Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Beautiful Rat Spirit --A Rat Girl's Love Story

Long time ago, there was a merchant called Xi Shan in Gao mi county of Shang Dong province. He constantly traveled around to do business.

One day, he was going to Yi Meng, a mountain area, to purchase agricultural products, but was delayed on the road by heavy rain. When he finally reached a town he used to stay, it was already so late in the night that no inns were open. He tried to knock at the doors of some residents, but no one answered. While he was disappointedly hovering about the street without knowing how to pass the chilly night, a door behind him was open and an old man came out, warmly inviting Xi Shan to enter. Pleasantly surprised by the kind invitation, Xi Shan lost no time to tie up his mule and follow the old man into his house.

After saying polite greetings, Xi Shan found himself in a small room clean and warm but totally unfurnished.

The old man said: " Traveler, this is my house not an inn. I asked you in only out of compassion. Besides me, there are only my wife and my daughter in this house. They both have gone to bed. We have some leftover. If you don't mind its being cold, I will get ready for you."

Then the old man went to the kitchen, and shortly afterwards returned with a low couch, which he placed on the ground, begging his guest to be seated, at the same time hurrying back for a low table, and soon for a number of other things, until at last Xi Shan was quite uncomfortable, and entreated his host to rest himself a while.

When the dinner was settled, a girl came out, bringing some wine to Xi Shan; upon which the old man said, "Oh, our A Xian has got up." She was about sixteen or seventeen, a slender and pretty-looking young lady with elegant manners; and as Xi Shan had an unmarried brother, he began to think directly that she would do for him. So he inquired of the old man his name and address, to which the latter replied that his surname was Gu, and that his children had all died but this one daughter. "I didn't like to wake her just now, but I suppose my wife told her to get up." the old man added.

Xi Shan then asked the name of his son-in-law, and was informed that the young lady was not yet engaged, - at which he was secretly very much pleased. When he had finished eating, Xi Shan began respectfully to address the old man as follows:" I am only a poor traveler, but I shall never forget the kindness with which you have treated me. Let me presume upon it, and submit to your consideration a plan I have in my head. My younger brother, San Lang, is seventeen years old. He is a student, and by no means unsteady or dull. May I hope that you will unite our families together, and not think it presumption on my part?"

"I am not a permanent resident here either," replied the old man happily; "and if you will only let me have a part of your house, I shall be very glad to come and live with you." Xi Shan consented to this, and got up and thanked him for the promise of his daughter; upon which the old man set to work to make him comfortable for the night, and then went away.

Next morning at cockcrow the old man was outside, calling his guest to come and have a wash; and when Xi Shan had packed up ready to go, he offered to pay for his night's entertainment. This, however, the old man refused, saying, "I could hardly charge a stranger anything for a single meal; how much less could I take money from one who is to be a connection by marriage?" Then Xi Shan took his leave.

In about a month Xi Shan finished his business and returned, but when he was a short distance from the town he met an old lady with a girl, both dressed in deep mourning. As they approached he began to suspect it was A Xian; and the girl, after turning round to look at him, pulled the old lady's sleeve, and whispered something in her ear, which Xi Shan himself did not hear. The old lady stopped immediately, and asked if she was addressing Mr. Xi. When informed that he was, she said mournfully, "Alas! my husband has been killed by the falling of a wall. We are going to visit his grave today. There is no one at home; but please wait here, and we will be back soon."

The old lady and A Qian then disappeared among the trees. After a while, they returned and walked along with Xi Shan together in the dusk of the evening. The old lady complained bitterly of their lonely and helpless state, and Xi Shan was moved to compassion by the sight of her tears. She told him that the people of the neighborhood were a bad lot, and that if A Xian was to marry into his family, no time should be lost. Xi Shan said he totally agreed.

