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The Fighting Quails

The Fighting Quails.

WANG CH‘ÊNG belonged to an old family in P‘ing-yüan, but was such an idle fel-low that his property gradually disappeared, until at length all he had left was an old tumble-down house. His wife and he slept under a coarse hempen coverlet, and the former was far from sparing of her reproaches. At the time of which we are speaking the weather was unbearably hot; and Wang went to pass the night with many other of his fellow-villagers in a pavilion which stood among some dilapidated buildings belonging to a family named Chou. With the first streaks of dawn his comrades departed; but Wang slept well on till about nine o’clock, when he got up and proceeded leisurely home. All at once he saw in the grass a gold hair-pin; and taking it up to look at it, found engraved thereon in small characters—“The property of the Imperial family.” Now Wang’s own grandfather had married into the Imperial family,[84] and consequently he had formerly possessed many similar articles; but while he was thinking it over up came an old woman in search of the hair-pin, which Wang, who though poor was honest, at once produced and handed to her. The old woman was delighted, and thanked Wang very much for his goodness, observing that the pin was not worth much in itself, but was a relic of her departed husband. Wang asked what her husband had been; to which she replied, “His name was Wang Chien-chih, and he was connected by marriage with the Imperial family.” “My own grandfather!” cried Wang, in great surprise; “how could you have known him?” “You, then,” said the old woman, “are his grandson. I am a fox, and many years ago I was married to your grandfather; but when he died I retired from the world. Passing by here I lost my hair-pin, which destiny conveyed into your hands.” Wang had heard of his grandfather’s fox-wife, and believing therefore the old woman’s story, invited her to return with him, which she did. Wang called his wife out to receive her; but when she came in rags and tatters, with unkempt hair and dirty face, the old woman sighed, and said, “Alas! Alas! has Wang Chien-chih’s grandson come to this?” Then looking at the broken, smokeless stove, she added, “How, under these circumstances, have you managed even to support life?” Here Wang’s wife told the tale of their poverty, with much sobbing and tears; whereupon the old woman gave her the hair-pin, bidding her go pawn it, and with the proceeds buy some food, saying that in three days she would visit them again. Wang pressed her to stay, but she said, “You can’t even keep your wife alive; what would it benefit you to have me also dependent on you?” So she went away, and then Wang told his wife who she was, at which his wife felt very much alarmed; but Wang was so loud in her praises, that finally his wife consented to treat her with all proper respect. In three days she returned as agreed, and, producing some money, sent out for a hundred-weight of rice and a hundred-weight of corn. She passed the night with them, sleeping with Mrs. Wang, who was at first rather frightened, but who soon laid aside her suspicions when she found that the old lady meant so well towards them. Next day, the latter addressed Wang, saying, “My grandson, you must not be so lazy. You should try to make a little money in some way or other.” Wang replied that he had no capital; upon which the old la-dy said, “When your grandfather was alive, he allowed me to take what money I liked; but not being a mortal, I had no use for it, and consequently did not draw largely upon him. I have, however, saved from my pin-money the sum of forty ounces of silver, which has long been lying idle for want of an investment. Take it, and buy summer cloth, which you may carry to the capital and re-sell at a profit.” So Wang bought some fifty pieces of summer cloth; and the old lady made him get ready, calculating that in six or seven days he would reach the capital. She al-so warned him, saying,

“Be neither lazy nor slow—
For if a day too long you wait,
Repentance comes a day too late.”

