Meeting and parting are constant in this inconstant world,
    Where joy and sadness alternate like night and day;
    Officials come and go, but justice and righteosness remain,
    And unchangeable remains forever the imperial way.

“You could at least have chosen a better district than Peng-lai, that dismal place of mist and rain, far away on the seacoast! Don’t you know the weird stories they tell about that region since olden times? They say that on stormy nights the dead rise there from their graves, and strange shapes flit about in the mist that blows in from the ocean. They even say that weretigers are still slinking about in the woods there. And to step in the shoes of a murdered man! Everyone in his senses would have refused that post if it were offered to him, but you even asked for it!”
    The young magistrate had hardly listened to him. Now he said eagerly, “Think of it, a mysterious murder to solve, right after one has arrived at one’s post! To have an opportunity right away for getting rid of dry-as-dust theorizing and paper work! At last I’ll be dealing with men, my friends, real, living men!”
       “The implications of that fact,” Secretary Liang added quickly, “you know as well as we! It means that the magistrate’s murder has ramifications here in the capital. Heaven knows what hornets’ nest you are going to stir up, and what intrigues of high officials you’ll get involved in! You have passed all the literary examinations with honors; here in the capital you have a great future before you. And you prefer to bury yourself in that lonely place, Peng-lai!”
    “I advise you, Dee,” the third young official said earnestly, “to reconsider your decision. There is still time; you could easily plead a sudden indisposition and ask for ten days’ sick leave. In the meantime they’ll assign another man to that post. Do listen to me, Dee. I am speaking to you as your friend!”
    Magistrate Dee noticed the look of entreaty in his friend’s eyes. He felt deeply touched. He had known Hou only for a year, but had formed a high opinion of his brilliant mind and his exceptional capacities. He emptied his wine cup and rose.
    “I appreciate your solicitude as a further mark of your staunch friendship!” he said with a warm smile. “Both of you are perfectly right, it would be better for my career if I stayed on in the capital. But I owe it to myself to go on with this undertaking. The literary examinations Liang referred to just now I consider as routine; I feel that they don’t count for me. And neither do I count the years of paper work I have had in the Metropolitan Archives here. I have yet to prove to myself that I am really capable of serving our illustrious emperor and our great people. The magistracy of Penglai is the real beginning of my career!”
    “Or the end,” Hou muttered under his breath. He rose also and walked to the window. The gravediggers had left their shelter and were starting their work. He grew pale and quickly glanced away. Turning round he said hoarsely, “The rain has stopped.”
    “Then I’d better go!” Magistrate Dee exclaimed.

“And my advice to you, magistrate,” he said calmly, “is that you carry your sword yourself, else you’ll be caught unawares again.” He turned his horse round, and the two disappeared among the trees.
    As Magistrate Dee took his sword from Hoong and hung it over his own back, the old man said contentedly, “You gave them a good lesson, sir. What kind of people would those two have been?”
    “Usually,” the magistrate replied, “it is men with some real or imagined grudge who choose to become outlaws. But their code is to rob only officials and wealthy people; they often help people in distress, and they have a reputation for courage and chivalry. They call themselves ‘brothers of the green woods.’ ‘”‘ell, Hoong, it was a good fight, but we have lost time. Let’s hurry on.”

 

A torrential rain came pouring down. They took shelter under a high tree on a plateau by the roadside, overlooking the fertile green peninsula on which the district of Peng-lai was located.
    While they were eating a cold snack Ma Joong told with gusto some stories about his adventures with farm girls. Magistrate Dee took no interest in ribald tales, but he had to admit that Ma Joong had a certain caustic humor that was rather amusing. But when he began on another similar story, the magistrate cut him short saying, “I am told that there are tigers in these parts. I thought those animals favored a drier climate.”
    Chiao Tai, who had been listening silently to the conversation, now remarked, “Well, that’s hard to say. As a rule those brutes keep to the high wooded land, but once they have acquired the taste for human flesh they’ll also roam about in the plains. We might get good hunting down there!”
    “What about those tales about weretigers?” Magistrate Dee asked.
    Ma Joong cast an uneasy glance at the dark forest behind them. “Never heard about it!” he said curtly.
    “Could I have a look at your sword, sir?” Chiao Tai asked. “It seemed a fine antique blade to me.”
    As he handed him the sword, the magistrate said, “It is called Rain Dragon.”

