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The young lady of the tung-t'ing lake.

The spirits of the Tung-t'ing lake are very much in the habit of borrowing boats. Sometimes the cable of an empty junk will cast itself off, and away goes the vessel over the waves to the sound of music in the air above. The boatmen crouch down in one corner and hide their faces, not daring to look up until the trip is over and they are once more at their old anchorage.

Now a certain Mr. Lin, returning home after having failed at the examination for Master's degree, was lying down very tipsy on the deck of his boat, when suddenly strains of music and singing began to be heard. The boatmen shook Mr. Liu, but failing to rouse him, ran down and hid themselves in the hold below. Then some one came and lifted him up, letting him drop again on to the deck, where he was allowed to remain in the same drunken sleep as before. By-and-by the noise of the various instruments became almost deafening, and Liu, partially waking up, smelt a delicious odour of perfumes filling the air around him. Opening his eyes, he saw that the boat was crowded with a number of beautiful girls; and knowing that something strange was going on, he pretended to be fast asleep. There was then a call for Chih-ch'eng, upon which a young waiting-maid came forward and stood quite close to Mr. Liu's head. Her stockings were the colour of the kingfisher's wing, and her feet encased in tiny purple shoes, no bigger than one's finger. Much smitten with this young lady, he took hold of her stocking with his teeth, causing her, the next time she moved, to fall forward flat on her face. Some one, evidently in authority, asked what was the matter; and when he heard the explanation, was very angry, and gave orders to take off Mr. Liu's head. Soldiers now came and bound Liu, and on getting up he beheld a man sitting with his face to the south, and dressed in the garments of a king. "Sire," cried Liu, as he was being led away, "the king of the Tung-t'ing lake was a mortal named Liu; your servant's name is Liu also. His Majesty was a disappointed candidate; your servant is one too. His Majesty met the Dragon Lady, and was made immortal; your servant has played a trick upon this girl, and he is to die. Why this inequality of fortunes?" When the king heard this, he bade them bring him back, and asked him, saying, "Are you, then, a disappointed candidate?" Liu said he was; where-upon the king handed him writing materials, and ordered him to compose an ode upon a lady's head-dress. Some time passed before Liu, who was a scholar of some repute in his own neighbourhood, had done more than sit thinking about what he should write; and at length the king upbraided him, saying, "Come, come, a man of your reputation should not take so long." "Sire," replied Liu, laying down his pen, "It took ten years to complete the Songs of the Three Kingdoms; whereby it may be known that the value of compositions depends more upon the labour given to them than the speed with which they are written." The king laughed and waited patiently from early morning till noon, when a copy of the verses was put into his hand, with which he declared himself very pleased. He now commanded that Liu should be served with wine; and shortly after there followed a collation of all kinds of curious dishes, in the middle of which an officer came in and reported that the register of people to be drowned had been made up. "How many in all?" asked the king. "Two hundred and twenty-eight," was the reply; and then the king inquired who had been deputed to carry it out; whereupon he was informed that the generals Mao and Nan had been appointed to do the work. Liu here rose to take leave, and the king presented him with ten ounces of pure gold and a crystal square, telling him that it would preserve him from any danger he might encounter on the lake. At this moment the king's retinue and horses ranged themselves in proper order upon the surface of the lake; and His Majesty, stepping from the boat into his sedan-chair, disappeared from view.

When everything had been quiet for a long time, the boatmen emerged from the hold, and proceeded to shape their course northwards. The wind, however, was against them, and they were unable to make any head-way; when all of a sudden an iron cat appeared floating on the top of the water. "General Mao has come," cried the boatmen, in great alarm; and they and all the passengers on board fell down on their faces. Immediately afterwards a great wooden beam stood up from the lake, nodding itself backwards and forwards, which the boatmen, more frightened than ever, said was General Nan. Before long a tremendous sea was raging, the sun was darkened in the heavens, and every vessel in sight was capsized. But Mr. Liu sat in the middle of the boat, with the crystal square in his hand, and the mighty waves broke around without doing them any harm. Thus were they saved, and Liu returned home; and whenever he told his wonderful story he would assert that, although unable to speak positively as to the facial beauty of the young lady he had seen, he dared say that she had the most exquisite pair of feet in the world.

