A Chinese Girl Graduate by R. K. Douglas
Who among the three hundred million sons of Han does not know the saying:
There's Paradise above, 't is true;
But here below we've Hang and Soo?
[Hangchow and Soochow]
And though no one will deny the beauty of those far-famed cities, they
cannot compare in grandeur of situation and boldness of features with many
of the towns of the providence of the "Four Streams." Foremost among the
favoured spots of this part of the empire is Mienchu, which, as its name
implies, is celebrated for the silky bamboos which grow in its immediate
neighbourhood. These form, however, only one of the features of its
loveliness. Situated at the foot of a range of mountains which rise
through all the gradations from rich and abundant verdure to the region of
eternal snow, it lies embosomed in groves of beech, cypress, and bamboo,
through the leafy screens of which rise the upturned yellow roofs of the
temples and official residences, which dot the landscape like golden
islands in an emerald sea; while beyond the wall hurries, between high and
rugged banks, the tributary of the Fu River, which bears to the mighty
waters of the Yangtsze-Kiang the goods and passengers which seek an outlet
to the eastern provinces.
The streets within the walls of the city are scenes of life and bustle,
while in the suburbs stand the residences of those who can afford to live
in peace and quiet, undisturbed by the clamour of the Les and Changs
[i.e., the people. Le and Chang are the two commonest names in China.] of
the town. There, in a situation which the Son of Heaven might envy, stands
the official residence of Colonel Wen. Outwardly it has all the appearance
of a grandee's palace, and within the massive boundary-walls which
surround it, the courtyards, halls, grounds, summer-houses, and pavilions
are not to be exceeded in grandeur and beauty. The office which had fallen
to the lot of Colonel Wen was one of the most sought after in the
province, and commonly only fell to officers of distinction. Though not
without fame in the field, Colonel Wen's main claim to honour lay in the
high degrees he had taken in the examinations. His literary acquirements
gained him friends among the civil officers of the district, and the
position he occupied was altogether one of exceptional dignity.
Unfortunately, his first wife had died, leaving only a daughter to keep
her memory alive; but at the time when our story opens, his second spouse,
more kind than his first, had presented him with a much-desired son. The
mother of this boy was one of those bright, pretty, gay creatures who
commonly gain the affections of men much older than themselves. She sang
in the most faultless falsetto, she played the guitar with taste and
expression, and she danced with grace and agility. What wonder, then, that
when the colonel returned from his tours of inspections and parades, weary
with travel and dust, he found relief and relaxation in the joyous company
of Hyacinth! And was she not also the mother of his son? Next to herself,
there can be no question that this young gentleman held the chief place in
the colonel's affections; while poor Jasmine, his daughter by his first
venture, was left very much to her own resources. No one troubled
themselves about what she did, and she was allowed, as she grew up, to
follow her own pursuits and to give rein to her fancies without let or
hindrance. From her earliest childhood one of her lonely amusements had
been to dress as a boy, and so unchecked had the habit become that she
gradually drifted into the character which she had chosen to assume. She
even persuaded her father to let her go to the neighbouring boys' school.
Her mother had died before the colonel had been posted to Mienchu, and
among the people of that place, who had always seen her in boy's attire,
she was regarded as an adopted son of her father. Hyacinth was only too
glad to get her out of the way as much as possible, and so encouraged the
idea of allowing her to learn to read and write in the company of their
Being bright and clever, she soon gained an intellectual lead among the
boys, and her uncommon beauty, coupled with the magnetism belonging to her
sex, secured for her a popularity which almost amounted to adoration. She
was tall for her age, as are most young daughters of Han; and her
perfectly oval face, almond-shaped eyes, willow-leaf eyebrows, small,
well-shaped mouth, brilliantly white teeth, and raven-black hair,
completed a face and figure which would have been noticeable anywhere. By
the boys she was worshipped, and no undertaking was too difficult or too
troublesome if it was to give pleasure to Tsunk'ing, or the "Young Noble,"
as she was called; for to have answered to the name of Jasmine would have
been to proclaim her sex at once. Even the grim old master smiled at her
through his horn spectacles as she entered the school-house of a morning,
and any graceful turn in her poetry or scholarly diction in her prose was
sure to win for her his unsparing praise. Many an evening he invited the
"young noble" to his house to read over chapters from Confucius and the
poems of Le Taipoh; and years afterward, when he died, among his most
cherished papers were found odes signed by Tsunk'ing, in which there was a
good deal about bending willows, light, flickering bamboos, horned moons,
wild geese, the sound of a flute on a rainy day, and the pleasures of
wine, in strict accord with the models set forth in the "Aids to
Poetry-making" which are common in the land.
If it had not been for the indifference with which she was treated in her
home, the favour with which she was regarded abroad would have been most
prejudicial to Jasmine; but any conceit which might have been engendered
in the school-house was speedily counteracted when she got within the
portals of the colonel's domain. Coming into the presence of her father
and his wife, with all the incense of kindness, affection, and, it must be
confessed, flattery, with which she was surrounded by her school-fellows,
fresh about her, was like stepping into a cold bath. Wholesome and
invigorating the change may have been, but it was very unpleasant, and
Jasmine often longed to be alone to give vent to her feelings in tears.
One deep consolation she had, however: she was a devoted student, and in
the society of her books she forgot the callousness of her parents, and,
living in imagination in the bygone annals of the empire, she was able to
take part, as it were, in the great deeds which mark the past history of
the state, and to enjoy the converse and society of the sages and poets of
antiquity. When the time came that she had gained all the knowledge which
the old schoolmaster could impart to her, she left the school, and formed
a reading-party with two youths of her own age. These lads, by name Wei
and Tu, had been her school-fellows, and were delighted at obtaining her
promise to join them in their studies. So industriously were these pursued
that the three friends succeeded in taking their B.A. degree at the next
examination, and, encouraged by this success, determined to venture on a
struggle for a still higher distinction.
Though at one in their affection for Jasmine, Tu and Wei were unlike in
everything else, which probably accounted for the friendship which existed
between them. Wei was the more clever of the two. He wrote poetry with
ease and fluency, and his essays were marked by correctness of style and
aptness of quotation. But there was a want of strength in his character.
