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  杨宪益:英文版《红楼梦》
 

收录;站长紫云  收录时间:2019年9月20日


 

Chapter 1

 

Zhen Shiyin in a Dream Sees the Jade of Spiritual Understanding

Jia Yucun in His Obscurity Is Charmedby a Maid

 

This is the opening chapter of the novel. In writing this story of the Stone the author wanted to record certain of his past dreams and illusions, but he tried to hide the true facts of his experience by using the allegory of the jade of “Spiritual Understanding.” Hence his recourse to names like Zhen Shiyin.1 But what are the events recorded in this book, and who are the characters? About this he said:

In this busy, dusty world, having accomplished nothing, I suddenly recalled all the girls I had known, considering each in turn, and it dawned on me that all of them surpassed me in behaviour and understanding; that I, shameful to say, for all my masculine dignity, fell short of the gentler sex. But since this could never be remedied, it was no use regretting it. There was really nothing to be done.

I decided then to make known to all how I, though dressed in silks and delicately nurtured thanks to the Imperial favour and my ancestors’ virtue, had nevertheless ignored the kindly guidance of my elders as well as the good advice of teachers and friends, with the result that I had wasted half my life and not acquired a single skill. But no matter how unforgivable my crimes, I must not let all the lovely girls I have known pass into oblivion through my wickedness or my desire to hide my shortcomings.

Though my home is now a thatched cottage with matting windows, earthen stove and rope-bed, this shall not stop me from laying bare my heart. Indeed, the morning breeze, the dew of night, the willows by my steps and the flowers in my courtyard inspire me to wield my brush. Though I have little learning or literary talent, what does it matter if I tell a tale in rustic language to leave a record of all those lovely girls. This should divert readers too and help distract them from their cares. That is why I use the other name Jia Yucun.”2

Do you know, Worthy Readers, where this book comes from? The answer may sound fantastic, yet carefully considered is of great interest. Let me explain, so that there will be no doubt left in your minds.

When the goddess Nu Wa melted down rocks to repair the sky, at Baseless Cliff in the Great Waste Mountain she made thirty-six thousand five hundred and one blocks of stone, each a hundred and twenty feet high and two hundred and forty feet square. She used only thirty-six thousand five hundred of these and threw the remaining block down at the foot of Blue Ridge3 Peak. Strange to relate, this block of stone after tempering had acquired spiritual understanding. Because all its fellow blocks had been chosen to mend the sky and it alone rejected, it lamented day and night in distress and shame.

One day as the Stone was brooding over its fate, it saw approaching from the distance a Buddhist monk and Taoist priest, both of striking demeanour and distinguished appearance. They came up to the Stone and sat down to chat.

When they saw the pure translucent Stone which had shrunk to the size of a fan-pendant, the monk took it up on the palm of his hand and said to it with a smile:

You look like a precious object, but you still lack real value. I must engrave some characters on you so that people can see at a glance that you’re something special. Then we can take you to some civilized and prosperous realm, to a cultured family of official status, a place where flowers and willows flourish, the home of pleasure and luxury where you can settle down in comfort.”

The Stone was overjoyed.

May I trouble you to enlighten me,” it said, “as to what wonderful merits you will bestow on me? And where do you mean to take me?”

Don’t ask.” The monk smiled. “You’ll find out all in good time.”

With that he tucked the Stone into his sleeve and hurried off with the Taoist. But where they went no one knows.

 

After no one knows how many generations or aeons, a Taoist known as Reverend Void, searching for the Way and immortality, came to Great Waste Mountain, Baseless Cliff and the foot of Blue Ridge Peak. His eye fell on the inscription on a large stone which was still discernible and he read it through. It was an account of the Stone’s rejection for repairing heaven, its transformation and conveyance to the world of men by the Buddhist of Infinite Space and the Taoist of Boundless Time, and the joys and sorrows, partings and encounters, warm and cold treatment from others it had experienced there. On its back was a Buddhist verse:

Unfit to mend the azure sky,

I passed some years on earth to no avail;

My life in both worlds is recorded here;

Whom can I ask to pass on this romantic tale?

There followed the name of the region where the Stone fell, the place of its incarnation, and the story of its adventures   including trivial family affairs and light verses written to amuse idle hours. The dynasty, year and country’s name were, however, obliterated.

The Reverend Void said to the Stone: “Brother Stone, you seem to think that your tale recorded here is interesting enough to merit publication. In my view, in the first place, there is no way of finding out the dynasty and the year; in the second, there is nothing here about worthy and loyal ministers and how they regulated the government and public morality. There are merely some girls remarkable only for their passion or folly, or else for their small gifts and trifling virtues which cannot even compare with those of such talented ladies as Ban Zhao or Cai Yan.4 Even if I were to transcribe it, it would hardly arouse much interest.”

How can you be so dense, master?” protested the Stone with a smile. “If there’s no way of finding out the date, you can easily ascribe this tale to some time in the Han or Tang Dynasty. But since all novels do that, I think my way of dispensing with this convention and just dealing with my own adventures and feelings is more original. Why insist on a certain dynasty or definite date? Besides, most common people of the market-place much prefer light literature to improving books. The trouble is that so many romances contain slanderous anecdotes about sovereigns and ministers or cast aspersions upon other men’s wives and daughters so that they are packed with sex and violence. Even worse are those writers of the breeze-and-moonlight school, who corrupt the young with pornography and filth. As for books of the beauty-and-talented-scholar type, a thousand are written to a single pattern and none escapes bordering on indecency. They are filled with allusions to handsome, talented young men and beautiful, refined girls in history; but in order to insert a couple of his own love poems, the author invents stereotyped heroes and heroines with the inevitable low character to make trouble between them like a clown in a play, and makes even the slave girls talk pedantic nonsense. So all these novels are full of contradictions and absurdly unnatural.

Much better are the girls I have known myself during my young days. I wouldn’t presume to rank them as superior to all the characters of earlier works, yet their stories may serve to dispel boredom and care while the few doggerels I have inserted may raise a laugh and add zest to wine. As for the scenes of sad partings and happy meetings, prosperity and decline, these are all true to fact and not altered in the slightest to cause a sensation or depart from the truth.

At present the daily concern of the poor is food and clothing, while the rich are never satisfied. All their leisure is taken up with amorous adventures, material acquisition or trouble-making. What time do they have to read political and moral treatises? I neither want people to marvel at this story of mine, nor do I insist that they should read it for pleasure; I only hope they may find distraction here when they are sated with food and wine or searching for some escape from worldly cares. By glancing over it in place of other vain pursuits, they may save their energies and prolong their lives, sparing themselves the harm of quarrels and arguments, or the trouble of chasing after what is illusory.

Besides, this story offers readers something new, unlike those hackneyed and stale hodge-podges of sudden partings and encounters which teem with talented scholars and lovely girls Cao Zijian, Zhuo Wenjun, Hongniang, Xiaoyu5 and the like. What do you say, master?”

The Reverend Void thought it over, then carefully reread The Tale of the Stone. He found in it both condemnation of treachery and criticism of flattery and evil, but it was clearly not written to pass censure on the times. Moreover it surpassed other books in its voluminous accounts of benevolent princes, good ministers, kind fathers and filial sons, and all matters pertaining to proper human relations, as well as eulogies of virtuous deeds. Although the main theme was love, it was simply a true record of events, superior to those sham meretricious works devoted to licentious assignations and dissolute escapades. Since it did not touch at all on current events he copied it out from beginning to end and took it away to find a publisher.

Since all manifestations are born of nothingness and in turn give rise to passion, by describing passion for what is manifest we comprehend nothingness. So the Taoist changed his name to the Passionate Monk and changed the title of the book from The Tale of the Stone to the Record of the Passionate Monk.

Kong Meixi of eastern Lu6 suggested the title Precious Mirror of Love. Later Cao Xueqin in his Mourning-the-Red Studio pored over the book for ten years and rewrote it five times. He divided it into chapters, furnished headings for each, and renamed it The Twelve Beauties of Jinling. He also inscribed on it this verse:

Pages full of fantastic talk

Penned with bitter tears;

All men call the author mad,

None his message hears.

 

Now that the origin of the story is clear, let us see what was recorded on the Stone.

Long ago the earth dipped downwards in the southeast, and in that southeast part was a city named Gusu7; and the quarter around Changmen Gate of Gusu was one of the most fashionable centres of wealth and nobility in the world of men. Outside this Changmen Gate was a certain Ten-li Street, off which ran the Lane of Humanity and Purity; and in this lane stood an old temple, which being built in such a narrow space was known from its shape as Gourd Temple. Beside this temple lived a gentleman named Zhen Fei, whose courtesy name was Shiyin. His wife, née Feng, was a worthy virtuous woman with a strong sense of propriety and right. Although neither very rich nor noble, their family was highly regarded in that locality.

Zhen Shiyin had a quiet disposition. Instead of hankering after wealth or rank, he was quite happy tending flowers, growing bamboos, sipping wine or writing poems  spending his time very much like an immortal. One thing alone was lacking: he was now over fifty but had no son, only a three-year-old daughter named Yinglian.

One long hot summer day as Shiyin was sitting idly in his study, the book slipped from his hand and, leaning his head on the desk, he fell asleep.

In dream he travelled to an unknown place, where he suddenly noticed a monk and a Taoist approaching, talking together. He heard the Taoist ask:

Where do you mean to take that stupid object?”

Don’t worry,” replied the monk. “A love drama is about to be enacted, but not all its actors have yet been incarnated. I’ m going to slip this silly thing in among them to give it the experience it wants.”

So another batch of amorous sinners are bent on making trouble by reincarnation,” commented the Taoist. “Where will this drama take place?”

It’s an amusing story.” The monk smiled. “You’ve never heard anything like it. In the west, on the bank of the Sacred River, beside the Stone of Three Incarnations there grew a Vermilion Pearl Plant which was watered every day with sweet dew by the attendant Shen Ying in the Palace of Red Jade. As the months and years went by and the Vermilion Pearl Plant imbibed the essences of heaven and earth and the nourishment of rain and dew, it cast off its plant nature and took human form, albeit only that of a girl. All day long she roamed beyond the Sphere of Parting Sorrow, staying her hunger with the fruit Secret Love and quenching her thirst at the Sea of Brimming Grief. But her heart was heavy because she had not repaid the care lavished on her.

Just then, as it happened, Shen Ying was seized with a longing to assume human form and visit the world of men, taking advantage of the present enlightened and peaceful reign. He made his request to the Goddess of Disenchantment, who saw that this was a chance for Vermilion Pearl to repay her debt of gratitude.

“‘He gave me sweet dew,’ said Vermilion Pearl, ‘but I’ve no water to repay his kindness. If he’s going down to the world of men, I would like to go too so that if I repay him with as many tears as I can shed in a lifetime I may be able to clear this debt.’

This induced many other amorous spirits who had not atoned for their sins to accompany them and take part in this drama.”

That certainly is odd,” remarked the Taoist. “I’ve never heard of repayment with tears before. I imagine this story should have more fine points than the usual run of breeze-and-moonlight tales.”

The old romances give us only outlines of their characters’ lives with a number of poems about them,” said the monk. “We’re never told the details of their intimate family life or daily meals. Besides, most breeze-and-moonlight tales deal with secret assignations and elopements, and have never really expressed the true love between a young man and a girl. I’m sure when these spirits go down to earth, we’ll see lovers and lechers, worthy people, simpletons and scoundrels unlike those in earlier romances.

Why don’t you and I take this chance to go too and win over a few of them? That would be a worthy deed.”

Exactly what I was thinking. But first we must take this stupid object to the palace of the Goddess of Disenchantment and clear all the formalities. After all these romantic souls have gone down we can follow. So far only half of them have descended to earth.”

In that case I’m ready to go with you,” said the Taoist.

Zhen Shiyin had heard every word of their conversation but did not know what was meant by the “stupid object.” He could not resist accosting them with a bow.

Greetings, immortal masters!” he said with a smile.

When they had returned his greeting he continued: “Rare indeed is the opportunity to listen to such a discussion of cause and effects as I have just heard. But I am too dull to grasp it. If you would kindly elucidate to enlighten me, I promise to listen most attentively. For profiting by your wisdom may prove my salvation.”

This is a mystery which we cannot divulge.” The two immortals smiled. “When the time comes, think of us. Then you may be able to escape from the fiery pit.”

Shiyin could hardly press them. “I mustn’t probe into a mystery,” he said, “but could you show me that object you mentioned just now?”

If you want to know, you are destined in your life to meet with it,” said the monk.

With that he produced a beautiful piece of translucent jade and handed it to Shiyin. On the obverse were carved the words Precious Jade of Spiritual Understanding. Before Shiyin could look carefully at the columns of smaller characters on the reverse the monk snatched it away from him saying:

We’ve reached the Land of Illusion.”

He passed with the Taoist through a large stone archway on which was inscribed: Illusory Land of Great Void. A couplet on the two pillars read:

 

When false is taken for true, true becomes false;

If non-being turns into being, being becomes non-being.

 

Shiyin was starting after the two immortals when he heard a fearful crash, as if mountains had collapsed and the earth split asunder. With a cry he woke up and stared about him. There was the fiery sun still blazing down on the rustling plantain leaves. Already half of his dream had slipped his mind.

The nurse came up then with Yinglian in her arms, and it struck Shiyin that his daughter was growing prettier and more lovable every day. He picked her up and played with her for a while, then took her to the gate to watch a religious procession pass by. He was just about to go in again when a monk and a Taoist priest drew near, laughing and gibbering like two maniacs. The monk was barefooted, his head scabby; the priest, lame with tangled, tousled hair. When they reached Shiyin’s gate and saw the child in his arms, the monk burst into lamentations.

Why are you carrying that ill-fated creature, sir?” he asked. “She will bring nothing but trouble to her parents.”

Shiyin thought the man was raving and paid no attention.

Give her to me!” cried the monk. “Give her to me!”

Losing patience, Shiyin clasped his daughter more tightly and was turning to reenter the house when the monk pointed at him and let out a roar of laughter. He then declaimed:

 

Fool, to care for this tender child:

An image in the mirror, snow melting away. Beware what will follow the Lantern Feast, The vanishing like smoke when the fire burns out.”

 

Shiyin, hearing this clearly, wondered what it meant. Before he could ask, the Taoist told the monk:

This is where our paths divide. Each must go about his own business. Three aeons from now I shall wait for you at Mount Beimang, and together we can go to the Land of Illusion to have this affair expunged from the register.”

Very good,” said the monk.

Then both vanished without a trace.

Shiyin realized then that these were no ordinary men and regretted not having questioned them. His rueful reflections were cut short by the arrival of a poor scholar who lived next door in Gourd Temple. His name was Jia Hua8, his courtesy name Shifei, and his pen-name Yucun. A native of Huzhou, he was the last of a line of scholars and officials. His parents had exhausted the family property and died leaving him alone in the world. Since nothing was to be gained by staying at home, he had set out for the capital in the hope of securing a position and restoring the family fortunes. But by the time he had reached here a couple of years ago his money had run out and he had gone to live in the temple where he made a precarious living by working as a scrivener. For this reason Shiyin saw a good deal of him.

Having greeted Shiyin, Yucun asked, “What are you watching from your gate, sir? Is there any news in town?” “Nothing,” was the reply. “My little girl was crying, so I brought her out to play. You couldn’t have arrived at a better moment, as I was feeling thoroughly bored. Come in and help me while away the long summer day.”

He told a servant to take his daughter inside, and led Yucun into his study, where a boy served tea. They had not exchanged many remarks when a servant hurried in to announce the arrival of a certain Mr. Yan.

Then Shiyin excused himself, saying, “Forgive my rudeness. Do you mind waiting here for a few minutes?”

Don’t stand on ceremony, sir,” said Yucun, rising. “I am a regular guest here, I don’t mind waiting.”

So after Shiyin went to the front room Yucun passed the time by leafing through some books, until he heard a young woman coughing outside. He slipped over to the window and looked out. It was a maid picking flowers. She had uncommon features, bright eyes and graceful eyebrows, and although no great beauty she possessed considerable charm. Yucun stared at her, spell-bound.

Just as she was leaving with her flowers, the girl abruptly looked up and caught sight of him. His clothes were shabby yet he was powerfully built with an open face, firm lips, eyebrows like scimitars, eyes like stars, a straight nose and rounded cheeks. She turned away thinking to herself, “He’s a fine-looking man for all his tattered clothes. This must be the Jia Yucun my master keeps talking about, whom he’d gladly help if only he had the chance. Yes, I’m sure it’s him, our family has no other friends who are poor. No wonder my master also says he’s a man who won’t remain long in this plight.” She could not resist looking back a couple of times.

Yucun seeing this was overjoyed, thinking that she must have taken a fancy to him. He decided that she had good judgement and was one of the few who could appreciate him in his obscurity.

Presently the boy came back and let Yucun know that the guest was staying to a meal. Since this made it out of the question to wait any longer, Yucun went through a passage to the side gate and left. And after the departure of Mr. Yan, Shiyin did not trouble to invite him back.

In time the Mid-Autumn Festival came round. After the family meal, Shiyin had another table laid in his study and strolled over in the moonlight to the temple to invite Yucun over.

Ever since the Zhens’ maid had looked back that day, Yucun flattered himself that she was well-disposed to him and thought of her constantly. As he gazed at the full moon, his thoughts turned to her again and he declaimed this verse:

Not yet divined the fate in store for me,

Good reason have I for anxiety,

And so my brows are knit despondently;

But she, as she went off, looked back at me.

My shadow in the wind is all I see,

Will she by moonlight keep me company?

If sensibility were in its power

The moon should first light up the fair one’s bower.”

 

Having recited this, Yucun rumpled his hair and sighed as he reflected how far he was from realizing his ambitions. He chanted the couplet:

The jade in the box hopes to fetch a good price,

The pin in the casket longs to soar on high.”

 

He was overheard by Shiyin, who arrived just then.

I see you have high ambitions, Brother Yucun!” he joked.

Not in the least,” replied Yucun, somewhat embarrassed. “I was merely reciting some lines by a former poet. I don’t aspire so high. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

Tonight is mid-autumn, commonly known as the Festival of Reunion. It occurred to me that you might be feeling lonely in this temple, brother. I’ve prepared a little wine in my humble place and wonder if you’d condescend to share it?”

Yucun needed no urging.

You lavish too much kindness on me, sir,” he said, “Nothing would please me better.”

They went to the court in front of Shiyin’s study. Soon they had finished their tea and sat down to a collation of choice wine and delicacies. At first they sipped slowly, but their spirits rose as they talked and they began to drink more recklessly. The sound of flutes and strings could be heard from all the houses in the neighbourhood; everywhere was singing; and overhead the bright moon shone in full splendour. The two men became very merry and drained cup after cup.

Yucun, eight-tenths drunk, could not suppress his elation. He improvised a quatrain to the moon and declaimed it:

On the fifteenth the moon is full, Bathing jade balustrades with her pure light; As her bright orb sails up the sky All men on earth gaze upwards at the sight.”

 

Excellent!” cried Shiyin. “I’ve always maintained that you were cut out for great things. These lines foretell rapid advancement. Very soon you will be treading upon the clouds. Let me congratulate you.” He filled another large cup. Yucun tossed it off and then sighed.

Don’t think this is just drunken talk,” he said. “I’m sure I could acquit myself quite creditably in the examinations; but I have no money in my wallet for travelling expenses and the capital is far away. I can’t raise enough as a scrivener....”

Why didn’t you say so before?” interposed Shiyin. “I’ve often wondered about this, but since you never mentioned it I didn’t like to broach the subject. If that’s how things are, dull as I am at least I know what’s due to a friend. Luckily the Metropolitan Examinations are coming up next year. You must go as fast as you can to the capital and prove your learning in the Spring Test. I shall count it a privilege to take care of the travelling expenses and other business for you.”

He sent his boy in to fetch fifty taels of silver and two suits of winter clothes.

The nineteenth is a good day for travelling,” he continued. “You can hire a boat then and start your journey westward. How good it will be to meet again next winter after you have soared up to dizzy heights.”

Yucun accepted the silver and clothes with no more than perfunctory thanks, then said no more of the matter but went on feasting and talking. They did not part until the third watch, when Shiyin saw his friend off and returned to his room to sleep until the sun was high in the sky. Then, remembering the previous night’s business, he decided to write Yucun two letters of introduction to certain officials in the capital who might put him up.

But the servant sent to ask his friend over bought back word, “The monk says that Mr. Jia left for the capital at the fifth watch this morning. He asked the monk to tell you that scholars are not superstitious about lucky or unlucky days but like to act according to reason; so he had no time to say goodbye in person.”

This Shiyin had to accept.

 

Uneventful days pass quickly. In a flash the merry Festival of Lanterns came round and Shiyin told his servant Huo Qi to take Yinglian out to see the fireworks and ornamental lanterns. Towards midnight Huo Qi set the little girl down on a doorstep while he stepped round the corner to urinate. When he came back she had gone. He made a frantic search for her all night. And at dawn, not daring to face his master without her, he ran away to another district.

Shiyin and his wife were naturally alarmed when their daughter failed to come home. They sent search parties out, but all returned without any word of her. She was the middle-aged couple’s only child, and her loss nearly drove them distracted. They wept day and night and were tempted to take their own lives. After a month’s grief Shiyin fell ill, and then his wife. Every day they sent for doctors.

Then, on the fifteenth day of the third month, a fire broke out in Gourd Temple the monk preparing the sacrifice carelessly let a pan of oil catch fire and soon the window paper was alight. Since most of the nearby buildings had bamboo walls and were probably doomed to destruction, the flames spread from house to house until the whole street was ablaze like a flaming mountain. Soldiers and civilians tried to put out the fire, but it was beyond control. The conflagration raged for a whole night and destroyed none knew how many houses before it burned itself out. The Zhens’ home, being next to the temple, was reduced to a pile of rubble. Although they and their few servants were lucky enough to escape with their lives, poor Shiyin could do nothing but stamp his feet and sigh.

He and his wife decided then to go and live on their farm. But the last few year’s harvests had been ruined by flood and drought and the countryside was overrun by bandits who seized fields and land, giving the people no peace. The punitive expeditions by government troops only made matters worse. Finding it impossible to settle there, Shiyin had to mortgage his land and take his wife and two maids to find refuge with his father-in-law Feng Su.

Now this Feng Su, a native of Daruzhou, although only a farmer was quite comfortably off. He was not pleased by the arrival of his daughter and son-in-law in this sorry state. Fortunately Shiyin had some money left from the mortgage of his land, and he asked Feng Su to invest this for him in some estate on which he could live in future. His father-in-law tricked him, however, by pocketing half the sum and buying him some poor fields and a ramshackle cottage. As a scholar, Shiyin had no knowledge of business or farming. He struggled along for a year or two, losing money all the time, while Feng Su kept admonishing him to his face and complaining to all and sundry behind his back of his incompetence, idleness and extravagance.

To the shock Shiyin had suffered the previous year and the toll taken by his subsequent misfortunes was now added the bitter realization that he had misplaced his trust. Ageing and a prey to poverty and ill health, he began to look like a man with one foot in the grave.

He made the effort one day to find some distraction by taking a walk in the street, leaning on his cane. Suddenly a Taoist limped towards him, a seeming maniac in hemp sandals and tattered clothes, who as he came chanted:

All men long to be immortals

Yet to riches and rank each aspires;

The great ones of old, where are they now?

Their graves are a mass of briars.

All men long to be immortals,

Yet silver and gold they prize

And grub for money all their lives

Till death seals up their eyes.

All men long to be immortals

Yet dote on the wives they’ve wed,

Who swear to love their husband evermore

But remarry as soon as he’s dead.

All men long to be immortals

Yet with getting sons won’t have done.

Although fond parents are legion,

Who ever saw a really filial son?”

 

At the close of this song Shiyin stepped forward.

What was that you just chanted?” he asked. “I had the impression that it was about the vanity of all things.”

If you gathered that, you have some understanding,” the Taoist remarked. “You should know that all good things in this world must end, and to make an end is good, for there is nothing good which does not end. My song is called All Good Things Must End.”

Shiyin with his innate intelligence at once grasped the other’s mean-

mg. Putting on a smile he said, “Wait a minute, will you let me expound this song of yours?”

By all means do,” said the Taoist. Shiyin then declaimed:

 

Mean huts and empty halls

Where emblems of nobility once hung;

Dead weeds and withered trees,

Where men have once danced and sung.

 

Carved beams are swathed in cobwebs

But briar-choked casements screened again with gauze;

While yet the rouge is fresh, the powder fragrant,

The hair at the temples turns hoary for what cause?

 

Yesterday, yellow clay received white bones;

Today, red lanterns light the love-birds’ nest;

While men with gold and silver by the chest

Turn beggars, scorned by all the dispossessed.

 

A life cut short one moment makes one sight,

Who would have known it’s her turn next to die?

No matter with what pains he schools his sons.

Who knows if they will turn to brigandry?

 

A pampered girl brought up in luxury

May slip into a quarter of ill fame;

Resentment at a low official rank

May lead to fetters and a felon’s shame.

 

In ragged coat one shivered yesterday,

Today a purple robe he frowns upon;

All’s strife and tumult on the stage,

As one man ends his song the next comes on.

 

To take strange parts as home

Is folly past compare;

And all our labour in the end

Is making clothes for someone else to wear.”

 

The lame, eccentric Taoist clapped his hands. “You have hit the nail on the head,” he cried.

Let’s go,” was Shiyin’s brief reply.

He transferred the sack from the Taoist’s shoulder to his own, and then, without even calling in at his home, he strode off with the priest.

This caused a sensation in the neighbourhood and words of it soon reached Shiyin’s wife, who gave way to a storm of weeping. After consultation with her father she had a thorough search made, but there was no news of her husband. She had perforce to go back and live with her parents. Luckily she still had her two maids, and the three of them by sewing day and night helped to defray Feng Su’s expenses. For his part, grumble as he might, he had to lump it.

One day the elder of the two maids was buying some thread at the gate when she heard men shouting to clear the street, and people said the new prefect had arrived to take up office. She hid in the doorway to watch. First soldiers and runners marched past two by two. Then came a large sedan-chair in which was seated an official in a black gauze cap and red robe. The maid stared in surprise and thought: His face looks familiar. Have I seen him somewhere before? But once back in the house she thought no more of the matter.

That evening, just as they were going to bed, there came a loud knocking on the gate and a clamour of voices. Messengers from the yamen ordered Feng Su to appear for questioning by the prefect. His jaw dropped and he gaped in consternation. Did this mean fresh calamity?

To find out, read the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Lady Jia Dies in the City of Yangzhou

Leng Zixing Describes the Rong Mansion

 

 

 

 

 

A verse says:

Who can guess the outcome of a game of chess?

Incense burned out, tea drunk - it’s still in doubt.

To interpret the signs of prosperity or decline

An impartial onlooker must be sought out.

 

Rearing the hubbub at his gate, Feng Su hurried out so see what the messengers wanted.

Ask Mr. Zhen to come out,” they bawled. “Be quick about it.”

My name is Feng, not Zhen,” he answered with an ingratiating smile. “My son-in-law’s name is Zhen, but he left home a year or two ago to become a priest. Is he the man you want?”

How would we know? We’re here on the prefect’s orders. If you’re his father-in-law, you must come and clear this up with His Honour to save us another trip.”

Giving Feng Su no chance to protest they dragged him off, while his whole household trembled, not knowing what this portended.

Towards the end of the second watch he returned in the highest of spirits. Asked what had happened, he told them: “This new prefect, Jia Hua, is a native of Huzhou and an old friend of my son-in-law. When he passed our gate and saw our Jiaoxing buying thread, he supposed that Shiyin had moved his household here. He seemed very upset when I explained all that had happened. He asked after my granddaughter too and I told him she was lost on the Feast of Lanterns. ‘Never mind,’ said His Honour. ‘I’ll have a search made and I’m certain we shall find her.’ At the end of our conversation, as I was leaving, he gave me two taels of silver.”

Zhen’s wife was very moved by this. And so the night passed.

Early the next morning a messenger arrived from Jia Yucun with two packets of silver and four lengths of brocade for Mrs. Zhen as a token of gratitude. There was also a confidential letter for Feng Su asking him to persuade Mrs. Zhen to let the prefect have Jiaoxing as his secondary wife. Feng Su could hardly contain himself for joy. Eager to please the prefect, he prevailed on his daughter to agree and that very same night put Jiaoxing in a small sedan-chair and escorted her to the yamen.

We need not dwell on Yucun’s satisfaction. He gave Feng Su a hundred pieces of silver and sent Mrs. Zhen many gifts, urging her to take good care of her health while he ascertained her daughter’s whereabouts. Feng Su went home and there we can leave him.

Now Jiaoxing was the maid who had looked back at Yucun that year in Gusu, little dreaming that one casual glance could have such an extraordinary outcome. And so doubly kind was fate that within a year of marriage she bore a son; while after another half year Yucun’s wife contracted a disease and died, and then he made Jiaoxing his wife, further improving her position.

A single chance hiatus

Raised her status.

 

Yucun, after receiving Shiyin’s gift of silver that year, had left on the sixteenth for the capital. He did so well in the examinations that he became a Palace Graduate and was given a provincial appointment. He had now been promoted to this prefectship.

But although a capable administrator Yucun was grasping and ruthless, while his arrogance and insolence to his superiors made them view him with disfavour. In less than two years they found a chance to impeach him. He was accused of “ingrained duplicity, tampering with the rites and, under a show of probity, conspiring with his ferocious underlings to foment trouble in his district and make life intolerable for the local people.”

The Emperor, much incensed, sanctioned his dismissal. The arrival of this edict rejoiced the hearts of all officials in the Prefecture. But Yucun, although mortified and enraged, betrayed no indignation and went about looking as cheerful as before. After handing over his affairs he gathered together the capital accumulated during his years in office and moved his household back to his native place. Having settled them there he set off, “the wind on his back, moonlight in his sleeves,” to see the famous sights of the empire.

One day his travels again took him to Yangzhou, where he learned that the Salt Commissioner that year was Lin Hai his courtesy name was Lin Ruhai - who had come third in a previous Imperial examination and recently been promoted to the Censorate. A native of Gusu, he had now been selected by the Emperor as a Commissioner of the Salt Inspectorate. He had been little more than a month in this present post.

One of Lin Ruhai’s ancestors five generations earlier had been ennobled as a marquis. The rank had been conferred for three generations; then, as the benevolence of the present gracious Emperor far exceeded that of his noble predecessors, he had as a special favour extended it for one more generation, so that Lin Ruhai’s father had inherited the title as well. He himself however, had made his career through the examinations, for his family was cultured as well as noble. Unfortunately it was not prolific, although several branches existed, and Lin Ruhai had cousins but no brothers or sisters. Now he was in his forties and his only son had died at the age of three the previous year. He had several concubines but fate had not granted him another son, and he could not remedy this. By his wife, nee’ Jia, he had a daughter Daiyu just five years old. Both parents loved her dearly. And because she was as intelligent as she was pretty, they decided to give her a good education to make up for their lack of a son and help them forget their loss.

It so happened that Yucun had caught a chill which laid him up in his inn for a month and more. Exhausted by his illness, and short of funds, he was searching for somewhere to recuperate. Fortunately he had two old friends here who knew that the Sale Commissioner was looking for a tutor. Upon their recommendation Yucun was given the post, which provided the security he needed. He was lucky, too, to have as pupil only one small girl accompanied by two maids. Since the child was so delicate, her lessons were irregular and this meant that his duties were light.

In a twinkling another year went by and then his pupil’s mother unexpectedly fell ill and died. The little girl attended her during her illness and then went into strict mourning. Yucun considered resigning, but Lin Ruhai kept him on so as not to interrupt his daughter’s education during the period of mourning. Recently, grief had brought about a relapse in the delicate child’s health, and for days at a time she had to abandon her studies. Then Yucun, finding time hang heavy on his hands, used to take a walk after his meals when the weather was fine.

One day he strolled to the outskirts of the city to enjoy the countryside. He came to luxuriant woods and bamboo groves set among hills and interlaced by streams, with a temple half hidden among the foliage. The entrance was in ruins, the walls were crumbling. A placard above the gate bore the inscription: Temple of Perspicacity. And flanking the gate were two mouldering boards with the couplet:

 

Though plenty was left after death, he forgot to hold his hand back;

Only at the end of the road does one think of turning on to the right track.

 

Trite as the language is, this couplet has deep significance,” thought Yucun. “I’ve never come across anything like it in all the famous temples I’ve visited. There may be a story behind it of someone who has tasted the bitterness of life, some repentant sinner. I’ll go in and ask.”

But inside he found only a doddering old monk cooking gruel. Not very impressed, Yucun casually asked him a few questions. The man proved to be deaf as well as dim-witted, for his mumbled answers were quite irrelevant.

Yucun went out again in disgust and decided to improve the occasion by drinking a few cups in a village tavern. He had scarcely set foot inside the door when one of the men who was drinking there rose to his feet and accosted him with a laugh.

Fancy meeting you here!”

It was Leng Zixing, a curio-dealer whom he had met in the capital. As Yucun admired his enterprise and ability while Zixing was eager to cultivate one of the literati, they had hit it off well together and become good friends.

When did you arrive, brother?” asked Yucun cheerfully. “I’d no idea you were in these parts. What a coincidence, meeting you here.”

I went home at the end of last year and stopped here on my way back to the capital to look up an old friend. He was good enough to ask me to stay, and since I’ve no urgent business I’m breaking my journey for a couple of days. I shall go on about the middle of the month. My friend’s busy today, so I came out for a stroll and stopped here to rest. I’d no idea I’d run into you like this.”

He made Yucun sit down at his table and ordered more food and wine. Drinking slowly, they spoke of all they had done since parting.

Is there any news from the capital?” asked Yucun.

Nothing much,” replied Zixing. “But something rather curious has happened in the house of one of your noble kinsmen.”

I’ve no kinsmen in the capital. Who do you mean?”

You have the same surname even if you don’t belong to the same clan.”

Yucun asked to whom he alluded.

The Jia family of the Rong Mansion. You needn’t be ashamed of the connection.”

Oh, that family.” Yucun laughed. “To tell the truth, our clan is a very large one. Since the time of Jia Fu of the Eastern Han Dynasty its branches have multiplied until now you find Jias in every province. Impossible to keep track of them all. The Rong branch and mine are, however, on the same clan register, but they’re so grand that we’ve never claimed relationship and are gradually drifting further and further apart.”

Don’t talk like that, friend. Both the Ning and Rong branches have declined.” Zixing sighed. “They’re not what they used to be.”

How is that possible? They used to be enormous households.”

I know. It’s a long story.”

Last year when I was in Jinling,”1 said Yucun, “on my way to visit the Six Dynasty ruins I went to the Stone City and passed the gates of their old mansions. Practically the whole north side of the street is taken up by their houses, the Ning Mansion on the east and the Rong Mansion adjoining it on the west. True, there wasn’t much coming and going outside their gates, but over the wall I caught glimpses of most imposing halls and pavilions, while the trees and rockeries of the gardens behind had a flourishing, opulent look. There was nothing to suggest a house in decline.”

For a Palace Graduate you’re not very smart.” Zixing chuckled. “A centipede dies but never falls down, as the old saying goes. Although they’re not as prosperous as before, they’re still a cut above ordinary official families. Their households are increasing and their commitments are growing all the time, while masters and servants alike are so used to lording it in luxury that not one of them thinks ahead. They squander money every day and are quite incapable of economizing. Outwardly they may look as grand as ever, but their purses are nearly empty. That’s not their worst trouble, though. Who would’ve thought that each new generation of this noble and scholarly clan is inferior to the last?”

Surely,” countered Yucun in surprise, “a family so cultured and versed in etiquette knows the importance of a good upbringing? I can’t vouch for our other branches, but I’ve always heard that these two houses take great pains over the education of their sons.

It’s these two houses I’m talking about,” rejoined Zixing regretfully. “Just hear me out. The Duke of Ningguo and the Duke of Rongguo were brothers by the same mother. The Duke of Ningguo, the elder, had four sons and after his death the oldest of these, Jia Daihua, succeeded to the title. The elder of his two sons, Jia Fu, died at the age of eight or nine leaving the younger, Jia Jing, to inherit the title. But he’s so wrapped up in Taoism that he takes no interest in anything but distilling elixirs. Luckily when he was younger he had a son Jia Zhen, to whom he’s relinquished the title so that he can give all his mind to becoming an immortal; and instead of going back to his native place he’s hobnobbing with Taoist priests outside the city. Jia Zhen has a son called Rong just turned sixteen. Jia Jing washes his hands of all mundane matters, and Jia Zhen has never studied but lives for pleasure. He’s turning the Ning Mansion upside down, yet no one dares to restrain him.

Now for the Rong Mansion, where that curious business I just mentioned took place. After the death of the Duke of Rongguo, his elder son Jia Daishan succeeded to the title and married a daughter of Marquis Shi of Jinling, by whom he had two sons, Jia She and Jia Zheng. Jia Daishan has been dead for many years but his wife, Lady Dowager Shi, is still alive. Their elder son Jia She inherited the title. The younger, Jia Zheng, was so fond of studying as a child that he was his grandfather’s favourite and he hope to make a career for himself through the examinations. When Jia Daishan died, however, he left a valedictory memorial, and the Emperor out of regard for his former minister not only conferred the title on his elder son but asked what other sons there were, granted Jia Zheng an audience, and as an additional favour gave him the rank of Assistant Secretary with instructions to familiarize himself with affairs in one of the ministries. He has now risen to the rank of Under-Secretary.

Jia Zheng’s wife, Lady Wang, bore him a son called Jia Zhu who passed the district examination at fourteen, married before be was twenty and had a son, but then fell ill and died. His second child was a daughter, born strangely enough on the first day of the year. But stranger still was the birth later of a son who came into the world with a piece of clear, brilliantly coloured jade in his mouth. There are even inscriptions on the jade, Isn’t that extraordinary?”

It certainly is. The boy should have a remarkable future.”

That’s what everyone says.” Zixing smiled cynically. “And for that reason his grandmother dotes on him. On his first birthday Jia Zheng tested his disposition by setting all sorts of different objects before him to see which he would select. Believe it or not, ignoring everything else he reached out for the rouge, powder-boxes, hair ornaments and bangles! His father was furious and swore he’d grow up to be a dissolute rake. Because of this he’s not too fond of the boy, but the child’s still his grandmothers darling. He’s seven or eight now and remarkably mischievous, yet so clever you won’t find his equal in a hundred. And he says the strangest things for a child. ‘Girls are made of water, men of mud,’ he declares. ‘I feel clean and refreshed when I’m with girls but find men dirty and stinking.’ Isn’t that absurd? He’s bound later on to run after women like the very devil.”

That doesn’t follow,” put in Yucun, grown suddenly grave. “You don’t know how he’s come into the world. I suspect his father is making a mistake as well if he thinks the boy depraved. To understand him you’d need to be widely read and experienced, able to recognize the nature of things, grasp the Way and comprehend the Mystery.”

He spoke so seriously that Zixing asked him to expand on this.

All men, apart from the very good and the very bad, are much alike,” said Yucun. “The very good are born at a propitious time when the world is well governed, the very bad in times of calamity when danger threatens. Examples of the first are Yao, Shun, Yu and Tang, King Wen and King Wu, Duke Zhou and Duke Shao, Confucius and Mencius, Dong Zhongshu, Han Yu, Zhou Dunyi, the Cheng brothers, Zhang Zai, and Zhu Xi. Examples of the second are Chi You, Gong Gong, Jie, Zhou, Qin Shi Huang, Wang Mang, Cao Cao, Huan Wen, An Lushan and Qin Hui.

The good bring order to the world, the bad plunge it into confusion. The good embody pure intelligence, the true essence of heaven and earth; the bad, cruelty and perversity, the evil essence.

This is a prosperous, long-enduring reign when the world is at peace and there are many people in the court and in the countryside who are endowed with the good essences. The over-abundance of this good essence, having nowhere to go, is transformed into sweet dew and gentle breezes and scattered throughout the Four Seas.

But because there is no place under the clear sky and bright sun for the essence of cruelty and perversity, it congeals in deep caverns and in the bowels of the earth. If wafted by winds or pressed upon by clouds, it is thrown into agitation and traces of it may escape. And should these meet the pure essence, good refuses to yield to evil while evil envies good --- neither can prevail over the other. This is like wind, rain, lightning and thunder which cannot vanish into thin air or give way but must battle until they are spent. So in order to find some outlet these essences permeate human beings, who come into the world embodying both. Such people fall short of sages or perfect men, but neither are they out-and-out villains.

The pure intelligence with which they are endowed sets them above their myriad fellow creatures, but their perversity and unnatural behaviour sink them lower than other men too. Born into rich and noble families, such people will become romantic eccentrics; born into poor but cultured families, they will become high-minded scholars or recluses. Even if born into luckless and humble homes, they will never grow up into yamen runners or servants at the beck and call of the vulgar --- they’ll turn out celebrated actors or courtesans. People of this type in the past were Xu You, Tao Qian, Yuan Ji, Ji Kang and Liu Ling, the two families of Wang and Xie, Gu Kaizhi, Chen Shubao, the Tang emperor Minghuang, the Song emperor Huizong, Liu Tingzhi, Wen Tingyun, Mi Fu, Shi Yannian, Liu Yong and Qin Guan. More recent examples are Ni Zan, Tang Yin and Zhu Yunming. Then there are others like Li Guinian, Huang Fanchuo, Jing Xinmo, Zhuo Wenjun, Hongfo, Xue Tao, Cui Yingying and Zhaoyun. All of these, in their different fields, were essentially the same.”

You’re saying that such people may become princes or thieves, depending on whether they’re successful or not.”

Exactly. You don’t know yet that since my dismissal I’ve spent two years travelling through different provinces and come across one or two remarkable children. Hence my guess that this Baoyu you mentioned belongs to the same category. Let me give you an example no further away than Jinling. You know Mr. Zhen, who was principal of the Jinling Provincial College?”

Who doesn’t know him? The Zhen and Jia families are interrelated and on a very friendly footing, I’ve done business with the Zhens a number of times.

Last year when I was in Jinling,” said Yucun, “someone recommended me to the Zhens as a resident tutor. I was surprised to find their household so grand, yet it combined wealth with propriety. Posts like that are not easy to come by. But although my pupil was a beginner, he was harder to teach then a candidate for the Provincial Examination. Here’s an example of the absurd things he’d say: ‘I must have two girls as company while I study, or I can’t learn character   my brain gets muddled.’ He told his pages, ‘The word “girl” is so honourable and pure, not even the supreme Buddhist and Taoist titles can compare with it. You with your filthy mouths and stinking tongues must never violate it. Before you utter this word, mind you rinse your mouths with clear water or fragrant tea. If you don’t, your teeth will grow crooked and rip through your cheeks.’

He had a fearful temper and could be incredibly stubborn and obstreperous; but as soon as classes were over and he joined the girls he became a different person --- amiable, sensible and gentle. More than once, because of this, his father thrashed him within an inch of his life, but still that didn’t change him. When the pain became too much for him, he would start yelling, ‘Sister! Little Sister!’ Once the girls in the inner chambers teased him saying, ‘Why do you call us when you’re being beaten? Do you want us to beg you off? For shame!’ You should have heard his answer. He said, ‘The first time I called I didn’t know it would ease the pain. But then I discovered that it worked like magic. So when the pain’s worst, I keep on calling “Sister.” ’ Have you ever heard anything so ludicrous?

His grandmother indulged him so unwisely that she was often rude to his tutor or blamed her son. That’s why I resigned from that post. A boy like that is bound to lose the property he inherits and won’t benefit by the advice of teachers and friends. The pity is, all the girls in his family are admirable.”

The three girls in the Jia family aren’t bad either,” rejoined Zixing, “Jia Zheng’s elder daughter Yuanchun was chosen to be a Lady-Clerk in the palace of the heir apparent because of her goodness, filial piety and talents. The second, Yingchun, is Jia She’s daughter by a concubine. The third, Tanchun, is Jia Zheng’s daughter by a concubine. The fourth, Xichun, is the younger sister of Jia Zhen of the Ning Mansion. The Lady Dowager is so attached to these grand-daughters that she makes them study in the Rong Mansion near her, and I hear good reports of them all.”

I prefer the Zhen family’s way of giving their daughters the same sort of names as boys instead of choosing flowery names meaning Spring, Red, Fragrant, or Jade,” remarked Yucun. “How could the Jia family sink to such vulgarity?”

You don’t understand,” said Zixing. “They named the eldest girl Yuanchuns because she was born on New Year’s Day, and so the others have chun in their names too. But all the girls of the last generation had names like those of boys. For proof, look at the wife of your respected employer Mr. Lin, the sister of Jia She and Jia Zheng in the Rong Mansion. Her name, before she married, was Jia Min. If you don’t believe me, check up when you go back.”

Yucun pounded the table with a laugh. “No wonder my pupil always pronounces mm as mi and writes it with one or two strokes missing. That puzzled me, but now you’ve explained the reason. And no wonder she talks and behaves so differently from the general run of young ladies nowadays. I suspected she must have had an unusual mother. If she’s a grand-daughter of the Rong family that explains it. What a pity that her mother died last month.”

She was the youngest of four sisters, but now she’s gone too.”

Zixing sighed. “Not one of those sisters is left. It will be interesting to see what husbands they find for the younger generation.”

Yes. Just now you spoke of Jia Zheng’s son born with jade in his mouth, and mentioned a young grandson left by his elder son. What about the venerable Jia She? Has he no sons?”

After the birth of this son with the jade Jia Zheng had another by his concubine, but I know nothing about him. So he has two sons and a grandson. However, there’s no saying how they’ll turn out. Jia She has two sons as well. Jia Lian, the elder, is over twenty now. Two years ago he married a relative, the niece of Jia Zheng’s wife Lady Wang. This Jia Lian, who has bought the rank of a sub-prefect, takes no interest in books but is a smooth man of the world, so he lives with his uncle Jia Zheng and helps him to manage his domestic affairs. Since his marriage he’s been thrown into the shade by his wife, who is praised by everybody high and low. I hear she’s extremely good-looking and a clever talker. So resourceful and astute that not a man in ten thousand is a match for her.”

That bears out what I was saying. These people we’ve been discussing are probably all pervaded by mixed essences of both good and evil. They are people of similar ways.”

Never mind about good and evil,” protested Zixing. “We’ve been doing nothing but reckoning accounts for others. You must drink another cup.”

I’ve been talking so hard, I’m already slightly tipsy.”

Gossip goes well with wine. Why not drink some more?”

Yucun looked out of the window. “It’s growing late. They’ll soon be closing the city gates. Let’s stroll back and continue our conversation in town.”

With that they paid the bill. They were on the point of leaving when a voice from behind called out:

Congratulations, Brother Yucun! What are you doing here in the wilds of the country?”

Yucun turned to look. But to know who it was, you must read the chapter which follows.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Lin Ruhai Recommends a Tutor to His

Brother-in-Law

The Lady Dowager Sends for Her Motherless

Grand-Daughter

 

 

To continue. Yucun turned and saw that it was Zhang Rugui, a native of this place and his former colleague who had also been dismissed from his post for the same reason as himself, and had returned home to Yangzhou. Now there was word from the capital that a request for the reinstatement of former officials had been sanctioned, and he was busily pulling strings to find some opening. Re congratulated Yucun the instant he saw him and lost no time, once greetings had been exchanged, in telling him the good news. Yucun was naturally overjoyed, but after some hurried remarks each went his own way.

Leng Zixing, who had heard everything, at once proposed asking Lin Ruhai to enlist the support of Jia Zheng in the capital. Accepting his advice, Yucun went back alone to verify the report from the Court Gazette.

The next day he laid his case before Lin Ruhai.

What a lucky coincidence!” exclaimed Ruhai. “Since my wife’s death my mother-in-law in the capital has been worried because my daughter has no one to bring her up. She has sent two boats with male and female attendants to fetch the child, but I delayed her departure while she was unwell. I was wondering how to repay you for your goodness in teaching her: now this gives me a chance to show my appreciation. Set your mind at rest. I foresaw this possibility and have written a letter to my brother-in-law urging him to do all he can for you as a small return for what I owe you. You mustn’t worry either about any expenses that may be incurred --- I’ve made that point clear to my brother-in-law.”

Yucun bowed with profuse thanks and asked: “May I know your respected brother-in-law’s position? I fear I am too uncouth to intrude on him.”

Ruhai smiled. “My humble kinsmen belong to your honourable clan.

They’re the grandsons of the Duke of Rongguo. My elder brother-in-law Jia She, whose courtesy name is Enhou, is a hereditary general of the first rank. My second, Jia Zheng, whose courtesy name is Cunzhou, is an under-secretary in the Board of Works. He is an unassuming, generous man who takes after his grandfather. That is why I am writing to him on your behalf. If he were some purse-proud, fivolous official I’d be dishonouring your high principles, brother, and I myself would disdain to do such a thing.”

 

This confirmed what Zixing had said the previous day, and once more Yucun expressed his thanks.

I’ve chosen the second day of next month for my daughter’s departure for the capital,” continued Ruhai. “It would suit both parties, surely, if you were to travel together?”

Yucun promptly agreed with the greatest satisfaction, and took the gifts and travelling expenses which Ruhai had prepared.

His pupil Daiyu, who had just got over her illness, could hardly bear to leave her father, but she had to comply with the wishes of her grandmother.

I am nearly fifty and don’t intend to marry again,” Ruhai told her, “You’re young and delicate, with no mother to take care of you, no sister or brothers to look after you. If you go to stay with your grandmother and uncles’ girls, that will take a great load off my mind. How can you refuse?”

So parting from him in a flood of tears, she embarked with her nurse and some elderly maid-servants from the Rong Mansion, followed by Yucun and two pages in another junk.

In due course they reached the capital and entered the city. Yucun spruced himself up and went with his pages to the gate of the Rong Mansion, where he handed in his visiting-card on which he had styled himself Jia Zheng’s “nephew.”

Jia Zheng, who had received his brother-in-law’s letter, lost no time in asking him in. Yucun cut an impressive figure and was by no means vulgar in his conversation. Since Jia Zheng was well-disposed to scholars and, like his grandfather before him, delighted in honouring worthy men of letters and helping those in distress, and since moreover his brother-in-law had recommended Yucun, he treated him uncommonly well and did all in his power to help him. The same day that he presented a petition to the throne Yucun was rehabilitated and ordered to await an appointment. In less than two months he was sent to Jinling to fill the vacated post of prefect of Yingtian. Taking leave of Jia Zheng he chose a day to proceed to his new post. But no more of this.

 

To return to Daiyu. When she disembarked, a sedan-chair from the Rong Mansion and carts for her luggage were waiting in readiness. She had heard a great deal from her mother about the magnificence of her grandmother’s home; and during the last few days she had been impressed by the food, costumes and behaviour of the relatively low-ranking attendants escorting her. She must watch her step in her new home, she decided, be on guard every moment and weigh every word, so as not to be laughed at for any foolish blunder. As she was carried into the city she peeped out through the gauze window of the chair at the bustle in the streets and the crowds of people, the like of which she had never seen before.

After what seemed a long time they came to a street with two huge stone lions crouching on the north side, flanking a great triple gate with beast-head knockers, in front of which ten or more men in smart livery were sitting. The central gate was shut, but people were passing in and out of the smaller side gates. On a board above the main gate was written in large characters: Ningguo Mansion Built at Imperial Command.

Daiyu realized that this must be where the elder branch of her grandmother’s family lived.

A little further to the west they came to another imposing triple gate. This was the Rong Mansion. Instead of going through the main gate, they entered by the smaller one on the west. The bearers carried the chair a bow-shot further, then set it down at a turning and withdrew. The maidservants behind Daiyu had now alighted and were proceeding on foot. Three or four smartly dressed lads of seventeen or eighteen picked up the chair and, followed by the maids, carried it to a gate decorated with overhanging flowery patterns carved in wood. There the bearers withdrew, the maids raised the curtain of the chair, helped Daiyu out and supported her through the gate.

Inside, verandahs on both sides led to a three-roomed entrance hall in the middle of which stood a screen of marble in a red sandalwood frame. The hall gave access to the large court of the main building. In front were five rooms with carved beams and painted pillars, and on either side were rooms with covered passageways. Cages of brilliantly coloured parrots, thrushes and other birds hung under the eaves of the verandahs.

Several maids dressed in red and green rose from the terrace and hurried to greet them with smiles.

The old lady was just talking about you,” they cried. “And here you are.”

Three or four of them ran to raise the door curtain, and a voice could be heard announcing, “Miss Lin is here.”

As Daiyu entered, a silver-haired old lady supported by two maids advanced to meet her. She knew that this must be her grandmother, but before she could kowtow the old lady threw both arms around her.

Dear heart! Flesh of my child!” she cried, and burst out sobbing.

All the attendants covered their faces and wept, and Daiyu herself could not keep back her tears. When at last the others prevailed on her to stop, Daiyu made her kowtow to her grandmother. This was the Lady Dowager from the Shi family mentioned by Leng Zixing, the mother of Jia She and Jia Zheng, who now introduced the family one by one.

This,” she said, “is your elder uncle’s wife. This is your second uncle’s wife. This is the wife of your late Cousin Zhu.”

Daiyu greeted each in turn.

Fetch the girls,” her grandmother said. “They can be excused their lessons today in honour of our guest from far away.”

Two maids went to carry out her orders. And presently the three young ladies appeared, escorted by three nurses and five or six maids.

The first was somewhat plump and of medium height. Her cheeks were the texture of newly ripened lichees, her nose as sleek as goose fat. Gentle and demure, she looked very approachable.

The second had sloping shoulders and a slender waist. She was tall and slim, with an oval face, well-defined eyebrows and lovely dancing eyes. She seemed elegant and quick-witted with an air of distinction. To look at her was to forget everything vulgar.

The third was not yet fully grown and still had the face of a child.

All three were dressed in similar tunics and skirts with the same bracelets and head ornaments.

Daiyu hastily rose to greet these cousins, and after the introductions they took seats while the maids served tea. All the talk now was of Daiyu’s mother. How had she fallen ill? What medicine had the doctors prescribed? How had the funeral and mourning ceremonies been conducted? Inevitably, the Lady Dowager was most painfully affected.

Of all my children I loved your mother best,” she told Daiyu. “Now she has gone before me, and I didn’t even have one last glimpse of her face. The sight of you makes me feel my heart will break!” Again she took Daiyu in her arms and wept. The others were hard put to it to comfort her.

All present had been struck by Daiyu’s good breeding. For in spite of her tender years and evident delicate health, she had an air of natural distinction. Observing how frail she looked they asked what medicine or treatment she had been having.

I’ve always been like this,” Daiyu said with a smile. “I’ve been taking medicine ever since I was weaned. Many well-known doctors have examined me, but none of their prescriptions was any use. The year I was three, I remember being told, a scabby monk came to our house and wanted to take me away to be a nun. My parents wouldn’t hear of it. The monk said, ‘If you can’t bear to part with her she’ll probably never get well. The only other remedy is to keep her from hearing weeping and from seeing any relatives apart from her father and mother. That’s her only hope of having a quiet life.’ No one paid any attention, of course, to such crazy talk. Now I’m still taking ginseng pills.”

That’s good,” approved the Lady Dowager. “We’re having pills made, and I’ll see they make some for you.”

Just then they heard peals of laughter from the back courtyard and a voice cried:

I’m late in greeting our guest from afar!”

Daiyu thought with surprise, “The people here are so respectful and solemn, they all seem to be holding their breath. Who can this be, so boisterous and pert?”

While she was still wondering, through the back door trooped some matrons and maids surrounding a young woman. Unlike the girls, she was richly dressed and resplendent as a fairy.

Her gold-filigree tiara was set with jewels and pearls. Her hair-clasps, in the form of five phoenixes facing the sun, had pendants of pearls. Her necklet, of red gold, was in the form of a coiled dragon studded with gems. She had double red jade pendants with pea-green tassels attached to her skirt.

Her close-fitting red satin jacket was embroidered with gold butterflies and flowers. Her turquoise cape, lined with white squirrel, was inset with designs in coloured silk. Her skirt of kingfisher-blue crepe was patterned with flowers.

She had the almond-shaped eyes of a phoenix, slanting eyebrows as long and drooping as willow leaves. Her figure was slender and her manner vivacious. The springtime charm of her powdered face gave no hint of her latent formidability. And before her crimson lips parted, her laughter rang out.

Daiyu rose quickly to greet her.

You don’t know her yet.” The Lady Dowager chuckled. “She’s the terror of this house. In the south they’d call her Hot Pepper. Just call her Fiery Phoenix.”

Daiyu was at a loss how to address her when her cousins came to her rescue. “This is Cousin Lian’s wife,” they told her.

Though Daiyu had never met her, she knew from her mother that Jia Lian, the son of her first uncle Jia She, had married the niece of Lady Wang, her second uncle’s wife. She had been educated like a boy and given the school-room name Xifeng.2 Daiyu lost no time in greeting her with a smile as “cousin.”

Xifeng took her hand and carefully inspected her from head to foot, then led her back to her seat by the Lady Dowager.

Well,” she cried with a laugh, “this is the first time I’ve set eyes on such a ravishing beauty. Her whole air is so distinguished! She doesn’t take after her father, son-in-law of our Old Ancestress, but looks more like a Jia. No wonder our Old Ancestress couldn’t put you out of her mind and was for ever talking or thinking about you. But poor ill-fated little cousin, losing your mother so young!” With that she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.

I’ve only just dried my tears. Do you want to start me off again?” said the old lady playfully. “Your young cousin’s had a long journey and she’s delicate. We’ve just got her to stop crying. So don’t reopen that subject.”

Xifeng switched at once from grief to merriment. “Of course,” she cried. “I was so carried away by joy and sorrow at sight of my little cousin, I forgot our Old Ancestress. I deserve to be caned.” Taking Daiyu’s hand again, she asked, “How old are you, cousin? Have you started your schooling yet? What medicine are you taking? You mustn’t be home sick here. If you fancy anything special to eat or play with, don’t hesitate to tell me. If the maids or old nurses aren’t good to you, just let me know.”

She turned then to the servants. “Have Miss Lin’s luggage and things been brought in? How many attendants did she bring? Hurry up and clear out a couple of rooms where they can rest.”

Meanwhile refreshments had been served. And as Xifeng handed round the tea and sweetmeats, Lady Wang asked whether she had distributed the monthly allowance.

It’s finished,” was Xifeng’s answer. “Just now I took some people to the upstairs storeroom at the back to look for some brocade. But though we searched for a long time we couldn’t find any of the sort you described to us yesterday, madam. Could your memory have played you a trick?”

It doesn’t matter if there’s none of that sort,” said Lady Wang. “Just choose two lengths to make your little cousin some clothes. This evening don’t forget to send for them.”

I’ve already done that,” replied Xifeng. “Knowing my cousin would be here any day, I got everything ready. The material’s waiting in your place for your inspection. If you pass it, madam, it can be sent over.”

Lady Wang smiled and nodded her approval.

Now the refreshments were cleared away and the Lady Dowager ordered two nurses to take Daiyu to see her two uncles.

At once Jia She’s wife, Lady Xing, rose to her feet and suggested, “Won’t it be simpler if I take my niece?”

Very well,” agreed the Lady Dowager, “And there’s no need for you to come back afterwards.”

Lady Xing assented and then told Daiyu to take her leave of Lady Wang, after which the rest saw them to the entrance hall. Outside the ornamental gate pages were waiting beside a blue lacquered carriage with kingfisher-blue curtains, into which Lady Xing and her niece entered. Maids let down the curtains and told the bearers to start. They bore the carriage to an open space and harnessed a docile mule to it. They left by the west side gate, proceeded east past the main entrance of the Rong Mansion, entered a large black-lacquered gate and drew up in front of a ceremonial gate.

When the pages had withdrawn, the curtains were raised, and Lady Xing led Daiyu into the courtyard. It seemed to her that these buildings and grounds must be part of the Rong Mansion garden; for when they had passed three ceremonial gates she saw that the halls, side chambers and covered corridors although on a smaller scale were finely constructed. They had not the stately splendour of the other mansion, yet nothing was lacking in the way of trees, plants or artificial rockeries.

As they entered the central hall they were greeted by a crowd of heavily made-up and richly dressed concubines and maids. Lady Xing invited Daiyu to be seated while she sent a servant to the library to ask her husband to join them.

After a while the servant came back to report, “The master says he hasn’t been feeling too well the last few days, and meeting the young lady would only upset them both. He isn’t up to it for the time being. Miss Lin mustn’t mope or be homesick here but feel at home with the old lady and her aunts. Her cousins may be silly creatures, but they’ll be company for her and help to amuse her. If anyone is unkind to her, she must say so and not treat us as strangers.”

Daiyu had risen to her feet to listen to this message. Shortly after this she rose again to take her leave. Lady Xing insisted that she stay for the evening meal.

Thank you very much, aunt, you’re too kind,” said Daiyu. “Really I shouldn’t decline. But it might look rude if I delayed in calling on my second uncle. Please excuse me and let me stay another time.”

You’re quite right,” said Lady Xing. She told a few elderly maids to escort her niece back in the same carriage, whereupon Daiyu took her leave. Her aunt saw her to the ceremonial gate and after giving the maids some further instructions waited to see them off.

Back in the Rong Mansion, Daiyu alighted again. The nurses led her eastwards, round a corner, through an entrance hall into a hall facing south, then passed through a ceremonial gate into a large courtyard. The northern building had five large apartments and wings on either side. This was the hub of the whole estate, more imposing by far than the Lady Dowager’s quarters.

Daiyu realized that this was the main inner suite, for a broad raised avenue led straight to its gate. Once inside the hall she looked up and her eye was caught by a great blue tablet with nine gold dragons on it, on which was written in characters large as peck measures:

Hall of Glorious Felicity.

Smaller characters at the end recorded the date on which the Emperor had conferred this tablet upon Jia Yuan, the Duke of Rongguo, and it bore the Imperial seal.

On the large red sandalwood table carved with dragons an old bronze tripod, green with patina, stood about three feet high. On the wall hung a large scroll-picture of black dragons riding the waves. This was flanked by a bronze wine vessel inlaid with gold and a crystal bowl. By the walls were a row of sixteen cedar-wood armchairs; and above these hung two panels of ebony with the following couplet inset in silver:

Pearls on the dais outshine the sun and moon;

Insignia of honour in the hall blaze like iridescent clouds.

Small characters below recorded that this had been written by the Prince of Dungan, who signed his name Mu Shi and styled himself a fellow provincial and old family friend.

Since Lady Wang seldom sat in this main hall but used three rooms on the east side for relaxation, the nurses led Daiyu there.

The large kang by the window was covered with a scarlet foreign rug. In the middle were red back-rests and turquoise bolsters, both with dragon-design medallions, and a long greenish yellow mattress also with

dragon medallions. At each side stood a low table of foreign lacquer in the shape of plum-blossom. On the left-hand table were a tripod, spoons, chopsticks and an incense container; on the right one, a slender-waisted porcelain vase from the Ruzhou Kiln containing flowers then in season, as well as tea-bowls and a spittoon. Below the kang facing the west wall were four armchairs, their covers of bright red dotted with pink flowers, and with four footstools beneath them. On either side were two tables set out with teacups and vases of flowers. The rest of the room need not be described in detail.

The nurses urged Daiyu to sit on the kang, on the edge of which were two brocade cushions. But feeling that this would be presumptuous, she sat instead on one of the chairs on the east side. The maids in attendance served tea, and as she sipped it she studied them, observing that their make-up, clothes and deportment were quite different from those in other families. Before she had finished her tea in came a maid wearing a red silk coat and a blue satin sleeveless jacket with silk borders. With a smile this girl announced:

Her Ladyship asks Miss Lin to go in and take a seat over there.”

At once the nurses conducted Daiyu along the eastern corridor to a small three-roomed suite facing south. On the kang under the window was a low table laden with books and a tea-service. Against the east wall were a none too new blue satin back-rest and a bolster.

Lady Wang was sitting in the lower place by the west wall on a none too new blue satin cover with a back-rest and a bolster. She invited her niece to take the seat on the east. But guessing that this was Jia Zheng’s place, Daiyu chose one of the three chairs next to the kang, which had black-dotted antimacassars, looking none too new. Not until she had been pressed several times did she take a seat by her aunt.

Your uncle’s observing a fast today,” said Lady Wang. “You’ll see him some other time. But there’s one thing I want to tell you. Your three cousins are excellent girls, and I’m sure you’ll find them easy to get on with during lessons, or when you’re learning embroidery or playing together. Just one thing worries me: that’s my dreadful son, the bane of my life, who torments us all in this house like a real devil. He’s gone to a temple today in fulfilment of a vow, but you’ll see what he’s like when he comes back this evening. Just pay no attention to him. None of your cousins dare to provoke him.”

Daiyu’s mother had often spoken of this nephew born with a piece of jade in his mouth, his wild ways, aversion to study and delight in playing about in the women’s apartments. Apparently he was so spoiled by his grandmother that no one could control him. She knew Lady Wang must be referring to him.

Does aunt mean my elder cousin with the jade in his mouth?” she asked with a smile. “Mother often spoke of him. I know he’s a year older than me, his name is Baoyu, and for all his pranks he’s very good to his girl cousins. But how can I provoke him? I’ll be spending all my time with the other girls in a different part of the house while our boy cousins are in the outer courtyards.”

You don’t understand,” replied Lady Wang with a laugh. “He’s not like other boys. Because the old lady’s always doted on him, he’s used to being spoilt with the girls. If they ignore him he keeps fairly quiet though he feels bored. He can always work off his temper by scolding some of his pages. But if the girls give him the least encouragement, he’s so elated he gets up to all kinds of mischief. That’s why you mustn’t pay any attention to him. One moment he’s all honey-sweet; the next, he’s rude and recalcitrant; and in another minute he’s raving like a lunatic. You can’t take him seriously.”

As Daiyu promised to remember this, a maid announced that dinner was to be served in the Lady Dowager’s apartments. Lady Wang at once led her niece out of the back door, going west along a corridor and through a side gate to a broad road running from north to south. On the south side was a dainty three-roomed annex facing north; on the north a big screen wall painted white, behind which was a small door leading to an apartment.

That’s where your cousin Xifeng lives.” Lady Wang pointed out the place. “So next time you know where to find her. If you want anything just let her know.”

By the gate several young pages, their hair in tufts, stood at attention. Lady Wang led Daiyu through an entrance hall running from east to west into the Lady Dowager’s back courtyard. Stepping through the back door, they found quite a crowd assembled who, as soon as they saw Lady Wang, set tables and chairs ready. Jia Zhu’s widow, Li Wan, served the rice while Xifeng put out the chopsticks and Lady Wang served the soup.

The Lady Dowager was seated alone on a couch at the head of the table with two empty chairs on each side. Xifeng took Daiyu by the hand to make her sit in the first place on the left, but she persistently declined the honour.

Your aunt and sisters-in-law don’t dine here,” said her grandmother with a smile. “Besides, you’re a guest today. So do take that seat.”

With a murmured apology, Daiyu obeyed. The Lady Dowager told Lady Wang to sit down; then Yingchun and the two other girls asked leave to be seated, Yingchun first on the right, Tanchun second on the left, and Xichun second on the right. Maids held ready dusters, bowls for rinsing the mouth and napkins, while Li Wan and Xifeng standing behind the diners plied them with food.

Although the outer room swarmed with nurses and maids, not so much as a cough was heard. The meal was eaten in silence. And immediately after, tea was brought in on small trays. Now Lin Ruhai had taught his daughter the virtue of moderation and the harm caused to the digestive system by drinking tea directly after a meal. But many customs here were different from those in her home. She would have to adapt herself to these new ways. As she took the tea, however, the rinse-bowls were proffered again, and seeing the others rinse their mouths she followed suit. After they had washed their hands tea was served once more, this time for drinking.

You others may go,” said the Lady Dowager now. “I want to have a chat with my grand-daughter.”

Lady Wang promptly rose and after a few remarks led the way out, followed by Li Wan and Xifeng. Then her grandmother asked Daiyu what books she had studied.

I’ve just finished the Four Books,” said Daiyu. “But I’m very ignorant.” Then she inquired what the other girls were reading.

They only know a very few characters, not enough to read any books.”

The words were hardly out of her mouth when they heard footsteps in the courtyard and a maid came in to announce, “Baoyu is here.”

Daiyu was wondering what sort of graceless scamp or little dunce Baoyu was and feeling reluctant to meet such a stupid creature when, even as the maid announced him, in he walked.

He had on a golden coronet studded with jewels and a golden chaplet in the form of two dragons fighting for a pearl. His red archer’s jacket, embroidered with golden butterflies and flowers, was tied with a coloured tasselled palace sash. Over this he wore a turquoise fringed coat of Japanese satin with a raised pattern of flowers in eight bunches. His court boots were of black satin with white soles.

His face was as radiant as the mid-autumn moon, his complexion fresh as spring flowers at down. The hair above his temples was as sharply outlined as if cut with a knife. His eyebrows were as black as if painted with ink, his cheeks as red as peach-blossom, his eyes bright as autumn ripples. Even when angry he seemed to smile, and there was warmth in his glance even when he frowned.

Round his neck he had a golden torque in the likeness of a dragon, and a silk cord of five colours, on which hung a beautiful piece of jade.

His appearance took Daiyu by surprise. “How very strange!” she thought. “It’s as if I’d seen him somewhere before. He looks so familiar.”

Baoyu paid his respects to the Lady Dowager and upon her instructions went to see his mother.

He returned before long, having changed his clothes. His short hair in small plaits tied with red silk was drawn up on the crown of his head and braided into one thick queue as black and glossy as lacquer, sporting four large pearls attached to golden pendants in the form of the eight precious things. His coat of a flower pattern on a bright red ground was not new, and he still wore the torque, the precious jade, a lock-shaped amulet containing his Buddhistic name, and a lucky charm. Below could be glimpsed light green flowered satin trousers, black-dotted stockings with brocade borders, and thick-soled scarlet shoes.

His face looked as fair as if powdered, his lips red as rouge. His glance was full of affection, his speech interspersed with smiles. But his natural charm appeared most in his brows, for his eyes sparkled with a world of feeling. However, winning as his appearance was, it was difficult to tell what lay beneath.

Someone subsequently gave an admirable picture of Baoyu in these two verses written to the melody of The Moon over the West River:

Absurdly he courts care and melancholy

And raves like any madman in his folly;

For though endowed with handsome looks is he,

His heart is lawless and refractory.

Too dense by far to understand his duty,

Too stubborn to apply himself to study,

Foolhardy in his eccentricity,

He’s deaf to all reproach and obloquy.

Left cold by riches and nobility,

Unfit to bear the stings of poverty,

He wastes his time and his ability,

Failing his country and his family.

First in this world for uselessness is he,

Second to none in his deficiency.

Young fops and lordlings all, be warned by me:

Don’t imitate this youth’s perversity!

With a smile at Baoyu, the Lady Dowager scolded, “Fancy changing your clothes before greeting our visitor. Hurry up now and pay your respects to your cousin.”

Of course, Baoyu had seen this new cousin earlier on and guessed that she was the daughter of his Aunt Lin. He made haste to bow and, having greeted her, took a seat. Looking at Daiyu closely, he found her different from other girls.

Her dusky arched eyebrows were knitted and yet not frowning, her speaking eyes held both merriment and sorrow; her very frailty had charm. Her eyes sparkled with tears, her breath was soft and faint. In repose she was like a lovely flower mirrored in the water; in motion, a pliant willow swaying in the wind. She looked more sensitive than Bi Gan4, more delicate than Xi Shi.

I’ve met this cousin before,” he declared at the end of his scrutiny.

You’re talking nonsense again,” said his grandmother, laughing.

How could you possibly have met her?”

Well, even if I haven’t, her face looks familiar. I feel we’re old friends meeting again after a long separation.”

So much the better.” The Lady Dowager laughed. “That means you’re bound to be good friends.”

Baoyu went over to sit beside Daiyu and once more gazed fixedly at her.

Have you done much reading, cousin?” he asked.

No,” said Daiyu. “I’ve only studied for a couple of years and learned a few characters.”

What’s your name?”

She told him.

