Lady Peng, nee Wang, exercises her authority in the Iron Fence Temple. Ch’in Ching-ch’ing (Ch’ing Chung) amuses himself in the Man-t’ou (Bread) nunnery.
But we shall now resume our story. When Pao-yue raised his eyes, he noticed that Shih Jung, Prince of Pei Ching, wore on his head a princely cap with pure white tassels and silvery feathers, that he was appareled in a white ceremonial robe, (with a pattern representing) the toothlike ripple of a river and the waters of the sea, embroidered with five-clawed dragons; and that he was girded with a red leather belt, inlaid with white jade. That his face was like a beauteous gem; that his eyes were like sparkling stars; and that he was, in very truth, a human being full of graceful charms.
Pao-yue hastily pressed forward and made a reverent obeisance, and Shih Jung lost no time in extending his arms from inside the sedan-chair, and embracing him. At a glance, he saw that Pao-yue had on his head a silver cap, to which the hair was attached, that he had, round his forehead, a flap on which were
embroidered a couple of dragons issuing from the sea, that he wore a white archery-sleeved robe, ornamented with dragons, and that his waist was encircled by a silver belt, inlaid with pearls; that his face resembled vernal flowers and that his eyes were like drops of lacquer.
Shih Jung smiled. “Your name is,” he said, “no trumped-up story; for you, verily, resemble a precious gem; but where’s the valuable trinket you had in your mouth?” he inquired.
As soon as Pao-yue heard this inquiry, he hastened to produce the jade from inside his clothes and to hand it over to Shih Jung. Shih Jung minutely examined it; and having also read the motto on it, he consequently ascertained whether it was really efficacious or not.
“It’s true that it’s said to be,” Pao-yue promptly explained, “but it hasn’t yet been put to the test.”
Shih Jung extolled it with unbounded praise, and, as he did so, he set the variegated tassels in proper order, and, with his own hands, attached it on to Pao- yue’s neck. Taking also his hand in his, he inquired of Pao-yue what was his age? and what books he was reading at present, to each of which questions Pao-yue gave suitable answer.
Shih Jung perceiving the perspicacity of his speech and the propriety of his utterances, simultaneously turned towards Chia Chen and observed with a smile on his face: “Your worthy son is, in very truth, like the young of a dragon or like the nestling of a phoenix! and this isn’t an idle compliment which I, a despicable prince, utter in your venerable presence! But how much more glorious will be, in the future, the voice of the young phoenix than that of the old phoenix, it isn’t easy to ascertain.”
Chia Chen forced a smile: “My cur-like son,” he replied, “cannot presume to such bountiful praise and golden commendation; but if, by the virtue of your Highness’ excess of happiness, he does indeed realise your words, he will be a source of joy to us all!”
“There’s one thing, however,” continued Shih Jung; “with the excellent abilities which your worthy scion possesses, he’s sure, I presume, to be extremely loved by
her dowager ladyship, (his grandmother), and by all classes. But for young men of our age it’s a great drawback to be doated upon, for with over-fondness, we cannot help utterly frustrating the benefits of education. When I, a despicable prince, was young, I walked in this very track, and I presume that your honourable son cannot likewise but do the same. By remaining at home, your worthy scion will find it difficult to devote his attention to study; and he will not reap any harm, were he to come, at frequent intervals, to my humble home; for though my deserts be small, I nevertheless enjoy the great honour of the acquaintance of all the scholars of note in the Empire, so that, whenever any of them visit the capital, not one of them is there who does not lower his blue eyes upon me. Hence it is that in my mean abode, eminent worthies rendezvous; and were your esteemed son to come, as often as he can, and converse with them and meet them, his knowledge would, in that case, have every opportunity of making daily strides towards improvement.”
Chia Chen speedily bent his body and expressed his acquiescence, by way of reply; whereupon Shih Jung went further, and taking off from his wrist a chaplet of pearls, he presented it to Pao-yue.
“This is the first time we meet,” he observed. “Our meeting was so unexpected that I have no suitable congratulatory present to offer you. This was conferred upon me by His Majesty, and is a string of chaplet-pearls, scented with Ling Ling, which will serve as a temporary token of respectful congratulations.”
Pao-yue hastened to receive it from his hands, and turning round, he reverently presented it to Chia Chen. Chia Chen and Pao-yue jointly returned thanks; and forthwith Chia She, Chia Chen and the rest came forward in a body, and requested the Prince to turn his chair homewards.
“The departed,” expostulated Shih Jung, “has already ascended the spiritual regions, and is no more a mortal being in this dusty world exposed to vicissitude like you and I. Although a mean prince like me has been the recipient of the favour of the Emperor, and has undeservedly been called to the princely inheritance, how could I presume to go before the spiritual hearse and return home?”
Chia She and the others, perceiving how persistent he was in his refusal had no
course but to take their leave, express their sense of gratitude and to rejoin the cortege. They issued orders to their servants to stop the band, and to hush the music, and making the procession go by, they at length left the way clear for Shih Jung to prosecute his way.
But we will now leave him and resume our account of the funeral of the Ning mansion. All along its course the road was plunged in unusual commotion. As soon as they reached the city gates Chia She, Chia Cheng, Chia Chen, and the others again received donations from all their fellow officers and subordinates, in sacrificial sheds erected by their respective families, and after they returned thanks to one after another, they eventually issued from the city walls, and proceeded eventually along the highway, in the direction of the Temple of the Iron Fence.
Chia Chen, at this time, went, together with Chia Jung, up to all their seniors, and pressed them to get into their sedan chairs, and to ride their horses; and Chia She and all of the same age as himself were consequently induced to mount into their respective carriages or chairs. Chia Chen and those of the same generation were likewise about to ride their horses, when lady Feng, through her solicitude on Pao-yue’s account, gave way to fears lest now that they had reached the open country, he should do as he pleased, and not listen to the words of any of the household, and lest Chia Chen should not be able to keep him in check; and, as she dreaded that he might go astray, she felt compelled to bid a youth call him to her; and Pao-yue had no help but to appear before her curricle.
“My dear brother,” lady Feng remarked smiling, “you are a respectable person, and like a girl in your ways, and shouldn’t imitate those monkeys on horseback! do get down and let both you and I sit together in this carriage; and won’t that be nice?”
At these words, Pao-yue readily dismounted and climbed up into the carriage occupied by lady Feng; and they both talked and laughed, as they continued their way.
But not a long time elapsed before two men, on horseback, were seen approaching from the opposite direction. Coming straight up to lady Feng’s vehicle they dismounted, and said, as they leaned on the sides of her carriage,
“There’s a halting place here, and will it not please your ladyship to have a rest and change?”
Lady Feng directed them to ask the two ladies Hsing and Wang what they would like to do, and the two men explained: “These ladies have signified that they had no desire to rest, and they wish your ladyship to suit your convenience.”
Lady Feng speedily issued orders that they should have a rest, before they prosecuted their way, and the servant youth led the harnessed horses through the crowd of people and came towards the north, while Pao-yue, from inside the carriage, urgently asked that Mr. Ch’in should be requested to come.
Ch’in Chung was at this moment on horseback following in the track of his father’s carriage, when unexpectedly he caught sight of Pao-yue’s page, come at a running pace and invite him to have some refreshment. Ch’in Chung perceived from a distance that the horse, which Pao-yue had been riding, walked behind lady Feng’s vehicle, as it went towards the north, with its saddle and bridles all piled up, and readily concluding that Pao-yue must be in the same carriage with that lady, he too turned his horse and came over in haste and entered, in their company, the door of a farm-house.
This dwelling of the farmer’s did not contain many rooms so that the women and girls had nowhere to get out of the way; and when the village lasses and country women perceived the bearing and costumes of lady Feng, Pao-yue, and Ch’in Chung, they were inclined to suspect that celestial beings had descended into the world.
Lady Feng entered a thatched house, and, in the first place, asked Pao-yue and the rest to go out and play. Pao-yue took the hint, and, along with Ch’in Chung, he led off the servant boys and went to romp all over the place.
The various articles in use among the farmers they had not seen before, with the result that after Pao-yue had inspected them, he thought them all very strange; but he could neither make out their names nor their uses. But among the servant boys, there were those who knew, and they explained to them, one after another, what they were called, as well as what they were for. As Pao-yue, after this explanation, nodded his head; “It isn’t strange,” he said, “that an old writer has this line in his poetical works, ‘Who can realise that the food in
a bowl is, grain by grain, all the fruit of labour.’ This is indeed so!” As he spoke, they had come into another house; and at the sight of a spinning wheel on a stove-bed, they thought it still more strange and wonderful, but the servant boys again told them that it was used for spinning the yarn to weave cloth with, and Pao-yue speedily jumping on to the stove-bed, set to work turning the wheel for the sake of fun, when a village lass of about seventeen or eighteen years of age came forward, and asked them not to meddle with it and spoil it.
The servant boys promptly stopped her interference; but Pao-yue himself desisted, as he added: “It’s because I hadn’t seen one before that I came to try it for fun.”
“You people can’t do it,” rejoined the lass, “let me turn it for you to see.”
Ch’in Chung secretly pulled Pao-yue and remarked, “It’s great fun in this village!” but Pao-yue gave him a nudge and observed, “If you talk nonsense again, I’ll beat you.” Watching intently, as he uttered these words, the village girl who started reeling the thread, and presented, in very truth, a pretty sight. But suddenly an old woman from the other side gave a shout. “My girl Secunda, come over at once;” and the lass discarded the spinning-wheel and hastily went on her way.
Pao-yue was the while feeling disappointed and unhappy, when he espied a servant, whom lady Feng had sent, come and call them both in. Lady Feng had washed her hands and changed her costume; and asked him whether he would change or not, and Pao-yue, having replied “No! it doesn’t matter after all if I don’t change,” the female attendants served tea, cakes and fruits and also poured the scented tea. Lady Feng and the others drank their tea, and waiting until they had put the various articles by, and made all the preparations, they promptly started to get into their carriages. Outside, Wang Erh had got ready tips and gave them to the people of the farm, and the farm women and all the inmates went up to them to express their gratitude; but when Pao-yue came to look carefully, he failed to see anything of the lass who had reeled the thread. But they had not gone far before they caught sight of this girl Secunda coming along with a small child in her arms, who, they concluded, was her young brother, laughing and
chatting, in company with a few young girls.
Pao-yue could not suppress the voice of love, but being seated in the carriage, he was compelled to satisfy himself by following her with his eyes. Soon however the vehicle sped on as rapidly as a cloud impelled by the wind, so that when he turned his head round, there was already no vestige to be seen of her; but, while they were bandying words, they had unexpectedly overtaken the great concourse of the cortege.
Likewise, at an early stage men were stationed ahead, with Buddhist drums and gold cymbals, with streamers, and jewelled coverings; and the whole company of bonzes, belonging to the Iron Fence Temple, had already been drawn out in a line by the sides of the road. In a short while, they reached the interior of the temple, where additional sacrifices were offered and Buddhistic services performed; and where altars had again been erected to burn incense on. The coffin was deposited in a side room of the inner court; and Pao Chu got ready a bed-room in which she could keep her watch.
In the outer apartments, Chia Chen did the honours among the whole party of relatives and friends, some of whom asked to be allowed to stay for their meals, while others at this stage took their leave. And after they had one by one returned thanks, the dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons, each in respective batches, (got up to go,) and they kept on leaving from between 1 and 3 p.m. before they had finally all dispersed.
In the inner Chambers, the ladies were solely entertained and attended to by lady Feng. First to make a move were the consorts of officials; and noon had also come, by the time the whole party of them had taken their departure. Those that remained were simply a few relatives of the same clan and others like them, who eventually left after the completion of the three days’ rationalistic liturgies.
The two ladies Hsing and Wang, well aware at this time that lady Feng could on no account return home, desired to enter the city at once; and madame Wang wanted to take Pao-yue home; but Pao-yue, who had, on an unexpected occasion, come out into the country, entertained, of course, no wish to go back; and he would agree to nothing else than to stay behind with lady Feng, so that madame Wang had no alternative but to hand him over to her charge and to start.
This Temple of the Iron Fence had, in fact, been erected in days gone by, at the expense of the two dukes Ning and Jung; and there still remained up to these days, acres of land, from which were derived the funds for incense and lights for such occasions, on which the coffins of any members, old or young, (who died) in the capital, had to be deposited in this temple; and the inner and outer houses, in this compound were all kept in readiness and good order, for the accommodation of those who formed part of the cortege.
At this time, as it happened, the descendants mustered an immense crowd, and among them were poor and rich of various degrees, or with likes and dislikes diametrically opposed. There were those, who, being in straitened circumstances at home, and easily contented, readily took up their quarters in the temple. And there were those with money and position, and with extravagant ideas, who maintained that the accommodation in the temple was not suitable, and, of course, went in search of additional quarters, either in country houses, or in convents, where they could have their meals and retire, after the ceremonies were over.
On the occasion of Mrs. Ch’in’s funeral, all the members of the clan put up temporarily in the Iron Fence Temple; lady Feng alone looked down upon it as inconvenient, and consequently despatched a servant to go and tell Ch’ing Hsue, a nun in the Bread Convent, to empty two rooms for her to go and live in.
This Bread Convent had at one time been styled the Shui Yueh nunnery (water moon); but as good bread was made in that temple, it gave rise to this nickname.
This convent was not very distant from the Temple of the Iron Fence, so that as soon as the bonzes brought their functions to a close, and the sacrifice of evening was offered, Chia Chen asked Chia Jung to request lady Feng to retire to rest; and as lady Feng perceived that there still remained several sisters-in- law to keep company to the female relatives, she readily, of her own accord, took leave of the whole party, and, along with Pao-yue and Ch’in Chung, came to the Water Moon Convent.
Ch’in Yeh, it must be noticed, was advanced in years and a victim to many ailments, so that he was unable to remain in the temple long, and he bade Ch’in Chung tarry until the coffin had been set in its resting place, with the
result that Ch’in Chung came along, at the same time as lady Feng and Pao- yue, to the Water Moon Convent, where Ch’ing Hsue appeared, together with two neophytes, Chih Shan and Chih Neng, to receive them. After they had exchanged greetings, lady Feng and the others entered the “chaste” apartments to change their clothes and wash their hands; and when they had done, as she perceived how much taller in stature Chih Neng had grown and how much handsomer were her features, she felt prompted to inquire, “How is it that your prioress and yourselves haven’t been all these days as far as our place?”
“It’s because during these days we haven’t had any time which we could call our own,” explained Ch’ing Hsue. “Owing to the birth of a son in Mr. Hu’s mansion, dame Hu sent over about ten taels and asked that we should invite several head-nuns to read during three days the service for the churching of women, with the result that we’ve been so very busy and had so little leisure, that we couldn’t come over to pay our respects to your ladyship.”
But leaving aside the old nun, who kept lady Feng company, we will now return to the two lads Pao-yue and Ch’in Chung. They were up to their pranks in the main building of the convent, when seeing Chih Neng come over: “Here’s Neng Erh,” Pao-yue exclaimed with a smile.
“Why notice a creature like her?” remarked Ch’in Chung; to which Pao-yue rejoined laughingly: “Don’t be sly! why then did you the other day, when you were in the old lady’s rooms, and there was not a soul present, hold her in your arms? and do you want to fool me now ?”
“There was nothing of the kind,” observed Ch’in Chung smiling.
“Whether there was or not,” replied Pao-yue, “doesn’t concern me; but if you will stop her and tell her to pour a cup of tea and bring it to me to drink, I’ll then keep hands off.”
“This is indeed very strange!” Ch’in Chung answered laughing; “do you fear that if you told her to pour you one, that she wouldn’t; and what need is there that I should tell her?”
“If I ask her,” Pao-yue observed, “to pour it, she wouldn’t be as ready as
she would were you to tell her about it.”
Ch’in Chung had no help but to speak. “Neng Erh!” he said, “bring a cup of tea.”
This Neng Erh had, since her youth, been in and out of the Jung mansion, so that there was no one that she did not know; and she had also, time after time, romped and laughed with Pao-yue and Ch’in Chung. Being now grown up she gradually came to know the import of love, and she readily took a fancy to Ch’in Chung, who was an amorous being. Ch’in Chung too returned her affection, on account of her good looks; and, although he and she had not had any very affectionate tete-a-tetes, they had, however, long ago come to understand each other’s feelings and wishes.
Chih Neng walked away and returned after having poured the tea.
“Give it to me,” Ch’in Chung cried out smirkingly; while Pao-yue likewise shouted: “Give it to me.”
Chih Neng compressed her lips and sneeringly rejoined, “Are you going to have a fight even over a cup of tea? Is it forsooth likely that there’s honey in my hand?”
Pao-yue was the first to grasp and take over the cup, but while drinking it, he was about to make some inquiry, when he caught sight of Chih Shan, who came and called Chih Neng away to go and lay the plates with fruit on the table. Not much time elapsed before she came round to request the two lads to go and have tea and refreshments; but would they eat such things as were laid before them? They simply sat for a while and came out again and resumed their play.
Lady Feng too stayed for a few moments, and then returned, with the old nun as her escort, into the “unsullied” rooms to lie down. By this time, all the matrons and married women discovered that there was nothing else to be done, and they dispersed in succession, retiring each to rest. There only remained in attendance several young girls who enjoyed her confidence, and the old nun speedily availed herself of the opportunity to speak. “I’ve got something,” she said, “about which I mean to go to your mansion to beg of madame Wang; but I’ll first request you, my lady, to tell me how to set to work.”
“What’s it?” ascertained lady Feng.
“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed the old nun, “It’s this; in days gone by, I first lived in the Ch’ang An district. When I became a nun and entered the monastery of Excellent Merit, there lived, at that time, a subscriber, Chang by surname, a very wealthy man. He had a daughter, whose infant name was Chin Ko; the whole family came in the course of that year to the convent I was in, to offer incense, and as luck would have it they met Li Ya-nei, a brother of a secondary wife of the Prefect of the Ch’ang An Prefecture. This Li Ya-nei fell in love at first sight with her, and would wed Chin Ko as his wife. He sent go-betweens to ask her in marriage, but, contrary to his expectations, Chin Ko had already received the engagement presents of the son of the ex-Major of the Ch’ang An Prefecture. The Chang family, on the other hand, were afraid that if they withdrew from the match, the Major would not give up his claim, and they therefore replied that she was already promised to another. But, who would have thought it, this Mr. Li was seriously bent upon marrying the young lady. But while the Chang family were at a loss what plan to devise, and both parties were in a dilemma, the family of the Major came unexpectedly to hear of the news; and without even looking thoroughly into the matter, they there and then had recourse to insult and abuse. ‘Is a girl,’ they insinuated, ‘to be promised to the sons of several families!’ And obstinately refusing to allow the restitution of the betrothal presents, they at once had recourse to litigation and brought an action (against the girl’s people.) That family was at their wits’ end, and had no alternative but to find some one to go to the capital to obtain means of assistance; and, losing all patience, they insisted upon the return of the presents. I believe that the present commander of the troops at Ch’ang An, Mr. Yuen, is on friendly terms with your honourable family, and could one solicit madame Wang to put in a word with Mr. Chia Cheng to send a letter and ask Mr. Yuen to speak to that Major, I have no fear that he will not agree. Should (your ladyship) be willing to take action, the Chang family are even ready to present all they have, though it may entail the ruin of their estate.”
“This affair is, it’s true, of no great moment,” lady Feng replied smiling, after hearing this appeal; “but the only thing is that madame Wang does no longer attend to matters of this nature.”
“If madame doesn’t heed them,” suggested the old nun, “you, my lady, can safely assume the direction.”
“I’m neither in need of any money to spend,” added lady Feng with a smirk, “nor do I undertake such matters!”
These words did not escape Ching Hsue’s ear; they scattered to the winds her vain hopes. After a minute or so she heaved a sigh.
“What you say may be true enough,” she remarked; “but the Chang family are also aware that I mean to come and make my appeal to your mansion; and were you now not to manage this affair, the Chang family having no idea that the lack of time prevents any steps being taken and that no importance is attached to their presents, it will appear, on the contrary, as if there were not even this little particle of skill in your household.”
At these words lady Feng felt at once inspirited. “You’ve known of old,” she added, “that I’ve never had any faith in anything concerning retribution in the Court of Judgment in the unseen or in hell; and that whatever I say that I shall do, that I do; tell them therefore to bring three thousand taels; and I shall then remedy this grievance of theirs.”
The old nun upon hearing this remark was so exceedingly delighted, that she precipitately exclaimed, “They’ve got it, they’ve got it! there will be no difficulty about it.”
“I’m not,” lady Feng went on to add, “like those people, who afford help and render assistance with an eye to money; these three thousand taels will be exclusively devoted for the travelling expenses of those youths, who will be sent to deliver messages and for them to make a few cash for their trouble; but as for me I don’t want even so much as a cash. In fact I’m able at this very moment to produce as much as thirty thousand taels.”
The old nun assented with alacrity, and said by way of reply, “If that be so, my lady, do display your charitable bounty at once to-morrow and bring things to an end.”
“Just see,” remarked lady Feng, “how hard pressed I am; which place can do
without me? but since I’ve given you my word, I shall, needless to say, speedily bring the matter to a close.”
“A small trifle like this,” hinted the old nun, “would, if placed in the hands of any one else, flurry her to such an extent that she would be quite at a loss what to do; but in your hands, my lady, even if much more were superadded, it wouldn’t require as much exertion as a wave of your hand. But the proverb well says: ‘that those who are able have much to do;’ for madame Wang, seeing that your ladyship manages all concerns, whether large or small, properly, has still more shoved the burden of everything on your shoulders, my lady; but you should, it’s but right, also take good care of your precious health.”
This string of flattery pleased lady Feng more and more, so that heedless of fatigue she went on to chat with still greater zest.
But, thing unthought of, Ch’in Chung availed himself of the darkness, as well as of the absence of any one about, to come in quest of Chih Neng. As soon as he reached the room at the back, he espied Chih Neng all alone inside washing the tea cups; and Ch’in Chung forthwith seized her in his arms and implanted kisses on her cheek. Chih Neng got in a dreadful state, and stamping her feet, cried, “What are you up to?” and she was just on the point of shouting out, when Ch’in Chung rejoined: “My dear girl! I’m nearly dead from impatience, and if you don’t again to-day accept my advances, I shall this very moment die on this spot.”
“What you’re bent upon,” added Chih Neng, “can’t be effected; not unless you wait until I’ve left this den and parted company from these people, when it will be safe enough.”
“This is of course easy enough!” remonstrated Ch’in Chung; “but the distant water cannot extinguish the close fire!”
