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The Fisherman And His Friend.

IN the northern parts of Tzŭchou there lived a man named Hsü, a fisherman by trade. Every night when he went to fish he would carry some wine with him, and drink and fish by turns, always taking care to pour out a libation on the ground, accompanied by the following invocation:—“Drink too, ye drowned spirits of the river!” Such was his regular custom; and it was also noticeable that, even on occasions when the other fishermen caught nothing, he always got a full basket. One night, as he was sitting drinking by himself, a young man suddenly appeared and began walking up and down near him. Hsü offered him a cup of wine, which was readily accepted, and they remained chatting together throughout the night, Hsü meanwhile not catching a single fish. However, just as he was giving up all hope of doing anything, the young man rose and said he would go a little way down the stream and beat them up towards Hsü, which he accordingly did, returning in a few minutes and warning him to be on the lookout. Hsü now heard a noise like that of a shoal coming up the stream, and, casting his net, made a splendid haul,—all that he caught being over a foot in length. Greatly delighted, he now prepared to go home, first offering his companion a share of the fish, which the latter declined, saying that he had often received kindnesses from Mr. Hsü, and that he would be only too happy to help him regularly in the same manner if Mr. Hsü would accept his assistance. The latter replied that he did not recollect ever meeting him before, and that he should be much obliged for any aid the young man might choose to afford him; regretting, at the same time, his inability to make him any adequate return. He then asked the young man his name and surname; and the young man said his surname was Wang, adding that Hsü might address him when they met as Wang Liulang, he having no other name. Thereupon they parted, and the next day Hsü sold his fish and bought some more wine, with which he repaired as usual to the river bank. There he found his companion already awaiting him, and they spent the night together in precisely the same way as the preceding one, the young man beating up the fish for him as before. This went on for some months, until at length one evening the young man, with many expressions of his thanks and his regrets, told Hsü that they were about to part for ever. Much alarmed by the melancholy tone in which his friend had communicated this news, Hsü was on the point of asking for an explanation, when the young man stopped him, and himself proceeded as follows:—“The friendship that has grown up between us is truly surprising; and, now that we shall meet no more, there is no harm in telling you the whole truth. I am a disembodied spirit—the soul of one who was drowned in this river when tipsy. I have been here many years, and your former success in fishing was due to the fact that I used secretly to beat up the fish towards you, in return for the libations you were accustomed to pour out. Tomorrow my time is up: my substitute will arrive, and I shall be born again in the world of mortals. We have but this one evening left, and I therefore take advantage of it to express my feelings to you.” On hearing these words, Hsü was at first very much alarmed; however, he had grown so accustomed to his friend’s society, that his fears soon passed away; and, filling up a goblet, he said, with a sigh, “Liulang, old fellow, drink this up, and away with melancholy. It’s hard to lose you; but I’m glad enough for your sake, and won’t think of my own sorrow.” He then inquired of Liulang who was to be his substitute; to which the latter replied, “Come to the riverbank tomorrow afternoon and you’ll see a woman drowned: she is the one.” Just then the village cocks began to crow, and, with tears in their eyes, the two friends bade each other farewell.
Next day Hsü waited on the river bank to see if anything would happen, and lo! a woman carrying a child in her arms came along. When close to the edge of the river, she stumbled and fell into the water, managing, however, to throw the child safely on to the bank, where it lay kicking and sprawling and crying at the top of its voice. The woman herself sank and rose several times, until at last she succeeded in clutching hold of the bank and pulled herself, dripping, out; and then, after resting awhile, she picked up the child and went on her way. All this time Hsü had been in a great state of excitement, and was on the point of running to help the woman out of the water; but he remembered that she was to be the substitute of his friend, and accordingly restrained himself from doing so. Then when he saw the woman get out by herself, he began to suspect that Liulang’s words had not been fulfilled. That night he went to fish as usual, and before long the young man arrived and said, “We meet once again: there is no need now to speak of separation.” Hsü asked him how it was so; to which he replied, “The woman you saw had already taken my place, but I could not bear to hear the child cry, and I saw that my one life would be purchased at the expense of their two lives, wherefore I let her go, and now I cannot say when I shall have another chance. The union of our destinies may not yet be worked out.” “Alas!” sighed Hsü, “this noble conduct of yours is enough to move God Almighty.”