And your courtesy name?”

I have none.

I’ll give you one then,” he proposed with a chuckle. “What could be better than Pinpin?”

Where’s that from?” put in Tanchun.

The Compendium of Men and Objects Old and New says that in the west is a stone called dai which can be used instead of graphite for painting eyebrows. As Cousin Lin’s eyebrows look half knit, what could be more apt than these two characters?”

You’re making that up, I’m afraid,” teased Tanchun.

Most works, apart from the Four Books, are made up; am I the only one who makes things up?” he retorted with a grin. Then, to the mystification of them all, he asked Daiyu if she had any jade.

Imagining that he had his own jade in mind, she answered, “No, I haven’t. I suppose it’s too rare for everybody to have.”

This instantly threw Baoyu into one of his frenzies. Tearing off the jade he flung it on the ground.

What’s rare about it?” he stormed. “It can’t even tell good people from bad. What spiritual understanding has it got? I don’t want this nuisance either.”

In consternation all the maids rushed forward to pick up the jade while the Lady Dowager in desperation took Baoyu in her arms.

You wicked monster!” she scolded. “Storm at people if you’re in a passion. But why should you throw away that precious thing your life depends on?”

His face stained with tears, Baoyu sobbed, “None of the girls here has one, only me. What’s the fun of that? Even this newly arrived cousin who’s lovely as a fairy hasn’t got one either. That shows it’s no good.”

She did have one once,” said the old lady to soothe him. “But when your aunt was dying and was unwilling to leave her, the best she could do was to take the jade with her instead. That was like burying the living with the dead and showed your cousin’s filial piety. It meant, too, that now your aunt’s spirit can still see your cousin. That’s why she said she had none, not wanting to boast about it. How can you compare with her? Now put it carefully on again lest your mother hears about this.”

She took the jade from one of the maids and put it on him herself. And Baoyu, convinced by her tale, let the matter drop.

Just then a nurse came in to ask about Daiyu’s quarters.

Move Baoyu into the inner apartment of my suite,” said his grandmother. “Miss Lin can stay for the time being in his Green Gauze Lodge. Once spring comes, we’ll make different arrangements.”

Dear Ancestress!” coaxed Baoyu. “Let me stay outside Green Gauze Lodge. I’ll do very well on that bed in the outer room. Why should I move over and disturb you?”

After a moment’s reflection the Lady Dowager agreed to this. Each would be attended by a nurse and a maid, while other attendants were on night duty outside. Xifeng had already sent round a flowered lavender curtain, satin quilts and embroidered mattresses.

Daiyu had brought with her only Nanny Wang, her old wet-nurse, and ten-year-old Xueyan, who had also attended her since she was a child. Since the Lady Dowager considered Xueyan too young and childish and Nanny Wang too old to be of much service, she gave Daiyu one of her own personal attendants, a maid of the second grade called Yingge. Like Yingchun and the other young ladies, in addition to her own wet-nurse Daiyu was given four other nurses as chaperones, two personal maids to attend to her toilet and five or six girls to sweep the rooms and run errands.

Nanny Wang and Yingge accompanied Daiyu now to Green Gauze Lodge, while Baoyu’s wet-nurse, Nanny Li, and his chief maid Xiren made ready the big bed for him in its outer room.

Xiren, whose original name was Zhenzhu, had been one of the Lady Dowager’s maids. The old lady so doted on her grandson that she wanted to make sure he was well looked after and for this reason she gave him her favourite, Xiren, a good, conscientious girl. Baoyu knew that her surname was Hua7 and remembered a line of poetry which ran, “the fragrance of flowers assails men.” So he asked his grandmother’s permission to change her name to Xiren.

Xiren’s strong point was devotion. Looking after the Lady Dowager she thought of no one but the Lady Dowager, and after being assigned to Baoyu she thought only of Baoyu. What worried her, though, was that he was too headstrong to listen to her advice.

That night after Baoyu and Nanny Li were asleep, Xiren noticed that Daiyu and Yingge were still up in the inner room. She tiptoed in there in her night clothes and asked:

Why aren’t you sleeping yet, miss?”

Please sit down, sister,” invited Daiyu with a smile.

Xiren sat on the edge of the bed.

Miss Lin has been in tears all this time, she’s so upset,” said Yingge. “The very day of her arrival, she says, she’s made our young master fly into a tantrum. If he’d smashed his jade she would have felt to blame. I’ve been trying to comfort her.”

Don’t take it to heart,” said Xiren. “I’m afraid you’ll see him carrying on even more absurdly later. If you let yourself be upset by his behaviour you’ll never have a moment’s peace. Don’t be so sensitive.”

I’ll remember what you’ve said,” promised Daiyu. “But can you tell me where that jade of his came from, and what the inscription on it is?”

Xiren told her, “Not a soul in the whole family knows where it comes from. It was found in his mouth, so we hear, when he was born, with a hole for a cord already made in it. Let me fetch it here to show you.”

But Daiyu would not hear of this as it was now late. “I can look at it tomorrow,” she said.

After a little more chat they went to bed.

The next morning, after paying her respects to the Lady Dowager, Daiyu went to Lady Wang’s apartments. She found her and Xifeng discussing a letter from Jinling. With them were two maid-servants who had brought a message from the house of Lady Wang’s brother.

Daiyu did not understand what was going on, but Tanchun and the others knew that they were discussing Xue Pan, the son of Aunt Xue in Jinling. Presuming on his powerful connections, he had had a man beaten to death and was now to be tried in the Yingtian prefectural court. Lady Wang’s brother Wang Ziteng, having been informed of this, had sent these messengers to the Rong Mansion to urge them to invite the Xue family to the capital. But more of this in the next chapter.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

An Ill-Fated Girl Meets an ill-Fated Man

A Confounded Monk Ends a Confounded Case

 

 

 

 

       To resume. Daiyu and the other girls found Lady Wang discussing family affairs with messengers sent by her brother, and heard that her sister’s son was involved in a murder case. Since she was so occupied, the girls called on Li Wan.

       Li Wan was the widow of Jia Zhu who had died young, but luckily she had a son, Jia Lan, just five and already in school. Her father, Li Shouzhong, a notable of Jinling, had served as a Libationer in the Imperial College. All the sons and daughters of his clan had been devoted to the study of the classics. When he became head of the family, however, in the belief that “an unaccomplished woman is a virtuous woman,” instead of making his daughter study hard he simply had her taught enough to read a few books such as the Four Books for Girls, Biographies of Martyred Women, and Lives of Exemplary Ladies so that she might remember the deeds of worthy women of earlier dynasties while devoting her main attention to weaving and household tasks. That was why he gave her the name Li Wan1 and the courtesy name Gongcai.

       So this young widow living in the lap of luxury was no better off than withered wood or cold ashes, taking no interest in the outside world. Apart from waiting on her elders and looking after her son, all she did was to accompany the girls at their embroidery or reading.

       Though Daiyu was only a guest here, with cousins like these to keep her company she felt completely at home, except for worrying sometimes about her father.

       But to return to Jia Yucun. No sooner had he taken up his post as prefect of Yingtian than a charge of murder was brought to his court. It was a case of two parties claiming to have purchased the same slave girl, neither willing to give way, and in consequence one of them had been beaten to death. Yucun summoned the plaintiff for questioning.

       “The murdered man was my master,” the plaintiff testified. “He bought a slave girl not knowing that she’d been kidnapped and paid for her in silver. Our master said he’d take her home three days later because that would be a lucky day. Then the kidnapper sold her on the sly to the Xue family. When we found this out, we went to him to demand the girl. But the Xues lord it in Jinling with their money and powerful backing. A pack of their thugs beat my master to death, after which the murderers, master and men, disappeared without a trace, leaving here only a few people who weren’t involved. I lodged a charge a year ago, but nothing came of it. I beg Your Honour to arrest the criminals, punish the evil-doers and help the widow and orphan. Then both the living and the dead will be everlastingly grateful!”

       “This is a scandal!” fumed Yucun. “How can men commit a murder and go scot-free?”

       He was about to order his runners to arrest the criminals’ relatives for interrogation, in order to find out the murderers’ whereabouts and issue warrants for their arrest, when an attendant standing by his table shot him a warning glance. Then Yucun refrained and left the court in some bewilderment.

       Back in his private office he dismissed everyone but the attendant, who went down on one knee in salute, then said with a smile:

       “Your Honour has risen steadily in the official world. After eight or nine years, do you still remember me?”

       “Your face looks very familiar, but I can’t place you.”

      The attendant smiled. “High officials have short memories,” he said. “So you’ve forgotten the spot you started from, Your Honour, and what happened in Gourd Temple?”

       At this disconcerting remark, the past came back to Yucun like the crash of a thunder-bolt. Now this attendant had been a novice in Gourd Temple. When the fire left him stranded he decided that work in a yamen would be easier and, having had enough of monastic austerity, instead of going to another temple he had taken advantage of his youth to grow his hair again and get this post. No wonder Yucun had failed to recognize him.

       Now, taking his hand, the prefect observed with a smile: “So we are old acquaintances.”

       He invited him to take a seat, but the attendant declined the honour.

       “We were friends in the days when I was hard up,” said Yucun. “Besides, this is my private office. As we are going to have a good talk, how can you remain standing all the time?”

       Then, deferentially, the attendant perched sideways on the edge of a chair. And Yucun asked why he had stopped him from issuing the warrants.

       “Now that Your Honour’s come to this post,” said the attendant, “surely you’ve copied out the Officials’ Protective Charm for this province?”

       “Officials’ Protective Charm? What do you mean?”

       “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it? In that case you won’t keep your job long. All local officials nowadays keep a secret list of the most powerful, wealthy and high-ranking families in their province. Each province has such a list. Because if unknowingly you offend one of these families, you may lose not only your post but your life as well. That’s why it’s called a Protective Charm. This Xue family mentioned just now is one Your Honour can’t afford to offend. There’s nothing difficult about this case, but out of deference to them it was never settled by your predecessor.”

       With that he took a hand-written copy of the Officials’ Protective Charm from his pocket and handed it to Yucun. It was a doggerel catalogue of the most notable families in that district with notes on their ancestry, ranks and family branches. It started off:

The Jinling Jias,

If truth be told,

Have halls of jade,

Stables of gold.

Twenty branches descended from the Duke of Ningguo and the Duke of Rongguo. Apart from eight branches in the capital, there are twelve branches in their ancestral district.

Vast 0 Pang Palace,

Fit for a king,

Isn’t fine enough

For the Shis of Jinling.

Twenty branches descended from Marquis Shi of Baoling, Prime Minister. Ten in the capital, ten in the ancestral district.

If the Dragon King wants

A white jade bed,

He applies to the Wangs

Of Jinling, it’s said.

Twelve branches descended from Earl Wang the High Marshal. Two in the capital, the rest in the ancestral district.

The Xues in their affluence

Are so rich and grand,

Gold is like iron to them

And pearls like sand.

Eight branches descended from Lord Xue, Imperial Secretary, Now in charge of the Treasury.

 

       Before Yucun could finish reading the list, a chime sounded at the gate and a certain Mr. Wang was announced. Putting on his official robes and cap again, he went to receive the caller, coming back in the time it takes for a meal to ask for more information.

       “These four families are all closely connected,” said the attendant, “Injure one and you injure them all, honour one and you honour them all. They help each other and cover up for each other. This Xue charged with murder is one of the Xues on that list. Not only can he count on the support of those three other families, he has plenty of influential friends and relatives both in the capital and in the provinces. So whom is Your Honour going to arrest?”

       “If that’s so, how are we to settle the case?” asked Yucun. “I take it you know the murderer’s hiding-place?”

       “I won’t keep it from Your Honour.” The attendant grinned. “I know not only where the murderer has gone. I know the kidnapper who sold the girl, and I knew the poor devil who bought her. Let me put all the facts before you.

       “The man who was killed, Feng Yuan, was the son of one of the minor local gentry. Both his parents died when he was young and he had no brothers; he lived as best he could on his small property. Up to the age of eighteen or nineteen he was a confirmed queer and took no interest in women. But then, no doubt as retribution for entanglements in a former life, he ran into this kidnapper and no sooner set eyes on this girl than he fell for her and made up his mind to buy her for his concubine. He swore to have no more to do with men and to take no other wife. That was why he insisted on her coming to him three days later. Who was to know that the kidnapper would sell her on the sly to the Xues, meaning to abscond with the payment from both parties? Before he could get away with this, they nabbed him and beat him within an inch of his life. Both refused to take back their money --- both wanted the girl. Then young Xue, who will never give an inch to anyone, ordered his men to beat Feng Yuan into a pulp. Three days after being carried home he died.

       “Young Xue had already fixed on a day to set off for the capital. But happening to see this girl two days before leaving he decided to buy her and take her along, not knowing the trouble that would come of it. Then, having killed a man and carried off a girl, he set off with his household as if nothing had happened, leaving his clansmen and servants here to settle the business. A trifling matter like taking a man’s life wouldn’t frighten him away. So much for him. But do you know who the girl is?”

       “How could I know?”

She’s by way of being Your Honour’s benefactress.” The attendant sniggered. “She’s Yinglian, the daughter of Mr. Zhen who lived next to Gourd Temple.”

       “Well!” exclaimed Yucun in astonishment. “So that’s who she is! I heard that she was kidnapped when she was five. Why didn’t they sell her before?”

       “Kidnappers of this type make a point of stealing small girls. They bring them up somewhere out of the way until they’re eleven or twelve, then take them elsewhere to sell according to their looks. We used to play with Yinglian every day. Although seven or eight years have passed and she’s now a good-looking girl of twelve or thirteen, her features haven’t

changed and anyone who knew her can easily recognize her. Besides, she had a red birthmark the size of a grain of rice between her eyebrows, which makes me quite sure it’s her.

       “As the kidnapper happened to rent rooms from me, one day when he was away I asked her outright. She’d been beaten so much she was afraid to talk; she just insisted that he was her father, selling her to clear his debts. When I tried repeatedly to wheedle it out of her, she burst into tears and said she didn’t remember a thing about her childhood. So there’s no doubt. It’s her, all right.

       “The day that young Feng met her and paid down his silver, the kidnapper got drunk. Then Yinglian sighed, ‘At last my trials are over!’ She started worrying again, though, when she heard Feng wouldn’t be fetching her for three days. I was so sorry for her that as soon as the kidnapper went out I sent my wife to cheer her up.

       “My wife told her: ‘Mr. Feng’s insistence on waiting for a lucky days is proof that he won’t be treating you like a servant. Besides, he’s a very fine gentleman, quite well-to-do, who never could abide women in the past, yet now he’s paid a fancy price for you. That all goes to show you’re quite safe. Just be patient for two or three days. You’ve no reason to worry.’

       “She perked up a bit then, believing that she’d soon have a place where she belonged. But this world is full of disappointments: the very next day she was sold to the Xues. Any other family wouldn’t have been so bad; but this young Xue, otherwise known as the Stupid Tyrant, is the most vicious ruffian alive, who throws money about like dirt. He started a big fight and then dragged her off by force more dead than alive. What’s become of her since, I don’t know.

       “Feng Yuan dreamed of happiness, but instead of finding it he lost his life. Wretched luck, wasn’t it?”

       “This was retribution, no accident,” replied Yucun with a sigh. “Otherwise, why should Feng Yuan have taken a fancy to Yinglian and no one else? As for her, after being knocked about all those years by the kidnapper she at last saw a way out with a man who loved her, and if she’d married him all would have been well; but then this had to happen! Of course, Xue’s family is richer than Feng’s, but a profligate like Xue Pan is sure to have troops of maids and concubines and to be thoroughly debauched — he could never be as true to one girl as Feng Yuan. So this romance was an empty dream, a chance encounter between an ill-fated young couple. Well, enough of that. What’s the best way to settle this case?”

       “Your Honour used to be shrewd enough in the past,” said the attendant with a smile. “What’s made you so short of ideas today? I heard that your appointment was due to the good offices of the Jias and Wangs, and this Xue is related to the Jias by marriage. So why not sail with the stream and do them a good turn, settling this case in such a way that you can face them in future?”

       “There’s much in what you say. But a man’s life is involved. Moreover, I’ve been re-instated by the Emperor’s favour and am in fact beginning a new life. I should be doing my utmost to show my gratitude. How can I flout the law for private considerations? I really can’t bring myself to do such a thing.”

       The attendant sneered: “Your Honour is right, of course. But that won’t get you anywhere in the world today. Remember the old sayings: ‘A gentleman adapts himself to circumstances’ and ‘The superior man is one who pursues good fortune and avoids disaster. If you do as you just said, not only will you be unable to repay the Emperor’s trust, you may endanger your own life into the bargain. Better think it over carefully.”

       Yucun lowered his head. After a long silence he asked: “What do you suggest?”

       “I’ve thought of a very good plan,” said the attendant. “It’s this. When Your Honour tries the case tomorrow, make a great show of sending out writs and issuing warrants. Of course the murderer won’t be forthcoming and the plaintiff will press his case; then you can arrest some of Xue’s clansmen and servants for interrogation. Behind the scenes I’ll fix things so that they report Xue Pan’s ‘death by sudden illness,’ and we’ll get his clan and the local authorities to testify to this.

       “Then Your Honour can claim to be able to consult spirits through the planchette. Have one set up in the court and invite both military and civilians to come and watch. You can say: The spirit declares that Xue Pan and Feng Yuan were enemies in a former existence who were fated to clash in order to settle scores; that, hounded by Feng Yuan’s ghost, Xue Pan has perished of some mysterious disease; that since this trouble was caused by the man who kidnapped the girl with such-and-such a name, he must be dealt with according to the law, but no one else is involved… and so on and so forth.

       “I’ll see to it that the kidnapper makes a full confession, and when the spirit’s message confirms this, people will be convinced.

       “The Xues are rolling in money. You can make them pay a thousand or five hundred taels for Feng Yuan’s funeral expenses. His relatives are insignificant people, and all they’re out for is money. So the silver will shut their mouths.

       “What does Your Honour think of this scheme of mine?”

       “Impossible,” Yucun laughed. “I shall have to think this over carefully in order to suppress idle talk.”

       Their consultation lasted late into the afternoon.

       The next day a number of suspects were summoned to court and Yucun cross-examined them carefully. He found that the Feng family was indeed a small one and just out for more money for the funeral, but the case had been confused and left unsettled because of the stubborn Xues’ powerful connections.

       So Yucun twisted the law to suit his own purpose and passed arbitrary judgement. The Fengs received a large sum for funeral expenses and made no further objections.

       Once the case was settled Yucun lost no time in writing to Jia Zheng and Wang Ziteng. Commander-in-Chief of the Metropolitan Garrison, to inform them that the charge against their worthy nephew was dropped and they need not worry about it any longer. All this was due to the attendant who had been a novice in Gourd Temple, but Yucun, dismayed by the thought that this man might disclose certain facts about the days when he was poor and humble, later found some fault with him and had him exiled to a distant region.

       Let us return now to young Xue, who had bought Yinglian and had Feng Yuan beaten to death. He came of a scholarly Jinling family, but having lost his father while still a child he was thoroughly spoiled by his mother as the only son and heir, with the result that he grew up good for nothing. For they were millionaires, in receipt of an income from the State Treasury as Purveyors for the Imperial Household.

       Young Xue’s name was Pan, his courtesy name Wenqi, and since the age of five or six he had shown himself extravagant in his habits and insolent in his speech. At school he merely learned a few characters, spending all his time on cockfights, riding or pleasure trips. Although a Court Purveyor, he knew nothing of business or worldly affairs but prevailed on his grandfather’s old connections to find him a well-paid sine-cure in the Board of Revenue and left all business to his agents and old family servants.

       His widowed mother, née Wang, was the younger sister of Wang Ziteng, Commander-in-Chief of the Metropolitan Garrison, and the sister of Lady Wang, wife of Jia Zheng of the Rong Mansion. She was about forty years of age and Xue Pan was her only son. But she also had a daughter two years younger whose infant name was Baochai, a beautiful, dainty girl of great natural refinement. While her father was still alive he made her study, and she turned out ten times better than her brother. However, after her fathers death it was so clear that Xue Pan would prove no comfort to their mother that Baochai gave up her studies and devoted herself to needlework and the household management, so as to share her mother’s burden and cares.

       Recently, to honour culture, encourage propriety and search out talent, in addition to selecting consorts and ladies-in-waiting the Emperor in his infinite goodness had made the Board compile a list of the daughters of ministers and noted families from whom to choose virtuous and gifted companions for the princesses in their studies.

       Moreover, since the death of Xue Pan’s father, all the managers and assistants in the Purveyor’s offices of different provinces had taken advantage of his youth and inexperience to start swindling, and even the business in the various family shops in the capital was gradually falling off.

       Thus Xue Pan, who had long heard of the splendours of the capital, now had three pretexts for a visit to it: First, to escort his sister there for the selection; secondly, to see his relatives; and thirdly, to clear his accounts and decide on further outlay. His real reason, of course, was to see the sights of the great metropolis.

       He had long since packed his luggage and valuables and prepared local specialities of every kind as gifts for relatives and friends. An auspicious day for departure had just been chosen when he met the kidnapper who was selling Yinglian and, struck by her good looks, promptly purchased her. When Feng Yuan demanded her back. Xue Pan relying on his powerful position ordered his bullies to beat the young man to death. Then entrusting the family affairs to some clansmen and old servants, he left with his mother and sister. To him a murder charge was just a trifle which could easily be settled with some filthy lucre.

       After some days on the road they were approaching the capital when word came of the promotion of his uncle Wang Ziteng to the post of Commander-in-Chief of Nine Provinces with orders to inspect the borders.

       Xue Pan told himself gleefully, “I was just thinking what a bore it would be to have an uncle cramping my style in the capital. Now he’s been upgraded and is leaving. It shows Heaven is kind.”

       He suggested to his mother, “Although we have some houses in the capital, none of us has lived there for ten years or more and the caretakers may have rented them out. Let’s send someone on ahead to have one cleaned up.”

       “Why go to such trouble?” she asked. “When we arrive, we should first call on relatives and friends. We can stay with your uncle or aunt. Both of them have plenty of space. Wouldn’t it be simpler to put up there first and take our time over opening up other houses?”

       “But uncle’s just been promoted and is going to the provinces, so his place is bound to be upside down. If we descend on him like a swarm of bees, it will look most inconsiderate.”

       “Your uncle may be leaving for his new post, but there’s still your aunt’s house. They’ve written year after year inviting us to visit the capital. Now that we’re here and your uncle’s getting ready to leave, your Aunt Jia is sure to press us to stay there. It will appear very strange to them if we’re in such a rush to open up one of our own houses.

       “I know what you’re after. You’re afraid of being under restraint if

you stay with your uncle or aunt. You’d prefer to be on your own, free to do as you please. In that case, go and find yourself some lodgings. I’ve been parted all these years from your aunt and we old sisters want to spend a little time together. I shall take your sister there with me. Have you any objection to that?”

       Realizing that he could not talk his mother round, Xue Pan had perforce to order his servants to make straight for the Rong Mansion.

       Meanwhile Lady Wang, who had learned with relief of the dismissal, thanks to Yucun, of the charge against Xue Pan, had been dismayed again by her brother’s promotion to a frontier post, for this confronted her with the lonely prospect of having none of her own family to visit. But a few days later a servant suddenly announced that her sister had brought her son and daughter and whole household to the capital, and they were just alighting outside the gate.

       In her joy, Lady Wang hurried out to the reception hail with her daughter and daughter-in-law to greet the whole party and conduct them inside. We need not dwell on the mingled delight and sorrow of these two sisters meeting again in the evening of life or all their tears, laughter and reminiscences.

       Lady Wang took them in to pay their respects to the Lady Dowager, and they distributed the gifts they had brought. When the entire family had been introduced, a feast of welcome was spread for the travellers. And after Xue Pan had paid his respects to Jia Zheng, Jia Lian took him over to call on Jia She and Jia Zhen.

       Then Jia Zheng sent a message to his wife saying. “My sister-in-law has seen many springs and autumns, and my nephew is young and inexperienced. He may get into some scrapes if they live outside. The ten rooms and more in Pear Fragrance Court in the northeast corner of our grounds are empty. Let us have them swept clean and ask your sister and her children to stay there.”

       Before Lady Wang could extend this invitation, the Lady Dowager also sent to urge, “Do invite your sister to stay here, so that we can all be close together.”

       Aunt Xue was only too glad to comply so as to have some check on her son, who was likely to get up to fresh mischief if they lived outside. She promptly accepted with thanks and in private intimated to Lady Wang that, if she was to make a long stay, she must be allowed to defray all her household’s daily expenses. Lady Wang knew that this presented no difficulty for the Xue family, and therefore agreed. So Aunt Xue and her children moved into Pear Fragrance Court.

       This court where the Duke of Rongguo had spent his declining years was small but charming, its dozen or so rooms including a reception hail in front and the usual sleeping quarters and offices behind. It had its own entrance to the street which the Xue household used, while a passage from a southwest gate led to the east courtyard of Lady Wang’s main apartment. Every day after lunch or in the evening, Aunt Xue would walk over to chat with the Lady Dowager or to talk over the old days with her sister.

       Baochai spent her time with Daiyu, Yingchun and the other girls, very happy to read, play chess or sew with them.

       Only Xue Pan at first disliked this arrangement, for fear that his uncle would control him so strictly that he would not be his own master. He had to comply for the time being, however, because his mother had made up her mind to it and the Jia family pressed them so hard to stay. None the less, he sent servants to make ready one of his own houses for when he decided to move.

       To his relief, after less than a month he found himself on familiar terms with half the Jia sons and nephews, and all the rich young men of fashion among them enjoyed his company. One day they would meet to drink, the next to look at flowers, and soon they included him in gambling parties or visits to the courtesans’ quarters, with the result that Xue Pan rapidly became even ten times worse than before.

       Although Jia Zheng was known for his fine method of schooling his sons and disciplining his household, the family was too large for him to see to everything. Moreover the head of the clan was Jia Zhen, who as the eldest grandson of the Duke of Ningguo had inherited the title and was responsible for all clan affairs.

       Besides, Jia Zheng, occupied as he was by public and private business, was too easy-going to take mundane matters seriously, preferring to give all his leisure to reading and chess.

       Since Pear Fragrance Court was two courtyards away from his quarters and had its own entrance to the street through which people could pass as they pleased, the young men caroused and enjoyed themselves just as they chose. For these reasons, before very long Xue Pan gave up all thought of moving.

       To know what followed, turn to the next chapter.

 

Chatper 5

 

The Spiritual Stone Is Too Bemused to Grasp

the Fairy’ s Riddles

The Goddess of Disenchantment in Her Kindness

Secretly Expounds on Love

 

 

Drowsy in spring beneath embroidered quilts,

In a trance with a goddess he leaves the world of men.

Who is this now entering the Land of Dreams?

The most unregenerate lover since time began.

 

The fourth chapter told briefly how the Xues came to stay in the Rong Mansion, but now let us return to Daiyu.

       Since her coming to the Rong Mansion, the Lady Dowager had been lavishing affection on her, treating her in every respect just like Baoyu so that Yingehun, Tanehun and Xichun, the Jia girls, all had to take a back seat. And Baoyu and Daiyu had drawn closer to each other than all the others. By day they strolled or sat together; at night they went to bed in the same apartment. On all matters, indeed, they were in complete accord.

       But now Baochai had suddenly appeared on the scene. Although only slightly older, she was such a proper young lady and so charming that most people considered Daiyu inferior to her. In the eyes of the world, of course, everyone has some merits. In the case of Daiyu and Baochai, one was lovely as a flower, the other graceful as a willow, but each charming in her own way, according to her distinctive temperament.

       Besides, Baochai’s generous, tactful, and accommodating ways contrasted strongly with Daiyu’s stand-offish reserve and won the hearts of her subordinates, so that nearly all the maids like to chat with her. Because of this, Daiyu began to feel some twinges of jealousy. But of this Baochai was completely unaware.

       Baoyu was still only a boy and a very absurd and wilful one at that, who treated his brothers, sisters and cousins alike, making no difference between close and distant kinsmen. Because he and Daiyu both lived in the Lady Dowager’s quarters he was closer to her than to the other girls, and being closer had grown more intimate; but precisely because of this he sometimes offended her by being too demanding and thoughtless.

       Today the two of them had fallen out for some reason and Daiyu, alone in her room, was again shedding tears. Sorry for his tactlessness, Baoyu went in to make it up and little by little contrived to comfort her.

 

      As the plum blossom was now in full bloom in the Ning Mansion’s garden, Jia Zhen’s wife Madam You invited the Lady Dowager, Lady Xing, Lady Wang and the others to a party to enjoy the flowers. She brought Jia Rong and his wife with her to deliver the invitations in person, and so the Lady Dowager and the rest went over after breakfast. They strolled round the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance and were served first with tea then wine; but it was simply an informal gathering of the womenfolk of both houses for a family feast, with nothing of special interest to record.

       Soon Baoyu was tired and wanted to have a nap. The Lady Dowager ordered his attendants to take good care of him and bring him back after a rest.

       At once Jia Rong’s wife Qin Keqing said with a smile: “We have a room ready here for Uncle Baoyu. The Old Ancestress can set her mind at rest and leave him safely to me.” She told his nurses and maids to follow her with their young master.

       The Lady Dowager had every confidence in this lovely slender young woman who with her gentle, amiable behaviour was her favourite of all the great-grandsons’ wives of the Rong and Ning branches. She was therefore sure Baoyu would be in good hands.

       Keqing led the party to an inner room, where Baoyu noticed a fine painting of “The Scholar Working by Torchlight.”1 Without even seeing who the artist was, he took a dislike to the picture. Then he read the couplet flanking it:

A grasp of mundane affairs is genuine knowledge,

Understanding of worldly wisdom is true learning.

These two lines disgusted him with the place for all its refinement and luxury, and he begged to go somewhere else.

       “If this isn’t good enough, where can we take you?” asked his hostess with a laugh. “Well, come along to my room.”

       Baoyu nodded and smiled but one of his nurses protested:

       ‘‘It’s not proper for an uncle to sleep in his nephew’s room.”

       “Good gracious!” Keqing smiled. “I won’t mind his being offended if I say he’s still a baby. At his age such taboos don’t apply. Didn’t you see my brother who came last month? He’s the same age as Uncle Baoyu, but if they stood side by side I’m sure he’d be the taller.”

       “Why haven’t I met him?” asked Baoyu. “Do bring him in and let me have a look at him.”

       The women burst out laughi . “He’s miles away, how can we bring him? You’ll meet him some other time.”

       Now, having reached the young matron’s room, they were meet at the threshold by a subtle perfume which misted over Baoyu’s eyes and melted his bones.

       “How good it smells here!” he cried.

       Entering, he saw on the wall a picture by Tang Yin2 of a lady sleeping under the blossom of a crab-apple tree in spring. On the two scrolls flanking it, Qin Guan3 the Song scholar had written:

Coolness wraps her dream, for spring is chill;

A fragrance assails men, the aroma of wine.

       On the dressing-table was a rare mirror from Wu Zetian’s4 Hall of Mirrors. In the gold tray by it, on which Zhao Feiyan5 once danced, was the quince thrown in fun by An Lushan6 at Lady Yang,7 which had wounded her breast. At one end of the room stood the couch on which Princess Shouyang8 had slept in the Hanzhang Palace, and over it hung the curtains strung from pearls by Princess Tongchang9.

       “It’s nice in here,” exclaimed Baoyu repeatedly in his delight.

       “This room of mine is probably fit for a god,” rejoined Keqing with a smile.

       With her own hands she spread a gauze coverlet washed by Xi Shi’0 and arranged the bridal pillow carried by Hongniang11. Then the nurses and attendants made Baoyu lie down and slipped out leaving only four maids Xiren, Meiren, Qingwen and Sheyue to keep him company. Keqing told them to wait on the verandah and watch the kittens and puppies playing there.

       Baoyu fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes and dreamed that Keqing was before him. Absent-mindedly he followed her a long way to some crimson balustrades and white marble steps among green trees and clear streams, in a place seldom trodden by the foot of man, unreached by swirling dust.

       In his dream he thought happily, “This is a pleasant spot. If only I could spend my whole life here! For that I’d gladly give up my home where my parents and teachers kee caning me every day.”

 

       His fancy was running away ith him when he heard someone singing a song on the other side of a hill:

Gone with the clouds spring’s dream.

Flowers drift away on the stream.

Young lovers all, be warned by me,

Cease courting needless misery.

       Baoyu realized that the voice was a girl’s and before the song had ended he saw the singer come round the hill and approach him. With her graceful gait and air she was truly no mortal being. Here is as proof her description:

       Leaving the willow bank, she comes just now through the flowers. Her approach startles birds in the trees in the court, and soon her shadow falls across the verandah. Her fairy sleeves, fluttering, give off a heady fragrance of musk and orchid. With each rustle of her lotus garments, her jade pendants tinkle.

       Her dimpled smile is peach-blossom in spring, her blue-black hair a cluster of clouds. Her lips are cherries and sweet the breath from her pomegranate teeth.

       The curve of her slender waist is snow whirled by the wind. Dazzling her pearls and emeralds and gosling-gold the painted design on her forehead.

       She slips in and out of the flowers, now vexed, now radiant, and floats over the lake as if on wings.

       Her mothlike eyebrows are knit yet there lurks a smile, and no sound issues from her lips parted as if to speak as she glides swiftly on lotus feet and, pausing, seems poised for flight.

       Her flawless complexion is pure as ice, smooth as jade. Magnificent her costume with splendid designs. Sweet her face, compact of fragrance, carved in jade; and she bears herself like a phoenix or dragon in flight.

       Her whiteness? Spring plum-blossom glimpsed through snow. Her purity? Autumn orchids coated with frost. Her tranquility? A pine in a lonely valley. Her beauty? Sunset mirrored in a limpid pool. Her grace? A dragon breasting a winding stream. Her spirit? Moonlight on a frosty flyer.

       She would put Xi Shi to shame and make Wang Qiang’2 blush. Where was this wonder born, whence does she come?

       Verily she has no peer in fairyland, no equal in the purple courts of heaven.

       Who can she be, this beauty?

 

       Overjoyed by the apparition of this fairy, Baoyu made haste to greet her with a bow.

       “Sister Fairy,” he begged with a smile, “do tell me where you are from and whither you are going. I have lost my way. May I beg you to be my guide?”

       “My home is above the Sphere of Parting Sorrow in the Sea of Brimming Grief,” she answered with a smile. “I am the Goddess of Disenchantment from the Grotto of Emanating Fragrance on the Mountain of Expanding Spring in the Illusory Land of Great Void. I preside over romances and unrequited love on earth, the grief of women and the passion of men in the mundane world. The reincarnations of some former lovers have recently gathered here, and so I have come to look for a chance to mete out love and longing. It is no accident that we have met.

       “My realm is not far from here. All I can offer you is a cup of fairy tea plucked by my own hands, a pitcher of fine wine of my own brewing, some accomplished singers and dancers, and twelve new fairy songs called ‘A Dream of Red Mansions.’ But won’t you come with me?” Forgetting Keqing in his delight, Baoyu followed the goddess to a stone archway inscribed: Illusory Land of Great Void. On either pillar was this couplet:

When false is taken for true, true becomes false;

If non-being turns into being, being becomes non-being.

 

Beyond this archway was a palace gateway with the inscription in large characters: Sea of Grief and Heaven of Love. The bold couplet flanking this read:

Firm as earth and lofty as heaven, passion from

time immemorial knows no end;

Pity silly lads and plaintive maids hard put to

it to requite debts of breeze and moonlight.

 

       “Well, we ,“ thought Baoyu, “I wonder what’s meant by ‘passion from time immemorial’ and ‘debts of breeze and moonlight.’ From now on I’d like to have a taste of these things.”

       Little did he know that by thinking in this way he had summoned an evil spirit into his inmost heart.

       He followed the goddess through the second gate past two matching halls on both sides, each with its tablet and couplet. He had no time to read them all but noticed the names: Board of Infatuation, Board of Jealousy, Board of Morning Tears, Board of Night Sighs, Board of Spring Longing and Board of Autumn Sorrows.

       “May I trouble you, goddess, to show me over these different boards?” he asked.

       “They contain the records of the past and future of girls from all over the world,” she told him. “These may not be divulged in advance to you with your human eyes and mortal frame.”

       But Baoyu would not take no for an answer and at last she yielded to his importunity.

       “Very well then,” she conceded. “You may go in here and have a look round.”

       Baoyu was overjoyed. He looked up and saw on the tablet the name Board of the Ill-Fated. This was flanked by the couplet:

They brought on themselves spring grief and

       autumn anguish;

Wasted, their beauty fair as flowers and moon.

 

       Grasping the meaning of this and strangely stirred, Baoyu entered and saw more than ten large cabinets, sealed and labelled with the names of different localities. Having no interest in other provinces, he was eager to find his native place and soon discovered one cabinet labelled First Register of Twelve Beauties of Jinling. When he asked what this meant, Disenchantment told him:

       “That is a record of the twelve foremost beauties in your honourable province. That’s why it’s called the First Register.”

       “I’ve always heard that Jinling’s a very large place,” replied Baoyu. “Why are there only twelve girls? In our family alone just now, if you count the servants, we must have several hundreds.”

       “True, there are many girls in your honourable province. Only those of the first grade are registered here. The next two cabinets contain records of those in the second and third grade. As for the rest, they are too mediocre for their lives to be worth recording.”

       Baoyu looked at the next two cabinets and saw written on them: Second Register of Twelve Beauties of Jinhing and Third Register of Twelve Beauties of Jinling. He opened the door of this last, took out the register and turned to the first page. This was covered by a painting in ink, not of any figures of landscape but of black clouds and heavy mist. Beside this were the lines:

A clear moon is rarely met with,

Bright clouds are easily scattered;

Her heart is loftier than the sky,

But her person is of low degree.

Her charm and wit give rise to jealousy,

Her early death is caused by calumny,

In vain her loving master’s grief must be.

 

       On the next page Baoyu saw painted a bunch of flowers and a tattered mat, with the legend:

Nothing avail her gentleness and compliance,

Osmanthus and orchid with her fragrance vie;

But this prize is borne off by an actor,

And luck passes the young master by.

 

       Unable to make anything of this, he put the album down, opened the door of another cabinet and took out the Second Register. This opened at a picture of fragrant osmanthus above withered lotus in a dried-up pond. By this was written:

Sweet is she as the lotus in flower,

Yet none so sorely oppressed;

After the growth of a lonely tree in two soils

Her sweet soul will be dispatched to its final rest.

       Still baffled, Baoyu put this volume aside and took out the First Register. The first page had a painting of two withered trees on which hung a jade belt, while at the foot of a snowdrift lay a broken golden hairpin. Four lines of verse read:

Alas for her wifely virtue,

Her wit to sing of willow-down, poor maild!

Buried in snow the broken golden hairpin

And hanging in the wood the belt of jade.

       Baoyu could make nothing of this either. He knew the goddess would not enlighten him, yet he could not bring himself to put the book down. So he turned to a painting of a bow from which was suspended a citron. This bore the legend:

For twenty years she arbitrates

Where pomegranates blaze by palace gates.

How can the late spring equal the spring’s start?

When Hare and Tiger meet,’3

From this Great Dream of life she must depart.

       On the next page was a picture of two people flying a kite, while in a large boat out at sea sat a girl, weeping, covering her face with her hands. With this were the lines:

So talented and high-minded,

She is born too late for luck to come her way.

Through tears she watches the stream

On the Clear and Bright Day; “‘

A thousand lithe east wind blows,

But her home in her dreams is far away.

       Next came a painting of drifting clouds and flowing water with the legend:

Nought avail her rank and riches,

While yet in swaddling clothes an orphan lone;

In a flash she mourns the setting sun,

       The river Xiang runs dry, the clouds over Chu have flown.

       Next was depicted a fine piece of jade dropped in the mud, with the verse:

Chastity is her wish,

Seclusion her desire;

Alas, though fine as gold or jade

She sinks at last in the mire.

       There followed a sketch of a savage wolf pursuing a lovely girl to devour her. The verdict read:

For husband she will have a mountain wolf,

His object gained he ruthlessly berates her;

Fair bloom, sweet willow in a golden bower,

Too soon a rude awakening awaits her.

       Next was depicted a seated girl reading a sutra alone in an old temple. This had the legend:

She sees through the transience of spring,

Dark Buddhist robes replace her garments fine;

Pity this child of a wealthy noble house

Who now sleeps alone by the dimly lit old shrine.

       Next came a female phoenix perched on an iceberg, with the verdict:

This bird appears when the world falls on evil times;

None but admires her talents and her skill;

First she complies, then commands, then is dismissed,

Departing in tears to Jinling more wretched still.

       After this was a lonely village with a pretty girl spinning in a humble cottage. The inscription read:

 

When fortune frowns, nobility means nothing;

When a house is ruined, kinsmen turn unkind.

Becuase of help given by chance to Granny Liu,

In time of need she is lucky a friend to find.

       After this was painted a pot of orchids in bloom beside a beauty in ceremonial dress. The legend ran:

 

Peach and plum in spring winds finish seeding,

Who can bloom like the orchid at last?

Pure as ice and water she arouses envy,

Vain the groundless taunts that are cast.

 

       Next came a picture on a beautiful woman hanging herself of a tower, with the verdict:

Love boundless as sea and sky is but illusion;

When lovers meet, lust must be king.

Say not all evil comes from the Rong Mansion,

Truly, disaster originates from the Ning.

 

       Baoyu would have read on, but the goddess knowing his high natural endowments and quick intelligence feared the secrets of Heaven might be divulged. She closed the book therefore and said to him with a smile:

 

       “Why not come with me to enjoy the strange sights here instead of puzzling your head over these silly riddles?”

       As if in a daze he left the registers and followed her past pearl portières and embroidered curtains, painted pillars and carved beams. Words fail to describe those brilliant vermilion rooms, floors paved with gold, windows bright as snow and palaces of jade, to say nothing of the delectable fairy flowers, rare plants and fragrant herbs.

       As Baoyu was feasting his eyes on these marvellous sights Disenchantment called with a laugh: “Come out quickly and welcome our honoured guest.”

       At once out came several fairies, lotus sleeves swaying, feathery garments fluttering, lovely as spring blossom, entrancing as the autumn moon. At sight of Baoyu they reproached the goddess:

 

       “So this is your guest! Why should we hurry out to meet him? You told us that today, at this hour, the spirit of Sister Vermilion Pearl would be coming to revisit her old haunts. That’s why we’ve been waiting all this time. Why bring this filthy creature here instead to pollute this domain of immaculate maidens?”

       Baoyu started at that and wished he could slip away, feeling intolerably gross and filthy, but Disenchantment took him by the hand.

       “You don’t understand,” she explained to the fairies. “I did set off to the Rong Mansion today to fetch Vermilion Pearl, but as I was passing the Ning Mansion I met the spirits of the Duke of Ningguo and the Duke of Rongguo who told me, ‘Since the start of this dynasty, for some generations, our family has enjoyed a fine reputation as well as riches and rank. But after a hundred years our good fortune is at an end, gone beyond recall. Although we have many descendants, the only one fit to continue our work is our great-grandson Baoyu. Even though his is headstrong and eccentric, lacking in intelligence, we nonetheless had certain hopes of him. However, our family’s luck has run out and there seemed to be no one to show him the right way. How fortunate we are to have met you, goddess. We beg you to warn him of the dangers of lusting after women, so that he may escape from their snares and set his feet on the right path. Then we two brothers will be happy.’

 

       “Sympathizing with their request, I fetched him here. To begin with I made him look at the three registers of the girls in his own household. When he failed to understand, I brought him here to taste the illusion of carnal delight so that later he may perchance awaken to the truth.”

 

       With that she led Baoyu inside. A subtle perfume hung in the air and he could not help asking what incense was being burned.

 

       “You don’t have this scent in the dusty world so you wouldn’t know it,” Disenchantment told him, smiling. “This is made from the essences of the different exotic young plants which grow in all famous mountain resorts. Distilled with the resin of every precious tree, its name is Marrow of Manifold Fragrance.”

       As Baoyu marvelled at this they took seats and young maids served tea with such a pure scent, exquisite flavour and refreshing quality that again he asked its name.

       “This tea grows in the Grotto of Emanating Fragrance on the Mountain of Expanding Spring,” Disenchantment told him. “Infused with the night dew from fairy flowers and spiritual leaves, its name is Thousand Red Flowers in One Cavern.”

       Nodding in appreciation Baoyu looked round him. He saw jasper lutes, rare bronze tripods, ancient paintings, new volumes of verse nothing was lacking. But what delighted him most was the rouge by the window and the spilt powder left from a lady’s toilet. On the wall hung this couplet:

 

Spiritual, secluded retreat,

Celestial world of sweet longing.

 

       Lost in admiration of everything about him, he asked the fairies’ names.

They were introduced by their different appellations as Fairy of Amorous

Dreams, Great Mistress of Passion, Golden Maid Bringing Grief, and

Saint of Transmitted Sorrow.

       Presently little maids brought in tables and chairs and set out wine and refreshments. Verily, glass vessels overflowed with nectar and amber cups brimmed with ambrosia. No need to dwell on the sumptuousness of that feast. He could not resist inquiring, though, what gave the wine its remarkably pure bouquet.

       “This wine is made from the stamens of a hundred flowers and the sap of ten thousand trees mixed with the marrow of unicorns and fermented with phoenix milk,” the goddess told him. “We call it Ten Thousand Beauties in One Cup.”

       As Baoyu sipped it, twelve dancing girls stepped forward to ask what they should perform.

The twelve new songs called ‘A Dream of Red Mansions’,” ordered Disenchantment.

       The dancers assented. Lightly striking their sandalwood castanets and softly plucking their silver lyres, they began:

At the dawn of creation....

 

But the goddess interrupted them to tell Baoyu, “This is not like your romantic dramas in the dusty world in which there are always the fixed parts of scholars, girls, warriors, old men and clowns, and the set nine tunes of the south or north. These songs of ours lament one person or event in an impromptu fashion and are easily set to wind or stringed accompaniments. But no outsider can appreciate their subtle qualities, and I doubt whether you will really understand their meaning. Unless you first read the text, they will seem to you as tasteless as chewed wax.”

 

With that she turned and ordered a maid to bring the words of the “Dream of Red Mansions” songs. She handed the manuscript to Baoyu, who followed the text as he listened.

 

       FIRST SONG:

       PROLOGUE TO THE DREAM OF RED MANSIONS

       At the dawn of creation

       Who sowed the seeds of love?

       From the strong passion of breeze and moonlight they came.

       So in this world of sweet longing

       On a day of distress, in an hour of loneliness,

       Fain would I impart my senseless grief

By singing this Dream of Red Mansions

       To mourn the Gold and the Jade.

 

 

       SECOND SONG:

       A LIFE MISSPENT

       Well-matched, all say, the gold and the jade;

       I alone recall the pledge between plant and stone.

       Vainly facing the hermit in sparkling snow-clad hills

       I forget not the fairy in lone woods beyond the world.

       I sigh, learning that no man’s happiness is complete:

       Even a pair thought well-matched

       May find disappointment.

 

 

THIRD SONG:

       VAIN LONGING

       One is an immortal flower of fairyland,

       The other fair flawless jade,

       And were it not predestined

       Why should they meet again in this existence?

       Yet, if predestined,

       Why does their love come to nothing?

       One sighs to no purpose,

       The other yearns in vain;

       One is the moon reflected in the water,

       The other but a flower in the mirror.

       How many tears can well from her eyes?

       Can they flow on from autumn till winter,

       From spring till summer?

      

      

       Baoyu could see no merit in these disjointed and cryptic songs, but the plaintive music intoxicated his senses. So without probing into the meaning or asking where the songs came from, he listened for a while to pass the time. The singers went on:

 

 

FOURTH SONG:

THE TRANSIENCE OF LIFE

At the height of honour and splendour

Death comes for her;

Open-eyed, she has to leave everything behind

As her gentle soul passes away.

So far her home beyond the distant mountains

That in a dream she finds and tells her parents:

Your child has gone now to the Yellow Spring;

You must find a retreat before it is too late.”

 

 

FIFTH SONG:

SEPARATION FROM DEAR ONES

Three thousand li she must sail through wind and rain,

Giving up her home and her own flesh and blood;

But afraid to distress their declining years with tears

She tells her parents: “Don’t grieve for your child.

From of old good luck and bad have been predestined,

Partings and reunions are decreed by fate;

Although from now on we shall dwell far apart,

Let us still live at peace;

Don’t worry over your unworthy daughter.”

 

 

SIXTH SONG:

SORROW AMIDST JOY

She is still in her cradle when her parents die,

Although living in luxury who will dote on her?

Happily she is born too courageous and open-hearted

Ever to take a love affair to heart.

Like bright moon and fresh breeze in a hall of jade

She is matched with a talented and handsome husband;

May she live with him for long years

To make up for her wretched childhood!

But over the Gaotang Tower the clouds disperse,

The river Xiang runs dry.

This is the common fate of mortal men,

Useless it is to repine.

 

SEVENTH SONG:

SPURNED BY THE WORLD

By nature fair as an orchid,

With talents to match an immortal,

Yet so eccentric that all marvel at her.

To her, rich food stinks,

Silken raiment is vulgar and loathsome;

She knows not that superiority fosters hatred,

For the world despises too much purity.

By the dim light of an old shrine she will fade away,

       Her powder and red chamber, her youth and beauty wasted,

To end, despite herself, defiled on the dusty road

Even as flawless white jade dropped in the mud.

In vain young scions of noble houses will sigh for her.

 

EIGHTH SONG:

UNION OF ENEMIES

A mountain wolf, a savage ruthless beast,

Mindless of past obligations

Gives himself up to pride, luxury and license,

       Holding cheap the charms of a noble family’s daughter,

Trampling on the precious child of a ducal mansion. Alas, in less than a year her sweet soul fades away.

 

NINTH SONG:

PERCEPTION OF THE TRANSIENCE OF FLOWERS

She will see through the three Springs15

And set no store

By the red of peach-blossom, the green of willows,

Stamping out the fire of youthful splendour

To savour the limpid peace of a clear sky.

Though the peach runs riot against the sky,

Though the clouds teem with apricot blossom,

Who has seen any flower that can win safely through autumn?

       Even       now mourners are lamenting by groves of poplars,

Ghosts are wailing below green maples,

And the weeds above their graves stretch to the skyline.

Truly, changes in fortune are the cause of men’s toil,

Spring blooming and autumn withering the fate of flowers.

Who can escape the gate of birth, the fate of death?

Yet in the west, they say, grows the sal tree16

Which bears the fruit of immortality.

 

TENTH SONG:

RUINED BY CUNNING

Too much cunning in plotting and scheming

Is the cause of her own undoing;

While yet living her heart is broken

And after death all her subtlety comes to nothing.

A rich house, all its members at peace,

Is ruined at last and scattered;

In vain her anxious thought for half a lifetime,

For like a disturbing dream at dead of night,

Like the thunderous collapse of a great mansion,

Or the flickering of a lamp that gutters out,

Mirth is suddenly changed to sorrow.

Ah, nothing is certain in the world of men.

 

ELEVENTH SONG:

A LITTLE ACT OF KINDNESS

Thanks to one small act of kindness

She meets by chance a grateful friend;

Fortunate that her mother

Has done some unnoticed good.

Men should rescue the distressed and aid the poor,

       Be not like her heartless uncle or treacherous cousin

       Who for love of money forget their own flesh and blood.

       Truly, rewards and punishments

       Are meted out by Heaven.

 

TWELFTH SONG:

       SPLENDOUR COMES TOO LATE

       Love is only a reflection in a mirror,

       Worse     still, rank and fame are nothing but a dream,

       So quickly youth and beauty fade away.

       Say no more of embroidered curtains and love-bird quilts,

       Nor can a pearl tiara and phoenix jacket

       Stave off for long Death’s summons.

       Though it is said that old age should be free from want,

       This depends on the unknown merits laid by for one’s children.

       Jubilant in official headdress

       And glittering with a gold seal of high office,

       A man may be awe-inspiring and exalted,

       But the gloomy way to the Yellow Spring is near.

       What remains of the generals and statesmen of old?

       Nothing but an empty name admired by posterity.

 

THIRTEENTH SONG:

       GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END

       Fragrant dust falls from painted beams at the close of spring;

       By nature passionate and fair as the moon,

       The true root is she of the family’s destruction.

       The decline of the old tradition starts with Jing,

       The chief blame for the House’s ruin rests with Ning.

       All their sins come about through Love.

 

EPILOGUE:

       THE BIRDS SCATFER TO THE WOOD

       An official household declines,

Rich nobles’ wealth is spent.

She who did god escapes the jaws of death,

The heartless meet with certain retribution.

Those who took a life have paid with their own lives,

The tears one owed have all been requited in kind.

Not light the retribution for sins against others;

All are predestined, partings and reunions.

Seek the cause of untimely death in a part existence,

Lucky she who enjoys rank and riches in old age;

Those who see through the world escape from the world,

While foolish lovers forfeit their lives for nothing.

When the food is gone the birds return to the wood;

All that’s left is emptiness and a great void.

 

       After this they would have gone on to sing the second series, but the Goddess of Disenchantment saw that Baoyu was utterly bored.

       “Silly boy!” she sighed. “You still don’t understand.”

       Baoyu asked the faires then not to sing any more, explaining that he was drunk and would like to sleep off the effects of the wine.

       Disenchantment ordered the feast to be cleared away and escorted him into a scented chamber hung with silk, more luxuriously furnished than any he had seen in his life. More amazing still, he saw there a girl whose charm reminded him of Baochai, her grace of Daiyu. He was puzzling over this when Disenchantment said:

       “In your dusty world, countless green-windowed chambers and embroidered boudoirs of rich and noble families are desecrated by amorous men and loose women. Worse still, all dissolute wretches since ancient times have drawn a distinction between love of beauty and carnal desire, between love and lust, so as to gloss over their immorality. Love of beauty leads to lust, and desire even more so. Thus every sexual transport of cloud and rain is the inevitable climax of love of beauty and desire.

       “And what I like about you is that you are the most lustful man ever to have lived in this world since time immemorial.”

       “You must be mistaken, goddess,” protested the frightened Baoyu. “My parents are always scolding me because I’m too lazy to study. How dare I risk being called ‘lustful’ as well? Besides, I’m still young and hardly know what that word means.

       “Don’t worry,” said Disenchantment. “In principle all lust is the same, but it has different connotations. For instance, there are profligates in the world who delight only in physical beauty, singing, dancing, endless merriment and constant rain-and-cloud games. They would like to possess all the beauties in the world to gratify their momentary desires. These are coarse creatures steeped in fleshly lust.

       “In your case, you were born with a passionate nature which we call ‘lust of the mind.’ This can be grasped by the mind but not expressed, apprehended intuitively but not described in words. Whereas this makes you a welcome companion to women, in the eyes of the world it is bound to make you appear strange and unnatural, an object of mockery and scorn.

       “After meeting your worthy ancestors the Duke of Ningguo and the Duke of Rongguo today and hearing their heartfelt request, I could not bear to let you be condemned by the world for the greater glory of women. So I brought you here to entertain you with divine wine and fairy tea, then tried to awaken you with subtle songs. And now I am going to match you with my younger sister Jianmei,’7 whose childhood name is Keqing, and this very night at the auspicious hour you must consummate your union. This is simply to let you know that after you have proved for yourself the illusory nature of pleasures in fairyland you should realize the vanity of love in your dusty world. From this day on you must understand this and mend your ways, giving your minds to the teachings of Confucius and Meneius and devoting yourself to the betterment of society.”

       With that she initiated him into the secrets of sex. Then, pushing him forward, she closed the door and left.

       Baoyu in a daze did all the goddess had told him. We can draw a veil over his first act of love.

       The next day, he and Keqing had become so attached and exchanged so many endearments that they could not bear to part. Hand in hand they walked out for a stroll.

 

       Suddenly they found themselves in a thorny thicker infested with wolves and tigers. In front a black torrent barred their way and there was no bridge across. They were in a quandary when Disenchantment overtook them.

       “Stop! Stop!” she cried. “Turn back before it’s too late.”

       Standing petrified Baoyu asked, “What is this place?”

       “The Ford of Infatuation,” Disenchantment told him. “It’s a hundred thousand feet deep and a thousand ii wide, and there is no boat to ferry you across. Nothing but a wooden raft steered by Master Wood and punted by Acolyte Ashes, who accept no payment in silver or gold but ferry over those who are fated to cross. You strolled here by accident. If you had fallen in, then all my well-meant advice to you would have been wasted.”

       Even as she spoke there came a crash like thunder from the Ford of Infatuation as hordes of monsters and river devils rushed towards Baoyu to drag him in. Cold sweat poured off him like rain. And in his terror he shouted:

       “Keqing! Save me!”

       Xichun hurried in with the other maids in dismay to take him in her arms.

       “Don’t be afraid, Baoyu,” cried the girls. “We’re here.”

       Qin Keqing was on the verandah telling the maids to watch the kittens and puppies at their play, when she heard Baoyu call her childhood name in his dream.

       “No one here knows my childhood name,” she thought in surprise. “How is it that he called it out in his dream?”

       Truly:

Strange encounters take place in a secret dream,

For he is the most passionate lover of all time.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Baoyu Has His First Taste of Love

Granny Liu Pays Her First Visit

to the Rong Mansion

 

 

 

       The theme:

She knocks one day at the gate of the rich,

And the rich themselves talk of want;

Their gift is not a thousand pieces of gold

But more than her own flesh and blood could give.

       Qin Keqing was amazed to hear Baoyu call her childhood name in his dream, but she could hardly question him. As for Baoyu, he felt as bemused as if he had lost his wits. Attendants promptly brought him a longan decoction and after sipping a couple of mouthfuls he got up to adjust his clothes.

       As Xiren reached out to fasten his trousers for him, she touched his thigh and found it cold and sticky. She drew back in alarm and asked what was the matter. Rushing crimson, Baoyu simply squeezed her hand.

       Now Xiren was an intelligent girl, and being a couple of years older than Baoyu she already knew the facts of life. She guessed from the state he was in what must have happened and blushing herself helped him to tidy his clothes without any further questions.

       They went then to where the Lady Dowager was and after a hasty meal returned to his room, where in the absence of the other maids and nurses Xiren fetched him a change of clothes.

       “Don’t tell anyone, please, dear sister,” begged Baoyu sheepishly.

       With an embarrassed smile she asked, “What did you dream about to dirty yourself like that?”

       “It’s a long story,” answered Baoyu, then told her his dream in full, concluding with his initiation by Disenchantment into the “sport of cloud and rain.” Xiren, hearing this, covered her face and doubled up in a fit of giggles.

       Since Baoyu had long been attracted by Xiren’s gentle, coquettish ways, he urged her to carry out the instructions with him; and as she knew that the Lady Dowager had given her to Baoyu she felt this would not be an undue liberty. So they tried it out secretly together, and luckily they were not discovered. From that hour Baoyu treated Xiren with special consideration and she served him even more faithfully than before.

 

       Now although the Rong Mansion was not unduly large, masters and servants together numbered three or four hundred. And although it had not too much business, a score of things had to be seen to every day easier to unravel a skein of tangled hemp than to recount them! Just as I was wondering with which event or person to begin, suddenly from a thousand ii away came a humble individual as insignificant as a mustard-seed, who being remotely connected with the Rong House was that day paying them a visit. Let me take her family, then, as a starting point.

       Do you know the name of this family and its remote connection with the Rong Mansion? If you think this too trivial or vulgar, Gentle Readers, you had better put this book down and choose one more to your liking. If you fancy this senseless story will serve to while away the time, then let me, the stupid Stone, tell you it in detail.

       The surname of these humble folk I have just mentioned was Wang. They were local people whose grandfather while a petty official in the capital had come to know Xifeng’s grandfather, Lady Wang’s father. Eager to attach himself to the powerful Wangs, he ‘joined family” with them, calling himself Wang’s nephew. At that time only Lady Wang and her elder brother, Xifeng’s father, both of whom had accompanied their father to the capital, were aware of this remote “clansman.” The rest of the Wangs knew nothing about these connections.

       The grandfather had died leaving a son Wang Cheng who, since the family was then in a poor way, moved back to their native village outside the capital. Recently Wang Cheng too had fallen ill and died, leaving a son Gouer, who had married a girl from a family called Lin by whom he had a son called Baner and a daughter called Qinger. Their family of four lived on the land.

       As Gouer was busy during the day and his wife had the housework to see to, there was nobody to mind the children until he fetched his mother-in-law Granny Liu to live with them. An old widow who had been through much and was supporting herself as best she could on two mu of poor land because she had no son, she was only too glad to be taken in and cared for by her son-in-law. She did her best to make herself useful to him and her daughter.

       Autumn had ended, the cold was setting in, and because they had made no provision for the winter Gouer drank a few cups to drown his cares then started venting his spleen on his family. His wife was afraid to talk back, but Granny Liu was not going to stand for this.

       “You mustn’t mind me butting in, son-in-law,” she said. “We villagers are simple honest folk who eat according to the size of our bowl. Your trouble is that your father gave you such a soft time of it when you were young that you’re a bad manager. When you have money you never look ahead; when you’ve none you fly into a temper. That’s no way for a grown man to behave. We may be living outside the capital but we’re still at the feet of the Emperor. And ‘Changan’s streets are strewn with money’ — for those who know how to lay hands on it. What’s the use of flying into a huff at home?”

       “It’s easy for you to jabber away on the kang,” Gouer retorted. “Do you want me to go out and steal? To rob someone?”

       “Who’s asking you to rob anyone? But let’s put our heads together and think of something. Do you expect silver coins to come rolling in of themselves?”

       “Would I have waited all this time if there was some way out?” Gouer snorted. “I’ve no relatives who live on rent, no friends in official posts what can I do? Even if I had, they’d most likely cold-shoulder us.”

       “Don’t be so sure,” said Granny Liu. “Man proposes, Heaven disposes. Work out a plan, trust to Buddha, and something may come of it for all you know.

       “As a matter of fact, I’ve thought of a chance for you. In the old days you joined families with the Wangs of Jinling, and twenty years back they treated you not badly. Since then of course you’ve been too pigheaded to go near them, so that now you’ve drifted apart.

       “I recollect calling on them once with my daughter. Their second young lady was really open-handed, so pleasant and free from airs. She’s now the wife of the second Lord Jia of the Rong Mansion. I hear she’s grown even more charitable and is always setting aside rice and money to give alms to Buddhists and Taoists. Her brother has been promoted to some post at the frontier, but I’m sure this Lady Wang would remember us. Why not go and try your luck? She may do something for us for old times’ sake. If she’s at all willing to help, one hair from her body would be thicker than our waist.”

       “Mother’s right,” put in her daughter. “But how could frights like us go to their gate? Most likely their gatekeepers would refuse to announce us. Why ask for a slap on the face?”

       But Gouer had an eye to the main chance. Attracted by this suggestion, he laughed at his wife’s objection and proposed:

       “Since this is your idea, mother, and you’ve called on the lady before, why not go there tomorrow and see how the wind blows?”

       “Aiya! ‘The threshold of a noble house is deeper than the sea.’ And who am I? The servants there don’t know me, it’s no use my going.”

       “That’s no problem. I’ll tell you what to do. Take young Baner with you and ask for their steward Zhou Rui. If you see him, we stand a chance. This Zhou Rui had dealings with my old man and used to be on the best of terms with us.”

       “I know him too. But how will they receive me after all this time? Still, you’re a man and too much of a fright to go, and my daughter’s too young to make a show of herself. I’m old enough not to mind risking a snub. If I have any luck we’ll all share it. And even if I don’t bring back any silver the trip won’t be wasted — I’ll have seen a little high life.”

       They all laughed at that, and that same evening the matter was settled.

       The next day Granny Liu got up before dawn to wash and comb her hair and to coach Baner. Being an ignorant child of five or six, he was so delighted at the prospect of a trip to the city that he agreed to everything he was told.

       In town they asked their way to Rong Ning Steet. But Granny Liu was too overawed by the crowd of sedan-chairs and horses there to venture near the stone lions which flanked the Rong Mansion’s main gate. Having dusted off her clothes and given Baner fresh instructions, she timidly approached the side entrance where some arrogant, corpulent servants were sunning themselves on long benches, engaged in a lively discussion.

       Granny Liu edged forward and said, “Greetings, gentlemen.”

       The men surveyed her from head to foot before condescending to ask where she had come from.

       “I’ve come to see Mr. Zhou who came with Lady Wang when she was married,” she told them with a smile. “May I trouble one of you gentlemen to fetch him out for me?”

       The men ignored her for a while, but finally one of them said, “Wait over there by that corner. One of his family may come out by and by.”

       An older man interposed, “Why make a fool of her and waste her time?” He told Granny Liu, “Old Zhou has gone south but his wife is at home. His house is at the back. Go round to the back gate and ask for her there.”

       Having thanked him, Granny Liu took Baner round to the back gate. Several pedlars had put down their wares there and about two dozen rowdy servant boys had crowded round those selling snacks and toys.

       The old woman caught hold of one of these youngsters and asked, “Can you tell me, brother, if Mrs. Zhou is at home?”

       “Which Mrs. Zhou?” he retorted. “We have three Mrs. Zhous and two Granny Zhous. What’s her job?”

       “She’s the wife of Zhou Rui who came with Lady Wang.”

       “That’s easy then. Come with me.

       He scampered ahead of her through the back gate and pointed out a compound. “That’s where she lives.” Then he called, “Auntie Zhou! Here’s a granny asking for you.”

       Mrs. Zhou hurried out to see who it was while Granny Liu hastened forward crying, “Sister Zhou! How are you?”

       It took the other some time to recognize her. Then she answered with a smile, “Why, it’s Granny Liu! I declare, after all these years I hardly knew you. Come on in and sit down.”

       Smiling as she walked in, Granny Liu remarked, “The higher the rank, the worse the memory. How could you remember us?”

       Once indoors, Mrs. Zhou told a maid to pour tea. Then looking at Baner she exclaimed, “What a big boy he is!” After a short exchange of polite inquiries, she asked Granny Liu whether she just happened to be passing or had come with any special object.

       “I came specially to see you, sister, and also to inquire after Her ladyship’s health. If you could take me to see her, that would be nice. If you can’t, I’ll just trouble you to pass on my respects.”

       This gave Mrs. Zhou a shrewd idea of the reason for her visit. Since Gouer had helped her husband to purchase some land, she could hardly refuse Granny Liu’s appeal for help. Besides, she was eager to show that she was someone of consequence in this household.

       “Don’t worry, granny,” she replied with a smile. “You’ve come all this way in good earnest and of course I’ll help you to see the real Buddha. Strictly speaking, it’s not my job to announce visitors. We all have different duties here. My husband, for instance, just sees to collecting rents in spring and autumn or escorting the young gentlemen in his spare time, while all I do is accompany the ladies on their outings. But since you’re related to Her Ladyship and have come to me for help as if I were someone, I’ll make an exception and take in a message for you.

       “I must tell you, though, that things have changed here in the last five years. Her Ladyship doesn’t handle much business any more but leaves everything to the second master’s wife. And who do you think she is? My lady’s own niece, the daughter of her elder brother and the one whose childhood name was ‘Master Feng.’ ”

       “You don’t say!” cried Granny Liu. “No wonder I predicted great things for her. In that case I must see her today.”

       “Of course. Nowadays Her Ladyship can’t be troubled with much business, so whenever possible she leaves it to the young mistress to entertain visitors. Even if you don’t see Her Ladyship you must see her, or your visit will have been wasted.”

       “Buddha be praised! I’m most grateful for you help, sister.”

       “Don’t say that. ‘He who helps others helps himself.’ All I need do is say one word — no trouble at all.” She sent her little maid in to see if the Lady Dowager’s meal had been served.

       “This young mistress Feng can’t be more than twenty,” remarked Granny Liu as the two of them went on chatting. “Fancy her being able to run a great household like this!”

       “You don’t know the half of it, my dear granny. Young as she is, she handles things much better than anyone else. She’s grown up a beauty too. Clever isn’t the word for her! As for talking, ten eloquent men are no match for her. You’ll see for yourself by and by. If she has a fault, it’s that she’s rather hard on those below her.”

       At this point the maid came back to report, “The old lady’s finished her meal. The second mistress is with Lady Wang.”

       At once Mrs. Zhou urged Granny Liu to hurry. “Come on! Our chance is while she has her own meal. Let’s go and wait for her. Later on such a crowd will be going there on business, we’ll hardly get a look in. And after her nap there’ll be even less chance to see her.”

       They both got down from the kang and brushed their clothes. After some last-minute instructions to her grandson, Granny Liu followed Mrs. Zhou by winding ways to Jia Lian’s quarters, then waited in a covered passageway while Mrs. Zhou went past the spirit screen into the court and, before Xifeng’s return, explained who Granny Liu was to her trusted maid Pinger, who had come here as part of Xifeng’s dowry and then become Jia Lian’s concubine.

       “She’s come all this way today to pay her respects. In the old days Her Ladyship always used to see her, so I’m sure she’ll receive her: that’s why I’ve brought her in. When your mistress comes I’ll tell her the whole story. I don’t think she’ll blame me for taking too much on myself.”

       Pinger decided to invite them in to sit down and accordingly Mrs. Zhou went out to fetch them. As they mounted the steps to the main reception room, a young maid raised a red wool portière and a waft of perfume greeted them as they entered. Granny Liu did not know what it was but felt she was walking on air. And she was so dazzled by everything in the room that her head began to swim. She could only nod, smack her lips and cry “Gracious Buddha!”

       Pinger was standing by the kang in the east room, the bedroom of Jia Lian’s daughter. Casting two searching glances at Granny Liu she greeted her rather curtly and bade her be seated.

       Pinger’s silk dress, her gold and silver trinkets, and her face which was pretty as a flower made Granny Liu mistake her for her mistress. But before she could greet her as “my lady” she heard the girl and Mrs. Zhou address each other as equals and realized that this was just one of the more favoured maids.

       Granny Liu and Baner were given seats on the kang, while Pinger and Mrs. Zhou sat face to face on the edge. Maids brought tea and as she sipped it the old woman heard a steady tock-tock-tock like the sound made by a flour-bolting machine. Staring about her she saw a box-like object attached to one of the pillars in the room, with a weight of sorts swinging to and fro below it.

       “Whatever can that be?” she wondered. “What’s it doing?”

       The next instant she started at a loud dong like the sound of a bronze bell or copper chimes repeated eight or nine times. Before she could clear up this mystery, a flock of maids ran in crying:

       “The mistress is coming!”

       Pinger and Mrs. Zhou stood up at once, telling Granny Liu to wait till she was sent for. They left her straining her ears, with bated breath, as she waited there in silence.

       In the distance laughter rang out. Ten to twenty serving women swished through the hall to another inner room, while two or three bearing lacquered boxes came to this side to wait. When the order was given to serve the meal, all left but a few who handed round the dishes. A long silence followed. Then two women brought in a low table covered with scarcely touched dishes of fish and meat which they set down on the kang. At once Baner set up a clamour for some meat, but his grandmother slapped him and told him to keep away.

       Next Mrs. Zhou came to beckon them with a smile. Granny Liu at once lifted her grandson off the kang and led him into the hall. After some whispered advice from Mrs. Zhou she followed her slowly into Xifeng’s room.

       A soft scarlet flowered portière hung from brass hooks over the door, and the kang below the south window was spread with a scarlet rug. Against the wooden partition on the east were a back-rest and bolster of brocade with chain designs next to a glossy satin mattress with a golden centre. Beside them stood a silver spittoon.

       Xifeng had on the dark sable hood with a pearl-studded band which she wore at home. She was also wearing a peach-red flowered jacket, a turquoise cape lined with grey squirrel and a skirt of crimson foreign crêpe lined with snow-weasel fur. Dazzlingly rouged and powdered she sat erect, stirring the ashes of her hand-stove with a tiny brass poker. Pinger stood by the kang with a small covered cup on a little lacquered tray, but Xifeng ignored the tea and kept her head lowered as she stirred the ashes.

       “Why haven’t you brought her in yet?” she finally asked.