As he spoke, with one puff, he put out the light, plunging the whole room in pitch darkness; and seizing Chih Neng, he pushed her on to the stove-couch and started a violent love affair. Chih Neng could not, though she strained every nerve, escape his importunities; nor could she very well shout, so that she felt compelled to humour him; but while he was in the midst of his ecstatic joy, they perceived a person walk in, who pressed both of them down, without uttering even so much
as a sound, and plunged them both in such a fright that their very souls flew away and their spirits wandered from their bodies; and it was after the third party had burst out laughing with a spurting sound that they eventually became aware that it was Pao-yue; when, springing to his feet impetuously, Ch’in Chung exclaimed full of resentment, “What’s this that you’re up to!”
“If you get your monkey up,” retorted Pao-yue, “why, then let you and I start bawling out;” which so abashed Chih Neng that she availed herself of the gloomy light to make her escape; while Pao-yue had dragged Ch’in Chung out of the room and asked, “Now then, do you still want to play the bully!”
“My dear fellow,” pleaded Ch’in Chung smilingly, “whatever you do don’t shout out and let every one know; and all you want, I’ll agree to.”
“We needn’t argue just now,” Pao-yue observed with a grin; “wait a while, and when all have gone to sleep, we can minutely settle accounts together.”
Soon it was time to ease their clothes, and go to bed; and lady Feng occupied the inner room; Ch’in Chung and Pao-yue the outer; while the whole ground was covered with matrons of the household, who had spread their bedding, and sat watching. As lady Feng entertained fears that the jade of Spiritual Perception might be lost, she waited until Pao-yue fell asleep, when having directed a servant to bring it to her, she placed it under the side of her own pillow.
What accounts Pao-yue settled with Ch’in Chung cannot be ascertained; and as in the absence of any positive proof what is known is based upon surmises, we shall not venture to place it on record.
Nothing worth noticing occurred the whole night; but the next day, as soon as the morning dawned, dowager lady Chia and madame Wang promptly despatched servants to come and see how Pao-yue was getting on; and to tell him likewise to put on two pieces of extra clothing, and that if there was nothing to be done it would be better for him to go back.
But was it likely that Pao-yue would be willing to go back? Besides Ch’in Chung, in his inordinate passion for Chih Neng, instigated Pao-yue to entreat lady Feng to remain another day. Lady Feng pondered in her own mind that, although the most important matters connected with the funeral ceremonies
had been settled satisfactorily, there were still a few minor details, for which no provision had been made, so that could she avail herself of this excuse to remain another day would she not win from Chia Chen a greater degree of approbation, in the second place, would she not be able further to bring Ch’ing Hsue’s business to an issue, and, in the third place, to humour Pao- yue’s wish? In view of these three advantages, which would accrue, “All that I had to do, I have done,” she readily signified to Pao-yue, “and if you be bent upon running about in here, you’ll unavoidably place me in still greater trouble; so that we must for certain start homewards to-morrow.”
“My dear cousin, my own dear cousin,” urgently entreated Pao-yue, when he heard these words, “let’s stay only this one day, and to-morrow we can go back without fail.”
They actually spent another night there, and lady Feng availed herself of their stay to give directions that the case which had been entrusted to her the previous day by the old nun should be secretly communicated to Lai Wang Erh. Lai Wang’s mind grasped the import of all that was said to him, and, having entered the city with all despatch, he went in search of the gentleman, who acted as secretary (in Mr. Yuen’s office), pretending that he had been directed by Mr. Chia Lien to come and ask him to write a letter and to send it that very night to the Ch’ang An magistrate. The distance amounted to no more than one hundred li, so that in the space of two days everything was brought to a satisfactory settlement. The general, whose name was Yuen Kuang, had been for a long time under obligations to the Chia family, so that he naturally could not refuse his co-operation in such small trifles. When he had handed his reply, Wang Erh started on his way back; where we shall leave him and return to lady Feng.
Having spent another day, she on the morrow took leave of the old nun, whom she advised to come to the mansion after the expiry of three days to fetch a reply.
Ch’in Chung and Chih Neng could not, by any means, brook the separation, and they secretly agreed to a clandestine assignation; but to these details we need not allude with any minuteness; sufficient to say that they had no alternative but to bear the anguish and to part.
Lady Feng crossed over again to the temple of the Iron Fence and ascertained how things were progressing. But as Pao Chu was obstinate in her refusal to return home, Chia Chen found himself under the necessity of selecting a few servants to act as her companions. But the reader must listen to what is said in the next chapter by way of explanation.
Chia Yuan-ch’un is, on account of her talents, selected to enter the
Feng Ts’ao Palace. Ch’in Ching-ch’ing departs, in the prime of life, by the yellow spring road.
But we must now return to the two lads, Ch’in Chung and Pao-yue. After they had passed, along with lady Feng from the Temple of the Iron Fence, whither she had gone to see how things were getting on, they entered the city in their carriages. On their arrival at home, they paid their obeisance to dowager lady Chia, madame Wang and the other members of the family, whence they returned to their own quarters, where nothing worth mentioning transpired during the night.
On the next day, Pao-yue perceiving that the repairs to the outer schoolroom had been completed, settled with Ch’in Chung that they should have evening classes. But as it happened that Ch’in Chung, who was naturally of an extremely delicate physique, caught somewhat of a chill in the country and clandestinely indulged, besides, in an intimacy with Chih Neng, which unavoidably made him fail to take good care of himself, he was, shortly after his return, troubled with a cough and a feverish cold, with nausea for drink and food, and fell into such an extremely poor state of health that he simply kept indoors and nursed himself, and was not in a fit condition to go to school. Pao-yue’s spirits were readily damped, but as there was likewise no remedy he had no other course than to wait until his complete recovery, before he could make any arrangements.
Lady Feng had meanwhile received a reply from Yuen Kuang, in which he informed her that everything had been satisfactorily settled, and the old nun
apprised the Chang family that the major had actually suppressed his indignation, hushed his complaints, and taken back the presents of the previous engagement. But who would have ever anticipated that a father and mother, whose hearts were set upon position and their ambition upon wealth, could have brought up a daughter so conscious of propriety and so full of feeling as to seize the first opportunity, after she had heard that she had been withdrawn from her former intended, and been promised to the Li family, to stealthily devise a way to commit suicide, by means of a handkerchief. The son of the Major, upon learning that Chin Ko had strangled herself, there and then jumped into the river and drowned himself, as he too was a being full of love.
The Chang and Li families were, sad to relate, very much cut up, and, in very truth, two lives and money had been sacrificed all to no use.
Lady Feng, however, during this while, quietly enjoyed the three thousand taels, and madame Wang did not have even so much as the faintest idea of the whole matter. But ever since this occasion, lady Feng’s audacity acquired more and more strength; and the actions of this kind, which she, in after days, performed, defy enumeration.
One day, the very day on which Chia Cheng’s birthday fell, while the members of the two households of Ning and Jung were assembled together offering their congratulations, and unusual bustle and stir prevailed, a gatekeeper came in, at quite an unexpected moment, to announce that Mr. Hsia, Metropolitan Head Eunuch of the six palaces, had come with the special purpose of presenting an edict from his Majesty; a bit of news which plunged Chia She, Chia Cheng and the whole company into great consternation, as they could not make out what was up. Speedily interrupting the theatrical performance, they had the banquet cleared, and the altar laid out with incense, and opening the centre gate they fell on their knees to receive the edict.
Soon they caught sight of the head eunuch, Hsia Ping-chung, advancing on horseback, and besides himself, a considerable retinue of eunuchs. The eunuch Hsia did not, in fact, carry any mandate or present any decree; but straightway advancing as far as the main hall, he dismounted, and, with a face beaming with smiles, he walked into the Hall and took his stand on the southern side.
“I have had the honour,” he said, “of receiving a special order to at once
summon Chia Cheng to present himself at Court and be admitted in His Majesty’s presence in the Lin Ching Hall.”
When he had delivered this message, he did not so much as take any tea, but forthwith mounted his horse and took his leave.
Chia Cheng and the others could not even conceive what omen this summons implied, but he had no alternative but to change his clothes with all haste and to present himself at Court, while dowager lady Chia and the inmates of the whole household were, in their hearts, a prey to such perplexity and uncertainty that they incessantly despatched messengers on flying steeds to go and bring the news.
After the expiry of four hours, they suddenly perceived Lai Ta and three or four other butlers run in, quite out of breath, through the ceremonial gate and report the glad tidings. “We have received,” they added, “our master’s commands, to hurriedly request her venerable ladyship to take madame Wang and the other ladies into the Palace, to return thanks for His Majesty’s bounty;” and other words to the same purport.
Dowager lady Chia was, at this time, standing, with agitated heart, under the verandah of the Large Hall waiting for tidings, whilst the two ladies, mesdames Hsing and Wang, Mrs. Yu, Li Wan, lady Feng, Ying Ch’un and her sisters, even up to Mrs. Hsueeh and the rest, were congregated in one place ascertaining what was the news. Old lady Chia likewise called Lai Ta in and minutely questioned him as to what had happened. “Your servants,” replied Lai Ta, “simply stood waiting outside the Lin Chuang gate, so that we were in total ignorance of what was going on inside, when presently the Eunuch Hsia came out and imparted to us the glad tidings; telling us that the eldest of the young ladies in our household had been raised, by His Majesty, to be an overseer in the Feng Ts’ao Palace, and that he had, in addition, conferred upon her the rank of worthy and virtuous secondary consort. By and by, Mr. Chia Cheng came out and also told us the same thing. Master is now gone back again to the Eastern Palace, whither he requests your venerable ladyship to go at once and offer thanks for the Imperial favour.”
When old lady Chia and the other members of the family heard these tidings they were at length reassured in their minds, and so elated were they all in one moment that joy was visible in their very faces. Without loss of time, they commenced to
don the gala dresses suitable to their rank; which done, old lady Chia led the way for the two ladies, mesdames Hsing and Wang, as well as for Mrs. Yu; and their official chairs, four of them in all, entered the palace like a trail of fish; while Chia She and Chia Chen, who had likewise changed their clothes for their court dress, took Chia Se and Chia Jung along and proceeded in attendance upon dowager lady Chia.
Indeed, of the two households of Ning and Jung, there was not one, whether high or low, woman or man, who was not in a high state of exultation, with the exception of Pao-yue, who behaved just as if the news had not reached his ears; and can you, reader, guess why? The fact is that Chih Neng, of the Water Moon Convent, had recently entered the city in a surreptitious manner in search of Ch’in Chung; but, contrary to expectation, her visit came to be known by Ch’in Yeh, who drove Chih Neng away and laid hold of Ch’in Chung and gave him a flogging. But this outburst of temper of his brought about a relapse of his old complaint, with the result that in three or five days, he, sad to say, succumbed. Ch’in Chung had himself ever been in a delicate state of health and had besides received a caning before he had got over his sickness, so that when he now saw his aged father pass away from the consequences of a fit of anger, he felt, at this stage, so full of penitence and distress that the symptoms of his illness were again considerably aggravated. Hence it was that Pao-yue was downcast and unhappy at heart, and that nothing could, in spite of the promotion of Yuan Ch’un by imperial favour, dispel the depression of his spirits.
Dowager lady Chia and the rest in due course offered thanks and returned home, the relatives and friends came to present their congratulations, great stir and excitement prevailed during these few days in the two mansions of Ning and Jung, and every one was in high glee; but he alone looked upon everything as if it were nothing; taking not the least interest in anything; and as this reason led the whole family to sneer at him, the result was that he got more and more doltish.
Luckily, however, Chia Lien and Tai-yue were on their way back, and had despatched messengers, in advance, to announce the news that they would be able to reach home the following day, so that when Pao-yue heard the tidings, he was at length somewhat cheered. And when he came to institute minute inquiries, he eventually found out: “that Chia Yue-ts’un was also coming to the capital to have
an audience with His Majesty, that it was entirely because Wang Tzu-t’eng had repeatedly laid before the Throne memorials recommending him that he was coming on this occasion to wait in the metropolis for a vacancy which he could fill up; that as he was a kinsman of Chia Lien’s, acknowledging the same ancestors as he did, and he stood, on the other hand, with Tai-yue, in the relationship of tutor and pupil, he was in consequence following the same road and coming as their companion; that Lin Ju-hai had already been buried in the ancestral vault, and that every requirement had been attended to with propriety; that Chia Lien, on this voyage to the capital, would, had he progressed by the ordinary stages, have been over a month before he could reach home, but that when he came to hear the good news about Yuan Ch’un, he pressed on day and night to enter the capital; and that the whole journey had been throughout, in every respect, both pleasant and propitious.”
But Pao-yue merely ascertained whether Tai-yue was all right, and did not even so much as trouble his mind with the rest of what he heard; and he remained on the tiptoe of expectation, till noon of the morrow; when, in point of fact, it was announced that Mr. Lien, together with Miss Lin, had made their entrance into the mansion. When they came face to face, grief and joy vied with each other; and they could not help having a good cry for a while; after which followed again expressions of sympathy and congratulations; while Pao-yue pondered within himself that Tai-yue had become still more surpassingly handsome.
Tai-yue had also brought along with her a good number of books, and she promptly gave orders that the sleeping rooms should be swept, and that the various nicknacks should be put in their proper places. She further produced a certain quantity of paper, pencils and other such things, and distributed them among Pao Ch’ai, Ying Ch’un, Pao-yue and the rest; and Pao-yue also brought out, with extreme care, the string of Ling-ling scented beads, which had been given to him by the Prince of Pei Ching, and handed them, in his turn, to Tai-yue as a present.
“What foul man has taken hold of them?” exclaimed Tai-yue. “I don’t want any such things;” and as she forthwith dashed them down, and would not accept them, Pao-yue was under the necessity of taking them back. But for the time being we will not allude to them, but devote our attention to Chia Lien.
Having, after his arrival home, paid his salutations to all the inmates, he retired to his own quarters at the very moment that lady Feng had multifarious duties to attend to, and had not even a minute to spare; but, considering that Chia Lien had returned from a distant journey, she could not do otherwise than put by what she had to do, and to greet him and wait on him.
“Imperial uncle,” she said, in a jocose manner, when she realised that there was no outsider present in the room, “I congratulate you! What fatigue and hardship you, Imperial uncle, have had to bear throughout the whole journey, your humble servant heard yesterday, when the courier sent ahead came and announced that Your Highness would this day reach this mansion. I have merely got ready a glass of mean wine for you to wipe down the dust with, but I wonder, whether Your Highness will deign to bestow upon it the lustre of your countenance, and accept it.”
Chia Lien smiled. “How dare I presume to such an honour,” he added by way of rejoinder; “I’m unworthy of such attention! Many thanks, many thanks.”
P’ing Erh and the whole company of waiting-maids simultaneously paid their obeisance to him, and this ceremony concluded, they presented tea. Chia Lien thereupon made inquiries about the various matters, which had transpired in their home after his departure, and went on to thank lady Feng for all the trouble she had taken in the management of them.
“How could I control all these manifold matters,” remarked lady Feng; “my experience is so shallow, my speech so dull and my mind so simple, that if any one showed me a club, I would mistake it for a pin. Besides, I’m so tender-hearted that were any one to utter a couple of glib remarks, I couldn’t help feeling my heart give way to compassion and sympathy. I’ve had, in addition, no experience in any weighty questions; my pluck is likewise so very small that when madame Wang has felt in the least displeased, I have not been able to close my eyes and sleep. Urgently did I more than once resign the charge, but her ladyship wouldn’t again agree to it; maintaining, on the contrary, that my object was to be at ease, and that I was not willing to reap experience. Leaving aside that she doesn’t know that I take things so much to heart, that I can scoop the perspiration in handfuls, that I daren’t utter one word more than is proper, nor venture to recklessly take one step more than I ought to, you know very well which of the women servants,
in charge of the menage in our household, is easy to manage! If ever I make the slightest mistake, they laugh at me and poke fun at me; and if I incline a little one way, they show their displeasure by innuendoes; they sit by and look on, they use every means to do harm, they stir up trouble, they stand by on safe ground and look on and don’t give a helping hand to lift any one they have thrown over, and they are, one and all of them, old hands in such tricks. I’m moreover young in years and not able to keep people in check, so that they naturally don’t show any regard for me! What is still more ridiculous is that after the death of Jung Erh’s wife in that mansion, brother Chen, time and again, begged madame Wang, on his very knees, to do him the favour to ask me to lend him a hand for several days. I repeatedly signified my refusal, but her ladyship gave her consent in order to oblige him, so that I had no help but to carry out her wish; putting, as is my wont, everything topsy-turvey, and making matters worse than they were; with the result that brother Chen up to this day bears me a grudge and regrets having asked for my assistance. When you see him to-morrow, do what you can to excuse me by him. ‘Young as she is,’ tell him, ‘and without experience of the world, who ever could have instigated Mr. Chia Cheng to make such a mistake as to choose her.'”
While they were still chatting, they heard people talking in the outer apartments, and lady Feng speedily inquired who it was. P’ing Erh entered the room to reply. “Lady Hsueeh,” she said, “has sent sister Hsiang Ling over to ask me something; but I’ve already given her my answer and sent her back.”
“Quite so,” interposed Chia Lien with a smile. “A short while ago I went to look up Mrs. Hsueeh and came face to face with a young girl, whose features were supremely perfect, and as I suspected that, in our household, there was no such person, I asked in the course of conversation, Mrs. Hsueeh about her, and found out eventually that this was the young waiting-maid they had purchased on their way to the capital, Hsiang Ling by name, and that she had after all become an inmate of the household of that big fool Hsueeh. Since she’s had her hair dressed as a married woman she does look so much more pre-eminently beautiful! But that big fool Hsueeh has really brought contamination upon her.”
“Ai!” exclaimed lady Feng, “here you are back from a trip to Suchow and Hang Chow, where you should have seen something of the world! and have you still an
eye as envious and a heart so covetous? Well, if you wish to bestow your love on her, there’s no difficulty worth speaking of. I’ll take P’ing Erh over and exchange her for her; what do you say to that? that old brother Hsueeh is also one of those men, who, while eating what there is in the bowl, keeps an eye on what there is in the pan! For the last year or so, as he couldn’t get Hsiang Ling to be his, he made ever so many distressing appeals to Mrs. Hsueeh; and Mrs. Hsueeh while esteeming Hsiang Ling’s looks, though fine, as after all a small matter, (thought) her deportment and conduct so far unlike those of other girls, so gentle and so demure that almost the very daughters of masters and mistresses couldn’t attain her standard, that she therefore went to the trouble of spreading a banquet, and of inviting guests, and in open court, and in the legitimate course, she gave her to him for a secondary wife. But half a month had scarcely elapsed before he looked upon her also as a good-for-nothing person as he did upon a large number of them! I can’t however help feeling pity for her in my heart.”
Scarcely had she time to conclude what she had to say when a youth, on duty at the second gate, transmitted the announcement that Mr. Chia Cheng was in the Library waiting for Mr. Secundus. At these words, Chia Lien speedily adjusted his clothes, and left the apartment; and during his absence, lady Feng inquired of P’ing Erh what Mrs. Hsueeh wanted a few minutes back, that she sent Hsiang Ling round in such a hurry.
“What Hsiang Ling ever came?” replied P’ing Erh. “I simply made use of her name to tell a lie for the occasion. Tell me, my lady, (what’s come to) Wang Erh’s wife? why she’s got so bad that there’s even no common sense left in her!” Saying this she again drew near lady Feng’s side, and in a soft tone of voice, she continued: “That interest of yours, my lady, she doesn’t send later, nor does she send it sooner; but she must send it round the very moment when master Secundus is at home! But as luck would have it, I was in the hall, so that I came across her; otherwise, she would have walked in and told your ladyship, and Mr. Secundus would naturally have come to know about it! And our master would, with that frame of mind of his, have fished it out and spent it, had the money even been at the bottom of a pan full of oil! and were he to have heard that my lady had private means, would he not have been still more reckless in spending? Hence it was that, losing no time in taking the money over, I had to tell her a few words which, who would have thought, happened to be overheard by your ladyship; that’s why, in the presence of master Secundus, I simply explained that
Hsiang Ling had come!”
These words evoked a smile from lady Feng. “Mrs. Hsueh, I thought to myself,” she observed, “knows very well that your Mr. Secundus has come, and yet, regardless of propriety, she, instead (of keeping her at home), sends some one over from her inner rooms! and it was you after all, you vixen, playing these pranks!”
As she uttered this remark, Chia Lien walked in, and lady Feng issued orders to serve the wine and the eatables, and husband and wife took their seats opposite to each other; but notwithstanding that lady Feng was very partial to drink, she nevertheless did not have the courage to indulge her weakness, but merely partook of some to keep him company. Chia Lien’s nurse, dame Chao, entered the room, and Chia Lien and lady Feng promptly pressed her to have a glass of wine, and bade her sit on the stove-couch, but dame Chao was obstinate in her refusal. P’ing Erh and the other waiting-maids had at an early hour placed a square stool next to the edge of the couch, where was likewise a small footstool, and on this footstool dame Chao took a seat, whereupon Chia Lien chose two dishes of delicacies from the table, which he handed her to place on the square stool for her own use.
“Dame Chao,” lady Feng remarked, “couldn’t very well bite through that, for mind it might make her teeth drop! This morning,” she therefore asked of P’ing Erh, “I suggested that that shoulder of pork stewed with ham was so tender as to be quite the thing to be given to dame Chao to eat; and how is it you haven’t taken it over to her? But go at once and tell them to warm it and bring it in! Dame Chao,” she went on, “just you taste this Hui Ch’uean wine brought by your foster-son.”
“I’ll drink it,” replied dame Chao, “but you, my lady, must also have a cup: what’s there to fear? the one thing to guard against is any excess, that’s all! But I’ve now come over, not for any wine or eatables; on the contrary, there’s a serious matter, which I would ask your ladyship to impress on your mind, and to show me some regard, for this master of ours is only good to utter fine words, but when the time (to act) does come, he forgets all about us! As I have had the good fortune to nurse him in his infancy and to bring him up to this age, ‘I too have grown old in years,’ I said to him, ‘and all that belong to me are those two
sons, and do look upon them with some particular favour!’ With any one else I shouldn’t have ventured to open my mouth, but him I anyway entreated time and again on several occasions. His assent was of course well and good, but up to this very moment he still withholds his help. Now besides from the heavens has dropped such a mighty piece of good luck; and in what place will there be no need of servants? that’s why I come to tell you, my lady, as is but right, for were I to depend upon our master, I fear I shall even die of starvation.”
Lady Feng laughed. “You’d better,” she suggested, “put those two elder foster brothers of his both under my charge! But you’ve nursed that foster-son from his babyhood, and don’t you yet know that disposition of his, how that he takes his skin and flesh and sticks it, (not on the body of a relative), but, on the contrary, on that of an outsider and stranger? (to Chia Lien.) Which of those foster brothers whom you have now discarded, isn’t clearly better than others? and were you to have shown them some favour and consideration, who would have ventured to have said ‘don’t?’ Instead of that, you confer benefits upon thorough strangers, and all to no purpose whatever! But these words of mine are also incorrect, eh? for those whom we regard as strangers you, contrariwise, will treat just as if they were relatives!”
