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The Fighting Cricket.

DURING the reign of Hsüan Tê, cricket fighting was very much in vogue at court, levies of crickets being exacted from the people as a tax. On one occasion the magistrate of Huayin, wishing to make friends with the Governor, presented him with a cricket which, on being set to fight, displayed very remarkable powers; so much so that the Governor commanded the magistrate to supply him regularly with these insects. The latter, in his turn, ordered the beadles of his district to provide him with crickets; and then it became a practice for people who had nothing else to do to catch and rear them for this purpose. Thus the price of crickets rose very high; and when the beadle’s runners came to exact even a single one, it was enough to ruin several families.

Now in the village of which we are speaking there lived a man named Ch‘êng, a student who had often failed for his bachelor’s degree; and, being a stupid sort of fellow, his name was sent in for the post of beadle. He did all he could to get out of it, but without success; and by the end of the year his small patrimony was gone. Just then came a call for crickets, and Ch‘êng, not daring to make a like call upon his neighbours, was at his wits’ end, and in his distress determined to commit suicide. “What’s the use of that?” cried his wife. “You’d do better to go out and try to find some.” So off went Ch‘êng in the early morning, with a bamboo tube and a silk net, not returning till late at night; and he searched about in tumbledown walls, in bushes, under stones, and in holes, but without catching more than two or three, do what he would. Even those he did catch were weak creatures, and of no use at all, which made the magistrate fix a limit of time, the result of which was that in a few days Ch‘êng got one hundred blows with the bamboo. This made him so sore that he was quite unable to go after the crickets any more, and, as he lay tossing and turning on the bed, he determined once again to put an end to his life.

About that time a humpbacked fortune-teller of great skill arrived at the village, and Ch‘êng’s wife, putting together a trifle of money, went off to seek his assistance. The door was literally blocked up—fair young girls and white headed dames crowding in from all quarters. A room was darkened, and a bamboo screen hung at the door, an altar being arranged outside at which the fortune seekers burnt incense in a brazier, and prostrated themselves twice, while the soothsayer stood by the side, and, looking up into vacancy, prayed for a response. His lips opened and shut, but nobody heard what he said, all standing there in awe waiting for the answer. In a few moments a piece of paper was thrown from behind the screen, and the soothsayer said that the petitioner’s desire would be accomplished in the way he wished. Ch‘êng’s wife now advanced, and, placing some money on the altar, burnt her incense and prostrated herself in a similar manner. In a few moments the screen began to move, and a piece of paper was thrown down, on which there were no words, but only a picture. In the middle was a building like a temple, and behind this a small hill, at the foot of which were a number of curious stones, with the long, spiky feelers of innumerable crickets appearing from behind. Hard by was a frog, which seemed to be engaged in putting itself into various kinds of attitudes. The good woman had no idea what it all meant; but she noticed the crickets, and accordingly went off home to tell her husband. “Ah,” said he, “this is to shew me where to hunt for crickets;” and, on looking closely at the picture, he saw that the building very much resembled a temple to the east of their village. So he forced himself to get up, and, leaning on a stick, went out to seek crickets behind the temple. Rounding an old grave, he came upon a place where stones were lying scattered about as in the picture, and then he set himself to watch attentively. He might as well have been looking for a needle or a grain of mustard seed; and by degrees he became quite exhausted, without finding anything, when suddenly an old frog jumped out. Ch‘êng was a little startled, but immediately pursued the frog, which retreated into the bushes. He then saw one of the insects he wanted sitting at the root of a bramble; but on making a grab at it, the cricket ran into a hole, from which he was unable to move it until he poured in some water, when out the little creature came. It was a magnificent specimen, strong and handsome, with a fine tail, green neck, and golden wings; and, putting it in his basket, he returned home in high glee to receive the congratulations of his family. He would not have taken anything for this cricket, and proceeded to feed it up carefully in a bowl. Its belly was the colour of a crab’s, its back that of a sweet chestnut; and Ch‘êng tended it most lovingly, waiting for the time when the magistrate should call upon him for a cricket.

