The Iron Mortar

Iron Mortar

During the Song period there was a native of Donghai named Xu, whose wife died after bearing him a son named Iron Mortar. Then he married a daughter of the Chen family, but she was a cruel woman who determined to kill her stepson. She bore a son herself, and at his birth she swore:
"If you don't kill Iron Mortar, you are no son of mine."
So she named her own boy Iron Pestle, hoping the pestle would overcome the mortar. She kept thrashing her stepson and treating him cruelly, giving him no food when he was hungry and no padded clothes when he was cold. Xu was a coward, and besides he was often away, so the stepmother could do just as she pleased. And finally Iron Mortar died of hunger, cold and beatings. He was then only sixteen.
About ten days after his death his ghost came back, and went to his stepmother's bed.
"I am Iron Mortar," it said. "I did no one any wrong, yet I was cruelly murdered. My mother lodged a complaint in heaven, and now I have an order from heaven to fetch Iron Pestle. He will suffer as I did and leave this earth very soon. I shall wait for him here."
The voice was like Iron Mortar's when he was alive, and though the household and the guests could not see him they could all hear him. And the ghost took up its quarters on the beam.
Xu's wife kneeled to apologize, slapped her own face and sacrificed to the ghost.
"That is no use," said the ghost. "You starved me to death – how can you make up for that with a meal now?"
At night she secretly complained.
"How dare you complain about me?" asked the ghost angrily. "I shall break your roof."
They heard the sound of a saw, and sawdust fell. Then there came a great crash as if the beam had collapsed. The whole household rushed outside, but when they lighted a torch to see the damage, nothing at all had happened.
Then the ghost swore at its stepbrother, "After killing me, why should you live here in comfort? I shall burn your house down."
At that they saw a fire with much smoke and flames, and the whole household was alarmed; but presently the fire died down of itself, and the thatched roof was left undamaged. The ghost used to abuse them like this every day, after which it would burst into song:

			Oh, peach blossom and prune blossom,
			What if the frost should cover you?
			Oh, ripe peaches and ripe prunes,
			One frost and all's over for you!		

The aria was a very sad one, as if the ghost was lamenting its early death. Its six-year-old stepbrother had been ill every since the ghost came. His whole body ached, his belly became swollen and full of gas, and he could not eat. The ghost kept beating him too, and wherever it beat him the boy turned black and blue. After a month the child died, and the ghost disappeared for good.

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