At these words every one present in the room burst out laughing; even nurse Chao could not repress herself; and as she invoked Buddha,–“In very truth,” she exclaimed, “in this room has sprung up a kind-hearted person! as regards relatives and strangers, such foolish distinctions aren’t drawn by our master; and it’s simply because he’s full of pity and is tenderhearted that he can’t put off any one who gives vent to a few words of entreaty, and nothing else!”
“That’s quite it!” rejoined lady Feng smiling sarcastically, “to those whom he looks upon as relatives, he’s kindhearted, but with me and his mother he’s as hard as steel.”
“What you say, my lady, is very considerate,” remarked nurse Chao, “and I’m really so full of delight that I’ll have another glass of good wine! and, if from this time forward, your ladyship will act as you think best, I’ll have then nothing to be sorry for!”
Chia Lien did not at this juncture feel quite at his ease, but he could do no more than feign a smile. “You people,” he said, “should leave off talking
nonsense, and bring the eatables at once and let us have our meal, as I have still to go on the other side and see Mr. Chia Chen, to consult with him about business.”
“To be sure you have,” ventured lady Feng, “and you shouldn’t neglect your legitimate affairs; but what did Mr. Chia Chen tell you when he sent for you just a while back?”
“It was about the visit (of Yuan Ch’un) to her parents,” Chia Lien explained.
“Has after all permission for the visit been granted?” lady Feng inquired with alacrity.
“Though not quite granted,” Chia Lien replied joyously, “it’s nevertheless more or less an accomplished fact.”
“This is indeed evidence of the great bounty of the present Emperor!” lady Feng observed smirkingly; “one doesn’t hear in books, or see in plays, written from time to time, any mention of such an instance, even so far back as the days of old!”
Dame Chao took up again the thread of the conversation. “Indeed it’s so!” she interposed; “But I’m in very truth quite stupid from old age, for I’ve heard every one, high and low, clamouring during these few days, something or other about ‘Hsing Ch’in’ or no ‘Hsing Ch’in,’ but I didn’t really pay any heed to it; and now again, here’s something more about this ‘Hsing Ch’in,’ but what’s it all about, I wonder?”
“The Emperor at present on the Throne,” explained Chia Lien, “takes into consideration the feelings of his people. In the whole world, there is (in his opinion), no more essential thing than filial piety; maintaining that the feelings of father, mother, son and daughter are indiscriminately subject to one principle, without any distinction between honorable and mean. The present Emperor himself day and night waits upon their majesties his Father and the Empress Dowager, and yet cannot, in the least degree, carry out to the full his ideal of filial piety. The secondary consorts, meritorious persons and other inmates of the Palace, he remembered, had entered within its precincts many years back, casting
aside fathers and mothers, so how could they not help thinking of them? Besides, the fathers and mothers, who remain at home must long for their daughters, of whom they cannot get even so much as a glimpse, and if, through this solicitude, they were to contract any illness, the harmony of heaven would also be seriously impaired, so for this reason, he memorialised the Emperor, his father, and the Empress Dowager that every month, on the recurrence of the second and sixth days, permission should be accorded to the relatives of the imperial consorts to enter the palace and make application to see their daughters. The Emperor, his father, and Empress Dowager were, forthwith, much delighted by this representation, and eulogised, in high terms, the piety and generosity of the present Emperor, his regard for the will of heaven and his research into the nature of things. Both their sacred Majesties consequently also issued a decree to the effect: that the entrance of the relatives of the imperial consorts into the Palace could not but interfere with the dignity of the state, and the rules of conventional rites, but that as the mothers and daughters could not gratify the wishes of their hearts, Their Majesties would, after all, show a high proof of expedient grace, and issue a special command that: ‘exclusive of the generous bounty, by virtue of which the worthy relations of the imperial consorts could enter the palace on the second and sixth days, any family, having extensive accommodation and separate courts suitable for the cantonment of the imperial body-guard, could, without any detriment, make application to the Inner Palace, for the entrance of the imperial chair into the private residences, to the end that the personal feelings of relations might be gratified, and that they should collectively enjoy the bliss of a family reunion.’ After the issue of this decree, who did not leap from grateful joy! The father of the honourable secondary consort Chou has now already initiated works, in his residence, for the repairs to the separate courts necessary for the visiting party. Wu T’ien-yu too, the father of Wu, the distinguished consort, has likewise gone outside the city walls in search of a suitable plot of ground; and don’t these amount to well-nigh accomplished facts?”
“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed dame Chao. “Is it really so? but from what you say, our family will also be making preparations for the reception of the eldest young lady!”
“That goes without saying,” added Chia Lien, “otherwise, for what purpose could we be in such a stir just now?”
“It’s of course so!” interposed lady Feng smiling, “and I shall now have an opportunity of seeing something great of the world. My misfortune is that I’m young by several years; for had I been born twenty or thirty years sooner, all these old people wouldn’t really be now treating me contemptuously for not having seen the world! To begin with, the Emperor Tai Tsu, in years gone by, imitated the old policy of Shun, and went on a tour, giving rise to more stir than any book could have ever produced; but I happen to be devoid of that good fortune which could have enabled me to come in time.”
“Ai ya, ya!” ejaculated dame Chao, “such a thing is rarely met with in a thousand years! I was old enough at that time to remember the occurrence! Our Chia family was then at Ku Su, Yangchow and all along that line, superintending the construction of ocean vessels, and the repairs to the seaboard. This was the only time in which preparations were made for the reception of the Emperor, and money was lavished in quantities as great as the billowing waters of the sea!”
This subject once introduced, lady Feng took up the thread of the conversation with vehemence. “Our Wang family,” she said, “did also make preparations on one occasion. At that time my grandfather was in sole charge of all matters connected with tribute from various states, as well as with general levees, so that whenever any foreigners arrived, they all came to our house to be entertained, while the whole of the goods, brought by foreign vessels from the two Kuang provinces, from Fukien, Yunnan and Chekiang, were the property of our family.”
“Who isn’t aware of these facts?” ventured dame Chao; “there is up to this day a saying that, ‘in the eastern sea, there was a white jade bed required, and the dragon prince came to request Mr. Wang of Chin Ling (to give it to him)!’ This saying relates to your family, my lady, and remains even now in vogue. The Chen family of Chiang Nan has recently held, oh such a fine old standing! it alone has entertained the Emperor on four occasions! Had we not seen these things with our own eyes, were we to tell no matter whom, they wouldn’t surely ever believe them! Not to speak of the money, which was as plentiful as mud, all things, whether they were to be found in the world or not, were they not heaped up like hills, and collected like the waters of the sea? But with the four characters representing sin and pity they didn’t however trouble their minds.”
“I’ve often heard,” continued lady Feng, “my eldest uncle say that things were in such a state, and how couldn’t I believe? but what surprises me is how it ever happened that this family attained such opulence and honour!”
“I’ll tell your ladyship and all in one sentence,” replied nurse Chao. “Why they simply took the Emperor’s money and spent it for the Emperor’s person, that’s all! for what family has such a lot of money as to indulge in this useless extravagance?”
While they were engaged in this conversation, a servant came a second time, at the instance of madame Wang, to see whether lady Feng had finished her meal or not; and lady Feng forthwith concluding that there must be something waiting for her to attend to, hurriedly rushed through her repast. She had just rinsed her mouth and was about to start when the youths, on duty at the second gate, also reported that the two gentlemen, Mr. Chia Jung and Mr. Chia Se, belonging to the Eastern mansion, had arrived.
Chia Lien had, at length, rinsed his mouth; but while P’ing Erh presented a basin for him to wash his hands, he perceived the two young men walk in, and readily inquired of them what they had to say.
Lady Feng was, on account (of their arrival), likewise compelled to stay, and she heard Chia Jung take the lead and observe: “My father has sent me to tell you, uncle, that the gentlemen, have already decided that the whole extent of ground, starting from the East side, borrowing (for the occasion) the flower garden of the Eastern mansion, straight up to the North West, had been measured and found to amount in all to three and a half li; that it will be suitable for the erection of extra accommodation for the visiting party; that they have already commissioned an architect to draw a plan, which will be ready by to-morrow; that as you, uncle, have just returned home, and must unavoidably feel fatigued, you need not go over to our house, but that if you have anything to say you should please come tomorrow morning, as early as you can, and consult verbally with him.”
“Thank uncle warmly,” Chia Lien rejoined smilingly, “for the trouble he has taken in thinking of me; I shall, in that case, comply with his wishes and not go over. This plan is certainly the proper one, for while trouble will thus be
saved, the erection of the quarters will likewise be an easy matter; for had a distinct plot to be selected and to be purchased, it would involve far greater difficulties. What’s more, things wouldn’t, after all, be what they properly should be. When you get back, tell your father that this decision is the right one, and that should the gentlemen have any further wish to introduce any change in their proposals, it will rest entirely with my uncle to prevent them, as it’s on no account advisable to go and cast one’s choice on some other plot; that to-morrow as soon as it’s daylight, I’ll come and pay my respects to uncle, when we can enter into further details in our deliberations!”
Chia Jung hastily signified his assent by several yes’s, and Chia Se also came forward to deliver his message. “The mission to Ku Su,” he explained, “to find tutors, to purchase servant girls, and to obtain musical instruments, and theatrical properties and the like, my uncle has confided to me; and as I’m to take along with me the two sons of a couple of majordomos, and two companions of the family, besides, Tan P’ing-jen and Pei Ku-hsiu, he has, for this reason, enjoined me to come and see you, uncle.”
Upon hearing this, Chia Lien scrutinised Chia Se. “What!” he asked, “are you able to undertake these commissions? These matters are, it’s true, of no great moment; but there’s something more hidden in them!”
Chia Se smiled. “The best thing I can do,” he remarked, “will be to execute them in my novice sort of way, that’s all.”
Chia Jung was standing next to lady Feng, out of the light of the lamp, and stealthily pulled the lapel of her dress. Lady Feng understood the hint, and putting on a smiling expression, “You are too full of fears!” she interposed. “Is it likely that our uncle Chen doesn’t, after all, know better than we do what men to employ, that you again give way to apprehensions that he isn’t up to the mark! but who are those who are, in every respect, up to the mark? These young fellows have grown up already to this age, and if they haven’t eaten any pork, they have nevertheless seen a pig run. If Mr. Chen has deputed him to go, he is simply meant to sit under the general’s standard; and do you imagine, forsooth, that he has, in real earnest, told him to go and bargain about the purchase money, and to interview the brokers himself? My own idea is that (the choice) is a very good one.”
“Of course it is!” observed Chia Lien; “but it isn’t that I entertain any wish to be factious; my only object is to devise some plan or other for him. Whence will,” he therefore went on to ask, “the money required for this purpose come from?”
“A little while ago the deliberations reached this point,” rejoined Chia Se; “and Mr. Lai suggested that there was no necessity at all to take any funds from the capital, as the Chen family, in Chiang Nan, had still in their possession Tls. 50,000 of our money. That he would to-morrow write a letter of advice and a draft for us to take along, and that we should, first of all, obtain cash to the amount of Tls. 30,000, and let the balance of Tls. 20,000 remain over, for the purchase of painted lanterns, and coloured candles, as well as for the outlay for every kind of portieres, banners, curtains and streamers.”
Chia Lien nodded his head. “This plan is first-rate!” he added.
“Since that be so,” observed lady Feng, as she addressed herself to Chia Se, “I’ve two able and reliable men; and if you would take them with you, to attend to these matters, won’t it be to your convenience?”
Chia Se forced a smile. “I was just on the point,” he rejoined, “of asking you, aunt, for the loan of two men, so that this suggestion is a strange coincidence.”
As he went on to ascertain what were their names, lady Feng inquired what they were of nurse Chao. But nurse Chao had, by this time, become quite dazed from listening to the conversation, and P’ing Erh had to give her a push, as she smiled, before she returned to consciousness. “The one,” she hastened to reply, “is called Chao T’ien-liang and the other Chao T’ien-tung.”
“Whatever you do,” suggested lady Feng, “don’t forget them; but now I’m off to look after my duties.”
With these words, she left the room, and Chia Jung promptly followed her out, and with gentle voice he said to her: “Of whatever you want, aunt, issue orders that a list be drawn up, and I’ll give it to my brother to take with him, and he’ll carry out your commissions according to the list.”
“Don’t talk nonsense!” replied lady Feng laughing; “I’ve found no place, as yet, where I could put away all my own things; and do the stealthy practices of you people take my fancy?”
As she uttered these words she straightway went her way.
Chia Se, at this time, likewise, asked Chia Lien: “If you want anything (in the way of curtains), I can conveniently have them woven for you, along with the rest, and bring them as a present to you.”
“Don’t be in such high glee!” Chia Lien urged with a grin, “you’ve but recently been learning how to do business, and have you come first and foremost to excel in tricks of this kind? If I require anything, I’ll of course write and tell you, but we needn’t talk about it.”
Having finished speaking, he dismissed the two young men; and, in quick succession, servants came to make their business reports, not limited to three and five companies, but as Chia Lien felt exhausted, he forthwith sent word to those on duty at the second gate not to allow any one at all to communicate any reports, and that the whole crowd should wait till the next day, when he would give his mind to what had to be done.
Lady Feng did not come to retire to rest till the third watch; but nothing need be said about the whole night.
The next morning, at an early hour, Chia Lien got up and called on Chia She and Chia Cheng; after which, he came over to the Ning Kuo mansion; when, in company with the old major-domos and other servants, as well as with several old family friends and companions, he inspected the grounds of the two mansions, and drew plans of the palatial buildings (for the accommodation of the Imperial consort and her escort) on her visit to her parents; deliberating at the same time, on the subject of the works and workmen.
From this day the masons and workmen of every trade were collected to the full number; and the articles of gold, silver, copper, and pewter, as well as the earth, timber, tiles, and bricks, were brought over, and carried in, in incessant supplies. In the first place, orders were issued to the workmen to demolish the wall and towers of the garden of Concentrated Fragrance, and extend a
passage to connect in a straight line with the large court in the East of the Jung mansion; for the whole extent of servants’ quarters on the Eastern side of the Jung mansion had previously been pulled down.
The two residences of Ning and Jung were, in these days, it is true, divided by a small street, which served as a boundary line, and there was no communication between them, but this narrow passage was also private property, and not in any way a government street, so that they could easily be connected, and as in the garden of Concentrated Fragrance, there was already a stream of running water, which had been introduced through the corner of the Northern wall, there was no further need now of going to the trouble of bringing in another. Although the rockeries and trees were not sufficient, the place where Chia She lived, was an old garden of the Jung mansion, so that the bamboos, trees, and rockeries in that compound, as well as the arbours, railings and other such things could all be very well removed to the front; and by these means, these two grounds, situated as they were besides so very near to each other, could, by being thrown into one, conduce to the saving of considerable capital and labour; for, in spite of some deficiency, what had to be supplied did not amount to much. And it devolved entirely upon a certain old Hu, a man of note, styled Shan Tzu-yeh, to deliberate upon one thing after another, and to initiate its construction.
Chia Cheng was not up to these ordinary matters, so that it fell to Chia She, Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Lai Ta, Lai Sheng, Lin Chih-hsiao, Wu Hsin-teng, Chan Kuang, Ch’eng Jih-hsing and several others to allot the sites, to set things in order, (and to look after) the heaping up of rockeries, the digging of ponds, the construction of two-storied buildings, the erection of halls, the plantation of bamboos and the cultivation of flowers, everything connected with the improvement of the scenery devolving, on the other hand, upon Shan Tzu-yeh to make provision for, and after leaving Court, he would devote such leisure moments as he had to merely going everywhere to give a look at the most important spots, and to consult with Chia She and the others; after which he troubled his mind no more with anything. And as Chia She did nothing else than stay at home and lie off, whenever any matter turned up, trifling though it may have been as a grain of mustard seed or a bean, Chia Chen and his associates had either to go and report it in person or to write a memorandum of it. Or if he had anything to say, he sent for Chia Lien, Lai Ta and others to come and receive his instructions. Chia Jung had the sole direction of the manufacture of the articles in gold and silver; and as for Chia Se, he had
already set out on his journey to Ku Su. Chia Chen, Lai Ta and the rest had also to call out the roll with the names of the workmen, to superintend the works and other duties relative thereto, which could not be recorded by one pen alone; sufficient to say that a great bustle and stir prevailed, but to this subject we shall not refer for a time, but allude to Pao-yue.
As of late there were in the household concerns of this magnitude to attend to, Chia Cheng did not come to examine him in his lessons, so that he was, of course, in high spirits, but, as unfortunately Ch’in Chung’s complaint became, day by day, more serious, he was at the same time really so very distressed at heart on his account, that enjoyment was for him out of the question.
On this day, he got up as soon as it was dawn, and having just combed his hair and washed his face and hands, he was bent upon going to ask dowager lady Chia to allow him to pay a visit to Ch’in Chung, when he suddenly espied Ming Yen peep round the curtain-wall at the second gate, and then withdraw his head. Pao- yue promptly walked out and inquired what he was up to.
“Mr. Ch’in Chung,” observed Ming Yen, “is not well at all.”
Pao-yue at these words was quite taken aback. “It was only yesterday,” he hastily added, “that I saw him, and he was still bright and cheery; and how is it that he’s anything but well now?”
“I myself can’t explain,” replied Ming Yen; “but just a few minutes ago an old man belonging to his family came over with the express purpose of giving me the tidings.”
Upon hearing this news, Pao-yue there and then turned round and told dowager lady Chia; and the old lady issued directions to depute some trustworthy persons to accompany him. “Let him go,” (she said), “and satisfy his feelings towards his fellow-scholar; but as soon as he has done, he must come back; and don’t let him tarry too long.”
Pao-yue with hurried step left the room and came and changed his clothes. But as on his arrival outside, the carriage had not as yet been got ready, he fell into such a state of excitement, that he went round and round all over the hall in quite an erratic manner. In a short while, after pressure had been brought to bear, the
carriage arrived, and speedily mounting the vehicle, he drove up to the door of Ch’in Chung’s house, followed by Li Kuei, Ming Yen and the other servants. Everything was quiet. Not a soul was about. Like a hive of bees they flocked into the house, to the astonishment of two distant aunts, and of several male cousins of Ch’in Chung, all of whom had no time to effect their retreat.
Ch’in Chung had, by this time, had two or three fainting fits, and had already long ago been changed his mat. As soon as Pao-yue realised the situation, he felt unable to repress himself from bursting forth aloud. Li Kuei promptly reasoned with him. “You shouldn’t go on in this way,” he urged, “you shouldn’t. It’s because Mr. Ch’in is so weak that lying flat on the stove-couch naturally made his bones feel uncomfortable; and that’s why he has temporarily been removed down here to ease him a little. But if you, sir, go on in this way, will you not, instead of doing him any good, aggravate his illness?”
At these words, Pao-yue accordingly restrained himself, and held his tongue; and drawing near, he gazed at Ch’in Chung’s face, which was as white as wax, while with closed eyes, he gasped for breath, rolling about on his pillow.
“Brother Ching,” speedily exclaimed Pao-yue, “Pao-yue is here!” But though he shouted out two or three consecutive times, Ch’in Chung did not heed him.
“Pao-yue has come!” Pao-yue went on again to cry. But Ch’in Chung’s spirit had already departed from his body, leaving behind only a faint breath of superfluous air in his lungs.
He had just caught sight of a number of recording devils, holding a warrant and carrying chains, coming to seize him, but Ch’in Chung’s soul would on no account go along with them; and remembering how that there was in his home no one to assume the direction of domestic affairs, and feeling concerned that Chih Neng had as yet no home, he consequently used hundreds of arguments in his entreaties to the recording devils; but alas! these devils would, none of them, show him any favour. On the contrary, they heaped invectives upon Ch’in Chung.
“You’re fortunate enough to be a man of letters,” they insinuated, “and don’t you know the common saying that: ‘if the Prince of Hell call upon you to die at the third watch, who can presume to retain you, a human being, up to the fifth watch?’ In our abode, in the unseen, high as well as low, have all alike a face made
of iron, and heed not selfish motives; unlike the mortal world, where favouritism and partiality prevail. There exist therefore many difficulties in the way (to our yielding to your wishes).”
While this fuss was going on, Ch’in Chung’s spirit suddenly grasped the four words, “Pao-yue has come,” and without loss of time, it went on again to make further urgent appeals. “Gentlemen, spiritual deputies,” it exclaimed; “show me a little mercy and allow me to return to make just one remark to an intimate friend of mine, and I’ll be back again.”
“What intimate friend is this again?” the devils observed with one voice.
“I’m not deceiving you, gentlemen,” rejoined Ch’in Chung; “it’s the grandson of the duke of Jung Kuo, whose infant name is Pao-yue.”
The Decider of life was, at first, upon hearing these words, so seized with dismay that he vehemently abused the devils sent on the errand.
“I told you,” he shouted, “to let him go back for a turn; but you would by no means comply with my words! and now do you wait until he has summoned a man of glorious fortune and prosperous standing to at last desist?”
When the company of devils perceived the manner of the Decider of life, they were all likewise so seized with consternation that they bustled with hand and feet; while with hearts also full of resentment: “You, sir,” they replied, “were at one time such a terror, formidable as lightning; and are you not forsooth able to listen with equanimity to the two sounds of ‘Pao-yue?’ our humble idea is that mortal as he is, and immortal as we are, it wouldn’t be to our credit if we feared him!”
But whether Ch’in Chung, after all, died or survived, the next chapter will explain.
CHAPTER XVII. In the Ta Kuan Garden, (Broad Vista,) the merits of Pao-yue are put to
the test, by his being told to write devices for scrolls and
tablets. Yuan Ch’un returns to the Jung Kuo mansion, on a visit to her parents, and offers her congratulations to them on the feast of lanterns, on the fifteenth of the first moon.
Ch’in Chung, to resume our story, departed this life, and Pao-yue went on so unceasingly in his bitter lamentations, that Li Kuei and the other servants had, for ever so long, an arduous task in trying to comfort him before he desisted; but on his return home he was still exceedingly disconsolate.
Dowager lady Chia afforded monetary assistance to the amount of several tens of taels; and exclusive of this, she had sacrificial presents likewise got ready. Pao-yue went and paid a visit of condolence to the family, and after seven days the funeral and burial took place, but there are no particulars about them which could be put on record.
Pao-yue, however, continued to mourn (his friend) from day to day, and was incessant in his remembrance of him, but there was likewise no help for it. Neither is it known after how many days he got over his grief.
On this day, Chia Chen and the others came to tell Chia Cheng that the works in the garden had all been reported as completed, and that Mr. Chia She had already inspected them. “It only remains,” (they said), “for you, sir, to see them; and should there possibly be anything which is not proper, steps will be at once taken to effect the alterations, so that the tablets and scrolls may conveniently be written.”
