Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

wrought to its due form: was coloured and glazed. After that it was placed, not without some difficulty, in a furnace, which, under his particular superintendence, had been erected for the occasion. No vessel of porcelain clay the tenth part of its size had ever before undergone the process of burning. Of course, therefore, the most extraordinary care must have been requisite in the operation. Si-Long had had the furnace formed with various apertures, in such a manner that the heat could be suddenly increased or diminished on any side; and he himself stood upon a raised platform, and looked down a sloping shaft into the enormous cistern of fire, that he might observe the progress of the burning, and give orders to the workmen accordingly. It was necessary to subject the clay to intense heat; the bath was so large, that otherwise a portion only might have been sufficiently baked, whilst other parts were scarcely affected by the fire. Si-Long's arrangements had been excellent; all seemed proceeding well. He did not forget, meanwhile, to hold the talisman in his hand; and he fully appreciated the value of the gift, and the benevolence of the giver. He looked hard at it, his heart overflowing with satisfaction and gratitude. It was lying on the fore-finger of his right hand, and the knuckle of the thumb: his hand was half-closed, and his thumb-nail was in the bend of the middle finger. Othou invaluable prize!' said he; and his thumb sprang suddenly upward, and twirled it in the air. He meant to have caught it as it fell; but, in his delight, he had tossed it rather too high, and he caught at it rather too nervously; it struck his hand, and rebounding from that, passed down the sloping shaft into the furnace, and fell into the bath. Si-Long looked after it in dismay: and, as his eyes were fixed

upon the bath, he observed a line all down the side, a line which, at first, seemed scarcely thicker than a hair ; but soon it appeared like a wire against the porcelain ; then like a cord; and still it opened wider, and other similar indications of fracture became perceptible.

Si-Long was in despair. The bath was spoiled; the talisman was lost; all hopes of success were by that loss removed for ever; his reputation, of which he had grown proud, was ruined; the Empress, whom, in spite of the falsehood and cruelty she had exercised towards him, he had toiled, with great self-satisfaction, to gratify, would be disappointed of her bath: and the bamboo grew more abundantly in Kiang-si than in the northern provinces. These thoughts passed as quick as pulsations through his brain. Poor Si-Long was reduced to horrible despair; and clasping his hands together in a frantic manner, and tucking up his petticoat-swift as an ignis fatuus he plunged head-foremost into the fire.

When the master of the furnaces and his workmen perceived what SiLong had done, they ran away in great fright, and with much precipitation, some calling on Fo, and some on Con-fut-sze, and some on LaouKeun. They spread about through the neighbourhood, and told the tale at all the factories; then assembled in one place, and held a council of war; and after much deliberation, agreed to return, that they might afford SiLong all the assistance in their power.

They went back accordingly: but what was their surprise on opening the doors of the furnace, to find that the fire had burned out that the bath was yet perfect, and fully baked, and that poor Si-Long lay, a mere heap of cinders, within it.

When they had reduced all that remained of him more completely to ashes, they deposited these in a porcelain vase, and buried them under the furnace. They mourned for him very strenuously; because they remem

bered that the Empress might have fresh fancies; and in such case, without a Si-Long, they had nothing better to look to than bamboos, or banishment-perhaps a bow-string.

The Empress was delighted with the bath exceedingly; but when she heard the fate of the unhappy Si-Long she was afflicted beyond measure with laughter uncontrollable.

What,' said she, 'Si-Long, the audacious youth whom we let off so cheaply with a couple of hundred blows? The youth who accused the Empress of the Central Empire of inconstancy to him? A handsome youth, you say! black eyes, large ears, thick lips ; as fat as turtle, and with a pig-tail reaching to his heel. Believe me, it can be no other than that same, that very same insolent Si-Long. And so he jumped into the fire ? He, he he! how exceedingly queer! And they found him in this bath too, you say? Ho, ho, ho ! I shall die with this fit. Quite baked ! quite roasted ! quite broiled! Ha, ha, ha! how absurdly ridiculous ! Come, get me ready this bath, that my poor bambooed lover was fried in. Let it be well filled with cool cocoa-nut milk, and high-scented cinnamon waters, and spread lotus-leaf couches around. More pleasant to bathe in it then (wot ye?) than when it lay in the furnace of King-te-chin.'