Subsequently, having occasion to visit the city of Wu-ch'ang, he heard of an old woman who wished to sell her daughter, but was unwilling to accept money, giving out that any one who had the fellow of a certain crystal square in her possession should be at liberty to take the girl. Liu thought this very strange; and taking his square with him sought out the old woman, who was delighted to see him, and told her daughter to come in. The young lady was about fifteen years of age, and possessed of surpassing beauty; and after saying a few words of greeting, she turned round and went within again. Liu's reason had almost fled at the sight of this peerless girl, and he straight-way informed the old woman that he had such an article as she required, but could not say whether it would match hers or not. So they compared their squares together, and there was not a fraction of difference between them, either in length or breadth. The old woman was overjoyed, and inquiring where Liu lived, bade him go home and get a bridal chair, leaving his square behind him as a pledge of his good faith. This he refused to do; but the old woman laughed, and said, "You are too cautious, Sir; do you think I should run away for a square?" Liu was thus constrained to leave it behind him, and hurrying away for a chair, made the best of his way back. When, however, he got there, the old woman was gone. In great alarm he inquired of the people who lived near as to her whereabouts; no one, however, knew; and it being already late he returned disconsolately to his boat. On the way, he met a chair coining towards him, and immediately the screen was drawn aside, and a voice cried out, "Mr. Liu! why so late?" Looking closely, he saw that it was the old woman, who, after asking him if he hadn't suspected her of playing him false, told him that just after he left she had had the offer of a chair; and knowing that he, being only a stranger in the place, would have some trouble in obtaining one, she had sent her daughter on to his boat Liu then begged she would return with him, to which she would not consent; and accordingly, not fully trusting what she said, he hurried on himself as fast as he could, and, jumping into the boat, found the young lady already there. She rose to meet him with a smile, and then he was astonished to see that her stockings were the colour of a kingfisher's wing, her shoes purple, and her appearance generally like that of the girl he had met on the Tung-t'ing lake. While he was still confused, the young lady remarked, "You stare, Sir, as if you had never seen me before!" but just then Liu noticed the tear in her stocking made by his own teeth, and cried out in amazement, "What! are you Chih-Ch'eng?" The young lady laughed at this; where-upon Liu rose, and, making her a profound bow, said, "If you are that divine creature, I pray you tell me at once, and set my anxiety at rest." "Sir," replied she, "I will tell you all. That personage you met on the boat was actually the king of the Tung-t'ing lake. He was so pleased with your talent that he wished to bestow me upon you; but, because I was a great favourite with Her Majesty the Queen, he went back to consult with her. I have now come at the Queen's own command." Liu was highly pleased; and washing his hands, burnt incense, with his face towards the lake, as if it were the Imperial Court, and then they went home together.

Subsequently, when Liu had occasion to go to Wu-ch'ang, his wife asked to be allowed to avail herself of the opportunity to visit her parents; and when they reached the lake, she drew a hair-pin from her hair, and threw it into the water. Immediately a boat rose from the lake, and Liu's wife, stepping into it, vanished from sight like a bird on the wing. Liu remained waiting for her on the prow of his vessel, at the spot where she had disappeared; and by-and-by, he beheld a house-boat approach, from the window of which there flew a beautiful bird which was no other than Chih-ch'eng. Then some one handed out from the same window gold and silk, and precious things in great abundance, all presents to them from the Queen. After this, Chih-ch'eng went home regularly twice every year, and Liu soon became a very rich man, the things he had being such as no one had ever before seen or heard of.



Publisher's Notes

  • In original Chinese text, the person's name is Mr. Liu, instead of Lin.
  • The register of people to be drowned had been one hundred and twenty-eight, instead of "Two hundred and twenty-eight." I don't know why Giles made these changes, it really doesn't matter though, or he might have used different version of Liaozhai. 
  • General Mao and Nan were translated into "Iron Cat" and "a great wooden beam" by Giles, those seem to be the lake monsters.


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