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The magic sword or Hsiao-ch'ien

NING LAI-CH'EN was a Chekiang man, and a good-natured, honourable fellow, fond of telling people that he had only loved once. Happening to go to Chin-hua, he took shelter in a temple to the north of the city; very nice as far as ornamentation went, but overgrown with grass taller than a man's head, and evidently not much frequented. On either side were the priest's apartments, the doors of which were ajar, with the exception of a small room on the south side, where the lock had a new appearance. In the east corner he espied a group of bamboos, growing over a large pool of water-lilies in flower; and, being much pleased with the quiet of the place, determined to remain; more especially as, the Grand Examiner being in the town, all lodgings had gone up in price. So he roamed about waiting till the priests should return; and in the evening, a gentleman came and opened the door on the south side. Ning quickly made up to him, and with a bow informed him of his design. "There is no one here whose permission you need ask," replied the stranger; "I am only lodging here, and if you don't object to the loneliness, I shall be very pleased to have the benefit of your society." Ning was delighted, and made himself a straw bed, and put up a board for a table, as if he intended to remain some time; and that night, by the beams of the clear bright moon, they sat together in the verandah and talked. The stranger's name was Yen Ch'ih-hsia, and Ning thought he was a student up for the provincial examination, only his dialect was not that of a Chekiang man. On being asked, he said he came from Shensi; and there was an air of straightforwardness about all his remarks. By-and-by, when their conversation was exhausted, they bade each other good night and went to bed; but Ning, being in a strange place, was quite unable to sleep; and soon he heard sounds of voices from the room on the north side. Getting up, he peeped through a window, and saw, in a small court-yard the other side of a low wall, a woman of about forty with an old maid-servant in a long faded gown, humped-backed and feeble-looking. They were chatting by the light of the moon; and the mistress said, "Why doesn't Hsiao-ch'ien come?" "She ought to be here by now," replied the other. "She isn't offended with you; is she?" asked the lady. "Not that I know of," answered the old servant; "but she seems to want to give trouble?" "Such people don't deserve to be treated well," said the other; and she had hardly uttered these words when up came a young girl of seventeen or eighteen, and very nice looking. The old servant laughed, and said, "Don't talk of people behind their backs. We were just mentioning you as you came without our hearing you; but fortunately we were saying nothing bad about you. And, as far as that goes," added she, "if I were a young fellow why I should certainly fall in love with you." "If you don't praise me," replied the girl, "I'm sure I don't know who will;" and then the lady and the girl said something together, and Mr. Ning, thinking they were the family next door, turned round to sleep without paying further attention to them. In a little while no sound was to be heard; but, as he was dropping off to sleep, he perceived that somebody was in the room. Jumping up in great haste, he found it was the young lady he had just seen; and detecting at once that she was going to attempt to bewitch him, sternly bade her begone. She then produced a lump of gold which he threw away, and told her to go after it or he would call his friend. So she had no alternative but to go, muttering something about his heart being like iron or stone. Next day, a young candidate for the examination came and lodged in the east room with his servant. He, however, was killed that very night, and his servant the night after; the corpses of both shewing a small hole in the sole of the foot as if bored by an awl, and from which a little blood came. No one knew who had committed these murders, and when Mr. Yen came home, Ning asked him what he thought about it. Yen replied that it was the work of devils, but Ning was a brave fellow, and that didn't frighten him much. In the middle of the night Hsiao-ch'ien appeared to him again, and said, "I have seen many men, but none with a steel cold heart like yours. You are an upright man, and I will not attempt to deceive you. I, Hsiao-ch'ien, whose family name is Nieh, died when only eighteen, and was buried alongside of this temple. A devil then took possession of me, and employed me to bewitch people by my beauty, contrary to my inclination. There is now nothing left in this temple to slay, and I fear that imps will be employed to kill you. Ning was very frightened at this, and asked her what he should do. "Sleep in the same room with Mr. Yen," replied she. "What!" asked he, "cannot the spirits trouble Yen?" "He is a strange man," she answered, "and they don't like going near him." Ning then inquired how the spirits worked. "I bewitch people," said Hsiao-ch'ien, "and then they bore a hole in the foot which renders the victim senseless, and proceed to draw off the blood, which the devils drink. Another method is to tempt people by false gold, the bones of some horrid demon; and if they receive it, their hearts and livers will be torn out. Either method is used according to circumstances." Ning thanked her, and asked when he ought to be prepared; to which she replied, "Tomorrow night." At parting she wept, and said, "I am about to sink into the great sea, with no friendly shore at hand. But your sense of duty is boundless, and you can save me. If you will collect my bones and bury them in some quiet spot, I shall not again be subject to these misfortunes." Ning said he would do so, and asked where she lay buried. "At the foot of the aspen-tree on which there is a bird's nest," replied she; and passing out of the door, disappeared. The next day Ning was afraid that Yen might be going away somewhere, and went over early to invite him across. Wine and food were produced towards noon; and Ning, who took care not to lose sight of Yen, then asked him to remain there for the night Yen declined, on the ground that he liked being by himself; but Ning wouldn't hear any excuses, and carried all Yen's things to his own room, so that he had no alternative but to consent. However, he warned Ning, saying, "I know you are a gentleman and a man of honour. If you see anything you don't quite understand, I pray you not to be too inquisitive; don't pry into my boxes, or it may be the worse for both of us." Ning promised to attend to what he said, and by-and-by they both lay down to sleep; and Yen, having placed his boxes on the window-sill, was soon snoring loudly. Ning himself could not sleep; and after some time he saw a figure moving stealthily outside, at length approaching the window to peep through. It's eyes flashed like lightning, and Ning in a terrible fright was just upon the point of calling Yen, when something flew out of one of the boxes like a strip of white silk, and dashing against the window-sill returned at once to the box, disappearing very much like lightning. Yen heard the noise and got up, Ning all the time pretending to be asleep in order to watch what happened. The former then opened the box, and took out something which he smelt and examined by the light of the moon. It was dazzlingly white like crystal, and about two inches in length by the width of an onion leaf in breadth. He then wrapped it up carefully and put it back in the broken box, saying, "A bold-faced devil that, to come so near my box; "upon which he went back to bed; but Ning, who was lost in astonishment, arose and asked him what it all meant, telling at the same time what he himself had seen. "As you and I are good friends," replied Yen, "I won't make any secret of it. The fact is I am a Taoist priest. But for the window-sill the devil would have been killed; as it is, he is badly wounded." Ning asked him what it was he had there wrapped up, and he told him it was his sword, 1 on which he had smelt the presence of the devil. At Ning's request he produced the weapon, a bright little miniature of a sword; and from that time Ning held his friend in higher esteem than ever.