After this the two friends went on much as they had done before, until one day Liulang again said he had come to bid Hsü farewell. Hsü thought he had found another substitute, but Liulang told him that his former behaviour had so pleased Almighty Heaven, that he had been appointed guardian angel of Wuchên, in the Chaoyüan district, and that on the following morning he would start for his new post. “And if you do not forget the days of our friendship,” added he, “I pray you come and see me, in spite of the long journey.” “Truly,” replied Hsü, “you well deserved to be made a God; but the paths of Gods and men lie in different directions, and even if the distance were nothing, how should I manage to meet you again?” “Don’t be afraid on that score,” said Liulang, “but come;” and then he went away, and Hsü returned home. The latter immediately began to prepare for the journey, which caused his wife to laugh at him and say, “Supposing you do find such a place at the end of that long journey, you won’t be able to hold a conversation with a clay image.” Hsü, however, paid no attention to her remarks, and travelled straight to Chaoyüan, where he learned from the inhabitants that there really was a village called Wuchên, whither he forthwith proceeded and took up his abode at an inn. He then inquired of the landlord where the village temple was; to which the latter replied by asking him somewhat hurriedly if he was speaking to Mr. Hsü. Hsü informed him that his name was Hsü, asking in reply how he came to know it; whereupon the landlord further inquired if his native place was not Tzŭchou. Hsü told him it was, and again asked him how he knew all this; to which the landlord made no answer, but rushed out of the room; and in a few moments the place was crowded with old and young, men, women, and children, all come to visit Hsü. They then told him that a few nights before they had seen their guardian deity in a vision, and he had informed them that Mr. Hsü would shortly arrive, and had bidden them to provide him with travelling expenses, &c. Hsü was very much astonished at this, and went off at once to the shrine, where he invoked his friend as follows:—“Ever since we parted I have had you daily and nightly in my thoughts; and now that I have fulfilled my promise of coming to see you, I have to thank you for the orders you have issued to the people of the place. As for me, I have nothing to offer you but a cup of wine, which I pray you accept as though we were drinking together on the riverbank.” He then burnt a quantity of paper money, when lo! a wind suddenly arose, which, after whirling round and round behind the shrine, soon dropped, and all was still. That night Hsü dreamed that his friend came to him, dressed in his official cap and robes, and very different in appearance from what he used to be, and thanked him, saying, “It is truly kind of you to visit me thus: I only regret that my position makes me unable to meet you face to face, and that though near we are still so far. The people here will give you a trifle, which pray accept for my sake; and when you go away, I will see you a short way on your journey.” A few days afterwards Hsü prepared to start, in spite of the numerous invitations to stay which poured in upon him from all sides; and then the inhabitants loaded him with presents of all kinds, and escorted him out of the village. There a whirlwind arose and accompanied him several miles, when he turned round and invoked his friend thus:—“Liulang, take care of your valued person. Do not trouble yourself to come any farther. Your noble heart will ensure happiness to this district, and there is no occasion for me to give a word of advice to my old friend.” By-and-by the whirlwind ceased, and the villagers, who were much astonished, returned to their own homes. Hsü, too, travelled homewards, and being now a man of some means, ceased to work any more as a fisherman. And whenever he met a Chaoyüan man he would ask him about that guardian angel, being always informed in reply that he was a most beneficent God. Some say the place was Shihk‘êngchuang, in Changch‘in: I can’t say which it was myself.

