Mr. David Tod Roy's five-volume edition is, after all, just a bit behind schedule.
A bad harvest and the subsequent scarcity of food had caused Wu Ta to
turn his back on his native town and migrate with his daughter, little
Ying, to this city of Tsing Ho Hsien. His weak body, servile manner,
small features and wrinkled skin caused the neighbors to give him the
nicknames of “Three-Inch Manikin” and “Bark Dwarf and he was often a
victim of their mockery and ridicule. He earned his living by marching
up and down the streets all day with a hamper on his shoulders,
offering hot tarts for sale. He had lodgings in the house of a certain
Master Chang. There he lived in a little shop fronting the main street.
While he continued to hawk his tarts as before, he was able, in his
friendly, helpful way, to enlist the sympathies of the housekeeper, who
interceded to have him exempted from paying rent.
Master Chang was a very wealthy sexagenarian. He possessed tens of
thousands of strings of a thousand cash:, but he had not a single son
or daughter to call his own. His household consisted only of his wife,
an austere, conventional old woman. There was not a drop of fresh young
blood in the house to cheer his heart Often, striking himself sadly on
the breast, he would sigh:
“Poor childless old man that I am, what good do I get from all my
And one day his wife had answered him:
“Very well, I shall commission a go-between to buy you two pretty
young slaves. As far as I'm concerned they may entertain you from
morning till night with their dancing and lute playing.”
The old gentleman received this suggestion with joy, and a few days
later a go-between brought two pretty young girls to the house.
Unfortunately, the sixteen-year-old Pai Yu Lien died soon after her
arrival.. The other, the fifteen-year-old Pan Chin lien, was the sixth
daughter of a poor little tailor, Pan, who lived in the suburbs, to the
south of the city. The name of Chin Lien—“Gold Lotus”—was given to
her because of her precocious charms and her pretty, slender feet.
After the death of her father the girl, barely nine years of age, had
been sold by her mother into the distinguished household of one Master
Wang, and had been instructed in singing and lute playing, and also in
the arts of reading and writing. Hers was an exceptionally alert and
versatile nature. When barely thirteen she knew already how to
embellish her eyebrows and her eyes, and how to redden her lips and
cheeks with perfect art. She could play on the bamboo flute and the
guitar; she was proficient in all fine handwork and needlework, and had
mastered the difficulties of the written language. Her carefully waved
hair she wore attractively arranged in luxuriant masses. She drew her
garments closely about her young body. And so she grew up to be a
coquettish little beauty.
When Gold Lotus was fifteen, old Master Wang died. Her mother at once
redeemed her from slavery for twenty ounces of silver and sold her to
the house of Chang. There Gold Lotus perfected herself in manifold
arts, and learned, in particular, to play the seven-stringed pi pa.
She had now seen eighteen springs, and had blossomed into a perfect
beauty. “A face of peach-blossom loveliness; two brows as finely curved
as the sickle of the new moon.” For a long while Master Chang had been
itching to possess her, but his dread of his austere wife had always
restrained him from plucking this precious blossom. Then one day, while
his wife was visiting a neighbor, he finally succeeded. He had, indeed,
to atone five times over for the short-lived rapture of this secret
indulgence. He was immediately affected with: first, backache; second,
running of the eyes; third, ringing in the ears; fourth, a cold in the
head; and fifth, catarrh of the bladder.
Naturally the cause of his sufferings could not long be concealed
from his wife, whereupon a violent scene took place, with words of
abuse and blows for poor Gold Lotus. This grieved Master Chang deeply,
and he decided to give her in marriage outside his household. He
himself was filling to provide her dowry. On hearing this, his servants
suggested their amiable lodger, the widower, Wu Ta, as a suitable
husband for Gold Lotus. Master Chang reflected that this arrangement
would enable him to visit Gold Lotus in secret from time to time, so he
gladly accepted the proposal. The fortunate Wu Ta was not asked to pay
a single cash piece; he received his new wife absolutely free of
charge. Even after the marriage, Master Chang was greatly concerned for
the welfare of the young couple, and was always ready to aid the
husband if Wu Ta happened to be short of money.
Whenever Wu Ta was away for the whole day, unsuspectingly hawking his
tarts in the street, his benefactor, as soon as he saw that he was
unobserved, would slip into his tenant's house in order to carry on his
clandestine affair with Gold Lotus. Once the husband actually surprised
his patron on such an occasion, but he dared not complain, for he told
himself that he was merely clay in the old man's hands. The affair
continued until one day Master Chang was carried off by a grievous
catarrh of the bladder. His wife, who had long known of the affair,
showed her displeasure immediately by turning Gold Lotus and her
husband out of the house. And so Wu Ta had to seek new lodgings. He was
fortunately able to rent a couple of small rooms in the house of a
certain Wang, on the west side of Purple Stone Street Once more he
tramped the streets with his basket on his shoulders, selling his
tarts, and earning a bare living.
Gold Lotus had nothing but contempt for her poor wretch of a husband.
Angry words often passed between them, and in her rage she even cursed
the memory of old Chang.