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The shui-mang plant.

THE shui-mang is a poisonous herb. It is a creeper, like the bean, and has a similar red flower. Those who eat of it die, and become shui-mang devils, tradition asserting that such devils are unable to be born again unless they can find some one else who has also eaten of this poison to take their place. These shui-mang devils abound in the province of Hunan, where, by the way, the phrase "same-year man " is applied to those born in the same year, who exchange visits and call each other brother, their children addressing the father's " brother " as uncle. This has now become a regular custom there.

A young man named Chu was on his way to visit a same-year friend of his, when he was overtaken by a violent thirst. Suddenly he came upon an old woman sitting by the roadside under a shed and distributing tea gratis, and immediately walked up to her to get a drink. She invited him into the shed, and presented him with a bowl of tea in a very cordial spirit; but the smell of it did not seem like the smell of ordinary tea, and he would not drink it, rising up to go away. The old woman stopped him, and called out, "San-niang! bring some good tea." Immediately a young girl came from behind the shed, carrying in her hands a pot of tea. She was about fourteen or fifteen years old, and of very fascinating appearance, with glittering rings and bracelets on her fingers and arms. As Chu received the cup from her his reason fled; and drinking down the tea she gave him, the flavour of which was unlike any other kind, he proceeded to ask for more. Then, watching for a moment when the old woman's back was turned, he seized her wrist and drew a ring from her finger. The girl blushed and smiled; and Chu, more and more inflamed, asked her where she lived. "Come again this evening," replied she, "and you'll find me here." Chu begged for a handful of her tea, which he stowed away with the ring, and took his leave. Arriving at his destination, he felt a pain in his heart, which he at once attributed to the tea, telling his friend what had occurred. "Alas! you are undone," cried the other; "they were shui-mang devils. My father died in the same way, and we were unable to save him. There is no help for you." Chu was terribly frightened, and produced the handful of tea, which his friend at once pronounced to be leaves of the shui-mang plant. He then shewed him the ring, and told him what the girl had said; whereupon his friend, after some reflection, said, "She must be San-niang, of the K'ou family." "How could you know her name?" asked Chu, hearing his friend use the same words as the old woman. "Oh," replied he, "there was a nice-looking girl of that name who died some years ago from eating of the same herb. She is doubtless the girl you saw." Here some one observed that if the person so entrapped by a devil only knew its name, and could procure an old pair of its shoes, he might save himself by boiling them in water and drinking the liquor as medicine. Chu's friend thereupon rushed off at once to the K'ou family, and implored them to give him an old pair of their daughter's shoes; but they, not wishing to prevent their daughter from finding a substitute in Chu, flatly refused his request. So he went back in anger and told Chu, who ground his teeth with rage, saying, "If I die, she shall not obtain her transmigration thereby." His friend then sent him home; and just as he reached the door he fell down dead. Chu's mother wept bitterly over his corpse, which was in due course interred; and he left behind one little boy barely a year old. His wife did not remain a widow, but in six months married again and went away, putting Chu's son under the care of his grandmother, who was quite unequal to any toil, and did nothing but weep morning and night. One day she was carrying her grandson about in her arms, crying bitterly all the time, when suddenly in walked Chu. His mother, much alarmed, brushed away her tears, and asked him what it meant. "Mother," replied he, "down in the realms below I heard you weeping. I am therefore come to tend you. Although a departed spirit, I have a wife, who has like-wise come to share your toil. Therefore do not grieve." His mother inquired who his wife was, to which he re-plied, "When the K'ou family sat still and left me to my fate I was greatly incensed against them; and after death I sought for San-niang, not knowing where she was. I have recently seen my old same-year friend, and he told me where she was. She had come to life again in the person of the baby-daughter of a high official named Jen; but I went thither and dragged her spirit back. She is now my wife, and we get on extremely well together." .A very pretty and well-dressed young lady here entered, and made obeisance to Chu's mother, Chu saying, "This is San-niang, of the K'ou family;" and although not a living being, Mrs. Chu at once took a great fancy to her. Chu sent her off to help in the work of the house, and, in spite of not being accus-tomed to this sort of thing, she was so obedient to her mother-in-law as to excite the compassion of all. The two then took up their quarters in Chu's old apartments, and there they continued to remain.
Meanwhile San-niang asked Chu's mother to let the K'ou family know; and this she did, notwithstanding some objections, raised by her son. Mr. and Mrs. K'ou were much astonished at the news, and, ordering their carriage, proceeded at once to Chu's house. There they found their daughter, and parents and child fell into each other's arms. San-niang entreated them to dry their tears; but her mother, noticing the poverty of Chu's household, was unable to restrain her feelings. "We are already spirits," cried San-niang; "what mat-ters poverty to us? Besides, I am very well treated here, and am altogether as happy as I can be." They then asked her who the old woman was; to which she replied, "Her name was Ni. She was mortified at being too ugly to entrap people herself, and got me to assist her. She has now been born again at a soy-shop in the city." Then, looking at her husband, she added, "Come, since you are the son-in-law, pay the proper respect to my father and mother, or what shall I think of you?" Chu made his obeisance, and San-niang went into the kitchen to get food ready for them, at which her mother became very melancholy, and went away home, whence she sent a couple of maid-servants, a hundred ounces of silver, and rolls of cloth and silk, besides making occasional presents of food and wine, so that Chu's mother lived in comparative comfort. San-niang also went from time to time to see her parents, but would never stay very long, pleading that she was wanted at home, and such excuses; and if the old people attempted to keep her, she simply went off by herself. Her father built a nice house for Chu with all kinds of luxuries in it; but Chu never once entered his father-in-law's door.

