沈从文《传奇不奇》中英双语 -《湘西散记:汉英对照》

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传奇不奇

满老太太从油坊到碾坊。溪水入冬枯落,碾槽停了工,水车不再转动,上面挂了些绿丝藻已泛白,石头上还有些白鸟粪。一看即可知气候入冬,一切活动都近于停止状态,得有个较长休息。不过一落了春雪,似乎即带来了点儿春天信息。连日融雪;汇集在坝上长潭的融雪水,已上涨到闸口,工人来报说水量已经可转动碾盘。照习惯,过年时,每个人家作糍粑很要几挑糯小米和大米。新媳妇拜年走亲戚,也少不了糍粑和甜酒,都需要糯谷米。老太太因此来看看,帮同守碾坊的工人,用长柄扫帚打扫清理一下墙角和碾盘上的蛛网蟢线,在横轴上钢圈上倒了点儿油,挂好了搁在墙角隅的长摇筛,一面便吩咐家中长工,挑一箩糯谷来试试槽,看看得不得用。

工人回去后,老太太把搁在旁边一个细篾烘笼提到手中,一面烘手一面走出碾坊,到坝上去看看。打量等待试过槽后,再顺便过村头去看看杨家冬生的妈。孩子送客人送了三天,还不曾转身,算是新事情。二三十里路并不算远,平时又无豺狼虎豹,路上一坦平,夜间摸黑也不会迷路。难道真是眼睛上有毛毛虫,掉到路旁“陷眼”“地窟窿”(死去万年的火山口)里去了?还是追麂子兔子,闪不知走到雪里滚入湃泥田,拔脚不出惨遭灭顶?(这在雪地上总还有个踪迹消息!)此外只有一个原因,即早先已定下了主意,要学薛仁贵,投军奔前程,深怕寡母眼泪浸软了心,临时脱身不得,因此趁便走去。可是在局里当差,已经是在乡兵员,想考学校,哪还有更方便事情?照乡村习惯,少年子弟背井离乡的事情虽常有,照例是要因点儿外事刺激才会发生:受了什么人的气丢失面子,赌输了钱无法交代,和什么女子有过情分,难善终始,不易长此厮守下去,到后来方不免有此一着,不是同走就是独行,努力把自己拔出家乡拔出苦恼,取得个转机。就冬生说,这些问题都不成问题。局里师爷到庄子上去提供报告时,就证明薛仁贵投军事不大可信。只有一点点可疑处,即是不是因为巧秀走失,半个月还无消息,冬生孩子心实,心里有些包瞒着的事,说不出口,所以要告奋勇去把巧秀找寻回来。说不定事前还许愿发过誓,找不到决不回乡,所以就失了踪。这自然只是局里师爷的猜想,无凭无据。不过由此出发,村子里却发生了些以讹传讹的谣言:冬生到红岩口,看见了满家逃亡的巧秀,知道是和吹唢呐中寨人想要逃下常德府,凑巧碰了头。两口子怕冬生小孩子口松出事,就把他一索子捆上,抛到江口大河里去了。事情虽没见证,话语却传到了老太太耳边。老太太心中难过,半信半疑,想去看看冬生的娘,安慰安慰这个妇人。临时还用小篮子装了二十个大鸡蛋。

高枧地方二百多户人家,除了杨家段家,满姓算是大族,老太太家里,又是这一族中门面户。近村子田地山坡产业,有一部分属于这个人家。此外属于族中共有的,还有油坊、碾坊等等产业,三年一换,轮流管理。五里场外集上又开了个小小官盐杂货铺,生产不多,只作为家中人赶场落脚地方。当家的男主人四十岁左右就过世了,目前接手管业的,是年过六十还精神矍铄的老太太。丈夫已死去快二十多年。生有二男二女:女的都已出嫁,身边只两个男孩,大的就是刚婚娶不久的地方团防局大队队长,小的进城上中学,在县里还只读初中二。两弟兄平时为人都还本分,大的只读过三年私学,对于“子曰”影响不多。按照一个乡下有产业子弟的兴趣和保家需要,不免欢喜玩枪弄棒。家中有长工,有猎狗,有枪支,而且来了客人,于是一个冬天,都用于鬻子所谓“捕虎逐麋”游猎工作上消磨了。

老太太穷人出身,素朴而勤俭。家产是承袭累代勤俭而来,所以门庭保留一点儿传统规矩。自己一身的穿着,照例是到处补丁上眼,却永远异常清洁。内外衣通用米汤浆洗得硬挺挺的,穿上身整整齐齐,且略有点儿米浆酸味和干草香味。头脚都拾掇得周周整整,不仅可见出老辈身份,还可见出一点儿旧式农村妇女性格。一切行为都若与书本无关,然而却处处合乎古人所悬想,尤其是属于性情一方面。明白财富聚散之理,平时赡亲恤邻,从不至于太吝啬。散去了财产一部分,就保持了更多部分。一村子非亲即友,遇什么人家出了丧事喜事,月毛毛丢了生了,儿子害了长病,和这家女主人谈及时,照例要陪陪悲喜。事后还悄悄的派人送几升米或两斤片糖去,尽一尽心。一切作来都十分自然。

一家人都并无一定宗教信仰,屋当中神位,供了个天地君亲师牌位,另外还供有太岁和土地神,灶屋有灶神,猪圈、牛栏、仓房也各有鬼神作主。每早晚必由老太太洗手亲自去作揖上香。逢月初一十五,还得吃吃观音斋,感谢并祝愿一家人畜平安。一年四季必按节令举行各种敬神仪式,或吃斋净心,或杀猪还愿,不问如何,一个凡事从俗。十二月过年时,有门户处和猪圈牛栏都贴上金箔喜钱和吉祥对联庆贺丰节。并一面预备了些钱米分送亲邻。有羞羞怯怯来告贷的,数目不多,照例必能如愿以偿。

一家财产既相当富有,照料经管需人,家中除担任团防局保卫一村治安的丁壮外,长年还雇有三四个长工,和一个近亲管事。油坊碾坊都有副产物,用之不竭,因此经常养了四只膘壮大牯牛,一栏肥猪,十来头山羊,三五十只鸡鸭,十多窝鸽子,几只看家狗。大院中心有一株大胡桃树,竹笼中还喂有两只锦鸡,一对大耳朵洋兔子,宅后竹园里尚有几箱蜜蜂。对外商务经济,虽由管事族中子弟经手,内外收支,和往来亲戚礼数在还以及债务数目,却有一本“无字经”记在老太太心中,一提起,能道出源源本本。

老太太对日常家事是个现实主义者,对精神生活是个象征主义者,对儿女却又是个理想主义者;一面承认当前,一面却寄托了些希望于明天。大儿子有点儿实力可以保家,还有精力能生二男二女,她还来得及为几个孙子商定亲事,城里看一房亲,乡里看一房亲。两孙女儿也一城一乡许给人家。至于二儿子的事呢,照老太太意思,既读了书,就照省城里规矩,自由自由,找一个城里女学生,让她来家族中小学教教书,玩风琴唱歌也好,小夫妇留在城中教小学也好,只要二儿子欢喜都可照办。二儿子却说还待十年再结婚不迟。……冬生呢,这个小孩子她想也要帮帮忙,到成年讨媳妇时,送三五亩山地给他自己管业。

老太太的梦在当地当时说来,相当健康也相当渺茫。因为中了俗话说的“人有千算,天有一算”,一切合理建筑起来的楼阁,到天那一算出现时,就会一齐塌圮成为一堆碎雪破冰,随同这个小溪流的融雪水,漫过石坝,钻过桥梁,带入大河,终于完事。因为这个小小社会的基础是建立在更大的那个社会基础上的。农村经济在崩溃中,县里省里的经济,大部分靠鸦片烟的过境税收维持。高枧村子里一个团防总局,三十支老式自卫枪支,团上的开销,大部分也靠的是在所属范围内,护送小规模烟贩走私,每挑烟土十元的过境保护税。照习惯,只是派个引路人拿个名片送过境就尽了责任。下一段路就归另外地区团上负责了。

老太太见长工挑着两半箩谷子从庄子里走出,直向碾坊走来,后面跟了两个人,一个面生的,另一个就是正想去看看的冬生的妈。还不及招呼,却发现了杨大娘狼狈焦急神气,赶忙迎接上去:“大姨,大姨,你冬生回来了吗?我正想去看你!”

杨大娘两脚全是雪泥,萎悴悴的,虚怯怯的,身子似乎比平时缩小了许多,轻轻咒了自己一句:“菩萨,我真背时!”

老太太从神气估出了一点点谱,问那陌生乡下人:“大哥,你可是新场人?”

