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Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio vol. II (of

Ch'en suddenly bethought himself of the earth in the niche


FOOTNOTES:

[233] One method is to wrap an old mirror (formerly a polished metal disc) in a handkerchief, and then, no one being present, to bow seven times towards the Spirit of the Hearth: after which the first words heard spoken by any one will give a clue to the issue under investigation. Another method is to close the eyes and take seven paces, opening them at the seventh and getting some hint from the objects first seen in a mirror held in the hand, coupled with the words first spoken within the experimenter's hearing.

[234] In former days, these messengers of good tidings to candidates whose homes were in distant parts used to earn handsome sums if first to announce the news; but now, at any rate along the coast, steamers and the telegraph have taken their occupation from them.

CXXIV.

THE CATTLE PLAGUE.

Ch'en Hua-feng, of Meng-shan, overpowered by the great heat, went and lay down under a tree, when suddenly up came a man with a thick comforter round his neck, who also sat down on a stone in the shade, and began fanning himself as hard as he could, the perspiration all the time running off him like a waterfall. Ch'en rose and said to him with a smile, "If Sir, you were to remove that comforter, you would be cool enough without the help of a fan." "It would be easy

enough," replied the stranger, "to take off my comforter; but the difficulty would be in getting it on again." He then went on to converse generally upon other matters, in a manner which betokened considerable refinement; and by-and-by he exclaimed, "What I should like now is just a draught of iced wine to cool the twelve joints of my oesophagus."[235] "Come along, then," cried Ch'en, "my house is close by, and I shall be happy to give you what you want." So off they went together; and Ch'en set before them some capital wine, which he produced from a cave, cold enough to numb their teeth. The stranger was delighted, and remained there drinking until late in the evening, when, all at once, it began to rain. Ch'en lighted a lamp; and he and his guest, who now took off the comforter, sat talking together in _dishabille_. Every now and again the former thought he saw a light coming from the back of the stranger's head; and when at length he had gone off into a tipsy sleep, Ch'en took the light to examine more closely. He found behind the ears a large cavity, partitioned by a number of membranes, and looking like a lattice, with a thin skin hanging down in front of each, the spaces being apparently empty. In great astonishment Ch'en took a hair-pin, and inserted it into one of these places, when pff! out flew something like a tiny cow, which broke through the window,[236] and was gone. This frightened Ch'en, and he determined to play no more tricks; just then, however, the stranger waked up. "Alas!" cried he, "you have been at my head, and have let out the Cattle Plague. What is to be done, now?" Ch'en asked what he meant: upon which the stranger said, "There is no object in further concealment. I will tell you all. I am the Angel of Pestilence for the six kinds of domestic animals. That form which you have let out attacks oxen, and I fear that, for miles round, few will escape alive." Now Ch'en himself was a cattle-farmer, and when he heard this was dreadfully alarmed, and implored the stranger to tell him what to do. "What to do!" replied he; "why, I shall not escape punishment myself; how can I tell you what to do. However, you will find powdered _K'u-ts'an_[237] an efficacious remedy, that is if you don't keep it a secret for your private use."[238] The stranger then departed, first of all piling up a quantity of earth in a niche in the wall, a handful of which, he told Ch'en, given to each animal, might prove of some avail. Before long the plague did break out; and Ch'en, who was desirous of making a little money by it, told the remedy to no one, with the exception of his younger brother. The latter tried it on his own beasts with great success; while, on the other hand, those belonging to Ch'en himself died off, to the number of fifty head,[239] leaving him only four or five old cows, which shewed every sign of soon sharing the same fate. In his distress, Ch'en suddenly bethought himself of the earth in the niche; and, as a last resource, gave some to the sick animals. By the next morning they were quite well, and then he knew that his secrecy about the remedy had caused it to have no effect. From that moment his stock went on increasing, and in a few years he had as many as ever.


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