Ying Ning: Chronicles of a Remarkable Woman

Follow Ying Ning's journey through laughter, cunning tricks, and poignant longing in these chronicles of a remarkable woman.

Prince Fu was a native of Luodian in Juzhou and lost his father at a young age. He was exceptionally intelligent and became a scholar at the age of fourteen. His mother cherished him greatly and never allowed him to play in the countryside. An arranged marriage was arranged for him with a woman surnamed Xiao, but she passed away before the marriage could take place, so he remained single.

On the Lantern Festival day, his cousin’s child, Wu Sheng, invited him to go sightseeing together. Just as they left the village, a servant from his cousin’s house came chasing after them and brought Wu Sheng back. Prince Fu saw that there were many young women around and decided to enjoy the day by himself.

There was a young lady with a maid who was holding a plum blossom branch. She was extraordinarily beautiful, with an enchanting smile. Prince Fu couldn’t take his eyes off her and forgot about his own identity. The young lady took a few steps, turned to her maid, and said, “Look at that young man, his gaze is piercing, like a thief!” She then tossed the plum blossom branch on the ground and walked away with her maid, laughing.

Prince Fu picked up the plum blossom, feeling lost and dispirited, as if he had lost his soul. He returned home in a gloomy mood, placed the flower under his pillow, and lay down to sleep without eating, drinking, or speaking. His mother was deeply worried about his condition. She invited a Taoist priest to perform a ritual to ward off evil spirits, but Prince Fu’s illness continued to worsen, and he grew thinner by the day.

Doctors examined him, prescribed medicines, and tried to dispel the illness, but Prince Fu remained in a daze. His mother gently inquired about what was troubling him, but Prince Fu remained silent. Just then, Wu Sheng arrived, and his mother entrusted him with secretly investigating the cause of her son’s illness. Wu Sheng approached Prince Fu’s bedside, and upon seeing him, Prince Fu burst into tears.

Wu Sheng comforted him and patiently asked about his worries. Prince Fu poured out his heart, explaining everything, and pleaded for his help. Wu Sheng smiled and said, “You are too infatuated! What difficulty is there in fulfilling this desire? I will find her for you. If she is wandering in the countryside, she must not be from a wealthy family. If she is not already promised to someone, the matter should be easily resolved. Even if she has someone, we can try to spend more money and make it happen. Just focus on recovering your health, and leave this to me.”

Upon hearing these words, Prince Fu couldn’t help but smile. After leaving Prince Fu’s side, Wu Sheng informed Prince Fu’s mother about the situation and began to inquire about the whereabouts of the young lady. However, despite their efforts to search and investigate, they could not find any trace of her. Prince Fu’s mother was deeply troubled, but there was nothing more they could do.

Nevertheless, after Wu Sheng’s visit, Prince Fu’s mood improved, and he was able to eat a little. Several days later, Wu Sheng returned, and Prince Fu asked about the progress of the matter. Wu Sheng lied, saying, “We have found her. To my surprise, it turns out to be my aunt’s daughter, your cousin, who is currently looking for a prospective husband. Although there are some taboos about marrying close relatives, to be honest, there should be no insurmountable obstacles.”

Prince Fu was overjoyed and asked, “Where does she live?” Wu Sheng made up a location, saying, “She resides in the southwestern mountains, approximately thirty miles from here.” Prince Fu entrusted him with the task, and Wu Sheng bravely agreed before taking his leave.

Afterward, Prince Fu’s appetite gradually improved, and his condition began to get better day by day. When he checked under his pillow, he found that the plum blossom, though withered, had not yet fallen. Prince Fu focused his thoughts and played with the plum blossom, as if he had seen the young lady.

Prince Fu wondered why Wu Sheng hadn’t come to visit, so he wrote a letter to summon him. Wu Sheng hesitated and made excuses, refusing to meet him. Prince Fu felt both angry and resentful, causing him to become melancholic. His mother was afraid of a relapse of his old illness and quickly began planning his marriage. However, every time she discussed it with him, he shook his head and refused, eagerly awaiting Wu Sheng’s arrival.

As there was still no news from Wu Sheng, Prince Fu grew even more resentful. However, upon reflection, he realized that thirty miles were not too far, and he didn’t necessarily need to rely on someone else. So, he put the withered plum blossom in his sleeve and decided to go on his own, without his family’s knowledge.

Prince Fu embarked on his solitary journey, walking alone without encountering anyone to ask for directions. He continued southward. After covering a distance of approximately thirty miles, he found himself surrounded by towering mountains, lush greenery, and tranquil valleys devoid of human presence. There was only a narrow winding path. As he gazed into the distance at the end of the valley, amidst the chaotic foliage, he faintly discerned a small village. Descending from the mountain into the village, he noticed that there were not many houses, all of them simple thatched huts, yet the atmosphere was remarkably serene.

