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The wonderful stone

IN the prefecture of Shun-t'ien there lived a man named Hsing Yun-fei, who was an amateur mineralogist and would pay any price for a good specimen. One day as he was fishing in the river, something caught his net, and diving down he brought up a stone about a foot in diameter, beautifully carved on all sides to resemble clustering hills and peaks. He was quite as pleased with this as if he had found some precious stone; and having had an elegant sandal-wood stand made for it, he set his prize upon the table. Whenever it was about to rain, clouds, which from a distance looked like new cotton wool, would come forth from each of the holes or grottos on the stone, and appear to close them up. By-and-by an influential personage called at the house and begged to see the stone, immediately seizing it and handing it over to a lusty servant, at the same time whipping his horse and riding away. Hsing was in despair; but all he could do was to mourn the loss of his stone, and indulge his anger against the thief. Meanwhile, the servant, who had carried off the stone on his back, stopped to rest at a bridge; when all of a sudden his hand slipped and the stone fell into the water. His master was extremely put out at this, and gave him a sound beating; subsequently hiring several divers, who tried every means in their power to recover the stone, but were quite unable to find it. He then went away, having first published a notice of reward, and by these means many were tempted to seek for the stone. Soon after, Hsing himself came to the spot, and as he mournfully approached the bank, lo! the water became clear, and he could see the stone lying at the bottom. Taking off his clothes he quickly jumped in and brought it out, together with the sandal-wood stand which was still with it. He carried it off home, but being no longer desirous of shewing it to people, he had an inner room cleaned and put it in there. Some time afterwards an old man knocked at the door and asked to be allowed to see the stone; whereupon Hsing replied that he had lost it a long time ago. "Isn't that it in the inner room?" said the old man, smiling. "Oh, walk in and see for yourself if you don't believe me," answered Hsing; and the old man did walk in, and there was the stone on the table. This took Hsing very much aback; and the old man then laid his hand upon the stone and said, "This is an old family relic of mine: I lost it many months since. How does it come to be here? I pray you now restore it to me." Hsing didn't know what to say, but declared he was the owner of the stone; upon which the old man remarked, "If it is really yours, what evidence can you bring to prove it?" Hsing made no reply; and the old man continued, "To show you that I know this stone, I may mention that it has altogether ninety-two grottoes, and that in the largest of these are five words:

'A stone from Heaven above.'"

Hsing looked and found that there were actually some small characters, no larger than grains of rice, which by straining his eyes a little he managed to read; also, that the number of grottoes was as the old man had said. However, he would not give him the stone; and the old man laughed, and asked, "Pray, what right have you to keep other people's things?" He then bowed and went away, Hsing escorting him as far as the door; but when he returned to the room, the stone had disappeared. In a great fright, he ran after the old man, who had walked slowly and was not far off, and seizing his sleeve entreated him to give back the stone. "Do you think," said the latter, "that I could conceal a stone a foot in diameter in my sleeve?" But Hsing knew that he must be superhuman, and led him back to the house, where he threw himself on his knees and begged that he might have the stone. "Is it yours or mine?" asked the old man. "Of course it is yours," replied Hsing, "though I hope you will consent to deny yourself the pleasure of keeping it." "In that case," said the old man, "it is back again;" and going into the inner room, they found the stone in its old place.

"The jewels of this world," observed Hsing's visitor, "should be given to those who know how to take care of them, This stone can choose its own master, and I am very pleased that it should remain with you; at the same time I must inform you that it was in too great a hurry to come into the world of mortals, and has not yet been freed from all contingent calamities. I had better take it away with me, and three years hence you shall have it again. If, however, you insist on keeping it, then your span of life will be shortened by three years, that your terms of existence may harmonize together. Are you willing?" Hsing said he was; whereupon the old man with his fingers closed up three of the stone's grottoes, which yielded to his touch like mud. When this was done, he turned to Hsing and told him that the grottoes on that stone represented the years of his life; and then he took his leave, firmly refusing to remain any longer, and not disclosing his name.