王六郎

許姓,家淄之北郭,業漁。每夜,攜酒河上,飲且漁。飲則酹地,祝云:「河中溺鬼得飲。」以為常。他人漁,迄無所獲,而許獨滿筐。一夕,方獨酌,有少年來,徘徊其側。讓之飲,慨與同酌。既而終夜不獲一魚,意頗失。少年起曰:「請于下流為君驅之。」遂飄然去。少間,復返,曰:「魚大至矣。」果聞唼呷有聲。舉網而得數頭,皆盈尺。喜極,申謝。欲歸,贈以魚,不受,曰:「屢叨佳醞,區區何足云報。如不棄,要當以為長耳。」許曰:「方共一夕,何言屢也?如肯永顧,誠所甚願;但愧無以為情。」詢其姓字,曰:「姓王,無字,相見可呼王六郎。」遂別。明日,許貨魚,益沽酒。晚至河干,少年已先在,遂與歡飲。飲數杯,輒為許驅魚。
  如是半載。忽告許曰:「拜識清揚,情逾骨肉。然相別有日矣。」語甚悽楚。驚問之。欲言而止者再,乃曰:「情好如吾兩人,言之或勿訝耶?今將別,無妨明告:我實鬼也。素嗜酒,沉醉溺死,數年于此矣。前君之獲魚,獨勝于他人者,皆仆之暗驅,以報酹奠耳。明日業滿,當有代者,將往投生。相聚只今夕,故不能無感。」許初聞甚駭;然親狎既久,不復恐怖。因亦欷歔,酌而言曰:「六郎飲此,勿戚也。相見遽違,良足悲惻,然業滿劫脫,正宜相賀,悲乃不倫。」遂與暢飲。因問:「代者何人?」曰:「兄于河畔視之,亭午,有女子渡河而溺者,是也。」聽村雞既唱,灑涕而別。明日,敬伺河邊,以覘其異。果有婦人抱嬰兒來,及河而墮。兒拋岸上,揚手擲足而啼。婦沉浮者屢矣,忽淋淋攀岸以出,藉地少息,抱兒徑去。當婦溺時,意良不忍,思欲奔救,轉念是所以代六郎者,故止不救。及婦自出,疑其言不驗。抵暮,漁舊處。少年復至,曰:「今又聚首,且不言別矣。」問其故。曰:「女子已相代矣;仆憐其抱中兒,代弟一人,遂殘二命,故舍之。更代不知何期。或吾兩人之緣未盡耶?」許感嘆曰:「此仁人之心,可以通上帝矣。」由此盯聚如初。數日,又來告別。許疑其復有代者。曰:「非也。前一念惻隱,果達帝天。今授為招遠縣鄔鎮土地,來日赴任。倘不忘故交,當一往探,勿憚修阻。」許賀曰:「君正直為神,甚慰人心。但人神路隔,即不憚修阻,將復如何?」少年曰:「但往,勿慮。」再三叮嚀而去。
  許歸,即欲治裝東下。妻笑曰:「此去數百里,即有其地,恐土偶不可以共語。」許不聽,竟抵招遠。問之居人,果有鄔鎮。尋至其處,息肩逆旅,問祠所在。主人驚曰:「得無客姓為許?」許曰:「然。何見知?」又曰:「得勿客邑為淄?」曰:「然。何見知?」主人不答,遽出。俄而丈夫抱子,媳女窺門,雜沓而來,環如牆堵。許乃告曰:「數夜前,夢神言:淄川許友當即來,可助為資斧。祗候已久。」許亦異之,乃往祭于祠而祝曰:「別君後,寤寐不去心,遠踐曩約。又蒙夢示居人,感篆中懷。愧無腆物,僅有卮酒;如不棄,當如河上之飲。」祝畢,焚錢紙。俄見風起座後,旋轉移時,始散。夜夢少年來,衣冠楚楚,大異平時。謝曰:「遠勞顧問,喜淚交並。但任微職,不便會面,咫尺河山,甚愴于懷。居人薄有所贈,聊酬夙好。歸如有期,尚當走送。」居數日,許欲歸。眾留慇懃,朝請暮邀,日更數主。許堅辭欲行。眾乃折柬抱襆,爭來致贐,不終朝,饋遺盈橐。蒼頭稚子畢集,祖送出村。欻有羊角風起,隨行十餘裡。許再拜曰:「六郎珍重!勿勞遠涉。君心仁愛,自能造福一方,無庸故人囑也。」風盤旋久之,乃去。村人亦嗟訝而返。許歸,家稍裕,遂不復漁。後見招遠人問之,其靈應如響雲。或言:即章丘石坑莊。未知孰是。
  異史氏曰:「置身青雲,無忘貧賤,此其所以神也。今日車中貴介,寧復識戴笠 人哉?余鄉有林下者,家綦貧。有童稚交,任肥秩。計投之必相周顧。竭力辦裝,奔涉千里,殊失所望;瀉囊貨騎,始得歸。其族弟甚諧,作月令嘲之云:『是月也,哥哥至,貂帽解,傘蓋不張,馬化為驢,靴始收聲。』念此可為一笑。」

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