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The Flower Nymphs

 AT the lower temple on Mount Lao the camellias are twenty feet in height, and many spans in circumference. The peonies are more than ten feet high; and when the flowers are in bloom the effect is that of gorgeous tapestry.

There was a Mr. Huang, of Chiao-chow, who built himself a house at that spot, for the purposes of study; and one day he saw from his window a young lady dressed in white wandering about amongst the flowers. Reflecting that she could not possibly belong to the monastery, he went out to meet her, but she had already disappeared. After this he frequently observed her, and once hid himself in a thick-foliaged bush, waiting for her to come. By-and-by she appeared, bringing with her another young lady dressed in red, who, as he noticed from his distant point of observation, was an exceedingly good-looking girl. When they approached nearer, the young lady in the red dress ran back, saying, "There is a man here!" whereupon Mr. Huang jumped out upon them, and away they went in a scare, with their skirts and long sleeves fluttering in the breeze, and perfuming the air around. Huang pursued them as far as a low wall, where they suddenly vanished from his gaze. In great distress at thus losing the fair creatures, he took a pencil and wrote upon a tree the following lines:

"The pangs of love my heart enthrall. As I stand opposite this wall. I dread some hateful tyrant's power, With none to save you in that hour."

Returning home he was absorbed in his own thoughts, when all at once the young lady walked in, and he rose up joyfully to meet her. "I thought you were a brigand," said his visitor, smiling; "you nearly frightened me to death. I did not know you were a great scholar whose acquaintance I now hope to have the honour of making." Mr. Huang asked the young lady her name, &c., to which she replied, "My name is Hsiang-Yu, and I belong to P'ing-k'ang-hsiang; but a magician has condemned me to remain on this hill much against my own inclination." "Tell me his name," cried Huang, "and I'll soon set you free." "There is no need for that," answered the young lady; "I suffer no injury from him, and the place is not an inconvenient one for making the acquaintance of such worthy gentlemen as yourself." Huang then inquired who was the young lady in red, and she told him that her name was Chiang-hsüeh, and that they were half-sisters; "and now," added she, "I will sing you a song; but please don't laugh at me." She then began as follows:

" In pleasant company the hours fly fast, And through the window daybreak peeps at last. Ah, would that, like the swallow and his mate, To live together were our happy fate."

Huang here grasped her hand and said, "Beauty without and intellect within enough to make a man love you and forget all about death, regarding one day's absence like the separation of a thousand years. I pray you come again whenever an opportunity may present itself." From this time the young lady would frequently walk in to have a chat, but would never bring her sister with her in spite of all Mr. Huang's entreaties. Huang thought they weren't friends, but Hsiang said her sister did not care for society in the same way that she herself did, promising at the same time to try and persuade her to come at some future day. One evening Hsiang-Yu arrived in a melancholy frame of mind, and told Huang that he was wanting more when he couldn't even keep what he had got; "for to-morrow," said she, "we part." Huang asked what she meant; and then wiping away her tears with her sleeve, Hsiang-Yu declared it was destiny, and that she couldn't well tell him. "Your former prophecy," continued she, "has come too true; and now it may well be said of me
' Fallen into the tyrant's power, With none to save me in that hour.' "