After Chia Cheng had listened to these words, he pondered for a while. “These tablets and scrolls,” he remarked, “present however a difficult task. According to the rites, we should, in order to obviate any shortcoming, request the imperial consort to deign and compose them; but if the honourable consort does not gaze upon the scenery with her own eyes, it will also be difficult for her to conceive its nature and indite upon it! And were we to wait until the arrival of her highness, to request her to honour the grounds with a visit, before she composes the inscriptions, such a wide landscape, with so many pavilions and arbours, will, without one character in the way of a motto, albeit it may abound with flowers, willows, rockeries, and streams, nevertheless in no way be able to show off its points of beauty to advantage.”
The whole party of family companions, who stood by, smiled. “Your views, remarkable sir,” they ventured, “are excellent; but we have now a proposal to make. Tablets and scrolls for every locality cannot, on any account, be dispensed with, but they could not likewise, by any means, be determined upon for good! Were now, for the time being, two, three or four characters fixed upon, harmonising with the scenery, to carry out, for form’s sake, the idea, and were they provisionally utilised as mottoes for the lanterns, tablets and scrolls, and hung up, pending the arrival of her highness, and her visit through the grounds, when she could be requested to decide upon the devices, would not two exigencies be met with satisfactorily?”
“Your views are perfectly correct,” observed Chia Cheng, after he had heard their suggestion; “and we should go to-day and have a look at the place so as then to set to work to write the inscriptions; which, if suitable, can readily be used; and, if unsuitable, Yue-ts’un can then be sent for, and asked to compose fresh ones.”
The whole company smiled. “If you, sir, were to compose them to-day,” they ventured, “they are sure to be excellent; and what need will there be again to wait for Yue-ts’un!”
“You people are not aware,” Chia Cheng added with a smiling countenance, “that I’ve been, even in my young days, very mediocre in the composition of stanzas on flowers, birds, rockeries and streams; and that now that I’m well up in years and have moreover the fatigue and trouble of my official duties, I’ve become in literary compositions like these, which require a light heart and gladsome mood, still more inapt. Were I even to succeed in composing any, they will unavoidably be so doltish and forced that they would contrariwise be instrumental in making the flowers, trees, garden and pavilions, through their demerits, lose in beauty, and present instead no pleasing feature.”
“This wouldn’t anyhow matter,” remonstrated all the family companions, “for after perusing them we can all decide upon them together, each one of us recommending those he thinks best; which if excellent can be kept, and if faulty can be discarded; and there’s nothing unfeasible about this!”
“This proposal is most apposite,” rejoined Chia Cheng. “What’s more, the weather is, I rejoice, fine to-day; so let’s all go in a company and have a look.”
Saying this, he stood up and went forward, at the head of the whole party; while Chia Chen betook himself in advance into the garden to let every one know of their coming. As luck would have it, Pao-yue–for he had been these last few days thinking of Ch’in Chung and so ceaselessly sad and wounded at heart, that dowager lady Chia had frequently directed the servants to take him into the new garden to play–made his entrance just at this very time, and suddenly became aware of the arrival of Chia Chen, who said to him with a smile, “Don’t you yet run away as fast as you can? Mr. Chia Cheng will be coming in a while.”
At these words, Pao-yue led off his nurse and the youths, and rushed at once out of the garden, like a streak of smoke; but as he turned a corner, he came face to face with Chia Cheng, who was advancing towards that direction, at the head of all the visitors; and as he had no time to get out of the way, the only course open to him was to stand on one side.
Chia Cheng had, of late, heard the tutor extol him by saying that he displayed special ability in rhyming antithetical lines, and that although he did not like to read his books, he nevertheless possessed some depraved talents, and hence it was that he was induced at this moment to promptly bid him follow him into the garden, with the intent of putting him to the test.
Pao-yue could not make out what his object was, but he was compelled to follow. As soon as they reached the garden gate, and he caught sight of Chia Chen, standing on one side, along with several managers: “See that the garden gate is closed for a time,” Chia Cheng exclaimed, “for we’ll first see the outside and then go in.”
Chia Chen directed a servant to close the gate, and Chia Cheng first looked straight ahead of him towards the gate and espied on the same side as the main entrance a suite of five apartments. Above, the cylindrical tiles resembled the backs of mud eels. The doors, railings, windows, and frames were all finely carved with designs of the new fashion, and were painted neither in vermilion nor in white colours. The whole extent of the walls was of polished bricks of
uniform colour; while below, the white marble on the terrace and steps was engraved with western foreign designs; and when he came to look to the right and to the left, everything was white as snow. At the foot of the white-washed walls, tiger-skin pebbles were, without regard to pattern, promiscuously inserted in the
earth in such a way as of their own selves to form streaks. Nothing fell in with the custom of gaudiness and display so much in vogue, so that he naturally felt full of delight; and, when he forthwith asked that the gate should be thrown open, all that met their eyes was a long stretch of verdant hills, which shut in the view in front of them.
“What a fine hill, what a pretty hill!” exclaimed all the companions with one voice.
“Were it not for this one hill,” Chia Cheng explained, “whatever scenery is contained in it would clearly strike the eye, as soon as one entered into the garden, and what pleasure would that have been?”
“Quite so,” rejoined all of them. “But without large hills and ravines in one’s breast (liberal capacities), how could one attain such imagination!”
After the conclusion of this remark, they cast a glance ahead of them, and perceived white rugged rocks looking, either like goblins, or resembling savage beasts, lying either crossways, or in horizontal or upright positions; on the surface of which grew moss and lichen with mottled hues, or parasitic plants, which screened off the light; while, slightly visible, wound, among the rocks, a narrow pathway like the intestines of a sheep.
“If we were now to go and stroll along by this narrow path,” Chia Cheng suggested, “and to come out from over there on our return, we shall have been able to see the whole grounds.”
Having finished speaking, he asked Chia Chen to lead the way; and he himself, leaning on Pao-yue, walked into the gorge with leisurely step.
Raising his head, he suddenly beheld on the hill a block of stone, as white as the surface of a looking-glass, in a site which was, in very deed, suitable to be left for an inscription, as it was bound to meet the eye.
“Gentlemen,” Chia Cheng observed, as he turned his head round and smiled, “please look at this spot. What name will it be fit to give it?”
When the company heard his remark, some maintained that the two words
“Heaped verdure” should be written; and others upheld that the device should be “Embroidered Hill.” Others again suggested: “Vying with the Hsiang Lu;” and others recommended “the small Chung Nan.” And various kinds of names were proposed, which did not fall short of several tens.
All the visitors had been, it must be explained, aware at an early period of the fact that Chia Cheng meant to put Pao-yue’s ability to the test, and for this reason they merely proposed a few combinations in common use. But of this intention, Pao-yue himself was likewise cognizant.
After listening to the suggestions, Chia Cheng forthwith turned his head round and bade Pao-yue think of some motto.
“I’ve often heard,” Pao-yue replied, “that writers of old opine that it’s better to quote an old saying than to compose a new one; and that an old engraving excels in every respect an engraving of the present day. What’s more, this place doesn’t constitute the main hill or the chief feature of the scenery, and is really no site where any inscription should be put, as it no more than constitutes the first step in the inspection of the landscape. Won’t it be well to employ the exact text of an old writer consisting of ‘a tortuous path leading to a secluded (nook).’ This line of past days would, if inscribed, be, in fact, liberal to boot.”
After listening to the proposed line, they all sang its praise. “First-rate! excellent!” they cried, “the natural talents of your second son, dear friend, are lofty; his mental capacity is astute; he is unlike ourselves, who have read books but are simple fools.”
“You shouldn’t,” urged Chia Cheng smilingly, “heap upon him excessive praise; he’s young in years, and merely knows one thing which he turns to the use of ten purposes; you should laugh at him, that’s all; but we can by and by choose some device.”
As he spoke, he entered the cave, where he perceived beautiful trees with thick foliage, quaint flowers in lustrous bloom, while a line of limpid stream emanated out of a deep recess among the flowers and trees, and oozed down through the crevice of the rock. Progressing several steps further in, they gradually faced the northern side, where a stretch of level ground extended far and wide, on each side of which soared lofty buildings, intruding themselves into the skies, whose carved
rafters and engraved balustrades nestled entirely among the depressions of the hills and the tops of the trees. They lowered their eyes and looked, and beheld a pure stream flowing like jade, stone steps traversing the clouds, a balustrade of white marble encircling the pond in its embrace, and a stone bridge with three archways, the animals upon which had faces disgorging water from their mouths. A pavilion stood on the bridge, and in this pavilion Chia Chen and the whole party went and sat.
“Gentlemen,” he inquired, “what shall we write about this?”
“In the record,” they all replied, “of the ‘Drunken Old Man’s Pavilion,’ written in days of old by Ou Yang, appears this line: ‘There is a pavilion pinioned-like,’ so let us call this ‘the pinioned-like pavilion,’ and finish.”
“Pinioned-like,” observed Chia Cheng smiling, “is indeed excellent; but this pavilion is constructed over the water, and there should, after all, be some allusion to the water in the designation. My humble opinion is that of the line in Ou Yang’s work, ‘(the water) drips from between the two peaks,’ we should only make use of that single word ‘drips.'”
“First-rate!” rejoined one of the visitors, “capital! but what would really be appropriate are the two characters ‘dripping jadelike.'”
Chia Chen pulled at his moustache, as he gave way to reflection; after which, he asked Pao-yue to also propose one himself.
“What you, sir, suggested a while back,” replied Pao-yue, “will do very well; but if we were now to sift the matter thoroughly, the use of the single word ‘drip’ by Ou Yang, in his composition about the Niang spring, would appear quite apposite; while the application, also on this occasion, to this spring, of the character ‘drip’ would be found not quite suitable. Moreover, seeing that this place is intended as a separate residence (for the imperial consort), on her visit to her parents, it is likewise imperative that we should comply with all the principles of etiquette, so that were words of this kind to be used, they would besides be coarse and inappropriate; and may it please you to fix upon something else more recondite and abstruse.”
“What do you, gentlemen, think of this argument?” Chia Cheng remarked
sneeringly. “A little while ago, when the whole company devised something original, you observed that it would be better to quote an old device; and now that we have quoted an old motto, you again maintain that it’s coarse and inappropriate! But you had better give us one of yours.”
“If two characters like ‘dripping jadelike’ are to be used,” Pao-yue explained, “it would be better then to employ the two words ‘Penetrating Fragrance,’ which would be unique and excellent, wouldn’t they?”
Chia Cheng pulled his moustache, nodded his head and did not utter a word; whereupon the whole party hastily pressed forward with one voice to eulogize Pao-yue’s acquirements as extraordinary.
“The selection of two characters for the tablet is an easy matter,” suggested Chia Cheng, “but now go on and compose a pair of antithetical phrases with seven words in each.”
Pao-yue cast a glance round the four quarters, when an idea came into his head, and he went on to recite:
The willows, which enclose the shore, the green borrow from three
bamboos; On banks apart, the flowers asunder grow, yet one perfume they give.
Upon hearing these lines, Chia Cheng gave a faint smile, as he nodded his head, whilst the whole party went on again to be effusive in their praise. But forthwith they issued from the pavilions, and crossed the pond, contemplating with close attention each elevation, each stone, each flower, or each tree. And as suddenly they raised their heads, they caught sight, in front of them, of a line of white wall, of numbers of columns, and beautiful cottages, where flourished hundreds and thousands of verdant bamboos, which screened off the rays of the sun.
“What a lovely place!” they one and all exclaimed. Speedily the whole company penetrated inside, perceiving, as soon as they had
entered the gate, a zigzag arcade, below the steps of which was a raised pathway, laid promiscuously with stones, and on the furthest part stood a diminutive cottage with three rooms, two with doors leading into them and one without. Everything in the interior, in the shape of beds, teapoys, chairs and tables, were made to harmonise with the space available. Leading out of the inner room of the cottage was a small door from which, as they egressed, they found a back-court with lofty pear trees in blossom and banana trees, as well as two very small retiring back-courts. At the foot of the wall, unexpectedly became visible an aperture where was a spring, for which a channel had been opened scarcely a foot or so wide, to enable it to run inside the wall. Winding round the steps, it skirted the buildings until it reached the front court, where it coiled and curved, flowing out under the bamboos.
“This spot,” observed Chia Cheng full of smiles, “is indeed pleasant! and could one, on a moonlight night, sit under the window and study, one would not spend a whole lifetime in vain!”
As he said this, he quickly cast a glance at Pao-yue, and so terrified did Pao-yue feel that he hastily drooped his head. The whole company lost no time in choosing some irrelevant talk to turn the conversation, and two of the visitors prosecuted their remarks by adding that on the tablet, in this spot, four characters should be inscribed.
“Which four characters?” Chia Cheng inquired, laughingly. ”The bequeathed aspect of the river Ch’i!” suggested one of them. ”It’s commonplace,” observed Chia Cheng. Another person recommended “the remaining vestiges of the Chue Garden.” “This too is commonplace!” replied Chia Cheng. ”Let brother Pao-yue again propound one!” interposed Chia Chen, who stood by.
“Before he composes any himself,” Chia Cheng continued, “his wont is to first discuss the pros and cons of those of others; so it’s evident that he’s an impudent fellow!”
“He’s most reasonable in his arguments,” all the visitors protested, “and why should he be called to task?”
“Don’t humour him so much!” Chia Cheng expostulated. “I’ll put up for to- day,” he however felt constrained to tell Pao-yue, “with your haughty manner, and your rubbishy speech, so that after you have, to begin with, given us your opinion, you may next compose a device. But tell me, are there any that will do among the mottoes suggested just now by all the gentlemen?”
“They all seem to me unsuitable!” Pao-yue did not hesitate to say by way of reply to this question.
Chia Cheng gave a sardonic smile. “How all unsuitable?” he exclaimed.
“This,” continued Pao-yue, “is the first spot which her highness will honour on her way, and there should be inscribed, so that it should be appropriate, something commending her sacred majesty. But if a tablet with four characters has to be used, there are likewise devices ready at hand, written by poets of old; and what need is there to compose any more?”
“Are forsooth the devices ‘the river Ch’i and the Chu Garden’ not those of old authors?” insinuated Chia Cheng.
“They are too stiff,” replied Pao-yue. “Would not the four characters: ‘a phoenix comes with dignified air,’ be better?”
With clamorous unanimity the whole party shouted: “Excellent:” and Chia Cheng nodding his head; “You beast, you beast!” he ejaculated, “it may well be said about you that you see through a thin tube and have no more judgment than an insect! Compose another stanza,” he consequently bade him; and Pao-yue recited:
In the precious tripod kettle, tea is brewed, but green is still the
smoke! O’er is the game of chess by the still window, but the fingers are yet cold.
Chia Cheng shook his head. “Neither does this seem to me good!” he said; and having concluded this remark he was leading the company out, when just as he was about to proceed, he suddenly bethought himself of something.
“The several courts and buildings and the teapoys, sideboards, tables and chairs,” he added, “may be said to be provided for. But there are still all those curtains, screens and portieres, as well as the furniture, nicknacks and curios; and have they too all been matched to suit the requirements of each place?”
“Of the things that have to be placed about,” Chia Chen explained, a good number have, at an early period, been added, and of course when the time comes everything will be suitably arranged. As for the curtains, screens, and portieres, which have to be hung up, I heard yesterday brother Lien say that they are not as yet complete, that when the works were first taken in hand, the plan of each place was drawn, the measurements accurately calculated and some one despatched to attend to the things, and that he thought that yesterday half of them were bound to come in.
Chia Cheng, upon hearing this explanation, readily remembered that with all these concerns Chia Chen had nothing to do; so that he speedily sent some one to go and call Chia Lien.
Having arrived in a short while, “How many sorts of things are there in all?” Chia Cheng inquired of him. “Of these how many kinds have by this time been got ready? and how many more are short?”
At this question, Chia Lien hastily produced, from the flaps of his boot, a paper pocket-book, containing a list, which he kept inside the tops of his boot. After perusing it and reperusing it, he made suitable reply. “Of the hundred and twenty curtains,” he proceeded, “of stiff spotted silks, embroidered with dragons in relief, and of the curtains large and small, of every kind of damask silk, eighty were got yesterday, so that there still remain forty of them to come. The two portieres were both received yesterday; and besides these, there are the two hundred red woollen portieres, two hundred portieres of Hsiang Fei bamboo; two hundred door-screens of rattan, with gold streaks, and of red lacquered bamboo; two hundred portieres of black lacquered rattan; two hundred door-screens of
variegated thread-netting with clusters of flowers. Of each of these kinds, half have come in, but the whole lot of them will be complete no later than autumn. Antimacassars, table-cloths, flounces for the beds, and cushions for the stools, there are a thousand two hundred of each, but these likewise are ready and at hand.”
As he spoke, they proceeded outwards, but suddenly they perceived a hill extending obliquely in such a way as to intercept the passage; and as they wound round the curve of the hill faintly came to view a line of yellow mud walls, the whole length of which was covered with paddy stalks for the sake of protection, and there were several hundreds of apricot trees in bloom, which presented the appearance of being fire, spurted from the mouth, or russet clouds, rising in the air. Inside this enclosure, stood several thatched cottages. Outside grew, on the other hand, mulberry trees, elms, mallows, and silkworm oaks, whose tender shoots and new twigs, of every hue, were allowed to bend and to intertwine in such a way as to form two rows of green fence. Beyond this fence and below the white mound, was a well, by the side of which stood a well-sweep, windlass and such like articles; the ground further down being divided into parcels, and apportioned into fields, which, with the fine vegetables and cabbages in flower, presented, at the first glance, the aspect of being illimitable.
“This is,” Chia Cheng observed chuckling, “the place really imbued with a certain amount of the right principle; and laid out, though it has been by human labour, yet when it strikes my eye, it so moves my heart, that it cannot help arousing in me the wish to return to my native place and become a farmer. But let us enter and rest a while.”
As he concluded these words, they were on the point of walking in, when they unexpectedly discerned a stone, outside the trellis gate, by the roadside, which had also been left as a place on which to inscribe a motto.
“Were a tablet,” argued the whole company smilingly, “put up high in a spot like this, to be filled up by and by, the rustic aspect of a farm would in that case be completely done away with; and it will be better, yea far better to erect this slab on the ground, as it will further make manifest many points of beauty. But unless a motto could be composed of the same excellence as that in Fan Shih-hu’s song on farms, it will not be adequate to express its charms!”
“Gentlemen,” observed Chia Cheng, “please suggest something.”
“A short while back,” replied the whole company, “your son, venerable brother, remarked that devising a new motto was not equal to quoting an old one, and as sites of this kind have been already exhausted by writers of days of old, wouldn’t it be as well that we should straightway call it the ‘apricot blossom village?’ and this will do splendidly.”
When Chia Cheng heard this remark, he smiled and said, addressing himself to Chia Chen: “This just reminds me that although this place is perfect in every respect, there’s still one thing wanting in the shape of a wine board; and you had better then have one made to-morrow on the very same pattern as those used outside in villages; and it needn’t be anything gaudy, but hung above the top of a tree by means of bamboos.”
Chia Chen assented. “There’s no necessity,” he went on to explain, “to keep any other birds in here, but only to rear a few geese, ducks, fowls and such like; as in that case they will be in perfect keeping with the place.”
“A splendid idea!” Chia Cheng rejoined, along with all the party.
“‘Apricot blossom village’ is really first-rate,” continued Chia Cheng as he again addressed himself to the company; “but the only thing is that it encroaches on the real designation of the village; and it will be as well to wait (until her highness comes), when we can request her to give it a name.”
“Certainly!” answered the visitors with one voice; “but now as far as a name goes, for mere form, let us all consider what expressions will be suitable to employ.”
Pao-yue did not however give them time to think; nor did he wait for Chia Cheng’s permission, but suggested there and then: “In old poetical works there’s this passage: ‘At the top of the red apricot tree hangs the flag of an inn,’ and wouldn’t it be advisable, on this occasion, to temporarily adopt the four words: ‘the sign on the apricot tree is visible’?”
“‘Is visible’ is excellent,” suggested the whole number of them, “and what’s more it secretly accords with the meaning implied by ‘apricot
“Were the two words ‘apricot blossom’ used for the name of the village, they would be too commonplace and unsuitable;” added Pao-yue with a sardonic grin, “but there’s another passage in the works of a poet of the T’ang era: ‘By the wooden gate near the water the corn-flower emits its fragrance;’ and why not make use of the motto ‘corn fragrance village,’ which will be excellent?”
When the company heard his proposal, they, with still greater vigour, unanimously combined in crying out “Capital!” as they clapped their hands.
Chia Cheng, with one shout, interrupted their cries, “You ignorant child of wrath!” he ejaculated; “how many old writers can you know, and how many stanzas of ancient poetical works can you remember, that you will have the boldness to show off in the presence of all these experienced gentlemen? (In allowing you to give vent to) all the nonsense you uttered my object was no other than to see whether your brain was clear or muddled; and all for fun’s sake, that’s all; and lo, you’ve taken things in real earnest!”
Saying this, he led the company into the interior of the hall with the mallows. The windows were pasted with paper, and the bedsteads made of wood, and all appearance of finery had been expunged, and Chia Cheng’s heart was naturally much gratified; but nevertheless, scowling angrily at Pao-yue, “What do you think of this place?” he asked.
When the party heard this question, they all hastened to stealthily give a nudge to Pao-yue, with the express purpose of inducing him to say it was nice; but Pao-yue gave no ear to what they all urged. “It’s by far below the spot,” he readily replied, “designated ‘a phoenix comes with dignified air.'”
“You ignorant stupid thing!” exclaimed Chia Cheng at these words; “what you simply fancy as exquisite, with that despicable reliance of yours upon luxury and display, are two-storied buildings and painted pillars! But how can you know anything about this aspect so pure and unobtrusive, and this is all because of that failing of not studying your books!”
“Sir,” hastily answered Pao-yue, “your injunctions are certainly correct; but
men of old have often made allusion to ‘natural;’ and what is, I wonder, the import of these two characters?”
The company had perceived what a perverse mind Pao yue possessed, and they one and all were much surprised that he should be so silly beyond the possibility of any change; and when now they heard the question he asked, about the two characters representing “natural,” they, with one accord, speedily remarked, “Everything else you understand, and how is it that on the contrary you don’t know what ‘natural’ implies? The word ‘natural’ means effected by heaven itself and not made by human labour.”
“Well, just so,” rejoined Pao-yue; “but the farm, which is laid out in this locality, is distinctly the handiwork of human labour; in the distance, there are no neighbouring hamlets; near it, adjoin no wastes; though it bears a hill, the hill is destitute of streaks; though it be close to water, this water has no spring; above, there is no pagoda nestling in a temple; below, there is no bridge leading to a market; it rises abrupt and solitary, and presents no grand sight! The palm would seem to be carried by the former spot, which is imbued with the natural principle, and possesses the charms of nature; for, though bamboos have been planted in it, and streams introduced, they nevertheless do no violence to the works executed. ‘A natural landscape,’ says, an ancient author in four words; and why? Simply because he apprehended that what was not land, would, by forcible ways, be converted into land; and that what was no hill would, by unnatural means, be raised into a hill. And ingenious though these works might be in a hundred and one ways, they cannot, after all, be in harmony.”…
But he had no time to conclude, as Chia Cheng flew into a rage. “Drive him off,” he shouted; (but as Pao-yue) was on the point of going out, he again cried out: “Come back! make up,” he added, “another couplet, and if it isn’t clear, I’ll for all this give you a slap on your mouth.”
