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At T'ai-yuan there lived a man named Wang. One morning he was out walking when he met ayoung lady carrying a bundle and hurrying along by herself. As she moved along with some difficulty,Wang quickened his pace and caught her up, and found she was a pretty girl of about sixteen.
Much smitten, he inquired whither she was going so early, and no one with her. "A traveller likeyou," replied the girl, "cannot alleviate my distress ; why trouble yourself to ask?" "What distress isit?" said Wang; "I'm sure I'll do anything I can for you." "My parents," answered she, "loved money,and they sold me as concubine into a rich family, where the wife was very jealous, and beat andabused me morning and night. It was more than I could stand, so I have run away." Wang asked herwhere she was going; to which she replied that a runaway had no fixed place of abode. "My house,"said Wang, "is at no great distance; what do you say to coming there?" She joyfully acquiesced; andWang, taking up her bundle, led the way to his house. Finding no one there, she asked Wang wherehis family were; to which he replied that that was only the library. "And a very nice place, too," saidshe; "but if you are kind enought to wish to save my life, you mustn't let it be known that I am here."Wang promised that he would not divulge her secret, and so she remained there for some dayswithout anyone knowing about it. He then told his wife, and she, fearing the girl might belong tosome influential family, advised him to send her away. This, however, he would not consent to do.
One day, going into the town, Wang met a Taoist priest, who looked at him in astonishment, andasked him what he had met. "I have met nothing," replied Wang. "Why," said the priest, "you arebewitched; what do you mean by not having met anything?" But Wang insisted that it was so, andthe priest walked away, saying, "The fool! Some people don't seem to know when death is at hand."This startled Wang, who at first thought of the girl; but then he reflected that a pretty young thing asshe was couldnt' well be a witch, and began to suspect that the priest merely wanted to do a strokeof business.
When he returned, the library door was shut, and he couldn't get in, which made him suspectthat something was wrong; and so he climbed over the wall, where he found the door of the innerroom shut too. Softly creeping up, he looked through the window and saw a hideous devil, with agreen face and jagged teeth like a saw, spreading a human skin upon the bed and painting it with apaint brush. The devil then threw aside the brush, and giving the skin a shake out, just as you woulda coat, threw it over its shoulders, when lo! it was the girl.
Terrified at this, Wang hurried away with his head down in search of the priest, who had gone heknew not whither; subsequently finding him in the fields, where he threw himself on his knees andbegged the priest to save him. "As to driving her away," said the priest, "the creature must be ingreat distress to be seeking a substitute for herself; besides, I could hardly endure to injure a livingthing." However, he gave Wang a fly-brush, and bade him hand it at the door of the bedroom,agreeing to meet again at the Ch'ing-ti temple. Wang went home, but did not dare enter the library;so he hung up the brush at the bedroom door, and before long heard a sound of footsteps outside.Not daring to move, he made his wife peep out; and she saw the girl standing looking at the brush,afraid to pass it. She then ground her teeth and went away; but in a little while came back, and begancursing, saying "You priest, you won't frighten me. Do you think I am going to give up what isalready in my grasp?" Thereupon she tore the brush to pieces, and bursting open the door, walkedstraight up to the bed, where she ripped open Wang and tore his heart out, with which she wentaway. Wang's wife screamed out, and the servant came in with a light; but Wang was already deadand presented a most miserable spectacle.
His wife, who was in an agony of fright, hardly dared cry for fear of making a noise; and next dayshe sent Wang's brother to see the priest. The latter got into a great rage, and cried out, "Was it forthis that I had compassion on you, devil that you are?" proceeding at once with Wang's brother tothe house, from which the girl had disappeared without anyone knowing whither she had gone. Butthe priest, raising his head, looked all around, and said, "Luckily she's not far off." He then asked wholived in the apartments on the south side, to which Wang's brother replied that he did; whereuponthe priest declared that there she would be found. Wang's brother was horribly frightened and saidhe did not think so; and then the priest asked him if any stranger had been to the house. To this heanswered that he had been out to the Ch'ing-ti temple and couldn't possibly say: but he went off toinquire, and in a little while came back and reported that an old woman had sought service withthem as a maid-of-all-work, and had been engaged by his wife. "That is she," said the priest, asWang's brother added she was still there; and they all set out to go to the house together.
Then the priest took his wooden sword, and standing in the middle of the courtyard, shoutedout, "Base-born fiend, give me back my fly-brush!" Meanwhile, the new maid-of-all-work was in agreat state of alarm, and tried to get away by the door; but the priest struck her and down she fellflat, the human skin dropping off, and she became a hideous devil. There she lay grunting like a pig,until the priest grasped his wooden sword and stuck off her head. She then became a dense columnof smoke curling up from the ground, when the priest took an uncorked gourd and threw it right intothe midst of the smoke. A sucking noise was heard, and the whole column was drawn into the gourd;after which the priest corked it up closely and put it in his pouch. The skin, too, which was completeeven to the eye-brows, eyes, hands, and feet, he also rolled up as if it had been a scroll, and was onthe point of leaving with it, when Wang's wife stopped him, and with tears entreated him to bringher husband to life.
The priest said he was unable to do that; but Wang's wife flung herself at his feet, and with loudlamentations implored his assistance. For some time he remained immersed in thought, and thenreplied, "My power is not equal to what you ask. I myself cannot raise the dead; but I will direct youto some one who can, and if you apply to him properly you will succeed." Wang's wife then askedthe priest who it was; to which he replied, "there is a maniac in the town who passes his timegrovelling in the dirt. Go prostrate yourself before him, and beg him to help you. If he insults you,show no sign of anger." Wang's brother knew the man to whom he alluded, and accordingly badethe preist adieu, and proceeded thither with his sister-in-law .
They found the destitute creature raving away by the roadside, so filthy that it was all they coulddo to go near him. Wang's wife approached him on her knees; at which the maniac leered at her, andcried out, "Do you love me, my beauty?" Wang's wife told him what she had come for, but he onlylaughed and said, "You can get plenty of other husbands. Why raise the dead one to life?" ButWang's wife entreated him to help her whereupon he observed, "It's very strange: people apply tome to raise their dead as if I was king of the infernal regions." He then gave Wang's wife a thrashingwith his staff, which she bore without a murmur, and before a gradually increasing crowd ofspectators. After this he produced a loathsome pill which he told her she must swallow, but here shebroke down and was quite unable to do so. However she did manage it at last, and then the maniac,crying out, "How you do love me!" got up and went away without taking any more notice of her.They followed him into a temple with loud supplications, but he had disappeared, and every effort tofind him was unsuccessful. Overcome with rage and shame, Wang's wife went home, where shemourned bitterly over her dead husband, grievously repenting the steps she had taken, and wishingonly to die. She then bethought herself of preparing the corpse, near which none of the servantswould venture, and set to work to close up the frightful wound of which he died.
While thus employed, interrupted from time to time by her sobs, she felt a rising lump in herthroat, which by-and-by came out with a pop and fell straight into the dead man's wound. Lookingclosely at it, she saw it was a human heart; and then it began as it were to throb, emitting a warmvapour like smoke. Much excited, she at once closed the flesh over it, and held the sides of thewound together with all her might. Very soon, however, she got tired, and finding the vapor escapingfrom the crevices, she tore up a piece of silk and bound it round, at the same time bringing backcirculation by rubbing the body and covering it up with clothes. In the night she removed thecoverings, and found that breath was coming from the nose; and by next moring her hustband wasalive again, though disturbed in mind as if awaking from a dream, and feeling a pain in his heart.Where he had been wounded there was a cicatrix about as big as a cash, which soon afterdisappeared.