The police generally attend these battles, but only to protect the spectators, and not to interfere in any way with the belligerents. Soldiers are prohibited from taking any active part in fights which have no concern for them; but they may fight as much as ever they please among themselves during the free period allowed by the law. The fights of the latter class are usually very fierce, and are invariably carried out with bare chest and arms, that their uniforms may not be spoiled.
When that dreadful fortnight of fighting is over, the country again assumes its wonted quiet; new debts are contracted, fresh hatreds and jealousies are fomented, and fresh causes are procured for further stone-battles during the first moon of the next year.
Such is life in Cho-sen, where, with the exception of those fifteen days, there is calm, too much of it, not only in the morning, in accordance with the national designation, but all through both day and night; where, month after month, people vegetate, instead of live, leading the most monotonous of all monotonous lives. It is not surprising, then, that once a year, as a kind of redeeming point, they feel the want of a vigorous re-action; and, I am sure, for such a purpose as this, they could not have devised anything wilder or more exciting than a stone-battle.
The King himself follows with the utmost interest the results of the important battles fought out between the different guilds, and reports of the victories obtained are always conveyed to him at once, either by the leaders of the conquering parties, or through some high official at Court.
Fires—The greatest peril—A curious way of saving one’s house—The anchor of safety—How it worked—Making an opposition wind—Saved by chance—A good trait in the native character—Useful friends.
I was one evening at a dinner-party, at one of the Consulates, when, in the course of the frugal repast, one of the servants came in with the news that a large conflagration had broken out in the road of the Big-bell, and that many houses had already been burnt down. The “big-bell” itself was said to be in great danger of being destroyed.
Giving way to my usual curiosity, and thinking that it would be interesting to see how houses burn in Cho-sen, I begged of my host to excuse me, left all the good things on the table, and ran off to the scene of the fire.
As the servant had announced, the fire was, indeed, in close proximity to the “big-bell.” Two or three large houses belonging to big merchants were blazing fast, the neighbouring dwellings being in great danger of following suit. There is in a Corean house but little that can burn, except the sliding doors and windows, and the few articles of furniture and clothing; so that, as a general rule, after the first big flare-up, the fire goes out of its own accord, unless, as was the case in the present