Pao-yue had no alternative but to recite as follows:
A spot in which the “Ko” fibre to bleach, as the fresh tide doth swell the waters green! A beauteous halo and a fragrant smell the man encompass who the cress
Chia Cheng, after this recital, nodded his head. “This is still worse!” he remarked, but as he reproved him, he led the company outside, and winding past the mound, they penetrated among flowers, and wending their steps by the willows, they touched the rocks and lingered by the stream. Passing under the trellis with yellow roses, they went into the shed with white roses; they crossed by the pavilion with peonies, and walked through the garden, where the white peony grew; and entering the court with the cinnamon roses, they reached the island of bananas. As they meandered and zigzagged, suddenly they heard the rustling sound of the water, as it came out from a stone cave, from the top of which grew parasitic plants drooping downwards, while at its bottom floated the fallen flowers.
“What a fine sight!” they all exclaimed; “what beautiful scenery!”
“Gentlemen,” observed Chia Cheng, “what name do you propose for this place?”
“There’s no further need for deliberation,” the company rejoined; “for this is just the very spot fit for the three words ‘Wu Ling Spring.'”
“This too is matter-of-fact!” Chia Cheng objected laughingly, “and likewise antiquated.”
“If that won’t do,” the party smiled, “well then what about the four characters implying ‘An old cottage of a man of the Ch’in dynasty?'”
“This is still more exceedingly plain!” interposed Pao-yue. “‘The old cottage of a man of the Ch’in dynasty’ is meant to imply a retreat from revolution, and how will it suit this place? Wouldn’t the four characters be better denoting ‘an isthmus with smart weed, and a stream with flowers’?”
When Chia Cheng heard these words, he exclaimed: “You’re talking still more stuff and nonsense?” and forthwith entering the grotto, Chia Cheng went on to ask of Chia Chen, “Are there any boats or not?”
“There are to be,” replied Chia Chen, “four boats in all from which to pick
the lotus, and one boat for sitting in; but they haven’t now as yet been completed.”
“What a pity!” Chia Cheng answered smilingly, “that we cannot go in.”
“But we could also get into it by the tortuous path up the hill,” Chia Chen ventured; and after finishing this remark, he walked ahead to show the way, and the whole party went over, holding on to the creepers, and supporting themselves by the trees, when they saw a still larger quantity of fallen leaves on the surface of the water, and the stream itself, still more limpid, gently and idly meandering along on its circuitous course. By the bank of the pond were two rows of weeping willows, which, intermingling with peach and apricot trees, screened the heavens from view, and kept off the rays of the sun from this spot, which was in real truth devoid of even a grain of dust.
Suddenly, they espied in the shade of the willows, an arched wooden bridge also reveal itself to the eye, with bannisters of vermilion colour. They crossed the bridge, and lo, all the paths lay open before them; but their gaze was readily attracted by a brick cottage spotless and cool-looking; whose walls were constructed of polished bricks, of uniform colour; (whose roof was laid) with speckless tiles; and whose enclosing walls were painted; while the minor slopes, which branched off from the main hill, all passed along under the walls on to the other side.
“This house, in a site like this, is perfectly destitute of any charm!” added Chia Cheng.
And as they entered the door, abruptly appeared facing them, a large boulder studded with holes and soaring high in the skies, which was surrounded on all four sides by rocks of every description, and completely, in fact, hid from view the rooms situated in the compound. But of flowers or trees, there was not even one about; and all that was visible were a few strange kinds of vegetation; some being of the creeper genus, others parasitic plants, either hanging from the apex of the hill, or inserting themselves into the base of the rocks; drooping down even from the eaves of the house, entwining the pillars, and closing round the stone steps. Or like green bands, they waved and flapped; or like gold thread, they coiled and bent, either with seeds resembling cinnabar, or with blossoms like golden olea; whose fragrance and aroma could not be equalled by those
emitted by flowers of ordinary species.
“This is pleasant!” Chia Cheng could not refrain from saying; “the only thing is that I don’t know very much about flowers.”
“What are here are lianas and ficus pumila!” some of the company observed.
“How ever can the liana and the ficus have such unusual scent?” questioned Chia Cheng.
“Indeed they aren’t!” interposed Pao-yue. “Among all these flowers, there are also ficus and liana, but those scented ones are iris, ligularia, and ‘Wu’ flowers; that kind consist, for the most part, of ‘Ch’ih’ flowers and orchids; while this mostly of gold-coloured dolichos. That species is the hypericum plant, this the ‘Yue Lu’ creeper. The red ones are, of course, the purple rue; the green ones consist for certain, of the green ‘Chih’ plant; and, to the best of my belief, these various plants are mentioned in the ‘Li Sao’ and ‘Wen Hsuan.’ These rare plants are, some of them called something or other like ‘Huo Na’ and ‘Chiang Hui;’ others again are designated something like ‘Lun Tsu’ and ‘Tz’u Feng;’ while others there are whose names sound like ‘Shih Fan,’ ‘Shui Sung’ and ‘Fu Liu,’ which together with other species are to be found in the ‘Treatise about the Wu city’ by Tso T’ai-chung. There are also those which go under the appellation of ‘Lu T’i,’ or something like that; while there are others that are called something or other like ‘Tan Chiao,’ ‘Mi Wu’ and ‘Feng Lien;’ reference to which is made in the ‘Treatise on the Shu city.’ But so many years have now elapsed, and the times have so changed (since these treatises were written), that people, being unable to discriminate (the real names) may consequently have had to appropriate in every case such names as suited the external aspect, so that they may, it is quite possible, have gradually come to be called by wrong designations.”
But he had no time to conclude; for Chia Cheng interrupted him. “Who has ever asked you about it?” he shouted; which plunged Pao-yue into such a fright, that he drew back, and did not venture to utter another word.
Chia Cheng perceiving that on both sides alike were covered passages resembling outstretched arms, forthwith continued his steps and entered the covered way, when he caught sight, at the upper end, of a five-roomed building,
without spot or blemish, with folding blinds extending in a connected line, and with corridors on all four sides; (a building) which with its windows so green, and its painted walls, excelled, in spotless elegance, the other buildings they had seen before, to which it presented such a contrast.
Chia Cheng heaved a sigh. “If one were able,” he observed, “to boil his tea and thrum his lyre in here, there wouldn’t even be any need for him to burn any more incense. But the execution of this structure is so beyond conception that you must, gentlemen, compose something nice and original to embellish the tablet with, so as not to render such a place of no effect!”
“There’s nothing so really pat,” suggested the company smiling; “as ‘the orchid-smell-laden breeze’ and ‘the dew-bedecked epidendrum!”
“These are indeed the only four characters,” rejoined Chia Cheng, “that could be suitably used; but what’s to be said as far as the scroll goes?”
“I’ve thought of a couplet,” interposed one of the party, “which you’ll all have to criticise, and put into ship-shape; its burden is this:
“The musk-like epidendrum smell enshrouds the court, where shines the sun with oblique beams; The iris fragrance is wafted over the isle illumined by the moon’s clear rays.”
“As far as excellence is concerned, it’s excellent,” observed the whole party, “but the two words representing ‘with oblique beams’ are not felicitous.”
And as some one quoted the line from an old poem: The angelica fills the court with tears, what time the sun doth slant.
“Lugubrious, lugubrious!” expostulated the company with one voice.
Another person then interposed. “I also have a couplet, whose merits you, gentlemen, can weigh; it runs as follows:
“Along the three pathways doth float the Yue Hui scented breeze! The radiant moon in the whole hall shines on the gold orchid!”
Chia Cheng tugged at his moustache and gave way to meditation. He was just about also to suggest a stanza, when, upon suddenly raising his head, he espied Pao-yue standing by his side, too timid to give vent to a single sound.
“How is it,” he purposely exclaimed, “that when you should speak, you contrariwise don’t? Is it likely that you expect some one to request you to confer upon us the favour of your instruction?”
“In this place,” Pao-yue rejoined at these words, “there are no such things as orchids, musk, resplendent moon or islands; and were one to begin quoting such specimens of allusions, to scenery, two hundred couplets could be readily given without, even then, having been able to exhaust the supply!”
“Who presses your head down,” Chia Cheng urged, “and uses force that you must come out with all these remarks?”
“Well, in that case,” added Pao-yue, “there are no fitter words to put on the tablet than the four representing: ‘The fragrance pure of the ligularia and iris.’ While the device on the scroll might be:
“Sung is the nutmeg song, but beauteous still is the sonnet! Near the T’u Mei to sleep, makes e’en a dream with fragrance full!”
“This is,” laughed Chia Cheng sneeringly, “an imitation of the line:
“A book when it is made of plaintain leaves, the writing green is also bound to be!
“So that there’s nothing remarkable about it.”
“Li T’ai-po, in his work on the Phoenix Terrace,” protested the whole party, “copied, in every point, the Huang Hua Lou. But what’s essential is a faultless imitation. Now were we to begin to criticise minutely the couplet just cited, we would indeed find it to be, as compared with the line ‘A book when it is made of plantain leaves,’ still more elegant and of wider
application!” ”What an idea?” observed Chia Cheng derisively.
But as he spoke, the whole party walked out; but they had not gone very far before they caught sight of a majestic summer house, towering high peak-like, and of a structure rising loftily with storey upon storey; and completely locked in as they were on every side they were as beautiful as the Jade palace. Far and wide, road upon road coiled and wound; while the green pines swept the eaves, the jady epidendrum encompassed the steps, the animals’ faces glistened like gold, and the dragons’ heads shone resplendent in their variegated hues.
“This is the Main Hall,” remarked Chia Cheng; “the only word against it is that there’s a little too much finery.”
“It should be so,” rejoined one and all, “so as to be what it’s intended to be! The imperial consort has, it is true, an exalted preference for economy and frugality, but her present honourable position requires the observance of such courtesies, so that (finery) is no fault.”
As they made these remarks and advanced on their way the while, they perceived, just in front of them, an archway project to view, constructed of jadelike stone; at the top of which the coils of large dragons and the scales of small dragons were executed in perforated style.
“What’s the device to be for this spot?” inquired Chia Cheng.
“It should be ‘fairy land,'” suggested all of them, “so as to be apposite!”
Chia Cheng nodded his head and said nothing. But as soon as Pao-yue caught sight of this spot something was suddenly aroused in his heart and he began to ponder within himself. “This place really resembles something that I’ve seen somewhere or other.” But he could not at the moment recall to mind what year, moon, or day this had happened.
Chia Cheng bade him again propose a motto; but Pao-yue was bent upon thinking over the details of the scenery he had seen on a former occasion, and gave no thought whatever to this place, so that the whole company were at a loss
what construction to give to his silence, and came simply to the conclusion that, after the bullying he had had to put up with for ever so long, his spirits had completely vanished, his talents become exhausted and his speech impoverished; and that if he were harassed and pressed, he might perchance, as the result of anxiety, contract some ailment or other, which would of course not be a suitable issue, and they lost no time in combining together to dissuade Chia Cheng.
“Never mind,” they said, “to-morrow will do to compose some device; let’s drop it now.”
Chia Cheng himself was inwardly afraid lest dowager lady Chia should be anxious, so that he hastily remarked as he forced a smile. “You beast, there are, after all, also occasions on which you are no good! but never mind! I’ll give you one day to do it in, and if by to-morrow you haven’t been able to compose anything, I shall certainly not let you off. This is the first and foremost place and you must exercise due care in what you write.”
Saying this, he sallied out, at the head of the company, and cast another glance at the scenery.
Indeed from the time they had entered the gate up to this stage, they had just gone over five or six tenths of the whole ground, when it happened again that a servant came and reported that some one had arrived from Mr. Yue-‘ts’un’s to deliver a message. “These several places (which remain),” Chia Cheng observed with a smile, “we have no time to pass under inspection; but we might as well nevertheless go out at least by that way, as we shall be able, to a certain degree, to have a look at the general aspect.”
With these words, he showed the way for the family companions until they reached a large bridge, with water entering under it, looking like a curtain made of crystal. This bridge, the fact is, was the dam, which communicated with the river outside, and from which the stream was introduced into the grounds.
“What’s the name of this water-gate?” Chia Cheng inquired.
“This is,” replied Pao-yue, “the main stream of the Hsin Fang river, and is therefore called the Hsin Fang water-gate.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Chia Cheng. “The two words Hsin Fang must on no account be used!”
And as they speedily advanced on their way, they either came across elegant halls, or thatched cottages; walls made of piled-up stone, or gates fashioned of twisted plants; either a secluded nunnery or Buddhist fane, at the foot of some hill; or some unsullied houses, hidden in a grove, tenanted by rationalistic priestesses; either extensive corridors and winding grottoes; or square buildings, and circular pavilions. But Chia Cheng had not the energy to enter any of these places, for as he had not had any rest for ever so long, his legs felt shaky and his feet weak.
Suddenly they also discerned ahead of them a court disclose itself to view.
“When we get there,” Chia Cheng suggested, “we must have a little rest.” Straightway as he uttered the remark, he led them in, and winding round the jade- green peach-trees, covered with blossom, they passed through the bamboo fence and flower-laden hedge, which were twisted in such a way as to form a circular, cavelike gateway, when unexpectedly appeared before their eyes an enclosure with whitewashed walls, in which verdant willows drooped in every direction.
Chia Cheng entered the gateway in company with the whole party. Along the whole length of both sides extended covered passages, connected with each other; while in the court were laid out several rockeries. In one quarter were planted a number of banana trees; on the opposite stood a plant of begonia from Hsi Fu. Its appearance was like an open umbrella. The gossamer hanging (from its branches) resembled golden threads. The corollas (seemed) to spurt out cinnabar.
“What a beautiful flower! what a beautiful flower!” ejaculated the whole party with one voice; “begonias are verily to be found; but never before have we seen anything the like of this in beauty.”
“This is called the maiden begonia and is, in fact, a foreign species,” Chia Cheng observed. “There’s a homely tradition that it is because it emanates from the maiden kingdom that its flowers are most prolific; but this is likewise erratic talk and devoid of common sense.”
“They are, after all,” rejoined the whole company, “so unlike others (we have
seen), that what’s said about the maiden kingdom is, we are inclined to believe, possibly a fact.”
“I presume,” interposed Pao-yue, “that some clever bard or poet, (perceiving) that this flower was red like cosmetic, delicate as if propped up in sickness, and that it closely resembled the nature of a young lady, gave it, consequently, the name of maiden! People in the world will propagate idle tales, all of which are unavoidably treated as gospel!”
“We receive (with thanks) your instructions; what excellent explanation!” they all remarked unanimously, and as they expressed these words, the whole company took their seats on the sofas under the colonnade.
“Let’s think of some original text or other for a motto,” Chia Cheng having suggested, one of the companions opined that the two characters: “Banana and stork” would be felicitous; while another one was of the idea that what would be faultless would be: “Collected splendour and waving elegance!”
“‘Collected splendour and waving elegance’ is excellent,” Chia Cheng observed addressing himself to the party; and Pao-yue himself, while also extolling it as beautiful, went on to say: “There’s only one thing however to be regretted!”
“What about regret?” the company inquired.
“In this place,” Pao-yue explained, “are set out both bananas as well as begonias, with the intent of secretly combining in them the two properties of red and green; and if mention of one of them be made, and the other be omitted, (the device) won’t be good enough for selection.”
“What would you then suggest?” Chia Cheng asked.
“I would submit the four words, ‘the red (flowers) are fragrant, the green (banana leaves) like jade,’ which would render complete the beauties of both (the begonias and bananas).”
“It isn’t good! it isn’t good!” Chia Cheng remonstrated as he shook his head; and while passing this remark, he conducted the party into the house, where they noticed that the internal arrangements effected differed from those in other places, as no partitions could, in fact, be discerned. Indeed, the four sides were
all alike covered with boards carved hollow with fretwork, (in designs consisting) either of rolling clouds and hundreds of bats; or of the three friends of the cold season of the year, (fir, bamboo and almond); of scenery and human beings, or of birds or flowers; either of clusters of decoration, or of relics of olden times; either of ten thousand characters of happiness or of ten thousand characters of longevity. The various kinds of designs had been all carved by renowned hands, in variegated colours, inlaid with gold, and studded with precious gems; while on shelf upon shelf were either arranged collections of books, or tripods were laid out; either pens and inkslabs were distributed about, or vases with flowers set out, or figured pots were placed about; the designs of the shelves being either round or square; or similar to sunflowers or banana leaves; or like links, half overlapping each other. And in very truth they resembled bouquets of flowers or clusters of tapestry, with all their fretwork so transparent. Suddenly (the eye was struck) by variegated gauzes pasted (on the wood-work), actually forming small windows; and of a sudden by fine thin silks lightly overshadowing (the fretwork) just as if there were, after all, secret doors. The whole walls were in addition traced, with no regard to symmetry, with outlines of the shapes of curios and nick-nacks in imitation of lutes, double-edged swords, hanging bottles and the like, the whole number of which, though (apparently) suspended on the walls, were all however on a same level with the surface of the partition walls.
“What fine ingenuity!” they all exclaimed extollingly; “what a labour they must have been to carry out!”
Chia Cheng had actually stepped in; but scarcely had they reached the second stage, before the whole party readily lost sight of the way by which they had come in. They glanced on the left, and there stood a door, through which they could go. They cast their eyes on the right, and there was a window which suddenly impeded their progress. They went forward, but there again they were obstructed by a bookcase. They turned their heads round, and there too stood windows pasted with transparent gauze and available door-ways: but the moment they came face to face with the door, they unexpectedly perceived that a whole company of people had likewise walked in, just in front of them, whose appearance resembled their own in every respect. But it was only a mirror. And when they rounded the mirror, they detected a still larger number of doors.
“Sir,” Chia Chen remarked with a grin; “if you’ll follow me out through this door, we’ll forthwith get into the back-court; and once out of the back-court, we shall be, at all events, nearer than we were before.”
Taking the lead, he conducted Chia Cheng and the whole party round two gauze mosquito houses, when they verily espied a door through which they made their exit, into a court, replete with stands of cinnamon roses. Passing round the flower-laden hedge, the only thing that spread before their view was a pure stream impeding their advance. The whole company was lost in admiration. “Where does this water again issue from?” they cried.
Chia Chen pointed to a spot at a distance. “Starting originally,” he explained, “from that water-gate, it runs as far as the mouth of that cave, when from among the hills on the north-east side, it is introduced into that village, where again a diverging channel has been opened and it is made to flow in a south-westerly direction; the whole volume of water then runs to this spot, where collecting once more in one place, it issues, on its outward course, from beneath that wall.”
“It’s most ingenious!” they one and all exclaimed, after they had listened to him; but, as they uttered these words, they unawares realised that a lofty hill obstructed any further progress. The whole party felt very hazy about the right road. But “Come along after me,” Chia Chen smilingly urged, as he at once went ahead and showed the way, whereupon the company followed in his steps, and as soon as they turned round the foot of the hill, a level place and broad road lay before them; and wide before their faces appeared the main entrance.
“This is charming! this is delightful!” the party unanimously exclaimed, “what wits must have been ransacked, and ingenuity attained, so as to bring things to this extreme degree of excellence!”
Forthwith the party egressed from the garden, and Pao-yue’s heart anxiously longed for the society of the young ladies in the inner quarters, but as he did not hear Chia Cheng bid him go, he had no help but to follow him into the library. But suddenly Chia Cheng bethought himself of him. “What,” he said, “you haven’t gone yet! the old lady will I fear be anxious on your account; and is it pray that you haven’t as yet had enough walking?”
Pao-yue at length withdrew out of the library. On his arrival in the court, a page, who had been in attendance on Chia Cheng, at once pressed forward, and took hold of him fast in his arms. “You’ve been lucky enough,” he said, “to-day to have been in master’s good graces! just a while back when our old mistress despatched servants to come on several occasions and ask after you, we replied that master was pleased with you; for had we given any other answer, her ladyship would have sent to fetch you to go in, and you wouldn’t have had an opportunity of displaying your talents. Every one admits that the several stanzas you recently composed were superior to those of the whole company put together; but you must, after the good luck you’ve had to-day, give us a tip!”
“I’ll give each one of you a tiao,” Pao-yue rejoined smirkingly.
“Who of us hasn’t seen a tiao?” they all exclaimed, “let’s have that purse of yours, and have done with it!”
Saying this, one by one advanced and proceeded to unloosen the purse, and to unclasp the fan-case; and allowing Pao-yue no time to make any remonstrance, they stripped him of every ornament in the way of appendage which he carried about on his person. “Whatever we do let’s escort him home!” they shouted, and one after another hustled round him and accompanied him as far as dowager lady Chia’s door.
Her ladyship was at this moment awaiting his arrival, so that when she saw him walk in, and she found out that (Chia Cheng) had not bullied him, she felt, of course, extremely delighted. But not a long interval elapsed before Hsi Jen came to serve the tea; and when she perceived that on his person not one of the ornaments remained, she consequently smiled and inquired: “Have all the things that you had on you been again taken away by these barefaced rascals?”
As soon as Lin Tai-yue heard this remark, she crossed over to him and saw at a glance that not one single trinket was, in fact, left. “Have you also given them,” she felt constrained to ask, “the purse that I gave you? Well, by and by, when you again covet anything of mine, I shan’t let you have it.”
After uttering these words, she returned into her apartment in high dudgeon, and taking the scented bag, which Pao-yue had asked her to make for him, and which
she had not as yet finished, she picked up a pair of scissors, and instantly cut it to pieces.
Pao-yue noticing that she had lost her temper, came after her with hurried step, but the bag had already been cut with the scissors; and as Pao-yue observed how extremely fine and artistic this scented bag was, in spite of its unfinished state, he verily deplored that it should have been rent to pieces for no rhyme or reason. Promptly therefore unbuttoning his coat, he produced from inside the lapel the purse, which had been fastened there. “Look at this!” he remarked as he handed it to Tai-yue; “what kind of thing is this! have I given away to any one what was yours?” Lin Tai-yue, upon seeing how much he prized it as to wear it within his clothes, became alive to the fact that it was done with intent, as he feared lest any one should take it away; and as this conviction made her sorry that she had been so impetuous as to have cut the scented bag, she lowered her head and uttered not a word.
“There was really no need for you to have cut it,” Pao-yue observed; “but as I know that you’re loth to give me anything, what do you say to my returning even this purse?”
With these words, he threw the purse in her lap and walked off; which vexed Tai-yue so much the more that, after giving way to tears, she took up the purse in her hands to also destroy it with the scissors, when Pao-yue precipitately turned round and snatched it from her grasp.
