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The Two Brides

NOW Chishêng, or Wang Sun, was one of the cleverest young fellows in the district; and his father and mother, who had foreseen his ability from the time when, as a baby in long clothes, he distinguished them from other people, loved him very dearly. He grew up into a handsome lad; at eight or nine he could compose elegantly, and by fourteen he had already entered his name as a candidate for the first degree, after which his marriage became a question for consideration. Now his father’s younger sister, Erhniang, had married a gentleman named Chêng Tzŭch‘iao, and they had a daughter called Kueihsiu, who was extremely pretty, and with whom Chishêng fell deeply in love, being soon unable either to eat or to sleep. His parents became extremely uneasy about him, and inquired what it was that ailed him; and when he told them, they at once sent off a matchmaker to Mr. Chêng. The latter, however, was rather a stickler for the proprieties, and replied that the near relationship precluded him from accepting the offer. Thereupon Chishêng became dangerously ill, and his mother, not knowing what to do, secretly tried to persuade Erhniang to let her daughter come over to their house; but Mr. Chêng heard of it, and was so angry that Chishêng’s father and mother gave up all hope of arranging the match.

At that time there was a gentleman named Chang living near by, who had five daughters, all very pretty, but the youngest, called Wuk‘o, was singularly beautiful, far surpassing her four sisters. She was not betrothed to any one, when one day, as she was on her way to worship at the family tombs, she chanced to see Chishêng, and at her return home spoke about him to her mother. Her mother guessed what her meaning was, and arranged with a matchmaker, named Mrs. Yü, to call upon Chishêng’s parents. This she did precisely at the time when Chishêng was so ill, and forthwith told his mother that her son’s complaint was one she, Mrs. Yü, was quite competent to cure; going on to tell her about Miss Wuk‘o and the proposed marriage, at which the good lady was delighted, and sent her in to talk about it to Chishêng himself. “Alas!” cried he, when he had heard Mrs. Yü’s story, “you are bringing me the wrong medicine for my complaint.” “All depends upon the efficacy of the medicine,” replied Mrs. Yü; “if the medicine is good, it matters not what is the name of the doctor who administers the draught; while to set your heart on a particular person, and to lie there and die because that person doesn’t come, is surely foolish in the extreme.” “Ah,” rejoined Chishêng, “there’s no medicine under heaven that will do me any good.” Mrs. Yü told him his experience was limited, and proceeded to expatiate by speaking and gesticulating on the beauty and liveliness of Wuk‘o. But all Chishêng said was that she was not what he wanted, and, turning round his face to the wall, would listen to no more about her. So Mrs. Yü was obliged to go away, and Chishêng became worse and worse every day, until suddenly one of the maids came in and informed him that the young lady herself was at the door. Immediately he jumped up and ran out, and lo! there before him stood a beautiful girl, whom, however he soon discovered not to be Kueihsiu. She wore a light yellow robe with a fine silk jacket and an embroidered petticoat, from beneath which her two little feet peeped out; and altogether she more resembled a fairy than anything else. Chishêng inquired her name; to which she replied that it was Wuk‘o, adding that she couldn’t understand his devoted attachment to Kueihsiu, as if there was nobody else in the world. Chishêng apologized, saying that he had never before seen any one so beautiful as Kueihsiu, but that he was now aware of his mistake. He then swore everlasting fidelity to her, and was just grasping her hand, when he awoke and found his mother rubbing him. It was a dream, but so accurately defined in all its details that he began to think if Wuk‘o was really such as he had seen her, there would be no further need to try for his impracticable cousin. So he communicated his dream to his mother; and she, only too delighted to notice this change of feeling, offered to go to Wuk‘o’s house herself; but Chishêng would not hear of this, and arranged with an old woman who knew the family to find some pretext for going there, and to report to him what Wuk‘o was like. When she arrived Wuk‘o was ill in bed, and lay with her head propped up by pillows, looking very pretty indeed. The old woman approached the couch and asked what was the matter; to which Wuk‘o made no reply, her fingers fidgetting all the time with her waistband. “She’s been behaving badly to her father and mother,” cried the latter, who was in the room; “there’s many a one has offered to marry her, but she says she’ll have none but Chishêng: and then when I scold her a bit, she takes on and won’t touch her food for days.” “Madam,” said the old woman, “if you could get that young man for your daughter they would make a truly pretty pair; and as for him, if he could only see Miss Wuk‘o, I’m afraid it would be too much for him. What do you think of my going there and getting them to make proposals?” “No, thank you,” replied Wuk‘o; “I would rather not