THERE is nothing new under the sun, not even Novels. Considering how recent a growth they are in our own country, it may surprise some readers to find that for ages novels have delighted the multitudes of China. It is refreshing to find that a steady-going practical people like the Chinese, have been, -- say about since the Norman Conquest, -- solacing themselves with what a well meaning class of people at home denounce too indiscriminately as "pernicious trash." Before 'Clarissa Harlowe' and 'Sir Charles Grandison,' before 'Tom Jones' and his noisy adventures, before Addison prosed and Goldsmith rambled, before Sir John Falstaff fought and loved on the boards of the 'Globe,' before 'Morte D'Arthur' was written, or Caxton's types were seen in the Abbey of Westminster, the Chinese were writing novels and reading them, -- were, for anything we know, subscribing to the vigorous circulating libraries which exist in their great cities to this day, and which, even in Mr. Mudie's latest fashion, bring the books to the doors of subscribers and call for them the next week.
The readers of the MAGAZINE are about to be presented with a literal translation of a novel which holds perhaps the highest place amongst Chinese Romances. An able pen has thus described it: --
"If it be lawful to avow a feeling approaching to enthusiasm for any Chinese production, 'The Hung Low Meng' or 'Dream of the Red Chamber,' is beyond possibility of cavil the work for which genuine admiration may be expressed. What , in English literature, the writings of Thackeray and Bulwer are in comparison with the wearisome and unskilful productions of previous generations, such is 'The Hung Low Meng, when compared with the works of fiction that have emanated from other Chinese authors. Human character in its complex variety of shades, the intricacies of family relations, the force of passion and the torture of disappointed yearnings after love are pourtrayed with a degree of skill and knowledge such as in truth suggests a resemblance with the two great master-spirits of English romance; whilst, as in Nature's own drama of existence, the reflections of storm and sunshine are closely interlaced, and the lighter thread of comedy runs side by side with the dark mainstrand of a story which opens with the omens of sorrow and is conducted to a tearful end. If, at the same time, a faint -- a very faint -- tinge of the supernatural is allowed to show itself in the conception of the tale, this is not only in full accord with the inclinations of the people for whom the work is written, but is also far less obtrusive than the similar element which pervades more than one of our own most celebrated fictions."
The reader will understand that if the text, especially in the introduction, be occasionally a little obscure, it is because the original is so. It is impossible to suppress a conviction, in reading any Chinese disquistions that take a geomantic or mystical form, that the author himself did not quite see what he was driving at. When the boy said to Confucius "nine times nine are eigthy-one, and this explains all things in heaven and earth" and went on to make further statements about dragons and other comprehensible subjects, thereby discomfiting "the master" not a little, he may have understood what he was talking about, or the master may have, but I am inclined to believe that as a matter of fact neither of them did.
Do not think that because a novel is Chinese it must necessarily be grotesque and clumsy. Carlyle, who had got hold of a translation of "Yuk Kiu Si" somewhere, admits that "the author is a man of real genius, but after the Dragon pattern." But he is no more after the Dragon pattern than George Eliot is after the conventional "Boule-dogue" pattern of perfide Albion. There is one scene in that same "Yuk Kiu Si," which for delicacy and sweetness is unequalled by anything I know, except the scenes in "As you like it," between Orlando and Rosalind in the forest of Arden. An orphan and friendless girl, comes disguised in a boy's dress to rescue the man she loves from a mercenary patron and from thankless drudgery. She gives him her bracelets and gold chain that he may go to Pekin and take his degree, and induces him to betroth himself to an imaginary sister of her's whom, in the person of his fair friend, he afterwards marries. Of course, all such scenes and some of the adventures you are about to read are improbable, still, even in the English world, we do not meet with romantic episodes in every-day life. Love -- even love after the Dragon pattern -- will be lord of all. And observe, lastly, that there are three things these simple people venerate -- Authority, Learning, and Old Age -- no fourth. Wealthy ignorance is the constant butt of Chinese romancers, and it is the poor bachelor of arts who always carries off the pretty girl. In a money-worshipping age, this is refreshing.
Relating how the Amulet was revealed to Zhen Shi Yin in a dream, and how Jia Yu Cun, while in obscurity, became enamoured of a secluded beauty.
WAKING from a dream, says the Author of the book, I determined on enveloping maters of fact in allegory, and I availed myself of the story of the 'Amulet' to compose the 'Stone Record.' It will be seen that the names of the characters, as Zhen Shi Yin, 'Hidden Truth,' and others, are allegorical.
