In this account, the scholar is described as having "cut sleeve proclivities" - this was a phrase used for referring to love between men. The phrase comes from an account of Emperor Ai of the Han dynasty, who had a male favourite named Dong Xian. One day Dong Xian was lying asleep on the emperor's sleeve. The emperor wanted to rise, but didn't wish to disturb Dong Xian, so he cut off his own sleeve instead. Afterwards this action became proverbial for showing the love of one man for another.
The study of He Shican, whose taken name was Zixiao, lay to the east of Tiao Stream, its gate overlooking the wilderness. At twilight he happened to be outside when he saw a woman approaching astride a donkey, a young man following behind her. The woman was about fifty or so with a refined manner. Turning to observe the young man, he was aged around fifteen or sixteen with a more elegant appearance than any pretty girl. Scholar He had always had cut sleeve proclivities and, spying him, he lost his senses; standing on tiptoe he gazed after him and only when all trace had gone did he return home.
The next day he was waiting early for him. Only as the sun set and darkness fell did the young man pass by. The scholar went out of his way to greet him, smiling and asking him where he had come from. The reply was: “My grandparents’ home.”
The scholar invited him to have a short rest in his study, but he declined, saying he had no time; only when firmly dragged in did he enter. After sitting briefly he rose to leave and couldn’t be persuaded to stay. The scholar took his hand and saw him off, ardently urging him to pay a visit when convenient. The young man agreed and left. From then on the scholar was lost in yearning, coming in and out, staring into the distance, his feet never still.
One day, when the setting sun was a semi-circle, the young man suddenly arrived. Delighted, the scholar asked him to come in and ordered his houseboy to serve wine. Asked his name, the young man replied, “Huang’s my family name. I’m the ninth son. I have no taken name.”
The scholar asked, “What brings you past here so often?”
“My mother is in my grandparents’ home and constantly ill, so I frequently visit her.”
After several rounds of drinks, he wished to take his leave. The scholar clutched his arm and held him back, removing the latchkey. Ninth-Son had no choice, but sat down again with a blushing face. Talking together by lamplight, he was as gentle as a virgin girl, and when the scholar began to tease him flirtatiously, he bashfully turned to face the wall.
Before long, the scholar invited him to share a quilt. Ninth-Son refused, insisting that he slept badly. The scholar urged him repeatedly, so he removed his upper and lower clothes and lay down on the bed in his pants. The scholar put out the light; after a short while, he moved over to share the same pillow. He bent his elbow and thigh over the young man and embraced him indecently, imploring him for intimacy.
Ninth-Son said angrily, “As you are a refined gentleman, so I lingered here with you. But this behaviour is the way the birds and beasts show their love!”
Before long, the morning star was glimmering and Ninth-Son was on his way. The scholar feared he would come no more and again waited for him, pacing up and down and gazing fixedly, his eyes penetrating the heavens.
After several days, Ninth-Son finally came. Happily greeting him and apologizing, the scholar dragged him into his study and sat close to him, laughing and talking, secretly glad that he didn’t bear a grievance. Soon they removed their shoes and climbed on the bed. Again the scholar begged to fondle him. Ninth-Son said, “Your lingering affection is already engraved on my heart. But what need is there to love this way?”
The scholar pestered him with sweet words, begging just one kiss of his jade flesh. Ninth-Son agreed to this. The scholar waited until he was asleep and then covertly began to misbehave. Ninth-Son awoke, pulled on his clothes and abruptly got up, slipping away by night. Depressed, as if all were lost, the scholar forgot to eat or sleep and daily gradually withered away. Each day he merely sent his houseboy out to keep watch.
One day, Ninth-Son passed by the gate and was about to go on his way. The boy pulled him inside by his clothes. Seeing the scholar so thin, he was horrified and gave him his sympathy. The scholar told him truthfully the cause, tears streaming down, withering and falling with his voice. In a whisper, Ninth-Son said, “This trivial thing, in truth making love is no benefit to me and is harmful to you, so I wouldn’t do it. But if it makes you happy, how could I begrudge it?”
The scholar was overjoyed. After Ninth-Son left, his illness immediately lessened and in several days he had recovered. Sure enough Ninth-Son came, and so they became deeply entwined. The young man said, “Today I’ve striven to satisfy your desires, but I hope you won’t make this a habit.” Subsequently he said, “I have something I wish to beg of you. Are you willing to help?”
