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A Chinese Solomon.

IN our district there lived two men, named Hu Ch‘êng and Fêng Ngan, between whom there existed an old feud. The former, however, was the stronger of the two; and accordingly Fêng disguised his feelings under a specious appearance of friendship, though Hu never placed much faith in his professions. One day they were drinking together, and being both of them rather the worse for liquor, they began to brag of the various exploits they had achieved. “What care I for poverty,” cried Hu, “when I can lay a hundred ounces of silver on the table at a moment’s notice?” Now Fêng was well aware of the state of Hu’s affairs, and did not hesitate to scout such pretensions, until Hu further informed him in perfect seriousness that the day before he had met a merchant travelling with a large sum of money and had tumbled him down a dry well by the wayside; in confirmation of which he produced several hundred ounces of silver, which really belonged to a brother-in-law on whose behalf he was managing some negotiation for the purchase of land. When they separated, Fêng went off and gave information to the magistrate of the place, who summoned Hu to answer to the charge. Hu then told the actual facts of the case, and his brother-in-law and the owner of the land in question corroborated his statement. However, on examining the dry well by letting a man down with a rope round him, lo! there was a headless corpse lying at the bottom. Hu was horrified at this, and called Heaven to witness that he was innocent; whereupon the magistrate ordered him twenty or thirty blows on the mouth for lying in the presence of such irrefragable proof, and cast him into the condemned cell, where he lay loaded with chains. Orders were issued that the corpse was not to be removed, and a notification was made to the people, calling upon the relatives of the deceased to come forward and claim the body. Next day a woman appeared, and said deceased was her husband; that his name was Ho, and that he was proceeding on business with a large sum of money about him when he was killed by Hu. The magistrate observed that possibly the body in the well might not be that of her husband, to which the woman replied that she felt sure it was; and accordingly the corpse was brought up and examined, when the woman’s story was found to be correct. She herself did not go near the body, but stood at a little distance making the most doleful lamentations; until at length the magistrate said, “We have got the murderer, but the body is not complete; you go home and wait until the head has been discovered, when life shall be given for life.” He then summoned Hu before him, and told him to produce the head by the next day under penalty of severe torture; but Hu only wandered about with the guard sent in charge of him, crying and lamenting his fate, but finding nothing. The instruments of torture were then produced, and preparations were made as if for torturing Hu; however, they were not applied, and finally the magistrate sent him back to prison, saying, “I suppose that in your hurry you didn’t notice where you dropped the head.” The woman was then brought before him again; and on learning that her relatives consisted only of one uncle, the magistrate remarked, “A young woman like you, left alone in the world, will hardly be able to earn a livelihood. [Here she burst into tears and implored the magistrate’s pity.] The punishment of the guilty man has been already decided upon, but until we get the head, the case cannot be closed. As soon as it is closed, the best thing you can do is to marry again. A young woman like yourself should not be in and out of a police court.” The woman thanked the magistrate and retired; and the latter issued a notice to the people, calling upon them to make a search for the head. On the following day, a man named Wang, a fellow villager of the deceased, reported that he had found the missing head; and his report proving to be true, he was rewarded with 1,000 cash. The magistrate now summoned the woman’s uncle abovementioned, and told him that the case was complete, but that as it involved such an important matter as the life of a human being, there would necessarily be some delay in closing it for good and all. “Meanwhile,” added the magistrate, “your niece is a young woman and has no children; persuade her to marry again and so keep herself out of these troubles, and never mind what people may say.” The uncle at first refused to do this; upon which the magistrate was obliged to threaten him until he was ultimately forced to consent. At this, the woman appeared before the magistrate to thank him for what he had done; whereupon the latter gave out that any person who was willing to take the woman to wife was to present himself at his yamên. Immediately afterwards an application was made—by the very man who had found the head. The magistrate then sent for the woman and asked her if she could say who was the real murderer; to which she replied that Hu Chêng had done the deed. “No!” cried the magistrate; “it was not he. It was you and this man here. [Here both began loudly to protest their innocence.] I have long known this; but, fearing to leave the smallest loophole for escape, I have tarried thus long in elucidating the circumstances. How [to the woman], before the corpse was removed from the well, were you so certain that it was your husband’s body? Because you already knew he was dead. And does a trader who has several hundred ounces of silver about him dress as shabbily as your husband was dressed? And you, [to the man], how did you manage to find the head so readily? Because you were in a hurry to marry the woman.” The two culprits stood there as pale as death, unable to utter a word in their defence; and on the application of torture both confessed the crime. For this man, the woman’s paramour, had killed her husband, curiously enough, about the time of Hu Chêng’s braggart joke. Hu was accordingly released, but Fêng suffered the penalty of a false accuser; he was severely bambooed, and banished for three years. The case was thus brought to a close without the wrongful punishment of a single person.

