AXia: The Tale of Lost Love and Retribution

Explore the story of Axia, a tale of lost love, ungratefulness, and divine retribution in this captivating narrative.

In Wendeng County, there was a person named Jingxing who was quite famous in his youth. Jingxing and Chensheng were neighbors, and their study rooms were separated by only a low wall. One evening, as Chensheng passed by a desolate ruin, he heard the sound of a woman crying from within a pine and cypress forest. He approached and saw a woman about to hang herself from a tree branch with a rope. Chensheng asked her why she wanted to take her own life, and the woman, wiping away tears, replied, “My mother has gone far away and entrusted me to my cousin. Little did I know that my cousin is ambitious and no longer provides for me. I am all alone and in despair, death seems preferable!” After saying this, she burst into tears again. Chensheng removed the rope from the tree branch and persuaded her to get married. The woman was worried that she had no one to entrust her life to. Chensheng then invited her to stay temporarily at his home, and she agreed.

Chensheng brought the woman back to his house, lit a lamp, and carefully examined her. He found her to be exceptionally beautiful. Chensheng immediately fell in love with her and desired her. The woman screamed loudly and resisted desperately. Her cries were heard by the neighbor next door, Jingxing, who climbed over the low wall to see what was happening. It was only then that Chensheng released the woman. When the woman saw Jingxing, she stared at him intensely for a long time before running out of the door. Both Chen and Jing chased after her, but they didn’t know where she had gone.

Jingxing returned home, closed the door, and was about to sleep when he saw the woman gracefully coming out of the room. Jingxing asked her in surprise why she had come to his house, and the woman replied, “That Chen Sheng is untrustworthy and lacks virtue. I cannot entrust my life to him.” Jingxing was delighted and asked for the woman’s name. She said, “My family ancestors lived in the Qi region, and our surname is Qi. My nickname is Axia.” Jingxing teased her with light words, and the woman simply smiled and did not refuse. Consequently, Jingxing and she went to bed together.

Normally, Jingxing’s study room had many friends coming and going, so Axia had to stay hidden in the inner room. After a few days, Axia said, “I need to temporarily leave this place. There are too many people here, and I feel suffocated hiding all the time. It’s better if I come only at night from now on.” Jingxing asked her, “Where is your home?” Axia replied, “It’s not far from here.” So, every morning, Axia left. In the evening, she returned, and they were deeply in love and harmony.

After a few more days, Axia told Jingxing, “Our relationship, though harmonious, is ultimately a private commitment. We can only meet privately. My father holds an official position in the western frontier, and tomorrow I will go to join him with my mother. I plan to inform my parents about us, and from then on, we can get married officially and live together happily.” Jingxing asked, “How long will it take for you to come back?” Axia and Jingxing agreed to meet again in ten days.

After Axia left, Jingxing pondered that his study room was not a suitable long-term place for her, and if he brought Axia home, he feared his wife would become jealous. So, he decided to divorce his wife. Jingxing was determined and began to use harsh words towards his wife. Unable to bear his humiliation, his wife wept bitterly and wanted to die. Jingxing said, “If you die, I’m afraid I’ll be implicated. It’s better for you to return to your parents’ home soon.” He kept urging his wife to leave. She cried and said, “I’ve been with you for ten years and have never done anything immoral. Why are you so heartless?” Jingxing had no intention of listening to her explanations and only became more urgent in driving her away. With a heavy heart, his wife left Jingxing’s home, full of grievances.

Once his wife left, Jingxing had his family repaint the walls snow-white and cleaned the room inside and out, eagerly waiting for Axia’s return, but there was no sign of her. Jingxing’s ex-wife pleaded multiple times through mutual friends, hoping for reconciliation and remarriage, but Jingxing ignored her. So, she remarried into the Xiahou family. The Xiahou family’s residence was adjacent to Jingxing’s, and the two families had a long-standing feud due to a boundary dispute over their land. When Jingxing heard that his ex-wife had married into the Xiahou family, he became even more resentful. However, he still hoped that Axia would return soon to console himself. Another year passed, but there was still no trace of Axia.

