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The Silver Hilt part 6

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A soft, creeping noise could be heard, as the ladies, with their fingers on their lips, slipped away from behind the curtains.

“I have loved you for a long time,” said the Red Scoundrel in a melting tone.

Something seemed to choke the woman, but she told herself it was only imagination.

“I adore you.”

The woman could not take her eyes off his hand. And she pleaded:

“If you love me, let go the hilt of your sword.”

“Never,” shouted Scarlet in the heat of his passion, and drew his chair closer.

The Lady was trembling like a leaf in an evening breeze.

“You are beautiful!” howled the Scarlet Bone. “You are as beautiful as the morning star, and I tell you frankly I am going to make you my own love.”

His grip on the sword tightened.

“He’ will not let go of it.” thought the terrified woman. “He will not let go of it. I am lost.”

She made an attempt to stand up, but at that moment she felt the prickly hairs of a thin mustache on her lips. She wanted to scream, but the Count had already imprisoned her shoulders in his long, strong arms. Her beautiful head dropped like a flower, and she felt that the Scarlet Bone was holding her wilting head in the palm of his enormous hand. Kisses were beating heavily against her lips like hot rain.

“You are mine,” said the Count between two kisses, still tightly grasping his sword with his left hand.

“I am yours,” panted the Lady.

“What is the formula?” asked the Dark Blue Baron of the dying Maestro ten years later, for he had bought the scientist from the Scarlet Count for a hundred thousand gold pieces. He was a great lover of Women and had seen that for the past ten years the Scarlet Count had virtually made a harvest of beautiful women by the magic of the Silver Hilt. “What is the formula?”

Golden horseshoe nail

“By the Fires of Hell, there is no formula!” moaned the Maestro from his bed. “A silver hilt, a brass button, a tin spur, a golden horseshoe nail, it makes no difference. The man’s bearing must announce that he is sure of himself—that is the formula. There is no escape from one who is sure of himself. But you must believe in the silver hilt, because if you do not, the women will not believe in it either.

Now then: whether you believe in a silver hilt, a brass button, a tin spur, a golden horseshoe nail, your good manners, your beauty, your self-confidence or your discretion, it all amounts to the same thing. But now that I have told you this, O Dark Blue Baron, you will go to the women in vain with your silver hilt, because you will not believe in it any more. And the women will feel that you no longer believe in your own powers. And you will be defeated everywhere, O Dark Blue Ba…”

He could not finish the sentence, because the Dark Blue Baron struck him a blow on the head. He would have died anyway within the next ten minutes, but the Baron found it better to assist him in this manner.

So died Maestro Conrad Super polling erianus, the gray-haired swindler, with the truth on his lips.

The Silver Hilt part 5

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She lay resting on a large sofa when the Red Bone (that was what they called the Scarlet Count among themselves) entered the room. She rose and went to meet him, offering him a seat. The Lord sat down, on a footstool and, as was customary with knights, held his sword between his knees. The Lady, who until now had not dared to cast even a glance at the sword, looked at it shyly. She was taken aback by the sight. The sword, studded with diamonds and precious stones, ended at the hilt in a simple silver sheet. It had an uncanny faded look about it and gleamed in the dimness of the room with a ghostly light.

They could not see the thirty-three women peeping in from behind the heavy drapery and curtains. But these women agreed that the Count looked irresistibly powerful, though they always before considered him ridiculous.

“It’s fine weather,” said the Red Bone.

“Yes, very fine,” said the Lady, and was greatly relieved when she saw that the Count had not placed his hand on the hilt of the sword.

“Neither too warm nor too cold,” said the Count.

“Very pleasant, indeed,” said the Lady.

Company of a beautiful woman

“At noon it’s warm, but the nights are cool,” the Count went on, “but to-night the sunset is the most wonderful of all, more wonderful indeed if one spends the time in the company of a beautiful woman.”

And so saying, he placed his large red hand upon the silver hilt.

The Lady, who had been watching it with staring eyes, began to tremble a little. The heavy curtains began to move and a pleasant tremor passed through the veins of the women.

“He placed his hand on it,” said those in. front to those standing behind.

“He placed his hand on it… he did indeed!” the whisper passed around.

The Lady of the Castle could not take her eyes off the hand resting upon the hilt. The Red Count was talking away foolishly, but the Lady paid no attention to what he said.

“Eh,” she said to herself, “the whole thing is a stupid superstition; why should I look at it at all?”

But as soon as she looked away, something constrained her to look back immediately. The Count drew his footstool nearer to her, grasping at the hilt with all his might. The lady grew frightened.

“Why are you afraid of me?” asked the Count with a smile. “I do not wish to hurt you On the contrary…”

“Perhaps it would be better,” whispered one of the women behind the curtain, “if we left them alone.”

The Silver Hilt part 4

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The Count opened his eyes wide. He was known as an admirer of feminine charms, but had never had any success with ladies of rank. His face was gleaming with joy.

