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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

And observing Liang ss u outside


[118] The following extract from a long and otherwise tedious story tells its own tale. Wang is the modest man, and the young man from Yue-hang the braggart. Sung is merely a friend of Wang's.

[119] This is one of our author's favourite shafts--a sneer at examiners in general, and those who rejected him in particular.



A man named T'ien Tz[)u]-ch'eng, of Chiang-ning, was crossing the Tung-t'ing lake, when the boat was capsized, and he was drowned. His son, Liang-ss[)u], who, towards the close of the Ming dynasty, took the highest degree, was then a baby in arms; and his wife, hearing the bad news, swallowed poison forthwith,[120] and left the child to the care of his grandmother. When Liang-ss[)u] grew up, he was appointed magistrate in Hu-pei, where he remained about a year. He was then transferred to Hu-nan, on military service; but, on reaching the Tung-t'ing lake, his feelings overpowered him, and he returned to plead inability as an excuse for not taking up his post. Accordingly, he was degraded to the rank of Assistant-Magistrate, which he at first declined, but was finally compelled to accept; and thenceforward gave himself up to roaming about on the lakes and streams of the surrounding country, without paying much attention

to his official duties.

One night he had anchored his boat alongside the bank of a river, when suddenly the cadence of a sweetly-played flageolet broke upon his ear; so he strolled along by the light of the moon in the direction of the music, until, after a few minutes' walking, he reached a cottage standing by itself, with a few citron-trees round it, and brilliantly-lighted inside. Approaching a window, he peeped in, and saw three persons sitting at a table, engaged in drinking. In the place of honour was a graduate of about thirty years of age; an old man played the host, and at the side sat a much younger man playing on the flageolet. When he had finished, the old man clapped his hands in admiration; but the graduate turned away with a sigh, as if he had not heard a note. "Come now, Mr. Lu," cried the old man, addressing the latter, "kindly favour us with one of your songs, which, I know, must be worth hearing." The graduate then began to sing as follows:--

"Over the river the wind blows cold on lonely me: Each flow'ret trampled under foot, all verdure gone. At home a thousand _li_ away, I cannot be; So towards the Bridge my spirit nightly wanders on."

The above was given in such melancholy tones that the old man smiled and said, "Mr. Lu, these must be experiences of your own," and, immediately filling a goblet, added, "I can do nothing like that; but if you will let me, I will give you a song to help us on with our wine." He then sung a verse from "Li T'ai-poh,"[121] and put them all in a lively humour again; after which the young man said he would just go outside and see how high the moon was, which he did, and observing Liang-ss[)u] outside, clapped his hands, and cried out to his companions, "There is a man at the window, who has seen all we have been doing." He then led Liang-ss[)u] in; whereupon the other two rose, and begged him to be seated, and to join them in their wine. The wine, however, was cold,[122] and he therefore declined; but the young man at once perceived his reason, and proceeded to warm some for him. Liang-ss[)u] now ordered his servant to go and buy some more, but this his host would not permit him to do. They next inquired Liang-ss[)u]'s name, and whence he came, and then the old man said, "Why, then, you are the father and mother[123] of the district in which I live. My name is River: I am an old resident here. This young man is a Mr. Tu, of Kiang-si; and this gentleman," added he, pointing to the graduate, "is Mr. Rushten,[124] a fellow-provincial of yours." Mr. Rushten looked at Liang-ss[)u] in rather a contemptuous way, and without taking much notice of him; whereupon Liang-ss[)u] asked him whereabouts he lived in Chiang-ning, observing that it was strange he himself should never have heard of such an accomplished gentleman. "Alas!" replied Rushten, "it is many a long day since I left my home, and I know nothing even of my own family. Alas, indeed!" These words were uttered in so mournful a tone of voice that the old man broke in with, "Come, come, now! talking like this, instead of drinking when we're all so jolly together; this will never do." He then drained a bumper himself, and said, "I propose a game of forfeits. We'll throw with three dice; and whoever throws so that the spots on one die[125] equal those on the other two shall give us a verse with a corresponding classical allusion in it." He then threw himself, and turned up an ace, a two, and a three; whereupon he sang the following lines:--

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