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The Unjust Sentence.

MR. CHU was a native of Yangku, and, as a young man, was much given to playing tricks and talking in a loose kind of way. Having lost his wife, he went off to ask a certain old woman to arrange another match for him; and on the way, he chanced to fall in with a neighbour’s wife who took his fancy very much. So he said in joke to the old woman, “Get me that stylish looking, handsome lady, and I shall be quite satisfied.” “I’ll see what I can do,” replied the old woman, also joking, “if you will manage to kill her present husband;” upon which Chu laughed and said he certainly would do so. Now about a month afterwards, the said husband, who had gone out to collect some money due to him, was actually killed in a lonely spot; and the magistrate of the district immediately summoned the neighbours and beadle and held the usual inquest, but was unable to find any clue to the murderer. However, the old woman told the story of her conversation with Chu, and suspicion at once fell upon him. The constables came and arrested him; but he stoutly denied the charge; and the magistrate now began to suspect the wife of the murdered man. Accordingly, she was severely beaten and tortured in several ways until her strength failed her, and she falsely acknowledged her guilt. Chu was then examined, and he said, “This delicate woman could not bear the agony of your tortures; what she has stated is untrue; and, even should her wrong escape the notice of the Gods, for her to die in this way with a stain upon her name is more than I can endure. I will tell the whole truth. I killed the husband that I might secure the wife: she knew nothing at all about it.” And when the magistrate asked for some proof, Chu said his bloody clothes would be evidence enough; but when they sent to search his house, no bloody clothes were forthcoming. He was then beaten till he fainted; yet when he came round he still stuck to what he had said. “It is my mother,” cried he, “who will not sign the death warrant of her son. Let me go myself and I will get the clothes.” So he was escorted by a guard to his home, and there he explained to his mother that whether she gave up or withheld the clothes, it was all the same; that in either case he would have to die, and it was better to die early than late. Thereupon his mother wept bitterly, and going into the bedroom, brought out, after a short delay, the required clothes, which were taken at once to the magistrate’s. There was now no doubt as to the truth of Chu’s story; and as nothing occurred to change the magistrate’s opinion, Chu was thrown into prison to await the day for his execution. Meanwhile, as the magistrate was one day inspecting his gaol, suddenly a man appeared in the hall, who glared at him fiercely and roared out, “Dull-headed fool! unfit to be the guardian of the people’s interests!”—whereupon the crowd of servants standing round rushed forward to seize him, but with one sweep of his arms he laid them all flat on the ground. The magistrate was frightened out of his wits, and tried to escape, but the man cried out to him, “I am one of Kuan Ti’s lieutenants. If you move an inch you are lost.” So the magistrate stood there, shaking from head to foot with fear, while his visitor continued, “The murderer is Kung Piao: Chu had nothing to do with it.”
The lieutenant then fell down on the ground, and was to all appearance lifeless; however, after a while he recovered, his face having quite changed, and when they asked him his name, lo! it was Kung Piao. Under the application of the bamboo he confessed his guilt. Always an unprincipled man, he had heard that the murdered man was going out to collect money, and thinking he would be sure to bring it back with him, he had killed him, but had found nothing. Then when he learnt that Chu had acknowledged the crime as his own doing, he had rejoiced in secret at such a stroke of luck. How he had got into the magistrate’s hall he was quite unable to say. The magistrate now called for some explanation of Chu’s bloody clothes, which Chu himself was unable to give; but his mother, who was at once sent for, stated that she had cut her own arm to stain them, and when they examined her they found on her left arm the scar of a recent wound. The magistrate was lost in amazement at all this; unfortunately for him the reversal of his sentence cost him his appointment, and he died in poverty, unable to find his way home. As for Chu, the widow of the murdered man married him in the following year, out of gratitude for his noble behaviour.




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