To the north, there was a house adorned with graceful willow trees in front, while within the courtyard, peach and apricot trees flourished abundantly. In the center, a cluster of bamboo groves stood, with wild birds singing in their midst. Prince Fu surmised that this must be someone’s garden and hesitated to enter without permission. Turning his gaze to the house opposite, he noticed a smooth, large stone at the entrance, so he decided to sit and rest there.

After a while, he heard a woman inside the courtyard calling out “Xiao Rong” in a melodious and gentle voice. Just as he was attentively listening, a young lady approached from the east to the west, holding a sprig of apricot blossom. She lowered her head, preparing to place the flower on her hair. However, when she raised her head and saw Prince Fu, she abandoned the idea of adorning her hair and instead smiled before disappearing inside.

Prince Fu carefully examined this young lady and realized she was the same one he had encountered during the Lantern Festival outing. He was thrilled in his heart. Yet, he couldn’t think of a reason to approach her. He considered calling for his aunt, but they had never had any interaction, and he feared making a mistake. With no one inside the courtyard to inquire from, Prince Fu couldn’t decide whether to stand or sit. His mind was unsettled, and he paced back and forth, waiting eagerly for someone from the courtyard to emerge, completely forgetting about his hunger and thirst. At this moment, the young lady peered through a crack in the door, half of her face visible, appearing curious about why Prince Fu hadn’t left.

Suddenly, an elderly lady leaning on a cane emerged and said to Prince Fu, “Young man, where are you from? I heard you’ve been here since morning, staying until now. What are you planning to do? Are you hungry, perhaps?” Prince Fu quickly stood up, bowed, and replied, “I’m waiting to find some relatives.” The elderly lady, hard of hearing, didn’t hear him. Prince Fu repeated louder, “I’m waiting to find relatives. What is your family name?” Prince Fu couldn’t answer. The elderly lady chuckled and said, “How strange! You don’t even know your own name, how can you visit relatives? You seem like a bookworm. Why don’t you come in, have some simple food and tea, and we have a bed where you can spend the night. Tomorrow, when you’ve found out your family name, you can come visit.”

Prince Fu was quite hungry, and the prospect of getting closer to the beautiful young lady made him happy. He followed the elderly lady inside, where white stones paved the way, and the pathway was adorned with vibrant red flowers, with petals scattered on the steps. Along the stone path, they passed through another small door, and the courtyard was covered with bean trellises and flower arches.

The elderly lady invited Prince Fu into the living room, where the white walls gleamed like mirrors. The soft branches of plum trees outside the window extended into the room, and the bedding, tables, chairs, and furniture were all immaculate. Prince Fu had just sat down when someone outside the window curiously peeked in. The elderly lady called out, “Xiao Rong, hurry and prepare some food!” A maid outside responded loudly.

After a while, they began discussing their family backgrounds. The elderly lady asked, “Is your maternal family surname Wu?” Prince Fu replied, “Yes.” The elderly lady exclaimed, “You are my nephew! Your mother is my sister. In recent years, due to poverty and the absence of a male heir, we lost contact. My nephew has grown so big, and we didn’t recognize each other.” Prince Fu said, “I came here for Auntie this time, but in my haste, I forgot our family name.” The elderly lady said, “I am surnamed Qin and have never had any children of my own. I am currently raising a girl who is a natural daughter. Her mother remarried and entrusted her to me. She’s quite bright but lacks some guidance, always carefree and cheerful without a care in the world. In a while, I’ll have her meet you.”

In no time, the maid prepared a meal, featuring tender young chicken, which was quite sumptuous. The elderly lady continuously urged Prince Fu to eat more. After the meal, the maid came in to clean up the tableware. The elderly lady said, “Call Ning Gu to come in.” The maid left and after a while, faint laughter could be heard from outside the door. The elderly lady called out again, “Ying Ning, your cousin is here.” Laughter continued from outside the door. The maid pushed Ying Ning inside, who was still covering her mouth, unable to stop giggling. The elderly lady gave her a stern look and said, “We have a guest, yet you’re still giggling like that. What kind of behavior is this?” Ying Ning suppressed her laughter and stood aside as Prince Fu bowed to her.

The elderly lady said, “This is Wang Lang, your aunt’s son. It’s a shame that family members who don’t know each other; outsiders might find it amusing.” Prince Fu asked, “How old is she?” The elderly lady didn’t hear clearly, so Prince Fu repeated the question. Ying Ning burst into laughter again, struggling to control herself. The elderly lady scolded her, saying, “I told you about her lack of manners. She’s already sixteen years old but acts like a child.” Prince Fu replied, “She’s a year younger than me.” The elderly lady said, “Nephew is already seventeen, probably born in the Year of the Horse, right?” Prince Fu nodded in agreement. The elderly lady asked, “And who is nephew’s fiancée?” Prince Fu replied, “I don’t have one yet.” The elderly lady said, “With the talent and appearance of a nephew like you, why haven’t you been engaged at seventeen? Ying Ning also doesn’t have a suitor yet. You two would make a perfect match, but it’s a pity that marrying your cousin is not ideal.” Prince Fu remained silent, his eyes fixed on Ying Ning, hardly blinking.