Next day he found traces of blood outside the window which led round to the north of the temple; and there among a number of graves he discovered the aspen-tree with the bird's nest at its summit. He then fulfilled his promise and prepared to go home, Yen giving him a farewell banquet, and presenting him with an old leather case which he said contained a sword, and would keep at a distance from him all devils and bogies. Ning then wished to learn a little of Yen's art; but the latter replied that although he might accomplish this easily enough, being as he was an upright man, yet he was well off in life, and not in a condition where it would be of any advantage to him. Ning then pretending he had to go and bury his sister, collected Hsiao-ch'ien's bones, and, having wrapped them up in grave-clothes, hired a boat, and set off on his way home. On his arrival, as his library looked towards the open country, he made a grave hard by and buried the bones there, sacrificing, and invoking Hsiao-ch'ien as follows: "In pity for your lonely ghost, I have placed your remains near my humble cottage, where we shall be near each other, and no devil will dare annoy you. I pray you reject not my sacrifice, poor though it be." After this, he was proceeding home when he suddenly heard himself addressed from behind, the voice asking him not to hurry; and turning round he beheld Hsiao-ch'ien, who thanked him, saying, "Were I to die ten times for you I could not discharge my debt. Let me go home with you and wait upon your father and mother; you will not repent it." Looking closely at her, he observed that she had a beautiful complexion, and feet as small as bamboo shoots, being altogether much prettier now that he came to see her by daylight. So they went together to his home, and bidding her wait awhile, Ning ran in to tell his mother, to the very great surprise of the old lady. Now King's wife had been ill for a long time, and his mother advised him not to say a word about it to her for fear of frighten-ing her; in the middle of which in rushed Hsiao-ch'ien, and threw herself on the ground before them. "This is the young lady," said Ning; whereupon his mother in some alarm turned her attention to Hsiao-ch'ien, who cried out, "A lonely orphan, without brother or sister, the object of your son's kindness and compassion, begs to be allowed to give her poor services as some return for favours shewn." Ning's mother, seeing that she was a nice pleasant-looking girl, began to lose fear of her, and replied, "Madam, the preference you shew for my son is highly pleasing to an old body like myself; but this is the only hope of our family, and I hardly dare agree to his taking a devil-wife." "I have but one motive in what I ask," answered Hsiao-ch'ien, "and if you have no faith in disembodied people, then let me regard him as my brother, and live under your protection, serving you like a daughter." Ning's mother could not resist her straightforward manner, and Hsiao-ch'ien asked to be allowed to see Ning's wife, but this was denied on the plea that the lady was ill. Hsiao-ch'ien then went into the kitchen and got ready the dinner, running about the place as if she had lived there all her life. Ning's mother was, however 7 much afraid of her, and would not let her sleep in the house; so Hsiao-ch'ien went to the library, and was just entering when suddenly she fell back a few steps, and began walking hurriedly backwards and forwards in front of the door. Ning seeing this, called out and asked her what it meant; to which she replied "The presence of that sword frightens me, and that is why I could not accompany you on your way home." Ning at once understood her, and hung up the sword-case in another place; whereupon she entered, lighted a candle, and sat down. For some time she did not speak: at length asking Ning if he studied at night or not "For," said she, "when I was little I used to repeat the Leng-yen sutra; but now I have forgotten more than half, and, therefore, I should like to borrow a copy, and when you are at leisure in the evening you might hear me." Ning said he would, and they sat silently there for some time, after which Hsiao-ch'ien went away and took