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The virtuous daughter-in-law.

AN TA-CH'ENG was a Chung-ch'ing man. His father, who had gained the master's degree, died early; and his brother Erh-ch'eng was a mere boy. He himself had married a wife from the Ch'en family, whose name was Shan-hu; and this young lady had much to put up with from the violent and malicious disposition of her husband's mother. However, she never complained; and every morning dressed herself up smart, and went in to pay her respects to the old lady. Once when Ta-ch'eng was ill, his mother abused Shan-hu for dressing so nicely; whereupon Shan-hu went back and changed her clothes; but even then Mrs. An was not satisfied, and began to tear her own hair with rage. Ta-ch'eng, who was a very filial son, at once gave his wife a beating, and this put an end to the scene. From that moment his mother hated her more than ever, and although she was everything that a daughter-in-law could be, would never exchange a word with her. Ta-ch'eng then treated her in much the same way, that his mother might see he would have nothing to do with her; still the old lady wasn't pleased, and was always blaming Shan-hu for every trifle that occurred. "A wife," cried Ta-ch'eng " is taken to wait upon her mother-in-law. This state of things hardly looks like the wife doing her duty." So he bade Shan-hu begone, and sent an old maid-servant to see her home: but when Shan-hu got outside the village-gate, she burst into tears, and said, "How can a girl who has failed in her duties as a wife ever dare to look her parents in the face? I had better die." Thereupon she drew a pair of scissors and stabbed herself in the throat, covering herself immediately with blood. The servant prevented any further mischief, and supported her to the house of her husband's aunt, who was a widow living by herself, and who made Shan-hu stay with her. The servant went back and told Ta-ch'eng, and he bade her say nothing to any one, for fear his mother should hear of it. In a few days Shan-hu's wound was healed, and Ta-ch'eng went off to ask his aunt to send her away. His aunt invited him in, "but he declined, demanding loudly that Shan-hu should be turned out; and in a few moments Shan-hu herself came forth, and inquired what she had done. Ta-ch'eng said she had failed in her duty to-wards his mother; whereupon Shan-hu hung her head and made no answer, while tears of blood trickled from her eyes and stained her dress all over. Ta-ch'eng was much touched by this spectacle, and went away without saying any more; but before long his mother heard all about it, and, hurrying off to the aunt's, began abusing her roundly. This the aunt would not stand, and said it was all the fault of her own bad temper, adding, "The girl has already left you, and has nothing more to do with the family. Miss Ch'en is staying with me, not your daughter-in-law; so you had better mind your own business." This made Mrs. An furious; but she was at a loss for an answer, and, seeing that the aunt was firm, she went off home abashed and in tears. Shan-hu herself was very much upset, and determined to seek shelter elsewhere, finally taking up her abode with Mrs. An's elder sister, a lady of sixty odd years of age, whose son had died, leaving his wife and child to his mother's care. This Mrs. Yu was extremely fond of Shan-hu; and when she heard the facts of the case, said it was all her sister's horrid disposition, and proposed to send Shan-hu back. The latter, however, would not hear of this, and they continued to live together like mother and daughter; neither would Shan-hu accept the invitation of her two brothers to return home and marry some one else, but remained there with Mrs. Yu, earning enough to live upon by spinning and such work.