As soon as the swiftest feet could convey the order, a thousand persons were up to their necks in water, gathering the petals of the sacred lotus, to heap up couches for the capricious Tou-këen. The bath was prepared in a less time than would appear possible, in a beautiful chamber, hung round with the costliest metal mirrors, and carpeted with several thicknesses of the softest silk. The walls were partly clothed with the same; and on ivory and silver tables were disposed baskets of the choicest fruits and flowers, and cages of the most gorgeous birds ; whilst at either end of the bath stood huge vases of porcelain, filled with a rare sort of waterlily, and with strange and beautiful fish.

The lovely, the amiable Tou-Këen prepared for the bath, and dismissed her attendants. She floated in the cool cocoa-nut milk and high-scented cinnamon waters; and by drawing a tasselled string, upset a basket which had been suspended near the ceiling, immediately over the bath, and brought down upon herself a dewy shower of rose-leaves.

"And so,' said she, musingly, it is really the fact that that aspiring Si-Long, who would have made the surpassingly beautiful Tou-Këen a mandarin's wife-Tou-Këen, who was born to rule the ruler of the world,—it is really a fact that he was scorched to death in this very delightful bath! Well, how exceedingly singular! Ha, ha, ha! I wonder which way he fell? Whether his head was on this side or on that? I can fancy his nose coming in contact with it here : he, he, he ! And here, as sure as I'm an Empress, is a little crack. Hi, hi! What have we here?

There was a little crack, as the Empress had said; and in the little crack was a little crooked coin, — the talisman which Si-Long had lost. The little crooked coin was almost hidden in the little crack; and both the little crack and the little crooked coin were so little as before to have escaped notice. Tou-Këen, however, detected them. When she saw the little crack, she inserted in it the tip of one of her long nails, and as she scraped that along, it directed her eye towards the little crooked coin. No sooner did she perceive the latter, than, as was very natural, her fingers were upon it. That little coin, you will remember, was a coin of virtues. It would make hard things easy ; it would aid in devices; it

would make hot cold, and cold hot. But untouched it would do nothing. No sooner, then, did the beautiful finger of Tou-Këen come in contact with it than the thermometer in the bath was at Cocoa-nut milk boils ;' and the lovely Empress, who was at the moment laughing ho, ho, ho! at one side of her mouth, forthwith laughed oh, oh, oh! on the other.

The fish began to wriggle their tails very lively, and to turn up their noses: the birds to sing as merrily as though a pie had been opened ; but Tou-Këen wriggled worse than the fish, and sung out more loudly than her feathered companions.

Her attendants came tottering into the chamber. Oh, remarkable sight! in the very bath in which Ši-Long had been roasted, Tou-Keen was stewed!

Tou-Këen lived just long enough to devise most fantastic tortures for those who had made the bath, for those who conveyed it to Peking, for those who prepared it for her use, and for all the members of her household. But unfortunately Tou-Këen died; and the Emperor wisely considered that the loss of so excellent a mistress and empress would be sufficient torture for all his loyal subjects.

Between ourselves,—the Emperor had grown tired of her tyranny, and was very well pleased to be thus quit of his lady; so he sent an order to King-te-chin and to all the other porcelain factories, commanding that the youth who had formed such a wonderful bath, and who had disposed of himself in such a wonderful manner, should thenceforth be worshipped as the god of the furnaces; and he himself made a present of three junk-loads of paper to be burned before his shrine. Thus the promise of the joss was fulfilled, that the Emperor should yet honour Si-Long, and that Si-Long's name should go forth through all the land, and be remembered through all ages.

The Emperor, though pleased, mourned very affectionately for the beautiful Tou-këen, and always preserved with great care a purse manufactured from her skin.

You would, perhaps, wish to know what became of the old physician. Being ill, in a moment of infatuation he prescribed for himself.

GHOST GOSSIPS AT BLAKESLEY HOUSE.

BY THE AUTHOR OF

STEPHEN DUGARD.'

When they assembled in the morning they found their numbers reinforced by the arrival of Major Grooby and his maiden sister, first cousins of Mrs. Dagleish. This was a valuable accession ; for the Major was a first-rate story-teller, and Miss Sophia Grooby a first-rate believer. Both of them had seen and heard more supernatural things than had ever fallen to the lot of any one person ; and as to the Major, he lived in daily fear of some bodily harm from an old woman in his parish, whom he knew to be a witch.

And here it has just occurred to us that we have left our readers in utter ignorance upon one or two subjects with which they have an undoubted right to be acquainted. Who is Mrs. Dagleish, at whose house the little circle were keeping their Christmas ? And where was her house situated ? And, lastly, who were her friends, Mr. Carliel, Simon Barnardiston, Hugh Buckner and the rest of them? We shall explain these several matters with all possible brevity.