The maid whispered to Ying Ning, “Look at his intense gaze, he hasn’t changed a bit!” Ying Ning burst into laughter again and said to the maid, “Let’s go check if the peach blossoms have bloomed.” She suddenly stood up, covered her mouth with her sleeve, and walked away with quick, delicate steps. Once outside the door, she burst into laughter. The elderly lady also stood up, instructed the maid to prepare the bed for Prince Fu, and suggested that he stay for three to five days since he had come all this way. She mentioned a small garden behind the house for relaxation and some books for reading if he found the house too stuffy.

The next day, Prince Fu went to the back of the house and indeed found a half-acre garden. The fine, velvety grass resembled a green carpet, and willow catkins were scattered along the paths. In the garden, there were three grass huts surrounded by clusters of flowers and trees. He walked slowly through the garden, hearing a rustling sound from the treetops. He looked up and saw Ying Ning in the tree, laughing heartily when she saw him, nearly falling down in the process. Prince Fu hurriedly shouted, “Stop laughing, be careful not to fall!” While still laughing, Ying Ning climbed down from the tree but couldn’t contain her laughter.

As she was about to reach the ground, she slipped and fell. Only then did her laughter subside. Prince Fu helped her up, secretly pinching her wrist. Ying Ning burst into laughter again, leaning against the tree and unable to move for a while. After she had her fill of laughter, Prince Fu took out the plum blossom from his sleeve and showed it to her. Ying Ning took it and said, “It’s all withered. Why keep it?”

Prince Fu replied, “This was tossed by my little sister during the Lantern Festival, so I’ve kept it all this time.” Ying Ning asked, “What’s the point of keeping it?” Prince Fu explained, “To show that I haven’t forgotten our affection. Since we met during the Lantern Festival, I’ve been deeply troubled. I thought I might not survive, but today, I get to see my sister’s beauty. I hope you will have mercy on me.”

Ying Ning said, “That’s not a big deal. Why would you be reluctant to do anything for your own relatives? When my brother leaves, I’ll have an old servant pick a big bunch of flowers from the garden for you to take.” Prince Fu asked, “Is my sister a simpleton?” Ying Ning inquired, “Why do you say that?” Prince Fu replied, “I don’t love flowers; I love someone who plucks them.” Ying Ning said, “The bond of relatives doesn’t need to be spoken about. What’s the difference?” Prince Fu said, “The love I’m talking about is not the love between relatives; it’s the kind of love between husband and wife.” Ying Ning asked, “Is there a difference?” Prince Fu explained, “At night, you share the same bed.” Ying Ning lowered her head and thought for a long time before saying, “I’m not used to sleeping with strangers.”

As she spoke, the maid quietly approached, and Prince Fu became uneasy, moving away.

After a while, Prince Fu and Ying Ning met again in the elderly lady’s room. The elderly lady asked Ying Ning, “Where did you two go?” Ying Ning replied that they had been chatting in the garden. The elderly lady asked again, “The meal has been ready for a long time. Why have you been talking for so long?” Ying Ning said, “Big brother wants to sleep with me.” Before Ying Ning could finish her sentence, Prince Fu felt extremely embarrassed and quickly gave her a stern look. Ying Ning then gave a slight smile and didn’t say anything more. Fortunately, the elderly lady, who was hard of hearing, didn’t catch what was said and continued to chatter, asking countless questions. Prince Fu tried to divert the conversation with other topics. Because of this incident, Prince Fu quietly scolded Ying Ning, to which she responded, “Shouldn’t I have said that earlier?” Prince Fu said, “Those were private words.” Ying Ning argued, “Private words? How can they be private from our own mother? Besides, sleeping together is common; there’s nothing suspicious about it.” Prince Fu was frustrated by her foolishness and couldn’t make her understand. Soon after they finished their meal, someone from Prince Fu’s family arrived with two mules to find him.

It turned out that Prince Fu’s mother had become worried when he didn’t return for a long time. She searched all over the village but couldn’t find any trace of him. She decided to inquire with Wu Sheng, who recalled their previous conversation and suggested sending someone to search the village in the southwest mountains. After searching through several villages, the search party finally arrived here. Just as Prince Fu was about to leave, he encountered the search party, and they went in to inform the elderly lady while also requesting to take Ying Ning back with them.

The elderly lady was delighted and said, “I’ve had this idea for a long time, not just today. It’s just that I’m old and frail and can’t travel far. If my nephew can take his sister home and meet his aunt, it’s wonderful!” She then called for Ying Ning, who came with a smile. The elderly lady asked, “What’s with all the laughter? If you could just get rid of this habit of laughing, you’d be perfect.” She glared at her in annoyance and continued, “Big brother intends to take you back with him, so go and prepare.”

The elderly lady also treated the visitors from the Wang family to a meal and then saw them off, instructing Ying Ning, “Your aunt’s family is prosperous, and they can afford to support a couple of idle people. When you get there, there’s no need to hurry back. Take some time to learn poetry, etiquette, and manners. It will be useful for serving your future in-laws. And, while you’re at it, ask your aunt to find you a good husband.”