“I have ground silver into dust,” continued the Maestro, “and boiled it in the juice of Asperula Odorato and then in the juice of the root of Azarum Europseum. These are the ingredients. But the chemical proportion that yields the magic is my own secret. Ecce…”

And he raised the lid of one of the pots. There were indeed bits of silver balls boiling in the juice of something that smelled horribly Btrange. He had cooked the whole mess the night before as a last chance.

“And—?”

“And of this silver dust I shall mold a thin sheet of silver plate; with that silver plate you will graciously cover the hilt of your sword and while you are courting the ladies keep your left hand on the hilt of the sword. There is no great lady, baroness, countess, duchess, or even queen, who will be able to resist the charm of this wizardry. With this sword you will have success with any lady in the world.”

“Hm,” said the Count, “may I have complete confidence?”

“Not the slightest chance of failure, sir.”

The silver hilt was ready that same night.

“I am gaining time,” said the Maestro to himself, and to save him- lelf the trouble of bending down, he lifted his beard up over his arm and stroked it musingly.

Maestro Conrad Superpollingerianus

The rumor soon spread throughout the district. In the neighborhood cantles and fortresses, the great ladies dressed in gold-embroidered gowns, whispered and exchanged meaning glances, and everywhere conversation centered on the silver-hilted sword of Count Scarlet. Not three days had passed before Maestro Conrad Superpollingerianus had received eighteen offers from various other lords, promising him lifelong positions, any amount of gold, together with board and lodging, if he would only communicate to them the secret of the chemical composition of the silver hilt. But the Scarlet Count bid more than any of them, and would not permit the Maestro to leave his castle.

On the fourth day he set out to conquer with his silver hilt. His first trip took him to the neighboring castle, whose lord was journeying in foreign lands. Only the beautiful Lady of the castle was at home, in company with her thirty-three ladies-in-waiting. For a long time, this had been the unsuccessful hunting-ground of the Scarlet Count, but now the women were waiting for him with a strange excitement and expectancy.

All thirty-three of them wanted to receive the Count, and they all insisted that they were not afraid of the silver hilt. But the Lady of the Castle dismissed them and she, the model of faithfulness and womanly virtue, received the Count alone.

The Silver Hilt part 3

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Thus wailed the Maestro, bending to the floor again and again to stroke his long whiskers.

Suddenly, in the midst of his distress, he heard footsteps in the corridor. In a moment the door opened, and in the middle of the diabolical kitchen stood Count Scarlet with threateningly puckered eyebrows. The Count was tall, lanky, freckled1, with close-cropped red hair, and a wicked bony face. His hands were as large as beefsteaks. His knees stuck out from his tightly fitting trousers like two bunions. He lifted his aristocratic, hairy red hand, and his tiny pig eyes grinned searchingly:

“Well, Maestro!”

The Maestro suddenly grew limp and tried to sit down on the air. He gulped a big dry gulp, turned the color of onyx and faintingly whispered, “Well, what does that ‘Well’ mean?”

“It means what it means,” said the Count coldly.

Deadly silence

It was a terrible moment. The seriousness of the situation was accentuated by the fact that the Count had deviated from his usual custom, in rising at such an early hour. It was evident that he was in earnest about his threat. Deadly silence reigned in the room. Only the strangesmelling concoction of herbs boiled impertinently in the stillness of the room.

“Count,” said the Maestro at last, “there is no gold.”

“Then give me your whiskers,” shouted the Count, and leaped toward the Maestro, who quickly threw his whiskers across his left shoulder so that they hung down over his back.

“Stop, sire!” he yelled in despair.

The Count was startled.

“What is it?”

“There is no gold,” moaned the Maestro, “but there is something better.”

“What?”

At this moment Maestro Super pollingerianus made an awful gulp, but this time it was no longer dry. His mouth watered at the thought of the fine lie that had just occurred to him. He felt that he was saved.

“What?” repeated the Count sternly.

“Something that is better than gold.”

“The philosopher’s stone?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“The happiness of eternal love!” said the Maestro, and gulped again.

The Count stroked his nose. This was a sign of scepticism.

“Must I swallow this?” he asked. “Must I swallow this lie, too, as I have swallowed for a year and a half all the deceptions with which you have contrived to prolong your stay here, you shameless blot upon the heaven of science?”

To be undecided is half of believing, thought the Maestro and went on developing his lie with the greatest tranquillity.

“In the course of my experiments I have discovered the way to conquer the feminine heart.”

The Silver Hilt part 2

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The Maestro looked at this bit of gold and scratched his head. Count Scarlet had flown into a violent temper the night before. He was tired of having had him on his back for the past year and a half. The Maestro ate, drank and lived well, besides spending enormous sums for experiments, and he had not been able to make more than this tiny bit of gold. Once last year, the Count had determined to throw the Maestro out, when luckily the Maestro had succeeded in creating the gold.

It is true that he had been able to do so only by inserting the gold—which he had bought—into the lead which he was supposed to have transformed. But Count Scarlet, cunning rascal though he was, had not dis-covered this. With the weirdest and most impressive ceremonies, exactly a t the stroke of midnight, the Maestro put the stick of lead into the fire in the presence of the Count, and when they removed the jar from under the lead, the gold was discovered in the bottom of it.

