The flower nymphs (3)
"That's just why I didn't tell you before," replied she.
"The presence of my dear friend," said Huang, after a pause,
"makes me think more of my lost wife. It is long since I have
mourned for her. Shall we go and bemoan her loss together?" So
they went off and shed many a tear on the spot where formerly Hsiang-yu had stood, until at last Chiang-hsueh wiped her eyes
and said it was time to go.
A few evenings later Huang was sitting alone, when suddenly
Chiang-hsueh entered, her face radiant with smiles. "Good
news!" cried she, "the Flower-God, moved by your tears, has
granted Hsiang-yu a return to life. Huang was overjoyed, and
asked when she would come; to which Chiang-hsueh replied, that
she could not say for certain, but that it would not be long.
"I came here on your account," said Huang; "don't let me be
duller than you can help."
"All right," answered she, and then went away, not returning
for the next two evenings.
Huang then went into the garden and threw his arms around
her plant, entreating her to come and see him, though without
eliciting any response. He accordingly went back, and began
twisting up a torch, when all at once in she came, and snatching
the torch out of his hand, threw it away, saying, "You're a bad
fellow, and I don't like you, and I shan't have any more to do
with you." However, Huang soon succeeded in pacifying her,
and by-and-by in walked Hsiang-yu herself. Huang now wept
tears of joy as he seized her hand, and drawing Chiang-hsueh
towards them, the three friends mingled their tears together.
They then sat down and talked over the miseries of separation,
Huang meanwhile noticing that Hsiang-yu seemed to be unsubstantial, and that when he grasped her hand his fingers seemed to
close only on themselves, and not as in the days gone by. This
Hsiang-yu explained, saying, "When I was a flower-nymph I had
a body; but now I am only the disembodied spirit of that flower.
Do not regard me as a reality, but rather as an apparition seen in
"You have come at the nick of time," cried Chiang-hsueh;
"your husband there was just getting troublesome." Hsiang-yu
now instructed Huang to take a little powdered white-berry, and
mixing it with some sulphur, to pour out a libation to her, adding, "This day next year I will return your kindness."
The young ladies then went away, and next day Huang observed
the shoots of a young peony growing up where Hsiang-yu had
once stood. So he made the libation as she had told him, and had
the plant very carefully tended, even building a fence all round to
protect it. Hsiang-yu came to thank him for this, and he pro-
posed that the plant should be removed to his own home; but to
this she would not agree, "for," said she, "I am not very strong,
and could not stand being transplanted. Besides, all things have
their appointed place; and as I was not originally intended for
your home, it might shorten my life to be sent there. We can love
each other very well here." Huang then asked why Chiang-hsueh
did not come; to which Hsiang-yu replied that they must make her, and proceeded
with him into the garden, where, after picking a blade of grass, she measured upwards from the roots of
Chiang-hsueh's plant to a distance of four feet six inches, at
which point she stopped, and Huang began to scratch a mark on the place with his nails.
At that moment Chiang-hsueh came from behind the plant,
and in mock anger cried out, "You hussy you! what do you aid
that wretch for ?"
"Don't be angry, my dear," said Hsiang-yu; "help me to
amuse him for a year only, and then you shan't be bothered any
more." So they went on, Huang watching the plant thrive, until
by the spring it was over two feet in height. He then went home,
giving the priests a handsome present, and bidding them take
great care of it.
Next year, in the fourth moon, he returned and found upon
the plant a bud just ready to break; and as he was walking round,
the stem shook violently as if it would snap, and suddenly the
bud opened into a flower as large as a plate, disclosing a beautiful
maiden within, sitting upon one of the pistils, and only a few
inches in height. In the twinkling of an eye she had jumped out,
and lo! it was Hsiang-yu. "Through the wind and the rain I have
waited for you," cried she; "why have you come so late?" They
then went into the house, where they found Chiang-hsueh already
arrived, and sat down to enjoy themselves as they had done in
Shortly afterwards Huang's wife died, and he took up his
abode at Mount Lao for good and all. The peonies were at that
time as large as one's arm; and whenever Huang went to look at
them, he always said, "Some day my spirit will be there by your
side;" to which the two girls used to reply with a laugh, and say,
"Mind you don't forget."
Ten years after these events, Huang became dangerously ill,
and his son, who had come to see him, was very much distressed
about him. "I am about to be born," cried his father; "I am not
going to die. Why do you weep?" He also told the priests that if
later on they should see a red shoot, with five leaves, thrusting
itself forth alongside of the peony, that would be himself. This
was all he said, and his son proceeded to convey him home,
where he died immediately on arrival.
Next year a shoot did come up exactly as he had mentioned;
and the priests, struck by the coincidence, watered it and supplied
it with earth. In three years it was a tall plant, and a good span in
circumference, but without flowers. When the old priest died, the
others took no care of it; and as it did not flower they cut it
down. The white peony then faded and died; and before long the
camellia was dead too.