Chapter 09

One Woman, although adept at the rarest sensuality, uoholds basic principle,
While another, although ready for leftover pleasure, takes first prize.

Poem:
Wanton bawls talk much of chastity
And gain thereby a false celebrity.
Others there are, of snow-white purity,
Who’re only roused by rare depravity.

Let us tell now of Honest Quan’s wife, whose childhood name was Fragance. Her father was a village schoolmaster who gave her lessons in reading and writing from early childhood. She proved an extremely apt pupil, and because she was also very pretty, her parents were unwilling to rush her into an early marriage. When she was fifteen, a young student who had topped the list in the Boy’s Examination sent a go-between along with a proposal, and Fragrance’s father, who felt the youth showed some promise, betrothed her to him. Unfortunately after just one year of marriage he died of general debility.

Fragance remained in mourning for a full year before marrying Honest Quan. Although hers was a highly sensual nature, she had a good grasp of basic principle, and whenever she heard talk of some woman’s going astray, she would laugh at her behind her back, on one occasion declaring to her companions, “Because we failed to cultivate our virtue in our last existence, we’ve been born female in this one and are forced to spend our lives in the women’s quarters. There’s no sightseeing or visiting for us, as there is for men. Sex is the one diversion we have in our lives, and surely no one can tell us not to enjoy that! But we were created man and wife by Heaven and Earth and matched in marriage by our parents, and so naturally it is right and proper to enjoy ourselves with our husbands, while sex with any other man is a moral transgression. If our husbands hear of it, it will bring us curses and a beating, and if the news becomes public, it will create a scandal. Beatings and scandal aside, if a woman does not have sex, well and good. But if she is going to have it, she should at least see that she enjoys it. After all, when you’re with your husband after the day’s work is done, you undress, get into bed together, and take things from the beginning in an ordered, leisurely way until eventually you reach a degree of ecstasy. What enjoyment is there in some furtive, fumbling encounter in which your only concern in the midst of your panic is to finish up as hastily as possible, whether you’ve hit the amrk or not? What’s more, there’s nothing to eat when you’re famished and more than enough when you’re well-fed and, just as with food and drinks, you get sick from the continual feast and famine. How ridiculous those women are who go astray! Why didn’t they use those same eyes to pick out a good husband in the first place as they used for picking out a lover later on? If they’re impressed by a mere name, let them choose someone cultivated. If it’s appearance they want, let them choose someone good-looking. And if it’s neither a name nor good looks that attracts them, but the reality of sexual performance, they ought to find someone robust and vigorous. That way they’ll not go wrong and they’ll be able to enjoy the real thing. There’s simply no need to abandon your husband and take a lover!”

Her companions listened and said, “She speaks from experience, so naturally her advice is somewhat different. it comes from the heart, but it’s also rather entertaining.”

In what sense was she a woman of experience? As a girl she had valued three things in a man-a name, good looks, and sexual ability – and in her heart she wanted a husband who possessed all three. When she married the student, she knew he had talent and was quite handsome, and she assumed he had the third quality as well. But to her great disappointment, his endowment was impossibly small and he had no stamina whatsoever. When he mounted her, she had scarcely begun to warm up before he had to dismount. But she was a hard-driving woman who refused to let him shirt his duties, and once her passions were aroused, she would urge him on again. No man with a weak constitution could survive such grueling demands, and in less than a year he was dead of general debility.

After this ordeal she realized that talent and looks, however attractive, serve no practical end. If all three qualities cannot be found together in a man, one should discard the illusory ones in favor of the real, which was why, when she came to choose another husband, she did not insist on an educated man, or even on a handsome one, but chose a robust and vigorous man for strictly practical ends.

Observing that Honest Quan, although coarse-grained and dull-witted, had the strength of a tiger, she knew he would also have the necessary practical qualifications, so she married him without even asking about the state of his finances. She had chosen him for his strength and had no idea of the size of his weapon. She merely assumed that a man of great physical strength would not need the longest spear or the biggest battle-axe to gain the victory, that even with a short sword or a thin blade he would still be able to defeat the foe. She never dreamed that his weapon would prove to be an eighteen-foot lance that a weak person could scarcely life or someone with small hands even grasp. She was delighted and clung to him with utter devotion from the day of her marriage, not once entertaining a wayward thought.

His was small business that brought in only a meager income, so she rose early to spin silk for him, contributing some cash each day. Far from her living off his earnings, he had to live off hers.

That day, as fate would have it, she had opened the curtain and was chatting with the woman across the lane when Vesperus passed by and got two close-up views of her. But because of her own nearsightedness, all she saw was the vague outline of a man dawdling in front of her shop; she had no idea what he looked like. Not so the woman across the lane, however, who enjoyed an excellent view.

