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The man who was thrown down a well

MR. TAI, of An-ch'ing, was a wild fellow when young. One day as he was returning home tipsy, he met by the way a dead cousin of his named Chi; and having, in his drunken state, quite forgotten that his cousin was dead, he asked him where he was going. "I am already a disembodied spirit," replied Chi; "don't you remember?" Tai was a little disturbed at this; but, being under the influence of liquor, he was not frightened, and inquired of his cousin what he was doing in the realms below. "I am employed as scribe," said Chi, "in the court of the Great King." "Then you must know all about our happiness and misfortunes to come," cried Tai. "It is my business," answered his cousin, "so of course I know. But I see such an enormous mass that, unless of special reference to myself or family, I take no notice of any of it. Three days ago, by the way, I saw your name in the register." Tai immediately asked what there was about himself, and his cousin replied, "I will not deceive you; your name was put down for a dark and dismal hell." Tai was dreadfully alarmed, and at the same time sobered, and entreated his cousin to assist him in some way. "You may try," said Chi, "what merit will do for you as a means of mitigating your punishment; but the register of your sins is as thick as my ringer, and nothing short of the most deserving acts will be of any avail. What can a poor fellow like myself do for you? Were you to perform one good act every day, you would not complete the necessary total under a year and more, and it is now too late for that. But henceforth amend your ways, and there may still be a chance of escape for you." When Tai heard these words he prostrated himself on the ground, imploring his cousin to help him; but, on raising his head, Chi had disappeared; he therefore returned sorrowfully home, and set to work to cleanse his heart and order his behaviour.

Now Tai's next door neighbour had long suspected him of paying too much attention to his wife; and one day meeting Tai in the fields shortly after the events narrated above, he inveigled him into inspecting a dry well, and then pushed him down. The well was many feet deep, and the man felt certain that Tai was killed; however, in the middle of the night he came round, and sitting up at the bottom, he began to shout for assistance, but could not make any one hear him. On the following day, the neighbour, fearing that Tai might possibly have recovered consciousness, went to listen at the mouth of the well; and hearing him cry out for help, began to throw down a quantity of stones. Tai took refuge in a cave at the side, and did not dare utter another sound; but his enemy knew he was not dead, and forthwith filled the well almost up to the top with earth. In the cave it was as dark as pitch, exactly like the Infernal Regions; and not being able to get anything to eat or drink, Tai gave up all hopes of life. He crawled on his hands and knees further into the cave, but was prevented by water from going further than a few paces, and returned to take up his position at the old spot. At first he felt hungry; by-and-by, however, this sensation passed away; and then reflecting that there, at the bottom of a well, he could hardly perform any good action, he passed his time in calling loudly on the name of Buddha.

Before long he saw a number of Will-o'-the-Wisps flitting over the water and illuminating the gloom of the cave; and immediately prayed to them, saying, "O Will-o'-the-Wisps, I have heard that ye are the shades of wronged and injured people. I have not long to live, and am without hope of escape; still I would gladly relieve the monotony of my situation by exchanging a few words with you." Thereupon, all the Wills came flitting across the water to him; and among them was a man of about half the ordinary size. Tai asked him whence he came; to which he replied, "This is an old coal-mine. The proprietor, in working the coal, disturbed the position of some graves; and Mr. Lung-fei flooded the mine and drowned forty-three workmen. We are the shades of those men." He further said he did not know who Mr. Lung-fei was, except that he was secretary to the City God, and that in compassion for the misfortunes of the innocent workmen, he was in the habit of sending them a quantity of gruel every three or four days. "But the cold water," added he, "soaks into our bones, and there is but small chance of ever getting them removed. If, Sir, you some day return to the world above, I pray you fish up our decaying bones and bury them in some public burying-ground. You will thus earn for yourself boundless gratitude in the realms below." Tai promised that if he had the luck to escape he would do as they wished; "but how," cried he, "situated as I am, can I ever hope to look again upon the light of day." He then began to teach the Wills to say their prayers, making for them beads out of bits of mud, and repeating to them the liturgies of Buddha. He could not tell night from morning; he slept when he felt tired, and when he waked he sat up. Suddenly, he perceived in the distance the light of lamps, at which the shades all rejoiced, and said, "It is Mr. Lung-fei with our food." They then invited Tai to go with them; and when he said he couldn't because of the water, they bore him along over it so that he hardly seemed to walk. After twisting and turning about for nearly a quarter of a mile, he reached a place at which the Wills bade him walk by himself; and then he appeared to mount a flight of steps, at the top of which he found himself in an apartment lighted by a candle as thick round as one's arm. Not having seen the light of fire for some time, he was overjoyed and walked in; but observing an old man in a scholar's dress and cap seated in the post of honour, he stopped, not liking to advance further. But the old man had already caught sight of him, and asked him how he, a living man, had come there. Tai threw himself on the ground at his feet, and told him all; whereupon the old man cried out, "My great-grandson!" He then bade him get up; and offering him a seat, explained that his own name was Tai Ch'ien, and that he was otherwise known as Lung-fei. He said, moreover, that in days gone by a worthless grandson of his named T'ang, had associated himself with a lot of scoundrels and sunk a well near his grave, disturbing the peace of his everlasting night; and that therefore he had flooded the place with salt water and drowned them. He then inquired as to the general condition of the family at that time.

