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The Boatgirl Bride.

WANG KUINGAN was a young man of good family. It happened once when he was travelling southwards, and had moored his boat to the bank, that he saw in another boat close by a young boat girl embroidering shoes. He was much struck by her beauty, and continued gazing at her for some time, though she took not the slightest notice of him. By-and-by he began singing—

“The Loyang lady lives over the way:
[Fifteen years is her age I should say].”

to attract her attention, and then she seemed to perceive that he was addressing himself to her; but, after just raising her head and glancing at him, she resumed her embroidery as before. Wang then threw a piece of silver towards her, which fell on her skirt; however she merely picked it up, and flung it on to the bank, as if she had not seen what it was, so Wang put it back in his pocket again. He followed up by throwing her a gold bracelet, to which she paid no attention whatever, never taking her eyes off her work. A few minutes after her father appeared, much to the dismay of Wang, who was afraid he would see the bracelet; but the young girl quietly placed her feet over it, and concealed it from his sight. The boatman let go the painter, and away they went down stream, leaving Wang sitting there, not knowing what to do next. And, having recently lost his wife, he regretted that he had not seized this opportunity to make another match; the more so, as when he came to ask the other boatpeople of the place, no one knew anything about them. So Wang got into his own boat, and started off in pursuit; but evening came on, and, as he could see nothing of them, he was obliged to turn back and proceed in the direction where business was taking him. When he had finished that, he returned, making inquiries all the way along, but without hearing anything about the object of his search. On arriving at home, he was unable either to eat or to sleep, so much did this affair occupy his mind; and about a year afterwards he went south again, bought a boat, and lived in it as his home, watching carefully every single vessel that passed either up or down, until at last there was hardly one he didn’t know by sight. But all this time the boat he was looking for never reappeared.
Some six months passed away thus, and then, having exhausted all his funds, he was obliged to go home, where he remained in a state of general inaptitude for anything. One night he dreamed that he entered a village on the riverbank, and that, after passing several houses, he saw one with a door towards the south, and a palisade of bamboos inside. Thinking it was a garden, he walked in and beheld a beautiful magnolia, covered with blossoms, which reminded him of the line—

“And Judas tree in flower before her door.”

A few steps farther on was a neat bamboo hedge, on the other side of which, towards the north, he found a small house, with three columns, the door of which was locked; and another, towards the south, with its window shaded by the broad leaves of a plaintain tree. The door was barred by a clotheshorse, on which was hanging an embroidered petticoat; and, on seeing this, Wang stepped back, knowing that he had got to the ladies’ quarters; but his presence had already been noticed inside, and, in another moment, out came his heroine of the boat. Overjoyed at seeing her, he was on the point of grasping her hand, when suddenly the girl’s father arrived, and, in his consternation, Wang waked up, and found that it was all a dream. Every incident of it, however, remained clear and distinct in his mind, and he took care to say nothing about it to anybody, for fear of destroying its reality.

