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A Gallant Woman

The title of this account in Chinese means a woman skilled in martial arts who uses her powers to fight for justice.

Scholar Gu of Jinling was a man of diverse talents but his home was extremely poor. With his mother being old, he couldn’t bear to leave her side and instead would do paintings and calligraphy for others, providing for her from the gifts he received. At the age of twenty-five, his nuptial knot was still untied.

   The residence opposite, which had long been vacant, was rented and occupied by an old woman and a girl. As there were no men in the household, Gu never asked who they were. One day, just as he came in from outside, he saw a young lady emerge from his mother’s room. She was about eighteen or nineteen with an elegant beauty rarely matched in this world. Seeing Gu, she didn’t avoid him, but her manner was coldly forbidding.

   The scholar went in to ask his mother who she was, and his mother said, “That’s the young lady from opposite. She came to borrow scissors and a ruler from me. She mentioned that she only has a mother at home too. That girl doesn’t seem like the product of a poor family. When I asked her why she’s not betrothed, she gave her mother’s age as the reason. Tomorrow I should go and call on her mother to drop a hint about my thinking. If her sights aren’t set too high, you can support her mother for her.”

   The next day she visited their house and the mother was a deaf old lady. A look around the house showed no provisions for the following days. Asked their line of work, the answer was they relied on the girl’s skilled fingers. When the plan of eating together was slowly broached, the mother seemed receptive, but turned to discuss it with the daughter; the daughter kept silent and appeared distinctly unhappy. So Gu’s mother returned home.

   Describing the situation in detail, she wondered doubtfully, “Could it be the girl resents our poverty? Not speaking to people and not smiling. She’s as pretty as peach blossom, but cold as ice. What a strange person!” Mother and son sighed in wonder and let it drop.

   One day, as Gu was sitting in his study, a young man came seeking a painting. His appearance was extremely handsome, though he had a rather frivolous air. Asked where he came from, the reply was, “A neighbouring village.” Subsequently every two or three days he would come. Gradually they became familiar and began to make fun of each other. When Gu embraced him intimately, he didn’t particularly object, so they had personal relations. From then on they kept in very close contact.

   Once the young woman happened to pass by and the youth watched her go. He asked who she was and the answer was, “A neighbour girl.” The young man said, “With beauty like that, why is her expression so terrifying?”

   After a short while, Gu went inside. His mother said, “Just now the girl came asking for rice, saying they haven’t lit a fire for days. That girl is extremely filial. It’s a pity they’re so poor. We should offer them some relief.”

   Gu did as his mother said and carried a peck of rice over, knocking on the door and extending his mother’s wishes. The girl accepted it, but didn’t express any thanks. Daily she would come to Gu’s home and, when she saw his mother making clothes or shoes, would do the sewing for her. She came and went through the house, behaving just like a wife. Gu felt increasingly grateful to her. Whenever he received delicacies as gifts, he made sure to share them with her mother, but the girl didn’t display the slightest gratitude for this either.

   Gu’s mother happened to develop ulcers on her private parts and would weep and wail night and day. The girl regularly went to her bedside to examine her, washing the sores and applying ointment for her three or four times a day. The mother felt extremely embarrassed, but the girl wasn’t put off by the foulness. The mother said, “Oh! Where can I find a daughter-in-law like you to care for my old body till I die!” Having spoken, she was choked with sorrow.

   The girl comforted her, saying, “You have a highly filial son. That’s a hundred times better than being a widowed mother with a fatherless daughter.”

   Gu’s mother said, “How could a filial son perform womanly bedside service? And as I’m already facing my twilight years and sooner or later will succumb to illness, I worry deeply about having an heir.”

   While she was speaking, Gu came in. His mother sobbed, “We owe this young lady so much. Don’t forget to repay her kindness.”

   Gu bowed down before her, but the girl said, “You show respect to my mother, yet I don’t thank you; so why do you thank me?” From then on Gu loved and respected the girl even more. However, her stiff and distant manner made her completely unapproachable.

   One day, as the girl left the house, Gu fixed his eyes on her, when she suddenly turned her head and flashed a charming smile. Delighted and surprised, Gu hurried after her to her home. He made advances and she didn’t object, so they joyfully made love. When it was over, she warned Gu, “This can happen once but never again.”

   Gu went home without replying. The next day he tried to arrange another date, but the girl sternly ignored him and left. She came over every day and often they would meet, but she never offered him any encouragement. If he tried joking with her, she would freeze him with icy comments. Suddenly in a vacant place she asked Gu, “Who is that young man who comes everyday?”

   Gu told her and she said, “He has been frequently impolite to me in manner and conduct. As you are intimate with him, I have let it go. Please pass on this message: Do that once more and you must not wish to live!”

   That night Gu told this to the young man and said, “You must be careful. She is not to be toyed with!”

   The youth said, “If she’s not to be toyed with, how come you’ve toyed around with her?”

   Gu stated he hadn’t.

   “If you haven’t, then why would she let you hear such salacious talk?”

   Gu couldn’t answer that.

   The youth said, “I’ll also trouble you to pass on this notice: Don’t put on such hypocritical airs; otherwise, I’ll broadcast it everywhere.”

   Gu was absolutely furious and his feelings showed in his face, so the youth left.

   One evening, while he was sitting by himself, the girl suddenly showed up and said with a smile, “My affinity with you hasn’t ended. It must be destiny.”

   Wild with joy, Gu embraced her tightly. All at once they heard the sound of feet clattering – the pair of them got up in alarm and the young man pushed open the door to enter. Startled, Gu asked, “What are you doing here?”

   He smiled and said, “I just came to observe a chaste and pure person.” Turning to the girl, he said, “Not complaining today then?”