Wang promised all obedience, and packed up his goods and went off. On the road he was overtaken by a rain-storm which soaked him through to the skin; and as he was not accustomed to be out in bad weather, it was altogether too much for him. He accordingly sought shelter in an inn, but the rain went on steadily till night, running over the eaves of the house like so many ropes. Next morning the roads were in a horrible state; and Wang, watching the passers-by slipping about in the slush, unable to see any path, dared not face it all, and re-mained until noon, when it began to dry up a little. Just then, however, the clouds closed over again, and down came the rain in torrents, causing him to stay anoth-er night before he could go on. When he was nearing the capital, he heard to his great joy that summer cloth was at a premium; and on arrival proceeded at once to take up his quarters at an inn. There the landlord said it was a pity he had come so late, as communications with the south having been only recently opened, the supply of summer cloth had been small; and there being a great de-mand for it among the wealthy families of the metropolis, its price had gone up to three times the usual figure. “But,” he added, “two days ago several large con-signments arrived, and the price went down again, so that the late comers have lost their market.” Poor Wang was thus left in the lurch, and as every day more summer cloth came in, the value of it fell in a corresponding ratio. Wang would not part with his at a loss, and held on for some ten days, when his expenses for board and lodging were added to his present distress. The landlord urged him to sell even at a loss, and turn his attention to something else, which he ultimately did, losing over ten ounces of silver on his venture. Next day he rose in the morn-ing to depart, but on looking in his purse found all his money gone. He rushed away to tell the landlord, who, however, could do nothing for him. Some one then advised him to take out a summons and make the landlord reimburse him; but he only sighed, and said, “It is my destiny, and no fault of the landlord’s.” Thereupon the landlord was very grateful to him, and gave him five ounces of silver to enable him to go home. He did not care, however, to face his grandmoth-er empty-handed, and remained in a very undecided state, until suddenly he saw a quail-catcher winning heaps of money by fighting his birds, and selling them at over 100 cash a-piece. He then determined to lay out his five ounces of silver in quails, and pay back the landlord out of the profits. The latter approved very highly of this plan, and not only agreed to lend him a room but also to charge him little or nothing for his board. So Wang went off rejoicing, and bought two large baskets of quails, with which he returned to the city, to the great satisfac-tion of the landlord who advised him to lose no time in disposing of them. All that night it poured in torrents, and the next morning the streets were like rivers, the rain still continuing to fall. Wang waited for it to clear up, but several days passed and still there were no signs of fine weather. He then went to look at his quails, some of which he found dead and others dying. He was much alarmed at this, but was quite at a loss what to do; and by the next day a lot more had died, so that only a few were left, which he fed all together in one basket. The day after this he went again to look at them, and lo! there remained but a single quail. With tears in his eyes he told the landlord what had happened, and he, too, was much affected. Wang then reflected that he had no money left to carry him home, and that he could not do better than cease to live. But the landlord spoke to him and soothed him, and they went together to look at the quail. “This is a fine bird,” said the landlord, “and it strikes me that it has simply killed the others. Now, as you have got nothing to do, just set to work and train it; and if it is good for any-thing, why you’ll be able to make a living out of it.” Wang did as he was told; and when the bird was trained, the landlord bade him take it into the street and gamble for something to eat. This, too, he did, and his quail won every main; whereupon the landlord gave him some money to bet with the young fellows of the neighbourhood. Everything turned out favourably, and by the end of six months he had saved twenty ounces of silver, so that he became quite easy in his mind and looked upon the quail as a dispensation of his destiny.

