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Ta-nan in search of his father

HSI CH'ENG-LIEH was a Ch'eng-tu man. He had a wife and a concubine, the latter named Ho Chao-jung. His wife dying, he took a second by name Shen, who bullied the concubine dreadfully, and by her constant wrangling made his life perfectly unbearable, so that one day in a fit of anger he ran away and left them. Shortly afterwards Ho gave birth to a son, and called him Ta-nan; but as Hsi did not return, the wife Shen turned them out of the house, making them a daily allowance of food. By degrees Ta-nan became a big boy; and his mother, not daring to ask for an increase of victuals, was obliged to earn a little money by spinning. Meanwhile, Ta-nan, seeing all his companions go to school and learn to read, told his mother he should like to go too; and accordingly, as he was still very young, she sent him for a few days' probation. He turned out to be so clever that he soon beat the other boys; at which the master of the school was much pleased, and offered to teach him for nothing. His mother, therefore, sent him regularly, making what trifling presents she could to the master; and by the end of two or three years he had a first-rate knowledge of the Sacred Books. 2 One day he came home and asked his mother, saying, "All the fellows at our school get money from their fathers to buy cakes. Why don't I?" "Wait till you are grown up," replied his mother, "and I will explain it to you." "Why, mother," cried he, "I'm only seven or eight years old. What a time it will be before I'm grown up." "Whenever you pass the temple of the God of War on your way to school," said his mother, "you should go in and pray awhile; that would make you grow faster." Ta-nan believed she was serious; and every day, going and coming, he went in and worshipped at that temple. When his mother found this out, she asked him how soon he was praying to be grown up; to which he replied that he only prayed that by the following year he might be as big as if he were fifteen or sixteen years old. His mother laughed; but Ta-nan went on, increasing in wisdom and stature alike, until by the time he was ten, he looked quite thirteen or fourteen, and his master was no longer able to correct his essays. Then he said to his mother, "You promised me that when I grew up you would tell me where my father is. Tell me now." "By-and-by, by-and-by," replied his mother; so he waited another year, and then pressed her so eagerly to tell him that she could no longer refuse, and related to him the whole story. He heard her recital with tears and lamentations, and expressed a wish to go in search of his father; but his mother objected that he was too young, and also that no one knew where his father was. Ta-nan said nothing; however, in the middle of the day he did not come home as usual, and his mother at once sent off to the school, where she found he had not shewn himself since breakfast. In great alarm, and thinking that he had been playing truant, she paid some people to go and hunt for him everywhere, but was unable to obtain the slightest clue to his whereabouts. As to Ta-nan himself, when he left the house he followed the road without knowing whither he was going, until at length he met a man who was on his way to K'uei-chou, and said his name was Ch'ien. Ta-nan begged of him something to eat, and went along with him; Mr. Ch'ien even procuring an animal for him to ride because he walked too slowly. The expenses of the journey were all defrayed by Ch'ien; and when they arrived at K'uei-chou they dined together, Ch'ien secretly putting some drug in Ta-nan's food which soon reduced him to a state of unconsciousness. Ch'ien then carried him off to a temple, and, pretending that Ta-nan was his son, offered him to the priests on the plea that he had no money to continue his journey. The priests, seeing what a nice-looking boy he was, were only too ready to buy him; and when Ch'ien had got his money he went away. They then gave Ta-nan a draught which brought him round; but as soon as the abbot heard of the affair and saw Ta-nan himself, he would not allow them to keep him, sending him away with a purse of money in his pocket. Ta-nan next met a gentleman named Chiang, from Lu-chou, who was returning home after having failed at the examination; and this Mr. Chiang was so pleased with the story of his filial piety that he took him to his own home at Lu-chou. There he remained for a month and more, asking everybody he saw for news of his father, until one day he was told that there was a man named Hsi among the Fokien traders. So he bade good-by to Mr. Chiang, and set off for Fokien, his patron providing him with clothes and shoes, and the people of the place making up a subscription for him. On the road he met two traders in cotton cloth who were going to Fu-ch'ing, and he joined their party; but they had not travelled many stages before these men found out that he had money, and taking him to a lonely spot, bound him hand and foot and made off with all he had. Before long a Mr. Ch'en, of Yung-fu, happened to pass by, and at once unbound him, and giving him a seat in one of his own vehicles, carried him off home. This Mr. Ch'en was a wealthy man, and in his house Ta-nan had opportunities of meeting with traders from all quarters. He therefore begged them to aid him by making inquiries about his father, himself remaining as a fellow student with Mr. Ch'en's sons, and roaming the country no more, neither hearing any news of his former and now distant home.