He was exceedingly vain, and was always seeking to excite admiration among
his companions. This unhappy failing made him very susceptible of adverse
criticism, and at the same time extremely jealous of any one who might
happen to excel him in any way. Tu, on the other hand, though not so
intellectually favoured, had a rough kind of originality, which always
secured for his exercises a respectful attention, and made him at all
times an agreeable companion. Having no exaggerated ideas of his
capabilities, he never strove to appear otherwise than he was, and being
quite independent of the opinions of others, he was always natural. Thus
he was one who was sought out by his friends, and was best esteemed by
those whose esteem was best worth having. In outward appearance the youths
were as different as their characters were diverse. Wei was decidedly
good-looking, but of a kind of beauty which suggested neither rest nor
sincerity; while in Tu's features, though there was less grace, the want
was fully compensated for by the strength and honest firmness of his
For both these young men Jasmine had a liking, but there was no question
as to which she preferred. As she herself said, "Wei is pleasant enough as
a companion, but if I had to look to one of them for an act of true
friendship—or as a lover," she mentally added—"I should turn
at once to Tu." It was one of her amusements to compare the young men in
her mind, and one day when so occupied Tu suddenly looked up from his book
and said to her:
"What a pity it is that the gods have made us both men! If I were a
woman, the object of my heart would be to be your wife, and if you
were a woman, there is nothing I should like better than to be your
Jasmine blushed up to the roots of her hair at having her own thoughts
thus capped, as it were; but before she could answer, Wei broke in with:
"What nonsense you talk! And why, I should like to know, should you be the
only one the 'young noble' might choose, supposing he belonged to the
"You are both talking nonsense," said Jasmine, who had had time to recover
her composure, "and remind me of my two old childless aunts," she added,
laughing, "who are always quarrelling about the names they would have
given their children if the goddess Kwanyin had granted them any half a
century ago. As a matter of act, we are three friends reading for our M.A.
degrees, neither more nor less. And I will trouble you, my elder brother,"
she added, turning to Tu, "to explain to me what the poet means by the
expression 'tuneful Tung' in the line:
'The greedy flames devour the tuneful Tung.'"
A learned disquisition by Tu on the celebrated musician who recognised the
sonorous qualities of a piece of Tung timber burning in the kitchen fire
effectually diverted the conversation from the inconvenient direction it
had taken, and shortly afterward Jasmine took her leave.
Haunted by the thought of what had passed, she wandered on to the veranda
of her archery pavilion, and while gazing half unconsciously heavenward
her eyes were attracted by a hawk which flew past and alighted on a tree
beyond the boundary-wall, and in front of the study she had lately left.
In a restless and thoughtless mood, she took up her bow and arrow, and
with unerring aim compassed the death of her victim. No sooner, however,
had the hawk fallen, carrying the arrow with it, than she remembered that
her name was inscribed on the shaft, and fearing lest it should be found
by either Wei or Tu, she hurried round in the hope of recovering it. But
she was too late. On approaching the study, she found Tu in the garden in
front, examining the bird and arrow.
"Look," he said, as he saw her coming, "what a good shot some one has
made! and whoever it is, he has a due appreciation of his own skill.
Listen to these lines which are scraped on the arrow:
'Do not lightly draw your bow;
But if you must, bring down your foe.'"
Jasmine was glad enough to find that he had not discovered her name, and
eagerly exchanged banter with him on the conceit of the owner of the
arrow. But before she could recover it, Wei, who had heard the talking and
laughter, joined them, and took the arrow out of Tu's hand to examine it.
Just at that moment a messenger came to summon Tu to his father's
presence, and he had no sooner gone than Wei exclaimed:
"But see, here is the name of the mysterious owner of the arrow, and, as I
live, it is a girl's name—Jasmine! Who, among the goddesses of
heaven can Jasmine be?"
"Oh, I will take the arrow then," said Jasmine. "It must belong to my
sister. That is her name."
"I did not know that you had a sister," said Wei.
"Oh yes, I have," answered Jasmine, quite forgetful of the celebrated
dictum of Confucius: "Be truthful." "She is just one year younger than I
am," she added, thinking it well to be circumstantial.
"Why have you never mentioned her?" asked Wei, with animation. "What is
she like? Is she anything like you?"
"She is the very image of me."
"What! In height and features and ways?"
"The very image, so that people have often said that if we changed clothes
each might pass for the other."
"What a good-looking girl she must be!" said Wei, laughing. "But,
seriously, I have not, as you know, yet set up a household; and if your
sister has not received bridal presents, I would beg to be allowed to
invite her to enter my lowly habitation. What does my elder brother say to
"I don't know what my sister would feel about it," said Jasmine. "I would
never answer for a girl, if I lived to be as old as the God of Longevity."
"Will you find out for me?"
"Certainly I will. But remember, not a word must be mentioned on the
subject to my father, or, in fact, to anybody, until I give you leave."
"So long as my elder brother will undertake for me, I will promise
anything," said the delighted Wei. "I already feel as though I were
nine-tenths of the way to the abode of the phenix. Take this box of
precious ointment to your sister as an earnest of my intentions, and I
will keep the arrow as a token from her until she demands its return. I
feel inclined to express myself in verse. May I?"
"By all means," said Jasmine, laughing.
Thus encouraged, Wei improvised as follows:
"'T was sung of old that Lofu had no mate,
Though Che was willing; for no word was said.
At last an arrow like a herald came,
And now an honoured brother lends his aid."
"Excellent," said Jasmine, laughing. "With such a poetic gift as you
possess, you certainly deserve a better fate than befell Lofu."
From this day the idea of marrying Jasmine's sister possessed the soul of
Wei. But not a word did he say to Tu on the matter, for he was conscious
that, as Tu was the first to pick up the arrow through which he had become
acquainted with the existence of Jasmine's sister, his friend might
possibly lay a claim to her hand. To Jasmine also the subject was a most
absorbing one. She felt that she was becoming most unpleasantly involved
in a risky matter, and that, if the time should ever come when she should
have to make an explanation, she might in honour be compelled to marry Wei—a
prospect which filled her with dismay. The turn events had taken had made
her analyse her feelings more than she had ever done before, and the
process made her doubly conscious of the depth of her affection for Tu. "A
horse," she said to herself, "cannot carry two saddles, and a woman cannot
marry more than one man." Wise as this saw was, it did not help her out of
her difficulty, and she turned to the chapter of accidents, and determined
to trust to time, that old disposer of events, to settle the matter. But
Wei was inclined to be impatient, and Jasmine was obliged to resort to
more of those departures from truth which circumstances had forced upon
this generally very upright young lady.
"I have consulted my father on the subject," she said to the expectant
Wei, "and he insists on your waiting until the autumn examination is over.
He has every confidence that you will then take your M.A. degree, and your
marriage will, he hopes, put the coping-stone on your happiness and
"That is all very well," said Wei; "but autumn is a long time hence, and
how do I know that your sister may not change her mind?"
"Has not your younger brother undertaken to look after your interests, and
cannot you trust him to do his best on your behalf?"
"I can trust my elder brother with anything in the world. It is your
sister that I am afraid of," said Wei. "But since you will undertake for
"No, no," said Jasmine, laughing, "I did not say that I would undertake
for her. A man who answers for a woman deserves to have 'fool' written on
"Well, at all events, I will be content to leave the matter in your
hands," said Wei.
At last the time of the autumn examination drew near, and Tu and Wei made
preparations for their departure to the provincial capital. They were both
bitterly disappointed when Jasmine announced that she was not going up
that time. This determination was the result of a conference with her
father. She had pointed out to the colonel that if she passed and took her
M.A. degree she might be called upon to take office at any time, and that
then she would be compelled to confess her sex; and as she was by no means
disposed to give up the freedom which her doublet and hose conferred upon
her, it was agreed between them that she should plead illness and not go
up. Her two friends, therefore, went alone, and brilliant success attended
their venture. They both passed with honours, and returned to Mienchu to
receive the congratulations of their friends. Jasmine's delight was very
genuine, more especially as regarded Tu, and the first evening was spent
by the three students in joyous converse and in confident anticipation of
the future. As Jasmine took leave of the two new M.A.'s, Wei followed her
to the outer door and whispered at parting:
"I am coming to-morrow to make my formal proposal to your sister."