With regard to the subject of the story and the characters introduced, the author says, Finding myself useless in the world, and unable to accomplish anything, and recognizing moreover, upon reflection, that in point of conduct my female companions of earlier days were all superior to me, and that my beard and manliness were not equal to their feminine dress and adornments, I was grieved indeed. Grief, however, was idle and of no avail, and my case appeared hopeless in the extreme. My object in writing this book is that I may take my past experience of life, and record the benefits heaped upon me, and the virtues of my relatives, my days of wealth and luxury, prosperity and good living; that I may relate how I frustrated the kind designs of my father and relatives, repaid the advice and instructions of my teachers and friends with ingratitude, and became at length the useless, lifeless, helpless wretch I am. I write this book to make the world acquainted with my many sins of ingratitude.
There are noteworthy denizens of the female apartments, whom it would, on no account, be right to involve in one joint obscurity in consequence of my individual worthlessness and the merited visitation of my shortcomings. Hence the misery of my present state, -- the hut of straw, the bed of cordage, the fire place of tiles, -- all are insufficient to deter me from my purpose. Besides, the fresh breeze of morn, the bright moon of night, the waving willows and the fragrant lower, these still are mine and add their charms to the delights of composition.
Ignorant and unlettered though I am, there is no reason why I should not write a fiction in simple style, in order to set forth the virtues of the inmates of the inner apartments, and thus divert the mind and afford amusement to the reader by relating the history of Jia Yu Cun and others. The frequent recurrence of the word dream and other words of kindred import in the book, is in accordance with the origin of the work, and is intended to remind the reader of the author's intent.
Why then, the reader may ask, was the volume originated? Read it carefully, reflect on it attentively and you will derive some enjoyment from its perusal, nearly allied to fable though it be.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
WHEN Nu Wa-shi fused the rocks in order to repair the heavens, she took thirty-six thousand, five hundred and one stones of enormous size from the Wu Ji Peak among the Da Huang Hills. Thirty-six thousand, five hundred of these she used, and the one solitary stone which was rejected as useless, was thrown at the foot of the Qing Geng Peak. The fusion of this stone had, however, endowed it with spiritual perception, with power of motion and of self contraction and expansion. Perceiving that all its companion stones were used for repairing the heavens, and that it only was rejected as useless and shut out from the selected ones, the stone was vexed and grieved, and passed its days and nights in pining and lamentation. One day, while the stone was thus sighing and sorrowing, a Budhist and a Taoist priest came unexpectedly within view. Arrived at the foot of the hill, they sat down to rest and talk. Seeing the stone lying there, fresh, glossy, bright and smooth, contracted to about the size of a fan handle, they were immensely pleased with it.
Taking it in his hand, the Budhist priest said smiling, "One may see from the appearance of this stone that it is endowed with life and spiritual perception, but it is without any practical value; we must engrave a few characters on it, so that men may know that it is an extraordinary stone."
"Then we will take you, Oh stone! to a brilliant and flourishing country, to a cultivated and courteous family employed in the service of the state, to a place of luxury and delight, -- where there are blossoming flowers and waving willows, where beauty and prosperity are supreme, we will take you there."
Great was the delight of the stone on hearing this, and it said, "But I do not yet know what words you will write upon me, or to what place you will carry me. Tell me, I pray."
The priest replied, "There is no need for you to ask, you will know all in good time," and he put the stone in his sleeve, and, together with the Taoist priest, disappeared.
Whither they went, it is impossible to say, nor is it known how many ages had passed, when a priest, seeking the truth of Metempsychosis, passed by this hill side and saw a stone with the traces of writing clearly visible on its face. The priest read the story from the beginning, and found that the stone was one which, having been found useless for repairing the heavens, had assumed shape and form and had been brought into this world by the Budhist priest Mang Mang, and the Taoist priest Miao Miao.
On the stone was written the place where it had fallen, and the family into which it had entered, and on it were recorded the household affairs, the pastimes and amusements of the inner apartments of the family, as well as the odes, verses and enigmas which the members of the family had composed. The date and dynasty only were not given and were nowhere to be discovered. On the back of the stone was the following verse: --
The azure depths of Heaven's expanse unworthy to repair,
An entrance on the weary world, a tiresome lifetime there,
The sorrows of this double life, the record of my fate,
Where can I find a chronicler the story to relate?