Meanwhile, his mother, Ho, had lived alone for three or four years, until the wife, Shen, wishing to reduce the expenses, tried to persuade her to find another husband. As Ho was now supporting herself, she steadfastly refused to do this; and then Shen sold her to a Chung-ch'ing trader, who took her away with him. However, she so frightened this man by hacking herself about with a knife, that when the wounds were healed he was only too happy to get rid of her to a trader from Yen-t'ing, who in his turn, after Ho had nearly disembowelled herself, readily listened to her repeated cries that she wished to become a nun. However, he persuaded her to hire herself out as housekeeper to a friend of his, as a means of reimbursing himself for his outlay in purchasing her; but no sooner had she set eyes on the gentleman in question than she found it was her own husband. For Hsi had given up the career of a scholar, and gone into business; and as he had no wife, he was consequently in want of a housekeeper. They were very glad to see each other again; and on relating their several adventures, Hsi knew for the first time that he had a son who had gone forth in search of his father. Hsi then asked all the traders and commercial travellers to keep a look out for Ta-nan, at the same time raising Ho from the status of concubine to that of wife. In consequence, however, of the many hardships Ho had gone through, her health was anything but good, and she was unable to do the work of the house; so she advised her husband to buy a concubine. This he was most unwilling to do, remembering too well the former squabbling he had to endure; but ultimately he yielded, asked a friend to buy for him an oldish woman at any rate more than thirty years of age. A few months afterwards his friend arrived, bringing with him a person of about that age; and on looking closely at her, Hsi saw that she was no other than his own wife Shen!

Now this lady had lived by herself for a year and more when her brother Pao advised her to marry again, which she accordingly agreed to do. She was prevented, how-ever, by the younger branches of the family from selling the landed property; but she disposed of everything else, and the proceeds passed into her brother's hands. About that time a Pao-ning trader, hearing that she had plenty of money, bribed her brother to marry her to himself; and afterwards, finding that she was a disagree-able woman, took possession of everything she had, and advertised her for sale. No one caring to buy a woman of her age, and her master being on the eve of starting for K'uei-chou, took her with him, finally getting rid of her to Hsi, who was in the same line of business as himself. When she stood before her former husband, she was overwhelmed with shame and fear, and had not a word to say; but Hsi gathered an outline of what had happened from the trader, and then said to her, "Your second marriage with this Pao-ning gentleman was doubtless contracted after you had given up all hope of seeing me again. It doesn't matter in the least, as now I am not in search of a wife but only of a concubine. So you had better begin by paying your respects to your mistress here, my wife Ho Chao-jung." Shen was ashamed to do this: but Hsi reminded her of the time when she had been in the wife's place, and in spite of all Ho's intercession insisted that she should do so, stimulating her to obedience by the smart application of a stick. Shen was therefore compelled to yield, but at the same time she never tried to gain Ho's favour, and kept away from her as much as possible. Ho, on the other hand, treated her with great consideration, and never took her to task on the performance of her duties; whilst Hsi himself, whenever he had a dinner-party, made her wait at table, though Ho often entreated him to hire a maid.

