There lived in Hanyang a man called Chang Kien, whose young daughter, Chien, was of peerless beauty. He also had a nephew called Wang Chau–a very handsome boy. The children played together, and were fond of each other. Once Kien jestingly said to his nephew, “Someday I will marry you to my little daughter.” Both children remembered these words, and the believed themselves thus betrothed.
When Chien grew up, a man of rank asked for her in marriage, and her father decided to agree. Chien was greatly troubled by this decision. As for Chau, he was so much angered and grieved that he resolved to leave home, and go to another province. The next day he got a boat ready for his journey, and after sunset, without bidding farewell to anyone, he proceeded up the river. But in the middle of the night he was startled by a voice calling to him, “Wait–it is me!”–and he saw a young woman running along the bank toward the boat. It was Chien. Chau was unspeakably delighted. She sprang into the boat, and the lovers found their way safely to the province of Chuh.
In the province of Chuh they lived happily for six years, and they had two children. But Chien could not forget her parents, and often longed to see them again. At last, she said to Chau, “Because I could not bear to break the promise I made to you, I ran away with you and left my parents—although knowing that I owed them all possible duty and
affection. Maybe we could go now and try to obtain their forgiveness”
Chau agreed, and a few days later they returned to Hanyang.
According to custom in such cases, Chau first went to the house of Kien, leaving Chien and the children in the boat. Kien welcomed his nephew with every sign of joy and said, “How much I have been longing to see you! I was often afraid that something had happened to you.”
Chau answered respectfully, “I don’t deserve this kindness! We have come to beg your forgiveness!”
But Kien did not seem to understand. He asked, “Forgiveness for what?”
“I was sure,” said Chau, “that you would be angry with me for having run away with Chien, taking her with me to the province of Chuh.”
“What Chien was that?” asked Kien.
“Your daughter Chien,” answered Chau, beginning to suspect his father-in-law of some malevolent design.
“What are you talking about?” cried Kien, completely astonished. “My daughter has been sick in bed all these years—ever since the time when you went away.”
“Your daughter,” returned Chau, becoming angry, “has not been sick. She has been with me for six years, we married and had two children, and we have returned here only to seek your forgiveness. Please, do not mock us!”
For a moment the two looked at each other in silence. Then Kien arose, and motioning to Chau to follow, led the way to an inner room where a sick woman was lying. And Chau, to his utter amazement, saw the face of Chien—beautiful, but strangely thin and pale.
“She cannot speak,” said Kien, “but she can understand.” And Kien said to her, laughingly,
“Chau tells me that you ran away with him, and that you have two children.” The sick woman looked at Chau and smiled, but remained silent.
“Now come with me to the river,” said the bewildered Chau. “For I can assure you—in spite of what I have seen in this house—that your daughter Chien is in my boat at this very moment.”
They went to the river, and there indeed was Chien, waiting. And seeing her father, she bowed down, begging his forgiveness.
Kien said to her, “If you are truly my daughter, I have nothing but love for you. Yet, though you seem to be my daughter, there is something I cannot understand. Come with us to the house.”
So the three proceeded toward the house. As they neared it, they saw that the sick woman—who had not left her bed for years—was coming to meet them, smiling as if much delighted, and the two Chiens walked toward each other, coming together in an embrace. But then, suddenly, they melted into each other and became one body, one person, one Chien, showing no sign of sickness or of sorrow.
Kien said to Chau, “Ever since the day you left, my daughter could not speak, and most of the time was like person who had taken too much wine. Now I know that her spirit was absent.”
Chien said, “Really, I never knew that I was at home. I saw Chau going away in silent anger, and that same night I dreamed that I ran after his boat. And now I cannot tell which was really me--the one that went away in the boat or the one who stayed home."
Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..