CHAPTER 5 (The Golden Lotus) The Murder of Wu Da


The Murder of Wu Da

When deep in mystic contemplation

Sounding the shallows of this world's emptiness,

Even the marriage most blessed by Fate seems full of evil.

Men in their folly crave for love,

Yet, when in calm collectedness they study it,

Hateful it seems.

Leave the wild grasses

Gather not the idle flowers

So, thy truest self, the vigor of thy manhood,

Will know the peace of Nature.

A simple wife, young children, and plain fare

With these need no man suffer the pangs of love

Or lose his fortune.

Yun'ge could not contain his anger at the way old woman Wang had treated him. He took his basket and went to find Wu Da. He had gone through two streets before he met the man for whom he was looking. Wu Da, carrying his buns, was coming towards him. The boy stopped. "It is some time since I saw you last," he said, looking hard at the man. "How fat you have grown."

"Fat?" said Wu Da. "What do you mean? I am just the same as I always was."

"A few days ago," Yun'ge said, "I wanted some chicken food. I went for miles, but couldn't get any. Yet everybody tells me you have lots of it at your house."

"I keep neither geese nor ducks," Wu Da said. "Why should I have chicken food?"

"So you say," Yun'ge retorted, "but what makes you so much like a capon? Why! If you were held topsy-turvy, you would never turn a hair; you'd keep quite cool if you were being boiled in a cauldron."

"This is an insult, you young scoundrel," Wu Da cried. "My wife has not run off with anybody's husband. What makes you call me a capon?"

"Indeed?" the boy said. "So your wife has not run off with anybody's husband, hasn't she? Perhaps I should have said she has run off with somebody's husband."

"Who is the man?" Wu Da cried. "Tell me."

"You make me laugh. You can do what you like with me easily enough, but you won't find your wife's new friend so easy to dispose of."

"Good little brother, tell me who he is and I will give you ten cakes." "Cakes won't do. I'd rather you were my host and gave me some wine. Three cups, and I'll tell you the whole story."

"If it's wine you want, come along," Wu Da said. He led the way to a little wineshop. Calling for a jar of wine and some meat, he took cakes from his basket and invited Yun'ge to join him. "Good little brother," he said, "you really must tell me."

"There is no hurry. Wait till I have finished my food. Then I'll tell you. You mustn't be impatient. I'll help you to catch them."

Wu Da waited till the young monkey had finished, and again asked him to explain himself.

"If you would like to know," the boy said, "put your hand on my head and feel the bumps."

"How did you get them?"

"I'll tell you. Today I have been carrying my pears about looking for his Lordship, Ximen. I walked and walked, but couldn't find him anywhere. Then somebody in the street told me he was at old woman Wang's tea shop, amusing himself with Mistress Wu; that he went there every day. I thought I might see him there, and get thirty or fifty cash from him, but the old sow Wang wouldn't let me in. She drove me away, and then I thought I'd come and see you. I was rather rude, but, if I hadn't made you wild, you wouldn't have asked me any questions."

"Is this the truth?"

"Don't you believe me?" the boy cried. "Didn't I say you were a white-livered fellow? Those two are making merry at this very moment. They wait till you have gone out, and then they go and meet at the old woman's house. You say, 'Is this the truth?' What reason have I for deceiving you?"

"Little brother, it is true. My wife goes every day to this old woman's house to make clothes and shoes, and when she comes back she has a red face. My first wife left me with a little daughter. This woman beats her every morning and scolds her every night. She gives her hardly anything to eat. Lately she certainly has been looking as if something was on her mind. She looked balefully at me, and I wondered whether anything was wrong. You have told the truth. I will put my baskets down and go and catch these evil-doers in the act."

"You may be old as years go," Yun'ge said, "but for the little you know of the world, you might be a child. That old bitch Wang is not afraid of anybody. She would throw you out of the house. Besides, your wife and Ximen have a secret signal. If they knew you were coming, Ximen Qing would hide your wife. He is a very strong man and could dispose of twenty like you. You will never be able to touch him; much more likely you'll find his fist in your mouth. He is so rich and powerful that he would bring an accusation against you, and have you hauled to the courts. You have nobody to help you, and you'd come to an unhappy end."

"You are right, little brother, but what can I do to revenge myself?"

"I want revenge too," Yun'ge said, "for the old woman beat me. Listen to me. Go home today, show no sign of being angry, and don't say one word about the matter. Just behave as usual. Tomorrow, don't make more than a few cakes. Go out with them. I shall be waiting at the entrance to the lane. If Ximen Qing comes, I will give you a call, and you can take your baskets and wait for me somewhere near by. I will go first and plague the old bitch. She will certainly come out to hit me. I will throw my basket far into the street, and then you can run in. I will hold the old woman, and you can rush into the room, and tell them what you think about them. Don't you think that's a good plan?"