And then the Maestro’s trouble began. The Count demanded more gold.

“Until now,” he said, “I believed that Superpollingerianus was the stupidest ox in the world. But now I am beginning to discover that he is not a fool, but an old scoundrel, who knows how to make gold but doesn’t want to. If by to-morrow morning there is not a considerable lump of gold in the furnace, I will defy the coming generations, who will certainly brand me as a scoundrel for having done it, and will tear your whiskers out, Maestro, and have you dragged to the top of the liighest tower of my castle and kicked off. Quod dixi, dixi.”

With that he turned on his heel, ate his supper, looked at his calendar to see in which of his villages there then was likely to be a little jus primes noctis, and spreading some scented pomade on his scanty red mustache, he rode out of the castle.

I repeat, this happened at night. At dawn the next day, the Maestro was still scratching his head.

Count Scarlet

“Alas,” sighed the Maestro, turning away from his strange-smelling concoction with disgust, “I cannot help myself. There can be no question about making gold, because I haven’t even a worn copper. All the money I’ve been able to get out of Count Scarlet, I have sent to my illegitimate child.

To think I have struggled through eighty-eight years of life by sheer deception, and now I cannot extricate myself from this predicament! That scoundrelly Scarlet will keep his promise. Only five years ago, for a similar offense, my honorable friend and colleague, Paphnucius Ratenowienis, was nailed to the gate of the castle by his ears, and made to look like a stray bat. Alas, how can I save myself?”

The Silver Hilt part 1

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Ferenc Molnar (1878-1952)

Molnar was born in 1878 in Budapest, the son, according to the translator of his plays, “of a Jewish medical practioner. He graduated from the Universities of Geneva and Budapest. His literary career was begun as a journalist at the age of eighteen.” Though Molnar is best known as a dramatist, he was the author of a few novels and several short stories. His is a cynical and worldly-wise philosophy, yet tempered always by a certain sentiment, which is perceptible in the bitter little fable printed in these pages. The Silver Hilt is in effect a parable, related with grace, humour, and a certain curious sentiment.

The translation of the story was made by Mr. Joseph Szebenyei for this volume, and appears here for the first time in English. Acknowledgment is hereby made to the author and translator for permission to use the MS.

The Silver Hilt

A Narrow ribbon of smoke wound its way lightly out of one of the many chimneys of the ancient feudal castle, and rose into the misty autumn dawn as the sun was just beginning to shine. Any well informed serf, noticing the smoke from the valley below, would have known that the cooks were not preparing breakfast for Count Scarlet, or as they called him in the Valley, the Red Scoundrel. In the castle of Count Scarlet the cooks were gentlemen, and never rose before seven in the morning. Any well-informed serf would know what the little ribbon of blue smoke meant.

It was Maestro Conrad Super- pollingerianus who rose so early. He was the Count’s professional alchemist. He had come from Wurzburg a year and a half before and had ever since been working at his alchemy without the least success. Indeed, Maestro Conrad was already awake and up. He was standing by his fire in a long black coat. Over the fire boiled mysterious and strange-smelling concoctions. The man’s long white beard reached to his knees, and whenever he wanted to stroke his beard (which was often) he had to bend down almost to the ground. Even then he could seldom reach the end of it.

He was surrounded by all sorts of mysterious instruments. On the walls hung mysterious charts showing the movements of the stars, and all the heavens were divided into those spheres by which one may read the whims of fate. Everywhere were ovens and smelting-furnaces built of brick, strong jars against which the fire of hell was futile, slabs of lead, shining quartz, enormous bellows which panted like the lungs of a fresh killed dragon, and in a comer on a richly carved stand, under a glass cover on a small velvet pillow, was one tiny bit of gold about half the size of a grain of rice.

A Fickle Widow part 8

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“Many thanks, madam,” said Chwang, “for your deep conside- ation. But may I ask why you are dressed in such gay clothing.” “When I went to open your coffin, I had, as I say, a secret presentiment of my good fortune, and I dared not receive you back to life in mourning attire.”

“Oh,” replied her husband, “but there is one other circumstance which I should like to have explained. Why was not my coffin placed in the saloon, but tossed into a ruined barn?”

To this question Lady T’ien’s woman’s wit failed to supply an answer. Chwang looked at the cups and wine which formed the relics of the marriage feast, but made no other remark thereon, except to tell his wife to warm him some wine. This she did, employing all her most engaging wiles to win a smile from her husband; but he steadily rejected her advances, and presently, pointing with his finger over her shoulder, he said, “Look at those two men behind you.”

Chwang’s other self

She turned with an instinctive knowledge that she would see the Prince and his servant in Ihe courtyard, and so she did. Horrified at the sight, she turned her eyes toward her husband, but he was not there. Again looking towards the courtyard she found that the prince and his servant had now disappeared, and that Chwang was once more at her side. Perceiving then the true state of the case, that the Prince and his servant were but Chwang’s other self, which he by his magical power was able to project into separate existences, she saw that all attempts at concealment were vain; and taking her girdle from her waist, she tied it to a beam and hung herself on the spot.