Now Tai was a descendant of one of five brothers, from the eldest of whom T'ang himself was also descended; and an influential man of the place had bribed T'ang to open a mine alongside the family grave. His brothers were afraid to interfere; and by-and-by the water rose and drowned all the workmen; whereupon actions for damages were commenced by the relatives of the deceased, and T'ang and his friend were reduced to poverty, and T'ang's descendants to absolute destitution. Tai was a son of one of T'ang's brothers, and having heard this story from his seniors, now repeated it to the old man. "How could they be otherwise than unfortunate," cried the latter, "with such an unfilial progenitor? But since you have come hither, you must on no account neglect your studies." The old man then provided him with food and wine, and spreading a volume of essays according to the old style before him, bade him study it most carefully. He also gave him themes for composition, and corrected his essays as if he had been his tutor. The candle remained always burning in the room, never needing to be snuffed and never decreasing. When he was tired he went to sleep, but he never knew day from night. The old man occasionally went out, leaving a boy to attend to his great-grandson's wants. It seemed that several years passed away thus, but Tai had no troubles of any kind to annoy him. He had no other book except the volume of essays, one hundred in all, which he read through more than four thousand times. One day the old man said to him, "Your term of expiation is nearly completed, and you will be able to return to the world above. My grave is near the coal-mine, and the grosser breeze plays upon my bones. Remember to remove them to Tung-yuan." Tai promised he would see to this; and then the old man summoned all the shades together and instructed them to escort Tai back to the place where they had found him. The shades now bowed one after the other, and begged Tai to think of them as well, while Tai himself was quite at a loss to guess how he was going to get out.

Meanwhile, Tai's family had searched for him every-where, and his mother had brought his case to the notice of the officials, thereby implicating a large number of persons, but without getting any trace of the missing man. Three or four years passed away and there was a change of magistrate; in consequence of which the search was relaxed, and Tai's wife, not being happy where she was, married another husband. Just then an inhabitant of the place set about repairing the old well and found Tai's body in the cave at the bottom. Touching it, he found it was not dead, and at once gave information to the family. Tai was promptly conveyed home, and within a day he could tell his own story.

Since he had been down the well, the neighbour who pushed him in had beaten his own wife to death and his father-in-law having brought an action against him, he had been in confinement for more than a year while the case was being investigated. When released he was a mere bag of bones;  and then hearing that Tai had come back to life, he was terribly alarmed and fled away. The family tried to persuade Tai to take proceedings against him, but this he would not do, alleging that what had befallen him was a proper punishment for his own bad behaviour, and had nothing to do with the neighbour. Upon this, the said neighbour ventured to return; and when the water in the well had dried up, Tai hired men to go down and collect the bones, which he put in coffins and buried all together in one place. He next hunted up Mr. Lung-fei's name in the family tables of genealogy, and proceeded to sacrifice all kinds of nice things at his tomb. By-and-by the Literary Chancellor heard this strange story, and was also very pleased with Tai's compositions; accordingly, Tai passed successfully through his examinations, and, having taken his master's degree, returned home and reburied Mr. Lung-fei at Tung-yuan, repairing thither regularly every spring without fail.