Subsequently a man of the village who had eaten shui-mang, and had died in consequence, came back to life, to the great astonishment of everybody. However, Chu explained it, saying, "I brought him back to life. He was the victim of a man named Li-Chiu; but I drove off Li's spirit when it came to make the other take his place." Chu's mother then asked her son why he did not get a substitute for himself; to which he replied, "I do not like to do this. I am anxious to put an end to, rather than take advantage of, such a system. Besides, I am very happy waiting on you, and have no wish to be born again." From that time all persons who had poisoned themselves with shui-mang were in the habit of feasting Chu and obtaining his assistance in their trouble. But in ten years' time his mother died, and he and his wife gave themselves up to sorrow, and would see no one, bidding their little boy put on mourning, beat his breast, and perform the proper ceremonies. Two years after Chu had buried his mother, his son married the granddaughter of a high official named Jen. This gentleman had had a daughter by a concubine, who had died when only a few months old; and now, hearing the strange story of Chu's wife, came to call on her and arrange the marriage. He then gave his grand-daughter to Chu's son, and a free intercourse was maintained between the two families. However, one day Chu said to his son, "Because I have been of service to my generation, God has appointed me Keeper of the Dragons; and I am now about to proceed to my post." Thereupon four horses appeared in the courtyard, drawing a carriage with yellow hangings, the flanks of the horses being covered with scale-like trappings. Husband and wife came forth in full dress, and took their seats, and, while son and daughter-in-law were weeping their adieus, disappeared from view. That very day the K'ou family saw their daughter arrive, and, bidding them farewell, she told them the same story. The old people would have kept her, but she said, "My husband is already on his way," and, leaving the house, parted from them for ever. Chu's son was named Ngo, and his literary name was Li-ch'en. He begged San-niang's bones from the K'ou family, and buried them by the side of his father's.

