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Hsiang-ju's misfortunes

AT Kuang-p'ing there lived an old man named Feng, who had an only son called Hsiang-ju. Both of them were graduates; and the father was very particular and strict, though the family had long been poor. Mrs. Feng and Hsiang-ju's wife had died one shortly after the other, so that the father and son were obliged to do their household work for themselves.

One night Hsiang-ju was sitting out in the moonlight, when suddenly a young lady from next door got on the wall to have a look at him. He saw she was very pretty, and as he approached her she began to laugh. He then beckoned to her with his hand; but she did not move either to come or to go away. At length, however, she accepted the invitation, and descended the ladder that he had placed for her. In reply to Hsiang-ju's inquiries, the young lady said her name was Hung-yu, and that she lived next door; so Hsiang-ju, who was much taken with her beauty, begged her to come over frequently and have a chat. To this she readily assented, and continued to do so for several months, until one evening old Mr. Feng, hearing sounds of talking and laughing in his son's room, got up and looked in. Seeing Miss Hung-Yu, he was exceedingly angry, and called his son out, saying, "You good-for-nothing fellow! poor as we are, why aren't you at your books, instead of wasting your time like this? A pretty thing for the neighbours to hear of! and even if they don't hear of it, some-body else will, and shorten your life accordingly." Hsiang-ju fell on his knees, and with tears implored forgiveness; whereupon his father turned to the young lady, and said, "A girl who behaves like this disgraces others as well as herself; and if people find this out, we shan't be the only ones to suffer." The old man then went back to bed in a rage, and Miss Hung-Yu, weeping bitterly, said to Hsiang-ju, "Your father's reproaches have overwhelmed me with shame. Our friendship is now at an end." "I could say nothing," replied he, "as long as my father was here; but if you have any consideration for me, I pray you think nothing of his remarks." Miss Hung-Yu protested, however, that they could meet no more, and then Hsiang-ju also burst into tears. "Do not weep," cried she, "our friendship was an impossible one, and time must sooner or later have put an end to these visits. Meanwhile, I hear there is a very good match to be made in the neighbourhood." Hsiang-ju replied that he was poor; but Miss Hung-Yu told him to meet her again the following evening, when she would endeavour to do something for him. At the appointed time she arrived, and, producing forty ounces of silver, presented them to Hsiang-ju; telling him that at a village some distance off there was a Miss Wei, eighteen years of age, who was not yet married because of the exorbitant demands of her parents, but that a little extra outlay would secure for him the young lady's hand. Miss Hung-Yu then bade him farewell, and Hsiang-ju went off to inform his father, expressing a desire to go and make inquiries, but saying nothing about the forty ounces. His father, thinking that they were not sufficiently well off, urged him not to go; however, by dint of argument, he finally persuaded the old man that, at any rate, there was no harm in trying. So he borrowed horses and attendants, and set off to the house of Mr. Wei, who was a man of considerable property; and when he got there he asked Mr. Wei to come outside and accord him a few minutes' conversation. Now the latter knew that Hsiang-ju belonged to a very good family; and when he saw all the retinue that Hsiang-ju had brought with him, he inwardly consented to the match, though he was afraid that perhaps his would-be son-in-law might not be as liberal as he would like. Hsiang-ju soon perceived what Mr. Wei's feelings were, and emptied his purse on the table, at which Mr. Wei was delighted, and begged a neighbour to allow the marriage contract to be drawn up in his house. Hsiang-ju then went in to pay his respects to Mrs. Wei, whom he found in a small, miserable room, with Miss Wei hiding behind her. Still he was pleased to see that, in spite of her homely toilette, the young lady herself was very nice-looking; and, while he was being entertained in the neighbour's house, the old lady said, "It will not be necessary for you, Sir, to come and fetch our daugh-ter. As soon as we have made up a