THE MARBLE ARCH
A Chinese Story
translated by George
When the troubles began to break out
in Hankow, many families were
alarmed. Those who were not ignorant of
the powerful organisation of the revolutionists
left the town as soon as possible,
anticipating that it would soon be plundered
The retired prefect, Kiun, was amongst
the first to embark in order to go down
the river. His house was situated at
several lis from the river, on the confines
of the suburbs, outside the fortified
enclosure. He had only been married a
short time, and was living with his father
When the baggage at last was ready,
the bearers fixed it in the middle of
their long bamboos and set off two by
two, grumbling under the heavy load.
The two old people followed; Kiun and
his young wife, the charming Seaweed,
helped them as well as they could.
In order to avoid crossing the centre of
the town, they followed the crenellated wall
by an almost deserted road. A young
man and woman alone were sauntering in
the same direction, carrying parcels on their
"Where are you going to?" they asked,
as it is the custom to do between travellers.
"As far as the river," replied Kiun.
"We also," said the young man. "What
is your precious name?"
"My contemptible name is Kiun. But
you, deign to inform me about your
"My name is Wang The-king. We are
flying from the insurrection."
They thus talked while walking in company.
Seaweed took the advantage of a moment
when the new-comers were a little in front
to bend towards her husband.
"Do not let us get in the same junk
with these strangers. The man has looked
at me several times in a rude way; his eyes
are unsteady and fickle; I am afraid of
Kiun made a sign of assent. But when
they had arrived on the quay, Wang The-king
gave himself so much trouble to find
a junk and help to embark the luggage
that the prefect, bound by the rites, could
not avoid asking him to get on board the
boat with him.
They unmoored; Wang The-king established
himself on the prow with his wife,
near the mariners; he spoke a long time
with them while they were passing the last
houses of the large city.
When night fell, they were in a part of
the river where it got broader to such an
extent that you could no longer distinguish
the banks. The wind was blowing rather
violently and the unfurling waves projected
heavy showers on the mats which covered
Kiun, uneasy, went to the prow of the
boat in order to question the master. The
bright moon was rising, lighting the dark
line of the bank. They approached in
order to throw the anchor.
Wang The-king was on the narrow bridge;
when Kiun came to his side, he coolly
pushed the poor prefect overboard. Kiun's
father was two paces behind; Wang ran to
him and threw him also into the tumultuous
waters of the rapid current. Kiun's mother,
hearing a cry and a struggle, went to see
what was happening, and she also was
precipitated into the foaming river.
Seaweed, from the cabin, had seen all;
but she took good care not to go outside;
"Alas! my father-in-law and my mother-in-law
are dead! My husband has been
killed! I am going to die, too!"
While she was crying, Wang The-king
entered the cabin.
"Fear nothing," said he; "forget those
people who are no more and won't come
back. I am going to take you home to
the city of The-Golden-tombs. There I
have fields and houses belonging to me; I
will give them to you."
The young woman kept back her sobs
and said nothing; she thought it wise
not to provoke the murderer.
Wang The-king, very satisfied with his
prospects, went back to the mariners, gave
them the greater part of what his victims
had brought in silver and luggage; then he
quietly took his dinner and retired to his
cabin with his wife. The woman had a
strange look, but she did not say anything,
and they went to sleep.
Towards the hour of the Rat, the woman
began to groan; then she started out of her
sleep and cried to her husband:
"Kill me, repudiate me! I can no
longer stay with you! Thunder and lightning
will strike you! I have dreamt it;
I will no longer be the wife of a murderer
and a thief!"
Wang, furious, struck her. But as she
continued, he took her in his arms and
threw her into the river.
On the second day the boat arrived at
The-Golden-tombs. Wang took Seaweed
to his family. When his old mother asked
what he had done with his first wife, he
"She fell in the river, and I will marry
They were soon settled in the house.
Wang wished to take liberties with Seaweed,
who gently drove him back.
"We must not neglect the rites. Do not
let us forget to empty first the marriage
Wang joyously accepted; and soon,
seated opposite each other, they began
exchanging cups of wine in the ritual
Seaweed, however, pretended to drink,
and tried to make her lover tipsy; she
contrived this little by little.
Wang, rendered sleepy by the wine, undressed
himself, got on the bed, and ordered
the young woman to put out the lamps and
come to him.
She carefully blew the lamps and said:
"I will come in a minute!"
Then she quickly went to her luggage,
took out a sword she had hidden there, and
came back. Feeling with her hands in the
darkness, she found the throat of the man
and struck him as hard as she could: the
man screamed and tried to get up; she
struck again and again: there was a
moaning, a gurgle, and then silence.
However, Wang's mother, having heard
some noise, came with a lantern. Seaweed
killed her before the old woman could
even say a word.
Then the young woman, having avenged
her family, tried to cut her own throat, in
order to join her husband. The sword was
blunt and she was only able to scratch
herself. She then remembered that, outside
the house, there was a fairly big
pond; she ran out and threw herself into the
Some neighbours saw her and ran to her
help; other people came; lanterns were
brought forth; the poor girl at last was
taken out of the pond, and brought back
to her house. But, when the new-comers
entered the room, they saw the bodies and
"Murder! Murder!" cried they.
