The Alchemist

by Pu Song Ling

At Ch'ang-ngan there lived a scholar named Chia Tzu-lung, who one day noticed a very refined-looking stranger; and, on making inquiries about him, learnt that he was a Mr. Chen who had taken lodgings hard by. Accordingly, next day Chia called and sent in his card, but did not see Chen, who happened to be out at the time. The same thing occurred thrice, and at length Chia engaged some one to watch. and let him know when Mr. Chen was at home. However, even then the latter would not come forth to receive his guest, and Chia had to go in and rout him out.

The two now entered into conversation, and soon became mutually charmed with each other and by-and-by Chia sent off a servant to bring wine from a neighbouring wine-shop. Mr. Chen proved himself a pleasant boon companion, and when the wine was nearly finished, he went to a box and took from it some wine-cups and a large and beautiful jade tankard, into the latter of which he poured a single cup of wine, and lo! it was filled to the brim. They then proceeded to help themselves from the tankard; but how ever much they took out, the contents never seemed to diminish. Chia was astonished at this, and begged Mr. Chen to tell him how it was done. "Ah," replied Mr. Chen, "I tried to avoid making your acquaintance solely because of your one bad quality - avarice. The art I practise is a secret known to the Immortals only: how can I divulge it to you?" "You do me wrong," rejoined Chia, "in thus attributing avarice to me. The avaricious, indeed, are always poor." Mr. Chen laughed, and they separated for that day; but from that time they were constantly together, and all ceremony was laid aside between them.

Whenever Chia wanted money, Mr. Chen would bring out a black stone, and, muttering a charm, would rub it on a tile or a brick, which was forthwith changed into a lump of silver. This silver he would give to Chia, and it was always just as much as he actually required, neither more nor less; and if ever the latter asked for more, Mr. Chen would rally him on the subject of avarice.

Finally, Chia determined to try and get possession of this stone; and one day, when Mr. Chen was sleeping off the fumes of a drinking-bout, he tried to extract it from his clothes. However, Chen detected him at once, and declared that they could be friends no more, and next day he left the place altogether. About a year afterwards Chia was one day wandering by the river-bank, when he saw a handsome-looking stone, marvellously like that in the possession of Mr. Chen; and he picked it up at once and carried it home with him.

A few days passed away, and suddenly Mr. Chen presented himself at Chia's house, and explained that the stone in question possessed the property of changing anything into gold, and had been bestowed upon him long before by a certain Taoist priest, whom he had followed as a disciple. "Alas!" added he, "I got tipsy and lost it; but divination told me where it was, and if you will now restore it to me, I shall take care to repay your kindness." "You have divined rightly," replied Chia; "the stone is with me; but recollect, if you please, that the indigent Kuan Chung shared the wealth of his friend Pao Shu." At this hint Mr. Chen said he would give Chia one hundred ounces of silver; to which the latter replied that one hundred ounces was a fair offer, but that he would far sooner have Mr. Chen teach him the formula to utter when rubbing the stone on anything, so as just to try the thing once himself. Mr. Chen was afraid to do this; whereupon Chia cried out, "You are an Immortal yourself; you must know well enough that I would never deceive a friend." So Mr. Chen was prevailed upon to teach him the formula, and then Chia would have tried the art upon the immense stone washing-block which was lying near at hand had not Mr. Chen seized his arm and begged. him not to do anything so outrageous. Chia then picked up half a brick and laid it on the washing-block, saying to Mr. Chen, "This little piece is not too much, surely?" Accordingly, Mr. Chen relaxed his hold and let Chia proceed; which he did by promptly ignoring the half brick and quickly rubbing the stone on the washing-block. Mr. Chen turned pale when he saw him do this, and made a. dash. forward to get hold of the stone; but it was too late, the washing-block was already a solid mass of silver, and Chia quietly handed him back the stone, "Alas! alas!" cried Mr. Chen in despair, "what is to be done now? For having. thus irregularly conferred wealth upon a mortal, Heaven will surely punish me. Oh, if you would save me, give away one hundred coffins and one hundred suits of wadded clothes." "My friend," replied Chia, "my object in getting money was not to hoard it up like a miser."

Mr. Chen was delighted at this and during the next three years Chia engaged in trade, taking care to be all the time fulfilling his promise to Mr. Chen. At the expiration of that time Mr. Chen himself reappeared, and, grasping Chia's hand, said to him, "Trustworthy and noble friend, when we last parted the Spirit of Happiness impeached me before God, and my name was erased from the list of angels. But now that you have carried out my request, that sentence has accordingly been rescinded. Go on as you have begun, without ceasing." Chia asked Mr. Chen what office he filled in heaven; to which the latter replied that he was only a fox, who, by a sinless life, had finally attained to that clear perception of the Truth which leads to immortality. Wine was then brought, and the two friends enjoyed themselves together as of old; and even when Chia had passed the age of ninety years, that fox still used to visit him from time to time.