small trousseau for her, we will send her along to you." Hsiang-ju then agreed with them upon a day for the wedding, and went home and informed his father, pretending that the Wei family only asked for respectability, and did not care about money. His father was overjoyed to hear this; and when the day came, the young lady herself arrived. She proved to be a thrifty housekeeper and an obedient wife, so that she and her husband got along capitally together. In two years she had a son, who was called Fu-erh. And once, on the occasion of the great spring festival, she was on her way to the family tombs, with her boy in her arms, when she chanced to meet a man named Sung, who was one of the gentry of the neighbourhood. This Mr. Sung had been a Censor, but had purchased his retirement, and was now leading a private life, characterised by many overbearing and violent acts. He was returning from his visit to the graves of his ancestors when he saw Hsiang-ju's wife, and, attracted by her beauty, found out who she was; and imagining that, as her husband was a poor scholar, he might easily be induced for a consideration to part with the lady, sent one of his servants to find out how the land lay. When Hsiang-ju heard what was wanted, he was very angry; but, reflecting on the power of his adversary, controlled his passion, and passed the thing off with a laugh. His father, however, to whom he repeated what had occurred, got into a violent rage, and, rushing out, flung his arms about, and called Mr. Sung every name he could lay his tongue to. Mr. Sung's emissary slunk off and went home; and then a number of men were sent by the enraged Sung, and these burst into the house and gave old Feng and his son a most tremendous beating. In the middle of the hubbub Hsiang-ju's wife ran in, and, throwing her child down on the bed, tore her hair and shrieked for help. Sung's attendants immediately surrounded her and carried her off, while there lay her husband and his father, wounded on the ground and the baby squalling on the bed. The neighbours, pitying their wretched condition, helped them up on to the couches, and by the next day Hsiang-ju could walk with a stick; however, his father's anger was not to be appeased, and, after spitting a quantity of blood, he died. Hsiang-ju wept bitterly at this, and, taking his child in his arms, used every means to bring the offenders to justice, but without the slightest success. He then heard that his wife had put an end to her own existence, and with this his cup of misery was full. Unable to get his wrongs redressed, he often meditated assassinating Sung in the open street, but was deterred from attempting this by the number of his retainers and the fear of leaving his son with no one to protect him. Day and night he mourned over his lot, and his eyelids were never closed in sleep, when suddenly in walked a personage of striking appearance to condole with him on his losses. The stranger's face was covered with a huge curly beard; and Hsiang-ju, not knowing who he was, begged him to take a seat, and was about to ask whence he came, when all at once he began, "Sir! have you forgotten your father's death, your wife's disgrace?" Thereupon Hsiang-ju, suspecting him to be a spy from the Sung family, made some evasive reply, which so irritated the stranger that he roared out, "I thought you were a man; but now I know that you are a worthless, contemptible wretch." Hsiang-ju fell on his knees and implored the stranger to forgive him, saying, "I was afraid it was a trick of Sung's: I will speak frankly to you. For days I have lain, as it were, upon thorns, my mouth filled with gall, restrained only by pity for this little one and fear of breaking our ancestral line. Generous friend, will you take care of my child if I fall?" "That," replied the stranger, "is the business of women; I cannot undertake it. But what you wish others to do for you, do yourself; and that which you would do yourself, I will do for you." When Hsiang-ju heard these words he knocked his head upon the ground; but the stranger took no more notice of him, and walked out. Following him to the door, Hsiang-ju asked his name, to which he replied, "If I cannot help you I shall not wish to have your reproaches; if I do help you, I shall not wish to have your gratitude." The stranger then disappeared, and Hsiang-ju, having a presentiment that some misfortune was about to happen, fled away with his child.