So soon as life was extinct Chwang put his frail wife into the coffin from which he had lately emerged, and setting fire to his house, burnt it with its contents to ashes. The only things saved from the flames were the “Sutra of Reason and of Virtue,” and “The Classic of Nan-hwa,” which were found by some neighbors, and carefully treasured.

As to Chwang, it is said that he set out on a journey towards the West. What his ultimate destination was is not known, but one thing is certain, and that is, that he remained a widower for the rest of his life.

A Fickle Widow part 7

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The Lady T’ien, frantic with grief, embraced him, rubbed his chest, and when these remedies failed to revive him, called in his old servant.

“Has your master ever had any fits like this before?” she hurriedly inquired.

“Often,” replied the man, “and no medicine ever alleviates his sufferings; in fact, there is only one thing that does.’”

“Oh, what is that?” asked the lady.

“The brains of a man, boiled in wine,” answered the servant. “In Tsoo, when he has these attacks, the king, his father, beheads a malefactor and takes his brain to form the decoction; but how is it possible here to obtain such a remedy?”

“Will the brains of a man who has died a natural death do?” asked the lady.

“Yes, if forty-nine days have not elapsed since the death.”

“My former husband’s would do then. He has only been dead twenty days. Nothing will be easier than to open the coffin and take them out.”

“But would you be willing to do it?”

“I and the Prince are now husband and wife. A wife with her body serves her husband, and should I refuse to do this for him out of regard for a corpse, which is fast becoming dust?”

Stroke the plank

So saying, she told the servant to look after his master, and seizing a hatchet, went straight to the hut to which the corpse had been removed. Having arranged the light conveniently, she tucked up her sleeves, clenched her teeth, and with both hands brought down the hatchet on the coffin-lid. Blow after blow fell upon the wood, and at the thirty-first stroke the plank yielded, and the head of the coffin was forced open. Panting with her exertions, she cast a glance on the corpse preparatory to her further grim office, when, to her inexpressible horror, Chwang sighed twice, opened his eyes, and sat up. With a piercing shriek she shrank backwards, and dropped the hatchet from her palsied hands.

“My dear wife,” said the philosopher, “help me to rise.”

Afraid to do anything else but obey, she assisted him out of the coffin and offered him support, while he led the way, lamp in hand, to her chamber. Remembering the sight that would there meet his eyes, the wretched woman trembled as they approached the door. What was her relief, however, to find that the Prince and his servant had disappeared. Taking advantage of this circumstance, she assumed every woman’s wile, and in softest accents, said, “Ever since your death you have been in my thoughts day and night. Just now, hearing a noise in your coffin, and remembering how, in the tales of old, souls are said to return to their bodies, the hope occurred to me that it might be so in your case, and I took a hatchet to open your coffin. Thank Heaven and Earth my licity is complete; you are once more by my side.”

A Fickle Widow part 6

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“First,” answered the man, “my master says that the presence of the coffin in the saloon makes it difficult to conduct marriage festivities in accordance with usage; secondly, that the illustrious Chwang having so deeply loved his wife, and that affection having been so tenderly returned by her in recognition of his great qualities, he fears that a second husband would probalply not be held entitled to a like share of affection; and thirdly, that not having brought his luggage, he has neither the money nor the clothes necessary to play the part of a bridegroom.”

“These circumstances need form no obstacle to our marriage,” replied the lady. “As to the first objection, I can easily have the coffin removed into a shed at the back of the house; then as to the second, though my husband was a great Taoist authority, he was not by any means a very moral man. After his first wife’s death he married a second, whom he divorced, and just before his own decease, he flirted outrageously with a widow whom he found fanning her husband’s grave on the hill yonder.

Doubt the quality

Why, then, should your master, young, handsome, and a prince, doubt the quality of my affection? Then as to the third objection, your master need not trouble himself about the expenses connected with our marriage; I will provide them. At this moment I have twenty taels of silver in my room, and these I will readily give him to provide himself clothes withal. Go back, then, and tell the Prince what I say, and remind that there is no time like the present, and that there could be no more felicitous evening for our marriage than that of to-day.”

Carrying the twenty taels of silver in his hand, the servant returned to his master, and presently brought back word to the lady that the Prince was convinced by her arguments, and ready for the ceremony.

On receipt of this joyful news, Lady T’ien exchanged her mourning for wedding garments, painted her cheeks, reddened her lips, and ordered some villagers to carry Chwang’s coffin into a hut at the back of the house, and to prepare for the wedding. She herself arranged the lights and candles in the hall, and when the time arrived stood ready to receive the Prince, who presently entered, wearing the insignia of his official rank, and dressed in a gayly embroidered tunic.