Ever since Shan-hu had been sent away, Ta-ch'eng's mother had been endeavouring to get him another wife; but the fame of her temper had spread far and wide, and no one would entertain her proposals. In three or four years Erh-ch'eng had grown up, and he was married first to a young lady named Tsang-ku, whose temper turned out to be something fearful, and far more ungovernable even than her mother-in-law's. When the latter only looked angry, Tsang-ku was already at the shrieking stage; and Erh-ch'eng, being of a very meek disposition, dared not side with either. Thus it came about that Mrs. An began to be in mortal fear of Tsang-ku; and whenever her daughter-in-law was in a rage she would try and turn off her anger with a smile. She seemed never to be able to please Tsang-ku, who in her turn worked her mother-in-law like a slave, Ta-ch'eng himself not venturing to interfere, but only assisting his mother in washing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Mother and son would often go to some secluded spot, and there in secret tell their griefs to one another; but before long Mrs. An was stretched upon a sick bed with nobody to attend to her except Ta-ch'eng. He watched her day and night without sleeping, until both eyes were red and inflamed; and then when he went to summon the younger son to take his place, Tsang-ku told him to leave the house. Ta-ch'eng now went off to inform Mrs. Yu, hoping that she would come and assist; and he had hardly finished his tale of woe before Shan-hu walked in. In great confusion at seeing her, he would have left immediately had not Shan held out her arms across the door; whereupon he bolted underneath them and escaped. He did not dare tell his mother, and shortly afterwards Mrs. Yu arrived, to the great joy of Ta-ch'eng's mother, who made her stay in the house. Every day something nice was sent for Mrs. Yu, and even when she told the servants that there was no occasion for it, she having all she wanted at her sister's, the things still came as usual. However, she kept none of them for herself, but gave what came to the invalid, who gradually began to improve. Mrs. Yu's grandson also used to come by his mother's orders, and inquire after the sick lady's health, besides bringing a packet of cakes and so on for her. "Ah, me!" cried Mrs. An, "what a good daughter-in-law you have got, to be sure. What have you done to her?" "What sort of a person was the one you sent away?" asked her sister in reply. "She wasn't as bad as some one I know of," said Mrs. An, "though not so good as yours." "When she was here you had but little to do," replied Mrs Yu; "and when you were angry she took no notice of it. How was she not as good?" Mrs. An then burst into tears, and saying how sorry she was, asked if Shan-hu had married again; to which Mrs. Yu replied that she did not know, but would make inquiries. In a few more days the patient was quite well, and Mrs. Yu proposed to return; her sister, however, begged her to stay, and declared she should die if she didn't. Mrs. Yu then advised that Erh-ch'eng and his wife should live in a separate house, and Erh-ch'eng spoke about it to his wife; but she would not agree, and abused both Ta-ch'eng and his mother alike. It ended by Ta-ch'eng giving up a large share of the property, and ultimately Tsang-ku consented, and a deed of separation was drawn up. Mrs. Yu then went away, returning next day with a sedan-chair to carry her sister back; and no sooner had the latter put her foot inside Mrs. Yu's door, than she asked to see the daughter-in-law, whom she immediately began to praise very highly. "Ah," said Mrs. Yu, "she's a good girl, with her little faults like the rest of us; but your daughter-in-law is just as good, though you are not aware of it." "Alas!" replied her sister, "I must have been as senseless as a statue not to have seen what she was." "I wonder what Shan-hu, whom you turned out of doors, says of you," rejoined Mrs. Yu. "Why, swears at me, of course," answered Mrs. An. "If you examine yourself honestly and find nothing which should make people swear at you, is it at all likely you would be sworn at?" asked Mrs. Yu. "Well, all people are fallible," replied the other, "and as I know she is not perfect, I conclude she would naturally swear at me." "If a person has just cause for resentment, and yet does not indulge that resentment, such behaviour should meet with a grateful acknowledgement; or if any one has just cause for leaving another and yet does not do so, such behaviour should entitle them to kind treatment. Now, all the things that were sent when you were ill, and all the various little attentions, did not come from my daughter-in-law but from yours." Mrs. An was amazed at hearing this, and asked for some explanation; whereupon Mrs. Yu continued, "Shan-hu has been living here for a long time. Everything she sent to you was bought with money earned by her spinning, and that, too, continued late into the night." Mrs. An here burst into tears, and begged to be allowed to see Shan-hu, who came in at Mrs. Yu's summons, and threw herself on the ground at her mother-in-law's feet. Mrs. An was much abashed, and beat her head with shame; but Mrs. Yu made it all up between them, and they became mother and daughter as at first. In about ten days they went home, and, as their property was not enough to support them, Ta-ch'eng had to work with his pen while his wife did the same with her needle. Erh-ch'eng was quite well off, but his brother would not apply to him, neither did he himself offer to help them. Tsang-ku, too, would have nothing to do with her sister-in-law, because she had been divorced; and Shan-hu in her turn, knowing what Tsang-ku's temper was, made no great efforts to be friendly. So the two brothers lived apart; and when Tsang-ku was in one of her outrageous moods, all the others would stop their ears, till at length there was only her husband and the servants upon whom to vent her spleen. One day a maid-servant of hers committed suicide, and the father of the girl brought an action against Tsang-ku for having caused her death. Erh-ch'eng went off to the mandarin's to take her place as defendant, but only got a good beating for his pains, as the magistrate insisted that Tsang-ku herself should appear, and answer to the charge, in spite of all her friends could do. The consequence was she had her fingers squeezed until the flesh was entirely taken off; and the magistrate, being a grasping man, a very severe fine was inflicted as well. Erh-ch'eng had now to mortgage his property before he could raise enough money to get Tsang-ku released; but before long the mortgagee threatened to foreclose, and he was obliged to enter into negotiations for the sale of it to an old gentleman of the village named Jen. Now Mr. Jen, knowing that half the property had belonged to Ta-ch'eng, said the deed of sale must be signed by the elder brother as well; however, when Ta-ch'eng reached his house, the old man cried out, "I am Mr. An, M.A., who is this Jen that he should buy my property?" Then, looking at Ta-ch'eng, he added, "The filial piety of you and your wife has obtained for me in the realms below this interview;" upon which Ta-ch'eng said, "O father, since you have this power, help my younger brother." "The unfilial son and the vixenish daughter-in-law," said the old man, "deserve no pity. Go home and quickly buy back our ancestral property." "We have barely enough to live upon," replied Ta-ch'eng; "where, then, shall we find the necessary money?" "Beneath the crape myrtle-tree,"  answered his father, "you will find a store of silver, which you may take and use for this purpose." Ta-ch'eng would have questioned him further, but the old gentleman said no more, recovering consciousness shortly afterwards with-out knowing a word of what had happened. Ta-ch'eng went back and told his brother, who did not altogether believe the story; Tsang-ku, however, hurried off with a number of men, and had soon dug a hole four or five feet deep, at the bottom of which they found a quantity of bricks and stones, but no gold. She then gave up the idea and returned home, Ta-ch'eng having mean-while warned his mother and wife not to go near the place while she was digging. When Tsang-ku left, Mrs. An went herself to have a look, and seeing only bricks and earth mingled together, she, too, retraced her steps. Shan-hu was the next to go, and she found the hole full of silver bullion; and then Ta-ch'eng repaired to the spot and saw that there was no mistake about it. Not thinking it right to apply this heir-loom to his own private use, he now summoned Erh-ch'eng to share it; and having obtained twice as much as was necessary to redeem the estate, the brothers returned to their homes. Erh-ch'eng and Tsang-ku opened their half together, when lo! the bag was full of tiles and rubbish. They at once suspected Ta-ch'eng of deceiving them, and Erh-ch'eng ran off to see how things were going at his brother's. He arrived just as Ta-ch'eng was spreading the silver on the table, and with his mother and wife rejoicing over their acquisition; and when he had told them what had occurred, Ta-ch'eng expressed much sympathy for him, and at once presented him with his own half of the treasure. Erh-ch'eng was delighted, and paid off the mortgage on the land, feeling very grateful to his brother for such kindness. Tsang-ku, however, declared it was a proof that Ta-ch'eng had been cheating him; "for how, otherwise," argued she, "can you understand a man sharing anything with another, and then resigning his own half?"

