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The Disembodied Friend.

MR. CH‘ÊN, M.A., of Shunt‘ien Fu, when a boy of sixteen, went to school at a Buddhist temple. There were a great many scholars besides himself, and, among others, one named Ch‘u, who said he came from Shantung. This Ch‘u was a very hardworking fellow; he never seemed to be idle, and actually slept in the schoolroom, not going home at all. Ch‘ên became much attached to him, and one day asked him why he never went away. “Well, you see,” replied Ch‘u, “my people are very poor, and can hardly afford to pay for my schooling; but, by dint of working half the night, two of my days are equal to three of anybody else’s.” Thereupon Ch‘ên said he would bring his own bed to the school, and that they would sleep there together; to which Ch‘u replied that the teaching they got wasn’t worth much, and that they would do better by putting themselves under a certain old scholar named Lü. This they were easily able to do, as the arrangement at the temple was monthly, and at the end of each month anyone was free to go or to come. So off they went to this Mr. Lü, a man of considerable literary attainments, who had found himself in Shunt‘ien Fu without a cash in his pocket, and was accordingly obliged to take pupils. He was delighted at getting two additions to his number and, Ch‘u showing himself an apt scholar, the two soon became very great friends, sleeping in the same room and eating at the same table. At the end of the month Ch‘u asked for leave of absence, and, to the astonishment of all, ten days elapsed without anything being heard of him. It then chanced that Ch‘ên went to the T‘ienning temple, and there he saw Ch‘u under one of the verandahs, occupied in cutting wood for Lucifer matches. The latter was much disconcerted by the arrival of Ch‘ên, who asked him why he had given up his studies; so the latter took him aside, and explained that he was so poor as to be obliged to work half a month to scrape together funds enough for his next month’s schooling. “You come along back with me,” cried Ch‘ên, on hearing this, “I will arrange for the payment,” which Ch‘u immediately consented to do on condition that Ch‘ên would keep the whole thing a profound secret. Now Ch‘ên’s father was a wealthy tradesman, and from his till Ch‘ên abstracted money wherewith to pay for Ch‘u; and by-and-by, when his father found him out, he confessed why he had done so. Thereupon Ch‘ên’s father called him a fool, and would not let him resume his studies; at which Ch‘u was much hurt, and would have left the school too, but that old Mr. Lü discovered what had taken place, and gave him the money to return to Ch‘ên’s father, keeping him still at the school, and treating him quite like his own son. So Ch‘ên studied no more, but whenever he met Ch‘u he always asked him to join in some refreshment at a restaurant, Ch‘u invariably refusing, but yielding at length to his entreaties, being himself loth to break off their old acquaintanceship.

Thus two years passed away, when Ch‘ên’s father died, and Ch‘ên went back to his books under the guidance of old Mr. Lü, who was very glad to see such determination. Of course Ch‘ên was now far behind Ch‘u; and in about six months Lü’s son arrived, having begged his way in search of his father, so Mr. Lü gave up his school and returned home with a purse which his pupils had made up for him, Ch‘u adding nothing thereto but his tears. At parting, Mr. Lü advised Ch‘ên to take Ch‘u as his tutor, and this he did, establishing him comfortably in the house with him. The examination was very shortly to commence, and Ch‘ên felt convinced that he should not get through; but Ch‘u said he thought he should be able to manage the matter for him. On the appointed day he introduced Ch‘ên to a gentleman who he said was a cousin of his, named Liu, and asked Ch‘ên to accompany this cousin, which Ch‘ên was just proceeding to do when Ch‘u pulled him back from behind, and he would have fallen down but that the cousin pulled him up again, and then, after having scrutinized his appearance, carried him off to his own house. There being no ladies there, Ch‘ên was put into the inner apartments; and a few days afterwards Liu said to him, “A great many people will be at the gardens today; let us go and amuse ourselves awhile, and afterwards I will send you home again.” He then gave orders that a servant should proceed on ahead with tea and wine, and by-and-by they themselves went, and were soon in the thick of the fête. Crossing over a bridge, they saw beneath an old willow tree a little painted skiff, and were soon on board, engaged in freely passing round the wine. However, finding this a little dull, Liu bade his servant go and see if Miss Li, the famous singing girl, was at home; and in a few minutes the servant returned bringing Miss Li with him. Ch‘ên had met her before, and so they at once exchanged greetings, while Liu begged her to be good enough to favour them with a song. Miss Li, who seemed labouring under a fit of melancholy, forthwith began a funeral dirge; at which Ch‘ên was not much pleased, and observed that such a theme was hardly suitable to the occasion. With a forced smile, Miss Li changed her key, and gave them a love song; whereupon Ch‘ên seized her hand, and said, “There’s that song of the Huansha river, which you sang once before; I have read it over several times, but have quite forgotten the words.” Then Miss Li began—

“Eyes overflowing with tears, she sits gazing into her glass,
Lifting the bamboo screen, one of her comrades approaches;
She bends her head and seems intent on her bowlike slippers,
And forces her eyebrows to arch themselves into a smile.
With her scarlet sleeve she wipes the tears from her perfumed cheek,
In fear and trembling lest they should guess the thoughts that o’erwhelm her.”