挑谷子长工忙说:“鸡冒老表,这是队长老太太,你说说你那个,不要包瞒不要怕。”

老太太把一众让进碾房里去,明白事情严重。

那人又冷又急,口中打结似的,说了两三遍,才理畅了喉,说明来意。从来人口中方知道失踪三天的冬生,和护送的那两挑烟土,原来在十里外红岩口,被寨子上田家两兄弟和一小帮人马拦路抢劫了。因为首先押到鸡冒老表在山脚开的小饭铺烤火,随后即一同上了山,不知向什么地方走了。鸡冒认得冬生,看冬生还笑眯眯的,以为不是什么大事。昨天赶场听人说冬生久不回村子,队长还放口信找冬生,打听下落,才知道冬生是和烟帮一起被劫回不来。那群人除了田家庄子两兄弟面熟,还有个大家都叫他作五哥,很像是会吹唢呐的中寨人,才二十来岁一个好后生,身上背了他那个唢呐,另外还背个盒子炮,威风凛凛。冬生还对他笑也对鸡冒老表笑,意思可不明白。来人一再请求老太太,不要张扬说这事是他打的报告,因为他怕田家兄弟明天烧房子报仇。他又怕不来报告,将来保上会有人扳他连坐,以为这一行人曾到他店铺里烤过火。两个土客的逃回,更证实了前后经过万确千真。

下半天,这件事情即传遍了高枧。对队长说,这是丢面子的大事。所以即刻在团防局召集村保紧急会议,商量这事是进行私和,还是打公禀报告县里。当场有个年少气盛的满家人说:“红岩口地方本在大队长治安范围内,田家人这种行为,近于有意不认满家的账。若私和,照规矩必这方面派人出面去接洽,商量个数目,满家出笔钱方能把人货赎出。这事情已有点儿丢面子。凡事破例不得,一让步示弱,就保不定有第二回故事发生。并且一伙中还有个拐带巧秀逃走的中寨人,拐了人家黄花女,还敢露面欺人,更近于把唾沫向高枧人脸上吐。”话也不是没有道理。大队长和师爷一衡量轻重,都主张一面召集丁壮,一面禀告县里剿匪。大队长并亲自上县城呈报这件事,请县长带队伍下乡督促,惩一儆百。县长是个少壮军人转业的,和大队长谈得来,年青喜事,正想下乡打打猎,到队长家中去住住。于是第二早即带了一排警备队,乘了个三顶拐新轿子,和队长下乡。到了高枧,县长就住在大队长家中,三十个县警队都住在药王宫团防局楼下。一村中顿时显得热闹起来。

县长出巡清乡,到了高枧,消息一传出后,大队长派过红岩口八里田家寨的土侦探,回来禀报,一早上,田家兄弟带了四支枪和几挑货物,五六挑糍粑,三石米,一桶油,十多人还扛了二十来件刀刀叉叉,一共三十来个人,一齐上了老虎洞。冬生和巧秀和吹唢呐那个中寨人也在队伍里。冬生萎萎悴悴,光赤着一只脚板。田家兄弟还说笑话,壮村子里乡下人的胆。“县长就亲自来,也不用怕。我们守住上下洞,天兵天将都只好仰着个脖子看。看累了,把附近村子里的肥母鸡吃光了,县太爷还是只有坐轿子回县里去,莫奈我田老六何。”

县长早明白接近边境矿区的人民蛮悍有问题,不易用兵威统治。本意只是利用人民怕父母官的心理,名义上出巡剿匪,事实上倒是来到这个区域几个当地乡绅家住住,大吃大喝几顿,开开会,商量出个办法。于是那出事的一区负责人,即可将案中人货作好作歹交出,或随便提个把倒霉乡下人(或三五年前犯过案或只是穷而从不作坏事的)糊涂割下头来,挂在场集上一示众。另一面又即开会各村各保摊筹一笔清乡子弹费、慰劳费、公宴费、草鞋费,并把乡绅家的腊肉香肠敛个一两担,肥母鸡大阉鸡捉个三五十只,又作为治太太心气痛,要个“白花、阴干浆子货”百八十两,鲜红如血的箭头砂收罗个三五十两,于是吹着得胜军号,排队打道回衙。派秘书一面写新闻稿送省里拿津贴的报馆,宣称县座某日出巡,某日归来,亲自率队深入匪区击毙悍匪“赛宋江”和“彭咬脐”。一面又将这事当作一件真事情禀报给省政府,用卑职称呼同样宣传一番。花样再多一些,还可用某乡民众代表名义登个报,一注三下,又省事又热闹,落得个名利双收。机会好,官运好,说不定因此不久还将升作专员。

田家兄弟并不傻,对这种种心中有数。可是,虽看准了县座平时心理,却忽略了县长和大队长这时要面子争面子的情绪状态。

得到报告五点钟后,高枧属百余壮丁,奉命令集中,带了自卫武器和粮食,围剿老虎洞巨匪,县长并亲自督战。因为县长的驾临,一村子人和队长已忙而兴奋到无可比拟情形。就中两个妇人格外担心害怕,又十分忧愁,不知如何是好,沉默无语,一同躲在碾坊里,心抖抖的从矮围墙缺口看队伍出发。一个是冬生的老母,只担心被迫随同逃入老虎洞里的冬生,在混乱中会玉石俱焚,和那一伙强人同归于尽,自己命根子和一切希望从而割断。还有一个就是大队长的老母亲,以为为这件小事,和田家人结怨结仇,实在不是办法。与其兴师动众,让那些城里吃闲饭的警备队来大吃大喝办招待,把一村子人闹得个人心惶惶,鸡飞狗走,还不如派熟人办交涉,花点儿钱了事省心。两人身边还有那个新媳妇,脸上尚带着腼腆光辉,不知说什么好想什么好。大队长虽已骑上了那匹白骡子,斜佩了支子弹上膛的盒子炮,追随县长身后出发,像忽然体会到了寡母的柔弱爱情和有见识远虑,忙回头跑到碾坊里来。

“妈唉,妈唉,你不要为我担心,我们人多,不会吃亏的!”

可是一看到满老太太和杨大娘两双皱纹四锁湿莹莹的小小眼睛,和新媳妇一双害怕担心的黑眼睛,就明白家中老一辈担心的还有更深一层意义,不免显得稍稍慌张失措,结结凝凝的说:“娘,你放心!我们不会随便杀死人的。都是家边人,无冤无仇。县长也说过,这回事只要肯交出冬生和……罚一点儿款,就可了结。我不会做蠢事杀一个人,让后代结仇结恨,缠个不休!”

老太太说:“你千万小心,不要出事!你不比县官,天大的祸都惹得起。惹了祸,一跑了事。你是本地人,背贴着土,你爷爷老子坟都埋在这里,可不能做错事!这一闹我心都疼破了,求你老子保佑你,菩萨保佑你,我为你许了愿杀两只猪!但愿平安无事!”

新媳妇年纪轻不甚懂事,只觉得大队长格外威武英俊。

一行人众向老虎洞出发时,村中妇孺长老,都一同站在门前田塍上和药王宫前面敞坪中看热闹。这个乱杂杂的队伍和雪后乡村的安静,恰恰形成一个对比,给人的印象异常鲜明。都不像在进行一件不必要的战争,只像是一种及时行乐的田猎。

老虎洞位置在高枧偏东二十里,差二里许路即和县属第九保区接壤。田姓在九保原是大姓,先数代曾出过一个贡生,一个参将,入民国又出过一个营长。有一房还管过两年猴子坪的水银矿。这点儿小小功名权势,在乡下是有相当意义的。影响到这一族的,是一部分子弟从庄稼汉转入县里中学读书,另外一部分子弟,又由田里转上山寨,保留个对泥田砚田均无兴趣不耕而获的幻想。先还只是用镰刀收获他人的庄稼,随同民国长期内战社会堕落的发展,到后即学会用火器收获他人的财物。有一些不肖子弟,在本村留不住脚后,方转入高枧属刨荒山。高枧属最富腴的土地原在满家住的村子,那一坝冬水田和四山茶桐梓漆,再加上去本村五里官路上的那个大市集,每逢三六九把附近五十里的货物集中交易,即以山货杂物盐布茶漆的集散,也影响到许多人经济生活,得天独厚处,已够使得其他村保人民羡慕。加上满姓大户势力集中,自然更易为别的村保感到不平。老虎洞在高枧属算极荒瘠,地在乌巢河下游,入冬水源小,满河滩全是青石和杂草。夹岸是青苍苍两列悬崖,有些生长黄杨树杂木,有些却壁立如削,草木不生。老虎洞分上下二洞,都在距河滩百丈悬崖上,位置天生奇险,上不及天而下不及泉,却恰好有一道山缝罅可以上攀。一洞干涸,里面铺满白沙。一洞有天生井泉,冬夏不竭,向外直流成一道细小悬瀑。两洞面积大约可容上千人左右,平时只有十月后乡下人来熬洞硝,作土炮火药或烟火爆竹用,到兵荒马乱年头,乡下人被迫非逃难不可时,两属村子里妇孺,才带了粮食和炊具,一齐逃到洞中避难,待危险期过后再回村中。后来有逃难人在洞中生育过孩子,孩子长大成了事业,因此在干洞中修了个娘娘庙,乡下求子的就爬上洞中来求子,把庙中泥塑木雕女菩萨穿上丝绸绣花袍子,打扮得粉嘟嘟的。地方既常有香火供奉,也就不少人踪。只是究竟太险,地方虽美好实荒凉,站在洞口向下望,向远望,有时但见一片烟岚笼罩树木岩石,泉水淙淙,怪鸟一鸣,令人生绝俗离世感。

两个洞既为田家人预先占据,把路一堵住,便成绝地。除附近小小山缝还生长些细藤杂树,鼯鼠猿猱可以攀援,任何人想上下都不可能。

做案的田家人,本意不过是把土货夺过手,放冬生回去传话,估量满家有钱怕事,可以换两三支枪。事情并不打算扩大。凑巧冬生和拐巧秀逃到田家寨子吹唢呐的一位迎面碰头,于是把冬生暂时扣下,且俟派人接头换得了枪,大家向贵州边上逃奔时再释放冬生。不意吴用孔明算左了计,把握不住现实。大队长为面子计,竟大张声势邀县长出巡剿匪。这一来,因激生变,不能瓮中捉鳖,让人暗算,大伙儿只好一齐逃入老虎洞,以逸待劳,把个大队长拖软整融再办交涉。

当地人民武力集中在河下悬崖两头,预备用封锁方式围困田家人时,洞中一伙当真即以逸待劳,毫不在意,每天在上面打鼓打锣叫嚷笑闹。一切都若有恃无恐,要持久战下去。且算定持久下去,官方和高枧一村子人,都必然在疲劳饥饿下自认失败。地势既有利于洞中一伙,下面新火器不仅无从使用,且得从草丛石罅间找寻掩蔽,防备上面用火器或石卵瞄准。好些情形都和《荷马史诗》上所叙战事方法相差不多。今古不同处,即在这种情形下,纵再有个聪明人想得出用大木马装载武士,也无法接近洞口,趁隙入洞。

县长先是远远的停在一个大石堆后,指挥这个攻势。打了百十枪后,不意上面锣鼓声更加热闹。天已入暮,山谷中夜风转紧,只好停止进攻,派兵士砍松树就僻处搭棚,升火造饭,大家过夜。

