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The Princess Of The Tung-t‘ing Lake.

CH‘ÊN PICHIAO was a Pekingese; and being a poor man he attached himself as secretary to the suite of a high military official named Chia. On one occasion, while anchored on the Tungt‘ing lake, they saw a dolphin floating on the surface of the water; and General Chia took his bow and shot at it, wounding the creature in the back. A fish was hanging on to its tail, and would not let go; so both were pulled out of the water together, and attached to the mast. There they lay gasping, the dolphin opening its mouth as if pleading for life, until at length young Ch‘ên begged the General to let them go again; and then he himself half-jokingly put a piece of plaster upon the dolphin’s wound, and had the two thrown back into the water, where they were seen for some time afterwards diving and rising again to the surface. About a year afterwards, Ch‘ên was once more crossing the Tungt‘ing lake on his way home, when the boat was upset in a squall, and he himself only saved by clinging to a bamboo crate, which finally, after floating about all night, caught in the overhanging branch of a tree, and thus enabled him to scramble on shore. By-and-by, another body floated in, and this turned out to be his servant; but on dragging him out, he found life was already extinct. In great distress, he sat himself down to rest, and saw beautiful green hills and waving willows, but not a single human being of whom he could ask the way. From early dawn till the morning was far advanced he remained in that state; and then, thinking he saw his servant’s body move, he stretched out his hand to feel it, and before long the man threw up several quarts of water and recovered his consciousness. They now dried their clothes in the sun, and by noon these were fit to put on; at which period the pangs of hunger began to assail them, and accordingly they started over the hills in the hope of coming upon some habitation of man. As they were walking along, an arrow whizzed past, and the next moment two young ladies dashed by on handsome palfreys. Each had a scarlet band round her head, with a bunch of pheasant’s feathers stuck in her hair, and wore a purple riding jacket with small sleeves, confined by a green embroidered girdle round the waist. One of them carried a crossbow for shooting bullets, and the other had on her arm a dark coloured bow-and-arrow case. Reaching the brow of the hill, Ch‘ên beheld a number of riders engaged in beating the surrounding cover, all of whom were beautiful girls and dressed exactly alike. Afraid to advance any further, he inquired of a youth who appeared to be in attendance, and the latter told him that it was a hunting party from the palace; and then, having supplied him with food from his wallet, he bade him retire quickly, adding that if he fell in with them he would assuredly be put to death. Thereupon Ch‘ên hurried away; and descending the hill, turned into a copse where there was a building which he thought would in all probability be a monastery. On getting nearer, he saw that the place was surrounded by a wall, and between him and a half open red door was a brook spanned by a stone bridge leading up to it. Pulling back the door, he beheld within a number of ornamental buildings circling in the air like so many clouds, and for all the world resembling the Imperial pleasure grounds; and thinking it must be the park of some official personage, he walked quietly in, enjoying the delicious fragrance of the flowers as he pushed aside the thick vegetation which obstructed his way. After traversing a winding path fenced in by balustrades, Ch‘ên reached a second enclosure, wherein were a quantity of tall willow trees which swept the red eaves of the buildings with their branches. The note of some bird would set the petals of the flowers fluttering in the air, and the least wind would bring the seed vessels down from the elm trees above; and the effect upon the eye and heart of the beholder was something quite unknown in the world of mortals. Passing through a small kiosque, Ch‘ên and his servant came upon a swing which seemed as though suspended from the clouds, while the ropes hung idly down in the utter stillness that prevailed. Thinking by this that they were approaching the ladies’ apartments, Ch‘ên would have turned back, but at that moment he heard sounds of horses’ feet at the door, and what seemed to be the laughter of a bevy of girls. So he and his servant hid themselves in a bush; and by-and-by, as the sounds came nearer, he heard one of the young ladies say, “We’ve had but poor sport today;” whereupon another cried out, “If the princess hadn’t shot that wild goose, we should have taken all this trouble for nothing.” Shortly after this, a number of girls dressed in red came in escorting a young lady, who went and sat down under the kiosque. She wore a hunting costume with tight sleeves, and was about fourteen or fifteen years old. Her hair looked like a cloud of mist at the back of her head, and her waist seemed as though a breath of wind might snap it—incomparable for beauty, even among the celebrities of old. Just then the attendants handed her some exquisitely fragrant tea, and stood glittering round her like a bank of beautiful embroidery. In a few moments the young lady arose and descended the kiosque; at which one of her attendants cried out, “Is your Highness too fatigued by riding to take a turn in the swing?” The princess replied that she was not; and immediately some supported her under the shoulders, while others seized her arms, and others again arranged her petticoats, and brought her the proper shoes. Thus they helped her into the swing, she herself stretching out her shining arms, and putting her feet into a suitable pair of slippers; and then—away she went, light as a flying swallow, far up into the fleecy clouds. As soon as she had had enough, the attendants helped her out, and one of them exclaimed, “Truly, your Highness is a perfect angel!” At this the young lady laughed, and walked away, Ch‘ên gazing after her in a state of semi-consciousness, until, at length, the voices died away, and he and his servant crept forth. Walking up and down near the swing, he suddenly espied a red handkerchief near the paling, which he knew had been dropped by one of the young ladies; and, thrusting it joyfully into his sleeve, he walked up and entered the kiosque. There, upon a table, lay writing materials, and taking out the handkerchief he indited upon it the following lines:—

“What form divine was just now sporting nigh?—
’Twas she, I trow of ‘golden lily’ fame;
Her charms the moon’s fair denizens might shame,
Her fairy footsteps bear her to the sky.”

