Produced by David Starner, Alicia Williams, Sandra Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Transcriber’s Note: This book was published as Chinese Love Tales in 1935 (translated from the original of George Souile De Morant –a variation in the spelling of the middle name) with numerous illustrations by Valenti Angelo. It was attacked and acquitted in the courts, winning judicial recognition of its exceptional literary merit.]
_EASTERN SHAME GIRL_
_Translated from the French of_
GEORGE SOULIE DEMORANT
Privately Printed 1929_
EASTERN SHAME GIRL
THE WEDDING OF YA-NEI
A STRANGE DESTINY
THE ERROR OF THE EMBROIDERED SLIPPER
THE COUNTERFEIT OLD WOMAN
THE MONASTERY OF THE ESTEEMED-LOTUS
A COMPLICATED MARRIAGE
_Note:–The original source of the stories appearing in “Eastern Shame Girl” is the classic literature of China in the 17th Century._
EASTERN SHAME GIRL
When there is a great peace
Under the gold cup of the sun
Joy reaches its flowering.
In the twentieth year of the period Wan-li, there came, among the thousands of students who gathered at Peking for the examinations, a certain Li, whose first name was Chia and his surname Ch’ien-hsi, or “Purified-a-thousand times.” His family were from Shao-hsing fu in Chekiang; his father was Judge of the province of Kang-su; and Li himself was the eldest of three brothers. He had studied in the village school from childhood and, not having yet attained to literary rank, had come, according to custom, to present himself for examination at Peking. While in that city, he consorted, before his springtide, with the young libertines, the “willow twigs” of his country; and, in order to gain experience, frequented the theatres and music-halls. Thus he became acquainted with a famous singing girl called Tu, whose first name was Mei, or “Elegance.” As she was the tenth of her family, she was known at the theatre as Shih-niang, “The Tenth daughter.” A delicate seduction diffused from her: her body was all grace and perfume. The twin arches of her brows held the black which is blue of distant mountains, and her eyes were as deep and bright as autumn lakes. Her face had the glory of the lotus, and her lips the glory of cherries. By what blunder of the gods had this piece of flawless jade fallen in the windy dust, among the flowers beneath the willow? When she was thirteen years old, Shih-niang had already “broken her claws.” Now she was nineteen, and it would not be possible to enumerate the young Lords and Princes whose hearts she had besotted, whose thoughts she had set in a turmoil, whose family treasures she had swallowed without compunction. In the theatres, they had composed an epigram about her:
When Tu Shih-niang comes to a banquet The guests drink a thousand great cups
Instead of a single small one.
When Tu Mei appears upon the stage The actresses look like devils.
It must be said that never, in the young passions of his life, had Li Chia experienced the pain of beauty; but, when he saw Shih-niang, emotion was awakened in him, and the feelings of a flowering willow filled his breast. He himself was gifted with rare beauty, and a sweet and gentle nature. He spent his money recklessly, with an unbridled zeal for bestowing gifts. For this reason he held a double attraction for Shih-niang, who considered that falsehood and avarice were opposed to rectitude, and had also by this time made up her mind to return to a life of honor. She appreciated Li Chia’s gentleness and generosity, and was drawn toward him. But he was afraid of his father and did not dare to marry her at once, as she wished. Their love was not, on that account, any the less tender. In the joys of dawn and the pleasures of twilight they kept together as do husband and wife, and in their vows they compared their love with the Ocean or with the Mountain, recognizing no other vital motive. In truth:
Their tenderness was deeper than the sea For it was past sounding,
Their love was as the mountains
But even higher.
Also, since Chia had been admitted to her favor, rich Lords and powerful Ministers were no longer permitted to see the girl’s beauty. At first Li used to give large sums of money, so that the matron to whom Shih-niang belonged, shrugged her shoulders and smiled. But the days went quickly, and the months too; and a year had passed. Chia’s coffers had gradually become empty; and now his hand could no longer keep pace with his wishes. But the ancient ma-ma remained patient.
In the meanwhile the Judge had learned that his son was frequenting the theatre, and sent him repeated orders to return home. But Chia, who was infatuated, kept on delaying his departure until, hearing that his father was truly furious, he no longer dared to return. It was well said by the ancients: “As long as harmony endures there is unity; when harmony ceases, there is separation.”
Shih-niang’s love was sincere, and her heart only burned the more for him whose hands were empty. The ma-ma frequently ordered her to send her lover away; then, seeing that the young girl was indifferent to her commands, she tried to exasperate Chia with stinging words, hoping thus to compel him to depart. But her visitor’s nature was so gentle that his anger could not be provoked, and the only result was to make him more amiable in his behavior to the old woman, who in her impotence ended in reproaching Shih-niang:
“We who keep open doors must eat our visitors three times a day, and clothe ourselves with them. We lead out the departing guest by one door, but to receive a fresh one by another. When desire is excited under our roof, our silver and silks mount up like hills. But it is more than a year since this Li Chia began troubling your curtains, and now old patrons and new guests alike have discontinued their visiting. The spirit Chung-k’uci no longer comes to our door; nay, not the littlest devil. Therefore I am angry and humiliated. What will become of us, now that we have no trace of visitors?”
Shih-niang restrained herself with difficulty under these reproaches, and answered calmly:
“Young Lord Li did not come here with empty hands. He has paid us considerable sums of money.”
“It was so at one time; but it is now so no longer. Tell him to give me enough to pay for rice for the two of you…. Indeed, I have no luck! Most of the girls I buy claim all the silver, and hardly care whether their clients live or die. But now I have reared a white tiger who refuses riches, opens wide the door, and makes my old body bear the total burden. O miserable child! You wish to keep the poor for nothing. Where will you find clothes and food? Tell your beggar to be wise enough to give me a few ounces of silver. If you will not send him away, I shall sell you and look for another slave. That would be better for both of us.”
“Do you mean what you say?” asked the girl.
“But you know that Li Chia has neither money nor clothes, and cannot procure any.”
“I am not jesting,” answered the old woman.
“Then how much must he give to take me away?”
“If any one else were in question, I should demand several thousand ounces. Alas! This beggar cannot pay them! So I shall be satisfied with three hundred ounces, with which to buy another ‘tinted face.’ If he brings them within three days, I will take the silver with my left hand and give the girl with my right. But after three days, it matters not at all to me that three times seven are twenty-one; Lord or no Lord, I shall beat out this young spark with my broom, and you must bear no grudge for it.”
“In spite of all, he should be able to borrow three hundred ounces. But three days is too little; he will need ten.”
“Ten days!” cried the other. “A hundred would be more like! Yet so be it. I will wait ten days.”
“If he cannot get the money, he will not have the face to return. My only fear is that you will go back on your promise, if he does bring the three hundred ounces.”
“I am nearly fifty-one years old,” answered the ma-ma. “Ten times I have offered the great sacrifices. How should I dare not to keep my word? If you mistrust me, let us strike the palms of our hands together to fix the agreement. Nay, if I break my word, may I be changed into a pig or dog!”
That same evening, by the pillow-side, Shih-niang explained how her body might be re-bought, and Li Qua said:
“That would delight me, but how can I pay so much? My purse is as empty as if it had been washed.”
“Your slave has arranged all with the ma-ma. She requires three hundred ounces within ten days. Even if you have spent all that your family gave you for your journey, you have still some friends or relations from whom you can borrow. Then you will have me entirely to yourself, and I shall never again have to endure that woman’s anger.”
“Since I became obsessed by our love, my friends and relations have ceased to recognize me. But perhaps, if I asked them to help me to pay for my journey I might make up the sum.”
In the morning, when he had arranged his hair and, clothed himself, and was about to leave Shih-niang, she said to him:
“Do your uttermost, and come back to me with good news.”
He went to all his relations and friends, pretending that he was taking leave of them before his departure. They all congratulated him; but when he spoke of the expenses of the journey and asked for a loan, all, without exception, told him that they could do nothing. His friends knew the weakness of his character, and that he was besotted with love for some “Flower-in-the-Mist” or other. He had remained in Peking, up to that time, they knew, not daring to face his father’s anger. Was this departure genuine, now, or but pretended? If he spent the borrowed money on “tinted faces,” would not his father bear a grudge against those who lent it? The most he could get together was from ten to twenty ounces.
Ashamed of his failure after a full three days of endeavor, he did not dare to return to Shih-niang; yet, since he used to spend every night with his mistress, he had no other lodging. After the first evening, therefore, he went and asked shelter from his fellow-countryman, the very learned Liu Yu-ch’un. This man, seeing the growing sadness of the young man, at last ventured to question him and learned his story and of his plan of marriage. Liu shook his head: “That is hardly possible. She is the most famous of all the singing girls. Who would be content with three hundred ounces for such a beauty? The old woman has conceived this method of sending you away, and Shih-niang, knowing that your hands are empty, asks you for this sum because she does not dare to tell you to leave her. If you offered the silver, she would laugh at you. It is a common trick. Do not trouble yourself further, but resign yourself to the breaking off of your relations with the girl.”