第二天想出了主意,调三十名县警队从三里外红岩口爬上对山,伏在对山悬崖上向洞中取准,把锣鼓打息了一会儿,随后却忽然发现洞中三尊穿红缎袍子的塑像,直逼洞口,锣鼓又重新自洞中传出。枪弹虽打中洞口目标,实无从伤着那些混合野性与顽劣作成的嘲侮表现。洞中当真有新式武器,洞口还击了十来响枪,大队长从枪声中分辨得出有当时著名的春田、小口紧和盒子炮,而且一共有五支枪,比侦探报告还多一支。

大队长虽杀羊宰猪作犒劳,还为县长预备腊肉野味和茅台酒,又派人从家中带了虎皮狸子皮褥垫行军床过野外生活。到了第四天,县长的打猎趣味已索然兴尽,剿匪的兴奋则真如田家兄弟说的,完全被疲倦代替,借故说县里还要开清乡会议,得赶回去主持。又说洞中匪徒,已成瓮中之鳖,迟早终必授首,只要派少数人把住山脚路口,再好好计划守住岩壁两端和红岩口村子大路,匪徒纵再顽狠,不久也依然会授首成擒!于是召集高枧人民,训话一个半钟头,指挥了一大套战略,还零零碎碎称引了许多似可解不可解《孙子兵法》上的话语,证实武德武学两臻善美外,县长于是上了轿,押着三十个缩缩瑟瑟的土制队伍,和几担队长贡献的土特产,一大坛米酒,一大坛菌子油,以及一笔来自人民的犒劳,把个一百四十斤的肥官官肉砣砣,压在三个轿夫背上,摇摇荡荡回返县城去了。

大队长作了督战官,采用了“军师吴用”的意见,用《孙子兵法》上的成语,稳住了自己的失败意识,继续包围下去。

到了第七天,高枧属其他村子里的自卫队,带来的粮食大半已吃光了,又已快到过年时节,各有事做,不能不请求回家。大队长的意见,天气那么冷,全部回家也极自然。可是县长却于这时节来了个极严厉命令,“限旬日攻克,不得迁延支吾,致干未便”。末尾一句话,好像是把大队长腰上重重踢了一脚,不免闷昏昏的,又急又气。真正是小不忍则乱大谋,深悔事先不和母亲商量,结果弄得个骑虎难下。

局中师爷和我各背了个被卷,去红岩口老虎洞观战。先是到河下看了许久,又爬上对山去,欣赏一番。一切情景都像为一个风景画家取材而预备的,不是为流血而预备的。可是事实两个山洞中却正有三十来个生气活跃的人在被围困中。倘若一直围下去,总有一天洞中人会全体饿死的。然而这时节山洞中却日夜可闻锣鼓欢呼声。师爷即景生情,想出了个新主意,以为从后面必可爬上山岩。若爬得上去,估计顶上距洞口不会到一百五十步。村子中有的是石匠,为什么不调遣两个到老虎洞顶上去,慢慢的从岩缝打条小路下达洞口,从上面作个攻势?不及到洞口,我们就可以派个人去办交涉,和里面掌舵的谈谈条件,看看是不是可以谈得开。

两个石匠当真就着手工作,打了七八天,到得峰壁顶上时,方知道山夹缝石头错落,还可攀藤附葛勉强上下。因此同时在山顶上也派了人防守,免得从这条路逃脱。仅仅九天,那悬崖路已开到离上洞不及三丈远近,已可听得洞中人谈话。大队长从顶上攀着绳子溜到那个石岨上去,招呼洞里人开谈判。只要允许把人货枪三者一齐交出,即可保障一伙人生命安全。洞中人答应还人还货,可不缴枪。为的是缴了枪,目前虽可以一切无事,此后几个人安全可就无多大把握。尤其是首谋的田家兄弟,和那个拐巧秀逃走吹唢呐的中寨人,在洞中称五哥管事的,怕大队长饶放不过。若不缴枪呢,大队长一方面又不免担心。因为乡下人习性他摸得熟,事本来即从“不服气”挑起,这次不成功,从口中抠出了肉团团,气咽不下,还会闪不知作出更严重的举动,再向三十里边上一跑了事。到后来又由局里师爷和那中寨人商讨办法,问题依然僵持,不能解决。不过却因此知道巧秀的确藏在洞中做押寨夫人,师爷叫她时她不作声。

最后一着是冬生的妈杨大娘,腰上系着一条粗麻绳,带了两件新衣,一双鞋,两斤糍粑,攀藤援葛慢慢下到洞口上边绝壁路尽处,来作活招魂。

“冬生,冬生,你还在吗?”

只听到洞里有个人传话:“冬生,冬生,有人叫你!你妈来了!”

被扣留的冬生,一会会也爬到了洞口边,仰着头又怯又快乐的叫他的娘:“妈唉,妈唉,我还活着,不冷不饿,你不用担心!”脆弱声音充满了感情。

杨大娘泪眼婆娑的半哭半嘶:“冬生,你还活着,你可把人活活急死!你老子前三世作了什么孽,报应到你头上来!你求求他们放你出来啊!”一面悲不自胜一面招呼巧秀和田家兄弟:“田老大老二,我杨家和你又无冤无仇,杨家香火只有这一苗苗,为什么不积点儿德放他出来?巧秀,巧秀,你个害人精!你也做点儿好事,说句好话!满家养了你十六年,待你如亲生儿女一样,你还不长翅就想远走高飞!”

巧秀害了羞不便回嘴,洞口田老二却说:“杨大娘,要你大队长网开一面就好!大家都是家乡人,何必下毒手一网打尽?大队长说要饿死我们。我不相信,再拖半年我们也饿不死的。我们说话算话,冤有头债有主,不会错认人。满家人仗势逞强要县长来红岩口清乡,把一村子里鸡鸭清掉,不成功,坐了三顶拐轿子打道回衙门了。我们田家有一个人死了,要他满家赔一双。我们能逃也不逃,看他拖得到多久。”

“这是你们自己的账,管我姓杨的娃娃什么事?”

“杨大娘你放心,你冬生在这里,我们不会动他一根毫毛。你问问他是不是挨饿受寒。解铃还需系铃人,事情要看队长怎么办!”

杨大娘无可奈何,把带来的一点儿吃用东西抛下去,只好伤心绝望的离开了那个地方。这地方不久就换上了几个乡下憨子,带了大毛竹作成夹有辣子末的烟火,绑缚在长竹竿一端,点燃后悬垂下到洞口边,一会会,就只见有毒烟火吼着向洞口冒烟喷火,使得两山夹谷连续响着奇怪怕人的回声。洞里人却想出办法,把一个临时缚成的木叉抵住竹竿向旁边挪移。烟火爆裂时更响得山谷震动。可是很显然,这一切发明实无济于事,完全近于儿戏。

攻守两方都用尽了乡下人头脑,充满了古典浪漫气氛,把农村庄稼人由于万千年渔猎耕耘聚集得来的智慧知识用尽后,两方面都还不服输,终不让步。熬到第十七天后,洞中因人数不足,轮流防守过于饥疲,一个大雾早上,终于被几个高枧乡下壮汉,充满狩猎的勇敢兴奋,攻占了干洞口。守洞的十四个人,来不及向上面水洞逃走,不能不向里面退去,虽走绝路还是不肯缴械投降。因为攻打这个洞口,高枧人有一个受伤死去,高枧的石匠于是在洞里较窄处砌上一堵石墙,封住了出路,几个人轮班守住。一面从山下附近人家抬了个车谷子的木风驴上山来,在石墙间开了个孔道,预备了二三十斤辣子,十来斤硫磺,用炭火慢慢燃起有毒浓烟来,就摇转木风驴,把毒烟逼扇入洞口。一切设计还依然从渔猎时取得经验,且充满了渔猎基本兴奋。这个洞里既无水可得,那十四个乡下人半天后就被闷死了。过了三天毒烟散尽后,团队上有人入洞里去检察,才知道十四个人都已伏地断气多时,还同时发现了二十多只大白耗子,每头都有十多斤重,肥墩墩的和小猪一样。队上人把十四个人的手都齐腕砍下,连同那些大耗子,挑了一担手,四担耗子,运到高枧团防局,把那些白手一串一串挂到局门前胡桃树下示众。一村子妇女小孩们都又害怕又好奇,远远的站在田埂上瞧看这个陈列。第二天大清早,副队长就把这个东西押上县城报功去了。

干洞攻下第五天,水洞口也被几个乡下猛人攻入,逼得剩余的一群,不能不向洞中深处逃去。但这一回情势可不大相同,攻守双方都十分明白。这个洞的形势十分特别,一进去不到五丈,即有一道高及丈许的岩门,必向上爬丈多高方能深入。里面井泉四时不竭,洞里还温暖干燥,非常宜于居住。且里面高大宏敞,漆黑异常,看洞口却居高临下,十分清楚。里边人便溺随水流出,占据洞口的人饮料就大成问题,得从山下取水。冬生和巧秀都在洞中,前一回办法显然已不宜用也不中用,还得用坐困方法等待变化。因此在洞里近岩壁处,依然砌了一道墙,把内外封锁。大队长和十多个人就守住洞口,也用个以逸待劳方法等待下去。

杨大娘又来回跑四十里路,爬上悬岩洞口为冬生办了一次交涉,不能成功,虚虚怯怯带着碎心的忧苦回转村子里去了。局里师爷愿意告奋勇进洞,用生命担当彼此平安,也商量不出结果。洞外为表示从容,大队长派人从家中搬了留声机来唱戏,慰劳团队族人。里面为对抗这种刺激,在锣鼓声中还加上一个呜呜咽咽的唢呐,吹了一遍《山坡羊》又吹一遍《风雪满江山》,原来中寨人带了巧秀上路时,并不忘记他的祖传乐器,还保留得上好。

但彼此强弱之势已渐分,加上县长又派了个小队长来视察了一回,并带了个命令来,认为除恶务尽,悍匪不容漏网,并奖励了几句空话,使得大队长更不能不做个斩草除根之计。洞里一面知道事已绝望,情绪越来越凝固激越。田家兄弟一再要把冬生处分出气,想用手叉住孩子喉管时,总亏得巧秀解围,请求不要把他人出气,好汉作事好汉当,才像个男子。冬生终得幸而免。