Now the magistrate at Yen-t'ing was named Ch'en Tsung-ssu, and once when Hsi had some trifling difficulty with one of the neighbours he was further accused to this official of having forced his wife to assume the position of concubine. The magistrate, however, refused to take up the case, to the great satisfaction of Hsi and his wife, who lauded him to the skies as a virtuous mandarin. A few nights after, at rather a late hour, the servant knocked at the door, and called out, "The magistrate has come!" Hsi jumped up in a hurry, and began looking for his clothes and shoes; but the magistrate was already in the bedroom without either of them understanding what it all meant: when suddenly Ho, examining him closely, cried out, "It is my son!" She then burst into tears, and the magistrate, throwing himself on the ground, wept with his mother. It seemed he had taken the name of the gentleman with whom he had lived, and had since entered upon an official career. That on his way to the capital he had made a detour and visited his old home, where he heard to his infinite sorrow that both his mothers had married again; and that his relatives, finding him already a man of position, had restored to him the family property, of which he had left some one in charge in the hope that his father might return. That then he had been appointed to Yen-t'ing, but had wished to throw up the post and travel in search of his father, from which design he had been dissuaded by Mr. Ch'en. Also that he had met a fortune-teller from whom he had obtained the following response to his inquiries: "The lesser is the greater; the younger is the elder. Seeking the cock, you find the hen; seeking one, you get two. Your official life will be successful." Ch'en then took up his appointment, but not finding his father he confined himself entirely to a vegetable diet, and gave up the use of wine. The above-mentioned case had subsequently come under his notice, and seeing the name Hsi, he quietly sent his private servant to find out, and thus discovered that this Hsi was his father. At night-fall he set off himself, and when he saw his mother he knew that the fortune-teller had told him true. Bidding them all say nothing to anybody about what had occured, he provided money for the journey, and sent them back home. On arriving there, they found the place newly painted, and with their increased retinue of servants and horses, they were quite a wealthy family. As to Shen when she found what a great man Ta-nan had become, she put still more restraint upon herself; but her brother Pao brought an action for the purpose of reinstating her as wife. The presiding official happened to be a man of probity, and delivered the following judgment: "Greedy of gain you urged your sister to re-marry. After she had driven Hsi away, she took two fresh husbands. How have you the face to talk about reinstating her as wife?" He thereupon ordered Pao to be severely bambooed, and from this time there was no longer any doubt about Shen's status. She was the lesser and Ho the greater; and yet in the matter of clothes and food Ho shewed herself by no means grasping. Shen was at first afraid that Ho would pay her out, and was consequently more than ever repentant; and Hsi himself, letting by-gones be by-gones, gave orders that Shen should be called madam by all alike, though of course she was excluded from any titles that might be gained for them by Ta-nan.

