Strange to say, the licensed salt merchant had fallen down in a fit on the previous evening, and had only just recovered; and Wang, hearing that his body was covered with sores—the result of the beating with the iron scourge—went off to his house to see him; however, directly the wretched man set eyes on Wang, he hastily covered himself up with the bedclothes, forgetting that they were no longer at the infernal river. He did not recover from his injuries for a year, after which he retired from trade.




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