"I am greatly indebted to you," Wu Da said; "here are two strings of cash. Come early tomorrow and wait at the entrance to Amethyst Street."

Yun'ge took the money and some of the cakes, and went off. Wu Da paid the reckoning, picked up his baskets, and went back to the street to sell his cakes. A little later he went home.

His wife had never ceased to grumble at him and had found a hundred ways of making life unpleasant to him, but of late her conscience had smitten her and she showed signs of relenting. This evening, when Wu Da came home with his baskets and said nothing, as was usual, she asked him to have some wine. He refused, saying he had already taken wine with some merchants. She laid out his supper, but still he did not offer to speak, and next morning, after breakfast, he made only two or three trays of cakes, and put them in his baskets. Jinlian was so taken up with her thoughts of Ximen Qing that she did not notice how many cakes he made. She waited impatiently until he had gone out and then went to the tea shop to wait for her lover.

Wu Da took his baskets to the entrance to Amethyst Street. Yun'ge, also with a basket, was looking around.

"Well?" Wu Da said.

"It is too soon yet. Go and sell your cakes till he comes. Wait at the corner, and don't go far away."

Wu Da hurried away, but was soon back again. "The moment you see me throw down my basket," the boy said, "dash into the room." Wu Da put down his own basket and waited.

Yun'ge went to the tea shop. "You old pig," he said, in the most irritating tone he could command. "What did you mean by hitting me yesterday?"

Old woman Wang jumped up at once. "I have not done anything to you, you little monkey. Why have you come to insult me again?"

"For a very good reason, you old bitch, you old strumpet mistress. My ramrod to you!"

This made the old woman furious. She dashed at Yun'ge and tried to hit him. "Would you beat me?" he cried, and threw his basket as far as he could into the street. The old woman tried to hold him, but the little monkey cried, "Hit me if you can," put down his head, and butted her in the belly. She would have fallen if there had not been a wall behind her. The young monkey pushed as hard as he could and pinned her against the wall, while Wu Da pulled up his skirts and strode into the tea shop. The old woman saw him, and would have stopped him if she could, but the boy kept her close against the wall and she could not free herself.

"Wu Da is here," she cried.

Jinlian and Ximen Qing did not know what to do. Jinlian threw herself against the door, and Ximen Qing crawled under the bed. Wu Da tried to force open the door but failed. "This is a fine game you're playing," he cried. Jinlian was filled with confusion, but she succeeded in holding the door against him.

"You talk about the strength of your fists," she said to Ximen Qing, "and you are always boasting about your skill with the staff; why don't you come out and do something? Why, even a paper tiger is enough to frighten you." This she said to shame him into coming out, so that he might strike down Wu Da and make his escape. Ximen, in his hiding place under the bed, did grow bolder when he heard what she said. He crawled out nervously.

"I wasn't afraid," he said, "only a little taken by surprise." He threw open the door, and cried, "Stand back there!" Wu Da tried to close, but Ximen kicked out at him and, as the man was very small, the foot caught him in the ribs, and he fell backwards. Ximen Qing went out, and Yun'ge, seeing that matters had not turned out as he had hoped, released the old woman and ran away.

The neighbors knew Ximen Qing's power, and none of them dared to come and interfere. Old woman Wang lifted up Wu Da. His face was as yellow as a tallow candle, and he was spitting blood. She told Jinlian to bring a cup of water to revive him and then, each holding him by one arm, they took him home by the back way and put him to bed.

Next day Ximen did not hear any bad news, so he went as usual to the old woman's house to make merry with Jinlian. He hoped that Wu Da would die, and indeed for five days the poor man was very ill, and unable to leave his bed. He longed for food and could obtain none; he sighed for a drink and none was given him. Day after day he appealed to Jinlian, but she never answered. She went out, dressed in her best clothes, and came back with a flushed face. His daughter Ying'er had been forbidden to do anything for him. "If you dare to do anything for him and don't tell me," the woman had said, "you shall pay for it." After this the child did not venture to give her father a spoonful of soup or even a drop of water. Several times Wu Da fainted in his anger, but nobody paid the least attention to him. One day he cried to his wife, "You have done this because I found you out. You told that wicked man to kick me over the heart. And now I can neither die nor live. And the pair of you are as happy as can be. If I die, it is a small matter; you have nothing to fear from me. But don't forget Wu Song. Sooner or later he will come back, and he will have something to say about all this. Show me a little kindness and help me to get well as quickly as possible and I won't tell him anything. But if you still refuse to do anything for me, I shall have my reckoning with you on his return."