先前上下两洞未陷落,山顶未封锁时,大家要逃走还来得及,本可抛下重器悄悄沿山缝逃走。不过既有言在先,说要拖个一年半载,把高枧人满家累倒,这一走未免损失田家体面,将来见不得人。加上个自以为占据天险,有恃无恐,所以这次胆大轻敌,不免小觑了对方。到半月后经过一回会议分析检讨,结果有十六个少壮,揣带一腰带烟土,半夜里爬山沿山缝小路逃走,预备向下河去掉换几支短枪,再返回来找机会打救援。其余人都刺手指吃了血酒,盟神发誓,有福同享,有祸同当,至死不离本位。下洞既已失陷,生力军牺牲大半,上洞中连同巧秀和冬生,已经只余八个人。虽说洞口已砌了墙,隔绝内外,还是不能不防备万一,六个人分成两班,分班轮流坐在洞里崖壁高处放哨。巧秀和冬生却不分派职务,可以各处走动。

冬生和巧秀原本极熟,一个月来患难中同在一处,因此谈起了许多事情。冬生和她谈起逃走后一村子里的种种,从满家事情谈起,直到他自己离开药王宫那天下午为止。加上这一个月来洞中生活,从巧秀看来,真好像是整本《梁山泊》《天雨花》,却比那些传奇唱本故事更离奇动人。把这一月经过的日子和以前十七年岁月对比,一切都简直像在梦里,更分不清目前究竟是真是梦。

巧秀听过后吁了吁气说:“冬生,我们都落了难,是命里注定,不会有人来搭救了!”

冬生福至心灵,忽然触着了机关,从石罅间看出一线光明。“巧秀,人不来搭救我们要自寻生路。我们悄悄的去和五哥说,大家不要在这里同归于尽,死了无益!只有这一着棋是生路!”

“他们都吃了血酒,赌过咒,同生共死,你一说出口,刀子会窝心扎进去!”

“你和他有床头恩爱情分,去说说好!他们做他们的英雄,我们做我们的爬爬虫,悄悄的爬了出去吧。”

当巧秀趁空向吹唢呐解闷的中寨人诉说心意时,中寨人愣愣的不作一声。巧秀说:“你要杀我你就杀了我,我哼也不哼一声。我愿意和你在这洞里同生共死,血流在一块。不想我死,你也不愿死,做做好事,放冬生一条生路,杨大娘家只有这一个命根根,人做好事有好报应,天有眼睛的!”

中寨人心想:“冬生十五岁,你十七岁,我二十一岁,都不应当死!可是命里注定,谁也脱不了!”

巧秀说:“五哥,你拿定主意再说吧。要死我俩一块死,想活我陪你活。”

中寨人低低叹了口气:“我要活,人不让我们活,天不让我们活!”

谈话于此就结束了。思索却继续在这个二十一岁的青春生命中作各种挣扎燃烧。

到了晚上,派定五哥和另外两个人守哨。大家都已经一个月不见阳光,在你死我亡紧张中苦撑,吃的又越来越坏,所以都疲乏万分。两个人不免都睡着了。只中寨人反复嚼着和巧秀白天说的话,兴奋未眠。在洞中生活过了很久,原来还有一盏马灯,大半桶煤油,到后来为节省煤油,在灯下也无事可作,就不再用灯,只凭轻微呼吸即可感觉分别各人的距离和某一人。守哨的去洞口较近,休息的在里边,两者相去有二三十丈。中寨人从呼吸上辨别得出巧秀和冬生都在近旁,轻轻的爬到他们身边去,摇醒了两个人。

“冬生,冬生,你赶快和你嫂子溜下崖去,带她出去,凭良心和队长说句好话,不要磨折她!这回事情是田家兄弟和我起的意,别人全不相干!我们吃过了血酒,不能卖朋友,要死一齐死在这个洞里了。巧秀还年青,肚子里有了毛毛,让她活下来,帮我留个种。你应当帮她说句话,不要昧良心!”

大队长在洞口拥着一条獾子皮的毯子,正迷蒙入睡,忽然警觉,听到洞里窸窣作响,好像有人在急促的爬动。随即听到一个充满了惶急恐怖脆弱的低低呼喊:“大队长,大队长,赶快移开石头,救我的命!赶快些,要救命!”

大队长一面知会其他队兵,一面低声召唤:“冬生,是你吗?你是鬼是人?你还活着吗?”

“你赶快!是我!我鼻子眼睛都好,全胡全尾的!”末一句原是乡下顽童玩蟋蟀的术语,说得几人都急里迸笑。

石墙撤去一道小口,把人拖出后,看看原来先出的是巧秀,前后离开了高枧不到五十天的巧秀。冬生出来后还来不及说话,就只听到里面狂呼,且像是随即发生了疯狂传染。很明显,冬生巧秀逃脱的事已被人发觉,中寨人作了卖客,洞中同伙发生了火并。中寨人似乎随即带着长嗥,被什么重东西扭着毁了。二十一岁的生命,完了。夜既深静,洞中还反复传送回音,十分凄冽怕人。几人紧张十分的忙把墙缺口封上,静听着那个火并的继续,许久许久才闻及一片毒咒混在呻吟中从洞穴深处喊出,虽微弱却十分清楚:“姓满的,姓满的,你要记着,有一天要你认得我家田老九!”

第二天,发觉洞中流出的泉水已全是红色。两个乡丁冒险进洞去侦察,才发现剩下几个人果然都在昨晚上一种疯狂痉挛中火并,相互用短兵刺得奄奄垂毙了。田家老大似乎在受了重伤后方发觉在暗黑中和他搏斗的是他亲兄弟,自己一匕首扎进心窝子死了。那弟弟受伤后还爬到近旁井泉边去喝水,也伏在泉边死了。到处找寻巧秀的情人,那个吹唢呐的中寨人,许久才知道他是坠入洞壁左侧石缝中死去的。大队长押了从洞中清扫得来的几担杂物,剩余烟土和十只人手,两个从洞中夺回死里逃生的生口,不成人形的巧秀和冬生。冬生手上还提着那个唢呐。封了洞穴,率队回转高枧,预备第二天再带领这十只惨白的手和两个与案情有关的生口,上县城报功,过堂。

当那一串人手依旧悬挂在团防局门前胡桃树下,全村子里妇女老幼都围住附近看热闹时,冬生和巧秀,都在满家大庄子侧屋烤火。各已换了干净衣裳,坐在大火盆边,受老太太、杨大娘、师爷、大队长、二少爷和作客人的我作种种盘问。冬生虽身体憔悴,一切挫折似乎还不曾把青春的火焰弄熄,还一面微笑,一面叙述前前后后事情。一瞥忽发现杨大娘对他痴痴的看定,热泪直流,赶忙站起来走了两步。“娘,你看我不是全胡全尾的回来了吗?”

“你全胡全尾,可知道田家人死了多少?作了些什么孽要这样子!”

巧秀想起吹唢呐的中寨人,想起自己将来,低了头去哭了。

满老太太说:“巧秀,不要哭,一切有我!你明天和大队长上县里去,过一过堂,大队长就会作保,领你回来,帮我看碾坊。这两天溪里融雪,水已上了一半堤坝,要碾米过年!冤仇宜解不宜结,我明年要做七天水陆道场,超度这些冤枉死了的人,也超度那个中寨人。——”

当我和师爷和大队长过团防局去时,听到大队长轻轻的和师爷说:“他家老九子走了,上下洞都找不到。”又只听到师爷安慰大队长说:“冤家宜解不宜结,老太太还说要做七天七夜道场超度,得饶人处且饶人!”

…………

快过年了,我从药王宫迁回满家去,又住在原来那个房间里。依然是巧秀抱了有干草干果香味的新被絮,一声不响跟随老太太身后,进到房中。房中大铜火盆依然炭火熊熊爆着快乐火星,旁边有个小茶罐咝咝作响。我依然有意如上一次那么站到火盆边烘手,游目四瞩,看她一声不响的为我整理床铺,想起一个月以前第一回来到这房中作客情景,因此故意照前一回那么说:“老太太,谢谢你!我一来就忙坏了你们,忙坏了这位大姐!……”不知为什么,喉头就为一种沉甸甸的悲哀所扼住,想说也说不下去了。我起始发现了这房中的变迁,上一回正当老太太接儿媳妇婚事进行中,巧秀逃亡准备中,两人心中都浸透了对于当时的兴奋和明日的希望,四十天来的倏忽变化,却俨然把面前两人浸入一种无可形容的悲恻里,且无可挽回亦无可补救的直将带入坟墓。虽然从外表看来,这房中前后的变迁,只不过是老太太头上那朵大红绒花已失去,巧秀大发辫上却多了一小绺白绒绳。

巧秀的妈被人逼迫在颈脖上悬个磨石,沉潭只十六年,巧秀的腹中又有了小毛毛。而拐了她同逃的那个吹唢呐的中寨人,才二十一岁,活跳跳的生命即已不再活在世界上,却用另外一种意义更深刻的活在十七岁巧秀的生命里,以及活在这一家此后的荣枯兴败关系中。

我还不曾看过什么“传奇”,比我这一阵子亲身参加的更荒谬更离奇,也想不出还有什么“人生”,比我遇到的更自然更近乎人的本性——一切都若不得已。

满家庄子在新年里,村子中有人牵羊担酒送匾,把大门原有的那块“乐善好施”移入二门,新换上的是“安良除暴”。上匾这一天,满老太太却借故吃斋,和巧秀守在碾坊里碾米。

一九四七年十月北平

Truth Is Stranger than Fiction

Old Mrs. Man went from the oil-press to the mill. Work had stopped there, because the stream was too low to turn the waterwheel festooned with fading green waterweeds, and there were white bird-droppings on the millstone. The slack winter season had come, that was evident, when virtually all work stopped. But the first snowfall had brought an intimation of spring. The snow by the embankment of Long Lake had been melting for some days, and the lake had risen to the entrance of the lock. Workers came to report that there was now enough water to turn the mill. At New Year every family needed several loads of glutinous rice to make sticky-rice-cakes. Young brides paying New Year calls on relatives had to take rice-cakes and sweet wine made from glutinous rice. So the old lady had come to have a look round and help the man keeping an eye on the mill. Taking a broom she swept away the cobwebs in nooks and crannies and on the millstone, then oiled the steel rim of the axle and hung in place the long sieve which had been kept in a corner. While doing this she told a hired hand to fetch a crate of glutinous rice, to test whether the mill was in working order.