       Then, raising her head to take the tea, she saw Mrs. Zhou with her two charges before her. She made a motion as if to rise and greeted them with a radiant smile, scolding Mrs. Zhou for not speaking up before.

       Granny Liu had already curtseyed several times to Xifeng, who now hastily said:

       “Help her up, Sister Zhou, she mustn’t curtsey to me. Ask her to be seated. I’m too young to remember what our relationship is, so I don’t know what to call her.”

       “This is the old lady I was just telling you about,” said Mrs. Zhou.

       Xifeng nodded.

       By now Granny Liu had seated herself on the edge of the kang, and Baner took refuge behind her. Coaxed to come forward and bow, he would not budge.

       “When relatives don’t call on each other they drift apart,” observed Xifeng with a smile. “People who know us would say you’re neglecting us. Petty-minded people who don’t know us so well might imagine we look down on everyone else.”

       “Gracious Buddha!” exclaimed Granny Liu. “We’re too hard up to gad about. And even if Your Ladyship didn’t slap our faces for coming, your stewards might take us for tramps.”

       “That’s no way to talk!” Xifeng laughed. “We’re simply poor officials trying to live up to our grandfather’s reputation. This household is nothing but an empty husk left over from the past. As the saying goes: ‘The Emperor himself has poor relations.’ How much more so in our case?”

       She asked Mrs. Zhou if she had notified Lady Wang.

       “I was waiting for madam’s instructions,” was the reply.

       “Go and see how busy she is. If she has visitors, never mind. But if she’s free, let her know and see what she says.”

       After Mrs. Zhou left on this errand, Xifeng told the maids to give Baner some sweetmeats. She was asking Granny Liu questions when Pinger announced the arrival of a number of servants to report on affairs in their charge.

       “I have a guest. They can come back this evening,” said Xifeng. “Only bring in anyone whose business won’t wait.”

       Pinger went out, reappearing to say, “They’ve nothing pressing so I sent them away.

       As Xifeng nodded, Mrs. Zhou came back.

       “Her Ladyship isn’t free today,” she said. “She hopes you’ll entertain them and thank them for coming. If they just dropped in for a call, well and good. If they have any business they should tell you, madam.”

       “I’ve no special business,” put in Granny Liu. “I just came to call on Her Ladyship and Madam Lian, seeing as how we’re related.”

       “If you’ve nothing special, all right,” said Mrs. Zhou. “If you have, telling our second mistress is just the same as telling Her Ladyship.”

       She winked at Granny Liu, who took the hint. Although her face burned with shame, she forced herself to pocket her pride and explain her reason for coming.

       “By rights, I shouldn’t bring this up at our first meeting, madam. But as I’ve come all this way to ask your help, I’d better speak up. .

       Just then pages by the second gate called out, “The young master from the East Mansion is here.”

       Cutting Granny Liu short Xifeng asked, “Where is Master Rong?” Booted footsteps sounded and in walked a handsome youth of seventeen or eighteen. Slender and graceful in light furs, he wore a jewelled girdle, fine clothes and a gorgeous hat. Granny Liu didn’t know whether to sit or stand and longed for some hiding-place.

       “Sit down,” said Xifeng with a twinkle. “It’s only my nephew.”

       Granny Liu perched gingerly on the edge of the kang.

       Jia Rong announced cheerfully, “My father’s sent me to ask a favour, aunt. He’s expecting an important guest tomorrow, and he’d like to borrow that glass screen for the kang that our Grand-Aunt Wang gave you. He’ll return it promptly.”

       “You’re too late,” replied Xifeng. “I gave it to somebody only yesterday.”

       Chuckling, Jia Rong half knelt by the foot of the kang. “If you won’t lend it, aunt, I’ll be given another sound thrashing for not asking properly. Have pity on your nephew!”

       “You seem to imagine all the Wangs’ things are special. Haven’t you plenty of stuff of your own over there?”

       “Nothing half as good.” He laughed. “Please, aunt, be kind!”

       “Then look out for your skin if you chip it!”

       She ordered Pinger to fetch the keys to the upstairs rooms and find trustworthy people to deliver the screen.

       “I’ve brought men to carry it.” Jia Rong’s face lit up, his eyes twinkled. “I’ll see that they’re careful.”

       He had barely left when she suddenly called him back.

       Servants outside echoed, “Master Rong, you’re asked to go back.”

       The young man hurried in again and stood at attention to hear his aunt’s instructions. Xifeng sipped her tea slowly and thoughtfully for a while, then said with a laugh:

       “Never mind. Come back again after supper. I’ve company now and don’t feel in the mood to tell you at the moment.”

       So Jia Rong slowly withdrew.

       Granny Liu felt easy enough at last to say, “The reason I brought your nephew here today is that his parents haven’t a bite to eat. And winter’s coming on, making things worse. So I brought your nephew here to ask for your help.” She nudged Baner. “Well, what did your dad tell you? What did he send us here for? Was it just to eat sweets?”

       Xifeng smiled at this blunt way of talking. “Don’t say any more. I understand.” She asked Mrs. Zhou, “Has granny eaten yet?”

       “We set out first thing in such a rush, we’d no time to eat anything,” said Granny Liu.

       At once Xifeng ordered a meal for the visitors. Mrs. Zhou passed on the order and a table was set for them in the east room.

       “Sister Zhou, see that they have all they want,” said Xifeng. “I can’t keep them company.

       When Mrs. Zhou had taken them to the east room, Xifeng called her back to hear what Lady Wang had said.

       “Her ladyship says they don’t really belong to our family,” Mrs. Zhou told her. “They joined families because they have the same surname and their grandfather was an official in the same place as our old master. We haven’t seen much of them these last few years, but whenever they came we didn’t let them go away empty-handed. Since they mean well, coming to see us, we shouldn’t slight them. If they need help, madam should use her own discretion.”

       “I was thinking, if we were really relatives it was funny I didn’t know the first thing about them.”

       As Xifeng was speaking Granny Liu came back from her meal with Baner, loud in her thanks.

       “Sit down now and listen to me, dear old lady,” said Xifeng cheerfully. “I know what you were hinting at just now. We shouldn’t wait for relatives to come to our door before we take care of them. But we’ve plenty of troublesome business here, and now that Her Ladyship’s growing old she sometimes forgets things. Besides, when I took charge recently I didn’t really know all our family connections. Then again, although we look prosperous you must realize that a big household has big difficulties of its own, though few may believe it. But since you’ve come so far today and this is the first time you’ve asked me for help, I can’t send you away empty-handed. Luckily Her Ladyship gave me twenty taels of silver yesterday to make clothes for the maids, and I haven’t yet touched it. If you don’t think it too little, take that to be going on with.”

       Talk of difficulties had dashed all Granny Liu’s hopes and set her heart palpitating. The promise of twenty taels put her in a flutter of joy.

       “Ah,” she cried, “I know what difficulties are. But ‘A starved camel is bigger than a horse.’ No matter how, ‘A hair from your body is thicker than our waist.”’

       Mrs. Zhou kept signalling to her not to talk in the crude way, but Xifeng merely laughed and seemed not to mind. She sent Pinger for the package of silver and a string of cash and presented these to the old woman.

       “Here’s twenty taels to make the child some winter clothes. If you refuse it, I shall think you’re offended. With the cash you can hire a cart. When you’ve time, drop in again as relatives should. It’s growing late, I won’t keep you for no purpose. Give my compliments to everyone at home to whom I should be remembered.”

She stood up and Granny Liu, having thanked her profusely, took the silver and cash and followed Mrs. Zhou towards the servants’ quarters.

       “Gracious me!” exclaimed Mrs. Zhou. “What possessed you when you saw her to keep on about ‘your nephew’? At the risk of offending you I must say this: Even if he were a real nephew you should have glossed it over. Master Rong, now, he’s her honest-to-goodness nephew --- where would she get a nephew like Baner?”

       “My dear sister!” Granny Liu beamed. “I was struck all of a heap at sight of her and didn’t know what I was saying.”

       Chatting together they reached Zhou Rui’s house and sat down for a few moments. Granny Liu wanted to leave a piece of silver to buy sweets for Mrs. Zhou’s children, but this Mrs. Zhou most resolutely declined --- such small sums meant nothing to her. Then with boundless thanks Granny Liu left by the back gate.

       To know what followed, you must read the next chapter.

       Truly:

In affluence, charity is freely dispensed,

One deeply grateful is better than kinsmen or friends.

 

Chapter 7

 

Madam You Invites Xifeng Alone

At a Feast in the Ning Mansion Baoyu

First Meets Qin Zhong

 

 

 

       The theme:

Twelve maids pretty as flowers,

But who is it that loves them?

Do you ask the name of the one he meets?

It is Qin whose home is south of the Yangtze River.

 

       After seeing off Granny Liu, Mrs. Zhou went to report to Lady Wang. On being told by her maids that their mistress had gone to chat with Aunt Xue, she made her way through the east side gate and the east courtyard to Pear Fragrance Court. On the verandah steps there, Lady Wang’s maid Jinchuan was playing with a girl who had just let her hair grow. Realizing that Mrs. Zhou had come on business, Jinchuan nodded towards the door.

       Mrs. Zhou softly raised the portiere and went in. Lady Wang and her sister were having a good long gossip on domestic matters, and not wanting to disturb them she went into the inner room where Baochai in a house dress, her hair pinned into a loose knot, was copying an embroidery pattern with her maid Yinger at the low table on the kang. She put down her brush and turned with a smile to offer the visitor a seat.

       “How are you, miss?” asked Mrs. Zhou, sitting on the edge of the kang, “I haven’t seen you over on our side for several days. Did Baoyu do something to annoy you?”

       “What an idea! I’ve been staying in for a couple of days because an old ailment’s been troubling me again.”

       “Why, miss, what is it? Better send for a doctor at once to make out a prescription. A few doses should set you right once and for all. It’s no joke being an invalid at your age.

       “Don’t talk to me about medicine!” Baochai laughed. “Goodness knows how much silver we’ve squandered on doctors and medicines to cure this illness of mine. The most famous physicians and the most fabulous drugs were of no use at all. In the end, luckily, there came a tonsured monk who claimed to specialize in mysterious diseases. We called him in and he diagnosed my trouble as a choleric humour I’d brought from the womb, but which thanks to my good constitution wasn’t too serious. No ordinary pills bring any relief, but he gave us an exotic prescription from across the seas, together with a packet of aromatic powder he’d procured as adjuvant goodness knows where. He prescribed one pill each time an attack comes on. And strange to say that’s done me good.”

       “What is this prescription from across the seas? If you’ll tell me, miss, we’ll keep it in mind and recommend it to others with the same trouble. That would be a good deed.”

       “Well, better not ask. But if you must know, it’s the most troublesome prescription.” Baochai laughed. “There aren’t too many ingredients and they’re easily obtainable, but each has to be gathered at just the right time. You have to take twelve ounces of the stamens of white peonies that bloom in the spring, twelve ounces of the stamens of white lotus that blooms in the summer, twelve ounces of the stamens of white hibiscus that blooms in the autumn, and twelve ounces of the stamens of white plum that blooms in the winter. These four kinds of stamens must be dried in the sun on the following vernal equinox, then mixed well with the powder. Then you must take twelve drains of rain that fell on the day Rain Begins..

       “Aiya!” broke in Mrs. Zhou. “That would take three years. And what if it doesn’t rain on the day Rain Begins?”

       “Exactly. You can’t always count on it. If it doesn’t, you just have to wait. You also have to collect twelve drains of dew on the day White Dew,2 twelve drains of frost on the day Frost Falls,3 and twelve drains of snow on the day Slight Snow.4 These liquids are mixed with the other ingredients, then twelve drains of honey and twelve of white sugar are added to make pills the size of longans. These must be kept in an old porcelain jar and buried beneath the roots of flowers. When the illness comes on, this jar can be dug up and one pill taken with twelve candareens of a phellodendron concoction.”

       “Gracious Buddha!” Mrs. Zhou chuckled. “How terribly chancy! You

might wait ten years without such a run of luck.”

       “Well, we were lucky enough to collect all the ingredients and have them carefully made up within two years of the monk’s telling us. We brought the pills up from the south. They’re buried under one of the pear trees now.~~

       “Has this medicine any name?”

       “Yes, the scabby monk told us they’re called Cold Fragrance Pills.”

       Mrs. Thou nodded. “What are the symponis of this illness of yours, miss?”

       “Nothing serious. Slight fits of coughing and shortness of breath. But one pill clears it up.”

       Before they could say more, Lady Wang asked who was there. Mrs. Zhou hurried out and seized this chance to tell her about Granny Liu. It seemed Lady Wang had no further instructions for her, and she was on the point of leaving when Aunt Xue stopped her.

       “Wait a minute,” she said with a smile. “I’ve something for you to take back.”

       She called for Xiangling and the portiere clacked as in came the girl who had been playing with Jinchuan.

       “Did you call, madam?” she asked.

       “Bring me that box of flowers,” ordered Aunt Xue.

       Xiangling accordingly fetched a brocade box.

       “These are twelve sprays of gauze flowers of the new sort made in the Palace, “ explained Aunt Xue. “I remembered them yesterday, and thought it a pity to leave them tucked away when the girls might like to wear them. I meant to send them over yesterday, but forgot. You may as well take them now that you’re here. Give two each to your three young ladies. Of the six left, give a couple to Miss Lin and the other four to Master Feng.”

       “It’s kind of you to think of them,” remarked Lady Wang. “But why not keep them for Baochai?”

       “You don’t know what an odd girl she is, sister. She dislikes wearing flowers or make-up.”

       Going out with the box, Mrs. Zhou found Jinchuan still sunning herself on the steps. “Tell me,” she said, “isn’t Xiangling the girl there was all that talk about? The one bought just before they came to the capital, who

was at the bottom of that manslaughter case?”

       “That’s right,” said Jinchuan.

       Just then Xiangling came over, smiling. Mrs. Zhou took her hand and studied her intently, then turned to Jinchuan again:

       “She’s a handsome girl. Reminds me of Master Rong’s wife in our East Mansion.”

       “That’s what I say,” agreed Jinchuan.

       Mrs. Zhou asked Xiangling how old she had been when sold, where her parents were, her age now and her native place. But the girl simply shook her head and said she could not remember, so that their hearts bled for her.

       Then Mrs. Zhou took the flowers to the back of Lady Wang’s principal apartment. Recently the Lady Dowager had found it inconvenient to have all her grand-daughters crowded together in her compound. Keeping just Baoyu and Daiyu for company, she had sent Yingchun, Tanchun and Xichun to live in three small suites behind Lady Wang’s quarters, under the care of Li Wan. Hence Mrs. Zhou stopped here first as it was on her way, and found a few maids waiting in the hail for when they should be wanted.

       Yingchun’s maid Siqi and Tanchun’s maid Daishu raised the portiere at that moment and stepped out, each carrying a cup and saucer. This meant that their young mistresses must be together, so Mrs. Zhou went in and discovered Yingchun and Tanchun playing draughts by the window. She presented the flowers, explaining where they came from. The two girls stopped their game to bow their thanks, then ordered their maids to put the gifts away.

       As Mrs. Zhou handed over the flowers she remarked, “The fourth young lady isn’t here. Is she with the old lady, I wonder?”

       “Isn’t she there in the next room?” the maids said.

       Mrs. Zhou walked into the adjoining room and found Xichun laughing and chatting with Zhineng, a young nun from the Water Moon Convent. Xichun asked Mrs. Zhou her business. The box was opened and the gift explained.

       “I was just telling Zhineng that I’d shave my head some day and become a nun too, and now you turn up with flowers.” Xichun smiled.

Where shall I wear them if my head is shaved?”

       Amid the banter that followed, Xichun told her maid Ruhua to put the present away.

       The Mrs. Zhou asked Zhineng, “When did you arrive? And where’s that bald-headed, crotchety abbess of yours?”

       “We came here first thing this morning. After calling on Lady Wang the abbess went to Mr. Yu’s mansion, telling me to wait for her here.”

       “Have you received the monthly allowance and donation for incense due on the fifteenth?”

       Zhineng shook her head. “I don’t know.”

       Xichun asked who was in charge of the monthly donations for different temples.

       “Yu Xin,” was Mrs. Zhou’s answer.

       “So that’s it.” Xichun giggled. “As soon as the abbess arrived, Yu Xin’s wife hurried over and whispered with her for a while. That must be why.”

       After chatting for a time with the nun, Mrs. Zhou went on to Xifeng’s quarters. She walked through the passage, past Li Wan’s back window, and skirting the west wall entered Xifeng’s compound by the west side-gate. In the main hall outside the bedroom door sat Fenger, who hastily motioned her to the east room. Taking the hint, Mrs. Zhou tiptoed in and found a nurse patting Xifeng’s daughter to sleep.

       “Is your mistress having a nap?” whispered Mrs. Zhou. “It’s time somebody woke her.”

       As the nurse shook her head, from Xifeng’s room came the sound of laughter and Jia Lian’s voice. The door opened and out stepped Pinger with a large copper basin which she told Fenger to fill with water and take in. Then Pinger came over and asked Mrs. Zhou, “What brings you here again, auntie?”

       Mrs. Zhou stood up and explained her errand, handing over the box. Pinger took out four sprays and went off with them, returning presently with two which she ordered Caiming to take to Master Rong’s wife in the Ning Mansion. After this she asked Mrs. Zhou to convey Xifeng’s thanks to Aunt Xue.

       Only then did Mrs. Zhou make her way to the Lady Dowager’s corn-

pound. In the entrance hall she ran into her own daughter, dressed in her best, come from her mother-in-law’s house.

       “What are you doing here?”asked Mrs. Zhou.

       “Have you been keeping well, ma?” Her daughter beamed. “I waited and waited at home but you didn’t come. What’s been keeping you all this time? When I got tired of waiting I went on my own to pay my respects to the old lady, and I was just going to see Lady Wang. Aren’t you through yet with your business? What’s that in your hand?”

       “Ai! Granny Liu would choose today to call, and I put myself out running here and there for her. Then Madam Xue spotted me and asked me to deliver these flowers to the young ladies. I’m not through with it yet. But you must want something of me, coming at this time.”

       “You’ve guessed right, ma. The fact is, your son-in-law had a cup too much the other day and a row started. Someone, I don’t know why, has spread ugly rumours and says he’s got a shady past. A charge has been lodged against him at the yamen to have him sent back to his native place. I came to ask your advice. Who can we get to help us out?”

       “I thought as much,” said her mother. “A fuss about nothing. You go home while I deliver these flowers to Miss Lin. Her Ladyship and Madam Lian aren’t free just now, so go back and wait for me. Why get so excited?”

       “Well, be as quick as you can, ma,” urged her daughter walking off.

       “Of course. You young people lack experience, that’s why you’re so worked up.”

       Daiyu was not in her room but Mrs. Zhou found her in Baoyu’s, trying to unravel the nine-ring puzzle with him.

       Mrs. Zhou greeted her with a smile as she entered and said, “Madam Xue asked me to bring you these flowers to wear.”

       “What flowers?” demanded Baoyu. “Let me see them.”

       He reached for the box and, opening it, saw the two sprigs of gauze flowers from the Palace.

       Daiyu glanced briefly at them in Baoyu’s hand. “Am I the only one getting these?” she asked. “Or have the other girls been given some too?”

       “Each of the young ladies has some. These two are for you, miss.”

       “I might have known.” Daiyu smiled bitterly. “I wouldn’t get mine till the others had taken their pick.”

       Mrs. Zhou had nothing to say to this, but Baoyu put in, “What were you doing over there, Sister Zhou?”

       “I had a message for Her Ladyship, who’s there. And Madam Xue asked me to bring back these flowers.~~

       “What’s Baochai doing at home? Why hasn’t she been here for the last few days?”

       “She’s not very well.”

       At once Baoyu told his maids, “One of you go and see her. Tell her Miss Lin and I sent you to ask how our aunt and cousin are. Find out what’s wrong with her and what medicine she’s taking. I ought to go myself, but say I’m just back from school and have caught a chill as well. I’ll call some other time.”

       As Qianxue offered to go, Mrs. Zhou left.

       Now Mrs. Zhou’s son-in-law was none other than Jia Yucun’s good friend Leng Zixing. Finding himself involved in a lawsuit arising from the sale of some curios, he had sent his wife to ask for help. With full confidence in her master’s power, Mrs. Zhou did not take this to heart. In fact she settled the matter that same evening by applying to Xifeng.

       When the lamps were lit and Xifeng had disrobed, she went to see Lady Wang.

       “I’ve taken charge of those things the Zhens sent today,” she announced. “As for our presents to them, I have sent them back by their boats which have come for the New Year provisions.”

       When Lady Wang nodded, Xifeng went on, “I’ve prepared our birthday presents for the Earl of Linan’s mother. Who should deliver them, madam?”

       “Any four women you see are free. Why consult me about such trifles?”

       With a smile Xifeng went on, “Today Brother Zhen’s wife invited me to spend tomorrow with them. I haven’t anything special to do that I know of.”

       “Even if you had, it wouldn’t matter, She usually asks us all, which can’t be much fun for you. Since she hasn’t invited us this time, only

you, she obviously wants you to have a little fun, so don’t disappoint her. Even if you had business you ought to go.

       Xifeng had just agreed when Li Wan, Yingchun, Tanchun and the other girls came in to say goodnight, after which all retired to their own rooms.

       The next day after Xifeng had finished her toilet she went to tell Lady Wang that she was off. She then went to the Lady Dowager; and when Baoyu heard where she was going he insisted on going too. Xifeng had to agree and wait until he had changed. Then the two of them drove quickly to the Ning Mansion.

       Jia Zhen’s wife Madam You and ha Rong’s wife Qin Keqing had gathered a troop of concubines and maids to welcome them at the ceremonial gate. Having greeted Xifeng in her usual teasing fashion, Madam You led Baoyu to a seat in the drawing room.

       When Keqing had served tea Xifeng asked, “Well, what did you invite me for today? If you’ve something good for me, hand it over quickly, I’ve other things to attend to.”

       Before Madam You or Keqing could reply, a concubine retorted Laughingly. “In that case you shouldn’t have come. Now that you’re here, madam, you can’t have it all your own way.

       Jia Rong entered then to pay his respects, and Baoyu asked if Jia Zhen were at home.

       “He’s gone out of town to inquire after his father’s health,” said Madam You. “But you must find it dull sitting here. Why not go out for a stroll?”

       “As it happens,” put in Keqing, “my brother whom Uncle Bao was so eager to meet last time is here today. He’s probably in the library. Why don’t you go and have a look, uncle?”

       But as Baoyu slipped down from the kang Madam You and Xifeng interposed, “Steady on. What’s the hurry?” They ordered some maids to go with him. “Don’t let him get into any trouble,” they warned. “The old lady isn’t here to keep an eye on him today.~~

       “Why not ask young Master Qin in here?” suggested Xifeng. “Then I can see him too. Or am I forbidden to see him?”

       “You’d much better not,” retorted Madam You. “He’s not like our

boys with their rough, rowdy ways. Other people’s sons behave in a

more civilized fashion. How could he face a terror like you? You’d be a

laughing-stock.”

       “I’m the one who laughs at others.” Xifeng smiled. “How can a boy laugh at me?”

       “It’s not that, aunt,” said Jia Rong. “He’s shy and hasn’t seen much of the world. You’d have no patience with him.”

       “Even if he’s a monster, I insist on seeing him. Don’t talk like a fool! Fetch him in at once or I’ll give you a good slap.”

       “How dare I disobey?” Jia Rong chuckled. “I’ll bring him in at once.”

       With that, he fetched in a lad more slightly built that Baoyu yet even more handsome, with fine features, a fair complexion, red lips, a graceful figure and pleasing manners, but as bashful as a girl. He bowed shyly to Xifeng and inquired almost inaudibly after her health.

       Xifeng nudged Baoyu delightedly and cried, “Now you must take a back seat.” She leaned forward to take the young stranger’s hand and made him sit down beside her, then began questioning him about his age and the books he was studying. She learned that his school name was Qin Zhong.

       Since this was Xifeng’s first meeting with Qin Zhong but she hadn’t prepared the usual gifts, some of her maids had hurried back to consult Pinger. And Pinger, knowing how intimate her mistress was with Qin Keqing, decided that she would want to give the boy something handsome. So she handed them a length of silk and two small gold medallions inscribed with the wish that the owner would win first place in the Palace Examination. When these were brought Xifeng protested that the gift was too poor, while Keqing and the others thanked her profusely.

       After lunch Madam You, Xifeng and Keqing sat down to a game of cards, leaving the two boys to amuse themselves as they pleased.

       At sight of Qin Zhong, Baoyu had felt quite eclipsed. He lapsed into a spell of stupefaction, and then gave way to foolish fancies again. “Imagine there being such people in the world!” he thought. “Why, compared with him I’m no better than a filthy pig or mangy dog. Why did I have to be born into this noble family? If I were the son of a poor scholar or some minor official, I might have made friends with him long ago and life would

have been worth living. Although my status is higher, I’m just a stump of rotten wood swathed in silks and satins, just a ces s-pool or gutter filled with choice wines and meats. Riches and rank are anathema to me.”

       In Qin Zhong’s eyes, Baoyu’s striking appearance and ingenuous behaviour were a fine foil to his rich costume, pretty maids and handsome pages. He for his part reflected, “No wonder everyone is so fond of Baoyu. Why did I have to be born into a poor family, unable to have him as an intimate friend? What a barrier there is between wealth and poverty. This is one of the greatest curses of this life.”

       Thus both were lost in equally foolish reflections until Baoyu abruptly asked Qin Zhong what he was reading and, the latter answering frankly, they embarked on an animated conversation which soon made them feel even more drawn to each other. Then tea and refreshments were served.

       “We two shan’t be drinking any wine,” said Baoyu. “Why not put a plate or two of these things on that small kang in the inner room and let us sit there where we won’t disturb you?”

       So they went inside to have their tea. And Keqing, after serving Xifeng with wine and refreshments, slipped in to tell Baoyu:

       “Your nephew’s young, Uncle Bao. If he says anything he shouldn’t, please overlook it for my sake. He’s a stubborn boy for all his shyness and likes to have his own way.

       “Just leave us,” Baoyu laughed. “We’re all right.”

       Having urged her brother to behave himself, Keqing returned to Xifeng.

       Presently Xifeng and Madam You sent to remind Baoyu, if he wanted anything to eat from their room, just to ask for it. Baoyu agreed but he had no interest in food, so eager was he to learn more about how his new friend lived.

       “My tutor died last year,” confided Qin Zhong. “My father’s old and unwell, with so much to keep him busy that he hasn’t had time to find me another yet. At present I’m just going over old lessons at home. In any case, in studying you need one or two congenial companions to talk things over with from time to time, to get the best out of it.”

       “Just what I think,” broke in Baoyu. “We have a school for members of our clan who can’t engage a tutor, and some other relatives attend it too. My tutor went home last year, so I’m at a loose end myself for the

time being. My father wanted to send me to this school to go over the old lessons until my tutor returns next year, when I can go on studying alone at home. But my grandmother was against it, for fear so many boys would get up to mischief; and as I’ve been unwell for a few days the matter’s been dropped for a while.

       “If, as you say, your worthy father is concerned over this, why not tell him about it when you go home today, and come and study in our school? I’ll be your schoolfellow, and we can help each other. What could be better?”

       “The other day when my father brought up the question of a tutor he spoke highly of this free school here,” replied Qin Zhong eagerly. “He meant to come and talk it over with Lord Zhen, but didn’t like to trouble him about such a trifle when everyone here is so busy. If you think, Uncle Bao, I could grind your ink or wash the inkstone for you, let’s try to fix it as soon as possible. Then neither of us need waste our time, we’d have plenty of chances to talk, our parent’s minds would be set at rest, and we could become real friends. Wouldn’t that be fine?”

       “Don’t worry,” said Baoyu. “Let’s go and tell your brother-in-law and sister, as well as Sister Xifeng. You can speak to your father when you get home, and I’ll tell my grandmother. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be arranged quickly.”

       By the time this was settled, lamps were being lit and they went out to watch the game. When the score was reckoned, Keqing and Madam You had lost again and it was agreed that they should stand treat to a meal and an opera show in two days’ time. Then they chatted a while.

       After dinner, because it was dark, Madam You suggested that they send two men-servants to see Qin Zhong home, and maids went out with these orders. When some time later the boy took his leave, she asked who was to accompany him.

       “Jiao Da,” said the maids. “But he’s roaring drunk and using foul language again.”

       “But why send him?” protested Madam You and Keqing. “We’ve all those young fellows who could go. Why pick Jiao Da?”

       “I’ve always said you’re too soft with your servants,” was Xifeng’s comment. “Fancy letting them have their own way like this!”

       “You know biao Da, surely?” Madam You sighed. “Not even the master can control him, let alone your Cousin Zhen. He went out with our great-grandfather on three or four expeditions when he was young, and saved his master’s life by carrying him off a battlefield heaped with corpses. He went hungry himself but stole food for his master; and after two days without water, when he got half a bowl he gave it to his master and drank horse urine himself. Because of these services, he was treated with special consideration in our great-grandfather’s time and nobody likes to interfere with him now. But since growing old he has no regard for appearances. He does nothing but drink and when he’s drunk he abuses everyone. Time and again I’ve told the stewards to write him off and not give him any jobs. Yet he’s being sent again today.”

       “Of course I know Jiao Da, but you ought to be able to handle him,” scoffed Xifeng. “Pack him off to some distant farm and have done with it.” She asked if her carriage was ready.

       “Ready waiting, madam,” said the attendants.

       Xifeng rose to take her leave and led Baoyu out. Madam You and the others escorted them to the main hall, where by the bright light of lanterns they saw attendants waiting in the court. Because Jia Zhen was out —though he could have done nothing even if at home — Jiao Da was fairly letting himself go. Roaring drunk, he lashed out at the head steward Lai Er’s injustice, calling him a cowardly bully.

       “You give all the soft jobs to others, but when it comes to seeing someone home late at night in the dark you send me. Black-hearted son of a turtle! A fine steward you are! I can lift my leg up higher than your head. Twenty years ago I’d nothing but contempt for this household, not to mention you bastards, you crew of turtle-eggs.”

       He was cursing away full blast as bia Rong saw Xifeng in her carriage out, and ignored all the servant’s shouts to him to be quiet. Jia Rong could hardly let this pass. He swore at Jiao Da and told men to tie him up.

       “We’ll ask him tomorrow, when he’s sobered up, what he means by this disgraceful behaviour,” he blustered.

       Jiao Da had a low opinion, of course, of Jia Rong. He bore down on him bellowing still more angrily:

       “Don’t try to lord it over biao Da, young Brother Rong! Not to speak

of the likes of you, not even your dad or granddad dare stand up to Jiao Da. If not for me, and me alone, you’d have no official posts, fancy titles or riches. It was your great-granddad who built up this estate, and nine times I snatched him back from the jaws of death. Now instead of showing yourselves properly grateful, you try to lord it over me. Shut up, and I’ll overlook it. Say one word more, and I’ll bury a white blade in you and pull it out red!”

       “Why don’t you get rid of this lawless wretch?” asked Xifeng from her carriage. “He’s nothing but a source of trouble. If this came to the ears of our relatives and friends, how they’d laugh at the lack of rules and order here.”

       As Jia Rong agreed to this, some servants overpowered Jiao Da and dragged him off towards the stables, for this time he had really gone too far. Then he let loose a flood of abuse in which even Jia Zhen was included.

       “Let me go to the Ancestral Temple and weep for my old master,” he fumed. “Little did he expect to beget such degenerates, a houseful of rutting dogs and bitches in heat, day in and day out scratching in the ashes5 and carrying on with younger brothers-in-law. Don’t think you can fool me. I only tried to hide the broken arm in your sleeve....”

       These obscenities frightened the servants half out of their wits. Hurriedly trussing him up, they stuffed his mouth with mud and horse-dung.

       Xifeng and Jia Rong pretended not to have heard, whereas Baoyu in the carriage was rather entertained by this drunken outburst.

       “Did you hear that, sister?” he asked. “What’s meant by ‘scratching in the ashes’?”

       “Don’t talk nonsense,” snapped Xifeng, glowering. “What’s come over you? You not only listen to drunken raving but have to ask questions too. Just wait until we get back and I tell your mother — you’ll pay for this with a thrashing.”

       “Dear sister,” apologized Baoyu fearfully, “I promise not to do it again.”

       “That’s more like it, brother. The important thing, once we’re home, is to talk to the old lady about sending you and your nephew Qin Zhong to school.”

       They were back now in the Rong Mansion. To know what followed,

turn to the next chapter.

Good looks pave the way to friendship, A mutual attraction starts boys studying.

 

Chapter 8

 

Nanny Li Makes a Nuisance of Herself by

Warning Against Drinking

Baoyu Breaks a Teacup and

Flies into a Temper

 

 

       After Xifeng and Baoyu reached home and had paid their greetings, Baoyu told the Lady Dowager of Qin Zhong’s eagerness to attend their clan school, and the incentive it would be for him to have a friend and companion in his studies. He painted a glowing picture of the other boy’s admirable character and lovable qualities.

       Xifeng backed him up, adding, “In a day or two Qin Thong will be coming to pay his respects to our Old Ancestress.” She then took advantage of the old lady’s pleasure at this news to invite her to the opera in two days’ time.

      In spite of her age, the Lady Dowager looked forward to any excitement. When the day arrived and Madam You came to invite her, she took Lady Wang, Daiyu, Baoyu and others along to watch the performances.

       At noon the old lady went home for her siesta. And Lady Wang, who liked peace and quiet, returned too after her mother-in-law’s departure. Then Xifeng moved into the seat of honour and enjoyed herself to the full until the evening.

 

       After Baoyu had seen his grandmother back for her nap, he would have returned to see the show if not for his reluctance to disturb Keqing and the rest. Remembering that he had not gone in person to ask after Baochai’s recent indisposition, he decided to pay her a visit. He feared that if he went past the main apartment something might happen to hold him up, while he dreaded still more the thought of meeting his father. So he decided to go the long way round.

       His nurses and maids were waiting to take off his ceremonial clothes, but he went out again without changing. They followed him through the second gate under the impression that he was going back to the other mansion, instead of which he turned northeast round the back of the hall.

       There, however, he ran into two of his father’s proteges, Zhan Guang and Shan Pinren, who hurried forward smiling. One threw an arm round him, the other took his hand.

       “Little Bodhisattva!” they cried. “We so rarely see you, this is a delightful surprise.”

       Having paid their respects, asked after his health and chatted for a while, they were moving on when his nurse inquired if they were going to see the master.

       They nodded. “His Lordship is sleeping now in his Mengpo Studio. Don’t worry,” they assured Baoyu, moving on.

       These words made Baoyu laugh in spite of himself. He then turned north and hurried towards Pear Fragrance Court. Just then the chief treasurer Wu Xindeng and the manager of the granaries Dai Liang emerged from the counting-house with five other stewards. They hurried forward at sight of Baoyu and stood at respectful attention. One of them, Qian Hua, who had not seen Baoyu for some time, stepped forward and fell on one knee. Smiling slightly, Baoyu quickly helped him up, while one of the other men said cheerfully:

       “The other day we saw some inscriptions written by you, young master. Your calligraphy’s even better than before. When will you give us a few samples to put on our walls?”

       “Where did you see them?” asked Baoyu.

       “In several places,” they answered. “People admire them so much they asked us to get them some.

       “They’re not worth having,” protested Baoyu, laughing. “But you can ask my pages for some if you want.”

       The whole party waited until he had walked on before going their different ways. But enough of this digression.

       On reaching Pear Fragrance Court, Baoyu went first to see Aunt Xue, whom he found distributing sewing to her maids. He paid his respects to his aunt, who caught him in her arms and hugged him.

       “How good of you to come, dear boy, on a cold day like this.” She beamed. “But get up here quickly on the warm kang.” She ordered hot tea to be served.

       “Is Cousin Pan at home?” asked Baoyu.

       “Ah, he’s like a horse without a halter,” she sighed. “He’s for ever rushing about outside. Not a day does he spend at home.”

       “Is Baochai better?”

       “Yes, thank you. It was thoughtful of you to send over to ask how she was the other day. She’s in her room now. Why not go in and see her? It’s warmer there. Go and keep her company and I’ll join you as soon as I’m through here.”

       Baoyu promptly slipped off the kang and went to his cousin’s door, before which hung a somewhat worn red silk portière. Lifting this he stepped inside.

       Baochai was sewing on the kang. Her glossy black hair was knotted on top of her head. She was wearing a honey-coloured padded jacket, a rose-red sleeveless jacket lined with brown- and snow-weasel fur, and a skirt of leek-yellow silk. There was nothing ostentatious about her costume, which was none too new. Her lips needed no rouge, her blue-black eyebrows no brush; her face seemed a silver disk, her eyes almonds swimming in water. Some might think her reticence a cloak for stupidity; but circumspect as she was she prided herself on her simplicity.

       As Baoyu observed her he asked, “Are you better now, cousin?”

       Baochai looked up and rose swiftly to her feet, saying, “Ever so much better, thank you for your kind concern.”

       She made him sit on the edge of the kang and told Yinger to pour tea. As she asked after the old lady and her aunts and cousins, she took in Baoyu’s costume.

       He was wearing a golden filigree coronet studded with gems, a gold chaplet in the form of two dragons fighting for a pearl, a yellowish green archer’s jacket embroidered with serpents and lined with white fox-fur, and a sash embroidered with many-coloured butterflies. From his neck hung a longevity locket, a talisman inscribed with his name, and the precious jade found in his mouth at the time of his birth.

       “I’ve heard so much about that jade of yours but I’ve never seen it,” said Baochai edging forward. “Do let me have a good look at it today.”

       Baoyu leaned forward too, and taking the stone from his neck laid it in her hand. She held it on her palm. It was the size of a sparrow’s egg, iridescent as clouds at sunrise, smooth as junket, and covered with coloured lines. This was the form taken by the stupid Stone from the foot of Blue Ridge Peak in Great Waste Mountain. A later poet wrote these mocking lines:

Fantastic, Nu Wa’s smelting of the stone,

Now comes fresh fantasy from the Great Waste;

The Stone’s true sphere and spirit lost,

It takes a new form stinking and debased.

Know that when fortune frowns, pure gold is dulled,

And jade, in evil times, will cease to shine;

Heaped high the white bones of the nameless dead,

Who in their day were lords and ladies fine.

       The stupid Stone had also recorded its transformation and below we shall reproduce the seal characters engraved on it by the scabby monk.

       As the jade was small enough to be held in the mouth of a new-born child, if we were to reproduce the real size of the characters they would be so minute that our readers would find them a troublesome strain on their eyes. We are therefore enlarging them to scale to enable readers to study them by lamplight or even in their cups. This point is made clear so that nobody may sneer, “How big a mouth could an infant in the womb have, to hold this clumsy object!”

 

       The obverse side read:

Precious Jade of Spiritual Understanding

Never Lose, Never Forget,

Eternal Life, Lasting Prosperity.

The reverse side:

       1. Expels Evil Spirits.

       2. Cures Mysterious Diseases.

       3. Foretells Happiness and Misfortune.

       After examining both sides Baochai turned the jade over to study the face more closely and read the inscription aloud, not once but twice. Then she turned to ask Yinger:

       “Why are you standing gaping there instead of getting us tea?”

       Yinger answered with a giggle, “Those two lines seem to match the words on your locket, miss.”

       “Why, cousin,” cried Baoyu eagerly, “does that locket of yours have an inscription too? Do let me see it.”

       “Don’t listen to her,” replied Baochai. “There aren’t any characters on it.”

 

       “I let you see mine, dear cousin,” he countered coaxingly.

       Cornered like this, Baochai answered, “As it happens, there is a lucky inscription on it. Otherwise I wouldn’t wear such a clumsy thing all the time.” She unbuttoned her red jacket and drew out a bright gold necklace studded with glittering pearls and jewels. Baoyu took the locket eagerly and found two inscriptions, one on either side, in the form of eight minute characters.

 

       Never Leave, Never Abandon, Fresh Youth, Eternally Lasting.

       Baoyu read this twice, then twice repeated his own.

       “Why, cousin, this inscription of yours matches mine exactly,” he declared laughingly.

       “It was given her by a scabby monk,” explained Yinger. “He said it must be engraved on something made of gold.”

       Before she could say more Baochai called her to task for not bringing them some tea. Then she asked Baoyu where he had come from. He was now close enough to her to catch whiffs of some cool, sweet fragrance which he could not identify.

       “What incense do you use to scent your clothes with?” he asked. “I’ve never smelt this perfume before.”

       “I don’t like incense perfumes. They just make good clothes reek of smoke.”

       “What is that perfume, then?”

       Baochai thought for a moment. “I know. It must be the pill I took this morning.”

       “What pills smell so good? Won’t you give me one to try?”

       “Don’t be silly!” She laughed. “You don’t take medicine for the fun of it.”

       Just then a servant outside announced, “Miss Lin is here.” And in came Daiyu.

       “Ah!” she exclaimed at sight of Baoyu. “I’ve chosen a bad time to come.”

       Baoyu rose with a smile to offer her a seat while Baochai asked cheerfully, “What do you mean?”

       “If I’d known he was here, I wouldn’t have come.

       “That’s more puzzling than ever,” said Baochai.

Either everybody comes at once or no one comes,” explained Daiyu mischievously. “If he came one day and I the next, spacing out our visits, you’d have callers every day and would find it neither too lonely nor too distracting. What’s so puzzling about that, cousin?”

       Baoyu saw that she was wearing a crimson camlet cloak which buttoned in front. “Is it snowing outside?” he asked.

       “It’s been hailing for some time,” replied the maids.

       “Have they brought my cape?”

       “Wasn’t I right?” cried Daiyu. “As soon as I come, he must go.”

       “When did I say a word about going? I just want to be prepared.”

       “It’s snowing and it’s getting late now,” put in Nanny Li. “Just amuse yourself here with your cousins. Your aunt’s prepared refreshments in the other room. I’ll send a maid for your cape and tell your pages not to wait.”

       As Baoyu agreed to this, his nurse went out and sent the pages away.

       Meanwhile Aunt Xue had tea and other good things ready for them. When Baoyu spoke highly of the goose feet and duck tongues served a couple of days before by Madam You, she produced some of her own, pickled with distiller’s grain, for him to try.

       “These taste even better with wine,” he hinted, smiling.

       His aunt promptly sent for the best wine in the house.

       “No wine, please, Madam Xue,” protested Nanny Li.

       “Just one cup, dear nanny,” begged Baoyu.

       “No, you don’t! If the Lady Dowager or Lady Wang were here I wouldn’t mind your drinking a whole jarful. But I haven’t forgotten the way they scolded me for two days on end just because some irresponsible fool who wanted to get on the right side of you gave you a sip of wine behind my back. You’ve no idea what a rascal he is, Madam Xue. And drinking brings out all the worst in him. On days when the old lady’s in a good humour she lets him drink all he wants, but on other days she won’t let him touch a drop. And I’m always the one that gets into trouble.”

       “Don’t worry, poor old thing,” said Aunt Xue, laughing. “Go and have a drink yourself. I’ll see that he doesn’t drink too much. If the old lady says anything, I’ll take the blame.” She ordered her maids, “Take the nurses along to drink a few cups now to keep out the cold.” So Nanny Li had to join the other servants to enjoy her drink.

       As soon as she had gone Baoyu said, “Don’t bother to heat it. I prefer cold wine.”

       “That won’t do,” said his aunt. “Cold wine will make your hand shake when you write.”

       “Brother Bao,” put in Baochai teasingly, “you’ve the chance every day to acquire miscellaneous knowledge. How come you don’t realize how heating wine is? Drunk hot, its fumes dissipate quickly; drunk cold, it stays in your system and absorbs heat from your vital organs. That’s bad for you. So do stop drinking cold wine.”

       Since this made sense, Baoyu put down the wine and asked to have it warmed. Daiyu had been smiling rather cryptically as she cracked melon-seeds. Now her maid Xueyan brought in her little hand-stove.

       “Who told you to bring this?” demanded Daiyu. “Many thanks. Think I was freezing to death here?”

       “Zijuan was afraid you might be cold, miss, so she asked me to bring it over.”

       Nursing the stove in her arms Daiyu retorted, “So you do whatever she asks, but let whatever I say go in one ear and out the other. You jump to obey her instructions faster than if they were an Imperial edict.”

       Although Baoyu knew these remarks were aimed at him, his only reply was to chuckle. And Baochai, aware that this was Daiyu’s way, paid no attention either. Aunt Xue, however, protested:

       “You’ve always been delicate and unable to stand the cold. Why should you be displeased when they’re so thoughtful?”

       “You don’t understand, aunt,” replied Daiyu with a smile. “It doesn’t matter here, but people anywhere else might well take offence. Sending a hand-stove over from my quarters as if my hosts didn’t possess such a thing! Instead of calling my maids too fussy, people would imagine I always behave in this outrageous fashion.”

       “You take such things too seriously,” said Aunt Xue. “Such an idea would never have entered my head.”

       By now Baoyu had already drunk three cups, and Nanny Li came in again to remonstrate. But he was enjoying himself so much talking and laughing with his cousins, he refused to stop. “Dear nanny,” he coaxed, “just two more cups--- that’s all.”

       “You’d better look out,” she warned. “Lord Zheng’s at home today, and he may want to examine you on your lessons.”

       With a sinking heart, Baoyu slowly put his cup down and hung his head.

       “Don’t be such a spoil-sport,” protested Daiyu. “If Uncle sends for you, cousin, we can say Aunt Xue is keeping you. This nanny of yours has been drinking and is working off the effects of the wine on us.” She nudged Baoyu to embolden him and whispered, “Never mind the old thing. Why shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves?”

       “Now, Miss Lin, don’t egg him on,” cried Nanny Li. “You’re the only one whose advice he might listen.”

       “Why should I egg him on?” Daiyu gave a little snort. “I can’t be bothered with offering him advice either. You’re too pernickety, nanny. The old lady often gives him wine, so why shouldn’t he have a drop more here with his aunt? Are you suggesting that auntie’s an outsider and he shouldn’t behave like that here?”

       Amused yet vexed, Nanny Li expostulated, “Really, every word Miss Lin says cuts sharper than a knife. How can you suggest such a thing?”

       Even Baochai couldn’t suppress a smile. She pinched Daiyu’s cheek and cried, “What a tongue the girl has! One doesn’t know whether to be cross or laugh.”

       “Don’t be afraid, my child,” said Aunt Xue. “I’ve nothing good to offer you, but I’ll feel bad if you get a fright which gives you indigestion. Just drink as much as you want, I’ll answer for it. You needn’t leave till after supper. And if you do get tipsy you can sleep here.” She ordered more wine to be heated, saying, “I’ll drink a few cups with you and then we’ll have our rice.”

       Baoyu’s spirits rose again at this.

       His nurse told the maids, “Stay here and keep an eye on him. I’m going home to change, then I’ll come back.” She urged Aunt Xue on the sly: “Madam, don’t let him have it all his own way or drink too much.”

       When she had gone the two or three other elderly servants who were left, not being over-conscientious, slipped out to enjoy themselves. There remained only two maids eager to please Baoyu. But by dint of much coaxing and teasing, Aunt Xue kept him from drinking too many cups before the wine was whisked away. Then Baoyu had two bowls of soup made from pickled bamboo-shoots and duck-skin and half a bowl of greenrice porridge. By this time Baochai and Daiyu had finished too and all of them drank some strong tea, after which Aunt Xue felt easier in her mind.

       Now Xueyan and three other maids came back from their own meal to wait on them, and Daiyu asked Baoyu:

       “Are you ready to go?”

       He glanced at her sidewise from under drooping eyelids. “I’ll go whenever you do.”

       Daiyu promptly rose to her feet. “We’ve been here nearly all day, it’s time we left. They may be wondering where we are.

       As they took their leave their wraps were brought, and Baoyu bent his head for a maid to help him on with his hood. She shook out the crimson hood and started slipping it over his head.

       “Stop, stop! Not so roughly, you silly thing,” he protested, stopping her. “Have you never seen anyone put on a hood before? Better let me do it myself.”

       “What a commotion!” Daiyu stood up on the kang. “Come here. Let me see to it.”

       Baoyu went up to Daiyu, who put her hand gently over his coronet and placed the edge of the hood on his chaplet. Then she made the red velvet pompon, the size of a walnut, bob up in front.

       “That’s better,” she said, surveying her handiwork. “Now you can put on your cloak.”

       As Baoyu did so his aunt remarked, “None of the nurses who came with you is here. Why not wait a bit?”

       “Why should we wait for them?” he asked. “We’ve the maids to go with us. We shall be all right.”

       To be on the safe side, however, Aunt Xue told two older servants to accompany them. Then Baoyu and Daiyu thanked their hostess and made their way to the Lady Dowager’s quarters.

       The Lady Dowager had not yet dined but was very pleased when she learned where they had been. Observing that Baoyu had been drinking, she packed him straight off to rest, forbidding him to leave his room again that evening. As she gave orders for him to be well looked after, she wondered who was attending him and asked:

       “Where’s Nanny Li?”

       The maids dared not disclose that she had gone home. “She was here a moment ago,” they said. “She must have gone out on some business.”

       Swaying a little, Baoyu called over his shoulder, “She has a better time of it than our old lady. Why ask for her? I wish she’d leave me in peace to live a little longer.”

       While saying this he reached his apartment, where his eye fell on the brush and ink on the desk.

       Qingwen greeted him with a smile, exclaiming, “A fine one you are! You made me grind that ink for you this morning because you were feeling good; but you only wrote three characters, then threw down your brush and marched off. You’ve kept us waiting for you the whole day. You must set to work quickly now and use up this ink.”

       Reminded of that morning’s happenings, Baoyu asked, “Where are the three characters I wrote?”

       “This fellow’s drunk!” Qingwen laughed. “Just before you went over to the other house you told me to have them pasted above the door, yet now you ask where they are. Not trusting anyone else to do a good job, I got up on a ladder to paste them up myself. My hands are still numb with cold.”

       “I forgot.” Baoyu grinned. “Let me warm your hands for you.” He took Qingwen’s hands in his while they both looked up at the inscription over the lintel.

       Just then Daiyu came in and he asked her, “Tell me honestly, dear cousin, which of these three characters is the best written?”

       Daiyu raised her head and read the inscription: Red Rue Studio.

       “They’re all good. I didn’t know you were such a calligrapher. You must write an inscription for me some time too.”

       “You’re making fun of me again.” Baoyu chuckled. “Where’s Xiren?” he asked Qingwen.

       Qingwen tilted her head towards the kang in the inner room, where Baoyu saw Xiren lying, fully dressed.

       “That’s good,” he said. “But it’s rather early to sleep. At breakfast in the other house this morning there was a plate of beancurd dumplings. Knowing you’d like them, I asked Madam You to let me have them for supper, and they were sent over. Did you get them all right?”

       “Don’t ask!” answered Qingwen. “I knew at once they were meant for me, but as I’d just finished my breakfast I left them here. Then Nanny Li came and saw them. ‘Baoyu won’t be wanting these,’ she said. “I’ll take them for my grandson.’ She got somebody to send them home for her.”

       At this point Qianxue brought in tea and Baoyu said, “Do have some tea, Cousin Lin.”

       The maids burst out giggling. “She’s gone long ago. Yet you offer her tea.”

       After drinking half a cup himself he remembered something else and asked Qianxue, “Why did you bring me this tea? This morning we brewed some maple-dew tea, and I told you its flavour doesn’t really come out until after three or four steepings.”

       “I did save that other tea,” she replied. “But Nanny Li insisted on trying it and she drank it all.”

       This was too much for Baoyu. He dashed the cup to pieces on the floor, spattering the maid’s skirt with tea. Then springing to his feet he stormed:

       “Is she your grandmother, that all of you treat her so respectfully? Just because she suckled me for a few days when I was small, she carries on as if she were more important than our own ancestors. I don’t need a wet-nurse any more, why should I keep an ancestress like this? Send her packing and we’ll all have some peace and quiet.”

       He wanted to go straight to his grandmother to have the old woman dismissed.

       Now Xiren had only been shamming sleep, in the hope that Baoyu would come in to tease her. She hadn’t troubled to get up when he asked about the dumplings; but now that he had smashed a cup and flown into a passion she jumped up and came out to smooth things over, just as a maid arrived from his grandmother to ask the reason for the noise. “I’d just poured out some tea,” said Xiren. “I slipped because of snow on my shoes and the cup was smashed.”

       Then she turned to calm Baoyu. “So you’ve decided to dismiss her. Good. We’d all like to leave. Why not take this chance to get rid of the lot of us? That would suit us, and you’d get better attendants too.”

       Thus silenced, Baoyu let them help him to the kang and take off his clothes. He was still mumbling to himself but could hardly keep his eyes open, so they put him straight to bed. Xiren took the precious jade off his neck, wrapped it up in her own handkerchief and tucked it under his mattress, so that it should not be cold to the touch when he put it on the next day.

       Baoyu fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. Meantime Nanny Li had come in. Hearing that he was drunk she dared not risk further trouble, and having quietly made sure that he was asleep she left easier in her mind.

       Upon waking the next morning, Baoyu was told that Jia Rong from the other mansion had brought Qin Zhong over to pay his respects. He hastened to greet his new friend and presented him to the Lady Dowager, who was delighted by his handsome looks and pleasing manner. Convinced that he would make an excellent schoolmate for Baoyu, she kept him to tea and a meal, then ordered servants to take him to meet Lady Wang and the rest of the family.

       Qin Keqing was a general favourite, and they liked her brother for himself as well. All gave him presents on parting. The Lady Dowager’s gift was a purse containing a small golden effigy of the God of Learning symbolizing literary talent and harmony.

       “You live so far away,” she said, “in hot or cold weather you may find the journey too much. You are welcome to stay here and must make yourself at home. Stay with your Uncle Baoyu, and don’t get into mischief with those lazy young rascals.”

       Qin Zhong agreed readily, then went home to report what had happened. His father Qin Ye, a secretary in the Board of Works, was nearly seventy and had lost his wife early. Having no children of his own he had adopted a son and daughter from an orphanage, but the boy had died leaving only the little girl, Keqing. She grew up to be a graceful, charming young woman. Because Qin was remotely connected with the Jia family, they arranged a match and she became Jia Rong’s wife.

       Qin Zhong was born when his father was over fifty. His tutor had died the previous year and Qin Ye had not yet found another; thus the boy had been revising his lessons at home. His father was thinking of approaching the Jias about sending his son to their school in order not to waste the boy’s time, when as luck would have it Qin Zhong met Baoyu.

       The old man was also overjoyed to learn that the school was now run by Jia Dairu, a venerable Confucian scholar under whose instruction Qin Zhong was bound to make progress and might even win a name for himself.

       Qin Ye was a poor official, but the whole Jia household, high and low alike, thought so much of riches and rank that in the interest of his son’s career he had to pinch and scrape to get together twenty-four taels of silver as a handsome entrance gift. Then he took Qin Zhong to pay his respects to Jia Dairu, after which they waited for Baoyu to fix a day on which both boys could enter school.

Truly:

If one knew that in time to come there would be trouble,

Who would send his son to study today?

 

Chapter 9

 

Devoted Friends Join the Clan School

Mud-Slinging Boys Brawl

in the Classroom

 

 

 

       Qin Ye and his son did not have long to wait for a message from the Jia family telling them the date on which to start school, for Baoyu was so eager to be with Qin Zhong he could think of nothing else. He sent a servant with a note asking his friend to come to his house in two days’ time, in the morning, to go to school together.

       On the day appointed, while Baoyu was still asleep, Xiren made a neat package of his books and writing materials, then sat down dejectedly on the edge of the kang. When he woke, she helped him with his toilet.

       “Why are you looking so unhappy, dear sister?” he asked gently. “Are you upset because you’ll all feel lonely while I’m at school?”

       “What an idea!” She smiled. “There’s nothing like study, if you don’t want to be a failure in life and get nowhere. Just remember to keep your mind on your books in class, and out of class to think of the people at home. Don’t get into mischief with the other boys. It would be no joke if you were caught by the master. I know they say you should give your whole heart to study, but don’t overdo it or you’ll bite off more than you can chew and your health will suffer. At least that’s my idea. Do think it over.”

       Baoyu agreed with all she said.

       “I’ve packed your fur coats and given them to the pages,” Xiren continued. “If you find the school cold, mind you put more on, because we shan’t be there to look after you. I’ve given them charcoal for your hand-stove and foot-stove too. Mind those lazy scamps keep them filled. If you don’t keep them up to scratch they won’t lift a finger but leave you to freeze.”

       “Don’t worry,” Baoyu assured her. “I know how to take care of myself outside. And you mustn’t stay here moping either, but drop in from time to time to chat with cousin Daiyu.”

       By now he was dressed and she urged him to pay his respects to his grandmother and parents. After some brief instructions to Qingwen and Sheyue, he took his leave of the Lady Dowager, who naturally had some advice for him too. He went next to his mother and then to his father’s study.

       Jia Zheng happened to have come home early today. He was talking with some secretaries and protégés when Baoyu went in to pay his respects and announce his departure to school.

       “Don’t make me die of shame with this talk about school.” His father laughed scornfully. “All you’re fit for, in my opinion, is to go on fooling about. Your presence here contaminates this place and contaminates my door.”

       “Your Lordship is too hard on him,” protested his companions, who had risen. “A few years at school and your worthy son is sure to show his mettle and make a name. He’s not a child any more. It’s nearly time for breakfast, he should be off.” With that, two of the older men led Baoyu out.

       Jia Zheng asked who was accompanying his son, and three or four sturdy fellows who had been waiting outside came in and fell on one knee to pay their respects.

       Recognizing Li Gui, the son of Baoyu’s old wet-nurse, Jia Zheng demanded, “What has he learned all the time you’ve attended him at his lessons? Nothing but a pack of nonsense and some clever tricks. As soon as I have leisure I’ll flay you alive and then settle accounts with that young reprobate.”

       In consternation Li Gui fell on both knees, snatched off his cap and thumped his head on the ground submissively.

       “I wouldn’t dare tell a lie, sir,” he exclaimed. “The young master has studied three volumes of the Book of Songs, down to ‘yu-yu cry the deer, lotus leaves and duckweed.’ ”

       This unintentional travesty of the original line set the whole room in a roar of laughter. Even Jia Zheng himself could not help smiling.

       “Even if he studied another thirty volumes, it would just be fooling people,” he retorted. “Give my compliments to the school principal, and tell him from me that such works as the Book of Songs and classical essays are a waste of time. He’d far better expound the Four Books and make his pupils learn them by heart.”

       Li Gui promised to do this and then withdrew, seeing that his master had no further orders.

       All this time Baoyu had been waiting with bated breath in the courtyard. He hurried away as soon as he saw them emerging from the house.

       Li Gui and the others, dusting off their clothes, asked, “Did you hear that? He’s going to flay us alive. Other people’s slaves get some reflected credit from their masters. All we get for waiting on you is beatings and abuse. Do have a little pity on us in future.”

       “Cheer up, good brothers,” replied Baoyu with a smile. “I’ll give you a treat tomorrow.”

       “Who are we to expect treats, little ancestor? Just listen to our advice once in a while.”

       By now they were back at the Lady Dowager’s quarters. She was chatting with Qin Zhong, who had been there for some time. The two boys exchanged greetings, then took their leave of her.

       Baoyu, remembering that he had not said goodbye to Daiyu, hurried to her room. She was sitting before her mirror by the window and smiled when he told her that he was off to school.

       “Good,” she said. “So you’re going to ‘pluck fragrant osmanthus in the palace of the moon.’ I’m sorry I can’t see you off.”

       “Don’t have supper till I’m back, dear cousin,” he begged. “And wait for me to mix your rouge.

       After chatting for a while he turned to leave.

       “Aren’t you going to say goodbye to Baochai?” Daiyu called after him.

       With no answer but a smile he left with Qin Zhong.

 

       Now this Jia family school, which was only a li away, had been set up several generations earlier so that members of the clan who could not afford to engage a tutor would have somewhere to educate their sons. It was supported by those with official positions, who contributed according to the size of their stipends, and an elderly man of good reputation in the clan was elected to take charge of the boys’ instruction.

       When Baoyu and Qin Zhong had been introduced to the other students, they embarked on their studies. From this day onward the two of them became inseparable, going to school and leaving it together. And thanks to the Lady Dowager’s partiality, Qin Zhong often stayed for a few days with the Jia family. Indeed, she treated him like one of her own grandsons, giving him clothes, shoes and other necessities when she saw that his family was hard up. In less than a month he was on good terms with everyone in the Rong Mansion.

       Since Baoyu always followed his own bent regardless of what was due to his position, in his usual unconventional way he privately urged Qin Zhong: “We’re the same age, and schoolmates too. Let’s forget that we’re uncle and nephew and just be brothers and friends.”

       At first Qin Zhong would not agree to this, but since Baoyu kept calling him “brother” or using his courtesy name, he started doing the same.

       Now although all the pupils in this school were members of the Jia clan or relations by marriage, as the proverb so aptly says, “A dragon begets nine offspring, each one different.” And inevitably among so many boys there were low types too, snakes mixed up with dragons.

       These two new arrivals were both remarkably handsome. Qin Zhong was bashful and gentle, so shy that he blushed like a girl before he spoke, while Baoyu was naturally self effacing and modest, considerate to others and pleasant in his speech. And they were on such intimate terms, it was no wonder that their schoolmates suspected the worst. They began to talk about the pair behind their backs, spreading ugly rumours inside the school and out.

       Now Xue Pan had not been long in the Rong Mansion before he learned of this school, and the thought of all the boys there appealed to his baser instincts. So he enrolled as a student. But he was like the fisherman who fishes for three days and then suns his net for two. The fee he paid Jia Dairu was thrown away, for he had no intention of really studying, his sole aim being to find some ‘sweet-hearts’ there. In fact, tempted by his money and other gifts several boys did fall into his clutches, but we need not dwell on this.

       Chief among these were two amorous youths whose real names have not been ascertained, nor the branches of the family to which they belonged. But on account of their good looks and charm they were nicknamed Sweetie and Lovely. Although the object of general admiration, so that others also had designs on them, they were left unmolested for fear of Xue Pan.

       Baoyu and Qin Zhong were naturally attracted by these boys too, but knowing them to be Xue Pan’s friends they did not venture to make any overtures. Sweetie and Lovely were equally drawn to them. But not one of the four spoke of what was in his heart. Every day from four different seats four pairs of eyes kept meeting, and while trying to escape detection they contrived by hints and allusions to reveal their thoughts. However, some sly rascals discovered their secret and began to raise their eyebrows, wink, and cough or clear their throats behind their backs.

       This had been going on for some time when one day, as luck would have it, Jia Dairu went home early on business, giving the boys a seven-character line to be matched with another and promising them a new lesson in the classics the next day. He left his eldest grandson Jia Rui in charge. Qin Zhong took advantage of the fact that nowadays Xue Pan had virtually stopped coming even to roll-call to make eyes at Sweetie and secretly signal to him. Having asked to be excused, they went out to the back courtyard for a quiet chat.

       “Do your parents mind what friends you make?” asked Qin Zhong.

       The words were barely out of his mouth when a cough behind them made both boys look round in dismay. It was their schoolmate Jin Rong. Sweetie was a hot-tempered lad. In embarrassment and annoyance he demanded:

       “What are you coughing for? Can’t we talk if we want to?”

       “If you can talk, why can’t I cough?” Jin Rong sniggered. “But why not talk openly instead of in this hole-and-corner fashion? I’ve caught you at last. There’s no use denying it. Let me have a go first, and I’ll keep quiet about it. Otherwise I’ll rouse the whole school.”

       Flushing crimson the two boys demanded indignantly, “What have you caught us at?”

       “I’ve caught you red-handed!” Clapping and grinning, he yelled, “Fine pancakes for sale. Come on, fellows, and buy one.

       The two friends rushed furiously in to complain to Jia Rui of Jin Rong’s uncalled-for insult.

       Now Jia Rui was an unscrupulous, grasping scoundrel who used his position in the school to fleece the boys. In return for money and good meals from Xue Pan, he had not checked his disgraceful behaviour but actually abetted him in order to curry favour.

       But Xue Pan was as fickle as water-weed which drifts east today, west tomorrow. Having recently acquired new friends he had dropped Sweetie and Lovely, to say nothing of Jin Rong whom they had replaced; and now that they were discarded, Jia Rui had nobody to put in a good word for him. Instead of blaming Xue Pan’s fickleness, he bore his favourites a grudge for this. And because he, Jin Rong and the rest all had this grievance against the two boys, when Qin Zhong and Sweetie came in with their complaint it only increased his annoyance. Not daring to reprove Qin Zhong he made a scapegoat of Sweetie, abusing him roundly for being a trouble-maker.

       After this rebuff, Sweetie and Qin Zhong returned sullenly to their seats while Jin Rong triumphantly wagged his head and smacked his lips as he poured out more abuse. This was too much for Lovely, and they started bickering from their respective places.

 

       “I saw them just now as plain as day in the back yard,” insisted Jin Rong. “They were discussing where and how to meet.”

       He held forth wildly regardless of who might hear, although one of his listeners was already enraged. And who do you think this was? It was Jia Qiang, a direct descendant of the Duke of Ningguo, who had been brought up by Jia Zhen after the untimely death of his own parents. He was now sixteen and even more handsome and engaging than Jia Rong, from whom he was virtually inseparable.

       Now “the more people, the more talk,” and the disgruntled servants in the Ning Mansion were good for nothing but slandering their masters. When their dirty talk reached Jia Zhen’s ears, to avoid coming under suspicion himself he had given Jia Qiang his own establishment outside the Ning Mansion and told him to live on his own.

       Jia Qiang was as intelligent as he was handsome, but he attended the school only as a blind for his visits to cock-fights, dog-races and brothels. None of his clansmen dared to cross him, however, because he was a favourite with Jia Zhen and had Jia Rong to stand by him. Naturally, intimate as he was with them, he was not going to let anyone bully Qin Zhong with impunity! His first impulse was to take his side openly, but on second thought he decided, “Jin Rong, Jia Rui and that lot are thick with Uncle Xue, who has always been on good terms with me. If I side against them and they tell Old Xue, that will spoil our friendly relations. If I do nothing, though, they’ll just spread these tiresome rumours. I must find some way of stopping their mouths without any loss of face.”

       He left the room on the customary excuse and quietly got hold of Mingyan, one of Baoyu’s pages, to work on his feelings with his account of the matter.

       Mingyan was Baoyu’s most serviceable page but he was young and inexperienced. Jia Qiang told him that the insults to Qin Zhong reflected on his master, and if Jin Rong were allowed to get away with this he would take even greater liberties the next time.

 

       Mingyan always liked to throw his weight about, and with this encouragement from Jia Qiang he rushed in to beard Jin Rong. Not addressing him as a servant should, he cried, “Hey, you fellow Jin! Who do you think you are?”

       At this point Jia Qiang stamped the dust off his boots, straightened his clothes and looking at the height of the sun remarked, “It’s time I was off.” He asked Jia Rui’s permission to leave early to deal with some business, and Jia Rui dared not stop him.

       By now Mingyan had grabbed hold of un Rong.” What we do is no business of yours,” he yelled. “If you’ve any guts, come and take on your Master Ming.”

       The whole roomful of boys was dumbfounded.

       “How dare you, Mingyan!” bellowed Jia Rui.

       Livid with anger Jin Rong bawled, “The rebel! How dare a slave run wild like this? I’ll have a word with your master.” Tearing himself loose he rounded on Baoyu and Qin Zhong.

       Wham! A square inkstone hurled by some unknown assailant whizzed past Jin Rong’s head to crash on to the next desk, one occupied by Jia Lan and Jia Jun.

       Jia Jun was a great-great-grandson of the Duck of Rongguo, and the only son of his mother who had been widowed early. He sat at the same

desk as Jia Lan because they were firm friends. This hot-tempered, fearless little scamp had watched indifferently while one of Jin Rong’s friends hurled an inkstone at Mingyan; but when the stone landed smack in front of him, smashing his water-bottle and spattering his books with ink, this was more than he could stand.

       “You gaolbirds!” he swore. “If you want a fight, you can have it.” He grabbed his own inkstone ready to let it fly.

       Timid Jia Lan intervened, saying this was none of their business. But Jia Jun paid no attention. Since his inkstone was pinned down he caught up his satchel and hurled it at the offender. Being small and weak, he missed his target. The satchel landed with a tremendous crash in front of Baoyu and Qin Zhong, scattering books, paper, brushes and ink over their desk and smashing Baoyu’s teacup so that tea poured all over it too.

       Jia Jun launched himself at the boy who had thrown the inkstone, while Jin Rong caught up a bamboo pole and played havoc with it in that narrow crowded room.

       Mingyan was the first to be hit. “What are you waiting for?” he roared to Baoyu’s other pages Chuyao, Saohong and Moyu, all of whom were ready for mischief.

       “Sons of bitches!” they shouted. “They’re using weapons now.”

       In they charged, Moyu armed with a door bar, the other two brandishing whips.

       Jia Rui tried desperately to hold back or persuade the contendants in turn. But no one listened to him, the place was a bedlam. Some boys threw themselves eagerly into the scrimmage, punching those who could not hit back, the more timid shrank aside, others stood on their desks clapping and laughing wildly as they urged the combatants on. The school was like a seething cauldron.

       Li Gui and the servants outside hearing this uproar hurried in to stop the fight. When they asked how it had started, everyone answered at once, each blaming another. With an oath Li Gui drove Mingyan and the pages out.

       Qin Zhong had been hit on the head and bruised by Jin Rong’s pole, and Baoyu was rubbing the place with his coat lapel. Now that order had been restored he told Li Gui:

       “Collect my books and bring round my horse. I’m going to report this to the principal. They insulted us gratuitously, but when we complained quite properly to Mr. Jia Rui he laid the blame on us. He let them abuse us and actually encouraged them to beat us. Mingyan seeing us bullied naturally took our side, but then they ganged up to beat him. They’ve even broken open Qin Zhong’s head. How can we go on studying here after this?”

      Li Gui begged him not to be hasty. “It would look very inconsiderate to disturb the principal over such a little thing when he’s busy. Trouble should be settled on the spot, I say. There’s no need to go and disturb the old gentleman. It’s Mr. Jia Rui who’s to blame. You’re in charge here, sir, in the old gentleman’s absence. If anyone misbehaves, you should punish him. How could you let them get so out of hand?”

       “I did tell them to stop,” said Jia Rui. “But no one paid any attention.”

       “You mustn’t mind if I speak frankly, sir,” rejoined Li Gui. “It’s because your own conduct leaves much to be desired that these boys don’t obey you. So if this business comes to the principal’s ears, it will go hard with you. Hurry up and think of a way to hush it up.”

       “I won’t have it hushed up,” declared Baoyu. “I’m going to report it.”

       “I’m not coming here any more,” sobbed Qin Zhong, “if Jin Rong is allowed to stay.”

       “What an idea!” cried Baoyu. “Why should we have to keep away because they come? I’m going to tell everyone and have him expelled.” He asked Li Gui to which branch of the family Jin Rong was related.

       Li Gui thought for a moment, then said, “Better not ask. If I tell you, it will only cause bad feeling among relatives.”

       “He’s the nephew of Mrs. Jia Huang of the East Lane,” called Mingyan through the window. “I don’t know how he had the nerve to beard us. Mrs. Jia Huang is his aunt on the father’s side. She’s a sponger who sucks up to people and goes down on her knees to Madam Lian for things to pawn. How can we respect a ‘mistress’ like that?”

       “Shut up, you dirty bugger. Don’t talk such rot,” roared Li Gui.

       “So that’s who he is!” said Baoyu scornfully. “Cousin Jia Huang’s nephew. I shall go and see her about this.”

He ordered Mingyan to come in and wrap up his books.

       The page did so, saying exultantly, “Why go yourself, sir? Let me go and tell her the old lady wants her. I’ll hire a carriage to bring her, and you can question her in the Lady Dowager’s presence. Wouldn’t that save trouble?”

       “Do you want to die?” shouted Li Gui. “Just wait, I’ll give you such a thrashing when we get back. Then I’ll tell our master and mistress that you were the one who put Baoyu up to this. I’ve had trouble enough getting him halfway calmed down, and here you go again. You started this rumpus, but instead of trying to smooth things over you’re adding fuel to the fire.”

