Finding him beautiful, the old woman began to converse and ingratiate herself with him, until at length she came across to him, and finally her hands wandered gently over his body.
He found this an agreeable manner of passing the time, but said after a little while: “How is it that, although you are a woman, you have the voice of a man?”
“My son, I will tell you the truth, but you must not reveal it to anybody. I am not really a woman, but a man. When I was little, I used often to disguise myself and mimic the shrill tones of young girls; and I even learned to sew just as well as they. I used often to go to the neighboring market towns, pretending that I was a young girl and offering to do needlework; and my skill was soon much admired by all the dwellers in the houses where I worked.
“I used to mingle with the women, and by degrees, according to the licentiousness of their thought, we would enjoy our pleasure. Soon the women found that they had no more occasion to go out for their dalliance; and even the sober-minded girls among them became involved. They did not dare to say anything, for fear of the scandal; and also I had a drug which I applied during the night to their faces, stupefying them so that they allowed me to do as I liked. When they recovered their senses it was too late, and they dared not protest. On the contrary, they used to bribe me with gold and silken stuffs to keep silence and to leave their house. Ever since then—and I am now forty-seven years of age—I have never again put on a man’s garments. I have traveled throughout the two capitals and the nine provinces, and always when I see a beautiful woman I contrive to go to her house. In this way I accumulate riches with but little labor; and I have never been found out.”
“What an astonishing tale!” cried the fascinated Flowering Mulberry. “I wonder whether I could do the like.”
“One as beautiful as you are,” answered the other, “will be taken for a woman by everyone. If you wish me to be your instructor you have only to come with me. I will bind up your feet, and teach you to sew; and we will go into every house together. You shall be my niece. If we find a good opportunity I shall give you a little of my drug, and you will then have no difficulty in achieving your purpose.”
The young man’s heart was devoured by a desire to put this adventure to the proof. Without further hesitation he prostrated himself four times, and adopted the old woman as his master, taking not a moment’s thought for his parents or for his honor. Such an intoxicating thing is vice.
When it had stopped raining, he set out with the old woman; and as soon as they were beyond the boundaries of Shantung they purchased hair-pins and feminine dresses. The disguise was perfect, and anyone would have sworn that Flowering Mulberry was an authentic woman. He changed his first name for that of Niang “the little girl,” though for a few days he was so embarrassed that he did not dare to speak.