up her quarters elsewhere. Morning and night she waited on Ning's mother, bringing water for her to wash in, occupying herself with household matters, and endeavouring to please her in every way. In the evening before she went to bed, she would always go in and repeat a little of the sutra, and leave as soon as she thought Ning was getting sleepy. Now the illness of Ning's wife had given his mother a great deal of extra trouble more, in fact, than she was equal to; but ever since Hsiao-ch'ien's arrival all this was changed, and Ning's mother felt kindly disposed to the girl in consequence, gradually growing to regard her almost as her own child, and forgetting quite that she was a spirit. Accordingly, she didn't make her leave the house at night; and Hsiao-ch'ien, who being a devil had not tasted meat or drink since her arrival, now began at the end of six months to take a little thin gruel. Mother and son alike became very fond of her, and henceforth never mentioned what she really was; neither were strangers able to detect the fact. By-and-by, Ning's wife died, and his mother secretly wished him to espouse Hsiao-ch'ien, though she rather dreaded any unfortunate consequences that might arise. This Hsiao-ch'ien perceived, and seizing an opportunity said to Ning's mother, "I have been with you now more than a year, and you ought to know some-thing of my disposition. Because I was unwilling to injure travellers I followed your son hither. There was no other motive; and, as your son has shewn him-self one of the best of men, I would now remain with him for three years in order that he may obtain for me some mark of Imperial approbation which will do me honour in the realms below." Ning's mother knew that she meant no evil, but hesitated to put the family hopes of a posterity into jeopardy. Hsiao-ch'ien, how-ever, reassured her by saying that Ning would have three sons, and that the line would not be interrupted by his marrying her. On the strength of this the marriage was arranged to the great joy of Ning, a feast prepared, and friends and relatives invited; and when in response to a call the bride herself came forth in her gay wedding-dress, the beholders took her rather for a fairy than for a devil. After this, numbers of congratulatory presents were given by the various female members of the family, who vied with one another in making her acquaintance; and these Hsiao-ch'ien returned by gifts of paintings of flowers, done by herself, in which she was very skilful, the receivers being extremely proud of such marks of her friendship. One day she was leaning at the window in a despondent mood, when suddenly she asked where the sword-case was. "Oh," replied Ning, "as you seemed afraid of it, I moved it elsewhere." "I have now been so long under the influence of surrounding life," said Hsiao-ch'ien, "that I shan't be afraid of it any more. Let us hang it on the bed. "Why so?" asked Ning. "For the last three days," explained she, "I have been much agitated in mind; and I fear that the devil at the temple, angry at my escape, may come suddenly and carry me off." So Ning brought the sword-case, and Hsiao-ch'ien, after examining it closely, remarked, "This is where the magician puts people. I wonder how many were slain before it got old and worn out as it is now. Even now when I look at it my flesh creeps." The case was then hung up, and next day removed to over the door. At night they sat up and watched, Hsiao-ch'ien warning Ning not to go to sleep; and suddenly something fell down flop like a bird. Hsiao-ch'ien in a fright got behind the curtain; but Ning looked at the thing, and found it was an imp of darkness, with glaring eyes and a bloody mouth, coming straight to the door. Stealthily creeping up it made a grab at the sword-case, and seemed about to tear it in pieces, when bang! the sword-case became as big as a wardrobe, and from it a devil protruded part of his body and dragged the imp in. Nothing more was heard, and the sword-case resumed its original size. Ning was greatly alarmed, but Hsiao-ch'ien came out rejoicing, and said, "There's an end of my troubles." In the sword-case they found only a few quarts of clear water; nothing else.