Li Chia was speechless for a long time, shaken by his doubts, and Liu added:
“Make no mistake about it. If you show that you really mean to take your departure, many will help you. But as for your plan, you would need not ten days, but ten months to find three hundred ounces.”
“Good Elder-Brother,” answered Li, “your judgment is indeed profound.”
But none the less he continued his vain search for three further days.
Shih-niang was most anxious when she did not see her lover come back to her. She sent a little servant to look for him, and the child met Li by chance, and said:
“Lord, our Elder-Sister awaits you at the house.”
In his shame, Li answered:
“I have no time to-day. To-morrow I will come to see her.”
But the boy had been commanded to bring him back, and to die sooner than lose him, so he replied:
“It is the absolute wish of the Elder-Sister that you come with me.”
Li could not refuse, and followed the messenger.
Once in Shih-niang’s presence he stood still, sobbing mo-mo, mo-mo, without a word.
“How is our plan going?” she asked.
He only answered with a flood of tears; so she insisted:
“Can people have been so hard as to refuse three hundred ounces?”
Stifling his sobs, he answered with this verse:
It is easier to catch a tiger in the mountains Than to move the world with speech alone.
“I have gone about for these six days, and my hands are empty. Shame has kept me away from my perfumed companion, and it is only at her command that I have come back. I have tried my hardest. Alas! such is the spirit of the century.”
“We will say nothing to the ma-ma. Let my Lord stay here for the night: his slave will propose another plan to him.”
She served him with a meal and wine, and made him lie down. Then in the middle of the night she asked:
“If you cannot find three hundred ounces to free me, what are we to do?”
He wept without answering. Shih-niang waited until the fifth watch; then she drew from under her mattress a bag containing a hundred and fifty ounces in small silver, and said:
“This is my secret reserve. Since you cannot find the whole sum, I will give you half of it. That should help you; but we have only four days more. Above all, do not come too late!”
Astonished and overjoyed, he carried away the bag and went back to Liu, telling him what had happened and showing him the money. Liu exclaimed:
“Surely this woman has a loyal heart! Since she acts so, she must not be allowed to suffer. I am going to act as mediator in your marriage.”
Leaving Li in his house, he went himself to ask for loans on all sides. In two days he had amassed a hundred and fifty ounces. He gave them to the young man, saying:
“I have stood guarantor for you, for I am deeply touched by Shih-niang’s sentiment.”
Li took the silver, as delighted as if the money had fallen from the sky, and ran to see his mistress. It was the ninth day. She asked him: “Has it been very difficult? Have you found the hundred and fifty ounces?”
He then told her what Liu had done; and both, rejoicing, spent a night of pleasure. Next day she said to him:
“When this money is paid, I must follow my Lord. But we have made no preparation for the boats and conveyances of our journey. I have borrowed twenty ounces from my friends. My Lord may take them for travelling expenses.”
In his uneasiness concerning these expenses, he had not dared to speak of them. He took the money, and was full of joy.
At that moment there was a knock on the door, and the old woman entered, saying:
“This is the tenth day.”
“I thank the ma-ma for recalling the fact to us,” he answered. “I was on the point of paying her a visit.”
And, taking up the bag, he poured the three hundred ounces on to the table. The old woman had not supposed he could succeed.
She changed color, and seemed on the point of gainsaying her word. So Shih-niang said; “I have stayed in your house for a long time, and have brought in several thousands of ounces. To-day I am marrying. If you do not keep your word, I shall commit suicide before you, and you will lose the money and the girl.”
The old woman could find no words to express her feeling. She took the money in silence, and finally muttered:
“If you mean to go away, you go now. But you shall take none of your clothes or jewels with you.”
Hustling the two young people along, she led them through the door and shot the bolt.
It was then the ninth moon, and the weather was cold. Shih-niang had but just risen from bed, and was not dressed; nor was her hair done. Yet she saluted the ma-ma with two genuflexions. La Chia shook his two hands joined together. Thus the married pair left that not too pleasant old woman:
Even as a carp escapes the metal hook, Flirts its tail and shakes its head
And returns not.
In front of the door La Chia said to his mistress:
“Wait a moment! I will call a little palankeen to take you to the house of Liu.”
“In this very court are my friends, my sisters, who have always been in sympathy with me.
“I must take leave of them; and I cannot neglect to thank them for the money they have lent me.”
Accompanied by her Lord, she went to each pavilion to greet her friends. Now, one of them, Yuch-lang, was a very close friend of Shih-niang, so, seeing that she had not done her hair, she led her to her own toilet-table, and ran to call another friend, Hsu Su-Su. Then she took from her coffers many ornaments of king-fisher leather and bracelets and jasper pins, even embroidered robes and girdles ornamented with phoenix. She gave them to Shih-niang, over-coming her with gratitude.
She also ordered a feast of congratulation, to which all their friends were invited, and finally, at the end of day, offered the pair a bed for the night.
When she was alone with Li Chia, Shih-niang asked:
“Where shall we go when we have left the capital? Has my Lord made a decision on this point?”
“My father,” he answered, “is still angry with me. If, in addition, he learns that I have married my Little-Sister, and that I am coming back with her, he will doubtless be carried quite away by rage. I have not found a satisfactory plan.”
“Your father has feelings from Heaven. He could not break completely with you. Would it not be better for us to go to him, and to keep to our boat while you pray your friends to go and ask for a harmonious reconciliation? After that, leading your slave, you may re-enter your dwelling in peace.”
“That is an excellent plan,” he answered.
Next day they thanked Yuch-lang again, and went to the house of Liu. On seeing the learned man, Shih-niang knelt down to express her gratitude to him, saying:
“Later we may both know how to return your kindness.”
Liu hastened to answer, according to the polite formality:
“Your admirable sentiment far exceeds my most poor action. You are a heroine among women. Why, then, do you hang such words to your/teeth?”
All day the three of them drank wine of joy. Then the pair chose a suitable day for their journey, and obtained horses and palankeens. When the time for their departure drew near, Yuch-lang, Hsu-Su, and all those friends came to bear the couple company. Yuch-lang sent her servants to bring a metal casket, furnished with a golden lock, and gave it to Shih-niang, who placed it in her palankeen without opening it.
The porters and servants urged the travelers forward, and they started. Liu and the beautiful women escorted them as far as the other side of the Ch’ung-wen gate, and there they drank a last cup together. They separated with tears.
When they reached the river Lu, Li Chia and Shih-niang abandoned the land way and hired a cabin in a large junk which was going to Kua-chow. After he had paid their passage in advance, there was only a single piece of bronze left in Li Chia’s bag; the twenty ounces which Shih-niang had given him had vanished as if they had never been. The young man had not been able to avoid giving certain presents, and he had also bought blankets and other necessities for the journey. Sadly he asked himself what to be done, but she said to him:
“My Lord may cease to disturb himself. Our friends have given yet more help.”
She opened her metal casket, while he looked on in shame. She took out a red silk bag and put it on the table, bidding him open it. He found the bag heavy; for, in fact, it contained fifty ounces of silver. Shih-niang had already shut the casket again, without saying what further was in it, now she said smilingly:
“Have not our sisters the most desirable instinct? They did not wish us to have any difficulty on our journey, and in this way they enable us to cross mountains and rivers.”
Li Chia exclaimed in his delight and surprise:
“If I had not met such generosity, I should have had no choice but to wander, and at last to die without burial. Even when my hair turns white, I shall not forget such virtue and such friendship.”
And he shed tears of emotion, until Shih-niang consoled him by, diverting his thoughts.
Some days later they reached Kua-chow, where the big junk stopped. But Li Chia was now able to hire a smaller vessel for themselves alone, and in this he stowed their baggage. On the morrow they were to travel across the great river.
* * * * *
It was then the second quarter of the second month of winter. The moon shone like water. The pair were sitting on the deck of the junk, and the boy said:
“Since we left the capital we have not been able to talk freely, because we were in a cabin and our neighbors could hear us. Now we are alone on our own junk. Also, we have left the cold of the North and will to-morrow be on the south side of the river. Is it not a fitting time to drink and rejoice, so as to forget our former sorrows? You to whom I owe so much, what do you say?”
“It is now long since your slave was deprived of little pleasantries and laughters, and she had the same sentiment as yourself. Your words prove that we have but one soul.”
They brought wine on deck; and, seated on a carpet beside his mistress, he offered her cups.
