A long time ago in China, there lived a wealthy gentleman, by the name of Wu, who had many wives. His whole family lived together on their large property. The family included his parents; his wives; his children; and his brothers and their wives and children.
As he was brought up in a wealthy household, Wu was extremely spoilt as a child and during his adult years had taken to drinking heavily and gambling. Unfortunately, he was not a very lucky man and so his many late nights out usually resulted in losses. He would often be out for many days on end and arrive home in the early hours of the morning—groggy from an overdose of liquor and in a bad mood.
One day, his third wife, Lei, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with shiny soot-black hair and pretty black eyes fringed with long, dark lashes. She was given the name Yen—meaning swallow—for her laugh sounded as sweet as a swallow's song. However, Wu was not pleased for he had wanted a son. A son would be a credit to the family. A son could earn money for them and also carry on the family name. A daughter would only get married and move to live with her husband's family. For this, he beat his wife.
From that day on, whenever he was unhappy, Wu would blame his wife for not producing a son. Although everyone in the household knew about him mistreating Lei—no one did anything about it. They were either too afraid to speak badly of Wu or they did not care. One night, Wu arrived home in an extremely bad mood and beat his wife fiercely. Her piercing screams could be heard from a mile away. This continued for many hours without respite—but the rest of the family lay silently inside their chambers—not a word was said about it.
Lei died the following morning—just as the sun was coming over the horizon—its golden rays glinting on the dew-covered leaves outside. She was found a few hours later—lying on her bed—the sheets stained red with blood. On her pale face was the look of agony and fear after a long and painful night of suffering. In her arms she held her dear little baby—clutched to her chest. During her night of suffering and distress, she had worried over the fate of her daughter. Lei knew that she was not liked among Wu's family—although they had tried not to show it. They despised her for her beauty and extraordinary talent for embroidery. She had few friends within the household—her maid, Hua, the head cook, Ping and some other servants.
Lei was buried that day in the family cemetery—where all the Wu family had been buried for generations. Her few belongings were gathered and burnt. The only thing Hua had managed to salvage was a delicate gold necklace given to Lei by her mother. She knew that Lei would have wanted Yen to have it.
Lei'spresence was not greatly missed in the family—for them, life carried on as if nothing had happened. However, the servant quarters were a sad place for many months following it.
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