When they reached the house, the old lady let A Qian prepare food for Xi Shan, and then said: " Knowing, sir, that you would shortly arrive, we sold all our grain except about twenty piculs. We cannot take this with us so far; but a mile or so to the north of the village, at the first house you come to, there lives a man named Tan Er Quan, who often buys grain from me. Oblige me by taking a sack with you on your mule and proceeding thither at once. Tell Mr. Tan that the old lady of the southern village has several piculs of grain which she wishes to sell in order to get money for a journey, and beg him to send some animals to carry it."

The old lady then gave Xi Shan a sack of grain, which he loaded on his mule. Soon Xi Shan was at the place; and, knocking at the door, a fat man witha big belly came out, to whom he told his errand. Emptying the sack he had brought, he went back himself first; and before long a couple of men arrived leading five mules. The old lady took them into the granary, which was a cellar below ground, and Xi Shan, going down himself, held the measure and grasped the smoothing-bar, while the old lady poured the grain into the measure and her daughter received it in the sack. In a little while the men had got a load, with which they went off, returning altogether four times before all the grain was exhausted. They then paid the old lady, who kept one man and two mules, and, packing up her things, set off towards the east. After they had traveled some seven miles, day began to break; and by-and-by they reached a market-town, where the old lady hired animals and sent back the servant of Tan Er Qian's.

A few days later, they reached Xi Shan's home where he related the whole story to his parents, who were very pleased at all that had happened but the old's death, and provided separate apartments for the old lady; and after choosing a lucky day, A Xian was married to San Lang. The old lady prepared a good trousseau; and as for A Xian herself, she spoke but little, seldom losing her temper, and if anyone addressed her she would only reply with a smile. She employed all her time in spinning, and thus became a general favorite with all alike.

There was only one thing that A Qian seemed to worry about very much, that was, she often said to her husband " Please tell your brother, when he happens to pass our old residence he will do well not to make any mention of my mother and myself." In three years' time the Xi family had made plenty of money, and San Lang had taken his bachelor's degree.

Everything went perfectly until one day Xi Shan happened to pass a night with the people who lived next door to the house where he had met A Xian. After telling them the story of his having had nowhere to sleep, and taking refuge with the old man and woman, his host said to him, "You must be mistaken, sir; the house you allude to belongs to my uncle, but was abandoned three years ago in consequence of its being haunted. It has now been uninhabited for a long time. What old man and woman can have entertained you there?" Xi Shan was very much astonished at this, but did not put much faith in what he heard.

However, his host swept away all his doubts by speaking as follows:, "For ten years no one dared enter the house; but, one day the back wall fell down, and my uncle, going to look at it, found, half-buried underneath the ruins, a large rat, almost as big as a cat. It was still moving, and my uncle went off to call for assistance, but when he got back the rat had disappeared. Every one suspected some supernatural agency to be at work, though on returning to the spot ten days afterwards nothing was to be either heard or seen; and about a year subsequently the place was inhabited once more."

Xi Shan was not only amazed but also scared at what he now heard, and on reaching home told the family what had occurred; for he feared that his brother's wife was not a human being, and became rather anxious about him. San Lang himself continued to be much attached to A Xian; but by-and-by the other members of the family let A Xian perceive that they had suspicions about her.

So one night A Qian complained to San Lang, saying, "I have been a good wife to you for some years, but now I am no longer regarded as a human being. I pray you give me my divorce, and seek for yourself some worthier mate." She then burst into a flood of tears.

San Lang said, "You should know my feelings by this time. Ever since you entered the house the family has prospered; and that prosperity is entirely due to you. Who can say it is not so ?"

A Qian replied,"I know full well what you feel; still there are the others, and I do not wish to share the fate of an autumn fan.(A metaphor for being abandoned the same as people abandon the fan in autumn.)" Finally San Lang succeeded in pacifying her; but Xi Shan could not dismiss the subject from his thoughts, and gave out that he was going to get a first-rate cat, with a view to testing A Qian. She did not seem very frightened at this, though evidently ill at ease; and one night she told San Lang that her mother was not very well, and that he needn't come to bid her goodnight as usual. In the morning mother and daughter had disappeared.