Looking at the stone, the priest made himself acquainted with the writing it bore and said, "My stone Brother, the subject which you have to speak of is as you say of some interest, and the story has been written in order that so strange a matter may be made known to the world, but I see that, in the first place, no dynasty or date can be ascertained, and in the second, you do not record the efforts of wise and loyal men to govern with wisdom, and correct all evils in the state, but you deal only with the loves and follies, the paltry talents and the petty virtues of a few secluded women. If I should write out your story, it would not be considered a very interesting or out of the way book."
Thereupon the stone replied, "You are dull of comprehension, my teacher. Rambling chroniclers have always borrowed the name and designation of some dynasty, but it is surely better that I should rely on my own resources, and carry out my own novel method, than that I should avail myself of their constantly repeated plan. Besides, those rambling chroniclers, whose name is legion, either malign the monarch and calumniate the ministers, or they slander and scandalize men's wives and daughters, dealing with nothing but adultery and fornication, wickedness and crime. Then there is another class of love stories the veiled prurience and obscenity of which are calculated only to deprave the youthful mind. As to the stories of men of extraordinary genius, and women of surpassing beauty, their heroines are all like Wen-jun, their heroes like Zi-jian. In a thousand volumes, you find but one story, and in a thousand heroes, but one character, while every book contains some manifestation of prurience and indecency. As to the writers, their only wish is to publish their amatory verses and their sentimental odes; they therefore, invent a hero and a heroine, and are then compelled to call out the traditional villain to involve the lovers in trouble, just like the usual stage villain. But what is still more displeasing, is the padding and bombast, the absence of rhyme and reason, the disregard of principle, and the endless self contradictions so generally apparent."
"Such stories are certainly not of equal value with the record of what I have myself seen and heard during the course of my life. Although I cannot venture to assert that the characters found in my book are superior to those found in previous dynasties, still the story in its development and progress may serve to relax grief and drive away care, while the irregular attempts at verse may perhaps induce a smile. The meetings and partings, the joys and sorrows, the seasons of flourishing and decadence, the workings of destiny, all are based on facts which I have not ventured to add to or subtract from, to embellish or to alter. All I wish is, that in times of conviviality or times of weariness, when seeking to avoid care, or dispel anxiety, this book of mine may be taken up by way of amusement, and that it may not only drive away all importunate cares, but may also reduce much corroding and destroying anxiety. Tell me then, do you think that my book is to be compared to those bombastic and extravagant productions of which I have spoken?"
On hearing this, the priest reflected for a while, then took up the stone, and looked at it again, and seeing that it contained really nothing more than gossip about love, that it was founded on fact, and free from any faults of prurience or lust by which it might be injurious to public morals, he copied its story down from beginning to end and, on his return home, published it to the world. This abstracted and thoughtful priest, having evolved beauty from the void, rose through beauty to a perception of love, and thus making love originate in beauty, his spiritual perceptions of the void were aroused by beauty, and therefore his name was changed to the 'Priest of Love' and the Record of the stone was called the 'History of the Priest of Love.'
Cao Xue Qin of the Dao Hong Xuan having studied the book for ten years, emendated it five several times, made a comprehensive index, divided it into chapters and books, and added the title of 'The Twelve Beauties of Nanking.' He also added a stanza which runs thus: --
Extravagant and fanciful although this book appears,
'Tis the out-growth and the issue of a life of grief and tears,
The folly of the author though the world unite to blame,
Who is gifted with the power to elucidate his aim?
THE reader has now learned the origin of the 'Record of the Stone,' but has not yet been introduced to the persons it deals with, or made acquainted with the affairs of which it treats.
Listen then, kind reader, to the story as recorded on the stone.
In the city of Soochow, the quarter of the Chang Gate was once the richest, most flourishing, and prosperous neighbourhood in the Empire. Outside this gate was a street called 'Ten Mile Street,' and branching from this street was a lane called the 'Lane of Benevolence and Tranquillity,' and in this lane was a Temple which, on account of the limited nature of its grounds and situation, was usually known by the name of the 'Gourd Temple.' Adjoining this Temple was the residence of a family of good position of the surname Zhen, the head of which was usually known as Shi Yin. His wife, a member of the Feng family, was a woman of intelligence and virtue, well versed in propriety and the rites. Although not very rich, Zhen Shi Yin was looked up to by the people of the neighbourhood with considerable respect and esteem, and was regarded as a man of importance. He was naturally of a quiet, retiring, unambitious temperament, devoted to the cultivation of flowers and bamboos, and finding enjoyment in poetry and wine, a man tranquil and contented, and after the mind of the gods. One thing only was wanted to complete his contentment. He was now more than half a century old, and save one daughter named Ying Lian, now three years old, had no children to dandle on his knee. Now it happened that on one hot, long summer day, Shi Yin was sitting unemployed in his library. He had thrown aside the book he was reading and, resting his head on his hands, had fallen asleep. In his sleep he found himself in a strange and unaccustomed place, and became suddenly aware of the presence of a Budhist and a Taoist priest, who talked together as they approached him.