Bright as a polished gem and a gold setting, the two stood beneath the nuptial torch, radiant with beauty and love. At the conclusion of the ceremony, with every demonstration of affection, the Prince led his bride by the hand into the nuptial chamber. Suddenly, as they were about to retire to rest, the Prince was seized with violent convulsions. His face became distorted, his eyebrows stood on end, and he fell to the ground, beating his breast with his hands.

A Fickle Widow part 5

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“My master,” replied the servant, “has never yet been married.”

“What qualities does he look for in the fortunate woman he will choose for his wife?” inquired the lady.

“My master says,” replied the servant, who had taken quite as much wine as was good for him, “that if he could obtain a renowned beauty like yourself, madam, his heart’s desire would be fulfilled.”

“Did he really say so? Are you sure you are telling me the truth?” eagerly asked the lady.

“Is it likely that an old man like me would tell you a lie?” replied the servant.

“If it be so, will you then act as a go-between and arrange a match between us?”

“My master has already spoken to me of the matter, and would desire the alliance above all things, if it were not for the respect due from a disciple to a deceased master, and for the animadversions to which such a marriage would give rise.”

“But as a matter of fact,” said the, Lady T’ien, “the Prince was never my husband’s disciple; and as to our neighbors about here, they are too few and insignificant to make their animadversions worth a thought.”

The objections having thus been overcome, the servant undertook to negotiate with his master, and promised to bring word of the result at any hour of the day or night at which he might have anything to communicate.

Chamber of death

So soon as the man was gone, the Lady T’ien gave way to excited impatience. She went backwards and forwards to the chamber of death, that she might pass the door of the Prince’s room, and even listened at his window, hoping to hear him discussing with his servant the proposed alliance. All, however, was still until she approached the coffin, when she heard an unmistakable sound of hard breathing. Shocked and terrified, she exclaimed, “Can it be possible that the dead has come to life again!”

A light, however, relieved her apprehensions by discovering the form of the Prince’s servant lying in a drunken sleep on a couch by the corpse. At any other time such disrespect to the deceased would have drawn from her a torrent of angry rebukes, but on this occasion she thought it best to say nothing, and on the next morning she accosted the defaulter without any reference to his escapade of the night before. To her eager inquiries the servant answered that his master was satisfied on the points she had combated on the preceding evening, but that there were still three unpropitious circumstances which made him hesitate.

“What are they?” asked the lady.

A Fickle Widow part 4

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“Some years ago I communicated to Chwang my desire to become his disciple. In furtherance of this purpose I came hither, and now, to my inexpressible regret, I find on my arrival that my master is dead.”

To evince his respectful sorrow, the Prince at once exchanged his colored clothing for mourning garments, and prostrating himself be-fore the coffin, struck his forehead four times on the ground, and sobbed forth, “Oh, learned Chwang, I am indeed unfortunate in not having been permitted to receive your instructions face to face. But to show my regard and affection for your memory, I will here remain and mourn for you a hundred days.”

Thrice declined to see

With these words he prostrated himself again four times, while he watered the earth with his tears. When more composed, he begged to be allowed to pay his respects to Lady T’ien, who, however, thrice declined to see him, and only at last consented when it was pointed out to her that, according to the most recondite authorities, the wives of deceased instructors should not refuse to see their husband’s disciples.

After then receiving the Prince’s compliments with downcast eyes, the Lady T’ien ventured just to cast one glance at her guest, and was so struck by his beauty and the grace of his figure, that a sentiment of more than interest suffused her heart. She begged him to take up his abode in her house, and when dinner was prepared, she blended her sighs with his. As a token of her esteem, so soon as the repast was ended, she brought him the copies of “The Classic of Nan-hwa,” and the “Sutra of Reason and of Virtue,” which her husband had been in the habit of using, and presented them to the Prince.

He, on his part, in fulfilment of his desire of mourning for his master, daily knelt and lamented by the side of the coffin, and thither also the Lady T’ien re-paired to breathe her sighs. These constant meetings provoked short conversations, and the glances, which on these occasions were exchanged between them, gradually betook less of condolence and more of affection, as time went on. It was plain that already the Prince was half enamored, while the lady was deeply in love. Being desirous of learning some particulars about her engaging guest, she one evening summoned his servant to her apartment, and having plied him with wine, inquired from him whether his master was married.

A Fickle Widow part 3

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“A faithful minister does not serve two princes, and a virtuous woman never thinks of a second husband,” sententiously replied the lady. “If fate were to decree that you should die, it would not be a question of three years or of five years, for never, so long as life lasted, would I dream of a second marriage.”

“It is hard to say, it is hard to say,” replied Chwang.

“Do you think,” rejoined his wife, “that women are like men, desti-tute of virtue and devoid of justice? When one wife is dead you look out for another, you divorce this one and take that one; but we women are for one saddle to one horse. Why do you say these things to annoy me?”

With these words she seized the fan and tore it to shreds.

“Calm yourself,” said her husband; “I only hope, if occasion offers, you will act up to your protestations.”

