Sisters’ Marriage Stories: A Tale of Dreams, Regrets, and Unexpected Twists

Explore the intriguing story of two sisters' marriages, filled with dreams, regrets, and surprising turns of fate.

During the Ming Dynasty, there was a scholar named Mao Ji from Ye County, who came from a poor family. His father used to herd cattle for others. In the vicinity, there was a wealthy and prominent family named Zhang, who had a new grave on the southern slopes of Dongshan. As someone passed by, they heard a voice coming from the grave, saying, “Hurry and move away from here, don’t disturb the residence of the nobleman constantly!” Zhang did not take this warning seriously.

Subsequently, Zhang had multiple dreams in which he was warned, “Your family’s burial site originally belonged to Lord Mao, how can you occupy it for an extended period of time?” After that, misfortunes befell Zhang’s family continuously. Guests advised Zhang to relocate the grave elsewhere, and he heeded their advice, moving the grave.

One day, while Mao Ji’s father was herding cattle and passed by the original grave of Zhang, a sudden heavy rain poured down. He sought shelter in the abandoned grave. Soon, the rain intensified, and the accumulated water rushed into the grave, causing Mao’s father to drown. At that time, Mao Ji was still a child. His mother personally went to see Zhang, hoping to find a place to bury her child’s father. Zhang inquired about the deceased’s surname and was greatly surprised. He visited the place where Mao’s father had drowned and realized it was the proper burial site for a coffin. This deepened his astonishment. Consequently, Zhang allowed Mao’s father to be buried in the original grave and invited Mao’s mother to bring the child for a visit.

After Mao’s father was buried, Mao’s mother and son expressed their gratitude to Zhang. Zhang took a liking to Mao Ji at first sight and decided to keep him in his home, teaching him to read and treating him as his own kin. Zhang also proposed the idea of marrying his eldest daughter to Mao Ji, which frightened Mao’s mother. Zhang’s wife said, “Since the offer has been made, how can we back out halfway?” Eventually, Mao’s mother agreed.

However, the eldest daughter held a strong disdain for the Mao family, and her resentment and shame were evident in her demeanor and speech. Whenever someone happened to mention the Mao family, she would cover her ears and refuse to listen. She often said to others, “I’d rather die than marry the son of a cowherd!” On the day of her wedding, as the groom entered the banquet hall and the bridal sedan chair stopped at the door, the eldest daughter covered her face with her sleeve and wept in a corner. Despite urging her to get dressed and offering consolation, she remained uncooperative. Later, when the groom decided to leave and the music played loudly, the eldest daughter continued to weep, her hair in disarray.

Zhang tried to stop the groom and personally went inside to persuade the eldest daughter. However, she only continued to shed tears and acted as if she heard nothing. Zhang, in frustration, forced her into the sedan chair, but she cried uncontrollably, leaving Zhang with no choice. At that moment, a family member came with a message, “The groom is about to leave.” Zhang’s father hurriedly came out and said, “He hasn’t finished getting dressed yet, please wait a moment.” He immediately ran inside to check on the eldest daughter, going in and out several times. Although this delayed things a bit, the pressure from outside continued to mount, but the eldest daughter remained resolute.

Zhang’s father felt helpless and anxious, even contemplating suicide. The younger daughter, watching all this, thought her older sister was acting wrongly and tried to persuade her. The eldest daughter angrily retorted, “You little girl, why are you meddling in others’ affairs? Why don’t you marry him then?” The younger daughter responded, “Father originally didn’t promise me to Mao’s son. If he had, why would my sister need to persuade me to get into the sedan chair?” Hearing this, the father and mother were delighted. They secretly discussed and decided to let the younger daughter take the place of the eldest daughter in the marriage.

The mother then asked the younger daughter, “Our disobedient girl, will you do as your parents say and take your sister’s place in marriage?” Without hesitation, the younger daughter replied, “If my parents want me to get married, I wouldn’t dare refuse, even if it’s to a beggar. Besides, who’s to say that Mao’s husband will definitely starve?” The parents were overjoyed upon hearing this and hastily dressed the younger daughter in the bridal attire, sending her on her way. After the wedding, the husband and wife had a very harmonious relationship. However, Mao Ji noticed that the younger daughter had thin hair since childhood, which made him slightly disappointed. As time passed, he learned about the circumstances surrounding her marriage to him, and he began to regard the younger daughter as a confidante, filled with gratitude towards her.