When night came, and the members of the Sung family were wrapped in sleep, some one found his way into their house and slew the ex-Censor and his two sons, besides a maid-servant and one of the ladies. Information was at once given to the authorities; and as the Sung family had no doubt that the murderer was Hsiang-ju, the magistrate, who was greatly alarmed, sent out lictors to arrest him. Hsiang-ju, however, was nowhere to be found, a fact which tended to confirm the suspicions of the Sung family; and they, too, despatched a number of servants to aid the mandarin in effecting his capture. Towards evening the lictors and others reached a hill, and, hearing a child cry, made for the sound, and thus secured the object of their search, whom they bound and led away. As the child went on crying louder than ever, they took it from him and threw it down by the wayside, thereby nearly causing Hsiang-ju to die of grief and rage. On being brought before the magistrate he was asked why he had killed these people; to which he replied that he was falsely accused, "For," said he, "they died in the night, whereas I had gone away in the daytime. Besides," added he, "how, with a crying baby in my arms, could I scale walls and kill people?" "If you didn't kill people," cried the magistrate, "why did you run away?" Hsiang-ju had no answer to make to this, and he was accordingly ordered to prison; whereupon he wept and said, "I can die without regret; but what has my child done that he, too, should be punished?" "You," replied the magistrate, "have slain the children of others; how can you com-plain if your child meets the same fate?" Hsiang-ju was then stripped of his degree and subjected to all kinds of indignities, but they were unable to wring a confession from his lips; and that very night, as the magistrate lay down, he heard a sharp noise of something striking the bed, and, jumping up in a fright, found, by the light of a candle, a small, keen blade sticking in the wood at the head of his couch so tightly that it could not be drawn out. Terribly alarmed at this, the magistrate walked round the room with a spear over his shoulder, but without finding anything; and then, reflecting that nothing more was to be feared from Sung, who was dead, as well as his two sons, he laid Hsiang-ju's case before the higher authorities, and obtained for him an acquittal. Hsiang-ju was released and went home. His cupboard, however, was empty, and there was nothing except his own shadow within the four walls of his house. Happily, his neighbours took pity on him and supplied him with food; and whenever he thought upon the vengeance that had been wreaked, his countenance assumed an expression of joy; but as often as his misfortunes and the extinction of his family came into his mind, his tears would begin to flow. And when he remembered the poverty of his life and the end of his ancestral line, he would seek out some solitary spot, and there burst into an ungovernable fit of grief. Thus things went on for about six months, when the search after the murderer began to be relaxed; and then Hsiang-ju petitioned for the recovery of his wife's bones, which he took home with him and buried. His sorrows made him wish to die, and he lay tossing about on the bed without any object in life, when suddenly he heard somebody knock at the door. Keeping quiet to listen, he distinguished the sound of a voice outside talking with a child; and, getting up to look, he perceived a young lady, who said to him, "Your great wrongs are all redressed, and now, luckily, you have nothing to ail you." The voice seemed familiar to him, but he could not at the moment recall where he had heard it; so he lighted a candle, and Miss Hung-Yu stood before him. She was leading a small, happy-looking child by the hand; and after she and Hsiang-ju had expressed their mutual satisfaction at meeting once more, Miss Hung-Yu pushed the boy forward, saying, "Have you forgotten your father?" The boy clung to her dress, and looked shyly at Hsiang-ju, who, on examining him closely, found that he was Fu-erh. "Where did he come from?" asked his father, in astonishment, not unmingled with tears. "I will tell you all," replied Miss Hung-Yu. "I was only deceiving you when I said I belonged to a neighbouring family. I am really a fox, and, happening to go out one evening, I heard a child crying in a ditch. I took him home and brought him up; and, now that your troubles are over, I return him to you, that father and son may be together." Hsiang-ju wiped away his tears and thanked her heartily; but Fu-erh kept close to Miss Hung-Yu, whom he had come to regard as a mother, and did not seem to recognise his father again. Before day-break Miss Hung-Yu said she must go away but Hsiang-ju fell upon his knees and entreated her to stop, until at last she said she was only joking, adding that, in a new establishment like theirs, it would be a case of early to rise and late to bed. She then set to work cutting fuel and sweeping it up, toiling hard as if she had been a man, which made Hsiang-ju regret that he was too poor to have all this done for her. However, she bade him mind his books, and not trouble himself about the state of their affairs, as they were not likely to die of hunger. She also produced some money, and bought implements for spinning, besides renting a few acres of land and hiring labourers to till them. Day by day she would shoulder her hoe and work in the fields, or employ herself in mending the roof, so that her fame as a good wife spread abroad, and the neighbours were more than ever pleased to help them. In half-a-year's time their home was like that of a well-to-do family, with plenty of servants about; but one day Hsiang-ju said to Miss Hung-Yu, "With all that you have accomplished on my behalf, there is still one thing left undone." On her asking him what it was, he continued: "The examination for master's degree is at hand, and I have not yet recovered the bachelor's degree of which I was stripped." "Ah," replied she, "some time back I had your name replaced upon the list; had I waited for you to tell me, it would have been too late." Hsiang-ju marvelled very much at this, and accordingly took his master's degree. He was then thirty-six years of age, the master of broad lands and fine houses; and Miss Hung-Yu, who looked delicate enough to be blown away by the wind, and yet worked harder than an ordinary labourer's wife, keeping her hands smooth and nice in spite of winter weather, gave herself out to be thirty-eight, though no one took her to be much more than twenty.

