A Ghostly Hand Through the Window 鬼手入窗

As a youth, Liang, Duke Ma, the Junior Guardian[1] was once reading a book beneath a lamp and close to a window, when suddenly a great hand like a door leaf pushed through the lattice into the window. The next night it came again, but the gentleman moistened his writing brush in orpiment water, and wrote his signature in large script. From outside the window came a loud call: “Wash it off for me quickly, then you won’t come to harm.” The gentleman paid no attention but went to bed. Before long it had become very angry, seeking with ever more urgency to wash it away, but the gentleman paid no attention. Just before dawn, it made plaintive wails and was quite unable to withdraw its hand, saying: “The gentleman will be a great noble, I was just testing the gentleman; how can the gentleman bear my extremity? Can the gentleman alone be unaware of the affair of Wen Jiao and the rhino horn?”[2] The gentleman then came to a sudden realisation, washing away his signature with water, and the hand then shrank and withdrew; he looked but there was nothing to see.

Anon, Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.237 (Tale 427):

鬼手入窗

馬少保公亮少時,臨窗燭下閱書,忽有大手如扇,自櫺窗穿入。次夜又至,公以筆濡雌黃水,大書花押,窗外大呼:「速為我滌去,不然禍及於汝。」公不聽而寢。有頃怒甚,求為滌去愈急,公不之顧。將曉,哀鳴而手不能縮耳,曰:「公將大貴,姑以試公,公何忍致我極地耶!公獨不見溫嶠然犀事乎!」公大悟,以水滌去花押,手方縮去,視之亦無所見。

[1] The biography of Ma Liang 馬亮, courtesy name Shuming 叔明, is found at Songshi 298.9915-17. The Huhai account is considerably abbreviated compared to a previous (Song-era) telling. Compare Zhang Shizheng 張師正, Kuoyizhi 括異志 (Inclusive Reports on Strange Matters) (Project Gutenberg version):

Junior Guardian Ma 馬少保

The Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent Duke Ma Liang himself related that in his youth he studied at a Buddhist monastery outside the walls of Luzhou. One night, when reading beneath a lamp close to a window, there was a huge hand like a door leaf that extended before him, as if on a great rope. The gentleman did not look at it, but continued to peruse his books as before. The same happened night after night. The gentleman thus told people, and a Daoist priest said: “I have often heard that spirirs fear red orpiment; you should try to get rid of it with that.” He thus ground red orpiment and soaked it in water, then secretly placed it close by on a table. That evening, when the huge hand arrived again, the gentleman used a brush moistened in red orpiment and wrote on it the single large character cao (‘grass’). When he had finished writing, a great yell came from outside the window: “Wash it off quickly, if not, misfortune will reach you!” The gentleman carried on as before, not listening, and then, leaving the lamp, went to bed. Before long it became extremely angry, and demanded all the more urgently that it be washed off; the gentleman did not respond. As dawn arrived, its cries became ever more plaintive, but it could not withdraw, so spoke again: “The gentleman will be greatly distinguished; I won’t scare other people; I only wanted to joke, but offended the gentleman; how can you stand to see me so extremely terrified? I have certainly caused offence, but, if the conditions of the nether world are revealed to the world through the gentleman’s action that will not be to the gentleman’s profit. Is the gentleman alone unaware of Wen Jiao’s burning the rhino horn to light cow island?” The gentleman, coming to a sudden realisation, then washed off the ‘grass’ character with water, and warned the creature not to return and bother people in future; the monster yielded gratefully and departed. The Jinshi scholar Wei Tai reported that Duke Ma had often spoken of this to his grandfather.

馬少保

太子少保馬公亮自言:少肄業於廬州城外佛寺,一夕,臨窗燭下閱書,有大手如扇自窗伸於公前,若有所索。公不為視,閱書如故,如是比夜而至。公因語人,有道士云:「素聞鬼畏雄黃,可試以辟之。」公乃研雄黃漬水,密置案上。是夕大手又至,公遽以筆濡雄黃,大書一「草」字。書畢,聞窗外大呼曰:「速為我滌去。不然,禍及與汝!」公雅不為聽,停燭而寢。有頃,怒甚,而索滌愈急,公不應。逮曉,更哀鳴而不能縮,且曰:「公將大貴,我且不為他怪,徒以相?而犯公,何忍遽致我於極地耶?我固得罪,而幽冥之狀由公以彰暴於世,亦非公之利也。公獨不見溫嶠犀照牛渚之事乎?」公大悟,即以水滌去「草」字,且戒他日勿復擾人,怪遜謝而去。進士魏泰言馬公嘗說於其祖云。

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27092/27092-0.txt (accessed 21/01/18)

[2] This refers to the account in the Jinshu 晉書 biography for Wen Jiao 溫嶠 (288-329 CE, courtesy name Taizhen 泰真), which relates his death to his exposure of water spirits by illuminating them with a burning rhino horn, and a subsequent warning about such behaviour in a dream. The biography is found at Jinshu 67.1785-96, and the incident at 67.1795.

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

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