“My dear cousin,” he smilingly pleaded, “do spare it!” and as Tai-yue dashed down the scissors and wiped her tears: “You needn’t,” she urged, “be kind to me at one moment, and unkind at another; if you wish to have a tiff, why then let’s part company!” But as she spoke, she lost control over her temper, and, jumping on her bed, she lay with her face turned towards the inside, and set to work drying her eyes.
Pao-yue could not refrain from approaching her. “My dear cousin, my own cousin,” he added, “I confess my fault!”
“Go and find Pao-yue!” dowager lady Chia thereupon gave a shout from where she was in the front apartment, and all the attendants explained that he was in Miss Lin’s room.
“All right, that will do! that will do!” her ladyship rejoined, when she heard this reply; “let the two cousins play together; his father kept him a short while back under check, for ever so long, so let him have some distraction. But the only thing is that you mustn’t allow them to have any quarrels.” To which the servants in a body expressed their obedience.
Tai-yue, unable to put up with Pao-yue’s importunity, felt compelled to rise. “Your object seems to be,” she remarked, “not to let me have any rest. If it is, I’ll run away from you.” Saying which, she there and then was making her way out, when Pao-yue protested with a face full of smiles: “Wherever you go, I’ll follow!” and as he, at the same time, took the purse and began to fasten it on him, Tai-yue stretched out her hand, and snatching it away, “You say you don’t want it,” she observed, “and now you put it on again! I’m really much ashamed on your account!” And these words were still on her lips when with a sound of Ch’ih, she burst out laughing.
“My dear cousin,” Pao-yue added, “to-morrow do work another scented bag for me!”
“That too will rest upon my good pleasure,” Tai-yue rejoined.
As they conversed, they both left the room together and walked into madame Wang’s suite of apartments, where, as luck would have it, Pao- ch’ai was also seated.
Unusual commotion prevailed, at this time, over at madame Wang’s, for the fact is that Chia Se had already come back from Ku Su, where he had selected twelve young girls, and settled about an instructor, as well as about the theatrical properties and the other necessaries. And as Mrs. Hsueeh had by this date moved her quarters into a separate place on the northeast side, and taken up her abode in a secluded and quiet house, (madame Wang) had had repairs of a distinct character executed in the Pear Fragrance Court, and then issued directions that the instructor should train the young actresses in this place; and casting her choice upon all the women, who had, in days of old, received a training in singing, and who were now old matrons with white hair, she bade them have an eye over them and keep them in order. Which done, she enjoined Chia Se to assume the chief control of all matters connected with the daily and monthly income and outlay, as well as of the accounts of all articles in use of
every kind and size.
Lin Chih-hsiao also came to report: “that the twelve young nuns and Taoist girls, who had been purchased after proper selection, had all arrived, and that the twenty newly-made Taoist coats had also been received. That there was besides a maiden, who though devoted to asceticism, kept her chevelure unshaved; that she was originally a denizen of Suchow, of a family whose ancestors were also people of letters and official status; that as from her youth up she had been stricken with much sickness, (her parents) had purchased a good number of substitutes (to enter the convent), but all with no relief to her, until at last this girl herself entered the gate of abstraction when she at once recovered. That hence it was that she grew her hair, while she devoted herself to an ascetic life; that she was this year eighteen years of age, and that the name given to her was Miao Yue; that her father and mother were, at this time, already dead; that she had only by her side, two old nurses and a young servant girl to wait upon her; that she was most proficient in literature, and exceedingly well versed in the classics and canons; and that she was likewise very attractive as far as looks went; that having heard that in the city of Ch’ang-an, there were vestiges of Kuan Yin and relics of the canons inscribed on leaves, she followed, last year, her teacher (to the capital). She now lives,” he said, “in the Lao Ni nunnery, outside the western gate; her teacher was a great expert in prophetic divination, but she died in the winter of last year, and her dying words were that as it was not suitable for (Miao Yue) to return to her native place, she should await here, as something in the way of a denouement was certain to turn up; and this is the reason why she hasn’t as yet borne the coffin back to her home!”
“If such be the case,” madame Wang readily suggested, “why shouldn’t we bring her here?”
“If we are to ask her,” Lin Chih-hsiao’s wife replied, “she’ll say that a marquis’ family and a duke’s household are sure, in their honourable position, to be overbearing to people; and I had rather not go.”
“As she’s the daughter of an official family,” madame Wang continued, “she’s bound to be inclined to be somewhat proud; but what harm is there to our sending her a written invitation to ask her to come!”
Lin Chih-hsiao’s wife assented; and leaving the room, she made the secretary
write an invitation and then went to ask Miao Yue. The next day servants were despatched, and carriages and sedan chairs were got ready to go and bring her over.
What subsequently transpired is not as yet known, but, reader, listen to the account given in the following chapter.
CHAPTER XVIII. His Majesty shows magnanimous bounty.
The Imperial consort Yuan pays a visit to her parents. The happiness of a family gathering.
Pao-yue displays his polished talents.
But let us resume our story. A servant came, at this moment, to report that for the works in course of execution, they were waiting for gauze and damask silk to paste on various articles, and that they requested lady Feng to go and open the depot for them to take the gauze and silk, while another servant also came to ask lady Feng to open the treasury for them to receive the gold and silver ware. And as Madame Wang, the waiting-maids and the other domestics of the upper rooms had all no leisure, Pao-ch’ai suggested: “Don’t let us remain in here and be in the way of their doing what there is to be done, and of going where they have to go,” and saying this, she betook herself, escorted by Pao-yue and the rest, into Ying Ch’un’s rooms.
Madame Wang continued day after day in a great state of flurry and confusion, straight up to within the tenth moon, by which time every arrangement had been completed, and the overseers had all handed in a clear statement of their accounts. The curios and writing materials, wherever needed, had all already been laid out and everything got ready, and the birds (and animals), from the stork, the deer and rabbits to the chickens, geese and the like, had all been purchased and handed over to be reared in the various localities in the garden; and over at Chia Se’s, had also been learnt twenty miscellaneous plays, while a company of young nuns and Taoist priestesses had likewise the whole number of them, mastered the intonation of Buddhist
classics and incantations.
Chia Cheng after this, at length, was slightly composed in mind, and cheerful at heart; and having further invited dowager lady Chia and other inmates to go into the garden, he deliberated with them on, and made arrangements for, every detail in such a befitting manner that not the least trifle remained for which suitable provision had not been made; and Chia Cheng eventually mustered courage to indite a memorial, and on the very day on which the memorial was presented, a decree was received fixing upon the fifteenth day of the first moon of the ensuing year, the very day of the Shang Yuan festival, for the honourable consorts to visit their homes.
Upon the receipt of this decree, with which the Chia family was honoured, they had still less leisure, both by day as well as by night; so much so that they could not even properly observe the new year festivities. But in a twinkle of the eye, the festival of the full moon of the first moon drew near; and beginning from the eighth day of the first moon, eunuchs issued from the palace and inspected beforehand the various localities, the apartments in which the imperial consort was to change her costume; the place where she would spend her leisure moments; the spot where she would receive the conventionalities; the premises where the banquets would be spread; the quarters where she would retire for rest.
There were also eunuchs who came to assume the patrol of the grounds and the direction of the defences; and they brought along with them a good many minor eunuchs, whose duty it was to look after the safety of the various localities, to screen the place with enclosing curtains, to instruct the inmates and officials of the Chia mansion whither to go out and whence to come in from, what side the viands should be brought in from, where to report matters, and in the observance of every kind of etiquette; and for outside the mansion, there were, on the other hand, officers from the Board of Works, and a superintendent of the Police, of the “Five Cities,” in charge of the sweeping of the streets and roads, and the clearing away of loungers. While Chia She and the others superintended the workmen in such things as the manufacture of flowered lanterns and fireworks.
The fourteenth day arrived and everything was in order; but on this night, one and all whether high or low, did not get a wink of sleep; and when the fifteenth came, every one, at the fifth watch, beginning from dowager lady Chia and
those who enjoyed any official status, appeared in full gala dress, according to their respective ranks. In the garden, the curtains were, by this time, flapping like dragons, the portieres flying about like phoenixes with variegated plumage. Gold and silver glistened with splendour. Pearls and precious gems shed out their brilliant lustre. The tripod censers burnt the Pai-ho incense. In the vases were placed evergreens. Silence and stillness prevailed, and not a man ventured so much as to cough.
Chia She and the other men were standing outside the door giving on to the street on the west; and old lady Chia and the other ladies were outside the main entrance of the Jung mansion at the head of the street, while at the mouth of the lane were placed screens to rigorously obstruct the public gaze. They were unable to bear the fatigue of any further waiting when, at an unexpected moment, a eunuch arrived on horseback, and Chia Cheng went up to meet him, and ascertained what tidings he was the bearer of.
“It’s as yet far too early,” rejoined the eunuch, “for at one o’clock (her highness) will have her evening repast, and at two she has to betake herself to the Palace of Precious Perception to worship Buddha.
At five, she will enter the Palace of Great Splendour to partake of a banquet, and to see the lanterns, after which, she will request His Majesty’s permission; so that, I’m afraid, it won’t be earlier than seven before they set out.”
Lady Feng’s ear caught what was said. “If such be the case,” she interposed, “may it please your venerable ladyship, and you, my lady, to return for a while to your apartments, and wait; and if you come when it’s time you’ll be here none too late.”
Dowager lady Chia and the other ladies immediately left for a time and suited their own convenience, and as everything in the garden devolved upon lady Feng to supervise, she ordered the butlers to take the eunuchs and give them something to eat and drink; and at the same time, she sent word that candles should be brought in and that the lanterns in the various places should be lit.
But unexpectedly was heard from outside the continuous patter of horses running, whereupon about ten eunuchs hurried in gasping and out of breath.
They clapped their hands, and the several eunuchs (who had come before), understanding the signal, and knowing that the party had arrived, stood in their respective positions; while Chia She, at the head of all the men of the clan, remained at the western street door, and dowager lady Chia, at the head of the female relatives of the family, waited outside the principal entrance to do the honours.
For a long interval, everything was plunged in silence and quiet; when suddenly two eunuchs on horseback were espied advancing with leisurely step. Reaching the western street gate, they dismounted, and, driving their horses beyond the screens, they forthwith took their stand facing the west. After another long interval, a second couple arrived, and went likewise through the same proceedings. In a short time, drew near about ten couples, when, at length, were heard the gentle strains of music, and couple by couple advanced with banners, dragons, with fans made with phoenix feathers, and palace flabella of pheasant plumes; and those besides who carried gold-washed censers burning imperial incense. Next in order was brought past a state umbrella of golden yellow, with crooked handle and embroidered with seven phoenixes; after which quickly followed the crown, robe, girdle and shoes.
There were likewise eunuchs, who took a part in the procession, holding scented handkerchiefs and embroidered towels, cups for rinsing the mouth, dusters and other such objects; and company after company went past, when, at the rear, approached with stately step eight eunuchs carrying an imperial sedan chair, of golden yellow, with a gold knob and embroidered with phoenixes.
Old lady Chia and the other members of the family hastily fell on their knees, but a eunuch came over at once to raise her ladyship and the rest; and the imperial chair was thereupon carried through the main entrance, the ceremonial gate and into a court on the eastern side, at the door of which stood a eunuch, who prostrated himself and invited (her highness) to dismount and change her costume.
Having forthwith carried her inside the gate, the eunuchs dispersed; and only the maids-of-honour and ladies-in-waiting ushered Yuan Ch’un out of the chair, when what mainly attracted her eye in the park was the brilliant lustre of the
flowered lamps of every colour, all of which were made of gauze or damask, and were beautiful in texture, and out of the common run; while on the upper side was a flat lantern with the inscription in four characters, “Regarded (by His Majesty’s) benevolence and permeated by his benefits.”
Yuan Ch’un entered the apartment and effected the necessary changes in her toilette; after which, she again egressed, and, mounting her chair, she made her entry into the garden, when she perceived the smoke of incense whirling and twirling, and the reflection of the flowers confusing the eyes. Far and wide, the rays of light, shed by the lanterns, intermingled their brilliancy, while, from time to time, fine strains of music sounded with clamorous din. But it would be impossible to express adequately the perfect harmony in the aspect of this scene, and the grandeur of affluence and splendour.
The imperial consort of the Chia family, we must now observe, upon catching sight, from the interior of her chair, of the picture presented within as well as without the confines of this garden, shook her head and heaved a sigh. “What lavish extravagance! What excessive waste!” she soliloquised.
But of a sudden was again seen a eunuch who, on his knees, invited her to get into a boat; and the Chia consort descended from the chair and stepped into the craft, when the expanse of a limpid stream met her gaze, whose grandeur resembled that of the dragon in its listless course. The stone bannisters, on each side, were one mass of air-tight lanterns, of every colour, made of crystal or glass, which threw out a light like the lustre of silver or the brightness of snow.
The willow, almond and the whole lot of trees, on the upper side, were, it is true, without blossom and leaves; but pongee and damask silks, paper and lustring had been employed, together with rice-paper, to make flowers of, which had been affixed on the branches. Upon each tree were suspended thousands of lanterns; and what is more, the lotus and aquatic plants, the ducks and water fowl in the pond had all, in like manner, been devised out of conches and clams, plumes and feathers. The various lanterns, above and below, vied in refulgence. In real truth, it was a crystal region, a world of pearls and precious stones. On board the boat were also every kind of lanterns representing such designs as are used on flower-pots, pearl-laden portieres,
embroidered curtains, oars of cinnamon wood, and paddles of magnolia, which need not of course be minutely described.
They entered a landing with a stone curb; and on this landing was erected a flat lantern upon which were plainly visible the four characters the “Persicary beach and flower-laden bank.” But, reader, you have heard how that these four characters “the persicary beach and the flower-laden bank,” the motto “a phoenix comes with dignified air,” and the rest owe one and all their origin to the unexpected test to which Chia Cheng submitted, on a previous occasion, Pao-yue’s literary abilities; but how did it come about that they were actually adopted?
You must remember that the Chia family had been, generation after generation, given to the study of letters, so that it was only natural that there should be among them one or two renowned writers of verses; for how could they ever resemble the families of such upstarts, who only employ puerile expressions as a makeshift to get through what they have to do? But the why and the wherefore must be sought in the past. The consort, belonging to the Chia mansion, had, before she entered the palace, been, from her infancy, also brought up by dowager lady Chia; and when Pao-yue was subsequently added to the family, she was the eldest sister and Pao-yue the youngest child. The Chia consort, bearing in mind how that she had, when her mother was verging on old age, at length obtained this younger brother, she for this reason doated upon him with single love; and as they were besides companions in their attendance upon old lady Chia, they were inseparable for even a moment. Before Pao-yue had entered school, and when three or four years of age, he had already received oral instruction from the imperial spouse Chia from the contents of several books and had committed to memory several thousands of characters, for though they were only sister and brother, they were like mother and child. And after she had entered the Palace, she was wont time and again to have letters taken out to her father and her cousins, urgently recommending them to be careful with his bringing up, that if they were not strict, he could not possibly become good for anything, and that if they were immoderately severe, there was the danger of something unpropitious befalling him, with the result, moreover, that his grandmother would be stricken with sorrow; and this solicitude on his account was never for an instant lost sight of by her.
Hence it was that Chia Cheng having, a few days back, heard his teacher extol him for his extreme abilities, he forthwith put him to the test on the occasion of their ramble through the garden. And though (his compositions) were not in the bold style of a writer of note, yet they were productions of their own family, and would, moreover, be instrumental, when the Chia consort had her notice attracted by them, and come to know that they were devised by her beloved brother, in also not rendering nugatory the anxious interest which she had ever entertained on his behalf, and he, therefore, purposely adopted what had been suggested by Pao-yue; while for those places, for which on that day no devices had been completed, a good number were again subsequently composed to make up what was wanted.
After the Chia consort had, for we shall now return to her, perused the four characters, she gave a smile. “The two words ‘flower-laden bank,'” she said, “are really felicitous, so what use was there for ‘persicary beach?'”
When the eunuch in waiting heard this observation, he promptly jumped off the craft on to the bank, and at a flying pace hurried to communicate it to Chia Cheng, and Chia Cheng instantly effected the necessary alteration.
By this time the craft had reached the inner bank, and leaving the boat, and mounting into her sedan chair, she in due course contemplated the magnificent Jade-like Palace; the Hall of cinnamon wood, lofty and sublime; and the marble portals with the four characters in bold style: the “Precious confines of heavenly spirits,” which the Chia consort gave directions should be changed for the four words denoting: “additional Hall (for the imperial consort) on a visit to her parents.” And forthwith making her entrance into the travelling lodge her gaze was attracted by torches burning in the court encompassing the heavens, fragments of incense strewn on the ground, fire-like trees and gem-like flowers, gold-like windows and jade-like bannisters. But it would be difficult to give a full account of the curtains, which rolled up (as fine as a) shrimp’s moustache; of the carpets of other skins spread on the floor; of the tripods exhaling the fragrant aroma of the brain of the musk deer; of the screens in a row resembling fans made of pheasant tails. Indeed, the gold-like doors and the windows like jade were suggestive of the abode of spirits; while the halls made of cinnamon wood and the palace of magnolia timber, of the very homes of the imperial secondary consorts.
“Why is it,” the Chia consort inquired, “that there is no tablet in this Hall?”
The eunuch in waiting fell on his knees. “This is the main Hall,” he reverently replied, “and the officials, outside the palace, did not presume to take upon themselves to suggest any motto.”
The Chia consort shook her head and said not a word; whereupon the eunuch, who acted as master of ceremonies, requested Her Majesty to ascend the throne and receive homage. The band stationed on the two flights of steps struck up a tune, while two eunuchs ushered Chia She, Chia Cheng and the other members on to the moonlike stage, where they arranged themselves in order and ascended into the hall, but when the ladies-in-waiting transmitted her commands that the homage could be dispensed with, they at once retraced their footsteps.
(The master of the ceremonies), in like manner led forward the dowager lady of the Jung Kuo mansion, as well as the female relatives, from the steps on the east side, on to the moon-like stage; where they were placed according to their ranks. But the maids-of-honour again commanded that they should dispense with the ceremony, so they likewise promptly withdrew.
After tea had been thrice presented, the Chia consort descended the Throne, and the music ceased. She retired into a side room to change her costume, and the private chairs were then got ready for her visit to her parents. Issuing from the garden, she came into the main quarters belonging to dowager lady Chia, where she was bent upon observing the domestic conventionalities, when her venerable ladyship, and the other members of the family, prostrated themselves in a body before her, and made her desist. Tears dropped down from the eyes of the Chia consort as (she and her relatives) mutually came forward, and greeted each other, and as with one hand she grasped old lady Chia, and with the other she held madame Wang, the three had plenty in their hearts which they were fain to speak about; but, unable as each one of them was to give utterance to their feelings, all they did was to sob and to weep, as they kept face to face to each other; while madame Hsing, widow Li Wan, Wang Hsi-feng, and the three sisters: Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un, stood aside in a body shedding tears and saying not a word.
After a long time, the Chia consort restrained her anguish, and forcing a smile, she set to work to reassure old lady Chia and madame Wang. “Having in days gone by,” she urged, “been sent to that place where no human being can be seen, I have to-day after extreme difficulty returned home; and now that you ladies and I have been reunited, instead of chatting or laughing we contrariwise give way to incessant tears! But shortly, I shall be gone, and who knows when we shall be able again to even see each other!”
When she came to this sentence, they could not help bursting into another tit of crying; and Madame Hsing hastened to come forward, and to console dowager lady Chia and the rest. But when the Chia consort resumed her seat, and one by one came again, in turn, to exchange salutations, they could not once more help weeping and sobbing for a time.
Next in order, were the managers and servants of the eastern and western mansions to perform their obeisance in the outer pavilion; and after the married women and waiting-maids had concluded their homage, the Chia consort heaved a sigh. “How many relatives,” she observed, “there are all of whom, alas! I may not see.”
“There are here now,” madame Wang rejoined with due respect, “kindred with outside family names, such as Mrs. Hsueeh, nee Wang, Pao-ch’ai, and Tai-yue waiting for your commands; but as they are distant relatives, and without official status, they do not venture to arrogate to themselves the right of entering into your presence.” But the Chia consort issued directions that they should be invited to come that they should see each other; and in a short while, Mrs. Hsueeh and the other relatives walked in, but as they were on the point of performing the rites, prescribed by the state, she bade them relinquish the observance so that they came forward, and each, in turn, alluded to what had transpired during the long separation.
Pao Ch’in also and a few other waiting-maids, whom the Chia consort had originally taken along with her into the palace, knocked their heads before dowager lady Chia, but her ladyship lost no time in raising them up, and in bidding them go into a separate suite of rooms to be entertained; and as for the retainers, eunuchs as well as maids-of-honour, ladies-in-waiting and every attendant, there were needless to say, those in the two places, the Ning mansion
and Chia She’s residence, to wait upon them; there only remained three or four young eunuchs to answer the summons.
The mother and daughter and her cousins conversed for some time on what had happened during the protracted separation, as well as on domestic affairs and their private feelings, when Chia Cheng likewise advanced as far as the other side of the portiere, and inquired after her health, and the Chia consort from inside performed the homage and other conventionalities (due to her parent).
“The families of farmers,” she further went on to say to her father, “feed on salted cabbage, and clothe in cotton material; but they readily enjoy the happiness of the relationships established by heaven! We, however, relatives though we now be of one bone and flesh, are, with all our affluence and honours, living apart from each other, and deriving no happiness whatsoever!”
Chia Cheng, on his part endeavoured, to restrain his tears. “I belonged,” he rejoined, “to a rustic and poor family; and among that whole number of pigeons and pheasants, how could I have imagined that I would have obtained the blessing of a hidden phoenix! Of late all for the sake of your honourable self, His Majesty, above, confers upon us his heavenly benefits; while we, below, show forth the virtue of our ancestors! And it is mainly because the vital principle of the hills, streams, sun, and moon, and the remote virtue of our ancestors have been implanted in you alone that this good fortune has attained me Cheng and my wife! Moreover, the present emperor, bearing in mind the great bounty shewn by heaven and earth in promoting a ceaseless succession, has vouchsafed a more generous act of grace than has ever been displayed from old days to the present. And although we may besmear our liver and brain in the mire, how could we show our gratitude, even to so slight a degree as one ten-thousandth part. But all I can do is, in the daytime, to practise diligence, vigilance at night, and loyalty in my official duties. My humble wish is that His Majesty, my master, may live ten thousand years and see thousands of autumns, so as to promote the welfare of all mankind in the world! And you, worthy imperial consort, must, on no account, be mindful of me Cheng and my wife, decrepid as we are in years. What I would solicit more than anything is that you should be more careful of yourself, and that you should be diligent and reverential in your service to His Majesty, with the intent that you may not prove ungrateful of his affectionate regard and bountiful grace.”