紅玉

廣平馮翁有一子,字相如。父子俱諸生。翁年近六旬,性方鯁,而家屢空。數年間,媼與子婦又相繼逝,井臼自操之。一夜,相如坐月下,忽見東鄰女自牆上來窺。視之,美。近之,微笑。招以手,不來亦不去。固請之,乃梯而過,遂共寢處。問其姓名,曰:「妾鄰女紅玉也。」生大愛悅,與訂永好。女諾之。夜夜往來,約半年許。翁夜起,聞子舍笑語,窺之,見子,怒,喚出,罵曰:「畜產所為何事!如此落寞,尚不刻苦,乃學浮蕩耶?人知之,喪汝德;人不知,促汝壽!」生跪自投,泣言知悔。翁叱女曰:「女子不守閨戒,既自玷,而又以玷人。倘事一髮,當不僅貽寒舍羞!」罵已,憤然歸寢。女流涕曰:「親庭罪責,良足愧辱!我二人緣份盡矣!」生曰:「父在不得自專。卿如有情,尚當含垢為好。」女言辭決絕。生乃灑涕。女止之曰:「妾與君無媒妁之言,父母之命,逾牆鑽隙,何能白首?此處有一佳耦,可聘也。」告以貧。女曰:「來宵相俟,妾為君謀之。」次夜,女果至,出白金四十兩贈生。曰:「去此六十里,有吳村衛氏,年十八矣。高其價,故未售也。君重啖之,必合諧允。」言已,別去。
生乘間語父,欲往相之。而隱饋金不敢告。翁自度無資,以是故,止之。生又婉言:「試可乃已。」翁頷之。生遂假仆馬,詣衛氏。衛故田舍翁,生呼出,引與間語。衛知生望族,又見儀採軒豁,心許之,而慮其靳于資。生聽其詞意吞吐,會其旨,傾囊陳幾上。衛乃喜,浼鄰生居間,書紅箋而盟焉。生入拜媼,居室幅側,女依母自幛。微睨之,雖荊布之飾,而神情光艷,心竊喜。衛借舍款婿,便言:「公子無須親迎,待少作衣妝,即合舁送去。」生與期而歸。詭告翁,言衛愛清門,不責資,翁亦喜。至日,衛果送女至,女勤儉,有順德,琴瑟甚篤。逾二年,舉一男,名福兒。會清明抱子登墓,遇邑紳宋氏。宋官御史,坐行賕免,居林下,大煽威虐。是日亦上墓歸,見女艷之,問村人,知為生配。料馮貧士,誘以重賂,冀可搖,使家人風示之。生驟聞,怒形于色;既思勢不敵,斂怒為笑,歸告翁。翁大怒,奔出,對其家人,指天畫地,詬罵萬端。家人鼠竄而去。宋氏亦怒,竟遣數人入生家,毆翁及子,洶若沸鼎。女聞之,棄兒于床,披發號救。群篡舁之,哄然便去。父子傷殘,呻吟在地。兒呱呱啼室中。鄰人共憐之,扶之榻上。經日,生杖而能起,翁忿不食,嘔血尋斃。生大哭,抱子興詞,上至督撫,訟幾遍,卒不得直。後聞婦不屈死,益悲。冤塞胸吭,無路可伸。每思要路刺殺宋,而慮其扈從繁,兒又罔托。日夜哀思,雙睫為不交。
忽一丈夫吊諸其室,虯髯闊頷,曾與無素。挽坐,欲問邦族。客遽曰:「君有殺父之仇,奪妻之恨,而忘報乎?」生疑為宋人之偵,姑偽應之。客怒眦欲裂,遽出曰:「仆以君人也,今乃知不足齒之傖!」生察其異,跪而挽之,曰:「誠恐宋人餂舌我。今實布腹心;仆之臥薪嘗膽者,固有日矣。但憐此褓中物,恐墜宗祧。君義士,能為我杵臼否?」客曰:「此婦人女子之事,非所能。君所欲托諸人者,請自任之;所欲自任者,願得而代庖焉。」