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The virtuous daughter-in-law (1)

An Ta-cheng was a Chung-ching man. His father died early; and his brother Erh-cheng was a mere boy. He himself had married a wife from the Chen family, whose name was Shan-hu; and this young lady had much to put up with from the violent and malicious disposition of her husband's mother. However, she never complained; and every morning dressed herself smartly, and went in to pay her respects to the old lady.

Once when Ta-cheng was ill, his mother abused Shan-hu for dressing so nicely; whereupon Shan-hu went back and changed her clothes; but even then Mrs. An was not satisfied, and began to tear her own hair with rage. Ta-cheng, who was a very filial son, at once gave his wife a beating, and this put an end to the scene. From that moment his mother hated her more than ever, and although she was everything that a daughter-in-law could be, would never exchange a word with her.

Ta-cheng began to treat his wife in much the same way as his mother treated her. Still the old lady wasn't pleased, and was always blaming Shan-hu for every trifle that occurred.

"A wife," cried Ta-cheng, "is taken to wait upon her mother- in-law. This state of things hardly looks like the wife doing her duty." So he bade Shan-hu begone, and sent an old maid-servant to see her home: but when Shan-hu got outside the village-gate, she burst into tears, and said, "How can a girl who -has failed in her duties as a wife ever dare to look her parents in the face ? I had better die." Thereupon she drew a pair of scissors and stabbed herself in the throat, covering herself immediately with blood. The servant prevented any further mischief, and supported her to the house of her husband's aunt, who was a widow living by herself, and who made Shan-hu stay with her. The servant went back and told Ta-cheng, and he bade her say nothing to any one, for fear his mother should hear of it.

In a few days Shan-hu's wound was healed, and Ta-cheng went off to ask his aunt to send her away. His aunt invited him in, but he declined, demanding loudly that Shan-hu should be turned out; and in a few moments Shan-hu herself came forth, and inquired what she had done. Ta-cheng said she had failed in her duty towards his mother; whereupon Shan-hu hung her head and made no answer, while tears of blood trickled from her eyes and stained her dress all over. Ta-cheng was much touched by this spectacle, and went away without saying any more; but before long his mother heard all about it, and, hurrying off to the aunt's, began abusing her roundly. This the aunt would not stand, and said it was all the fault of her own bad temper, adding, "The girl had already left you, and do you still claim to decide with whom she is to live? Miss Chen is staying with me, not your daughter-in-law; so you had better mind your own business."

This made Mrs. An furious; but she was at a loss for an answer, and, seeing that the aunt was firm, she went off home abashed and in tears.

Shan-hu herself was very much upset, and determined to seek shelter elsewhere, finally taking up her abode with Mrs. An's elder sister, a lady of sixty odd years of age, whose son had died, leaving his wife and child to his mother's care. This Mrs. Yu was extremely fond of Shan-hu; and when she heard the facts of the case, said it was all her sister's horrid disposition, and proposed to send Shan-hu back. The latter, however, would not hear of this, and they continued to live together like mother and daughter; neither would Shan-hu accept the invitation of her two brothers to return home and marry some one else, but remained there with Mrs. Yu, earning enough to live upon by spinning and such work.

Ever since Shan-hu had been sent away, Ta-cheng's mother had been endeavoring to get him another wife; but the fame of her temper had spread far and wide, and no one would entertain her proposals.

In three or four years Erh-cheng had grown up, and he had to be married first. His wife was a young lady named Tsang-ku, whose temper turned out to be something fearful, and far more ungovernable even than her mother-in-law's. When the latter only looked angry, Tsang-ku was already at the shrieking stage; and Erh-cheng, being of a very meek disposition, dared not side with either.

Thus it came about that Mrs. An began to be in mortal fear of Tsang-ku; and whenever her daughter-in-law was in a rage she would try and turn off her anger with a smile. She seemed never to be able to please Tsang-ku, who in her turn worked her mother-in-law like a slave, Ta-cheng himself not venturing to interfere, but only assisting his mother in washing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Mother and son would often go to some secluded spot, and there in secret tell their griefs to one another.

Before long Mrs. An was stretched upon a sick-bed with nobody to attend to her except Ta-cheng. He watched her day and night without sleeping, until both eyes were red and inflamed; and then when he went to summon the younger son to take his place, Tsang-ku told him to leave the house. Ta-cheng now went off to inform Mrs. Yu, hoping that she would come and assist; and he had hardly finished his tale of woe before Shan-hu walked in. In great confusion at seeing her, he would have left imme- diately had not Shan-hu held out her arms across the door; where- upon he bolted underneath them and escaped. He did not dare to tell his mother.

Shortly afterwards Mrs. Yu arrived, to the great joy of Ta-cheng's mother, who made her stay in the house. Every day something nice was sent for Mrs. Yu, and even when she told the servants that there was no occasion for it, she having all she wanted at her sister's, the things still came as usual. However, she kept none of them for herself, but gave what came to the invalid, who gradually began to improve. Mrs. Yu's grandson also used to come by his mother's orders, and inquire after the sick lady's health, besides bringing a packet of cakes and so on for her. "Ah, me!" cried Mrs. An, "what a good daughter-in-law you have got, to be sure. What have you done to her?"

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