Jasmine had no time to answer, but went home full of anxious and disturbed
thoughts, which were destined to take a more tragic turn than she had ever
anticipated even in her most gloomy moments. The same cruel fate had also
decreed that Wei's proposal was to be suspended, like Buddha, between
heaven and earth. The blow fell upon him when he was attiring himself in
the garments of his new degree, in preparation for his visit. He was in
the act of tying his sash and appending it to his purse and trinkets, when
Jasmine burst into the young men's study, looking deadly pale and bearing
traces of acute mental distress on her usually bright and joyous
"What is the matter?" cried Tu, with almost as much agitation as was shown
by Jasmine. "Tell me what has happened."
"Oh, my father, my poor father!" sobbed Jasmine.
"What is the matter with your father? He is not dead, is he?" cried the
young men in one breath.
"No, it is not so bad as that," said Jasmine, "but a great and bitter
misfortune has come upon us. As you know, some time ago my father had a
quarrel with the military intendant, and that horrid man has, out of
spite, brought charges against him for which he was carried off this
morning to prison."
The statement of her misery and the shame involved in it completely
unnerved poor Jasmine, who, true to her inner sex, burst into tears and
rocked herself to and fro in her grief. Tu and Wei, on their knees before
her, tried to pour in words of consolation. With a lack of reason which
might be excused under the circumstances, they vowed that her father was
innocent before they knew the nature of the charges against him, and they
pledged themselves to rest neither day nor night until they had rescued
him from his difficulty. When, under the influence of their genuine
sympathy, Jasmine recovered some composure, Tu begged her to tell him of
what her father was accused.
"The villain," said Jasmine, through her tears, "has dared to say that my
father has made use of government taxes, has taken bribes for recommending
men for promotion, has appropriated the soldiers' ration-money, and has
been in league with highwaymen."
"Is it possible?" said Tu, who was rather staggered by this long catalogue
of crimes. "I should not have believed that any one could have ventured to
have charged your honoured father with such things, least of all the
intendant, who is notoriously possessed of an itching palm. But I tell you
what we can do at once. Wei and I, being M.A.'s, have a right to call on
the prefect, and it will be a real pleasure to us to exercise our new
privilege for the first time in your service. We will urge him to inquire
into the matter, and I cannot doubt that he will at once quash the
Unhappily, Tu's hopes were not realised. The prefect was very civil, but
pointed out that, since a higher court had ordered the arrest of the
colonel, he was powerless to interfere in the matter. Many were the
consultations held by the three friends, and much personal relief Jasmine
got from the support and sympathy of the young men. One hope yet remained
to her: Tu and Wei were about to go to Peking for their doctor's degrees,
and if they passed they might be able to bring such influence to bear as
would secure the release of her father.
"Let not the 'young noble' distress himself overmuch," said Wei to her,
with some importance. "This affair will be engraven on our hearts and
minds, and if we take our degrees we will use our utmost exertions to wipe
away the injustice which has been done your father."
"Unhappily," said the more practical Tu, "it is too plain that the
examining magistrates are all in league to ruin him. But let our elder
brother remain quietly at home, doing all he can to collect evidence in
the colonel's favour, while we will do our best at the capital. If things
turn out well with us there, our elder brother had better follow at once
to assist us with his advice."
Before the friends parted, Wei, whose own affairs were always his first
consideration, took an opportunity of whispering to Jasmine, "Don't forget
your honoured sister's promise, I beseech you. Whether we succeed or not,
I shall ask for her in marriage on my return."
"Under present circumstances, we must no longer consider the engagement,"
said Jasmine, shocked at his introducing the subject at such a moment,
"and the best thing that you can do is to forget all about it."
The moment for the departure of the young men had come, and they had no
time to say more. With bitter tears, the two youths took leave of the
weeping Jasmine, who, as their carts disappeared in the distance, felt for
the first time what it was to be alone in misery. She saw little of her
stepmother in those days. That poor lady made herself so ill with
unrestrained grief that she was quite incapable of rendering either help
or advice. Fortunately the officials showed no disposition to proceed with
the indictment, and by the judicious use of the money at her command
Jasmine induced the prison authorities to make her father's confinement as
little irksome as possible. She was allowed to see him at almost any time,
and on one occasion, when he was enjoying her presence as in his
prosperous days he had never expected to do, he remarked:
"Since the officials are not proceeding with the business, I think my best
plan will be to send a petition to Peking asking the Board of War to
acquit me. But my difficulty is that I have no one whom I can send to look
after the business."
"Let me go," said Jasmine. "When Tu and Wei were leaving, they
begged me to follow them to consult as to the best means of helping you,
and with them to depend on I have nothing to fear."
"I quite believe that you are as capable of managing the matter as
anybody," said her father, admiringly; "but Peking is a long way off, and
I cannot bear to think of the things which might happen to you on the
"From all time," answered Jasmine, "it has been considered the duty of a
daughter to risk anything in the service of her father; and though the way
is long, I shall have weapons to defend myself with against injury, and a
clear conscience with which to answer any interrogatories which may be put
to me. Besides, I will take our messenger, 'The Dragon,' and his wife with
me. I will make her dress as a man—what fun it will be to see Mrs.
Dragon's portly form in trousers, and gabardine! When that transformation
is made, we shall be a party of three men. So, you see, she and I will
have a man to protect us, and I shall have a woman to wait upon me; and if
such a gallant company cannot travel from this to Peking in safety, I'll
forswear boots and trousers and will retire into the harem for ever."
"Well," said her father, laughing, "if you can arrange in that way, go by
all means, and the sooner you start the sooner I hope you will be back."
Delighted at having gained the approval of her father to her scheme,
Jasmine quickly made the arrangements for her journey. On the morning of
the day on which she was to start, the results of the doctors' examination
at Peking reached Mienchu, and, to Jasmine's infinite delight, she found
the names of Tu and Wei among the successful candidates. Armed with this
good news, she hurried to the prison. All difficulties seemed to disappear
like mist before the sun as she thought of the powerful advocates she now
had at Peking.
"Tu and Wei have passed," she said, as she rushed into her father's
presence, "and now the end of our troubles is approaching."
With impatient hope Jasmine took leave of her father, and started on her
eventful journey. As evening drew on she entered the suburbs of Ch'engtu,
the provincial capital, and sent "The Dragon" on to find a suitable inn
for the couple of nights which she knew she would be compelled to spend in
the city. "The Dragon" was successful in his search, and conducted Jasmine
and his wife to a comfortable hostelry in one of the busiest parts of the
town. Having refreshed herself with an excellent dinner, Jasmine was glad
to rest from the fatigues and heat of the day in the cool courtyard into
which her room opened. Fortune and builders had so arranged that a
neighbouring house, towering above the inn, overlooked this restful spot,
and one of the higher windows faced exactly the position which Jasmine had
taken up. Such a fact would not, in ordinary circumstances, have troubled
her in the least; but she had not been sitting long before she began to
feel an extraordinary attraction toward the window. She did her best to
look the other way, but she was often unconsciously impelled to glance up
at the lattice. Once she fancied she saw the curtain move. Determined to
verify her impression, she suddenly raised her eyes, after a prolonged
contemplation of the pavement, and caught a momentary sight of a girl's
face, which as instantly disappeared, but not before Jasmine had been able
to recognise that it was one of exceptional beauty.