Huang again tried to question her, but she would tell him nothing; and by-and-by she rose and took her leave. This seemed very strange; however, next day a visitor came, who, after wandering round the garden, was much taken with a white peony, which he dug up and carried away with him. Huang now awaked to the fact that Hsiang-Yu was a flower nymph, and became very disconsolate in consequence of what had happened; but when he subsequently heard that the peony only lived a few days after being taken away, he wept bitterly, and composed an elegy in fifty stanzas, besides going daily to the hole from which it had been taken, and watering the ground with his tears. One day, as he was returning thence, he espied the young lady of the red clothes also wiping away her tears alongside the hole, and immediately walked back gently towards her. She did not run away, and Huang, grasping her sleeve, joined with her in her lamentations. When these were concluded he invited her to his house, and then she burst out with a sigh, saying, "Alas! that the sister of my early years should be thus suddenly taken from me. Hearing you, Sir, mourn as you did, I have also been moved to tears. Those you shed have sunk down deep to the realms below, and may perhaps succeed in restoring her to us; but the sympathies of the dead are destroyed for ever, and how then can she laugh and talk with us again?" "My luck is bad," said Huang, "that I should injure those I love, neither can I have the good fortune to draw towards me another such a beauty. But tell me, when I often sent messages by Hsiang-Yu to you, why did you not come?" "I knew," replied she, "what nine young fellows out of ten are; but I did not know what you were." She then took leave, Huang telling her how dull he felt without Hsiang-Yu, and begging her to come again. For some days she did not appear; and Huang remained in a state of great melancholy, tossing and turning on his bed and wetting the pillow with his tears, until one night he got up, put on his clothes, and trimmed the lamp; and having called for pen and ink, he composed the following lines:

"On my cottage roof the evening raindrops beat; I draw the blind and near the window take my seat. To my longing gaze no loved one appears; Drip, drip, drip, drip: fast flow my tears."

This he read aloud; and when he had finished, a voice outside said, "You want some one to cap your verses there!" Listening attentively, he knew it was Chiang-hsüeh; and opening the door he let her in. She looked at his stanza, and added impromptu
"She is no longer in the room; A single lamp relieves the gloom; One solitary man is there; He and his shadow make a pair."
As Huang read these words his tears fell fast; and then, turning to Chiang-hsüeh, he upbraided her for not having been to see him. "I can't come so often as Hsiang-Yu did," replied she, "but only now and then when you are very dull." After this she used to drop in occasionally, and Huang said Hsiang-Yu was his beloved wife, and she his dear friend, always trying to find out every time she came which flower in the garden she was, that he might bring her home with him, and save her from the fate of Hsiang-Yu. "The old earth should not be disturbed," said she, "and it would not do any good to tell you. If you couldn't keep your wife always with you, how will you be sure of keeping a friend?"

Huang, however, paid no heed to this, and seizing her arm, led her out into the garden, where he stopped at every peony and asked if this was the one; to which Chiang-hsüeh made no reply, but only put her hand to her mouth and laughed.

At New Year's time Huang went home, and a couple of months afterwards he dreamt that Chiang-hsüeh came to tell him she was in great trouble, begging him to hurry off as soon as possible to her rescue. When he woke up, he thought his dream a very strange one; and ordering his servant and horses to be ready, started at once for the hills. There he found that the priests were about to build a new room; and finding a camellia in the way, the contractor had given orders that it should be cut down. Huang now understood his dream, and immediately took steps to prevent the destruction of the flower. That night Chiang-hsüeh came to thank him, and Huang laughed and said, "It serves you right for not telling me which you were. Now I know you, and if you don't come and see me, I'll get a firebrand and make it hot for you." "That's just why I didn't tell you before," replied she. "The presence of my dear friend," said Huang, after a pause, "makes me think more of my lost wife. It is long since I have mourned for her. Shall we go and bemoan her loss together?" So they went off and shed many a tear on the spot where formerly Hsiang-Yu had stood, until at last Chiang-hsüeh wiped her eyes and said it was time to go. A few evenings later Huang was sitting alone when suddenly Chiang-hsüeh entered, her face radiant with smiles.

