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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

If he had any business at T'ai ngan


document and showing it to

the merchant, who, on looking closely, saw a list of names, at the head of which was his own. In great astonishment he inquired what he had done that he should be arrested thus; to which his companion replied, "I am not a living being: I am a lictor in the employ of the infernal authorities, and I presume your term of life has expired." The merchant burst into tears and implored the lictor to spare him, which the latter declared was impossible; "But," added he, "there are a great many names down, and it will take me some time to get through them: you go off home and settle up your affairs, and, as a slight return for your friendship, I'll call for you last." A few minutes afterwards they reached a stream where the bridge was in ruins, and people could only cross with great difficulty; at which the lictor remarked, "You are now on the road to death, and not a single cash can you carry away with you. Repair this bridge and benefit the public; and thus from a great outlay you may possibly yourself derive some small advantage." The merchant said he would do so; and when he got home, he bade his wife and children prepare for his coming dissolution, and at the same time set men to work and made the bridge sound and strong again. Some time elapsed, but no lictor arrived; and his suspicions began to be aroused, when one day the latter walked in and said, "I reported that affair of the bridge to the Municipal God,[258] who communicated it to the Ruler of Purgatory; and for that good act
your span of life has been lengthened, and your name struck out of the list. I have now come to announce this to you." The merchant was profuse in his thanks; and the next time he went to T'ai-ngan, he burnt a quantity of paper ingots,[259] and made offerings and libations to the lictor, out of gratitude for what he had done. Suddenly the lictor himself appeared, and cried out, "Do you wish to ruin me? Happily my new master has only just taken up his post, and he has not noticed this, or where should I be?"[260] The lictor then escorted the merchant some distance; and, at parting, bade him never return by that road, but, if he had any business at T'ai-ngan, to go thither by a roundabout way.

FOOTNOTES:

[257] The long flowing robe is a sign of respectability which all but the very poorest classes love to affect in public. At the port of Haiphong, _shoes_ are the criterion of social standing; but, as a rule, the well-to-do native merchants prefer to go barefoot rather than give the authorities a chance of exacting heavier squeezes, on the strength of such a palpable acknowledgment of wealth.

[258] See No. I., note 36.

[259] See No. LVI., note 317; and No. XCVII., note 150.

[260] The lictor had no right to divulge his errand when he first met the cloth merchant, or to remove the latter's name from the top to the bottom of the list.

CXXXIV.

THE CLAY IMAGE.

On the river I there lived a man named Ma, who married a wife from the Wang family, with whom he was very happy in his domestic life. Ma, however, died young; and his wife's parents were unwilling that their daughter should remain a widow, but she resisted all their importunities, and declared firmly she would never marry again. "It is a noble resolve of yours, I allow," argued her mother; "but you are still a mere girl, and you have no children. Besides, I notice that people who start with such rigid determinations always end by doing something discreditable, and therefore you had better get married as soon as you can, which is no more than is done every day." The girl swore she would rather


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