“Many thanks, madam,” said Chwang, “for your deep conside- ation. But may I ask why you are dressed in such gay clothing.” “When I went to open your coffin, I had, as I say, a secret presentiment of my good fortune, and I dared not receive you back to life in mourning attire.”
“Oh,” replied her husband, “but there is one other circumstance which I should like to have explained. Why was not my coffin placed in the saloon, but tossed into a ruined barn?”
To this question Lady T’ien’s woman’s wit failed to supply an answer. Chwang looked at the cups and wine which formed the relics of the marriage feast, but made no other remark thereon, except to tell his wife to warm him some wine. This she did, employing all her most engaging wiles to win a smile from her husband; but he steadily rejected her advances, and presently, pointing with his finger over her shoulder, he said, “Look at those two men behind you.”
The Lady T’ien, frantic with grief, embraced him, rubbed his chest, and when these remedies failed to revive him, called in his old servant. “Has your master ever had any fits like this before?” she hurriedly inquired. “Often,” replied the man, “and no medicine ever alleviates his sufferings; in fact, there is only one thing […]
“First,” answered the man, “my master says that the presence of the coffin in the saloon makes it difficult to conduct marriage festivities in accordance with usage; secondly, that the illustrious Chwang having so deeply loved his wife, and that affection having been so tenderly returned by her in recognition of his great qualities, he fears that a second husband would probalply not be held entitled to a like share of affection; and thirdly, that not having brought his luggage, he has neither the money nor the clothes necessary to play the part of a bridegroom.”
“These circumstances need form no obstacle to our marriage,” replied the lady. “As to the first objection, I can easily have the coffin removed into a shed at the back of the house; then as to the second, though my husband was a great Taoist authority, he was not by any means a very moral man. After his first wife’s death he married a second, whom he divorced, and just before his own decease, he fli
“My master,” replied the servant, “has never yet been married.”
“What qualities does he look for in the fortunate woman he will choose for his wife?” inquired the lady.
“My master says,” replied the servant, who had taken quite as much wine as was good for him, “that if he could obtain a renowned beauty like yourself, madam, his heart’s desire would be fulfilled.”
“Did he really say so? Are you sure you are telling me the truth?” eagerly asked the lady.
“Is it likely that an old man like me would tell you a lie?” replied the servant.
“If it be so, will you then act as a go-between and arrange a match between us?”
“My master has already spoken to me of the matter, and would desire the alliance above all things, if it were not for the respect due from a disciple to a deceased master, and for the animadversions to which such a marriage would give rise.”
“Some years ago I communicated to Chwang my desire to become his disciple. In furtherance of this purpose I came hither, and now, to my inexpressible regret, I find on my arrival that my master is dead.”
To evince his respectful sorrow, the Prince at once exchanged his colored clothing for mourning garments, and prostrating himself be-fore the coffin, struck his forehead four times on the ground, and sobbed forth, “Oh, learned Chwang, I am indeed unfortunate in not having been permitted to receive your instructions face to face. But to show my regard and affection for your memory, I will here remain and mourn for you a hundred days.”
Thrice declined to see
With these words he prostrated himself again four times, while he watered the earth with his tears. When more composed, he begged to be allowed to pay his respects to Lady T’ien, who, however, thrice declined to see him, and only at last consented when it was pointed out to her that, acco
“A faithful minister does not serve two princes, and a virtuous woman never thinks of a second husband,” sententiously replied the lady. “If fate were to decree that you should die, it would not be a question of three years or of five years, for never, so long as life lasted, would I dream of a second marriage.”
“It is hard to say, it is hard to say,” replied Chwang.
“Do you think,” rejoined his wife, “that women are like men, desti-tute of virtue and devoid of justice? When one wife is dead you look out for another, you divorce this one and take that one; but we women are for one saddle to one horse. Why do you say these things to annoy me?”
With these words she seized the fan and tore it to shreds.
“Calm yourself,” said her husband; “I only hope, if occasion offers, you will act up to your protestations.”
Not many days after this Chwang fell dangerously ill, and as the symptoms increased in severity, he
“Your wrists are not strong enough for such work,” he said. “Let me relieve you at it.”
“By all means,” replied the lady briskly. “Here is the fan, and I shall owe you an everlasting debt of gratitude if you will fan it dry as quickly as possible.”
Without more ado, Chwang set to work, and by the exercise of his magical powers he extracted every drop of moisture from the grave with a few waves of the fan. The lady was delighted with his success, and with the sunniest smile said, “How can I thank you sufficiently for your kindness! As a small mark of my gratitude, let me present you with this embroidered fan which I had in reserve; and as a token of my esteem, I really must ask you to accept one of my silver hairpins.” With these words she presented the philosopher with the fan, and drawing out one of her ornamented hairpins, she offered it for his acceptance. The philosopher took the fan, but, possibly having the
A Fickle Widow (Anonymous: 15th Century A.D., or before)
A Fickle Widow, which also appeared originally in the Marvellous Tales, presents a striking contrast to The Story of Ming-Y. If the author was interested in pointing a moral, he was yet more interested in satirizing the frailties of human nature. It is impossible to tell whether there was a common source for this story and The Matron of Ephesus (the tale is retold by Anatole France), but in view of the lack of evidence it is reasonable to conclude that the Roman writer, like the Chinese, was inspired by a certain scepticism regarding the fidelity of the other sex.
This story is translated by R. K. Douglas, and appears in the vol-ume Chinese Stories, published in 1893 by William Blackwood & Sons, publishers, by whose permission and that of Mr. R. K. Douglas it is here reprinted.
A Fickle Widow (From Marvellous Tales, Ancient and Modern)
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