"Now, if I were a young man," said she to herself, "I ought to feel my
heart beat at the sight of such loveliness, and it would be my bounden
duty to swear that I would win the owner of it in the teeth of dragons.
But as my manhood goes no deeper than my outer garments, I can afford to
sit here with a quiet pulse and a whole skin."
The next day Jasmine was busily engaged in interviewing some officials in
the interest of her father, and only reached the shelter of her inn toward
evening. As she passed through the courtyard she instinctively looked up
at the window, and again caught a glimpse of the vision of beauty which
she had seen the evening before. "If she only knew," thought Jasmine,
"that I was such a one as herself, she would be less anxious to see me,
and more likely to avoid me."
While amusing herself at the thought of the fair watcher, the inn door
opened, and a waiting-woman entered carrying a small box. As she
approached Jasmine she bowed low, and with bated breath thus addressed
"May every happiness be yours, sir. My young lady, Miss King, whose humble
dwelling is the adjoining house, seeing that you are living in solitude,
has sent me with this fruit and tea as a complimentary offering."
So saying, she presented to Jasmine the box, which contained pears and a
packet of scented tea.
"To what am I indebted for this honour?" replied Jasmine; "I can claim no
relationship with your lady, nor have I the honour of her acquaintance."
"My young lady says," answered the waiting-woman, "that, among the myriads
who come to this inn and the thousands who go from it, she has seen no one
to equal your Excellency in form and feature. At sight of you she was
confident that you came from a lofty and noble family, and having learned
from your attendants that you are the son of a colonel, she ventured to
send you these trifles to supplement the needy fare of this rude inn."
"Tell me something about your young lady," said Jasmine, in a moment of
"My young lady," said the woman, "is the daughter of Mr. King, who was a
vice-president of a lower court. Her father and mother having both visited
the 'Yellow Springs' [Hades], she is now living with an aunt, who has been
blessed by the God of Wealth, and whose main object in life is to find a
husband whom her niece may be willing to marry. The young gentleman, my
young lady's cousin, is one of the richest men in Ch'engtu. All the larger
inns belong to him, and his profits are as boundless as the four seas. He
is as anxious as his mother to find a suitable match for the young lady,
and has promised that so soon as she can make a choice he will arrange the
"I should have thought," said Jasmine, "that, being the owner of so much
wealth and beauty, the young lady would have been besieged by suitors from
all parts of the empire."
"So she is," said the woman, "and from her window yonder she espies them,
for they all put up at this inn. Hitherto she has made fun of them all,
and describes their appearance and habits in the most amusing way. 'See
this one,' says she, 'with his bachelor cap on and his new official
clothes and awkward gait, looking for all the world like a barn-door fowl
dressed up as a stork; or that one, with his round shoulders, monkey-face,
and crooked legs;' and so she tells them off."
"What does she say of me, I wonder?" said Jasmine, amused.
"Of your Excellency she says that her comparisons fail her, and that she
can only hope that the Fates who guided your jewelled chariot hitherward
will not tantalise her by an empty vision, but will bind your ankles to
hers with the red matrimonial cords."
"How can I hope for such happiness?" said Jasmine, smiling. "But please to
tell your young lady that, being only a guest at this inn, I have nothing
worthy of her acceptance to offer in return for her bounteous gifts, and
that I can only assure her of my boundless gratitude."
With many bows, and with reiterated wishes for Jasmine's happiness and
endless longevity, the woman took her leave.
"Truly this young lady has formed a most perverted attachment," said
Jasmine to herself. "She reminds me of the man in the fairy tale who fell
in love with a shadow, and, so far as I can see, she is not likely to get
any more satisfaction out of it than he did." So saying, she took up a
pencil and scribbled the following lines on a scrap of paper:
"With thoughts as ardent as a quenchless thirst,
She sends me fragrant and most luscious fruit;
Without a blush she seeks a phenix guest [a bachelor]
Who dwells alone like case-enveloped lute."
After this mental effort Jasmine went to bed. Nor had her interview with
the waiting-woman made a sufficient impression on her mind to interfere in
any way with her sleep. She was surprised, however, on coming into her
sitting-room in the morning, to meet the same messenger, who, laden with a
dish of hot eggs and a brew of tea, begged Jasmine to "deign to look down
upon her offerings."
"Many thanks," said Jasmine, "for your kind attention."
"You are putting the saddle on the wrong horse," replied the woman. "In
bringing you these I am but obeying the orders of Miss King, who herself
made the tea of leaves from Pu-erh in Yunnan, and who with her own fair
hands shelled the eggs."
"Your young lady," answered Jasmine, "is as bountiful as she is kind. What
return can I make her for her kindness to a stranger? Stay," she said, as
the thought crossed her mind that the verses she had written the night
before might prove a wholesome tonic for this effusive young lady, "I have
a few verses which I will venture to ask her to accept." So saying, she
took a piece of peach-blossom paper, on which she carefully copied the
quatrain and handed it to the woman. "May I trouble you," said she, "to
take this to your mistress?"
"If," said Jasmine to herself as the woman took her departure, "Miss King
is able to penetrate the meaning of my verses, she won't like them.
Without saying so in so many words, I have told her with sufficient
plainness that I will have nothing to say to her. But stupidity is a
shield sent by Providence to protect the greater part of mankind from many
evils; so perhaps she will escape."
It certainly in this case served to shield Miss King from Jasmine's
shafts. She was delighted at receiving the verses, and at once sat down to
compose a quatrain to match Jasmine's in reply. With infinite labour she
elaborated the following:
"Sung Yuh on th' eastern wall sat deep in thought,
And longed with P'e to pluck the fragrant fruit.
If all the well-known tunes be newly set,
What use to take again the half-burnt lute?"
Having copied these on a piece of silk-woven paper, she sent them to
Jasmine by her faithful attendant. On looking over the paper, Jasmine
said, smiling, "What a clever young lady your mistress must be! These
lines, though somewhat inconsequential, are incomparable."
But, though Jasmine was partly inclined to treat the matter as a joke, she
saw that there was a serious side to the affair, more especially as the
colours under which she was sailing were so undeniably false. She knew
well that for Sung Yuh should be read Miss King, and for P'e her own name;
and she determined, therefore, to put an end to the philandering of Miss
King, which, in her present state of mind, was doubly annoying to her.
"I am deeply indebted to your young lady," she said, and then, being
determined to make a plunge into the morass of untruthfulness, for a good
end as she believed, added, "and, if I had love at my disposal, I should
possibly venture to make advances toward the feathery peach [a nuptial
emblem]; but let me confess to you that I have already taken to myself a
wife. Had I the felicity of meeting Miss King before I committed myself in
another direction, I might perhaps have been a happier man. But, after
all, if this were so, my position is no worse than that of most other
married men, for I never met one who was not occasionally inclined to cry,
like the boys at 'toss cash,' 'Hark back and try again.'"