Now one of the princes was passionately fond of quail-fighting, and always at the Feast of Lanterns anybody who owned quails might go and fight them in the pal-ace against the prince’s birds. The landlord therefore said to Wang, “Here is a chance of enriching yourself by a single stroke; only I can’t say what your luck will do for you.” He then explained to him what it was, and away they went to-gether, the landlord saying, “If you lose, burst out into lamentations; but if you are lucky enough to win, and the prince wishes, as he will, to buy your bird, don’t consent. If he presses you very much watch for a nod from me before you agree.” This settled, they proceeded to the palace where they found crowds of quail-fighters already on the ground; and then the prince came forth, heralds pro-claiming to the multitude that any who wished to fight their birds might come up. Some man at once stepped forward, and the prince gave orders for the quails to be released; but at the first strike the stranger’s quail was knocked out of time. The prince smiled, and by-and-by won several more mains, until at last the land-lord said, “Now’s our time,” and went up together with Wang. The Prince looked at their bird and said, “It has a fierce-looking eye and strong feathers. We must be careful what we are doing.” So he commanded his servants to bring out Iron Beak to oppose Wang’s bird; but, after a couple of strikes, the prince’s quail was signally defeated. He sent for a better bird, but that shared the same fate; and then he cried out, “Bring the Jade Bird from the palace!” In a little time it arrived, with pure white feathers like an egret, and an unusually martial appearance. Wang was much alarmed, and falling on his knees prayed to be excused this main, saying, “Your highness’s bird is too good. I fear lest mine should be wounded, and my livelihood be taken from me.” But the Prince laughed and said, “Go on. If your quail is killed I will make it up to you handsomely.” Wang then released his bird and the prince’s quail rushed at it at once; but when the Jade bird was close by, Wang’s quail awaited its coming head down and full of rage. The former made a violent peck at its adversary, and then sprung up to swoop down on it. Thus they went on up and down, backwards and forwards, until at length they got hold of each other, and the prince’s bird was beginning to show signs of ex-haustion. This enraged it all the more, and it fought more violently than ever; but soon a perfect snowstorm of feathers began to fall, and, with drooping wings, the Jade bird made its escape. The spectators were much moved by the result; and the prince himself, taking up Wang’s bird, examined it closely from beak to claws, finally asking if it was for sale. “My sole dependence,” replied Wang, “is upon this bird. I would rather not part with it.” “But,” said the prince, “if I give you as much as the capital, say of an ordinary tradesman, will not that tempt you?” Wang thought some time, and then answered, “I would rather not sell my bird; but as your highness has taken a fancy to it I will only ask enough to find me in food and clothes.” “How much do you want?” inquired the prince; to which Wang replied that he would take a thousand ounces of silver. “You fool!” cried the Prince; “do you think your bird is such a jewel as all that?” “If your highness,” said Wang, “does not think the bird a jewel, I value it more than that stone which was priced at fifteen cities.” “How so?” asked the prince. “Why,” said Wang, “I take my bird every day into the market-place. It there wins for me several ounces of silver, which I exchange for rice; and my family, over ten in number, has noth-ing to fear from either cold or hunger. What jewel could do that?” “You shall not lose anything,” replied the prince; “I will give you two hundred ounces.” But Wang would not consent, and then the prince added another hundred; whereupon Wang looked at the landlord, who, however, made no sign. Wang then offered to take nine hundred; but the prince ridiculed the idea of paying such a price for a quail, and Wang was preparing to take his leave with the bird, when the prince called him back, saying, “Here! here! I will give you six hundred. Take it or leave it as you please.” Wang here looked at the landlord, and the landlord remained motionless as before. However, Wang was satisfied himself with this offer, and being afraid of missing his chance, said to his friend, “If I get this price for it I shall be quite content. If we go on haggling and finally come to no terms, that will be a very poor end to it all.” So he took the prince’s offer, and the latter, over-joyed, caused the money to be handed to him. Wang then returned with his earn-ings; but the landlord said to him, “What did I say to you? You were in too much of a hurry to sell. Another minute, and you would have got eight hundred.” When Wang got back he threw the money on the table and told the landlord to take what he liked; but the latter would not, and it was only after some pressing that he would accept payment for Wang’s board. Wang then packed up and went home, where he told his story and produced his silver to the great delight of all of them. The old lady counselled the purchase of a quantity of land, the building of a house, and the purchase of implements; and in a very short time they became a wealthy family. The old lady always got up early in the morning and made Wang attend to the farm, his wife to her spinning; and rated them soundly at any signs of laziness. The husband and wife henceforth lived in peace, and no longer abused each other, until at the expiration of three years the old lady declared her intention of bidding them adieu. They both tried to stop her, and with the aid of tears succeeded in persuading her; but the next day she had disappeared.