After these events Ning took his doctor's degree and Hsiao-ch'ien bore him a son. He then took a concubine, and had one more son by each, all of whom became in time distinguished men.

聶小倩


寧采臣,浙人。性慷爽,廉隅自重。每對人言:「生平無二色。」適赴金華,至北郭,解裝蘭若。寺中殿塔壯麗;然蓬蒿沒人,似絕行蹤。東西僧舍,雙扉虛掩;惟南一小舍,扃鍵如新。又顧殿東隅,修竹拱把;階下有巨池,野藕已花。意甚樂其幽杳。會學使案臨,城舍價昂,思便留止,遂散步以待僧歸。日暮,有士人來,啟南扉。寧趨為禮,且告以意。士人曰:「此間無房主,仆亦僑居。能甘荒落,旦晚惠教,幸甚。」寧喜,藉代床,支板作几,為久客計。是夜,月明高潔,清光似水,二人促膝殿廊,各展姓字。士人自言:「燕姓,字赤霞。」寧疑為赴試諸生,而聽其音聲,殊不類浙。詰之,自言:「秦人。」語甚朴誠。既而相對詞竭,遂拱別歸寢。

寧以新居,久不成寐。聞舍北喁喁,如有家口。起伏北壁石窗下,微窺之。見短牆外一小院落,有婦可四十餘;又一媼衣𪑦緋,插蓬沓,鮐背龍鐘,偶語月下。婦曰:「小倩何久不來?」媼曰:「殆好至矣。」婦曰:「將無向姥姥有怨言否?」曰:「不聞,但意似蹙蹙。」婦曰:「婢子不宜好相識!」言未已,有一十七八女子來,仿彿艷絕。媼笑曰:「背地不言人,我兩個正談道,小妖婢悄來無跡響。幸不訾著短處。」又曰:「小娘子端好是畫中人,遮莫老身是男子,也被攝魂去。」女曰:「姥姥不相譽,更阿誰道好?」婦人女子又不知何言。寧意其鄰人眷口,寢不復聽。又許時,始寂無聲。方將睡去,覺有人至寢所。急起審顧,則北院女子也。驚問之。女笑曰:「月夜不寐,願修燕好。」寧正容曰:「卿防物議,我畏人言;略一失足,廉恥道喪。」女云:「夜無知者。」寧又咄之。女逡巡若復有詞。寧叱:「速去!不然,當呼南捨生知。」女懼,乃退。至戶外復返,以黃金一鋌置褥上。寧掇擲庭墀,曰:「非義之物,污吾囊橐!」女慚,出,拾金自言曰:「此漢當是鐵石。」