"This will be sad news for my lady, for she has set her heart upon you
ever since you first came to the inn; and when young misses take that sort
of fancy and lose the objects of their love, they are as bad as children
when forbidden their sugar-plums. But what's the use of talking to you
about a young lady's feelings!" said the woman, with a vexed toss of her
head; "I never knew a man who understood a woman yet."
"I am extremely sorry for Miss King," said Jasmine, trying to suppress a
smile. "As you wisely remark, a young lady is a sealed book to me, but I
have always been told that their fancies are as variable as the shadow of
the bamboo; and probably, therefore, though Miss King's sky may be
overcast just now, the gloom will only make her enjoy to-morrow's sunshine
all the more."
The woman, who was evidently in a hurry to convey the news to her
mistress, returned no answer to this last sally, but, with curtailed
obeisance, took her departure.
Her non-appearance the next morning confirmed Jasmine in the belief that
her bold departure from truth on the previous evening had had its curative
effect. The relief was great, for she had felt that these complications
were becoming too frequent to be pleasant, and, reprehensible though it
may appear, her relief was mingled with no sort of compassion for Miss
King. Hers was not a nature to sympathise with such sudden and fierce
attachments. Her affection for Tu had been the growth of many months, and
she had no feeling in common with a young lady who could take a violent
liking for a young man simply from seeing him taking his post-prandial
ease. It was therefore with complete satisfaction that she left the inn in
the course of the morning to pay her farewell visits to the governor and
the judge of the province, who had taken an unusual interest in Colonel
Wen's case since Jasmine had become his personal advocate. Both officials
had promised to do all they could for the prisoner, and had loaded Jasmine
with tokens of good will in the shape of strange and rare fruits and
culinary delicacies. On this particular day the governor had invited her
to the midday meal, and it was late in the afternoon before she found her
way back to the inn.
The following morning she rose early, intending to start before noon, and
was stepping into the courtyard to give directions to "The Dragon," when,
to her surprise, she was accosted by Miss King's servant, who, with a
waggish smile and a cunning shake of the head, said:
"How can one so young as your Excellency be such a proficient in the art
of inventing flowers of the imagination?"
"What do you mean?" said Jasmine.
"Why, last night you told me you were married, and my poor young lady when
she heard it was wrung with grief. But, recovering somewhat, she sent me
to ask your servants whether what you had said was true or not, for she
knows what she's about as well as most people, and they both with one
voice assured me that, far from being married you had not even exchanged
nuptial presents with anybody. You may imagine Miss King's delight when I
took her this news. She at once asked her cousin to call upon you to make
a formal offer of marriage, and she has now sent me to tell you that he
will be here anon."
Every one knows what it is to pass suddenly from a state of pleasurable
high spirits into deep despondency, to exchange in an instant bright
mental sunshine for cloud and gloom. All, therefore, must sympathise with
poor Jasmine, who believing the road before her to be smooth and clear, on
a sudden became thus aware of a most troublesome and difficult
obstruction. She had scarcely finished calling down anathemas on the heads
of "The Dragon" and his wife, and cursing her own folly for bringing them
with her, than the inn doors were thrown open, and a servant appeared
carrying a long red visiting-card inscribed with the name of the wealthy
inn-proprietor. On the heels of this forerunner followed young Mr. King,
who, with effusive bows, said, "I have ventured to pay my respects to your
Poor Jasmine was so upset by the whole affair that she lacked some of the
courtesy that was habitual to her, and in her confusion very nearly seated
her guest on her right hand. Fortunately this outrageous breach of
etiquette was avoided, and the pair eventually arranged themselves in the
"This old son of Han," began Mr. King, "would not have dared to intrude
himself upon your Excellency if it were not that he has a matter of great
delicacy to discuss with you. He has a cousin, the daughter of
Vice-President King, for whom for years he has been trying to find a
suitable match. The position is peculiar, for the lady declares positively
that she will not marry any one she has not seen and approved of. Until
now she has not been able to find any one whom she would care to marry.
But the presence of your Excellency has thrown a light across her path
which has shown her the way to the plum-groves of matrimonial felicity."
Here King paused, expecting some reply; but Jasmine was too absorbed in
thought to speak, so Mr. King went on:
"This old son of Han, hearing that your Excellency is still unmarried, has
taken it upon himself to make a proposal of marriage to you, and to offer
his cousin as your 'basket and broom.' [wife] His interview with you has,
he may say, shown him the wisdom of his cousin's choice, and he cannot
imagine a pair better suited for one another, or more likely to be happy,
than your Excellency and his cousin."
"I dare not be anything but straightforward with your worship," said
Jasmine, "and I am grateful for the extraordinary affection your cousin
has been pleased to bestow upon me; but I cannot forget that she belongs
to a family which is entitled to pass through the gate of the palace [a
family of distinction], and I fear that my rank is not sufficient for her.
Besides, my father is at present under a cloud, and I am now on my way to
Peking to try to release him from his difficulties. It is no time,
therefore, for me to be binding myself with promises."
"As to your Excellency's first objection," replied King, "you are already
the wearer of a hat with a silken tassel, and a man need not be a prophet
to foretell that in time to come any office, either civil or military,
will be within your reach. No doubt, also, your business in Peking will be
quickly brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and there can be no
objection, therefore, to our settling the preliminaries now, and then, on
your return from the capital, we can celebrate the wedding. This will give
rest and composure to my cousin's mind, which is now like a disturbed sea,
and will not interfere, I venture to think, with the affair which calls
you to Peking."
As King proceeded, Jasmine felt that her difficulties were on the
increase. It was impossible that she should explain her position in full,
and she had no sufficient reason at hand to give for rejecting the
proposal made her, though, as the same time, her annoyance was not small
at having such a matter forced upon her at a moment when her mind was
filled with anxieties. "Then," she thought to herself, "there is ahead of
me that explanation which must inevitably come with Wei; so that,
altogether, if it were not for the deeply rooted conviction which I have
that Tu will be mine at last, when he knows what I really am, life would
not be worth having. As for this inn-proprietor, if he has so little
delicacy as to push his cousin upon me at this crisis, I need not have any
compunction regarding him; so perhaps my easiest way of getting out of the
present hobble will be to accept his proposal and to present the box of
precious ointment handed me by Wei for my sister to this ogling love-sick
girl." So turning to King, she said:
"Since you, sir, and your cousin have honoured me with your regard, I dare
not altogether decline your proposal, and I would therefore beg you, sir,
to hand this," she added, producing the box of ointment, "to your
honourable cousin, as a token of the bond between us, and to convey to her
my promise that, if I don't marry her, I will never marry another lady."