Extremely alarmed by this, San Lang dashed out to look for them in every direction. No traces of the fugitives could be discovered, and San Lang was overwhelmed with grief, unable either to eat or to sleep. His father and brother thought it was a lucky thing for him, and advised him to console himself with another wife. This, however, he refused to do; until, a year afterwards, nothing more having been heard of A Qian, he could not resist their importunities any longer, and bought himself a concubine. But he never ceased to think of A Qian; and some years later, when the prosperity of the family was on the wane, they all began to regret her loss.

Now a cousin of San Lang's, named Lan, passed a night at the house of a relative named Lu while traveling to Jiao Zhou on business. He noticed that during the night sounds of weeping and lamentation proceeded from their next-door neighbors, but he did not inquire the reason for it. However, on his way back he heard the same sounds, and then asked what was the cause of such demonstrations. Mr. Lu told him that a few years ago an old widow and her daughter had come there to live, and that the mother had died about a month previously, leaving her child quite alone in the world. Lan inquired what her name was, and Mr. Lu said it was Gu.

"But, the door is closely barred," added he, "and as they never had any communication with the village, I know nothing of their antecedents."

"Really?! It's my sister-in-law," cried Lan, in amazement.

He lost no time to knock at the door of the house. Someone came to the front door, and said, in a voice that betokened recent weeping, "Who's there ? There are no men in this house."'

Lan looked through a crack, and saw that the young lady really was his sister-in-law; so he called out, "Sister, open the door. I am your step-brother A-sui."

A Qian immediately opened the door and asked him in, and recounted to him the whole story of her troubles. "Your husband," said Lan, "is always thinking of you. For a trifling difference you need hardly have run away so far from him." He then proposed to hire a vehicle and take her home; but A Qian replied, "I came hither with my mother to hide because I was not regarded as a human being, and should make myself ridiculous by now returning thus. If I am to go back, my elder brother Xi Shan must no longer live with us; otherwise, I will immediately poison myself."

Learning of this from Lan when he returned, San Lang set off and traveled all night until he reached the place where A Qian was. Husband and wife were overjoyed to meet again, and the following day San Lang notified the landlord of the house where A Qian had been living. Now this landlord had long desired to secure A Qian as a concubine for himself; and, after making no claim for rent for several years, he began to hint as much to her mother.

The old lady, however, refused flatly; but shortly afterwards she died, and then the landlord thought that he might be able to succeed. At this juncture San Lang arrived, and the landlord sought to hamper him by putting in his claim for rent; and, as San Lang was anything but well off at the moment, it really did annoy him very much.

A Qian here came to the rescue, showing San Lang a large quantity of grain she had in the house, and bidding him use it to settle accounts with the landlord. The latter declared he could not accept grain, but must be paid in silver; whereupon A Qian sighed and said it was all her unfortunate self that had brought this upon them, at the same time telling San Lang of the landlord's former proposition.

San Lang was very angry, and was about to take out a summons against him, when Mr. Lu interposed, and, by selling the grain in the neighborhood, managed to collect sufficient money to pay off the rent. San Lang and his wife then returned home; and the former, having explained the circumstances to his parents, separated his household from that of his brother. A Qian now proceeded to build, with her own money, a granary, which was a matter of some astonishment to the family, there not being a hundred- weight of grain in the place. But in about a year the granary was full, and before very long San Lang was a rich man, Xi Shan remaining as poor as before. Accordingly, A Qian persuaded her husband's parents to come and live with them, and made frequent presents of money to the elder brother; so that her husband said, "Well at any rate, you bear no malice."

" What your brother did," replied A Qian, "was from his regard for you. If it hadn't been for him, you and I would never have met." After this there were no more supernatural manifestations.

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