Meanwhile, a son of Ch‘êng’s, aged nine, one day took the opportunity of his father being out to open the bowl. Instantaneously the cricket made a spring forward and was gone; and all efforts to catch it again were unavailing. At length the boy made a grab at it with his hand, but only succeeded in seizing one of its legs, which thereupon broke, and the little creature soon afterwards died. Ch‘êng’s wife turned deadly pale when her son, with tears in his eyes, told her what had happened. “Oh! won’t you catch it when your father comes home,” said she; at which the boy ran away, crying bitterly. Soon after Ch‘êng arrived, and when he heard his wife’s story he felt as if he had been turned to ice, and went in search of his son, who, however, was nowhere to be found, until at length they discovered his body lying at the bottom of a well. Their anger was thus turned to grief, and death seemed as though it would be a pleasant relief to them as they sat facing each other in silence in their thatched and smokeless hut. At evening they prepared to bury the boy; but, on touching the body, lo! he was still breathing. Overjoyed, they placed him upon the bed, and towards the middle of the night he came round; but a drop of bitterness was mingled in his parents’ cup when they found that his reason had fled. His father, however, caught sight of the empty bowl in which he had kept the cricket, and ceased to think any more about his son, never once closing his eyes all night; and as day gradually broke, there he lay stiff and stark, until suddenly he heard the chirping of a cricket outside the house door. Jumping up in a great hurry to see, there was his lost insect; but, on trying to catch it, away it hopped directly. At last he got it under his hand, though, when he came to close his fingers on it, there was nothing in them. So he went on, chasing it up and down, until finally it hopped into a corner of the wall; and then, looking carefully about, he espied it once more, no longer the same in appearance, but small, and of a dark red colour. Ch‘êng stood looking at it, without trying to catch such a worthless specimen, when all of a sudden the little creature hopped into his sleeve; and, on examining it more nearly, he saw that it really was a handsome insect, with well-formed head and neck, and forthwith took it indoors. He was now anxious to try its prowess; and it so happened that a young fellow of the village, who had a fine cricket which used to win every bout it fought, and was so valuable to him that he wanted a high price for it, called on Ch‘êng that very day. He laughed heartily at Ch‘êng’s champion, and, producing his own, placed it side by side, to the great disadvantage of the former. Ch‘êng’s countenance fell, and he no longer wished to back his cricket; however, the young fellow urged him, and he thought that there was no use in rearing a feeble insect, and that he had better sacrifice it for a laugh; so they put them together in a bowl. The little cricket lay quite still like a piece of wood, at which the young fellow roared again, and louder than ever when it did not move even though tickled with a pig’s bristle. By dint of tickling it was roused at last, and then it fell upon its adversary with such fury, that in a moment the young fellow’s cricket would have been killed outright had not its master interfered and stopped the fight. The little cricket then stood up and chirped to Ch‘êng as a sign of victory; and Ch‘êng, overjoyed, was just talking over the battle with the young fellow, when a cock caught sight of the insect, and ran up to eat it. Ch‘êng was in a great state of alarm; but the cock luckily missed its aim, and the cricket hopped away, its enemy pursuing at full speed. In another moment it would have been snapped up, when, lo! to his great astonishment, Ch‘êng saw his cricket seated on the cock’s head, holding firmly on to its comb. He then put it into a cage, and by-and-by sent it to the magistrate, who, seeing what a small one he had provided, was very angry indeed. Ch‘êng told the story of the cock, which the magistrate refused to believe, and set it to fight with other crickets, all of which it vanquished without exception. He then tried it with a cock, and as all turned out as Ch‘êng had said, he gave him a present, and sent the cricket in to the Governor. The Governor put it into a golden cage, and forwarded it to the palace, accompanied by some remarks on its performances; and when there, it was found that of all the splendid collection of His Imperial Majesty, not one was worthy to be placed alongside of this one. It would dance in time to music, and thus became a great favourite, the Emperor in return bestowing magnificent gifts of horses and silks upon the Governor. The Governor did not forget whence he had obtained the cricket, and the magistrate also well rewarded Ch‘êng by excusing him from the duties of beadle, and by instructing the Literary Chancellor to pass him for the first degree. A few months afterwards Ch‘êng’s son recovered his intellect, and said that he had been a cricket, and had proved himself a very skilful fighter. The Governor, too, rewarded Ch‘êng handsomely, and in a few years he was a rich man, with flocks, and herds, and houses, and acres, quite one of the wealthiest of mankind.