Humming this stanza to himself, Ch‘ên walked along seeking for the path by which he had entered; but every door was securely barred, and he knew not what to do. So he went back to the kiosque, when suddenly one of the young ladies appeared, and asked him in astonishment what he did there. “I have lost my way,” replied Ch‘ên; “I pray you lend me your assistance.” “Do you happen to have found a red handkerchief?” said the girl. “I have, indeed,” answered Ch‘ên, “but I fear I have made it somewhat dirty;” and, suiting the action to the word, he drew it forth, and handed it to her. “Wretched man!” cried the young lady, “you are undone. This is a handkerchief the princess is constantly using, and you have gone and scribbled all over it; what will become of you now?” Ch‘ên was in a great fright, and begged the young lady to intercede for him; to which she replied, “It was bad enough that you should come here and spy about; however, being a scholar, and a man of refinement, I would have done my best for you; but after this, how am I to help you?” Off she then ran with the handkerchief, while Ch‘ên remained behind in an agony of suspense, and longing for the wings of a bird to bear him away from his fate. By-and-by, the young lady returned and congratulated him, saying, “There is some hope for you. The Princess read your verses several times over, and was not at all angry. You will probably be released; but, meanwhile, wait here, and don’t climb the trees, or try to get through the walls, or you may not escape after all.” Evening was now drawing on, and Ch‘ên knew not, for certain, what was about to happen; at the same time he was very empty, and, what with hunger and anxiety, death would have been almost a happy release. Before long, the young lady returned with a lamp in her hand, and followed by a slave girl bearing wine and food, which she forthwith presented to Ch‘ên. The latter asked if there was any news about himself; to which the young lady replied that she had just mentioned his case to the Princess who, not knowing what to do with him at that hour of the night, had given orders that he should at once be provided with food, “which, at any rate,” added she, “is not bad news.” The whole night long Ch‘ên walked up and down unable to take rest; and it was not till late in the morning that the young lady appeared with more food for him. Imploring her once more to intercede on his behalf, she told him that the Princess had not instructed them either to kill or to release him, and that it would not be fitting for such as herself to be bothering the Princess with suggestions. So there Ch‘ên still remained until another day had almost gone, hoping for the welcome moment; and then the young lady rushed hurriedly in, saying, “You are lost! Some one has told the Queen, and she, in a fit of anger, threw the handkerchief on the ground, and made use of very violent language. Oh dear! oh dear! I’m sure something dreadful will happen.” Ch‘ên threw himself on his knees, his face as pale as ashes, and begged to know what he should do; but at that moment sounds were heard outside, and the young lady waved her hand to him, and ran away. Immediately a crowd came pouring in through the door, with ropes ready to secure the object of their search; and among them was a slave girl, who looked fixedly at our hero, and cried out, “Why, surely you are Mr. Ch‘ên, aren’t you?” at the same time stopping the others from binding him until she should have reported to the Queen. In a few minutes she came back, and said the Queen requested him to walk in; and in he went, through a number of doors, trembling all the time with fear, until he reached a hall, the screen before which was ornamented with green jade and silver. A beautiful girl drew aside the bamboo curtain at the door, and announced, “Mr. Ch‘ên;” and he himself advanced, and fell down before a lady, who was sitting upon a dais at the other end, knocking his head upon the ground, and crying out, “Thy servant is from a far-off country; spare, oh! spare his life.” “Sir!” replied the Queen, rising hastily from her seat, and extending a hand to Ch‘ên, “but for you, I should not be here today. Pray excuse the rudeness of my maids.” Thereupon a splendid repast was served, and wine was poured out in chased goblets, to the no small astonishment of Ch‘ên, who could not understand why he was treated thus. “Your kindness,” observed the Queen, “in restoring me to life, I am quite unable to repay; however, as you have made my daughter the subject of your verse, the match is clearly ordained by fate, and I shall send her along to be your handmaid.” Ch‘ên hardly knew what to make of this extraordinary accomplishment of his wishes, but the marriage was solemnized there and then; bands of music struck up wedding airs, beautiful mats were laid down for them to walk upon, and the whole place was brilliantly lighted with a profusion of coloured lamps. Then Ch‘ên said to the Princess, “That a stray and unknown traveller like myself, guilty of spoiling your Highness’s handkerchief, should have escaped the fate he deserved, was already more than could be expected; but now to receive you in marriage—this, indeed, far surpasses my wildest expectations.” “My mother,” replied the Princess, “is married