水莽草

水莽,毒草也。蔓生似葛;花紫,類扁荳。誤食之,立死,即為水莽鬼。俗傳此鬼不得輪迴,必再有毒死者,始代之。以故楚中桃花江一帶,此鬼尤多雲。

楚人以同歲生者為同年,投刺相遏,呼庚兄庚弟,子侄呼庚伯,習俗然也。有祝生造其同年某,中途燥渴思飲。俄見道旁一媼,張棚施飲,趨之。媼承迎入棚,給奉甚慇。嗅之有異味,不類茶茗,置不飲,起而出。媼急止客,便喚:「三娘,可將好茶一杯也。」俄有少女,捧茶自棚後出。年約十四五,姿容艷絕,指環臂釧,晶瑩鑒影。生受盞神馳;嗅其茶,芳烈無倫。吸盡再索。覷媼出,戲捉纖腕,脫指環一枚。女頳頰微笑,生益惑。略詰門戶,女曰:「郎暮來,妾猶在此也。」生求茶葉一撮,並藏指環而去。至同年家,覺心頭作惡,疑茶為患,以情告某。某駭曰:「殆矣!此水莽鬼也。先君死於是。是不可救,且為奈何?」生大懼,出茶葉驗之,真水莽草也。又出指環,兼述女子情狀。某懸想曰:「此必寇三娘也。」生以其名確符,問:「何故知?」曰:「南村富室寇氏女,夙有艷名。數年前,誤食水莽而死,必此為魅。」或言受魅者,若知鬼姓氏,求其故襠,煮服可痊。某急詣寇所,實告以情,長跪哀懇;寇以其將代女死,故靳不與。某忿而返,以告生。生亦切齒恨之,曰:「我死,必不令彼女脫生!」某舁送之,將至家門而卒。母號涕葬之。遺一子,甫週歲。妻不能守柏舟節,半年改醮去。母留孤自哺,劬瘁不堪,朝夕悲啼。一日,方抱兒哭室中,生消然忽入。母大駭,揮涕問之。答雲:「兒地下聞母哭,甚愴于懷,故來奉晨昏耳。兒雖死,已有家室,即同來分母勞,母其勿悲。」母問:「兒婦何人?」曰:「寇氏坐聽兒死,兒甚恨之。死後欲尋三娘,而不知其處;近遇某庚伯,始相指示。兒往,則三娘已投生任侍郎家;兒馳去,強捉之來,今為兒婦,亦相得,頗無苦。」移時,門外一女子入,華妝艷麗,伏地拜母。生曰:「此寇三娘也。」雖非女人,母視之,情懷差慰。生便遣三娘操作。三娘雅不習慣,然承順殊憐人。由此居故室,遂留不去。女請母告諸家。生意勿告;而母承女意,卒告之。寇家翁媼,聞而大駭,命車疾至。視之,果三娘。相嚮哭失聲,女勸止之。媼視生家良貧,意甚懮悼。女曰:「人已鬼,又何厭貧?視郎母子,情義拳拳,兒固已安之矣。」因問:「茶媼誰也?」曰:「彼倪姓,自慚不能惑行人,故求兒助之耳。今已生于郡城賣漿者之家。」因顧生曰:「既婿矣,而不拜岳,妾復何心?」生乃投拜。女便入廚下,代母執炊,供翁媼。媼視之淒心。既歸,即遣兩婢來,為之服役;金百斤﹑布帛數十匹;酒胾不時饋送,小阜祝母矣。寇亦時招歸寧。居數日,輒曰:「家中無人,宜早送兒還。」或故稽之,則飄然自歸。翁乃代生起夏屋,營備臻至。然生終未嘗至翁家。

一日,村中有中小莽毒者,死而復甦,相傳為異。生曰:「是我活之也。彼為李九所害,我為之驅其鬼而去之。」母曰:「汝何不取人以自代?」曰:「兒深恨此等輩,方將盡驅除之,何屑此為!且兒事母最樂,不願生也。」由是中毒者,往往具豐筵,禱諸其庭,輒有效。

積十餘年,母死。生夫婦亦哀毀,但不對客,惟命兒縗麻擗踴,教以禮儀而已。葬母後,又二年余,為兒娶婦。婦,任侍郎之孫女也。先是,任公妾生女,數月而殤。後聞祝生之異,遂命駕其家,訂翁婿焉。至是,遂以孫女妻其子,往來不絕矣。一日,謂子曰:「上帝以我有功人世,策為四瀆牧龍君,今行矣。」俄見庭下有四馬,駕黃巾詹車,馬四股皆鱗甲。夫妻盛裝出,同登一輿。子及婦皆泣拜,瞬息而渺。日是,寇家見女來,拜別翁媼,亦如生言。媼泣挽留,女曰:「祝郎先去矣。」出門遂不復見。

其子名鶚,字離塵,請諸寇翁,以三娘骸骨,與生合葬焉。

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