The Marriage of the River-god

In Yeh Hsien there was a witch and some official attendants who collected money from the people yearly for the marriage of the River-god.

The witch would select a pretty girl of low birth, and say that she should be the Queen of the River-god. The girl was bathed, and clothed in a beautiful dress of gay and costly silk. She was then taken to the bank of the Page 226river, to a monastery which was beautifully decorated with scrolls and banners. A feast was held, and the girl was placed on a bed which was floated out upon the tide till it disappeared under the waters.

Many families having beautiful daughters moved to distant places, and gradually the city became deserted. The common belief in Yeh was that if no queen was offered to the River-god a flood would come and drown the people.

One day Hsi-mên Pao, Magistrate of Yeh Hsien, said to his attendants: “When the marriage of the River-god takes place I wish to say farewell to the chosen girl.”

Accordingly Hsi-mên Pao was present to witness the ceremony. About three thousand people had come together. Standing beside the old witch were ten of her female disciples, “Call the girl out,” said Hsi-mên Pao. After seeing her, Hsi-mên Pao said to the witch: “She is not fair. Go you to the River-god and tell him that we will find a fairer maid and present her to him later on.” His attendants then seized the witch and threw her into the river.

After a little while Hsi-mên Pao said: “Why does she stay so long? Send a disciple to call her back.” One of the disciples was thrown into the river. Another and yet another followed. The magistrate then said:” The witches are females and therefore cannot bring me a reply.” So one of the official attendants of the witch was thrown into the river.

Hsi-mên Pao stood on the bank for a long time, apparently awaiting a reply. The spectators were alarmed. Hsi-mên Pao then bade his attendants send the remaining disciples of the witch and the other official attendants to recall their mistress. The wretches threw themselves on their knees and knocked their heads on the ground, which was stained with the blood from their foreheads, and with tears confessed their sin.

“The River-god detains his guest too long,” said Hsi-mên Pao at length. “Let us adjourn.”

Thereafter none dared to celebrate the marriage of the River-god.

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