Coin of the Dead can be found in

Read a Random Story

Coin of the Dead

By Lemuel De Bra

WE sat in a booth of the Hang Far Low, my good friend Chan Yin Do and I, munching Shensi almonds and rice cakes and sipping a most fragrant Dragonbeard tea. From the street below, the main avenue of San Francisco's Chinatown, came the weird strains of a Chinese orchestra; and I knew that the funeral procession, the services of which we had witnessed, was passing. When we could no longer hear the discordant wail of the flageolets nor the jarring clang of cymbals, Chan Yin Do put his tiny bowl aside, smacked his lips with satisfaction and answered the question I had put to him.

"Yes, it is quite true that in some parts of China it was once the custom to bury sums of money with the dead; and although many of those tombs have been looted by you foreigners, there yet remains much treasure in the old graves of the Middle Kingdom."

I refilled our bowls with the steaming Dragonbeard, and passed the cigarettes to Chan Yin Do.

"Why do you say all the looting was done by foreigners?" I inquired politely. "You know many of the younger Chinese have abandoned the superstitions of the older generation. I believe I read once that in a certain province, I have forgotten just where, revolutionists planned to finance their movement by robbing the graves of that 'coin of the dead.'"

Chan Yin Do nodded, and an odd look came into his slant, black eyes. With a long, polished nail he flicked the ash from his cigarette, and as he raised his arm the flowing sleeve of his satin blouse fell back and disclosed a bracelet of finest Yunnan jade.

"That would be very wicked and foolish," he said. "The money could not be recovered without disturbing the bones of the buried; and, as anyone knows, great misfortune would befall the one who did such a sacrilegious act; and, what is still worse, evil spirits would pursue and bring ill luck to the family of the one whose bones were disturbed, even though many generations had intervened. Only when the bones of one's ancestors lie in peace can one have a propitious fung shui."

To this, I made no reply. We sat a moment in silence.

"Still, it has been done," Chan Yin Do admitted, finally. "Once there was in San Francisco a young man of the family of Lee, named Wah Sin, who, because he had gone to an American school, thought he was very smart and that the older Chinese were very foolish. One time he read in your books about the ancient custom of burying money with the dead in China; and, remembering how he had seen such things in his childhood, he went back to the Middle Kingdom to rob the graves. He thought he would very easily become a wealthy man. And he?he found?"

Chan Yin Do hesitated. I summoned a waiter and directed him to fetch more tea and cigarettes; and while Chan Yin Do, with noisy relish, sipped at the steaming tea, I waited in silence. I wanted to hear what happened to Lee Wah Sin when he defied the religious beliefs of his people and went back to his native land to steal that "coin of the dead."

Presently Chan Yin Do lighted another cigarette. Then he began:

LEE WAH SIN was the son of a fishmonger whose stall was on Clay Street and who was a very honest and industrious merchant. Old Lee wanted his son to learn the fish and shrimp business, which is quite profitable when one knows how to evade the foolish laws of the foreign devils; but the boy was very unfilial and disobedient, as are so many of the younger generation.

"My stomach rebels at the sight of your filthy shop!" he told his father one day. "When I see you coming home for evening rice with a noisome gunnysack about your middle and fish-scales on your slippers and a basket of fish-heads on your arm, I am ashamed to admit to my fine friends that that smelly old man is my honorable father."

"But one must do something," spoke up his mother who hoped in her heart that the boy would become almost anything save a cleaner of fish and a sheller of shrimps.

"Yes," agreed Lee Wah Sin, "that is quite true. So I shall go to an American school and learn the wisdom of the fan quai; and then I shall earn money easily like old Soo Hoo Nam Art who, because his stomach is big with wisdom, does nothing but cut pieces from the fan quai newspapers and then write them in our language for the Chinese Daily World."

Old Lee was very angry because of his son's perverseness; and he would have given the boy a sound beating with bamboo, which he richly deserved. But the boy was very strong and willful, and the old father had lost his strength from much opium-smoking, and a strange disease ...

This is only a preview of this story.
If you are interested in unlocking this story, please visit our GoFundMe campaign page and considering helping.