Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/701

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the prescribed offerings at his tomb. We have stood by many a Chinese death-bed, and though the dying man might "prattle o' green fields," and fancy himself once more surrounded by his friends amid the peach-groves of Hiang Shan, while his frail body was tossing on the stormy waves of the Indian Ocean, yet there was no sign of dread with regard to the future that awaited him. But there, far out at sea, there was no opportunity for witnessing the ritual of death But one brief hour after the eye has glazed, and the jaw has fallen, the canvas-shrouded and shotted corpse takes its last plunge into the blue ocean depths, without a prayer, without a rite save the few cash sprinkled by his remaining comrades over his watery tomb.

On shore a very different spectacle is presented. As the last hour draws near, the relatives wander round the house with cries, the gong is incessantly beaten, and packet after packet of fire-crackers gives out its short, sharp series of detonations, sounding like irregular platoon-firing, to frighten away the evil spirits supposed to be watching round the house to seize the departing soul; while, within, upon the filming eye the smoke of the ever-burning incense mingles with death's gray shadow. The eye has closed, the spirit has departed, and now every door and window is flung wide open, and the "keen" rises wildly to recall the wandering guest to its deserted tenement. And now the death is announced to all the relatives; the door is hung with white drapery, and down each lintel hangs a scroll of white, on which appear funereal inscriptions in blue. Large blue-and-white lanterns are hung on either side of the entrance, and probably a bamboo portico, thatched with matting, is erected to preserve lanterns, inscriptions, and garlands from the weather. Should it be a parent who has passed away, two figures of the stork, the emblem of longevity, appear amid the decorations. The relatives of the deceased, robed in white, and with white cloths bound about their heads, now go in procession to the nearest spring or river; before them is supported the nearest heir of the deceased, wearing a white veil, showing signs of the deepest affliction, and bearing in his hand a bowl in which are two copper coins, whose united value is about half a farthing. This company, uttering the most dismal howls, and having in its train musicians whose performances are scarcely less doleful, has gone to purchase water to wash the dead. This ceremony having been performed, the body is dressed as in life, and placed in its coffin, which has previously been half-filled with quicklime. The lid is then put on, and cemented down, the whole of it being afterward highly polished, and the name of the deceased inscribed upon it.

The coffin, it may be as well to remark, is not a slight shell like those in use among us, but is either a hollowed tree or made in the form of one—the sides being rounded, and five or six inches in thickness. They are formed of very hard and costly woods, reaching occasionally the price of five hundred pounds. A handsome coffin is