And they immediately sent a boy to call
the police. The constables came and looked
all over the room; they soon found in Seaweed's
luggage a note prepared by the
unfortunate woman and stating the truth
about her family's death. The assistants
were loud in their praise of her act:
"She avenged her husband; she has
been witty enough to beguile the murderer;
and now she has killed herself! Such an act
of courage and virtue has not been heard
of for centuries. We must ask the authorities
to build her a marble arch to
commemorate her history, and be an
example to future generations."
While all this was going on, they tried
to revive the woman; everything was done,
but in vain. A coffin was then brought in,
and the girl transferred to it, covered with
her best garments and jewels. The lid
was screwed on, and everybody left the
We must now come back to the evening
when Wang pushed into the water Seaweed's
husband. Kiun was a strong man and a
very good swimmer; surprised by this
sudden attack, all he could do at first was
to keep his head out of the tumultuous
water. He then thought to go back to the
boat, but, on the foaming expanse nothing
was to be seen; the rapid current had
driven him too far. At last the water
brought him to a curving beach, where he
was able to land.
Walking disconsolately on the sand, he
saw a human body rolled by the surge;
he approached, and recognised his father;
farther on he saw his mother; both he
dragged out of the water. Most uneasy
about his wife, he walked on the river's
edge, straining his eyes; the moon was
shining; he saw at last a human being
holding a big piece of wood. He swam to
her, pushed her to the beach, and took her
he thought was his wife to the dry sand.
He undid the upper garment in order to
rub her members; when he saw she was
not so cold, he wiped her hair out of her
face. His stupor was immense in recognising
The sun rose at last and warmed them.
The young woman sighed, opened her eyes,
and, completely herself again, told Kiun
what she had seen:
"My husband is a murderer. In a
dream I saw the King-of-Shadows himself
sitting behind his tribunal and writing his
name on the death-list. Besides, he is
in love with your wife. If you wish it, we
will go together straight to The Golden-tombs
and do what we can to avenge
Kiun, seeing a man coming to work in a
field not far from there, went to him and
told him in a few words what had happened;
the man led them to his landlord, a rich
man, who gave them food and warm dresses,
sent men to bring the drowned bodies to a
side house and have them properly buried.
Then he advanced a certain sum of money
to Kiun, who agreed to send it back when he
should get to a place where he could find
a correspondent of his bankers.
Then Kiun and his companion engaged a
small boat and went down the river. When
they got to The Golden-tombs, they questioned
the people in the street about Wang.
A month had elapsed since the events we
have told of; the first man they questioned
looked at them in wonder:
"How is it you don't know what
happened? Wang is dead; he has been
killed by a virtuous woman whose family
he had murdered and who killed herself
afterwards. You have only to go on; in
the first street to your right you will see a
new marble arch which has just been erected
to commemorate virtuous Seaweed's courageous
Kiun thought his heart would burst; he
dragged his companion to the marble arch
and read the inscription. Then he bought
a bundle of those imitations of gold and
silver ingots made with paper which people
burn on the tombs in order to send some
money to the dead; he went to the tomb
in the place indicated by the inscription.
There he reverently knelt, and, after
having knocked the ground with his forehead,
he burnt the paper-ingots, rose, and
went away with Wang's wife.
When they were back in their boat, they
discussed their plans and resolved to go
down the river to Shanghai.
They were leaving the harbour, when a
small boat crossed their way; two women
sat on the bench. One of them reminded
Kiun strangely of his late wife. The woman
had looked up at him and seemed surprised.
The retired prefect, moved by a mysterious
strength, pronounced aloud a sentence which
used to make his wife laugh when they
were together happy in Hankow:
"I see wild geese flying high in the
Seaweed, when she was alive, used to
answer by a phrase which had nothing to do
with the first sentence, and had made them
laugh very often by its stupidity. The
woman in the boat said it too:
"The dog wants the cat's biscuit; you
quickly shut it in the house."
Kiun, wondering whether it was Seaweed's
ghost, asked the mariners to go
alongside the other boat; he jumped in it;
the woman threw her arms round his neck,
and they wept together.
"Are you alive? or is it only your ghost
I hold in my arms?" asked he.
"I am alive!"
Then she told him her adventures; when
she was put into the coffin, she had some
jewels on. One of the assistants resolved
to steal them; he waited till everybody
was gone and the house empty; then he
deliberately unscrewed the coffin's lid and
rifled what he could. He was trying to
take a ring off her hand, when the supposed
corpse rose and screamed.
The poor man thought his last hour had
come and did not move. Seaweed, seeing
her jewels in his hands, and seeing the coffin
she was in, grasped the situation at a glance.
"You want my jewels! Have them if
you like; you saved my life, and without
you I would have been stifled in this gruesome
The man at first dared not accept; then
"In exchange for your kindness, I will
tell you something. In the third house in
the first street lives a rich widow; she is
alone and would like to adopt a girl; go
to her and tell her everything. She will be
happy to give you a home."
Then he helped her to get out of the coffin,
screwed the lid again, and disappeared.
Seaweed went straight to the house. The
widow received her with the greatest kindness,
and asked of her to let everybody
believe she was dead; if not, there would
have been a lawsuit.
Both women, now united by the closest
affection, had been out on the river for
pleasure's sake when they saw Kiun's
bark. The widow, when the explanations
were finished, opened her arms to Kiun;
she called him her son-in-law. Seaweed
asked Wang's wife to be the second wife
of her husband. And they all lived long