So they drank joyously, until they were a little drunk; and at length he said:
“O my benefactress, your voice of marvel used to trouble the six theatres. Every time I heard you then, my spirit took wing from me. It is long since you have overcome me in that way. The moon is bright over the shimmering river. The night is deep and solitary. Will you not consent to favor me with a song?”
For a little, Shih-niang refused. Then she looked at the moon, and a song escaped her. It was an affecting melody, taken from one of the pieces of the Yuan dynasty, called “The Light Rose of the Peaches.” In truth:
Her voice took flight to the Milky Way, And the clouds stopped to listen.
Its echo fell into the deep water and the fishes hastened.
Shih-niang sang. And in a near-by junk there was a young man called Sun; his first name was Fu, Rich, and his surname was Shan-lai, Excellent-in-Promise. His family was one of the wealthiest in Hsin-an of Hui-chow; his ancestors had owned the salt monopoly in Yang-chow. He was just twenty years old, and had moulded his character in accordance with his passion, being a regular visitor at the blue pavilions, where the smiles of painted roses are to be bought. He was making a journey, and had cast anchor for the night at Kua-chow. He was drinking in solitude, bemoaning the absence of companions.
Suddenly in the night he heard a voice more sweet than the sighs of the bird of passion, or than the warbling phoenix. No words seemed adequate, he felt, to describe the beauty of this song. Walking out from his cabin, he found that the music came from a junk not very far distant from his own.
In his eagerness to know who had enchanted him, he told his men to go and question the boatmen. But he learned no more than that the junk had been hired by Li Chia. He obtained no information concerning the singer. He reflected:
“Such a perfect voice could not belong to a woman of good family. How can I manage to see this bird?”
He could not sleep that night. In the morning, at about the fifth watch, he heard the wind roaring on the water. The light of day was strangely veiled by cloud, and flakes of snow were whirling madly. It has been said;
The clouds are swallowing
Countless thousands of trees upon the hill. Footprints disappear on many footpaths. The fisher in the bamboo hat
On the frail boat
Catches only snow and the frozen river.
This snowstorm rendered it impossible to cross the river, and the boats could not be set in motion. Sun, therefore, told his rowers to leave his moorings and to make fast alongside Li Chia’s junk. Then, in a sable bonnet and wrapped in his fox-skin robe, he opened his cabin window, pretending to look at the white snow as it fell. Shih-niang had just arranged her hair, and, with her tapering fingers, was pushing back the short curtains to throw out the dregs of tea in the bottom of her cup. The freshened splendor of her rouge shone softly.
Sun saw that celestial beauty, that incantation; he scented that perfume; and his soul boiled over. For a long moment he gazed, and his spirit was as if submerged. But he recovered himself and, leaning out of the window, recited, nearly at full voice, the poem of the “Blossom of the Plum Tree”:
Snow covers the mountain where the Sage abides, Under the trees in the moonlight
Li Chia heard the poem and came out of his cabin, curious to see who was reciting it. In this way he fell into the trap set by Sun, who hastened to salute him, asking:
“Old-Elder-Brother, what is your honorable name? And what is your first name which one does not presume to repeat?”
Having answered in accordance with the convention, Li Chia had to question Sun in his turn. They exchanged such words as are customary between educated men. Finally the libertine said:
“This snowstorm was sent by Heaven to effect our meeting. It is a large piece of fortune for your little brother. I was lonely and without diversion in my cabin. Would it not be my venerable brother’s pleasure that we should go to a riverside pavilion and divert ourselves by drinking wine?”
Li Chia answered:
“The water-chestnuts meet at the caprice of the current. How should I not be glad of this offer?”
“Between the four seas all men are brothers.”
Then Sun ordered his servant to come with him, sheltering Li Chia under a large parasol. The two men saluted each other again, landed on the bank and, after walking a little distance, found a wine pavilion.
Having entered, they chose seats by the window and sat down. The attendant brought them hot wine, Sun raised his cup to give the signal, and soon the two were conversing freely and had become friends. At length Sun leaned forward and said in a low voice:
“Last night a song arose from your honorable ship. Whose was that voice?”
Wishing to pose as a man of leisure making a journey, Li Chia at once told the truth:
“It was Tu Shih-niang, the famous singing girl of Peking.”
“How comes a singing girl to belong to my brother?”
Li Chia then ingeniously told his story, and the other said:
“To marry such a beauty is exceptional good fortune. But will your honorable father be satisfied?”
Li sighed and answered:
“There is no lack of anxiety in my humble house. My father is of a very stern disposition, and as yet knows nothing.”
Sun, developing his hidden traps, continued:
“If your honorable father is not placable, where will my Elder-Brother shelter the Beauty whom he has carried away? Have you come to some arrangement with her on this point?”
With heavy brows, La answered:
“My little wife and I have already discussed the matter.”
“Your Honorable Favor has doubtless some admirable plan?”
“Her ideas,” explained La, “is to remain for the time at a place in the country of Su and Hang, whilst I go forward to my family and ask my friends and relations to appease my father.”
The other gave a deep sigh and assumed a saddened air:
“Our friendship is not yet deep enough. I fear that you may consider my words both strange and too outspoken.”
“When I have the good fortune to receive your learned and enlightening counsel, how could I fail to respect it?”
“Your honorable and noble father, being of stern character, is certainly still angry at your conduct in Peking. And now my Elder-Brother marries in the face of convention. How could your prudent relatives and valuable friends fail to share the views of your honorable father? When you rashly ask them to act on your behalf, they will certainly refuse. Then will not the temporary residence of your Honorable Favor become a permanent one? In your position, it will be as difficult to advance as to retire.”
Li Chia knew that he had only fifty ounces in his purse, and that half this sum would very soon have vanished. He could not help hanging his head. His companion added:
“I have yet another thing to say, and it comes from my heart. Will you hear it?”
“Having already received your sympathetic advice, I shall be most happy to listen.”
“Since earliest time,” said Sun, “the hearts of women have been as changeable as the waves of the sea. And among the Flowers-in-the-Mist especially there are few who are found faithful. Since the present case concerns a famous singing girl, who knows the whole earth, it is probable that she has some former associate in the regions of the South. She has consequently availed herself of your help to conduct her to the land where this other lives.”
“I beg to say that that is not certain,” protested Li.
“Even if it is not, the men of the South are very adroit and very active. You leave a beautiful woman to live there all alone: can you guarantee that none will climb her wall or penetrate her dwelling? After all, the relations between father and son are from Heaven and cannot be destroyed. If you abandon your family for the sake of a singing girl, you will wander until you become one of those incorrect Floating-on-the-Wave individuals. A woman is not Heaven. You must ponder this matter seriously.”
Hearing this, Li Chia felt as if he were swept away by a torrent. At last he answered: “What, in your enlightened opinion, ought I to do?”
“Your servant has a plan which should be very profitable to you. But I fear lest, weakened by die soft pillow of your love, you will not be able to put it into execution, and that my words will therefore be wasted.”
“If you have a really good suggestion, I shall be forever your debtor. Why do you fear to speak?”
“My Elder-Brother, for more than a year you have Fluttered-in-the-Rain, obsessed by your brothel. You have not been able to give your mind to the difficulties which will assail you when you no longer know where to sleep or to eat. Your father’s anger is only due to your having become infatuated with Flowers, besotted by Willows, until you poured out gold as if it were simple sand. He tells himself that you will quickly consume the abundant wealth of your family, and not be assured of having children. By returning empty-handed you will justify his anger. If, O my Elder-Brother, you could cut the knot which binds you to your love, I would willingly make you a gift of a thousand ounces. With a thousand ounces of silver to show your father, you could say that, during your stay at the capital, you had rarely left your study chamber and that you had never Skimmed the Waves. He will have confidence in you, and the harmony of the house will be restored. Thus, without idle words, you change your sorrow to joy. Give the matter three thoughts. I do not covet the Beauty! I speak with no idea but of loyally helping a friend.”
La Chia was a man of naturally weak character; moreover, he was afraid of his father. Sun’s fine words troubled his heart. He rose, made a deep bow, and said:
“O Brother! Your noble counsel has cleared away the foolish and tangled obstruction of my understanding. But my little favorite has accompanied me for some thousands of li, and it would not be just for me to leave her in this way. I will return to deliberate with her, and to discover whether her mind is favorable to your project. I shall inform you shortly.”
“In our conversation,” answered Sun, “we have abandoned the paths of strict politeness.
“That was because my loyal heart could not endure to see the separation of a father and son, and wished to help you to return to your family.”
They both drank another cup of wine. The wind had dropped, and the snow had ceased to fall. The color of the sky proclaimed the evening. Sun caused his servant to pay for the drinks, and, taking Li Chia by the hand, accompanied him as far as the junk. It is very true that:
You meet a stranger and say three words And tear off a piece of your heart.