" Good news!" cried she, "the Flower-God, moved by your tears, has granted Hsiang-Yu a return to life." Huang was overjoyed, and asked when she would come; to which Chiang-hsüeh replied, that she could not say for certain, but that it would not be long. "I came here on your account," said Huang; "don't let me be duller than you can help," "All right," answered she, and then went away, not returning for the next two evenings. Huang then went into the garden and threw his arms around her plant, entreating her to come and see him, though without eliciting any response. He accordingly went back, and began twisting up a torch, when all at once in she came, and snatching the torch out of his hand, threw it away, saying, "You're a bad fellow, and I don't like you, and I shan't have any more to do with you." However, Huang soon succeeded in pacifying her, and by-and-by in walked Hsiang-Yu herself. Huang now wept tears of joy as he seized her hand, and drawing Chiang-hsüeh towards them, the three friends mingled their tears together. They then sat down and talked over the miseries of separation, Huang meanwhile noticing that Hsiang-yu seemed to be unsubstantial, and that when he grasped her hand his fingers seemed to close only on themselves, and not as in the days gone by. This Hsiang-Yu explained, saying, "When I was a flower-nymph I had a body; but now I am only the disembodied spirit of that flower. Do not regard me as a reality, but rather as an apparition seen in a dream." "You have come at the nick of time," cried Chiang-hsueh; "your husband there was just getting troublesome." Hsiang-Yu now instructed Huang to take a little powdered white-berry, and mixing it with some sulphur, to pour out a libation to her, adding, "This day next year I will return your kindness." The young ladies then went away, and next day Huang observed the shoots of a young peony growing up where Hsiang-Yu had once stood. So he made the libation as she had told him, and had the plant very carefully tended, even building a fence all round to protect it. Hsiang-Yu came to thank him for this, and he proposed that the plant should be removed to his own home; but to this she would not agree, "for," said she, "I am not very strong, and could not stand being transplanted. Be-sides, all things have their appointed place; and as I was not originally intended for your home, it might shorten my life to be sent there. We can love each other very well here." Huang then asked why Chiang-hsüeh did not come; to which Hsiang-Yu replied that they must make her, and proceeded with him into the garden, where, after picking a blade of grass, she measured upwards from the roots of Chiang-hsüeh's plant to a distance of four feet six inches, at which point she stopped, and Huang began to scratch a mark on the place with his nails. At that moment Chiang-hsüeh came from behind the plant, and in mock anger cried out, "You hussy you! what do you aid that wretch for?" "Don't be angry, my dear," said Hsiang-Yu; "help me to amuse him for a year only, and then you shan't be bothered any more." So they went on, Huang watching the plant thrive, until by the spring it was over two feet in height. He then went home, giving the priests a handsome present, and bidding them take great care of it. Next year, in the fourth moon, he returned and found upon the plant a bud just ready to break; and as he was walking round, the stem shook violently as if it would snap, and suddenly the bud opened into a flower as large as a plate, disclosing a beautiful maiden within, sitting upon one of the pistils, and only a few inches in height. In the twinkling of an eye she had jumped out, and lo! it was Hsiang-Yu. "Through the wind and the rain I have waited for you," cried she; "why have you come so late?" They then went into the house, where they found Chiang-hsüeh already arrived, and sat down to enjoy themselves as they had done in former times, Shortly afterwards Huang's wife died, and he took up his abode at Mount Lao for good and all. The peonies were at that time as large round as one's arm; and whenever Huang went to look at them, he always said, "Some day my spirit will be there by your side; "to which the two girls used to reply with a laugh, and say, "Mind you don't forget." Ten years after these events, Huang became dangerously ill, and his son, who had come to see him, was very much distressed about him. "I am about to be born," cried his father; "I am not going to die. Why do you weep?" He also told the priests that if later on they should see a red shoot, with five leaves, thrusting itself forth alongside of the peony, that would be himself. This was all he said, and his son proceeded to convey him home, where he died immediately on arrival. Next year a shoot did come up exactly as he had mentioned; and the priests, struck by the coincidence, watered it and supplied it with earth. In three years it was a tall plant, and a good span in circumference, but without flowers. When the old priest died, the others took no care of it; and as it did not flower they cut it down. The white peony then faded and died; and before long the camellia was dead too.