Ch‘ên repeated this over several times, until at length the skiff stopped, and they passed through a long verandah, where a great many verses had been inscribed on the walls, to which Ch‘ên at once proceeded to add a stanza of his own. Evening was now coming on, and Liu remarked that the candidates would be just about leaving the examination hall; so he escorted him back to his own home, and there left him. The room was dark, and there was no one with him; but by-and-by the servants ushered in some one whom at first he took to be Ch‘u. However, he soon saw that it was not Ch‘u, and in another moment the stranger had fallen against him and knocked him down. “Master’s fainted!” cried the servants, as they ran to pick him up; and then Ch‘ên discovered that the one who had fallen down was really no other than himself. On getting up, he saw Ch‘u standing by his side; and when they had sent away the servants the latter said, “Don’t be alarmed: I am nothing more than a disembodied spirit. My time for reappearing on earth is long overdue, but I could not forget your great kindness to me, and accordingly I have remained under this form in order to assist in the accomplishment of your wishes. The three bouts are over, and your ambition will be gratified.” Ch‘ên then inquired if Ch‘u could assist him in like manner for his doctor’s degree; to which the latter replied, “Alas! the luck descending to you from your ancestors is not equal to that. They were a niggardly lot, and unfit for the posthumous honours you would thus confer on them.” Ch‘ên next asked him whither he was going; and Ch‘u replied that he hoped, through the agency of his cousin, who was a clerk in Purgatory, to be born again in old Mr. Lü’s family. They then bade each other adieu; and, when morning came, Ch‘ên set off to call on Miss Li, the singing girl; but on reaching her house he found that she had been dead some days. He walked on to the gardens, and there he saw traces of verses that had been written on the walls, and evidently rubbed out, so as to be hardly decipherable. In a moment it flashed across him that the verses and their composers belonged to the other world. Towards evening Ch‘u reappeared in high spirits, saying that he had succeeded in his design, and had come to wish Ch‘ên a long farewell. Holding out his open palms, he requested Ch‘ên to write the word Ch‘u on each; and then, after refusing to take a parting cup, he went away, telling Ch‘ên that the examinationlist would soon be out, and that they would meet again before long. Ch‘ên brushed away his tears and escorted him to the door, where a man, who had been waiting for him, laid his hand on Ch‘u’s head and pressed it downwards until Ch‘u was perfectly flat. The man then put him in a sack and carried him off on his back. A few days afterwards the list came out, and, to his great joy, Ch‘ên found his name among the successful candidates; whereupon he immediately started off to visit his old tutor, Mr. Lü. Now Mr. Lü’s wife had had no children for ten years, being about fifty years of age, when suddenly she gave birth to a son, who was born with both fists doubled up so that no one could open them. On his arrival Ch‘ên begged to see the child, and declared that inside its hands would be found written the word Ch‘u. Old Mr. Lü laughed at this; but no sooner had the child set eyes on Ch‘ên than both its fists opened spontaneously, and there was the word as Ch‘ên had said. The story was soon told, and Ch‘ên went home, after making a handsome present to the family; and later on, when Mr. Lü went up for his doctor’s degree and stayed at Ch‘ên’s house, his son was thirteen years old, and had already matriculated as a candidate for literary honours.

