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The sisters

His Excellency the Grand Secretary Mao came from an obscure family in the district of Yeh, his father being only a poor cow-herd. At the same place there resided a wealthy gentleman, named Chang, who owned a burial-ground in the neighbourhood; and some one informed him that while passing by he had heard sounds of wrangling from within the grave, and voices saying, "Make haste and go away; do not disturb His Excellency's home." Chang did not much believe this; but subsequently he had several dreams in which he was told that the burial-ground in question really belonged to the Mao family, and that he had no right whatever to it. From this moment the affairs of his house began to go wrong; and at length he listened to the remonstrances of friends and removed his dead elsewhere.

One day Mao's father, the cow-herd, was out near this burial-ground, when, a storm of rain coming on, he took refuge in the now empty grave, while the rain came down harder than ever, and by-and-by flooded the whole place and drowned the old man. The Grand Secretary was then a mere boy, and his mother went off to Chang to beg a piece of ground wherein to bury her dead husband. When Chang heard her name he was greatly astonished; and on going to look at the spot where the old man was drowned, found that it was exactly at the proper place for the coffin. More than ever amazed, he gave orders that the body should be buried there in the old grave, and also bade Mao's mother bring her son to see him. When the funeral was over, she went with Mao to Mr. Chang's house, to thank him for his kindness; and so pleased was he with the boy that he kept him to be educated, ranking him as one of his own sons. He also said he would give him his eldest daughter as a wife, an offer which Mao's mother hardly dared accept; but Mrs. Chang said that the thing was settled and couldn't be altered, so then she was obliged to consent. The young lady, however, had a great contempt for Mao, and made no effort to disguise her feelings; and if any one spoke to her of him, she would put her ringers in her ears, declaring she would die sooner than marry the cow-boy. On the day appointed for the wedding, the bridegroom arrived, and was feasted within, while outside the door a handsome chair was in waiting to convey away the bride, who all this time was standing crying in a corner, wiping her eyes with her sleeve, and absolutely refusing to dress. Just then the bridegroom sent in to say he was going, and the drums and trumpets struck up the wedding march, at which the bride's tears only fell the faster as her hair hung dishevelled down her back. Her father managed to detain Mao awhile, and went in to urge his daughter to make haste, she weeping bitterly as if she did not hear what he was saying. He now got into a rage, which only made her cry the louder; and in the middle of it all a servant came to say the bride-groom wished to take his leave. The father ran out and said his daughter wasn't quite ready, begging Mao to wait a little longer; and then hurried back again to the bride. Thus they went on for some time, back-wards and forwards, until at last things began to look serious, for the young lady obstinately refused to yield; and Mr. Chang was ready to commit suicide for want of anything better. Just then his second daughter was standing by upbraiding her elder sister for her disobedience, when suddenly the latter turned round in a rage, and cried out, "So you are imitating the rest of them, you little minx; why don't you go and marry him yourself?" "My father did not betroth me to Mr. Mao," answered she, "but if he had I should not require you to persuade me to accept him." Her father was delighted with this reply, and at once went off and consulted with his wife as to whether they could venture to substitute the second for the elder; and then her mother came and said to her, "That bad girl there won't obey her parent's commands; we wish, therefore, to put you in her place: will you consent to this arrangement?" The younger sister readily agreed, saying that had they told her to marry a beggar she would not have dared to refuse, and that she had not such a low opinion of Mr. Mao as all that. Her father and mother rejoiced exceedingly at receiving this reply; and dressing her up in her sister's clothes, put her in the bridal chair and sent her off. She proved an excellent wife, and lived in harmony with her husband; but she was troubled with a disease of the hair, which caused Mr. Mao some annoyance. Later on, she told him how she had changed places with her sister, and this made him think more highly of her than before. Soon after Mao took his bachelor's degree, and then set off to present himself as a candidate for the master's degree. On the way he passed by an inn, the landlord of which had dreamt the night before that a spirit appeared to him and said, "Tomorrow Mr. Mao, first on the list, will come. Some day he will extricate you from a difficulty." Accordingly the landlord got up early, and took especial note of all guests who came from the east-ward, until at last Mao himself arrived. The landlord was very glad to see him, and provided him with the best of everything, refusing to take any payment for it all, but telling what he had dreamt the night before. Mao now began to give himself airs; and, reflecting that his wife's want of hair would make him look ridiculous, he determined that as soon as he attained to rank and power he would find another spouse. But alas! when the successful list of candidates was published, Mao's name was not among them; and he retraced his steps with a heavy heart, and by another road, so as to avoid meeting the innkeeper. Three years afterwards he went up again, and the landlord received him with precisely the same attentions as on the previous occasion; upon which Mao said to him, "Your former words did not come true; I am now ashamed to put you to so much trouble." Ah," replied the landlord, "you meant to get rid of your wife, and the Ruler of the world below struck out your name. My dream couldn't have been false." In great astonishment, Mao asked what he meant by these words; and then he learnt that after his departure the landlord had had a second dream informing him of the above facts. Mao was much alarmed at what he heard, and remained as motionless as a wooden image, until the landlord said to him, "You, Sir, as a scholar, should have more self-respect, and you will certainly take the highest place."

By-and-by when the list came out, Mao was the first of all; and almost simultaneously his wife's hair began to grow quite thick, making her much better-looking than she had hitherto been.

