The Laughing Ghost





Siu Long-mountain was one of the most celebrated students of the

district of Perfect-flowers. Having mastered the mysterious theories of

the ancient Classics, he took a fancy in the researches of the Taoist

magicians, whose temples may be found in the smallest villages of the

Empire. He soon discovered that, for the greater number, they were

impostors; and, being proud of his newly acquired science, he concluded

that none of them possessed any occult power.



When he came to this somewhat hasty conclusion, he was seated alone in

his library; the night was already advancing; a small oil lamp hardly

illuminated his books on the table he was sitting at.



"Yes, there is no doubt; nothing exists outside the material

appearances. There is nothing occult in the world, and nothing can come

out of nothingness."



As he was saying these words half aloud, he was startled by an unearthly

laugh which seemed to come from behind his back. He turned quickly

round; but nothing was to be seen.



His heart beating, he was listening intently; the laugh came from

another part of the room.



Long-mountain was brave, but as people are brave who have only met the

ordinary dangers of civilised life, such as barking dogs, insulting

coolies, or angry dealers presenting a long-deferred bill. He tried in

vain to believe it was only a joke imposed on him by some friend;

nothing could prevail upon his growing terror.



Straining his eyes, he looked at the part of the room the laugh seemed

to come from. At first he could not see anything, but by degrees he

perceived a black shadow moving in a corner, then a strange form with a

horse's head and a man's body, all covered with long black hair; the

teeth were big and sharp as so many mountain-peaks. The eyes of this

dreadful creature began shining so much that the whole room was

illuminated. Then it began moving towards the man.



This was too much; the student screamed like a dying donkey, and,

bursting the door open, he ran out into the courtyard.



From an open door in the western pavilion a ray of light crossed the

darkness; four or five men were playing cards, drinking, and swearing.

Long-mountain ran into their room, and, panting, explained his vision.



The men, being drunk, wanted to see the Thing; holding lanterns and

lamps, they accompanied their visitor back to his studio. When they

passed the doorway, Long-mountain screamed again; the Thing was still

there. He would have run away had not the men, laughing and jesting,

shown him what the Ghost in reality was--a long dress hung in a corner

to a big hook, on which sat a black cat mewing desperately.



When the men closed the door and left him alone, the student was deeply

ashamed of his terror; shaken by his emotion, he went to bed and tried

to sleep. Sleep would not come; his nervousness seemed to increase.

Starting at the smallest noise, he remained a long time wide awake; then

he lost consciousness.



In the silence one only heard the cries of the night-birds and the

buzzing of the autumn's insects; the lamp was out, but a brilliant moon

began to pour its silver light through the window.



The door suddenly creaked; Long-mountain awoke and sat up on his bed;

the door slowly opened, and the same Thing he had seen and heard entered

the room and advanced towards the bed, while the same unearthly laugh

came from the long and unshapely head; the flaming eyes were fixed on

the student.



When the Thing was near the bed, Long-mountain fell heavily and did not

move any more.



The Ghost stopped, put his hand on the breast of the man, remained in

that position a moment, then went quickly and silently out of the room.



A man was standing outside.



"What did he say?" asked he.



"Be quiet!" said the Ghost, taking off his horse's head and discovering

a man's very serious face. "The joke was good. But we have done it too

well. I think he is dead of terror; we had better be as silent as a tomb

about all this. The magistrate would never believe in a joke; we would

be held responsible for this death and pay a heavy penalty."





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