The Chinese Pillow

Position and Context

This story appears shortly after the start of Chapter 3: The Alchemist. It immediately follows Weer's description of one of the TAT cards Dr. Van Ness is showing him:

"There's a woman--at least I think it's a woman, it might be a boy, an adolescent. She's handing that other one something."
"Very good. Now you are to make up a little story for me--a story for which this picture is to be one of the illustrations."

At first it seems clear that this picture illustrates the Chinese pillow story, but there's no corresponding event in the story. It appears to actually illustrate Olivia handing Macafee the egg at Macafee's birthday party, where Olivia tells the Chinese pillow story.

The Story

A young man, from a good family, is journeying to Peking because his dead father owed a fine to the government which he is unable pay. On the way, he meets an old man who happens to be staying in the same hostel. They discuss the young man's plight; the young man is pessimistic about his future, and the old man tells him that there are many people who are worse off. He then lends his most precious posession to the young man: a ceramic pillow which fulfills the wishes of anybody sleeping on it. When he wakes in the morning, the old man and his pillow are gone and the young one is sleeping on his own rolled-up coat. He journeys to Peking, where a magistrate gives him the position of a colonel in the army, with the proviso that nine-tenths of his pay be levied against the fine. He achieves military success and fame helping put down a rebellion. His fine is forgiven by the emperor, and he marries four wives, has many children, and spends forty happy and peaceful years as a highly ranked officer in the army. He then retires, and goes on a hunt. Pursuing a wolf, he gets lost and is separated from the rest of the hunting party, but fortunately he finds a small cave in which an old man is brewing tea. He tells the old man his story, ending by recalling the night he slept on the ceramic pillow and saying "If I could live only that one day again--". The old man is the same one who lent him the pillow, and replies with "Fool! ... I have granted your heart's desire, and for it I receive your ingratitude!", throwing the hot water from the teakettle at him. He runs out of the cave, but finds the cave is actually the ceramic pillow, and he is again a young man in the hostel. He says goodbye to the old man, and sets off again for Peking.

Significance

The protagonist of the story is in debt because of a fine against his dead father. Weer's father lost the family's inheritance.
Yet another wolfe appears in this story.
The second to last sentence in Peace is "It is time, I think, that I see the enchanted headrest of the Chinese philosopher looming behind me, and I wait its coming."

Interpretation

From the second to last sentence, one might expect this story to illuminate what happens after Peace ends; that is, after Weer's afterlife as a ghost.

From this story and others, some people think that at the end of the book, Weer has a choice. Either he can repent of his sins, accept the salvation of Jesus, and go to Heaven, or he can relive his afterlife as a ghost again. It's not clear he's even aware he has a choice, and it seems doubtful that he reaches Heaven, at least this time around.

< St. Brandon | Interpolated Stories in Peace | Mr. Tilly >

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