When he had left she picked up a portable stove from one side of the mill to warm her hands, and walked out to the embankment to have a look. She decided, after trying out the mill,to go to the end of the village to see Dongsheng’s mother. Three days ago he had left to escort some merchants, and strange to say had not come back. Twenty to thirty li was no great distance,there were normally no wolves or tigers there, and the going was so smooth that he could not lose his way even in the dark. Had something got into his eyes and made him fall into a wayside pit,the mouth of a long extinct volcano? Or had he been hunting deer or hares and rolled into a quagmire under the snow, to be sucked to his death? If so, he should have left tracks on the snow. The only other possibility was that he had made up his mind to join the army, but was afraid his widowed mother’s tears might soften his heart and hold him back; so he had taken this chance to slip away. However, his job in the Security Bureau meant that he was already a member of the local armed forces, and if he wanted to join a military college it would be only too easy. In those parts it was generally some outside factor which goaded young fellows into leaving home: loss of face during a quarrel; inability to pay a gambling debt; or love for a girl impossible to marry. So finding it hard to stick it out any longer they ran away, in company or singly, to escape from their wretchedness at home and make a fresh start elsewhere. Yet Dongsheng had none of these problems.The secretary of the bureau, going to the manor-house to report his absence, had declared it most unlikely that he had run away to join the army. He did wonder, though, if Qiaoxiu’s disappearance and the lack of news of her for half a month had something to do with it. Dongsheng was an honest lad. Although he had kept quiet about his feelings, he might have screwed up the courage to fetch her back. He might even have sworn not to return without her, which would explain why he had vanished. Of course this was only the secretary’s guess; he had no evidence. But because of this, far-fetched rumours circulated throughout the village: at Red Crag Dongsheng had met Qiaoxiu who had run away from the Man famlily, and discovered that she meant to go to Changde with the suona player from Zhongzhai. For fear he might make trouble by blabbing, her lover and she had tied him up and thrown him into the river. Although this could not be proved, the rumour reached old Mrs. Man and upset her, not that she fully believed it. She must call on Dongsheng’s mother to comfort her. Before setting out she filled a little basket with twenty big eggs.

Of the two hundred-odd families in Gaoxian, apart from the Yangs and the Duans, the Mans were the largest. And the old lady’s family was the chief one in their clan. They owned fields near the village and orchards on the hills. The clan also had an oil-press, a mill and other properties, and they put in different managers every three years. In addition they ran a small grocery selling government salt in the market square five li away, but its turnover was small, and it simply served as a rest-house for them when they went to the fair there. The previous manager had died at about forty, and his place was now taken by this spry old lady in her sixties. Nearly twenty years had passed since her husband died, leaving her two sons and two daughters. Both girls had left home to get married. Her elder son was the recently married captain who headed the Security Bureau; the younger was a second-year student in the junior middle school in the county town. Both brothers were honest youngsters. The elder, having attended the village school for only three years, was not much influenced by Confucianism. As a propertied young landowner who had to defend the district, he naturally liked shooting and cudgel fighting. In his home there were hired hands, hounds and guns, and with a guest staying there he had hunted all winter long to pass the time.

His mother, born in a poor family, had simple tastes and was hardworking and thrifty. Since the family property had been built up by generations of thrifty, hardworking forbears, they kept up some of the traditional ways. Her clothes were patched and mended but always spotless. Her trim underclothes and outer clothes gave off a faint fragrance of hay and the acidity of the rice gruel with which they had been starched. Her carefully dressed hair and neatly shod feet showed her senior status and were characteristic of old-fashioned village women. All she did appeared to have no connection with books, yet conformed to the expectations of the men of old, especially as regards her disposition. Knowing that money comes and goes, she showed concern for relatives and neighbours and was not parsimonious.By giving away part of one’s property one could keep the larger part. She was friends with all the villagers, even those unrelated to her, and if any family had a funeral or wedding, if a baby died or a son had a long illness, she would call on the mistress of the house and share her grief or joy. Then, secretly, she would send someone to deliver a few measures of rice or a couple of catties of lump sugar, thinking this her neighbourly duty. And all this she did completely spontaneously.

None of the household had fixed religious beliefs. On the altar in the middle of the hall were offerings to Heaven and Earth and the ancestral tablets. They also sacrificed there to the Year God and the Tutelary God. In the kitchen was the God of the Hearth, while the pigsty, cowshed and barns had their different deities too. Every morning and evening without fail the old lady washed her hands to bow before them with lighted incense. On the first and fifteenth of every month, she fasted to express her gratitude and pray that no harm would come to the family or to their livestock. During the festivals in different seasons she observed the appropriate rites to pay homage to the spirits, fasted to purify her mind or killed a pig to redeem a vow,unquestioningly following all the old customs. Before New Year,auspicious gold paper coins and congratulatory couplets were pasted on all the doors, on the pigsty and cowshed. And money and rice were prepared as gifts for relatives and neighbours. If someone came sheepishly to ask for a loan, and the sum was not excessive, she always gave it.

As the family had so much property, people were needed to manage it. Apart from the guards of the Security Bureau responsible for keeping order in the village, they had three or four hired hands, and a steward who was a close relative. With the copious by-products of the oil-press and mill, they generally raised four sleek and sturdy oxen, a styful of fat pigs, a dozen goats, thirty to fifty hens and ducks, a dozen cotes of pigeons,and several watchdogs. In the centre of their courtyard grew a large walnut tree; they kept two golden pheasants in a coop, and two lop-eared foreign rabbits, while in the bamboo grove behind the house stood several beehives. Although outside affairs were handled by the young men of the clan, it was old Mrs. Man who kept track of their income and expenditure at home and outside,the amounts spent on gifts to relatives and the amount of their debts. She kept these figures in mind, and needed no account book to reel them all off at a moment’s notice.

Regarding daily household affairs, the old lady was a realist; in her spiritual life she was a worshipper of idols; yet regarding her children, she was an idealist. She faced up to the present, yet placed her hope in the future. Her elder son had the strength to defend their home, the virility to father two sons and two daughters, and she should live to arrange her grandsons’marriages, one to a girl in town, another to one in the country.One granddaughter too should have a husband in town, the other one in the country. As her second son was studying in the provincial capital, she thought he had better follow the custom of free choice there and find himself a girl student, who could come and teach in their clan’s primary school and play the harmonium and sing. Or the young couple could stay in town to teach. It was up to her son to decide. But he said he preferred to wait ten years to get married. As for Dongsheng, she should help find him a wife too when he grew up, and give him a few mu of hilly land for his own.

The old lady’s dream was quite healthy, quite uncertain too considering that place and time. As the saying goes, man proposes, Heaven disposes. For storeyed buildings rationally constructed could collapse suddenly like snow or ice if Heaven so willed, then flow off with the melted snow into the stream,past the stone embankment and under the bridge into the mighty river—and that was the end of them. Because this small community was built on the same foundation as the whole country, the countryside was being bankrupted, and the county and provincial governments depended largely on the opium tax to keep going. The same applied to Gaoxian’s Security Bureau with its thirty old-fashioned rifles. It provided escorts for small opium dealers, and most of its revenue came from the ten yuan levied on each load of opium. The custom was to send a man with a visiting card to escort these merchants to the district border. Once across it, they were the responsibility of the bureau in the next district.

The old lady saw a hired hand bringing two half crates of grain from the manor-house. He headed straight for the mill,followed by two people. One was a stranger, the other was Dongsheng’s mother whom she wanted to see to hear what news she had. Before greetings could be exchanged, she saw that Mother Yang looked most upset. She hurried towards her, “Aunt,is your Dongsheng back? I was just going to call on you.”

Mother Yang’s shoes were covered with slush. Dispirited and fearful, she seemed to have shrunk. She swore softly, “Buddha!I’m really out of luck!”

The old lady deduced that there was bad news. She asked the strange visitor, “Brother, are you from Xinchang?”

The hired hand hastily put in, “Brother Jimao, this is the captain’s mother. Tell her all about it. Don’t be afraid, and don’t hold anything back.”

Realizing that something serious had happened, the old lady led them all into the mill.

Cold and flustered, the messenger started stuttering. Not until he had cleared his throat could he explain his errand. He said that Dongsheng, missing for three days, had reached Red Crag ten li away when a small band of horsemen, headed by two of the Tian brothers from their village, had barred the way and kidnapped him as well as the two opium dealers. First they had taken them to Jimao’s small eating house at the foot of the hill, to warm up there before going up the hill—where to he didn’t know. Jimao recognized Dongsheng, who was smiling as if this was nothing serious. But yesterday at the fair he heard that Dongsheng had not returned to Gaoxian and the captain had sent to find out what had happened to him. So he realized Dongsheng was being kept prisoner. Among the kidnappers, apart from the Tian brothers whom he knew, he had seen a strapping fellow in his twenties who resembled the suona player from Zhongzhai, generally known as Fifth Brother. With his suona and a mauser on his back, he looked a formidable figure. Dongsheng had smiled at him and at Jimao,but it was a cryptic smile. Jimao begged the old lady not to let anyone know he had brought this news, or the Tian brothers might burn down his house in revenge. If he didn’t bring the news,though, he was afraid he might be involved as they had gone to his shop to warm themselves. The escape back of the two opium dealers bore out the truth of his story.