香玉

勞山下清宮,耐冬高二丈,大數十圍,牡丹高丈餘,花時璀璨似錦。膠州黃生,舍讀其中。一日,自窗中見女郎,素衣掩映花間。心疑觀中焉得此。趨出,已遁去。自此屢見之。遂隱身叢樹中,以伺其至。未幾,女郎又偕一紅裳者來,遙望之,豔麗雙絕。行漸近,紅裳者卻退,曰:「此處有生人!」生暴起。二女驚奔,袖裙飄拂,香風洋溢,追過短牆,寂然已杳。愛慕彌切,因題句樹下云:「無限相思苦,含情對短窗。恐歸沙吒利,何處覓無雙?」歸齋冥想。女郎忽入,驚喜承迎。女笑曰:「君洶洶似強寇,使人恐怖;不知君乃騷雅士,無妨相見。」生略叩生平。曰:「妾小字香玉,隸籍平康巷。被道士閉置山中,實非所願。」生問:「道士何名?當為卿一滌此垢。」女曰:「不必,彼亦未敢相逼。借此與風流士長作幽會,亦佳。」問:「紅衣者誰?」曰:「此名絳雪,乃妾義姊。」遂相狎。及醒,曙色已紅。女急起,曰:「貪歡忘曉矣。」著衣易履,且曰:「妾酧君作,勿笑:『良夜更易盡,朝暾已上窗。願如梁上燕,棲處自成雙。』」生握腕曰:「卿秀外惠中,令人愛而忘死。顧一日之去,如千里之別。卿乘間當來,勿待夜也。」女諾之。由此夙夜必偕。每使邀絳雪來,輒不至,生以為恨。女曰:「絳姊性殊落落,不似妾情癡也。當從容對駕,不必過急。」一夕,女慘然入,曰:「君隴不能守,尚望蜀耶?今長別矣。」問:「何之?」以袖拭淚,曰:「此有定數,難為君言。昔日佳作,今成讖語矣。『佳人已屬沙吒利,義士今無古押衙』,可為妾詠。」詰之,不言,但有嗚咽。竟夜不眠,早旦而去。生怪之。次日,有即墨藍氏,入官游矚,見白牡丹,悅之,掘移逕去。生始悟香玉乃花妖也,悵惋不已。過數日,聞藍氏移花至家,日就萎悴。恨極,作哭花詩五十首,日日臨穴涕洟。一日,憑弔方返,遙見紅衣人,揮涕穴側。從容近就,女亦不避。生因把袂,相向汍瀾。已而挽請入室,女亦從之。歎曰:「童稚姊妹,一朝斷絕!聞君哀傷,彌增妾慟。淚墮九泉,或當感誠再作;然死者神氣已散,倉卒何能與吾兩人共談笑也。」生曰:「小生薄命,妨害情人,當亦無福可消雙美。曩頻煩香玉道達微忱,胡再不臨?」女曰:「妾以年少書生,什九薄倖;不知君固至情人也。然妾與君交,以情不以淫。若晝夜狎暱,則妾所不能矣。」言已,告別。生曰:「香玉長離,使人寢食俱廢。賴卿少留,慰此懷思,何決絕如此!」女乃止,過宿而去。數日不復至。冷雨幽窗,苦懷香玉,輾轉床頭,淚凝枕席。攬衣更起,挑燈復踵前韻曰:「山院黃昏雨,垂簾坐小窗。相思人不見,中夜淚雙雙。」詩成自吟。忽窗外有人曰:「作者不可無和。」聽之,絳雪也。啟戶內之。女視詩,即續其後曰:「連袂人何處?孤燈照晚窗。空山人一個,對影自成雙。」生讀之淚下,因怨相見之疏。女曰:「妾不能如香玉之熱,但可少慰君寂寞耳。」生欲與狎。曰:「相見之歡,何必在此。」於是至無聊時,女輒一至。至則宴飲唱酧,有時不寢遂去,生亦聽之。謂曰:「香玉吾愛妻,絳雪吾良友也。」每欲相問:「卿是院中第幾株?乞早見示,僕將抱植家中,免似香玉被惡人奪去,貽恨百年。」女曰:「故土難移,告君亦無益也。妻尚不能終從,況友乎!」生不聽,捉臂而出,每至壯丹下,輒問:「此是卿否?」女不言,掩口笑之。