After hearing the instructions, Prince Fu and Ying Ning set off on their journey. When they reached a mountain pass and looked back, they could faintly see the elderly lady still leaning against the door, gazing towards the north.

Upon arriving home, Prince Fu’s mother saw a very beautiful young lady and asked who she was. Prince Fu explained that she was his aunt’s daughter. His mother responded, “The things Wu Lang told you before were lies. I don’t have a sister, so where did this niece come from?” She also questioned Ying Ning, who replied, “I’m not her biological daughter. My father’s surname is Qin, and when he passed away, I was still a baby and didn’t remember anything.” Prince Fu’s mother said, “I did have a sister who married into the Qin family; that part is true. However, she passed away a long time ago, so how could she still be alive?” She closely examined Ying Ning’s facial features and skin moles, all of which matched her sister’s characteristics. Still deeply suspicious, she said, “That’s strange. But she has been dead for many years, how can she still be alive?”

Just as they were in doubt, Wu Sheng arrived, and Ying Ning hid in the inner room. After Wu Sheng inquired about the situation, he remained puzzled for a long time. Suddenly, he asked, “Is this young lady named Ying Ning?” Prince Fu confirmed it, and Wu Sheng found it very odd. Prince Fu asked Wu Sheng what he knew, and Wu Sheng said, “After the aunt from the Qin family passed away, her husband lived alone at home and became infatuated with a fox spirit. He later died of illness. The fox spirit gave birth to a daughter named Ying Ning, whom they wrapped in a mat and placed on the bed, and everyone in the family saw her. After the husband’s death, the fox spirit still often visited. Eventually, they brought Taoist priest Zhang to put protective talismans on the walls, and only then did the fox spirit leave with Ying Ning. Could it be her?” Everyone discussed this matter with uncertainty. They could hear Ying Ning laughing heartily in the inner room. Prince Fu’s mother said, “This girl is too naive.” Wu Sheng wanted to meet Ying Ning. So, Prince Fu’s mother entered the inner room, and at that moment, Ying Ning continued to laugh uncontrollably. When prompted to come out and meet the guest, she struggled to suppress her laughter, facing the wall for a while before coming out. Once she emerged, she greeted Wu Sheng briefly, then quickly turned and ran back inside, bursting into laughter. The women in the room couldn’t help but laugh along.

Wu Sheng proposed to visit Ying Ning’s home to see what had happened and, at the same time, to act as a matchmaker for Prince Fu. Upon reaching the mountain village, they found that there was no house, only withered fallen flowers scattered on the ground. Wu Sheng thought that his aunt’s burial place should be nearby, but the grave was neglected and unrecognizable, leaving him puzzled and sighing in amazement as he returned.

When Prince Fu’s mother heard about this, she suspected that they had encountered ghosts and relayed Wu Sheng’s words to Ying Ning, who showed no fear whatsoever. She pitied Ying Ning for being homeless, but Ying Ning remained unaffected and continued to laugh incessantly. Everyone was puzzled.

Prince Fu’s mother decided to have Ying Ning live with her own daughter. Ying Ning would greet Prince Fu’s mother early each day and excelled in various needlework activities. Despite her constant laughter, which couldn’t be restrained, Ying Ning’s grace and charm remained undiminished. Everyone grew fond of her, and even the women and girls in the neighborhood sought to befriend her.

Queen Mother chose an auspicious day for Prince Fu and Ying Ning’s wedding. However, she still harbored fears that Ying Ning might be some supernatural being. Later, she secretly observed Ying Ning in the sunlight, finding no abnormalities in her appearance. On the appointed auspicious day, Ying Ning was dressed as a bride for the wedding ceremony. However, her laughter was so intense that she couldn’t perform the ritual, and they had to abandon it.

Due to Ying Ning’s simplicity and naivety, Prince Fu was concerned that she might inadvertently reveal their intimate affairs to others. Surprisingly, Ying Ning remained discreet about their relationship, never mentioning a word. Whenever Queen Mother was upset or angry, Ying Ning’s presence and laughter could always alleviate her mood. When servants or maids made minor mistakes and feared being punished by their masters, they would ask Ying Ning to speak to Queen Mother first. Afterward, the servants or maids would go to Queen Mother, hoping to avoid punishment.

Ying Ning had a passion for flowers. Whenever she heard that relatives or friends had beautiful flowers in their homes, she would collect them all, sometimes even secretly exchanging her jewelry to acquire exquisite flower varieties. After a few months, every corner of the courtyard, including the sides of the steps and the area around the thatched restroom, was filled with flowers.

In the backyard, there was a wooden fragrant tree near the western neighbor’s yard wall. Ying Ning often climbed onto the fragrant tree arbor, picked some flowers, and either placed them in her hair or played with them in the house. Whenever Queen Mother saw this, she would scold her, but Ying Ning never changed her behavior. One day, the son of the neighbor to the west saw Ying Ning picking flowers on the arbor. Her beauty captivated him, and he couldn’t help but stare at her. Ying Ning didn’t avoid his gaze; she continued to smile. The young man from the neighboring house believed that Ying Ning was interested in him, which made him even more elated. Ying Ning pointed towards the base of the wall with her finger and then went down, still smiling. The young man thought this was a signal for a secret rendezvous, so he was very excited.