Jinlian listened, but made no answer. She went next door and told old woman Wang and Ximen Qing everything Wu Da had said. Ximen shivered as though a bucket of cold water had been poured over him. "This is most awkward," he said. "This brother is the Captain Wu who killed a tiger on Jingyang Hill. And now I have learned to love you. We get on together so perfectly. It is not conceivable that we should separate, but it means thinking out some way of dealing with the problem. Really, it is most unfortunate."

Old woman Wang laughed. "I've never seen such a man. You are at the helm and I am only at the oar, yet, while I see no difficulty, you seem to have no notion what to do."

"I am ashamed," Ximen said, "but I must admit I don't know what to do. Have you any plan for getting us out of the difficulty?"

"If you really wish for my help, I have a plan," the old woman said. "First, I must know whether you wish your relations to be permanent or temporary."

"What do you mean, Stepmother?"

"If you will be satisfied with a temporary arrangement, you must separate today. When Wu Da is well, you must ask his forgiveness. Then nobody will say anything to Wu Song about this affair. You will have to wait till some business takes him away again, and then you can meet once more. That is what I mean by 'temporary arrangement.' If you wish for something more permanent, I have an excellent idea, but it is one that I hesitate to tell you."

"Stepmother," Ximen said, "please do anything you can to keep us always together."

"There is one thing I need for this plan. It is not to be had everywhere, but I have no doubt you have some of it."

"If you want my eye, you shall have it," Ximen cried. "What is it you mean?"

"Wu Da is dangerously ill. Let us take the chance while we have it. Go to your shop, get some arsenic and give it to this lady. Then she can buy some medicine for Wu Da's sore chest and put the arsenic into it. So we shall rid ourselves of that little man. When he is dead, we will burn his body till not a trace remains. When Wu Song comes back, he can do nothing about it. A young man, when he takes a wife, marries to please his parents, but when he marries again he makes his own choice. What can a younger brother do? Six months or a year later, when the lady is out of mourning, there is nothing to prevent you marrying her. If you live together happily all your lives, won't that be permanent enough for you?"

"It is an admirable plan, Stepmother. As the proverb says: 'The treasure of a happy life can only be secured by desperate deeds.' Yes, one evil deed deserves another."

"So you think my scheme a good one!" the old woman said. "Well, there is nothing like pulling up the roots when we cut the grass. It never grows again. Go home, Sir, and bring the stuff to me. I'll show the lady what to do with it. But, when all is over, I shall expect a present worth having."

"Of course," Ximen said, "that goes without saying."

He went at once to his shop and soon returned with a packet of arsenic, which he gave to old woman Wang. She looked at Jinlian.

"Now, Lady, I am going to tell you how to use this. Wu Da has begged you to save him, and that gives you an opening. You must make a great show of affection. When he asks you for something to make him better, put this arsenic into some medicine to soothe his chest. When he complains of pain, pour it down his throat. As soon as the poison has got to work, his bowels will burst and he will cry out. So put the bedclothes over him, and press down the coverlet, and make sure that no one hears him. One thing you must do is to heat some water, and put a napkin into it. When the poison has taken effect, blood will stream from the seven openings of his body, and there will be marks on his lips. As soon as he is really dead, you must take off the bedclothes, and wipe away the blood. All that remains is to put him into a coffin and get him out of the way."

"I see," Jinlian said, "but my arms are weak. I shall not have strength enough."

"That doesn't matter. Knock on the wall, and I will come and help you."

"You must both be very careful," Ximen Qing said. "I will come tomorrow at the fifth watch to hear what news you have."

Old woman Wang powdered the arsenic and gave it to Jinlian, who went home. Wu Da was breathing so feebly that it seemed as though his soul had already left him. She sat on his bed, and pretended to cry.

"Why are you crying?" Wu Da said.

Jinlian dried her tears. "Because I allowed myself to be led astray by that Ximen Qing and, for a time, yielded to temptation. But I never meant him to kick you in the chest. Now, I have heard of some very good medicine, and I would go and buy some to make you well, if I were not afraid you would be suspicious. As it is, I don't dare go."

"If you will only save my life," Wu Da said, "I'll forgive you everything, and never hold this business against you. And I won't tell Wu Song anything about it, when he comes home. Go and buy the medicine, and save my life."

The woman took a few coins, and went to old woman Wang's, to make it appear as though she had asked her neighbor to go and buy it. When she came back, she showed the medicine to her husband. "This will soon cure you," she told him. "The doctor says you must drink it during the night, and cover yourself with one or two blankets to make you sweat. Then go to sleep, and tomorrow you will be able to get up."

