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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

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The Courtship of Two Shadows

From “The Shadows in the Water”

IT happened, about the middle of the summer, when the heat was very oppressive, that Chin Seng and his cousin, the young lady, both went to their summer-houses by the water at the same time, for the purpose of enjoying some cooler air. As there was scarcely a breath of wind, the surface of the water was unruffled, and the two pavilions were clearly reflected in it. While Yu Kwen was gazing into the water, she suddenly gave a start, exclaiming, “How does it come that my shadow appears on the opposite side, while I myself am on this? Surely that must be some bad omen.” After a little consideration, however, she changed her opinion, for she discovered that the shadow must be the reflected figure of her cousin, who, being without his cap, looked just like a woman; and it was, in fact, from this circumstance that her mistake arose. She then examined it more attentively, and acknowledged that it was indeed the very image of herself, and that there was hardly any difference between them. Being thus compelled to give up her exclusive claim to beauty, she began to have a sort of sympathy toward what so nearly resembled herself, and by degrees to feel resentment against the parents who cruelly kept such close relatives apart.

Chin Seng, as he sat leaning against the rails, also caught sight of a shadow on the opposite side, and began to dance for very joy. Then he scrutinized the reflection attentively, and became conscious that, as people had said, he was not to be compared with his cousin for good looks. His passion being greater than his discretion, he called out to the shadow, “Are you not Yu Kwen? I see you are my counterpart; why should we not meet, and be companions for life?” As he spoke, he stretched out his arms over the water, as if to lift out the object of his affections.

The young lady, who saw and heard his demonstrations, felt an increase of the regard she had already conceived for him, and would have liked to return the signals. But she was afraid of the consequences of discovery, and felt a natural diffidence, as she had never, either in speech or action, broken the rules of etiquette. She therefore merely conveyed the sentiments of her heart by a smile. The youth, who was exactly like his father, knew quite well that, in order to find out if a woman was favorably disposed toward you, you needed only to observe if she smiled. If her lips parted in a smile, it was a sufficiently good sign.

Thus was the love-knot tied between these two through the agency of their shadows. From that time forth they came regularly every day to the same place, to avoid the heat. Nor did they ever allow any of their attendants to escort them, but preferred sitting alone, so that they could lean over the rails and converse with each other’s shadows in the water. On these occasions, however, Chin Seng did most of the conversing, the young lady using only the language of her hands to express her sentiments; for she was afraid that, should she speak, and her father or mother hear her, she might not only be exposed to severe chastisement, but even her life might be endangered.