One day, on the occasion of the Sea God’s birthday, both men and women gathered inside and outside the temple. Jingxing was also among them. From a distance, he saw a woman who looked very much like Axia. Jingxing squeezed his way closer to get a better look, but the woman had already disappeared into the crowd. Jingxing followed closely behind her, watching as she walked out of the temple gates. When Jingxing reached the outside of the temple gates, the woman had already vanished into thin air. No matter how hard he tried to catch up, Jingxing could not find her and could only return home full of frustration.

Six months later, while Jingxing was walking on the road, he saw a young lady in red clothes with a servant following her. She was riding a black donkey. At first glance, the young lady in red looked like Axia. Jingxing asked the servant who was following her, “Who is this lady?” The servant replied, “She is the second wife of Lord Zheng from the southern village.” Jingxing asked again, “How long has she been married?” The servant said, “It’s been just over half a month.” Jingxing wondered if there was a mistake. At that moment, the young lady in red overheard their conversation, turned to look, and their eyes met. Jingxing saw that it was indeed Axia.

Realizing that she had married someone else, Jingxing was filled with anger. He shouted, “Xia, how could you forget our initial vows?” When the servant heard someone reprimanding their mistress, he raised his fist to attack. Axia quickly stopped him and lifted the veil covering her face. She said to Jingxing, “You heartless person, what face do you have to meet me?” Jingxing retorted, “It’s you who betrayed me. When have I ever betrayed you?” Axia said, “You treated your previous wife even worse than you treated me! You were so cruel to your lawful wife, how could you be any better to others? I always thought that your ancestors had accumulated great virtue, and you would make a name for yourself in the imperial examination. That’s why I devoted myself to you. But now, because you inexplicably abandoned your wife, the Yama Court has already stripped you of your official position and rank. Wang Chang, who ranked sixth in this year’s examination, has replaced your name. I have already married Lord Zheng, so please do not think of me anymore.”

Jingxing listened with his head bowed and ears attentive, unable to utter a word. When he finally looked up to see Axia again, she had ridden away on the donkey, disappearing into the distance. Jingxing stood in place, filled with endless regret and sorrow.

In this provincial examination, Jingxing indeed failed to achieve a good result, and the person who ranked sixth was named Wang Chang. Axia’s husband, Zheng Sheng, also made it to the list. From that point onwards, Jingxing earned a reputation among people as ungrateful and heartless. He remained a bachelor even at the age of forty, and his financial situation deteriorated. He often relied on the hospitality of relatives and friends to get by.

On one occasion, Jingxing happened to visit the home of Zheng Sheng, who welcomed him and offered him a place to stay. While observing the guest from behind, Axia couldn’t help but feel some pity when she saw Jingxing’s downcast appearance. She asked her husband Zheng Sheng, “Isn’t that guest in the hall Jing Qingyun?” Zheng Sheng confirmed it was him and asked when she had met him. Axia replied, “It was before I married you. I sought refuge at his home during a difficult time, and I am deeply indebted to him for his kindness. Although his behavior may be base and unkind, his ancestors’ virtue has not yet been severed. Moreover, he is an old friend of yours, so we should consider helping him in his current situation.” Zheng Sheng found Axia’s words reasonable, and he provided Jingxing with new clothes, replacing his tattered garments. He also let Jingxing stay at their home for a few days.

One night, as Jingxing was about to sleep, a maidservant brought him over twenty taels of silver as a gift. He heard Axia speaking to him from outside the window, “This is my personal savings, as a token of gratitude for your past kindness. You can use this money to find a good wife. Fortunately, your ancestors’ virtue is still intact and can protect their descendants. Please refrain from causing trouble in the future to preserve the remaining years of your life.” Jingxing was very grateful. When he returned home, he used the silver to buy a maidservant from a local wealthy family. However, this new wife was both ugly and difficult to deal with.

Later, Jingxing had a son who eventually passed the imperial examination. Zheng Sheng’s official career also rose to the rank of a minister in the Ministry of Personnel. After Zheng Sheng’s death, Axia attended his funeral. However, when they returned home and opened the sedan chair, they found it empty. It was only then that people realized she was not human.

Ah! The person who has completely lost their conscience, abandoning the old for the sake of pursuing the new, only to end up with a cracked egg and a bird that flew away. The divine retribution from above has truly been harsh upon them!