By the afternoon the whole of Gaoxian knew this. The captain considered it a great loss of face. He at once called an emergency meeting in the Security Bureau, to discuss whether to settle the matter privately or to notify the county. A spirited youngster of the Man clan said, “Red Crag comes under the captain’s jurisdiction. By acting like that, the Tian family have as good as challenged his authority. Settling it privately means sending an intermediary to discuss how much ransom money the Mans must pay. We’ve already lost face enough. And if we create a precedent, showing weakness, the same thing may happen again.Besides, one of that band was the fellow from Zhongzhai who carried off young Qiaoxiu. How dare he show up again to make fresh trouble? He’s spat in the face of us Gaoxian people.” There was reason in what he said. The captain and secretary, having weighed the pros and cons, proposed mobilizing the militia and notifying the county that they were going to hunt down these bandits. The captain went to the county town in person to report this, and asked the county head to lead a force to that area to speed things up, making an example of one as a warning to many.The county head, a demobilized officer, was on good terms with the captain; and being young and eager for action he had been meaning to stay with him to have some hunting. The next morning he mounted his big new sedan chair and accompanied the captain back to Gaoxian, taking a platoon of guards. He put up in the captain’s house, while the thirty guardsmen were billeted on the lower floor of the Security Bureau. The village at once became lively.

After the news spread that the county head had gone to Gaoxian to pacify the district, the captain sent scouts to Tian Family Stockade at Red Crag. They came back to report that the Tian brothers had gone up to Tiger Cave that morning taking four guns, several loads of commodities, five or six loads of rice cakes, three bushels of rice, a bucket of oil and over a dozen men with some twenty swords and spears. Over thirty people had gone, including Dongsheng, Qiaoxiu and the suona player from Zhongzhai. Dongsheng looked haggard and one of his feet was bare. The Tian brothers had cracked jokes to boost the villagers’morale. “We don’t have to be afraid if the county head comes. We can hold that upper and lower cave even against heavenly troops.They’d soon be tired of cricking their necks looking up. Once all the fat hens hereabouts have been eaten, the county head will go back in his sedan chair to his yamen—he can’t do a thing to our sixth Brother.”

The county head was well aware that the men in the mining district near the border were a wild troublesome lot, hard to control with a display of force. His idea had been to exploit their fear of officials and, while ostensibly suppressing bandits, to stay with some of the local gentry, enjoy a few feasts and then hold a meeting to settle the dispute. The ringleaders would have to hand over Dongsheng and the opium, or he could behead some unlucky villager (maybe one who had broken the law a few years before, or simply some pauper who had done nothing wrong) to hang his head in the market place as a warning. At another meeting he would impose a levy on each village for pacifying the countryside and to pay for ammunition, feasts and straw sandals for his guards. He would also select a couple of loads of the local gentry’s sausages and bacon, as well as several dozen plump hens and big roosters. In addition he would demand a hundred or so ounces of rare herbal medicine to cure his wife’s heart disease.Then with triumphant bugling his guards would march back to the yamen. His secretary would write a news release for the subsidized provincial paper, announcing when the county head had sallied forth, when he had returned victorious after fearlessly leading a fierce attack on the bandits. The county head would also report this as if it were the truth to the provincial government,referring to himself as “this humble official” while blowing his own trumpet. To add a touch of variety he could also publish an account in the name of some village representatives. In this way he could kill three birds with one stone: saving trouble, having a good time, and making a name and a profit. If all went well and his luck held, this might lead to his speedy promotion.

But the Tian Brothers are no fools: they were well aware of his intentions. However, though the Tian brothers understood the county head’s psychology, they overlooked his determination not to lose face, as well as that of the captain.

Five hours after the scouts reported back, over a hundred Gaoxian militiamen were ordered to set out with weapons and rations to surround and wipe out the bandits in Tiger Cave. The county head himself would direct this campaign. His arrival had thrown the village and the captain into a commotion of feverish excitement. Two women were especially on edge. Not knowing what to do, they hid themselves in the mill, hearts thumping behind a gap in the low wall as they watched in silence while the troops marched off. One was Dongsheng’s old mother, afraid that her son, forced to flee to Tiger Cave, might be killed in the confusion with the robbers, leaving her nothing to live for. The other was the captain’s old mother, who thought it most unwise to make enemies of the Tians over such a trifle. Here he’d raised troops and brought those guardsmen from town to eat them out of house and home, frightening the villagers and scaring away even the hens and dogs. He should have sent a friend to negotiate and spend a little money to settle the matter—that would have saved her worry. The new bride beside them, still looking shy,did not know what to say or think. The captain had mounted his white mule, and with a loaded mauser over one shoulder was riding off behind the county head, when suddenly he remembered his widowed mother’s frailty and love for him and her far sightedness. He galloped back to the mill.

“Don’t worry about me, mum. A big force like ours can’t be worsted.”

But when he saw the tears in the narrowed eyes of the two wrinkled old ladies, and the dread in his bride’s black eyes, he realized that more than this was preying on his mother’s mind. Rather flustered he stuttered, “Mother, it’s all right! We shan’t kill people at random. We’re all kinsmen, not enemies, and the county head says if they just hand over Dongsheng and … a small fine will settle the business. I’m not such a fool as to kill a man to start an endless feud!”

“For goodness’ sake be careful, we don’t want trouble!” the old lady urged him. “You’re not like the county head who can get away with murder. If it comes to the worst, he can just clear out.But this is your home, where your dad and grandad are buried;so mind you don’t bungle things! This rumpus you’ve raised is breaking my heart. I’ll pray to your father and Buddha to protect you, and vow to kill two pigs if you come back safe and sound!”

His bride, young and inexperienced, just admired his heroism.

As the troops set out for Tiger Cave, the womenfolk, children and old men stood in front of their gates, on the ridges of the fields or in the temple court to watch the excitement. The contrast between the rowdy troops and the quiet village after snow made a vivid impression on them. It did not seem an uncalled-for raid but a seasonable and enjoyable hunt.

Tiger Cave, twenty li east of Gaoxian, was just about two li from the boundary of the ninth district in that county. The Tians, a big clan there, several generations earlier had produced a senior licentiate and a lieutenant, and since the Republic a battalion commander. One branch had also managed the cinnabar mine at Monkey Flat for two years. In the country these titles and the power that went with them were quite considerable, so that some of the sons of this clan gave up farming to attend the middle school in the county town; others left the fields and took to the hills, losing interest in the land and books but dreaming of reaping without sowing. First they took sickles to reap the crops of others; then, as the civil wars dragged on and society degenerated, they learned to use firearms and resorted to armed robbery. Some young ruffians unable to stay in their village started cultivating the barren hills in Gaoxian district. The richest soil in Gaoxian was in the village where the Mans lived, with its well irrigated paddy field and hills on four sides growing tea, tung trees, catalpa and varnish trees. Five li along the highway was a big market. Held on the days with a three, six or nine in them,it was a mart for the mountain produce, sundries, salt, cloth, tea and varnish from fifty li around, affecting the livelihood of many people. So Gaoxian, favoured by providence, was the envy of other villages. And the big, powerful Man clan naturally aroused most resentment. Tiger Cave was on the poorest height in this district, in the lower reaches of the Wuchao River which dwindled in the winter until its channel was nothing but boulders and weeds. It was flanked by two dark cliffs where some scrub grew,and sheer precipices bare of vegetation. Tiger Cave comprised an upper and lower cave nearly a thousand feet above the river,a fantastic natural barrier with only a cleft in the rock giving access to it. One cave was dry and carpeted with white sand. In the other was a fountain which never dried up and cascaded out as a small waterfall. The two caves between them could hold about a thousand people, but normally the villagers only came here after the tenth month to make saltpetre for gunpowder or firecrackers. In troubled times, when they had to flee their homes,the women and children of two villages in this district brought grain and cooking vessels to shelter here until the danger was past. One such refugee gave birth to a child here, and since he turned out well a Temple of the Goddess was built in the dry cave. Village women who wanted a son would clamber up here to the statues of the goddess, which were handsomely decked out with embroidered silk robes. Quite a few pilgrims came here to light incense and make offerings. Still it was too dangerous, this beautiful, desolate height. Gazing down into the distance from the cave entrance, sometimes nothing could be seen but mist shrouding the trees and rocks. The plash of the fountain and the cries of strange birds made pilgrims feel cut off from the world of men.

Once the Tians had occupied both caves and blocked the pathway up, the place became an inaccessible stronghold. Some trees and creepers grew in the crevices of nearby hills, so that squirrels or monkeys could bound up, but this was impossible for any man.

The Tians’ original scheme had been to rob the opium dealers, then let Dongsheng go back to report this to the wealthy Mans, who they reckoned would not want trouble. Then they could exchange their loot for two or three guns, with no serious consequences. But as Dongsheng had run into the suona player who had taken Qiaoxiu to the Tian family, they had kept him prisoner while they sent a man to negotiate for the guns, after which they meant to escape to the Guizhou border and release Dongsheng. But this clever plan had miscarried. The captain,to save face, had made a great show of strength and brought the county head to capture bandits. That forced them to change their tactics. Unable to sit at home waiting to be trapped, they had fled to Tiger Cave to take it easy there till the captain was worn out and ready to negotiate.

The local militia blocked both ends of the precipice to starve the Tians out. But the men in the cave took it easy—they couldn’t care less. Gongs and drums sounded every day, with shouts and roars of laughter. Why should they be afraid of a protracted blockade? They knew fatigue and hunger would soon force the government troops and the Gaoxian villagers to admit defeat. The terrain was advantageous to the defenders, rendering quite useless the modern firearms below. Besides, the besiegers had to take cover in the undergrowth and rocks from the bullets and stones discharged at them from above. It was in many ways like Homer’s siege of Troy; but even if some strategist had thought of hiding warriors in a big wooden horse, there was no way of getting it into the cave.

The county head first stayed behind a great pile of stones some distance away, directing operations. After some hundred volleys had been fired, the gonging and drumming above sounded even more jubilant. At dusk when a strong wind gusted through the valley, they had to halt the attack and send soldiers to fell pine trees and erect shelters. Fires were lit to cook a meal, and so the night passed.

The next day they decided to send thirty guards to Red Crag three li away, to scale the opposite mountain and from there fire straight into the cave. The gonging and drumming were silenced for a while, but then the attackers suddenly discovered that the entrance was blocked by three statues in red brocade robes. The gonging and drumming started up again. Although their shots hit the target, this failed to dampen this savage, boisterous display of derision. The cave’s defenders had modern weapons too, and fired back a dozen shots. The captain recognized the sound of mausers and other guns much in demand at that time. There were five of them too, one more than his scouts had reported.