"Where then do you intend to take it to ?" said the Taoist to his companion.
"Set your mind at rest," relied the Budhist, "There is a certain love affair which I intend to bring to a successful issue. The actors in this love drama have not yet entered on the world, so I shall first set myself to secretly introduce the Amulet, and despatch it into the world, in order that it may gain experience."
"The time is approaching then," said the Taoist, "when the infatuated actors in this love drama must assume human semblance, and appear in the world; but where does the drama begin?"
"The affair is truly extravagant in its absurdity," replied the Budhist. "On the banks of the Spirit River, in the western Heaven, beside the Stone of the three Existences, Past, Present and To Come, grew a blade of pearly crimson grass. It happened that the stone which was rejected by Nu Wa-Shi as useless, being gifted with power to wander at its own will, came one day to the Geni who warns in dreams; and the Geni, acquainted with its history, gave it a dwelling in the Palace of Crimson Mist, and named it the Divine Warden of the Palace of Crimson Mist.
The Ruby Warden was constantly in the habit of wandering on the banks of the Spirit River. Here it met the Pearly Crimson Grass, in which it took a great interest and which it watered daily with the Dew of Heaven. Thus the grass was kept alive, until finally, having become permeated with the life giving essence of the Universe, and the Dew of Heaven, it threw off the form of grass and assumed the human shape, attaining only to the state of woman -- not to the full dignity of manhood. Daily she wandered beyond the Heaven where no grief is known, eating when hungered of the Fruit of Hidden Love, and drinking when athirst the waters which dispel Sorrow; unable to repay the tender care with which the Ruby Amulet had nourished and tended her, her mind was continually filled with a sense of gratitude, and she constantly said to herself: "The Amulet has nourished me with rain and dew, and as I cannot repay its care in the same manner, when it becomes a man and decends into the world, I will accompany him, and endeavour by the tears of a whole lifetime to repay his kindness." In this way many other predestined actors in this Love Drama were drawn into the world to bear their parts in this dream of Destiny, and among them was the Gem of the Ruby Pearl Grass. Now that the Amulet is in the place from whence it came, why should not we take it before the Geni who warns in Dreams and Fables, give it a definite place and name, and send it into the world to join these others and assist in bringing the matter to an end?"
"You are right," said the Taoist, "to call this an extravagant and fanciful affair. I never heard before of a debt of gratitude being repaid in tears. What if you and I were to descend also into the world in order to watch over and guide some among these actors? Would not this be meritorious and well?'
"Yes," said the Budhist, "that is just my own idea. First, however, we will repair to the Palace of the Geni who warns in Dream and Fables, and free ourselves from this awkward burden. Then as soon as the predestined actors in this Love Drama have all entered the world, we will descend ourselves. At present only half the characters are on the scene, the number is not yet complete."
"In this case," said the Budhist, "I wait upon and follow you."
Now Shi Yin having heard all this with the utmost distinctness, could restrain himself no longer, so, moving forward and making his salutations he said, "Allow me to pay my respects to your reverence."
Mutual salutations having been exchanged, Shi Yin continued, "It is not often that mortals are favoured in hearing the decrees and designs of fate discussed as I have done, but I am doltish and do not clearly understand what I have heard. Deign therefore to dispel my ignorance and I will listen with every attention. Any enlightenment, be it ever so little, may yet enable me to escape unfathomable misery."
"The designs of heaven are not to be anticipated or divulged," said the priests. "Remember us in due season and you will be enabled to escape the threatened danger."
Shi Yin could not of course make any further enquiries, so he said, "The designs of heaven cannot be revealed, but what is the Amulet of which you spoke just now, and can it be seen or not?'
"As to that" replied the priest, "it is decreed that you shall see it;" and as he spoke he produced the Amulet and handed it to Shi Yin. Shi Yin took it in his hand, and saw that it was in fact a beautiful piece of clear resplendent jade. On its face were traces of writing, and these words were clearly apparent. "THE PRECIOUS GEM OF SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION," followed by numerous lines of smaller writing. Just as Shi Yin was about to examine it minutely the priest exclaimed, "We have reached the region of fable and unreality," and taking the Amulet from Shi Yin passed with his companion through a large stone arch, on the upper stone of which was written in large characters,
"THE SUPERNAL VOID; THE REALM OF UNREALITY AND FABLE," while on either side were these inscriptions:
"When unreality assumes a shape
the semblance still is false."