Mrs. Dagleish was the widow of a poor schoolmaster, and the sister of a rich sugar-baker. When the former died, he left her nothing, not even a child. When the latter died he bequeathed her two children, Mary and Stephen Falconer, with something approaching to nearly five hundred a year, and a substantial brick-built mansion of the time of Elizabeth, about two miles from Bewdley, on the road to Kidderminster. Her brother, Abraham Falconer, of Whitechapel, bought it with the intention of passing the remainder of his days there, being a native of Kidderminster; but Heaven ordained it otherwise, as is frequently the case with our sublunary arrangements; for the very day the purchase was completed, and he had executed his will, settling it, and his whole fortune, upon sister after his death, he was walking along Cheapside in a high wind, which blew off a chimney-pot, that descended on his head, and killed him on the spot. When Mrs. Dagleish took possession of Blakesley House, (so the mansion was called,) the first thing she did was to have all the chimney-pots taken down, and all the chimneys carried up three feet higher, and well secured with iron girders. So much for what some people think of destiny, and their power to shun it.

With respect to Simon Barnardiston, Hugh Buckner, and Mr. Carliel, it will be enough to record of them, that the first was the son of a Birmingham manufacturer, age twenty-five, and considered by himself as the future husband of Mary Falconer; the second, a clergyman's son, age twenty-three, entertaining in secret the same hopes as Simon, but with nothing in their favour except Mary's own opinion (also a secret at present,) which was, that Simon Barnardiston would certainly not be her husband, whoever might be ; and the third a retired conveyancer, age forty-five, or thereabouts, an old friend of poor Abraham Falconer, whose will he had drawn, and therefore knew something about its contents, which made him regard his sister, Mrs. Dagleish, as the only wo

his

[ocr errors]

man he had ever seen that could tempt him to renounce his bachelor's vow. With the relationship of Major and Miss Grooby the reader is already acquainted.

Cousin,' said the Major, addressing Mrs. Dagleish, do you remember, as you enter Worcester by the London road, a small wood on the right, which skirts a gently-rising eminence? 'Perfectly well. Why do you ask ?'

I went through that wood the day before yesterday, along with my old friend, Colonel Henniker, who is a Worcester man, and who took me there to see the spot where one of the most dreadful occurrences took place that ever I heard of.'

What, only the day before yesterday ? inquired Mrs. Dagleish.

Oh, no! above a hundred years ago ; during the time of Oliver Cromwell ; and it happened to Oliver himself.'

" What was it ? asked Mary Falconer.

' I'll tell it you, my dear, replied the Major, just as my friend told it me.

You have read of the battle of Worcester, I suppose.

Oh, yes; between poor King Charles and that cruel tyrant Oliver Cromwell.'

Very well. You must know, then, there was one Colonel Lindsay serving with the Parliamentary army, and on the morning of that battle Cromwell took this man with him into the wood I have mentioned, bidding him note whatever happened. They had not proceeded far before Lindsay turned very pale, and felt, as he said, a strange unaccountable dread stealing over him, which he could not account for. Cromwell, who noticed his perturbation, began to rally him, “ Tush, man!” he exclaimed, “what megrims be these? Come forward.” On they went. Presently, however, Lindsay, stopping again, protested he could not proceed another step, so overpowering was the vague mysterious terror that had seized him. Cromwell, after sternly reproaching him for his weakness or cowardice, bade him remain where he was, and mark what would take place. He obeyed ; watched the General as he penetrated deeper into the wood; and saw him met by a grave-looking, elderly gentleman, with a roll of parchment in his hand, which he delivered to Noll, who perused it with great eager

· Lindsay heard them at high words, particularly Oliver, who said with great warmth, “ This is but for seven years. I was to have had it for oneand-twenty, and one-and-twenty it shall be.”

Cromwell then lowered his demand; but insisted fiercely that he would have fourteen years. The devil, however, was inflexible.' * I knew it was the devil,' murmured Miss Grooby audibly.

And cooily remarked, “That if he (Cromwell) would not accept the proposed terms, there were those who would jump at them.” This staggered Noll; and after a moment's pause he seized the parchment, and returning to Lindsay, exclaimed with a triumphant air, “ Come along! The battle is ours. I long to be engaged !".

Mark what followed,' continued Major Grooby. “The de vil returned tom I need not say where

Lord ! how shocking!' exclaimed Mrs. Dagleish. * And deposited the duplicate of this compact in his strong chest.

ness.

« AnteriorContinuar »