The Chia consort, on the other hand, enjoined “that much as it was expedient to display zeal, in the management of state matters, it behoved him, when he had any leisure, to take good care of himself, and that he should not, whatever he did, give way to solicitude on her behalf.” And Chia Cheng then went on to say “that the various inscriptions in the park over the pavilions, terraces, halls and residences had been all composed by Pao-yue, and, that in the event of there being one or two that could claim her attention, he would be happy if it would please her to at once favour him with its name.” Whereupon the imperial consort Yuean, when she heard that Pao-yue could compose verses, forthwith exclaimed with a smile: “He has in very truth made progress!”
After Chia Cheng had retired out of the hall, the Chia consort made it a point to ask: “How is it that I do not see Pao-yue?” and dowager lady Chia explained: “An outside male relative as he is, and without official rank, he does not venture to appear before you of his own accord.”
“Bring him in!” the imperial consort directed; whereupon a young eunuch ushered Pao-yue in. After he had first complied with the state ceremonies, she bade him draw near to her, and taking his hand, she held it in her lap, and, as she went on to caress his head and neck, she smiled and said: “He’s grown considerably taller than he was before;” but she had barely concluded this remark, when her tears ran down as profuse as rain. Mrs. Yu, lady Feng, and the rest pressed forward. “The banquet is quite ready,” they announced, “and your highness is requested to favour the place with your presence.”
The imperial consort Yuan stood up and asking Pao-yue to lead the way, she followed in his steps, along with the whole party, and betook herself on foot as far as the entrance of the garden gate, whence she at once espied, in the lustre shed by the lanterns, every kind of decorations. Entering the garden, they first passed the spots with the device “a phoenix comes with dignified air,” “the red (flowers are) fragrant and the green (banana leaves like) jade!” “the sign on the apricot tree is visible,” “the fragrance pure of the ligularia and iris,” and other places; and ascending the towers they walked up the halls, forded the streams and wound round the hills; contemplating as they turned their gaze from side to side, each place arranged in a different style, and each kind of article laid out in unique designs. The Chia consort expressed her admiration in most profuse eulogiums, and then went on to advise them: “that
it was not expedient to indulge in future in such excessive extravagance and that all these arrangements were over and above what should have been done.”
Presently they reached the main pavilion, where she commanded that they could dispense with the rites and take their seats. A sumptuous banquet was laid out, at which dowager lady Chia and the other ladies occupied the lower seats and entertained each other, while Mrs. Yu, widow Li Wan, lady Feng and the rest presented the soup and handed the cups. The Imperial consort Yuan subsequently directed that the pencils and inkslabs should be brought, and with her own hands she opened the silken paper. She chose the places she liked, and conferred upon them a name; and devising a general designation for the garden, she called it the Ta Kuan garden (Broad vista), while for the tablet of the main pavilion the device she composed ran as follows: “Be mindful of the grace and remember the equity (of His Majesty);” with this inscription on the antithetical scrolls:
Mercy excessive Heaven and earth display, And it men young and old hail gratefully; From old till now they pour their bounties great
Those rich gifts which Cathay and all states permeate.
Changing also the text: “A phoenix comes with dignified air for the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge.”
“The red (flowers are) fragrant and the green (banana leaves like) jade,” she altered into “Happy red and joyful green”; bestowing upon the place the appellation of the I Hung court (joyful red). The spot where “the fragrance pure of the ligularia and iris,” was inscribed, she called “the ligularia and the ‘Wu’ weed court;” and where was “the sign in the apricot tree is visible,” she designated “the cottage in the hills where dolichos is bleached.” The main tower she called the Broad Vista Tower. The lofty tower facing the east, she designated “the variegated and flowery Hall;” bestowing on the line of buildings, facing the west, the appellation of “the Hall of Occult Fragrance;” and besides these figured such further names as: “the Hall of peppery wind,” “the Arbour of lotus fragrance,” “the Islet of purple caltrop,” “the Bank of golden lotus,” and the like. There were also tablets with four characters such as: “the peach blossom and the vernal rain;” “the autumnal wind prunes the
Eloecocca,” “the artemisia leaves and the night snow,” and other similar names which could not all be placed on record. She furthermore directed that such tablets as were already put up, should not be dismounted, and she forthwith took the lead and composed an heptameter stanza, the burden of which was:
Hills it enclasps, embraces streams, with skill it is laid out: What task the grounds to raise! the works to start and bring about!
Of scenery in heaven and amongst men store has been made; The name Broad Vista o’er the fragrant park should be engraved.
When she had finished writing, she observed smilingly, as she addressed herself to all the young ladies: “I have all along lacked the quality of sharpness and never besides been good at verses; as you, sisters, and all of you have ever been aware; but, on a night like this I’ve been fain to do my best, with the object of escaping censure, and of not reflecting injustice on this scenery and nothing more. But some other day when I’ve got time, be it ever so little, I shall deem it my duty to make up what remains by inditing a record of the Broad Vista Garden, as well as a song on my visit to my parents and other such literary productions in memory of the events of this day. You sisters and others must, each of you, in like manner compose a stanza on the motto on each tablet, expressing your sentiments, as you please, without being restrained by any regard for my meagre ability. Knowing as I do besides that Pao-yue is, indeed, able to write verses, I feel the more delighted! But among his compositions, those I like the best are those in the two places, ‘the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge,’ and ‘the court of Heng and Wu;’ and next those of ‘the Joyful red court,’ and ‘the cottage in the hills, where the dolichos is bleached.’ As for grand sites like these four, there should be found some out-of-the-way expressions to insert in the verses so that they should be felicitous. The antithetical lines composed by you, (Pao-yue), on a former occasion are excellent, it is true; but you should now further indite for each place, a pentameter stanza, so that by allowing me to test you in my presence, you may not show yourself ungrateful for the trouble I have taken in teaching you from your youth up.”
Pao-yue had no help but to assent, and descending from the hall, he went off all alone to give himself up to reflection.
Of the three Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un, T’an Ch’un must be considered to have also been above the standard of her sisters, but she, in her own estimation, imagined it, in fact, difficult to compete with Hsueeh Pao-ch’ai and Lin Tai-yue. With no alternative however than that of doing her best, she followed the example of all the rest with the sole purpose of warding off criticism. And Li Wan too succeeded, after much exertion, in putting together a stanza.
The consort of the Chia family perused in due order the verses written by the young ladies, the text of which is given below.
The lines written by Ying Ch’un on the tablet of “Boundless spirits and blissful heart” were:
A park laid out with scenery surpassing fine and rare! Submissive to thy will, on boundless bliss bashful I write! Who could believe that yonder scenes in this world found a share! Will not thy heart be charmed on thy visit by the sight?
These are the verses by T’an Ch’un on the tablet of “All nature vies in splendour”:
Of aspect lofty and sublime is raised a park of fame! Honoured with thy bequest, my shallow lore fills me with shame. No words could e’er amply exhaust the beauteous skill, For lo! in very truth glory and splendour all things fill!
Thus runs Hsi Ch’un’s stanza on the tablet of the “Conception of literary compositions”:
The hillocks and the streams crosswise beyond a thousand li extend! The towers and terraces ‘midst the five-coloured clouds lofty ascend! In the resplendent radiance of both sun and moon the park it lies!
The skill these scenes to raise the skill e’en essays to conceive
The lines composed by Li Wan on the tablet “grace and elegance,” consisted of:
The comely streams and hillocks clear, in double folds, embrace; E’en Fairyland, forsooth, transcend they do in elegance and grace! The “Fragrant Plant” the theme is of the ballad fan, green-made. Like drooping plum-bloom flap the lapel red and the Hsiang gown.
From prosperous times must have been handed down those pearls and
jade. What bliss! the fairy on the jasper terrace will come down!
When to our prayers she yields, this glorious park to contemplate, No mortal must e’er be allowed these grounds to penetrate.
The ode by Hsueeh Pao-ch’ai on the tablet of “Concentrated Splendour and Accumulated auspiciousness” was:
Raised on the west of the Imperial city, lo! the park stored with fragrant smell, Shrouded by Phoebe’s radiant rays and clouds of good omen, in wondrous glory lies! The willows tall with joy exult that the parrots their nests have shifted from the dell. The bamboo groves, when laid, for the phoenix with dignity to come, were meant to rise. The very eve before the Empress’ stroll, elegant texts were ready and affixed. If even she her parents comes to see, how filial piety supreme must be! When I behold her beauteous charms and talents supernatural, with awe transfixed, One word, to utter more how can I troth ever presume, when shame overpowers me.
The distich by Lin Tai-yue on the tablet of “Spiritual stream outside the world,” ran thus:
Th’ imperial visit doth enhance joy and delight. This fairy land from mortal scenes what diff’rent sight! The comely grace it borrows of both hill and stream; And to the landscape it doth add a charm supreme. The fumes of Chin Ku wine everything permeate; The flowers the inmate of the Jade Hall fascinate.
The imperial favour to receive how blessed our lot! For oft the palace carriage will pass through this spot.
The Chia consort having concluded the perusal of the verses, and extolled them for a time: “After all,” she went on to say with a smile, “those composed by my two cousins, Hsueeh Pao-ch’ai and Lin Tai-yue, differ in excellence from those of all the rest; and neither I, stupid as I am, nor my sisters can attain their standard.”
Lin Tao-yue had, in point of fact, made up her mind to display, on this evening, her extraordinary abilities to their best advantage, and to put down every one else, but contrary to her expectations the Chia consort had expressed her desire that no more than a single stanza should be written on each tablet, so that unable, after all, to disregard her directions by writing anything in excess, she had no help but to compose a pentameter stanza, in an offhand way, merely with the intent of complying with her wishes.
Pao-yue had by this time not completed his task. He had just finished two stanzas on the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge and the Heng Wu garden, and was just then engaged in composing a verse on the “Happy red Court.” In his draft figured a line: “The (leaves) of jade-like green in spring are yet rolled up,” which Pao-ch’ai stealthily observed as she turned her eyes from side to side; and availing herself of the very first moment, when none of the company could notice her, she gave him a nudge. “As her highness,” she remarked, “doesn’t relish the four characters, representing the red (flowers are) fragrant, and the green (banana leaves) like jade, she changed them, just a while back, for ‘the joyful red and gladsome green;’ and if you deliberately now again employ these
two words ‘jade-like green,’ won’t it look as if you were bent upon being at variance with her? Besides, very many are the old books, in which the banana leaves form the theme, so you had better think of another line and substitute it and have done with it!”
When Pao-yue heard the suggestion made by Pao-ch’ai, he speedily replied, as he wiped off the perspiration: “I can’t at all just at present call to mind any passage from the contents of some old book.”
“Just simply take,” proposed Pao-ch’ai smilingly, “the character jade in jade-like green and change it into the character wax, that’s all.”
“Does ‘green wax,'” Pao-yue inquired, “come out from anywhere?”
Pao-ch’ai gently smacked her lips and nodded her head as she laughed. “I fear,” she said, “that if, on an occasion like to-night, you show no more brains than this, by and by when you have to give any answers in the golden hall, to the questions (of the examiner), you will, really, forget (the very first four names) of Chao, Oh’ien, Sun and Li (out of the hundred)! What, have you so much as forgotten the first line of the poem by Han Yue, of the T’ang dynasty, on the Banana leaf:
“Cold is the candle and without a flame, the green wax dry?”
On hearing these words, Pao-yue’s mind suddenly became enlightened. “What a fool I am!” he added with a simper; “I couldn’t for the moment even remember the lines, ready-made though they were and staring at me in my very eyes! Sister, you really can be styled my teacher, little though you may have taught me, and I’ll henceforward address you by no other name than ‘teacher,’ and not call you ‘sister’ any more!”
“Don’t you yet hurry to go on,” Pao-ch’ai again observed in a gentle tone of voice sneeringly, “but keep on calling me elder sister and younger sister? Who’s your sister? that one over there in a yellow coat is your sister!”
But apprehending, as she bandied these jokes, lest she might be wasting his time, she felt constrained to promptly move away; whereupon Pao-yue continued the ode he had been working at, and brought it to a close, writing in
all three stanzas.
Tai-yue had not had so far an opportunity of making a display of her ability, and was feeling at heart in a very dejected mood; but when she perceived that Pao-yue was having intense trouble in conceiving what he had to write, and she found, upon walking up to the side of the table, that he had only one stanza short, that on “the sign on the apricot tree is visible,” she consequently bade him copy out clean the first three odes, while she herself composed a stanza, which she noted down on a slip of paper, rumpled up into a ball, and threw just in front of Pao- yue.
As soon as Pao-yue opened it and glanced at it, he realised that it was a hundred times better than his own three stanzas, and transcribing it without loss of time, in a bold writing, he handed up his compositions.
On perusal, the Chia Consort read what follows. By Pao-yue, on: “A phoenix comes with dignified air:”
The bamboos just now don that jadelike grace, Which worthy makes them the pheasant to face; Each culm so tender as if to droop fain, Each one so verdant, in aspect so cool,
The curb protects, from the steps wards the pool. The pervious screens the tripod smell restrain. The shadow will be strewn, mind do not shake
And (Hsieh) from her now long fine dream (awake)!
On “the pure fragrance of the Ligularia and Iris Florentina:”
Hengs and Wus the still park permeate; The los and pis their sweet perfume enhance; And supple charms the third spring flowers ornate; Softly is wafted one streak of fragrance!
A light mist doth becloud the tortuous way! With moist the clothes bedews, that verdure cold! The pond who ever sinuous could hold? Dreams long and subtle, dream the household Hsieh.
On “the happy red and joyful green:”
Stillness pervades the deep pavilion on a lengthy day. The green and red, together matched, transcendent grace display. Unfurled do still remain in spring the green and waxlike leaves.
No sleep yet seeks the red-clad maid, though night’s hours be
far-spent, But o’er the rails lo, she reclines, dangling her ruddy sleeves; Against the stone she leans shrouded by taintless scent, And stands the quarter facing whence doth blow the eastern wind! Her lord and master must look up to her with feelings kind.
On “the sign on the apricot tree is visible:”
The apricot tree sign to drink wayfarers doth invite; A farm located on a hill, lo! yonder strikes the sight! And water caltrops, golden lotus, geese, as well as flows, And mulberry and elm trees which afford rest to swallows. That wide extent of spring leeks with verdure covers the ground;
And o’er ten li the paddy blossom fragrance doth abound.
In days of plenty there’s a lack of dearth and of distress, And what need then is there to plough and weave with such briskness?
When the Chia consort had done with the perusal, excessive joy filled her heart. “He has indeed made progress!” she exclaimed, and went on to point at the verses on “the sign on the apricot tree,” as being the crowning piece of the four stanzas. In due course, she with her own hands changed the motto “a cottage in the hills where dolichos is bleached” into “the paddy-scented village;” and bidding also T’an Ch’un to take the several tens of stanzas written then, and to transcribe them separately on ornamented silk paper, she commanded a eunuch to send them to the outer quarters. And when Chia Cheng and the other men perused them, one and all sung their incessant praise, while Chia Cheng, on his
part, sent in some complimentary message, with regard to her return home on a visit.
Yuan Ch’un went further and gave orders that luscious wines, a ham and other such presents should be conferred upon Pao-yue, as well as upon Chia Lan. This Chia Lan was as yet at this time a perfect youth without any knowledge of things in general, so that all that he could do was to follow the example of his mother, and imitate his uncle in performing the conventional rites.
At the very moment that Chia Se felt unable, along with a company of actresses, to bear the ordeal of waiting on the ground floor of the two- storied building, he caught sight of a eunuch come running at a flying pace. “The composition of verses is over,” he said, “so quick give me the programme;” whereupon Chia Se hastened to present the programme as well as a roll of the names of the twelve girls. And not a long interval elapsed before four plays were chosen; No. 1 being the Imperial Banquet; No. 2 Begging (the weaver goddess) for skill in needlework; No. 3 The spiritual match; and No. 4 the Parting spirit. Chia Se speedily lent a hand in the getting up, and the preparations for the performance, and each of the girls sang with a voice sufficient to split the stones and danced in the manner of heavenly spirits; and though their exterior was that of the characters in which they were dressed up for the play, their acting nevertheless represented, in a perfect manner, both sorrow as well as joy. As soon as the performance was brought to a close, a eunuch walked in holding a golden salver containing cakes, sweets, and the like, and inquired who was Ling Kuan; and Chia Se readily concluding that these articles were presents bestowed upon Ling Kuan, made haste to take them over, as he bade Ling Kuan prostrate herself.
“The honourable consort,” the eunuch further added, “directs that Ling Kuan, who is the best actress of the lot, should sing two more songs; any two will do, she does not mind what they are.”
Chia Se at once expressed his obedience, and felt constrained to urge Ling Kuan to sing the two ballads entitled: “The walk through the garden” and “Frightened out of a dream.” But Ling Kuan asserted that these two ballads had not originally
been intended for her own role; and being firm in her refusal to accede and insisting upon rendering the two songs “The Mutual Promise” and “The Mutual Abuse,” Chia Se found it hard to bring her round, and had no help but to let her have her own way. The Chia consort was so extremely enchanted with her that she gave directions that she should not be treated harshly, and that this girl should receive a careful training, while besides the fixed number of presents, she gave her two rolls of palace silk, two purses, gold and silver ingots, and presents in the way of eatables.
Subsequently, when the banquet had been cleared, and she once more prosecuted her visit through those places to which she had not been, she quite accidentally espied the Buddhist Temple encircled by hills, and promptly rinsing her hands, she walked in and burnt incense and worshipped Buddha. She also composed the device for a tablet, “a humane boat on the (world’s) bitter sea,” and went likewise so far as to show special acts of additional grace to a company of ascetic nuns and Taoist priestesses.
A eunuch came in a short while and reverently fell on his knees. “The presents are all in readiness,” he reported, “and may it please you to inspect them and to distribute them, in compliance with custom;” and presented to her a list, which the Chia consort perused from the very top throughout without raising any objection, and readily commanding that action should be taken according to the list, a eunuch descended and issued the gifts one after another. The presents for dowager lady Chia consisted, it may be added, of two sceptres, one of gold, the other of jade, with “may your wishes be fulfilled” inscribed on them; a staff made of lign-aloes; a string of chaplet beads of Chia-nan fragrant wood; four rolls of imperial satins with words “Affluence and honours” and Perennial Spring (woven in them); four rolls of imperial silk with Perennial Happiness and Longevity; two shoes of purple gold bullion, representing a pen, an ingot and “as you like;” and ten silver ingots with the device “Felicitous Blessings.” While the two shares for madame Hsing and madame Wang were only short of hers by the sceptres and staffs, four things in all. Chia She, Chia Cheng and the others had each apportioned to him a work newly written by the Emperor, two boxes of superior ink, and gold and silver cups, two pairs of each; their other gifts being identical with those above. Pao- ch’ai, Tai-yue, all the sisters and the rest were assigned each a copy of a new book, a fine slab and two pair of gold and silver ornaments of a novel kind
and original shape; Pao-yue likewise receiving the same presents. Chia Lan’s gifts consisted of two necklets, one of gold, the other of silver, and of two pair of gold ingots. Mrs. Yu, widow Li Wan, lady Feng and the others had each of them, four ingots of gold and silver; and, in the way of keepsakes, four pieces of silk. There were, in addition, presents consisting of twenty-four pieces of silk and a thousand strings of good cash to be allotted to the nurses, and waiting-maids, in the apartments of dowager lady Chia, madame Wang and of the respective sisters; while Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Chia Huan, Chia Jung and the rest had, every one, for presents, a piece of silk, and a pair of gold and silver ingots.
As regards the other gifts, there were a hundred rolls of various coloured silks, a thousand ounces of pure silver, and several bottles of imperial wine, intended to be bestowed upon all the men-servants of the mansions, on the East and the West, as well as upon those who had been in the garden overseeing works, arranging the decorations, and in waiting to answer calls, and upon those who looked after the theatres and managed the lanterns. There being, besides, five hundred strings of pure cash for the cooks, waiters, jugglers and hundreds of actors and every kind of domestic.
The whole party had finished giving expression to their thanks for her bounty, when the managers and eunuchs respectfully announced: “It is already a quarter to three, and may it please your Majesty to turn back your imperial chariot;” whereupon, much against her will, the Chia consort’s eyes brimmed over, and she once more gave vent to tears. Forcing herself however again to put on a smile, she clasped old lady Chia’s and madame Wang’s hands, and could not bring herself to let them go; while she repeatedly impressed upon their minds: that there was no need to give way to any solicitude, and that they should take good care of their healths; that the grace of the present emperor was so vast, that once a month he would grant permission for them to enter the palace and pay her a visit. “It is easy enough for us to see each other,” (she said,) “and why should we indulge in any excess of grief? But when his majesty in his heavenly generosity allows me another time to return home, you shouldn’t go in for such pomp and extravagance.”
Dowager lady Chia and the other inmates had already cried to such an extent that sobs choked their throats and they could with difficulty give utterance to speech.
But though the Chia consort could not reconcile herself to the separation, the usages in vogue in the imperial household could not be disregarded or infringed, so that she had no alternative but to stifle the anguish of her heart, to mount her chariot, and take her departure.
The whole family experienced meanwhile a hard task before they succeeded in consoling the old lady and madame Wang and in supporting them away out of the garden. But as what follows is not ascertained, the next chapter will disclose it.
In the vehemence of her feelings, Hua (Hsi Jen) on a quiet evening
admonishes Pao-yue. While (the spell) of affection continues unbroken, Pao-
yue, on a still day, perceives the fragrance emitted from Tai-yue’s
The Chia consort, we must now go on to explain, returned to the Palace, and the next day, on her appearance in the presence of His Majesty, she thanked him for his bounty and gave him furthermore an account of her experiences on her visit home. His Majesty’s dragon countenance was much elated, and he also issued from the privy store coloured satins, gold and silver and such like articles to be presented to Chia Cheng and the other officials in the various households of her relatives. But dispensing with minute details about them, we will now revert to the two mansions of Jung and Ning.
With the extreme strain on mind and body for successive days, the strength of one and all was, in point of fact, worn out and their respective energies exhausted. And it was besides after they had been putting by the various decorations and articles of use for two or three days, that they, at length, got through the work.
Lady Feng was the one who had most to do, and whose responsibilities were greatest. The others could possibly steal a few leisure moments and retire to
rest, while she was the sole person who could not slip away. In the second place, naturally anxious as she was to excel and both to fall in people’s estimation, she put up with the strain just as if she were like one of those who had nothing to attend to. But the one who had the least to do and had the most leisure was Pao- yue.
As luck would have it on this day, at an early hour, Hsi Jen’s mother came again in person and told dowager lady Chia that she would take Hsi Jen home to drink a cup of tea brewed in the new year and that she would return in the evening. For this reason Pao-yue was only in the company of all the waiting-maids, throwing dice, playing at chess and amusing himself. But while he was in the room playing with them with a total absence of zest, he unawares perceived a few waiting- maids arrive, who informed him that their senior master Mr. Chen, of the Eastern Mansion, had come to invite him to go and see a theatrical performance, and the fireworks, which were to be let off.
