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The Taoist

Master Han, an aristocrat, kept an open house. A fellow villager named Xu would often drink at his table. They had gathered for a banquet when a Taoist bearing an alms bowl came to the gate. He wouldn’t accept any of the money and millet the servants offered, but also wouldn’t leave. Getting angry, the servants went back inside and ignored him.

   Hearing the sound of tapping persisting for a long time, Han asked about it and the servants told him the situation. Before they had finished speaking, the Taoist actually entered. Han invited him to sit. The Taoist raised his hands to salute both host and guest and then sat. After brief enquiries, they came to know that he had begun to reside at the dilapidated temple to the east of the village. Han said, “When you settled at East Temple, I didn’t even hear of it. I’m deeply lacking the courtesy of a host.”

   He replied, “I’m a recently arrived wretch without friends here. I heard my layman brother was generous and deeply desired to beseech a drink.”

   Han ordered the raising of wine cups. The Taoist could drink heroically. Seeing his clothing was dirty and ragged, Xu was rather supercilious and not very polite. Han also treated him as a vagabond. The Taoist drank more than twenty cups dry, then bid farewell and left.

   From then on, every time there was a feast, the Taoist would always arrive and if they were eating he would eat, if they were drinking he would drink. Han became somewhat fed up with the frequency of his visits. Once, while drinking, Xu ridiculed him, saying, “Reverend, everyday you’re a guest – could you not once be the host?”

   The Taoist smiled and said, “Taoist and layman are the same, merely a pair of shoulders bearing a snout.”

   Embarrassed, Xu was unable to reply. The Taoist continued, “Although, this Taoist has long been harbouring sincere thanks. I ought to do my utmost to make a simple toast in return.” When the drinking was done, he urged, “Tomorrow I hope you will grant me the honour of your favour.”

   The next day, they went together as invited, doubting he would provide anything. As they left, the Taoist was already waiting by the route; talking as they walked, they arrived at the temple gate. They entered the gate – the courtyard was brand new with pavilions sprouting here and there. Amazed by this, they said, “We haven’t been here for a long time. When was this constructed?”

   The Taoist replied, “The work has not been completed long.”

   Next they entered his rooms, which were richly furnished beyond those of an aristocrat. The two of them were filled with deep veneration. As soon as they sat, wine and food were served by handsome sixteen-year-old boys in embroidered robes and vermillion slippers. The wine and victuals were fragrant and fine, and provided in abundance. When the meal was over, there were also desserts. Many of the rare fruits were unrecognizable and stored in receptacles of crystal and jade, which illuminated the tables and couches. Drinks came in glass tumblers about a foot in circumference.

   The Taoist said, “Call the Stone sisters here.”

   The boys left for a short time and two beauties entered. One was tall and slim, like a young willow; one was short of stature and of very tender years; both were utterly enchanting. The Taoist promptly told them to sing, urging the guests to drink. The younger beat time as she sang and the elder accompanied her on the bamboo flute, the sound clear and delicate.

   When the song ended, the Taoist raised his goblet to propose a toast and then ordered everyone to drink. Turning to the beauties, he asked, “You haven’t danced for a long time – can you still do it?”

   Thereupon some boy servants laid out a carpet before the feast and the two girls danced together, flicking their long robes wildly, perfume spreading everywhere. When the dance was finished, they reclined upon the painted screens. The two men, feeling carefree and elated, became drunk unawares.

   Paying no attention to his guests, the Taoist raised his cup and drained his drink. Rising, he told the guests, “Please drink by yourselves for a while. I’ll take a short rest and then I’ll return.” Then he left.

   Below the wall of a room to the south, a bed inlaid with mother-of-pearl had been set up. The girls spread out a brocade mattress and helped the Taoist lie down. Then the Taoist pulled the elder to sleep with him and ordered the younger to stand beside the bed and scratch his itch. The two men stared at this state of affairs, feeling highly resentful. Finally, Xu cried out, “Taoist, don’t be so impolite!”

   He went over to stop him. The Taoist hurriedly got up and ran off. Seeing the young girl still standing by the bed, and being drunk, Xu dragged her off to a couch in the north, where they openly lay down in an embrace. Observing that the beauty on the bed was still sleeping on the brocade berth, Xu turned to Han and said, “Why are you being so old-fashioned?”

   So Han went over and climbed onto the bed to the south; he attempted to become intimate, but the beauty had gone to sleep and he couldn’t turn her around. So he hugged her and slept together with her. When day dawned and he woke from both wine and dream, he felt something cold in his embrace freezing him; taking a look, he found he was hugging a long stone and sleeping at the foot of the stairs.

   He quickly looked for Xu, and Xu had still not awoken; he saw him resting his head on a shit-smeared stone, fast asleep in a broken lavatory. Kicking him till he rose, they stared at each other in astonishment. Looking around, it was a yard of wild grass, two dilapidated rooms and nothing else.

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