In the evening, the young man from the neighboring house went to the designated location, and indeed, Ying Ning was there. He approached her with amorous intentions, but suddenly felt a sharp pain in his lower body, as if he had been pricked by a needle, causing unbearable agony. He screamed and fell to the ground. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that it wasn’t Ying Ning at all but a dry piece of wood lying against the wall. The pain he felt was from a hole in the wood that had been soaked by rainwater. The young man’s father rushed over upon hearing the screams, but his son only groaned in pain and couldn’t speak. His wife arrived, and he finally explained what had happened. They lit a fire, and when they looked into the hole in the dry wood, they found a large scorpion, almost the size of a small crab. The old man from the neighboring house split the wood open, caught the scorpion, and killed it. Then he carried his son back home, but his son died in the middle of the night.

The neighboring family accused Prince Fu and exposed Ying Ning as a strange and malevolent entity. The local magistrate, who had previously admired Prince Fu’s learning and knew him to be an upright scholar, concluded that the neighbor had made a false accusation and was ready to punish him with a beating. Prince Fu interceded on behalf of the neighbor and pleaded for leniency, so the magistrate released him and banished him.

Afterward, Queen Mother said to Ying Ning, “Seeing you behave so foolishly, I knew there must be hidden dangers beneath excessive happiness. Luckily, the magistrate was perceptive; otherwise, you would have been implicated. If you had encountered an obtuse official, they would have taken you to court for questioning, and then my son would have lost all face in front of relatives and friends.” Ying Ning put on a serious expression and vowed never to laugh again. Queen Mother said, “People cannot stop laughing altogether, but you should learn to control it sometimes.”

From that day on, Ying Ning indeed stopped laughing. Even when people tried to amuse her, she remained serious. However, she also didn’t display signs of sadness; she just went about her day with a stoic expression.

One evening, Ying Ning suddenly burst into tears and sobs in front of Prince Fu, leaving him puzzled. She choked up and said, “I didn’t tell you the truth before because I was afraid it might frighten or upset you due to our short time together. But now, I see that both you and your mother love me dearly, and there’s no hidden agenda. So, I think it’s time to reveal the truth. I was born a fox. My mother entrusted me to a ghostly mother before she left, and we’ve been together for over ten years, leading to our present circumstances. I have no siblings, and you’re the only one I rely on. My real mother is lonely and suffering in the mountains, with no one to pity her or move her grave to be buried with her. Her resentment continues to linger beneath the earth. If you’re willing to go through the trouble and expense to alleviate the sorrow and suffering of the underworld, perhaps you can also prevent the parents from drowning and abandoning their daughters.”

Prince Fu agreed to Ying Ning’s request, though he had concerns about finding the graves in the overgrown grass. Ying Ning reassured him that there was no need to worry. They chose a date, and as a couple, they used a cart to transport the coffin. In the midst of the wilderness, among the overgrown grass, Ying Ning guided them to the gravesite, and they indeed found the body of the old lady, remarkably well-preserved. Ying Ning wept bitterly as she caressed the body. Later, they brought the old lady’s body back and found the Qin family’s burial site, where they were laid to rest together.

That night, Prince Fu dreamt of the old lady coming to thank him. Upon waking, he told Ying Ning about it. Ying Ning said, “I also saw her last night and told her not to frighten you.” Prince Fu regretted not inviting her to stay. Ying Ning explained, “She’s a ghost, and there are many living people here with strong yang energy. She couldn’t stay for long.”

Prince Fu then asked about Xiao Rong, and Ying Ning said, “She’s also a fox, very clever. The fox mother left her to take care of me, and she often brought me food. I’ll always remember her kindness. I asked the ghostly mother yesterday, and she said Xiao Rong got married.” From then on, every year during the Qingming Festival, Prince Fu and Ying Ning would visit the Qin family’s gravesite to pay their respects and perform grave-sweeping rituals without fail.

A year later, Ying Ning gave birth to a son. This child, in his mother’s arms, showed no fear of strangers, always smiled when he saw people, and inherited his mother’s grace and temperament.

One evening, Ying Ning suddenly burst into tears and sobs in front of Prince Fu, leaving him puzzled. She choked up and said, “I didn’t tell you the truth before because I was afraid it might frighten or upset you due to our short time together. But now, I see that both you and your mother love me dearly, and there’s no hidden agenda. So, I think it’s time to reveal the truth. I was born a fox. My mother entrusted me to a ghostly mother before she left, and we’ve been together for over ten years, leading to our present circumstances. I have no siblings, and you’re the only one I rely on. My real mother is lonely and suffering in the mountains, with no one to pity her or move her grave to be buried with her. Her resentment continues to linger beneath the earth. If you’re willing to go through the trouble and expense to alleviate the sorrow and suffering of the underworld, perhaps you can also prevent the parents from drowning and abandoning their daughters.”

