Once a wealthy man invited witches to his home to call up a vision of his father, who had died a few months before. It will make the story more plain by explaining that the old man had been a mandarin, who had been notorious everywhere wherever he had held office for his avaricious, grasping disposition. His ability to accept bribes was immense, and no case came before him but was finally decided not on its own merits, but by the amount that either the prosecutor or the defendant was able to give him.
When he died he had a grand funeral, and houses and wives and concubines, and male and female slaves, fashioned at great expense in paper, were burned at the grave, which by some mysterious and unexplained way were to follow him into the Land of Shadows, where he could set up house on the same princely scale that he had been accustomed to on earth. Nothing had been neglected that money could purchase to make his life in the Dark World as thorough a success as it was possible to ensure, for in addition to a complete suite of furniture and kitchen utensils, and the providing even of a dog to guard the house from robbers, immense quantities of ingots of gold and silver, and piles of dollars and copper, all in paper, were dispatched by a fiery way into the land of gloom to prevent him from suffering any hardships that money could prevent.
It was felt in his late home that everything had been done that religion or money could suggest, for not only had every convenience for living a high-class life been lavishly provided, in paper, but Buddhist priests had been engaged to perform the most elaborate services to deliver him from the pains and sufferings of the infernal prisons, in case Yam-lo should have decided to have him imprisoned in one of them. These last had cost them thousands of dollars, which they had willingly spent, however, since they had been solemnly assured by the priests that their relative had been safely delivered from the horrors of the gaol in which he had been confined.
The witch having arrived, the ancestral tablets of the deceased mandarin, elaborately carved and chased with gold, were placed on a magnificent black wood table. Incense sticks were then lighted, and the usual questions identifying the spirit were asked and satisfactorily settled. This preliminary is a very essential one, for it has often been discovered that the inhabitants of the Land of Shadows retain many of the peculiarities of character that they had in the land of the living, and the witches are frequently taken in by vagrant spirits, who assume the name of others in order to obtain the offerings that are being presented to their friends in the other world.
The witch being satisfied that the spirit of the dead mandarin was really in the tablet before her, asked him if he was happy in the dark land, when it burst out into sorrowful complaints about the utter wretchedness of the life he was leading. Yam-lo, because of his exactions and disregard of the claims of justice when he was a ruler, had condemned him for his sins to be a chair-bearer, and his days were now spent in the severest toil, and at night he was tortured with cold, for he had not enough clothes to put on to keep out the damp air that struck a chill into his very bones.
“But did you not receive the mansion I burned for you,” broke out the son in an excited tone, “and the servants, and the thousands of gold and silver, that would have enriched you until you were released from that terrible land by being born again into the world of men?” “I have received nothing of all the offerings you made me,” the father replied, “for Yam-lo intercepted them, because my life had been such a bad one, and he declared that I deserved to suffer misery and degradation; and so I am working as a chair coolie, bearing hardships and sorrow every day of my life.”
“And is there nothing we can do for you?” asked the son. “Yes, there is one thing that will be of great service to me, in my present miserable condition. Buy two hundred pairs of straw sandals, such as chair-bearers wear, and send them to me at once; also a few rain hats to keep me from the wet. My feet are cut and lacerated with the rough roads, and I am continually wet through with the rain that seems to be always falling in this gloomy land, so that my life is one continued misery.” With the promise that these things would be burned and sent to him, the séance ended, and the family were left to mourn the sufferings of the man who had brought upon himself such a terrible fate through his passion for money, and because he had wished to enrich his family so that they should not know what want was after he had been taken away from them.
Sidelights on Chinese Life, by J. Macgowan