A Tall Ship Tale #88: Seven Jeers in Tibet

From Paul DeAnguera.

The unexpected American counter-attack had devastated the British champion. Gasping and bleeding from the ears, the stupefied First Mate shook his head helplessly when urged to retake the stage. “Pull down your union jack, then,” Captain Blight ordered, “And form a line by the starboard rail, prisoners of war!”

“Wait!” called a voice, and a distinguished looking Chinese man in an embroidered red silk robe stepped onto the main hatch cover. It was Wang Mang, able seaman and onetime Emperor of China. The H.M.S. Legume had yet another tall tale to unleash.


“In my younger days I was a lawyer before the Imperial Court,” he began with a gracious bow. “And my practice was so successful that I was appointed to oversee a prefecture. It was the start of my rise to power.”

“What did your legal practice have to do with it?” Hugo Phirst wondered.

“Practice makes prefect,” he explained. “Well, my prefecture lay in the southeast mountains, and could be reached only by way of a narrow ledge in one wall of a very deep canyon.”

“Surely there must have been some other way into your prefecture,” Hugo snorted.

“Oh, there was,” Wang Mang replied with patience. “But I was in a hurry to assume my duties. I had learned that this particular trail had quite a few of the tiny wayside shrines that Tibetans build — ‘chortens,’ as they call them — and I wanted to chorten my journey. But the only steed I could find capable of carrying me and my equipment along the ledge was a ram. A bad choice, as it turned out! He suffered unpredictable attacks of vertigo, so he was a dithyramb much of the time.” Wang Mang drew a deep breath and shouted:

“Steep, jagged desert!
Won with danger, sweat and pain.
Kill me, I love you!”

“Your dithyramb was also a haiku?”

“Yes, I generally took a haiku when he got that way. So I was leading him when we got to the roughest, deepest part of the canyon. The walls came within a few feet of each other. A fine mist drifted up from waterfalls in the chasm between them, and perhaps I was hallucinating from altitude sickness, but it seemed to take on the most disturbing monstrous shapes. And here I found a wonderful thing; so wonderful, in fact, that I almost turned into liquid yogurt right there on the trail.”

“Wait a minute,” Hugo snorted disdainfully. “How does finding anything turn you into liquid yogurt?”

“Finders, kefirs,” Wang Mang snapped. “Anyway, I found a huge golden statue. It was a likeness of the Dalai Lama, standing astride the chasm, one foot on each wall — for the trail continued on the opposite wall, and he was the only bridge.

“The attendant monk came out of his cave in the cliffside to collect his toll from me for using the Dalai Lama to cross the chasm. Then he haikued on ahead of me and my dithyramb, and by means of steps concealed in the folds of the Dalai Lama’s robe we made our way across. I asked him how much gold was in the statue. ‘Not as much as you’d think,’ he said. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Hollow Dalai!’

“Then I asked him how he got his job. He told me he had paid for the right to charge tolls for a period of time. He got to keep the tolls he charged, and he figured he was making a pretty good profit. But he wanted to quit the business anyway, because the place was haunted by evil Taoist spirits who lived in the chasm. I tried to reassure him that the spirits were only random shapes of river mist. But he insisted that the evil spirits were specified along with the statue, the cave and other amenities in the document he was given when he paid for his station. It said he was…

“…The leasor of Tao evils!”

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