- Hwang Chin-i
It was a day of cloud and wind, the time of year when summer begins to give way to autumn, and already a few leaves were dropping from branches to be sent whirling into the sky. From South Gate a flock of dusky sparrows took flight, looping about the slate-gray sky above Pujung before scattering like a shower of dark hail among the paddies and dry fields beyond the city wall to feast upon the nearly ripened grain. Overhead a lone crow uttered an eerie caw, drawing looks of displeasure from passersby who then answered this ill-omened bird by spitting over their shoulders. There was a desolate feel to the day.
Since early morning, would-be spectators had been gathering along the gully between the foot of Chanam Mountain and the wall behind Hwang Chinsa's dwelling in anticipation of the funeral procession for young Ttobok of Granary Row. Word had gotten out that the pallbearers would likely be passing this way, for the lane that ran along the gully was filled before the morning sun had crested the ridges, and the mountainside as far as Prominence Rock now wore a snowy blanket of onlookers garbed in their traditional white attire.
For days now the dwellings of Pujung—the quarters of the menfolk, the womenfolk, and the hired help alike—had been abuzz with talk of Chin-i and Ttobok of Granary Row. Ears perked up at [End Page 155] the story of how this son of a minor official had fallen for the only daughter of a yangban family, of how his heart had finally broken when his love went unanswered, of how he was now a wandering ghost, but what really drew the attention of listeners was the news that in a single morning the engagement of the yangban's daughter had been broken off by the family of student Yun of Hanyang and that her status had suddenly fallen to the level of a slave girl's. Herein lay the reason for the burst of activity displayed by the people of Pujung from the first light of dawn, even those sluggards loath to stir from home, once it was known that the young man's bier would pass by the young lady's house.
The previous night Old Granny had lingered outside the paper-paneled sliding door to Chin-i's room, worry creasing her face, before finally venturing across the threshold.
"I know I shouldn't be bothering you at a time like this, but I don't know what else I can do. It's just that I'm afraid Nomi will get to fussing and fighting and make a big scene. And when I mention this to him, he's not about to listen."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if you can believe it, people are already staking out a place for themselves out back to watch tomorrow morning when they come by with the body of the Granary Row boy. That's made Nomi as mad as a snake, and he's hissing that he's going to round up the tough guys from the kisaeng quarters, tear the onlookers limb from limb, and chase them away. I don't know, I'm just afraid that if he gets away with beating up those people and driving them off, well, you might be able to avoid humiliation tomorrow, but by and by the storm will break when we least expect it, and there goes your reputation—what then?"
When Chin-i didn't answer, Old Granny continued: "Young lady, at this point you're the only one who can rein Nomi in. If we don't move smartly we'll have an awful mess on our hands, and for you, young lady, an awful mess means a spectacular disgrace. Just now I was out to the servants' quarters and I can tell you that Nomi [End Page 156] had the bloodwrath look about him—worse than She-Who-Beat Her-Daughter-in-Law-to-Death. There he was with the head thug of Pujung...