Prince Fu agreed to Ying Ning’s request, though he had concerns about finding the graves in the overgrown grass. Ying Ning reassured him that there was no need to worry. They chose a date, and as a couple, they used a cart to transport the coffin. In the midst of the wilderness, among the overgrown grass, Ying Ning guided them to the gravesite, and they indeed found the body of the old lady, remarkably well-preserved. Ying Ning wept bitterly as she caressed the body. Later, they brought the old lady’s body back and found the Qin family’s burial site, where they were laid to rest together.

That night, Prince Fu dreamt of the old lady coming to thank him. Upon waking, he told Ying Ning about it. Ying Ning said, “I also saw her last night and told her not to frighten you.” Prince Fu regretted not inviting her to stay. Ying Ning explained, “She’s a ghost, and there are many living people here with strong yang energy. She couldn’t stay for long.”

Prince Fu then asked about Xiao Rong, and Ying Ning said, “She’s also a fox, very clever. The fox mother left her to take care of me, and she often brought me food. I’ll always remember her kindness. I asked the ghostly mother yesterday, and she said Xiao Rong got married.” From then on, every year during the Qingming Festival, Prince Fu and Ying Ning would visit the Qin family’s gravesite to pay their respects and perform grave-sweeping rituals without fail.

A year later, Ying Ning gave birth to a son. This child, in his mother’s arms, showed no fear of strangers, always smiled when he saw people, and inherited his mother’s grace and temperament.

《婴宁》

王子服,莒之罗店人,早孤。绝惠,十四入泮。母最爱之,寻常不令游郊野。聘萧氏,未嫁而夭,故求凰未就也。会上元,有舅氏子吴生,邀同眺瞩。方至村外,舅家有仆来,招吴去。生见游女如云,乘兴独遨。有女郎携婢,撚梅花一枝,容华绝代,笑容可掬。生注目不移,竟忘顾忌。女过去数武,顾婢曰:“个儿郎目灼灼似贼!”遗花地上,笑语自去。

生拾花怅然,神魂丧失,怏怏遂返。至家,藏花枕底,垂头而睡,不语亦不食。母忧之。醮禳益剧,肌革锐减。医师诊视,投剂发表,忽忽若迷。母抚问所由,默然不答。适吴生来,嘱密诘之。吴至榻前,生见之泪下。吴就榻慰解,渐致研诘。生具吐其实,且求谋画。吴笑曰:“君意亦复痴!此愿有何难遂?当代访之。徒步于野,必非世家。如其未字,事固谐矣,不然,拚以重赂,计必允遂。但得痊瘳,成事在我。”生闻之,不觉解颐。吴出告母,物色女子居里,而探访既穷,并无踪绪。母大忧,无所为计。然自吴去后,颜顿开,食亦略进。数日,吴复来,生问所谋。吴绐之曰:“已得之矣。我以为谁何人,乃我姑氏女,即君姨妹行,今尚待聘。虽内戚有婚姻之嫌,实告之,无不谐者。”生喜溢眉宇,问:“居何里?”吴诡曰:“西南山中,去此可三十馀里。”生又付嘱再四,吴锐身自任而去。

生由此饮食渐加,日就平复。探视枕底,花虽枯,未便雕落。凝思把玩,如见其人。怪吴不至,折柬招之。吴支托不肯赴召,生恚怒,悒悒不欢。母虑其复病,急为议姻,略与商搉,辄摇首不愿,惟日盼吴。吴迄无耗,益怨恨之。转思三十里非遥,何必仰息他人?怀梅袖中,负气自往,而家人不知也。

伶仃独步,无可问程,但望南山行去。约三十馀里,乱山合沓,空翠爽肌,寂无人行,止有鸟道。遥望谷底,丛花乱树中,隐隐有小里落。下山入村,见舍宇无多,皆茅屋,而意甚修雅。北向一家,门前皆丝柳,墙内桃杏尤繁,间以修竹,野鸟格磔其中。意其园亭,不敢遽入。回顾对户,有巨石滑洁,因据坐少憩。俄闻墙内有女子,长呼“小荣”,其声娇细。方伫听间,一女郎由东而西,执杏花一朵,俛首自簪。举头见生,遂不复簪,含笑撚花而入。审视之,即上元途中所遇也。心骤喜。但念无以阶进,欲呼姨氏,顾从无还往,惧有讹误。门内无人可问,坐卧徘徊,自朝至于日昃,盈盈望断,并忘饥渴。时见女子露半面来窥,似讶其不去者。

