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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

Hou now understood all that had happened


We shall merely have to confront

you with a horse, and then you can go home again." Shortly afterwards, Hou's case was called; upon which he went forward and knelt down, as did also a horse which was prosecuting him. The judge now informed Hou that he was accused by the horse of having caused its death by medicines, and asked him if he pleaded guilty or not guilty. "My lord," replied Hou, "the prosecutor was attacked by the cattle-plague, for which I treated him accordingly; and he actually recovered from the disease, though he died on the following day. Am I to be held responsible for that?" The horse now proceeded to tell his story; and after the usual cross-examination and cries for justice, the judge gave orders to look up the horse's term of life in the Book of Fate. Therein it appeared that the animal's destiny had doomed it to death on the very day on which it had died; whereupon the judge cried out, "Your term of years had already expired; why bring this false charge? Away with you!" and turning to Hou, the judge added, "You are a worthy man, and may be permitted to live." The lictors were accordingly instructed to escort him back, and with them went out both the clerk and the man in green clothes, who bade the lictors take every possible care of Hou by the way. "You gentlemen are very kind," said Hou, "but I haven't the honour of your acquaintance, and should be glad to know to whom I am so much indebted." "Three years ago," replied the man in green, "I was travelling in your neighbourhood, and was suffering
very much from thirst, which you relieved for me by a few spoonfuls of gruel. I have not forgotten that act." "And my name," observed the other, "is Liu Ch'uean. You once took a splotch of dirt out of my eye that was troubling me very much. I am only sorry that the wine and food we have down here is unsuitable to offer you. Farewell." Hou now understood all that had happened, and went off home with the two lictors where he would have regaled them with some refreshment, but they refused to take even a cup of tea. He then waked up and found that he had been dead for two days. From this time forth he led a more virtuous life than ever, always pouring out libations to Liu Ch'uean at all the festivals of the year. Thus he reached the age of eighty, a hale and hearty man, still able to sit in the saddle; until one day he met Liu Ch'uean riding on horseback, as if about to make a long journey. After a little friendly conversation, the latter said to him, "Your time is up, and the warrant for your arrest is already issued; but I have ordered the constables to delay awhile, and you can now spend three days in preparing for death, at the expiration of which I will come and fetch you. I have purchased a small appointment for you in the realms below,[335] by which you will be more comfortable." So Hou went home and told his wife and children; and after collecting his friends and relatives, and making all necessary preparations, on the evening of the fourth day he cried out, "Liu Ch'uean has come!" and, getting into his coffin,[336] lay down and died.

FOOTNOTES:

[334] When the soul of the Emperor T'ai Tsung of the T'ang dynasty was in the infernal regions, it promised to send Yen-lo (the Chinese _Yama_ or Pluto) a melon; and when His Majesty recovered from the trance into which he had been plunged, he gave orders that his promise was to be fulfilled. Just then a man, named Liu Ch'uean, observed a priest with a hairpin belonging to his wife, and misconstruing the manner in which possession of it had been obtained, abused his wife so severely that she committed suicide. Liu Ch'uean himself then determined to follow her example, and convey the melon to Yen-lo; for which act he was subsequently deified. See the _Hsi-yu-chi_, Section XI.


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