Asked what it was, he replied, “My mother is troubled by heart pain and only the Xiantian pills of imperial physician Qi Yewang can cure it. You are friends with him, so you can ask him for some.”
The scholar promised. As Ninth-Son was leaving, he again urged this. The scholar entered the city, sought the medicine and that evening handed it over. Ninth-Son was delighted, raising his hands and expressing his thanks. The scholar again insisted on coupling with him. Ninth-Son said, “Don’t get hung up on me. I’m carefully lining up a beauty for you, a million times better than me.”
The scholar asked who it was. Ninth-Son said, “I have a younger girl cousin who’s incomparably beautiful. If you’re willing, I can be your go-between.”
The scholar smiled but didn’t reply. Clutching the medicine, Ninth-Son then left. After three days he returned and again asked for medicine. Blaming him for being tardy, the scholar censured him at length. Ninth-Son said, “In fact I couldn’t bear to bring disaster upon you, so I kept my distance. Since you won’t excuse me, please don’t regret it!” From then on they came together for pleasure every night.
Every three days the scholar was sure to beg for the medicine. Surprised by the frequency, Qi said, “No one has taken this medicine more than three times. Why is the recovery taking so long?” Then he wrapped up three doses and gave them over. He also looked at the scholar and said, “Your countenance is dimmed. Are you ill?”
“No,” said the scholar.
Qi took his pulse and said in alarm, “You have a ghost pulse and sickness in the lesser yin. If you don’t take care, you’re in danger!”
He returned home and mentioned this to Ninth-Son. Ninth-Son exclaimed with a sigh, “A fine physician! I’m actually a fox and I’ve long feared I bring you no good.”
The scholar suspected he was lying and hid the medicine so as not to give it all out, worried he wouldn’t come again. Not long later, he indeed became ill. When he sent for Qi to examine him, the doctor said, “Previously you didn’t tell the truth. Now your vital spirit has already entered the graveyard. How could any doctor help you?”
Ninth-Son everyday came to take care of him, saying, “You wouldn’t listen to what I said and you’ve ended up in this state!” The scholar soon died. Ninth-Son cried bitterly and left.
Prior to this, in that county there was a certain imperial academician who had been the scholar’s classmate when young. At the age of seventeen he had been accepted to the Imperial Academy. At that time the envoy to Qin was corrupt and cruel, but as he had bribed all the courtiers, no one spoke out. The academician submitted a memorial exposing his abuses, but was dismissed for exceeding his position.
The envoy was promoted to Imperial Governor for that province and everyday watched for the academician to slip up. When young the academician was considered outstanding and had once gained a rebel prince’s good graces, so the governor bought up all the gifts that had previously passed between them to threaten him. Terrified, the academician hanged himself. His wife also choked herself to death in a noose. After a night, the academician suddenly revived and said, “I’m He Zixiao.”
When questioned, all he talked about was affairs of He’s home, at which point it was realised that He’s soul was making use of the body to reincarnate. He wouldn’t stay there but fled back to his old house. The governor suspected he was faking it and was determined to incriminate him, so sent people to demand a thousand pieces of silver from him. He pretended to agree, but was in utter despair.
Suddenly he was notified that Ninth-Son had arrived. Chattering happily with him, grief and joy were mixed together. After that he wanted to resume their relations. Ninth-Son said, “Do you have three lives?”
He said, “I’m tired of life. I’d rather be released by death.” Then he related the injustice he faced.
Ninth-Son was sunk in protracted thought. After a while, he said, “Luckily we’ve come together again. You’re free and single – the cousin I spoke of before is bright, beautiful and very resourceful. She’s sure to be able to relieve your worries.”
He wanted a look at her appearance and Ninth-Son said, “No problem. Tomorrow I’ll take her to accompany my mother and the way passes by here. You can act as my sworn brother. I’ll pretend to be thirsty and ask for a drink. If you say, ‘The donkey’s run off,’ that means it’s a yes.” With the plan made, he bid farewell.
The next day at noon Ninth-Son indeed passed by the gate behind a young lady. The scholar greeted him with cupped hands, chatting garrulously. Briefly glancing at the girl, she was a beauty with elegant features, truly an angel. Ninth-Son asked for some tea and the scholar invited them in to drink. Ninth-Son said, “Don’t be surprised, Third-Sister. This is my sworn brother. There’s no harm stopping for a short rest.”
