A Chinese Story

translated by George Souliť


In the town of Sou-tcheou a young man lived called Lake-of-the-Immortals; he was wise and generous. His business consisted in going to fetch goods from neighbouring towns, which he afterwards brought back to his native city. He was thus obliged to be absent for lengthy periods, during which he left his house to the care of an elder brother, a celebrated scholar, who was married, and whom he tenderly loved.

Once he had been by the Grand Canal as far as Chen-kiang; the goods he was going to take not being ready, he waited, and to while away the time he visited the Golden Island, whose temples with yellow-tiled roofs show in the verdure above the yellow water of the river, nearly opposite to the town; he passed the night there, as visitors did usually.

When he had just fallen asleep, he saw in a dream a young girl, fourteen or fifteen years old, her visage regular and pure.

On the second night he had the same dream. Surprised, he awoke; it was no dream; the young girl was there, near to him. At a glance he saw she was no human being; he hastened to get up and, saluting, to ask her the ordinary questions.

"My name is Autumn-moon," she replied. "My father was a celebrated magician. When I died, he worked out my future destiny and wrote it down with powerful incantations; this charm has been put into my coffin, so that the inferior authorities should not make any mistake. It was written that, thirty years after my death, I should be called again to life and marry Lake-of-the-Immortals. There you are, and I have come to know my husband."

As she said the last words she slowly vanished in the night. The next day, as the young man, disturbed and preoccupied by this strange adventure, was sitting in his room, thinking of her, she appeared suddenly before his eyes and said:

"Come quickly! something important for you is going to happen at the prefect's palace. We have not a minute to lose."

Lake-of-the-Immortals questioned her, but she would not answer. Then they both crossed the river and walked as fast as they could up to the yamen.

As they arrived at the gate, four soldiers, dragging a prisoner, were on the point of entering. Lake-of-the-Immortals recognised his elder brother in the person of the prisoner; he drew near, threw himself on his neck, and pressed him to his heart.

"How is it that you are here? why this arrest? And you, soldiers, where do you take him?"

"We have orders: what means this interference?" And they pushed the young man aside. Lake-of-the-Immortals was of a violent temper and had a strong affection for his brother; he could not let him go, and answered to the brutality of the soldiers by such a tempest of thumping and kicking that these honest but prudent soldiers asked no more and fled.

"What have you done?" said Autumn-moon. "Hitting soldiers is serious; we must fly."

And all three, running, arrived at the beach, jumped into a small boat, and rowed with all their strength.

When day appeared, they were safely lodged in a small inn, several lis from Chen-kiang. Lake-of-the-Immortals, exhausted, went to sleep immediately. When he awoke, his two companions had disappeared. He asked the innkeeper; nobody had seen them go out.

Distressed and sad, the young man did not dare to show himself outside. He remained solitary in his room. When twilight came, his door opened and a woman entered:

"I bring you a message from Autumn-moon; she has been arrested. If you wish to see her, you must follow me; I will show you the way."

"And my brother? do you know anything?"

"Your brother is safe in Sou-tcheou now. But come and follow me."

They started and soon arrived before a wall, which they got over by helping one another. Through a window giving on the yard they fell in, the lover perceived Autumn-moon on a bed. Two soldiers were trying to tease her, saying:

"What is the use of resisting us, as you will be executed to-morrow morning?"

Lake-of-the-Immortals did not hear any more; he rushed into the room, threw himself on the soldiers, tore a sword from them, and laid them on the ground. Before the wretched men had time to make a gesture of defence, he carried away the girl and flew.

At this moment he started violently, and found himself in his same room in the Golden Island. A servant entered, bringing the breakfast he had ordered when arriving for the first time, the night before, on the island.

As he was asking himself the meaning of such a vivid dream, he heard a noise in the courtyard. Going out, he saw several men surrounding the body of a girl stretched before his door.

"Where does she come from?" asked some one.

"We have never seen her!" said another.

Lake-of-the-Immortals came nearer; it was the body, seemingly senseless, of Autumn-moon. He had her brought immediately into his room. A doctor who had been called declared she was still alive, but needed very careful nursing.

When she awoke at last she smiled feebly to the young man.

"No, it is no dream," she replied to his questions. "Your brother was called before the King of Hells; you saved him. You have saved me also from eternal disappearance, and I am called again to life; the prediction of my father was true."

A fortnight later she was able to get up; they started together and arrived safely at Sou-tcheou. When they got to his brother's house, his sister-in-law told them there had been illness in the house; her husband had been in grave danger of death; he was quite well now.

When they were all together, Lake-of-the-Immortals told what he had seen and done. They all listened to him in silence. The family henceforth lived united and happy.