More than a year after this, Hsing had occasion to go away on business, and in the night a thief broke in and carried off the stone, taking nothing else at all. When Hsing came home, he was dreadfully grieved, as if his whole object in life was gone; and made all possible inquiries and efforts to get it back, but without the slightest result. Some time passed away, when one day going into a temple Hsing noticed a man selling stones, and amongst the rest he saw his old friend. Of course he immediately wanted to regain possession of it; but as the stone-seller would not consent, he shouldered the stone and went off to the nearest mandarin. The stone-seller was then asked what proof he could give that the stone was his; and he replied that the number of grottoes was eighty-nine. Hsing inquired if that was all he had to say, and when the other acknowledged that it was, he himself told the magistrate what were the characters inscribed within, also calling attention to the ringer marks at the closed-up grottoes. He therefore gained his case, and the mandarin would have bambooed the stone-seller, had he not declared that he bought it in the market for twenty ounces of silver, whereupon he was dismissed.

A high official next offered Hsing one hundred ounces of silver for it; but he refused to sell it even for ten thousand, which so enraged the would-be purchaser that he worked up a case against Hsing,  and got him put in prison. Hsing was thereby compelled to pawn a great deal of his property; and then the official sent some one to try if the affair could not be managed through his son, to which Hsing, on hearing of the attempt, steadily refused to consent, saying that he and the stone could not be parted even in death. His wife, however, and his son, laid their heads together, and sent the stone to the high official, and Hsing only heard of it when he arrived home from the prison. He cursed his wife and beat his son, and frequently tried to make away with himself, though luckily his servants always managed to prevent him from succeeding. At night he dreamt that a noble-looking personage appeared to him, and said, "My name is Shih Ch'ing-hsü (Stone from Heaven). Do not grieve. I purposely quitted you for a year and more; but next year on the 20th of the eighth moon, at dawn, come to the Hai-tai Gate and buy me back for two strings of cash." Hsing was overjoyed at this dream, and carefully took down the day mentioned. Mean-while the stone was at the official's private house; but as the cloud manifestations ceased, the stone was less and less prized; and the following year when the official was disgraced for maladministration and subsequently died, Hsing met some of his servants at the Hai-tai Gate going off to sell the stone, and purchased it back from them for two strings of cash.

Hsing lived till he was eighty-nine; and then having prepared the necessaries for his interment, bade his son bury the stone with him, which was accordingly done. Six months later robbers broke into the vault and made off with the stone, and his son tried in vain to secure their capture; however, a few days afterwards, he was travelling with his servants, when suddenly two men rushed forth dripping with perspiration, and looking up into the air, acknowledged their crime, saying, "Mr, Hsing, please don't torment us thus! We took the stone, and sold it for only four ounces of silver." Hsing's son and his servants then seized these men, and took them before the magistrate, where they at once acknowledged their guilt. Asking what had become of the stone, they said they had sold it to a member of the magistrate's family; and when it was produced, that official took such a fancy to it that he gave it to one of his servants and bade him place it in the treasury. Thereupon the stone slipped out of the servant's hand and broke into a hundred pieces, to the great astonishment of all present. The magistrate now had the thieves bambooed and sent them away; but Hsing's son picked up the broken pieces of the stone, and buried them in his father's grave.