龍飛相公

安慶戴生,少薄行,無檢幅。一日,自他醉歸,途中遇故表兄季生。醉後昏眊,亦忘其死,問:「向在何所?」季曰:「僕已異物,君忘之耶?」戴始恍然,而醉亦不懼。問:「冥間何作?」答云:「近在轉輪王殿下司錄。」戴曰:「人世禍福,當必知之?」季曰:「此僕職也,烏得不知?但過煩,非甚關切,不能盡記耳。三日前偶稽冊,尚賭君名。」戴急問其何詞,季曰:「不敢相欺,尊名在黑暗獄中。」戴大懼,酒亦醒,苦求拯拔。季曰:「此非所能效力,惟善可以已之。然君惡籍盈指,非大善不可復挽。窮秀才有何大力?即日行一善,非年餘不能相準,今已晚矣。但從此砥行,則地獄中或有出時。」戴聞之泣下,伏地哀懇;及仰首而季已杳矣。悒悒而歸。由此洗心改行,不敢差跌。先是,戴私其鄰婦,鄰人聞知而不肯發,思掩執之。而戴自改行,永與婦絕;鄰人伺之不得,以為恨。一日,遇於田間,陽與語,紿窺眢井,因而墮之。井深數丈,計必死。而戴中夜甦,坐井中大號,殊無知者。鄰人恐其復生,過宿往聽之;聞其聲,急投石。戴移閉洞中,不敢復作聲。鄰人知其不死,斸土填井,幾滿之。洞中冥黑,真與地獄無少異者。空洞無所得食,計無生理。蒲伏漸入,則三步外皆水,無所復之,還坐故處。初覺腹餒,久竟忘之。因思重泉下無善可行,惟長宣佛號而已。既見燐火浮游,熒熒滿洞,因而祝之:「聞青燐悉為冤鬼;我雖暫生,固亦難返,如可共話,亦慰寂寞。」但見諸燐漸浮水來;燐中皆有一人,高約人身之半。詰所自來。答云:「此古煤井。主人攻煤,震動古墓,被龍飛相公決地海之水,溺死四十三人。我等皆其鬼也。」問:「相公何人?」曰:「不知也。但相公文學士,今為城隍幕客。彼亦憐我等無辜,三五日輒一施水粥。要我輩冷水浸骨,超拔無日。君倘再履人世,祈撈殘骨葬一義冢,則惠及泉下者多矣。」戴曰:「如有萬分之一,此即何難。但深在九地,安望重睹天日乎!」因教諸鬼使念佛,捻塊代珠,記其藏數。不知時之昏曉:倦則眠,醒則坐而已。忽見深處有籠燈,眾喜曰:「龍飛相公施食矣!」邀戴同往。戴慮水沮,眾強扶曳以行,飄若履虛。曲折半里許,至一處,眾釋令自行;步益上,如升數仞之階。階盡,睹房廊,堂上燒明燭一枝,大如臂。戴久不見火光,喜極趨上。上坐一叟,儒服儒巾。戴輟步不敢前。叟已睹見,訝問:「生人何來?」戴上,伏地自陳。叟曰:「我耳孫也。」因令起,賜之坐。自言:「戴潛,字龍飛。曩因不肖孫堂,連結匪類,近墓作井,使老夫不安於夜室,故以海水沒之。今其後續如何矣?」蓋戴近宗凡五支,堂居長。初,邑中大姓賂堂,攻煤於其祖塋之側。諸弟畏其強,莫敢爭。無何,地水暴至,採煤人盡死井中。諸死者家,群興大訟,堂及大姓皆以此貧;堂子孫至無立錐。戴乃堂弟裔也。曾聞先人傳其事,因告翁。翁曰:「此等不肖,其後烏得昌!汝既來此,當毋廢讀。」因餉以酒饌,遂置卷案頭,皆成、洪制藝,迫使研讀。又命題課文,如師教徒。堂上燭常明,不翦亦不滅。倦時輒眠,莫辨晨夕。翁時出,則以一僮給役。歷時覺有數年之久,然幸無苦。但無別書可讀,惟制藝百首,首四千餘遍矣。翁一日謂曰:「子孽報已滿,合還人世。余冢鄰煤洞,陰風刺骨,得志後,當遷我於東原。」戴敬諾。翁乃喚集群鬼,仍送至舊坐處。群鬼羅拜再囑。戴亦不知何計可出。先是,家中失戴,搜訪既窮,母告官,係縲多人,並少蹤緒。積三四年,官離任,緝察亦弛。戴妻不安於室,遣嫁去。會里中人復治舊井,入洞見戴,撫之未死。大駭,報諸其家。舁歸經日,始能言其底裏。自戴入井,鄰人毆殺其婦,為婦翁所訟,駁審年餘,僅存皮骨而歸。聞戴復生,大懼,亡去。宗人議究治之,戴不許;且謂曩時實所自取,此冥中之譴,於彼何與焉。鄰人察其意無他,始逡巡而歸。井水既涸,戴買人入洞拾骨,俾各為具,市棺設地,葬叢冢焉。又稽宗譜名潛,字龍飛,先設品物,祭諸其冢。學使聞其異,又賞其文,是科以優等入闈,遂捷於鄉。既歸,營兆東原,遷龍飛厚葬之;春秋上墓,歲歲不衰。
  異史氏曰:「余鄉有攻煤者,洞沒於水,十餘人沉溺其中。竭水求尸,兩月餘始得涸,而十餘人並無死者。蓋水大至時,共泅高處,得不溺。縋而上之,見風始絕,一晝夜乃漸甦。始知人在地下,如蛇鳥之蟄,急切未能死也。然未有至數年者。苟非至善,三年地獄中,烏復有生人哉!」

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