The Lady T’ien, frantic with grief, embraced him, rubbed his chest, and when these remedies failed to revive him, called in his old servant.
“Has your master ever had any fits like this before?” she hurriedly inquired.
“Often,” replied the man, “and no medicine ever alleviates his sufferings; in fact, there is only one thing that does.’”
“Oh, what is that?” asked the lady.
“The brains of a man, boiled in wine,” answered the servant. “In Tsoo, when he has these attacks, the king, his father, beheads a malefactor and takes his brain to form the decoction; but how is it possible here to obtain such a remedy?”
“Will the brains of a man who has died a natural death do?” asked the lady.
“Yes, if forty-nine days have not elapsed since the death.”
“My former husband’s would do then. He has only been dead twenty days. Nothing will be easier than to open the coffin and take them out.”
“But would you be willing to do it?”
“I and the Prince are now husband and wife. A wife with her body serves her husband, and should I refuse to do this for him out of regard for a corpse, which is fast becoming dust?”
Stroke the plank
So saying, she told the servant to look after his master, and seizing a hatchet, went straight to the hut to which the corpse had been removed. Having arranged the light conveniently, she tucked up her sleeves, clenched her teeth, and with both hands brought down the hatchet on the coffin-lid. Blow after blow fell upon the wood, and at the thirty-first stroke the plank yielded, and the head of the coffin was forced open. Panting with her exertions, she cast a glance on the corpse preparatory to her further grim office, when, to her inexpressible horror, Chwang sighed twice, opened his eyes, and sat up. With a piercing shriek she shrank backwards, and dropped the hatchet from her palsied hands.
“My dear wife,” said the philosopher, “help me to rise.”
Afraid to do anything else but obey, she assisted him out of the coffin and offered him support, while he led the way, lamp in hand, to her chamber. Remembering the sight that would there meet his eyes, the wretched woman trembled as they approached the door. What was her relief, however, to find that the Prince and his servant had disappeared. Taking advantage of this circumstance, she assumed every woman’s wile, and in softest accents, said, “Ever since your death you have been in my thoughts day and night. Just now, hearing a noise in your coffin, and remembering how, in the tales of old, souls are said to return to their bodies, the hope occurred to me that it might be so in your case, and I took a hatchet to open your coffin. Thank Heaven and Earth my licity is complete; you are once more by my side.”