The captain had sheep and pigs killed for the troops,entertained the county head with bacon, game and maotai liquor,and sent home for tiger skins and wild cat skins for his camp bed.By the fourth day, however, the county head had lost all interest in hunting, and as the Tian brothers had anticipated the “excitement”of capturing bandits was completely replaced by “fatigue”. He announced that he must hurry back to town to preside over a meeting on cleaning up the countryside; but the bandits, caught in a trap, must sooner or later surrender. A small body of men should be stationed on the road below, and good plans must be made to guard both ends of the cliff and the highway to Red Crag; then no matter how stubborn the bandits were, they would soon capitulate.He assembled the Gaoxian men and harangued them on strategy for an hour and a half, even quoting semi-incomprehensible sentences from Sun Zi’s Art of War lifted out of context, to show his wisdom and erudition in this field. He then mounted his sedan chair, escorted by thirty shivering local troops. The chair-bearers staggered under the weight of the local products, and big vats of rice wine and of mushroom oil presented him by the captain,as well as a pile of gifts from the local people and his corpulent body weighing a hundred and forty catties. And so they returned in triumph to the county town.

The captain, left in command, adopted his adviser’s plan,followed Sun Zi’s maxim not to lose heart after one defeat and kept up his blockade.

By the seventh day, the militia from other villages in the Gaoxian district had finished most of their rations, and as it would soon be New Year and all had things to see to, they asked leave to go home. Just then, however, the county head sent strict orders: “Tiger Cave must be taken within ten days. I shall hold you responsible for any delay.” To the captain this last sentence was a hard kick in the back making him frantic and angry. His spirits sank. By over-reacting to a small provocation he had really landed himself in serious trouble. He bitterly regretted not having consulted his mother in advance. Now he was riding a tiger and could not dismount.

The secretary of the bureau and I, with bedding-rolls on our backs, went to Red Crag to watch the battle for Tiger Cave. We watched first for quite a time from the river bank, then climbed up the opposite hill for a better view. The whole scene seemed laid out for a landscape painter rather than for bloodshed. Actually there were about thirty defenders full of vitality trapped in the two caves. If the blockade continued they would eventually all starve to death. Yet day and night gonging, drumming and laughter sounded there. The scene moved the secretary to propose that men should climb the mountain from the back, as the summit,he reckoned, was less than a hundred and fifty steps above the cave entrance. There were plenty of stone masons in the village;why not send a couple up there to hew out steps down some crevice to the entrance, so as to mount an offensive from above?Someone could be sent to parley, in an attempt to come to terms with their chief.

Sure enough, two masons set to work. Seven or eight days later, it was just possible to clamber down the steps cut from the top by grasping the creepers in crevices of the rocks. So guards were posted on the summit, to prevent the men in the cave escaping that way. In just nine days the steps down the precipice reached within ten yards of the upper cave, enabling them to hear people talking inside. The captain plucked up his courage and slid down a rope from the top to the edge of a rock, calling out that he had come to negotiate. If they would agree to hand over their hostages, the opium and their guns, he guaranteed the safety of all the rest. The men in the cave were willing to give up the hostages and opium, but not their guns. Because if they gave these up in return for temporary immunity, that would jeopardize their future.The Tian brothers as ringleaders and the suona player who had abducted Qiaoxiu were especially afraid that the captain would not let them off. If they refused to surrender their guns that was bound to worry him, because he knew how the villagers’ minds worked. This whole business had arisen from their resentment.If he thwarted them now by snatching this hunk of meat from their jaws, that would so anger them that they might take more drastic action, then escape to the border thirty li away. Later the secretary from the bureau discussed the problem with the man from Zhongzhai, but the stalemate remained insoluble. He simply confirmed that Qiaoxiu was indeed being kept in the cave as security for the suona player; but when he called her name she did not answer.

Finally Dongsheng’s mother, Mother Yang, tied a thick hemp rope round her waist and, taking two new sets of clothes, a pair of shoes and two pounds of rice-cakes, clutching creepers she clambered slowly down to above the mouth of the cave to call back her son’s soul.

“Dongsheng, Dongsheng! Are you still there?”

She heard someone in the cave pass on the message,“Dongsheng, your ma has come. She’s calling you.”

Presently Dongsheng, their captive, crawled to the mouth of the cave. Raising his head he called nervously yet joyfully, “Ma!I’m still alive, ma, neither cold nor hungry. Don’t you worry.” His faint voice was full of affection.

With tears in her eyes Mother Yang cried tremulously,“You’re still alive, Dongsheng, but you’ve had me worried to death! What crime did your dad commit in some earlier life that this should happen to you? Beg them to let you go!” Overcome by grief she called to Qiaoxiu and the Tian brothers, “Qiaoxiu,you little wretch! Do a good deed now and put in a word for me!Brothers Tian, there’s no feud between our families. The Yangs have only this boy to carry on their line. Why not lay up treasure in Heaven by letting him go? Qiaoxiu, the Mans brought you up for sixteen years, treating you as their own child. But before your wings are strong, you want to fly away!”

Qiaoxiu was too ashamed to reply but Tian Number Two called from the mouth of the cave, “Mother Yang, get your captain to give us a way out! We’re all from these parts, why should he try to kill us all off? He says he’s going to starve us. I don’t believe it. We’ve enough to eat here for another half year. Take my word for it, we know who’s our enemy and who is not. The Mans on the strength of their powerful connections got the county magistrate to come to Red Crag to make a clean sweep. All he succeeded in doing was making a clean sweep of the village’s chickens and ducks, then back he went in his big sedan chair to his yamen. For each Tian that dies we’ll kill two Mans. We don’t want to run away even though we can. We’re waiting to see how long he can keep this up.”

“That’s a score to settle between yourselves. Why drag my boy into it?”

“Don’t worry, Mother Yang, we aren’t going to touch a hair of your Dongsheng’s head. Ask him if he’s gone cold or hungry.Whoever started this trouble will have to end it. It’s up to the captain!”

At a loss, Mother Yang threw down the few things she had brought, then had to leave in despair. Her place was soon taken by some village dolts armed with stout bamboos to one end of which they had tied gunpowder mixed with hot peppers. After setting light to these, they dangled them into the cave. In no time, poisonous smoke and flames belched in, and the valley reverberated with fearful explosions. However, the men in the cave improvised a wooden fork with which they shoved the bamboos aside, so that still louder explosions shook the valley.But quite obviously this invention was no more effective than a children’s game.

Attackers and defenders had racked their peasant brains filled with romantic old notions, and had used up the stock of wisdom amassed by their forbears in long centuries of fishing,hunting and farming. Yet neither side would give way or admit defeat. After holding out for seventeen days, because the cave’s few defenders were worn out by keeping watch in turn, one foggy morning some sturdy Gaoxian villagers, intrepid as hunters, broke into the cave. It was too late for the fourteen defenders to escape to the upper cave; they could only withdraw inside. But although their retreat was cut off they would not surrender, because one of the attackers had died of his wounds. The masons from Gaoxian now built a stone wall to seal off the narrow opening of the cave,and took it in turn to stand guard there. Meanwhile men from the valley had carried up a winnowing-fan and made a hole in the stone wall. They had prepared twenty to thirty pounds of pepper and a dozen pounds of sulphur, which they burned slowly to produce poisonous smoke, fanning this into the cave. All such tactics, based on their experience of fishing and hunting, were carried out with excitement. As there was no water in the cave,after half a day all the fourteen villagers inside were asphyxiated.Three days later, when the poisonous fumes had dispersed, one of the captain’s men went in and discovered the fourteen corpses on the ground along with over twenty enormous white rats, each weighing over ten catties, as fat as piglets. He cut off the dead men’s hands and carried back one crate of hands and four crates of rats to the Gaoxian Security Bureau. The white hands were hung on the walnut tree in front of the bureau for all to see. And the village women and children stood on the ridge of the field some distance away to eye them with fearful curiosity. Early the next morning the captain took these trophies to the county town to report his victory.

Five days after the capture of the dry cave, the captain’s men broke into the upper cave, forcing the people inside to flee to the back. But this time the situation was very different, as both sides were well aware. The structure of this cave was remarkable.Less than fifty feet from the entrance was a rock about ten feet high, over which one had to climb to get further in. The spring inside flowed the whole year round, but the interior was warm and dry, providing excellent shelter. The cave was so big and dark that looking down from the high rock the entrance was clearly visible. The faeces of the people there flowed out with the spring water, making it undrinkable for the men occupying the entrance, who had to fetch water each day from the stream down below. Dongsheng and Qiaoxiu were both in the cave. Since it was impossible here to use poison gas, the besiegers had to wait for some change to take place. So they built another wall sealing off the cave’s interior. The captain and a dozen or so of his men guarded the entrance, waiting at their ease to wear the enemy out.

Mother Yang made another journey, forty li there and back, to climb up to the cave and plead for Dongsheng’s release. Balked, she went back to the village, her heart aching with apprehension.The secretary boldly volunteered to enter the cave and risk his life to make peace; but again this attempt came to nothing. To show that he was ready to bide his time, the captain sent home for a gramophone and played records of opera music outside the cave to entertain his men. In response to this provocation, inside the cave, in addition to gonging and drumming, the suona blared out The Sheep on the Hill and Snow Whirls over the Countryside.The man from Zhongzhai, when he carried Qiaoxiu off, had taken good care of the instrument handed down to him by his forbears.

But it was clear which side had the upper hand. And now the county head sent an inspector with orders that not one of these vicious bandits should be allowed to escape, as well as some empty words of encouragement. This made it even more imperative for Captain Man to devise means to wipe them out,to win a reward and get his name in the papers. The men in the cave knew there was no hope for them. Desperation made them more stubborn. The Tian brothers wanted to vent their anger on Dongsheng by strangling him; but Qiaoxiu interceded, saying that they had brought this on themselves and shouldn’t take out their anger on anyone else, not if they were brave fellows. So luckily Dongsheng was spared.