詰旦,有蘭溪生攜一仆來候試,寓于東廂,至夜暴亡。足心有小孔,如錐刺者,細細有血出。俱莫知故。經宿,仆亦死,症亦如之。向晚,燕生歸,寧質之,燕以為魅。寧素抗直,頗不在意。宵分,女子復至,謂寧曰:「妾閱人多矣,未有剛腸如君者。君誠聖賢,妾不敢欺。小倩,姓聶氏,十八夭殂,葬寺側,輒被妖物威脅,歷役賤務;覥顏向人,實非所樂。今寺中無可殺者,恐當以夜叉來。」寧駭求計。女曰:「與燕生同室可免。」問:「何不惑燕生?」曰:「彼奇人也,不敢近。」問:「迷人若何?」曰:「狎昵我者,隱以錐刺其足,彼即茫若迷,因攝血以供妖飲;又或以金,非金也,乃羅剎鬼骨,留之能截取人心肝:二者,凡以投時好耳。」寧感謝。問戒備之期,答以明宵。臨別泣曰:「妾墮玄海,求岸不得。郎君義氣干雲,必能拔生救苦。倘肯囊妾朽骨,歸葬安宅,不啻再造。」寧毅然諾之。因問葬處,曰:「但記取白楊之上,有烏巢者是也。」言已出門,紛然而滅。

明日,恐燕他出,早詣邀致。辰後具酒饌,留意察燕。既約同宿,辭以性癖耽寂。寧不從,強攜臥具來。燕不得已,移榻從之,囑曰:「仆知足下丈夫,傾風良切。要有微衷,難以遽白。幸勿翻窺篋襆,違之兩俱不利。」寧謹受教。既而各寢,燕以箱筐置窗上,就枕移時,齁如雷吼。寧不能寐。近一更許,窗外隱隱有人影。俄而近窗來窺,目光睒閃。寧懼,懼方欲呼燕,忽有物裂篋而出,耀若匹練,觸折窗上石櫺,欻一射,即遽斂入,宛如電滅。燕覺而起,寧偽睡以覘之。燕捧篋檢征,取一物,對月嗅視,白光晶瑩,長可二寸,徑韭葉許。已而數重包固,仍置破篋中。自語曰:「何物老魅,直爾大膽,致壞篋子。」遂復臥。寧大奇之,因起問之,且以所見告。燕曰:「既相知愛,何敢深隱。我,劍客也。若非石櫺,妖當立斃;雖然,亦傷。」問:「所緘何物?」曰:「劍也。適嗅之,有妖氣。」寧欲觀之。慨出相示,熒熒然一小劍也。於是益厚重燕。明日,視窗外,有血跡。遂出寺北,見荒墳纍纍,果有白楊,烏巢其顛。迨營謀既就,趣裝欲歸。燕生設祖帳,情義殷渥。以破革囊贈寧,曰:「此劍袋也。寶藏可遠魑魅。」寧欲從授其術。曰:「如君信義剛直,可以為此。然君猶富貴中人,非此道中人也。」寧乃托有妹葬此,發掘女骨,斂以衣衾,賃舟而歸。