In the morning Shih-niang, on being left alone in her cabin, had prepared a little feast for her friend, wishing to spend the day with him in happiness; but the sun had set before Chia came back. She had lanterns lit to guide him and, when he at last appeared and entered the cabin, raised her eyes to his face and found the color of displeasure. She poured out a cup of hot wine and offered it to him; but he shook his head without a word, and refused to drink. Then he went and threw himself on the bed. Sad at heart, Shih-niang put the cups and dishes in order. She then undid her husband’s clothes and, leaning on the pillow, gently asked him:
“What news have you heard that has so upset you?”
Li Chia sighed, but without answering. She questioned him again three or four times, but he was already asleep. Unable to be indifferent to such lack of regard, she remained for a long time sitting on the edge of the bed, incapable of sleep.
In the middle of the night he awoke and gave another deep sigh; and she said to him:
“What is this difficult matter with which my Lord is troubled? What are these sighings?”
Li Chia threw off the blanket and seemed about to speak, but the words would not come from him. His lips trembled like leaves, and finally he burst out sobbing. She clasped his head with one arm and held it against her breast, trying to comfort him, and saying tenderly:
“The love which unites us has lasted for many days, for very nearly two years. We have overcome a thousand hardships and bitter moments, but now we are far beyond all difficulty. Why do you show such grief to-day, when we are about to cross the river and to taste the joy of a hundred years? There must surely be a reason. All things are shared in common between husband and wife, in life and after death. If anything is the matter, we must discuss it Why do you hide your sorrow from me?”
Thus urged, the young man mastered his tears and said:
“I am crushed beneath the woe which Heaven heaps upon me. In the generosity of your soul, you have not cast me by. You have endured a thousand wrongs for me. That is no merit of mine. But I still think of my father, whose commands I am defying and that against every convention and all laws. He is of inflexible character, and I fear that his wrath will grow double at the sight of me. Where, then, shall we two, floating with the current, come to our anchorage? How shall I ensure our happiness, when my father has broken with me? To-day my friend Sun invited me to drink and spoke to me of my prospects, and what he said has pierced my heart.”
“What is my Lord’s intention?” she asked in great surprise.
“I was turning madly in the web of our affairs, when my friend Sun sketched out an excellent plan to me. But I fear that my benefactress will refuse to allow it.”
“Who is this friend, Sun? If his plan is good, why should I not agree to it?”
“His first name is Fu, and his family had the salt monopoly at Hsin-an. He is a man who has Drifted-in-the-Wind and knows life. Last night he was charmed by your pure song. I told him where we came from, and confided the difficulties which beset our return. Then, under the impulsion of a generous thought, he offered to give me a thousand ounces if you will marry him. With these thousand ounces as testimony I shall be able to speak to my father. Also I shall know that you are not without shelter. But I cannot contain my feeling, and that is why I mourn.”
And his tears fell like a storm of rain. Ceasing to hold his head against her breast, Shih-niang gently pushed him aside. At last she smiled like ice and said to him:
“This person must be a hero, a man of courage and virtue, to have conceived a project so advantageous to my Lord. Not only will my Lord have a thousand ounces to take back with him, not only will your slave gain shelter, but your baggage will be lighter also and more easily handled. As a plan it satisfies both convention and convenience. Where are the thousand ounces?”
Struggling with his tears, Li Chia replied:
“I have not got your consent, so the silver was not given me.”
“You must demand it first thing to-morrow morning. A thousand ounces is a considerable sum, and it must all be paid into your hand before I enter his cabin. For I am not merchandise which may be bought on credit.”
It was then the fourth watch of the night.
Shih-niang prepared her toilet-table, saying: “To-day I must adorn myself to bid farewell to my former protector and to do honor to my new one. It is no commonplace event. I must therefore take great pains with paint and perfume, and put on my best jewels and embroidered robes.”
Thereafter, with perfume and paint and jewelry, she added to the splendor of her petalled seduction. The sun had already risen before she completed her preparations.
Li Chia was disturbed, and yet seemed almost happy. Shih-niang urged him to insist upon the payment of the money, and he at once carried her answer to the other junk. Then Sun said:
“It is easy for me to give the money; but I ought to have the fair one’s jewelry as a proof of her consent.”
Li Chia told this to Shih-niang, who pointed to the casket with the golden lock, and caused it to be taken to Sun, who joyfully counted out a thousand ounces of silver and sent them to Li’s ship. The young woman herself verified the weight and standard of the metal; and then, leaning over the bulwarks, half opened her scarlet lips and showed her white teeth saying to the dazzled Sun:
“You can now, I think, give me back my casket for a time. The Lord Li’s passports are in it, and I must return them to him.”
The other at once ordered the little chest to be brought back and placed on the bridge. Shih-niang opened it Inside there were several compartments, and she asked Li Chia to help her lift out each in turn.
In the first there were jewels in the shape of king-fisher feathers, jasper pins, and precious earrings, to the value of many hundred ounces. Shih-niang took up these things in handfuls and threw them into the river. Li, Sun and the boatmen uttered exclamations of dismay.
In the second compartment were a jade flute and a golden flageolet. In a third were antique jewels, gold furnishings and a hundred ornaments worth thousands of ounces each. She threw them all into the river. The stricken onlookers gave voice to their regret.
Finally she drew out a box filled with pearls and rubies and emeralds and cats’ eyes, whose number and value were beyond computation. The cries of the wondering bystanders beat in the air like thunder. She wanted to throw all these into the river also; but Li Chia held her in his arms, while Sun vehemently encouraged him.
So, pushing Li away, she turned to the other and reviled him:
“The Lord Li and I suffered many bitter moments before we came to yesterday. And you, to serve a detestable and criminal lust, have undone us and have caused me to hate the man I loved. After my death I meet the Spirit of Retribution, and I shall not forget your vile hypocrisy.”
Then, turning toward Li Chia, she continued:
“During those many years when I lived in a disorder of the dust and breeze, I secretly amassed these treasures, that they might some day rescue my body. When I met my Lord, we vowed that our union should be higher than the mountain, deeper than the sea. We swore that, even when our hair was white, we should have our love. Before leaving the capital, I pretended to receive this casket as a gift from my friends. It contained a treasure of more than a myriad ounces. I intended to deposit it in your treasury, when I had seen your father and mother. Who would have thought your faith so shallow, that, on the strength of a chance conversation, you would consent to lose my loyal heart? To-day, before the eyes of all these people, I have shown you that your thousand ounces were a very little sum of money. These persons are my witness that it is my Lord who rejects his wife, that it is not I who am wanting in my duty.”
Hearing these sad words, those who were present wept, and called down curses upon Li, and reviled him as an ingrate. And he, being both ashamed and desolate, shed tears of bitter repentance. He knelt down to beg for her forgiveness. But Shih-niang, holding the jewels in each hand, leaped into the yellow water of the river.
The onlookers uttered a cry and rushed to save her. But, under a sombre cloud, the waves in the heart of the river broke into boiling foam, and no further trace was seen of that desperate woman.
Alas! she was an illustrious singing girl, as beautiful as flowers or jade. She had been swallowed in an instant by the water.
The people, grinding their teeth, would have beaten Li and Sun; but these, in terror and dismay, made haste to push their boats out from the bank, and then went each his own way.
Li Chia, seeing the thousand ounces of silver in his cabin, unceasingly wept for the death of Shih-niang. His remorse gave birth to a kind of madness in him, of which he could never be healed.
Sun was so prostrated that he had to keep his bed. He thought he saw Shih-niang standing in front of him all day and every day. It was not long before he expiated his crime in death.
We must now tell how Liu, having left the capital to return to his own village, also halted at Kua-chow. Leaning over the river to take up some water in a bronze basin, he let the thing slip, and therefore begged certain fishermen to drag their net for it.
When they drew up, there was a little box in the net. Liu opened it, and it was full of pearls and precious stones. He rewarded the fishermen generously, and placed the box near his pillow.
In the night he had a dream. A young woman rose from the troubled waters of the river, and he recognized Shih-niang. She drew near, wishing him ten thousand happinesses. Then she recounted the unworthy ingratitude of Li, and said:
“Of your bounty you gave me a hundred and fifty ounces. I have not forgotten your generosity, and I put this little box in the fishermen’s net as an offering of recognition.”
He awoke and, having learned thus of Shih-niang’s death, sighed for a long time.
Later, those who told me this story declared that Sun, since he thought he could acquire a beautiful woman for a thousand ounces, was evidently not a respectable man. Li Chia, they said, had not understood the sorrowful heart of Shih-niang, and was consequently stupid, without refinement, and not worthy of mention. Shih-niang alone was heroic. She was, in fact, unique since furtherest antiquity. Why could she not meet some charming companion, some phoenix worthy of her? Why did she make the mistake of loving Li Chia? An admirable piece of jade was thrown to him who did not deserve it; so that love turned to hate, and a thousand passionate impulses were drowned in the deep water. Alas!