Mr. King, with the greatest delight, received the box, and handing it to
the waiting-woman, who stood expectant by, bade her carry it to her
mistress, with the news of the engagement. Jasmine now hoped that her
immediate troubles were over, but King insisted on celebrating the event
by a feast, and it was not until late in the afternoon that she succeeded
in making a start. Once on the road, her anxiety to reach Peking was such
that she travelled night and day, "feeding on wind and lodging in water."
Nor did she rest until she reached a hotel within the Hata Gate of the
Jasmine's solitary journey had given her abundant time for reflection, and
for the first time she had set herself seriously to consider her position.
She recognised that she had hitherto followed only the impulses of the
moment, of which the main one had been the desire to escape complications
by the wholesale sacrifice of truth; and she acknowledged to herself that,
if justice were evenly dealt out, there must be a Nemesis in store for her
which would bring distress and possibly disaster upon her. In her calmer
moments she felt an instinctive foreboding that she was approaching a
crisis in her fate, and it was with mixed feelings, therefore, that on the
morning after her arrival she prepared to visit Tu and Wei, who were as
yet ignorant of her presence.
She dressed herself with more than usual care for the occasion, choosing
to attire herself in a blue silk robe and a mauve satin jacket which Tu
had once admired, topped by a brand-new cap. Altogether her appearance as
she passed through the streets justified the remark made by a passerby: "A
pretty youngster, and more like a maiden of eighteen than a man."
The hostelry at which Tu and Wei had taken up their abode was an inn
befitting the dignity of such distinguished scholars. On inquiring at the
door, Jasmine was ushered by a servant through a courtyard to an inner
enclosure, where, under the grateful shade of a wide-spreading
cotton-tree, Tu was reclining at his ease. Jasmine's delight at meeting
her friend was only equalled by the pleasure with which Tu greeted her. In
his strong and gracious presence she became conscious that she was
released from the absorbing care which had haunted her, and her soul
leaped out in new freedom as she asked and answered questions of her
friend. Each had much to say, and it was not for some time, when an
occasional reference brought his name forward that Jasmine noticed the
absence of Wei. When she did, she asked after him.
"He left this some days ago," said Tu, "having some special business which
called for his presence at home. He did not tell me what it was, but
doubtless it was something of importance." Jasmine said nothing, but felt
pretty certain in her mind as to the object of his hasty return.
Tu, attributing her silence to a reflection on Wei for having left the
capital before her father's affair was settled, hastened to add:
"He was very helpful in the matter of your honoured father's difficulty,
and only left when he thought he could not do any more."
"How do matters stand now?" asked Jasmine, eagerly.
"We have posted a memorial at the palace gate," said Tu, "and have
arranged that it shall reach the right quarter. Fortunately, also, I have
an acquaintance in the Board of War who has undertaken to do all he can in
that direction, and promises an answer in a few days."
"I have brought with me," said Jasmine, "a petition prepared by my father.
What do you think about presenting it?"
"At present I believe that it would only do harm. A superabundance of
memorials is as bad as none at all. Beyond a certain point, they only
"Very well," said Jasmine; "I am quite content to leave the conduct of
affairs in your hands."
"Well then," said Tu, "that being understood, I propose that you should
move your things over to this inn. There is Wei's room at your disposal,
and your constant presence here will be balm to my lonely spirit. At the
Hata Gate you are almost as remote as if you were in our study at
Jasmine was at first startled by this proposal. Though she had been
constantly in the company of Tu, she had never lived under the same roof
with him, and she at once recognised that there might be difficulties in
the way of her keeping her secret if she were to be constantly under the
eyes of her friend. But she had been so long accustomed to yield to the
present circumstances, and was so confident that Fortune, which, with some
slight irregularities, had always stood her friend, would not desert her
on the present occasion, that she gave way.
"By all means," she said. "I will go back to my inn, and bring my things
at once. This writing-case I will leave here. I brought it because it
contains my father's petition."
So saying, she took her leave, and Tu retired to his easy-chair under the
cotton-tree. But the demon of curiosity was abroad, and alighting on the
arm of Tu's chair, whispered in his ear that it might be well if he ran
his eye over Colonel Wen's petition to see if there was any argument in it
which he had omitted in his statement to the Board of War. At first, Tu,
whose nature was the reverse of inquisitive, declined to listen to these
promptings, but so persistent did they become that he at last put down his
book—"The Spring and Autumn Annals"—and, seating himself, at
the sitting-room table, opened the writing-case so innocently left by
Jasmine. On the top were a number of red visiting-cards bearing the
inscription, in black, of Wen Tsunk'ing, and beneath these was the
petition. Carefully Tu read it through, and passed mental eulogies on it
as he proceeded. The colonel had put his case skilfully, but Tu had no
difficulty in recognising Jasmine's hand, both in the composition of the
document and in the penmanship. "If my attempt," he thought, "does not
succeed, we will try what this will do." He was on the point of returning
it to its resting-place, when he saw another document in Jasmine's
handwriting lying by it. This was evidently a formal document, probably
connected, as he thought, with the colonel's case, and he therefore
unfolded it and read as follows:
"The faithful maiden, Miss Wen of Mienchu Hien, with burning incense
reverently prays the God of War to release her father from his present
difficulties, and speedily to restore peace to her own soul by nullifying,
in accordance with her desire, the engagement of the bamboo arrow and the
contract of the box of precious ointment. A respectful petition."
As Tu read on, surprise and astonishment took possession of his
countenance. A second time he read it through, and then, throwing himself
back in his chair, broke out into a fit of laughter.
"So," he said to himself, "I have allowed myself to be deceived by a young
girl all these years. And yet not altogether deceived," he added, trying
to find an excuse for himself; "for I have often fancied that there was
the savour of a woman about the 'young noble.' I hope she is not one of
those heaven-born genii who appear on earth to plague men, and who, just
when they have aroused the affections they wished to excite, ascend
through the air and leave their lovers mourning."
Just at this moment the door opened, and Jasmine entered, looking more
lovely than ever, with the flush begotten by exercise on her beautifully
moulded cheeks. At sight of her Tu again burst out laughing, to Jasmine's
not unnatural surprise, who, thinking that there must be something wrong
with her dress, looked herself up and down, to the increasing amusement of
"So," said he at last, "you deceitful little hussy, you have been
deceiving me all these years by passing yourself off as a man, when in
reality you are a girl."
Overcome with confusion, Jasmine hung her head, and murmured:
"Who has betrayed me?"
"You have betrayed yourself," said Tu, holding up the incriminating
document; "and here we have the story of the arrow with which you shot the
hawk, but what the box of precious ointment means I don't know."
Confronted with this overwhelming evidence, poor Jasmine remained
speechless, and dared not even lift her eyes to glance at Tu. That young
man, seeing her distress, and being in no wise possessed by the scorn
which he had put into his tone, crossed over to her and gently led her to
a seat by him.
"Do you remember," he said, in so altered a voice that Jasmine's heart
ceased to throb as if it wished to force an opening through the finely
formed bosom which enclosed it, "on one occasion in our study at home I
wished that you were a woman that you might become my wife? Little did I
think that my wish might be gratified. Now it is, and I beseech you to let
us join our lives in one, and seek the happiness of the gods in each
other's perpetual presence."