       Mingyan dared say no more then. And Jia Rui, afraid of being incriminated if this went any further, had to pocket his grievance and ask Qin Zhong and Baoyu to forget it.

       After holding out for some time Baoyu said, “All right, I won’t tell if un Rong apologizes.”

       At first Jin Rong refused. But Jia Rui put pressure on him, and Li Gui and the others joined in.

       “You started this,” Li Gui pointed out. “It’s up to you to end it.”

       Under pressure from all sides, Jin Rong bowed to Qin Zhong. But Baoyu would not be satisfied with anything less than a full kowtow.

       Jia Rui, anxious to smooth things over, urged Jin Rong softly, “Remember the proverb ‘A murderer can only lose his head.’ Since you began this you must humble yourself a little. Once you’ve kowtowed, that will be the end of it.”

       So at last un Rong stepped forward and kowtowed to Qin Zhong.

       To know what followed, read the next chapter.

 

Chapter 10

 

Widow un Pockets Her Pride Because

of Self-Interest

Dr. Zhang Diagnoses Keqing’s Illness

 

 

 

       With heavy pressure on him and orders from Jia Rui to apologize, un Rong had to appease Baoyu by kowtowing to Qin Zhong. Then school was dismissed and he went home, where the more he brooded the angrier he grew.

       “That flunkey Qin Zhong is only ha Rong’s brother-in-law, not a son or grandson of the Jia family,” he fumed. “He’s only in the school on sufferance, just as I am. But on the strength of his friendship with Baoyu he looks down on everyone else. If he at least behaved decently no one would mind; but the two of them must think the rest of us are blind, the way they carry on. Well, I caught him today making up to someone else, so I needn’t be afraid even if the whole thing comes out.”

       “What scrape are you in now?” asked his mother, née Hu, when she heard this muttering. “I had to rope in your aunt and put her to no end of trouble to beg Madam Xifeng in the West Mansion to get you this place in the family school. Where would we be if not for their help? We couldn’t afford a tutor. Besides, you get free meals there, don’t you? That’s meant a great saving on your board these last two years. It’s fitted you out in all those smart clothes you’re so fond of. It was through the school, too, that you met Mr. Xue who’s helped us this last year or so to the tune of seventy or eighty taels of silver at least. If you’re expelled because of this row, don’t expect me to find another school like this. I can tell you, that would be harder than climbing up to heaven. Just amuse yourself quietly now before going to bed. That would be much better.”

       Jin Rong had to swallow his anger and hold his tongue, and very soon he turned in. The next day be went back to school as if nothing had happened.

       Now Jin Rong’s paternal aunt had married Jia Huang of that generation of the family which used the ‘jade” (yu) radical in personal names. Needless to say, not all members of the clan were as wealthy as those in the Ning and Rong Mansions. Jia Huang and his wife had very slender means and were only able to live as they did by keeping on good terms with both households and by making up to Xifeng and Madam You, who often helped them out.

       Since today was fine and she had nothing to do, Jia Huang’s wife, née Jin, accompanied by a woman-servant, came over by carriage to see her widowed sister-in-law and nephew.

       In the course of conversation Jin Rong’s mother described the quarrel in the school the previous day, giving a detailed account of the whole affair. Aunt Huang immediately flew into a passion.

       “Our boy Rong is just as much a relative of the Jia family as that young fool Qin Zhong,” she cried. “How can some people suck up like that to the rich? Especially when they behave so disgracefully. As for Baoyu, he’s no call to make such a favourite of him. I’m going to the East Mansion to see Madam You, then I’ll tell Qin Zhong’s sister about this and see what she has to say.”

       “I should never have told you, sister.” Jin Rong’s mother was frantic. “For goodness’ sake don’t say anything to them. Never mind who’s right and who’s wrong. If trouble came of it my boy would lose his place. And apart from the fact that we couldn’t afford a tutor we’d have to spend a lot more on his food and clothes.”

       “Never mind that!” retorted Aunt Huang. “Let me tell them the facts and we’ll see what they have to say.”

       Ignoring the widow’s protests, she called for her carriage and drove to the Ning Mansion, alighting at the small gate on the east side and going in on foot to see Madam You.

       Not daring to vent her anger, she made polite conversation for a while, then asked, “Why don’t I see Madam Rong today?”

       ‘I don’t know what the matter is,” said Madam You. “But she’s missed her periods for two months and more, yet the doctors say she’s not expecting. She’s too tired to move or talk by the afternoon nowadays, and she has dizzy spells. I told her, ‘Don’t trouble to pay your respects here mornings and evenings, just have a good rest. If relatives call, I’ll receive them. And if the old folk wonder at your absence, I’ll make apologies for you.’ I told Rong not to let anyone tire or annoy her, so that she can rest quietly until she’s better. ‘If she fancies anything to eat, come to me for it,’ I said. ‘If we don’t have it you can ask Xifeng. If anything were to happen to her, you’d never find another wife with her good looks and sweet temper, not if you were to search around with a lantern.’ She’s quite won the hearts of the old folk and all our relations. So I’ve been most dreadfully worried the last few days.

       “But then her brother had to come and see her this morning. He’s too young to know any better, but when he saw she was ill he shouldn’t have troubled her with his affairs, not to say a trifle like this. Even if he was treated unfairly, he shouldn’t have told her. They had a fight, you know, in school yesterday. Some other boy bullied him and there was dirty talk--- he repeated it all to her. You know how she is. For all she’s so pleasant and so capable, she’s sensitive and takes everything to heart. She’ll brood over the least little thing for days on end. It’s this habit of worrying that’s made her ill. When she heard today that someone had picked on her brother, it upset her and made her angry. Angry with those dirty dogs who cause trouble and gossip; upset because Qin Zhong doesn’t study hard or give his mind to his books, and that’s how this trouble started. Because of this, she wouldn’t touch any breakfast.

       “When word of this reached me I went over to soothe her. I gave her brother a talking-to, then packed him off to Baoyu in the other mansion. I didn’t come back till I’d seen her take half a bowl of bird’s-nest soup. You can’t imagine how worried I am, sister. We haven’t got any good doctors nowadays, either. This illness is keeping me on tenterhooks. Do you know of any good doctor?”

       Aunt Huang’s furious determination while with her sister-in-law to have it out with Keqing had, during this recital, been scared away into the Sea of Java.

       “We’ve been hoping to hear of some good doctors, but so far we don’t know of any,” she replied. “But judging by what you tell me, this may still mean she’s pregnant. Don’t let anyone give her the wrong medicine, though. That could be dangerous.”

       “Just what I think,” agreed Madam You.

       At this point Jia Zhen came in. Seeing Jia Huang’s wife he inquired, “Is this Mrs. Huang?”

       She stepped forward to greet him, and before returning to his room he urged his wife to keep her to a meal.

       Aunt Huang had come there to complain about Qin Zhong’s treatment of her nephew, but after hearing of Keqing’s illness she hadn’t the courage to mention this, much less to complain. Moreover Jia Zhen’s and Madam You’s kind reception had transformed her indignation into pleasure. She chatted a little longer, then took her leave.

       Once she had gone, Jia Zhen came in and sat down.

       “What business brought her here today?” he asked.

       “She didn’t seem to have any,” replied his wife. “She looked rather put out when she arrived but she calmed down little by little as I told her about our daughter-in-law’s illness. Because of that she couldn’t very well stop to a meal, as you suggested. She left quite soon without making any requests.

       “But to get back to our daughter-in-law, you really must find a good doctor for her without any more delay. These that have been attending her are useless. They just listen to what we tell them and then dress it up in high-sounding language. They go to a lot of trouble, to be sure, three or four of them coming several times a day to feel her pulse in turn. After consulting together they write their prescriptions, but the medicine hasn’t done her the least bit of good. In fact, it’s bad for a patient to have to change her clothes four or five times a day and sit up to see the doctor.”

       “Why should the silly child keep changing?” asked ha Zhen. “If she caught cold that would be even worse. This will never do. The finest clothes are nothing compared with her health. She can wear new ones every day if it comes to that.

       “What I was going to tell you is that Feng Ziying called just now. He asked why I looked so worried. I told him I was upset because our daughter-in-law isn’t well but we can’t find a good doctor to tell whether she’s ill or pregnant, and whether there’s any danger or not. Well, Feng knows a doctor named Zhang Youshi who was his childhood tutor, a very learned man with a comprehensive knowledge of medicine, and an excellent diagnostician. He’s come to the capital this year to purchase an official rank for his son, and he’s staying with Feng. Fate may have meant him to cure our daughter-in-law. You never can tell. I’ve sent a servant with my card to invite him. It may be too late today, but I’m sure he’ll come tomorrow. Especially as Feng Ziying promised to ask him as soon as he reached home. Let’s wait, then, till this Dr. Zhang has seen her.”

       Madam You cheered up at this. “And how are we to celebrate your father’s birthday the day after tomorrow?”

       “I’ve just been to pay my respects to him,” answered Jia Zhen. “I invited him here to receive congratulations from the whole family, but he said, ‘I’m used to a peaceful life and don’t want to be disturbed by all the commotion in your house. Of course, you’re inviting me to go and have everyone kowtow to me because it’s my birthday, but it would be a hundred times more to my liking if you had my annotated Rewards and Punishments1 neatly copied out and printed. Suppose you entertain the two families for me at home the day after tomorrow instead of having them come here. Don’t send me any presents either. In fact, there’s no need for you to come yourself the day after tomorrow. You can kowtow to me now, if that will make you feel better. If you bring a great crowd to disturb me on my birthday, I shall be very displeased.’

       “Since he made such a point of this, I shan’t venture to go again. You had better order Lai Sheng to arrange for the two days’ banqueting. It must be handsomely done. You can go to the West Mansion to deliver invitations in person to the old lady, Lady Xing, lady Wang and Xifeng.”

       As he was saying this, ha Rong came in to pay his respects, and Madam You told him what her husband had said.

       “Your father has heard today of a good doctor,” she added. “We’ve sent to ask him round and he should be coming tomorrow. You’ll have to tell him all your wife’s symptoms.”

       Her son assented and had just withdrawn when he met the page sent to invite Dr. Zhang.

       “I’ve been to Mr. Feng’s house with His Lordship’s card,” said the page. “The doctor said Mr. Feng had just told him about it, but he was so exhausted after a whole round of visits that even if he came now he couldn’t take the pulse. He’ll come tomorrow after a good night’s rest. He added, ‘I know very little about medicine and really shouldn’t presume to take up this responsibility, but since Mr. Feng has done me the honour of recommending me to your master I mustn’t decline. Go and give your master this message. As for His Lordship’s card, I really can’t presume to keep it.’ So I’ve brought it back. Will you please pass on this message for me, sir?”

       Jia Rong went back to tell his parents this, after which he sent for Lai Sheng to instruct him to prepare the two days’ feast. And the steward went off to make his preparations.

 

       The next day at noon the doctor was announced. Jia Zhen couducted him into the reception hall and made him take a seat. When they had drunk tea he broached the subject, saying, “Yesterday I was overwhelmed with admiration by all Mr. Feng told me of your character, learning and profound knowledge of medicine, sir.”

       “I am simply an ignorant layman,” replied Dr. Zhang. “But when I heard yesterday from Mr. Feng that Your Lordship’s family is considerate to ordinary scholars and had condescended to send for me, how could I disobey your orders? I am ashamed, though, that I have no real learning.”

       “You are too modest, sir. May I trouble you to have a look at my daughter-in-law? I am relying on your superior knowledge to relieve our anxiety.”

       Jia Rong accompanied the doctor to Keqing’s bedside.

       “Is this your worthy wife?” asked Dr. Zhang.

       “Yes, sir,” said Jia Rong. “Do sit down! Would you like me to describe her symptoms to you before you take the pulse?”

       “May I suggest that I take her pulse before you enlighten me?” countered the doctor. “This is my first visit to your honourable mansion, and being quite unqualified I would not have come but for Mr. Feng’s insistence. Let me take her pulse, and you may gauge the correctness of my diagnosis before you describe her condition recently. Then we can devise an efficacious prescription and submit it to the discretion of His Lordship.”

       “I see you are an authority,” replied ha Rong. “I am only sorry we did not meet earlier. Do examine her and let us know if she can be cured, to spare my father further anxiety.”

       Some maids rested Qin Keqing’s arm on a pillow and raised her sleeve to expose the wrist. The doctor first took the pulse of the right wrist, feeling it carefully for a considerable time before he turned to the left wrist.

       This done, he proposed, “Shall we go and sit outside?”

       Jia Rong conducted him to another room, where they seated themselves on the kang. A serving woman brought in tea, and when they had drunk it Jia Rong asked:

       “Judging by her pulse, doctor, is there any cure for her?”

       “Your honourable wife’s left distal pulse is deep and agitated, the median pulse deep and faint,” replied the doctor. “The right distal pulse is faint and feeble, the median pulse slight and lacking in energy.

       “A deep and agitated left distal pulse indicates a febrile condition arising from the weak action of the heart; the deep and faint median pulse is due to anemia caused by a sluggish liver. A faint and feeble distal pulse on the right wrist comes of debility of the lungs; a slight and listless median pulse indicates a wood element in the liver too strong for the earth element in the spleen.

       “The fire produced by the weak action of the heart results in irregular menses and insomnia. A deficiency of blood and sluggish condition of the liver produce pain in the ribs, delayed menses and heartburn. Debility of the lungs leads to giddiness, perspiration in the early hours of the morning, and a feeling like sea-sickness. And the predominance of the wood element in the liver over the earth element in the spleen causes loss of appetite, general lassitude and soreness of the limbs. These are the symptoms I would expect from my reading of the lady’s pulse. I cannot agree with the view that this pulse indicates a pregnancy.

       An old woman who had been attending Keqing exclaimed, “That’s exactly how it is. This doctor must have second sight: there’s no need for us to tell him anything. Quite a few of our household physicians have seen her, but not one of them came so close to the truth. One says it’s a pregnancy, another that it’s an illness; this one declares it’s of no consequence, that one that there’ll be a crisis at the winter solstice. They can’t make up their minds. Please tell us just what to do, sir.”

       “Those gentlemen have delayed your lady’s recovery,” said the doctor. “If she had taken the right medicine when she first missed her menses, she’d have been quite well by now. Since she’s had no effective treatment, this trouble is only to be expected. I would rate her chances of recovery at three out of ten. If she sleeps well tonight after taking my medicine, that will about double her chances.

       “Judging by her pulse, your lady is highly strung and unusually intelligent. Because of this she is easily upset and prone to worry, which has affected her spleen. The element of wood in the liver has produced hot humours which have upset her menstruation. Am I right in assuming that your lady’s periods always tended to be irregular and several days late?”

       “Yes, to be sure,” said the woman. “Never early but two or three days later than normal, sometimes as much as ten days behind time.”

Quite so,” observed the doctor. “There’s the cause of her illness. If she’d taken a tonic to regulate her menses, this could have been avoided. This is clearly a case of enervation caused by too little water and too much wood. We’ll see how she responds to medicine.”

       Thereupon he wrote out and gave Jia Rong the following prescription:

DECOCTION TO IMPROVE THE RESPIRATION, FORTIFY

THE BLOOD AND TRANQUILLIZE TI-IF LIVE

       Ginseng   .2    oz    Atraetylis (clay baked)   . 2   oz    Paehyma cocos       .3    oz    Prepared Ti root     .4    oz    Aralia edulis (cooked in wine)    . 2   oz    White peony (cooked)    . 2   oz    Szechuan selinum   . 15  oz    Sophora tomentosa . 3   oz    Cyperus rotundus (processed)      . 2   oz    Gentian soaked in vinegar     . 08  oz    Dioseorea from the Huai region (cooked)     . 2   oz       Genuine Tung-ngo glue (prepared with   powdered oyster-shell)      . 2   oz    Carydalis ambigua (cooked in wine)     . 15  oz       Dried liquorice       .08   oz

       Adjuvant:       Seven Fujian lotus-seeds with the pits extracted and two large red dates.

       “Excellent,” remarked Jia Rong after reading this. “Can you tell me, doctor, if her life is in any danger?”

       “A man of your intelligence must know that at this stage it is impossible to predict how long the illness may last. We must see how she responds to this treatment. In my humble opinion, there is no danger this winter and if she gets through the spring equinox we may expect a cure.”

       Jia Rong was too sensible to press the matter. After seeing the doctor out he showed his father the prescription and diagnosis and told his parents all that had been said.

       “No other doctor has been so definite,” observed Madam You to her husband. “His prescription must be good.”

       “He is not a professional doctor,” replied ha Zhen. “He doesn’t practise medicine for a living and only came as a favour to our friend Feng Ziying. With his help, there’s hope that our daughter-in-law may be cured. I see his prescription calls for ginseng. You can use that catty of a superior quality we bought the other day.”

       Jia Rong withdrew to see about buying the medicine, which was then prepared and given to his wife. To know the effect of the treatment, read the next chapter.

 

Chapter 11

 

ha Jing’s Birthday Is Celebrated

in the Ning Mansion

Jia Rui Meets and Lusts

After Xifeng

 

 

Jia Jing’s birthday had now arrived. Jia Zhen had six large hampers filled with choice delicacies and rare fruit and sent ha Rong with some servants to deliver them.

       “Make sure your grandfather’s agreeable before you pay your respects,” he cautioned his son. “Tell him that in compliance with his wishes I’ve not ventured to go, but I am assembling the whole family here to honour him.”

       After ha Rong had left the guests began to arrive. First Jia Lian and Jia Qiang. Observing the seating arrangements, they asked what entertainment was to be offered.

       “His Lordship originally planned to invite the old master, so he didn’t prepare any theatricals,” said the servants. “But the day before yesterday, when he heard that the old gentleman wouldn’t be coming, he got us to hire some young actors and musicians. They’re getting ready now on the stage in the garden.”

       Next to arrive were Lady Xing, Lady Wang, Xifeng and Baoyu. They were welcomed in by Jia Zhen and Madam You, whose mother had already come. After greetings had been exchanged they were urged to be seated. Jia Zhen and his wife handed round tea.

       “The Lady Dowager is our Old Ancestress,” said Jia Zhen with a smile. “My father is only her nephew, and we wouldn’t have presumed to invite her on his birthday if not for the fact that the weather is refreshingly cool now and all the chrysanthemums in our garden are at their best. We thought it might prove a pleasant distraction for her to watch all her children and grandchildren enjoying themselves. She hasn’t favoured us with her presence, however.”

       “Up to yesterday she meant to come,” explained Xifeng before Lady Wang could get a word in. “But yesterday evening she saw Baoyu eating some peaches and she couldn’t resist eating nearly a whole peach. She had to get up twice just before dawn, which left her tired out this morning. She asked me to tell you that she couldn’t come, but she hopes you’ll send her a few delicacies if you have some that are easy to digest.”

       “That explains it,” said Jia Zhen. “The old lady is so fond of lively parties, I was sure there must be some reason for her absence.”

       Lady Wang remarked, “The other day Xifeng told me that Rong’s wife is indisposed. What’s wrong with her?”

       “It’s a very puzzling illness,” replied Madam You. “At the Mid-Autumn Festival last month she enjoyed herself half the night with the old lady and you, and came home none the worse. But for a fortnight since the twentieth of last month she’s grown weaker and weaker every day and lost all her appetite. And she hasn’t had a period for two months.”

       “Can she be pregnant?” asked Lady Xing.

       Just then the arrival of Jia She, Jia Zheng and the other gentlemen was announced. They were in the reception hail, ha Zhen hurried out.

       Madam You continued, “Some doctors thought it might mean a happy event. But yesterday she was examined by an excellent physician recommended by Feng Ziying, who once studied with him, and according to him it isn’t a pregnancy but a serious illness. He made out a prescription, and today after one dose she feels less dizzy but there hasn’t been much other improvement.”

       “If she weren’t quite incapable of any exertion, I know she’d have made an effort to be here today,” observed Xifeng.

       “You saw her here on the third,” said Madam You. “She forced herself to bear up for several hours, because she’s so fond of you she couldn’t bear to tear herself away.”

       Xifeng’s eyes became moist. After a pause she exclaimed, “Truly, ‘Storms gather without warning in nature, and bad luck befalls men overnight.’ But life is hardly worth living if such an illness can carry off one so young!”

       As she was speaking Jia Rong walked in. Having greeted the visitors he told his mother, “I’ve just taken the delicacies to my grandfather. I told him my father was waiting on Their Lordships and entertaining the young gentlemen here, and that in compliance with his orders he wouldn’t presume to go over. Grandfather was very pleased. He expressed approval and told me to ask you and my father to attend to the elder generation while we entertain the younger. He also wants to have ten thousand copies of his version of Rewards and Punishments printed and distributed as quickly as possible. I’ve already given this message to my father. Now I must hurry and see to the food for all the grand-uncles, uncles and other gentlemen.”

       “Just a minute, Master Rong,” interposed Xifeng. “Tell me, how is your wife today?”

       “Not well at all.” The young man’s face clouded. “Do go and see her for yourself, aunt, on your way home.” He left without saying any more.

       Madam You asked Lady Xing and Lady Wang, “Would you prefer to eat here or in the garden? The actors are preparing out there.”

       “Why not eat here and then go out?” suggested Lady Wang. “That would be simple.”

       Lady Xing seconded this.

       So Madam You ordered the meal to be served at once. There was an answering cry in unison outside the door and the maids went to fetch the dishes. Soon the feast was ready. Madam You made Lady Xing, Lady Wang and her mother take the places of honour, while she sat at a side table with Xifeng and Baoyu.

       “We came to congratulate the old gentleman on his birthday,” remarked Lady Xing and Lady Wang. “But now it looks, doesn’t it, as if we were celebrating our own?”

       “The Elder Master is fond of retirement,” said Xifeng. “He’s lived so long as an ascetic, we can already consider him an immortal. So he’ll know by divine intuition what you’ve just said.”

       This set the whole company laughing. The ladies, having by now finished their meal, rinsed their mouths and washed their hands. Just as they were ready to go into the garden, Jia Rong turned up to tell his mother:

       “All my grand-uncles, uncles and cousins have finished their meal. Lord She has some business at home, and Lord Zheng has also left as he doesn’t care for theatricals or anything rowdy. Uncle Lian and Cousin Qiang have taken the others over to watch the performance.

       “Cards and gifts have been brought from the four princes of Nanan, Dongping, Xining and Beijing, from Duke Niu of Zhenguo and five other dukes, as well as from Marquis Shi of Zhongjing and seven other marquises. I’ve reported this to my father, had the presents put in the counting-house and the catalogues of gifts placed on file, and my father’s ‘received with thanks’ cards handed to the messengers, who were given the usual tips and a meal before they left.

       “Won’t you ask the ladies to go and sit in the garden now, mother?”

       “We’ve just finished our meal too,” said Madam You. “We’re coming over.”

       “I’d like to drop in and see Rong’s wife first, madam,” said Xifeng. “May I join you later?”

       “A good idea,” approved Lady Wang. “We’d all go if not for fear of disturbing her. Tell her we asked after her.”

       “My daughter-in-law always does as you ask her, dear sister,” said Madam You. “I’ll feel much easier in my mind if you go and cheer her up. But join us in the garden as soon as you can.”

       Baoyu asked permission to go with Xifeng.

       “Go if you want, but don’t be long,” said his mother. “Remember she’s your nephew’s wife.”

       So Madam You took Lady Xing, Lady Wang and her own mother to the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance, while Xifeng and Baoyu went with ha Rong to see Keqing.

       They entered her room quietly and when she made an effort to rise Xifeng protested, “Don’t. ft would make you dizzy.” She hurried forward to clasp Keqing’s hand, exclaiming, “How thin you’ve grown, my poor lady, in the few days since last I saw you!”

       She sat down on her mattress, while Baoyu also asked after his niece’s health and took a chair opposite.

       “Bring in tea at once,” called ha Rong. “My aunt and second uncle had none in the drawing-room.”

       Holding Xifeng’s hand, Keqing forced a smile.

      “Living in a family like this is more than I deserve,” she said. “My father-in-law and mother-in-law treat me as their own daughter. And although your nephew’s young, we have such a regard for each other that we’ve never quarrelled. In fact the whole family, old and young, not to mention you, dear aunt that goes without saying have been goodness itself to me and shown me nothing but kindness. But now that I’ve fallen ill all my will power’s gone, and I haven’t been able to be a good daughter-in-law. I want so much to show how I appreciate your goodness, aunt, but it’s no longer in my power now. I doubt if I shall last the year out.”

       Baoyu was looking pensively at the picture Sleeping Under a Crab Apple Tree in Spring and Qin Guan’s couplet:

       Coolness wraps her dream, for spring is chill;

       A fragrance assails men, the aroma of wine.

As he raptly recalled his dream here of the Illusory Land of Great Void, Keqing’s remarks pierced his heart like ten thousand arrows and unknown to himself his tears flowed. Xifeng, distressed as she was, did not want to upset the patient even more, knowing it would be better to distract and console her.

       “You’re a regular old woman, Baoyu,” she scolded. “It’s not as bad as your niece would have us believe.” She turned to Keqing. “How can someone your age give way to such foolish fancies just because of a little illness? Do you want to make yourself worse?

       “She’d be all right if only she’d eat,” put in Jia Rong.

       “Her Ladyship told you not to be too long,” Xifeng reminded Baoyu. “Don’t hang about here upsetting Keqing and making Her Ladyship worry.” She then turned to Jia Rong and said, “Take Uncle Bao to rejoin the others while I stay here a little longer.”

       So Jia Rong led Baoyu to the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance while Xifeng soothed Keqing and whispered some well-meant advice into her ear.

       When Madam You sent a servant for the third time to fetch her she said to Keqing, “Take good care of yourself. I’ll come back again to see you. The fact that this good doctor has been recommended to us is a sign that you’re going to get better. Don’t you worry.”

       “Even if he were an immortal, he could cure a disease but not avert my fate,” retorted Keqing with a smile. “I know it’s only a matter of time now, auntie.

       “How can you get better if you keep thinking like that? You must look on the bright side. In any case, I’m told the doctor said that even if you’re not cured there’s no danger until the spring. It’s only the middle of the ninth month now. You’ve four or five months yet, quite long enough to recover from any illness. It would be another matter if our family couldn’t afford ginseng; but your father and mother-in-law can easily give you two catties of ginseng a day, not to mention two drains. Mind you rest well. I’m off now to the garden.”

       “I’m sorry I can’t go with you, dear aunt,” said Keqing. “Do come back again when you’ve time and let’s have a few more good talks.”

       Xifeng’s eyes smarted again at this. “Of course I’ll come whenever I’m free,” she promised.

       Accompanied by her own maids and some from the Ning Mansion, she took a winding path to the side gate of the garden. There a rare sight met her eyes.

       Yellow chrysanthemums carpeted the ground;

       Green willows covered the slopes;

       Small bridges spanned the brooks

       And winding pathways led to quiet retreats.

       Clear springs welled from the rocks,

       Fragrance was wafted from trellises laden with flowers,

       While russet tree-tops swayed

       In scattered copses lovely as a painting.

       The autumn wind was chilly

       And the song of golden orioles had ceased,

       But crickets were still chirping in the warm sunshine.

       At the far southeast end

       Cottages nestled among the hills;

       On the northwest side

       Pavilions brooded over the lake water.

       Fluting cast a subtle enchantment over men’s senses,

       And silk-gowned girls strolling through the woods

       Added to the charm of the scene.

       Xifeng was strolling along enjoying this sight when a man appeared without warning from behind an artificial rockery and accosted her with, “Greetings, sister-in-law!”

       She stepped back, startled, and asked, “Is it Master Rui?”

       “Who else could it be? Don’t tell me you don’t know me.

       “Of course I do, but you took me by surprise.”

       “We must have been fated to meet, sister-in-law.” He was devouring her with his eyes as he spoke. “I slipped away from the banquet just now for a quiet stroll in this secluded spot. And I meet you here! What is this if not fate?”

       Xifeng had sense enough to see through him. “No wonder Lian always speaks so highly of you,” she rejoined with a smile, feigning pleasure. “From seeing you today and hearing you talk, I can see how clever and understanding you are. I’ve no time to spare now, I must join Her Ladyship. But perhaps we shall meet again some other day.”

       “I’ve often wanted to call and pay my respects. But I thought, being young, you might not welcome me.”

       “What nonsense.” She assumed another smile. “Aren’t we of the same family?”

       Enraptured by this unexpected good fortune, Jia Rui looked ready to make more indecent advances. But Xifeng urged him, “You must hurry back before you’re missed, or they’ll make you drink forfeits.”

       Half numbed by this tantalizing remark he walked slowly away, looking back at her over his shoulder. Xifeng purposely slowed down until he was out of sight.

       “You can know a man’s face but not his heart,” she reflected, “I’ll show the beast! If he tries anything like that with me, I’ll sooner or later make him die at my hands, to let him know my ability.”

       Then, rounding a miniature hill, she met several matrons hurrying breathlessly towards her.

       “Our mistress sent us to fetch you, madam,” they cried. “She was worried because you didn’t come.”

       “Your mistress is devilish impatient!”

       Continuing to saunter along, she asked how many items had been

performed. The answer was: Eight or nine. They had now reached the back door of the Pavilion of Heavenly Fragrance, where Baoyu was amusing himself with some maids.

       “No silly tricks now, Cousin Baoyu,” she warned him.

       “The ladies are all in the gallery,” one of the girls told her. “Just up those stairs, madam.”

       Xifeng gathered up her skirts to mount the stairs and found Madam You waiting for her on the landing.

       “You and your niece are so thick, I thought you’d never tear yourself away,” teased Madam You. “You’d better move over tomorrow and stay with her. Sit down now and let me give you a toast.”

       Xifeng asked Lady Xing and Lady Wang’s permission to be seated and exchanged a few polite remarks with Madam You’s mother, then she sat down beside her hostess to sip wine and watch the performance. Madam You sent for the list of their repertoire and asked her to choose a few items.

       “How can I presume when Their Ladyships are present?” demurred Xifeng.

       “Old Mrs. You has chosen several already,” replied Lady Xing and Lady Wang. “It’s your turn to pick a couple of good ones for us.”

       Xifeng rose to signify obedience. Taking the list she read through it and marked The Resurrection1 and The Rhapsody2 Handing it back she observed, “When they’ve finished this Double Promotion3 there’ll be just time enough for these two.”

       “Yes,” said Lady Wang. “We must let our hosts have some rest soon. Especially as this is a worrying time for them.”

       “You come over so seldom,” protested Madam You, “I do hope you’ll stay a bit longer. It’s early yet.”

       Xifeng stood up to look below and asked, “Where are the gentlemen?”

       “They’ve gone to drink in the Pavilion of Lingering Dawn,” replied one of the matrons. “They took the musicians with them.”

       “Our presence cramps their style,” remarked Xifeng. “I wonder what they’re up to behind our backs?”

       “How can you expect everybody to be as proper as you?” said Madam You jokingly.

       So they laughed and chatted till the plays came to an end, when the wine was taken away and rice brought in. After the meal they returned to the drawing-room for tea, then ordered their carriages and took their leave of old Mrs. You. They were seen to their carriages by Madam You, attended by all the concubines and maids, and there they found the young men waiting with Jia Zhen. The latter urged Lady Xing and Lady Wang to come back again the next day, but Lady Wang declined. “We’ve spent the whole day here and we’re tired. We shall have to rest tomorrow.”

       Jia Rui kept his eyes on Xifeng as the visitors got into their carriages and drove off.

       After Jia Zhen and the others had gone indoors, Li Gui led round Baoyu’s horse and the boy mounted it and followed his mother home. When Jia Zhen and all the young men had dined, the party broke up; and there is no need to describe the entertainment they offered all their kinsmen the next day.

       Xifeng dropped in more often now to see Keqing, who seemed slightly better on some days although in general her health did not improve, to the great dismay of her husband and his parents. And ha Rui, calling several times on Xifeng, invariably found she had gone to the Ning Mansion.

 

       The thirtieth day of the eleventh month would be the winter solstice. As it approached, the Lady Dowager, Lady Wang and Xifeng sent daily to inquire after Keqing and were told each time that she was neither better nor worse.

       “It’s a hopeful sign,” Lady Wang told the Lady Dowager, “if an illness grows no worse at a season like this.”

       “Yes, of course,” replied the old lady. “If anything were to happen to the dear child, I’m sure it would break my heart.”

       In her distress she sent for Xifeng and said, “You and she have always been good friends. Tomorrow’s the first of the twelfth month, but the day after that I want you to call on her and see just how she is. If she’s any better, come and tell me. That would take a great weight off my mind. And you must have the things she used to like to eat made and sent round.”

       Xifeng promised to do this and after breakfast on the second she went

to the Ning Mansion to see Keqing. Although the invalid appeared no worse, she had grown very thin and wasted. Xifeng sat and chatted with her for some time, assuring her that she had no cause for alarm.

       “Whether I’ll ever recover or not we’ll know when spring comes,” said Keqing. “Maybe I shall, for the winter solstice has passed and I’m no worse. Please tell the old lady and Lady Wang not to worry. Yesterday I ate two of the yam cakes stuffed with dates that the old lady sent, and I think they did me good.”

       “We’ll send you some more tomorrow,” offered Xifeng. “Now I must go to see your mother-in-law before hurrying back to tell the old lady how you are.

       “Please send my respects to her and Lady Wang.”

       Promising to do so, Xifeng left. She went to sit with Madam You who asked, “Tell me frankly, how did you find her?”

       Xifeng lowered her head for a while. “There seems to be little hope,” she said at last. “If I were you I’d make ready the things for the funeral. That may break the bad luck.”

       “I’ve had them secretly prepared. But I can’t get any good wood for you know what, so I’ve let that go for the time being.”

       After drinking some tea and chatting a little longer. Xifeng said she must go back to report to the Lady Dowager.

       “Don’t break it to her yet,” said Madam You. “We don’t want to alarm the old lady.”

       Xifeng agreed to this and took her leave. Home again, she told the Lady Dowager, “Rong’s wife sends her respects and kowtows to you. She says she’s better and you mustn’t worry. When she’s a little stronger, she’ll come herself to kowtow and pay her respects.”

       “How did she seem?”

       “For the present there’s nothing to fear. She’s in good spirits.”

       The Lady Dowager thought this over, then said, “Go and change your clothes now and rest.”

       Xifeng withdrew and reported to Lady Wang before going back to her room. Pinger helped her into the informal clothes she had warming by the fire. Then Xifeng, taking a seat, asked what had happened during her absence.

       “Nothing much.” The maid handed her a bowl of tea. “Lai Wang’s wife came with the interest on that three hundred taels, which I put away. And Master Rui sent round again to ask if you were in, as he wanted to pay his respects.”

       “That wretch! He deserves to die,” Xifeng snorted. “Just see what I do to the beast if he comes!”

       “Why does he keep calling?”

       Xifeng described their meeting and all he had said to her in the Ning Mansion garden during the ninth month.

       “A toad hankering for a taste of swan,” scoffed Pinger. “The beast hasn’t a shred of common decency. He deserves a bad end for dreaming of such a thing.

       “Let him come,” said Xifeng. “I know how to deal with him.”

       What happened to Jia Rui when he came is told in the next chapter.

 

Chapter 12

 

Xifeng Sets a Vicious Trap

for a Lover

Jia Rui Looks into the Wrong Side

of the Precious Mirror of Love

 

 

       While Xifeng was talking to Pinger, Jia Rui was announced. She ordered him to be admitted at once.

       Overjoyed at being received, he hastened in and greeted her effusively, beaming with smiles. With a show of regard she made him take a seat and offered him tea. The sight of her in informal dress threw him into raptures. Gazing amorously at her he asked:

 

       “Why isn’t Second Brother Lian home yet?”

       “I wouldn’t know,” Xifeng replied.

       “Perhaps he’s been caught by someone and can’t tear himself away?”

       “Perhaps. Men are like that. Bewitched by every pretty face they see.”

       “Not all of us, sister-in-law. I’m not like that.”

       “How many are there like you? Not one in ten.”

       Tweaking his ears and rubbing his cheeks with delight, the young man insinuated, “You must be very bored here day in and day out.”

       “Yes indeed. I keep wishing someone would drop in for a chat to cheer me.”

       “I have plenty of time. Suppose I were to drop in to amuse you every day?”

       “Now you’re joking,” she replied archly. “You wouldn’t want to come and see me.”

       “I mean every word I say. May a thunderbolt strike me if I don’t! I didn’t dare come before because I was told you were very strict and took offence at the least little thing. Now I see how charming and how kind you are, you may be sure I’ll come, even if it costs me my life.”

       “You’re certainly much more understanding than Jia Rong and his brother. They look so refined one would expect them to be understanding, but they’re stupid fools with no insight at all into other people’s hearts.”

       Inflamed by this praise, he edged closer. Staring at the purse hanging from her girdle, he asked if he might look at her rings.

       “Take care,” she whispered. “What will the maids think?”

       He drew back instantly as if obeying an Imperial decree or a mandate from Buddha.

       “You had better go now,” Xifeng smiled.

       “Don’t be so cruel. Let me stay a little longer.”

       “This is no place for you during the day with so many people about,” she murmured. “Go now but come back again secretly at the first watch. Wait for me in the western entrance hall.”

       To Jia Rui this was like receiving a pearl of great price.

       “You’re not joking, are you?” he demanded. “How can I hide there with people passing back and forth all the time?”

       “Don’t worry. I’ll dismiss all the pages on night duty. Once the gates on both sides are locked, no one can come through.”

       Hardly able to contain himself for joy, the young man hurried off, convinced he would have his desire and longing for the evening.

       That night, sure enough, he groped his way to the Rong Mansion, slipping into the entrance hall just before the gates were bolted. It was pitch dark and not a soul was about. Already the gate to the Lady Dowager’s quarters was locked, only the one on the east remaining open.

       He waited, listening intently, but no one came. Then with a sudden clatter the east gate was bolted too. Frantic as he was, he dared not make a sound. He crept out to try the gate and found it securely closed. Escape was out of the question, for the walls on either side were too high to climb.

       The entrance hall was bare and draughty. As it was the depth of winter the nights were long and an icy north wind chilled him to the bone. He almost froze to death.

       At last dawn came and a matron appeared to open the east gate. As she went over to knock on the west gate and was looking the other way, Jia Rui shot out like a streak of smoke, hugging his shoulders. Luckily no one else was up at this early hour. He was able to escape unseen through the postern door.

       Jia Rui had been orphaned early and left in the charge of his grandfather Jia Dairu, a strict disciplinarian who allowed him no freedom for fear he drink or gamble outside and neglect his studies. Now that he had stayed out all night his grandfather was furious and suspected him of drinking, gambling or whoring, little guessing the truth of the matter.

       In a cold sweat with fright, Jia Rui tried to lie his way out.

       “I went to my uncle’s house, and because it was late he kept me for the night.”

       “You have never dared leave home before without permission,” thundered his grandfather. “You deserve a beating for sneaking off like that. And a worse one for deceiving me.

       He gave Jia Rui thirty or forty strokes with a bamboo, would not let him have any food, and made him kneel in the courtyard to study ten days’ lessons. This thrashing on an empty stomach and kneeling in the wind to read essays completed the wretched youths misery after his freezing night.

       But still too blinded by infatuation to realize that Xifeng was playing with him, he seized his first chance a couple of days later to call. She reproached him for his breach of faith, earnestly as he protested his innocence; and since he had delivered himself into her hands she could not but devise further means to cure him.

       “Tonight you can wait for me in another place that vacant room off the passage behind this apartment. But mind you don’t make any mistake this time.”

       “Do you really mean it?”

       “Of course I do. If you don’t believe me, don’t come.”

       “I’ll come, I’ll come, even if I should die for it.”

       “Now, you’d better go.”

       Assuming that this time all would go well, Jia Rui went off.

       Having got rid of him, Xifeng held a council of war and baited her trap while the young man waited at home impatiently, for to his annoyance one of their relatives called and stayed to supper. By the time he left the lamps were being lit, and Jia Rui had to wait for his grandfather to retire before he could slip over to the Rong Mansion and wait in the place appointed. He paced the room frantic as an ant on a hot griddle, but there was no sight or sound of anyone.

       “Is she really coming?” he wondered. “Or shall I be left to freeze for another whole night?”

       Just then a dark figure appeared. Sure that it was Xifeng, he threw caution to the winds and barely had the figure stepped through the door than he flung himself on it like a ravenous tiger, or a cat pouncing on a mouse.

       “Dearest!” he cried. “I nearly died of longing.”

       He carried her to the kang, where he showered kisses on her and fumbled with her clothes, pouring out incoherent endearments. Not a sound came from the figure in his arms.

       Jia Rui had just pulled down his pants and prepared to set to work when a sudden flash of light made him look up. There stood Jia Qiang, a taper in his hand.

       “What’s going on in here?” he demanded.

       The figure on the kang said with a chuckle, “Uncle Rui was trying to bugger me.”

       When Jia Rui saw that it was Jia Rong, he wished he could sink through the ground. In utter confusion he turned to run away.

       “Oh, no you don’t!” Jia Qiang grabbed him. “Aunt Xifeng has told Lady Wang that without any reason you tried to make love to her. To escape your attentions she played this trick to trap you. Lady Wang’s fainted from shock. I was sent here to catch you. I found you on top of him, you can’t deny it. So come along with me to Lady Wang!”

       Jia Rui nearly gave up the ghost. “Dear nephew,” he pleaded, “do tell her you couldn’t find me. I’ll pay you well for it tomorrow.”

       “I might do that. Depends how much you’re willing to pay. I can’t just take your word for it, I must have it down in writing.”

       “How can I put a thing like this down in writing?”

       “That’s no problem. Just write that you borrowed so much silver from the bank to pay a gambling debt.”

       “All right. But I’ve no paper or brush.”

       “That’s easy.” Jia Qiang disappeared for a moment and promptly returned with writing materials, where upon the two of them forced Jia

Rui to write and sign an I. O. U. for fifty taels which Jia Qiang pocketed. When he urged Jia Rong to leave, however, the latter at first absolutely refused and threatened to lay the matter before the whole clan the next morning, Jia Rui kowtowed to him in desperation. However, with Jia Qiang mediating between them, he was forced to write another I. O. U. for fifty taels of silver.

       “I’ll get the blame if you’re seen leaving,” said Jia Qiang. “The Lady Dowager’s gate is closed, and the Second Master is in the hall looking over the things which have arrived from Jinling, so you can’t get out that way. You’ll have to go through the back gate. But if anyone meets you I’ll be finished too. Let me see if the coast is clear. You can’t hide here, they’ll be bringing stuff in presently. I’ll find you somewhere to wait.

       He blew out the light and dragged Jia Rui out to the foot of some steps in the yard.

       “Here’s a good place,” he whispered. “Squat down there until we come back and don’t make a sound.”

       As the two others left, Jia Rui squatted obediently at the foot of the steps. He was thinking over his predicament when he heard a splash above him and a bucket of slops was emptied over his head. A cry of dismay escaped him. But he clapped one hand over his mouth and made not another sound, though covered with filth from head to foot and shivering with cold. Then Jia Qiang hurried over calling:

       “Quick! Run for it!”

       At this reprieve, Jia Rui bolted through the back door to his home. By now the third watch had sounded, and he had to knock at the gate. The servant who opened it wanted to know how he came to be in such a state.

       “I fell into a cesspool in the dark,” lied Jia Rui.

       Back in his own room he stripped off his clothes and washed. Only then did he realize with rage the trick Xifeng had played him, yet the recollection of her charms still made him long to embrace her. There was no sleep for him that night. Afterwards, however, although he still longed for Xifeng, he steered clear of the Rong Mansion.

       Both Jia Rong and Jia Qiang kept dunning him for payment, so that his fear of being found out by his grandfather and the hopeless passion which consumed him were now aggravated by the burden of debts, while he had to work hard at his lessons every day. The unmarried twenty-year-old, constantly dreaming of Xifeng, could not help indulging in “finger-play.” All this, combined with the effect of two nights of exposure, soon made him fall ill. Before a year was out he suffered from heartburn, loss of appetite, emissions in his urine and blood in his phlegm; his legs trembled, his eyes smarted; he was feverish at night and exhausted by day. And finally he collapsed in a fit of delirium.

       The doctors who were called in dosed him with dozens of catties of cinnamon, aconitum roots, turtle-shell, liriope, polygonatum and so forth---but all to no effect. With the coming of spring he took a turn for the worse.

       His grandfather rushed to and fro in search of new physicians, yet they proved useless. And when pure ginseng was prescribed this was beyond Jia Dairu’s means: he had to ask for help from the Rong Mansion. Lady Wang told Xifeng to weigh out two ounces for him.

       “All our recent supply was used the other day in the old lady’s medicine,” said Xifeng. “You told me to keep the remaining whole roots for General Yang’s wife, and as it happens I sent them round yesterday.”

       “If we’ve none, send to your mother-in-law’s for some. Or your Cousin Zhen’s household may let us have what’s needed. If you can save the young man’s life, that will be a good deed.”

       But instead of doing as she was told, Xifeng scraped together less than an ounce of inferior scraps which she dispatched with the message that this was all Her Ladyship had. To Lady Wang, however, she reported that she had collected two ounces and sent them over.

       Jia Rui was so anxious to recover that there was no medicine he would not try, but all the money spent in this way was wasted.

       One day a lame Taoist priest came begging for alms and professes to have specialized in curing diseases due to retribution. Jia Rui heard him from his sick-bed. At once, kowtowing on his pillow he loudly implored his servants to bring the priest in.

       When they complied he seized hold of the Taoist and cried:

       “Save me, Bodhisattva! Save me!”

       “No medicine can cure your illness,” rejoined the Taoist gravely. “However, I can give you a precious object which will save your life if you look at it every day.”

       He took from his wallet a mirror polished on both sides and engraved on its handle with the inscription: Precious Mirror of Love.

       “This comes from the Hall of the Illusory Spirit in the Land of Great Void,” he told Jia Rui. “It was made by the Goddess of Disenchantment to cure illnesses resulting from lust. Since it has the power to preserve men’s lives, I brought it to the world for the use of intelligent, handsome, high-minded young gentlemen. But you must only look into the back of the mirror. On no account look into the front — remember that! I shall come back for it in three days’ time, by when you should be cured.” He strode off then before anyone could stop him.

       “This is a strange business,” reflected Jia Rui. “Let me try looking at this Taoist’s mirror and see what happens.” He picked it up and looked into the back. Horrors! A skeleton was standing there! Hastily covering it, he swore, “Confound that Taoist giving me such a fright! But let me see what’s on the other side.”

       He turned the mirror over and there inside stood Xifeng, beckoning to him. In raptures he was wafted as if by magic into the mirror, where he indulged with his beloved in the sport of cloud and rain, after which she saw him out.

       He found himself back in his bed and opened his eyes with a cry. The mirror had slipped from his hands and the side with the skeleton was exposed again. Although sweating profusely after his wet dream, the young man was not satisfied. He turned the mirror over again, Xifeng beckoned to him as before, and in he went.

       But after this had happened four times and he was about to leave her for the fourth time, two men came up, fastened iron chains upon him and proceeded to drag him away. He cried out:

       “Let me take the mirror with me!”

       These were the last words he uttered.

       The attendants had simply observed him look into the mirror, let it fall and then open his eyes and pick it up again. This time, however, when the mirror fell he did not stir. They pressed round and saw that he had breathed his last. The sheet under his thighs was cold and wet.

       At once they laid him out and made ready the bier, while his grandparents gave way to uncontrollable grief and cursed the Taoist.

       “This devilish mirror!” swore Jia Dairu. “It must be destroyed before it does any more harm.” He ordered it to be thrown into the fire.

       A voice from the mirror cried out: “Who told you to look at the front? It’s you who’ve taken false for true. Why should you burn me?”

       That same instant in hustled the lame Taoist, shouting, “I can’t let you destroy the Precious Mirror of Love!” Rushing forward he snatched it up, then was off like the wind.

       Jia Dairu lost no time in preparing for the funeral, notifying all concerned that sutras would be chanted in three days’ time and the funeral would take place in seven. The coffin would be left in Iron Threshold Temple until it could be taken to their old home.

All the members of the clan came to offer condolences. Jia She and Jia Zheng of the Rong Mansion contributed twenty taels each towards the expenses, and Jia Zhen of the Ning Mansion did the same. Others gave three or five taels according to their means, while the families of Jia Rui’s schoolmates collected another twenty or thirty taels. So Jia Dairu, although not well-off, was able to conduct the funeral in style.

       And then, at the end of winter, a letter came from Lin Ruhai saying that he was seriously ill and wished to have his daughter sent home. This increased the Lady Dowager’s distress, but they had to prepare with all speed for Daiyu’s departure; and although Baoyu was most upset he could hardly come between her and her father.

       The Lady Dowager decided that Jia Lian should accompany her granddaughter and bring her safely back. We need not dwell on the presents and arrangements for the journey, which naturally left nothing to be desired. A day was quickly chosen on which Jia Lian and Daiyu took their leave of everyone and, accompanied by attendants, set sail for Yangzhou.

       For further details, read the next chapter.

 

Chapter 13

 

Keqing Dies and a Captain of the Imperial

Guard Is Appointed

Xifeng Helps to Manage Affairs

in the Ning Mansion

 

 

       Xifeng found life excessively dull after her husband’s departure with Daiyu for Yangzhou. She passed the evenings as best she could chatting with Pinger before retiring listlessly to bed.

       One evening, tired of embroidering, she sat nursing her hand-stove by the lamp and told the maid to warm her embroidered quilt early, after which they both went to bed. When the third watch sounded they were still reckoning on their fingers the stage Jia Lian must have reached on his journey. Soon after that, Pinger fell fast asleep. And Xifeng’s eyelids were drooping drowsily when to her astonishment in came Keqing.

       “How you love to sleep, aunt!” cried Keqing playfully. “I’m going home today, yet you won’t even see me one stage of the way. But we’ve always been so close, I couldn’t go without coming to say goodbye. Besides, there’s something I’d like done which it’s no use my entrusting to anyone else.”

       “Just leave it to me,” replied Xifeng, rather puzzled.

       “You’re such an exceptional woman, aunt, that even men in official belts and caps are no match for you. Is it possible you don’t know the saying that ‘the moon waxes only to wane, water brims only to overflow,’ and ‘the higher the climb the harder the fall’? Our house has prospered for nearly a hundred years. If one day it happens that at the height of good fortune the ‘tree falls and the monkeys scatter’ as the old saying has it, then what will become of our cultured old family?”

       Quick to comprehend, Xifeng was awe-struck. “Your fears are well-founded,” she said. “But how can we prevent such a calamity?”

       “Now you’re being naive, aunt,” Keqing laughed caustically. “Fortune follows calamity as disgrace follows honour. This has been so from time immemorial. How can men prevent it? The only thing one can do is to make some provision for lean years in times of plenty. All’s well at present except for two things. Take care of them and the future will be secure.

       Xifeng asked what she had in mind.

       “Although seasonal sacrifices are offered at the ancestral tombs there’s no fixed source of income for this, and although we have a family school there’s no definite fund for it. Of course, while we’re still prosperous, we don’t lack the wherewithal for sacrifices, but where’s it to come from once we fall on hard times?

       “I’d like to suggest that while we’re still rich and noble we should invest in some farms and estates near our ancestral tombs to provide for sacrifices. The family school should be moved to the same place.

       “Let the whole family, old and young alike, draw up rules whereby each branch of the family will take it in turn to manage the land, income and sacrifices for a year. Taking turns will prevent disputes and malpractices like mortgages or sales.

       “Then even if the family property were confiscated because of some crime, the estate for ancestral worship would be exempted and in those hard times the young people could go there to study and farm. They’d have something to fall back on, and there would be no break in the sacrifices.

       “It would be very short-sighted not to take thought for the future in the belief that our present good fortune will last for ever. Before long something marvelous is going to happen which will really ‘pour oil on the flames and add flowers to brocade.’ But it will simply be a flash in the pan, a brief moment of bliss. Whatever happens don’t forget the proverb, ‘Even the grandest feast must have an end.’ Take thought for the future before it is too late.”

       “What marvelous thing is going to happen?” asked Xifeng.

       “Heaven’s secrets mustn’t be divulged. But because of the love between us let me give you some parting advice, and do remember it, aunt!” With that she declaimed:

After the three months of the spring, all flowers will fade And each will have to find his own way out.”

       Before Xifeng could ask more she was woken with a start by four blows on the chime-bar at the second gate. And a servant announced, “Madam Jia Rong of the East Mansion has passed away.”

       Xifeng broke into a cold sweat. When she had recovered from her stupefaction, she dressed quickly and hurried over to Lady Wang.

       By that time the whole household was lamenting, distressed by this shocking news. The old people recalled Keqing’s filial behaviour, the young people her affectionate ways and the children her kindness; while not one of the servants but wept for grief recollecting her compassion for the poor and humble and her loving goodness to old and young alike.

 

       But let us return to Baoyu, who was so desolate after Daiyu’s departure that he had given up playing with his companions and went disconsolate to bed each night. Roused from sleep by the announcement of Keqing’s death, he sprang suddenly from his bed. At once he felt a stab of pain in his heart, and with a cry spat out a mouthful of blood.

       Xiren and his other maids rushed up to help him back to bed, asking anxiously what was the matter. Should they get the Lady Dowager to send for a doctor?

       “There’s no need, it’s nothing,” he said. “A hot humour seized on my heart and stopped the normal flow of blood.” He got up again and demanded to be dressed so that he could go to his grandmother and then to the other mansion.

       Anxious though Xiren was, she dared not stop him when he was in this mood.

       The Lady Dowager however protested, “Just after a death their house is unclean. Besides, at night the wind is high. You may just as well go tomorrow.”

       When Baoyu insisted, she ordered a carriage and plenty of attendants for him. They found the gates of the Ning Mansion wide open and brilliantly lit with lanterns on either side. There was an excited coming and going of people and the air was rent by the vociferous wailing from inside the house.

       Alighting from his carriage Baoyu hurried to the room in which Keqing lay and having wept there went in to see Madam You, who happened to be laid up with another bout of dyspepsia. He then paid his respects to Jia Zhen.

       By now Jia Dairu had arrived with Jia Daixiu, Jia Chi, Jia Xiao, Jia Dun, Jia She, Jia Zheng, Jia Cong, Jia Bin, Jia Heng, Jia Guang, Jia Chen, Jia Qiong, Jia Lin, Jia Qiang, Jia Chang, Jia Ling, Jia Yun, Jia Qin, Jia Zhen, Jia Ping, Jia Zao, Jia Heng, Jia Fen, Jia Fang, Jia Lan, Jia Jun and Jia Zhi.

       Bathed in tears, Jia Zhen was telling Jia Dairu and the others, “Everyone in the family, old and young, distant kin or close friends, knows that my daughter-in-law was infinitely superior to my son. Now that she has gone, my branch of the family is fated to die out.” With that he broke down again.

       The men present tried to console him: “Since she has departed this world it is useless to weep. The main thing now is to decide what must be done.”

       “What must be done?” Jia Zhen clapped his hands. “I’m ready to dispose of all in my possession.”

       He was interrupted by the arrival of Qin Ye, Qin Zhong and some relatives of Madam You as well as her younger sisters. Leaving Jia Qiong, Jia Cen, Jia Lin and Jia Qiang to keep the guests company, Jia Zhen sent to invite someone from the Department of Astrology to choose auspicious days.

       It was decided that the body should remain in the house for seven times seven or forty-nine days, and mourning should start the third day after her death with the issue of obituary notices. During the forty-nine days a hundred and eight Buddhist monks were to perform the Litany of Great Compassion in the main hail to release the souls of those passed away before and after her and win remission for the sins of the deceased. At an altar erected in the Heavenly Fragrance Pavilion, ninety-nine Taoists of the Perfect Truth Sect should pray for forty-nine days for absolution. The coffin would then be taken to the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance, where another fifty high bonzes and fifty high Taoists would sacrifice before it once every seventh day during the forty-nine days.

       Jia Jing alone was untouched by the death of his eldest grandson’s wife. Expecting to attain immortality shortly himself, how could he go home to be soiled by mundane dust and squander all the merit he had acquired? So he left all the funeral arrangements to his son.

       His father’s indifference gave Jia Zhen a free hand to indulge his extravagance. He decided that the cedar-boards he had seen would not do for the coffin and was searching for something better when Xue Pan called to offer condolences.

       “In our timber-yard is some qiang wood from the Iron-Net Mountain across the sea,” said the young man. “A coffin made of this would last for ten thousand years. My father bought this timber for Prince Yi Zhong, but after his disgrace the prince didn’t take it. It’s still stored with us because no one has ventured to buy it. If you like, I’ll have it sent over.”

       Overjoyed by this news, Jia Zhen had the timber fetched without delay. Everyone gathered round and exclaimed in wonder, for the planks for the sides and the base were eight inches thick with a grain like that of the areca palm and the perfume of sandalwood or musk. When tapped they gave off a clear ringing sound like metal or jade.

       Jia Zhen, his face radiant, inquired the price.

       “You couldn’t buy this for a thousand taels,” replied Xue Pan with a smile. “Don’t worry about the price. All you need pay for is having it made up.”

       After copious thanks Jia Zhen lost no time in giving directions for the wood to be sawn and varnished.

       Jia Zheng objected, “This seems too sumptuous for ordinary people. The best quality cedar-boards would be quite adequate.”

       But Jia Zhen, who would gladly have died in Keqing’s place, would not listen to this suggestion.

       Word was brought that after Keqing’s death one of her maids, Ruizhu, had dashed out her own brains against a pillar. The whole clan praised this act of rare loyalty and Jia Zhen ordered that she be buried with the rites befitting a grandchild, her coffin resting in the Pavilion of Attained Immortality in the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance.

       Another maid, Baozhu, offered to act as Keqing’s god-daughter and take the chief mourner’s part, since her mistress had no child. This pleased Jia Zhen so much that he directed that henceforward Baozhu should be addressed as “miss”, as if she were a daughter of the house.

       Then Baozhu mourned like an unmarried daughter, weeping by the coffin as if her heart would break, while all the clansmen and servants observed the etiquette traditionally prescribed for such occasions with unimpeachable propriety.

       What distressed Jia Zhen now was the fact that his son was only a state scholar. This would not look well in the inscription on the funeral banner and it meant that the retinue would have to be small.

       As luck would have it , however, on the fourth day of the first week of mourning servants with sacrificial offerings arrived from the eunuch Dai Quan, chamberlain of the Palace of Great Splendour, who followed in a great palanquin with an official umbrella and gonging and drumming to offer an oblation.

       Jia Zhen ushered him eagerly in and offered him tea in the Bee-Teasing Pavilion. He already had a scheme in mind and soon found occasion to express his wish to purchase a rank for his son.

       Dai Quan rejoined with a knowing smile, “To make the funeral more sumptuous, I presume?”

       “Your assumption is correct, sir.”

       “By a fortunate coincidence there happens to be a good post going. There are two vacancies in the corps of three hundred officers of the Imperial Guard. Yesterday the third brother of the Marquis of Xiangyang sent me 1,500 taels and asked me for one of them; and since we are old friends, as you know, for his grandfather’s sake I made no difficulties but agreed out of hand. Who would have expected that Fatty Feng, Military Governor of Yongxing, wants to buy the other appointment for his son; but I haven’t yet had time to give him an answer. If your boy wants it, make haste and write out a statement of his antecedents.”

       Jia Zhen at once sent a servant to pass on these instructions to his secretaries. The man returned presently with a sheet of red paper. After glancing at it Jia Zhen handed it to Dai Quan, who read:

       Jia Rong, twenty, State Scholar of Jiangning District, Jiangning Prefecture, Jiangnan.

Great-grandfather: Jia Daihua, commander-in-chief of the Metropolitan Garrison and a hereditary general of the first class with the appellation Spiritual Might.

       Grandfather: Jia Jing, Metropolitan Scholar of the Yi Mao year.

       Father: Jia Zhen, hereditary general of the third rank with the appellation Mighty Intrepidity.

       Dai Quan ordered one of his attendants, “Take this to Old Zhao, chief of the Board of Revenue, with my compliments. Ask him to draw up a warrant for an officer of the fifth rank in the Imperial Guard and to fill out a commission according to these particulars. Tomorrow I will weigh out the silver and send it over.”

       Dai Quan then took his leave. His host, who could not detain him, saw him out. Before the eunuch mounted his palanquin Jia Zhen asked:

       “Shall I take the money to the Board or to you, sir?”

       “Just weigh out 1,200 taels and send it to my house. If you go to the Board, they’ll fleece you.”

       Jia Zhen thanked him warmly and promised, “When the mourning is over I shall bring my worthless son to kowtow his thanks.” And so they parted.

       Then runners could be heard clearing the way for the wife of Shi Ding, Marquis of Zhongjing. Lady Wang, Lady Xing and Xifeng welcomed her into the drawing-room. Then sacrificial gifts from the Marquises of Jinxiang and Chuanning as well as the Earl of Shoushan were displayed before the coffin. Presently these three nobles alighted from their palanquins and Jia Zhen ushered them into the main hall.

       So relatives and friends past counting came and went. Indeed, for forty-nine days the street outside the Ning Mansion was a sea of mourners in white interspersed by officials in their brilliant robes.

       At his father’s order Jia Rong changed into court dress the next day to collect his commission, after which the funerary ware in front of the coffin as well as the insignia for the cortege were made to befit an official of the fifth rank. The obituary tablet and notice were inscribed: “Obsequies of Lady Qin, Spouse of the House of ha, Granted a Rank by Imperial Decree off the Celestial Court.”

       The street gate in the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance was opened, and on platforms erected at both sides groups of blue-clad musicians played at appropriate times. The retinue stood in pairs in perfect symmetry, and two large vermilion boards set up outside the gate bore the bold gilt inscriptions “Imperial Guard and Defender of the Palace Roads in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City.”

       Across the road, facing each other, towered two altars for Buddhist and Taoist priests. The announcement on them read:

       “Obsequies of Lady Qin of the Jia Family, Consort of the Eldest Great-Grandson of the Hereditary Duke of Ningguo, Imperial Guard and Defender of the Palace Roads in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City.

       “In this land of peace and empire ruled according to the will of Heaven, in the centre of the four continents, we, Chief Buddhist Abbot Wan Xu, Controller of the School of the Void and Asceticism, and Chief Taoist Abbot Ye Sheng, Controller of the Primordial School of the Trinity, having reverently purified ourselves raise our eyes to Heaven and kowtow to Buddha. We humbly invoke all divinities to show their divine compassion and display their spiritual majesty afar in these forty-nine days of grand sacrifice, that the departed may be delivered from sins and absolved from retribution....” There was more in the same vein.

 

       Now all that still troubled Jia Zhen was the fact that his wife was ill in bed again, unable to see to things. If any breach of etiquette occurred while so many nobles were calling, the family would be laughed at.

       Baoyu noticed his preoccupation and asked: “Why do you look so anxious, cousin, now that everything’s settled so satisfactorily?” When told the reason he said cheerfully, “That’s no problem. I’ll recommend someone to take charge for you. Let her see to things this month and I guarantee that everything will go smoothly.”

       “Who do you mean?”

       Since there were many friends and relatives present, Baoyu drew closer and whispered into his ear.

       “Excellent!” Jia Zhen sprang to his feet, overjoyed. “I must see to it at once.” Taking leave of the others he hurried off with Baoyu to the drawing-room.

       As this was not one of the major days on which masses were said, only a few ladies who were close relatives had come. They were being entertained by Lady Xing, Lady Wang, Xifeng and other women of the household when Jia Zhen was announced. The ladies uttered cries of astonishment and hurriedly tried to slip into the inner room. Only Xifeng stood up composedly.

       Jia Zhen was not in good health himself at this time and, being weighed down with grief, he limped in with a cane.

       “You are not well,” said Lady Xing. “After all your recent exertions you ought to rest. What business brings you here?”

       Still clutching his cane, Jia Zhen made an effort to kneel to greet and thank his kinswomen. Lady Xing urged Baoyu to restrain him and had a chair placed for him, but he would not take it.

       Forcing a smile he announced, “Your nephew has come to ask a favour of his aunts and cousin.”

       “What is it?” inquired Lady Xing.

       “You know how it is, aunt. With my daughter-in-law gone and my wife ill in bed, everything is at sixes and sevens in the inner apartments. If my cousin Xifeng would condescend to take charge here for a month, that would set my mind at rest.”

       “So that’s it.” Lady Xing smiled. “Xifeng is part of your Aunt Wang’s establishment, so you’ll have to ask her permission.”

       “She’s young and inexperienced in these matters,” said Lady Wang. “If she handled things badly people would laugh. You’d better find someone else.”

       “I can guess your real objection, aunt,” he replied. “You’re afraid she’d find it too tiring. As for handling things badly, I know that wouldn’t be the case. And any little slip would be overlooked. Ever since she was a child at play Cousin Xifeng has known her own mind, and by managing the other house since her marriage she’s gained experience. I’ve been thinking this over for some days and there’s no one else so competent. If you won’t agree for my sake or my wife’s, aunt, do it for the one who’s dead.” His tears flowed again.

       Lady Wang’s only concern had been lest Xifeng, having no experience of funerals, might lay herself open to ridicule by managing badly. The earnestness of Jia Zhen’s request softened her heart and she eyed Xifeng thoughtfully.

       Now Xifeng loved nothing better than displaying her administrative ability. Although she ran the household competently, as she had never been entrusted with grand affairs like weddings or funerals she was afraid others were not yet fully convinced of her efficiency and she was longing for a chance like this. Jia Zhen’s request delighted her. Seeing that his eagerness was overcoming Lady Wang’s initial reluctance, she said:

       “Since my cousin is so earnest and pressing, won’t you give your consent, madam?”

       “Are you sure you can cope?” whispered Lady Wang.

       “I don’t see why not. Cousin Zhen has seen to all the important outside arrangements, it’s just a question of keeping an eye on the domestic side. And in case of doubt, I can consult you.”

       Since this was reasonable, Lady Wang made no further objection.

       “I can’t see to everything,” Jia Zhen said to Xifeng. “I must beg you to help us, cousin. Let me express my gratitude now, and when everything’s over I shall come round to your side to thank you properly.”

       He made a low bow and, before she could return it, produced the Ning Mansion tally from his sleeve and asked Baoyu to hand it to her.

       “You will have a free hand, cousin,” he promised. “Just use this to requisition whatever, you want, there’s no need to consult me. I’ve only two requests to make. First, please don’t try to spare me expense, as I want everything done handsomely. And secondly, treat the servants here as you would your own, don’t be afraid they may resent it. Apart from these two provisos, nothing else worries me.”

       Xifeng did not venture to take the tally but glanced at Lady Wang.

       “Do as your cousin asks,” said Lady Wang. “But don’t take too much upon yourself. If there are any decisions to make, send to ask him and your sister-in-law what should be done.”

       Baoyu had already taken the tally from Jia Then and forced it on Xifeng.

       “Would you prefer to stay here or to come over every day?” Jia Zhen asked her. “Coming over every day might be rather tiring. Why not let me clear out an apartment for you to stay in. Wouldn’t that save you trouble?”

       “There’s no need,” replied Xifeng gaily. “They can’t do without me over there. I’ll come every day.”

       Jia Zhen did not insist but left them after a little further chat.

       As soon as the visitors had gone Lady Wang asked Xifeng what she proposed to do now.

       “Please don’t wait for me, madam. I must sort things out before I come home.”

       So Lady Wang left first with Lady Xing, while Xifeng retired to a small three-roomed annex to reflect as follows:

       “First, this household is such a mixed one that things may get lost. Secondly, unless duties are assigned the servants may shirk work. Thirdly, the heavy expenditure may lead to extravagance and faked receipts. Fourthly, if no distinction is made between large tasks and small ones, some will have a harder time than others. Fifthly, these servants are so out of hand that those with any pretensions may defy me, and those with none won’t do their best.”

       These were indeed the’ five distinguishing features of the Ning Mansion. To know how Xifeng coped, read the following chapter.

       Truly:

Not one in ten thousand officials can rule the state,

Yet how splendidly a fair lady can run a household.

 

Chapter 14

 

Lin Ruhai Dies in Yangzhou

Baoyu Meets the Prince of Beijing

on the Road

 

 

 

When the news that Xifeng was to take charge reached Lai Sheng, chief steward of the Ning Mansion, he summoned all his colleagues.

       “Madam Jia Lian of the West Mansion is coming to supervise our household,” he told them. “When she asks for things or gives orders, we must be extra careful. Better turn up earlier and leave later everyday, working hard this month and resting afterwards, in order not to lose face. You know what a tenor she is, sour-faced, hard-hearted and no respecter of persons once she’s angry.~~

       They agreed and one remarked with a laugh, “Actually we need her to get this place into shape. Things are too out of hand.”

       Along came Lai Wang’s wife just then with a tally and a receipt for the amount required, to fetch sacrificial paper and paper for supplications and prayers. They made her take a seat and have some tea while someone went for the amount required and carried it for her to the inner gate, where he handed it over to her to take inside.

       Then Xifeng ordered Caiming to prepare a register and sent for Lai Sheng’s wife to bring her a list of the staff. She announced that all the men-servants’ wives were to come to her early the next morning for instructions. After checking quickly through the list and asking Lai Sheng ‘5 wife a couple of questions, she went home in her carriage.

She was back at half past six the next morning to find all the old servingwomen and stewards’ wives assembled. They did not venture into the antechamber when they saw that she and Lai Sheng’s wife were busy assigning tasks, but from outside the window they heard her tell the latter:

Since I’ve been put in charge here I daresay I shall make myself unpopular. I’m not as easy-going as your own mistress who lets you do as you please; so don’t tell me how things used to be managed here, but just do as I say. The least disobedience will be dealt with publicly, no matter how much face the offender may have.”

       She made Caiming call the roll and the servants entered one by one for inspection. After this she ordered:

       “These twenty, divided into two shifts often, will be solely responsible for serving tea to the guests on their arrival and before their departure. They will have no other duties. These twenty, also in two shifts of ten, will see to the family’s meals and tea every day. They will have no other duties either. These forty, divided into two shifts, will have the job of burning incense, keeping the lamps filled with oil, hanging up curtains, watching by the coffin, offering sacrificial rice and tea, and mourning with the mourners. Nothing else.

       ‘These four will be responsible for the cups, plates and tea things in the pantry, and will have to replace anything that is missing. These four will take charge of the dinner-sets and wine vessels, and likewise make good any loss. These eight will receive the presents of sacrificial offerings.

       “These eight will look after the distribution of lamps, oil, candles and sacrificial paper to various places according to a list which I shall issue. These thirty will take night duty in turns, seeing that the gates are locked and keeping a look-out for fires, as well as sweeping the grounds.

      “The rest of you will be assigned to different apartments and must stick to your posts. You will be responsible for everything there, from furniture and antiques to spittoons and dusters and each blade of grass —and will have to make good any loss or damage.

       “Lai Sheng’s wife will make a general inspection every day and report to me instantly any slackness, gambling, drinking, fighting or quarrelling. If I find you being too soft, I shall make no allowances for you, even though your family has been in service here for three or four generations.

       “Now you all have your duties, and if anything goes wrong I shall deal with the group concerned. My own servants have clocks and watches, because everything large or small must be done on time. Well, at least you have clocks here in your master’s rooms. I shall call the roll at half past six, you will have your meal at ten, and applications for stores or reports should be handed in punctually before half past eleven. At seven in the evening, after the burning of sacrificial paper, I shall make a tour of inspection, then issue those on night duty with their keys. I shall be back again at half past six the next morning. I needn’t remind you that we must all do our best during this period. When it’s over, no doubt your master will reward you.”

       She then ordered the distribution of supplies of tea, oil, candles, feather whisks, brooms and so forth, and had tablecloths, antimacassars, cushions, rugs, spittoons, stools and other furnishings issued. While this was being done, the servants in charge of each place and the articles taken by each were carefully recorded.