_Tu Shih-niang nu ch’en pai pao hsiang. (Tu Shih-niang, being put to shame drowns herself with
her casket of a hundred treasures.)_ _Chin ku chi’i kuan (17th Century.)_
THE WEDDING OF YA-NEI
In the reign of the emperor Shen Tsung there lived an official named Wu, who was at that time, Governor of Ch’ang-sha. His wife, Lin, had given him a son named Ya-nei, or “In-the-Palace,” who had that year reached the age of sixteen. He was well endowed, although not without tendency to wantonness; yet he had from childhood diligently studied the classics and poetry. He had only one really extravagant failing; to satisfy his appetite he needed more than three bushels of rice every day, and over two pounds of meat. We will say nothing of his drinking. In spite of all this, he ever seemed half starved.
About the third Moon of that year, Wu was appointed Governor of Yang-chow, and the equipages and boats of his new post came up to meet him. He packed his belongings, said good-bye to his friends and went on board, following the course of the river. On the second day he had to stop, because of a storm of wind which raised up the waters of the river in great waves.
At the point on the river bank where the boat lay moored, there was already another official junk, before the cabin of which stood a middle-aged matron and a charming girl, surrounded by several women slaves. Ya-nei perceived the youthful beauty, and thought her so seductive that he immediately composed the following poem:
Her soul has the tenderness of Autumn rivers And her pure bones are made of jade.
The rose of the hibiscus lightens her, Her eyebrows have the curve of willow leaves. Is she not an Immortal from the Jasper Lake Or from the Moon Palace?
He looked at her so ardently that his troubled soul took flight and alighted upon the maiden’s breast. But his intelligence at once conceived a plan, and he said to his father:
“Tieh-tieh, why would you not tell the sailors to anchor our junk by the side of that one? Would it not be safer?”
Wu was also of this opinion and accordingly gave orders to his men. When the vessel was alongside, he sent to inquire the name of the voyagers, and was informed that they were a certain Ho Chang, the new Governor of Kien-K’ang, going to his post with his wife Ho tsin, and his daughter Elegant, who was just fifteen.
Wu had known the excellent man formerly, so he had his name carried to him. Then, clothed in his official robes, he stepped from one ship to the other. His colleague was awaiting him before his cabin, and, having exchanged formal greetings, they sat and talked together, drinking a cup of tea. Wu returned to his boat where, after a few moments, Ho Chang returned his visit. And Ya-nei was present at the meeting. Ho Chang had no son, and took pleasure in seeing this beautiful young man. He questioned him upon certain ancient and modern books, and was satisfied with the ready answers which he obtained. He praised him unreservedly for them, thinking:
“This is just the son-in-law that I should like. He would make an unprecedented match with my daughter. But he is going to live at Pien-liang, and I will be at Kien-K’ang which is more than fifteen days’ journey to the south of that place.”
Wu asked him:
“How many sons have you, O Old-Man-Born-Before-Me?”
“I will not conceal from you the fact that I have only a daughter.”
“That charming child was his daughter then. She would be an unprecedented wife for my son. But she is his only child, and he certainly would not be willing to marry her at any great distance from himself.”
He added aloud:
“But if you have no son, you have only to take concubines.”
“I thank you for your suggestion. It had occurred to me.”
After having talked for some time, Ho Chang withdrew to his cabin, where his wife and daughter were awaiting him. Being a little elated by his cups of wine, he kept speaking of Ya-nei’s merit, and of his intention to invite the father and son for the next day. His words sank deeply into his daughter’s mind.
On the following day the river was still churned by waves, and the storm sent up spray to a height of more than thirty feet. The crash of water was heard on all sides.
Early in the morning Ho Chang sent his invitation, and, when the two men arrived, the feast began. Elegant, in the next cabin, could see Ya-nei through the cracks in the bulkhead, and her heart was secretly moved.
“If I could have him for my husband, my desire would be satisfied. But I shall not persuade him into a proposal by merely looking at him. How shall I set about making known my thought to him?”
Ya-nei, for his part, looked in vain for some means of speaking to his neighbor. When the meal was finished, he returned to his ship and lay down on his bed.
But Elegant was so much occupied in thinking of the young man that she could not touch her dinner. Leaving her mother alone, she retired to rest and was on the point of going to sleep, when the sound of a song came to her. It was the voice of Ya-nei, singing:
A dream has come to me from the Blue Bowl, But I was not able to speak.
I could not tell her of my delight Or appoint an endless alliance.
She rose softly, opened her cabin door without sound and went up on to the bridge. Ya-nei was standing on the other ship, and immediately leaped to her side, and boldly took her in his arms. Between joy and alarm, she did not dare to resist. He drew her into her cabin and embraced her.
At that moment one of the slaves passed before the cabin and, seeing the door open, cried out:
“The door is open! O thieves!”
Elegant at once covered her lover with the blanket, but one of the slaves saw the invader’s feet. Ho Chang and his wife snatched away the blanket.
“How does this wretch dare to dishonor my family?” cried the Governor in a rage. “Ah, throw him into the river!”
In spite of the prayers of the culprit and the girl two men seized the former, dragged him away and threw him into the water. She followed him in despair, crying:
“I have ruined him! I wish to follow!”
And she too threw herself into the water. She woke with a start. It was only a dream.
Till morning she lay and thought, wondering if this dream were perhaps an omen that her destiny ought not to be bound up with that of Ya-nei.
He also had complicated dreams that night. He rose in the morning and opened the port-hole of his cabin. Ho Chang’s ship was touching his own, and the port-hole opposite to him was open. Elegant appeared there, and their eyes met. Surprised, delighted and embarrassed, they smiled, as if they had known each other for a long time. They would gladly have spoken, but were afraid of being heard. Then she made a small sign to him, retired quickly into her cabin, and rapidly wrote some words on a piece of paper ornamented with sprays of rose peach. She rolled it in a silk handkerchief and cleverly threw it to Ya-nei, who caught it in both hands. They saluted each other, and reclosed their port-holes.
He unfolded the handkerchief and smoothed out the crinkled leaf. It bore this poem:
Brocade characters are on this paper of flowers, And the bowels of my sorris in this embroidery, I have dreamed of a prince
And, carried upon a cloud, I come to him.
But there was also a little word or two added:
“This evening your submissive mistress will await you near the lamp. The noise of my scissors will be the signal for our happiness, and of our meeting.”
Beyond himself with joy, the lad hastened to take a leaf of golden paper and wrote out a poem on it. Then he took off his embroidered silken girdle, rolled it all together, and opened his port-hole. Elegant had also opened hers; she received the small packet and at once concealed it in her sleeve, for she heard the slaves approaching. These were followed by her mother. At last the time came for her father to cross to the other ship for the return feast given by Wu.
Full of cunning, the maiden took a vessel brimming with liquor and gave it to her slaves, who eyed the gift as a thirsty dragon looks upon water. They were half-drunk when Ho Chang came back from the feast, and Elegant told them to go to bed, and that she would do some needle-work. As their faces were red, their ears burning and their legs unsteady, they were only too glad to retire; and soon their snores were heard over the ship. Little by little all other sounds died away in both the junks. Then she gently knocked on her port-hole with her scissors.
Naturally Ya-nei was waiting for the signal; as soon as he heard it, his body was as if it had been shaken to pieces. However, he softly opened his shutter, stepped from one ship to the other, and glided into the cabin where the maiden awaited him. She gave him formal greeting, which he returned; but they looked at each other under the lamp, and their passion already raged like fire. They could hardly exchange a word, and Ya-nei’s trembling hands were undoing. She offered but very feeble resistance. He ardently embraced her, and with his arms joined himself to the fresh breast that lighted him.
At last they were able to speak. She told him of her dream, and of her astonishment on recognizing, in his poem, the verses which she had heard him sing in dream. He turned pale and sat down:
“My dream was exactly yours. Before these omens are fulfilled, I shall speak to my father to arrange our marriage.”
But, even as they talked, they silently fell asleep arm in arm.
Now about the middle of the night, the wind fell and the river became calmer. At the fifth watch the sailors untied their moorings and began to haul their anchors, singing at their work. The noise awakened the lovers, who heard the men say:
“The ship catches the wind rarely. We shall not be long in getting to Ch’i-Chow.”
They looked at each other in dismay:
“What are we going to do now?”
“Hush!” said she. You must remain hidden for the moment. We will at last find a plan.”
“It is our dream come true.”