Now her elder sister had married a rich young fellow of good family, who lived in the neighbourhood, which made the young lady more contemptuous than ever; but he was so extravagant and so idle that their property was soon gone, and they were positively in want of food. Hearing, too, of Mr. Mao's success at the examination, she was overwhelmed with shame and vexation, and avoided even meeting her sister in the street. Just then her husband died and left her destitute; and about the same time Mao took his doctor's degree, which so aggravated her feelings that, in a passion, she became a nun. Subsequently, when Mao rose to be a high officer of state, she sent a novice to his yamen to try and get a subscription out of him for the temple; and Mao's wife, who gave several pieces of silk and other things, secretly inserted a sum of money among them. The novice, not knowing this, reported what she had received to the elder sister, who cried out in a passion, "I wanted money to buy food with; of what use are these things to me?" So she bade the novice take them back; and when Mao and his wife saw her return, they suspected what had happened, and opening the parcel found the money still there. They now understood why the presents had been refused; and taking the money, Mao said to the novice, "If one hundred ounces of silver is too much luck for your mistress to secure, of course she could never have secured a high official, such as I am now, for her husband." He then took fifty ounces, and giving them to the novice, sent her away, adding, "Hand this to your mistress, I'm afraid more would be too much for her." The novice returned and repeated all that had been said; and then the elder sister sighed to think what a failure her life had been, and how she had rejected the worthy to accept the worthless. After this, the innkeeper got into trouble about a case of murder, and was imprisoned; but Mao exerted his influence, and obtained the man's pardon.

姊妹易嫁

掖縣相國毛公,家素微,其父常為人牧牛。時邑世族張姓,有新阡在東山之陽。或經其側,聞墓中叱咤聲曰:「若等速避去,勿久混貴人宅!」張聞,亦未深信。既又頻得夢警曰:「汝家墓地,本是毛公佳城,何得久假此?」由是家數不利。客勸徙葬吉,張乃徙焉。
  一日相國父牧,出張家故墓,猝遇雨,匿身廢壙中。已而雨益甚,潦水奔穴,崩渹灌注,遂溺以死。相國時尚孩童。母自詣張,丐咫尺地掩兒父。張問其姓氏,大異之。往視溺死所,儼當置棺處,更駭;乃使就故壙窆焉。且令攜若兒來。葬已,母偕兒詣張謝。張一見,輒喜,即留其家,教之讀,以齒子弟行。又請以長女妻兒,母謝不敢。張妻卒許之。然其女甚薄毛家,怨慚之意時形言色。且曰:「我死不從牧牛兒!」及親迎,新郎入宴,彩輿在門,女方掩袂向隅而哭。催之妝不妝,勸亦不解。俄而新郎告行,鼓樂大作,女猶眼零雨而首飛蓬也。父入勸女,不聽,怒逼之,哭益厲,父無奈。家人報新郎欲行,父急出曰:「衣妝未竟,煩郎少待。」又奔入視女。往復數番,女終無回意。其父周張欲死,皇急無計。其次女在側,因非其姊,苦逼勸之。姊怒曰:「小妮子,亦學人喋聒!爾何不從他去?」妹曰:「阿爺原不曾以妹子屬毛郎;若以妹子屬毛郎,何煩姊姊勸駕耶?」父聽其言慷爽,因與伊母竊議,以次易長。母即向次女曰:「迕逆婢不遵父母命,今欲以兒代姊,兒肯行否?」女慨然曰:「父母之命,即乞丐不敢辭;且何以見毛家郎便終身餓莩死乎?」父母大喜,即以姊妝妝女,倉猝登車徑去。入門,夫婦雅敦好逑。第女素病赤鬜,毛郎稍介意。及知易嫁之說,由是益以知己德女。
  居無何,毛郎補博士弟子,往應鄉試。經王舍人莊,店主先一夕夢神曰:「旦夕有毛解元來,后且脫汝于厄,可善待之。」以故晨起,專伺察東來客,及得公,甚喜。供具甚豐,且不索直。公問故,特以夢兆告。公頗自負;私計女發鬑鬑,慮為顯者笑,富貴后當易之。及試,竟落第,偃蹇喪志,赧見主人,不敢復由王舍,迂道歸家。
  逾三年再赴試,店主人延候如前。公曰:「爾言不驗,殊慚祗奉。」主人曰:「秀才以陰欲易妻,故被冥司黜落,豈吾夢不足踐耶?」公愕然,問故。主人曰:「別后復夢神告,故知之。」公聞而惕然悔懼,木立若偶。主人又曰:「秀才宜自愛,終當作解首。」入試,果舉賢書第一。夫人發亦尋長,云鬟委綠,倍增嫵媚。
  其姊適里中富兒,意氣自高。夫蕩惰,家漸陵替,貧無煙火。聞妹為孝廉婦,彌增愧怍,姊妹輒避路而行。未幾,良人又卒,家落。毛公又擢進士。女聞,刻骨自恨,遂忿然廢身為尼。及公以宰相歸。強遣女行者詣府謁問,冀有所貽。比至,夫人饋以綺縠羅絹若干匹,以金納其中。行者攜歸見師,師失所望,恚曰:「與我金錢,尚可作薪米費,此物我何所須!」遽令送回。公與夫人疑之,啟視,則金具在,方悟見卻之意。笑曰:「汝師百金尚不能任,焉有福澤從我老尚書也。」遂以五十金付尼去,且囑曰:「將去作爾師用度。但恐福薄人難承受耳。」行者歸,告其師。師啞然自嘆,私念生平所為,率自顛倒,美惡避就,繄豈由人耶?后王舍店主人以人命逮系囹圄,公乃為力解釋罪。
  異史氏曰:「張家故墓,毛氏佳城,斯已奇矣。余聞時人有『大姨夫作小姨夫,前解元為后解元』之戲,此豈慧黠者所能較計耶?嗚呼!彼蒼者天久已夢夢,何至毛公,其應如響耶?」

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