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The Taoist priest

Once upon a time there was a Mr. Han, who belonged to a wealthy family, and was fond of entertaining people. A man named Hsu, of the same town, frequently joined him over a bottle; and on one occasion when they were together a Taoist priest came to the door with his alms-bowl in his hand. The servants threw him some money and food, but the priest would not accept them, neither would he go away; and at length they took no more notice of him.

Mr. Han heard the noise of the priest knocking his bowl' going on for a long time, and asked his servants what was the matter; and they had hardly told him when the priest himself walked in. Mr. Han begged him to be seated; whereupon the priest bowed to both gentlemen and took his seat. On making the usual inquiries, they found that he lived at an old tumbledown temple to the east of the town, and Mr. Han expressed regret at not having heard sooner of his arrival, so that he might have shown him the proper hospitality of a resident. The priest said that he had only recently arrived, and had no friends in the place; but hearing that Mr. Han was a jovial fellow, he had been very anxious to take a glass with him. Mr. Han then ordered wine, and the priest soon distinguished himself as a hard drinker; Mr. Hsu treating him all the time with a certain amount of disrespect in consequence of his shabby appearance, while Mr. Han made allowances for him as being a traveler.

When he had drunk over twenty large cups of wine, the priest took his leave, returning subsequently whenever any jollification was going on, no matter whether it was eating or drinking. Even Han began now to tire a little of him; and on one occasion Hsu said to him in raillery, "Good priest, you seem to like being a guest; why don't you play the host sometimes for a change ?"

"Ah," replied the priest, "I am much the same as yourself -- a mouth carried between a couple of shoulders." This put Hsu to shame, and he had no answer to make; so the priest continued, "But although that is so, I have been revolving the question with myself for some time, and when we do meet I shall do my best to repay your kindness with a cup of my own poor wine."

When they had finished drinking, the priest said he hoped he should have the pleasure of their company the following day at noon; and at the appointed time the two friends went together, not expecting, however, to find anything ready for them. But the priest was waiting for them in the street; and passing through a handsome courtyard, they beheld long suites of elegant apartments stretching away before them. In great astonishment, they remarked to the priest that they had not visited this temple for some time, and asked when it had been thus repaired; to which he replied that the work had been only lately completed.

They then went inside, and there was a magnificently- decorated apartment, such as would not be found even in the houses of the wealthy. This made them begin to feel more respect for their host; and no sooner had they sat down than wine and food were served by a number of boys, all about sixteen years of age, and dressed in embroidered coats, with red shoes. The wine and eatables were delicious, and very nicely served; and when the dinner was taken away, a course of rare fruits was put on the table, the names of all of which it would be impossible to mention. They were arranged in dishes of crystal and jade, the brilliancy of which lighted up the surrounding furniture; and the goblets in which the wine was poured were of glass, and more than a foot in circumference.

Later the priest cried out, "Call the Shih sisters," whereupon one of the boys went out and in a few moments two elegant young ladies walked in. The first was tall and slim like a willow wand; the other was short and very young, both being exceedingly pretty girls. Being told to sing while the company were drinking, the younger beat time and sang a song, while the elder accompanied her on the flageolet. They acquitted themselves admirably; and, when the song was over, the priest, holding his goblet bottom upwards in the air, challenged his guests to follow his example, bidding his servants pour out more wine all round. He then turned to the girls, and remarked that they had not danced for a long time, asking if they were still able to do so; upon which a carpet was spread by one of the boys, and the two young ladies proceeded to dance, their long robes waving about and perfuming the air around. The dance concluded, they leant against a painted screen, while the two guests gradually became more and more confused and were at last irrecoverably drunk.

The priest took no notice of them; but when he had finished drinking, he got up and said, "Pray, go on with your wine; I am going to rest awhile, and will return by-and-by." He then went away, and lay down on a splendid couch at the other end of the room; at which Hsu was very angry, and shouted out, "Priest, you are a rude fellow," at the same time making towards him with a view of rousing him up. The priest then ran out, and Han and Hsu lay down to sleep, one at each end of the room, on elaborately-carved couches covered with beautiful mattresses.

When they woke up, they found themselves lying in the road, Mr. Hsu with his head in a dirty drain. Hard by were a couple of rush huts; but everything else was gone.

End

 

   
 
 

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