石清虛

邢雲飛,順天人。好石,見佳石,不惜重直。偶漁於河,有物挂網,沉而取之,則石徑尺,四面玲瓏,峰巒疊秀。喜極,如獲異珍。既歸,雕紫檀為座,供諸案頭。每值天欲雨,則孔孔生雲,遙望如塞新絮。有勢豪某,踵門求觀。既見,舉付健僕,策馬徑去。邢無奈,頓足悲憤而已。僕負石至河濱,息肩橋上,忽失手,墮諸河。豪怒,鞭僕。即出金,僱善泅者,百計冥搜,竟不可見。乃懸金署約而去。由是尋石者日盈於河,迄無獲者。後邢至落石處,臨流於邑,但見河水清澈,則石固在水中。邢大喜,解衣入水,抱之而出。攜歸,不敢設諸廳所,潔治內室供之。一日,有老叟款門而請。邢託言石失已久。叟笑曰:「客舍非耶?」邢便請入舍,以實其無,及入,則石果陳几上。愕不能言。叟撫石曰:「此吾家故物,失去已久,今固在此耶。既見之,請即賜還。」邢窘甚,遂與爭作石主。叟笑曰:「既汝家物,有何驗證?」邢不能答。叟曰:「僕則故識之。前後九十二竅,巨孔中五字云:『清虛天石供。』」邢審視,孔中果有小字,細如粟米,竭目力裁可辨認;又數其竅,果如所言。邢無以對,但執不與。叟笑曰:「誰家物,而憑君作主耶!」拱手而出。邢送至門外;既還,已失石所在。邢急追叟,則叟緩步未遠。奔牽其袂而哀之。叟曰:「奇哉!經尺之石,豈可以手握袂藏者耶?」邢知其神,強曳之歸,長跽請之。叟乃曰:「石果君家者耶、僕家者耶?」答曰:「誠屬君家,但求割愛耳。」叟曰:「既然,石固在是。」入室,則石已在故處。叟曰:「天下之寶,當與愛惜之人。此石能自擇主,僕亦喜之。然彼急於自見,其出也早,則魔劫未除。實將攜去,待三年後,始以奉贈。既欲留之,當減三年壽數,乃可與君相終始。君願之乎?」曰:「願。」叟乃以兩指捏一竅,竅軟如泥,隨手而閉。閉三竅,已,曰:「石上竅數,即君壽也。」作別欲去。邢苦留之,辭甚堅;問其姓字,亦不言,遂去。積年餘,邢以故他出,夜有賊入室,諸無所失,惟竊石而去。邢歸,悼喪欲死。訪察購求,全無蹤跡。積有數年,偶入報國寺,見賣石者,則故物也,將便認取。賣者不服,因負石至官。官問:「何所質驗?」賣石者能言竅數。邢問其他,則茫然矣。邢乃言竅中五字及三指痕,理遂得伸。官欲杖責賣石者,賣石者自言以二十金買諸市,遂釋之。邢得石歸,裹以錦,藏櫝中,時出一賞,先焚異香而後出之。有尚書某,購以百金。邢曰:「雖萬金不易也。」尚書怒,陰以他事中傷之。邢被收,典質田產。尚書託他人風示其子。子告邢,邢願以死殉石。妻竊與子謀,獻石尚書家。邢出獄始知,罵妻毆子,屢欲自經,家人覺救,得不死。夜夢一丈夫來,自言:「石清虛。」戒邢勿戚:「特與君年餘別耳。明年八月二十日,昧爽時,可詣海岱門,以兩貫相贖。」邢得夢,喜,謹誌其日。其石在尚書家,更無出雲之異,久亦不甚貴重之。明年,尚書以罪削職,尋死。邢如期至海岱門,則其家人竊石出售,因以兩貫市歸。後邢至八十九歲,自治葬具;又囑子,必以石殉。及卒,子遵遺教,瘞石墓中。半年許,賊發墓,劫石去。子知之,莫可追詰。越二三日,同僕在道,忽見兩人,奔躓汗流,望空投拜,曰:「邢先生,勿相逼!我二人將石去,不過賣四兩銀耳。」遂縶送到官,一訊即伏。問石,則鬻宮氏。取石至,官愛玩,欲得之,命寄諸庫。吏舉石,石忽墮地,碎為數十餘片。皆失色。官乃重械兩盜論死。邢子拾碎石出,仍瘞墓中。
  異史氏曰:「物之尤者禍之府。至欲以身殉石,亦癡甚矣!而卒之石與人相終始,誰謂石無情哉?古語云:『士為知己者死。』非過也!石猶如此,何況於人!」

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