Not long after that, Mao Ji passed the provincial examination and participated in the county-level examination. On his way, he stayed at an inn owned by a Mr. Wang. The innkeeper had a dream the night before, in which a divine figure told him, “Tomorrow, a scholar named Mao will come, and in the future, he will help you overcome your hardships.” Therefore, when the innkeeper woke up in the morning, he specifically looked out for guests coming from the east. When he saw Mao Ji, the innkeeper was overjoyed. He provided abundant food and drink without charge and earnestly asked Mao Ji to help him with the matter he had dreamed of.

Mao Ji was also quite confident. He secretly thought about his wife’s thin hair and worried that it might invite ridicule when he achieved a high status. He planned to marry another woman after achieving wealth and prominence. However, when the exam results were announced, Mao Ji unexpectedly failed. He sighed and walked away in frustration, disappointment, and regret. Feeling ashamed, he couldn’t bring himself to meet the innkeeper again and didn’t dare to take the path to Mr. Wang’s estate. Instead, he had to change his route and return home.

Three years later, Mao Ji returned to take the examination, and the innkeeper greeted him just as before. Mao Ji said, “Your previous words did not come true, and I feel ashamed of your kindness.” The innkeeper replied, “You secretly contemplated marrying another wife, and thus you were dismissed by the underworld officials. How can you think that the unusual dream cannot be fulfilled?” Mao Ji was astonished and asked for an explanation. It turned out that the innkeeper had another dream later, which is why he spoke in this manner. Upon hearing this, Mao Ji became alert and aware, filled with remorse and fear, standing there like a puppet.

The innkeeper advised Mao Ji, saying, “You should cherish yourself, as you will eventually become the top scholar.” Before long, Mao Ji indeed achieved the highest rank in the imperial examination. His wife’s hair also grew back, and her glossy, jet-black hair bun added even more charm to her beauty.

Now, let’s talk about the eldest daughter, who was married to the son of a wealthy family in their hometown, feeling quite proud of herself. Her husband was dissolute and lazy, and their family gradually fell into poverty. Their home became empty, and they couldn’t even afford to cook a meal. When she heard that her younger sister had become the wife of a scholar, she felt even more ashamed. The two sisters avoided each other when they walked together.

After some time, her husband passed away, and their fortunes declined further. Meanwhile, Mao Ji passed the highest-level imperial examination. When the eldest daughter learned of this, she bitterly regretted her past actions. Filled with remorse, she decided to become a nun. When Mao Ji returned to their hometown as a high-ranking official, the eldest daughter reluctantly sent an unshaven female disciple to visit the Mao household, hoping to receive some financial assistance.

Upon arriving at the Mao household, Mao’s wife gave her several pieces of silk and satin, with some silver coins concealed within. The female disciple was unaware of the hidden silver. She brought the gifts back to her master, who was greatly disappointed and resentful. She said, “I can use money to buy necessities, but these useless items are of no use to me!” She ordered someone to return the gifts. Mao Ji and his wife did not understand the meaning behind this gesture until they opened the package and found the silver coins. They then realized that the gifts were being returned.

So, they took out the silver coins and said with a smile, “Your master can’t even handle a hundred plus taels of silver. How can she enjoy the same prosperity as my esteemed husband?” They gave fifty taels of silver to the female disciple and said, “Take this to cover your master’s expenses. Giving her too much might burden her due to her modest circumstances.” The female disciple returned and conveyed this message to her master. The master remained silent, deeply moved, reflecting on her life’s actions, always avoiding good deeds and approaching bad ones. Wasn’t this the will of heaven?

Later, the innkeeper was arrested and imprisoned for a murder case, but Mao Ji worked tirelessly to prove his innocence and eventually secured his release.

Yi Shi, a historian, remarked: The transformation of the Zhang family’s old grave into the new burial site for the Mao family is already quite remarkable. I’ve heard jokes among the people about “a great uncle becoming a little aunt, and a former top scholar becoming a later top scholar.” Such matters are not something that clever and discerning individuals should dwell upon. Alas! Heaven had posed questions that were difficult to answer long ago. Why did it produce such an echoing response in the case of Lord Mao?