"When vacuity assumes form and
place, it remains vacuity still."
Shi Yin was just about to follow through the archway when a loud clap of thunder, as if the hills were falling down and the earth was caving in, aroused him whit a start, and waking up and looking round, he saw nothing but the sun shining in at his library windows and the huge-leaved bananas waving in the courtyard.
Just at this moment the nurse approached carrying his daughter Ying Lian. Seeing his child more than usually endearing and pretty he half forgot his dream in his paternal joy, and taking the child in his arms, he fondled and played with her awhile, then carried her to the door to amuse her with the bustle of a passing procession. He was just about to return indoors when he saw a Budhist and a Taoist priest come near. The Budhist was bare-footed and his head was exposed, while his companion was lame, and with dishevelled hair. Both were extravagant and lunatic in their manner, and they were laughing and talking wildly as they approached. On reaching the gateway where Shi Yin was standing nursing his daughter, the Budhist began to weep loudly and turning to Shi Yin he said, "My charitable patron ! why clasp to your breast this ill fated and unfortunate child who is destined to bring grief and calamity upon you and upon her mother?"
Shi Yin saw at once that the man's manner was that of a crazy person, and consequently took no notice of his words; but the priest continued, "Give the child to me! give the child to me!" Shi Yin could not endure this and clasping the child closer to his bosom, he turned round to go into the house, when the Budhist again laughed loudly and pointing at Shi Yin with his finger repeated the following verse:
Infatuate man thus to fondle and nourish,
A child who will soon find a mate in the snow,
On the eve of the feast, though your household may flourish,
The morrow shall see it o'erwhelmed with woe.
Shi Yin hearing this, was troubled and about to ask an explanation, when the Taoist said, "You and I need travel no further in company, let us separate and each look after his own affairs. Three ages hence I will wait for you at the Bei Mang Hills and when the number of ages is completed we will repair together to the Supernal Void, the Region of Fable, and deliver up our task."
The Budhist ejaculated an assent, and then the two priests vanished away leaving not a trace behind.
Pondering over the matter Shi Yin regretted having lost the opportunity of having so strange a matter explained, and was standing at his doorway lost in thought, when he became all at once aware of the approach of a neighbour, a poor scholar named Yu Cun, who was at this time living in the adjoining Gourd Temple.
Yu Cun was a native of Hu-zhou and was descended from a family of literary and official distinction. He was born, however, at a time when the fortunes of the family were unpropitious. His relatives died, and at last he alone was left to represent his family. His native place offering no chance of advantage, he set out for the Capital to seek for public employment, and in the hope of renovating the fallen fortunes of his family. Reaching Soochow, he had been compelled to remain there for more than a year by his straitened circumstances. He had taken up temporary quarters in the temple and gained a living by writing essays and copying. Shi Yin was well acquainted with him, and Yu Cun seeing Shi Yin at the gateway immediately paid his respects saying, "Is there anything going on, venerable Sir, that you stand at your door looking on the street ?"
"Nothing at all," replied Shi Yin, "My little girl was crying just now, so I brought her out to amuse her. I was just wondering what I could do with myself and your visit is therefore extremely opportune. Walk in, and we'll while away this long summer's day with pleasant chat," and as he spoke, he called a servant to take the child and then led Yu Cun into the library.
The attendants served tea, and when the two had chatted for a few moments, a servant hurriedly announced that Mr. Yan had called to pay his respects. Shi Yin excused himself at once to Yu Cun whom he begged to sit while and await his return.
Yu Cun replied, "My dear Sir, pray consult your own convenience and don't consider me a stranger. I can wait well enough.".
Shi Yin went to the reception room and Yu Cun amused himself by turning over the leaves of a book of poems. All at once he heard a sound as of a female coughing outside the window, and on rising and going to look he saw a handmaiden gathering flowers in the garden. The air and appearance of the maiden were refined, her eyebrows were clearly marked, and her eyes were bright. Though not superlatively beautiful, she was yet fair enough to be attractive in the eyes of the other sex. Yu Cun stood gazing upon her, forgetful of all else, when the handmaiden, having gathered the flowers, was about to go away, and raising her head became aware of the presence of a stranger. Seeing that although Yu Cun's hat was battered, and his clothes ragged, that he was of a stout and stalwart appearance, and with bold, comely features, improved by curved eyebrows and brilliant eyes, straight nose and well filled cheeks, the maiden thought to herself as she turned round in haste to retire, "This person, of such distinguished appearance and yet such shabby dress, must certainly be the Yu Cun my master so frequently speaks of, and whom he is so anxious to assist if he can but find a way. My master certainly has no relatives or friends in such a state of poverty. This must be Yu Cun and it's no wonder that my master should say he is not a man to be kept down by adverse circumstances."
