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The wonderful stone (1)

In the prefecture of Shun-tien there lived a man named Hsing Yun-fei, who was an amateur mineralogist and would pay any price for a good specimen.

One day as he was fishing in the river, something caught his net, and diving down, he brought up a stone about a foot in diameter, beautifully carved on all sides to resemble clustering hills and peaks. He was quite as pleased with this as if he had found some precious stone; and having had an elegant sandal-wood stand made for it, he set his prize upon the table.

Whenever it was about to rain, clouds, which from a distance looked like new cotton-wool, would come forth from each of the holes or grottoes on the stone, and appear to close them up.

By-and-by an influential personage called at the house and begged to see the stone, immediately seizing it and handing it over to a lusty servant, at the same time whipping his horse and riding away. Hsing was in despair; but all he could do was to mourn the loss of his stone, and indulge his anger against the thief.

Meanwhile, the servant, who had carried off the stone on his back, stopped to rest at a bridge; when all of a sudden his hand slipped and the stone fell into the water. His master was extremely put out at this, and gave him a sound beating; subsequently hiring several divers, who tried every means in their power to recover the stone, but were quite unable to find it. He then went away, having first published a notice of reward, and by these means many were tempted to seek for the stone.

Soon after, Hsing himself came to the spot, and as he mournfully approached the bank, the water became clear, and he could see the stone lying at the bottom. Taking off his clothes, he quickly jumped in and brought it out, together with the sandal-wood stand, which was still with it. He carried it off home, but being no longer desirous of showing it to people, he had an inner room cleaned and put it in there.

Some time afterwards an old man knocked at the door and asked to be allowed to see the stone; whereupon Hsing replied that he had lost it a long time ago. "Isn't that it in the inner room ?" said the old man smiling. He then laid his hand upon the stone and said, "This is an old family relic of mine : I lost it many months since. How does it come to be here? I pray you now restore it to me." Hsing didn't know what to say, but declared he was the owner of the stone; upon which the old man remarked, "If it is really yours, what evidence can you bring to prove it ?" Hsing made no reply; and the old man continued, "To show you that I know this stone, I may mention that it has altogether ninety-two grottoes, and that in the largest of these are five words:

A stone from Heaven above."

Hsing looked and found that there were actually some small characters, no larger than grains of rice, which, by straining his eyes a little, he managed to read; also, that the number of grottoes was as the old man has said. However, he would not give him the stone; and the old man laughed, and asked, "Pray, what right have you to keep other people's things ?"

He then bowed and went away, Hsing escorting him as far as the door; but when he returned to the room, the stone had disappeared. In a great fright, he ran after the old man, who had walked slowly and was not far off, and seizing his sleeve entreated him to give back the stone. "Do you think," said the latter, "that I could conceal a stone a foot in diameter in my sleeve ?" But Hsing knew that he must be superhuman, and led him back to the house, where he threw himself on his knees and begged that he might have the stone.

"Is it yours or mine ?" asked the old man.

"Of course it is yours," replied Hsing, "though I hope you will consent to deny yourself the pleasure of keeping it."

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