by Bernardino de Senna Fernandes d'AssumpçãoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (3) to be taken to his personal page

Edited extract from an unpublished book of anecdotes

The following is a well-known tale, probably told for generations among the Portuguese in Macau and Hongkong.

In the olden days a doctor's certificate of death could not be completely relied upon; to ensure that no one was buried alive, the cadaver, wrapped in a shroud in its coffin, was usually taken to the cemetery's chapel for burial the following day.

Such was the case when an avaricious old bachelor died without leaving a will. It was common knowledge in Macau that he had a hoard of gold hidden somewhere in his house. Anxious to search thoroughly for the gold, his relatives hurriedly removed the body to the cemetery' chapel.

This old man must have died with his eyes open but his relatives, in their haste, had not, as was customary, placed copper coins on the eyelids to keep them closed.

On the afternoon of the death, five young good-for-nothing jokers bet one of their group that he would not dare to break into the chapel at midnight, open the coffin and steal this miser's shroud. Never realising how dark, lonesome and eerie a cemetery could be at midnight, the young fool accepted the challenge.

From his father's house he took a screw-driver and a hammer and went to meet his friends at the gate of the cemetery just before midnight as they had agreed.

It was not at all bad at first, surrounded by his comrades at the gate; there was a bit of light cast by the street's kerosene lamps and the moon was also quite bright that night.

But when he had to leave his friends and walk towards the chapel, he must have felt his progress between the many tombs becoming longer and lonelier; yet his pride kept him going.

He found the chapel's door unlocked as expected and on entering would have felt much more comfortable to discover two thick, lighted candles at the foot of the coffin.

The coffin had been nailed shut, so using his hammer and the screw-driver he pried open and removed the lid.

One can imagine his terror in finding the corpse glaring at him. Unfortunately for him, he had left the doors of the chapel fully opened; a gust of wind blew out both candles, leaving him in utter darkness.

It would seem that he had attempted to drag the sheet upwards with both hands, causing the body to roll over to one side of the coffin but no matter how hard he tried, in desperation, to retrieve the shroud, something resisted his efforts. He was so frightened that he dropped dead a few yards from the coffin.

When he failed to reappear, his waiting friends at first thought that he had returned home to hide, but they had not seen him coming out of the chapel and noticing that the candles had gone out, they decided to investigate.

They relit the candles and found their friend dead, with one end of the shroud grasped tightly in his hand, and the other end caught on some of the nails protruding from the sides of the coffin.

Those who later investigated this unusual death concluded that the shroud had been caught on the nails just by chance, but it was said that the other boys who took part in this escapade were convinced that it was the work of the old miser.

The greedy relatives never found more than a small bag of silver coins. Many were convinced that the gold was stolen by one of the servants.