Thinking thus, the maiden could not help turning her head once or twice, and Yu Cun, seeing this, was delighted beyond measure to think that she should entertain curiosity about him.
"This is evidently a maiden of sense and judgment, thus to discern my superior qualities notwithstanding my obscurity."
Just at this moment a servant entered, and Yu Cun learned that Shi Yin's guest was going to stay to dinner, and being unable to wait any longer, Yu Cun went out quietly by a corridor and side gate.
After his guest had gone, Shi Yin found that Yu Cun had taken his departure, and did not send to invite him to return. But on the occasion of the Mid-Autumn Festival, Shi Yin's family observance of the feast being over, a separate table was spread in the library, and Shi Yin strolled over to the temple in the moonlight to invite Yu Cun. Now, from the time that Shi Yin's handmaiden had looked back after Yu Cun and had in consequence been eulogized by him as a woman of sense and discernment, she had never been absent from his thoughts; and now, on the night of the autumn festival, he could not refrain from making the moon his confidant, and he expressed his feelings in verse:
"The hopes of ages long since past, of ages yet to be,
All add unto my present state fresh pangs of misery,
Corroding care o'ercasts my brow, sad thoughts my bosom swell,
My bitter grief the back-throw glance is powerless to dispel.
This sadden'd face, this worn attire, recall my wretched state,
How, seeing these, can I still hope with one so fair to mate?
Kind moon! if mortal loves engage your all protecting care,
Oh! shed your guardian lustre down, upon her head so fair!"
Having repeated his verses, Yu Cun was reflecting upon the ill fortune which had denied him opportunity for the exercise of his ability, and looking up to the moon, he scratched his head, heaved a deep sigh and said:
"The gem of price must hoarded be,
Until a purchaser is nigh,
The golden moth in jewel case,
Awaits a proper time to fly."
Just at this moment Shi Yin approached and having overheard the verses, complimented Yu Cun upon his ability.
"You are too complimentary," replied Yu Cun, "I was only repeating the rhymes of an old poet, and I don't deserve your commendations. But what brings you here, venerable Sir?"
Shi Yin replied, "This is the night of the Mid-autumn Festival, and fancying you must be rather lonely as a stranger in this monastery, I have come to invite you to join me in a little feast at my humble dwelling. I hope you won't say no."
Yu Cun did not hesitate a moment but said, "How can I venture to decline your undeserved hospitality and kindness?" and he forthwith went with Shi Yin. Tea was immediately served in the Library, and as soon as this was finished the cups and plates were spread. Of the excellence of the wine and the delicacy of the food, we need not speak.
The two companions ate and drank at first with becoming slowness, then getting warm by degrees, the wine circulated faster and faster, until, when the moon's circle was complete, and every place irradiated with its all pervading lustre, and the sound of music and song was heard on all sides, both were exhilarated and the wine cups were emptied at a draught.
Yu Cun at this time, under the influence of the wine he had taken, and exhilarated beyond measure, addressed a verse to the moon:
"Brightly shines the moon o'erhead
Covering earth with tender light;
Balustrades and balcony
Glowing in it lustre bright.
Pendent in the Heaven's high
That the Earth thy light may see
All the myriad sons of men
Upward turn their eyes to thee."
"Capital," cried Shi Yin, "I have always said that you could not long remain in obscurity, and the verses you have just recited, are an omen and a pledge of your speedy rise. It won't be long before you are walking among the clouds. Let me congratulate you." And as he spoke, he poured out a cup of wine and pledged his friend.
Yu Cun drained the cup and then sighing said, "I am not merely bagging in my cups when I say that my attainments in Literature might perhaps enable me to gain a name and place : but the fact is, that I have no means of meeting the expenses of travelling. The capital is far away, and copying and writing essays will never enable me to reach it."