王成

王成,平原故家子,性最懶。生涯日落,惟剩破屋數間,與妻臥牛衣中,交謫不堪。時盛夏燠熱,村外故有周氏園,牆宇盡傾,惟存一亭;村人多寄宿其中,王亦在焉。既曉,睡者盡去;紅日三竿,王始起,逡巡欲歸。見草際金釵一股,拾視之,鐫有細字云:「儀賓府造」。王祖為衡府儀賓,家中故物,多此款式,因把釵躊躇。 欻一嫗來尋釵。王雖故貧,然性介,遽出授之。嫗喜,極贊盛德,曰:「釵值幾何,先夫之遺澤也。」問:「夫君伊誰?」答云:「故儀賓王柬之也。」王驚曰:「吾祖也。何以相遇?」嫗亦驚曰:「汝即王柬之之孫耶?我乃狐仙。百年前,與君祖繾綣。君祖歿,老身遂隱。過此遺釵,適入子手,非天數耶!」王亦曾聞祖有狐妻,信其言,便邀臨顧。嫗從之。王呼妻出見,負敗絮,菜色黯焉。嫗嘆曰:「嘻!王柬之孫子,非乃一貧至此哉!」又顧敗灶無煙,曰:「家計若此,何以聊生?」妻因細述貧狀,嗚咽飲泣。嫗以釵授婦,使姑質錢市米,三日外請復相見。王挽留之。嫗曰:「汝一妻不能自存活;我在,仰屋而居,復何裨益?」遂徑去。王為妻言其故,妻大怖。王誦其義,使姑事之,妻諾。逾三日,果至。出數金,糴粟麥各石。夜與婦共短榻。婦初懼之;然察其意殊拳拳,遂不之疑。
  翌日,謂王曰:「孫勿惰,宜操小生業,坐食烏可長也?」王告以無資。曰:「汝祖在時,金帛憑所取;我以世外人,無需是物,故未嘗多取。積花粉之金四十兩,至今猶存。久貯亦無所用,可將去悉以市葛,刻日赴都,可得微息。」王從之,購五十餘端以歸。嫗命趣裝,計六七日可達燕都。囑曰:「宜勤勿懶,宜急勿緩;遲之一日,悔之已晚。」王敬諾,囊貨就路。中途遇雨,衣履浸濡。王生平未歷風霜,委頓不堪,因暫休旅舍。不意淙淙徹暮,檐雨如繩。過宿,濘益甚。見往來行人,踐淖沒脛,心畏苦之。待至停午,始漸燥,而陰雲複合,雨又大作。信宿乃行。將近京,傳聞葛價翔貴,心竊喜。入都,解裝客店,主人深惜其晚。先是,南道初通,葛至絕少。貝勒府購致甚急,價頓昂,較常可三倍。前一日方購足,後來者並皆失望。主人以故告王。王鬱鬱不得志。越日,葛至愈多,價益下。王以無利不肯售。遲十餘日,計食耗煩多,倍益懮悶。主人勸令賤鬻,改而他圖。從之。虧資十餘兩,悉脫去。早起,將作歸計,啟視囊中,則金亡矣。驚告主人。主人無所為計。或勸鳴官,責主人償。王嘆曰:「此我數也,于主人何尤?」主人聞而德之,贈金五兩,慰之使歸。自念無以見祖母,蹀踱內外,進退維谷。
  適見斗鶉者,一賭輒數千;每市一鶉,恆百錢不止。意忽動,計囊中資,僅足販鶉,以商主人。主人亟慫恿之,且約假寓飲食,不取其直。王喜,遂行。購鶉盈儋,復入都。主人喜,賀其速售。至夜,大雨徹曙。天明,衢水如河,淋零猶未休也。居以待蜻,連綿數日,更無休止。起視籠中,鶉漸死。王大懼,不知計之所出。越日,死愈多;僅余數頭,並一籠飼之;經宿往窺,則一鶉僅存。因告主人,不覺涕墮。主人亦為扼腕。王自度金盡罔歸,但欲覓死,主人勸慰之。共往視鶉,審諦之曰:「此似英物。