褚生

順天陳孝廉,十六七歲時,嘗從塾師讀於僧寺,徒侶甚繁。內有褚生,自言山東人,攻苦講求,略不暇息;且寄宿齋中,未嘗一見其歸。陳與最善,因詰之。答曰:「僕家貧,辦束金不易,即不能惜寸陰,而加以夜半,則我之二日,可當人三日。」陳感其言,欲攜榻來與共寢。褚止之曰:「且勿,且勿!我視先生,學非吾師也。阜城門有呂先生,年雖耄,可師,請與俱遷之。」──蓋都中設帳者多以月計,月終束金完,任其留止。於是兩生同詣呂。呂,越之宿儒,落魄不能歸,因授童蒙,實非其志也。得兩生甚喜;而褚又甚惠,過目輒了,故尤器重之。兩人情好款密,晝同几,夜亦同榻。月既終,褚忽假歸,十餘日不復至。共疑之。一日,陳以故至天寧寺,遇褚廊下,劈檾淬硫,作火具焉。見陳,忸怩不安。陳問:「何遽廢讀?」褚握手請間,戚然曰:「貧無以遺先生,必半月販,始能一月讀。」陳感慨良久,曰:「但往讀,自合極力。」命從人收其業,同歸塾。戒陳勿洩,但託故以告先生。陳父固肆賈,居物致富,陳輒竊父金,代褚遺師。父以亡金責陳,陳實告之。父以為癡,遂使廢學。褚大慚,別師欲去。呂知其故,讓之曰:「子既貧,胡不早告?」乃悉以金返陳父,止褚讀如故,與共饔飧,若子焉。陳雖不入館,每邀褚過酒家飲。褚固以避嫌不往;而陳要之彌堅,往往泣下,褚不忍絕,遂與往來無間。逾二年,陳父死,復求受業。呂感其誠,納之;而廢學既久,較褚懸絕矣。居半年,呂長子自越來,丐食尋父。門人輩斂金助裝,褚惟灑涕依戀而已。呂臨別,囑陳師事褚。陳從之,館褚於家。未幾,入邑庠,以「遺才」應試。陳慮不能終幅,褚請代之。至期,褚偕一人來,云是表兄劉天若,囑陳暫從去。陳方出,褚忽自後曳之,身欲踣,劉急挽之而去。覽眺一過,相攜宿於其家。家無婦女,即館客於內舍。居數日,忽已中秋。劉曰:「今日李皇親園中,游人甚夥,當往一豁積悶,相便送君歸。」使人荷茶鼎、酒具而往。但見水肆梅亭,喧啾不得入。過水關,則老柳之下,橫一畫橈,相將登舟。酒數行,苦寂。劉顧僮曰:「梅花館近有新姬,不知在家否?」僮去少時,與姬俱至,蓋勾欄李遏雲也。李,都中名妓,工詩善歌,陳曾與友人飲其家,故識之。相見,略道溫涼。姬戚戚有憂容。劉命之歌,為歌「蒿里」。陳不悅,曰:「主客即不當卿意,何至對生人歌死曲?」姬起謝,強顏歡笑,乃歌豔曲。陳喜,捉腕曰:「卿向日『浣溪紗』讀之數過,今並忘之。」姬吟曰:「淚眼盈盈對鏡臺,開簾忽見小姑來,低頭轉側看弓鞋。強解綠蛾開笑面,頻將紅袖拭香腮,小心猶恐被人猜。」陳反覆數四。已而泊舟,過長廊,見壁上題詠甚多,即命筆記詞其上。日已薄暮,劉曰:「闈中人將出矣。」遂送陳歸。入門,即別去。陳見室暗無人,俄延間,褚已入門;細審之,卻非褚生。方疑,客遽近身而仆。家人曰:「公子憊矣!」共扶拽之。轉覺仆者非他,即己也。既起,見褚生在旁,惚惚若夢。屏人而研究之。褚曰:「告之勿驚:我實鬼也。久當投生,所以因循於此者,高誼所不能忘,故附君體,以代捉刀;三場畢,此願了矣。」陳復求赴春闈。曰:「君先世福薄,慳吝之骨,誥贈所不堪也。」問:「將何適?」曰:「呂先生與僕有父子之分,繫念常不能置。表兄為冥司典簿,求白地府主者,或當有說。」遂別而去。陳異之。天明,訪李姬,將問以泛舟之事;則姬死數日矣。又至皇親園,見題句猶存,而淡墨依稀,若將磨滅。始悟題者為魂,作者為鬼。至夕,褚喜而至,曰:「所謀幸成,敬與君別。」遂伸兩掌,命陳書褚字於上以誌之。陳將置酒為餞,搖首曰:「勿須。君如不忘舊好,放榜後,勿憚修阻。」陳揮涕送之。見一人伺候於門;褚方依依,其人以手按其頂,隨手而匾,掬入囊,負之而去。過數日,陳果捷。于是治裝如越。呂妻斷育幾十年,五旬餘,忽生一子,兩手握固不可開。陳至,請相見,便謂掌中當有文曰「褚」。呂不深信。兒見陳,十指自開,視之果然。驚問其故,具告之。共相歡異。陳厚貽之,乃返。後呂以歲貢,廷試入都,舍於陳;則兒十三歲,入泮矣。
  異史氏曰:「呂老教門人,而不知自教其子。嗚呼!作善於人,而降祥於己,一間也哉!褚生者,未以身報師,先以魂報友,其志其行,可貫日月,豈以其鬼故奇之與!」

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