       Now that all the servants had their respective duties, they were no longer able to pick the easy jobs and leave the hard ones undone. Nor were things mislaid any more on account of confusion. However many guests came and went, everything ran smoothly, unlike the previous disorder when a maid serving tea had to fetch in rice as well, or one accompanying the mourners was sent to welcome new arrivals. That day saw the end, too, of disorder, negligence and pilfering. And Xifeng was thoroughly gratified by the authority she now wielded.

       As Madam You was ill and grief had made Jia Zhen lose his appetite, Xifeng every day sent over from the other mansion some fine congee and delicacies she had prepared especially for them. And Jia Zhen also ordered the best food to be served for her alone in her annex every day.

       Xifeng was not afraid of hard work. She came over punctually every morning at half past six to call the roll and see to any business, sitting alone in her annex and not even joining the other young wives to greet lady guests.

       On the thirty-third day Buddhist monks performed the rites to cleave the earth asunder, break open Hell and light the dead down with lanterns to pay homage to the King of Hell; to arrest evil demons; to invoke Prince Ksitigarbha under the ground to raise up the Golden Bridge and lead the way with streamers. Taoists offered prayers and invocations, worshipping the Three Pure Ones and the Jade Emperor. Bonzes chanting sutras burned incense, sacrificed to the hungry ghosts and intoned the Water Penitential while thirteen young nuns in red slippers and embroidered robes recited incantations before the coffin to lead the soul on its way. All was bustle and noise.

       Knowing that many guests could be expected, Xifeng told Pinger to wake her up at four that day. By the time she had finished her toilet, sipped some milk and sweetened rice congee and rinsed her mouth, it was half past six and Lai Wang’s wife was already waiting with the other servants. Xifeng left the hail and mounted her carriage, in front of which were two brilliant horn lanterns inscribed with the large characters: “The Rong Mansion.”

       As she slowly approached the Ning Mansion the lanterns above its main gate and the lamps on both sides shed a light bright as day on the two rows of attendants there in white mourning. At the main entrance her pages withdrew and maid-servants raised the curtain of the carriage. Xifeng was helped out by Fenger and escorted in by two serving-women with hand-lanterns. All the stewards’ wives of the Ning Mansion advanced to greet her.

       Xifeng walked slowly through the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance to the Pavilion of Attained Immortality, where at the sight of the coffin her tears fell like pearls from a broken string. Pages were waiting respectfully in the court for the burning of the sacrificial paper and now she ordered this to be done and an offering of tea presented. After one beat on the gong the music started. A large arm-chair had been set in front of the shrine and seating herself she gave way to loud lamentations. At once all the others, both men and women, high and low, joined in, until Jia Zhen and Madam You sent to persuade her to restrain her grief.

       Then Lai Wang’s wife brought her tea to rinse her mouth, and Xifeng rose to take her leave of her kinsmen and proceed to the annex.

       All the women-servants were present at the roll-call except for one usher. She came when summoned in great fear and trembling.

       “So you’re the one.” Xifeng smiled scornfully. “You must consider yourself above the rest to disobey me like this.”

       “I’ve been on time every day before,” said the woman. “But when I woke today it was still early, so I went back to sleep. That’s why I was a few minutes late. Please overlook it, madam, this once!”

       Just then Wang Xing’s wife from the other mansion peeped in. Without dismissing the usher, Xifeng asked her what she wanted.

       Eager to have her business attended to first, Wang Xing’s wife came forward and presented a request for silk thread to make tassels for the carriages and sedan-chairs. On Xifeng’s instructions Caiming read out the number of strings of beads and tassels needed for two palanquins and four sedan-chairs as well as four carriages. Finding the figures correct, Xifeng told Caiming to register them and gave a Rong Mansion tally to Wang Xing’s wife, who left.

       Before Xifeng could deal with the offender in came four stewards from the Rong Mansion with indents for stores. Xifeng had their orders read out and pointed at two of the four items.

       “These figures are wrong. Come back when you’ve worked them out correctly.”

       The two stewards whose indents she tossed back withdrew very sheepishly.

       Then she noticed Zhang Cai’s wife and asked her business. The woman handed her an order form, saying, “The covers for the carriages and sedan-chairs are finished, and I’ve come for the money for the tailor.”

       Xifeng told Caiming to enter this, and when Wang Xing’s wife had returned the tally and fetched the accountant’s receipt for the right sum Zhang Cai’s wife was sent to get the money. Another order for wallpaper to paper Baoyu’s outer study was read out and registered. After Zhang Cai’s wife had finished her business and returned the tally, the other was sent with it to get wall-paper.

       Then at last Xifeng turned to deal with the usher.

       “If you’re late today and I’m late tomorrow, there will soon be nobody here,” she said. “I should have liked to let you off, but if I overlook the first offence the others will get out of hand. I shall be obliged to make an example of you.”

       With a stern look she ordered the woman to be taken out and given twenty strokes with the bamboo. She then threw down the Ning Mansion tally and gave orders that Lai Sheng should dock this usher of a month’s wages.

       When the others heard this and saw Xifeng’s angry frown, they dared not show slackness in carrying out her orders. Some hastily dragged out the woman; others passed on the order to Lai Sheng. After the usher had been given twenty strokes she had to return to kowtow to Xifeng.

       Xifeng warned the servants, “Anyone late again tomorrow will get forty strokes, and sixty the day after that. So those who want a beating, just come late.” With that she dismissed them.

       The people outside the window, hearing this, went off to attend to their tasks. Then a steady stream of domestics from both mansions kept coming to hand in or apply for indents, while the woman who had been beaten also left shamefacedly. After this demonstration of Xifeng’s severity, the servants of the Ning Mansion worked hard and, to be on the safe side, dared not neglect their duties. But no more of this.

 

       Let us return to Baoyu. There were so many visitors about that day that, fearing Qin Zhong might be slighted, he urged him to go with him to see Xifeng.

       Qin Zhong objected that she would be too busy to welcome visitors and might think them a nuisance.

       “Us, a nuisance?” retorted Baoyu. “Not a bit of it. Come on.”

       He took Qin Zhong to the annex where Xifeng was having a meal. At sight of them she smiled. “You do have long legs, don’t you? Come and join me.”

       “We’ve eaten already,” Baoyu told her.

       “Here? Or over in the other house?”

       “Why should we eat here with these dolts? We had a meal over there with the old lady.” He and Qin Zhong sat down.

       As soon as the meal was finished, a woman from the Ning Mansion arrived with an indent for incense and lamps.

       “I knew it was time for you to come today but thought you’d forgotten,” observed Xifeng, smiling. “If you had, you’d have had to pay for them yourself. And so much the better for me.

       “It quite slipped my mind,” replied the maid cheerfully. “I only remembered a moment ago and hurried here just in time.”

       She took the tally and went off. Soon the tally was returned and the amount entered.

       “You use the same tallies in both your mansions,” remarked Qin Zhong with a smile. “What if someone faked one and ran off with your money?”

       “Do you think us such a lawless lot?” Xifeng asked, laughing.

       “How is it that no one has come from our house to ask for things?” put in Baoyu.

       “When they came you were still fast asleep. But tell me, when are you two going to start your evening lessons?”

       “We’d like to start right away. Only we can’t because they’re so slow getting the study ready.”

       “If you’ll treat me, I’ll speed things up.”

       “How can you? They’re doing it in their own good time.”

       “They need materials for the job. They can’t do a thing if I withhold the tally.”

       Baoyu cuddled up to her at that and coaxed, “Dear cousin, do give them the tally so that they can get what they need.”

       “I’m so tired, my bones are aching,” protested Xifeng. “Must you jostle me like that? Don’t worry, they’ve just taken the wall-paper for your study. You must be crazy if you think they need telling when to ask.”

       When Baoyu refused to believe this she made Caiming show him the record. Just then someone announced that Zhaoer was back from Suzhou and Xifeng promptly ordered him to be brought in. Zhaoer fell on one knee to greet her.

       “Why have you come back?” she asked.

       “The master sent me, madam. Lord Lin died on the third of the ninth month, at nine in the morning. The master and Miss Lin are escorting his coffin to Suzhou and should be home about the end of the year. He sent me to bring the news with his greetings and to ask for the old lady’s instructions. I was to see, too, if you were well at home, madam, and to take back some of his fur-lined gowns.”

       “Have you reported to the other ladies?”

       “Yes, madam. Everyone.” With that he withdrew.

       Xifeng turned to Baoyu with a smile. “Now your cousin Daiyu can stay with us a good long time.”

       “Poor thing!” exclaimed Baoyu. “Think how much she must have been crying the last few days.” He knit his brows and sighed.

       Xifeng was anxious for news of her husband but had not liked to question Zhaoer too closely in the presence of others. Tempted to go home but kept by unfinished business and afraid of making herself look ridiculous, she had to restrain her impatience until the evening, when she summoned Zhaoer to give her all the particulars of their journey. That same night she got Pinger to help her select some fur-lined clothes and carefully thought out what else her husband might need. Having packed these things together she handed them to Zhaoer and cautioned him:

       “Mind you look after your master properly outside and don’t make him angry. Try to keep him from drinking too much, and don’t pander to him by finding him loose women — if you do, I’ll break your legs when you get back.”

       By then it was well after the fourth watch and though she went to bed she had lost all desire to sleep. Soon it was dawn. She made a hasty toilet and went over to the Ning Mansion.

       Now that the day for the funeral was approaching, ha Zhen drove in person with a geomancer to Iron Threshold Temple to inspect the repository for the coffin and enjoin on Abbot Sekong, who was in charge, the need for the finest furnishings and the help of the most noted monks for the coffin’s reception.

       Sekong hastily prepared supper, but Jia Zhen had no interest in food. Since it was too late to return to town, however, he put up that night in the guest room, starting back first thing in the morning to arrange for the funeral procession. He sent men ahead to the temple to spend that night in redecorating the repository and in seeing to refreshments and the reception of the funeral party.

       Meanwhile Xifeng too had made careful preparations, choosing the servants, carriages and sedan-chairs of the Rong Mansion that would accompany Lady Wang to the funeral, and a place in which to stay herself for the occasion.

       As the Duke of Shanguo’s wife had just died, Lady Xing and Lady Wang had to send sacrificial gifts and attend her funeral. Then birthday presents had to be sent to the consort of the Prince of Xian. Then a first son was born to the Duke of Zhenguo and congratulatory gifts had to be sent. Then Xifeng had to write a letter home and prepare gifts for her brother Wang Ren to take when he returned south with his family. Then Yingchun fell ill and every day they had to call in doctors, study their diagnoses, discuss the cause of the illness and decide on prescriptions....

       As the day of the funeral approached, a thousand and one affairs kept Xifeng so busy that she had no time to eat and was hardly able to have a moment’s rest. When she went to the Ning Mansion, servants from the Rong Mansion followed her there; when she returned to the Rong Mansion, servants from the Ning Mansion would come after her. Yet busy as she was, her spirits were high. She shirked not a single task, determined to give no one any grounds for complaint. Indeed, she worked so hard day and night and handled everything so well that not one of the household, high or low, but was impressed.

       Now the time had come for the wake. The family’s two troupes of actors and some musicians, dancers and acrobats were to perform a long programme of items, and the place was thronged with relatives and friends. As Madam You was still keeping to her bed Xifeng had to look after them single-handed; for all the other married women in the family were either tongue-tied, flighty, shy of strangers or awed by nobles and officials. None of them could compare with Xifeng with her charm, ready tongue and elegance. Having no fear of anyone, she gave whatever orders she pleased and did as she liked, regardless of anyone else.

       That night was all brilliance and bustle, needless to say, with the lanterns and torches of the officials and guests coming and going.

       When the auspicious hour arrived at dawn, sixty-four bearers in blue bore out the coffin. It was preceded by a great funeral banner bearing the inscription in large characters:

Spiritual Abode of Lady Qin of the Jia Family, Consort of the Imperial Guard and Defender of the Palace Roads of the Inner Court of the Forbidden City, and Eldest Great-Great-Grandson of the Duke of Ningguo Enfeoffed with the First Rank by the Heaven-Sent, Splendidly Established, Long-Enduring Dynasty.

 

       The brand-new funeral paraphernalia was a dazzling sight. And Baozhu, observing the rites for an unmarried daughter, dashed an earthen basin to pieces when the coffin was lifted to be carried away and lamented bitterly before it.

       Among the officials attending the funeral were: Niu Jizong, hereditary earl of the first rank, grandson of Niu Qing, Duke of Zhenguo; Liu Fang, hereditary viscount of the first rank, grandson of Liu Biao, Duke of Liguo; Chen Ruiwen, hereditary general of the third rank, grandson of Chen Yi, Duke of Qiguo; Ma Shang, hereditary general of the third rank, grandson of Ma Kui, Duke of Zhiguo; and Hou Xiaokang, hereditary viscount of the first rank, grandson of Hou Xiaoming, Duke of Xiuguo. Since the Duke of Shanguo’s wife had died, his grandson Shi Guangzhu was in mourning and unable to come. These six families, with those of Ning and Rong, were known as the “Eight Ducal Households.”

       The other mourners included: the grandson of the Prince of Nanan; the grandson of the prince of Xining; Shi Ding, Marquis of Zhongjing; hang Zining, hereditary baron of the second rank, grandson of the Marquis of Pingyuan; Xie Qiong, hereditary baron of the second rank, captain of the Metropolitan Garrison, grandson of the Marquis of Dingcheng; Qi Jianhui, hereditary baron of the second rank, grandson of the Marquis of Xiangyang; Qiu Liang, garrison commander of five cities, grandson of the Marquis of Jingtian.

       Also present were Han Qi, son of the Earl of Jinxiang; Feng Ziying, son of the General of Divine Valour; Chen Yejun, Wei Ruolan and countless other sons of nobles.

       There were also over a dozen palanquins and thirty to forty sedan-chairs for lady guests. These together with the carriages and sedan-chairs of the Jia family numbered well over a hundred. With the elaborate equipage in front and the performances given on the way, the procession extended a good three or four li.

       Before long they reached stands with coloured silk awnings by the roadside where music was played and sacrificial offerings had been set out by different families. The first four belonged to the houses of the Prince of Dongping, the Prince of Nanan, the Prince of Xining, and the Prince of Beijing.

       The original Prince of Beijing had won the highest distinction of these four princes, and therefore his descendants had inherited his title. The present holder of the title, Shui Rong, was a charming and modest young man of less than twenty with remarkable good looks. When he heard that the eldest great-great-grandson of the Duke of Ningguo had lost his wife, the thought of their forefathers’ friendship, shared dangers and glory as if of one family had made him lay aside all considerations of rank and go in person to express his condolences. Now he had set up a funeral booth by the roadside to offer a libation. He made some of his officers wait there while he went to court at dawn. The audience over, he changed into mourning clothes and came here by palanquin, preceded by sounding gongs and ceremonial umbrellas. He halted his palanquin at the stand and his officers ranged themselves on either side, forbidding soldiers and civilians to pass.

       Presently, from the north, the Ning Mansion’s magnificent funeral procession bore down on them like a great silver landslide. The runners sent ahead to clear the way had reported the prince’s arrival to Jia Zhen, who now ordered the procession to halt while he, ha She and ha Zheng went to greet the prince according to state ceremonial. The prince bowed affably in return from his palanquin, treating them as old family friends without any affectation.

       Jia Zhen said, “We are overwhelmed by the favour done us by Your Highness in honouring my daughter-in-law’s funeral with your presence.”

       “That is no way for good friends to talk,” protested the prince.

       Then he turned and ordered his chief steward to preside at the sacrifice for him and pour a libation. Jia She and the others, having bowed in return, stepped forward to express their gratitude.

       The Prince of Beijing was completely unassuming. He asked Jia Zheng, “Which is the young gentleman born with a piece of jade in his mouth? I have long wanted to meet him but have never had the time. I am sure he must be here today. Won’t you present him?”

       Jia Zheng withdrew at once to fetch Baoyu. He made him change out of mourning, then took him to meet the prince.

       Baoyu had heard from his family and friends of the Prince of Beijing’s fine qualities, his talent, good looks, refinement and unconventionality. He had often wanted to meet him, but his father kept him under such strict control that hitherto he had never had a chance. Of course he was delighted to be sent for. Walking forward, he was struck by the dignity with which the prince was sitting in his palanquin.

       To know the sequel, read the chapter which follows.

      

 

Chapter 15

 

Xifeng Abuses Her Power at

Iron Threshold Temple

Qin Zhong Amuses Himself in

Steamed-Bread Convent

 

 

       Looking up, Baoyu saw that the Prince of Beijing had on a princely silver-winged cap with white tassels, a white robe embroidered with zigzag wave patterns and five-clawed dragons, and a red leather belt studded with green jade. With his face fair as jade, his eyes bright as stars, he was truly a handsome figure.

       Baoyu started forward to make his obeisance. As the prince from his palanquin raised him up, he noticed that Baoyu was wearing a sliver chaplet in the form of two dragons rising from the sea, an archer’s coat embroidered with white serpents, and a silver belt set with pearls. His face seemed a flower in spring, his eyes black as lacquer.

       “You live up to your name,” remarked the prince. “You are really like precious jade. But where is that gem with which you came into the world?”

       Baoyu hastily took the jade from inside his garments and handed it to the prince, who examined it carefully and read the inscription.

       “Does it actually have magic powers?” he asked.

       “So they say,” answered Jia Zheng. “But it has never yet been put to the test.”

       The prince was very struck by the jade and, smoothing its silken cord, with his own hands he put it round Baoyu’s neck. Then taking the boy’s hand he asked him his age and what he was studying.

       The clarity and fluency of Baoyu’s answers made the prince turn to observe to Jia Zheng, “Your son is truly a dragon’s colt or young phoenix. May I venture to predict that in time to come this young phoenix may even surpass the old one?”

       “My worthless son does not deserve such high praise,” rejoined Jia Zheng hurriedly with a courteous smile. “If thanks to the grace of Your Highness such proves the case, that will be our good fortune.”

       “There is one thing, however,” cautioned the prince. “Because your son is so talented his grandmother and mother must have doted on him; but over-indulgence is very bad for young people like ourselves as it makes us neglect our studies. I went astray in this way myself and suspect your honourable son may do the same. If he finds it difficult to study at home, he is very welcome to come as often as he likes to my humble house. For although untalented myself, I am honoured by visits from scholars of note from all parts of the empire when they come to the capital. Hence my poor abode is frequented by eminent men, and conversation with them should improve his knowledge.”

       Jia Zheng bowed and assented to this without hesitation.

       The prince now took a string of beads from his wrist and gave it to Baoyu saying, “This first meeting of ours is so hurried that I have brought no gift to show my respect, but please accept this string of beads made of the aromatic seeds of some plant which His Majesty gave me the other day.”

       Baoyu took it and turned to present it to his father, who together with his son offered formal thanks.

       Then Jia She and Jia Zhen stepped forward and begged the prince to return, but he demurred: “The deceased has become an immortal and left our dusty world. Although by the favour of the Son of Heaven I have succeeded to this title, how can I precede the carriage of an immortal?”

       Seeing that he was adamant, Jia She and the others thanked him and withdrew to stop the music, so as to let the long procession pass on. And thereupon the prince went back. But no more of this.

       The whole road hummed with excitement as the great procession passed. By the city gate friends and colleagues of Jia She, Jia Zheng and Jia Zhen had set up sacrificial tents and not until each had been thanked in turn did the cortege leave the city and proceed along the highway towards Iron Threshold Temple.

       Now Jia Zhen and Jia Rong urged their elders to mount their chairs or horses. All of Jia She’s generation mounted carriages or chairs while Jia Zhen’s contemporaries rode on horseback.

       Xifeng was afraid that Baoyu, unchecked by his father, might come to some harm through reckless riding in the open country, for he would not

listen to anyone else in the household. And if there were any mishap it would be hard to account for it to the old lady. Accordingly she ordered a page to summon him to her carriage, and when perforce he came she told him with a smile:

       “Dear cousin, you have your dignity and are as delicate as any girl. Don’t copy those apes on horseback. Wouldn’t it be better to come and share my carriage?”

       Baoyu hurriedly dismounted to join her. They drove on laughing and chatting until two horsemen galloped up and alighted by the carriage to report, “We have reached a halting place, madam. Will you stop for a rest?”

       Having asked to know the wishes of Lady Xing and Lady Wang, Xifeng was told, “Their Ladyships are not stopping, but they want you to suit your convenience.”

       Thereupon Xifeng ordered a halt. Attendants led their carriage northwards away from the cortege and at Baoyu’s orders went to invite Qin Zhong, who was riding behind his father’s chair, to join them. When Baoyu’s page brought him this invitation and he saw his friend’s riderless horse following Xifeng’s carriage north, Qin Zhong knew that Baoyu must be with her. He promptly overtook them and together they entered the gateway of a farm.

       The menfolk here had long since been packed off, but the farmhouse had so few rooms that the womenfolk had nowhere to go to keep out of the way. The sudden appearance in their midst of Xifeng, Baoyu and Qin Zhong with their gorgeous clothes and refined looks and manners made these village women stare with admiration.

       Once in the thatched house Xifeng suggested to Baoyu that he should amuse himself outside. Taking the hint, he led Qin Zhong and the pages off to look around. He had never seen farm implements before and was thoroughly intrigued by the spades, picks, hoes and ploughs, although quite ignorant of their names and uses. When a page who knew informed him he nodded and remarked with a sigh:

       “Now I understand the words of the old poet:

Who knows that each grain of rice we eat

Is the fruit of intensive toil?”

       Strolling into an outhouse, he was still more intrigued by a spinning-wheel on the kang. His pages told him this was used to weave yarn. He had just climbed up on the kang to turn the wheel for fun when in came a peasant girl of seventeen or eighteen. She ran over crying:

       “Don’t! You’ll break it!”

       She was shouted at by his pages, but Baoyu had already let go of the wheel.

       “I’ve never seen one before,” he explained with a smile. “I just wanted to have a try.”

       “How could you people know how?” said the girl. “Get out of my way and I’ll show you.~~

       Qin Zhong plucked at Baoyu’s sleeve and whispered, “Isn’t she fun?”

       Baoyu gave him a shove. “You rascal. If you talk any more nonsense I’ll clout you.

       Meanwhile the girl had started spinning. Baoyu was just about to speak to her when an old woman called, “Come here, quick, Second Daughter!”

       At that she went off, much to his disappointment.

       Then a messenger summoned them back to Xifeng, who had washed and changed to remove the dust of the journey. She urged the two boys to change, but Baoyu declined. Their attendants now produced the tea-service and hamper which they had brought for the journey, and after some refreshments they smartened up and mounted their carriage again.

       Once outside, Lai Wang presented a packaged gratuity to the peasant family, whose womenfolk came to thank them. Xifeng, however, took no notice of them, while Baoyu looked eagerly for the spinning-girl. But she was not in the group. They had not gone far, though, when he saw her, her little brother in her arms, approaching laughing and chatting with some smaller girls. Baoyu longed to alight and go with her, but knowing that the others would not agree he could only follow her with his eyes as their carriage drove swiftly off. Soon she was out of sight.

       Before very long, they overtook the procession. Ahead of them were temple drums and cymbals, pennants and umbrellas, while monks from Iron Threshold Temple lined the road. Soon they entered the temple, where

again Buddhist rites were performed and incense burned, after which the coffin was installed in one of the side-chambers of the inner hall and Baozhu prepared to keep vigil there that night.

       In the outer apartments Jia Zhen entertained their male friends and relatives, some of whom stayed for a meal while others took their leave immediately. He tendered them thanks one by one for coming. Then the guests began to take their leave from dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons downwards, and by three o’clock all had dispersed.

       The ladies were entertained in the inner apartments by Xifeng. They, too, left in order of precedence, and by about two o’clock all had gone except a few close relatives who would remain for the three day’s requiems for the dead.

       Knowing that Xifeng could not return with them, Lady Xing and Lady Wang proposed to take Baoyu back with them to the city. But as this was his first visit to the country and he insisted on staying behind with Xifeng, his mother had to leave him in her charge.

       Now this Iron Threshold Temple had been built in the days of the Dukes of Rongguo and Ningguo and still had enough land of its own to provide for incense and lamps and repositories for the coffins of clansmen. Since there was accommodation for both the dead and the living, the mourners escorting coffins had somewhere to stay. However, now that the family had grown the views of the rich members differed from those of the poor. Whereas the latter were content to stay here, those who were wealthy and fond of display maintained that the place was inconvenient and preferred to find accommodation in some nearby village or convent to retire to at the end of the ceremonies.

       On this occasion of Qin Keqing’s funeral most members of the clan stayed at Iron Threshold Temple. Only Xifeng, deciding that it would not suit her, had sent a servant to ask Abbess Jingxu of Steamed-Bread Convent to clear a few rooms for her. Steamed-Bread Convent was the popular name for Water Moon Convent because of the good steamed bread made here. It stood not far from Iron Threshold Temple.

       As soon as the monks had completed their devotions and the evening offering of tea had been made, Jia Zhen sent Jia Rong to urge Xifeng to rest. Then leaving her sisters-in-law to look after the women guests she took Baoyu and Qin Zhong off to Steamed-Bread Convent. Qin Zhong’s father, too old and frail to remain himself, had told his son to attend the requiems, and so the boy stayed with Xifeng and Baoyu.

       They were met at the convent gate by Abbess Jingxu and two novices, Zhishan and Zhineng. After an exchange of greetings Xifeng retired to a rest room. While she was changing she noticed how tall and pretty Zhineng had grown.

       “Why haven’t you and your abbess been to see us lately?” she asked.

       “A few days ago a son was born to Mr. Hu,” explained the abbess. “His good lady sent us ten taels of silver to get some of our sisters to chant the Nativity sutra for three days, so we’ve been too busy to come and pay our respects.”

       But let us return to Baoyu and Qin Zhong, who were fooling about in the hall when Zhineng came in.

       “Look who’s here,” said Baoyu with a smile.

       “What about it?” retorted Qin Zhong.

       “It’s no use play-acting. What were you doing with her on your lap that day in my grandmother’s room, when no one else was about? Stop trying to fool me.”

       “You’re just making that up!” protested Qin Zhong.

       “Well, never mind. Tell her to pour me some tea and I’ll let you off.”

       “Don’t be ridiculous. Could she refuse if you ask her yourself? Why should I ask for you?”

       “For you she would do it for love, but not for me.”

       Then Qin Zhong said, “Bring me some tea, Zhineng, will you?”

       This young novice had been in and out of the Rong Mansion since childhood. She knew everyone there and had often romped with Baoyu and Qin Zhong; and now that she was old enough to know the meaning of love she had taken a fancy to handsome young Qin Zhong, who was attracted in turn by her pretty looks. Although nothing had passed between them, they already had a secret understanding. So now with a radiant glance at him she complied. Soon she was back again with a cup of tea.

       “Give it to me!” urged Qin Zhong with a smile.

       “No, to me!” cried Baoyu.

       Zhineng laughed mockingly. “Do I have honey on my hands that you squabble even over a cup of tea?”

       Baoyu grabbed hold of the cup and started drinking, and before he could speak again Zhishan came to fetch Zhineng to lay the table. Presently she returned to invite them to have some refreshments, but the tea and cakes served in the convent did not tempt them. They sat a while, then escaped as soon as they could to amuse themselves elsewhere.

       Xifeng retired presently, too, to the rest room accompanied by the abbess. When the older maid-servants saw there was nothing to do they went off to bed themselves, leaving only a few trusted younger maids in attendance.

       The abbess seized this chance to say, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to go and ask Her Ladyship, but I’d like to have your advice on it first, madam.”

       “What is it?” asked Xifeng.

       “Amida Buddha!” sighed the abbess. “When I became a nun in Shancai Convent in the county of Changan, one of our benefactors was a very wealthy man called Zhang, whose daughter Jinge often came to our temple to offer incense. A young Mr. Li, who is brother-in-law to the prefect of Changan, met her there. He fell in love at first sight and sent to ask for her hand; but she was already engaged to the son of the former inspector of Changan. The Zhangs would have liked to cancel the engagement but were afraid the inspector might object, so they explained to the Lis that she was betrothed. Still young Mr. Li insisted on having her, making things very difficult for the Zhangs.

       “When word of this reached the inspector’s family, without even finding out the truth of the matter they came and stormed, ‘How many more men will you engage your daughter to?’ They refused to take back the betrothal gifts and took the matter to court.

       “The girl’s family are desperate. They’ve sent to the capital to enlist help and are quite determined to return the gifts.

       “Well, I understand that General Yun the Military Governor of Changan is on friendly terms with your family. If Lady Wang would get His Lordship to write to General Yun, asking him to have a word with the inspector, I’m sure he’d drop the suit. And the Zhangs would gladly give any-

thing — even their whole fortune — in return for this favour.”

       “There shouldn’t be any great difficulty about this,” rejoined Xifeng. ‘‘But Her Ladyship doesn’t trouble herself with such matters.~~

       “In that case, madam, could you attend to it?”

       “I’m neither short of money nor do I meddle with affairs of this sort.”

       The abbess’ face fell. After a short pause she observed with a sigh, “Well, the Zhangs know that I’m appealing to your family. If you do nothing, they won’t realize that you can’t be troubled and don’t want the money — it would look as if you can’t even handle such a trifling business.”

       This put Xifeng on her mettle. “You know me,” she replied. “I’ve never believed all that talk about Hell and retribution. I do what I please and am always as good as my word. Let them bring me three thousand taels and I’ll see to this for them.”

       “Very good!” cried the abbess, overjoyed. “That’s easy.

       “I’m not one of your go-betweens just out for money,” said Xifeng.

These three thousand taels will just cover the expenses of the servants

I send out and reward them for their trouble. I myself don’t want a cent.

I could lay my hands any moment on thirty thousand.”

       “Of course, madam. Will you do us this favour, then, tomorrow?”

       “Can’t you see how busy I am, needed right and left? But since I’ve told you I’ll do it, of course I’ll settle it for you speedily.”

       “A little thing like this might throw other people into a fearful flurry, but I know you’d have no trouble handling bigger things than this, madam. As the proverb says, ‘The abler a man, the busier he gets.’ It’s because you’re so capable that Her Ladyship leaves everything to you. But you mustn’t wear yourself out.”

       This flattery made Xifeng forget her exhaustion and start chatting more cheerfully.

       Meanwhile Qin Zhong had taken advantage of the darkness and the fact that nobody was about to go in search of Zhineng. Having found her alone in a back room washing up the tea things, he threw his arms around her and kissed her.

       “What are you doing?” The novice stamped her foot in desperation and threatened to call out.

       “Darling,” he pleaded, “I’m dying of longing for you. If you refuse me again this evening, I’ll die here on the spot.”

       “What are you thinking of? At least wait till I’m clear of this prison and these people?”

       “That’s easy to manage, but ‘distant water can’t quench a present thirst.

       With that he blew out the lamp, plunging the room into pitch darkness, and carried her to the kang. Zhineng struggled in vain to free herself but did not like to scream, so she had to let him have his way with her.

       He was just getting down to work when someone slipped in and pinned the pair of them down. Since no word was said, they did not know who it was. The two of them were frightened out of their wits until a chuckle revealed that it was Baoyu.

       Qin Zhong sprang up swearing, “What are you playing at?”

       “Will you do as I say or shall I raise the alarm?”

       Zhineng fled, blushing, under cover of the dark and Baoyu pulled his friend out.

       “Well, do you still deny it?” he demanded.

       “Be a good fellow! I’ll do whatever you say as long as you don’t shout.”

       “We’ll say no more about it just now. I’ll settle with you after we go to bed.”

       Soon it was time to sleep. Xifeng had the inner room, the two boys the outer, while the maids slept on the floor or sat up to keep watch. For fear lest the precious jade might disappear while Baoyu was asleep, Xifeng had it fetched and put it under her own pillow.

       As for how Baoyu settled scores with Qin Zhong, what the eye does not see can only be surmised, and far be it from us to speculate.

       The next morning the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang sent to urge Baoyu to dress more warmly and to go home if there was nothing to keep him. This was the last thing he wanted. And Qin Zhong, infatuated as he was with Zhineng, made him beg Xifeng to stay a little longer.

       Though the obsequies were over there remained certain trifles to attend to, so Xifeng decided she could spare one more day. In the first place, this would satisfy Jia Zhen; in the second, she could attend to the abbess’ business; in the third, the Lady Dowager would be pleased to know that Baoyu was enjoying himself.

       “My own business here is finished,” she told him with these considerations in mind. “If you want to amuse yourself here a little longer, I suppose I’ll have to put up with it. But we must leave tomorrow at the latest.”

       “Just one day, dear, kind cousin. We’ll leave tomorrow.”

       So they arranged to spend another night there.

       Xifeng sent someone secretly to explain the abbess’ business to Lai Wang. He grasped at once what was wanted and hurried into town to get the chief secretary to write a letter in Jia Lian’s name, and set off with it that same night for Changan County. Since Changan was only a hundred li away, within two days the matter was settled. Military Governor Yun Guang had long wanted to please the Jia family and was only too glad to agree to this trifling request. Lai Wang brought back a letter from him to this effect.

       Meanwhile Xifeng, after one more day in the convent, had said goodbye to the abbess, telling her to come for news in three day’s time.

       Qin Zhong and Zhineng could hardly bear to part and bid each other a sad farewell after arranging to meet again in secret.

       Xifeng went to take a last look at Iron Threshold Temple, where Baozhu insisted on remaining. Jia Zhen later was obliged to send maids there to keep her company.

       To know the sequel, read the next chapter.

 

 

Chapter 16

 

Yuanchun Is Selected as Imperial Consort

in Phoenix Palace

Qin Zhong Dying Before His Time Sets Off

for the Nether Regions

 

 

       Before long Baoyu’s outer study was ready. He had agreed with Qin Zhong to start evening lessons together; but Qin Zhong had a weak constitution, and a cold he had caught in the country following his secret affair with Zhineng had upset him; thus on his return to town he developed a cough and lost his appetite completely. Too weak to go out, he had to rest at home. Although Baoyu was very disappointed, he could do nothing but wait for his friend’s recovery.

       Meanwhile Xifeng had received Yun Guang’s reply, and the abbess had informed the Zhangs that their problem was solved. So the inspector had to swallow his anger and take back the betrothal gifts.

       But though Zhang and his wife were snobbish and mercenary, they had a principled and feeling daughter. When Jinge learned that her engagement had been broken she found a rope and quietly hanged herself; and the inspector’s son was so much in love that he drowned himself when he heard of her suicide, showing that he was worthy of his good fiancée.

       Thus the Zhang and Li families were unlucky enough to lose both girl and money. Only Xifeng was the gainer by three thousand taels, quite unknown to Lady Wang and the rest of the household. This emboldened her from that time on to undertake countless similar transactions but we need not recount these here.

       Now it was Jia Zheng’s birthday and both households had gathered to congratulate him. At the height of the festivities the gateman suddenly rushed in to announce:

       “His Excellency Xia, Chief Eunuch of the Six Palaces, has come with a Decree from the Emperor!”

       This startled Jia She, Jia Zheng and the rest, who did not know what it could mean. They at once called a halt to the theatricals and had the feast cleared away. A table was set out with incense. Then, throwing open the central gate they knelt down to receive the Decree.

       Soon Xia Shouzhong the Chief Eunuch arrived on horseback, followed by a considerable retinue of eunuchs. He was not carrying an Imperial Edict, however. Having alighted in front of the main hall, he mounted the steps with a beaming smile and, facing south, announced:

       “By special order of the Emperor, Jia Zheng is to present himself at once for an audience in the Hall of Respectful Approach.” This said, without even taking a sip of tea, he remounted his horse and rode off.

       Jia She and the others could not guess what this portended. Jia Zheng lost no time in putting on his court robes and going to the Palace, leaving the whole family in dire suspense. The Lady Dowager sent one mounted messenger after another in search of news; but it was four hours before Lai Da and a few other stewards came panting through the inner gate, crying:

       “Good news! His Lordship asks the old lady to go at once to the Palace with the other ladies to thank His Majesty.”

       The Lady Dowager had been waiting anxiously in the corridor outside the great hail with Lady Xing, Lady Wang, Madam You, Li Wan, Xifeng and the Jia girls, as well as Aunt Xue. On hearing this, they called Lai Da over and demanded more details.

       “We had to wait in the outer court,” Lai Da told them. “So we had no idea what was going on inside. But then Chief Eunuch Xia came out. He congratulated us on the promotion of our eldest young lady. She’s to be Chief Secretary of the Phoenix Palace with the title of Worthy and Virtuous Consort. And then His Lordship came out and confirmed this. Now he has gone to the East Palace and he begs Your Ladyship and the other ladies to go at once to offer thanks.”

       They were all so relieved that their faces shone with delight as each dressed in the ceremonial robes appropriate to her rank. And presently four large sedan-chairs, with the Lady Dowager’s at the head, followed by Lady Xing’s, Lady Wang’s and Madam You’s, were making their way to the Palace. They were escorted by Jia She and Jia Zhen, also in court robes, as well as Jia Rong and Jia Qiang.

       Then high and low alike in both mansions were filled with joy. Their faces radiant with pride, they broke into a tumult of talk and laughter.

       Now, a few days previously, Zhineng had stolen away from Water Moon Convent and come to town to look for Qin Zhong in his home. She had been caught by his father, who drove her away and gave his son a beating. The old man’s rage had brought on an attack of his chronic disorder, and within a few days he was dead. Qin Zhong had never been strong nor had he fully recovered from his illness when he received this beating. His father’s death filled him with such remorse that his condition was now serious.

       All this was preying so much on Baoyu’s mind that the honour conferred on Yuanchun failed to raise his spirits. He alone remained utterly indifferent to the trip made by the Lady Dowager and the rest to offer thanks for the Imperial favour, the visits of congratulations paid by relatives and friends, the excitement which filled both mansions. The general delight left him completely unmoved, just as if these things had never happened. His apathy made everyone declare that he was growing more and more eccentric.

       Luckily a messenger arrived at this time from Jia Lian to announce that he and Daiyu were on their way back and would be home the following day. A little cheered, Baoyu questioned the man and learned that Jia Yucun was also coming to the capital to pay homage. For thanks to Wang Ziteng’s recommendations he had been summoned to wait for a metropolitan appointment; and being a distant cousin of Jia Lian’s and Daiyu’s former tutor, he was travelling with them. Lin Ruhai had been buried in the ancestral graveyard and, his obsequies completed, Jia Lian was able to start back for the capital. Normally, the trip would have taken them till the beginning of the next month; however, the good news about Yuanchun had made Jia Lian decide to hurry back posthaste. The journey had been smooth and uneventful.

       Baoyu was only eager to know that Daiyu was all right, taking no interest in the rest of this news. He could hardly contain himself until their arrival was announced just after noon the next day. But the joy of their reunion was tempered by grief. After a storm of weeping they exchanged condolences and congratulations.

       Baoyu observed that Daiyu was looking even more ethereal. She had brought back a whole library of books, and lost no time in tidying her bedroom and setting out her things. She presented some brushes and stationery to Baochai, Yingchun, Baoyu and others. But when he produced the precious scented beads given him by the Prince of Beijing and offered them to her. Daiyu protested:

       “I don’t want them. They’ve been handled by some stinking man.

       She tossed the beads back and Baoyu had to take them.

       But let us return to Jia Lian. After he had greeted the rest of the family he went to his own quarters; and busy as Xifeng was, with not a moment to herself, she set everything aside to welcome her husband back from his long journey.

       Once they were alone she said jokingly, “Congratulations, Your Excellency, kinsman of the Imperial House! Your Excellency must have had a tiring journey. Your handmaid, hearing yesterday that your exalted carriage would return today, prepared some watery wine by way of welcome. Will the Imperial Kinsman deign to accept it?”

       “You honour me too much,” Jia Lian replied with a chuckle. “I am quite overwhelmed.”

       When Pinger and the other maids had paid their respects and served tea, Jia Lian asked his wife what had happened during his absence and thanked her for looking after things so well.

       “I’m incapable of running things,” she sighed. “I’m too ignorant, blunt and tactless, always getting hold of the wrong end of the stick. And I’m so soft-hearted, anyone can get round me. Besides, lack of experience makes me nervous. When Her Ladyship is the least displeased I’m too frightened to sleep a wink. Time and again I’ve begged to be relieved of such a responsibility, but instead of agreeing she accuses me of being lazy and unwilling to learn. She doesn’t realize what a cold sweat I’m in, terrified of saying one word out of turn or taking one false step.

       “And you know how difficult our old stewardesses are, laughing at the least mistake and ‘accusing the elm while pointing at the mulberry tree’ if one shows the least bias. Talk about ‘sitting on a hill to watch tigers fight,’ ‘murdering with a borrowed sword,’ ‘borrowing wind to fan the fire,’ ‘watching people drown from a dry bank’ and ‘not troubling to right an oil bottle that’s been knocked over’ — they’re all old

hands at such tricks. On top of that, I’m too young to carry much weight; so naturally they pay no attention to me.

       “As if that weren’t bad enough, when Rong’s wife suddenly died Cousin Zhen repeatedly begged Her Ladyship on his knees to let me help them out for a few days. I declined over and over again, but as she insisted I had to have a try. As usual I made a shocking mess of things —even worse than here. I’m sure Cousin Zhen is still regretting his rashness. When you see him tomorrow, do apologize for me. Tell him he should never have entrusted such a task to someone so young and inexperienced.”

       Just then they heard voices outside and Xifeng asked who was there. Pinger came in and said, “Madam Xue sent Xiangling over to ask me something. I’ve given her an answer and sent her back.”

       “That reminds me,” said Jia Lian. “When I called on Aunt Xue just now, I ran into a very handsome young woman whom I didn’t think belonged to our household and wondered who she could be. In the course of conversation I learned she’s the girl they bought just before coming to the capital. Her name’s Xiangling. She belongs to that imbecile Xue now, and since he made her his concubine and her face has been slicked she’s grown even lovelier. She’s too good for that silly fool.”

       “Well!” exclaimed Xifeng. “I should have thought you’d have seen enough of the world now that you’re back from a trip to Suzhou and Hangzhou, but you’re never satisfied. If you love her, that’s simple: I’ll exchange our Pinger for her how about that? Xue Pan is another of those greedy-guts who keep ‘one eye on the bowl and the other on the pan.’ Look how he plagued his mother for a whole year just to get hold of Xiangling. It’s because Aunt Xue saw she’s not only pretty but really well-behaved, being even gentler and quieter than most young ladies, that she went to all the trouble of inviting guests to a feast to make her his concubine in proper style. Yet in less than a fortnight he’s treating her like dirt. It’s really too bad....”

       At this point a page from the inner gate reported that Jia Zheng was waiting for Jia Lian in the big library. The young man hastily straightened his clothes and went out.

       Then Xifeng asked Pinger, “What on earth did Aunt Xue send Xiangling

along for just now?”

       “It wasn’t Xiangling,” said Pinger, giggling. “I made that up. Really, madam, that wife of Lai Wang’s is losing all the little sense she had.” She drew nearer and lowered her voice. “She wouldn’t come earlier or later but had to choose this very moment, when the master’s just got home, to bring you the interest on that money. It’s lucky I met her in the hall or she’d have come in and blurted everything out. If our master had asked what it was, of course you’d have to tell him — you wouldn’t want to deceive him. And being what he is, ready to snatch money from a pan of scalding oil, he’d start spending even more recklessly if he knew that you had private savings. So I took it from her double-quick and gave her a piece of my mind, not knowing you’d hear. Thats why, in front of the master, I said it was Xiangling.”

       Xifeng laughed. “I was wondering why Aunt Xue should suddenly send a concubine here when she knew that your master was back. So it was just one of your tricks.”

       Just then Jia Lian returned. Xifeng called for wine and dishes, and husband and wife took their seats opposite each other. Although Xifeng was a good drinker she didn’t venture to drink much today. She was sipping her wine to keep him company when Jia Lian’s old wet-nurse Nanny Zhao came in. The young couple promptly invited her to join them on the kang. Nanny Zhao resolutely declined this honour. But Pinger and the others had already set a small table and stool beside the kang, and when the nurse had sat down Jia Lian gave her two dishes from their own table.

       “Nanny can’t chew those, they’re too hard for her teeth,” said Xifeng. She turned to Pinger. “That bowl of fresh pork stewed with ham I remarked was so tender this morning would be just the thing for her. Take it and get them to heat it up quickly, will you?” She urged the nurse, “Nanny, try this Hui Fountain wine your boy brought back.”

       “I will,” said the nurse. “But you must take a cup too. Don’t be afraid! The thing is not to drink too much. I didn’t come all this way for wine or food, though, but on some serious business. I hope you’ll lay it to heart, madam, and help me. Our Master Lian is good at making promises, but when the time comes he forgets all about them. Yes, I nursed and brought you up, and now that I’m old all I have are my two sons. If you’d do them a favour no one could say a word; yet I’ve begged you again and again and you’ve always agreed, but to this very day not a thing have you done. Now this wonderful stroke of luck has come out of the blue, you’ll be needing extra hands. So I’ve come to ask your help, madam. If I relied on our Master Lian alone, I’d probably have starved to death by now.”

       Xifeng laughed. “Just leave his two foster-brothers to me, nanny,” she said. “You who nursed your boy from babyhood know what he’s like. He goes out of his way to help complete strangers, people nowhere near as deserving as his two foster-brothers. Who could possibly object if he did something for them? But he just favours outsiders. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say that. The people we consider outsiders are ‘in’ with him, I suppose.”

       That raised a general laugh. Nanny Zhao chortled as if she would never stop. “Amida Buddha!” she cackled. “So here comes an impartial judge. Our master wouldn’t be so cruel as to treat us as outsiders; but he’s so kind—hearted he can’t say ‘no’ to other people’s requests.”

       “Oh yes, he’s very soft and generous to those ‘in’ with him. It’s only to us womenfolk that he’s adamant.”

       “You’ve been so good, madam, and made me so happy that I’ll have another cup of that excellent wine. Now that I’ve got you to look after us, I needn’t worry any more.

       Jia Lian, rather put out, smiled sheepishly. “Stop talking nonsense and let’s start on the rice,” he said. “I still have to go and see Cousin Zhen on some business.”

       “Yes, we mustn’t delay you,” said his wife. “What did your uncle want you for just now?”

       “It was about this Imperial visitation.”

       “Has permission been granted then?” she asked eagerly.

       “Not quite, but ten to one it will be.”

       “What a great act of Imperial kindness!” She beamed. “I never heard of such a thing in any book or opera about the old days.”

       “That’s right,” chimed in the nurse. “But I’m growing so stupid in my old age that although I’ve heard high and low talk of nothing else for days, I can’t make head or tail of it all. Just what is this Imperial visitation?”

       Jia Lian explained. “Our present Emperor is concerned for all his subjects. No duty is higher than filial piety, and he knows that all, irrespective of rank, have the same family feeling. Though he himself waits day and night upon his Imperial parents, he considers this too little to express all his filial devotion; and he realizes that the secondary consorts and ladies-in-waiting in the Palace who have been away from their parents for many years must naturally be longing to see them again, for it’s only right for children to miss their parents. But if the parents at home fall ill or even die of longing for their daughters, this must impair the harmony ordained by Heaven. So he requested Their Most High Majesties to allow the female relatives of the court ladies to visit them in the Palace on the days ending in two and six each month.

       “His Majesty’s parents were delighted by the Emperor’s Piety, humanity and manifestion of Heaven’s will on earth. In their infinite wisdom the two venerable sages moreover decreed that, since court etiquette might prevent the mothers of the Palace ladies from gratifying all the wishes of their hearts during such visits, they should be granted an even greater favour. Then in a special Edict it was decreed that, apart from the favour of these visits on certain days of the month, all those court ladies with adequate accommodation at home for the reception of an Imperial retinue might ask for a Palace carriage to visit their families. In this way they can show their affection and enjoy a reunion with their dear ones.

       “All were so grateful for this Decree, they leapt for joy. The father of the Imperial Lady of Honour Zhou has already started building a separate court for her visit home; and Wu Tianyou, father of the Imperial Concubine Wu, is looking for a site outside the city. Doesn’t this show that the thing is practically certain?”

       “Amida Buddha! So that’s it!” cried Nanny Zhao. “I suppose our family will be preparing, too, for a visit from our eldest young mistress?”

       “Of course,” said Jia Lián. “What else do you think we’re all so busy about?”

       “If it’s really true, I shall have a chance to see some great doings,” exulted Xifeng. “I’ve often wished that I’d been born twenty or thirty years earlier, so that the old folk wouldn’t be despising me now for having seen so little of the world. Their descriptions of how our first Emperor toured the country like the sage king Shun of old are better than anything in history, but alas! I was born too late — I missed seeing it.”

       “Ah, such a thing only happens once in a thousand years,” declared Nanny Zhao. “I was just old enough then to remember things. In those days our Jia family was in charge of making ocean-going ships and repairing the sea-wall round Suzhou and Yangzhou. To prepare for that Imperial visit, we spent money just like pouring out sea-water....”

       “Our Wang family did the same,” put in Xifeng. “At that time my grandfather was in sole charge of all the foreign tribute, and whenever envoys came from abroad to pay homage it was our family who entertained them. All the goods brought by foreign ships to Guangdong, Fujian, Yunnan and Zhejiang passed through our hands.”

       “Who doesn’t know that!” said Nanny Zhao. “There’s still a rhyme:

When the Dragon King wants

A white jade bed,

He asks the Wangs

Of Jinling, it’s said.

That’s your family, madam. And the Zhens south of the Yangtze, oh, how rich and great they were! That family alone entertained the Emperor four times. No one who was told such a thing, if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, could believe it. Don’t talk about silver treated like dirt, every precious thing you could name was heaped up like hills, no one bothering to check the wicked waste.”

       “So my grandfather and grand-uncles often said, and of course I believe it. What amazes me is how one family could have so much wealth.”

       “Why, madam, the truth is they were just spending the Emperor’s money on the Emperor. Otherwise who would waste so much on empty show?”

       Just then Lady Wang sent to inquire if Xifeng had finished her meal, and realizing that she was wanted she hastily ate half a bowl of rice and rinsed her mouth. She was starting out when some pages from the inner gate reported the arrival of Jia Rong and Jia Qiang, whereupon Jia Lian rinsed his mouth and Pinger brought him a basin to wash his hands. As soon as the young men came in he asked what they wanted, and Xifeng stayed to hear Jia Rong’s reply:

       “My father sent me to tell you, uncle, that the old gentlemen have settled on a plan. We’ve measured the distance from the east wall through the garden of the East Mansion to the north, and it comes to three ii and a half, enough to build a separate court for the visit. Someone has been commissioned to draw a plan which should be ready tomorrow. Since you must be tired after your journey, please don’t think of coming over. If you’ve any proposals, you can make them first thing tomorrow.”

       “Kindly thank your father for his consideration,” replied Jia Lian. “I shall do as he says and not call on him now. This is the best possible scheme, the easiest and the simplest to carry out. Any other site would entail more work without such good results. Tell him when you get back that I thoroughly approve, and if the old gentlemen have second thoughts I hope he will dissuade them from looking for another site. When I come tomorrow to pay my respects we can talk it over in detail.”

       Jia Rong agreed at once to pass on this message.

       Jia Qiang now stepped forward to announce, “My uncle has given me the job of going to Suzhou with Lai Da’s two sons and the two secretaries Shan Pingren and Bu Guxiu. We’re to hire instructors, buy girl actresses and musical instruments and costumes there. He told me to let you know.”

       Jia Lian looked quizzically at the young man and asked, “Are you sure you’re up to it? This may not be a big job, but there should be plenty of perks if you know the ropes.”

       “I shall have to learn,” was Jia Qiang’s cheerful reply.

       Jia Rong, standing in the shadow, quietly plucked Xifeng’s lapel. Taking the hint she said to her husband, “Don’t worry. Your cousin knows best whom to send. Why should you be afraid Qiang isn’t up to it? Is everyone born capable? The boy’s grown up now. He’s old enough to have seen a pig run, even if he hasn’t yet tasted pork himself. Cousin Zhen is sending him as a supervisor, not to do all the bargaining and accounting himself. I think it’s an excellent choice.”

       “Of course I wasn’t querying that,” protested Jia Lian. “I only wanted to offer some advice.” He asked Jia Qiang, “Where is the money for this

coming from?”

       “We’ve just been discussing that. Old Lai sees no need to take silver with us from here. The Zhens down south have fifty thousand taels of ours. Tomorrow a draft can be written for us to take. We shall first draw thirty thousand, leaving twenty thousand to buy ornamental lanterns, candles, streamers, bamboo curtains and hangings of every kind.”

       Jia Lian nodded his approval. “Very good.”

       “Well, if that’s settled,” interposed Xifeng, “I have two good men you can take along to help you.”

       “What a coincidence!” Jia Qiang forced a smile. “I was just going to ask you to recommend a couple of people, aunt.” He inquired their names.

       Xifeng asked Nanny Zhao, who had been listening as if in a dream. When Pinger nudged her she woke up and answered quickly, “One of them is called Zhao Tianling, the other Zhao Tiandong.”

       “Don’t forget,” Xifeng cautioned Jia Qiang. “Now I must get back to my duties.” With that she left.

       Jia Rong slipped out after her and whispered, “If there’s anything you want, aunt, make out a list and I’ll give it to Qiang to see to.”

       “Don’t talk rubbish!” Xifeng snorted. “I’ve so many things already, I’ve nowhere to put them. I don’t care for your sneaky way of doing things.” And so she went off.

       Meanwhile Jia Qiang was telling Jia Lian, “If you want anything, uncle, I’ll be happy to get it for you.”

       “Don’t look so pleased,” replied Jia Lian mockingly. “So this trick is the first thing you learn when you start handling business. If I need anything, of course I’ll write. There’s no time for it at present.”

       With that he saw the young men out. Then several servants came to make reports, after which Jia Lian felt so tired that he sent orders to the inner gate to admit no one else: all business must wait until the next day. Xifeng did not get to bed until the third watch, but no more need be said about that night.

       The next morning, after calling on Jia She and Jia Zheng, Jia Lian went to the Ning Mansion. With some old stewards, secretaries and friends he inspected the grounds of both mansions, drew plans for the palaces for the Imperial visit and estimated the number of workmen required.

       Before long all the craftsmen and workmen were assembled, and endless loads of supplies were brought to the site: gold, silver, copper and tin, as well as earth, timber, bricks and tiles. First they pulled down the walls and pavilions of the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance in the Ning Mansion to connect it with the large eastern court of the Rong Mansion; and all the servants’ quarters there were demolished.

       Formerly a small alley had separated the two houses, but since this was private property and not a public thoroughfare the grounds of both could now be thrown into one.

       As a stream already ran from the northern corner of the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance, there was no need to bring in another. And though there were not enough rocks or trees, the bamboos, trees and rockeries as well as the pavilions and balustrades in the original garden of the Rong Mansion where Jia She lived were brought over. The proximity of the two mansions made amalgamation easy, in addition to saving much labour and expense. On the whole, not too many new features had to be added.

       The whole was designed by an old landscape gardener known as Gardener Ye.

       As Jia Zheng was unaccustomed to practical business he left it to Jia She, Jia Zhen, Jia Lian, Lai Da, Lai Sheng, Lin Zhixiao, Wu Xindeng, Zhan Guang and Cheng Rixing. Artificial mountains and lakes were made, pavilions constructed, and bamboos and flowers planted, according to the plan of the gardener. All Jia Zheng did on his return from court was to make a tour of inspection and discuss the most important problems with Jia She and the rest.

       As for Jia She, he took his ease at home. If any minor points had to be settled, Jia Zhen and the others would explain them to him or send him a written report, while he passed on his instructions through Jia Lian and Lai Da.

       Jia Rong’s task was to supervise the making of the gold and silver utensils. As for Jia Qiang, he had already left for Suzhou. Jia Zhen, Lai Da and the rest were in charge of the workmen, keeping a register and superintending operations. Impossible to describe in full all that bustle and commotion!

       Owing to this all-engrossing business, Jia Zheng had stopped asking Baoyu about his studies and the boy was having an easy time. The only thing that worried him and spoiled his pleasure was Qin Zhong’s illness, now growing daily worse.

       One morning, he had just washed and dressed and was thinking to ask his grandmother’s permission to pay another visit to his friend, when Mingyan peeped round the spirit screen by the inner gate. Baoyu hurried over to him.

       “What is it?”

       “Master Qin Zhong. He’s dying!”

       Baoyu was staggered.

       “He was clear-headed when I saw him only yesterday,” he cried. “How can he be dying?”

       “I don’t know. That’s what an old fellow from his home just told me.

       At once Baoyu went to tell the Lady Dowager, who instructed some trustworthy men to accompany him. “You may call to show your friendship for your schoolmate,” she told him. “But mind you don’t stay too long.”

       Baoyu hastily changed his clothes, then paced up and down frantically, calling for his carriage. When at last it arrived he scrambled in and drove off, escorted by Li Gui, Mingyan and others.

       Finding the gate of Qin Zhong’s house deserted, they swarmed into the inner apartments, to the consternation of Qin Zhong’s two aunts and cousins who quickly made themselves scarce.

       Qin Zhong had already lost consciousness several times and been lifted on to a trestle-bed to die. At this sight Baoyu burst out sobbing.

       “Don’t take on like that,” urged Li Gui. “You know how delicate Master Qin is. They’ve moved him for the time being to somewhere more comfortable than the hard kang. Going on in this way, little master, will only make him worse.”

       At that Baoyu restrained himself and approached his friend. Qin Zhong lying back on his pillow was as pale as wax; his eyes were closed and his breath was coming in gasps.

       “Dear brother!” Baoyu cried. “It’s me — Baoyu!”

       He called several times but Qin Zhong made no reply. Still Baoyu went on calling: “Baoyu’s here!”

       Qin Zhong was at his last gasp. His spirit, which had already left its body, saw that ghostly guards had come with a warrant and chains to drag him off. He was unwilling to leave, for there was no one to manage the household’s affairs and his father had left three or four thousand taels of savings. He was longing, too, for news of Zhineng. But hard as he pleaded the ghosts were adamant.

       “You’re an educated young fellow,” they scoffed. “Don’t you know the saying, ‘If the King of Hell summons you at the third watch, who dares keep you till the fifth?’ We shades are strictly impartial, not like you mortals with all your soft-heartedness and favouritism.”

       As they were shouting at him, Qin Zhong’s spirit heard Baoyu call.

       “Have pity, divine messengers,” he begged. “Let me go back to say one word to my good friend. Then I’ll come with you.”

       “What good friend is this?” asked the ghosts.

       “The grandson of the Duke of Rongguo. His name is Baoyu.”

       The ghost in command gave a howl of dismay, then swore at his followers. “I told you to let him go back for a while, but you wouldn’t. Now he’s produced this favourite of fortune, what are we to do?”

       The ghosts, flustered by their officer’s alarm, protested, “You were thundering mad yourself just now, but the name Baoyu seems to have terrified you. Why should we shades be afraid of a mortal like him? What can he do for us?”

       Their officer swore, “That’s rubbish! You know the proverb, ‘The empire’s officials control all in the empire.’ That’s how it is in the nether regions too — the same for spirits as for mortals. It’ll do no harm to show some consideration.”

       Hearing this, the ghosts had to let Qin Zhong’s soul return to its body.

       The dying boy gave an indistinct cry and, opening his eyes, saw Baoyu by his side.

       “Why didn’t you come earlier?” he asked faintly. “If you’d left it any longer, I shouldn’t have seen you.

       Baoyu clasped his friend’s hands and asked through tears, “What last message have you for me?”

       “Just this. When you and I first met, we thought ourselves above the common herd. Now I know how wrong we were. You should set your mind on making a name through the examinations, on winning distinction, in future....”

With that he gave a long sigh and breathed his last.

For what followed, read the next chapter.

 

Chapter 17

 

Literary Talent Is Tested by Composing

Inscriptions in Grand View Garden

Those Losing Their Way at Happy Red Court

Explore a Secluded Retreat

 

 

       Baoyu wept over Qin Zhong’s death as if he would never stop; and it was some time before Li Gui and the rest could prevail on him to leave off. Even after his return he could not overcome his grief. The Lady Dowager gave the Qin family several dozen taels of silver in addition to funeral gifts; Baoyu went to offer his condolences and, seven days later, the funeral and burial took place. No need to record it in detail. Baoyu mourned for his friend and missed him every day, but there was no help for it.

       Some time later Jia Zhen came to report to Jia Zheng that the work on the new garden had been completed and Jia She had inspected it.

       “All is ready for you to look over, sir,” he announced. “If there is anything unsuitable, we can have it changed before the inscriptions for different places are chosen.”

       Jia Zheng reflected for a while, then said, “The inscriptions do present a problem. By rights, we should ask the Imperial Consort to do us the honour of composing them, but she can hardly do this without having seen the place. On the other hand, if we leave the chief sights and pavilions without a single name or couplet until her visit, the garden, however lovely with its flowers and willows, rocks and streams, cannot fully reveal its charm.”

       “You are absolutely right, sir,” agreed his cultured companions.

       “I have an idea,” said one. “The inscriptions for different places can’t be dispensed with, but neither can they be fixed in advance. Why not briefly prepare some tentative couplets and names to suit each place? We can have them painted on lanterns in the shape of plaques and scrolls for the time being. Then, when Her Highness favours us with a visit, we can ask her to decide on permanent names. Wouldn’t this be a way out of the dilemma?”

       “A sound idea,” agreed Jia Zheng. “Let us have a look round then today and think up some inscriptions. If suitable, they can be used; if unsuitable, we can ask Jia Yucun over to help.”

       “Your suggestions are bound to be excellent, sir,” they countered. “Why need we call in Yucun?”

       “Frankly, I was never a good hand even in my young days at writing verse about nature — flowers, birds and scenery. Now that I’m old and burdened with official duties I’ve quite lost the light touch required for belles-lettres. Any efforts of mine would undoubtedly be so clumsy and pedantic that they would fail to bring out the garden’s beauty — they might even have the opposite effect.”

       “Have no fears about that,” his secretaries assured him. “We can put our wits together. If each of us uses his ingenuity and we then choose the best suggestions, discarding the rest, we should be able to manage.”

       “Very well. Luckily it’s a fine day for a stroll.”

       Jia Zheng rose to his feet and set off at the head of the party, while Jia Zhen went on in advance to let everyone in the garden know they were coming.

       It so happened that Baoyu had just arrived in the garden. For he was still grieving so much over Qin Zhong’s death that the Lady Dowager often told his servants to take him there to distract him.

       Jia Zhen, coming upon him, warned him jokingly, “You’d better clear out! Lord Zheng is on his way here.”

       Baoyu rushed out like a streak of smoke, with his nurse and pages behind him. But just round the corner he ran into Jia Zheng’s party. Since escape was impossible, Baoyu stepped to one side.

       Now Jia Zheng had recently heard Baoyu’s tutor speak highly of his skill in composing couplets, remarking that the boy, though not studious, showed considerable originality. Having happened upon him like this, Jia Zheng ordered his son to accompany them. Baoyu had to comply, not knowing what his father wanted.

       At the entrance to the garden, they found Jia Zhen with a group of stewards lined up in wait.

       “Close the gate,” said Jia Zheng. “Let us see what it looks like from

outside before we go in.”

       Jia Zhen had the gate closed and Jia Zheng inspected the gatehouse, a building in five sections with an arched roof of semi-circular tiles. The lintels and lattices, finely carved with ingenious designs, were neither painted nor gilded; the walls were of polished bricks of a uniform colour, and the white marble steps were carved with passion-flowers. The garden’s spotless whitewashed wall stretching to left and right had, at its base, a mosaic of striped “tiger-skin” stones. The absence of vulgar ostentation pleased him.

       He had the gate opened then and they went in, only to find their view screened by a green hill. At this sight his secretaries cried out in approval.

       “If not for this hill,” observed Jia Zheng, “one would see the whole garden as soon as one entered, and how tame that would be.”

       “Exactly,” agreed the rest. “Only a bold landscape gardener could have conceived this.”

       On the miniature mountain they saw rugged white rocks resembling monsters and beasts, some recumbent, some rampant, dappled with moss or hung about with creepers, a narrow zigzag path just discernible between them.

       “We’ll follow this path,” decided Jia Zheng. “Coming back we can find our way out at the other side. That should take us over the whole grounds.”

       He made Jia Zhen lead the way and, leaning on Baoyu’s shoulder, followed him up through the boulders. Suddenly raising his head, he saw a white rock polished as smooth as a mirror, obviously intended for the first inscription.

       “See, gentlemen!” he called over his shoulder, smiling. “What would be a suitable name for this spot?”

       “Heaped Verdure,” said one.

       “Embroidery Ridge,” said another.

       “The Censer.”1

       “A Miniature Zhongnan.”2

       Dozens of different suggestions were made, all of them stereotyped cliches; for Jia Zheng’s secretaries were well aware that he meant to test his son’s ability. Baoyu understood this too.

       Now his father called on him to propose a name.

       Baoyu replied, “I’ve heard that the ancients said, ‘An old quotation beats an original saying; to recut an old text is better than to engrave a new one.’ As this is not the main prominence or one of the chief sights, it only needs an inscription because it is the first step leading to the rest. so why not use that line from an old poem:

A winding path leads to a secluded retreat.

A name like that would be more dignified.”

       “Excellent!” cried the secretaries.

       “Our young master is far more brilliant and talented than dull pedants like ourselves.”

       “You mustn’t flatter the boy,” protested Jia Zheng with a smile. “He’s simply making a ridiculous parade of his very limited knowledge. We can think of a better name later.”

       They walked on through a tunnel into a ravine green with magnificent trees and ablaze with rare flowers. A clear stream welling up where the trees were thickest wound its way through clefts in the rocks.

       Some paces further north, on both sides of a level clearing, rose towering pavilions whose carved rafters and splendid balustrades were half hidden by the trees on the slopes. Looking downwards, they saw a crystal stream cascading as white as snow and stone steps going down through the mist to a pool. This was enclosed by marble balustrades and spanned by a stone bridge ornamented with the heads of beasts with gaping jaws. On the bridge was a little pavilion in which the whole party sat down.

       “What would you call this, gentlemen?” asked Jia Zheng.

       One volunteered, “Ouyang Xiu’s3 Pavilion of the Old Drunkard has the line, ‘A winged pavilion hovers above.’ Why not call this Winged Pavilion?”

       “A delightful name,” rejoined Jia Zheng. “But as this pavilion is built over the pool there should be some allusion to the water. Ouyang Xiu also speaks of a fountain ‘spilling between two peaks.’ Could we not use that word ‘spilling’?”

       “Capital!” cried one gentleman. “‘Spilling Jade’ would be an excellent name.”

       Jia Zheng tugging thoughtfully at his beard turned with a smile to ask Baoyu for his suggestion.

       “I agree with what you just said, sir,” replied his son. “But if we go into this a little deeper, although ‘spilling’ was an apt epithet for Ouyang Xiu’s fountain, which was called the Brewer’s Spring, it would be unsuitable here. Then again, as this is designed as a residence for the Imperial Consort we should use more courtly language instead of coarse, inelegant expressions like this. Could you not think of something more subtle?”

       “Do you hear that, gentlemen?” Jia Zheng chuckled. “When we suggest something original he is all in favour of an old quotation; but now that we are using an old quotation he finds it too coarse. Well, what do you propose?”

       “Wouldn’t ‘Seeping Fragrance’ be more original and tasteful than ‘Spilling Jade’?”

       Jia Zheng stroked his beard again and nodded in silence while the others, eager to please him, hastened to commend Baoyu’s remarkable talent.

       “The selection of two words for the tablet is easy,” said his father. “Go on and make a seven-character couplet.”

       Baoyu rose to his feet and glanced round for inspiration. Then he declaimed:

Willows on the dyke lend their verdancy to three punts; Flowers on the further shore spare a breath of fragrance.

       His father nodded with a faint smile amid another chorus of approval. They left the pavilion then, crossed the bridge and strolled on, admiring each rock, each height, each flower and each tree on the way, until they found themselves before the whitewashed enclosing walls of a fine lodge nestling in a dense glade of fresh green bamboos. With cries of admiration they walked in.

       From the gate porch a zigzag covered walk with a cobbled path below and parallel to it wound up to a little cottage of three rooms, with the cottage door in the middle one and furniture made to fit the measurements of the rooms. Another small door in the inner room opened on to the back garden with its large pear-tree, broad-leafed plantain and two tiny side courts. Through a foot-wide opening below the back wall flowed a brook which wound past the steps and the lodge to the front court before meandering out through the bamboos.

       “This is pleasant. If one could study at this window on a moonlit night one would not have lived in vain,” observed Jia Zheng. He glanced at Baoyu, who hung his head in confusion while the others quickly changed the subject, one of them suggesting:

       “We need a four-character inscription here.”

       “What four characters?” asked Jia Zheng.

Shades of the River Qi?”4 ‘‘Too commonplace.” “Traces of the Sui Garden?”5 “That is equally hackneyed.”

Jia Zhen proposed, “Let Cousin Bao make a suggestion.”

       “Before he makes any suggestion,” objected Jia Zheng, “the impudent fellow criticizes other people’s.”

       “But his comments are correct. How can you blame him?”

       “Don’t pander to him like that.” He turned to his son. “We’re putting up with your wild talk today, so let’s have your criticisms first before we hear your own proposals. Were either of these gentlemen’s suggestions appropriate?”

       “I didn’t think so, sir.”

       His father smiled sardonically, “Why not?”

       “Since this will be the first place where our Imperial visitor stops, we should pay some tribute to Her Highness here. If we want a four-character inscription there are plenty of old ones ready at hand, why need we compose anything new?”

       “Aren’t ‘The River Qi’ and ‘The Sui Garden’ both classical allusions?”

       “Yes, but they sound too stiff. I propose ‘Where the Phoenix Alights.’”

       The rest were loud in their praise and Jia Zheng nodded. “You young rascal,” he said, “with your pitiful smattering of knowledge. All right, now let’s hear your couplet.”

       Baoyu declaimed:

Still green the smoke from tea brewed in a rare tripod;

Yet cold the fingers from chess played by quiet window.”

       Jia Zheng shook his head. ”No better either!”

       He was leading the party on when a thought struck him and turning to Jia Zhen he said, “All these compounds and lodges are furnished with tables and chairs, but what about curtains, blinds, knickknacks, curios and so forth? Have appropriate ones for each place been prepared?”

       “We have got in a large stock of ornaments which will be properly set out in due course,” replied Jia Zhen. “As for the curtains and blinds, Cousin Lian told me yesterday that they are not all ready yet. We took exact measurements from the building plans for each place when the work started, and sent out our designs to be made up. By yesterday about half of them were finished.”

       Since he was clearly ignorant of the details, Jia Zheng sent for Jia Lian and asked him, “What are the different items? How many are ready and how many are not?”

       Jia Lian promptly pulled out a list from the leg of one boot. After referring to it he replied, “Of the one hundred and twenty satin curtains embroidered with dragons and brocade hangings large and small with different designs and colours, eighty were ready yesterday and forty are still to come. Two hundred blinds were delivered yesterday. Beside these, there are two hundred portières of crimson felt, two hundred of red lacquered bamboo with gold flecks, two hundred of black lacquered bamboo, and two hundred woven with coloured silks. Half of each kind is ready, the rest will be finished by the end of autumn. Then there are chair-covers, table-drapes, valances and stool-covers — one thousand two hundred of each which we already have.”

       As they walked on talking, their eyes fell on some green hills barring their way. Skirting these they caught sight of brown adobe walls with paddy-stalk copings and hundreds of apricot-trees, their blossoms bright as spurting flames or sunlit clouds. Inside this enclosure stood several thatched cottages. Outside grew saplings of mulberry, elm, hibiscus and silkwormthorn trees, whose branches had been intertwined to form a double green hedge. Beyond this hedge, at the

foot of the slope, was a rustic well complete with windlass and wellsweep. Below, neat plots of fine vegetables and rape-flowers stretched as far as eye could see.

       “I see the point of this place,” declared Jia Zheng. “Although artificially made, the sight of it tempts one to retire to the country. Let us go in and rest a while.”

       Just as they were on the point of entering the wicker gate they saw a stone by the pathway which was obviously intended for an inscription.

