THE CORPSE THE BLOOD-DRINKER
A Chinese Story
translated by George
Night was slowly falling in the narrow
valley. On the winding path cut
in the side of the hill about twenty mules
were following each other, bending under
their heavy load; the muleteers, being
tired, did not cease to hurry forward their
animals, abusing them with coarse voices.
Comfortably seated on mules with large
pack-saddles, three men were going along
at the same pace as the caravan of which
they were the masters. Their thick dresses,
their fur boots, and their red woollen hoods
protected them from the cold wind of the
In the darkness, rendered thicker by a
slight fog, the lights of a village were shining,
and soon the mules, hurrying all together,
jostling their loads, crowded before the
only inn of the place.
The three travellers, happy to be able
to rest, got down from their saddles when
the innkeeper came out on the step of
his door and excused himself, saying all his
rooms were taken.
"I have still, it is true, a large hall the
other side of the street, but it is only a
barn, badly shut. I will show it to you."
The merchants, disappointed, consulted
each other with a look; but it was too
late to continue their way; they followed
The hall that was shown to them was big
enough and closed at the end by a curtain.
Their luggage was brought; the bed-clothes
rolled on the pack-saddles were spread out,
as usual, on planks and trestles.
The meal was served in the general
sitting-room, in the midst of noise, laughing,
and movement—smoking rice, vegetables
preserved in vinegar, and lukewarm wine
served in small cups. Then every one went
to bed; the lights were put out and profound
silence prevailed in the sleeping village.
However, towards the hour of the Rat,
a sensation of cold and uneasiness awoke
one of the three travellers named Wang
Fou, Happiness-of-the-kings. He turned
in his bed, but the snoring of his two companions
annoyed him; he could not get
to sleep. Again, seeing that his rest was
finished, he got up, relit the lamp which
was out, took a book from his baggage, and
stretched himself out again. But if he
could not sleep, it was just as impossible
to read. In spite of himself, his eyes
quitted the columns of letters laid out in
lines and searched into the darkness that
the feeble light did not contrive to break
A growing terror froze him. He would
have liked to awaken his companions, but
the fear of being made fun of prevented
By dint of looking, he at last saw a slight
movement shake the big curtain which
closed the room. There came from behind
a crackling of wood being broken. Then a
long, painful threatening silence began again.
The merchant felt his flesh thrill; he
was filled with horror, in spite of his efforts
to be reasonable.
He had put aside his book, and, the coverlet
drawn up to his nose, he fixed his enlarged
eyes on the shadowy corners at the end
of the room.
The side of the curtain was lifted; a
pale hand held the folds. The stuff, thus
raised, permitted a being to pass, whose
form, hardly distinct, seemed penetrated
by the shadow.
Happiness-of-kings would have liked to
scream; his contracted throat allowed no
sound to escape. Motionless and speechless,
he followed with his horrified look the
slow movement of the apparition which
He, little by little, recognised the silhouette
of a female, seen by her short
quilted dress and her long narrow jacket.
Behind the body he perceived the curtain
The spectre, in the meantime bending
over the bed of one of the sleeping travellers,
appeared to give him a long kiss.
Then it went towards the couch of the
second merchant. Happiness-of-kings distinctly
saw the pale figure, the eyes, from
which a red flame was shining, and sharp
teeth, half-exposed in a ferocious smile,
which opened and shut by turns on the
throat of the sleeper.
A start disturbed the body under the
cover, then all stopped: the spectre was
drinking in long draughts.
Happiness-of-kings, seeing that his turn
was coming, had just strength enough to
pull the coverlet over his head. He heard
grumblings; a freezing breath penetrated
through the wadded material.
The paroxysm of terror gave the merchant
full possession of his strength; with a
convulsive movement he threw his coverlet
on the apparition, jumped out of his bed,
and, yelling like a wild beast, he ran as
far as the door and flew away in the night.
Still running, he felt the freezing breath
in his back, he heard the furious growlings
of the spectre.
The prolonged howling of the unhappy
man filled the narrow street and awoke
all the sleepers in their beds, but none of
them moved; they hid themselves farther
and farther under their coverlets. These
inhuman cries meant nothing good for
those who should have been bold enough
to go outside.
The bewildered fugitive crossed the village,
going faster and faster. Arriving at
the last houses, he was only a few feet in
advance and felt himself fainting.
The road at the extremity of the village
was bordered with narrow fields shaded with
big trees. The instinct of a hunted animal
drove on the distracted merchant; he
made a brisk turn to the right, then to the
left, and threw himself behind the knotted
trunk of a huge chestnut-tree. The freezing
hand already touched his shoulder; he
In the morning, in broad daylight, two
men who came to plough in this same field
were surprised to perceive against the
tree a white form, and, on the ground, a
man stretched out. This fact coming after
the howling in the night appeared strange
to them; they turned back and went to
find the Chief of the Elders. When they
returned, the greater part of the inhabitants
of the village followed them.
They approached and found that the
form against the tree was the corpse of a
young woman, her nails buried in the
bark; from her mouth a stream of blood
had flowed and stained her white silk
jacket. A shudder of horror shook the
lookers-on: the Chief of the Elders recognised
his daughter dead for the last six
months whose coffin was placed in a barn,
waiting for the burial, a favourable day
to be fixed by the astrologers.
The innkeeper recognised one of his
guests in the man stretched on the ground,
whom no care could revive.
They returned in haste to find out in
what condition the coffin was: the door
of the barn was still open. They went
in; a coverlet was thrown on the ground
near the entrance; on two beds the great
sun lit up the hollow and greenish aspect
of the corpses whose blood had been emptied.
Behind the drawn curtain the coffin
was found open. The corpse of the young
woman evidently had not lost its inferior
soul, the vital breath. Like all beings
deprived of conscience and reason, her
ferocity was eager for blood.