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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

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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.