"Splendid," Wu Da said. "I am very grateful to you. Don't go to sleep, but make up the medicine for me in the middle of the night."

"Go to sleep again," the woman said. "I will bring it to you without fail." It was beginning to grow dark. Jinlian lighted the lamp. Then she went downstairs, put a great cauldron of water on the fire, and dipped a cloth into it. The watchman sounded the third night watch. She put the arsenic into a cup, filled it up with water, and took it upstairs.

"Brother, where is the medicine?"

"Here, underneath the mattress. Please make it for me at once."

Jinlian lifted the mattress, and took the medicine. She put it into a cup, then filled up the cup with the liquid she had brought, stirring it with a silver pin she took from her hair. With her left arm she supported her husband. Then she poured the medicine down his throat. Wu Da drank a mouthful.

"Sister," he said, "this medicine is very nasty."

"We are only trying to make you well. Don't be put off by the bitter taste."

Wu Da drank again, and the woman emptied the cup down his throat. She lowered him on to the bed again, herself got down from it. Wu Da groaned.

"Sister, I have taken the medicine, but the pain in my belly feels worse, worse. Oh, I can't bear it."

Jinlian took two coverlets from behind his head, and pulled them entirely over his head.

"I can't breathe," Wu Da cried.

"It is what the doctor told me to do. It will make you sweat, and you'll be better much sooner."

Wu Da again tried to speak, and Jinlian was afraid he might struggle. She leaped upon the bed and, riding astride his body, pressed down the bedclothes so that he could not move at all.

His lungs were fried in boiling oil, his liver and bowels burned with fire,

His heart was pierced as by a butcher's knife, his belly stirred as by a sword's sharp edge.

Then froze his body to an icy cold, the seven openings all streamed with blood.

Through clenched teeth his three spirits sped to the city of ghosts.

From his parched throat his seven souls fled to the watchtower of Hell.

Thus to the ghosts of all the poisoned deep in Hades

Was joined another,

And in the world of living none was left

To hinder wantonness.

Wu Da groaned twice, and gasped for breath. Then his bowels burst, and he died.

Jinlian pulled down the bedclothes. Wu Da's teeth were tight clenched, and blood streamed from the seven openings. She was frightened and, getting down from the bed, knocked on the wall. When old woman Wang heard the knocking, she came to the back door and coughed. Jinlian went downstairs and opened the door.

"Is it all over?" the old woman asked.

"Over? Yes, it is over. My hands and feet fail me, and I can do no more." "What is the matter with you?" the old woman said. "I'll help you." She rolled up her sleeves, took a tub of boiling water and put a napkin in it. Then she took them upstairs and gathered up all the bedclothes. She wiped Wu Da's lips, and cleaned away the blood from the seven openings. Then she piled the clothes on his body and, step by step, the pair of them carried him downstairs. There, they took an old door, and lifted the corpse onto it. They combed his hair and put a hat on his head, dressed him, and put shoes and socks upon his feet. They covered his face with a piece of white silk, and set clean bedclothes over him. Then they went upstairs again, and straightened the place. Old woman Wang went home, and Jinlian pretended to mourn for Wu Da, crying, "Husband! Husband!"

Readers, though there are many women in the world, they have but three ways of lamenting. Sometimes they weep and sob at the same time; sometimes they sob and do not weep; and sometimes they weep and do not sob. Jinlian sobbed for half the night, but not a tear accompanied her sobbing.

Next morning, just before dawn, Ximen Qing came to hear how the thing had gone. Old woman Wang told him all about it. He gave her some silver to pay for the coffin and the funeral expenses, and they called Jinlian to discuss the arrangements. When she came, she said to Ximen Qing:

"Wu Da is dead, and you are all I have in the world. All I have done, I have done for you. You must not, some day, cast me aside like a woman's hairnet that is no more needed."

"There is no fear of that."

"But what if ever you change your mind?"

"If I do, may I have the place that now is Wu Da's."

The old woman interrupted them. "There is one thing that must be attended to at once. We must have him put in his coffin without any delay. The coroner's officers might see that there is something wrong, especially He the Ninth, who is a smart man. He might even refuse to put Wu Da in his coffin."

"There will be no trouble from that quarter," Ximen said. "I will speak to He the Ninth. He will do anything I wish,"

"In that case," the old woman said, "you had better go and speak to him at once. Don't waste a moment." So Ximen Qing set out to find He the Ninth.

The sun, the moon, the stars, all cast their shadows

We cannot reach them.

The multitude of happenings, which have no roots save in themselves,

Comes into being.

The herons are behind the clouds

We see them only when they fly.

The parrot is hidden in the willow tree.

We hear him only when he speaks.

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