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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

And a yellow girdle about his waist


[205]

The reader must recollect that these are the words of the God, speaking from the magician's body.

CXIV.

TAOIST MIRACLES.

At Chi-nan Fu there lived a certain priest: I cannot say whence he came, or what was his name. Winter and summer alike he wore but one unlined robe, and a yellow girdle about his waist, with neither shirt nor trousers. He combed his hair with a broken comb, holding the ends in his mouth, like the strings of a hat. By day he wandered about the market-place; at night he slept in the street, and to a distance of several feet round where he lay, the ice and snow would melt. When he first arrived at Chi-nan he used to perform miracles, and the people vied with each other in making him presents. One day a disreputable young fellow gave him a quantity of wine, and begged him in return to divulge the secret of his power; and when the priest refused, the young man watched him get into the river to bathe, and then ran off with his clothes. The priest called out to him to bring them back, promising that he would do as the young man required; but the latter, distrusting the priest's good faith, refused to do so; whereupon the priest's girdle was forthwith changed into a snake, several spans in circumference, which coiled itself round its master's head, and glared and hissed terribly. The young man now fell on his knees, and humbly

prayed the priest to save his life; at which the priest put his girdle on again, and a snake that had appeared to be his girdle, wriggled away and disappeared. The priest's fame was thus firmly established, and the gentry and officials of the place were constantly inviting him to join them in their festive parties. By-and-by the priest said he was going to invite his entertainers to a return feast;[206] and at the appointed time each one of them found on his table a formal invitation to a banquet at the Water Pavilion, but no one knew who had brought the letters. However, they all went, and were met at the door by the priest, in his usual garb; and when they got inside, the place was all desolate and bare, with no banquet ready. "I'm afraid I shall be obliged to ask you gentlemen to let me use your attendants," said the priest to his guests; "I am a poor man, and keep no servants myself." To this all readily consented; whereupon the priest drew a double door upon the wall, and rapped upon it with his knuckles. Somebody answered from within, and immediately the door was thrown open, and a splendid array of handsome chairs, and tables loaded with exquisite viands and costly wines, burst upon the gaze of the astonished guests. The priest bade the attendants receive all these things from the door, and bring them outside, cautioning them on no account to speak with the people inside; and thus a most luxurious entertainment was provided to the great amazement of all present.

Now this Pavilion stood upon the bank of a small lake, and every year, at the proper season, it was literally covered with lilies; but, at the time of this feast, the weather was cold, and the surface of the lake was of a smoky green colour. "It's a pity," said one of the guests, "that the lilies are not out"--a sentiment in which the others very cordially agreed, when suddenly a servant came running in to say that, at that moment, the lake was a perfect mass of lilies. Every one jumped up directly, and ran to look out of the window, and, lo! it was so; and in another minute the fragrant perfume of the flowers was borne towards them by the breeze. Hardly knowing what to make of this strange sight, they sent off some servants, in a boat, to gather a few of the lilies, but they soon returned empty-handed, saying, that the flowers seemed to shift their position as fast as they rowed towards them; at which the priest laughed, and said, "These are but the lilies of your imagination, and have no real existence." And later on, when the wine was finished, the flowers began to droop and fade; and by-and-by a breeze from the north carried off every sign of them, leaving the lake as it had been before.


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