The man who was thrown down
a well (1)
Mr. Tai, of An-ching, was a wild fellow when young. One day
as he was returning home tipsy, he met by the way a dead cousin
of his named Chi; and having, in his drunken state, quite forgot-
ten that his cousin was dead, he asked him where he was going.
"I am already a disembodied spirit," replied Chi; "don't you
Tai was a little disturbed at this; but, being under the influence
of liquor, he was not frightened, and inquired of his cousin what
he was doing in the realms below.
"I am employed as scribe," said Chi, "in the court of the
"Then you must know all about our happiness and misfortunes to come," cried Tai.
"It is my business," answered his cousin, "so of course I
know. But I see such an enormous mass that, unless of special
reference to myself or family. I take no notice of any of it. Three
days ago, by the way, I saw your name in the register." Tai
immediately asked what there was about himself, and his cousin
replied, "I will not deceive you; your name was put down for a
dark and dismal hell."
Tai was dreadfully alarmed, and at the same time sobered, and
entreated his cousin to assist him in some way. "You may try,"
said Chi, "what merit will do for you as a means of mitigating
your punishment; but the register of your sins is as thick as my
finger, and nothing short of the most deserving acts will be of any
avail. What can a poor fellow like myself do for you? Were you
to perform one good act every day, you would not complete the
necessary total under a year and more, and it is now too late for
that. But henceforth amend your ways, and there may still be a
chance of escape for you."
When Tai heard these words he prostrated himself on the
ground, imploring his cousin to help him; but, on raising
his head, Chi had disappeared; he therefore returned
sorrowfully home, and set to work to cleanse his heart and
order his behavior.
Now Tai's next-door neighbor had long suspected him of
paying too much attention to his wife; and one day meeting Tai
in the fields shortly after the events narrated above, he inveigled
him into inspecting a dry well, and then pushed him down. The
well was many feet deep, and the man felt certain that Tai was
killed; however, in the middle of the night he came round, and
sitting up at the bottom, he began to shout for assistance, but
could not make any one hear him.
On the following day, the neighbor, fearing that Tai might
possibly have recovered consciousness, went to listen at the
mouth of the well; and hearing him cry out for help, began to
throw down a quantity of stones. Tai took refuge in a cave at the
side, and did not dare utter another sound; but his enemy knew
he was not dead, and forthwith filled the well almost up to the
top with earth. In the cave it was as dark as pitch, exactly like the
Infernal Regions; and not being able to get anything to eat or
drink, Tai gave up all hopes of life. He crawled on his hands and
knees further into the cave, but was prevented by water from
going further than a few paces, and returned to take up his position at the old spot.
At first he felt hungry; by-and-by, however, this sensation
passed away; and then reflecting that there, at the bottom of a
well, he could hardly perform any good action, he passed his time
in calling loudly on the name of Buddha. Before long he saw a
number of Will-o'-the Wisps flitting over the water and illuminating the gloom of the cave; and immediately prayed to them,
saying, "0 Will-o'-the Wisps, I have heard that ye are the shades
of wronged and injured people. I have not long to live, and am
without hope of escape; still I would gladly relieve the monotony
of my situation by exchanging a few words with you."
Thereupon, all the Wills came flitting across the water to him;
and in each of them was a man of about half the ordinary size.
Tai asked them whence they came; to which one of them replied,
"This is an old coal-mine. The proprietor, in working the coal,
disturbed the position of some graves,' and Mr. Lung-fei flooded
the mine and drowned forty-three workmen. We are the shades
of those men." He further said he did not know who Mr. Lung-fei was, except that he was secretary to the City God, and that in
compassion for the misfortunes of the innocent workmen, he was
in the habit of sending them a quantity of gruel every three or
four days. "But the cold water," added he, "soaks into our
bones, and there is but small chance of ever getting them
removed. If, Sir, you some day return to the world above, I pray
you fish up our decaying bones and bury them in some public
burying-ground. You will thus earn for yourself boundless gratitude in the realms below."