諸鶉之死,未必非此之斗殺之也。君暇亦無所事,請把之;如其良也,賭亦可以謀生。」王如其教。既馴,主人令持向街頭,賭酒食。鶉健甚,輒贏。主人喜,以金授王,使復與子弟決賭;三戰三勝。半年許,積二十金。心益慰,視鶉如命。先是,大親王好鶉,每值上元,輒放民間把鶉者入邸相角。主人謂王曰:「今大富宜可立致;所不可知者,在子之命矣。」因告以故,導與俱往。囑曰:「脫敗,則喪氣出耳。倘有萬分一,鶉斗勝,王必欲市之,君勿應;如固強之,惟予首是瞻,待首肯而後應之。」王曰:「諾。」至邸,則鶉人肩摩于墀下。頃之,王出御殿。左右宣言:「有願斗者上。」即有一人把鶉,趨而進。王命放鶉,客亦放;略一騰踔,客鶉已敗。王大笑。俄頃,登而敗者數人。主人曰:「可矣。」相將俱登。王相之,曰:「睛有怒脈,此健羽也,不可輕敵。」命取鐵喙者當之。一再騰躍,而王鶉鎩羽。更選其良,再易再敗。王急命取宮中玉鶉。片時把出,素羽如鷺,神駿不凡。王成意餒,跪而求罷,曰:「大王之鶉,神物也,恐傷吾禽,喪吾業矣。」王笑曰:「縱之。脫斗而死,當厚爾償。」成乃縱之。玉鶉直奔之。而玉鶉方來,則伏如怒雞以待之;玉鶉健啄,則起如翔鶴以擊之;進退頡頏,相持約一伏時。玉鶉漸懈,而其怒益烈,其斗益急。未幾,雪毛摧落,垂翅而逃。觀者千人,罔不嘆羨。王乃索取而親把之,自喙至爪,審週一過,問成曰:「鶉可貨否?」答云:「小人無恆產,與相依為命,不願售也。」王曰:「賜而重值,中人之產可致。頗願之乎?」成俯思良久,曰:「本不樂置;顧大王既愛好之,苟使小人得衣食業,又何求?」王請直,答以千金。王笑曰:「痴男子!此何珍寶,而千金直也?」成曰:「大王不以為寶,臣以為連城之璧不過也。」王曰:「如何?」曰:「小人把向市廛,日得數金,易升斗粟,一家十餘食指,無凍餒懮,是何寶如之?」王言:「予不相虧,便與二百金。」成搖首。又增百數。成目視主人,主人色不動。乃曰:「承大王命,請減百價。」王曰:「休矣!誰肯以九百易一鶉者!」成囊鶉欲行。王呼曰:「鶉人來,鶉人來!實給六百,肯則售,否則已耳。」成又目主人,主人仍自若。成心願盈溢,惟恐失時,曰:「以此數售,心實怏怏;但交而不成,則獲戾滋大。無已,即如王命。」王喜,即秤付之。成囊金,拜賜而出。主人懟曰:「我言如何,子乃急自鬻也?再少靳之,八百金在掌中矣。」成歸,擲金案上,請主人自取之,主人不受。又固讓之,乃盤計飯直而受之。
  王治裝歸,至家,歷述所為,出金相慶。嫗命置良田三百畝,起屋作器,居然世家。嫗早起,使成督耕,婦督織;稍惰,輒訶之。夫婦相安,不敢有怨詞。過三年,家益富。嫗辭欲去。夫妻共挽之,至泣下。嫗亦遂止。旭旦候之,已杳矣。
  異史氏曰:「富皆得于勤,此獨行于惰,亦創聞也。不知一貧徹骨,而至性不移,此天所以始棄之而終憐之也。懶中豈果有富貴乎哉!」

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