Another year passed away, and he went again to Chinkiang, where lived an official, named Hsü, who was an old friend of the family, and who invited Wang to come and take a cup of wine with him. On his way thither, Wang lost his way, but at length reached a village which seemed familiar to him, and which he soon found, by the door with the magnolia inside, to be identical, in every particular, with the village of his dream. He went in through the doorway, and there was everything as he had seen it in his dream, even to the boat girl herself. She jumped up on his arrival, and, shutting the door in his face, asked what his business was there. Wang inquired if she had forgotten about the bracelet, and went on to tell her how long he had been searching for her, and how, at last, she had been revealed to him in a dream. The girl then begged to know his name and family; and when she heard who he was, she asked what a gentleman like himself could want with a poor boat girl like her, as he must have a wife of his own. “But for you,” replied Wang, “I should, indeed, have been married long ago.” Upon which the girl told him if that was really the case, he had better apply to her parents, “although,” added she, “they have already refused a great many offers for me. The bracelet you gave me is here, but my father and mother are just now away from home; they will be back shortly. You go away now and engage a matchmaker, when I dare say it will be all right if the proper formalities are observed.” Wang then retired, the girl calling after him to remember that her name was Mêng Yün, and her father’s Mêng Chiangli. He proceeded at once on his way to Mr. Hsü’s, and after that sought out his intended father-in-law, telling him who he was, and offering him at the same time one hundred ounces of silver, as betrothal money for his daughter. “She is already promised,” replied the old man; upon which Wang declared he had been making careful inquiries, and had heard, on all sides, that the young lady was not engaged, winding up by begging to know what objection there was to his suit. “I have just promised her,” answered her father, “and I cannot possibly break my word;” so Wang went away, deeply mortified, not knowing whether to believe it or not. That night he tossed about a good deal; and next morning, braving the ridicule with which he imagined his friend would view his wished-for alliance with a boat girl, he went off to Mr. Hsü, and told him all about it. “Why didn’t you consult me before?” cried Mr. Hsü; “her father is a connection of mine.” Wang then went on to give fuller particulars, which his friend interrupted by saying, “Changli is indeed poor, but he has never been a boatman. Are you sure you are not making a mistake?” He then sent off his elder son to make inquiries; and to him the girl’s father said, “Poor I am, but I don’t sell my daughter. Your friend imagined that I should be tempted by the sight of his money to forego the usual ceremonies, and so I won’t have anything to do with him. But if your father desires this match, and everything is in proper order, I will just go in and consult with my daughter, and see if she is willing.” He then retired for a few minutes, and when he came back he raised his hands in congratulation, saying, “Everything is as you wish;” whereupon a day was fixed, and the young man went home to report to his father. Wang now sent off betrothal presents, with the usual formalities, and took up his abode with his friend, Mr. Hsü, until the marriage was solemnized, three days after which he bade adieu to his father-in-law, and started on his way northwards. In the evening, as they were sitting on the boat together, Wang said to his wife, “When I first met you near this spot, I fancied you were not of the ordinary boating class. Where were you then going?” “I was going to visit my uncle,” she replied. “We are not a wealthy family, you know, but we don’t want anything through an improper channel; and I couldn’t help smiling at the great eyes you were making at me, all the time trying to tempt me with money. But when I heard you speak, I knew at once you were a man of refinement, though I guessed you were a bit of a rake; and so I hid your bracelet, and saved you from the wrath of my father.” “And yet,” replied Wang, “you have fallen into my snare after all;” adding, after a little pressure, “for I can’t conceal from you much longer the fact that I have already a wife, belonging to a high official family.” This she did not believe, until he began to affirm it seriously; and then she jumped up and ran out of the cabin. Wang followed at once, but, before he could reach her, she was already in the river; whereupon he shouted out to boats to come to their assistance, causing quite a commotion all round about; but nothing was to be seen in the river, save only the reflection of the stars shining brightly on the water. All night long Wang went sorrowfully up and down, and offered a high reward for the body, which, however, was not forthcoming. So he went home in despair, and then, fearing lest his father-in-law should come to visit his daughter, he started on a visit to a connection of his, who had an appointment in Honan. In the course of a year or two, when on his homeward journey, he chanced to be detained by bad weather at a roadside inn of rather cleaner appearance than usual. Within he saw an old woman playing with a child, which, as soon as he entered, held out its arms to him to be taken. Wang took the child on his knee, and there it remained, refusing to go back to its nurse; and, when the rain had stopped, and Wang was getting ready to go, the child cried out, “Papa gone!” The nurse told it to hold its tongue, and, at the same moment, out from behind the screen came Wang’s long-lost wife. “You bad fellow,” said she, “what am I to do with this?” pointing to the child; and then Wang knew that the boy was his own son. He was much affected, and swore by the sun that the words he had uttered had been uttered in jest, and by-and-by his wife’s anger was soothed. She then explained how she had been picked up by a passing boat, the occupant of which was the owner of the house they were in, a man of sixty years of age, who had no children of his own, and who kindly adopted her. She also told him how she had had several offers of marriage, all of which she had refused, and how her child was born, and that she had called him Chishêng, and that he was then a year old. Wang now unpacked his baggage again, and went in to see the old gentleman and his wife, whom he treated as if they had actually been his wife’s parents. A few days afterwards they set off together towards Wang’s home, where they found his wife’s real father awaiting them. He had been there more than two months, and had been considerably disconcerted by the mysterious remarks of Wang’s servants; but the arrival of his daughter and her husband made things all smooth again, and when they told him what had happened, he understood the demeanour of the servants which had seemed so strange to him at first.