大男

奚成列,成都士人也。有一妻一妾。妾何氏,小字昭容。妻早沒,繼娶申氏,性妒妒,虐遇何,因並及奚;終日嘵聒,恆不聊生。奚怒,亡去。去後,何生一子大男。奚去不返,申擯何不與同炊,計日授粟。大男漸長,用不給,何紡績佐食。大男見塾中諸兒吟誦,亦欲讀。母以其太穉,姑送詣讀。大男慧,所讀倍諸兒。師奇之,願不索束脩。何乃使從師,薄相酬。積二三年,經書全通。一日歸,謂母曰:「塾中五六人,皆從父乞錢買餅,我何獨無?」母曰:「待汝長,告汝知。」大男曰:「今方七八歲,何時長也?」母曰:「汝往塾,路經關帝廟,當拜之,祐汝速長。」大男信之,每過必入拜。母知之,問曰:「汝所祝何詞?」笑云:「但祝明年便使我十六七歲。」母笑之。然大男學與軀長並速:至十歲,便如十三四歲者;其所為文竟成章。一日,謂母曰:「昔謂我壯大,當告父處,今可矣。」母曰:「尚未,尚未。」又年餘,居然成人,研詰益頻,母乃緬述之。大男悲不自勝,欲往尋父。母曰:「兒太幼,汝父存亡未知,何遽可尋?」大男無言而去,至午不歸。往塾問師,則辰餐未復。母大驚,出貲傭役,到處冥搜,杳無蹤蹟。大男出門,循途奔去,茫然不知何往。適遇一人將如夔州,言姓錢。大男丐食相從。錢病其緩,為賃代步,資斧耗竭。至夔,同食,錢陰投毒食中,大男瞑不覺。錢載至大剎,託為己子,偶病絕貲,賣諸僧。僧見其丰姿秀異,爭購之。錢得金竟去。僧飲之,略醒。長老知而詣視,奇其相,研詰,始得顛末。甚憐之,贈貲使去。有瀘州蔣秀才,下第歸,途中問得故,嘉其孝,攜與同行。至瀘,主其家。月餘,遍加諮訪。或言閩商有奚姓者,乃辭蔣,欲之閩。蔣贈以衣履,里黨皆斂貲助之。途遇二布客,欲往福清,邀與同侶。行數程,客窺囊金,引至空所,摯其手足,解奪而去。適有永福陳翁過其地,脫其縛,載歸其家。翁豪富,諸路商賈,多出其門,翁囑南北客代訪奚耗。留大男伴諸兒讀。大男遂住翁家,不復游。然去家愈遠,音益梗矣。何昭容孤居三四年,申氏減其費,抑勒令嫁。何志不搖。申強賣於重慶賈,賈劫取而去。至夜,以刀自劙。賈不敢逼,俟創瘥,又轉鬻於鹽亭賈。至鹽亭,自刺心頭,洞見臟腑。賈大懼,敷以藥,創平,求為尼。賈曰:「我有商侶,身無淫具,每欲得一人主縫紉。此與作尼無異,亦可少償吾值。」何諾。賈輿送去。入門,主人趨出,則奚生也。蓋奚已棄懦為商,賈以其無婦,故贈之也。相見悲駭,各述苦況,始知有兒尋父未歸。奚乃囑諸客旅,偵察大男。而昭容遂以妾為妻矣。然自歷艱苦,痾痛多疾,不能操作,勸奚納妾。奚鑒前禍,不從所請。何曰:「妾如爭床第者,數年來固已從人生子,尚得與君有今日耶?且人加我者,隱痛在心,豈及諸身而自蹈之?」奚乃囑客侶,為買三十餘老妾。踰半年,客果為買妾歸,入門,則妻申氏。各相駭異。先是,申獨居年餘,兄苞勸令再適。申從之。惟田產為子姪所阻,不得售。鬻諸所有,積數百金,攜歸兄家。有保寧賈,聞其富有匳資,以多金啗苞,賺娶之。而賈老廢不能人。申怨兄,不安於室,懸梁投井,不堪其擾。賈怒,搜括其貲,將賣作妾。聞者皆嫌其老。賈將適夔,乃載與俱去。遇奚同肆,適中其意,遂貨之而去。既見奚,慙懼不出一語。奚問同肆商,略知梗概。因曰:「使遇健男,則在保寧,無再見之期,此亦數也。然今日我買妾,非娶妻,可先拜昭容,修嫡庶禮。」申恥之。奚曰:「昔日汝作嫡,何如哉!」何勸止之。奚不可,操杖臨偪。申不得已,拜之。然終不屑承奉,但操作別室。何悉優容之,亦不忍課其勤惰。奚每與昭容談嚥,輒使役使其側;何更代以婢,不聽前。會陳公嗣宗宰鹽亭。奚與里人有小爭,里人以逼妻作妾揭訟奚。公不准理,叱逐之。奚喜,方與何竊頌公德。一漏既盡,僮呼叩扉,入報曰:「邑令公至。」奚駭極,急覓衣履,則公已至寢門;益駭,不知所為。何審之,急出曰:「是吾兒也!」遂哭。公乃伏地悲哽。蓋大男從陳翁姓,業為官矣。初,公至自都,迂道過故里,始知兩母皆醮,伏膺哀痛。族人知大男已貴,反其田廬。公留僕營造,冀父復還。既而授任鹽亭,又欲棄官尋父,陳翁苦勸止之。會有卜者,使筮焉。卜者曰:「小者居大,少者為長;求雄得雌,求一得兩:為官吉。」公乃之任。為不得親,居官不茹葷酒。是日,得里人狀,睹奚姓名,疑之。陰遣內使細訪,果父。乘夜微行而出。見母,益信卜者之神。臨去,囑勿播,出金二百,啟父辦裝歸里。父抵家,門戶一新,廣畜僕馬,居然大家矣。申見大男貴盛,益自斂。兄苞不憤,告官,為妹爭嫡。官廉得其情,怒曰:「貪貲勸嫁,已更二夫,尚何顏爭昔年嫡庶耶!」重笞苞。由此名分益定。而申妹何,何姊之。衣服飲食,悉不自私。申初懼其復仇,今益愧悔。奚亦忘其舊惡,俾內外皆呼以太母,但誥命不及耳。
  異史氏曰:「顛倒眾生,不可思議,何造物之巧也!奚生不能自立於妻妾之間,一碌碌庸人耳;苟非孝子賢母,烏能有此奇合,坐享富貴以終身哉!」

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