生聞,崩角在地。客不顧而出。生追問姓字,曰:「不濟,不任受怨;濟,亦不任受德。」遂去。生懼禍及,抱子亡去。至夜,宋家一門俱寢,有人越重垣入,殺御史父子三人及一媳一婢。宋傢具狀告官。官大駭,宋執謂相如,於是遣役捕生,生遁不知所之,於是情益真。宋仆同官役諸處冥搜。夜至南山,聞兒啼,蹤得之,系縲而行。兒啼愈嗔,群奪兒拋棄之。生冤憤欲絕。見邑令。問:「何殺人?」生曰:「冤哉!某以夜死,我以晝出,且抱呱呱者,何能逾垣殺人?」令曰:「不殺人,何逃乎?」生詞窮,不能置辨。乃收諸獄,生泣曰:「我死無足惜,孤兒何罪?」令曰:「汝殺人子多矣;殺汝子,何怨?」生既褫革,屢受梏慘,卒無詞。令是夜方臥,聞有物擊床,震震有聲,大懼而號。舉家驚起,集而燭之,一短刀銛利如霜,剁床入木者寸余,牢不可拔。令睹之,魂魄喪失。荷戈遍索,竟無蹤跡。心竊餒。又以宋人死,無可畏懼,乃詳諸憲,代生解免,竟釋生。
生歸,瓮無升斗,孤影對四壁。幸鄰人憐饋食飲,苟且自度。念大仇已報,則單展然喜;思慘酷之禍,幾于滅門,則淚潸潸墮;及思半生貧徹骨,宗支不續,則于無人處大哭失聲,不復能自禁。如此半年,捕禁益懈。乃哀邑令,求判還衛氏之骨。及葬而歸,悲怛欲死。輾轉空床,竟無生路。忽有款門者,凝神寂聽,聞一人在門外,噥噥與小兒語。生急起窺覘,似一女子。扉初啟,便問:「大冤昭雪,可幸無恙?」其聲稔熟,而倉卒不能追憶。燭之,則紅玉也。挽一小兒,嬉笑胯下。生不暇問,抱女嗚哭。女亦慘然。既而推兒曰:「汝忘爾父耶?」兒牽女衣,目灼灼視生。細審之,福兒也。大驚,泣問:「兒那得來?」女曰:「實告君:昔言鄰女者,妄也。妾實狐。適宵行,見兒啼谷口,抱養于秦。聞大難既息,故攜來與君團聚耳。」生揮涕拜謝。兒在女懷,如依其母,竟不復能識父矣。天未明,女即遽起。問之,答曰:「奴欲去。」生裸跪床頭,涕不能仰。女笑曰:「妾誑君耳。今家道新創,非夙興夜寐不可。」乃剪莽擁篲,類男子操作。生懮貧乏,不自給。女曰:「但請下帷讀,勿問盈歉,或當不殍餓死。」遂出金治織具,租田數十畝,僱佣耕作。荷鑱誅茅,牽蘿補屋,日以為常。裡黨聞婦賢,益樂資助之。約半年,人煙騰茂,類素封家。生曰:「灰燼之余,卿白手再造矣。然一事未就安妥,如何?」詰之,答曰:「試期已迫,巾服尚未復也。」女笑曰:「妾前以四金寄廣文,已複名在案。若待君言,誤之已久。」生益神之。是科遂領鄉荐。時年三十六,腴田連阡,夏屋渠渠矣。女裊娜如隨風欲飄去,而操作過農家婦;雖嚴冬自苦,而手膩如脂。自言二十八歲,人視之,常若二十許人。
異史氏曰:「其子賢,其父德,故其報之也俠。非特人俠,狐亦俠也。遇亦奇矣!然官宰悠悠,豎人毛髮,刀震震入木,何惜不略移床上半尺許哉?使蘇子美讀之,必浮白曰:「惜乎擊之不中!」」


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