Not many days after this Chwang fell dangerously ill, and as the symptoms increased in severity, he thus addressed his wife:

“I feel that my end is approaching, and that it is time I should bid you farewell. How unfortunate that you destroyed that fanthe other day! You would have found it useful for drying my tomb.”

Presence to prove

“Pray, my husband, do not at such a moment suggest suspicions of me. Have I not studied the ‘Book of Rites,’ and have I not learned from it to follow one husband, and one only? If you doubt my sincerity, I will die in your presence to prove to you that what I say, I say in all faithfulness.”

“I desire no more,” replied Chwang; and then, as weakness over-came him, he added faintly, “I die. My eyes grow dim.”

With these words he sank back motionless and breathless.

Having assured herself that her husband was dead, the Lady T’ien broke out into loud lamentations, and embraced the corpse again and again. For days and nights she wept and fasted, and constantly dwelt in her thoughts on the virtues and wisdom of the deceased. As was customary, on the death of so learned a man as Chwang, the neighbors all came to offer their condolences and to volunteer their assistance. Just as the last of these had retired, there arrived at the door a young and elegant scholar whose face was like a picture, and whose lips looked as though they had been smeared with vermilion. He was dressed in a violet silk robe, and wore a black cap, an embroidered girdle, and scarlet shoes. His servant announced that he was a Prince of the Kingdom of Tsoo, and he himself added by way of explanation:

A Fickle Widow part 2

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“Your wrists are not strong enough for such work,” he said. “Let me relieve you at it.”

“By all means,” replied the lady briskly. “Here is the fan, and I shall owe you an everlasting debt of gratitude if you will fan it dry as quickly as possible.”

Ornament hairpins

Without more ado, Chwang set to work, and by the exercise of his magical powers he extracted every drop of moisture from the grave with a few waves of the fan. The lady was delighted with his success, and with the sunniest smile said, “How can I thank you sufficiently for your kindness! As a small mark of my gratitude, let me present you with this embroidered fan which I had in reserve; and as a token of my esteem, I really must ask you to accept one of my silver hairpins.” With these words she presented the philosopher with the fan, and drawing out one of her ornamented hairpins, she offered it for his acceptance. The philosopher took the fan, but, possibly having the fear of Lady T’ien before his eyes, he declined the pin. The incident made him thoughtful, and as he seated himself again in his thatched hall, he sighed deeply.

“Why are you sighing?”’ inquired the Lady T’ien, who happened to enter at that moment, “and where does the fan come from which you hold in your hand?”

Thus invited, Chwang related all that had passed at the tomb. As he proceeded with the tale, Lady T’ien’s countenance fell, and when he had concluded she broke forth indignantly, inveighing against the young widow, who she vowed was a disgrace to her sex. So soon as she had exhausted her vituperations, Chwang quietly repeated the prov-erb, “Knowing men’s faces is not like knowing their hearts.”

Interpreting this use of the saying as implying some doubts as to the value of her protestations, Lady T’ien exclaimed:

“How dare you condemn all women as though they were all formed in the same mold with this shameless widow? I wonder you are not afraid of calling down a judgment on yourself for such an injustice to me, and others like me.”

“What need is there of all this violence?” rejoined her husband. “Now, tell me, if I were to die, would you, possessed as you are of youth and beauty, be content to remain a widow for five, or even three?

A Fickle Widow part 1

02/06/2019 | LM6 | No Comments

A Fickle Widow (Anonymous: 15th Century A.D., or before)

A Fickle Widow, which also appeared originally in the Marvellous Tales, presents a striking contrast to The Story of Ming-Y. If the author was interested in pointing a moral, he was yet more interested in satirizing the frailties of human nature. It is impossible to tell whether there was a common source for this story and The Matron of Ephesus (the tale is retold by Anatole France), but in view of the lack of evidence it is reasonable to conclude that the Roman writer, like the Chinese, was inspired by a certain scepticism regarding the fidelity of the other sex.

This story is translated by R. K. Douglas, and appears in the vol-ume Chinese Stories, published in 1893 by William Blackwood & Sons, publishers, by whose permission and that of Mr. R. K. Douglas it is here reprinted.

A Fickle Widow (From Marvellous Tales, Ancient and Modern)

At a distance from the capital, and in the peaceful retirement of the country there dwelt many centuries ago a philosopher named Chwang, who led a pleasurable existence in the society of his third wife, and in the study of the doctrines of his great master, Lao-tsze.

Like many philosophers, Chwang had not been fortunate in his early married life. His first wife died young; his second he found it necessary to divorce, on account of misconduct; but in the companionship of the Lady T’ien he enjoyed a degree of happiness which had previously been denied him. Being a philosopher, however, he found it essential to his peace that he should occasionally exchange his domestic surroundings for the hillsides and mountain solitudes. On one such expedition he came unexpectedly on a newly made grave at the side of which was seated a young woman dressed in mourning, who was gently fanning the new mound. So strange a circumstance was evidently one into which a philosopher should inquire. He therefore approached the lady, and in gentle accents said, “May I ask what you are doing?”

