One day, an old priest stopped at a wayside inn to rest, spread out his mat, and sat down with his bag. Soon afterwards, a young fellow of the neighbour- hood also arrived at the inn ; he was a farm-labourer and wore short clothes, not a long robe like the priest and men who read books. He took a seat near to the priest and the two were soon laughing and talking together.
By and by, the young man cast a glance at his own rough dress and said with a sigh, ” See, what a miserable wretch I am.” ” You seem to me well fed and healthy enough,” replied the priest ; ” why in the middle of our pleasant chat do you suddenly complain of being a miserable wretch ? ” ” What pleasure can I find,” retorted the young man, ” in this life of mine, working every day as I do from early morn to late at night ? I should like to be a great general and win battles, or to be a rich man and have fine food and wine, and listen to good music, or to be a great man at court and help our Emperor and bring prosperity to my family ; — that is what I call pleasure. I want to rise in the world, but here I am a poor farm-labourer ; if you don’t call that miserable wretchedness, what is it ? ”
He then began to get sleepy, and while the landlord was cooking a dish of millet-porridge, the priest took a pillow out of his bag and said to the young man, ” Lay your head on this and all your wishes will be granted.” The pillow was made of porcelain ; it was round like a tube, and open at each end. When the young man put his head down towards the pillow, one of the openings seemed so large and bright inside that he got in, and soon found himself at his own home. Shortly afterwards he married a beautiful girl, and began to make money. He now wore fine clothes and spent his time in study. In the following year he passed his examination and was made a magistrate ; and in two or three years he had risen to be Prime Minister. For a long lime the Emperor trusted him in everything, but the day came when he got into trouble ; he was accused of treason and sentenced to death. He was taken with several other criminals to the place of execution ; he was made to kneel on both knees, and the executioner approached with his sword. Too terrified to feel the blow, he opened his eyes, to find himself in the inn. There was the priest with his head on his bag ; and there was the land- lord still stirring the porridge, which was not quite ready.
After eating his meal in silence, he got up and bowing to the priest, said, ” I thank you, sir, for the lesson you have taught me ; I know now what it means to be a great man ! ” With that, he took his leave and went back to his work.
(By H. A. Giles)