《阿霞》

文登景星者,少有重名。与陈生比邻而居,斋隔一短垣。一日,陈暮过荒落之墟,闻女子啼松柏间,近临,则树横枝有悬带,若将自经。陈诘之,挥涕而对曰:“母远去,托妾于外兄。不图狼子野心,畜我不卒。伶仃如此,不如死!”言已,复泣。陈解带,劝令适人。女虑无可托者。陈请暂寄其家,女从之。既归,挑灯审视,丰韵殊绝。大悦,欲乱之。女厉声抗拒,纷纭之声,达于间壁。景生逾垣来窥,陈乃释女。女见景,凝眸停睇,久乃奔去。二人共逐之,不知去向。

景归,阖户欲寝,则女子盈盈自房中出。惊问之,答曰:“彼德薄福浅,不可终托。”景大喜,诘其姓氏,曰:“妾祖居于齐,为齐姓,小字阿霞。”入以游词,笑不甚拒,遂与寝处。斋中多友人来往,女恒隐闭深房。过数日,曰:“妾姑去。此处烦杂,困人甚。继今,请以夜卜。”问:“家何所?”曰:“正不远耳。”遂早去。夜果复来,欢爱綦笃。又数日,谓景曰:“我两人情好虽佳,终属苟合。家君宦游西疆,明日将从母去,容即乘间禀命,而相从以终焉。”问:“几日别?”约以旬终。既去,景思斋居不可常,移诸内,又虑妻妒,计不如出妻。志既决,妻至辄诟厉。妻不堪其辱,涕欲死。景曰:“死恐见累,请蚤归。”遂促妻行。妻啼曰:“从子十年,未尝有失德,何决绝如此!”景不听,逐愈急,妻乃出门去。自是垩壁清尘,引领翘待,不意信杳青鸾,如石沉海。妻大归后,数浼知交,请复于景,景不纳,遂适夏侯氏。夏侯里居,与景接壤,以田畔之故,世有隙。景闻之,益大恚恨。然犹冀阿霞复来,差足自慰。越年馀,并无踪绪。

会海神寿,祠内外士女云集,景亦在。遥见一女,甚似阿霞。景近之,入于人中;从之,出于门外;又从之,飘然竟去。景追之不及,恨悒而返。后半载,适行于途,见一女郎,着朱衣,从苍头,鞚黑卫来,望之,霞也。因问从人:“娘子为谁?”答言:“南村郑公子继室。”又问:“娶几时矣?”曰:“半月耳。”景思,得毋误耶?女郎闻语,回眸一睇,景视,真霞。见其已适他姓,愤填胸臆,大呼:“霞娘!何忘旧约?”从人闻呼主妇,欲奋老拳。女急止之,启幛纱谓景曰:“负心人何颜相见?”景曰:“卿自负仆,仆何尝负卿?”女曰:“负夫人甚于负我!结发者如是,而况其他?向以祖德厚,名列桂籍,故委身相从。今以弃妻故,冥中削尔禄秩,今科亚魁王昌,即替汝名者也。我已归郑君,无劳复念。”景俯首帖耳,口不能道一词。视女子,策蹇去如飞,怅恨而已。

是科,景落第,亚魁果王氏昌名。郑亦捷。景以是得薄幸名,四十无偶,家益替,恒趁食于亲友家。偶诣郑,郑款之,留宿焉。女窥客,见而怜之。问郑曰:“堂上客,非景庆云耶?”问所自识,曰:“未适君时,曾避难其家,亦深得其豢养。彼行虽贱,而祖德未斩,且与君为故人,亦宜有绨袍之义。”郑然之,易其败絮,留以数日。夜分欲寝,有婢持廿馀金赠景。女在窗外言曰:“此私贮,聊酬夙好,可将去,觅一良匹。幸祖德厚,尚足及子孙。无复丧检,以促余龄。”景感谢之。既归,以十馀金买搢绅家婢,甚丑悍。举一子,后登两榜。郑官至吏部郎。既没,女送葬归,启舆则虚无人矣,始知其非人也。

噫!人之无良,舍其旧而新是谋,卒之卵覆而鸟亦飞,天之所报亦惨矣!

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