“Well,” replied the lady, “the fact is that this grave contains my husband. And, stupid man, just before he died he made me promise that I would not marry again until the soil above his grave should be dry. I watched it for some days, but it got dry so very slowly that I am fanning it to hasten the process.” So saying she looked up into Chwang’s face with so frank and engaging a glance that the philo-sopher at once decided to enlist himself in her service.

Henrik and Rosalie part 7

31/05/2019 | LM6 | No Comments

The head of the household was absent on a hunting party. He may not have been a very interesting man, but even a less entertaining person to whom one is accustomed, may by his absence leave a hole, an emptiness, which it is difficult to fill, especially in the country where the postman is not expected for another day or two, or where the farmhand has returned from his last trip to town with the wrong books from the circulating library or perhaps with no books at all.

Fortunately Lundtofte had its own library. After impatiently putting aside her embroidery, the young girl fetched a copy of Oehlenschlager’s poems, and at the request of the older lady began reading aloud. It was the romance about Aage and Else. Before she had reached the end, she suddenly stopped, exclaiming, “I wonder how these legends arise, about lovers who step forth from their graves? I am sure they are not taken from real life.”

Conversation to the subject

The old lady’s reply led the conversation to the subject of ghosts; then with a jump it turned again to love, and once more drifted on to ghosts, until the young girl said: “It would be worth while meeting some one in this life who had the power and the will to appear to us after death.”

The old lady replied: “Those who would do that for us, we probably do not see in the right light until they are in their graves.”

Then silence followed in which each was occupied with her own thoughts.

Suddenly the maid appeared and said, “Someone is outside asking for shelter.”

“What sort of person?” demanded the old lady.

“I don’t know. He looks awful, as if he was steeped in his own clothes.”

“Is he a journeyman?”

“No, he wears a white shirt—even though it is no longer white.”

“I wonder who it can be? Ask him his name.”

The maid left, but returned immediately, saying, “He is lying outside.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yes, he is lying outside. I am afraid he is dead.”

They all hurried into the hall. The young girl uttered a cry at the sight of Henry Falk, for he it was—our wandering doctor—as my reader no doubt has guessed. The old lady gave instructions to get a room ready, to put warm sheets on the bed, and so forth.

Henrik and Rosalie part 8

It took several days before the doctor regained consciousness, and when it happened, he experienced something which everyone in his own way may expect to encounter once in his life, namely, a miracle —something so wonderful and exquisite that it does not seem to come to us from natural sources according to rules and merits or even by accident, but must have befallen us by the grace of God.

Rosalie was sitting at his bedside, lovelier than ever, beautified through her very sacrifice, fairylike and glorified by the suddenness, the strangeness, and the enchantment of the whole occurrence.

How these two again joined the bond that had been torn asunder more than five years ago, my reader must picture for himself. Such reconciliations are made in words which have a strange and mysterious power over those by whom they are expressed and those for whom they are intended, but to everyone else they lose their wondrous sound.

It may be said, however, that the reconcilement was so much easier as Rosalie had never really thought that the connection had been broken entirely and, strange as it may sound, when she wrote her little note to Henrik she had a feeling, not as if the tie were cut forever, but rather as if it were being prolonged for an indefinite time. Let him who can explain it, though it is of no vital importance any more than the fact that it soon occurred to Henrik that he, too, had had the same feeling.

Exhilarating and refreshing influence

However this may be, there was one thing which still lingered in Rosalie’s memory after the first rapture—in which the whole estate participated—had subsided, and which never ceased to have an exhilarating and refreshing influence on her married life: it was the delight she took in picturing to herself Henrik traversing the heath guided by her love, although ignorant thereof and even unwilling in his suffering condition.

It seemed to her that she had Seen with her own eyes life’s poetry brought into reality, by his side, with her hand on his shoulder, leading him through the wet heather, forcing him forward step by step, toward the happiness which had once been lost. These memories were forever a source of great happiness to her, and every time the subject was discussed it brought to the doctor’s face a tender and grateful smile, yet at the same time gave him an uncomfortable feeling which he carefully concealed, for he had not the heart to tell his wife in plain words that this wonderful, blessed, romantic turn in their lives was due to an unromantic pig who had got a bone in his throat.

Henrik and Rosalie part 6

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He deliberated for a moment, trying to find his bearings, and as he considered carefully everything that had happened, he remembered suddenly that the farmer had not put him out by the front gate; he realized therefore that he had taken the wrong course and would have to go back almost as far as he had come. He did not want to pass the farm once more; and besides, he figured out that as the farm must be on his right hand and the town south of the farmstead, he would have to keep in a straight line toward the southeast.

But the heath cannot be traversed by means of guesswork, and after a short time he absolutely lost his way among the heather, wet to the skin and surrounded by utter darkness.

The situation began indeed to seem perilous, and not without reason. The indisposition he had felt earlier in the day had increased. The blood hammered in his temples, and his head was hot and pained him considerably. His clothes were soaking wet, and he shivered with cold.