       “That’s the finishing touch,” they cried, chuckling. “A plaque over the gate would have spoilt the rustic flavour, but this stone here adds to the charm. It would take one of Fan Chengda’s poems6 on country life to do justice to this place.

       “What shall we call it then, gentlemen?”

       “As your worthy son just remarked. ‘An old quotation beats an original saying.’ The ancients have already supplied the most fitting name — Apricot Village.”

       Jia Zheng turned with a smile to Jia Zhen, saying, “That reminds me. This place is perfect in every other respect, but it still lacks a tavern-sign. You must have one made tomorrow. Nothing too grand. Just a tavern-sign of the sort used in country places. Let it be hung on a bamboo pole from a tree-top.”

       Jia Zhen readily agreed to this, then suggested, “Other birds would be out of place here, but we ought to have some geese, ducks, hens and so on.”

       When this proposal had met with general approval, Jia Zheng observed, “‘Apricot Village’ is first-rate, but since it is the name of a real place we should have to get official permission to use it.”

       “True,” agreed the other. “We shall have to think of something else. What shall it be?”

       Without giving them time to think or waiting to be asked by his father, Baoyu blurted out, “An old poem has the line, ‘Above flowering apricot hangs a tavern-sign.’ Why not call this ‘Approach to Apricot Tavern’?”

       “‘Approach’ is superb,” they cried. “It suggests the idea of Apricot Village too.”

       “‘Apricot Village’ would be too vulgar a name.” Baoyu smiled scornfully. “But an old poet wrote ‘A wicker gate by a stream sweet with paddy. ‘ How about ‘Paddy-Sweet Cottage’?”

       Again the secretaries clapped in approbation but his father sternly silenced him. “Ignorant cub! How many ancient writers have you read and how many old poems have you memorized that you dare show off in front of your elders? I put up with your nonsense just now to test you in. fun — don’t take it seriously.”

       With that he led the party into one of the cottages. It was quite free of ostentation, having papered windows and a wooden couch. Secretly pleased, he glanced at his son and asked, “Well, what do you think of this place?”

       The secretaries nudged the boy to induce him to express approval. But ignoring them he answered, “It can’t compare with ‘Where the Phoenix Alights.”’

       “Ignorant dolt!” Jia Zheng sighed. “All you care for are red pavilions and painted beams. With your perverse taste for luxury, how can you appreciate the natural beauty of such a quiet retreat? This comes of neglecting your studies.”

       “Yes sir,” replied Baoyu promptly. “But the ancients were always using the term ‘natural.’ I wonder what they really meant by it?”

       Afraid his pig-headedness would lead to trouble, the others hastily put in, “You understand everything else so well, why ask about the term ‘natural’? It means coming from nature, not due to human effort.”

       “There you are! A farm here is obviously artificial and out of place with no villages in the distance, no fields near by, no mountain ranges behind, no source for the stream at hand, above, no pagoda from any half hidden temple, below, no bridge leading to a market. Perched here in isolation, it is nothing like as fine a sight as those other places which were less far-fetched. The bamboos and streams there didn’t look so artificial. What the ancients called ‘a natural picture’ means precisely that when you insist on an unsuitable site and hills where no hills should be, however skilfully you go about it the result is bound to jar....”

       “Clear off!” thundered Jia Zheng. “Stop. Come back. Make up another couplet. If it’s no good I’ll slap your face on both accounts.”

       Baoyu had to comply. He declaimed:

The green tide fills the creek where clothes are washed;

Clouds of fragrance surround the girls plucking water-cress.”

       “Worse and worse,” growled Jia Zheng, shaking his head as he led the company out.

      The path now curved around a slope, past flowers and willows, rocks and springs, a trellis of yellow roses, an arbour of white ones, a tree-peony pavilion, a white peony plot, a court of rambler roses and a bank of plantains. Suddenly they heard the plash of a spring gushing from a cave overhung by vines, and saw fallen blossoms floating on the water below. As they cried out in delight, Jia Zheng asked them to suggest another inscription.

       “What more apt than ‘The Spring of Wuling’?” said one.

       “Too hackneyed. Besides, it’s also the name of a real place,” objected Jia Zheng with a smile.

       “Then how about ‘The Refuge of a Man of Qin’?”

       “Even more impossible,” cried Baoyu. “How can we use something that implies taking refuge in time of trouble? I suggest ‘Smartweed Bank and Flowery Harbour.”

       “That makes even less sense,” scoffed his father. He strolled to the water’s edge and asked Jia Zhen, “Do you have any boats here?”

       “There will be four punts for lotus-gathering and one pleasure boat, but they aren’t ready yet.”

       “What a pity we can’t cross.”

       “We can make a detour by the path over the hills,” said Jia Zhen, and proceeded to lead the way.

       The others followed, clinging to creepers and trees as they clambered up. There were more fallen blossoms now on the stream, which appeared more translucent than ever as it swirled down its circuitous course. It was flanked by weeping willows and peach and apricot trees which screened the sun, and there was not a mote of dust in the air.

       Presently, in the shade of the willows, they glimpsed an arched wooden bridge with scarlet railings. Once over this a choice of paths lay before them; but their attention was caught by an airy house of smooth brick with spotless tiles and an ornamental wall on one of the lesser slopes of the main hill.

       “That building seems very out of place here,” remarked Jia Zheng.

       But stepping over the threshold he was confronted by tall weathered rocks of every description which hid the house from sight. In place of trees and flowers there was a profusion of rare creepers, vines and trailers, which festooned the artificial mountains, grew through the rocks, hung from the eaves, twined round the pillars and carpeted the steps. Some seemed like floating green belts or golden bands; others had berries red as cinnabar and flowers like golden osmanthus which gave off a penetrating scent, unlike the scent of ordinary flowers.

       “This is charming!” Jia Zheng could not help exclaiming. “But what are all these plants?”

       “Climbing fig and wistaria?” someone suggested.

       “But they don’t have such a strange fragrance, do they?”

       “They certainly don’t,” interposed Baoyu. “There are climbing fig and wistaria here, but the fragrance comes from alpinia and snakeroot. That one over there is iris, I fancy, and here we have dolichos, dwarf-mallow and glyrcyrrhia. That crimson plant is purple rue, of course; the green, angelica. A lot of these rare plants are mentioned in the Li Sao and Wen Xuan, 8 plants with names like huona, Jiangtan, lunzu and ziang; shifan, shuisong and fuliu; luyi, danjiao, miwu and fenglian. But after all these centuries scholars can no longer identify these plants, for which new names have been found....”

       “Who asked your opinion?” roared his father.

       Baoyu stepped back nervously and said no more.

       Covered corridors ran along both sides of this court and Jia Zheng led his party down one of these to a cool five-section gallery with roofed verandahs on four sides, green windows and painted walls, more elegant than any they had yet seen.

       “One could brew tea here and play the lyre without having to burn rare incense.” He sighed appreciatively, “This is certainly unexpected. We need a good inscription, gentlemen, to do it justice.”

       “What could be apter than ‘Wind in the Orchids and Dew on Angelicas’ ?“ one ventured.

       “I suppose we have no other choice. Now what about a couplet?”

       “I have thought of one,” said another. “The rest of you must correct it.

Fragrance of musk-orchids fills the court at dusk,

Scent of alpinia floats to the moonlit island.”

       “Very good,” they commented. “Only the reference to ‘dusk’ seems inappropriate.”

       He quoted the old poem then with the line, “The alpinia in the court weeps in the dusk.”

       “Too sad, too sad,” they protested.

       “Here’s one for your consideration,” said another.

Along three paths white angelica scents the breeze, In the court a bright moon shines on golden orchids.”

       Jia Zheng thoughtfully tugged at his beard and seemed about to propose a couplet himself when, raising his head, he caught sight of Baoyu, now afraid to open his mouth.

       “Well?” he said sternly. “When it’s time to speak you say nothing. Are you waiting to be begged for the favour of your instruction?”

       “We have no musk, moon or islands here,” said Baoyu. “If you want allusive couplets of that kind, we can easily compose hundreds.”

       “Who is putting pressure on you to use those words?”

       “Well then, I suggest ‘Pure Scent of Alpinia and Iris.’ And for the couplet:

Singing on cardamons makes lovely poetry;

Sleeping beneath roses induces sweet dreams.”

       Jia Zheng laughed. “You got that from the line ‘Write on plantain leaves and green is the writing.’ This is mere plagiarism.”

       “There’s nothing wrong with plagiarism provided it’s well done,” countered the others. “Even Li Bai copied from Yellow Crane Pavilion ~ when he wrote his Phoenix Tower. If you consider this couplet carefully, sir, it is livelier and more poetical than the original. It even looks as if the other line plagiarizes this by our young master.”

       “Preposterous!” Jia Zheng smiled.

       From there they went on some way until ahead of them loomed towering pavilions enclosed by magnificent buildings, all of them connected by winding passageways. Green pines brushed the eaves, white balustrades skirted the steps, the animal designs glittered like gold and the dragon-heads blazed with colour.

       “This must be the main reception palace,” observed Jia Zheng. “Its one fault is that it is too luxurious.”

       “Unavoidably so,” they reasoned. “Although Her Royal Highness prizes frugality, this is no more than is due to her present exalted rank.”

       They were now at the foot of a marble arch finely carved with rampant dragons and coiling serpents.

       “What should be inscribed here?” asked Jia Zheng.

       “‘The Fairy Land of Penglai’?”

       He shook his head and said nothing.

       As for Baoyu, he felt strangely stirred by this sight, as if he had seen a place of this kind before — though just when he could not remember. Called upon to compose an inscription, he was too preoccupied to think of anything else. The others, not knowing this, imagined that his wits were wandering and he was exhausted after his long ordeal. Fearing that if he were pressed too hard the consequences might be serious, they urged his father to give him a day’s grace.

       Jia Zheng, aware that his mother might well be anxious, said with an ironic smile, “So sometimes you are at a loss too, you young rascal. Very well, I’ll give you until tomorrow. But if no inscription is ready then, so much the worse for you. This is the most important place, so mind you do your best.”

       They continued with the tour of inspection and had covered little more than half the grounds when a servant reported that someone had arrived with a message from Yucun.

       “We can’t see the rest of the places,” said Jia Zheng. “But by going out the other way we can at least get a general idea, even if we don’t see them all.”

       He led the way to a large bridge above a crystal curtain of cascading water. This was the sluice admitting water from outside. Jia Zheng asked for a name for it.

       “Since this is the source of the River of Seeping Fragrance it could be

called ‘Seeping Fragrance Lock,”’ Baoyu suggested.

       “Rubbish,” said his father. “We just won’t have ‘Seeping Fragrance.

       On they went past quiet lodges and thatched huts, stone walls and pergolas of flowers, a temple secluded in the hills and a convent half hidden among the trees, long covered walks, meandering grottoes, square mansions and round kiosks, none of which they had time to enter. However, it was so long since their last rest that all were footsore and weary by the time they saw another lodge in front, and Jia Zheng said, “Here we must rest a little.”

       He led the way in past some double-flowering peach in blossom and through a moon-gate made of bamboo over which climbed flowering plants. Whitewashed walls and green willows confronted them then. Along the walls ran covered corridors, and the rockery in the centre of the courtyard was flanked on one side by plantains, on the other by a red multi-petalled crab-apple tree, its branches trained in the shape of an umbrella, with green trailing tendrils and petals red as cinnabar.

       “What superb blossoms!” they exclaimed. “We have never seen such a splendid one before.”

       “This is a foreign variety called ‘Maiden Apple, “‘ Jia Zheng told them. “Tradition has it that it comes from the Land of Maidens, and that it blossoms profusely in that country; but that is nothing but an old wives’ tale.”

       “If so, how did the name come to be handed down?” they wondered.

       “Quite likely the name ‘Maiden’ was given by some poet,” said Baoyu, “because this flower is as red as rouged cheeks and as frail as a delicate girl. Then some vulgar character made up that story and ignorant people believed it.”

       “A most plausible explanation,” said the others.

       They sat down on some benches in the corridor and Jia Zheng at once asked for another inscription.

       “Plantains and Storks’?” one proposed.

       ‘‘Or ‘Towering Splendour and Shimmering Radiance.’”

       Jia Zheng and the rest approved, as indeed did Baoyu, adding, “It’s a pity, though....” Asked to explain himself, he said, “Plantain and crabapple blossom suggest both red and green. It’s a pity to refer to one and not the other.”

       “What do you suggest then?” demanded his father.

       “Something like ‘Red Fragrance and Green Jade’ would bring out the charm of both, I think.”

       “Too feeble!” Jia Zheng shook his head.

       He led the way into the building. It was unusually set out with no clear-cut divisions between the different rooms. There were only partitions formed of shelves for books, bronze tripods, stationery, flower vases and miniature gardens, some round, some square, some shaped like sunflowers, plantain leaves or intersecting arcs. They were beautifully carved with the motifs “clouds and a hundred bats” of the “three companions of winter” — pine, plum and bamboo — as well as landscapes and figures, birds and flowers, scrollwork, imitation curios and symbols of good fortune or long life. All executed by the finest craftsmen, they were brilliantly coloured and inlaid with gold or precious stones. The effect was splendid, the workmanship exquisite. Here a strip of coloured gauze concealed a small window, there a gorgeous curtain hid a door. There were also niches on the walls to fit antiques, lyres, swords, vases or other ornaments, which hung level with the surface of the wall. Their amazement and admiration for the craftsmen’s ingenuity knew no bounds.

       After passing two partitions Jia Zheng and his party lost their way. To their left they saw a door, to their right a window; but when they went forward their passage was blocked by a bookshelf. Turning back they glimpsed the way through another window; but on reaching the door they suddenly saw a party just like their own confronting them — they were looking at a big mirror. Passing round this they came to more doorways.

       “Follow me, sir,” urged Jia Zhen with a smile. “Let me take you to the back courtyard and show you a short cut.”

       He conducted them past two gauze screens out into a courtyard filled with rose trellises. Skirting round the fence, Baoyu saw a clear stream in front.

       All exclaimed in astonishment, “Where does this water come from?”

       Jia Zhen pointed to a spot in the distance.

       “It flows from that lock we saw through the ravine, then from the northeast valley to the little farm, where some is diverted southwest.

Here both streams converge to flow out underneath the wall.”

       “Miraculous!” they marvelled.

       Now another hill barred their way and they no longer had any sense of direction; but Jia Zhen laughingly made them follow him, and as soon as they rounded the foot of the hill they found themselves on a smooth highway not far from the main entrance.

       “How diverting,” they said. “Really most ingenious.”

       And so they left the garden.

       Baoyu was longing to get back to the girls, but receiving no dismissal from his father he had to follow him to the library. Now Jia Zheng suddenly remembered his presence.

       “Why are you still here?” he demanded. “Haven’t you had enough of wandering around? The old lady will be worrying about you. She’s wasting her love on you. Off you go, quick.”

       Then at last Baoyu could withdraw. What followed is recorded in the next chapter.

 

 

Chapter 18

 

Yuanchun Visits Her Parents

on the Feast of Lanterns

Daiyu Helps Her True Love

by Passing Him a Poem

 

 

       As soon as Baoyu was out of the courtyard, the pages who attended Jia Zheng stepped forward to throw their arms around his waist.

       They said, “It’s lucky for you that the master was in such a good mood today. The old lady sent several times to ask how things were, and you should thank us for telling her he looked pleased. Otherwise she’d have sent for you and you wouldn’t have had this chance to shine. Everybody said your poems were the best. “Today’s your lucky day, so give us a tip.”

       “You shall each have a string of cash,” he promised them.

       “Who hasn’t seen a string of cash?” cried one. “Give me your pouch.”

       Swarming round without so much as a “by your leave,” they stripped him of his scented pouch, fan-sheath and other pendants.

       “Now let’s see him back!” they cried.

       With one of them carrying him, the others in a troop escorted him along to the outer courtyard of the Lady Dowager’s apartments.

       Since she had sent several times to see how her grandson was faring, she was naturally pleased when her nannies and maids brought him in, none the worse for his experience.

       When presently Xiren handed him tea she noticed that not one of his pendants was left. “So those shameless wretches have taken all your things again,” she remarked with a smile.

       Daiyu came over to see if this was true. Sure enough, all his trinkets had gone.

       “So you’ve given them that pouch I made you too!” she remarked. “All right, that’s the last thing you’ll ever get from me.”

       Going crossly back to her own room, she took her scissors and started cutting up the sachet she had been making for him at Baoyu’s own request.

       Baoyu, seeing that she was angry, knew that something was up and hurried after her. Too late. Although the sachet had not been finished, the embroidery on it was very fine and she had put a lot of work into it, so he was annoyed to see it spoilt for no reason. Quickly undoing his collar, he pulled out the pouch he was wearing over his red tunic.

       “Look, what’s this?” he asked, showing it to her. “When have I ever given anything of yours to someone else?”

       Realizing that he treasured her gift so much that he had kept it safely hidden away, Daiyu repented of her hastiness and hung her head in silence.

       “You didn’t have to cut it up,” went on Baoyu reproachfully. “I know you don’t like giving me anything, so I’ll let you have this one back too, how about that?” Tossing it into her lap, he turned to go.

       Choking with anger Daiyu burst into tears. She picked up the pouch meaning to cut it to pieces as well. But he rushed back to stop her, begging, “Dear cousin, spare it!”

       She threw down the scissors to brush away her tears.

       “You don’t have to treat me like that, kind one moment and cruel the next. If it’s a quarrel you want, we’d better have nothing more to do with each other. Why carry on like this?”

       She flung herself tearfully down on her bed with her face towards the wall, wiping her streaming eyes. In desperation, Baoyu leant over her begging, “Dear cousin, dear kind cousin, do forgive me!”

       Meanwhile the Lady Dowager had been asking where Baoyu was. Hearing that he was with Daiyu she said, “That’s good. Let them amuse themselves together for a while. He deserves a little relaxation after being kept so long under check by his father. Just see that they don’t quarrel. You mustn’t upset him.” And to this the servants agreed.

       Unable to shake Baoyu off, Daiyu got up. “Since you won’t give me any peace, I’m going to leave you,” she declared.

       As she started out he said with a smile, “Wherever you go, I’ll go with you.” He was fastening on the pouch again as he spoke.

       Daiyu snatched at it, scolding, “First you say you don’t want it, and now you’re putting it on again. I really blush for you.” She started to giggle.

       “Dear cousin, do make me another sachet tomorrow.”

       “We’ll have to see how I feel.”

       They went together then to Lady Wang’s quarters where they happened to find Baochai. Everyone was in a state of great excitement, as the twelve young actresses bought by Jia Qiang in Suzhou had just arrived, together with the instructors he had hired and the costumes for the operas they would perform.

       Aunt Xue had moved to quiet, secluded quarters in the northeast part of the grounds, and Pear Fragrance Court had been made ready for the rehearsals. Some family maids who had once trained as opera-singers themselves but were now hoary dames were sent to look after the little actresses, while Jia Qiang was put in charge of their daily expenses and the provision of everything they required.

       Just at this time, Lin Zhixiao’s wife came to report, “The twenty-four little nuns — twelve Buddhist and twelve Taoist — whom I selected and purchased have now arrived, and their twenty-four new habits are ready. There’s another girl, too, who had entered holy orders without shaving her head. She comes from a Suzhou family of scholars and officials. She was delicate as a child, and although they bought many substitute novices for her it was no use — her health didn’t improve until she joined the Buddhist order herself. That’s how she became a lay sister. She’s eighteen this year and her name in religion is Miaoyu. Her parents are dead now and she only has two old nurses and one maid to look after her. She’s widely read and well-versed in the sutras, besides being very good-looking. She came to the capital last year, having heard there were relics of Guanyin here and canons inscribed on pattra leaves. She’s been living in the Sakyamuni Convent outside the West Gate. Her tutor was an excellent diviner, but she passed away last winter. Miaoyu had meant to escort the coffin back to her native place; but as her tutor lay dying she told the girl not to go back home but to wait quietly where she was for something fortune had in store for her. So she didn’t accompany the coffin back.”

       “In that case, why not ask her here?” put in Lady Wang.

       “She’d refuse,” objected Lin Zhixiao’s wife. “She’d be afraid of being looked down on in a noble household.”

       “A young lady from an official family is bound to be rather proud,” agreed Lady Wang. “Why not send her a written invitation?”

       Lin Zhixiao’s wife agreed and left. One of the secretaries was instructed to make out an invitation, and the following day servants were sent with a carriage and sedan-chair to fetch Miaoyu. As to what followed, we can leave that till later.

       A servant came just then to request Xifeng to open the storeroom and issue the gauze and silk needed by the workmen for screens. Another asked her to store away the gold and silver utensils. Meanwhile Lady Wang and her maids were busy too.

       So Baochai suggested, “Let’s not stay here where we’re only in the way. Let’s go and find Tanchun.”

       She took Baoyu and Daiyu to the rooms of Yingchun and others to while away the time.

       For Lady Wang and her helpers the days passed in a flurry of preparations until, towards the end of the tenth month, all was ready. The stewards had handed in their accounts; antiques and precious objects had been set out; the pleasure grounds were well-stocked with cranes, peacocks, deer, rabbits, chicken and geese to be reared in appropriate places; Jia Qiang had twenty operas ready; and the little Buddhist and Taoist nuns had memorized various sutras and incantations.

       Then Jia Zheng, able at last to breathe more freely, invited the Lady Dowager to make a final inspection of the Garden and see that all was in order with nothing overlooked. This done, he chose an auspicious date and wrote a memorial, and the very same day that it was presented the Son of Heaven acceded to his request. The Imperial Consort would be permitted to visit her parents for the Feast of Lanterns on the fifteenth of the first month the following year. This threw the whole household into such a commotion that, hard at work day and night, they scarcely had time to celebrate the New Year.

       In a twinkling the Feast of Lanterns would arrive. On the eighth of the first month eunuchs came from the Palace to inspect the general layout of the Garden and the apartment where the Imperial consort would change her clothes, sit with her family, receive their homage, feast them and retire to rest. The eunuch in charge of security also posted many younger eunuchs as guards by the screened and curtained entrances to the retiring rooms. Detailed instructions were given to all members of the household as to where they should withdraw, where they should kneel, serve food or make announcements — all the exact etiquette to be observed. Outside, officers from the Board of Works and the Chief of the Metropolitan Police had the streets swept and cleared of loiterers. Jia She superintended the craftsmen making ornamental lanterns and fireworks, and by the fourteenth everything was ready. But no one, high or low, slept a wink that night.

       Before dawn the next day all those with official ranks from the Lady Dowager downwards put on full ceremonial dress. Everywhere in the Garden were hangings and screens brilliantly embroidered with dancing dragons and flying phoenixes; gold and silver glittered, pearls and precious stones shimmered; richly blended incense burnt in the bronze tripods, and fresh flowers filled the vases. Not a cough broke the solemn silence.

       Jia She and the other men waited outside in the west street entrance, the Lady Dowager and the women outside the main gate, the ends of the street and the alleys leading to it all having been screened off.

       They were growing tired of waiting when a eunuch rode up on a big horse. The Lady Dowager welcomed him in and asked for news.

       “It will be a long time yet,” the eunuch told her. “Her Highness is to dine at one, pray to Buddha in the Palace of the Precious Spirit at half past two, and at five go to feast in the Palace of Great Splendour and look at the display of lanterns before asking leave from the Emperor. She can hardly set out until seven.”

       This being the case, Xifeng suggested that the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang should go inside to rest and come back later.

       So the Lady Dowager and others retired, leaving Xifeng in charge. She ordered the stewards to conduct the eunuchs to where refreshments were waiting. Then she had loads of candles carried in for all the lanterns.

       It was not until the candles had been lit that a clatter of hooves was heard in the street. The next moment up panted ten or more eunuchs, clapping their hands as they ran. At this signal the other eunuchs said, “Her Highness is coming!” They all rushed to their posts.

       For a long time they waited in silence, Jia She and the young men of the family by the entrance of the west street, the Lady Dowager and the women in front of the main gate.

       Then two eunuchs wearing scarlet uniforms rode slowly up to the entrance of the west street. Dismounting, they led their horses behind the screens, then stood to attention, their faces turned towards the west. After some time another pair appeared, then another, until there were ten pairs lined up and soft music could be heard in the distance.

       And now a long procession approached: several pairs of eunuchs carrying dragon banners, others with phoenix fans, pheasant plumes and ceremonial insignia, as well as gold censers burning Imperial incense. Next came a curved-handled yellow umbrella on which were embroidered seven phoenixes, and under this a head-dress, robe, girdle and slippers. After this came attendant eunuchs bearing a rosary, embroidered handkerchiefs, a rinse-bowl, fly-whisks and the like.

       Last of all, borne slowly forward by eight eunuchs, came a gold-topped palanquin embroidered with phoenixes.

       All present, including the Lady Dowager, hastily fell to their knees by the side of the road. Eunuchs rushed over to help up the old lady as well as Lady Xing and Lady Wang.

       The palanquin was carried through the main gate to the entrance of the courtyard on the east, where a eunuch holding a whisk knelt down and invited the Imperial Consort to dismount and change her clothes. Then the palanquin was borne inside and the eunuchs withdrew, leaving Yuanchun’s ladies-in-waiting to help her alight.

       She observed that the courtyard was brightly lit with ornamental lanterns of every kind, all exquisitely made of finest gauze. The highest, a rectangular lantern, bore the inscription: Fraught with Favour, Basking in Kindness.

       Yuanchun entered the robing room and changed, then remounted her palanquin which was carried into the Garden. She found it wreathed with the perfumed smoke of incense, splendid with flowers, brilliant with countless lanterns, melodious with strains of soft music. Words fail to describe

that scene of peaceful magnificence and noble refinement.

       Here, Readers, recalling the scene of desolation at the foot of Blue Ridge Peak in the Great Waste Mountain, I cannot but thank the scabby Buddhist and lame Taoist for bringing me to this place. For how otherwise could I have seen such a sight? I was tempted to write a lantern-poem or a eulogy on family reunion to pay tribute to it, but feared slipping into the vulgar vein of other books. Besides, even writing an ode or eulogy could not do justice to the scene’s enchantment. If, on the other hand, I omit to write one my worthy readers can imagine its magnificence for themselves. So I had better save both time and paper and return from this digression to our story.

       Now, as she gazed from her palanquin at the dazzling display both within and without the Garden, the Imperial Consort sighed softly:

       “This is too extravagant!”

       Then a eunuch with a whisk knelt down by the palanquin and invited her to proceed by boat. As she alighted she saw before her a clear waterway winding like a dragon. From the marble balustrades on either bank lanterns of crystal and glass of every description shed a silvery light, clear as snow. The wintry boughs of the willows and apricot trees above them were festooned with artificial flowers and leaves made of rice-paper and silk, and from every tree hung lanterns. Lovely too on the water were the lotus flowers, duckweed and water-fowl made out of shells and feathers. Lanterns high and low seemed trying to outshine each other. It was truly a world of crystal and precious stones! The boats were magnificent too, with lanterns, rare miniature gardens, pearl portieres, embroidered curtains, rudders of cassia and oars of aromatic wood, which we need not describe in detail.

       By now they had reached a marble landing-stage. The lantern-sign above it bore the words, “Smartweed Bank and Flowery Harbour.”

       Regarding this name, Reader, and others such as “Where the Phoenix Alights” from the last chapter in which Jia Zheng tested Baoyu’s literary talent, you may wonder to find them actually used as inscriptions. For the Jias, after all, were a scholarly family all of whose friends and protégés were men of parts. Moreover they could easily find well-known writers to compose inscriptions. Why then make shift with phrases tossed off by a boy? Were they like newly rich upstarts who throw money about like dirt and, having painted their mansion crimson, put up huge inscriptions such as “Green willows with golden locks before the gate, Blue hills like embroidered screens behind the house,” fancying these the height of elegance? Could that be the way of the Jia family described in this Tale of the Stone? This is surely a contradiction? Let me, stupid as I am, explain this to you.

       The Imperial Consort, before she entered the Palace, had been brought up from childhood by the Lady Dowager. And after Baoyu was born, as Yuanchun was his elder sister and Baoyu her younger brother, bearing in mind that their mother had given birth to him late in life, she loved him more than her other brothers and lavished all her care on him. They both stayed with their grandmother and were inseparable. Even before Baoyu started school, when he was hardly four years old, she taught him to recite several texts and to recognize several thousand characters. she was more like a mother to him than an elder sister. After she entered the Palace she often wrote letters home reminding her parents to educate him well, for unless strictly disciplined he would not amount to much, but if treated too sternly he might also give them cause for anxiety. Her loving concern for him had never ceased.

       Jia Zheng, earlier on, had scarcely believed the tutor’s report that Baoyu had a flair for literary composition. As the Garden happened then to be ready for inspection, he had called on his son for inscriptions in order to test him. And although Baoyu’s childish efforts were far from inspired, at least they were passable. The family could easily enough have enlisted the help of famous scholars; but it seemed to them that a special interest attached to names chosen by a member of the house. Besides, when the Imperial Consort learned that these were the work of her beloved younger brother, she would feel that he had not fallen short of her hopes. For these reasons Baoyu’s inscriptions were adopted. Not all had been chosen that day; some he supplied later. But enough of this.

       When the Imperial Consort saw this name, she commented with a smile: “Just ‘Flowery Harbour’ would do. Why ‘Smart-weed Bank’ too?”

       As soon as the eunuch in attendance heard this, he hastily disembarked and went ashore to report to Jia Zheng, who immediately had the alteration made.

       Meanwhile the boat had reached the further shore and again Yuanchun mounted her palanquin. Before her now there towered the beautiful hall of an imposing palace. The marble archway in front of it bore the inscription: “Precious Realm for the Immortal.” At once she ordered this to be changed to “House of Reunion.”

       As she entered this temporary palace, she saw torches in the courtyard flaring to the sky, powdered incense strewing the ground, flaming trees, jasper flowers, gilded windows and jade balustrades, to say nothing of screens as fine as the shrimp’s antennae, carpets of otter-skin, musk burning in tripods, and fans made from pheasant plumage. Truly this was:

An abode with golden gates and jade doors fit for immortals,

Its cassia and orchid chambers a worthy setting for the Imperial Consort.

       After glancing around she asked, “Why has this place no name?”

       The eunuch attendant fell on his knees. “Because this is the main palace,” he replied, “no subject outside the Court dared suggest a name.”

       The Imperial Consort nodded and said nothing.

       Another eunuch, the Master of Ceremonies, knelt and begged her to sit in a chair of state to receive the obeisances of her family. On both sides of the steps music was played as two eunuchs ushered in Jia She and the men of the family to range themselves below the dais; but when a lady-in-waiting relayed the Imperial Consort’s command to dispense with this ceremony they withdrew. Then the Lady Dowager of the Rong Mansion and the female relatives were led up the east flight of steps to the dais, but they too were exempted from the ceremony and shown out.

       After tea had been served three times, Yuanchun descended from the throne and the music ceased while she went into a side chamber to change her clothes. Meanwhile a carriage had been prepared to drive her out of the Garden to visit her parents.

       First she went to the Lady Dowager’s reception room to pay her respects as a grand-daughter of the house; but before she could do so her grandmother and the others knelt to prevent her. The Imperial Consort’s eyes were full of tears as her family drew near to greet her. As she clasped the hands of her grandmother and mother, the hearts of all three were too full to speak — they could do nothing but sob. Lady Xing, Li Wan, Xifeng, Yuanchun’s half sister Tanchun and her cousins Yingchun and Xichun also stood beside them weeping silently. But at last the Imperial Consort mastered her grief and forced a smile as she tried to comfort them.

      “Since you sent me away to that forbidden place, it hasn’t been easy getting this chance today to come home and see you all again,” she said. “But instead of chatting and laughing, here we are crying! Soon I shall have to leave you, and there is no knowing when I can come back again.” At this she broke down afresh.

       Lady Xing and the others did their best to console her and the Lady Dowager asked her to take a seat, after which she exchanged courtesies with each in turn and more tears were shed. Next the stewards and attendants of both mansions paid their respects outside the door, and so did their wives and the maids.

       This ceremony at an end, Yuanchun asked why Aunt Xue, Baochai and Daiyu were missing.

       Lady Wang explained that they were afraid to presume, not being members of the Jia family and having no official status.

       The Imperial Consort asked them to be invited in at once, and they were about to pay homage according to Palace etiquette when she exempted them too and chatted with them.

       Next Baoqin and the other maids whom Yuanchun had taken with her to the Palace kowtowed to the Lady Dowager, who hastily stopped them and sent them off to have some refreshments in another room. The senior eunuchs and ladies-in-waiting were also entertained by members of the staff of both mansions, leaving only three or four young eunuchs in attendance.

       When the ladies of the family had spoken with feeling about their separation and all that had happened since, Jia Zheng from outside the door-curtain asked after the health of his daughter, and she in turn paid her respects.

       With tears she told him, “Simple farmers who live on pickles and

dress in homespun at least know the joys of family life together. What pleasure can I take in high rank and luxury when we are separated like this?”

       With tears too he replied, “Your subject, poor and obscure, little dreamed that our flock of common pigeons and crows would ever be blessed with a phoenix. Thanks to the Imperial favour and the virtue of our ancestors, your Noble Highness embodies the finest essences of nature and the accumulated merit of our forbears — such fortune has attended my wife and myself.

       “His Majesty, who manifests the great virtue of all creation, has shown us such extraordinary and hitherto unknown favour that even if we dashed out our brains we could not repay one-thousandth part of our debt of gratitude. All I can do is to exert myself day and night, loyally carry out my official duties, and pray that our sovereign may live ten thousand years as desired by all under heaven.

       “Your Noble Highness must not grieve your precious heart in concern for your ageing parents. We beg you to take better care of your own health. Be cautious, circumspect, diligent and respectful. Honour the Emperor and serve him well, so as to prove yourself not ungrateful for His Majesty’s bountiful goodness and great kindness.”

       Then it was Yuanchun’s turn to urge her father to devote himself to affairs of state, look after his health and dismiss all anxiety regarding her.

       After this Jia Zheng informed her, “All the inscriptions on the pavilions and lodges in the Garden were composed by Baoyu. If you find one or two of the buildings not too tame, please condescend to re-name them yourself, that would make us extremely happy.”

       The news that Baoyu was already able to compose inscriptions made her exclaim with delight, “So he’s making progress!”

       When Jia Zheng had withdrawn, the Imperial Consort observed that Baochai and Daiyu stood out from their girl cousins, being truly fairer than flowers or finest jade. Then she inquired why Baoyu had not come to greet her. The Lady Dowager explained that, unless specially summoned, as a young man without official rank he dared not presume.

       At once the Imperial Consort sent for him and a young eunuch ushered him in to pay homage according to Palace etiquette. His sister called

him to her and took his hand. Drawing him close to her bosom, she stroked his neck and commented with a smile, “How you have grown!” But even as she spoke her tears fell like rain.

       Madam You and Xifeng stepped forward then to announce, “The banquet is ready. We beg Your Highness to favour us with your presence.” Then she rose and told Baoyu to lead the way.

       Accompanied by all the rest she walked into the Garden, where the magnificent sights were lit up by lanterns. Past “Where the Phoenix Alights,” “Crimson Fragrance and Green Jade,” “Approach to Apricot Tavern” and “Pure Scent of Alpinia and Iris” they strolled, mounting pavilions, crossing streams, climbing miniature hills and enjoying the view from various different points. All the buildings were distinctively furnished, and each corner had such fresh, unusual features that Yuanchun was lavish with her praise and approval. But she cautioned them:

       “You mustn’t be so extravagant in future. This is far too much!”

       When they reached the main reception palace she desired them to dispense with ceremony and take their seats. It was a sumptuous banquet. The Lady Dowager and the rest sat at tables on either side, while Madam You, Li Wan and Xifeng passed round dishes and poured the wine. Meanwhile Yuanchun asked for writing-brush and inkstone and with her own hand wrote names for the spots she liked best. For the main reception palace she wrote the inscription: Recalling Imperial Favour, Mindful of Duty. And the couplet:

 

Compassion vast as the universe extends to old and young, Grace unknown before honours every state and land.

       The pleasure grounds were named the Grand View Garden.

       “Where the Phoenix Alights” was renamed “Bamboo Lodge,” “Crimson Fragrance and Green Jade” was changed to “Happy Red and Delightful Green” and also called Happy Red Court. The name “Pure Scent of Alpinia and Iris” was altered to “Alpinia Park,” the “Approach to Apricot Tavern” became “Hemp Washing Cottage.” The main pavilion became “Grand View Pavilion,” its eastern wing “Variegated Splendour Tower,” that on the west “Fragrant Tower.” Other names given were “Smartweed Breeze Cot,” “Lotus Fragrance Anchorage,” “Purple Caltrop Isle” and “Watercress Isle.” She composed a dozen or so other inscriptions too such as “Pear Blossom in Spring Rain,” “Plane Trees in Autumn Wind” and “Artemisia in Evening Snow.” The rest of the inscriptions cannot all be recorded here. The other former inscriptions at her order remained unaltered.

       Then the Imperial Consort wrote this verse:

Enfolding hills and streams laid out with skill —What labour went to build this pleasure ground!

For these, the finest sights of earth and heaven,

Not fitter name than “Grand View” can be found.

       With a simile she showed this to the girls and said, “I have never had a ready wit or any skill in versifying, as all of you know, but tonight I had to try my hand at a verse in honour of these pleasure grounds. Some day when I have more time, I promise to write a Description of Grand View Garden and a panegyric called The Family Reunion to commemorate this occasion.

       “Now I want each of you to write an inscription and a poem to go with it. Do your best, and don’t feel restricted by my lame attempt. It was such a delightful surprise to me to find that Baoyu can compose inscriptions and poems. The Bamboo Lodge and Alpinia Park are the places I like best, and after them Happy Red Court and Hemp Washing Cottage. We must have four poems specially written for these. Although Baoyu’s couplets composed earlier are charming, I want him now in my presence to write four lushi1 in five-character lines on each of these places. That will repay the efforts I made to teach him when he was a little boy.”

       Baoyu had to agree and went off to rack his brains.

       Of Yingchun, Tanchun and Xichun, Tanchun was the cleverest, but she realized that she was no match for Baochai and Daiyu. Still she had to write something, as the others were doing. Li Wan, too, contrived to compose a verse of sorts.

       The Imperial Consort looked first at the girls’ attempts. Here is what they had written:

      

REFRESHING THE HEART

Landscapes strange and rare here we find:

Bashfully, at the word of command, I take up my pen;

Who dreamed of such loveliness in the world of men?

       A stroll through these grounds refreshes heart and mind.

Yingchun

 

       ALL THINGS VIE IN SPLENDOUR

       This garden laid out with consummate art

       I blush, with my poor skill, its fame to render.

       Past telling are the marvels in this place

       For here, indeed, all things compete in splendour.

Tanchun

 

       REFINEMENT IN CREATION

       This landscape stretches to infinity,

       Its high pavilions soaring to the sky;

       Laid out in radiance of the moon and sun,

       Nature itself is by these scenes outdone.

Xichun

 

 

       FAIR AND FINE

       Bright hills and crystal water intertwine,

       No fairy isle is half as fair or fine.

       Green fans of singers mid sweet herbs are lost,

       Plum-petals by red skirts of dancers tossed.

       Rare verses should record this golden hour —

       Our joy at the nymph’s descent from jasper tower.

       Once she has visited these lovely grounds

       No mortal foot may overstep their bounds.

Li Wan

 

       CONCENTRATED SPLENDOUR,

       BESTOWED FELICITY

       West of the Palace in this pleasure ground

       Sunlight, auspicious clouds, rare sights abound;

       High willows orioles from the vale invite,

       Tall bamboos tempt the phoenix to alight.

       This night’s royal tour gives rise to poetry,

       Her visit fosters filial piety.

       Such wisdom flows from her immortal brush,

       Too awed to pen more lines I can but blush.

Xue Baochai

 

A FAIRYLAND FAR FROM THE WORLD OF MEN

Who knows where this illustrious garden lies?

Far from the dusty world this paradise.

Here streams and mountains lend their fair delight

Enhanced by many a novel scene and sight.

Scents heady as the wine from Golden Dell2

Bind all in these jade halls with flowery spell;

Blessed by Imperial favour, we would fain

Welcome the royal visitant again.

Lin Daiyu

 

       Yuanchun praised all these verses, then remarked with a smile, “Cousin Baochai’s and Cousin Daiyu’s are specially good. We others are no match for them.”

       Now Daiyu had intended to outshine them all that night by a great display of her brilliance; but when the Imperial Consort asked them each for merely one inscription and one poem, she knew it would be presumptuous to write more and simply dashed off a verse for the occasion.

       Meanwhile Baoyu was far from finished with his verses. Having written on Bamboo Lodge and Alpinia Park, he was now tackling Happy Red Court. His draft contained the line:

The green jade leaves in spring are yet furled tight.

Baochai, glancing at it while no one else was looking, nudged him surreptitiously.

       “She didn’t like ‘Red Fragrance and Green Jade,”’ she whispered. “That’s why she changed it to ‘Happy Red and Delightful Green.’ If you use ‘green jade’ again, won’t that look as if you’re challenging her judgement? Besides, there are plenty of allusions to plantain leaves you could use. Better find another phrase.”

       Baoyu mopped his perspiring forehead. “I can’t for the moment think of any,” he said.

       Baochai smiled. “Just change ‘green jade’ into ‘green wax.

       “Is there such an allusion?”

       With a mocking smile and a smack of the lips she nodded. “If you’re in such a state tonight, by the time you sit for the Palace Examination I dare say you’ll even forget the first primer you ever read. Have you forgotten the opening line of that poem on the plantain by the Tang poet Qian Xu, ‘Smokeless the cold candles, the green wax is dry’?”

       Baoyu felt as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes. “How stupid of me!” he chuckled. “Fancy forgetting a ready-made phrase like that. You’re really my ‘one-word-teacher.’ From now on I shall have to address you as ‘master, ‘ not as ‘sister’ any more.”

 

       Suppressing a smile Baochai replied, “Hurry up and finish instead of talking such nonsense. Who are you calling ‘sister’? That’s your sister sitting up there in the golden robes. Why call me your sister?” Afraid to delay him by chatting, she slipped away.

       Baoyu persevered until three poems were done and Daiyu, depressed at having no chance to shine, came up to his desk where he was struggling alone, meaning to help him out by writing a couple of poems for him.

       Asked if he had finished, Baoyu said, “I’ve only done three. All left now is Approach to Apricot Tavern.

       “Well then, let me do that for you, while you copy out the other three.”

       After thinking for a moment with lowered head, she scribbled the poem out on a slip of paper, screwed it into a ball and tossed it to Baoyu. When he smoothed it out he found it ten times better than his own attempts. He was overjoyed. Having hurriedly copied it out with care he presented all four poems to Yuanchun.

       This is what she read:

      

WHERE THE PHOENIX ALIGHTS

The fruit fresh formed on jade stalks rare

Makes for the phoenix fitting fare;

So green each stem they seem to drip

With coolness seeping from each verdant tip.

Bursting through stones, they change the water’s track;

Piercing through screens, hold tripod’s incense back;

Let none disturb these chequered shades,

That sweetly she may dream till daylight fades.

 

 

PURE SCENT OF ALPINIA AND IRIS

Alpinia fills the courtyard free from dust,

By climbing fig its fragrance reinforced;

Softly they heighten the fresh green of spring,

Gently they trail their perfume, ring on ring.

A light mist hides the winding path from view,

From covered walks drips chill and verdant dew.

But who will celebrate the pool in song?

Lost in a dream, at peace, the poet sleeps long.

 

 

HAPPY RED AND DELIGHTFUL GREEN

In quiet court long days pass tranquilly;

A charming match, plantain and apple-tree;

The green wax leaves in spring are yet furled tight,

The blossom decked in red keeps watch at night;

With crimson sleeves one sweeps the balustrade,

One, misty green, is by the rocks arrayed.

Facing each other in the soft east wind

They surely bring their mistress peace of mind!

 

 

APPROACH TO APRICOT TAVERN

A grove of apricots, a tavern-sign,

And a hillside hamlet beyond;

Elms, mulberries, swallows on rafters,

And geese on the caltrop pond.

In the fields spring leeks are green;

All round, the paddy flowers scent the breeze;

None goes hungry in these good times,

Ploughman and weaver alike can take their ease.

 

       Yuanchun, delighted with these poems, exclaimed, “He has certainly made great progress!”

       Having pointed out that the last poem was the best, she changed the name “Hemp-Washing Cottage” into “Paddy-Sweet Cottage.” She then made Tanchun copy out all eleven poems on ornamental paper, and a eunuch delivered them to Jia Zheng and the other men waiting outside, who praised them highly. Jia Zheng also presented a panegyric of his own composition entitled The Visitation.

       Yuanchun had junket, ham and other delicacies presented to Baoyu and Jia Lan, who was too young to do more than pay his respects after his mother and uncles, for which reason he has not been previously mentioned.

       Jia Huan had not yet recovered from an illness contracted over New

Year and was still convalescing in his own apartments; this is why no mention has been made of him either.

       All this time Jia Qiang was waiting impatiently down below with his twelve young actresses. But now a eunuch ran down to him, exclaiming, “They have finished their poems. Give me your programme, quick!”

       Jia Qiang lost no time in handing him a programme with a brocade cover and a list of the stage names of the twelve players. Presently four pieces were chosen: “The Sumptuous Banquet,”3 “The Double Seventh Festival,”4 “Meeting the Immortals”5 and “The Departure of the Soul.”6

       Jia Qiang put on the first item without delay. All his players sang bewitchingly and danced divinely; thus although this was merely a stage performance they conveyed genuine grief and joy.

       No sooner had they finished than a eunuch appeared backstage with a golden tray of cakes and sweetmeats, and asked which of the actresses was Lingguan. Realizing that this was a present for her, Jia Qiang accepted it gladly and made her kowtow her thanks.

       The eunuch announced, “The Imperial Consort says that Lingguan is superb. She is to play in two more pieces of her own choice.”

       Jia Qiang hastily agreed and suggested “A Visit to the Garden” and “The Dream.”7 But since neither formed part of her repertoire, Lingguan insisted on “The Pledge” and “The Quarrel”8 instead. And Jia Qiang had to let her have her way.

       The Imperial Consort was so enchanted that she gave special instructions that this girl must be well treated and carefully trained. She gave Lingguan an extra reward of two rolls of Imperial satin, two embroidered pouches, some gold and silver trinkets and various delicacies.

       Then they left the banqueting hall to visit the places Yuanchun had not yet seen, among them a Buddhist convent set among hills, where she washed her hands before going in to burn incense and worship Buddha. She chose as inscription for this convent the words, “Ship of Mercy on the Sea of Suffering.” And here she gave additional gifts to the Buddhist nuns and Taoist priestesses.

       Soon a eunuch knelt to report that the list of gifts was ready for her approval. She read it through, found it satisfactory, and gave orders that the presents should be distributed. This was done by the eunuchs.

       The Lady Dowager received two ruyi  sceptres, one of gold, the other of jade; a staff made of aloeswood; a chaplet of sandal-wood beads; four lengths of Imperial satin with designs signifying wealth, nobility and eternal youth; four lengths of silk with designs signifying good fortune and long life; ten bars of gold with designs signifying “May Your Wishes Come True,” and ten silver bars with fish and other designs to symbolize felicity and abundance.

       Lady Xing and Lady Wang received the same gifts with the exception of the sceptres, staff and chaplet.

       Jia Jing, Jia She and Jia Zheng each received two new books of His Majesty’s own composition, two cases of rare ink-sticks, four goblets, two of gold and two of silver, and lengths of satin identical with those described above.

       Baochai, Daiyu and the other girls each received one new book, a rare mirror and two pairs of gold and silver trinkets of a new design.

       Baoyu received the same.

       Jia Lan received one gold and one silver necklet, a pair of gold and a pair of silver medallions.

       To Madam You, Li Wan and Xifeng were given two gold and two silver medallions and four lengths of silk.

       In addition, twenty-four lengths of satin and a hundred strings of newly minted cash were allotted to the women-servants and maids in attendance on the Lady Dowager, Lady Wang and the girls.

       Jia Zhen, Jia Lian, Jia Huan and Jia Rong each received one length of satin and a pair of gold medallions.

       A hundred rolls of variegated satin, a thousand taels of gold and silver, with various delicacies and wine from the Palace were given to those in both mansions responsible for the construction and maintenance of the Garden, the furnishing and upkeep of the various houses in the Garden, the theatre management and the preparation of lanterns. Five hundred strings of newly minted cash were also given as largesse to the cooks, actresses and jugglers.

       It was nearly three in the morning by the time all had expressed their thanks, and the eunuch in charge announced that it was time to leave. At once Yuanchun’s eyes filled with tears again, but forcing a smile she clasped the hands of her grandmother and mother and could not bring herself to let them go.

       “Don’t worry about me,” she begged them, “Just take good care of yourselves. Thanks to the Emperor’s kindness you can now come to the Palace once a month to see me, so we shall have many chances to meet again. There is no need to be upset. If next year by Imperial grace I’m allowed another visit home, you must promise not to be so extravagant.”

       The Lady Dowager and other women were sobbing too bitterly to make any reply. But although Yuanchun could hardly bear to leave, she could not disobey the Imperial regulations and had no alternative but to re-enter her palanquin which carried her away. The whole household did their best to console the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang as they helped them out of the Garden. But more of this in the next chapter.

 

Chapter 19

 

An Eloquent Maid Offers Earnest Advice

One Fine Night

A Sweet Girl Shows Deep Feeling

One Quiet Day

 

 

       The day after her return to the Palace the Imperial Consort appeared before the Emperor to thank him for his kindness, and so pleased him with an account of her visit home that he sent rich gifts of satin, gold and silver from his privy store to Jia Zheng and other fathers of visiting ladies. But no more of this.

       The inmates of the Rong and Ning Mansions were completely worn out after their recent exertions, and it took several days to remove and store away all the decorations and other movables from the Garden. The heaviest responsibility devolved upon Xifeng, who, unlike the others, had not a moment’s respite; but she was always so eager to shine, so anxious to give no one a handle against her, that she strove to carry out her many tasks as if they were nothing. Baoyu, on the other hand, was the one with the least to do and the most leisure.

       One morning Xiren’s mother came and asked the Lady Dowager’s permission to take her daughter home to tea and keep her until the evening. So Baoyu was left to amuse himself with the other maids at dice or draughts. He was feeling rather bored when a girl announced that a message had come from Jia Zhen inviting him over to the Ning Mansion to watch some operas and see their New Year lanterns. While Baoyu was changing his clothes before setting out, a gift of sweetened junket arrived from the Imperial Consort. Remembering how Xiren had enjoyed this delicacy the last time they had some, he asked them to keep it for her. Then, having taken his leave of the Lady Dowager, he went over to the other mansion.

       He was rather taken aback to find them performing operas like Master Ding Finds His Father, Huang Boyang Deploys Ghosts in a Battle, Monkey Plays Havoc in Heaven and The Patriarch Jiang Kills Generals and Deifies Them. In all these, especially the two last, gods, ghosts, monsters and ogres took the stage among waving pennants, temple processions, invocations to Buddha and offerings of incense, while the din of gonging, drumming and shouting carried to the street outside. The passersby commented appreciatively that no other family but the Jias could afford to put on such a lively entertainment. Only Baoyu, disgusted by such rowdy, showy proceedings, soon slipped away to amuse himself elsewhere.

       First he went to the inner rooms to chat with Madam You and tease the maids and concubines there. And when he strolled out of the inner gate they did not see him off, assuming that he was going back to watch the performance. The menfolk — Jia Zhen, Jia Lian, Xue Pan and the rest were having such a good time gaming and drinking that they did not worry about his absence either, taking it for granted that he had gone inside. As for the servants who had come with him, the older ones, not expecting him to leave before dusk, sneaked off to gamble, drink New Year tea with relatives and friends or visit some brothel or tavern, intending to be back by dark. The younger ones, for their part, squeezed into the theatre to watch the fun.

       When Baoyu found himself alone he thought, “There’s a marvellously lifelike painting of a beauty in the small study here. In all this excitement today she must be lonely. I’d better go and cheer her up.” He made his way towards the study.

       As he neared the window he heard a moaning inside which pulled him up with a start. Could the beauty in the picture have come to life? Screwing up his courage, he made a hole in the window-paper with his tongue and peeped through. No, the painted beauty had not come to life, but his page Mingyan was holding down a girl and indulging in the game taught Baoyu by the Goddess of Disenchantment.

       “Heavens above!”

       As Baoyu charged into the room, the trembling lovers quickly broke apart. And when Mingyan saw who it was, he fell on his knees to beg for mercy.

       “A fine way to carry on in broad daylight!” cried Baoyu. “Do you want Lord Jia Zhen to kill you?” Meanwhile he was sizing up the maid, no beauty but a girl with a fair complexion and a certain charm. Red to the ears with shame, she hung her head in silence.

       “Are you going to stand there all day?” he stamped his foot.

       Coming to her senses, she dashed out like the wind. He rushed after her, shouting:

       “Don’t be afraid! I shan’t tell anyone.”

       “Holy ancestors!” swore Mingyan behind him. “Aren’t you telling everyone now?”

       “How old is that girl?”

       “Sixteen or seventeen, I suppose, at most.”

       “If you didn’t even ask her age that shows how little you care for her. She’s wasted on you, poor thing. What’s her name?”

       “That’s quite a story,” replied Mingyan with a guffaw. “It’s really a case of truth being stranger than fiction. She says that just before she was born her mother dreamed that she had a length of brocade with coloured designs of the lucky swastika. So she called her daughter Swastika.”

       “That is strange,” agreed Baoyu, chuckling. “Her good fortune may be coming later on.” He looked thoughtful.

       Mingyan asked, “Why aren’t you watching those grand operas, Second Master?”

       “I did watch for a while, then got so bored that I came out to wander around. That’s how I discovered the two of you. Well, what shall we do now?”

       “No one knows where we are.” Mingyan grinned and stepped closer. “If we slip out of town to amuse ourselves and come back later, they won’t be any the wiser.”

       “That won’t do,” replied Baoyu. “We might get kidnapped. Besides, if they did find out what a row there’d be! We’d better go somewhere within easy distance so that it wouldn’t take long to come back.”

       “Yes, but where? That’s the question.”

       “Why not call on Xiren? Let’s see what she’s up to at home.”

       “A fine idea. I’d forgotten her house.” Mingyan chuckled. “But what if they find out and give me a beating for leading you astray?”

       “Leave it to me,” said Baoyu.

       Then Mingyan brought round his horse, and they left by the back gate.

       Luckily, Xiren’s home was only a few hundred yards away, so that in no time at all they reached its gate. Mingyan went in first to call her brother Hua Zifang.

       Mrs. Hua, having fetched Xiren home, was enjoying tea and sweet-meats with her daughter and a few nieces when they heard shouts of “Brother Hua!” And Hua Zifang was considerably taken aback when he hurried out and found master and servant there. Helping Baoyu to alight, he called out from the yard:

       “Here’s the young master!”

       This came as a greater surprise to Xiren than to any of the rest. Running out to meet Baoyu she caught his arm and asked, “How did you come here?”

       “I was rather bored,” he told her with a laugh. “I just came to see what you’re doing.”

       Reassured, she gave a cry of exasperation. “So you’re up to mischief again. Why should you come here?” She turned to Mingyan. “Who else is with you?”

       “No-one.” Mingyan grinned. “Nobody knows we’re here.”

       This worried Xiren again and she protested, “You’re quite impossible. What if you ran into someone? What if Lord Zheng saw you? The streets are jammed with people and carriages, and if your horse bolted you could quite easily have an accident. This is no joke. You two really have a nerve. You’re the one to blame, Mingyan, and when I get back I shall tell the nurses to give you a good hiding.”

       Mingyan pulled a face. “Why shove the blame on to me? The young master cursed me and beat me to make me bring him. I told him not to come. Well, we’d better go back.”

       “Never mind,” interposed Zifang quickly. “Since you’re here, there’s no point in complaining. It’s just that our shabby place is so cramped and dirty, we don’t know where to ask the young master to sit.”

       By now Xiren’s mother had come out to greet him too, and Xiren led Baoyu in. He saw four or five girls inside, who lowered their heads and blushed at his entry. Afraid that the young gentleman might feel cold, Zifang and his mother made him sit on the kang and hastily set out fresh

sweetmeats and brewed some choice tea.

       “You’re just wasting your time. I know him.” Xiren smiled. “It’s no use putting out those sweetmeats. He can’t eat just anything.”

       She fetched her own cushion and plumped it on the kang for Baoyu to sit on, then put her own foot-stove under his feet. Next she took two slabs of perfumed incense shaped like plum-blossom from her pouch, slipped them into her handstove, put its lid on again and placed it in Baoyu’s lap. This done, she poured him some tea in her own cup.

       Meanwhile her mother and brother had carefully set out a whole table of titbits — none of them things he could eat, as Xiren well knew.

       “Since you’ve come, you mustn’t go away without tasting something,” she said gaily. “At least try something to show you’ve been to our house.” She picked up a few pine kernels, blew off the skins, and gave them to Baoyu on a handkerchief.

       He noticed that her eyes were red and there were traces of tears on her powdered cheeks. “Why have you been crying?” he whispered.

       “Who’s been crying?” she retorted cheerfully. “I’ve just been rubbing my eyes.” In this way she glossed the matter over.

       Xiren saw that Baoyu was wearing his red archer’s tunic embroidered with golden dragons and lined with fox-fur under a fringed bluish-grey sable coat. “Surely you didn’t change into these new clothes just to come here?” she said. “Did no one ask where you were going?”

       “No, I changed to go to Cousin Zhen’s to watch some operas.”

       She nodded. “Well, after a short rest you’d better go back. This is no place for you.

       “I wish you’d come home now,” coaxed Baoyu. “I’ve kept something good for you.”

       “Hush!” she whispered. “What will the others think if they hear?” She reached out to take the magic jade from his neck and turning to her cousins said with a smile, “Look! Here’s the wonderful thing that you’ve heard so much about. You’ve always wanted to see this rarity. Now’s your chance for a really good look. There’s nothing so very special about it, is there?”

       After passing the jade around for their inspection she fastened it on Baoyu’s neck again, then asked her brother to hire a sedan-chair or a small carriage and escort Baoyu home.

       “I can see him back quite safely on horseback,” said Zifang.

       “That’s not the point. I’m afraid of his meeting someone.”

       Then Zifang hurried out to hire a sedan-chair, and not daring to detain Baoyu they saw him out. Xiren gave Mingyan some sweetmeats and money to buy firecrackers, warning him that he must keep this visit secret if he wanted to steer clear of trouble. She saw Baoyu out of the gate, watched him get into the chair and lowered its curtains. Her brother and Mingyan followed behind with the horse.

       When they reached the street where the Ning Mansion stood, Mingyan ordered the chair to stop and told Zifang, “We must look in here for a while before going home, if we don’t want people to suspect anything.”

       Since this made good sense, Zifang handed Baoyu out and helped him to mount his horse, while the boy apologized for troubling him. Then they slipped through the back gate, and there we will leave them.

During Baoyu’s absence, the maids in his apartments had amused themselves as they pleased at draughts, dice and cards, until the floor was strewn with melon-seed shells. Nanny Li chose this moment to hobble along with her cane to call on Baoyu and see how he was. She shook her head over the way the maids were carrying on behind his back.

       “Since I’ve moved out and don’t come so often, you’ve grown quite out of hand,” she scolded. “The other nurses don’t dare take you to task either. As for Baoyu, he’s like a ten-foot lampstand that sheds light on others but none on itself. He complains that other people are dirty, yet leaves you to turn his own rooms topsyturvy. Disgraceful, I call it.”

       The maids knew quite well that Baoyu would not mind, and since Nanny Li had retired and left the house she had no further authority over them. They went on amusing themselves and simply ignored her. Asked how much Baoyu are at each meal and what time he went to bed, they just answered at random.

       “What an old pest she is!” one muttered.

       “Is that a bowl of junket?” asked Nanny Li. “Why didn’t you send it over to me? I’d better eat it here right now.” She picked up a spoon and started eating it.

       “You leave that alone!” cried one girl. “That’s for Xiren. He’ll be annoyed when he comes back, and unless you own up you’ll get all of us into trouble.”

       “I can’t believe it of him.” Nanny Li was both indignant and embarrassed. “What is this, after all, but a bowl of milk? He shouldn’t begrudge me that — or more costly things either. Does he think more of Xiren than of me? Has he forgotten who brought him up? It’s my milk from my own heart’s blood that he was raised on, so why should he be angry if I have a bowl of his milk? I declare I will, just to see what he’ll do. You seem to think the world of Xiren, but who is she? A low-class girl. I should know, I trained the creature.” With that, in a huff, she finished off the junket.

       “They’ve no manners,” said another maid soothingly. “I don’t wonder you’re cross, granny. Baoyu often sends you presents. This isn’t going to upset him.”

       “You don’t have to humour me in that sly way,” Nanny Li snorted. “Do you think I don’t know how Qianxue was dismissed, all because of a cup of tea? I’ll come back tomorrow to hear what my punishment’s to be.” She went off then in a temper.

       Presently Baoyu came home and sent someone to fetch Xiren. He saw Qingwen lying motionless on her bed.

       “Is she ill?” he asked. “Or did she lose some game?”

       “She was winning,” Qiuwen told him. “But then Grandame Li came along and raised such a rumpus that she lost the game. She went to bed to sulk.”

       “You mustn’t take Nanny Li so seriously.” Baoyu smiled. “Just leave her alone.”

      He turned then to welcome Xiren who had only just come in. After asking where he had dined and what time he had reached home, she gave the girls greetings from her mother and cousins. When she had changed out of her visiting clothes, Baoyu called for the junket.

       “Granny Li ate the lot,” his maids reported.

       Before he could make any comment Xiren interposed with a smile, “So that’s what you kept for me — thank you. The other day I enjoyed it, but it gave me a bad stomachache afterwards until I’d brought it all up. So it’s just as well she’s had it. Otherwise it would have been wasted. What I’d fancy now are some dried chestnuts. Will you peel a few for me while I make your bed?”

       Taking this for the truth, Baoyu thought no more of the matter but started peeling chestnuts by the lamp. And since the others had left he asked with a smile, “who was that girl in red this afternoon?”

       “My mother’s sister’s child.”

       Baoyu heaved a couple of admiring sighs.

       “Why are you sighing?” asked Xiren. “I know how your mind works. You think she isn’t good enough to wear red.”

       “What an idea! If a girl like that isn’t good enough to wear red, who is? I found her so charming, I thought how nice it would be if we could get her here to live with us.”

       “Nice, you call it?” Xiren snorted. “Nice to be a slave here?”

       “Don’t be so touchy,” he retorted with a smile. “Living in our house doesn’t have to mean being a slave. Couldn’t she be our relative?”

       “We’re too far beneath you for that.”

       When Baoyu went on peeling the chestnuts in silence, Xiren laughed. “Why don’t you say anything? Have I offended you? All right, tomorrow you can buy her for a few taels of silver.”

       “How do you expect anyone to answer you?” Baoyu grinned. “All I meant was that she looks just the person to live in a mansion like this, much more so than some of us clods who were born here.”

       “She may not have your luck but she’s her parents’ darling, the apple of their eye. She’s just turned seventeen and all her dowry is ready. She’ll be married next year.

       The word “married” made Baoyu exclaim in dismay and feel put out.

       Xiren observed with a sigh, “These last few years, since I came here, I haven’t seen much of my cousins. Soon I’ll be going home, but they’ll all be gone.”

       Shocked by the implication of this, he dropped the chestnuts.

       “What do you mean — going home?”

       “Today I heard my mother discussing it with my brother. They told me to be patient for one more year and then they’d buy me out of service.

       “Why should they do that?” Baoyu was flabbergasted.

       “What a strange question! I wasn’t born a slave in your family. I have my own people outside. What future is there for me if I stay on here alone?”

       “Suppose I won’t let you go?”

       “That wouldn’t be right. Why, even in the Palace they make it a rule to choose new girls every few years. They can’t keep them for ever either, so how can you?”

       He decided upon reflection that she was right. None the less he objected, “Suppose, though, the old lady won’t let you go?”

       “Why shouldn’t she? ff1 were somebody special or had so won the hearts of the old lady and Lady Wang that they couldn’t do without me, they might give my people a few extra taels so as to keep me. But I’m no one out of the usual: there are plenty much better than me. When I came here as a child I was with the old lady; then I waited on Miss Shi for a couple of years, and now I’ve been waiting on you for quite a time. If my people come to redeem me, your family is bound to let me go. They may even be generous enough not to ask for any money. If you say I look after you well, there’s no merit in that — it’s my job. And my place will be taken by someone else just as good. I’m not indispensable.”

      By now it did indeed sound to Baoyu as if she had every reason to leave and none at all to stay. Yet in desperation he argued, “Well, but if I insist the old lady will speak to your mother and pay her so much that she won’t like to take you away.”

       “Of course my mother wouldn’t dare refuse. Even if you didn’t talk nicely to her or pay her a cent, so long as you insisted on my staying how could she stand out? But your family has never thrown its weight about like that in the past. This isn’t like offering ten times the usual price for something you happen to like, when the owner finds it worth his while to sell. If you kept me for no reason, it would do you no good and would break up my family. The old lady and Lady Wang wouldn’t dream of such a thing.”

       Baoyu remained sunk in thought for several minutes.

       “So this means you’ll be going for certain?”

       “Yes.”

       “How can she be so heartless?” he wondered.

       Aloud, he said with a sigh, “If I’d known that you’d be going, I shouldn’t have taken you on in the first place. I shall be left all alone here, a poor forsaken ghost.” And he retired sulkily to bed.

       Now it so happened that when Xiren went home and heard her mother and brother talk of buying her out, she had assured them that Baoyu would never let her go so long as he lived.

       “When you had nothing to eat and your only way of raising a little money was by selling me, I couldn’t stop you,” she said. “What girl can see her parents starve to death? I was lucky to be sold to this family, where I’m fed and clothed like a daughter of the house, not beaten all day long and scolded all night. Besides, even though father’s dead, you’ve got the family back on its feet and are as well-off again as you ever were. If you were still hard up, there might be some reason for redeeming me and re-selling me at a profit. But since there’s no need, why do it? Just pretend I’m dead and stop thinking of buying me back.”

       She wept and stormed until her mother and brother realized that she was adamant and would never leave. In any case she had been sold for life and although they thought the Jia family might be generous enough to let her go without asking for any money, they also knew that the servants there were not ill-used but shown more kindness than severity. Indeed, the girls who were personal attendants of members of the family, old or young, were generally treated more handsomely than servants in other jobs. In fact, they were even better off than daughters of ordinary humble households. So Mrs. Hua and her son did not press the point.

       Baoyu’s unexpected visit and the apparent intimacy between maid and master opened their eyes to the true situation, leaving them much reassured. In fact, this was something they had not even hoped for. So they abandoned all thought of buying her freedom.

 

       As for Xiren, these years had shown her that Baoyu was no ordinary youth but more high-spirited and wilful than other boys, with some indescribably perverse streaks in his character. Of late he had been so indulged by his grandmother that his parents were unable to control him strictly and he had now become so reckless and headstrong that he was losing patience with all conventions. She had long wanted to speak to him about this, but was convinced he would not listen to her.

       Luckily, by throwing dust in his eyes today, she was able to sound him out and get him into a chastened mood for a good lecture. His silent retreat to bed indicated how upset he was and how wounded.

       As for the chestnuts, she had pretended to hanker after them to make him forget the junket, for fear of a repetition of that incident involving maple-dew tea which had landed Qianxue in trouble.

       Now she gave the chestnuts to the other maids and, coming back, nudged Baoyu gently. She found his face wet with tears.

       “Why take on like this?” she coaxed. “If you really want me here, of course I won’t go.”

       Sensing something behind this, Baoyu quickly rejoined, “Go on. Just tell me what else I must do to keep you. I don’t know how to persuade you.”

       “We needn’t talk now of how well we get on together. If you want to keep me that’s beside the point. I’ve two or three things to ask you. If you agree to them, I’ll take it that you really and truly want me to stay. Then not even a knife at my throat could make me leave you.”

       Baoyu’s face lit up. “Well, what are your conditions? I agree to them all, dear sister, good kind sister. I’d agree to three hundred conditions, let alone three. I only beseech you all to stay and watch over me until the day that I turn into floating ashes — no, not ashes. Ashes have a trace of form and consciousness. Stay until I’ve turned into a puff of smoke and been scattered by the wind. Then you’ll no longer be able to watch over me, and I shall no longer be able to care about you — you can let me go, and I’ll have to let you go wherever you please as well.”

       “Steady on!” Xiren frantically clapped her hand over his mouth. “This is just what I wanted to warn you against, yet here you go, talking more wildly than ever.”

       “All right,” agreed Baoyu promptly. “I promise not to.”

       “This is the first fault you must correct.”

       “Done. If I ever talk that way again, you can pinch my lips. What else?”

       “The second thing is this. Whether you like studying or not, in front of the old master and other people stop running it down and making sarcastic remarks about it. At least pretend to like studying, so as not to provoke your father and give him a chance to speak well of you to his friends. After all, he thinks: The men of our family have been scholars for generations, but this son of mine has let me down — he doesn’t care for books. As if this wasn’t bad enough, you keep saying crazy things in public as well as in private, sneering at those who study hard so as to get on and calling them career-grubbers. You also say that, apart from that classic on ‘manifesting bright virtue,” all the rest are trash produced by fools of old who didn’t understand the Sage. No wonder your father gets so angry with you that he keeps punishing you. What sort of impression does that make on people?”

       “All right.” Baoyu laughed. “That was just wild talk when I was too young to know any better. I don’t say such things nowadays. What else?”

       “You must stop abusing Buddhist monks and Taoist priests and playing about with girls’ cosmetics and powder. Most important of all, you must stop kissing the rouge on girls’ lips and running after everything in red.”

       “I promise, I promise. What else is there? Tell me, quick!”

       “That’s all. Just be a bit more careful about things in general instead of getting carried away by all your whims and fancies. If you’ll do all I’ve asked, I promise never to leave you, not even if they send a big sedan-chair with eight bearers to fetch me away.

       Baoyu chuckled. “If you stay here long enough, you’ll have your sedan-chair and eight bearers some day.”

       “I don’t covet such luck.” She smiled disdainfully. “If I’m not entitled to it what’s the good of riding on one?”

       At this point Qiuwen appeared and said, “It’s nearly the third watch: time you were in bed. Just now the old lady sent round a nurse to ask, and I told her you were asleep.”

       Baoyu asked her to hand him a watch and saw it was twelve o’clock. He washed and rinsed his mouth all over again, then undressed and lay down to sleep.

       When Xiren got up first thing the next morning she felt heavy and out of sorts. Her head ached, her eyes were swollen, her limbs were burning like fire. She tried to carry on as usual at first but soon had to give up and lie down, fully dressed, on the kong. Baoyu at once informed the Lady Dowager, and a doctor was sent to examine her.

       “It’s nothing but a cold,” said the doctor. “She will be all right after a couple of doses of medicine to relieve the congestion.”

       The doctor left after making out the prescription. The medicine was brought and decocted, and Xiren drank it. Baoyu left her well covered so as to induce perspiration and went off to see Daiyu.

       Daiyu was having a siesta, and since all her maids had gone out on their own business the place was unusually quiet. Baoyu raised the embroidered curtain and walked into the inner room, where he found her sleeping.

       “Dear cousin!” he called, shaking her gently. “How can you sleep just after a meal?”

       When Daiyu woke and saw who it was, she said, “Why don’t you go for a stroll? I haven’t recovered yet from all that excitement the other night. I’m still aching from head to foot.”

       “A few aches are nothing, but if you go on sleeping you’ll really fall ill. Let me amuse you to keep you awake and then you’ll be all right.”

       “I’m not sleepy.” She closed her eyes. “All I want is a little rest. Run away and play for a while. You can come back later.”

       “Where can I go?” He nudged her again. “I find everyone else so boring.”

       Daiyu could not suppress a laugh. “All right, if stay you must, go and sit down properly over there and we’ll talk.”

       “I want to curl up too.” Seeing that there was no extra pillow, he added, “Why don’t we share that pillow of yours?”