折獄

邑之西崖莊,有賈某被人殺於途;隔夜,其妻亦自經死。賈弟鳴於官。時浙江費公禕祉令淄,親詣驗之。見布袱裹銀五錢餘,尚在腰中,知非為財也者。拘兩村鄰保審質一過,殊少端緒,並未搒掠,釋散歸農;但命地約細察,十日一關白而已。踰半年,事漸懈。賈弟怨公仁柔,上堂屢聒。公怒曰:「汝既不能指名,欲我以桎梏加良民耶!」呵逐而出。賈弟無所伸訴,憤葬兄嫂。一日,以逋賦故,逮數人至。內一人周成,懼責,上言錢糧措辦已足,即於腰中出銀袱,稟公驗視。公驗已,便問:「汝家何里?」答云:「某村。」又問:「去西崖幾里?」答云:「五六里。」「去年被殺賈某,係汝何人?」答云:「不識其人。」公勃然曰:「汝殺之,尚云不識耶!」周力辨,不聽;嚴梏之,果伏其罪。先是,賈妻王氏,將詣姻家,慚無釵飾,聒夫使假於鄰。夫不肯;妻自假之,頗甚珍重。歸途,卸而裹諸袱,內袖中;既至家,探之已亡。不敢告夫,又無力償鄰,懊惱欲死。是日,周適拾之,知為賈妻所遺,窺賈他出,半夜踰牆,將執以求合。時溽暑,王氏臥庭中,周潛就淫之。王氏覺,大號。周急止之,留袱納釵。事已,婦囑曰:「後勿來,吾家男子惡,犯恐俱死!」周怒曰:「我挾勾欄數宿之貲,寧一度可償耶?」婦慰之曰:「我非不願相交,渠常善病,不如從容以待其死。」周乃去,於是殺賈,夜詣婦曰:「今某已被人殺,請如所約。」婦聞大哭,周懼而逃,天明則婦死矣。公廉得情,以周抵罪。共服其神,而不知所以能察之故。公曰:「事無難辦,要在隨處留心耳。初驗尸時,見銀袱刺萬字文,周袱亦然,是出一手也。及詰之,又云無舊,詞貌詭變,是以確知其真凶也。」
  異史氏曰:「世之折獄者,非悠悠置之,則縲繫數十人而狼藉之耳。堂上肉鼓吹,喧闐旁午,遂嚬蹙曰:『我勞心民事也。』雲板三敲,則聲色並進,難決之詞,不復置念;耑待升堂時,禍桑樹以烹老龜耳。嗚呼!民情何由得哉!余每曰:『智者不必仁,而仁者則必智;蓋用心苦則機關出也。』『隨在留心』之言,可以教天下之宰民社者矣。」
  邑人胡成,與馮安同里,世有卻。胡父子強,馮屈意交懽,胡終猜之。一日,共飲薄醉,頗傾肝膽。胡大言:「勿憂貧,百金之產不難致也。」馮以其家不豐,故嗤之。胡正色曰:「實相告:昨途遇大商,載厚裝來,我顛越於南山眢井 中矣。馮又笑之。時胡有妹夫鄭倫,託為說合田產,寄數百金於胡家,遂盡出以炫馮。馮信之。既散,陰以狀報邑。公拘胡對勘,胡言其實,問鄭及產主皆不訛。乃共驗諸眢井。一役縋下,則果有無首之尸在焉。胡大駭,莫可置辨,但稱冤苦。公怒,擊喙數十,曰:「確有證據,尚叫屈耶!」以死囚具禁制之。尸戒勿出,惟曉示諸村,使尸主投狀。逾日,有婦人抱狀,自言為亡者妻,言:「夫何甲,揭數百金出作貿易,被胡殺死。」公曰:「井有死人,恐未必即是汝夫。」婦執言甚堅。公乃命出尸於井,視之,果不妄。婦不敢近,卻立而號。公曰:「真犯已得,但骸軀未全。汝暫歸,待得死者首,即招報令其抵償。」遂自獄中喚胡出,呵曰:「明日不將頭至,當械折股!」押去終日而返,詰之,但有號泣。乃以梏具置前作刑勢,卻又不刑,曰:「想汝當夜扛尸忙迫,不知墜落何處,奈何不細尋之?」胡哀祈容急覓。公乃問婦:「子女幾何?」答曰:「無。」問:「甲有何戚屬?」「但有堂叔一人。」慨然曰:「少年喪夫,伶仃如此,其何以為生矣!」婦乃哭,叩求憐憫。公曰:「殺人之罪已定,但得全尸,此案即結;結案後,速醮可也。汝少婦,勿復出入公門。」婦感泣,叩頭而下。公即票示里人,代覓其首。經宿,即有同村王五,報稱已獲。問驗既明,賞以千錢。喚甲叔至,曰:「大案已成;然人命重大,非積歲不能成結。姪既無出,少婦亦難存活,早令適人。此後亦無他務,但有上臺檢駁,止須汝應身耳。」甲叔不肯,飛兩籤下;再辯,又一籤下。甲叔懼,應之而出。婦聞,詣謝公恩。公極意慰諭之。又諭:「有買婦者,當堂關白。」既下,即有投婚狀者,蓋即報人頭之王五也。公喚婦上,曰:「殺人之真犯,汝知之乎?」答曰:「胡成。」公曰:「非也。汝與王五乃真犯耳。」二人大駭,力辨冤枉。公曰:「我久知其情,所以遲遲而發者,恐有萬一之屈耳。尸未出井,何以確信為汝夫?蓋先知其死矣。且甲死猶衣敗絮,數百金何所自來?」又謂王五曰:「頭之所在,汝何知之熟也!所以如此其急者,意在速合耳。」兩人驚顏如土,不能強置一詞。並械之,果吐其實。蓋王五與婦私已久,謀殺其夫,而適值胡成之戲也。乃釋胡。馮以誣告,重笞,徒三年。事結,並未妄刑一人。

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