Chinese Folktales

18. The Mean Peasant

ONCE there was a peasant who took his pears to the market. They were very sweet and fragrant and he hoped to get a good price for them. A priest in tattered clothes and torn cap stepped up to his barrow and asked for a pear. The peasant refused him but the priest would not go. Thereupon the peasant got angry and began to berate him. The priest said: ‘There are several hundred pears in your barrow. All I ask is one. Surely this is no great loss to you. Why should you get so angry?’

The people around said the peasant should give him a pear and let him go. But the peasant firmly refused. A craftsman in his shop saw what was going on and because the noise annoyed him he took out some money, bought a pear and gave it to the priest.

The priest thanked him and said: ‘People like us, who have renounced the world, must not be mean. I myself have beautiful pears and I invite you to eat them with me.’ One of the people said: ‘If you have pears of your own, why then do you not eat them?’ He replied: ‘l first need a pip to plant the tree.’

With these words he began to eat the pear, smacking his lips. When he had finished he had a pip in his hand, took the hoe from his shoulder and dug a hole a few inches deep, He placed the pip in it and covered it with earth. Then he asked the people in the market for some soup to water it. A few curious people fetched some hot water from an inn and the priest poured it over the pip. A thousand pairs of eyes were glued to the spot. Presently a shoot sprang up. It grew and grew, and in a moment it had grown to a tree. Branches and leaves developed. The tree blossomed and in no time its first fruit was ripe— masses of big fragrant pears covering the tree. The priest climbed into the tree and handed the pears to those around him. Ln no time the tree was eaten bare. The priest then his axe and cut the tree down: chop, chop and it fell. He lifted the tree on to his shoulder and calmly walked away.

While the priest had been practising his magic the peasant had mingled with the spectators. His neck craned forward, eyes popping, he had stood there, forgetting all about his pears. When the priest had gone he too for his cart. The pears were all gone. Then he realized that the pears the other man had given away had been his own pears. He looked closer and found the handle of his barrow gone. It had obviously been chopped Off recently. The peasant was angry and ran after the priest as fast as he could. But as he turned the corner he saw the missing part of the handle was lying down by the city wall. Then the peasant saw that the pear tree which had been cut down was the handle of his barrow. But the priest was not to be found anywhere. And all the people in the market-place burst out laughing.