Remembering that the slaves had seen her lover’s feet in her dream, Elegant leaned forward and covered them carefully with an ample blanket. At last she said:
“I have a plan. During the day you must hide under the couch, and I shall pretend to be ill, and keep in bed, or in the cabin. When we reach Ch’i-Chow, I will give you a little money, and you must escape in the confusion of the disembarkation. You shall rejoin your parents, and we will arrange for our marriage. If, by any chance, my parents were to refuse, we should tell the truth. My family has always loved me excessively; they will certainly accede.”
As soon as they had determined on their course, Ya-nei slid under the bed, and made himself a place among the baggages. The curtain fell into place in front of him, and the young girl was still in bed when her mother came in, saying:
“Aya! Why are you resting like this?”
“I do not feel very well. I must have taken cold.”
“Cover yourself well, my daughter, if that be so.”
At this moment a slave entered, asking if she should bring breakfast.
“My child,” said her mother, “if you are not well, you would do better not to take any solid nourishment. I am going to make you an occasional small rice broth until you are recovered.”
“I am not very fond of broth. Give me some rice. Let them bring it to me here. I shall eat it by and by.”
“I will keep you company.”
“Aya! If you do not go and look after this rabble of women, they will do their work most incontestably wrong.”
Without understanding, the mother did indeed go to the next cabin at that moment when the breakfast was brought in. As soon as she had turned her back, Elegant told the slave to set down the dish on the table.
“You may go away. I shall call you when I have finished.”
Ya-nei was watching, and came out from his hiding. On the dish there were only two small bowls of vegetables mixed with meat, a bowl of cooked green-stuff, and a little rice. Naturally, the young girl was not in the habit of taking large quantities of food; but for her lover, with his three bushels of rice a day, the matter was otherwise. After their meal, he again glided under the bed, nearly as hungry as before. She called the slave, and told her to bring in two more bowls of rice.
Her mother heard this, and entered, saying:
“My child! You are not well. How is it that you want to eat all that?”
“The reason is not far to seek,” she answered.
“I am hungry, that is all.”
And her father, who had come to see the invalid, said:
“Let her be. She is growing, and needs nourishment.”
When night came, and the evening meal was finished, she shut the door and told her lover he could get into the bed again. But the poor young man was suffering cruelly from hunger.
“Our stratagem,” said he, “is admirable. But it is in one respect also grievous. I cannot conceal from you that my appetite is considerable. The three meals which I have had to-day seem scarcely a mouthful. On such a diet, I shall starve before we come to Ch’i-Chow.”
“Why did you not say so? I shall make them bring me more to-morrow.”
“But are you not afraid of rousing suspicion?”
“That is nothing. I shall see to it. But how much would you need?”
“We shall never be able to obtain quite that. Ten bowls of rice at each meal would not be enough.”
Next day, when her parents came to see her, Elegant complained.
“I do not know what is the matter with me,” she said. “I am dying of hunger.”
But her mother began to laugh:
“That is not a very serious affair. I will have more rice brought to you.”
But when the young girl said that she needed about ten bowls, the good woman was startled. She again wished to remain near her daughter.
“If you stay here, mama, I shall not be able to take anything. Leave me alone, and I shall eat more comfortably.”
Everybody indulged her caprice. When the cabin was empty, she shut the door and Ya-nei came out. Hungry as he was, he made the ten bowls vanish like a shooting star, and did not leave a single grain. Elegant watched him with astonishment, and asked him in a low voice:
“Is that still too little?”
“It will suffice,” answered the other, drinking a cup of tea.
He hastened back to his hiding-place, while the young girl ate some vegetables. Then she called the slaves, who came running up, wondering whether she had been able to eat all that food. They looked at the empty bowls and at their mistress’s slim figure, and murmured as they went away:
“What a terrible illness!”
One of them, in her anxiety, went to the father and showed him the dish, suggesting that he should call a doctor as soon as possible. And he, for his part, forbade them to give her so much another time, fearing that she would burst.
At mid-day he went himself to speak to her.
She began to weep: her mother took her part; and they gave way to her. The evening meal was just as large.
They were approaching Ch’i-Chow, and Ho Chang, who was really alarmed, ordered his boatmen to cast anchor near the town. Early in the morning he sent his steward to find the best doctor, and when the man arrived, brought him on board and explained the case to him. They then went to examine the invalid and to try her pulse. The doctor at length came back with the father into the central cabin.
“Well? What is the illness?”
The other coughed, and at last said:
“Your daughter is suffering from lack of nourishment.”
Her father was staggered:
“But I have told you that she ate thirty bowls of rice yesterday.”
“Yet, but your daughter is still a child. She is apparently fifteen years old, but that is equivalent to fourteen in reality, or even to thirteen and some months. Her food accumulates in her stomach, but is not assimilated. From this cause arises the fever which burns her stomach and makes her imagine herself to be always hungry. The more she eats, therefore, the more her stomach burns. In one month it will be too late to cure her, and she will die of hunger.”
“But how is she to be cured?”
“First, I shall make her digest what she eats. Of course, she must eat very little indeed.”
He wrote his prescription and went away. The servant went to get the drugs, which were dissolved and boiled according to direction, and finally presented to the young girl.
She said that she would take them, and as soon as she was alone threw them out of the port-hole. Thereafter she continued to ask for ten bowls of rice for every meal.
Every one on the ship was now discussing this extraordinary case. Some said that they ought to call in sorcerers. Others thought that religious men would do better, seeing that she had certainly been possessed by one of those starving spirits which wander without purpose in punishment for their sins, with a needle’s eye for a mouth, seeking in vain for food.
At the next town, Ho Chang summoned another doctor. After his examination, mention was made of the former diagnosis, and he burst out laughing.
“Nothing of the sort. It is an internal consumption.”
“But what, then, is the reason for this hunger?”
“The hot and the cold principles are at variance in her, and the resultant fire gives her continual opsomania. It is easy to understand.”
“But she has no fever.”
“Outside she is cool, but she burns within. The malady is inside the bones; and that is why it is not visible. If she had continued to take the drugs which you have been giving her, it would have been difficult to save her. I shall give her something to soothe her bowels. She will then, of her own accord, refuse all food.”
It need not be said that it was the same in this case as in the other. All the medicines went down the river.
Meanwhile the two lovers continued to profit by the silence of the night. Naturally, the young girl was at first, so to speak, passive in the arms of the young man, who was himself bashful. But little by little, penetrating further into the domain of pleasure, their amorous intelligence redoubled with their rapture, and they forgot entirely where they were.
One night a slave woke up, and heard a “tsi-tsi-nung-nung” and a “tsia-tsia” coming from within, and then quick breathing. Inwardly surprised, she next day told her mistress, and the mother, seeing that her daughter was always of a brilliantly healthy complexion, began to think this unknown malady a very strange one. She did not inform her husband, however, but ran herself to see her daughter. The child’s face seemed to her to be more beautiful and animated even than usual. She went out, without seeing anything which might confirm her suspicion, and, coming back again after breakfast, began gently to question her daughter on her ideas of marriage.
As they were talking, there suddenly came a snore from under the bed. Ya-nei, after his efforts in the night and his morning meal, had gone to sleep in his hiding-place.
Elegant’s mother at once shut the door and, quickly stooping to look under the bed, saw the young man asleep.
“Alas, how could you do this thing? And then frighten us with your illness? Now everybody will know of it. Where does he come from? May Heaven strike him dead!”
Elegant’s face was purple with shame.
“It is all your child’s fault. He is the son of the Lord Wu.”
“Ya-nei? But you have never seen him! Besides, he was at the dinner with your father, and we came away at midnight. How can he be here?”
Trusting in her mother’s indulgence, the young girl confessed everything, and added:
“Your unworthy daughter has dishonored our name and lost her innocence. My crime is unpardonable. But it was the will of Heaven. There had to be that storm to make us meet, and then destiny prevented our betrothal. Our strength was too small for the struggle, and we have sworn to love each other until death. I implore you to speak to my father and appease him; for if he makes an uproar; there is nothing left for me but to die.”
Her tears fell like rain. And, while they were talking, Ya-nei’s snores sounded like thunder.
“At least make him keep quiet,” cried the mother in a fury. “We can no longer hear ourselves speak.”
And she went out, slamming the door, while Elegant hastened to awaken the sleeper.
“Really you might snore less loudly!” she said with impatience. “All is discovered now.”
When he heard this, Ya-nei’s body was frozen with terror as if he had received a drenching in cold water. His teeth chattered.
“Do not be afraid. I have asked my mother to speak for us. If my father is angry, there will be time enough for us to die then.”
The woman meanwhile had hurried to her husband, but there was a slave with him, putting the cabin in order. So she waited, and the tears rolled from her eyes. Ho Chang thought she was anxious about her daughter’s health, and reassured her:
“She will be better in a few days. The doctor said so. Do not disturb yourself.”
But she sneered at him:
“You have been listening to the flower words of old Wise-Wand. Better in a few days! She would have to be ill first!”