to the King of this lake, and is herself a daughter of the River Prince. Last year, when on her way to visit her parents, she happened to cross the lake, and was wounded by an arrow; but you saved her life, and gave her plaster for the wound. Our family, therefore, is grateful to you, and can never forget your good act. And do not regard me as of another species than yourself; the Dragon King has bestowed upon me the elixir of immortality, and this I will gladly share with you.” Then Ch‘ên knew that his wife was a spirit, and by-and-by he asked her how the slave girl had recognised him; to which she replied, that the girl was the small fish which had been found hanging to the dolphin’s tail. He then inquired why, as they didn’t intend to kill him, he had been kept so long a prisoner. “I was charmed with your literary talent,” answered the Princess, “but I did not venture to take the responsibility upon myself; and no one saw how I tossed and turned the livelong night.” “Dear friend,” said Ch‘ên; “but, come, tell me who was it that brought my food.” “A trusty waiting maid of mine,” replied the Princess; “her name is Anien.” Ch‘ên then asked how he could ever repay her, and the Princess told him there would be plenty of time to think of that; and when he inquired where the king, her father, was, she said he had gone off with the God of War to fight against Ch‘ih-yu, and had not returned. A few days passed, and Ch‘ên began to think his people at home would be anxious about him; so he sent off his servant with a letter to tell them he was safe and sound, at which they were all overjoyed, believing him to have been lost in the wreck of the boat, of which event news had already reached them. However, they were unable to send him any reply, and were considerably distressed as to how he would find his way home again. Six months afterwards Ch‘ên himself appeared, dressed in fine clothes, and riding on a splendid horse, with plenty of money, and valuable jewels in his pocket—evidently a man of wealth. From that time forth he kept up a magnificent establishment; and in seven or eight years had become the father of five children. Every day he kept open house, and if any one asked him about his adventures, he would readily tell them without reservation. Now a friend of his, named Liang, whom he had known since they were boys together, and who, after holding an appointment for some years in Nanfu, was crossing the Tungt‘ing Lake, on his way home, suddenly beheld an ornamental barge, with carved woodwork and red windows, passing over the foamy waves to the sound of music and singing from within. Just then a beautiful young lady leant out of one of the windows, which she had pushed open, and by her side Liang saw a young man sitting, in a negligée attitude, while two nice-looking girls stood by and shampooed him. Liang, at first, thought it must be the party of some high official, and wondered at the scarcity of attendants; but, on looking more closely at the young man, he saw it was no other than his old friend Ch‘ên. Thereupon he began almost involuntarily to shout out to him; and when Ch‘ên heard his own name, he stopped the rowers, and walked out towards the figurehead, beckoning Liang to cross over into his boat, where the remains of their feast was quickly cleared away, and fresh supplies of wine, and tea, and all kinds of costly foods spread out by handsome slave girls. “It’s ten years since we met,” said Liang, “and what a rich man you have become in the meantime.” “Well,” replied Ch‘ên, “do you think that so very extraordinary for a poor fellow like me?” Liang then asked him who was the lady with whom he was taking wine, and Ch‘ên said she was his wife, which very much astonished Liang, who further inquired whither they were going. “Westwards,” answered Ch‘ên, and prevented any further questions by giving a signal for the music, which effectually put a stop to all further conversation. By-and-by, Liang found the wine getting into his head, and seized the opportunity to ask Ch‘ên to make him a present of one of his beautiful slave girls. “You are drunk, my friend,” replied Ch‘ên; “however, I will give you the price of one as a pledge of our old friendship.” And, turning to a servant, he bade him present Liang with a splendid pearl, saying, “Now you can buy a Green Pearl; you see I am not stingy;” adding forthwith, “but I am pressed for time, and can stay no longer with my old friend.” So he escorted Liang back to his boat, and, having let go the rope, proceeded on his way. Now, when Liang reached home, and called at Ch‘ên’s house, whom should he see but Ch‘ên himself drinking with a party of friends. “Why, I saw you only yesterday,” cried Liang, “upon the Tungt‘ing. How quickly you have got back!” Ch‘ên denied this, and then Liang repeated the whole story, at the conclusion of which, Ch‘ên laughed, and said, “You must be mistaken. Do you imagine I can be in two places at once?” The company were all much astonished, and knew not what to make of it; and subsequently when Ch‘ên, who died at the age of eighty, was being carried to his grave, the bearers thought the coffin seemed remarkably light, and on opening it to see, found that the body had disappeared.




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