Erh-ch'eng himself did not know what to think of it; but next day the mortgagee sent to say that the money paid in was all imitation silver, and that he was about to lay the case before the authorities. Husband and wife were greatly alarmed at this, and Tsang-ku exclaimed, "Well, I never thought your brother was as bad as this. He's simply trying to take your life." Erh-ch'eng himself was in a terrible fright, and hurried off to the mortgagee to entreat for mercy; but as the latter was extremely angry and would hear of no compromise, Erh-ch'eng was obliged to make over the property to him to dispose of himself. The money was then returned, and when he got home he found that two lumps had been cut through, shewing merely an outside layer of silver, about as thick as an onion-leaf, covering nothing but copper within. Tsang-ku and Erh-ch'eng then agreed to keep the broken pieces themselves, but send the rest back to Ta-ch'eng, with a message, saying that they were deeply indebted to him for all his kindness, and that they had ventured to retain two of the lumps of silver out of compliment to the giver; also that Ta-ch'eng might consider himself the owner of the mortgaged land, which he could redeem or not as he pleased. Ta-ch'eng, who did not perceive the intention in all this, refused to accept the land; however, Erh-ch'eng entreated him to do so, and at last he consented. When he came to weigh the money, he found it was five ounces short, and therefore bade Shan-hu pawn something from her jewel-box to make up the amount, with which he proceeded to pay off the mortgage. The mortgagee, suspecting it was the same money that had been offered him by Erh-ch'eng, cut the pieces in halves, and saw that it was all silver of the purest quality. Accordingly he accepted it in liquidation of his claim, and handed the mortgage back to Ta-ch'eng. Meanwhile, Ehr-ch'eng had been expecting some catastrophe; but when he found that the mortgaged land had been redeemed, he did not know what to make of it. Tsang-ku thought that at the time of the digging Ta-ch'eng had concealed the genuine silver, and immediately rushed off to his house, and began to revile them all round. Ta-ch'eng now understood why they had sent him back the money; and Shan-hu laughed and said, "The property is safe; why, then, this anger?" Thereupon she made Ta-ch'eng hand over the deeds to Tsang-ku.

One night after this Erh-ch'eng's father appeared to him in a dream, and reproached him, saying, "Unfilial son, unfraternal brother, your hour is at hand. Wherefore usurp rights that do not belong to you?" In the morning Erh-ch'eng told Tsang-ku of his dream, and proposed to return the property to his brother; but she only laughed at him for a fool. Just then the eldest of his two sons, a boy of seven, died of small-pox, and this frightened Tsang-ku so that she agreed to restore the deeds. Ta-ch'eng would not accept them; and now the second child, a boy of three, died also; where-upon Tsang-ku seized the deeds, and threw them into her brother-in-law's house, Spring was over, but the land was in a terribly neglected state; so Ta-ch'eng set to work and put it in order again. From this moment Tsang-ku was a changed woman towards her mother-and sister-in-law; and when, six months later, Mrs. An died, she was so grieved that she refused to take any nourishment. "Alas!" cried she, "that my mother-in-law has died thus early, and prevented me from waiting upon her. Heaven will not allow me to retrieve my past errors." Tsang-ku had thirteen children, but as none of them lived, they were obliged to adopt one of Ta-ch'eng's, who, with his wife, lived to a good old age, and had three sons, two of whom took their doctor's degree. People said this was a reward for filial piety and brotherly love.




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