"Why did you not speak of this before," said Shi Yin, interrupting him. "I have often thought on the subject, but as it has never been mentioned between us, I have not ventured to thrust myself forward. I make no pretensions to wisdom, but I understand the meaning of the two phrases Love of Right and Love of Gain. Fortunately, next year is the year of the great Triennial Examination, and you must go at once to the capital and enter the lists. Your learning will certainly not be unappreciated. As to the travelling and other expenses, I will provide for those, so that you will not have known me altogether in vain." Then, having ordered a servant to pack up fifty taels of silver, and two suits of winter clothes, he continued : "The nineteenth will be a day of good omen for you to engage your boat and start on your journey. When we meet again next winter, you will have attained your degree and entered on your upward career. It will indeed be a pleasurable meeting."
Yu Cun received the money and the clothes, returned thanks without making much ado, and the two friends then continued gossiping over their wine, until a late hour. After seeing Yu Cun off, Shi Yin returned to his room and, falling asleep, did not wake until it was broad daylight, and the sun was high in the heavens. Reflecting, as soon as he awoke, upon the matter discussed the evening before, he thought of writing a couple of letters of introduction for Yu Cun to carry with him to the capital, so that he might be assured of influential friends and a temporary residence. Accordingly, he sent over to invite Yu Cun, but the servant returned almost immediately stating that he had started for the capital before daylight, but had left a message for Shi Yin with the priest, to the effect that propitious and unpropitious days were of no moment to the scholar who looked solely to the importance and urgency of the matter in hand, and he concluded by expressing regret at his inability to take leave of Shi Yin in person. This message received, Shi Yin dismissed the matter from his mind.
With the unemployed, time glides along swiftly and almost unnoticed, and the Feast of Lanterns having come, Shi Yin ordered Huo Qi, one of his servants, to take Ying Lian out to see the illuminations. During the night Huo Qi placed Ying Lian for a moment on the threshold of a door, and on turning round again, no trace of the child was anywhere to be seen. Anxious and dismayed Hou Qi sought for her, eagerly and in vain, the whole night through, and at daylight, not daring to return and face his master, he ran away into the country.
Alarmed at the lengthened absence of their child, Shi Yin and his wife went out people to make enquiries, and when these messengers returned without having discovered the slightest trace or clue of this child of their old age, thus Suddenly and hopelessly lost, they were distracted with grief. Weeping and sorrowing night and day, neglecting themselves in their grief, in less than a month both husband and wife were ill, and they passed their days in consulting doctors and making enquiries of astrologers.
A few months later, in the spring time, one of the monks of the Gourd Temple engaged in preparing some offerings, carelessly allowed the oil in a cauldron to take fire. From this it spread to the window-paper and, as the people of the place were accustomed to build their partition walls of bamboo and wood, the days of the neighbourhood were numbered, and the fire spread from one house to another, until the whole street was blazing like a range of living volcanoes. The soldiers and people came to the rescue, but the fire having already obtained the ascendancy, could not be extinguished, but burned the whole night through and then died out. The number of houses destroyed was very great and, as unfortunately Shi Yin's house was close to the temple, it was soon reduced to a heap of charred bricks and tiles, the husband and wife barely managing with the servants to save their lives.
Distracted and despairing, Shi Yin determined, after talking the matter over with his wife, that as their farm had been visited for the last few years with alternate floods and droughts, and as it was moreover rendered untenable by banditti and soldiers who were in pursuit of them, it was advisable to sell it at once, and taking the proceeds, for Shi Yin, his wife, with a couple of servants, to go and live with his wife's father.
Feng Su, Shi Yin's father-in-law, a native of the department of Ta-yu, was, although only a farmer, a man of means and respectability. He was by no means well pleased at seeing his son-in-law arrive in this destitute condition, but, fortunately, Shi Yin had the money for which he had sold the farm, with him, and producing it, he asked his father-in-law to invest it as he thought best, in a house and land, so as to afford sufficient to provide them with food and clothing. Half of the money Feng Su appropriated himself and with the remainder he bought for Shi Yin some worthless ground and a tumble down house.
Shi Yin was a man of letters, unaccustomed to trade or farming, but he nevertheless constrained himself to pass two or three years in this fashion, growing poorer every year, while his father-in-law, who contented himself with giving a little stale advice to his face, abused him to others as a lazy glutton who was unable to earn his own living. Shi Yin knew that his father-in-law was not to be trusted, and the grief occasioned by this knowledge, added to the disasters of former years, caused him great pain and anxiety. Already stricken in years, and attacked at once by poverty and ill health, the symptoms of decrepitude and decay began to make themselves manifest.