旋生以臘歸過歲。至二月間,忽夢絳雪至,愀然曰:「妾有大難!君急往,尚得相見;遲無及矣。」醒而異之,急命僕馬,星馳至山。則道士將建屋,有一耐冬,礙其營造,工師將縱斤矣。生急止之。入夜,絳雪來謝。生笑曰:「向不實告,宜遭此厄!今已知卿;如卿不至,當以艾炷相炙。」女曰:「妾固知君如此,曩故不敢相告也。」坐移時,生曰:「今對良友,益思豔妻。久不哭香玉,卿能從我哭乎?」二人乃往,臨穴灑涕。更餘,絳雪收淚勸止。又數夕,生方寂坐,絳雪笑入曰:「報君喜信:花神感君至情,俾香玉復降宮中。」生問:「何時?」答曰:「不知,約不遠耳。」天明下榻,生囑曰:「僕為卿來,勿長使人孤寂。」女笑諾。兩夜不至。生往抱樹,搖動撫摩,頻喚無聲。乃返,對燈團艾,將往灼樹。女遽入,奪艾棄之,曰:「君惡作劇,使人創痏,當與君絕矣!」生笑擁之。坐未定,香玉盈盈而入。生望見,泣下流離,急起把握。香玉以一手握絳雪,相對悲哽。及坐,生把之覺虛,如手自握,驚問之。香玉泫然曰:「昔,妾花之神,故凝;今,妾花之鬼,故散也。今雖相聚,勿以為真,但作夢寐觀可耳。」絳雪曰:「妹來大好!我被汝家男子糾纏死矣。」遂去。香玉款笑如前;但偎傍之間,彷彿一身就影。生悒悒不樂。香玉亦俯仰自恨。乃曰:「君以白蘞屑,少雜硫黃,日酹妾一杯水,明年此日報君恩。」別去。明日,往觀故處,則牡丹萌生矣。生乃日加培植,又作雕欄以護之。香玉來,感激倍至。生謀移植其家,女不可,曰:「妾弱質,不堪復戕。且物生各有定處,妾來原不擬生君家,違之反促年壽。但相憐愛,合好自有日耳。」生恨絳雪不至。香玉曰:「必欲強之使來,妾能致之。」乃與生挑燈至樹下,取草一莖,布掌作度,以度樹本,自下而上,至四尺六寸,按其處,使生以兩爪齊搔之。俄見絳雪從背後出,笑罵曰:「婢子來,助桀為虐耶!」牽挽並入。香玉曰:「姊勿怪!暫煩陪侍郎君,一年後不相擾矣。」從此遂以為常。生視花芽,日益肥茂,春盡,盈二尺許。歸後,以金遺道士,囑令朝夕培養之。次年四月至宮,則花一朵,含苞未放;方流連間,花搖搖欲拆;少時已開,花大如盤,儼然有小美人坐蕊中,裁三四指許;轉瞬飄然欲下,則香玉也。笑曰:「妾忍風雨以待君,君來何遲也!」遂入室。絳雪亦至,笑曰:「日日代人作婦,今幸退而為友。」遂相談嚥。至中夜,絳雪乃去。二人同寢,款洽一如從前。後生妻卒,遂入山,不復歸。是時,牡丹已大如臂。生每指之曰:「我他日寄魂於此,當生卿之左。」二女笑曰:「君勿忘之。」後十餘年,忽病。其子至,對之而哀。生笑曰:「此我生期,非死期也,何哀為!」謂道士曰:「他日牡丹下有赤芽怒生,一放五葉者,即我也。」遂不復言。子輿之歸家。即卒。次年,果有肥芽突出,葉如其數。道士以為異,益灌溉之。三年,高數尺,大拱把,但不花。老道士死,其弟子不知愛惜,斫去之。白牡丹亦憔悴死;無何,耐冬亦死。
  異史氏曰:「情之至者,鬼神可通。花以鬼從,而人以魂寄,非其結於情者深耶?一去而兩殉之,即非堅貞,亦為情死矣。人不能貞,亦其情之不篤耳。仲尼讀唐棣而曰『未思」,信矣哉!」

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