“What do you mean?”
Since the servant was no longer there, she told him in a low voice what she had seen and heard. Ho Chang’s anger was such that his sight was troubled. She begged him to calm himself.
“Enough! Enough!” he thundered. “This worthless daughter fouls the very air upon our threshold. We must kill them both in the night, so that none may know.”
The woman’s face became as the earth.
“We have already reached a ripe age, and this is the only flesh and bone we have. If you kill her, what will be left to us? As for Ya-nei, he is of a good family, he is intelligent, and well-built. Our stations are identical and our houses equal. His only fault is that he did not make a proposal, but rather forced everything in secret. Yet so the matter is. Would it not be better to send him back with a letter to Wu, requiring gifts of betrothal? We would lose all by making a scandal.”
Ho Chang’s rage was already half spent, and he now let himself be persuaded by degrees. He went out and asked the boatmen where they were.
“We are approaching Wu-ch’ang.”
“You will anchor there.”
He then called his confidential steward and, explaining all to him, gave him a letter. After this he went to see his daughter, who hid herself under the blanket when she beheld him. He spoke no word to her; but in a stern tone called out Ya-nei, who crept from his hiding-place, saluted the older man, and said:
“My crime deserves death.”
“How could a young man of your education commit such an act? My wife has prevailed upon me to spare your life; but, if you would redeem your fault, you must take my unworthy daughter as your wife. If this is not your intention, do not count upon my pardon.”
Ya-nei abased himself in ritual prostration.
“The honor which you do me is a reward which my conduct does not deserve,” he said. “I shall speak to my parents as soon as I return.”
Ho Chang hurried him away, without leaving him time to speak to the young girl again. She was clinging to her mother, and whispered:
“I do not know my father’s intention. Could I not have a letter from Ya-nei on his arrival?”
Her truly indulgent mother went and spoke to the steward.
The latter had already hired a boat, and, as it was night, the intruder would be able to pass from one junk to the other without being observed. They set out, while Elegant wept incessantly for sorrow and uneasiness. We must now return to the family of Wu.
After the night of Ya-nei’s departure, their boat had proceeded for several leagues before the young man’s absence was noticed. But when they called for him, and his cabin was found empty, the souls of his parents left their bodies. They howled their despair, supposing that their child had fallen unobserved into the water.
They turned the ship about, hoping at least to recover the body; but all searching was in vain, and they had perforce to resume their journey in despair.
They had been at their destination for two days when Ya-nei arrived; you may suppose that their surprise was only equalled by their joy. They read Ho Chang’s letter, and understood everything. They scolded their son, and made a feast for Ho Chang’s envoy. When the betrothal gifts were ready, they sent them in charge of their steward, to whom Ya-nei entrusted a secret letter for his Elegant.
Soon the time came for Ya-nei’s examination at the capital, and he was accepted. His father asked for a holiday, and the whole family went to Kien-K’ang, where the marriage was celebrated. The fame of Elegant’s wisdom and beauty grew with the years, and the happiness of these two was never dimmed.
_Hsing shih heng yen (1627),
A STRANGE DESTINY
In epochs of deep peace
When days are lengthening,
The flute sounds and songs are heard Among the drunken villages.
The Phoenix Car is said to be approaching With the Emperor,
And each one turns his eye
To the splendor of that procession.
In the reign of Hui Tsung of the Sung dynasty, near the capital of the East, on the borders of the Lake of Clearness of Gold, a new wine pavilion had just been opened, under the sign of The Quick Hedge. Fan, the landlord, and his brother Erh-lang, were the proprietors. Neither of them was married; and their business prospered.
It was the week when Spring melts into Summer, and men walk abroad in number to enjoy the freshness and beauty of nature.
One day Erh-lang roamed the lakeside, delighting in the soft air, and saw, in front of a teahouse, a ravishing girl of about eighteen, in whose face, which was as dreamful as the Night Star, flowered all the blossoms of the time. He stopped, fixed to the ground with admiration and already riotous with love. He could not take his eyes from the rose radiance of this face, peach blossom against flawless jade; from this slender body, from the rare golden lotus of these delicate feet. A scarlet hibiscus in flower framed this phoenix against stirring landscape of the great lake.
Alas! our emotions do not depend upon our will. The young girl felt herself looked upon, and raised her eyes; her soul was at once troubled, her child’s heart secretly rejoiced. She thought:
“If I could marry this beautiful man, I should know many happy moments. But, though he is there now, where will he be tomorrow? How can I tell him how to find me again?”
Just then a seller of refreshments came by with his small vessels on his shoulder. She called him:
“Have you a little honey-water?”
The merchant set down a bronze vase on the ground to serve her; but she, with pretended clumsiness, upset the vase, and said to him: “Never mind! Come to my house and I will pay for all. I will give you my name and address.”
Erh-lang pricked his ears, as she continued: “I am the daughter of Lord Chou, who lives near the Ts’ao Gate. My little name is Victorious-Immortal. And I pray you do not charge too much, for I am not yet betrothed or married.”
The young lover trembled with joy, saying to himself:
“These words are meant for me, I am sure of that.”
The merchant was meanwhile protesting, and the young girl added:
“My father is not at home just now. But he is terrible, and you will undoubtedly be prosecuted if you try to rob us.”
Erh-lang earnestly desired to make himself known in his turn, and being unable to think of any other expedient, he did as the girl had done: asked for a bowl of cool water, and pretended clumsily to upset the full jar. He then said: “Aya! Here is another misfortune! But it does not matter. Come to my house, and you shall be well recompensed. I am Erh-lang, brother of Fan. We are proprietors of THE PAVILION OF THE QUICK HEDGE. I am nineteen, and no one has yet cheated me in my business, I can draw a bow, and am not yet betrothed.”
“Are you not a little mad?” asked the merchant, looking at him in astonishment. “Why do you tell me all that? Do you wish me to act as the go-between for your marriage? I am an honest man, and have never cheated anybody.”
Hearing her admirer’s words, the girl rejoiced in her heart. She suggested to her mother, who was sitting by her, that they should go away; and rising to her feet, said to the merchant: “If you will follow us, we will pay you at once.”
But her eyes spoke in reality to the young man; who walked slowly behind her, admiring the poise of her gait. In this manner they proceeded until the two women entered their house. But the young girl came back almost at once to draw aside the big door-curtain and to look out at him as he passed. He went on walking to and fro, as if he had lost his senses, and did not return to his house till evening.
From that particular day Victorious-Immortal remained so strangely affected that she was quite unable to swallow a grain of rice, or even to touch a cake. At last, one morning, she was too weak to rise. Her mother ran to her bed.
“My poor child,” she asked, “what is the matter with you?”
“I ache all over my body. I have pains in my head and cough a little.”
Her mother at once thought of calling in a doctor; but, in the absence of the master of the house and his servant, there was no man to go on the errand. But an old female attendant, named Kind-Welcome, was present and observed:
“The ancient woman Wang lives, as you know, quite close at hand. She has helped more than a hundred children into the world. She can sew, and she can act as go-between; but she can also feel a pulse and diagnose an illness. Everybody calls her as soon as there is anything the matter.”
“That is true. Go and fetch her quickly.”
Some few moments later the healer came and the mother began a long explanation. But the woman interrupted her:
“I shall know all about it when I have examined the patient.”
The sick girl put out a wasted hand, and the woman felt her pulse for a long time. At last she said:
“You have pains in the head, and all your body aches. You are in continual agony, and the earth is hateful to you.”
“That is exactly the case,” she answered from her bed. “Also I cough a little.”
“But what has caused this illness?”
As the girl did not answer, this wise old visitor turned to the mother and the attendant, and signed them to go away. They dared not refuse, and left the room.
“Now we are going to cure you. The illness lies in your heart, and nowhere else.”
“In my heart?” questioned the sick girl.
“You have seen a handsome young man, and he pleases you. Your suffering rises from that; is it not so?”
“There is nothing of the sort,” denied the other.
“Come, come! Tell me the truth, and I will soon find a means to save your life.”
Seeing a chance to reach to her desire, little Victorious-Immortal decided to tell everything. When she had finished, the very old woman said:
“Do not be troubled. I know one of his relations who has spoken to me of him. He is intelligent and level-headed. I shall go and see his brother, to make arrangements for your marriage, if you finally wish to marry him.”
“You know very well that I do,” said the sick child with a smile. “But will my mother consent?”
“Do not be uneasy. I have my methods.”
She was already out of the room, and saying to the mother:
“I know what is the matter with your daughter. If you would like me to make it clear to you, have two cups of wine brought in.”
Kind-Welcome made haste to arrange all on the table. The healer drank a draught of burning wine and, turning to the mother, repeated word for word what the girl had confessed to her, adding:
“And now there is nothing for it but to marry her to Erh-lang, for otherwise her death is certain.”
