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The Boatmen Of Laolung.

WHEN His Excellency Chu was Viceroy of Kuangtung, there were constant complaints from the traders of mysterious disappearances; sometimes as many as three or four of them disappearing at once and never being seen or heard of again. At length the number of such cases, filed of course against some person or persons unknown, multiplied to such an extent that they were simply put on record, and but little notice was further taken of them by the local officials. Thus, when His Excellency entered upon his duties, he found more than a hundred plaints of the kind, besides innumerable cases in which the missing man’s relatives lived at a distance and had not instituted proceedings. The mystery so preyed upon the new Viceroy’s mind that he lost all appetite for food; and when, finally, all the inquiries he had set on foot resulted in no clue to an elucidation of these strange disappearances, then His Excellency proceeded to wash and purify himself, and, having notified the Municipal God, he took to fasting and sleeping in his study alone. While he was in ecstasy, lo! an official entered, holding a tablet in his hand, and said that he had come from the Municipal temple with the following instructions to the Viceroy:—

“Snow on the whiskers descending:
Live clouds falling from heaven:
Wood in water buoyed up:
In the wall an opening effected.”

The official then retired, and the Viceroy waked up; but it was only after a night of tossing and turning that he hit upon what seemed to him the solution of the enigma. “The first line,” argued he, “must signify old (lao in Chinese); the second refers to the dragon (lung in Chinese); the third is clearly a boat; and the fourth a door here taken in its secondary sense—man.” Now, to the east of the province, not far from the pass by which traders from the north connect their line of trade with the southern seas, there was actually a ferry known as the Old Dragon (Laolung); and thither the Viceroy immediately despatched a force to arrest those employed in carrying people backwards and forwards. More than fifty men were caught, and they all confessed at once without the application of torture. In fact, they were bandits under the guise of boatmen; and after beguiling passengers on board, they would either drug them or burn stupefying incense until they were senseless, finally cutting them open and putting a large stone inside to make the body sink. Such was the horrible story, the discovery of which brought throngs to the Viceroy’s door to serenade him in terms of gratitude and praise.




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