This woman was in her thirties, and her husband, like Fragrance’s, was a silk merchant. he and Honest Quan would go off on business trips together, and although they did not pool their resources, they were partners in every other respect. The wife as exceedingly ugly and also oversexed, but partly because her signboard as not attractive enough and partly because her husband was a violent man who beat and abused her for the slightest misdemeanor, she was afraid to do anything rash.

That day she got a good view of Vesperus from head to toe and, as soon as he had left, she crossed the lane to her neighbor’s.

“That was a terribly handsome man walking up and down just now, looking at you. Did you notice?”

“You know how well I see, with my eyes! I sit here, and not a day goes by that a few men don’t look at me through the screen. Well, let them look. What’s the good of noticing anyway?”

“With the ordinary run of men, someone like you wouldn’t find it worthwhile to let them look; but with a man like this, you’d let him stand in front of your door and look at you for days on end.”

“You mean he’s better than perfect?”

“Not just better-ten times better, in my opinion. I stand in my doorway all the time and on any given day I see hundreds and thousands of men, but I’ve never seen one as handsome as this fellow. There’s nothing to compare with the pure whiteness of his complexion. His eyes and eyebrows, nose, ears-everything about him is simply adorable! He’s as gorgeous as a figure on a silk fan. Even if an artist were to paint a portrait as handsome as he is, it could never capture that romantic look. He makes you just die of longing!”

“You describe him so vividly, it’s comical. Frankly I don’t believe such a paragon exists. And if he did exist, he would stick to his business and I to mine, and I’d never even learn his name. So what’s the point of longing for him?”

“You may not long for him, but I saw how he longs for you. Half out of his mind, he was. He was going to leave, but couldn’t bear to. Then he was going to stay, but he was afraid of what people might think, so he had to leave. But after a while, there he was back again. Even when he left, he couldn’t bear to part from you. isn’t that pathetic? You didn’t see him, so naturally, you’re not in love with him. But I saw him and I’m lovesick on your account. How’s that for a strange thing?”

“I imagine he was reacting to seeing you, not me. You’re too embarrassed to admit he’s in love with you, so you put it all on me.”

“He fall for me- with my looks! It was you, I assure you. If you don’t believe me, he’s bound to come by again, and when I see him in the distance, I’ll let you know. Then you can come out and see him and also give him a chance to see you.”

“Let’s wait until he comes back and then decide.”

After many other intriguing remarks, the neighbor retreated to her house. For the next few days Fragrance was on the lookout, but a great deal of time elapsed without her seeing him again, and by the time he came in to buy silk, she had dismissed him from her mind. Then, on seeing how handsome he was, she naturally recalled the earlier conversation.

He must be the one we spoke of, she thought, after he had left. In appearance he is in a class of his own, but I know nothing yet about his inner talents. If I’m going to lose my good name, I ought at least to get some real enjoyment in exchange. If appearance is all I want, I can get him to come back for silk every day and gaze at him to my heart’s content; there’s no need to do anything more. Just now he joked about breaking it open and trying it out. He was talking about the silver, of course, but he meant it as a double entendre. if he does come tonight, ought I to reject him or let him stay? Is my reputation going to be decided, once and for all, for better or for worse in this one moment? I must give this some serious thought.

While she was in the midst of her dilemma, her neighbor came over.

“Mrs Quan, did you recognize that man buying silk from you?’

“No.”

“But he’s the one I told you about! Didn’t you realize? Is there another man in the world as handsome as he is?”

“Handsome, yes, I grant you that, but altogether too light and frivolous, not at all like a proper gentleman.”

“Now you’re getting all moralistic again! When would a proper gentleman ever some around looking at women? let’s just admire his looks and not put him on the scales. Who cares if he’s light or not?”

“That’s all very well, but in front of other people he ought to be a bit more serious. He made all kinds of advances just now. it’s fortunate my husband wasn’t at home. he would never have let him get away with it!”

“What advances? Do tell.”

“It was all so juvenile, there’s no point in describing it.”

The neighbor had an extremely prurient mind and, on hearing talk of advances, she imagined that Vesperus must somehow have dragged Fragrance off to bed. Fairly trembling with excitement, she pinched and patted her to make her tell, and Fragrance finally gave in. “he wasn’t alone. He had a companion with him. His flirting was just a matter of making eyes at me, very suggestively, while he was talking. What else did you imagine?”

“And di you give him any encouragement in return?”

“He was lucky I didn’t tell him off. What encouragement would I give him?”