There, you’d better show me the tribunal.”
    Tang first took them to the spacious court hall. The tiled floor was swept clean, and the high bench on the platform in the back was covered with a piece of shining red brocade. The entire wall behind the bench was covered with a curtain of faded violet silk. In its center appeared as usual the large figure of a unicorn, symbol of perspicacity, embroidered in thick gold thread.
    They went through the door behind the curtain and, after having crossed a narrow corridor, entered the private office of the magistrate. This room was also well kept: there was not a speck of dust on the polished writing desk, the plaster walls were newly whitewashed. The broad couch against the back wall was of beautiful dark green brocade.

   “Your honor’s predecessor was a gentleman of considerable charm and culture. Perhaps a bit easygoing at times and impatient about details, but very precise in all things that really mattered, very precise indeed. He was about fifty years old, and he had a long and varied experience. An able magistrate, your honor.”
    “Did he,” Judge Dee asked, “have any enemies here?”
    “Not one, your honor!” Tang exclaimed. “He was a shrewd and just judge, well  liked by the people. I may say, your honor, that he was popular in this district, very popular indeed.”

“He was an enthusiastic devotee of the tea cult, your honor, and most particular about all its details. He always insisted on fetching the water himself from the well in his garden, and he also boiled it himself on the tea stove in his library. His teapot, cups and caddy are all valuable antiques. He kept them locked away in the cupboard under the tea stove. On my instructions the coroner also made experiments with the tea leaves found in the caddy, but those proved to be quite harmless.”
   

The coroner, Dr. Shen, was a dignified elderly man with an intelligent face. Tang whispered to the judge that he was the best physician in the district, and a man of noble character.

 

Judge Dee leaned back in his chair and took a folding fan from his sleeve. Fanning himself vigorously, he said with a contented smile, “Well, Hoong, I have now a fairly clear picture of the murdered man’s personality. I have glanced through the volumes with his own poetry it is written in exquisite style but rather shallow in content. Love poems predominate, most of them dedicated to famous courtesans in the capital or other places where Magistrate Wang served.”


    Judge Dee nodded, “That brocade folder cou gave me a few moments ago,” he said, “contained nothing but erotic drawings. Further, lie bad a few score books on wine, and the way it is made in various parts of the empire, and on cooking. On the other hand, he had built up a fine collection of the great ancient poets, every volume dog-eared and with his own notes and comments written in on nearly every page. The same goes for his comprehensive collection of works on Buddhism and on Taoist mysticism. But his edition of the complete Confucian classics is in as virgínal a state as when he purchased it! I further noticed that the sciences are well represented: most of the standard works on medicine and alchemy are there, also a few rare old treatises an riddles, conundrums and mechan-ical devices. Books on history, statecraft, administration and mathematics arc conspicuous by their absence.”
    Turning his chair round, the judge continued.
    “I conclude that Magistrate Wang was a poet with a keen sense of beauty, and also a philosopher deeply interested in mysticism. And at the same time he was a sensual man, much attached to all earthly pleasures-a not unusual combination, I believe. He was completely devoid of ambition; he liked the post of magistrate in a quiet district far from the capital, where he was his own master and where he could arrange his life as he liked. That is why he didn’t want to be promoted–I belive that Peng-lai was already his ninth post as magistrate! But he was a very intelligent man of an inquisitive mind-hence his interest in riddles, conundrums and mechanical devices-and that, together with his long practical experience, made him a fairly satisfactory magistrate here, although I don’t suppose he was very devoted to his duties. He cared little for family ties; that is why he didn’t remarry after his first and second ladies had died, and why he was content with ephemeral liaisons with courtesans and prostitutes. He himself summed up his own personality rather aptly in the name he bestowed on his library.”
    Judge Dee pointed with his fan at the inscribed board that hung over the door. Hoong couldn’t help smiling when he read, “Hermitage of the Vagrant Weed.”
        “In any case,” he said, “I’ll study this at leisure, though it is of course by no means certain that it concerns affairs that are connected with his murder. But inconsistencies are always worth special attention. Anyway we have now a good picture of the victim, and that’s, according to our handbooks on detection, the first step toward discovering the murderer!”