忽一老媪扶杖出,顾生曰:“何处郎君,闻自辰刻便来,以至于今。意将何为?得勿饥耶?”生急起揖之,答云:“将以盼亲。”媪聋聩不闻。又大言之,乃问:“贵戚何姓?”生不能答。媪笑曰:“奇哉!姓名尚自不知,何亲可探?我视郎君,亦书痴耳。不如从我来,啖以粗粝,家有短榻可卧。待明朝归,询知姓氏,再来探访,不晚也。”生方腹馁思啖,又从此渐近丽人,大喜。从媪入,见门内白石砌路,夹道红花,片片堕阶上。曲折而西,又启一关,豆棚花架满庭中。肃客入舍,粉壁光明如镜,窗外海棠枝朵,探入室中,裀藉几榻,罔不洁泽。甫坐,即有人自窗外隐约相窥。媪唤:“小荣!可速作黍。”外有婢子噭声而应。坐次,具展宗阀。媪曰:“郎君外祖,莫姓吴否?”曰:“然。”媪惊曰:“是吾甥也!尊堂,我妹子。年来以家窭贫,又无三尺男,遂至音问梗塞。甥长成如许,尚不相识。”生曰:“此来即为姨也,匆遽遂忘姓氏。”媪曰:“老身秦姓,并无诞育。弱息仅存,亦为庶产,渠母改醮,遗我鞠养。颇亦不钝,但少教训,嬉不知愁。少顷,使来拜识。”

未几,婢子具饭,雏尾盈握。媪劝餐已,婢来敛具。媪曰:“唤宁姑来。”婢应去。良久,闻户外隐有笑声。媪又唤曰:“婴宁,汝姨兄在此。”户外嗤嗤笑不已。婢推之以入,犹掩其口,笑不可遏。媪瞋目曰:“有客在,咤咤叱叱,是何景象?”女忍笑而立,生揖之。媪曰:“此王郎,汝姨子。一家尚不相识,可笑人也。”生问:“妹子年几何矣?”媪未能解,生又言之,女复笑,不可仰视。媪谓生曰:“我言少教诲,此可见矣。年已十六,呆痴裁如婴儿。”生曰:“小于甥一岁。”曰:“阿甥已十七矣,得非庚午属马者耶?”生首应之。又问:“甥妇阿谁?”答云:“无之。”曰:“如甥才貌,何十七岁犹未聘?婴宁亦无姑家,极相匹敌,惜有内亲之嫌。”生无语,目注婴宁,不遑他瞬。婢向女小语云:“目灼灼,贼腔未改!”女又大笑,顾婢曰:“视碧桃开未?”遽起,以袖掩口,细碎连步而出。至门外,笑声始纵。媪亦起,唤婢襆被,为生安置。曰:“阿甥来不易,宜留三五日,迟迟送汝归。如嫌幽闷,舍后有小园,可供消遣,有书可读。”

次日,至舍后,果有园半亩,细草铺毡,杨花糁径,有草舍三楹,花木四合其所。穿花小步,闻树头苏苏有声,仰视,则婴宁在上,见生来,狂笑欲堕。生曰:“勿尔,堕矣!”女且下且笑,不能自止。方将及地,失手而堕,笑乃止。生扶之,阴捘其腕,女笑又作,倚树不能行,良久乃罢。生俟其笑歇,乃出袖中花示之。女接之曰:“枯矣。何留之?”曰:“此上元妹子所遗,故存之。”问:“存之何意?”曰:“以示相爱不忘也。自上元相遇,凝思成疾,自分化为异物,不图得见颜色,幸垂怜悯。”女曰:“此大细事。至戚何所靳惜?待郎行时,园中花,当唤老奴来,折一巨捆负送之。”生曰:“妹子痴耶?”“何便是痴?”曰:“我非爱花,爱撚花之人耳。”女曰:“葭莩之情,爱何待言。”生曰:“我所谓爱,非瓜葛之爱,乃夫妻之爱。”女曰:“有以异乎?”曰:“夜共枕席耳。”女俛思良久,曰:“我不惯与生人睡。”语未已,婢潜至,生惶恐遁去。

少时,会母所。母问:“何往?”女答以园中共话。媪曰:“饭熟已久,有何长言,周遮乃尔?”女曰:“大哥欲我共寝。”言未已,生大窘,急目瞪之,女微笑而止。幸媪不闻,犹絮絮究诘,生急以他词掩之。因小语责女,女曰:“适此语不应说耶?”生曰:“此背人语。”女曰:“背他人,岂得背老母?且寝处亦常事,何讳之?”生恨其痴,无术可以悟之。食方竟,家中人捉双卫来寻生。

先是,母待生久不归,始疑,村中搜觅几遍,竟无踪兆。因往询吴。吴忆曩言,因教于西南山村行觅。凡历数村,始至于此。生出门,适相值,便入告媪,且请偕女同归。媪喜曰:“我有志,匪伊朝夕。但残躯不能远涉,得甥携妹子去,识认阿姨,大好!”呼婴宁,宁笑至。媪曰:“有何喜,笑辄不辍?若不笑,当为全人。”因怒之以目。乃曰:“大哥欲同汝去,可便装束。”又饷家人酒食,始送之出曰:“姨家田产丰裕,能养冗人。到彼且勿归,小学诗礼,亦好事翁姑。即烦阿姨,为汝择一良匹。”二人遂发。至山坳,回顾,犹依稀见媪倚门北望也。