“My husband will be away for a long time yet. I cannot decide without him.”
“You have only to make the arrangements. You need not celebrate the marriage until after my Lord’s return. She must be given her desire; there is no other way of saving her.”
“If the young man is as desirable as all that …” the mother murmured uneasily. “But how shall we bring the thing about?”
“I am going to speak to his elder brother. I will keep you informed.”
Without further delay, the venerable go-between went straight to The Pavilion of the Quick Hedge, where she found Fan behind his counter, and saluted him:
“Ten thousand happinesses!”
“You come at the right time,” he answered with a bow. “I was about to send to beg you to do so. For some days, I assure you, my brother has not been able to take a morsel of food. He says that his whole body is aching, and now he stays in bed. Will you, please, feel his pulse?”
“I will see him. But it is better for me to be alone with him.”
“Then I shall not come with you.”
So the old woman went up into the sick man’s room, and he said to her feebly:
“Mother Wang, it is very long since I saw you. Alas! You come too late! My life is finished!”
“In what special way are you so seriously ill?” she asked, sitting near the bed and touching his wrist.
After a moment she continued:
“Shall I tell you the name of your illness? It is called Victorious-Immortal, little daughter of Chou, and her house is near the Ts’ao Gate.”
The sick man was startled and sat up:
“How do you know that?”
“Her family has commissioned me to come and arrange your marriage.”
Immediate happiness revived the young man.
He rose and came down with the wise visitor to his astonished brother.
“I am cured,” he announced, “And all goes very well.”
Meanwhile the old woman was saying: “The family of Chou has sent me especially to talk to you about a marriage.”
All was soon settled, the first gifts were exchanged, and the comforted hearts of the two young people were filled with joy. But they had to wait Lord Chou’s return before proceeding with the ceremony.
Chou did not come back until eight months later. It is needless to say that, when he did so, all his relations and friends came to drink cups of wine with him to “wash down the dust of the journey.” At last his wife told him what had happened, affirming that all was decided. But the eyes of the master of the house became round and white, and he bellowed:
“O filthy imbecile, who gave you the right to betroth our daughter to a wine merchant? Is there no son of decent family who would marry her? Do you wish to make us a laughing-stock?”
While he was thus cursing his wife, the servant came up to them, crying:
“Come quickly and save the child! She was behind the door, and heard your cries. She fell down and is no longer breathing.”
Stumbling in her haste, the mother ran out. She saw her daughter lying on the ground and was about to raise her, but her husband prevented her, saying:
“Leave her! She was bringing dishonor on us! If she is to die, then let her die!”
Seeing her mistress held back, Kind-Welcome bent over the girl. But Chou, with a blow that made the air whistle between his fingers sent her against the wall. In his rage, he seized his wife and shook her roughly, and she howled like a dog. The neighbors heard her and ran in, fearing that there was disaster. Soon the room was filled with women, all talking at the same time. But the master of it roughly bade them be silent:
“I do not allow any spying upon my private affairs.”
The neighbors retired in discomfort, and the mother threw herself upon her daughter’s body, whose ends were already cold. She sobbed:
“You would not have died if I had come to you. O murderer, you have let her die of set purpose. You did not want to give her the four or five thousand ounces which her grandfather left her.”
He went out, panting like a boar with anger. The mother did not cease to lament her loss: her daughter had been so gentle and so clever. At length the time came to shut down the coffin, and Chou angrily said to his wife:
“You pretend that I let her die so as not to lose four thousand ounces? I order you to put all her jewels in the tomb with her. That is more than five thousand ounces, one would think.”
They brought in the wu-tso, the Inspector of Corpses, and also his assistant, to verify the death and to help in hearsing her. The keeper of the family graveyard and his brother, the two Chang, were also there to assist in the mournful work.
The time came for the funeral, and the procession went forth from the town. The coffin was placed in a brick tomb, and the first shovels of earth were thrown upon it. Then all returned home. Three feet of cold insensitive earth covered the body of this young beauty, and it had been full of love.
Now the Inspector of Corpses had a worthless fellow named Feng for his assistant. This miserable boy, on coming back from the cemetery in the evening, said to his mother: “An excellent day’s work! Tomorrow we shall be rich.”
“And what successful stroke of business have you concluded?”
“Today we buried the daughter of Chou, and all her jewels were put in the coffin with her. Instead of leaving them to enrich the earth, would it not be better to take them?”
“Think before you do such a terrible thing!” his mother begged. “This is no matter of a mere whipping. Your father wanted to do the same thing twenty years ago. He opened a coffin, and the corpse began to smile at him. Your father died of that in four or five days. My son, do not do it. It is no easy matter.”
“Mother,” he answered simply, “my mind is made up. Do not waste your breath on me, for that is useless.”
He bent over his bed, and took out of it a heavy iron tool.
“O mother, not each person’s destiny is the same. I have consulted soothsayers, and they have told me that I shall become rich this year.”
He took also an axe, a leather sack, and a dark lantern, which he placed in readiness. Finally he wrapped himself in a great mantle of reeds, for it was the eleventh moon and the snow had begun to fall. He made a sort of hurdle with about ten inter-crossed bamboos, and fastened it behind his mantle, so that it should drag along the ground and efface his foot-prints.
The second watch was sounding when he went out, and all was still bustle and gaiety in the town. But beyond the walls both silence and solitude reigned in the growing cold. The snow was already thick. Who would have ventured out there?
From time to time he turned his head, but no one followed him. At last he reached the wall of the family graveyard and climbed in. Suddenly a dog ran through the tall grass and leaped at him, barking. The thief had prepared a portion of poisoned meat, and threw it to the dog. The beast, being badly fed, smelt it and swallowed it. He still barked a little, but the venom was potent, and he very soon writhed on the ground.
In the keeper’s hut, young Chang said to his elder brother:
“The dog has started barking, and then has stopped. Is that not strange? Perhaps it is a thief. You ought to go and see.”
The elder brother rose from his hot bed and took up a weapon, grumbling. Then he opened the door and went out. But he was seized by a whirl of cold snow, and called to the dog: “What are you barking for, O animal of the Gods?”
Then he came back and glided under his blankets.
“There is nothing at all. But it is very cold.”
From the distant town came the far sound of the gongs and drums of the third watch. Taking heart, Feng went forward in a snow which deadened his steps. He quickly shovelled the fresh earth from the grave, and then lighted his lantern. Its yellow light lit up but a single point. Forcing two long crowbars between the joints, he loosened one brick, and then another. At last the coffin was uncovered. He inserted his pick under the lid, and pried it off and laid it on one side. The corpse was brought to view.
“Small sister,” he murmured. “I am only going to borrow a little of your useless wealth. Do not you grudge it me!”
He took the veil from that charming face. The head was covered with ornaments of gold, and also with pearls. He took them all. He was tempted by the fine and silken garments of the corpse. He stripped it.
But suddenly, the body shook itself and pushed the thief away with violence. He uttered a cry of imbecile terror and shrank back. The corpse had sat up and, in that little light, looked at the open tomb, the scattered tools, and her own unclothed body. The wretched lad, obeying instinctive habit, trembled and lied:
“Little sister, I have come to save you.”
Naturally, when little Victorious-Immortal had heard the foul Chou’s violent words, her despair had made her lose all sign of life. It was for this reason that she had been put in her coffin while still alive. Aroused now by the cold, her first thought was to remember her father’s anger. Her only refuge then was the house of her betrothed, and she said: “If you will take me to The Pavilion of the Quick Hedge, you may have a heavy reward.”
“That is easy,” answered Feng, seeking in vain for how he should escape.
Ought he to kill her? He hardly had the courage after such a shock. He decided to give her back a few clothes. He put the jewels and his implements in the sack, together with the extinguished lantern, and quickly covered the grave with earth again. Then, because the girl was too weak to walk, he took her on his back and went away from that place. But instead of going to Fan’s house, he went to his own. His mother opened the door to him, and cried in terror:
“Have you stolen the corpse also?”
“Do not speak so loud,” he answered, setting down his burdens.
He went to his bed, and there put little Victorious-Immortal. He drew a knife from his girdle and showed it to the girl:
“Little one, I have some business to settle with you. If we come to an agreement, I will take you to Fan’s house. If not, you very well behold this knife, and I shall cut you in two pieces.”
“What do you want with me?” she asked.
“You are going to stay here without making a noise and without trying to escape, until I take you to Fan. As for the rest, we will speak of it another time.”
“I will do so! I will indeed do so!”
Then the nasty youth led his mother into the next room to calm her a little.
“But what are you going to do?” she asked.
“Do you think we can be safe when she has gone to Fan?”
“I am not going to take her to Fan.”