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JEN CHIEN-CHIH was a native of Yü-t‘ai, and a dealer in rugs and furs. One day he set off for Shensi, taking with him every penny he could scrape together; and on the road he met a man who told him that his name was Shên Chu-t‘ing, and his native place Su-ch‘ien. These two soon became firm friends, and entered into a masonic bond[170] with each other, journeying on together by the same stages un-til they reached their destination. By-and-by Mr. Jen fell sick, and his companion had to nurse him, which he did with the utmost attention, but for ten days he gradually got worse and worse, and at length said to Shên, “My family is very poor. Eight mouths depend upon my exertions for food; and now, alas! I am about to die, far from my own home. You and I are brothers. At this distance there is no one else to whom I can look. Now in my purse you will find two hun-dred ounces of silver. Take half, and when you have defrayed my funeral expens-es, use the balance for your return journey; and give the other half to my family, that they may be able to send for my coffin.[171] If, however, you will take my mortal remains with you home to my native place, these expenses need not be in-curred.” He then, with the aid of a pillow, wrote a letter, which he handed to Shên, and that evening he died. Thereupon Shên purchased a cheap coffin[172] for some five or six ounces of silver; and, as the landlord kept urging him to take away the body, he said he would go out and seek for a temple where it might be temporari-ly deposited. But he ran away and never went back to the inn; and it was more than a year before Jen’s family knew what had taken place. His son was just about seventeen years of age, and had recently been reading with a tutor; but now his books were laid aside, and he proposed to go in search of his father’s body. His mother said he was too young; and it was only when he declared he would rather not live than stay at home, that with the aid of the pawn-shop[173] enough money was raised to start him on his way. An old servant accompanied him, and it was six months before they returned and performed the last ceremonies over Jen’s remains. The family was thus reduced to absolute destitution; but happily young Hsiu was a clever fellow, and when the days of mourning[174] were over, took his bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, he was somewhat wild and very fond of gambling; and although his mother strictly prohibited such diversions, all her prohibitions were in vain. By-and-by the Grand Examiner arrived, and Hsiu came out in the fourth class. His mother was extremely angry, and refused to take food, which brought young Hsiu to his senses, and he promised her faithfully he would never gamble again. From that day he shut himself up, and the following year took a first class degree, coming out among the “senior” graduates.[175] His mother now advised him to take pupils, but his reputation as a disorderly fellow stuck to him, and no one would entrust their sons to his care.
Just then an uncle of his, named Chang, was about to start with merchandise for the capital, and recommended that Hsiu should go along with him, promising himself to pay all expenses, an offer which Hsiu was only too pleased to accept. When they reached Lin-ch‘ing, they anchored outside the Custom House, where they found a great number of salt-junks, in fact a perfect forest of masts; and what with the noise of the water and the people it was quite impossible to sleep. Besides, as the row was beginning to subside, the clear rattle of dice from a neighbouring boat fell upon Hsiu’s ear, and before long he was itching to be back again at his old games. Listening to hear if all around him were sound asleep, he drew forth a string of cash that he had brought with him, and thought he would just go across and try his luck. So he got up quietly with his money, and was on the point of going, when he suddenly recollected his mother’s injunctions, and at once tying his purse-strings laid himself down to sleep. He was far too excited, however, to close his eyes; and after a while got up again and re-opened his purse. This he did three times, until at last it was too much for him, and off he went with his money. Crossing over into the boat whence the sounds proceeded, he beheld two persons engaged in gambling for high stakes; so throwing his money on the table, he begged to be allowed to join. The others readily consented, and they began to play, Hsiu winning so rapidly that soon one of the strangers had no money left, and was obliged to get the proprietor of the boat to change a large piece of silver for him, proceeding to lay down as much as several ounces of sil-ver for a single stake.
As the play was in full swing another man walked in, who after watching for some time at length got the proprietor to change another lump of silver for him of one hundred ounces in weight, and also asked to be allowed to join. Now Hsiu’s uncle, waking up in the middle of the night, and finding his nephew gone, and hearing the sound of dice-throwing hard by, knew at once where he was, and im-mediately followed him to the boat with a view of bringing him back. Finding, however, that Hsiu was a heavy winner, he said nothing to him, only carrying off a portion of his winnings to their own boat and making the others of his party get up and help him to fetch the rest, even then leaving behind a large sum for Hsiu to go on with. By-and-by the three strangers had lost all their ready money, and there wasn’t a farthing left in the boat: upon which one of them proposed to play for lumps of silver, but Hsiu said he never went so high as that. This made them a little quarrelsome, Hsiu’s uncle all the time trying to get him away; and the proprietor of the boat, who had only his own commission in view, managed to borrow some hundred strings of cash from another boat, and started them all again. Hsiu soon took this out of them; and, as day was beginning to dawn and the Custom House was about to open, he went off with his winnings back to his own boat.
The proprietor of the gambling-boat now found that the lumps of silver which he had changed for his customers were nothing more than so much tinsel, and rush-ing off in a great state of alarm to Hsiu’s boat, told him what had happened and asked him to make it good; but when he discovered he was speaking to the son of his former travelling companion, Jen Chien-chih, he hung his head and slunk away covered with shame. For the proprietor of that boat was no other than Shên Chu-t‘ing, of whom Hsiu had heard when he was in Shensi; now, however, that with supernatural aid[176] the wrongs of his father had been avenged, he de-termined to pursue the man no further. So going into partnership with his uncle, they proceeded north together; and by the end of the year their capital had in-creased five-fold. Hsiu then purchased the status of chien-shêng,[177] and by fur-ther careful investment of his money ultimately became the richest man in that part of the country.




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