risk his refusal;” upon which the old woman declared she would succeed, and hurried off to tell Chishêng, who was delighted to find from her report that Wuk‘o was exactly as he had seen her in his dream, though he didn’t trust implicitly in all the old woman said. Byandby, when he began to get a little better, he consulted with the old woman as to how he could see Wuk‘o with his own eyes; and, after some little difficulty, it was arranged that Chishêng should hide himself in a room from which he would be able to see her as she crossed the yard supported by a maid, which she did every day at a certain hour. This Chishêng proceeded to do, and in a little while out she came, accompanied by the old woman as well, who instantly drew her attention either to the clouds or the trees, in order that she should walk more leisurely. Thus Chishêng had a good look at her, and saw that she was truly the young lady of his dream. He could hardly contain himself for joy; and when the old woman arrived and asked if she would do instead of Kueihsiu, he thanked her very warmly and returned to his own home. There he told his father and mother, who sent off a matchmaker to arrange the preliminaries; but the latter came back and told them that Wuk‘o was already betrothed. This was a terrible blow for Chishêng, who was soon as ill as ever, and offered no reply to his father and mother when they charged him with having made a mistake. For several months he ate nothing but a bowl of rice gruel a day, and he became as emaciated as a fowl, when all of a sudden the old woman walked in and asked him what was the matter. “Foolish boy,” said she, when he had told her all; “before you wouldn’t have her, and do you imagine she is bound to have you now? But I’ll see if I can’t help you; for were she the Emperor’s own daughter, I should still find some way of getting her.” Chishêng asked what he should do, and she then told him to send a servant with a letter next day to Wuk‘o’s house, to which his father at first objected for fear of another repulse; but the old woman assured him that Wuk‘o’s parents had since repented, besides which no written contract had as yet been made; “and you know the proverb,” added she, “that those who are first at the fire will get their dinner first.” So Chishêng’s father agreed, and two servants were accordingly sent, their mission proving a complete success. Chishêng now rapidly recovered his health, and thought no more of Kueihsiu, who, when she heard of the intended match, became in her turn very seriously ill, to the great anger of her father, who said she might die for all he cared, but to the great sorrow of her mother, who was extremely fond of her daughter. The latter even went so far as to propose to Mr. Chang that Kueihsiu should go as second wife, at which he was so enraged that he declared he would wash his hands of the girl altogether. The mother then found out when Chishêng’s wedding was to take place; and, borrowing a chair and attendants from her brother under pretence of going to visit him, put Kueihsiu inside and sent her off to her uncle’s house. As she arrived at the door, the servants spread a carpet for her to walk on, and the band struck up the wedding march. Chishêng went out to see what it was all about, and there met a young lady in a bridal veil, from whom he would have escaped had not her servants surrounded them, and, before he knew what he was doing, he was making her the usual salutation of a bridegroom. They then went in together, and, to his further astonishment, he found that the young lady was Kueihsiu; and, being now unable to go and meet Wuk‘o, a message was sent to her father, telling him what had occurred. He, too, got into a great rage, and vowed he would break off the match; but Wuk‘o herself said she would go all the same, her rival having only got the start of her in point of time. And go she did; and the two wives, instead of quarrelling, as was expected, lived very happily together like sisters, and wore each other’s clothes and shoes without distinction, Kueihsiu taking the place of an elder sister as being somewhat older than Wuk‘o. One day, after these events, Chishêng asked Wuk‘o why she had refused his offer; to which she replied that it was merely to pay him out for having previously refused her father’s proposal. “Before you had seen me, your head was full of Kueihsiu; but after you had seen me, your thoughts were somewhat divided; and I wanted to know how I compared with her, and whether you would fall ill on my account as you had on hers, that we mightn’t quarrel about our looks.” “It was a cruel revenge,” said Chishêng; “but how should I ever have got a sight of you had it not been for the old woman?” “What had she to do with it?” replied Wuk‘o; “I knew you were behind the door all the time. When I was ill I dreamt that I went to your house and saw you, but I looked upon it only as a dream until I heard that you had dreamt that I had actually been there, and then I knew that my spirit must have been with you.” Chishêng now related to her the particulars of his vision, which coincided exactly with her own; and thus, strangely enough, had the matrimonial alliances of both father and son been brought about by dreams.




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