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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

He is now a mere menial in Purgatory


of my friends here." The stranger

made a great many apologies in reply, but finally accepted, and played a game in which, apparently to his great disappointment, he was beaten. He played another with the same result; and now, refusing all offers of wine, he seemed to think of nothing but how to get some one to play with him. Thus he went on until the afternoon was well advanced; when suddenly, just as he was in the middle of a most exciting game, which depended on a single place, he rushed forward, and throwing himself at the feet of the general, loudly implored his protection. The general did not know what to make of this; however, he raised him up, and said, "It's only a game: why get so excited?" To this the stranger replied by begging the general not to let his gardener seize him; and when the general asked what gardener he meant, he said the man's name was Ma-ch'eng. Now this Ma-ch'eng was often employed as a lictor by the Ruler of Purgatory, and would sometimes remain away as much as ten days, serving the warrants of death; accordingly, the general sent off to inquire about him, and found that he had been in a trance for two days.[251] His master cried out that he had better not behave rudely to his guest, but at that very moment the stranger sunk down to the ground, and was gone. The general was lost in astonishment; however, he now knew that the man was a disembodied spirit, and on the next day, when Ma-ch'eng came round, he asked him for full particulars. "The gentleman was a native of Hu-hsiang," replied
the gardener, "who was passionately addicted to _wei-ch'i_, and had lost a great deal of money by it. His father, being much grieved at his behaviour, confined him to the house; but he was always getting out, and indulging the fatal passion, and at last his father died of a broken heart. In consequence of this, the Ruler of Purgatory curtailed his term of life, and condemned him to become a hungry devil,[252] in which state he has already passed seven years. And now that the Phoenix Tower[253] is completed, an order has been issued for the literati to present themselves, and compose an inscription to be cut on stone, as a memorial thereof, by which means they would secure their own salvation as a reward. Many of the shades failing to arrive at the appointed time, God was very angry with the Ruler of Purgatory, and the latter sent off me, and others who are employed in the same way, to hunt up the defaulters. But as you, Sir, bade me treat the gentleman with respect, I did not venture to bind him." The general inquired what had become of the stranger; to which the gardener replied, "He is now a mere menial in Purgatory, and can never be born again." "Alas!" cried his master, "thus it is that men are ruined by any inordinate passion."[254]

FOOTNOTES:

[249] A most abstruse and complicated game of skill, for which the Chinese claim an antiquity of four thousand years, and which I was the first to introduce to a European public through an article in _Temple Bar Magazine_ for January, 1877. _Apropos_ of which, an accomplished American lady, Miss A. M. Fielde, of Swatow, wrote as follows:--"The game seems to me the peer of chess.... It is a game for the slow, persistent, astute, multitudinous Chinese; while chess, by the picturesque appearance of the board, the variety and prominent individuality of the men, and the erratic combination of the attack,--is for the Anglo-Saxon."


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