抵家,母睹姝丽,惊问为谁,生以姨女对。母曰:“前吴郎与儿言者,诈也。我未有姊,何以得甥?”问女,女曰:“我非母出。父为秦氏,没时,儿在褓中,不能记忆。”母曰:“我一姊适秦氏,良确,然殂谢已久,那得复存?”因审诘面庞、志赘,一一符合。又疑曰:“是矣。然亡已多年,何得复存?”疑虑间,吴生至,女避入室。吴询得故,惘然久之,忽曰:“此女名婴宁耶?”生然之,吴亟称怪事。问所自知,吴曰:“秦家姑去世后,姑丈鳏居,祟于狐,病瘠死。狐生女,名婴宁,绷卧床上,家人皆见之。姑丈殁,狐犹时来。后求天师符黏壁间,狐遂携女去。将勿此耶?”彼此疑参。但闻室中吃吃,皆婴宁笑声。母曰:“此女亦太憨生。”吴请面之。母入室,女犹浓笑不顾。母促令出,始极力忍笑,又面壁移时,方出。才一展拜,翻然遽入,放声大笑。满室妇女,为之粲然。

吴请往觇其异,就便执柯。寻至村所,庐舍全无,山花零落而已。吴忆姑葬处,仿佛不远,然坟垅湮没,莫可辨识,诧叹而返。母疑其为鬼,入告吴言,女略无骇意。又吊其无家,亦殊无悲意,孜孜憨笑而已。众莫之测。母令与少女同寝止。昧爽即来省问,操女红精巧绝伦。但善笑,禁之亦不可止,然笑处嫣然,狂而不损其媚,人皆乐之。邻女少妇,争承迎之。

母择吉将为合卺,而终恐为鬼物。窃于日中窥之,形影殊无少异。至日,使华妆行新妇礼,女笑极不能俯仰,遂罢。生以其憨痴,恐漏泄房中隐事,而女殊密秘,不肯道一语。每值母忧怒,女至,一笑即解。奴婢小过,恐遭鞭楚,辄求诣母共话,罪婢投见,恒得免。而爱花成癖,物色遍戚党,窃典金钗,购佳种,数月,阶砌藩溷,无非花者。

庭后有木香一架,故邻西家。女每攀登其上,摘供簪玩。母时遇见,辄诃之,女卒不改。一日,西人子见之,凝注倾倒。女不避而笑。西人子谓女意已属,心益荡。女指墙底笑而下,西人子谓示约处,大悦。及昏而往,女果在焉。就而淫之,则阴如锥刺,痛彻于心,大号而踣。细视,非女,则一枯木卧墙边,所接乃水淋窍也。邻父闻声,急奔研问,呻而不言。妻来,始以实告。爇火烛窍,见中有巨蝎,如小蟹然,翁碎木捉杀之。负子至家,半夜寻卒。邻人讼生,讦发婴宁妖异。邑宰素仰生才,稔知其笃行士,谓邻翁讼诬,将杖责之。生为乞免,逐释而出。母谓女曰:“憨狂尔尔,早知过喜而伏忧也。邑令神明,幸不牵累,设鹘突官宰,必逮妇女质公堂,我儿何颜见戚里?”女正色,矢不复笑。母曰:“人罔不笑,但须有时。”而女由是竟不复笑,虽故逗,亦终不笑,然竟日未尝有戚容。

一夕,对生零涕。异之。女哽咽曰:“曩以相从日浅,言之恐致骇怪。今日察姑及郎,皆过爱无有异心,直告或无妨乎?妾本狐产。母临去,以妾托鬼母,相依十馀年,始有今日。妾又无兄弟,所恃者惟君。老母岑寂山阿,无人怜而合厝之,九泉辄为悼恨。君倘不惜烦费,使地下人消此怨恫,庶养女者不忍溺弃。”生诺之,然虑坟冢迷于荒草,女但言无虑。刻日,夫妻舆榇而往。女于荒烟错楚中,指示墓处,果得媪尸,肤革犹存。女抚哭哀痛。舁归,寻秦氏墓合葬焉。是夜,生梦媪来称谢,寤而述之。女曰:“妾夜见之,嘱勿惊郎君耳。”生恨不邀留。女曰:“彼鬼也,生人多,阳气胜,何能久居?”生问小荣,曰:“是亦狐,最黠,狐母留以视妾,每摄饵相哺,故德之,常不去心。昨问母,云已嫁之。”由是岁值寒食,夫妻登秦墓,拜扫无缺。女逾年生一子,在怀抱中,不畏生人,见人辄笑,亦大有母风云。

异史氏曰:观其孜孜憨笑,似全无心肝者;而墙下恶作剧,其黠孰甚焉。至凄恋鬼母,反笑为哭,我婴宁殆隐于笑者矣。窃闻山中有草,名“笑矣乎”,嗅之,则笑不可止。房中植此一种,则合欢、忘忧并无颜色矣。若解语花,正嫌其作态耳。

Leave a Comment