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The virtuous daughter-in-law (3)

"The unfilial son and the vixenish daughter-in-law," said the old man, "deserve no pity. Go home and quickly buy back our ancestral property."

"We have barely enough to live upon," replied Ta-cheng; "where, then, shall we find the necessary money ?"

"Beneath the crape myrtle-tree," answered his father, "you will find a store of silver, which you may take and use for this purpose." Ta-cheng would have questioned him further, but the old gentleman said no more, recovering consciousness shortly afterwards without knowing a word of what had happened.

Ta-cheng went back and told his brother, who did not altogether believe the story; Tsang-ku, however, hurried off with a number of men, and had soon dug a hole four or five feet deep, at the bottom of which they found a quantity of bricks and stones, but no gold. She then gave up the idea and returned home, Ta-cheng having meanwhile warned his mother and wife not to go near the place while she was digging. When Tsang-ku left, Mrs. An went herself to have a look, and seeing only bricks and earth mingled together, she too, retraced her steps. Shan-hu was the next to go, and she found the hole full of silver bullion; and then Ta-cheng repaired to the spot and saw that there was no mistake about it. Not thinking it right to apply this heirloon to his own private use, he now summoned Erh-cheng to share it; and having obtained twice as much as was necessary to redeem the estate, the brothers returned to their homes.

Erh-cheng and Tsang-ku opened their half together, when the bag was full of tiles and rubbish. They at once suspected Ta-cheng of deceiving them, and Erh-cheng ran off to see how things were going at his brother's. He arrived just as Ta-cheng was spreading the silver on the table, and with his mother and wife rejoicing over their acquisition; and when he had told them what had occurred, Ta-cheng expressed much sympathy for him, and at once presented him with his own half of the treasure. Erh-cheng was delighted, and paid off the mortgage on the land, feeling very grateful to his brother for such kindness. Tsang-ku, however, declared it was a proof that Ta-cheng had been cheating him; "for how otherwise," argued she, "can you understand a man sharing anything with another, and then resigning his own half ?"

Erh-cheng himself did not know what to think of it; but next day the mortgagee sent to say that the money paid in was all imitation silver, and that he was about to lay the case before the authorities. Husband and wife were greatly alarmed at this, and Tsang-ku exclaimed, "Well, I never thought your brother was as bad as this. He's simply trying to take your life." Erh-cheng himself was in a terrible fright, and hurried off to the mortgagee to entreat for mercy; but as the latter was extremely angry and would hear of no compromise, Erh-cheng was obliged to make over the property to him to dispose of himself. The money was then returned, and when he got home he found that two lumps had been cut through, showing merely an outside layer of silver, about as thick as an onion-leaf, covering nothing but copper within.

Tsang-ku and Erh-cheng then agreed to keep the broken pieces themselves, but send the rest back to Ta-cheng, with a message, saying that they were deeply indebted to him for all his kindness, and that they had ventured to retain two of the lumps of silver out of compliment to the giver; also that the property which remained to them was still equal to Ta-cheng's, that they had no use for much land, and accordingly had abandoned it, and that Ta-cheng could redeem it or not as he pleased. Ta-cheng, who did not perceive the intention in all this, refused to accept the land; however, Erh-cheng entreated him to do so, and at last he consented. When he came to weigh the money, he found it was five ounces short, and therefore bade Shan-hu pawn something from her jewel-box to make up the amount, with which he proceeded to pay off the mortgage. The mortgagee, suspecting it was the same money that had been offered him by Erh-cheng, cut the pieces in halves, and saw that it was all silver of the purest quality. Accordingly he accepted it in liquidation of his claim, and handed the mortgage back to Ta-cheng.

Meanwhile, Erh-cheng had been expecting some catastrophe; but when he found that the mortgaged land had been redeemed, he did not know what to make of it. Tsang-ku thought that at the time of the digging Ta-cheng had concealed the genuine silver, and immediately rushed off to his house, and began to revile them all round. Ta-cheng now understood why they had sent him back the money; and Shan-hu laughed and said, "The property is safe; why, then, this anger ?" Thereupon she made Ta-cheng hand over the deeds to Tsang-ku.

One night after this Erh-cheng's father appeared to him in a dream, and reproached him, saying, "Unfilial son, unfraternal brother, your hour is at hand. Wherefore usurp rights that do not belong to you?" In the morning Erh-cheng told Tsang-ku of his dream, and proposed to return the property to his brother; but she only laughed at him for a fool. Just then the eldest of his two sons, a boy of seven, died of small-pox, and this frightened Tsang-ku so that she agreed to restore the deeds. Ta-cheng would not accept them; and now the second child, a boy of three, died also; whereupon Tsang-ku seized the deeds, and threw them into her brother-in-law's house.

Spring was over, but the land was in a terribly neglected state; so Ta-cheng set to work and put it in order again. From this moment Tsang-ku was a changed woman towards her mother- and sister-in-law; and when, six months later, Mrs. An died, she was so grieved that she refused to take any nourishment. "Alas!" cried she, "that my mother-in-law has died thus early, and prevented me from waiting upon her. Heaven will not allow me to retrieve my past errors." Tsang-ku had thirteen children, but as none of them lived, they were obliged to adopt one of Ta-cheng's, who, with his wife, lived to a good old age, and had three sons, two of whom took their doctor's degree.

People said this was a reward for filial piety and brotherly love.




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