A Courtesan Identifies Her Lover

During my stay in Urumqi a clerk in the army told me the following story.  In Gansu there was a rich old man named Du, who lived close to an open country dotted with lairs of foxes and badgers.  Disgusted with their howling at night, Du drove them away by smoke. After that the family suddenly found themselves facing over a dozen look-alikes of their master – in the inner room, the hall, and just about every corner of the house.  Indistinguishable in voice, appearance, and clothes, they ordered the servants about in the same manner. As chaos broke out in the family, Du’s wife and concubine locked themselves up in their rooms for safety.

It occurred to the concubine that the embroidered packet tied to Du’s waist belt could be used to tell him from the fakes.  However, none of the old men had the packet, which must have been stolen. Then someone suggested to the wife and concubine, “At night the old men will come to seek your company.  Do not let any of them enter your room. The one who turns to go away should be our master, and those that insist on entering will be the fiends.” This plan was duly carried out, but all the old men turned to leave after being denied entry.  Someone else came up with another idea. “Let them sit in the hall one at a time,” he said. “Send a servant to walk by and pretend to break something by accident. If the old man looks distressed over the loss and swears angrily, he must be our master; if he looks totally indifferent, that must be a demon.”  When this plan was carried out, every old man looked upset over the broken vessel and gave the servant a severe dressing-down. A frantic night went by without any success in identifying the master of the house.

Du had a favorite courtesan whom he went to spend the night with once every three or four days.  Informed of what was going on, she visited the family to offer with help. “The demons have underlings to send the secret messages about whatever can be explained in words.  Why not bring all of them to my house. As a call girl, I have nothing to lose. Make a hefty fellow stand by my bed holding a big axe. After I undress myself, let those old men come to join me in bed one by one.  During our hugging and fondling, the turning of the body bending and stretching of the limbs, and the force and rhythm of every move are things that can be felt but not put into words. The demons will know nothing about them, for even Du himself cannot give a clear description.  If the man standing by my bed brings down the axe when I cry ‘chop’, no demon will be able to get away.” Everything was arranged according to her plan. The first old man climbed into bed and lifted the quilt to get in, only to be greeted by the courtesan with a shout, “Chop!” The hefty man, bringing down his axe, broke the head of the old man, whose body transformed back into a fox.  The second old man went in and paused a moment, when the courtesan shouted “Chop!” Covering his head with both hands, he darted out of the room in terror. When the third old man came in, the courtesan fell on his shoulders and announced in delight “Here’s the real one! Kill the rest!” Wielding clubs and broadswords, the house servants slew most of the fake old men, who indeed were foxes or badgers.  The few who managed to escape never showed up again.

The howling of wild animals at night does not really constitute an affront to people.   Du was inviting trouble when he drove the beasts away by force. As for those foxes and badgers, who were capable of assuming human form, why didn’t they call on the old man to dissuade him?  Instead, they chose to make trouble in his house, a suicidal move that killed most of them. Both the old man and the beasts had less brains than the courtesan.

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