       “What nonsense! Aren’t there pillows in the outer room? Just help yourself to one.”

       Baoyu went out to have a look, coming back to say, “I don’t want any of them. Who knows what dirty old woman has been using them?”

       Daiyu opened her eyes at this and sat up, laughing.

       “You really are the bane of my life! All right, have this.” She pushed her pillow towards him and fetched herself another. Then they lay down facing each other. Observing on his left cheek a bloodstain the size of a button, she leaned over to look at it carefully and laid one finger on it.

       “Whose nails was it this time?”

       Baoyu drew back, grinning. “That’s not a scratch. I may have splashed myself with the lip-salve I’ve just been mixing for the girls.”

       As he searched for a handkerchief, Daiyu rubbed the place clean with her own, scolding as she did so, “Isn’t that just like you? And you have to leave traces too. Even if uncle doesn’t see it, that’s the sort of thing people love to gossip about and some may tell on you in order to win favour; and if such stories reach his ears it’ll mean trouble for all of us.”

       Baoyu was not listening, however, so intent was he on the fragrance emanating from Daiyu’s sleeve, which he found intoxicating — it seemed to melt the marrow of his bones. He caught hold of her sleeve to see what she had hidden inside.

       “Who wears anything fragrant in mid-winter?” she asked.

       “Where does that scent come from then?”

       “How do I know? Unless it’s some fragrance from my wardrobe that’s clung to my gown.”

       Baoyu shook his head. “I doubt it. It’s a very unusual scent. Not the kind you would get from perfumed pastilles, scent-balls or sachets.”

       “Do I have a Buddhist arhat to give me scent?” demanded Daiyu archly. “Even if I had some rare recipe, I’ve no kind cousin or brother to concoct it for me with stamens, buds, dew and snow. All I have are common scents.”

       “Whenever I say one word, off you go!” Baoyu grinned. “I shall have to teach you a lesson. From now on, I’ll show you no mercy.”

       He rose to his knees, blew on his hands, then stretched them out and started tickling her in the ribs and under her armpits.

       Daiyu had always been ticklish, and this surprise attack set her giggling so much that she very nearly choked.

       “Stop it, Baoyu,” she gasped. “Stop, or I’ll be angry.”

       He desisted then, demanding with a smile, “Will you talk that way any more?”

       “I dare not.” Smoothing her hair she laughed. “You say I’ve an unusual scent, have you a warm scent?”

       “A warm scent?” He looked puzzled.

       Daiyu shook her head with a sigh. “How dense you are! You have jade, and someone else has gold to match it. So don’t you have a warm scent to match her cold scent?”

       Baoyu caught her meaning then and chuckled. “You were begging for mercy a minute ago, but now you’re worse than ever.” He reached out again.

       “Dear cousin, I promise not to tease,” she cried hastily.

       “All right, I’ll forgive you if you let me smell your sleeve.”

       With that he covered his face with her sleeve and started sniffing as if he would never stop. She pulled away her arm.

       “You ought to go now.”

       “Go I can’t. Let’s lie down in a civilized way and chat.”

       He stretched out again while Daiyu lay down too, covering her face with her handkerchief and paying no attention to his rambling questions. How old had she been when she came to the capital? What fine sights and monuments had she seen on the way? What places of historical interest were there in Yangzhou? What were the local customs and traditions? Daiyu made no reply and to keep her awake — for he feared sleep might give her indigestion — Baoyu played a new trick.

       “Aiyal!” he exclaimed. “Do you know the extraordinary thing that happened near your yamen in Yangzhou?”

       Taken in by his straight face and earnest manner, Daiyu asked to hear about it. Then Baoyu, suppressing a laugh, started romancing.

       “In Yangzhou there’s a hill called Mount Dai, in the side of which is a cavern called Lin Cavern.”

       “You’re making this up,” cried Daiyu. “I’ve never heard of such a hill.”

       “Do you know all the hills and streams in the world? Let me finish my story before you pull it to pieces.”

       “Go on, then.”

       Baoyu went on, “In Lin Cavern lived a number of rat spirits. One year on the seventh day of the twelfth moon, the Rat Patriarch ascended his throne to hold a council. He announced, ‘Tomorrow is the Feast of Winter Gruel when all men on earth will be cooking their sweet gruel. Here in our cave we have few fruits or nuts; we must go foraging.’ He handed an arrow of command to an able young rat and ordered him to go out and reconnoitre.

       “Soon the young rat returned to report. ‘I have made a thorough search and inquired far and wide. The best store of grain and dried fruits is to be found in the temple at the foot of this hill.”’

       “‘How many kinds of grain? How many sorts of dried fruits?’

       “‘A whole granary full of rice and beans past counting, and five kinds of dried fruits: dates, chestnuts, peanuts, caltrops and sweet taros.’

       “Delighted by this information, the Patriarch promptly detailed rats to go forth. Taking up an arrow of command he asked:

       “‘Who will steal rice?’

       “One rat took the arrow and went off.

       “‘Who will steal beans?’ the Patriarch asked, picking up another arrow.

       “Another rat accepted the mission.

       “One by one they went off until finally there were only sweet taros left to be stolen.

       “The Patriarch, holding an arrow, asked, ‘Who will go and steal sweet taros?’

       “A very small, puny mouse volunteered, ‘I’ll go!’

       “Seeing how small and weak she was, the Patriarch and the rest of the tribe would not hear of her going, for fear she proved unequal to the task.

       “But the little mouse insisted, ‘Young and weak as I am, I have wonderful magic powers and great eloquence and cunning. I swear to manage better than all the rest.’

       “Asked to explain how, she said, ‘I shan’t steal outright like them, but change myself into a sweet taro and mix in a pile of others to escape detection. Then I shall spirit the taros away one by one, until there are none left. Wouldn’t that be more effective than stealing outright?’

       “‘It certainly sounds it,’ replied the other rats. ‘But how do you manage the metamorphosis? Do show us.’

       “‘That’s easy.’ The little mouse laughed. ‘Just watch.’ She shook herself and changed into a lovely girl with a most bewitching face.

       “The other rats laughed. ‘You’ve made a mistake,’ they cried. “You’ve changed into a young lady, not a sweet taro.’

       “‘You ignorant lot!’ retorted the little mouse, resuming her original form. ‘You only know what sweet taros are, but don’t know that the daughter of Salt Commissioner Lin is sweeter than any taro.”’2

       Daiyu scrambled over and pinned Baoyu down. “You scoundrel!” she cried laughing. “I knew you were making fun of me.

       She pinched Baoyu until he begged for mecry. “Dear cousin, let me off. I won’t do it again,” he pleaded. “It was smelling that sweet scent of yours that reminded me of this allusion.”

       “You make fun of me and dare pretend it’s an allusion....

       Just then in walked Baochai with a radiant face. “Who’s talking about allusions?” she asked. “I must hear this.”

       Daiyu hastily offered her a seat. “Can’t you see?” She laughed. “He mocks me, then pretends it’s an allusion.”

       “Cousin Bao, is it? No wonder.” Baochai smiled. “He knows so many allusions. The only trouble is that he forgets them just when he needs them most. If his memory is so good today, why didn’t he remember that allusion about the plantain the other night? He actually forgot the most obvious one. Everyone else was freezing, but he was so frantic that he was perspiring. So now his memory has come back again.”

       “Amida Buddha!” cried Daiyu laughing outright. “She’s my good sister after all. You’ve met your match now. This just shows that no one can escape retribution.”

       At that moment the sound of squabbling and angry shouting broke out in Baoyu’s apartments. What it was will be disclosed in the next chapter.

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Xifeng Reproves a Jealous Woman

Daiyu Mocks a Prattling Girl

 

 

 

 

       Baoyu, as we saw, was in Daiyu’s room telling her the story about the rat spirits when Baochai burst in and teased him for forgetting the “green wax” allusion on the night of the Feast of Lanterns. Baoyu felt relieved as they laughed and made fun of each other, for he had feared that sleeping after lunch might give Daiyu indigestion or insomnia that night, and so injure her health. Luckily Baochai’s arrival and the lively conversation that followed it had woken Daiyu up.

       Just then, a commotion broke out in Baoyu’s apartments and the three of them pricked up their ears.

      “It’s your nanny scolding Xiren,” announced Daiyu. “There’s nothing wrong with Xiren, yet your nanny is for ever nagging at her. Old age has befuddled her.”

       Baoyu wanted to rush straight over, but Baochai laid a restraining hand on his arm. “Don’t quarrel with your nurse now.” She warned him. “She’s a silly old thing, but you should bear with her.”

       “I know,” said Baoyu, and dashed off.

       Back in his apartments he found Nanny Li leaning on her cane in the middle of his room and roundly abusing Xiren.

       “Ungrateful slut!” she scolded. “You owe your position to me, yet there you lie giving yourself such airs on the kang, and won’t even look at me when I come in. All you think about is making up to Baoyu, so that he pays no attention to me but does everything you say. A slave girl bought for a few taels of stinking silver, you’ve turned everything here topsyturvy. If you don’t behave, you’ll be dragged out and married off. We’ll see whether you can still bewitch Baoyu then.”

       Imagining that Nanny Li was angry with her for lying in bed, Xiren at first explained, “I’m ill and just starting to perspire, so I’d covered up my

head and didn’t see you, granny.”

       But when the old woman accused her of vamping Baoyu and threatened to have her married off, the injustice of these taunts reduced her to tears.

       Baoyu overheard this tirade, but there was not much he could do except explain that Xiren was unwell and had just taken medicine.

       “If you don’t believe me,” he added, “ask any of the maids.”

       This only added fuel to the fire.

       “That’s right. Stick up for those vixens of yours. Who am I, after all?” his nurse stormed. “Which of them am I supposed to ask? They’ll all take your side. They’re all under Xiren’s thumb. I know everything that goes on here. I’m going to have this out with you in the presence of the old lady and Lady Wang. I suckled you, I raised you; but now that you don’t need my milk any more, you push me aside and let your maids insult me.” She was weeping with rage.

       By this time Daiyu and Baochai had come over too and they set to work to soothe her.

       “Make some allowances for them, nanny,” they urged. “Let it blow over.”

       The old woman seized on them to pour out her complaints: Qianxue’s dismissal for drinking a cup of tea, and the business of the junket the previous day.... It was hard to make head or tail of her maundering.

       Xifeng happened just then to be in the Lady Dowager’s apartments totting up the scores after a game. When she heard angry voices she knew that Nanny Li was on the rampage again, working off on Baoyu’s maids her annoyance over her gambling losses today. She hurried across and pulled the nurse aside.

       “Don’t be angry, nanny dear,” she said with a smile. “It’s just after the festival and the old lady’s had a happy day. At your age you ought to stop other people from brawling. Don’t forget yourself and start a rumpus here which may upset the old lady. Tell me who’s been annoying you and I’ll have her beaten for you. Now I’ve a broiled pheasant in my room, piping hot. Come along and have a drink with me, quick!”

       With these words she tugged the nurse out, calling over her shoulder to her maid, “Fenger, bring Nanny Li’s cane for her, and a handkerchief to dry her tears.

       Unable to hold her ground Nanny Li was borne off, lamenting as she

went, “I’m old enough to die and have done with it. But I’d sooner forget myself and lose face making a scene like this than put up with the insolence of that dirty bitch.”

       Baochai and Daiyu in the background had been watching how Xifeng handled the situation. Now they laughed and clapped their hands.

       “How lucky that this hurricane sprang up and carried the old creature off!”

       Baoyu nodded and sighed. “Goodness only knows how this started. She keeps picking on people who can’t defend themselves. I suppose one of the other girls annoyed her yesterday, and she tried to settle scores like this....”

       The words were scarcely out of his mouth when Qingwen gave a laugh.

       “We’re not off our heads,” she said. “Why should we annoy her? And even if we had, we’d have taken the blame ourselves, not shift it to somebody else.”

       Xiren caught hold of Baoyu’s hand and sobbed, “First you offend your old nurse because of me, and now because of me you’re offending everyone here. Haven’t I enough to put up with, without dragging them in as well?”

       Because she was ill and upset Baoyu had to be patient. He urged her to lie down again and perspire. She was burning with fever and stretching out beside her he tried to soothe her.

       “Just think of your health. Don’t upset yourself over such trifles.”

       Xiren smiled bitterly.

       “If I got upset easily, how could I stay a single minute in this room? But when it goes on like this day after day, what do you expect us to do? I’m always urging you to stop offending people on our account. You’re just out to stick up for us on the spur of the moment, but they remember it, and the next chance they have at the very least they say something unpleasant. Think how difficult you make it for us all.” She could not help crying as she spoke, but for fear of upsetting Baoyu she fought back her tears.

       Presently the odd-job woman brought in the second dose of medicine. Baoyu would not let Xiren get up since she seemed on the point of perspiring. Instead he carried the medicine to her and raised her on the pillow to drink it. Then he told some of the younger maids to prepare his kang.

       “Whether you mean to eat there or not, you’d better go and sit with the old lady and Lady Wang for a while,” suggested Xiren. “Then keep the young ladies company for a bit before coming back. I shall be all right after a quiet nap here.”

       Hearing this, Baoyu removed her hairpins and bracelets for her and settled her for the night before going to dine in the Lady Dowager’s quarters.

       After dinner his grandmother felt disposed to play cards with some of the old stewardesses. Baoyu, still worried about Xiren, went back to find her dozing. It was still early for him to go to bed, but Qingwen, Yixian, Qiuwen and Bihen had gone off to have some fun with Yuanyang and Hupo, leaving only Sheyue playing solitaire by the lamp in the outer room.

       With a smile Baoyu asked, “Why didn’t you go with the others?”

       “I haven’t any money.

       “There’s a pile stacked under the bed. Isn’t that enough for you to lose?”

      “If we all went off to play, who’d mind this place, with her lying ill here too? There are lamps above and stoves below everywhere. Those old women deserve a rest after waiting on you all day, and the girls ought to have some fun too after a day’s work. So I let them all go while I keep an eye on things here.”

       Why, she’s another Xiren, thought Baoyu and smiled.

       “I’ll be here,” he told her. “Don’t worry. You can go.”

       “If you’re here there’s even less reason for me to go. Why don’t we both sit here and talk?”

       “Just the two of us sounds rather dull. What can we do? I know! You were saying this morning that your head felt itchy. Since we’ve nothing to do, let me comb your hair for you.”

       “If you like.”

       Sheyue fetched her dressing-case and mirror, then pulled out her hairpins and let down her hair. Baoyu had just started combing it with a fine comb when Qingwen hurried in to fetch some money. She laughed mockingly at the sight of them.

       “Fancy! You haven’t yet drunk the bridal cup but already you’re doing her hair.”

       Baoyu grinned.

       “Come, I’ll comb yours too if you like.”

       “I’m not destined for such good fortune.”

       Qingwen went off with the money, slamming the portière behind her.

       Baoyu was standing just behind Sheyue, who was seated in front of

       the   mirror. They exchanged glances in it and Baoyu smiled.

       “She’s got the sharpest tongue of you all,” he remarked.

       Sheyue wagged a warning finger, but it was too late. With another clack of the portière, Qingwen ran in again.

       “Just what did you mean by that? We must have this out.”

       “Run along!” Sheyue giggled. “Why take it up?”

       “You’re covering up for him again. I know all your sly tricks. We must have this out after I’ve won back my money.

       With that she went straight out.

       When Baoyu had finished combing Sheyue’s hair he asked her to help him quietly to bed without disturbing Xiren.

       The rest of the night passed without incident.

       The next morning Xiren was better, having perspired, and after taking some gruel she lay back to rest. After breakfast Baoyu felt easy enough in his mind to go and call on Aunt Xue.

      Because it was the first month when the schools were on holiday and needlework was taboo for the womenfolk, everyone was free. And Jia Huan, going there to play, had found Baochai, Xiangling and Yinger enjoying a game of dice. He asked to join in.

       Baochai, who always treated Jia Huan exactly like Baoyu, made him sit down beside them. They were staking ten cash on each throw, and Jia Huan gloated when he won the first round; but then he lost several times running and started to fret.

       The next time it came to his turn he stood to win if he threw more than six, while Yinger needed only three to win. Jia  Huan shook the two dice from the pot as hard as he could. One turned up five, the other rolled over and over. Yinger clapped her hands and cried, “One!” while Jia  Huan, his eyes glued to the dice, yelled at random, “Six, seven, eight!” Finally, however, the dice came to rest at one. In exasperation he snatched up both dice and grabbed the stakes, insisting that he had thrown six.

       “Anyone could see it was one,” protested Yinger.

       Observing how upset Jia  Huan was, Baochai shot her a reproving glance.

       “You’re getting above yourself,” she said. “Is it likely that one of the young masters would cheat you? Hurry up and put down your stake.”

       The unfairness of this made Yinger fume, but she dared not answer back. As she slapped down some cash she muttered under her breath: “Fancy a young gentleman cheating! Even I wouldn’t make such a fuss over a few cash. Last time we played with Baoyu he lost a whole packet, yet he didn’t mind. Even when the girls grabbed all he had left, he only laughed.”

       She would have gone on in this vein, but Baochai told her sharply to hold her tongue.

       “How can I compare with Baoyu?” whined Jia Huan. “You keep in with him because you’re afraid of him, but you bully me because I’m a concubine’s son.” He started to snivel.

       “Don’t talk like that, dear cousin, or people will laugh at you,” Baochai advised him.

       She was scolding Yinger again when Baoyu walked in and, seeing this state of affairs, asked them what had happened. Jia Huan lacked the courage to tell him.

       Baochai knew the Jia family’s rule: a younger brother must show respect to an elder. What she did not realize was that Baoyu did not want anyone to be afraid of him. He reasoned: We all have our parents to train us. Why should I butt in and strain relations with the younger ones? As I’m the wife’s son and he’s a concubine’s son, people will gossip even if I do nothing, much more so if I now try to control him.

       He had an even more fantastic idea — do you know what it was, Reader? As a result of being brought up among girls — his sisters Yuanchun and Tanchun, his cousins Yingchun and Xichun of the Jia house, and his distaff-cousins Shi Xiangyun, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai — he had come to the conclusion that while human beings were the highest form of creation, the finest essences of Nature were embodied in girls, men being nothing but the dregs and scum. To him, therefore, all men were filthy clods who might just as well not have existed. Only deference to Confucius, the greatest sage of all time who taught that fathers, uncles and brothers should be respected, made him keep on a fairly good footing with his brothers and boy cousins. It never entered his head that he as a man should set the younger boys a good example. This is why Jia Huan and the others were not afraid of him, only yielding to him to some extent for fear of the Lady Dowager.

       To prevent Baoyu from scolding Jia Huan, which would only have made matters worse, Baochai covered up for him as best she could.

       “The first month is no time for snivelling,” said Baoyu. “If you don’t like it here, find somewhere else to play. All that studying every day seems to have made you even more muddle-headed. Suppose you find one thing no good and another good, just drop the first and go for the second. Can you improve on something you dislike by sticking to it and crying over it? You came here to have a good time. Since you don’t feel happy, go somewhere else to enjoy yourself. Why vex yourself so? Better take yourself off, quick.”

       Jia Huan went back to his mother, the concubine Zhao.

       At sight of his dejected face she asked, “Who’s been treating you as a doormat this time?” When he did not answer, she repeated the question.

       “I was playing with Cousin Baochai. Yinger was mean to me and cheated me. Then Brother Baoyu turned me out.”

       His mother spat in disgust.

       “Shameless little brat! Who told you to put yourself forward? Is there nowhere else for you to play? Why go looking for trouble?”

       Xifeng, who was passing outside, overheard this exchange and called back through the window:

       “What’s this rumpus in the middle of the first month? Huan’s only a child. If he makes some small mistake you can set him right. Why carry on at him like that? No matter where he goes, the master and Her Ladyship are there to keep him in order. Imagine spitting at him! He’s one of the young masters, and if he does misbehave there are people to correct

him — what business is it of yours? Come on, Brother Huan, come out and play with me.”

       Jia Huan stood in even greater awe of Xifeng than of Lady Wang. He made haste, therefore, to obey and his mother dared raise no objection.

       “You’re too spineless,” Xifeng scolded. “I’ve told you time and again that you’re free to eat or drink whatever you like and to play with any of the girls or boys. But instead of doing as I say, you let other people warp your mind and teach you these sneaky ways. You’ve no self-respect but will lower yourself. You behave spitefully yourself and then complain that everybody else is unfair! How much did you lose to make you take on like this?”

       “A couple of hundred cash,” he told her meekly.

       “All this fuss over a couple of hundred cash! And you one of the young wasters!” She turned to Fenger. “Go and fetch a string of cash. Then take him to the back where the girls are playing. If you do anything so mean and sneaky again, Huan, first I’ll give you a good spanking and then send some one to tell your teacher about it — he’ll flay you alive for it. Your total lack of self-respect has got Cousin Lian gnashing his teeth. He’d have ripped out your guts before now if I hadn’t stopped him. Now be off with you!”

       “Yes,” said Jia Huan and trotted off with Fenger, taking the string of cash. He then joined Yingchun and the others at their game. And there we can leave him.

       Let us return to Baoyu. He was joking with Baochai when someone announced, “Miss Shi has arrived.”

       He started up at once to go and see her.

       “Wait,” said Baochai. “Let’s go together.”

       She got down from the kang and went with Baoyu to the Lady Dowager’s apartments, where they found Shi Xiangyun laughing and chattering away. After they had greeted each other, Daiyu, who was also there, asked Baoyu where he had been.

       “With Cousin Baochai.”

       “I thought so,” said Daiyu tartly. “Thank goodness there was someone to keep you there, or you’d have flown here long ago.”

       “Are you the only one I’m allowed to play with or to amuse?” he answered with a smile. “I happen to drop in on her once and you make such an issue of it.”

       “Nonsense. What do I care if you go to see her or not? I’ve never asked you to amuse me either. You can leave me alone in future.”

       With that she retired angrily to her room.

       Baoyu promptly followed her there.

       “Why lose your temper for no reason at all?” he protested. “Even if I said something wrong, you might at least sit there and chat with the others for a bit, instead of sulking alone.”

       “What I do is none of your business.”

       “Of course not, but I can’t bear to see you ruining your health.”

       “If I ruin my health and die, that’s my affair. Nothing to do with you.”

       “Why talk about ‘dying’ or ‘living’ just after the New Year?”

       “I shall, so there! I’m ready to die any minute. If you’re so afraid of death, you can live to be a hundred — how about that?”

       “If you just carry on like this all the time I’m not afraid.” He smiled. “Death would be better.”

       “Exactly!” she retorted swiftly. “If you carry on like this it would be better for me to die.”

       “I meant better for me to be dead. How you twist my words!”

       As they were bickering, Baochai slipped in.

       “Cousin Shi is waiting for you.”

       She propelled Baoyu out.

       More wretched than ever, Daiyu sat down by her window and shed tears of rage.

       But in less time than it takes to drink two cups of tea Baoyu was back again. The sight of him made her sob convulsively. He knew it would be hard to pacify her and was prepared to coax her with all sorts of blandishments and kind words. But she forestalled him by asking:

       “What have you come back for? You’ve got a new playmate now, someone better than I am at reading, writing and versifying, better at talking and laughing with you too. Someone who dragged you away for fear you might lose your temper. So why come back? Why not leave me to die in peace?”

       Baoyu stepped to her side and said softly, “Someone of your intelligence should know that distant relatives can’t come between close ones, and new friends can’t take the place of old. Dense as I am, I know that. Look, you’re the daughter of my father’s sister, while Baochai’s a cousin on my mother’s side — you’re more closely related to me than she is. Besides, you came here first, we’ve eaten at the same table, slept in the same bed and grown up together, while she has only recently arrived. How could I be less close to you because of her?”

       “Do I want you to be less close to her? What do you take me for? It’s just that my feelings are hurt.”

       “And it’s your feelings that concern me. Do you only know your own heart and not mine?”

       Daiyu lowered her head and was silent. After a pause she said:

       “You blame other people for finding fault with you, without realizing how provoking you can be. Take today, for example. Why leave off your fox-fur cape when it’s turned so cold?”

       Baoyu laughed.

       “I was wearing it till you grew angry. Then I got so hot and bothered that I took it off.”

       ‘‘Well,” she sighed, ‘‘if you catch cold there’ll be the devil to pay.”

       They were interrupted by Xiangyun’s arrival.

       “Why, Ai Brother and Sister Lin!” she cried cheerfully. “You can be together every day, but it’s rarely I have a chance to visit you; yet you pay no attention to poor little me.”

      “The lisper loves to rattle away,” said Daiyu with a laugh. “Fancy saying ai instead of er1 like that. I suppose, when we start dicing, you’ll be shouting one, love, three, four, five....”

       “If you copy her long enough, you’ll soon be talking the same way,” Baoyu teased.

       “How you do pick on one!” cried Xiangyun. “Always finding fault! Even if you are better than all the rest of us, there’s no need to go making fun of everyone else. But I know someone you’d never dare find fault with. If you do, I’ll really respect you.”

       “Who’s that?” Daiyu promptly asked.

       “Dare you pick fault with Cousin Baochai? If so, good for you. I may

not be up to you, but you’ve met your match in her.”

       “Oh, her.” Daiyu snorted. “I wondered whom you meant. How could I ever presume to find fault with her?”

       Baoyu tried to stop them, but Xiangyun rattled on:

       “Naturally I’ll never come up to you in this lifetime. I just pray that you’ll marry a husband who talks like me, so that you hear nothing but ‘love’ the whole day long. Amida Buddha! May I live to see that day!”

       That set everyone laughing, and Xiangyun turned and ran out.

       To know the sequel, you must read the next chapter.

 

 

Chapter 21

 

Prudent Xiren Gently Takes

Baoyu to Task

Pretty Pinger Quietly Comes to

Jia Lian’s Rescue

 

 

       As Xiangyun ran out of the room to escape Daiyu, Baoyu called after her, “Mind you don’t fall! She can’t catch you.” He barred Daiyu’s way at the door and urged with a chuckle, “Do let her off this time!”

       “I’ll kill myself first,” she cried, tugging at his arm.

       Seeing Baoyu blocking the doorway and Daiyu unable to get past, Xiangyun stopped and called with a laugh, “Let me off, dear cousin, please! Just this once!”

       Baochai who had come up behind her chimed in, “Do make it up, both of you, for Baoyu’s sake.”

       “Not I!” cried Daiyu, “Are you all ganging up to make fun of me?”

       “Who dares make fun of you?” countered Baoyu, “She wouldn’t if you hadn’t teased her first.”

       The four of them were still at loggerheads when a summons to dinner arrived and they went through the dusk to the Lady Dowager’s quarters where Lady Wang, Li Wan, Xifeng and the three Jia girls had already assembled. After dinner they chatted for a while before retiring for the night, and Xiangyun went back to Daiyu’s rooms, with Baoyu escorting them there. It was after the second watch and Xiren had to hurry him several times before he would return to his own room to sleep.

       As soon as it was light next morning he scrambled into his clothes and hurried over in his slippers to Daiyu’s quarters. Zijuan and Cuilu were nowhere to be seen, and his two cousins were still sleeping. Daiyu lay peacefully with closed eyes, snugly wrapped in an apricot-red silk quilt, while Xiangyun’s black hair had tumbled all over the pillow, her quilt barely reached her shoulders, and she had flung one white arm adorned with two gold bracelets outside the covers.

       “She fidgets even in her sleep,” he sighed. “If there’s a draught she’ll be complaining of a stiff neck again.” He gently pulled up the covers.

       Daiyu, awake now, had sensed someone’s presence and guessed that it was Baoyu. Looking round to make sure she asked:

       “What are you doing here so early?”

       “Early? Get up and see what time it is.”

       “You’d better go outside if you want us to get up.

       Baoyu withdrew to the sitting-room while Daiyu roused Xiangyun. As soon as they were up and dressed he rejoined them and sat by the dressing-table watching as Zijuan and Xueyan helped them with their toilet. When Xiangyun finished washing. Cuilu picked up the basin to empty it.

       “Wait!” cried Baoyu, “I may as well wash here to save the trouble of going back to my room.

       He went over and leant down to wash his face but declined Zijuan’s offer of soap, explaining, “There’s plenty in here, I don’t need any more.” After dabbling for a while he asked for a towel.

       “Still up to your old tricks,” teased Cuilu, “Will you never grow up?”

       Ignoring this, Baoyu called for salt to brush his teeth and rinse his mouth. This done, he saw that Xiangyun had finished doing her hair, so he went over and begged her:

       “Good cousin, do my hair for me, will you?”

       “I can’t,” she said.

       “Dear cousin, you did before,” he coaxed with a smile.

       “Well, now I’ve forgotten how to.”

       “I’m not going out today anyway, and I’m not going to wear a cap, he persisted. “Just plait it anyhow.”

       He coaxed and wheedled her with endless terms of endearment until Xiangyun took hold of his head and combed his hair. Since he wore no cap at home, she simply plaited the short hairs round his head and looped them together on top in one big queue tied with a crimson braid. This braid was decorated with four pearls and had a golden pendant at the end.

       “There are only three of these pearls left,” she commented. “This fourth one doesn’t belong to the set. I remember they used to match. Why is one missing?”

       “I lost it.”

       “You must have dropped it when you were out. How lucky for whoever picked it up!”

       Daiyu washing her hands near by smiled ironically. “Who knows whether it was lost or given to someone to mounted in a trinket?”

       Instead of answering, Baoyu started playing with the toilet articles on the dressing-table by the mirror, absent-mindedly picking up some rouge. He was wondering if he could taste it without Xiangyun noticing when she reached out from behind him and, holding his queue with one hand, with the other knocked the rouge out of his grasp.

       “Are you never going to change your silly ways?” she demanded.

       Just then Xiren entered the room, but withdrew on seeing that Baoyu had obviously finished his toilet. She went back and was attending to her own when in came Baochai and asked her where he was.

       “He’s hardly ever at home nowadays,” replied Xiren bitterly.

       Baochai understood.

       The maid went on with a sigh, “It’s all right to be fond of cousins, but still there’s a limit. They shouldn’t play about together day and night. But it’s no use our talking, we just waste our breath.”

       Why, thought Baochai, judging by what she says this maid shows excellent sense.

       She sat down on the kang to ask Xiren her age and where she came from, carefully sounding her out on various subjects and receiving a most favourable impression. But soon Baoyu returned, and then she took her leave.

       “You two seemed to be having a good chat,” said Baoyu to Xiren. “Why did Cousin Baochai leave when I came in?”

       Xiren did not answer till he repeated the question.

       “Why ask me?” she retorted then, “Do I know what goes on between you?”

       Baoyu saw she was not her usual self. “What’s made you so cross?” he asked gently.

      “Who am I to be cross?” Xiren smiled sarcastically. “But you’d better keep away from here. There are others who’ll look after you, so don’t bother me. I shall go back to wait on the old lady.” She lay down on the kang and closed her eyes.

       In dismay Baoyu hurried to her side to soothe her, but she kept her eyes shut and paid no attention to him. He was puzzling over this when in came Sheyue.

       “What’s the matter with her?” he asked.

       “How should I know? Better ask yourself.”

       This took Baoyu so aback that he said nothing. Then, sitting up, he sighed, “All right. If you’re going to ignore me I’ll go to sleep too.”

       He left the kang and went over to his own bed. When he had been quiet for some time and his regular breathing made Xiren sure he was sleeping, she got up to put a cape over him. The next moment she heard a soft thud. With closed eyes, still shamming sleep, he had thrown it off. Xiren smiled knowingly and nodded.

       “You needn’t lose your temper. From now on I’ll play dumb and not say one word against you ---  how about that?”

       This goaded Baoyu into sitting up.

       “What have I done now?” he demanded. “Why do you keep on at me? I don’t mind your scolding, but you didn’t scold just now. When I came in you ignored me and lay down in a huff — I’ve no idea why. Now you accuse me of temper, but I haven’t heard you say anything against me yet.”

       “You know perfectly well without my telling you.”

       This tiff was cut short by a summons from the Lady Dowager. Baoyu joined her for a meal and managed to swallow half a bowl of rice before going back to his quarters. He found Xiren asleep on the kang in the outer room with Sheyue playing solitaire beside her. Knowing that the two girls were good friends he ignored her too and raising the door curtain went into his bedroom. When Sheyue followed him he pushed her out.

       ‘‘I wouldn’t think of troubling you.”

       She withdrew with a smile and sent in two younger maids. Baoyu curled up with a book until, wanting some tea, he raised his head and saw the two girls standing there. The elder of the two had a certain delicate charm.

       “What is your name?” he asked.

       “Huixiang.”

       “Who gave you that name?”

       “My name used to be Yunxiang, but Sister Hua changed it to Huixiang.”

       “You should be called Huiqi, not Huixiang. How many girls are there in your family?”

       “Four.”

       “And where do you come?”

       “I’m the youngest.”

       “Then we’ll call you Sier, Number Four, and drop this business of fragrance and of orchids. Which of you can compare with such flowers? It’s an insult to them, calling you by their lovely names.”

       Thereupon he ordered tea. Xiren and Sheyue, listening outside, compressed their lips to check their laughter.

       That whole day Baoyu stayed indoors moping, not playing about with the girls of the house or his maids, just reading or writing to while away the time. And instead of calling for any other attendants he gave all his orders to Sier, who being a clever minx made full use of this chance and put herself out to please him.

       After dinner, flushed by a few cups of wine, Baoyu would normally have amused himself with Xiren and the others; but this evening he sat all alone, disconsolate, by the lamp. Although tempted to join the girls, he was afraid that would make them gloat and give him even more talkings-to in future, while if he threw his weight about as the young master that would be too unkind.

       “I’ll pretend they’re dead,” he resolved, “and I have to fend for myself. That’ll leave me free to amuse myself as I please.”

       Then he read the chapter “The House-Breaker” in Zhuangzi till he came to the following passage:

       “Do away with sages and wise men, and great robbers will disappear. Destroy jade and pearls, and no petty thieves will arise. Bum tallies and smash seals, and the people will revert to their natural simplicity. Break measures and scales, and they will no longer quarrel. Abolish all the sacred laws of the world and the people will discuss things freely.

       “Confuse the musical scales, break harps and lutes, stop the ears of good musicians, and all men under heaven will learn to hear for themselves. Dispense with ornaments and coloured patterns, glue up the eyes of the keen-sighted, and all men under heaven will learn to see for themselves. Destroy quadrants and yard-measures, throw away compasses and squares, cut off the fingers of deft artisans, and all men under heaven will learn skill for themselves.”

       Baoyu was so delighted with this passage that, stimulated as he was by wine, he picked up his brush and continued in the same vein:

       “Burn the flower (Xiren), get rid of the musk (Sheyue), and those in the inner apartments will keep their advice to themselves. Spoil the beauty of the precious trinket (Baochai), dull the intelligence of the black jade (Daiyu), do away with affection, and in the inner chambers fair and foul will then be on an equal footing. Advice kept to oneself does away with the danger of discord; beauty marred obviates affection; intelligence dulled cuts out admiration for talents. For trinket, jade, flower and musk are alike spreading nets and laying traps to ensnare and bewitch all men under heaven….”

       This written he threw down his brush and went to bed, falling into a dreamless sleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.

       He did not awake till the morning, when he turned and saw Xiren lying fully dressed on the cover at his side. Yesterday’s grievance forgotten, he nudged her gently.

       “Get up and sleep properly. You’ll catch cold like that.”

       Now the wild way Baoyu played around with his cousins at all hours of the day and night had convinced Xiren that he would be impervious to advice, and so she had decided to teach him a lesson by disclosing her own feelings, expecting that he would soon get over it. When he sulked for a whole day it was her turn to be at a loss, and she passed a sleepless night. Seeing that he was obviously feeling better today, she deliberately ignored him. When he tried to take off her jacket, undoing a button, she pushed his hand away and buttoned it up again.

       Baoyu caught hold of her hand then and asked softly:

       “What’s really the matter?”

       He had to repeat his question several times before Xiren opened her eyes.

       “Nothing,” she said. “If you’re awake, go over there to wash before it’s too late.”

       “Where am I to go?”

       “How should I know?” Xiren snorted. “Go wherever you like. We may as well part company from now on, to stop people laughing at our rows and rumpuses. Besides, if you get tired of them over there you’ve a Sier and Wuer here to look after you. The rest of us are just a disgrace to our lovely names.”

       Baoyu chuckled. “So you still remember that?”

       “I’ll remember it if I live to be a hundred. I’m not like you, letting what I say go in at one ear and out at the other, forgetting what’s said at night by the next morning.”

       Touched by the cloud on her pretty face, Baoyu took a jade hairpin from beside the pillow and threw it on the floor, breaking it in two.

       “May the same thing happen to me if I don’t listen to you in future,” he cried.

       “What a way to talk! First thing in the morning too.” Xiren hastily picked up the pieces. “It doesn’t really matter whether you listen to me or not, but why carry on like that?”

       “You don’t know how bad I feel.”

       “So you can feel bad too?” She smiled. “Then how do you think I feel? Hurry up and get dressed now.”

       They both got up then and began their toilet.

       Baoyu had gone to pay his respects to his grandmother when Daiyu came to his room. Finding him out, she looked through the books on his desk and discovered the passage in Zhuang zi which he had been reading the previous evening. Amused as well as provoked by the lines he had added, she picked up a brush and appended a quatrain herself:

      

Who can the scurrile writer be

Who makes of Zhuangzi such a travesty

And, blind to his own incapacity,

Heaps such abuse on others?

 

       This done, she went to pay her respects to the Lady Dowager and then Lady Wang.

       It so happened that Xifeng’s daughter Dajie was ill, so the household was upside down. A doctor had just been summoned and after examining the child he announced:

       “I am happy to inform Her Ladyship and Madam Lian that the little girl’s fever is simply due to smallpox.”

       At once Lady Wang and Xifeng sent to ask whether the small patient was in any danger.

       The answer was: “Although this is a serious illness, it is taking its natural course. There is no need to worry. But you must prepare loranthus and sanguis caudae or hog-tail’s blood.”

       Xifeng lost no time in having a room cleared out for sacrifice to the Goddess of Smallpox. At the same time she directed that no fried food should be served in her quarters, ordered Pinger to take some bedding and clothes to a different room for Jia Lian, and issued red cloth to her nurses, maids and other attendants for clothes. Clean rooms were also prepared for the two doctors who would take it in turn to attend the child and make out prescriptions for her, remaining there in residence for twelve days.

 

       So Jia Lian had to move to his study in the outer compound, while Xifeng and Pinger joined Lady Wang in daily sacrifice to the Goddess of Smallpox.

       Jia Lian was the sort of man who once away from his wife was bound to get into mischief. Two nights alone were more than he could bear: he vented his ardour on his handsome page boys.

       Now in the Rong Mansion was a rascally drunkard of a cook by the name of Duo Guan, a man so useless and cowardly that he was commonly known as Duo the Muddy Worm. While he was young his parents had found him a wife who was now just about twenty, and whose good looks were the admiration of all. But she was a flighty creature who loved nothing better than to have affairs. The Muddy Worm made no objection, for provided he had wine, meat and money himself he cared for nothing else. So most of the men in the Ning and Rong Mansions had had their fling with her. And because she was such a remarkably good-looking wanton, everyone called her “Miss Duo.”

       Jia Lian was now inflamed by his banishment from his own bedroom. He used to eye Miss Duo avidly but had so far taken no steps to get her for fear of his wife at home and his fancy boys outside.

       Miss Duo for her part had been hankering after Jia Lian too, waiting eagerly for her chance. As soon as she heard that he had moved to the study she kept strolling past to flaunt her charms, and Jia Lian rose to the bait like a famished rat. He consulted his trusted pages, who agreed to arrange a secret assignation for him, for not only did he promise them rich rewards — they were all on intimate terms themselves with Miss Duo. So the matter was settled at once.

       At the second watch that night, when the household had retired and the Muddy Worm lay on his kang in a drunken stupor, ha Lian slipped into her room. The mere sight of her threw him into such a frenzy that with no preliminary professions of love he flung off his clothes and set to work.

       Now this woman was so curiously constituted that the touch of a man seemed to melt her very bones, so that he felt as if bedded in cotton-wool, while in her wanton tricks and amorous cries she outdid any prostitute. No man but was driven to utter frenzy by her. Jia Lian only wished he could melt into her body!

       To inflame him further, the woman under him teased, “Your daughter has smallpox and they’re sacrificing in your home to the goddess. You ought to lead a clean life for a couple of days, not dirty yourself for me. Hurry up and get out of here.”

       “You’re my goddess,” he panted, going all out. “What do I care for any other goddess?”

       The more wanton the woman, the more debauched Jia Lian revealed himself. At the end of this bout they vowed to be true to each other and could hardly bear to part. From that day they became sworn lovers.

       But Dajie’s illness spent its course, her pustules gradually healed. After twelve days they “saw off’ the goddess and the whole family sacrificed to Heaven and their ancestors, made offerings, burnt incense, exchanged congratulations and distributed largesse. When these ceremonies were at an end, Jia Lian returned to his old quarters and Xifeng. As the proverb says, “Reunion after long separation is better than a wedding night.” We need not dwell on the transports of their love.

       The next morning when Xifeng had gone to pay her respects to the senior ladies, Pinger brought back the clothes and bedding Jia Lian had used outside. To her surprise a long strand of hair fell out of the pillowcase. The knowing maid quickly tucked it in her sleeve and went into Jia Lian’s room, where she showed him the hair with a smile.

What’s this?” she demanded.

       As Jia Lian tried to grab it, Pinger turned to fly. He caught hold of her and threw her on to the kang, then tried to snatch the hair from her.

       “You vixen! Give it to me, or I’ll break your arm.”

You heartless brute!” she giggled, “I was kind enough to keep this between ourselves, yet you start manhandling me. Wait till she comes back and I tell her. You won’t half catch it!”

       At once ha Lian begged with a smile, “Give it me, there’s a good girl, and I won’t use force.”

Just at that moment they heard Xifeng’s voice. Pinger had barely regained her feet when Xifeng came in and told her: “Get the patterns out of that box for the mistress, quick.”

       As the maid was doing this, the sight of Jia Lian reminded Xifeng of something else.

       “Have you brought back all the things he used outside?”

       “Yes, madam.”

       “Anything missing?”

       “No. I was worried too that there might be, but I’ve checked carefully and there’s nothing missing.”

       “Is anything there that shouldn’t be?”

       Pinger laughed.

       “Isn’t it enough that nothing’s missing? What else could be there?”

       “Who knows what dirty business he’s been up to this last fortnight.” Xifeng smiled coldly. “One of his little friends might have left something:

a ring or sash or pouch. Or even some locks of hair or finger-nails, for all we know. They’re all souvenirs.”

      Jia Lian turned pale at this. Behind his wife’s back he sawed at his throat to warn Pinger not to speak. She pretended not to see him, however, and laughed.

Fancy, exactly the same idea occurred to me, madam. That’s why I searched carefully. But there wasn’t a sign of any monkey business. If you don’t believe me, madam, look for yourself. I haven’t put the things away yet.”

       “Silly girl! If he had anything of the sort, would he let us find it?”

       She went off again with the patterns.

       Pointing at her own nose, Pinger shook her head and laughed.

       “How are you going to thank me for that?”

       Jia Lian, beaming, rushed to embrace her, pouring out an incoherent flood of endearments.

       Dangling the hair in front of him, she teased, “I’ll have this hold over you for the rest of my life. If you’re nice to me, well and good. If not, I’ll let the cat out of the bag.”

       “Keep it safely then. Don’t, for goodness’ sake, let her find out.”

       As he spoke, catching her off guard, he snatched the hair.

       “I don’t trust you with it,” he chortled. “I’d better burn it and be done with it.” He stuffed the hair into his boot.

       “You beast!” she cried through clenched teeth. “As soon as the river’s crossed you pull down the bridge. Don’t ever expect me to lie for you again.”

       Inflamed by her charming show of temper, Jia Lian threw his arms round her and tried to make love to her. But Pinger slipped from his grasp and ran out of the room, leaving him doubled up in frustration.

       “Little flirt!” he swore. “You get a man all worked up then run away.”

       From outside the window Pinger laughed. “If I’m a flirt that’s my business. Who told you to get so worked up? If I let you have your way and she got to know, I’d be the one to suffer.”

       “Don’t be afraid of her. One of these days when I really lose my temper, I’m going to give that vinegary bitch a good beating to show her who’s master here. She spies on me as if I were a thief. It’s all right for her to talk to other men, but she won’t let me say a word to another woman. If I do, she suspects the worst. Yet she carries on as she pleases, chattering and laughing with any younger brother-in-law or nephew, old or young, quite regardless of my feelings. I’ll forbid her to see anyone in future.”

       “She’s right to be jealous of you, but you’re wrong to be jealous of her,” retorted Pinger. “She’s done nothing that’s improper. But you, you’re up to no good. Even I wouldn’t trust you.”

       “The two of you are in league. All you two do is right, all I do is wrong. Sooner or later I’ll settle scores with you both.”

       While he was fuming Xifeng came back to the courtyard, and seeing Pinger at the window demanded:

       “Why not talk inside? Why run out here to shout through the window?

What’s the idea?”

That’s right!” Jia Lian called from the room. “The way she acts, you’d think there was a tiger here waiting to eat her.”

       “Why should I stay there alone with him?” asked Pinger.

       “All the better, surely.” Xifeng smiled.

       “Is that remark aimed at me?”

       “Who else?” Xifeng laughed.

       “Don’t make me say things you’ll be sorry for!”

Instead of raising the door curtain for her mistress Pinger swept in ahead of her, swishing the curtain behind her, and passed through the hall into the other room.

       Xifeng raised the curtain herself and walked in remarking, “The girl must be out of her mind, trying to get the upper hand of me. You’d better watch out, little bitch!”

       Jia Lian had fallen back laughing on the kang.

       “I never knew Pinger had it in her,” he crowed, clapping his hands. “She’s gone up in my estimation.”

       “It’s you who’ve spoilt her. I hold you responsible.”

       “When you two fall out, why put the blame on me? I’d better make myself scarce.

       “Where are you going?”

       “I’ll be back presently.”

       “Wait,” said Xifeng. “There’s something I want to discuss with you.” To know what it was, read the next chapter.

Truly:

Virtuous maids have always harboured grief,

And charming wives since of old have known jealousy.

 

 

Chapter 22

 

A Song Awakens Baoyu to Esoteric Truths

Lantern-Riddles Grieve Jia  Zheng with

Their Ill Omens

 

 

 

       Hearing that Xifeng wanted to consult him about something, Jia  Lian stopped to ask what it was.

       “It’s Baochai’s birthday on the twenty-first,” she said. “What do you intend to do about it?”

       “Why ask me that?” he retorted. “You’ve handled plenty of big birthday celebrations. Why can’t you cope with this?”

       “For big birthdays there are definite rules but this is neither big nor small, that’s why I wanted your advice.”

       He lowered his head to think before answering.

       “You’re losing your grip,” he said after a pause. “There’s a precedent in Baiyu’s birthday. Just celebrate this the same way.”

       “As if that hadn’t occurred to me too!” Xifeng smiled mockingly. “But yesterday the old lady told me she’d been asking everybody’s age and learned that Baochai would be fifteen this year, and although that’s not a round number it means she’s reached marriageable age. If the old lady wants to celebrate her birthday specially, it’ll have to be different from Daiyu’s in the past.”

       “In that case, have things on a more lavish scale.”

       “That’s what I thought, but I wanted to sound you out so as not to be blamed for doing something extra on my own initiative without consulting you.”

       “Well, well! Why this sudden show of consideration? Me blame you? I’m quite satisfied if you don’t find fault with me.”

       With that he left, but where he went does not concern us.

       Let us return now to Xiangyun. After spending several days in the Rong Mansion it was time for her to go home, but the Lady Dowager urged her to wait until after Baochai’s birthday and the performance of

operas. So Xiangyun, having to stay on, sent home for two pieces of her embroidery as a birthday-present for her cousin.

       The fact was that the Lady Dowager had taken a fancy to Baochai since her arrival on account of her steady, amiable behaviour. And as this would be her first birthday in their house, the old lady summoned Xifeng and gave her twenty taels of silver from her own coffer for a feast and an opera.

       Xifeng teased, “When an Old Ancestress wants to celebrate some grandchild’s birthday, no matter how grandly, who are we to protest? So there’s to be a feast and opera too, is there? Well, if you want it to be lively you’ll have to pay for it yourself instead of trying to play host with a mouldy twenty taels. I suppose you expect me to make up the rest? If you really couldn’t afford it, all right. But your cases are bursting with gold and silver ingots of every shape and size the bottoms of the chests are dropping out, they’re so full. Yet you’re still squeezing us. Look, aren’t all of us your children? Is Baoyu the only one who’ll carry you as an immortal on his head to Mount Wutai, that you keep everything for him? Even if the rest of us aren’t good enough, don’t be so hard on us. Is this enough for a feast or theatricals?”

       The whole company burst out laughing.

       “Listen to that tongue of hers!” The old lady chuckled. “I’m not exactly tongue-tied myself but I’m no match for this monkey. Not even your mother-in-law would think of arguing with me, but you give me tit for tat.”

       “My mother-in-lay dotes on Baoyu just as much as you do,” retorted Xifeng with a smile. “So I’ve no one to take my side. Instead, you make me out a termagant.”

       That set the old lady crowing with laughter and put her in the highest of spirits.

       That night, after the family had gathered to pay their evening respects to the Lady Dowager and then gone on to chat, she asked Baochai to name her favourite operas and dishes. Knowing the old lady’s partiality for lively shows and sweet, pappy food, Baochai gave these as her own preferences, adding even more to the Lady Dowager’s pleasure.

       The first thing next day she had presents of clothing and trinkets sent to the girl. Lady Wang, Xifeng, Daiyu and the others also sent theirs according to the status of each. But these need not be enumerated in detail.

       On the twenty-first a small stage was set up in the Lady Dowager’s inner courtyard and a new troupe of young actresses had been hired who were able to perform both Kunqu and Yiyang operas. Tables were laid in the hail for a family feast, to which no outsiders were asked: apart from Aunt Xue, Xiangyun and Baochai, who were guests, all the rest would be members of the family.

       Not seeing Daiyu that morning, Baoyu went to look for her and found her curled up on her kang.

       “Come on to breakfast,” he said, “The show will soon be starting. Tell me which opera you’d like and I’ll ask for it.”

       Daiyu smiled disdainfully.

       “If that’s how you feel, you’d better hire a special company to play my favourite pieces instead of expecting me to cash in on someone else’s birthday.”

       “That’s easy, we’ll hire a company next time and let the rest of them cash in on us.

       He pulled her up and they went off hand in hand.

       After breakfast it was time to choose the plays and the Lady Dowager called on Baochai to name her choice. The girl declined the honour at first but finally, to the old lady’s delight, named a scene from Pilgrimage to the West. Next, Xifeng was ordered to take her pick. And knowing the old lady’s liking for lively plays, especially comedies and burlesques, she pleased her even more by selecting Liu Er Pawns His Clothes.

       Daiyu, told to choose next, deferred to Aunt Xue and Lady Wang.

       “I planned today as a treat for you girls,” said the Lady Dowager, “So make your choice and never mind your aunts. I didn’t lay on this show and feast for them. They’re lucky to be here at all, able to watch and eat free of charge, but I won’t let them choose any items.”

       All laughed at that, and then Daiyu suggested one piece. She was followed by Baoyu, Xiangyun, the three Jia girls and Li Wan, and their choices were put on in turn.

       When the feast was ready the Lady Dowager told Baochai to select another opera, and she asked for The Drunken Monk.

       “You always choose something rowdy,” objected Baoyu.

       “You’ve been watching operas all these years for nothing if you don’t know how good this is,” retorted Baochai. “Besides being spectacular it has some magnificent lines.”

       “I never could stand noisy shows,” he persisted.

       “If you call this noisy that just shows how little you know about opera,” she rejoined. “Come over here and let me explain. This opera has most stirring arias sung in the northern mode Dian Jiang Chun, which needless to say is an excellent melody; and the verses set to Ji Sheng Cao are quite superb, did you but know it.”

       Baoyu edged closer then and begged her to recite them to him.

       Baochai declaimed:

      

Dried are the hero’s tears.

My patron’s house left behind;

By grace divine

Tonsured below the Lotus Throne.

Not destined to stay,

I leave the monastery in a flash,

Naked I go without impediment;

My sole wish now

To roam alone in coir cape and bamboo hat,

And in straw sandals with a broken aims bow!

To wander where I will.”

 

       Baoyu pounded his lap to the rhythm of the verse and nodded appreciatively, loud in his praise of these words as well as of her erudition.

       “Do be quiet and watch,” said Daiyu. “Before we’ve seen The Drunken Monk you’re playing The General Feigns Madness.

       This set Xiangyun giggling.

       They went on watching operas until dusk. By then the Lady Dowager had taken a special fancy to the girl who played the part of the heroines and the one who took the clown’s role. She had them brought to her and on closer inspection found them even sweeter. All marvelled when it was disclosed that the heroine was only eleven, the clown only nine. The old lady rewarded them with some extra delicacies and two additional strings of cash.

       “When that child’s made up she’s the living image of someone here,”

remarked Xifeng. “Have none of you noticed?”

       Baochai knew whom she meant but she just smiled. Baoyu too had guessed but did not dare to speak out.

       Xiangyun, however, blurted out, “I know! She looks just like Cousin Daiyu.”

       Too late Baoyu shot her a warning glance, for by now everyone had noticed the resemblance and laughingly declared that it was most striking. Soon afterwards they scattered.

       That evening while undressing, Xiangyun ordered Cuilu to pack her things.

       “What’s the hurry?” asked the maid. “We can start packing when it’s time to leave.

       “We’re leaving tomorrow morning. Why should we stay here and put up with dirty looks?”

       Baoyu overheard this exchange and hurried in to take Xiangyun by the hand.

       “Dear cousin, you’ve got me wrong,” he said. “Daiyu is so terribly sensitive that the others didn’t name her for fear of upsetting her. How could she help being annoyed, the way you blurted it out? I looked at you warningly because I didn’t want you to hurt her feelings. It’s ungrateful as well as unfair of you to be angry with me. If it had been anybody else but you, I wouldn’t care how many people she offended.”

       Xiangyun waved him crossly away.

       “Don’t try to get round me with your flattering talk. I’m not in the same class as your Cousin Daiyu. It’s all right for other people to make fun of her, but I’m not even allowed to mention her. She’s a grand young lady, I’m a slave how dare I offend her?

       “I was only thinking of you, yet now you put me in the wrong.” Baoyu was desperate. “If I meant any harm, may I turn into dust this instant and be trampled on by ten thousand feet!”

       “Stop talking such nonsense just after the New Year. Or go and rave if you must to those petty-minded creatures who are so quick to take offence, and who know how to manage you. Don’t make me spit at you!”

       She flounced off to the Lady Dowagers s inner room and threw her-

self down angrily on a couch.

       After this snub Baoyu went to look for Daiyu, but scarcely had he set foot in her room than she pushed him out and closed the door in his face. Mystified, he called in a subdued voice through the window:

       “Dear cousin!”

       But Daiyu simply ignored him.

       He hung his head then in dejected silence. Xiren knew it would be useless to reason with him just then. So he was standing there like a fool when Daiyu opened the door, thinking him gone. When she saw him still standing there, she hadn’t the heart to shut him out again. She turned away and curled up on her bed, while he followed her into the room.

       “There’s always a reason for everything,” he said. “If you’d explain, people wouldn’t feel so hurt. What’s upset you suddenly?”

       “A fine question to ask!” Daiyu gave a short laugh. “I don’t know. For you I’m a figure of fun, to be compared with an actress in order to raise a laugh.”

       “But why be angry with me? I didn’t make the comparison. I didn’t laugh.”

       “I should hope not, indeed! But what you did was even worse than the others laughing and making comparisons.”

       Baoyu did not know how to defend himself and was silent.

       “I wouldn’t have minded so much if you hadn’t made eyes at Xiangyun,” Daiyu went on. “Just what did you mean by that? That she’d lower and cheapen herself by joking with me? She’s the daughter of a noble house, I’m a nobody. If she were to joke with me and I answered back, that would be degrading for her — was that the idea? That was certainly kind on your part. Too bad she didn’t appreciate your thoughtfulness, but flared up all the same. Then you tried to excuse yourself at my expense, calling me ‘petty-minded and quick to take offence.’ You were afraid she might offend me, were you? But what is it to you if I get angry with her? Or if she offends me?”

       Baoyu realized that she had overheard his conversation with Xiangyun. He had intervened in an attempt to prevent bad feeling between them but, having failed, was now held to blame by both sides. This reminded him of the passage in Zhuangzi:

       “The ingenious work hard, the wise are full of care; but those without ability have no ambition. They enjoy their food and wander at will like drifting boats freed from their moorings.”

      

       And again:

       “Mountain trees are the first to be felled, clear fountains the first to be consumed.”

       The more he thought the more depressed he grew.

       “If I can’t even cope now with just these two, what will it be like in future?” he reflected. At this point it seemed quite useless to attempt to justify himself, so he started back to his room.

       Daiyu realized that he must be very dejected by what had occurred to go off so sulkily without a word. But this only made her angrier than ever.

       “Go, then!” she cried. “And don’t ever come back! Don’t speak to me again!”

       Baoyu paid no attention. Returning to his room, he lay down on his bed staring fixedly before him. Although Xiren knew what had happened, she dared not mention it and tried to distract him with some more cheerful subject.

       “Today’s plays are bound to lead to others,” she prophesied. “Miss Baochai is sure to give a return party.”

       “What do I care whether she does or not?” he snapped back, quite unlike his usual self.

       “What do you mean?” asked Xiren. “This is the beginning of a new year when all the ladies and girls are enjoying themselves. Why carry on like this?”

       “I don’t care whether they’re enjoying themselves or not.”

       “If they are so obliging to each other, shouldn’t you be obliging too? Wouldn’t that be pleasanter for everyone?”

       “For everyone? Let them oblige each other while ‘naked I go without impediment.”’

       Tears ran down his cheeks and, seeing them, she said no more. Baoyu, pondering the significance of that line, suddenly burst out sobbing. Getting up, he went to his desk, took up a brush and wrote this verse in the style of a Buddhist gatha:

Should you test me and I test you,

Should heart and mind be tested too,

Till there remained no more to test,

That test would be of all the best.

When nothing can be called a test,

My feet will find a place to rest.

 

       For fear that others might not grasp the meaning, he then appended a verse after the melody Ji Sheng Cao and read the whole through again. Then he went to bed, feeling less frustrated, and slept.

       Now some time after Baoyu’s abrupt departure Daiyu came, ostensibly to see Xiren, to find out how things were. Told that he was asleep she was turning to leave when Xiren said with a smile:

       “Just a minute, miss! He wrote something you might like to look at.” She quietly fetched and handed Baiyu the verses Baoyu had just written, and the girl was both touched and amused to see what he had tossed off in a fit of pique.

       “It’s just a joke, nothing serious,” she told Xiren.

       She took it back to her own room and showed it to Xiangyun. Next day she showed it to Baochai as well. Baochai read the second verse. It ran:

If there’s no “I,” then neither is there “you,”

If she misunderstands you then why rue?

Freely I come and freely too I go.

Giving myself to neither joy nor woe,

Close kin or distant it’s the same to me.

What did it serve, my assiduity?

Today I see its true futility.

 

       Having read this she read the first verse then laughed.

       “So that’s the enlightenment he’s attained! This is all my fault for reciting that song to him yesterday. There’s nothing so apt to lead people astray as these Taoist teachings and Chan paradoxes. If he really starts taking such nonsense seriously and gets it fixed in his head just because of that song I quoted, I’m the first to blame.”

       She tore up the verses and told her maids to burn them at once.

       “You shouldn’t have done that,” protested Daiyu with a smile. “I’ve

some questions to ask him. Come with me, both of you. We’ll soon cure him of this nonsense.”

       So the three girls went together to Baoyu’s rooms. Daiyu opened the attack by saying:

       “Listen, Baoyu. Bao means that which is most precious, and yu that which is most solid. But in what way are you precious? In what way are you solid?”

       When Baoyu could not answer, the girls clapped their hands and laughed.

       “And this stupid fellow wants to dabble in metaphysics!”

       Daiyu continued, “The last two lines of your verse are all very well

When nothing can be called a test

My feet can find a place to rest.

But it seems to me they still lack a little something. Let me add two more:

When there’s no place for feet to rest,

That is the purest state and best.

       “Yes, that shows real understanding,” put in Baochai. “In the old days when the Sixth Patriarch Huineng of the Southern Sect went to Shaozhou in search of a teacher, he heard that the Fifth Patriarch Hongren was in the monastery on Mount Huangmei, so he took a job as cook there. The Fifth Patriarch, on the look-out for a successor, ordered each of his monks to compose a Buddhist gatha. His senior disciple Shenxiu recited:

The body is a Bodhi tree, The mind a mirror clear;

Then keep it cleaned and polished —Let no dust settle there.’

       “Huineng heard this as he was hulling rice in the kitchen and commented. ‘Very fine, but it needs rounding off.’ With that he declaimed:

The Bodhi tree is no tree, The mirror no mirror clear;

Since nothing actually exists, Where can any dust appear?’

Then the Fifth Patriarch passed on his robe and alms bowl to him. Your

verse amounts to much the same thing. But what about the conundrum you set him just now? He hasn’t answered it yet. How can you leave it at that?”

       “Failure to answer promptly means defeat,” said Daiyu. “And even if he answered it now it would hardly count. But you mustn’t talk about Chan any more. You know even less about it than the two of us yet you dabble in metaphysics.”

       Baoyu had in fact fancied that he had already attained enlightenment, but now that he had been floored by Daiyu, and Baochai had quoted Buddhist lore that he had never suspected her of knowing, he thought to himself, “They understand more about these things than I do, yet still they haven’t attained full enlightenment. Why should I trouble my head over such matters?” Thereupon he said with a laugh:

       “I wasn’t dabbling in metaphysics. I just wrote that for fun.”

       So the four of them made it up.

       Just then they were told that the Imperial Consort had sent over a lantern-riddle for everybody to guess, after which they were to make up a riddle apiece and send these to the Palace.

       At once the four of them hurried to the Lady Dowager’s quarters where they found a young eunuch with a square, flat-topped lantern of red gauze made specially for lantern-riddles. One riddle was already hanging on it. They gathered round to read it and try to guess it, while the eunuch passed on the order:

       “When the young ladies have guessed, they are not to tell anyone their answers but write them down privately to be sealed up and taken to the Palace. Her Royal Highness will see which are correct.

       Baochai stepped forward with the others then to look at the riddle. It was a quite nondescript quatrain, but of course she praised its ingenuity and pretended to be thinking hard although she had guessed it at once. Baoyu, Daiyu, Xiangyun and Tanchun had guessed it too and they went off quietly to write down their answers. Then Jia  Huan, Jia Lan and others were fetched, and having racked their brains they wrote down their answers. After that each made up a riddle, copied it out neatly and hung it on the lantern for the eunuch to take away.

       Towards evening the eunuch returned to announce that the Imperial Consort’s riddle had been correctly guessed by all except the Second Young Lady and Third Young Master, and Her Highness had thought of answers to theirs but did not know whether or not they were correct. With that he showed them the answers written down. Some were right, others wrong, but all made haste to say they were correct.

       The eunuch then proceeded to give the winners their prizes: a poem-container made in the Palace and a bamboo whisk for cleaning teapots. The only two left out were Yingchun and Jia Huan, and while she regarded this as a game and did not take it to heart he was most disappointed.

       And then the eunuch announced, “Her Highness did not attempt to guess the answer to the Third Young Master’s riddle, because it did not seem to her to make sense. She told me to bring it back and ask what it means.”

       All of them gathered round to read the riddle:

First Brother has eight corners,

Second Brother two horns instead;

Second Brother likes to squat on the roof,

First Brother just sits on the bed.

       A roar of laughter went up, and Jia Huan told the eunuch that the answer was a head-rest and an animal-head tile. The eunuch having noted this down accepted some tea and then left.

       The old lady was delighted to know that Yuanchun was in such good spirits. She ordered a dainty screen-lantern to be made at once and put in the hall so that the girls could make up riddles and paste them on it. Scented tea and sweetmeats were prepared, as well as various little prizes.

       Jia Zheng on his return from court found his mother in a cheerful frame of mind, and since this was a festival he came over that evening to join in the fun. He also had refreshments and prizes prepared and coloured lanterns lit in the hail, then invited the old lady in to see them. She sat with Jia  Zheng and Baoyu at the highest table, while below, Lady Wang, Baochai, Daiyu and Xiangyun occupied one table and Yingchun, Tanchun and Xichun another. The hail was thronged with nurses and maids in attendance. Li Wan and Xifeng had a table in the inner room.

       When Jia Zheng commented on Jia Lan’s absence, a nurse went inside to ask Li Wan the reason. She rose to reply:

       “He says he won’t come because the master hasn’t invited him.”

       When this was reported to Jia Zheng the others laughed and remarked, “What a queer, stubborn boy.”

       Jia Zheng promptly sent Jia Huan and two serving-women to fetch him. And the Lady Dowager made him sit next to her and helped him to dainties, while the others chatted and enjoyed themselves.

       Normally Baoyu liked to hold forth at great length but today, in his father’s presence, he simply answered briefly when spoken to; and Xiangyun, although a great chatterbox for a girl, seemed afflicted with dumbness by her uncle too. Daiyu was too reserved ever to talk much in company, and Baochai also behaved in the manner natural to her, choosing her words with care. So there was a constraint about this family party.

       The Lady Dowager, knowing that Jia Zheng was the cause, suggested after three rounds of drinks that he should withdraw to rest. Aware that she wanted him out of the way so that the young people might enjoy themselves better, Jia Zheng said with a smile:

       “When I heard today that you had prepared all these lantern-riddles, I brought some gifts and delicacies to join in. Won’t you spare your son a little of the love you have for your grandchildren?”

       The old lady chuckled.

       “None of them will laugh and talk with you here, and that’s very dull,” she said. “Well, if it’s riddles you want, I’ll give you one. But if you guess wrong you’ll have to pay a forfeit.”

       “Certainly. And if I guess right shall I win a prize?”

       “Of course.” Then she recited, “The monkey, being light of limb, stands on the topmost branch. It’s the name of a fruit.”

       Jia Zheng knew of course that the answer was lichee,2 but he deliberately gave wrong answers and had to pay several forfeits before he guessed right and received a prize from his mother. Then he in turn set her a riddle:

Its body is square,

Its substance firm and hard;

Though it cannot speak

It will assuredly3 record anything said.

       —    A useful object.

       He whispered the answer to Baoyu, who took the hint and secretly told his grandmother. The old lady thought it over and decided he was right.

       “An inkstone,” she said.

       “Trust you, mother, to get it right first time.” Jia Zheng smiled and turned to order, “Bring in the presents.” There was an answering cry from the women below, who brought forward various trays and little boxes. The Lady Dowager, inspecting them one by one, was delighted to find them novelties for the Lantern Festival.

       “Pour wine for the master,” she ordered.

       Baoyu poured the wine and Yingchun presented it, after which the old lady said:

       “Let me hear you guess some of the riddles the children have put on the screen.”

       Jia Zheng rose and walked up to the screen. The first riddle he saw was:

         Monsters I can affright and put to flight;

A roll of silk my form; my thunderous crash

Strikes dread into the hearts of all,

Yet when they look around I’ve turned to ash.

       “Isn’t this a firecracker?” asked Jia Zheng.

       When Baoyu said that was right, his father read on:

No end to the labours of men, to heaven’s decrees,

But labour unblessed by Heaven will fruitless be.

What causes this constant, frenzied activity?

The uncertainty of mortal destiny.

       “An abacus?”

       Yingchun agreed with a smile.

       Jia Zheng read the next riddle:

The children by the steps look up:

Spring surely has no fitter decoration.

But when the silk cord breaks it drifts away,

Blame not the east wind for this separation.

That sounds like a kite,” said Jia Zheng.

       When Tanchun had confirmed this he looked at another riddle:

A former life’s appearance come to nought,

Deaf to folk-songs the chanting of sutras

   she now hears;

Say not this life is sunk in a sea of darkness,

For in her heart a shining light appears.

 

       “The lamp before a Buddhist shrine?” queried Jia Zheng.

       “Yes,” said Xichun with a smile.

       Jia  Zheng thought to himself: “Her Royal Highness wrote about a firecracker which disintegrates after a single explosion. Yingchun’s subject, the abacus, is in constant commotion; Tanchun’s kite is something which drifts away with the wind; Xichun’s temple lamp is even more lonely and neglected. What ill-omened subjects for all of them to choose so soon after the New Year!”

       The more he reflected, the deeper his dismay. But in his mother’s presence he dared not disclose it and forced himself to look at the other riddles. Observing that the last was a verse by Baochai, he read it.

         Who leaves the levee with smoke-scented sleeves?

         Not destines by the lute or quilt to sit,

         It needs no watchman to announce the dawn,

         No maid at the fifth watch to replenish it.

         Burned with anxiety both day and night,

         Consumed with anguish as time slips away,

         As life speeds past we learn to hold it dear

         What cares it whether foul or fair the day?

       After reading this Jia Zheng reflected with dismay, “The object itself isn’t ill-omened,4  but what inauspicious lines for a young girl to write. It doesn’t look as if any of these girls will have good fortune or long life.”

       Sunk in gloom be looked the picture of grief as he lowered his head in thought.

       His mother imagined that he must be tired, and felt his presence was spoiling the young people’s enjoyment.

       “There’s no need for you to guess any more answers,” she said. “You’d better go and rest. We shan’t sit up much longer either.”

       Jia Zheng assented with alacrity and forced himself to toast his mother

once more before he withdrew. Back in his own apartment, he turned the matter over in his mind with a grievous sense of foreboding and was unable to sleep. But no more of this.

       As soon as he had gone the Lady Dowager urged her grand-children, “Now relax and have some fun!”

       Baoyu had already run up to the screen-lantern and was prancing about like a monkey freed from its chain, pulling different riddles to pieces.

       “Why not sit down as you were before,” said Baochai, “and chat with us in a more civilized way?”

       Xifeng, who had joined them now, chimed in, “you ought to have the master keeping you by his side all the time. I forgot just now to suggest that you should make up some riddles in his presence. If I had, I’m sure you’d still be in a cold sweat.”

       Baoyu made a frantic grab at her and a scrimmage ensued.

       After chatting a little with Li Wan and the girls the Lady Dowager began to feel tired, and hearing the fourth watch sounded she ordered the food to be cleared away, telling the servants they could have what was left.

       “Let’s rest now,” she said, rising to her feet. “Tomorrow’s still a holiday, and we ought to get up early. We can enjoy ourselves again in the evening.”

       To know what happened next day, read the chapter which follows.

 

Chapter 23

 

Lines from “The Western Chamber”

Are Quoted in Fun

A Song from “Peony Pavilion”

Distresses a Tender Heart

 

 

       After Yuanchun’s return to the Palace from her visit to Grand View Garden she gave instructions that Tanchun should copy out all the poems written that day for her to arrange in order of merit, because she wished them to be inscribed on the tablets in the Garden as a lasting memorial to that splendid occasion. Jia Zheng accordingly ordered skilled artisans to be found to polish and engrave the stones under the supervision of Jia  Zhen, assisted by Jia Rong and Jia Ping. As Jia Qiang had his hands full looking after the twelve actresses and their properties, he asked Jia Chang and Jia Ling to supervise the work instead. In due course wax was melted over the tablets and the poems were engraved in vermilion. But no more of this.

       The twenty-four young Buddhists and Taoists from the Dharma Convent and Jade Emperor’s Temple in the Garden had now been moved out, and Jia Zheng had been thinking of sending them to various temples elsewhere. Word of this reached Jia Qin’s mother nee Zhou who lived in the street behind just as she had decided to look in Jia Zheng’s house for some remunerative job, whether big or small, for her son. So she came by sedan-chair to enlist Xifeng’s help.