Before the two caves were occupied and the summit of the mountain sealed off, it would have been possible to escape by leaving everything heavy behind and slipping out through a cleft in the rocks. But as they had boasted that they could hold out for half a year to wear out the Mans of Gaoxian, to have run away would have lost face for the Tians, making them unable to hold up their heads in future. Besides, they had been confident that their position was impregnable. Thus emboldened they had underestimated the enemy. Two weeks later, after a council to analyse their mistake, sixteen youngsters carrying opium in their girdles slipped out through a crevice by night and fled. They meant to take refuge down river, exchange their opium for guns,then come back to rescue their comrades. The rest pricked their fingers and drank wine mixed with blood, swearing to be true to each other through thick and thin and to man their posts till their last breath. Since the lower cave was lost and more than half of their force was gone, by now there were only eight people,counting Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng, left in the upper cave. Despite the wall built at the entrance which separated them from the enemy, they had to be on their guard, and six men in two shifts took turn to keep watch. Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng, however, had no duties and could wander about as they pleased.

Dongsheng and Qiaoxiu had been on the best of terms, and having shared the same trials for the last month they had much to talk about. Dongsheng told her of all that had happened in the village after her flight, from the events in the Man family to the afternoon on which he left the Temple of the God of Medicine,and his life in the cave this month. To Qiaoxiu it seemed even more fantastic and moving than any romantic opera. This last month, compared to the seventeen previous years of her life,really appeared like a dream. She could still hardly credit that it was true.

After hearing him out Qiaoxiu sighed, “Dongsheng, we’ve both landed in trouble. Well, this is fate. No one will come to our rescue.”

Luckily Dongsheng was an intelligent lad, and seeing a thread of light through a crack in the rock gave him a sudden idea.He said, “Qiaoxiu, if nobody comes to our rescue we must find a way out ourselves. Let’s talk it over secretly with Fifth Brother.What’s the point of staying here to die together? There’s only one way to escape with our lives.”

“They’ve all drunk wine mixed with blood, sworn to live or die together. Any talk of escape and you’ll be knifed through the heart!”

“The two of you are lovers, you can ask him. Let them be heroes, we’ll crawl out like reptiles on the sly!”

Qiaoxiu found a chance to broach this to Fifth Brother when he was blowing his suona to pass the time. He was too staggered to speak. She said, “Kill me if you like, and I won’t make a sound. I’m willing to live or die with you in this cave, to shed our blood together. If you don’t want me to die, or to die yourself, do Dongsheng a good turn and let him go—he’s Mother Yang’s only son. Those who do good are rewarded—Heaven has eyes!”

The Zhongzhai man was thinking, “Dongsheng’s fifteen,you’re seventeen, I’m twenty-one. None of us ought to die. But it’s all predestined, we can’t escape our fate.”

“Fifth Brother,” Qiaoxiu begged, “think it over and let me know what you decide. If you want to die, we can die together. If you want to live, I’ll go with you.”

He answered softly with a sigh, “I want to live, but they won’t let me. Heaven won’t let me.”

They dropped the subject then. But the idea kept flaring up to disturb the young man’s mind.

That evening, Fifth Brother and two other men were on guard. For a month they had not seen the sun, had lived in suspense with death staring them in the face, on ever shorter rations. So everyone was worn out. The two other guards fell asleep, but the man from Zhongzhai was too excited to sleep as he thought over what Qiaoxiu had said. After all this time in the cave, they had stopped lighting their lantern, because they had no need for lamplight and wanted to save what little was left of the paraffin they had brought. One could only tell people’s whereabouts by their soft breathing or by groping around. The guards were close to the entrance, while the others slept further in nearly ten yards away. Fifth Brother heard from their breathing that Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng were near by. He crawled softly over and shook them awake.

“Dongsheng, Dongsheng, look sharp! Go down the cliff, taking your sister with you. Have a heart and put in a good word for her so that the captain doesn’t punish her! It was the Tian brothers and I who started this; nobody else was involved. After drinking blood wine I can’t sell out my friends. I’ll die with them in this cave. Qiaoxiu’s still young, and she’s in the family way.Let her live to bear me a son. Have a heart and help her!”

Captain Man was dozing by the mouth of the cave, wrapped in a badger skin, when suddenly he heard what sounded like someone scrabbling desperately at the wall. Then a voice quavered, “Captain, captain, be quick! Take out some stones to save me! Be quick, save my life!”

The captain alerted his men and called back softly,“Dongsheng, is that you? Tell me, are you ghost or man?”

“Hurry! It’s me. Hearty and hale from whiskers to tail!” This last phrase, used by village boys playing with crickets, made all chuckle in spite of their tension.

A small opening was made in the stone wall. Then the prisoners were pulled out—first Qiaoxiu, who had left Gaoxian less than fifty days ago. Before Dongsheng could say anything,they heard bedlam break out inside as if everyone there had gone mad. Obviously, the escape of Dongsheng and Qiaoxiu had been discovered and the man from Zhongzhai, the traitor, had been set upon by the rest. Heavy crashes were punctuated by his screams.At twenty-one he was done for. In the stillness of the night, the echoes from the cave struck dread into their hearts. In frantic haste they blocked up the hole in the wall and listened to the fighting inside. After a long, long time, amidst the groans deep in the cave they heard someone cursing. His voice though faint was clear: “You fellow Man, remember! The day will come when our Tian Number Nine settles scores with you.”

The next morning the spring water flowing out of the cave was red. Two militiamen ventured in to reconnoitre. They discovered that the previous night, in a fit of madness, the men there had fought to the death, hacking each other with daggers.Apparently not until Tian Number One was heavily wounded had he realized that his assailant in the dark was his brother—then he had plunged his dagger through his own heart. His younger brother, wounded, had crawled to the nearby spring to drink and had died leaning over the side. They searched high and low for Qiaoxiu’s lover, the suona player from Zhongzhai, and finally found that he had been thrown into a crevice of the cliff to die.The captain made his men clean up the cave and load up what was left of the opium and ten hands. Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng,their two captives who had escaped from the cave, were hardly recognizable as human beings. Dongsheng was still carrying the suona. Having sealed up the cave, the captain led his force back to Gaoxian. The next day he would take these ten fearfully white clenched hands to the county town to report his success, and would hale the two captives to the court to stand trial.

While these clusters of hands were hanging, as the custom was, from the walnut tree in front of the Security Bureau,where all the villagers old and young had gathered to watch the excitement, Dongsheng and Qiaoxiu were warming themselves by a brazier in an annex of the manor-house. They had changed into clean clothes. Sitting there, they were cross-examined by the old lady, Mother Yang, the secretary, the captain, his younger brother,and me—their guest. Though Dongsheng was worn out, his trials did not seem to have quenched his youthful fire, for he smiled as he described all that had happened. When he noticed his mother fixing her eyes on him, hot tears streaming down her cheeks, he sprang to his feet and stepped forward.

“See, mother! Aren’t I back, whiskers, tail and all?”

“You’re back safe and sound, but so many of the Tian family have died! What past crimes brought this trouble on us all?”

Qiaoxiu thought of the Zhongzhai suona player, thought of her future, and lowered her head and wept.

“Don’t cry, Qiaoxiu,” said old Mrs. Man. “I’ll look after you.Tomorrow the captain will take you to the county court and stand surety for you. Then he’ll bring you back to help me mind the mill. Now that the snow has melted, the stream is halfway up the dike, and people will want rice husked for New Year. It’s better to end a feud than to start another. Next year I shall sacrifice for seven days to expiate the sins of the men so unjustly killed, as well as the man from Zhongzhai.”

When the secretary, captain and I passed the Security Bureau, the captain said to him softly, “Their ninth brother got away—he was nowhere to be found in either cave.” The secretary answered reassuringly, “It’s better to end a feud than to start another. The old lady’s going to hold masses for seven days and nights to save their souls. Better let him off!”

……

With New Year at hand I moved back from the Temple of the God of Medicine to the Man manor-house, where I stayed in the same room. Again it was Qiaoxiu, carrying new bedding redolent of hay and dried fruit, who followed the old lady in silence into the room. In the copper brazier in the middle of it, sparks were sputtering again and a small kettle was singing on its side. I deliberately stood by the brazier again to warm my hands as I looked round. I saw her making up my bed in silence, and recalled what had happened in this room when I first arrived over a month ago. So, just as before, I said, “Thank you, old lady. I’ve put you to too much trouble, and this elder sister too.” But somehow or other my throat was too choked with grief to go on. And now I discovered a change in the room. Last time, when the old lady was holding a wedding feast for her son and Qiaoxiu was preparing to run away, their hearts were filled with excitement over the present and hope for the future; but the sudden changes of the last forty days had overwhelmed them both with unspeakable grief which could never be remedied, and which they would carry with them into their grave. On the surface, though, this room was unchanged, except that the old lady no longer wore a big red flower in her hair, while on Qiaoxiu’s thick plait was a small white mourning ribbon.

Only sixteen years had passed since Qiaoxiu’s mother had been drowned in the lake, a millstone tied to her neck, and now Qiaoxiu was expecting a child herself. And the suona player from Zhongzhai, who had abducted her, when only twenty-one and full of life, had vanished from the earth. Yet he would live on in a more significant way in seventeen-year-old Qiaoxiu’s life, and in this family’s future good fortune or misfortune.

I have never read any “romance” as preposterous or fantastic as these events in which I had taken part. Nor can I imagine any life more natural or closer to human nature—these events seemed entirely inevitable.

To the Man manor-house that New Year came villagers leading sheep, carrying wine and presenting auspicious tablets.The tablet above the front gate inscribed “Delighting in Virtue and Charity” was moved to the inner gate and replaced by “The Good Live at Peace, the Evil Are Rooted Out”. But the day that this tablet was put up, old Mrs. Man fasted and stayed in the mill with Qiaoxiu to husk rice.

Beiping, October 1947

未经允许不得转载:帕布莉卡 » 沈从文《传奇不奇》中英双语 -《湘西散记:汉英对照》

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