促織

宣德間,宮中尚促織之戲,歲征民間。此物故非西產。有華陰令,欲媚上官,以一頭進,試使斗而才,因責常供。令以責之里正。
  市中游俠兒,得佳者籠養之,昂其直,居為奇貨。里胥猾黠,假此科斂丁口,每責一頭,輒傾數家之產。
  邑有成名者,操童子業,久不售。為人迂訥,遂為猾胥報充里正役,百計營謀不能脫。不終歲,薄產累盡。會征促織,成不敢斂戶口,而又無所賠償,憂悶欲死。妻曰:「死何益?不如自行搜覓,冀有萬一之得。」成然之。早出暮歸,提竹筒銅絲籠,于敗堵叢草處探石發穴,靡計不施,迄無濟。即捕三兩頭,又劣弱,不中于款。宰嚴限追比,旬余,杖至百,兩股間膿血流離,并蟲不能行捉矣。轉側床頭,惟思自盡。時村中來一駝背巫,能以神卜。成妻具資詣問,見紅女白婆,填塞門戶。入其室,則密室垂簾,簾外設香幾。問者爇香于鼎,再拜。巫從旁望空代祝,唇吻翕辟,不知何詞,各各竦立以聽。少間,簾內擲一紙出,即道人意中事,無毫發爽。成妻納錢案上,焚香以拜。食頃,簾動,片紙拋落。拾視之,非字而畫,中繪殿閣類蘭若,后小山下怪石亂臥,針針叢棘,青麻頭伏焉;旁一蟆,若將跳舞。展玩不可曉。然睹促織,隱中胸懷,折藏之,歸以示成。成反復自念:「得無教我獵蟲所耶?」細矚景狀,與村東大佛閣真逼似。乃強起扶杖,執圖詣寺后,有古陵蔚起。循陵而走,見蹲石鱗鱗,儼然類畫。遂于蒿萊中側聽徐行,似尋針芥,而心、目、耳力俱窮,絕無蹤響。冥搜未已,一癩頭蟆猝然躍去。成益愕,急逐之。蟆入草間,躡跡披求,見有蟲伏棘根,遽撲之,入石穴中。掭以尖草不出,以筒水灌之始出。狀極俊健,逐而得之。審視:巨身修尾,青項金翅。大喜,籠歸,舉家慶賀,雖連城拱璧不啻也。土于盆而養之,蟹白栗黃,備極護愛。留待限期,以塞官責。
  成有子九歲,窺父不在,竊發盆,蟲躍躑徑出,迅不可捉。及撲入手,已股落腹裂,斯須就斃。兒懼,啼告母。母聞之,面色灰死,大罵曰:「業根,死期至矣!翁歸,自與汝復算耳!」兒涕而出。未幾成入,聞妻言如被冰雪。怒索兒,兒渺然不知所往;既而,得其尸于井。因而化怒為悲,搶呼欲絕。夫妻向隅,茅舍無煙,相對默然,不復聊賴。
  日將暮,取兒藁葬,近撫之,氣息惙然。喜置榻上,半夜復蘇,夫妻心稍慰。但兒神氣癡木,奄奄思睡,成顧蟋蟀籠虛,則氣斷聲吞,亦不復以兒為念,自昏達曙,目不交睫。東曦既駕,僵臥長愁。忽聞門外蟲鳴,驚起覘視,蟲宛然尚在,喜而捕之。一鳴輒躍去,行且速。覆之以掌,虛若無物;手裁舉,則又超而躍。急趁之,折過墻隅,迷其所往。徘徊四顧,見蟲伏壁上。審諦之,短小,黑赤色,頓非前物。成以其小,劣之;惟彷徨瞻顧,尋所逐者。壁上小蟲。忽躍落襟袖間,視之,形若土狗,梅花翅,方首長脛,意似良。喜而收之。將獻公堂,惴惴恐不當意,思試之斗以覘之。
  村中少年好事者,馴養一蟲,自名「蟹殼青」,日與子弟角,無不勝。欲居之以為利,而高其直,亦無售者。徑造廬訪成。視成所蓄,掩口胡盧而笑。因出己蟲,納比籠中。成視之,龐然修偉,自增慚怍,不敢與較。少年固強之。顧念:蓄劣物終無所用,不如拚博一笑。因合納斗盆。小蟲伏不動,蠢若木雞。少年又大笑。試以豬鬣毛撩撥蟲須,仍不動。少年又笑。屢撩之,蟲暴怒,直奔,遂相騰擊,振奮作聲。俄見小蟲躍起,張尾伸須,直龁敵領。少年大駭,解令休止。蟲翹然矜鳴,似報主知。成大喜。
  方共瞻玩,一雞瞥來,徑進一啄。成駭立愕呼。幸啄不中,蟲躍去尺有咫。雞健進,逐逼之,蟲已在爪下矣。成倉猝莫知所救,頓足失色。旋見雞伸頸擺撲;臨視,則蟲集冠上,力叮不釋。成益驚喜,掇置籠中。
  翼日進宰。宰見其小,怒訶成。成述其異,宰不信。試與他蟲斗,蟲盡靡;又試之雞,果如成言。乃賞成,獻諸撫軍。撫軍大悅,以金籠進上,細疏其能。既入宮中,舉天下所貢蝴蝶、螳螂、油利撻、青絲額……一切異狀,遍試之,無出其右者。每聞琴瑟之聲,則應節而舞,益奇之。上大嘉悅,詔賜撫臣名馬衣緞。撫軍不忘所自,無何,宰以「卓異」聞。宰悅,免成役;又囑學使,俾入邑庠。后歲余,成子精神復舊,自言:「身化促織,輕捷善斗,今始蘇耳。」撫軍亦厚賚成。不數歲,田百頃,樓閣萬椽,牛羊蹄躈各千計。一出門,裘馬過世家焉。
  異史氏曰:「天子偶用一物,未必不過此已忘;而奉行者即為定例。加之官貪吏虐,民日貼婦賣兒,更無休止。故天子一跬步皆關民命,不可忽也。第成氏子以蠹貧,以促織富,裘馬揚揚。當其為里正、受撲責時,豈意其至此哉!天將以酬長厚者,遂使撫臣、令尹、并受促織恩蔭。聞之:一人飛升,仙及雞犬。信夫!」

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