The painted wall
A Kiang-si gentleman, named Meng Lung-tan, was lodging at
the capital with a Mr. Chu, M.A., when one day chance led them
to a certain monastery, within which they found no spacious halls
or meditation chambers, but only an old priest in dishabille. On
observing the visitors, he arranged his dress and went forward to
meet them, leading them round and showing whatever there was
to be seen.
In the chapel they saw an image of Chih Kung, and the walls
on either side were beautifully painted with life-like representations of men
and animals. On the east side were pictured a number of
fairies, among whom was a young girl whose maiden tresses
were not yet confined by the matron's knot. She was picking flowers and gently smiling, while her cherry lips seemed about
to move, and the moisture of her eyes to overflow. Mr. Chu
gazed at her for a long time without taking his eyes off, until at
last he became unconscious of anything but the thoughts that
were engrossing him. Then, suddenly he felt himself floating in
the air, as if riding on a cloud, and found himself passing through
the wall, where halls and pavilions stretched away one after
another, unlike the abodes of mortals.
Here an old priest was preaching the Law of Buddha, surrounded by a large crowd of listeners. Mr. Chu mingled with the
throng and after a few moments, perceived a gentle tug at his
sleeve. Turning round, he saw the young girl above-mentioned,
who walked laughing away. Mr. Chu at once followed her and
passing a winding balustrade, arrived at a small apartment
beyond which he dared not venture farther. But the young lady,
looking back, waved the flowers she had in her hand as though
beckoning him to come on. He accordingly entered and found
nobody else within. Then they fell on their knees and worshipped
heaven and earth together,' and rose up as man and wife, after
which the bride went away, bidding Mr. Chu keep quiet until she
This went on for a couple of days, when the young lady's
companions began to smell a rat and discovered Mr. Chu's hiding
place. Thereupon they all laughed and said, "My dear, you are
now a married woman, and should leave off that maidenly
coiffure." So they gave her the proper hair-pins and head ornaments, and bade her go bind her hair, at which she blushed very
much but said nothing. Then one of them cried out, "My sisters,
let us be off. Two's company, more's none." At this they all
giggled again and went away.
Mr. Chu found his wife very much improved by the alteration
in the style of her hair. The high top-knot and the coronet of
pendants were very becoming to her.
But suddenly they heard a sound like the tramping of heavy-soled boots, accompanied by the clanking of chains and the noise
of angry discussion. The bride jumped up in a fright, and she and
Mr. Chu peeped out. They saw a man clad in golden armor,
with a face as black as jet, carrying in his hands chains and whips,
and surrounded by all the girls. He asked, "Are you all here ?"
"All," they replied.
"If," said he, "any mortal is here concealed amongst you,
denounce him at once, and lay not up sorrow for yourselves."
Here they all answered as before that there was no one. The man
then made a movement as if he would search the place, upon
which the bride was dreadfully alarmed, and her face turned the
colour of ashes. In her terror she said to Mr. Chu, "Hide yourself
under the bed," and opening a small lattice in the wall, disappeared herself. Mr. Chu in his concealment hardly dared to
draw his breath; and in a little while he heard the boots tramp
into the room and out again, the sound of the voices getting gradually fainter and fainter in the distance. This reassured him, but he still heard the voices of people going backwards and forwards
outside; and having been a long time in a cramped position, his
ears began to sing as if there was a locust in them, and his eyes to
burn like fire. It was almost unbearable. However, he remained
quietly awaiting the return of the young lady without giving a
thought to the why and wherefore of his present position.
Meanwhile, Meng Lung-tan had noticed the sudden disappearance of his friend, and thinking something was wrong, asked the
priest where he was. "He has gone to hear the preaching of the
Law," replied the priest.
"Where ?" said Mr. Meng.
"Oh, not very far," was the answer. Then with his finger the
old priest tapped the wall and called out. "Friend Chu ! what
makes you stay away so long?" At this, the likeness of Mr. Chu
was figured upon the wall, with his ear inclined in the attitude of
one listening. The priest added, "Your friend here has been
waiting for you some time;" and immediately Mr. Chu descended from the wall, standing transfixed like a block of wood,
with starting eyeballs and trembling legs. Mr. Meng was much
terrified, and asked him quietly what was the matter. Now the
matter was that while concealed under the bed he had heard a
noise resembling thunder and had rushed out to see what it was.
Then they all noticed that the young lady on the wall with the
maiden's tresses had changed the style of her coiffure to that of a
married woman. Mr. Chu was greatly astonished at this and
asked the old priest the reason.
He replied, "Visions have their origin in those who see them:
what explanation can I give ?" This answer was very unsatisfactory to Mr. Chu;
neither did his friend, who was rather frightened, know what to make of it all; so they descended the temple
steps and went away.