However, as luck would have it, he was one day leaning on his staff, making his way with effort along the street, and endeavouring to forget his grief awhile, when he saw a Taoist Priest approaching. This Priest was lame and poorly dressed. He wore sandals of straw, and his manner was crazy and lunatic, as he came near, muttering the following verses: --
THOUGH the virtues of the Gods
All mankind may fully know,
Earthly longings and ambitions
They unwillingly forego.
Yet pause and think ! The wise and brave
Of old, now where are they ?
Their graves o'ergrown and hid with weeds
Themselves a heap of clay.
Though the virtues of the Gods
All mankind may fully know,
Still the heaping up of riches
They reluctantly forego.
Daily they lament their failure,
With their first and latest breath,
When satiety arrives
Then their eyes are closed in death.
Though the virtues of the Gods
All mankind may fully know,
Still the love of lovely women
They reluctantly forego.
The virtues of their living Lords
Daily, women will commend,
Buried, once beneath the sod
To others they their love extend.
Though the virtues of the Gods
All mankind may fully know,
Yet the love of sons and grandsons
They reluctantly forego.
Foolish, tender-hearted parents
In the world are very many --
Filial and obedient children,
Who has ever met with any ?
Shi Yin now came forward, enquiring what it was that the priest was repeating, and saying that he could hear nothing but a few rhymes. The Taoist replied, and explained the object of the verses, whereupon Shi Yin, who was naturally a man of considerable intelligence, and had perceived the drift of the ode as soon as he had heard it, exclaimed, "What will you say if I explain and paraphrase your verses ?" The Taoist assented and Shi Yin commenced.
THE spot where once a happy mansion stood
Is now deserted and in solitude, --
Where once soft music floated on the breeze,
No life is now, save weeds, and leafless trees;
The beams and pillars once with carving gay, --
Festooned with cobwebs, shrink from light of day;
The silken gauze, which summer breezes wooed,
Now hangs before some casement mean and rude.
Rich fragrant unguents once adorned the brow
On which old Time has shed a hoar-frost now;
The husband's corpse is scarce consigned to clay
Before the house with nuptial rites is gay.
To-day you boast of wealth, a boundless store,
An hour may see you wretched, beggar'd, poor!
Life's short brief span you mark, and heave a sigh,
The sigh scarce finish'd -- 'tis you turn to die!
To train your children rightly is your aim?
By theft and fraud they soon disgrace your name.
You for your daughters seek a happy home?
They in the paths of vice perchance will roam.
Your present rank, do you esteem it vain?
You yet may change it for a prisoner's chain.
Your robes of state in low esteem you hold!
Once ragged shreds scarce screened you from the cold!
You play your part and your departure take;
The stage I mount, and formal entrance make.
Each plays his part with energy and zeal
And each one acts as though the world were real.
To tell the truth, and in a word, to sum up the affair,
'Tis nought but making bridal clothes for other folk to wear.
The Priest clapped his hands and applauded the paraphrase, and Shi Yin saying "let us be off" took the Taoist's wallet from him, slung it over his own shoulder, and setting off in a direction opposite to that which led to his own home, disappeared with the Taoist Priest.
The news of his disappearance spread throughout the neighbourood, and soon reached the ears of his wife, who wept and fretted to death's door on hearing it. Messengers were sent in all directions to make enquiries, but not a hint of Shi Yin's whereabouts could be obtained, and there was nothing left for his wife, but to pass her days in dependence upon her father and mother. Fortunately two of her old handmaidens were still with her, and mistress and servant employed themselves night and day at needlework, so that they might contribute something to the expenditure of the family, and although Mr. Feng Su did not at all approve of the arrangement, he could not but acquiesce.
One day, as the elder of these two handmaidens was at the doorway buying thread, she all at once heard lictors shouting to the people to clear the streets, and the bystanders told her that the newly appointed Magistrate was about to enter on the duties of his office. Anxious to witness the procession, the girl stood inside the doorway. Following the guards, lictors and official attendants, was a large sedan chair in which was seated an official in proper costume.
The sight of the official caused the handmaiden to give a sudden start, and she said to herself, "This magistrate's face seems familiar to me, just as if I had seen him somewhere before." On entering the house, however, the matter passed from her mind and was entirely forgotten.
In the evening of the same day, as they were about going to rest, they were startled and disturbed by a loud knocking at the door, and the noise of men shouting and saying that they had been sent by His Worship the Magistrate to bring Feng Su before him for examination. Feng Su was struck dumb with alarm and astonishment when he heard this, and feared that some calamity was impending. What happened in his interview with the Magistrate shall be related in the next Chapter.