The Trial of the Stone Statue
retold by Suzanne Crowder Han
One autumn day, a long time ago, a silk salesman was returning home to Chonan with a load of silk he had purchased in Hanyang. When he reached the top of the Kwachon pass, he looked around for a place to rest and spotted a grave with a stone guardian figure in front of it. He took the load of silk off his back, carefully placed it on the ground beside the stone statue, and sat down with his back against the statue.
“I should be able to make a big profit with this silk,” the salesman told himself. “The color, the sheen, the feel are so excellent no one will argue about the price. I should be able to pay off what I owe and get something for the wife and kids.” He smiled and looked contentedly at the high blue sky as he daydreamed. Soon his head began to bob and in no time he was fast asleep.
After a while, the salesman opened his eyes with a start. “What am I doing? This is no time to sleep,” he said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “I better get on home and get this silk sold.”
He stood up, stretched, straightened his clothes, brushed the dust off the seat of his pants, and turned to pick up the bundle of silk. “That’s strange. I’m sure I put the silk down here.” He looked on the other side of the statue. He walked around the grave. The silk had vanished.
“It can’t be! It can’t be!” cried the salesman and he began to run down the trail, looking to the left and right. “I’ve got to find that thief! I’ve got to!” he said over and over as thoughts of what would happen if he didn’t swirled in his head.
Presently he came to a village. He walked up and down every alley. “Have you seen anyone with a large bundle of silk? I’ve been robbed!” he called to everyone he met.
Finally, tired and exhausted, he slumped down on the ground beside a large tree and wept, all the time blabbering to himself about this troubles and the loss of his fortune.
“What’s the matter?” asked an old man. “Why are you crying?”
“Well, I was on my way home with a load of silk…” explained the salesman. “So you see, I’ve got to find that silk. If I don’t, my family will be ruined.”
“Yes, you do have a problem,” said the sympathetic old man. He stroked his beard a few times and said, “What you should do is go ask our Magistrate for help. He is very good at solving problems. He is very kind. I’m sure if you ask him to find the thief, he will.”
“Do you really think he would help me?” asked the salesman.
“Yes, I believe he will. Come on, I’ll take you to him,” said the old man.
The salesman told the Magistrate his story and asked him to help find the thief.
The Magistrate was silent for a few minutes, during which time the people in the room mumbled among themselves that this was a case he wouldn’t be able to solve. Finally, he said, “You’re sure there was no one around when you lost the silk?”
“Yes, Your Honor, I’m sure. I looked all around the area where I was and, since I was at the top of the pass, I could see a long way in every direction. There wasn’t anyone in sight.”
“And you didn’t meet anyone on the trail coming or going?”
“And tell me again exactly where you were and what you were doing when the theft occurred.”
“I was leaning against a stone statue of a guard. It was in front of a grave. I put my silk on the ground beside it and sat down to rest with my back against it and fell asleep.”
“So, the statue must have seen everything,” said the Magistrate to everyone’s astonishment. “We must question the statue.”
“But, Your Honor,” said the salesman, “the statue isn’t a man. It is made of stone.”
“Hush! The statue is our only clue!” shouted the Magistrate. Turning to his guards, he said, “Bring in the statue for questioning!” The guards’ eyes grew big and they stood motionless. “What are you standing around for! I told you to bring in that statue! Now go! Follow this man to the place and bring the statue in at once!”
“But, sir, a statue can’t…”
“I gave you an order! Now do it!”
The guards followed the salesman to the grave, all the while discussing the sanity of the Magistrate. They dug up the statue, bound it with a rope, and carried it back to the Magistrate.
By the time they returned, news of the Magistrate’s bizarre actions had spread throughout the town. A throng of people followed the guards to the Magistrate’s office.
A guard called for silence as the Magistrate began the questioning. “There’s no double that you saw the salesman place his bundle of silk on the ground, that you saw him fall asleep, and that you saw someone take his bundle of silk,” said the Magistrate sternly. “Now tell me who took the silk.”
All was silent except for a few muffled laughs that came from the crowed.
“Why don’t you answer me? You must know what happened to the silk. Now tell me! Who took the silk?”
Laughter rippled through the crowd of onlookers. The Magistrate called for silence. “I know how to make you talk,” he stormed, staring at the statue. “Guards, whip it!”
The guards began flailing the statue with sticks. “Harder! Harder!” The magistrate yelled at the guards. “Hit it until it talks!”
The onlookers could not keep from laughing any longer. They burst into loud guffaws.
“What is the meaning of this!” stormed the Magistrate. “How dare you interrupt this trial! Guards, arrest these people! Throw them all in the stockade! Now!”
“Wait! Wait! Have mercy!” cried the people.
“Please, Your Honor,” said a man stepping out of the crowd. “We meant no wrong. It’s just that the thought of a stone statue speaking is rather comical. Please, Your Honor. Please have mercy on us.”
“I admit that this is a rather bizarre case. However, I am trying to solve it in the only lawful way I know how. And you interrupted the trial by laughing at me. It is a disgrace,” said the Magistrate sternly. “Still, I will give you all a second chance. You can go free. But, within four days, each of you must bring me a roll of silk. Anyone who doesn’t bring a roll of silk will be punished.”
Four days later a long line of people carrying rolls of silk formed in the yard of the Magistrate’s office. The Magistrate had them put the rolls of silk in a pile. He looked closely at the rolls and even his untrained eyes could see that many of them were of the same high quality. “Look closely at those rolls of silk and tell me if any are like the ones you lost,” he told the salesman.
The salesman examined the rolls of silk. He put a number of them in a pile and said. “These are just like the ones I lost.”
“Well, I am going to give them to you because I believe they are yours,” said the Magistrate. “Now count them and tell me if all of the rolls you had are there.”
Smiling for the first time in days, the salesman counted the rolls. “Three are missing. But I don’t mind. I’m just happy to get this many back.”
“Nonsense! We must find the other three,” said the Magistrate. “Would the people who brought these rolls of silk step forward?”
A group of people shuffled forward.
“Where did you get those rolls of silk?”
“Your Honor, all of us worked together to get them. We asked everyone we knew and everyone who passed through. We finally heard that there was a silk salesman at a tavern in the village on the other side of the mountain. We sent someone there to buy some silk for all of us,” explained one of the group.
The Magistrate ordered some guards to go to the tavern and arrest the man. They returned with an unkempt man. On his back was the rest of the bundle he had stolen from the salesman.
The Magistrate growled at the man. “You bastard, I know that you stole this man’s silk while he sat against that statue dozing. We’ve recovered all but three rolls. Where are they?”
The thief gestured toward the bundle on his back.
“Guards, give the bundle to the salesman and lock this thief up.”
The Magistrate was silent for a while. Then he apologized to the townspeople, thanked them for their help and returned the money they had paid the thief for the silk. The salesman thanked everyone and happily set out down the trail for home. The Magistrate became even more famous as news of the stone statue’s trial spread throughout the land.