王桂菴

王樨,字桂菴,大名世家子。適南遊。泊舟江岸。鄰舟有榜人女,繡履其中,風姿韶絕。王窺既久,女若不覺。王朗吟「洛陽女兒對門居」,故使女聞。女似解其為己者,略舉首一斜瞬之,俛首繡如故。王神志益馳,以金一錠投之,墮女襟上;女拾棄之,金落岸邊。王拾歸,益怪之,又以金釧擲之,墮足下;女操業不顧。無何,榜人自他歸。王恐其見釧研詰,心急甚;女從容以雙鉤覆蔽之。榜人解纜,逕去。王心情喪惘,癡坐凝思。時王方喪偶,悔不即媒定之。乃詢舟人,皆不識其何姓。返舟急追之,杳不知其所往。不得已,返舟而南。務畢,北旋,又沿江細訪,並無音耗。抵家,寢食皆縈念之。踰年,復南,買舟江際,若家焉。日日細數行舟,往來者帆楫皆熟,而曩舟殊杳。居半年,貲罄而歸。行思坐想,不能少置。一夜,夢至江村,過數門,見一家柴扉南向,門內疏竹為籬,意是亭園,逕入。有夜合一株,紅絲滿樹。隱念:詩中「門前一樹馬纓花」,此其是矣。過數武,葦笆光潔。又入之,見北舍三楹,雙扉闔焉。南有小舍,紅蕉蔽窗。探身一窺,則椸架當門,罥畫裙其上,知為女子閨闥,愕然卻退;而內亦覺之,有奔出瞰客者,粉黛微呈,則舟中人也。喜出望外,曰:「亦有相逢之期乎!」方將狎就,女父適歸,倏然驚覺,始知是夢。景物歷歷,如在目前。祕之,恐與人言,破此佳夢。又年餘,再適鎮江。郡南有徐太僕,與有世誼,招飲。信馬而去,誤入小村,道途景象,彷彿平生所歷。一門內,馬纓一樹,夢境宛然。駭極,投鞭而入。種種物色,與夢無別。再入,則房舍一如其數。夢既驗,不復疑慮,直趨南舍,舟中人果在其中。遙見王,驚起,以扉自幛,叱問:「何處男子?」王逡巡間,猶疑是夢。女見步趨甚近,閛然扃戶。王曰:「卿不憶擲釧者耶?」備述相思之苦,且言夢徵。女隔窗審其家世,王具道之。女曰:「既屬宦裔,中饋必有佳人,焉用妾?」王曰:「非以卿故,昏娶固已久矣!」女曰:「果如所云,足知君心。妾此情難告父母,然亦方命而絕數家。金釧猶在,料鍾情者必有耗問耳。父母偶適外戚,行且至。君姑退,倩冰委禽,計無不遂;若望以非禮成耦,則用心左矣。」王倉卒欲出。女遙呼王郎曰:「妾芸娘,姓孟氏。父字江蘺。」王記而出。罷筵早返,謁江蘺。江迎入,設坐籬下。王自道家閥,即致來意,兼納百金為聘。翁曰:「息女已字矣。」王曰:「訊之甚確,固待聘耳,何見絕之深?」翁曰:「適間所說,不敢為誑。」王神情俱失,拱別而返。當夜輾轉,無人可媒。向欲以情告太僕,恐娶榜人女為先生笑;今情急,無可為媒,質明,詣太僕,實告之。太僕曰:「此翁與有瓜葛,是祖母嫡孫,何不早言?」王始吐隱情。太僕疑曰:「江蘺固貧,素不以操舟為業,得毋誤乎?」乃遣子大郎詣孟。孟曰:「僕雖空匱,非賣昏者。曩公子以金自媒,諒僕必為利動,故不敢附為婚姻。既承先生命,必無錯謬。但頑女頗恃嬌愛,好門戶輒便拗卻,不得不與商榷,免他日怨婚也。」遂起,少入而返,拱手一如尊命,約期乃別。大郎復命,王乃盛備禽妝,納采於孟,假館太僕之家,親迎成禮。居三日,辭岳北歸。夜宿舟中,問芸娘曰:「向於此處遇卿,固疑不類舟人子。當日泛舟何之?」答云:「妾叔家江北,偶借扁舟一省視耳。妾家僅可自給,然儻來物頗不貴視之。笑君雙瞳如豆,屢以金貲動人。初聞吟聲,知為風雅士,又疑為儇薄子作蕩婦挑之也。使父見金釧,君死無地矣。妾憐才心切否?」王笑曰:「卿固黠甚,然亦墮吾術矣!」女問:「何事?」王止而不言。又固詰之,乃曰:「家門日近,此亦不能終祕。實告卿:我家中固有妻在,吳尚書女也。」芸娘不信,王故壯其詞以實之。芸娘色變,默移時,遽起,奔出;王屣履追之,則已投江中矣。王大呼,諸船驚鬧,夜色昏蒙,惟有滿江星點而已。王悼痛終夜,沿江而下,以重價覓其骸骨,亦無見者。邑邑而歸,憂痛交集。又恐翁來視女,無詞可對。有姊丈官河南,遂命駕造之,年餘始歸。途中遇雨,休裝民舍,見房廊清潔,有老嫗弄兒廈間。兒見王入,即撲求抱,王怪之。又視兒秀婉可愛,攬置膝頭,嫗喚之,不去。少頃,雨霽,王舉兒付嫗,下堂趣裝。兒啼曰:「阿爹去矣!」嫗恥之,呵之不止,強抱而去。王坐待治任,忽有麗者自屏後抱兒出,則芸娘也。方詫異間,芸娘罵曰:「負心郎!遺此一塊肉,焉置之?」王乃知為己子。酸來刺心,不暇問其往跡,先以前言之戲,矢日自白。芸娘始反怒為悲。相向涕零。先是,第主莫翁,六旬無子,攜媼往朝南海。歸途泊江際,芸娘隨波下,適觸翁舟。翁命從人拯出之,療控終夜,始漸蘇。翁媼視之,是好女子,甚喜,以為己女,攜歸。居數月,欲為擇婿,女不可。踰十月,生一子,名曰寄生。王避雨其家,寄生方周歲也。王於是解裝,入拜翁媼,遂為岳婿。居數日,始舉家歸。至,則孟翁坐待,已兩月矣。翁初至,見僕輩情詞恍惚,心頗疑怪;既見,始共懽慰。歷述所遭,乃知其枝梧者有由也。

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