He forced himself to go forward, walking in a straight line, and continued this course not so much because he had hopes of finding his way, but in order to get warm and not to collapse. Suddenly the heath seemed to change into meadowland. He discovered in the distance a house with lights in the windows, but a body of water separated him from it. He continued his way almost unconscious.

At this moment two women—one an elderly lady and the other a young girl of twenty-two or -three years of age—were sitting in the spacious, old-fashioned parlor on the estate Lundtofte. The old lady looked wise and placid; the young girl had a soulful face which might have been considered fitting for the heroine of a romance on an isolated estate.

Denoted a charming simplicity

She had a dreamy expression, and her whole appearance denoted a charming simplicity, but at the same time there was something indescribable about her person, about her eyes, her complexion, her hair or perhaps the manner in which it was piled on her head, which did not belong in these surroundings, which seemed to conceal a memory and to rebel against the thought that the doors were closed, that no guest was expected, unknown though his name might be.

To him who understood the language, this young figure expressed, not in plain letters but in music without words, that she had approached many a guest with a searching glance, but had again withdrawn after consulting something within herself which always in the last moment seemed to admonish her to wait. The poetic nimbus that surrounded her was expectancy—expectation of some romance, a beginning, pensive doubt as to whether it would ever happen, and at the same time a firm determination to give romance a trial for another year, even if her cheeks should grow a little paler in the waiting.

Henrik and Rosalie part 5

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“Is that so!” said the farmer.

“Yes, that is so. And now let me get back to town immediately.”

“Go ahead,” replied the farmer. “Nobody is holding you back, neither you nor your foul words. You had better take them along with you.”

“It just occurs to me,” said the doctor, in a milder tone, “that there may be a misunderstanding somewhere. I moved into the house of Hansen, the veterinary, so that may explain the case.”

“May be,” answered the farmer.

“Will you please send the wagon for me?”

“No, our horses shall not drive you or your ugly words from this place—not unless you cure the pig first.”

“Don’t talk to me about your confounded pig.”

Without another word the farmer took hold of the doctor so’ it hurt, pressing the latter’s arms tightly up against his sides just above the hips, and by lifting him a little from the ground brought him into an almost horizontal position. In this fashion the farmer carried him outside, and not until they had reached some distance from the farm did he put him down, exclaiming. “Shame on you and your horrid language!” Groaning with pain and anger the doctor cried, “You shall drive me home. You have my doctor’s stool; if you keep it you are a thief.”

Home on foot

The farmer returned to the house, fetched the stool and, laying two kroner upon it, said, “There you are, and once more shame on you!” The doctor realized that he had lost out. He decided to start on his way home on foot, and in the meantime try to hire somebody to fetch his stool. Unfamiliar as he was with the neighborhood, he only remembered that when entering the farm he had turned to the left, so that in leaving he now turned to the right.

But he entirely overlooked the fact that he had been put out on the opposite side, and the result was that he took the wrong direction. At first, owing to his agitated condition, he did not notice the surroundings, but when after a while he began to wonder that he had not yet reached the main road, he could no longer find even the path; nothing but wheel tracks could be seen in the heath. Besides, it was not only beginning to grow dark, but a cold rain had started, and a sharp wind was blowing.

Henrik and Rosalie part 4

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One day, not long afterwards, a man from the neighboring country drove up in front of the house and asked the doctor to follow him to his master’s farm. Falk was pleased that the news of his establishment had already reached the farmers in the district; his new, hitherto unused doctor’s stool was soon placed in the wagon, and the two drove off in silence.

After they got out of the town Falk asked the sullen driver, “What is the matter with your patient? What do you think has gone wrong?”

“He got a bone in his throat,” replied the man.

“I see! Did you not try to slap him on the back?”

The man turned slowly toward the doctor, looked puzzled at him and said, “Very likely.”

There the conversation ended, and after a while they arrived at the farm, which was situated at the edge, or almost at the edge of the heath. The farmer received the doctor, showed him the way to the parlor and sent for sandwiches and brandy, but Falk had no appetite; as a matter of fact he did not feel quite well.

Farmer opened the low

Finally the time came to look at the patient, and Falk was somewhat surprised when the farmer led him into the yard, through the stables, and stopped at a small isolated house situated in a morass which sent out a most unpleasant odor. The farmer opened the low door and took the doctor over to a pig.

“There he is,” he said.

Henry Falk had entirely forgotten that he had moved into the house of a veterinary. The blood rushed to his cheeks and he cried, “What, do you expect me to cure your pig?”

The farmer answered, “Well, before you came we sent for Jespersen to cure the horse, but next time, if it so pleases our Lord, you shall treat the horse also. To-day you will have to be satisfied with the pig.”

“Go to—with your pig and your horse.”

“You should not use such ugly language,” said the farmer, and colored slightly.

“That is just what I shall!” shouted the doctor. “And next time you have a sick beast, send for a veterinary and not for a practising physician. I have heard it said that to you farmers, nothing is too good for your beasts, but that you scarcely send for a veterinary when a human being is ill.”