   The girl’s eyebrows arched and cheeks reddened, but she didn’t say a word. Swiftly reversing her jacket to reveal a leather bag, she deftly drew out a foot-long glittering dagger. When the young man saw it, he retreated in shock. Chased out of the house, he was nowhere to be seen. The girl cast the dagger into the sky – it made a screeching sound and shone like a rainbow. Presently an object fell to the ground with a thud. Gu quickly illuminated it and it was a white fox, its body and head separated. Gu was astounded.

   The girl said, “That’s your pleasure-boy. I had forgiven him, but what could be done when he was determined to part with his life?”

   She put the blade in its bag. Gu pulled her inside, but she said, “That monster’s ruined my mood. Please wait till tomorrow night.”

   She went out and left directly. The next evening she did indeed come, so they intertwined their bodies. Asked about her sword-craft, she said, “That’s not for you to know. It must be kept secret. Revealing it, I’m afraid, would not be to your benefit.”

   Gu then asked her to marry him, but she said, “Sharing your bed, carrying water for you – if that isn’t being a wife, what is? We’re already man and wife – what need is there to talk anymore of getting married?”

   Gu said, “You don’t detest my poverty then?”

   “You’re poor, it’s true, but am I rich? Coming together tonight was just from sympathy of your poverty.” Just before parting, she warned him, “Improper behaviour cannot become a habit. If I must come, I’ll come myself; if not, there’s no use trying to force me.”

   Later when they happened to meet, if he tried to steer her into private conversation, she would always run off. However, in mending clothes, cooking and all manner of chores, she was no less than a wife.

   After a few months her mother died and Gu buried her as well as he could. From then on the girl lived alone. Thinking that now she slept alone he could have his way with her, Gu entered over the garden wall and called repeatedly through the window without getting any reply. When he looked, he found the door bolted and the house empty. He silently wondered if the girl had a date with another. At night he tried again and it was the same, so he went home, leaving his jade pendant in the window.

   The next day they met each other in his mother’s place. When he went out, the girl trailed behind him, saying, “Do you doubt me? Everyone has thoughts that cannot be told to others. Now, if I wanted to dispel your doubts, how could I do that? However, there is one thing I must trouble you to arrange urgently.”

   Asked what it was, she said, “I am already eight months pregnant. I’m afraid I will soon give birth. As ‘my identity as wife is not clear’, though I can bear your child, I can’t raise it for you. You can secretly tell your mother to seek a wet nurse and pretend you’re adopting a child. Don’t say it’s mine.”

   Gu promised and told his mother. His mother said with a laugh, “What a strange girl! She refuses betrothal and instead has an affair with my son.” But she was happy to prepare for it in accordance with the arrangement.

   After another month, the girl didn’t come round for several days. Concerned, Gu’s mother went to call on her house, finding it closed up and silent. She knocked for a long time before the girl appeared from inside with dishevelled hair and a dirty face. The girl opened the door to let her in and then closed it again. When they entered her room, a bawling infant was on the bed. Startled, Gu’s mother asked, “When was it born?”

   The reply was, “Three days ago.”

   Lifting its swaddling bands for a look, she found it was a boy with plump cheeks and a broad forehead. She said in delight, “My child, now you’ve given birth to a grandson for me, you’re left alone without help – what will you depend on?”

   The girl said, “My trivial inner thoughts I don’t dare reveal to you, mother. Wait until night when there’s no one around and you can carry the child away.”

   Gu’s mother returned home and talked with her son, and they both were quietly amazed. That night they went and carried the boy home.

   Several days later, approaching midnight, the girl suddenly rapped on the door and entered, carrying a leather bag in her hand. Smiling, she said, “My grand mission is complete. Now I wish to bid you farewell.”

   Anxiously asked the reason, she said, “Your kindness to my mother has never left my mind. I said before ‘This can happen once but never again’, because my way of repaying you was not between the sheets. As you are poor and unable to marry, I wanted to help you carry on your family line. Originally I planned to get it at one shot, but unexpectedly my menses came again, so that led me to break my vow and try once more. Now your kindness has been requited and I have also fulfilled my aim, so I have no regrets.”

   Gu asked, “What’s in the bag?”

   “Only my enemy’s head.”

   He took the bag and peeked inside – the beard and hair were tangled and spattered with blood. Absolutely astounded, he again questioned her carefully. She said, “I didn’t mention this to you before because if I didn’t keep it secret I feared it would leak out. Now the mission has succeeded, there’s no harm in telling you: I come from Zhejiang. My father was made Minister of War, but then framed by an enemy, who confiscated our home. I carried my mother away and concealed our identity, keeping my head down for three years now. The reason why I didn’t take immediate revenge was merely that my mother was alive; when my mother was gone, there was still a lump of flesh lying in my belly, so I had to delay yet longer. At night I used to go out for no other reason but because I wasn’t familiar with the roads and passageways and I was afraid there would be an error.”

   With that, she went out, again urging him, “Take good care of the son I bore. Your blessings are scant and you won’t live long, but this boy can bring honour to your family. The night is late and we shouldn’t disturb mother – I’m leaving.”

   Just as he was about to sadly ask where she would go, like a flash of lightning the girl disappeared in the glance of an eye. Sighing with regret, Gu stood there woodenly, as if his soul was lost. The next day he told his mother and together all they could do was sigh in wonder.

   Three years later, Gu did indeed die. His son succeeded in the highest imperial examinations at eighteen and continued to care for his grandmother until the end of her years, it is said.


The Cryptohistorian says: A man must have a gallant woman in his home and then he can keep a pleasure-boy. Otherwise, while you’re loving your handsome boar, he will be loving your brood-sow!

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