Tuesday's Tales - a Chinese tale

The Wonderful Pear-Tree

Once upon a time, a countryman came into the town on market-day, with a load of very special pears to sell.  He set up his barrow in a good corner, and soon had drawn a large crowd, for everyone knew he always sold extra fine pears, though he always asked an extra high price.

While he was crying up his fruit, an old, ragged, hungry-looking priest stopped in front of the barrow, and humbly begged the countryman to give him a pear.  But the countryman, who was mean and nasty-tempered, refused.  When the priest remained in front of the barrow, the countryman began calling him all the bad names he could think of.

“Good sir,” said the priest, “you have hundreds of pears on your barrow.  I only ask you for one, which you surely would not miss.  You needn’t get angry.”

“Give him a pear that is going bad,” said one of the crowd.  “You’d never miss it.”

“I’ve said I won’t, and I won’t!” cried the countryman, and all the people close to him began shouting, first one thing and then another, until the constable of the market hurried up.  When told what the matter was, he quickly pulled some money out of his purse, bought a pear and gave it to the priest; he was afraid the noise would draw the attention of the mandarin who was close by.

Bowing low, the old priest took the pear, and held it up in front of the crowd.  “You all know that I have no home, no parents, no children, no clothes of my own, no food, because I gave everything up when I became a priest.  So it puzzles me how anyone can be so selfish and so stingy as to refuse to give me one single pear.  Now I am a different sort of man from this countryman.  I have got here some exquisite pears, and I shall feel most deeply honoured if you will accept them from me.”

“If you have pears, why didn’t you eat them yourself, instead of begging for one?” asked a man.

“Because I must grow them first,” answered the priest with a smile.

So he ate the pear the constable had given him, saving a single pip.  Then he took a pick which was fastened across his back, dug a deep hole in the ground in front of him, and planted the pip, covering it with earth.  “Would someone be so kind as to fetch me some hot water to water this?” he asked.

The people, who were watching him intently, thought he was joking, but still one of them ran and fetched a kettle of boiling water and gave it to the priest, who carefully poured it over the planted seed.  Then, while he was pouring, the crowd saw, first one tiny green sprout, then another, come pushing their heads above the ground.  One leaf uncurled, then another, while the shoots kept growing taller and taller.  Before long, there stood before the awe-struck crowd a young tree with a few branches, more leaves, then flowers, and, finally, clusters of huge, ripe, sweet-smelling pears weighing the branches down to the ground. 

The priest’s face shone with pleasure, and the crowd cheered with delight when he picked the pears one by one, handing them with a bow to each man present, until they were all gone.  Then the old man took the pick again, and hacked at the tree until it fell with a crash.  He shouldered it, leaves and all, and with a final bow, walked away.

All this time, the countryman, quite forgetting his barrow and pears, had been in the midst of the crowd, intent on seeing what was happening.  But when the old priest had gone, and the crowd was getting thin, he turned to his barrow, and saw with horror that it was empty.  Every single pear was gone.  It took him a moment before he understood what had happened.  The pears the old priest had been so generous in giving away were not his own; they were the countryman’s.    What was more, one of the handles of his barrow was missing.

In a towering rage, he rushed after the priest.  But as he turned the corner, he saw the barrow-handle, which without any doubt was the very pear-tree which the priest had cut down.  The countryman could do nothing but stand, dumbstruck, as all the people in the market howled with laughter.  As for the priest, no one ever saw him again.