“That shows a real lack of feeling on your part. Now don’t take me wrong, but there’s not another woman in the world as beautiful as you are, and not another man as handsome as he is, either. You two were meant for reach other. It’s a match made in heaven. you ought to have been husband and wife, but since that cannot be, you should at least fulfill your deepest desires by becoming lovers. Don’t take me wrong if I say that Master Quan is not a proper match for you. A fresh flower stuck in a dungheap, that’s what you are, and a crying shame it is. If this man doesn’t come back, never mind; but if he does, and you have no one else to take the part, I’ll gladly come over and play the matchmaker for you. Why, if you made love with him a couple of times, it would justify your whole existence. Now don’t get all moralistic. It’s only widows who don’t remarry that get the memorial arches built in their honor, you know. Whoever heard of a married woman getting a commendation from the government for not taking a lover? Am I right?”

The whole time the neighbor held forth, Fragrance was busy calculating to herself. it looks as if she’s madly in love with him. If I go in for this affair, since she lives just over the way, I’ll have to give her a piece of the action or she’ll wreck everything. But I still don’t know about that fellow’s capacity. Why not let her have first turn, as if she were sitting an exam in my place? Then, if he proves to have the capacity, I’ll sit the next one myself. I need hardly fear that an ugly woman like that will steal his affections. if he’s not up to it, all I have to do is make a scene and drive him out, and my good name will be as good as ever. Brilliant!

Her mind was made up.

“That sort of thing is not really my line,” she said. “If he comes back again, rather than your being my matchmaker, why not let me be yours, so that the two of you can enjoy yourselves a few times?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You don’t mean what you’re saying, but even if you did, he’d never want an ugly woman like me. If you wish to do me a favor, let me burst in on you after you’ve been to bed with him a couple of times. You can pretend to be embarrassed and insist that I join in, as if we were taking turns at being the banker in a gaming house. That just might work.”

“I did mean what I said, and I know how it can be done, too. I noticed how awfully persistent the man can be. I tried to snub him, but I can’t have been stern enough, because just before leaving he joked about trying to sneak in here tonight. Our husbands are away, and there’s hardly anyone at home. Lock your place up tonight and come over her to sleep. We’ll blow out the lamp, and I’ll hide. Then, if he does come, you pretend to be me and sleep with him. Afterward he’ll have to sneak away in the dark and will never suspect it was you in my place. Consider you’re doing me a favor, as well as preserving my good name. Now isn’t that a wonderful idea?”

“From what you say, I gather you’ve already told him he can come. I’m tickled to death at the idea, of course, and I couldn’t turn it down even if I wanted to. But there’s one thing I don’t understand. Why would you let him come here and not go to bed with him yourself? No virtuous woman has ever behaved like that.”

“I’m not acting hypocritical or covering my ears as I steal the bell. The fact is, I’ve already savored every bedroom pleasure there is. No one is a match for my husband where virility’s concerned, and someone who has enjoyed a banquet will turn up her nose at a scratch meal. If the food’s mediocre, better not try it. That’s why I won’t compromise.”

“I know what you have in mind. Master Quan’s endowment is well known around here. You’ve been shaped on a big last and you’re afraid that a child’s one won’t do. So you want me to spy out the land for you. Well, I’m more than prepared to sacrifice myself, because it’s no great hardship to play the spy in this case. There’s just one thing, though: you must wait until I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself, not come charing on to the battlefield at the critical moment, leaving me in a bind as to whether to advance or retreat. There’s an old saying you ought to keep in mind: ‘When deeding a priest, you might just as well bury him alive and not let him eat his fill.'”

“I’m not expecting any such luck. You can set your mind at rest.”

Having agreed on their plans, the two women waited until it was time to put them into effect.

This was a momentary stroke of luck for the ugly neighbor. She has received this splendid assignment, and it is her shoe that the brand-new, freshly restructured last will be the first to shape. If you wish to learn the last’s proportions, you must wait a little while until the event takes place.

Critique

Fragrance’s plan for taking a lover is absolutely masterly, a variation on the principle that it’s a wise subject who knows how to choose the fight lord and master. How different she is from some passive observer with no purpose in mind! What a pity she met the adulterer at this stage, for the meeting will lead her to a career of good works! If Vesperus had acted three months earlier than he did, the neighbor’s loss of her chastity would have coincided with Fragrance’s preservation of hers. If there ware any enlightened officials about who are interested in erecting a commemorative arch or shrine, I have an honorand to prose whose name is as fragrant and glorious as that of the chaste maid of “I Want to Get Married.” She opened up a convenient new route within Confucian morality, and for a thousand years to come all those women who, despite their disloyal thoughts, manage to avoid taking another husband will be able to look up to her as a pioneer.

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