A Chinese Story
translated by George
Night was falling when the horseshoes
of the mules of my caravan
resounded on the slippery flagstones of the
Tired by a long day of walking, I directed
my steps towards the large hall of the
inn, with the intention of resting a moment
while my repast was being prepared.
In the darkened room the glimmer of a
small opium-lamp lit up the pale and
hollow face of an old man, occupied in
holding over the flame a small ball of the
black drug, which would soon be transformed
into smoke, source of forgetfulness and
The old man returned my greeting, and
invited me to lie down on the couch opposite
to him. He handed me a pipe already
prepared and we began talking together.
As ordered by the laws of politeness, I
remarked to my neighbour that he seemed
robust for his age.
"My age? Do you, then, think I am so
"But, as you are so wise, you must have
seen sixty harvests?"
"Sixty! I am not yet thirty years
old! But you must have come from a
long way off, not to know who I am."
And while rolling the balls with dexterity
in the palm of his hand, and making them
puff out to the heat of the lamp, he told
me his story.
His name was Liu Favour-of-heaven.
Born and brought up in the capital, he had
been promoted six years before to the
post of sub-prefect in the town on which
our refuge was dependent.
When coming to take his post, he stopped
at the inn, the same one where we were.
The house was full; but he had remarked,
on entering, a long pavilion which seemed
uninhabited. The landlord, being asked,
looked perplexed; he ended by saying
that the pavilion had been shut for the last
two years; all the travellers had complained
of noises and strange visions;
probably mischievous spirits lived there.
Favour-of-heaven, having lived in the
capital, but little believed in phantoms.
He found the occasion excellent to establish
his reputation in braving imaginary
His wife and his children implored him
in vain; he persisted in his intention of
remaining the night alone in the haunted
He had lights brought; installed himself
in a big armchair, and placed across his
knees a long and heavy sword.
Hours passed by; the sonorous noise
of the gong struck by the watchman announced
successively the hours, first of the
Pig, then of the Rat. He grew drowsy.
Suddenly, he was awakened by the gnashing
of teeth. All the lights were out; the
darkness, however, was not deep enough
to prevent his being able to distinguish
everything confusedly. Anguish seized him;
his heart beat with violence; his staring
eyes were fixed on the door.
By the half-opened door he perceived
a round white mass, the deformed head of
a monster, who, appearing little by little,
stretched long hands with twisted fingers
Favour-of-heaven mechanically raised his
weapon; his blood frozen in his veins, he
tried to strike the head, whose indistinct
features were certainly dreadful. Without
doubt the blow had struck, for a frightful cry
was heard; all the demons of the inferior
regions seemed let loose with this yell; calls
were heard from all sides. The trellised
frames of the windows were shaken with
violence. The monster gained the door.
Favour-of-heaven pursued him and threw
His terror was such that he felt he must
strike and kill. Hardly had he finished
than there entered, rolling from side to
side, a little being, quite round, brandishing
unknown weapons at the end of innumerable
small hands. The prefect, with
one blow, cut him in two like a watermelon.
However, the windows were shaken with
growing rage; unknown beings entered
by the door without interruption; the
prefect threw them down one after another:
a black shadow first, then a head balancing
itself at the end of a huge neck, then the
jaw of a crocodile, then a big bird with
the chest and feet of a donkey.
Trembling all over, the man struck right
and left, exhausted and panting; a cold
perspiration overwhelmed him; he felt his
strength gradually giving way, when the
cock crowed at last the coming of the day.
Little by little, grey dawn designed the
trellis of the windows, then the sun suddenly
appeared above the horizon and
darted its rays across the rents in the
Favour-of-heaven felt his heart stand
still; on the floor inundated with blood,
the bodies lying there had human forms,
forms that he knew: this one looked like
his second wife, and this one, this little
head that had rolled against the foot of
the table, he would have sworn that it was
his last son.
With a mad cry he threw away his
weapon and ran to open the door, through
which the sun poured in.
An armed crowd was moving in the yard.
"My family! my family! where is my
"They are all with you in the pavilion!"
But as they were speaking they saw
with stupor the hair of the young man
becoming white, and the wrinkles of age
cover his face, while he remained motionless
as well as insensible.
They drew near; he rolled fainting on
the ground. "And thus," ended the sub-prefect
in the silence of the dark hall,
where only the little light of the opium-lamp
was shining, "I remained several days
without knowledge of anything. When I
came to myself, I had to bear the sorrow
of having killed my whole family in these
atrocious circumstances. I resigned my
post: I had magnificent tombs built for
all those who were killed this fatal night,
and, since then, I smoke without ceasing the
agreeable drug, in order to fly away from
the remembrance, which will haunt me until
my last day."