寧齋臨野,因營墳葬諸齋外。祭而祝曰:「憐卿狐魂,葬近蝸居,歌哭相聞,庶不見陵于雄鬼。一甌漿水飲,殊不清旨,幸不為嫌!」祝畢而返。後有人呼曰:「緩待同行!」回顧,則小倩也。歡喜謝曰:「君信義,十死不足以報。請從歸,拜識姑嫜,媵御無悔。「審諦之,肌映流霞,足翹細筍,白晝端相,嬌艷尤絕。遂與俱至齋中。囑坐少待,先入白母。母愕然。時寧妻久病,母戒勿言,恐所駭驚。言次,女已翩然入,拜伏地下。寧曰:「此小倩也。」母驚顧不遑。女謂母曰:「兒飄然一身,遠父母兄弟。蒙公子露覆,澤被發膚,願執箕帚,以報高義。」母見其綽約可愛,始敢與言,曰:「小娘子惠顧吾兒,老身喜不可已。但生平止此兒,用承祧緒,不敢令有鬼偶。」女曰:「兒實無二心。泉下人,既不見信于老母,請以兄事,依高堂,奉晨昏,如何?」母憐其誠,允之。即欲拜嫂。母辭以疾,乃止。女即入廚下,代母尸饔。入房穿戶,似熟居者。日暮,母畏懼之,辭使歸寢,不為設床褥。女窺知母意,即竟去。過齋欲入,卻退,徘徊戶外,似有所懼。生呼之。女曰:「室有劍氣畏人。向道途中不奉見者,良以此故。」寧悟為革囊,取懸他室。女乃入,就燭下坐。移時,殊不一語。久之,問:「夜讀否?妾少誦《楞嚴經》,今強半遺忘。浼求一卷,夜暇,就兄正之。」寧諾。又坐,默然,二更向盡,不言去。寧促之。愀然曰:「異域孤魂,殊怯荒墓。」寧曰:「齋中別無訂寢,且兄妹亦宜遠嫌。」女起,眉顰蹙而欲啼,足㑌儴而懶步,從容出門,涉階而沒。寧竊憐之,欲留宿別榻,又懼母嗔。女朝旦朝母,捧匜沃盥,下堂操作,無不曲承母志。黃昏告退,輒過齋頭,就燭誦經。覺寧將寢,始慘然去。

先是,寧妻病廢,母劬不可堪;自得女,逸甚,心德之。日漸稔,親愛如己出,竟忘其為鬼;不忍晚令去,留與同臥起。女初來未嘗食飲,半年漸啜稀𩠂。母子皆溺愛之,諱言其鬼,人亦不之辨也。無何,寧妻亡。母隱有納女意,然恐于子不利。女微窺之,乘間告母曰:「居年余,當知兒肝膈。為不欲禍行人,故從郎君來。區區無他意,止以公子光明磊落,為天人所欽矚,實欲依贊三數年,借博封誥,以光泉壤。」母亦知無惡,但懼不能延宗嗣。女曰:「子女惟天所授。郎君注福籍,有亢宗子三,不以鬼妻而遂奪也。」母信之,與子議。寧喜,因列筵告戚黨。或請覿新婦,女慨然華妝出,一堂盡眙,反不疑其鬼,疑為仙。由是五黨諸內眷,咸執贄以賀,爭拜識之。女善畫蘭梅,輒以尺幅酬答,得者藏什襲,以為榮。

一日,俯頸窗前,怊悵若失。忽問:「革囊何在?」曰:「以卿畏之,故緘置他所。」曰:「妾受生氣已久,當不復畏,宜取掛訂頭。」寧詰其意,曰:「三日來,心怔忡無停息,意金華妖物,恨妾遠遁,恐旦晚尋及也。」寧果攜革囊來。女反復審視,曰:「此劍仙將盛人頭者也。敝敗至此,不知殺人幾何許!妾今日視之,肌猶粟慄。」乃懸之。次日,又命移懸戶上。夜對燭坐,約寧勿寢。欻有一物,如飛鳥墮。女驚匿夾幕間。寧視之,物如夜叉狀,電目血舌,睒閃攫拿而前。至門卻步;逡巡久之,漸近革囊,以爪摘取,似將抓裂。囊忽格然一響,大可合簣;恍惚有鬼物,突出半身,揪夜叉入,聲遂寂然,囊亦頓縮如故。寧駭詫。女亦出,大喜曰:「無恙矣!」共視囊中,清水數斗而已。後數年,寧果登進士。女舉一男。納妾後,又各生一男,皆仕進有聲。

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