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Life Prolonged.

A CERTAIN cloth merchant of Ch‘angch‘ing was stopping at T‘aingan, when he heard of a magician who was said to be very skilled in casting nativities. So he went off at once to consult him; but the magician would not undertake the task, saying, “Your destiny is bad: you had better hurry home.” At this the merchant was dreadfully frightened, and, packing up his wares, set off towards Ch‘angch‘ing. On the way he fell in with a man in short clothes, like a constable; and the two soon struck up a friendly intimacy, taking their meals together. By-and-by the merchant asked the stranger what his business was; and the latter told him he was going to Ch‘angch‘ing to serve summonses, producing at the same time a document and showing it to the merchant, who, on looking closely, saw a list of names, at the head of which was his own. In great astonishment he inquired what he had done that he should be arrested thus; to which his companion replied, “I am not a living being: I am a lictor in the employ of the infernal authorities, and I presume your term of life has expired.” The merchant burst into tears and implored the lictor to spare him, which the latter declared was impossible; “But,” added he, “there are a great many names down, and it will take me some time to get through them: you go off home and settle up your affairs, and, as a slight return for your friendship, I’ll call for you last.” A few minutes afterwards they reached a stream where the bridge was in ruins, and people could only cross with great difficulty; at which the lictor remarked, “You are now on the road to death, and not a single cash can you carry away with you. Repair this bridge and benefit the public; and thus from a great outlay you may possibly yourself derive some small advantage.” The merchant said he would do so; and when he got home, he bade his wife and children prepare for his coming dissolution, and at the same time set men to work and made the bridge sound and strong again. Some time elapsed, but no lictor arrived; and his suspicions began to be aroused, when one day the latter walked in and said, “I reported that affair of the bridge to the Municipal God, who communicated it to the Ruler of Purgatory; and for that good act your span of life has been lengthened, and your name struck out of the list. I have now come to announce this to you.” The merchant was profuse in his thanks; and the next time he went to T‘aingan, he burnt a quantity of paper ingots, and made offerings and libations to the lictor, out of gratitude for what he had done. Suddenly the lictor himself appeared, and cried out, “Do you wish to ruin me? Happily my new master has only just taken up his post, and he has not noticed this, or where should I be?” The lictor then escorted the merchant some distance; and, at parting, bade him never return by that road, but, if he had any business at T‘aingan, to go thither by a roundabout way.




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