The Mural..... by Pu Songling, 17th c.

Meng Longtan, a citizen of Jiangxi, lived in the capital of the province in the house of a master of arts by the name of Zhu.

One day their steps led them by chance to a temple where they found neither impressive interiors, nor cells suitable for meditation, nor anyone else apart from an old, shabbily dressed priest. When he caught sight of the visitors he straightened his garment, went to meet them, and then guided them here and there. He pointed out the statues of the immortals. The walls on both sides were prettily painted with realistic pictures of men and animals. The eastern wall depicted a group of fairies, among whom stood a girl whose loose tresses, not yet tied into a matronly bun, betokened a maiden. Smiling, she was plucking flowers, her cherry lips seemed to move, the moisture in her eyes to overflow. Zhu contemplated her a good, long while, unable to take his eyes off her, until everything around him except the picture vanished.

Suddenly, he found himself floating in air as though he were riding a cloud, and it happened that he passed through the wall into a place where chambers and tents other than those of mortals were ranged in neat rows. Here an old priest, surrounded by a dense throng of listeners, preached Buddha's law. Zhu joined the crowd. After a few moments he became aware of someone gently tugging at his sleeve. Turning, he saw it was the girl from the picture, who now walked away laughing. Zhu lost no time in following her, passed along a balustrade, and came to a small apartment which he did not dare enter. But the girl glanced behind her and waved her bouquet of flowers at him as though to beckon him in. He entered and found himself alone with her. Instantly he embraced her- without any resistance on her part.

They had lived together for a number of days when the girl's companions became suspicious and discovered Zhu in hiding. They laughed and teased her: "My dear, now that you'll soon be a mother, how is it that you still do your hair like a maiden?" They brought her the appropriate hairpins and ornaments and urged her to tie her hair, which made her blush, but she said nothing. Then one of them cried, "Sisters, let's leave. Otherwise we'll embarrass them no end." Giggling, they ran off.

Zhu decided that the new way she tied her hair made her even more beautiful. The crowning bun and ornamental pendants suited her face perfectly. He took her in his arms, caressed her, and inhaled her sweet fragrance.

While they were thus together in intimate companionship and while happiness engulfed them like eternity, there suddenly arouse a clamor like the tramp of thick-soled boots accompanied by clanging chains and vituperative words. Frightened, the young woman jumped up, and both she and Zhu peeked out. They caught sight of a herald in golden armor, his face black as night, crying a hammer in both hands, and surrounded by all the girls. They heard him ask: "Are all of you here?" "All." they answered. "If you are hiding a human being, tell me this instant, or else you'll live to regret it." They replied as before, that there was no one. The herald made as though he were going to conduct a search. The girl stood deeply perplexed, pale as ashes. In her terror she told Zhu to hide under the bed while she disappeared through a low, trellised door. Zhu did as he was told and hardly dared breathe. After a while, he heard the boots stomp into the room and then out again. By and by the voices receded. That calmed him a little, and yet he continued to hear the racket of creatures pacing up and down outside. After he had spent a good, long time in his confined hiding place, his ears began to ring as though there were crickets inside, while his eyes burned like fire. He could hardly bear it. Nevertheless he stayed put and awaited the return of the girl without giving thought of the cause or purpose of his predicament.

In the meantime Meng Longtanhad noticed the disappearance of his friend. He thought right away that something must have happened to him, and he asked the priest where he was. "He has gone to hear the sermon on the law," replied the priest. "Where?" asked Meng. "Oh, not very far." The old priest knocked on the wall and cried, "Friend Zhu! How is it that you take so long?" At that momenet the likeness of Zhu appeared on the wall, his ear bent in the posture of one who is listening. The priest continued, "Your friend is waiting for you." Zhu promptly descended from the wall and stood before them as though something shap had pierced him, his eyes glaring, legs shaking. Meng was greatly taken aback but asked him calmly what had happened.

What had happened was this: while Zhu lay hidden under the bed, he had heard a thunderous din and had rushed out to see what it was.

Now thwy all noticed that the young maiden in the picture had taken on the coiffure of a married woman. Zhu was amazed; he asked the old priest what it meant. The latter replied, "Faces take their appearance from those who behold them. What other explanation can I give you?" This answer did not do much to satisfy Zhu, nor could his friend in his anxiety make heads or tails of it. They descended the ssteps of the temple and walked away.