When she had been helped down, they tied the donkey at the gate and entered. The scholar himself rose to boil some tea. Then, eyeing Ninth-Son, he said, “Your words before were insufficient. Today I’ve found something to die for!”
The girl seemed to realise his words were about herself and got up from the couch, trilling out the words, “Let’s go!”
Looking outside, the scholar said, “The donkey – it’s run off!”
Ninth-Son rushed out urgently. The scholar embraced the girl and propositioned her. The girl’s countenance turned purple with discomfort, as if she were imprisoned, and she yelled out for Ninth-Son, but there was no reply. She said, “You have your own wife. How have you lost your sense of shame?”
He explained that he had no wife. The girl said, “If you can swear on the hills and rivers not to abandon me like a fan in autumn then I will do as you command.”
So the scholar vowed by the bright sun and the girl no longer resisted. When it was done, Ninth-Son returned. The girl’s expression became furious and she scolded him. Ninth-Son said, “This is He Zixiao. Formerly he was a famous scholar and now he’s an imperial academician. He is most friendly with me and he’s very dependable. Even if aunt hears of it, she won’t lay any blame on you.”
As the day turned to evening, the scholar held her back and wouldn’t hear of her leaving. The girl was afraid her aunt would be shocked, but Ninth-Son volunteered to take responsibility for it, mounted the donkey and left straightaway.
After several days, a woman came past with a servant-girl. She was about forty years old and her looks and manner were very similar to Third-Sister’s. The scholar called the girl out to take a peek, and it was indeed her mother. Catching a glimpse of the girl, she asked in wonder, “What are you doing here?”
The girl was too embarrassed to reply. The scholar invited the mother in, bowed to her and told her the situation. Laughing, the mother said, “Ninth-Son is so childish. Why did he never discuss this?” The girl went into the kitchen to prepare some food for her mother, and after she had eaten, she left.
Having gained a beautiful spouse, the scholar was very gratified; however, as his troubles occupied his mind, he always had knitted brows and worried looks. The girl asked him about it and he described it all from start to finish. Laughing, the girl said, “Ninth-Son is just the person to solve this. Why should you worry?”
The scholar asked what she meant, and she said, “I’ve heard the governor has a weakness for singers and is intimate with pleasure-boys. These are both Ninth-Son’s forte. Cater to his tastes by offering him Ninth-Son and you can remove his enmity, while also getting revenge.”
The scholar was concerned that Ninth-Son would not be willing, but the girl said, “You just need to entreat him.”
The following day, when the scholar saw Ninth-Son coming, he went out on his knees to receive him. Stunned, Ninth-Son said, “Our friendship spans two lifetimes. Whatever I can do, from head to heel I wouldn’t stint. Why are you suddenly taking this approach towards me?”
He told him all about their scheme. Ninth-Son showed signs of reluctance, but the girl said, “When I lost my chastity to my husband, who really made that happen? Should he be cut down in his prime, what is to be done with me?”
Ninth-Son had no choice but to agree. Having gathered together to plan, the scholar swiftly wrote to an Imperial Academician Wang with whom he was friendly, delivering Ninth-Son to him. Understanding his intention, Wang put on a grand show and invited the governor to drink. He told Ninth-Son to dress up as a young lady and perform the Heavenly Demon Dance as if he were a beautiful girl. The governor was smitten by him and made repeated requests to Wang, offering to pay a high price for Ninth-Son, only fearing that it wouldn’t be accepted.
Wang pretended to ponder it as if in a dilemma. After delaying for a long while, he finally presented him at the scholar’s command. The governor was delighted and the former rift was immediately dispelled. From the moment he acquired Ninth-Son, they were never apart. His dozen concubines he treated as no more than dust. Ninth-Son ate and drank from vessels fit for a prince and was given myriad gifts of silver.
After half a year, the governor became ill. Ninth-Son knew he was on the verge of death and so transported his silver and silks, asking leave to return to the scholar’s home. Subsequently the governor expired. Ninth-Son used his capital to build a house, purchase furnishings and keep some servants. Mother, son and aunt shared a home. When Ninth-Son went out, with gorgeous carriage and horses, no one realised that he was a fox.