《姊妹易嫁》

掖县相国毛公,家素微。其父常为人牧牛。时邑世族张姓者,有新阡在东山之阳。或经其侧,闻墓中叱咤声曰:“若等速避去,勿久溷贵人宅!”张闻,亦未深信。既又频得梦警曰:“汝家墓地,本是毛公佳城,何得久假此?”由是家数不利。客劝徙葬吉,张听之,徙焉。一日,相国父牧,出张家故墓,猝遇雨,匿身废圹中。已而雨益倾盆,潦水奔穴,崩渹灌注,遂溺以死。相国时尚孩童。母自诣张,愿丐咫尺地,掩儿父。张征知其姓氏,大异之。行视溺死所,俨然当置棺处,又益骇。乃使就故圹窆焉,且令携若儿来。葬已,母偕儿诣张谢。张一见辄喜,即留其家,教之读,以齿子弟行。又请以长女妻儿,母骇不敢应,张妻云:“既已有言,奈何中改?”卒许之。

然此女甚薄毛家,怨惭之意,形于言色。有人或道及,辄掩其耳。每向人曰:“我死不从牧牛儿!”及亲迎,新郎入宴,彩舆在门,而女掩袂向隅而哭。催之妆,不妆,劝之亦不解。俄而新郎告行,鼓乐大作,女犹眼零雨而首飞蓬也。父止婿,自入劝女,女涕若罔闻。怒而逼之,益哭失声,父无奈之。又有家人传白:“新郎欲行。”父急出,言:“衣妆未竟,乞郎少停待。”即又奔入视女,往来者无停履。迁延少时,事愈急,女终无回意。父无计,周张欲自死。其次女在侧,颇非其姊,苦逼劝之。姊怒曰:“小妮子,亦学人喋聒!尔何不从他去?”妹曰:“阿爷原不曾以妹子属毛郎,若以妹子属毛郎,更何须姊姊劝驾也。”父以其言慷爽,因与伊母窃议,以次易长。母即向女曰:“忤逆婢不遵父母命,欲以儿代若姊,儿肯之否?”女慨然曰:“父母教儿往也,即乞丐不敢辞,且何以见毛家郎便终饿莩死乎?”父母闻其言,大喜,即以姊妆妆女,仓猝登车而去。入门,夫妇雅敦逑好。然女素病赤鬜,稍稍介公意。久之,浸知易嫁之说,由是益以知己德女。

居无何,公补博士弟子,应秋闱试,道经王舍人店。店主人先一夕梦神曰:“旦日当有毛解元来,后且脱汝于厄。”以故晨起,专伺察东来客。及得公,甚喜,供具殊丰善,不索直,特以梦兆厚自托。公亦颇自负。私以细君发鬑鬑,虑为显者笑,富贵后,念当易之。已而晓榜既揭,竟落孙山。咨嗟蹇步,懊惋丧志。心赧旧主人,不敢复由王舍,以他道归。

后三年,再赴试,店主人延候如初。公曰:“尔言初不验,殊惭祗奉。”主人曰:“秀才以阴欲易妻,故被冥司黜落,岂妖梦不足以践?”公愕而问故,盖别后复梦而云。公闻之,惕然悔惧,木立若偶。主人谓:“秀才宜自爱,终当作解首。”未几,果举贤书第一人。夫人发亦寻长,云鬟委绿,转更增媚。

姊适里中富室儿,意气颇自高。夫荡惰,家渐陵夷,空舍无烟火。闻妹为孝廉妇,弥增惭怍,姊妹辄避路而行。又无何,良人卒,家落。顷之,公又擢进士。女闻,刻骨自恨,遂忿然废身为尼。及公以宰相归,强遣女行者诣府谒问,冀有所贻。比至,夫人馈以绮縠罗绢若干匹,以金纳其中,而行者不知也。携归见师,师失所望,恚曰:“与我金钱,尚可作薪米费;此等仪物,我何须尔!”遂令将回。公及夫人疑之,及启视而金具在,方悟见却之意。发金笑曰:“汝师百馀金尚不能任,焉有福泽从我老尚书也。”遂以五十金付尼去,曰:“将去作尔师用度,多,恐福薄人难承荷也。”行者归,具以告。师默然自叹,念平生所为,辄自颠倒,美恶避就,繄岂由人耶?后店主人以人命事逮系囹圄,公为力解释罪。

异史氏曰:张公故墓,毛氏佳城,斯已奇矣。余闻时人有“大姨夫作小姨夫,前解元为后解元”之戏,此岂慧黠者所能较计邪?呜呼!彼苍者天久不可问,何至毛公,其应如响?

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