But, as if suddenly recollecting herself, Jasmine withdrew her hand from
his, and, standing up before him with quivering lip and eyes full of
"No. It can never be."
"Why not?" said Tu, in alarmed surprise.
"Because I am bound to Wei."
"What! Does Wei know your secret?"
"No. But do you remember when I shot that arrow in front of your study?"
"Perfectly," said Tu. "But what has that to do with it?"
"Why, Wei discovered my name on the shaft, and I, to keep my secret, told
him that it was my sister's name. He then wanted to marry my sister, and I
undertook, fool that I was, to arrange it for him. Now I shall be obliged
to confess the truth, and he will have a right to claim me instead of my
"But," said Tu, "I have a prior right to that of Wei, for it was I who
found the arrow. And in this matter I shall be ready to outface him at all
hazards. But," he added, "Wei, I am sure, is not the man to take an unfair
advantage of you."
"Do you really think so?" asked Jasmine.
"Certainly I do," said Tu.
"Then—then—I shall be—very glad," said poor Jasmine,
hesitatingly, overcome with bashfulness, but full of joy.
At which gracious consent Tu recovered the hand which had been withdrawn
from his, and Jasmine sank again into the chair at his side.
"But, Tu, dear," she said, after a pause, "there is something else that I
must tell you before I can feel that my confessions are over."
"What! You have not engaged yourself to any one else, have you?" said Tu,
"Yes, I have," she replied, with a smile; and she then gave her lover a
full and particular account of how Mr. King had proposed to her on behalf
of his cousin, and how she had accepted her.
"How could you frame your lips to utter such untruths?" said Tu, half
laughing and half in earnest.
"O Tu, falsehood is so easy and truth so difficult sometimes. But I feel
that I have been very, very wicked," said poor Jasmine, covering her face
with her hands.
"Well, you certainly have got yourself into a pretty hobble. So far as I
can make out, you are at the present moment engaged to one young lady and
two young men."
The situation, thus expressed, was so comical that Jasmine could not
refrain from laughing through her tears; but, after a somewhat lengthened
consultation with her lover, her face recovered its wonted serenity, and
round it hovered a halo of happiness which added light and beauty to every
feature. There is something particularly entrancing in receiving the first
confidences of a pure and loving soul. So Tu thought on this occasion, and
while Jasmine was pouring the most secret workings of her inmost being
into his ear, those lines of the poet of the Sung dynasty came
irresistibly into his mind:
'T is sweet to see the flowers woo the sun,
To watch the quaint wiles of the cooing dove,
But sweeter far to hear the dulcet tones
Of her one loves confessing her great love.
But there is an end to everything, even to the "Confucian Analects," and
so there was also to this lovers' colloquy. For just as Jasmine was
explaining, for the twentieth time, the origin and basis of her love for
Tu, a waiter entered to announce the arrival of her luggage.
"I don't know quite," said Tu, "where we are to put your two men. But,
by-the-bye," he added, as the thought struck him, "did you really travel
all the way in the company of these two men only?"
"O Tu," said Jasmine, laughing, "I have something else to confess to you."
"What! another lover?" said Tu, affecting horror and surprise.
"No; not another lover, but another woman. The short, stout one is a
woman, and came as my maid. She is the wife of 'The Dragon.'"
"Well, now have you told me all? For I am getting so confused about the
people you have transformed from women to men, that I shall have doubts
about my own sex next."
"Yes, Tu, dear; now you know all," said Jasmine, laughing. But not all the
good news which was in store for him, for scarcely had Jasmine done
speaking when a letter arrived from his friend in the Board of War, who
wrote to say that he had succeeded in getting the military intendant of
Mienchu transferred to a post in the province of Kwangsi, and that the
departure of this noxious official would mean the release of the colonel,
as he alone was the colonel's accuser. This news added one more chord of
joy which had been making harmony in Jasmine's heart for some hours, and
readily she agreed with Tu that they should set off homeward on the
With no such adventure as that which had attended Jasmine's journey to the
capital, they reached Mienchu, and, to their delight, were received by the
colonel in his own yamun. After congratulating him on his release, which
Jasmine took care he should understand was due entirely to Tu's exertions,
she gave him a full account of her various experiences on the road and at
"It is like a story out of a book of marvels," said her father, "and even
now you have not exhausted all the necessary explanations. For, since my
release, your friend Wei has been here to ask for my daughter in marriage.
From some questions I put to him, he is evidently unaware that you are my
only daughter, and I therefore put him off and told him to wait until you
returned. He is in a very impatient state, and, no doubt, will be over
Nor was the colonel wrong, for almost immediately Wei was announced, who,
after expressing the genuine pleasure he felt at seeing Jasmine again,
began at once on the subject which filled his mind.
"I am so glad," he said, "to have this opportunity of asking you to
explain matters. At present I am completely nonplussed. On my return from
Peking I inquired of one of your father's servants about his daughter. 'He
has not got one,' quoth the man. I went to another, and he said, 'You mean
the "young noble," I suppose.' 'No, I don't,' I said; 'I mean his sister.'
'Well, that is the only daughter I know of,' said he. Then I went to your
father, and all I could get out of him was, 'Wait until the "young noble"
comes home.' Please tell me what all this means."
"Your great desire is to marry a beautiful and accomplished girl, is it
not?" said Jasmine.
"That certainly is my wish," said Wei.
"Well then," said Jasmine, "I can assure you that your betrothal present
is in the hand of such a one, and a girl whom to look at is to love."
"That may be," said Wei, "But my wish is to marry your sister."
"Will you go and talk to Tu about it?" said Jasmine, who felt that the
subject was becoming too difficult for her, and whose confidence in Tu's
wisdom was unbounded, "and he will explain it all to you."
Even Tu, however, found it somewhat difficult to explain Jasmine's
sphinx-like mysteries, and on certain points Wei showed a disposition to
be anything but satisfied. Jasmine's engagement to Tu implied his
rejection, and he was disposed to be splenetic and disagreeable about it.
His pride was touched, and in his irritation he was inclined to impute
treachery to his friend and deceit to Jasmine. To the first charge Tu had
a ready answer, but the second was all the more annoying because there was
some truth in it. However, Tu was not in the humour to quarrel, and being
determined to seek peace and ensue it, he overlooked Wei's innuendos and
made out the best case he could for his bride. On Miss King's beauty,
virtues, and ability he enlarged with a wealth of diction and power of
imagination which astonished himself, and Jasmine also, to whom he
afterward repeated the conversation. "Why, Tu, dear," said that artless
maiden, "how can you know all this about Miss King? You have never seen
her, and I am sure I never told you half of all this."
"Don't ask questions," said the enraptured Tu. "Let it be enough for you
to know that Wei is as eager for the possession of Miss King as he was for
your sister, and that he has promised to be my best man at our wedding
And Wei was as good as his word. With every regard to ceremony and ancient
usage, the marriage of Tu and Jasmine was celebrated in the presence of
relatives and friends, who, attracted by the novelty of the antecedent
circumstances, came from all parts of the country to witness the nuptials.