       As this woman was normally unassuming, Xifeng agreed. Having thought out the right approach she told Lady Wang:

       “We mustn’t send away the little Buddhists and Taoists, because they’ll be needed next time Her Highness comes, and it would be hard to get them together again if once they’d been dispersed. My idea is to move them all to our family’s Iron Threshold Temple. Then all we need do is to send someone with a few taels of silver every month for their firewood and rice, and they can be fetched back if needed without any trouble.”

       Lady Wang passed on this proposal to her husband.

       “Quite right,” he agreed. “I’m glad you reminded me. “ He sent for Jia Lian.

       Jia Lian and Xifeng were having their meal together when this summons arrived. Not knowing what he was wanted for, he put down his rice bowl at once and started out.

       “Wait a minute and listen to me!” She caught hold of his ann. “If this is some other business, that’s not my affair; but if it’s about those little novices, you must handle it my way.” She told him then exactly what to say.

       Jia Lian shook his head, laughing.

       “This is none of my business. If you’re so clever, go and ask uncle yourself.”

       Xifeng threw back her head and laid down her chopsticks, staring at Jia Lian with an icy smile.

       “Do you mean that, or are you joking?”

       “Yun, the son of Fifth Sister-in-Law who lives in West Lane, has come several times begging me to find him a job, and I promised him I would if he would wait. Now here’s a job at last, but as usual you want to snatch it away.”

       “Don’t worry. Her Highness wants more pines and cypresses planted in the northeast corner of the Garden, as well as more flowers at the foot of the tower. When that job comes up, I promise to let Yun have it.”

       “All right then,” he chuckled. “But why were you so uncooperative last night when all I wanted was to try something different?”

       Xifeng snorted with laughter and spat at him in mock disgust, then lowered her head and went on with her meal.

       Grinning broadly, Jia Lian left. When he found that his uncle had indeed sent for him about the novices, taking his cue from his wife he suggested:

       “Jia Qin seems to be shaping well. We might entrust this to him. He can just draw the allowance every month in the usual way.”

       Since Jia Zheng never took much interest in such matters, he made no objection. As soon as Jia Lian went back to tell Xifeng, she sent a maid to notify Jia Qin’s mother, and the young man came to thank them both profusely. As a special favour Xifeng asked her husband to let him have three months’ allowance in advance and made him write a receipt, to which Jia Lian put his signature. He was then given the tally to fetch from the treasury three months’ allowance two or three hundred taels of glittering silver. One piece he picked up casually and gave as a tip to the men who had weighed the silver, “For a cup of tea,” as he put it. The rest he told his servant to carry home. On his mother’s advice he lost no time in hiring a sturdy donkey for himself and several covered carts. Taking these round to the side gate of the Rong Mansion, he called out the twenty-four little novices and seated them in the carts. Then together they set off for Iron Threshold Temple. And there we leave them.

       Now it had occurred to Yuanchun while she was editing the poems on Grand View Garden that it would be a pity if her father locked up such charming pleasure grounds after her visit in deference to her, so that nobody could go there. The more so when the girls of the family had a taste for poetizing, and if they were to move there the Garden would make a perfect setting for them while its flowers and willows would not lack admirers. Then she reflected that Baoyu was unlike other boys, having been brought up among girls, so that if he alone were excluded he would feel left out in the cold, and this might distress the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang. She had better give directions for him to move in there too.

       Having reached this decision, she sent the eunuch Xia Shouzhong to the Rong Mansion with the order: “Baochai and the other young ladies are to live in the Garden, which is not to be closed. Baoyu is to move in as well to continue his studies there.”

       This edict was received by Jia Zheng and Lady Wang. As soon as the eunuch had left, they reported it to the Lady Dowager and sent servants to clean up the Garden and prepare the buildings, hanging up blinds, portieres and bed-curtains.

       The others took the news fairly calmly, but Baoyu was beside himself with joy. He was just discussing it with his grandmother, demanding this, that and the other, when a maid announced that his father wanted him. At this bolt from the blue he turned pale, his spirits quite dashed. He clung like a limpet to the Lady Dowager, too terrified to leave her.

       “Go, my treasure,” she urged him. “I won’t let him be hard on you. Besides, it’s because you wrote so well that Her Highness has said you should move into the Garden, and I dare say your father only wants to warn you to behave yourself when you’re there. Just say ‘Yes’ to whatever he tells you and you’ll be all right.”

       She called two old nurses and ordered them to take Baoyu there and see that he was not frightened.

       The nurses complied and Baoyu left with dragging steps. It so happened that Jia Zheng was discussing some business in his wife’s room while her maids Jinchuan, Caiyun, Caixia, Xiuluan and Xiufeng were standing outside under the eaves. At sight of Baoyu they smiled knowingly, and Jinchuan caught hold of his sleeve.

       “I’ve just put some scented rouge on my lips,” she whispered. “Do you want to taste it?”

       Caiyun pushed her away.

       “Don’t tease him when he’s feeling low,” she scolded. “Go in quickly, while the master’s in a good mood.”

       Baoyu sidled fearfully in. His parents were in the inner room. The concubine Zhao raised the portiere, and with a bow he entered. His father and mother sat facing each other on the kang talking, while on a row of chairs below sat Yingchun, Tanchun, Xichun and Jia Huan, all of whom except Yingchun rose to their feet at his entrance.

       Jia Zheng glanced up and saw Baoyu standing before him. The boy’s striking charm and air of distinction contrasted so strongly with Jia Huan’s vulgar, common appearance that he was reminded of his dead son Zhu. He glanced at Lady Wang. She had only this one son left and she doted on him. As for him, his beard was already turning grey. Bearing all this in mind, he forgot his usual aversion to Baoyu. After a pause he said:

       “Her Highness has ordered you to study and practise calligraphy with the girls in the Garden, instead of fooling around outside and neglecting your studies. Mind that you apply yourself there to your lessons. If you go on misbehaving, watch out!”

       “Yes, sir,” agreed Baoyu hastily.

       Then his mother drew him over to sit beside her while Jia Huan and the other two sat down again. Stroking her son’s neck fondly Lady Wang

asked:

       “Have you finished those pills prescribed for you the other day?”

       “All but one.

       “You must fetch ten more tomorrow. Get Xiren to see that you take one each evening at bedtime.”

       “Ever since you ordered it, madam, Xiren has been giving me one every evening.”

       “Who is Xiren?” demanded Jia Zheng.

       “One of the maids,” his wife told him.

       “A maid can be called anything, I suppose. But who thought up such a suggestive name for her?”

       To shield Baoyu from his father’s displeasure Lady Wang said, “It was the old lady’s idea.”

       “Such a name would never occur to the old lady. This must have been Baoyu’s doing.”

       Since there was no hiding the truth Baoyu rose to confess: “I remembered that line of an old poem:

When the fragrance of flowers assails men

we know the day is warm.

As this maid’s surname is Hua (Flower), I called her Xiren. “‘

       “You must change it when you go back,” put in Lady Wang quickly. Then she turned to her husband. “Don’t be angry, sir, over such a little thing.”

       “It doesn’t really matter, there’s no need to change it. But this shows that instead of studying properly Baoyu gives all his time to romantic trash.” Then he said sternly to Baoyu: “What are you standing there for, you unnatural monster?”

       “Run along, “urged Lady Wang. “The old lady is probably waiting for you for supper.

       Baoyu assented and slowly withdrew. Once outside he grinned and stuck out his tongue at Jinchuan before hurrying off with the two nurses. He found Xiren leaning in the doorway of the entrance hail. Her face lit up when she saw that he was back safely, and she asked what his father had wanted.

       “Nothing much. Just to warn me to be on my best behaviour when I

move into the Garden.”

       Having by now reached the Lady Dowager’s room he told her what had happened. Then he asked Daiyu, who was there, in which part of the Garden she would like to live.

       Daiyu had been thinking this over and she answered: “My choice would be Bamboo Lodge. I love those bamboos half hiding the winding balustrade, and the place is quieter than anywhere else.”

       “Just what I thought!” Baoyu clapped his hands. “That’s where I want you. With me in Happy Red Court, we shall be close together and beautifully quiet.”

       At this point Jia Zheng sent a servant to report to the Lady Dowager that the twenty-second of the second month would be an auspicious day for the move into the Garden, and the young people’s quarters would be ready by then. Baochai was to have Alpinia Park, Daiyu Bamboo Lodge, Yingchun the Pavilion of Variegated Splendour, Tanchun the Studio of Autumn Freshness, Xichun Smartweed Breeze Cot, Li Wan Paddy-Sweet Cottage, and Baoyu Happy Red Court. Two old nurses and four maids were assigned to each apartment in addition to the occupant’s nanny and own attendants, and there were other servants whose sole duty was cleaning and sweeping. On the twenty-second they all moved in and at once the Garden gay with flowers and willows ruffled by a fragrant breeze from embroidered sashes lost its former air of desolation; but no need to describe this in detail.

       Baoyu found life in the Garden all he could wish. He asked nothing better than to spend every day with his sisters, cousins and maids, reading, writing, strumming the lute, playing chess, painting, chanting poems, watching the girls embroider their phoenix patterns, enjoying the flowers, softly singing, guessing riddles or playing the guess-fingers game. In a word, he was blissfully happy. There he wrote the following verses on the four seasons, which although quite commonplace give some idea of his sentiments and the scenery.

       SPRING NIGHT

The walls flaunt hangings bright as sunset clouds

To muffle the frogs’ croaking in the lane;

       The rain outside the window chills my pillow,

       This vision of spring seems like the girl of my dreams.

       The candle sheds slow tears for whom?

       The blossoms fall as if reproaching me;

       My maids are indolent from long indulgence;

       Wearied by their laughter and prattle, I snuggle

       down in my quilt.

 

       SUMMER NIGHT

       Weary of embroidery, the beauty dreams;

       In its golden cage the parrot cries, “Brew tea!”

       Bright window, moon like musk-scented palace mirror.

       Dim the chamber with fumes of sandalwood and incense.

       Clear dew from the lotus is poured from amber cups,

       Cool air from the willows wafts past crystal railings;

       In lake pavilions everywhere flutter silken fans,

       And the blinds are rolled up on the vermilion tower

       As she finishes her evening toilet.

 

 

       AUTUMN NIGHT

       The red pavilion scented with rue is hushed,

       Moonlight floods the gauze dyed with madder;

       Crows asleep by the well are wet with dew from the plane tree,

       And storks roost on mossy boulders,

       A maid spreads the gold-phoenix quilt,

       The girl coming back from the balcony drops her trinkets;

       Sleepless at night and thirsty after wine

       I relight the incense and call for fresh tea.

 

       WINTER NIGHT

       Plum-blossom and bamboo dream, the third watch has come,

       But sleep eludes them under silk eiderdowns.

       Only a stork can be seen in the pine-shadowed court,

       No oriole sings in the snow which has drifted like pear-blossom.

       Cold is the green-sleeved girl as she writes a poem,

       Tipsy the young lord in gold and sable gown;

       Happily the maid knows how to make good tea

       And gathers up fresh fallen snow to brew it.

       When some toadies learned that these poems were the work of a son of the Rong Mansion who was only twelve or thirteen, they copied them out and praised them far and wide, while young gallants attracted by the romantic images in them inscribed them on their fans or walls and kept chanting and admiring them. As a result, Baoyu was flattered to find himself applied to for poems, calligraphy, paintings and inscriptions; and supplying these occupied much of his time every day.

       But after a while this quiet life began to pall. Baoyu became restless, dissatisfied and bored. Most of the Garden’s inmates were innocent, ingenuous girls who laughed and romped all day long without any inhibitions, quite unaware of his feelings. Then, too restless to stay with them he started fooling around outside, but still went on feeling disgruntled and frustrated.

       His page Mingyan tried to think of some way to distract him and decided that there was only one thing that might appeal to him as a novelty. He went to a bookshop and bought his master a pile of novels old and new, tales about imperial concubines and empresses, as well as romantic librettos. Baoyu had never read such works before. He felt he had discovered a treasure-trove.

       “Don’t take them into the Garden,” Mingyan warned him. “If they were found I’d be in serious trouble.”

       But how could Baoyu agree to this? After much hesitation he picked out several volumes written in a more refined style and smuggled these in, keeping them on the canopy over his bed to read when he was alone. The cruder and more indecent he kept hidden in his study outside the Garden.

       One day, about the middle of the third month, carrying a copy of The Western Chamber he strolled after breakfast across the bridge above Seeping Fragrance Lock. There he sat down on a rock to read under a blossoming peach-tree. He had just reached the line

Red petals fall in drifts

when a gust of wind blew down such a shower of petals that he and his book were covered with them and the ground near by was carpeted with red. Afraid to trample on the flowers if he shook them off, Baoyu gathered them into the skirt of his gown and carried them to the water’s edge where he shook them into the brook. They floated and circled there for a while, then drifted down the River of Seeping Fragrance.

       Going back, he found the ground still strewn with blossoms and was wondering how to dispose of these when a voice behind him asked:

       “What are you doing here?”

       He turned and saw Daiyu, a hoe over one shoulder, a gauze bag hanging from the hoe, and a broom in her hand.

       “You’re just in time to sweep up these petals and throw them into the water,” cried Baoyu. “I’ve just thrown in a pile.”

       “Not into the water,” objected Daiyu. “It may be clean here, but once it flows out of these grounds people empty all sorts of dirt and filth into it. The flowers would still be spoiled. I’ve a grave for flowers in that corner over there. I’m sweeping them up and putting them in this silk bag to bury them there. In time they’ll turn back into soil. Wouldn’t that be cleaner?”

       Baoyu was delighted by this idea.

       “Just let me put this book somewhere and I’ll help,” he offered.

       “What book’s that?”

       He hastily tucked it out of sight.

Just the Doctrine of the Mean and The Great Learning.”2

       “You’re trying to fool me again. You’d have done better to show me in the first place.”

       “I don’t mind showing you, dear cousin, but you mustn’t tell anyone else. It’s a real masterpiece. You won’t be able to give a thought to eating once you start reading it.” He passed her the book.

       Daiyu laid down her gardening tools to read, and the more she read the more enthralled she was. In less time than it takes for a meal she had read all the sixteen scenes. The sheer beauty of the language left a sweet taste in her mouth. After finishing reading she sat there entranced, recalling some of the lines.

       “Well, don’t you think it’s wonderful?” he asked.

       She smiled.

       “It’s certainly fascinating.”

       “I’m the one ‘sick with longing,”’ he joked. “And yours is the beauty which caused ‘cities and kingdoms to fall.”’3

       Daiyu flushed to the tips of her ears. Knitting her sulky brows, her eyes flashing with anger beneath half-drooping lids, she pointed a finger at Baoyu in accusal.

       “You really are the limit! Bringing such licentious songs in here and, what’s more, insulting me with nasty quotations from them.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I’m going to tell uncle and aunt.”

       She turned to go.

       In dismay Baoyu barred her way.

       “Forgive me this once, dear cousin! I shouldn’t have said that. But if I meant to insult you, I’ll fall into the pond tomorrow and let the scabby-headed tortoise swallow me, so that I change into a big turtle myself. Then when you become a lady of the first rank and go at last to your paradise in the west, I shall bear the stone tablet at your grave on my back for ever.

       Daiyu burst out laughing at this and wiped her eyes.

      “You’re so easy to scare, yet still you indulge in talking such nonsense,” she teased. “Why, you’re nothing but ‘a flowerless sprout,’ ‘a lead spearhead that looks like silver.”’

       It was Baoyu’s turn to laugh.

       “Now listen to you! I’ll tell on you too.”

       “You boast that you can ‘memorize a passage with one reading.’ Why can’t I ‘learn ten lines at a glance’?”

       Laughing he put the book away.

       “Never mind that. Let’s get on with burying the flowers.”

       No sooner had they buried the blossom than Xiren appeared.

       “So here you are,” she said. “I’ve been looking all over for you. The Elder Master is unwell and all the young ladies have gone to inquire after his health. The old lady wants you to go too. Come back quickly and change.”

       Then Baoyu, taking his book, took leave of Daiyu and went back to his own room with Xiren.

       With Baoyu gone and the other girls all out too, Daiyu did not know what to do and decided to go back to her own room. As she rounded the corner of Pear Fragrance Court where the twelve actresses were rehearsing, she heard sweet fluting and singing over the wall. Normally the

words of operas made little appeal to her, so she did not listen carefully; but now as she proceeded on her way two lines carried to her distinctly:

What a riot of brilliant purple and tender crimson,

Among the mined wells and crumbling walls.

 

       Strangely touched by this, she stopped to listen. The singer went on:

What an enchanting sight on this fine morning,

But who is there that takes delight in the spring?

 

       Daiyu nodded and sighed.

       “So there are fine lines in these operas,” she thought. “What a pity that people just care for the spectacle without understanding the meaning.”

       Then, sorry to have missed a stanza through her preoccupation, she listened again and heard:

For you are as fair as a flower

And youth is slipping away like flowing water.

 

       Daiyu’s heart missed a beat. And the next line

Alone you sit in your secluded chamber

affected her so much that she sank down on a rock to ponder the words.

 

For you are as fair as a flower

And youth is slipping away like flowing water.

They reminded her of a line in an old poem:

 

Water flows and flowers fall, knowing no pity....

 

and the lines from another poem:

Spring departs with the flowing water and fallen blossom, Far, far away as heaven from the world of men.

She compared this with the lines she had just read in The Western Chamber:

Flowers fall, the water flows red,

Grief is infinite....

 

       As she brooded over the meaning of all these verses, her heart ached and tears coursed down her cheeks. She might have remained there in a quandary had not someone come up behind her all of a sudden and given her a shove in the back. She turned to look.

But to know who it was, you must read the next chapter.

Truly:

She minds not her morning toilet, her embroidery at night; Facing the moon, cooling off in the breeze, she feels grief.

 

Chapter 24

 

The Drunken Diamond Proves Himself

Generous and Gallant

An Ambitious Girl Loses Her Handkerchief

as an Enticement

 

 

Daiyu's heart was touched, her thoughts were in a whirl, when someone came up from behind and shoved her in the back asking:

"What are you doing here all on your own?"

Startled, she looked round. It was Xiangling.

"You stupid creature to frighten me so," cried Daiyu. "Where have you sprung from?"

Xiangling giggled.

"I can't find our young lady anywhere. Your Zijuan is looking for you too. She says the Second Mistress has sent you some tea. Let's go back to your place, shall we?"

She took Daiyu by the hand and they went back to Bamboo Lodge, where they found two small flasks of new tea from the Palace sent over by Xifeng. The two girls sat down. If you ask what serious matters they discussed. These were merely the relative merits of different pieces of embroidery and tapestry. They also played a game of chess and read some passages from a book together before Xiangling took her leave.

But let us return to Baoyu. When Xiren fetched him back he discovered Yuanyang leaning over the couch in his outer room examining some of Xiren's needlework.

"Where have you been?" she asked him. "The old lady is waiting for you. She wants you to go over to the other house to inquire after the Elder Master's health. You had better change quickly and go."

As Xiren went into the next room to fetch his clothes and boots, Baoyu sat on the edge of the couch and kicked off his shoes, waiting. He turned and noticed that Yuanyang was wearing a pink silk jacket, a sleeveless black satin jacket and a white silk sash. Her head, turned away from him, was bent over the needlework, and there was a flowered collar around her neck. Laying his cheek against the nape of the neck he inhaled her scent and could not resist stroking her, for her skin was just as white and smooth as Xiren's. Re mischievously nestled close to her.

"Good sister, let me taste the rouge on your lips!"

With this smiling appeal he clung to her like sticky toffee.

"Xiren!" called Yuanyang. "Come and look at this. All these years you've been with him, yet you still haven't taught him how to behave."

Xiren, walking in with her arms full of clothes, protested to Baoyu: "I wear out my tongue talking, but you still carry on like this. What's to become of you? If you go on in this way, you'll make it impossible for us to stay here."

She made him change quickly and go with Yuanyang to the front apartment. After seeing the Lady Dowager he went out to where his pages and horse were waiting; but just as he was about to mount, Jia Lian arrived back from his father's house and, dismounting in front of Baoyu, exchanged a few words with him. At this point someone else came over to greet Baoyu too. This was a tall youth in his late teens with an oval face and intelligent, handsome appearance. But familiar though his face was. Baoyu could not remember his name or which branch of the clan he belonged to.

"Why are you staring at him like that?" asked Jia Lian. "Don't you know Yun, the son of Fifth Sister-in-law who lives in the back lane? "

"Of course. I can't think how I forgot." Baoyu asked after Yun's mother and inquired his business.

Indicating Jia Lian, the young man said, "I've come to have a word with Second Uncle. "

"You've grown very handsome since I saw you last." Baoyu grinned. "You could almost be my son.

"For shame!" Jia Lian chortled. "Your son? He's four or five years older than you"

Baoyu smiled.

"What age are you? "

"Eighteen."

Jia Yun had all his wits about him. He seized this chance to add: "As the proverb says. 'A grandfather in the cradle may have a grandson who leans on a stick.' I may be older than you but 'The highest mountain can't shut out the sun.' These last few years since my father died I've had no one to instruct me properly. If you don't think me too stupid to be your adopted son, Uncle Bao, that would be my great good fortune."

"Hear that?" Jia Lian laughed. "It's no joke adopting a son." With that he went inside.

"If you're free tomorrow," said Baoyu to Yun, 'lust drop in and see me. Don't learn their sneaky ways. I'm busy now but come to my study tomorrow. We can have a good talk and I'll show you round the Garden."

He swung himself into the saddle then and his pages escorted him to Jia She's house, where he found that his uncle had nothing worse than a cold. Having delivered his grandmother's message he paid his own respects. Jia She stood up to reply to the Lady Dowager's inquiries after his health, then ordered a servant to take Baoyu to his wife.

Baoyu went to the back, to Lady Xing's apartment, and when she had risen to convey her respects to his grandmother he bowed on his own account. She made him sit beside her on the kang and asked after the rest of the family. While they sipped the tea she had ordered, Jia Cong came in to greet Baoyu.

"Did you ever see such a monkey?" asked Lady Xing. "Is that nanny of yours dead that she doesn't tidy you up? With that grubby face you look a regular dunce, not like the son of a cultured family."

Just then ha Huan and his nephew Jia Lan arrived together to pay their respects, and Lady Xing offered them chairs to sit on. But Huan so resented the sight of Baoyu sharing the same cushion with his aunt, who was fonding him and making much of him, that before long he signalled to Lan that they should leave. Lan had to comply, so they both got up to beg leave. Baoyu rose to go too, but Lady Xing stopped him with a smile.

"Just sit where you are. I've something else to say to you. "

He had to resume his seat. She then told the two others:

"When you get back, give my regards to your mothers. I'm so dizzy from the rumpus the girls have raised here that I won't keep you to dinner"

The two boys promised to do as she said and left.

"Did all the girls come?" asked Baoyu. "Where are they now?"

"After sitting here for a while they went off. They're at the back somewhere or other."

"You said you had something to tell me, aunt. What is it?"

"What have I got to say to you! It was only to ask you to stay for dinner with the girls. And I've something amusing to give you to take back."

They chatted until it was time for the meat. A table and chairs were arranged, the table laid, and they had dinner with the girls. Then Baoyu took his leave of Jia She and went home with his sister and cousins. After bidding goodnight to the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang they dispersed to their own rooms to rest.

But let us return to Jia Yun, who had gone in to see Jia Lian. He asked him:

"Have you any job for me yet?"

"Something did turn up the other day, but your aunt begged me to let Jia Qin have it. However, she said there's soon to be a lot of planting of flowers and trees in the Garden. As soon as that job comes up, she promises you can have it."

After a short silence Jia Yun said: "I'll just have to wait in that case. Please don't tell my aunt that I came today to ask. I'll mention it to her myself next time I see her. "

"Why should I mention it? What time do I have to gossip? Tomorrow I've got to set off at the fifth watch to make the trip to Xingyi and back on the same day. Wait until the day after to come back for news---but not before the first watch, I shan't be free till then." With that Jia Lian went inside to change his clothes.

On his way home from the Rong Mansion a scheme occurred to Jia Yun. He called on his maternal uncle Bu Shiren,1 who kept a perfumery from which he had just returned.

"What brings you here at such a late hour?" asked Bu after exchanging greetings with his nephew.

"I've a favour to ask you, uncle. I need some Borneo camphor and musk. Could you possibly let me have four ounces of each on credit? I'll pay you by the Moon Festival without fail."

"Don't talk to me about credit." His uncle smiled coldly. "Some time ago one of my assistants gave goods worth several taels of silver on credit to a relative, who stilt hasn't paid up. We had to make good the loss between us. So we agreed never again to give credit to relatives or friends under pain of a twenty taels' fine.

"In any case, those spices are in short supply. Even if you brought ready cash, a little shop like ours couldn't let you have so much. We'd have to try to get you some elsewhere. That's one thing.

"In the second place, you're obviously up to no good but want these things to do something foolish with them. Now don't go complaining that your uncle finds fault with you each time we meet! You young people have simply no sense. If you'd just think up some way to earn a few cash to keep yourself well fed and decently dressed, how pleased I should be!"

"You're quite right," uncle replied Jia Yun amiably. "When my father died I was too small to understand, but later my mother told me how grateful we should be to you for coming over to take things in hand and managing the funeral. And you know better than anyone else, uncle, that I didn't have any property or land left after my father's death which I squandered. Even the cleverest housewife can't cook a meal without rice. What do you expect me to do? You're lucky I'm not one of those thick-skinned people, for then I'd keep pestering you for three pecks of rice today, two pecks of beans tomorrow. What could you have done then, uncle?"

"Whatever your uncle has is yours for the asking, my boy. But as I keep telling your aunt, what worries me is that you won't use your head. Your best bet is to go to the big mansion. If you can't get to see the masters, pocket your pride and get on good terms with their stewards, and they may put some business in your way. The other day, out of town, I ran into the fourth son of your third uncle riding on a donkey with five carts behind him, taking forty of fifty novices to your family temple. His head is screwed on the right way, to get such a job."

This lecture was too much for Jia Yun, who rose to leave.

"What's the hurry?" asked his uncle. "Have a bite with us before you go.

"Are you crazy?" put in his wife before he had half finished. "I told you we've no rice left. All I've got for you is half a catty of noodles which I'm cooking for you now. Why pretend to be rich? If he stays he'll only go hungry."

"Just buy another half catty then," said Bu.

"Yinjie!" his wife called to her daughter "Go and ask Mrs. Wang across the road to lend us twenty or thirty cash---we'll pay her back tomorrow."

But by this time Jia Yun, murmuring. "Don't trouble," had already made himself scarce.

He left his uncle's house in a temper and was trudging home with lowered head, fuming over such shabby treatment, when he bumped into a drunkard. As Jia Yun started, the fellow swore:

"Are you blind, fuck you, charging into me like that?"

Before Jia Yun could get out of the way, the drunkard grabbed hold of him. Looking closer he saw that it was his neighbour Ni Er, a rowdy who lived on usury and his winnings in gambling-dens. He was always drinking and getting into fights. Having just collected some interest from one of his creditors, he was lurching drunkenly home when he bumped into Jia Yun. Spoiling for a fight, he raised a menacing fist.

"Hold on, old chap! It's me."

The voice sounded familiar Peering with bleary eyes, Ni Er recognized Jia Yun and let go of him. Staggering, he said with a smile:

"So it's Master ha. Strike me dead! Where are you off to?"

"Don't ask me. I've never been so snubbed in my life!"

"Never mind. Tell me who's been bullying you. I'll settle accounts with him for you. If anyone in the three streets or six lanes near by, no matter who he is, offends a neighbour of the Drunken Diamond, I'll see to it that his relatives are scattered and his home destroyed."

"Take it easy, old chap. Listen to me." Jia Yun described how Bu had cold-shouldered him.

Ni Er was highly incensed.

"If he weren't your uncle, wouldn't I just blast him! How maddening! Now don't worry. I've a few taels of silver here. If you want to buy something, just take it. On one condition though. All these years we've been neighbours, and everybody knows I'm a money-lender, yet you've never once asked for a loan. I don't know whether you don't want to dirty your hands having any dealings with a racketeer, or whether you're afraid of getting involved, thinking my interest too high. If so, I'm not asking now for any interest on this loan. Not for an I.O.U. either But if you're afraid you'll be lowering yourself, I won't presume to lend it. We can just go our different ways. "

With that he produced a packet of silver from his pouch.

Jia Yun thought, "Ni Er may be a rascal but he's open-handed and has the name of standing up boldly for his friends. It would be a mistake to annoy him by refusing. I'll take his silver and later pay him back double."

He said, "I know you're a real sport, old chap. I did think of approaching you, but was afraid you might ignore someone so useless, as all your friends are such bold and capable people. I thought if I asked for a loan you'd be bound to turn me down. But now since you're so generous I can't refuse. I'll send you an I. 0. U. when I get home."

Ni Er bellowed with laughter

"How you talk! But I won't hear of it," he declared. "You spoke of 'friends.' Well then, how can I charge you interest? If I did, that wouldn't be the act of a friend. Let's cut the cackle. As you don't look down on me and this is only a paltry sum---a mere fifteen taels thirty cents -take it to buy what you need. If you insist on writing an I. O. U. I won't give you the silver but lend it to others whom I expect to pay interest."

"All right," said Jia Yun, accepting the sliver. "I'll not write any I.O.U. So don't blaze up!"

"What you'd just said wasn't right," Ni Er chuckled. "It's dark now so I won't invite you to have a drink. I have some business to see to. You'd better go back. I'll trouble you to tell my family to lock up early and turn in, as I shan't be home tonight. If they want me for anything urgent, our daughter can come and fetch me tomorrow morning. They'll find me with the horse-dealer, Short-Legged Wang." So saying, he reeled away.

Marvelling at this stroke of luck Jia Yun reflected, "Ni Er is certainly a character! But what if he's only generous in his cups? Suppose he asks for a hundred per cent interest tomorrow?" This worried him for a while.

Then he decided, "Never mind, once that job comes my way I can pay him back double."

He took the silver to a money shop to be weighed and was delighted to find that Ni Er was honest and it was indeed fifteen taels and 34.2 cents. He first went next-door and gave Ni Er's message to his wife before going home. His mother, who was rolling thread on the kang, asked where he had been all day. For fear of vexing her he made no mention of going to see her brother.

"I was waiting for Uncle Lian in the west mansion," he said. "Have you had your meal?"

"Yes, and I've kept you yours. "

She told the maid to fetch it. It was already time to light the lamp, and after supper Jia Yun went straight to bed.

As soon as he was up and dressed the next morning, he went to a large perfumery outside the South Gate and bought camphor and musk, which he took to the Rong Mansion. Having first made sure that Jia Lian had indeed left, he went to the gate of his courtyard at the back. Some pages were sweeping the yard with tong-handled brooms. Presently Zhou Rui's wife came out.

"Stop sweeping," she told them. "The mistress is coming out."

Jia Yun swiftly stepped forward to ask:

"Where is Second Aunt going?"

"The old lady has sent for her," said Mrs. Zhou. "To cut out some clothes, I fancy."

That same moment Xifeng emerged with a throng of attendants. Knowing her weakness for flattery and ceremonial, Jia Yun stepped forward respectfully, saluted her with great deference, and inquired after her health.

Xifeng hardly glanced at him, however, merely asking as she walked on how his mother was and why she never called.

"She is not too well, aunt," he replied. "She often thinks of you and would like to come, but she can't get away.

Xifeng laughed.

"What a liar you are! You wouldn't have said that if I hadn't asked about her."

"May lightning strike me if I dare to tie to my seniors!" protested Jia Yun. "Only last night she was speaking of you, aunt. She said, 'Your aunt's delicate yet look at all she has on her hands. I don't know where she finds the energy to manage everything so well. Anyone less efficient would be quite worn out.'"

Xifeng beamed at this and involuntarily halted.

"Why pray, should you and your mother gossip about me like that behind my back?"

"The fact is that a very good friend of mine, who owns a perfumery, has bought the rank of an assistant sub-prefect and was recently appointed to a post somewhere in Yunnan. Since he is taking the whole family with him, he's decided to close the shop. He's been going through his stock, giving some things away, selling others cheap, and presenting the more valuable stuff to relatives and friends. That's how I acquired some Borneo camphor and musk. My mother and I agreed that if we tried to sell it we wouldn't be able to get the proper price, because who is there willing to spend so much on such things? Even the richest families would only want a few grams at the most. And even if we gave the stuff away, we couldn't think of anyone who deserves to use so much valuable perfume as these---in fact he may sell the stuff to someone else for next to nothing. Then I thought of you, aunt, and remembered the packets of money you’ve spent in the past on such things. This year, what with the Imperial Consort in the Palace and the Dragon-Boat Festival coming, I'm sure you'll be needing ten times the usual amount. So after thinking it over we decided the most appropriate thing to do was to make a present of it to you, aunt, as a token of esteem. This way it won't be wasted."

He took out a brocade-covered box and respectfully raised it in both hands to present it.

Xifeng, as it so happened, needed some festival gifts and had been thinking of buying some spices and aromatic herbs. Gratified and delighted by this unexpected gift and Jia Yun's little speech, she told Fenger:

"Take my nephew's present home and give it to Pinger"

Then to Jia Yun she said, "I see you have good sense. No wonder your uncle is always telling me how sensibly you talk and what tact you have."

Jia Yun, hearing this, felt he was getting somewhere. He stepped closer "Has uncle been talking to you about me then?" he asked significantly.

Xifeng was tempted to tell him about the job of supervising tree-planting which they had in mind for him, but was afraid he might take it the wrong way and imagine she was offering it in return for a few aromatics. So she refrained, saying not a word about it. And after a few casual remarks she went on to see the Lady Dowager. Jia Yun had to go home without having broached the subject.

As Baoyu had invited him the previous day to call on him in his study, after lunch he went back and made his way to Luminous Clouds Studio outside the ceremonial gate leading to the Lady Dowager's apartments. He found Beiming having a game of chess with Chuyao and squabbling over a move. Four other pages, Yingchuan, Saohua, Tiaoyun and Banhe, were up on the roof robbing a bird's nest. As Jia Yun entered the courtyard he stamped his foot.

"Up to your monkey-tricks again! Can't you see a visitor's come?"

Hearing this, all the pages scampered off. Jia Yun went into the study and took a seat.

"Has Master Bao been here today?" he asked.

"No, he hasn't. If you want to talk to him, I'll scout round and find out his whereabouts for you." Beiming went out.

For the time it takes for a meal Jia Yun inspected the calligraphy, paintings and curios. Then, as Beiming had not returned, he looked round for the other pages; but they had all gone off to amuse themselves. He was feeling put out and bored when a sweet voice just outside the door called:

"Brother!"

Looking out he discovered a maid of sixteen or seventeen, a slender, neat, clever-looking girl. She was shrinking back at sight of Jia Yun when Beiming returned.

"Good," he said. "I was looking for a messenger.

Jia Yun walked out to question the page, who told him:

"I waited for a long time, but nobody came out. This is one of the girls from Happy Red Court." He turned to her "Be a good girl and tell him, will you, that the Second Master from the back lane has called."

On learning that Jia Yun belonged to her masters' clan, the maid did not avoid him as she had before but shot him one or two penetrating glances.

"Never mind about the back lane," he joked. "Just tell him Yun has come.

The girl gave a faint smile.

"If you please, sir, I think you'd better go home and come back to-morrow, I'll tell him this evening if I have a chance."

"What do you mean?" asked Beiming.

"He missed his nap this afternoon, so he's sure to dine early and won't be coming here this evening. Are you going to make this gentleman wait and go hungry? He'd much better go home now and come back tomorrow. Because even if someone promised to take a message, he mightn't deliver it."

The girl spoke so concisely and prettily that Jia Yun wanted to ask her name. But as she worked for Baoyu he thought better of it, simply remarking:

"Right you are. I'll come tomorrow."

Beiming urged him to have a cup of tea before leaving.

"No thanks," said Jia Yun. "I have some other business." Walking off as he spoke, he looked back at the girl still standing there, and then made his way home.

The next day Jia Yun went back. In front of the main gate he ran into Xifeng on her way to the other house to pay her respects. She had just got into her carriage, but at sight of Jia Yun she ordered a servant to stop him and called to him with a smile through the carriage window:

"You've got a nerve, Yun, playing that trick on me! I see now why you gave me that present. You had a favour to ask. Yesterday your uncle told me you'd already approached him."

"Please don't bring that up, aunt," he pleaded, smiling. "I'm sorry I ever asked him. If I'd know how things stood I'd have come to you in the first place, and it would all have been settled long ago. I didn't know it was no use appealing to uncle."

Xifeng laughed.

"No wonder! So it was after failing with him that you came to me yesterday."

"That's not fair, aunt. I had no such idea in my mind. If I had, wouldn't I have appealed to you yesterday? But since you know about it now, I'll bypass uncle and beg you, aunt, to show me some kindness."

"What a roundabout way of doing things!" She smiled sarcastically. "You make it hard for me. If you'd told me earlier, this little business wouldn't have taken so long. Some trees and flowers are to be planted in the Garden, and I was looking for someone to put in charge. If you'd spoken before, it could have been fixed up some time ago."

"Well, you can put me in charge, aunt."

Xifeng thought for a moment.

"I think better not. Suppose we wait until next New Year and give you the bigger job of buying fireworks and lanterns?"

"Let me have this job first, dear aunt. If I do all fight in this, you can give me the other later."

"You do look ahead, don't you?" She chuckled. "All right. But I wouldn't have bothered if your uncle hadn't put in a word for you. I shall be back after breakfast, so come about noon for the money and you can start your planting the day after tomorrow."

She ordered the servants to start the carriage and left.

Overjoyed, Jia Yun went to Luminous Clouds Studio and asked for Baoyu, only to find he had gone out early that morning to call on the Prince of Beijing. He sat quietly there till noon when he heard that Xifeng was back, and then wrote a receipt and went to get the tally. He waited outside the courtyard while a servant announced him. Then Caiming came out and took his receipt. When the amount to be drawn and the date had been filled in, the page returned it to him with the tally. He saw to his delight that the sum entered was two hundred taels and went straight to the treasury to get the silver, then home to inform his mother, who rejoiced with him.

At the fifth watch the next morning, he sought out Ni Er to return his loan, and seeing that he was in funds Ni Er took the money.

Then Jia Yun took fifty taels to the house of Fang Chun, a gardener who lived outside the West Gate, from whom he bought trees.

To revert now to Baoyu. His invitation to Jia Yun that day had been no more than a rich lordling's way of talking, and not being seriously meant was soon forgotten. Upon his return from the palace of the Prince of Beijing in the evening, he paid his respects to his grandmother and mother before going back to the Garden, where he took off his formal clothes and waited for his bath.

It so happened that Xiren had been asked over by Baochai to help braid some knot-buttons; Qiuwen and Bihen had gone to hurry the servants bringing water; Tanyun had asked leave for her mother's birthday; and Sheyue was ill at home. The other maids who did the rougher work, not expecting to be summoned, had gone off in search of their friends. Thus for a short while Baoyu was all alone. And precisely at this moment he wanted some tea. He called several times before two or three old nannies came in. These he hastily waved away saying:

"It's all right. I don't need you."

Then the old women had to withdraw.

As none of the girls were about, Baoyu fetched a bowl himself and went to get the teapot.

"Don't scald yourself, Master Bao. Let me do that," called a voice from behind. A girl stepped forward and took the bowl from him.

Baoyu started.

"Where did you spring from?" he asked. "What a fright you gave me!"

Handing him the tea she answered: "I was in the back yard. Didn't you hear me come in by the back door, Master Bao?"

Baoyu sized her up as he sipped his tea. Her clothes were by no means new, but with her fine black hair gathered in a knot, her oval face and her trim, slender figure, she looked altogether a most sweet, pretty girl.

"Do you work here?" he asked with a smile.

"Yes," she answered.

"How is it, in that case, I've never seen you?"

The maid laughed mockingly.

"There are plenty of us you haven't seen. I'm not the only one by any means. How could you know me? I don't fetch and carry for you, or wait on you personally."

"Why not?"

"That's asking! But I've something to report, sin Yesterday a young gentleman called Yun came to see you. I told Beiming to send him away as I thought you were busy, and asked him to come back this morning. But by then you'd already gone to call on the prince."

Just at this moment Qiuwen and Bihen staggered back, laughing and chatting, holding up their skirts, a bucket between them from which the water was splashing. This maid hurried to relieve them of their load.

"You've wet my skirt," Qiuwen complained to Bihen.

"You trod on my shoe!" Bihen retorted.

Looking at this girl who had appeared so abruptly, they saw it was Xiaohong. Both put down the bucket in surprise and hurried in. They were very put out to find Baoyu on his own. As soon as they had prepared his bath and helped him undress, they closed the door behind them and went round again to the back to find Xiaohong.

"What were you doing in there just now?" they demanded.

"I hadn't been in," she said. "I couldn't find my handkerchief, so] was looking for it at the back when Master Bao called for tea. As none of you sisters was about, I went in to pour it for him. And that's when you turned up."

Qiuwen spat in her face.

"Shameless slut! I told you to go and hurry them with the water, but you said you were busy and made us go instead. Then you seized this chance to wait on him here yourself. You're making your way up, aren't you? Think we can't keep up with you, eh? Have a look at yourself in a mirror. Are you fit to serve Master Pao tea?"

Bihen chimed in: "Tomorrow we'll tell the others that if he wants tea or water or anything, we needn't stir---she'll do it."

"The rest of us may just as well clear oft leaving her on her own here."

They were laying into Xiaohong in turn when an old nanny arrived with a message from Xifeng.

"Someone's bringing gardeners tomorrow to plant trees, so you must watch out. Don't go sunning your clothes and skirts all over the place.

All the artificial hills will be screened off. You're not to go running wild."

"Who'll be in charge of the workmen?" asked Qiuwen.

"Some Master Yun from the back lane," was the answer

The name meant nothing to Qiuwen and Bihen, who put some other questions; but Xiaohong knew it must be the man she had met the day before in the study outside.

Now Xiaohong's family name was Lin and her childhood name was Hongyu (Red Jade): but because "yu" jade) came in the names Daiyu and Baoyu she was called Xiaohong instead. Her family had served the Jias for generations, and her father was now in charge of various farms and properties outside. Xiaohong was sixteen this year. When first sent into Grand View Garden she had been assigned to Happy Red Court, which was pleasantly quiet at the time. But after the girls and Baoyu were commanded to move there to live and these rooms were taken by him, simple as Xiaohong was, with her good looks she was foolishly eager to climb up in the world. She had long been looking for a chance to attract Baoyu's attention, but his other attendants were too smart to allow her to put herself forward. Today her opportunity had come, but her hopes had been dashed by the spitefulness of Qiuwen and Bihen. She was feeling most disgruntled when the old nanny mentioned that Jia Yun would be coming, and that put a new idea into her head. She went dejectedly back to her room and lay down to think it oven. As she tossed and turned someone called softly through the window:

"Xiaohong! I've found your handkerchief for you."

She ran out to look. It was no other than Jia Yun. With a blush of confusion she asked:

"Where did you find it sir?"

Jia Yun laughed.

"Come here and I'll tell you."

He grabbed for her. She turned frantically and fled, but stumbled over the threshold and woke with a start. So it was only a dream!

If you want to know the upshot, read the next chapter

 

Chapter 25

 

Five Devils Invoked by Sorcery Take Possession

of Baoyu and Xifeng

Two Sages See the jade of Spiritual Understanding

in the Dream of Red Mansions

 

Xiaohong fell into a doze, her thoughts running on love. When Jia Yun tried to seize her she turned and fled, but stumbling over the threshold woke with a start to the realization that it was only a dream. She tossed and turned sleeplessly until day dawned, when some other maids called her to help them sweep and fetch water Without washing her face or putting on any make-up, she casually smoothed her hair in front of the mirror and hastily rinsed her hands, after which she lied a sash round her waist and set about her work.

Now Baoyu had been so struck by Xiaohong the previous day that he would have liked to have her wait on him, but he feared this might upset Xiren and the others; besides, there was no saying how the girl would turn out. If she proved satisfactory, well and good; if not, sending her away again would be awkward. So he got up moodily and sat there brooding, not even troubling to comb his hair or wash.

Presently the shutters were taken down and through the gauze window he had a clear view of the maids sweeping the courtyard. All of them were powdered and rouged, with flowers or willow shoots in their hair, but he saw no sign of Xiaohong. He slipped on his shoes and strolled out, ostensibly to look at the flowers, gazing this way and that until he glimpsed, half-hidden by a crab-apple tree, a figure leaning over the balustrade in the southwest corner of the covered walk. He strolled round the tree and looked more closely. Yes, it was the girl of the day before, apparently lost in thought. He was wondering whether to accost her when Bihen fetched him in again to wash. He had no choice but to go back.

And now Xiaohong was aroused from her abstraction by the sight of Xiren beckoning. She went to see what was wanted.

"Our watering-can's broken and hasn't been mended yet," said Xiren.

"I want you to go and borrow one of Miss Lin’s. "

The girl set off on this errand to Bamboo Lodge. As she crossed Green Mist Bridge the sight of the artificial hills screened oil reminded her that this was the day for tree-planting. Some distance away a band of men could be seen digging under the supervision of Jia Yun, seated on a nearby boulder. Not having the courage to approach him, she proceeded quietly to Bamboo Lodge, borrowed a watering-can and took it back, then lay down in her room in low spirits. The others, assuming that she was feeling unwell, paid no attention. And the day dragged by, uneventful.

 

The day after that was the birthday of Wang Ziteng's wife, and the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang had been invited to the celebrations. Since her mother-in-law did not go, neither did Lady Wang; but Aunt Xue, Xifeng, the three Jia girls, Baochai and Baoyu went along, not returning till the evening.

It so happened that when Jia Huan came back from school Lady Wang had told him to copy out for her some incantations invoking the Buddhist guardian deities, the dvarapalas. The boy took a seat on the kang in her room, ordered candles to be lighted, and set about writing with a great show of importance. Now he called Caiyun to pour him tea, now told Yuchuan to trim the wicks of his candies, now complained that Jinchuan was standing in his light. As all the maids disliked him they took no notice -- all except Caixia who still kept in with him. She poured him some tea and, noticing that Lady Wang was chatting with some other people, she whispered:

"Be quiet. Don't be such a nuisance. You're only making yourself unpopular."

"Don't try to fool me," he retorted. "I can see what's happening. Now you're friendly with Baoyu, you mean to ignore me."

Caixia bit her lips and with one finger rapped him on the forehead.

"You ungrateful thing! Like the dog that bit Lü Dongbin---you bite the hand that feeds you

Just then Xifeng came in to pay her respects, and Lady Wang wanted a detailed account of the party---the other guests, the operas and the feast. Before long Baoyu, too, arrived. Having greeted his mother and made some polite conversation, he told the maids to help him off with his chaplet, gown and boots, then nestled up to his mother As she stroked and caressed him he put his arms round her neck and chattered.

"You've had too much to drink again, my son," scolded Lady Wang. "Row hot your face is! If you go on tossing about like this, the wine may go up to your head. Why not lie down and rest a while."

She called for a pillow and Baoyu, lying down behind her, asked Caixia to come and massage him. But when he joked with her she cold-shouldered him and kept her eyes on Jia Huan. Baoyu took her hand.

"Do be nice to me, sister!" he begged.

Caixia snatched her hand away.

"If you do that again, I'll shout," she warned him.

This was overheard by Jia Huan, who had always hated Baoyu. At the sight of him teasing Caixia, he felt ready to explode with jealousy. He dared not protest outright, but he had mulled over a plan and now that they were so close he saw his chance to put it into action. Re would blind Baoyu with burning candle-wax'. Deliberately knocking over the candlestick, he splashed the hot melted wax on his half-brother's face. Baoyu's cry of pain made everyone jump for fright. They hastily brought over the standard lamp as well as several lamps from other rooms, and saw with consternation that Baoyu's face was covered with wax. Frantic and furious, Lady Wang ordered the servants to wipe it off, and then rounded on Jia Ruan.

"What a dunderhead!" scolded Xifeng with a smile on her face, as she scrambled on to the kang to attend to Baoyu. "Huan's not fit to mix in decent company. His mother really ought to bring him up better."

This remark was the cue for Lady Wang to stop abusing Jia Huan and to send for the concubine Zhao.

"Why don't you teach that spiteful brat of yours to behave himself?" she fumed. "Time and again I've overlooked this sort of thing, but it only makes you worse. Conceited creature!"

Although the concubine was eaten up by jealousy of Xifeng and Baoyu, she dared not show it either Now that Jia Ruan had made such trouble, she had no alternative but to accept these taunts meekly and show concern for Baoyu. His left cheek was badly blistered, but luckily no damage had been done to his eyes. Lady Wang's heart ached for him even as she wondered how she was to answer for this to her mother-in-law tomorrow. She vented her anger again on the concubine, then went on soothing Baoyu and dabbing his cheeks with a disinfectant ointment.

"It stings a bit but it's nothing serious," Baoyu assured her. "Tomorrow if grandmother asks, I'll say I scalded myself."

"She'll scold us all the same for our negligence," retorted Xifeng smiling. "There'll be a row anyway, no matter what you say."

Lady Wang then had Baoyu escorted back to his rooms, where Xiren and the others were horrified by his appearance.

Daiyu had been lonely all day in Baoyu's absence, and sent several times that evening to ask whether he was back. When she learned of his accident she hurried over to find him in front of the mirror, his left cheek daubed with ointment. Imagining that the burn was serious, she approached to have a look; but Baoyu, knowing how fastidious she was, covered his cheek with one hand and waved her away. Daiyu knew her own weakness; she also knew that Baoyu was afraid of disgusting her

"I just wanted to see where the burn is," she said gently. "Why do you have to hide it?"

She then came closer and turned his head to have a look.

"Does it hurt much?" she asked.

"Not really. I'll be all right in a couple of days. "

After keeping him company for a while she left, feeling rather depressed.

The next day when Baoyu saw the Lady Dowager, although he took the blame for the burn on himself, sure enough she reprimanded all his attendants.

Another day went by and they had a visit from Priestess Ma, Baoyu's Buddhist godmother. The sight of him gave her a shock and she asked with concern what had happened. Learning that he had been scalded she nodded and sighed, then passed her fingers over his face with some muttered incantations.

"He'll be all right now," she declared. "This was just a chance misfortune. You don't know, Old Ancestress, all the solemn warnings there are in the Buddhist sutras about the sons born into noble families, who are always dogged by evil spirits who pinch them, nip them, knock their rice-bowls out of their hands, or trip them up on the road. That's why so many sons of great houses die young.

"Is there no way to prevent it?" asked the Lady Dowager anxiously.

"Of course there is. Just do more good deeds on his behalf. The sutras tell us of a great Bodhjsattva in the west whose glory illumines all around and whose special charge it is to bring to light the evil spirits in dark places. If faithful believers worship him devoutly, their descendants are assured of peace and health and no evil spirits can get possession of them."

"What offerings does this Bodhisattva require?"

"Nothing of any great value. Apart from incense and candles, a few catties of oil every day for the Big Lamp. For that lamp is a manifestation of the Bodhisattva. It has to be kept burning day and night."

"Row much oil does it take to keep it burning for one whole day and night? If you tell me the exact amount, I should like to donate it."

"There's no fixed amount, it's up to the donor. Several of the royal consorts have presented offerings of this kind in our convent. The mother of the Prince of Nanan has made a generous donation, forty-eight catties of oil a day and another catty of lampwicks, so her lamp is almost as large as a water vat. The lady of the Marquis of Jintian comes next with twenty-four catties. Other families give anything from five to three or one---it doesn't matter Some poor families who can't afford so much may just donate a quarter or half a catty, but we keep a lamp burning for them just the same. "

The Lady Dowager nodded thoughtfully.

"Of course, more can be given for parents or elders," continued the priestess. "But if our Old Ancestress gives too much for Baoyu, it won't be good for the boy and may even spoil his luck. Five catties or seven at the most would be ample."

"Make it five catties a day then," said the Lady Dowager. "You can collect a month's donation at a time."

"May Amida Buddha the Merciful Great Bodhisattva preserve you!" cried the grateful priestess.

The old lady ordered the servants, "In future when Baoyu goes out give his pages a few strings of cash to distribute as alms to bonzes, Taoists and the poor. "

The priestess sat with them there a little longer, then made the rounds of different apartments, coming presently to that of the concubine Zhao who, after exchanging greetings, ordered tea. It was clear from a heap of satin remnants on the kang that she had been making slippers.

"I could do with some silk for uppers myself," remarked Ma. "Can you spare me a few odd pieces? I don't mind what colour."

"You won't find anything good in that lot," said the concubine with a sigh. "Good things don't come my way. That's all there is. But if you don't think them too bad you're welcome to choose a couple."

The priestess picked out several pieces and tucked them in her sleeves.

"The other day," the concubine went on, "I sent over five hundred cash. Did you sacrifice to the God of Medicine for me?"

"Yes, days ago.

"Amida Buddha!" She sighed again. "If I'd only more in hand I'd be giving oftener. I just haven't the means.

"Don't worry. Just hold out till Master Huan grows up and gets an official post. Then you can do all the good works you want."

"Well, well, don't talk about that!" The concubine snorted. "You can see how things are. My son and I are the least and lowest in this household. Of course Baoyu is the precious dragon of the house. Mind you, he's still just a child with winning ways, so I've nothing to say if his elders dote on him. But I refuse to crawl to her" She held up two fingers.

"You mean the second young mistress, Madam Lian?"

The concubine hastily signed to her to be quiet. Raving raised the portière to make sure that no one was there, she came back and whispered:

"She's a terror, a real terror! If she doesn't end by shifting all the property here to her mother's house, I'm not a human being!"

The priestess, hearing this, decided to sound her out further.

"You don't have to tell me, it's plain enough," she said. "It's kind of you to put up with it and let her have her own way. That's fine."

"What else can we do, for goodness' sake? Who would have the nerve to say a word against her?"

The priestess gave a short laugh. After a moment's pause she said:

"I don't want to talk like a trouble-maker, but I do think if you don't stick up for yourselves you can't very well blame others. Even if you dare not tackle her openly you could have done something in secret, instead of letting things drag on like this."

 

Sensing something behind this, the concubine brightened up.

"In secret? Do explain how," she cried. "I've thought of that, but there's no one capable of doing it. If you'll show me some way, I'll make it well worth your while."

"Amida Buddha, don't ask me that," protested the priestess, although well aware that they both had the same thing in mind. "What do I know about such matters? No, that would be a sin, a wicked sin."

"Come on, you're always good to those in trouble. Are you going to stand by and watch that woman trample us, mother and child, to death? Or are you afraid I shan't be able to pay you?"

Ma smiled.

"It's right to say that I'm sorry to see you and your son bullied, but it's wrong of you to talk about paying me. Why, even if I hoped for some reward, what have you got that could tempt me?"

The concubine felt that Ma was yielding.

"Row can a smart woman like you be so dense?" she asked. "If you know some good magic to get rid of those two, the family property's bound to come to my son. When that happens you can have anything you want."

The priestess lowered her head for a while.

"When that happens," she said at last, "and everything's in the bag, unless I've something in writing you'll just ignore me. "

"That's no problem," said the concubine. "Though I haven't got much at the moment, I've saved a few taels of silver and I have some clothes and trinkets too. You can take some of them to be going on with. And I can write you a promissory note and, if you like, find a witness too, so that you can be sure I'll pay you in full later on."

"Do you really mean that?"

"How could] lie to you on such a matter?"

The concubine then called in a trusted old servant to whom she whispered certain instructions. The woman went out, returning after a while with a promissory note for five hundred taels. Concubine Zhao pressed her fingerprints on this, then opened her chest and took out some loose silver. This she showed to the priestess.

"Take this first to spend on offerings. How's that?"

At the sight of this gleaming pile of silver and the promissory note, the priestess did not scruple to assent with alacrity. First she put away the silver and then the note. Next she rummaged in her waistband for a while and fished out twelve paper figures -- two of human beings and ten of devil~ with white hair and blue faces -- which she gave to the concubine.

"Write the eight characters of their horoscopes on these two figures,” she whispered. "Then put them, with five devils each, in their beds. That" all you have to do. I shall do my magic at home. It's sure to work. Mind you're very careful, and don't look alarmed."

They were interrupted by the arrival of a maid from Lady Wang.

"So here you are," she said to the concubine. "Her Ladyship's waiting for you."

Then the two women parted company.

 

But let us return to Daiyu. Now that Baoyu's burn kept him indoors she often dropped in for a chat. Today after lunch she did some reading but soon became bored with the book; then she did a little needlework with Zijuan and Xueyan, but found this even more tedious. So she stood for a while leaning against the doorway in a brown study, before stepping out to look at the bamboo shoots sprouting below the steps. And then hardly knowing what she did, she stepped out of the courtyard. There was no one in sight in the Garden, nothing to be seen but the brightness flowers and the shadows of willows, nothing to be heard but birdsong and gurgling streams. And so she made her way to Happy Red Court. Son maids on the terrace there, having just fetched water, were watching the thrushes have their bath. Inside there was laughter and going in she found Li Wan, Xifeng and Baochai assembled there. At sight of her they smiled.

"Here comes another!"

"Were invitations sent out that you're here in force?" asked Daiyu jokingly.

"I sent you two canisters of tea the other day," interposed Xifeng. "Where were you?"

"Oh, it had slipped my mind. Thank you very much."

"How did you like it?” Xifeng asked.

"It's all right but I didn't care for it much," put in Baoyu. "I don't know how the rest of you found it."

"The flavour was quite delicate, but the colour wasn't too good," remarked Baochai.

"That was tribute tea from Siam," Xifeng told them. "Personally, I didn't find it as good as the kind we drink every day."

"I liked it," retorted Daiyu. "Different people have different tastes."

"In that case you can have mine," offered Baoyu.

"If you really like it I've plenty more," said Xifeng.

"Fine. I'll send a maid to fetch it," Daiyu promised.

"No need," rejoined Xifeng. "I'll have it sent round. I was going to send over to you tomorrow anyway to ask a favour."

"Listen to her!" cried Daiyu. "Just take a little tea from her and she starts ordering you about."

Xifeng chuckled.

"Asked a favour, you make such a fuss! Over drinking tea too. 'Drink our family's tea, a daughter-in-law to be'!"

As the whole party burst out laughing, Daiyu blushed and turned her head away, saying nothing.

Li Wan observed with a smile to Baochai, "Our second sister-in-law will have her joke."

"Joke?" Daiyu spat. "I call it disgustingly vulgar."

"Are you dreaming? What's wrong with being our daughter-in-law?" teased Xifeng, then pointed at Baoyu. "Look, isn't he handsome enough for you? Isn't his status good enough for you? Isn't his family rich enough for you'? Who could think it a bad match in any respect?"

Daiyu rose at once to go.

"You're offended," cried Baochai. "Come back, Daiyu! It'll spoil the fun if you go."

She ran after Daiyu to stop her. But at the doorway they were intercepted by the concubines Zhao and Zhou, who had come to inquire after Baoyu. Li Wan, Baochai and Baoyu invited them to sit down. Xifeng, however, went on talking with Daiyu and ignored them. Baochai was just about to speak when a maid sent by Lady Wang announced that Wang Ziteng's wife had called and would like to see the young ladies. Li Wan at once urged Xifeng and the girls to go over, and the two concubines also took a hasty leave of Baoyu.

"I can't go out," said Baoyu. "Whatever happens, don't let my aunt come over here! Do wait a bit, Cousin Lin. I've something to tell you."

Xifeng, hearing this, turned to Daiyu with a smile.

"You'd better stay. You're wanted."

She pushed the girl back into the room and went off with Li Wan.

Baoyu, left alone with Daiyu, clasped her sleeve and smiled but could not get a word out. She could not help blushing and tried to break away.

"Aiya!" he cried suddenly. "Row my head aches!"

"Serves you right. Buddha be praised."

The next moment he let out a piercing cry.

"I'm dying!"

He leapt several feet into the air, babbling and raving. Daiyu and the maids rushed in panic to tell the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang; and as Wang Ziteng's wife was with them, the whole party hurried over. By now Baoyu had turned the whole place upside down in search of a sword or stick to kill himself with. His grandmother and mother shook with terror, bursting into loud lamentations for their darling. At once the whole household was thrown into confusion as everyone flocked to the Garden---from Jia She, Lady Xing, Jia Zheng, Jia Lian, Jia Huan, Jia Rong, Jia Yun, Jia Ping, Aunt Xue and Xue Pan down to Zhou Rui's wife and all the other female servants.

They were all in a great commotion and wondering what to do when in rushed Xifeng, brandishing a bright steel sword, with which she was trying to cut down all the chickens, dogs and people in her way. This was even more staggering! Zhou Rui's wife, aided by some of the stronger and braver maids, managed to overpower her and disarm her. They then carried her back to her room where Pinger and Fenger gave way to a storm of weeping.

Even Jia Zheng was quite distracted, trying to attend to both Baoyu and Xifeng at once. The others, it goes without saying, were still more distraught. But of them all Xue Pan was the most frantic, being afraid that in the crush his mother might be knocked over, Baochai stared at, or Xiangling exposed to indignities -- for he knew what libertines Jia Zhen and the rest were. Then, his eye suddenly falling on Daiyu, he was so enraptured by her charms that he almost melted on the spot.

By now proposals of all kinds were being made. Some suggested calling in exorcists to drive out evil spirits; some, getting a witch to lure them out by dancing; others recommended the Taoist Zhang from the Jade Emperor's Temple.... Pandemonium reigned as they tried all conceivable remedies together with incantations, divination and prayers. But all to no avail. And at sunset Wang Ziteng's wife took her leave.

Next day Wang Ziteng came in person to make inquiries. This was followed by visits from young Marquis Shi's wife, the brothers and relations of Lady Xing, and the wives of other family connections. Some brought charm water. Others sent round bonzes and Taoists. Still nothing proved of any use.

Baoyu and Xifeng had fallen into a coma. They lay on their beds burning with fever and babbling deliriously. As the night wore on, because none of the maids or nannies dared go near them, they were carried to Lady Wang's quarters where some pages in the charge of Jia Yun kept watch in turn. The Lady Dowager, Lady Wang, Lady Xing and Aunt Xue, racked by sobs, refused to stir from their side.

Afraid that their mother might fall ill of grief, Jia She and Jia Zheng bestirred themselves so frantically day and night that no one, high or low, had any rest or could offer any advice. Jia She kept summoning more bonzes and Taoists, but because these could do no good Jia Zheng lost patience and tried to dissuade him.

"Their fate rests with Heaven," he said. "Human beings are powerless. Since their disorder is quite unforeseen and no drugs can cure it, it must be the will of Heaven. We shall just have to leave them to their fate."

His counsel fell on deaf ears. Jia She would not relax his exertions. But still there was no improvement.

By the third day the patients were lying at death's door and the whole household despaired. Then, as all hope was relinquished, preparations were started for the funeral. The Lady Dowager, Lady Wang, Jia Lian, Pinger and Xiren wept even more bitterly than the rest, unable to take food or sleep. Only the concubine Zhao and Jia Ruan were secretly exulting.

On the morning of the fourth day Baoyu opened his eyes.

"I am going to leave you now, he told his weeping grandmother "You must make haste and get me ready to go.”

These words made her feel as if he had wrenched out her heart.

"Don't take it too hard, madam," urged the concubine. "The boy's as good as gone. Better lay him out and let him make an end of his misery. If you insist on holding him back, he'll not be able to breathe his last and will only suffer for it in the next world....”

Before she could finish the old lady spat in her face.

"May your tongue rot, you bitch!" she swore. "Who asked for your opinion? How do you know he'll suffer in the next world? Why say he's as good as gone? What good will it do you if he dies? You're dreaming! If he does die, I'll make you pay for it. You're the ones to blame for this, forcing the child to study and breaking his spirit so that the sight of his father made him as scared as a mouse chased by a cat. It's you bitches who have hounded him to his death. But don't gloat too soon -- you’ve still me to reckon with."

Quite beside himself to hear her curses and sobs, Jia Zheng hastily ordered his concubine away and tried to calm his mother. But just then a servant came in to announce that the two coffins were ready for his inspection. This added fuel to the fire of the old lady's anger.

"Who ordered coffins?" she screamed. "Fetch the coffin-makers here! Have them beaten to death!"

She was storming fit to convulse heaven and earth when the faint sound of a monk's wooden clapper reached their ears.

"Put your trust in Buddha who absolves sins," the monk chanted. "All those afflicted, distressed, imperilled or possessed by evil spirits, we can cure.”

At once the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang asked to have the monk brought in. Though Jia Zheng disapproved, he could not disregard his mother's wishes. He was marveling, too, that the voice carried so clearly right into the house. So he gave the order to the servants. Then in came a scabby-headed bonze and a lame Taoist. What was he like, this bonze?

 

His nose was bulbous and his eyebrows long,

His two eyes glittered with a starry light;

Ragged, in shoes of straw, with scabby head,

This vagrant monk was an obnoxious sight.

 

As for the Taoist:

 

With one leg short and one leg long,

All soaked with rain and caked with mud was he;

If asked from whence he came he would reply:

"West of the Penglai Isles in Weightless Sea."

 

Jia Zheng asked this pair which monastery they were from.

"There is no need to inquire into that, sir," replied the bonze with a smile. "We hear there is illness in your house and have come to cure it."

"Yes, two members of the family are bewitched. Have you perhaps some miraculous remedy?"

"Why ask us for a remedy?" retorted the Taoist. "You already have in your house a rare treasure capable of curing them."

With a start Jia Zheng grasped the significance of this remark.

"It is true that my son was born with a piece of jade in his mouth," he replied. "And the inscription on it claims that it can ward off evil. But it has proved ineffective."

"You do not understand the miraculous powers of that precious jade, sin It has not proved efficacious because it is confused by music, beauty, riches and lust for gain. Just bring it to me and I think we can restore its powers by incantation."

Jia Zheng took the jade from Baoyu's neck and passed it to them. The monk laid it reverently on the palm of one hand.

"Thirteen years have passed in a twinkling since we left you at the foot of Blue Ridge Peak," he said with a sigh. "How quickly time flies in this human world! Yet already you are full of worldly desires. Alas, how much better off you were before!

 

Untrammelled by heaven and earth,

From joy and grief alike your heart was free;

Then smelting gave you spiritual perception,

And you came to this world in search of misery.

 

What a deplorable state you are in now!

 

Powder and rouge have dulled your precious lustre;

Days and nights within silk chambers entrap your heart;

But you must wake at last from your sweet dream;

Poor lovers, when all debts are paid, must part."

 

Having chanted this he rubbed the jade again and muttered some gibberish over it, then handed it back to Jia Zheng.

"Its power has now been restored," he said. "But it must not be profaned. Keep the two patients in one room; hang it over the door of that room, and let no women apart from your wife and mother go inside. In thirty-three days' time, I guarantee they will have recovered completely.

With that he and the Taoist turned and left.

Jia Zheng hurried after them, urging them to sit down and have some tea, for he wanted to offer them some remuneration; but the two men had gone. And when the Lady Dowager sent servants to overtake them, no trace of them could be found.

Then, following the monk's instructions, the jade was hung over the doorway of Lady Wang's bedroom where the two patients were lying; and she herself kept watch there to prevent anyone else from entering. By evening both patients had slowly regained consciousness and said they were hungry. The Lady Dowager and Lady Wang were overjoyed. Some rice gruel was prepared and after eating it they felt better, the evil spirits which had possessed them retreating. At last everyone was able to breathe again. Li Wan, the Jia girls, Baochai and Daiyu were waiting with Pinger and Xiren in the outer room when they heard that the patients had come to and eaten some gruel. Before the rest could say anything, Daiyu exclaimed:

"Buddha be praised!"

Baochai turned to look at her and gave a laugh. This passed unnoticed by all but Xichun.

"What are you laughing at, Cousin Baochai?" she asked.

"I was thinking how much busier Buddha must be than men are. Apart from expounding the truth and saving all living creatures, he has to preserve the sick and restore them to health, as he has done with Baoyu and Xifeng who are on the mend today. And he'll have to take care of Miss Lin's marriage as well. Just think how busy he must be! Don't you find it amusing?"

Daiyu flushed and spat in disgust.

"How horrid you all are! I can't think what end you'll come to. Instead of following the example of good people, you're learning from Xifeng to make vulgar jokes."

She swept aside the portière and went out.

To learn what followed, turn to the next chapter.

 

Chapter 26

 

On Wasp-Waist Bridge, Xiaohong Hints

at Her Feelings

In Bamboo Lodge, Drowsy in Spring,

Daiyu Bares Her Heart

 

 

After thirty-three days' convalescence, when Baoyu had completely recovered his strength and the bums on his face had healed, he moved back into the Garden.

 

During his illness, Jia Yun had taken in pages to watch day and night beside him and had seen so much of Xiaohong and the other maids there that they were now on a familiar footing. Xiaohong noticed that Jia Yun had a handkerchief very like the one she had lost. She nearly asked him about it, but was too shy. After the visit of the monk and the Taoist, however, there was no further need for male attendants and Jia Yun resumed his tree-planting. Though Xiaohong did not want to drop the matter, neither did she want to arouse the suspicions of others by questioning the young man. She was wondering what to do when a voice called through her window:

"Are you there, sister?"

Peeping out she saw that it was Jiahui, another maid who belonged to the same court. She asked her in. Jiahui promptly entered and took a seat on the bed.

"I'm in luck." she crowed. "I was washing clothes in the court just now when Baoyu decided to send some tea to Miss Lin, and Xiren gave me the errand. As it happened, the old lady had just sent Miss Lin some money which she was sharing out among the maids. When she saw me she gave me two handfuls of cash -- how much it is I don't know. Will you took after it for me?"

She unwrapped her handkerchief and poured out the coins, which Xiaohong counted for her: "Five, ten, fifteen..." and then put away.

"How have you been feeling recently?" continued Jiahui. "Take my advice and go home for a couple of days. Get a doctor to see you and prescribe some medicine, and that should set you right."

"What an idea!" countered Xiaohong. "I'm perfectly all right. Why should I go home?"

"I know what, then. Miss Lin's so delicate, she's always taking medicine. Ask her for some. That would do just as welt."

"Nonsense. You don't take medicine at random like that."

"Well, you can't go on like this. All your appetite's gone -- what's to become of you?"

"What does it matter? The sooner I die the better"

"How can you say such things?"

"You don't understand how I feel."

Jiahui nodded thoughtfully.

"Well, I don't blame you," she said. "Things are difficult here. Just take yesterday, for example. The old lady said everyone worked so hard while Baoyu was ill that, now he's better and all the vows have been paid, each one would be rewarded according to grade. I don't mind if the young ones like myself are left out, but why should you be left out? It isn't fair I wouldn't have begrudged Xiren ten times as much either--she deserves it. After all, to be honest, which of us can compare with her? Look how careful and conscientious she always is. And even if she weren't, she couldn't be passed over. What annoys me is having people like Qingwen and Yixian counted as top grade and boosted up just because their parents are senior servants here. Don't you call it maddening?"

"It's hardly worth being angry with them," retorted Xiaohong. "The proverb says 'Even the longest feast must break up at last.' Who's going to stay here for life? A few more years and we'll all go our different ways. When that time comes who will worry about anyone else?"

These words brought tears to Jiahui's eyes, but not wanting to cry for no reason she forced a smile.

"That's true, of course," she agreed. "Yet only yesterday Baoyu was talking about how he's going to rearrange the rooms and the clothes he means to have made, as if we had hundreds of years to put up with here."

Xiaohong laughed sarcastically. Before she could say any more in came a little maid who had not yet let her hair grow, to deliver two sheets of paper and some patterns.

"Here are two patterns for you to trace," she said, tossing them at Xiaohong.

"Who are they from?" called Xiaohong as the child scampered off. "Can't you finish what you have to say before running away? Have you steamed wheatcakes waiting which may get cold?"

"They're from Yixian," cried the little girl through the window, then quickly galloped away.

Xiaohong crossly threw the patterns aside and rummaged in her drawer for a brush, but could not find any with a pointed tip.

"Where did I put that new brush the other day?" she muttered. "I can t remember.... Oh, of course, Yixian borrowed it the evening before last." She turned to Jiahui. "Do you mind fetching it for me?"

"Fetch it yourself. Xiren is waiting for me to lif