By Tu's especial instructions also a prominence was allowed to Wei, which
gratified his vanity and smoothed down the ruffled feathers of his
Jasmine thought that no time should be lost in reducing Miss King to the
same spirit of acquiescence to which Wei had been brought, and on the
evening of her wedding-day she broached the subject to Tu.
"I shall not feel, Tu, dear," she said, "that I have gained absolution for
my many deceptions until that very forward Miss King has been talked over
into marrying Wei; and I insist, therefore," she added, with an amount of
hesitancy which reduced the demand to the level of a plaintive appeal,
"that we start to-morrow for Ch'engtu to see the young woman."
"Ho! ho!" replied Tu, intensely amused at her attempted bravado. "These
are brave words, and I suppose that I must humbly register your decrees."
"O Tu, you know what I mean. You know that, like a child who takes a
delight in conquering toy armies, I love to fancy that I can command so
strong a man as you are. But, Tu, if you knew how absolutely I rely on
your judgment, you would humour my folly and say yes."
There was a subtle incense of love and flattery about this appeal which,
backed as it was by a look of tenderness and beauty, made it irresistible;
and the arrangements for the journey were made in strict accordance with
On arriving at the inn which was so full of chastening memories to
Jasmine, Tu sent his card to Mr. King, who, flattered by the attention
paid him by so eminent a scholar, cordially invited Tu to his house.
"To what," he said, as Tu, responding to his invitation, entered his
reception-hall, "am I to attribute the honour of receiving your
illustrious steps in my mean apartments?"
"I have heard," said Tu, "that the beautiful Miss King is your
Excellency's cousin, and having a friend who is desirous of gaining her
hand, I have come to plead on his behalf."
"I regret to say," replied King, "that your Excellency has come too late,
as she has already received an engagement token from a Mr. Wen, who passed
here lately on his way to Peking."
"Mr. Wen is a friend of mine also," said Tu, "and it was because I knew
that his troth was already plighted that I ventured to come on behalf of
him of whom I have spoken."
"Mr. Wen," said King, "is a gentleman and a scholar, and having given a
betrothal present, he is certain to communicate with us direct in case of
"Will you, old gentleman," [a term of respect] said Tu, producing the
lines which Miss King had sent Jasmine, "just cast your eyes over these
verses, written to Wen by your cousin? Feeling most regretfully that he
was unable to fulfil his engagement, Wen gave these to me as a testimony
of the truth of what I now tell you."
King took the paper handed him by Tu, and recognised at a glance his
"Alas!" he said, "Mr Wen told us he was engaged, but, not believing him, I
urged him to consent to marry my cousin. If you will excuse me, sir," he
added, "I will consult with the lady as to what should be done."
After a short absence he returned.
"My cousin is of the opinion," he said, "that she cannot enter into any
new engagement until Mr. Wen has come here himself and received back the
betrothal present which he gave her on parting."
"I dare not deceive you, old gentleman, and will tell you at once that
that betrothal present was not Wen's but was my unworthy friend Wei's, and
came into Wen's possession in a way that I need not now explain."
"Still," said King, "my cousin thinks Mr. Wen should present himself here
in person and tell his own story; and I must say that I am of her
"It is quite impossible that Mr. Wen should return here," replied Tu; "but
my 'stupid thorn' [wife] is in the adjoining hostelry, and would be most
happy to explain fully to Miss King Wen's entire inability to play the
part of a husband to her."
"If your honourable consort would meet my cousin, she, I am sure, will be
glad to talk the matter over with her."
With Tu's permission, Miss King's maid was sent to the inn to invite
Jasmine to call on her mistress. The maid, who was the same who had acted
as Miss King's messenger on the former occasion, glanced long and
earnestly at Jasmine. Her features were familiar to her, but she could not
associate them with any lady of her acquaintance. As she conducted her to
Miss King's apartments, she watched her stealthily, and became more and
more puzzled by her appearance. Miss King received her with civility, and
after exchanging wishes that each might be granted ten thousand blessings,
Jasmine said, smiling:
"Do you recognise Mr. Wen?"
Miss King looked at her, and seeing in her a likeness to her beloved,
"What relation are you to him, lady?"
"I am his very self!" said Jasmine.
Miss King opened her eyes wide at this startling announcement, and gazed
earnestly at her.
"Haiyah!" cried her maid, clapping her hands, "I thought there was
a wonderful likeness between the lady and Mr. Wen. But who would have
thought that she was he?"
"But what made you disguise yourself in that fashion?" asked Miss King, in
an abashed and somewhat vexed tone.
"My father was in difficulties," said Jasmine, "and as it was necessary
that I should go to Peking to plead for him, I dressed as a man for the
convenience of travel. You will remember that in the first instance I
declined your flattering overtures, but when I found that you persisted in
your proposal, not being able to explain the truth, I thought the best
thing to do was to hand you my friend's betrothal present which I had with
me, intending to return and explain matters. And you will admit that in
one thing I was truthful."
"What was that?" asked the maid.
"Why," answered Jasmine, "I said that if I did not marry your lady I would
never marry any woman."
"Well, yes," said the maid, laughing, "you have kept your faith royally
"The friend I speak of," continued Jasmine, "has now taken his doctor's
degree, and this stupid husband and wife have come from Mienchu to make
you a proposal on his behalf."
Miss King was not one who could readily take in an entirely new and
startling idea, and she sat with a half-dazed look, staring at Jasmine
without uttering a word. If it had not been for the maid, the conversation
would have ceased; but that young woman was determined to probe the matter
to the bottom.
"You have not told us," she said, "the gentleman's name. And will you
explain why you call him your friend? How could you be on terms of
friendship with him?"
"From my childhood," said Jasmine, "I have always dressed as a boy. I went
to a boy's school—"
"Haiyah!" interjected the maid.
"And afterward I joined my husband and this gentleman, Mr. Wei, in a
"Didn't they discover your secret?"
"That's odd," said the maid. "But will you tell us something about this
Upon this, Jasmine launched out in a glowing eulogy upon her friend. She
expatiated with fervour on his youth, good looks, learning, and prospects,
and with such effect did she speak that Miss King, who began to take in
the situation, ended by accepting cordially Jasmine's proposal.
"And now, lady, you must stay and dine with me," said Miss King, when the
bargain was struck, "while my cousin entertains your husband in the hall."
At this meal the beginning of a friendship was formed between the two
ladies which lasted ever afterward, though it was somewhat unevenly
balanced. Jasmine's stronger nature felt compassion mingled with liking
for the pretty doll-like Miss King, while the young lady entertained the
profoundest admiration for her guest.
There was nothing to delay the fulfilment of the engagement thus happily
arranged, and at the next full moon Miss King had an opportunity of
comparing her bridegroom with the picture which Jasmine had drawn of him.
Scholars are plentiful in China, but it was plainly impossible that men of
such distinguished learning as Tu and Wei should be left among the
unemployed, and almost immediately after their marriage they were
appointed to important posts in the empire. Tu rose rapidly to the highest
rank, and died, at a good old age, viceroy of the metropolitan province
and senior guardian to the heir apparent. Wei was not so supremely
fortunate, but then, as Tu used to say, "he had not a Jasmine to help