Upon hearing these words, Pao-yue speedily asked them to change his clothes; but just as he was ready to start, presents of cream, steamed with sugar, arrived again when least expected from the Chia Consort, and Pao-yue recollecting with what relish Hsi Jen had partaken of this dish on the last occasion forthwith bid them keep it for her; while he went himself and told dowager lady Chia that he was going over to see the play.
The plays sung over at Chia Chen’s consisted, who would have thought it, of “Ting L’ang recognises his father,” and “Huang Po-ying deploys the spirits for battle,” and in addition to these, “Sung Hsing-che causes great commotion in the heavenly palace;” “Ghiang T’ai-kung kills the general and deifies him,” and other such like. Soon appeared the spirits and devils in a confused crowd on the stage, and suddenly also became visible the whole band of sprites and goblins, among which were some waving streamers, as they went past in a procession, invoking Buddha and burning incense. The sound of the gongs and drums and of shouts and cries were audible at a distance beyond the lane; and in the whole street, one and all extolled the performance as exceptionally grand, and that the like could never have been had in the house of any other family.
Pao-yue, noticing that the commotion and bustle had reached a stage so unbearable to his taste, speedily betook himself, after merely sitting for a little
while, to other places in search of relaxation and fun. First of all, he entered the inner rooms, and after spending some time in chatting and laughing with Mrs. Yu, the waiting-maids, and secondary wives, he eventually took his departure out of the second gate; and as Mrs. Yu and her companions were still under the impression that he was going out again to see the play, they let him speed on his way, without so much as keeping an eye over him.
Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Hsueh P’an and the others were bent upon guessing enigmas, enforcing the penalties and enjoying themselves in a hundred and one ways, so that even allowing that they had for a moment noticed that he was not occupying his seat, they must merely have imagined that he had gone inside and not, in fact, worried their minds about him. And as for the pages, who had come along with Pao-yue, those who were a little advanced in years, knowing very well that Pao-yue would, on an occasion like the present, be sure not to be going before dusk, stealthily therefore took advantage of his absence, those, who could, to gamble for money, and others to go to the houses of relatives and friends to drink of the new year tea, so that what with gambling and drinking the whole bevy surreptitiously dispersed, waiting for dusk before they came back; while those, who were younger, had all crept into the green rooms to watch the excitement; with the result that Pao-yue perceiving not one of them about bethought himself of a small reading room, which existed in previous days on this side, in which was suspended a picture of a beauty so artistically executed as to look life-like. “On such a bustling day as this,” he reasoned, “it’s pretty certain, I fancy, that there will be no one in there; and that beautiful person must surely too feel lonely, so that it’s only right that I should go and console her a bit.” With these thoughts, he hastily betook himself towards the side-house yonder, and as soon as he came up to the window, he heard the sound of groans in the room. Pao-yue was really quite startled. “What!” (he thought), “can that beautiful girl, possibly, have come to life!” and screwing up his courage, he licked a hole in the paper of the window and peeped in. It was not she, however, who had come to life, but Ming Yen holding down a girl and likewise indulging in what the Monitory Dream Fairy had taught him.
“Dreadful!” exclaimed Pao-yue, aloud, unable to repress himself, and, stamping one of his feet, he walked into the door to the terror of both of them, who parting company, shivered with fear, like clothes that are being shaken. Ming Yen perceiving that it was Pao-yue promptly fell on his knees
and piteously implored for pardon.
“What! in broad daylight! what do you mean by it? Were your master Mr. Chen to hear of it, would you die or live?” asked Pao-yue, as he simultaneously cast a glance at the servant-girl, who although not a beauty was anyhow so spick and span, and possessed besides a few charms sufficient to touch the heart. From shame, her face was red and her ears purple, while she lowered her head and uttered not a syllable.
Pao-yue stamped his foot. “What!” he shouted, “don’t you yet bundle yourself away!”
This simple remark suggested the idea to the girl’s mind who ran off, as if she had wings to fly with; but as Pao-yue went also so far as to go in pursuit of her, calling out: “Don’t be afraid, I’m not one to tell anyone,” Ming Yen was so exasperated that he cried, as he went after them, “My worthy ancestor, this is distinctly telling people about it.”
“How old is that servant girl?” Pao-yue having asked; “She’s, I expect, no more than sixteen or seventeen,” Ming Yen rejoined.
“Well, if you haven’t gone so far as to even ascertain her age,” Pao-yue observed, “you’re sure to know still less about other things; and it makes it plain enough that her acquaintance with you is all vain and futile! What a pity! what a pity!”
He then went on to enquire what her name was; and “Were I,” continued Ming Yen smiling, “to tell you about her name it would involve a long yarn; it’s indeed a novel and strange story! She relates that while her mother was nursing her, she dreamt a dream and obtained in this dream possession of a piece of brocaded silk, on which were designs, in variegated colours, representing opulence and honour, and a continuous line of the character Wan; and that this reason accounts for the name of Wan Erh, which was given her.”
“This is really strange!” Pao-yue exclaimed with a grin, after lending an ear to what he had to say; “and she is bound, I think, by and by to have a good deal of good fortune!”
These words uttered, he plunged in deep thought for a while, and Ming Yen having felt constrained to inquire: “Why aren’t you, Mr. Secundus, watching a theatrical performance of this excellent kind?” “I had been looking on for ever so long,” Pao-yue replied, “until I got quite weary; and had just come out for a stroll, when I happened to meet you two. But what’s to be done now?”
Ming Yen gave a faint smile. “As there’s no one here to know anything about it,” he added, “I’ll stealthily take you, Mr. Secundus, for a walk outside the city walls; and we’ll come back shortly, before they’ve got wind of it.”
“That won’t do,” Pao-yue demurred, “we must be careful, or else some beggar might kidnap us away; besides, were they to come to hear of it, there’ll be again a dreadful row; and isn’t it better that we should go to some nearer place, from which we could, after all, return at once?”
“As for some nearer place,” Ming Yen observed; “to whose house can we go? It’s really no easy matter!”
“My idea is,” Pao-yue suggested with a smirk, “that we should simply go, and find sister Hua, and see what she’s up to at home.”
“Yes! Yes!” Ming Yen replied laughingly; “the fact is I had forgotten all about her home; but should it reach their ears,” he continued, “they’ll say that it was I who led you, Mr. Secundus, astray, and they’ll beat me!”
“I’m here for you!” Pao-yue having assured him; Ming Yen at these words led the horses round, and the two of them speedily made their exit by the back gate. Luckily Hsi Jen’s house was not far off. It was no further than half a li’s distance, so that in a twinkle they had already reached the front of the door, and Ming Yen was the first to walk in and to call for Hsi Jen’s eldest brother Hua Tzu-fang.
Hsi Jen’s mother had, on this occasion, united in her home Hsi Jen, several of her sister’s daughters, as well as a few of her nieces, and they were engaged in partaking of fruits and tea, when they heard some one outside call out, “Brother Hua.” Hua Tzu-fang lost no time in rushing out; and upon looking and finding that it was the two of them, the master and his servant, he was so taken by
surprise that his fears could not be set at rest. Promptly, he clasped Pao-yue in his arms and dismounted him, and coming into the court, he shouted out at the top of his voice: “Mr. Pao has come.” The other persons heard the announcement of his arrival, with equanimity, but when it reached Hsi Jen’s ears, she truly felt at such a loss to fathom the object of his visit that issuing hastily out of the room, she came to meet Pao-yue, and as she laid hold of him: “Why did you come?” she asked.
“I felt awfully dull,” Pao-yue rejoined with a smile, “and came to see what you were up to.”
Hsi Jen at these words banished, at last, all anxiety from her mind. “You’re again up to your larks,” she observed, “but what’s the aim of your visit? Who else has come along with him?” she at the same time went on to question Ming Yen.
“All the others know nothing about it!” explained Ming Yen exultingly; “only we two do, that’s all.”
When Hsi Jen heard this remark, she gave way afresh to solicitous fears: “This is dreadful!” she added; “for were you to come across any one from the house, or to meet master; or were, in the streets, people to press against you, or horses to collide with you, as to make (his horse) shy, and he were to fall, would that too be a joke? The gall of both of you is larger than a peck measure; but it’s all you, Ming Yen, who has incited him, and when I go back, I’ll surely tell the nurses to beat you.”
Ming Yen pouted his mouth. “Mr. Secundus,” he pleaded, “abused me and beat me, as he bade me bring him here, and now he shoves the blame on my shoulders! ‘Don’t let us go,’ I suggested; ‘but if you do insist, well then let us go and have done.'”
Hua Tzu-fang promptly interceded. “Let things alone,” he said; “now that they’re already here, there’s no need whatever of much ado. The only thing is that our mean house with its thatched roof is both so crammed and so filthy that how could you, sir, sit in it!”
Hsi Jen’s mother also came out at an early period to receive him, and Hsi Jen pulled Pao-yue in. Once inside the room, Pao-yue perceived three or five
girls, who, as soon as they caught sight of him approaching, all lowered their heads, and felt so bashful that their faces were suffused with blushes. But as both Hua Tzu-fang and his mother were afraid that Pao-yue would catch cold, they pressed him to take a seat on the stove-bed, and hastened to serve a fresh supply of refreshments, and to at once bring him a cup of good tea.
“You needn’t be flurrying all for nothing,” Hsi Jen smilingly interposed; “I, naturally, should know; and there’s no use of even laying out any fruits, as I daren’t recklessly give him anything to eat.”
Saying this, she simultaneously took her own cushion and laid it on a stool, and after Pao-yue took a seat on it, she placed the footstove she had been using, under his feet; and producing, from a satchet, two peach-blossom-scented small cakes, she opened her own hand-stove and threw them into the fire; which done, she covered it well again and placed it in Pao-yue’s lap. And eventually, she filled her own tea-cup with tea and presented it to Pao-yue, while, during this time, her mother and sister had been fussing about, laying out in fine array a tableful of every kind of eatables.
Hsi Jen noticed that there were absolutely no things that he could eat, but she felt urged to say with a smile: “Since you’ve come, it isn’t right that you should go empty away; and you must, whether the things be good or bad, taste a little, so that it may look like a visit to my house!”
As she said this, she forthwith took several seeds of the fir-cone, and cracking off the thin skin, she placed them in a handkerchief and presented them to Pao-yue. But Pao-yue, espying that Hsi Jen’s two eyes were slightly red, and that the powder was shiny and moist, quietly therefore inquired of Hsi Jen, “Why do you cry for no rhyme or reason?”
“Why should I cry?” Hsi Jen laughed; “something just got into my eyes and I rubbed them.” By these means she readily managed to evade detection; but seeing that Pao-yue wore a deep red archery-sleeved pelisse, ornamented with gold dragons, and lined with fur from foxes’ ribs and a grey sable fur surtout with a fringe round the border. “What! have you,” she asked, “put on again your new clothes for? specially to come here? and didn’t they inquire of you where you were going?”
“I had changed,” Pao-yue explained with a grin, “as Mr. Chen had invited me to go over and look at the play.”
“Well, sit a while and then go back;” Hsi Jen continued as she nodded her head; “for this isn’t the place for you to come to!”
“You’d better be going home now,” Pao-yue suggested smirkingly; “where I’ve again kept something good for you.”
“Gently,” smiled Hsi Jen, “for were you to let them hear, what figure would we cut?” And with these, words, she put out her hand and unclasping from Pao-yue’s neck the jade of Spiritual Perception, she faced her cousins and remarked exultingly. “Here! see for yourselves; look at this and learn! When I repeatedly talked about it, you all thought it extraordinary, and were anxious to have a glance at it; to-day, you may gaze on it with all your might, for whatever precious thing you may by and by come to see will really never excel such an object as this!”
When she had finished speaking, she handed it over to them, and after they had passed it round for inspection, she again fastened it properly on Pao- yue’s neck, and also bade her brother go and hire a small carriage, or engage a small chair, and escort Pao-yue back home.
“If I see him back,” Hua Tzu-fang remarked, “there would be no harm, were he even to ride his horse!”
“It isn’t because of harm,” Hsi Jen replied; “but because he may come across some one from the house.”
Hua Tzu-fang promptly went and bespoke a small chair; and when it came to the door, the whole party could not very well detain him, and they of course had to see Pao-yue out of the house; while Hsi Jen, on the other hand, snatched a few fruits and gave them to Ming Yen; and as she at the same time pressed in his hand several cash to buy crackers with to let off, she enjoined him not to tell any one as he himself would likewise incur blame.
As she uttered these words, she straightway escorted Pao-yue as far as outside the door, from whence having seen him mount into the sedan chair, she dropped the
curtain; whereupon Ming Yen and her brother, the two of them, led the horses and followed behind in his wake. Upon reaching the street where the Ning mansion was situated, Ming Yen told the chair to halt, and said to Hua Tzu-fang, “It’s advisable that I should again go, with Mr. Secundus, into the Eastern mansion, to show ourselves before we can safely betake ourselves home; for if we don’t, people will suspect!”
Hua Tzu-fang, upon hearing that there was good reason in what he said, promptly clasped Pao-yue out of the chair and put him on the horse, whereupon after Pao-yue smilingly remarked: “Excuse me for the trouble I’ve surely put you to,” they forthwith entered again by the back gate; but putting aside all details, we will now confine ourselves to Pao-yue.
After he had walked out of the door, the several waiting-maids in his apartments played and laughed with greater zest and with less restraint. Some there were who played at chess, others who threw the dice or had a game of cards; and they covered the whole floor with the shells of melon-seeds they were cracking, when dame Li, his nurse, happened to come in, propping herself on a staff, to pay her respects and to see Pao-yue, and perceiving that Pao-yue was not at home and that the servant-girls were only bent upon romping, she felt intensely disgusted. “Since I’ve left this place,” she therefore exclaimed with a sigh, “and don’t often come here, you’ve become more and more unmannerly; while the other nurse does still less than ever venture to expostulate with you; Pao-yue is like a candlestick eighty feet high, shedding light on others, and throwing none upon himself! All he knows is to look down upon people as being filthy; and yet this is his room and he allows you to put it topsy-turvey, and to become more and more unmindful of decorum!”
These servant-girls were well aware that Pao-yue was not particular in these respects, and that in the next place nurse Li, having pleaded old age, resigned her place and gone home, had nowadays no control over them, so that they simply gave their minds to romping and joking, and paid no heed whatever to her. Nurse Li however still kept on asking about Pao-yue, “How much rice he now ate at one meal? and at what time he went to sleep?” to which questions, the servant-girls replied quite at random; some there being too who observed: “What a dreadful despicable old thing she is!”
“In this covered bowl,” she continued to inquire, “is cream, and why not give it to me to eat?” and having concluded these words, she took it up and there and then began eating it.
“Be quick, and leave it alone!” a servant-girl expostulated, “that, he said, was kept in order to be given to Hsi Jen; and on his return, when he again gets into a huff, you, old lady, must, on your own motion, confess to having eaten it, and not involve us in any way as to have to bear his resentment.”
Nurse Li, at these words, felt both angry and ashamed. “I can’t believe,” she forthwith remarked, “that he has become so bad at heart! Not to speak of the milk I’ve had, I have, in fact every right to even something more expensive than this; for is it likely that he holds Hsi Jen dearer than myself? It can’t forsooth be that he doesn’t bear in mind how that I’ve brought him up to be a big man, and how that he has eaten my blood transformed into milk and grown up to this age! and will be because I’m now having a bowl of milk of his be angry on that score! I shall, yes, eat it, and we’ll see what he’ll do! I don’t know what you people think of Hsi Jen, but she was a lowbred girl, whom I’ve with my own hands raised up! and what fine object indeed was she!”
As she spoke, she flew into a temper, and taking the cream she drank the whole of it.
“They don’t know how to speak properly!” another servant-girl interposed sarcastically, “and it’s no wonder that you, old lady, should get angry! Pao-yue still sends you, venerable dame, presents as a proof of his gratitude, and is it possible that he will feel displeased for such a thing like this?”
“You girls shouldn’t also pretend to be artful flatterers to cajole me!” nurse Li added; “do you imagine that I’m not aware of the dismissal, the other day, of Hsi Hsueeh, on account of a cup of tea? and as it’s clear enough that I’ve incurred blame, I’ll come by and by and receive it!”
Having said this, she went off in a dudgeon, but not a long interval elapsed before Pao-yue returned, and gave orders to go and fetch Hsi Jen; and perceiving Ching Ling reclining on the bed perfectly still: “I presume she’s ill,” Pao-yue felt constrained to inquire, “or if she isn’t ill, she must have lost at cards.”
“Not so!” observed Chiu Wen; “she had been a winner, but dame Li came in quite casually and muddled her so that she lost; and angry at this she rushed off to sleep.”
“Don’t place yourselves,” Pao-yue smiled, “on the same footing as nurse Li, and if you were to let her alone, everything will be all right.”
These words were still on his lips when Hsi Jen arrived. After the mutual salutations, Hsi Jen went on to ask of Pao-yue: “Where did you have your repast? and what time did you come back?” and to present likewise, on behalf of her mother and sister, her compliments to all the girls, who were her companions. In a short while, she changed her costume and divested herself of her fineries, and Pao-yue bade them fetch the cream.
“Nurse Li has eaten it,” the servant-girls rejoined, and as Pao-yue was on the point of making some remark Hsi Jen hastened to interfere, laughing the while; “Is it really this that you had kept for me? many thanks for the trouble; the other day, when I had some, I found it very toothsome, but after I had partaken of it, I got a pain in the stomach, and was so much upset, that it was only after I had brought it all up that I felt all right. So it’s as well that she has had it, for, had it been kept here, it would have been wasted all for no use! What I fancy are dry chestnuts; and while you clean a few for me, I’ll go and lay the bed!”
Pao-yue upon hearing these words credited them as true, so that he discarded all thought of the cream and fetched the chestnuts, which he, with his own hands, selected and pealed. Perceiving at the same time that none of the party were present in the room, he put on a smile and inquired of Hsi Jen: “Who were those persons dressed in red to day?”
“They’re my two cousins on my mother’s side,” Hsi Jen explained, and hearing this, Pao-yue sang their praise as he heaved a couple of sighs.
“What are you sighing for?” Hsi Jen remarked. “I know the secret reasons of your heart; it’s I fancy because she isn’t fit to wear red!”
“It isn’t that,” Pao-yue protested smilingly, “it isn’t that; if such a person as that isn’t good enough to be dressed in red, who would forsooth presume to
wear it? It’s because I find her so really lovely! and if we could, after all, manage to get her into our family, how nice it would be then!”
Hsi Jen gave a sardonic smile. “That it’s my own fate to be a slave doesn’t matter, but is it likely that the destiny of even my very relatives could be to become one and all of them bond servants? But you should certainly set your choice upon some really beautiful girl, for she would in that case be good enough to enter your house.”
“Here you are again with your touchiness!” Pao-yue eagerly exclaimed smiling, “if I said that she should come to our house, does it necessarily imply that she should be a servant? and wouldn’t it do were I to mention that she should come as a relative!”
“That too couldn’t exalt her to be a fit match for you!” rejoined Hsi Jen; but Pao- yue being loth to continue the conversation, simply busied himself with cleaning the chestnuts.
“How is it you utter not a word?” Hsi Jen laughed; “I expect it’s because I just offended you by my inconsiderate talk! But if by and by you have your purpose fixed on it, just spend a few ounces of silver to purchase them with, and bring them in and have done!”
“How would you have one make any reply?” Pao-yue smilingly rejoined; “all I did was to extol her charms; for she’s really fit to have been born in a deep hall and spacious court as this; and it isn’t for such foul things as myself and others to contrariwise spend our days in this place!”
“Though deprived of this good fortune,” Hsi Jen explained, “she’s nevertheless also petted and indulged and the jewel of my maternal uncle and my aunt! She’s now seventeen years of age, and everything in the way of trousseau has been got ready, and she’s to get married next year.”
Upon hearing the two words “get married,” he could not repress himself from again ejaculating: “Hai hai!” but while he was in an unhappy frame of mind, he once more heard Hsi Jen remark as she heaved a sigh: “Ever since I’ve come here, we cousins haven’t all these years been able to get to live together, and now that I’m about to return home, they, on the other hand, will all be gone!”
Pao-yue, realising that there lurked in this remark some meaning or other, was suddenly so taken aback that dropping the chestnuts, he inquired: “How is it that you now want to go back?”
“I was present to-day,” Hsi Jen explained, “when mother and brother held consultation together, and they bade me be patient for another year, and that next year they’ll come up and redeem me out of service!”
Pao-yue, at these words, felt the more distressed. “Why do they want to redeem you?” he consequently asked.
“This is a strange question!” Hsi Jen retorted, “for I can’t really be treated as if I were the issue born in this homestead of yours! All the members of my family are elsewhere, and there’s only myself in this place, so that how could I end my days here?”
“If I don’t let you go, it will verily be difficult for you to get away!” Pao-yue replied.
“There has never been such a principle of action!” urged Hsi Jen; “even in the imperial palace itself, there’s a fixed rule, by which possibly every certain number of years a selection (of those who have to go takes place), and every certain number of years a new batch enters; and there’s no such practice as that of keeping people for ever; not to speak of your own home.”
Pao-yue realised, after reflection, that she, in point of fact, was right, and he went on to observe: “Should the old lady not give you your release, it will be impossible for you to get off.”
“Why shouldn’t she release me?” Hsi Jen questioned. “Am I really so very extraordinary a person as to have perchance made such an impression upon her venerable ladyship and my lady that they will be positive in not letting me go? They may, in all likelihood, give my family some more ounces of silver to keep me here; that possibly may come about. But, in truth, I’m also a person of the most ordinary run, and there are many more superior to me, yea very many! Ever since my youth up, I’ve been in her old ladyship’s service; first by waiting upon Miss Shih for several years, and recently by being in attendance upon you for another term of years; and now that our people will come to redeem me, I should, as a
matter of right, be told to go. My idea is that even the very redemption money won’t be accepted, and that they will display such grace as to let me go at once. And, as for being told that I can’t be allowed to go as I’m so diligent in my service to you, that’s a thing that can on no account come about! My faithful attendance is an obligation of my duties, and is no exceptional service! and when I’m gone you’ll again have some other faithful attendant, and it isn’t likely that when I’m no more here, you’ll find it impracticable to obtain one!”
After Pao-yue had listened to these various arguments, which proved the reasonableness of her going and the unreasonableness of any detention, he felt his heart more than ever a prey to distress. “In spite of all you say,” he therefore continued, “the sole desire of my heart is to detain you; and I have no doubt but that the old lady will speak to your mother about it; and if she were to give your mother ample money, she’ll, of course, not feel as if she could very well with any decency take you home!”
“My mother won’t naturally have the audacity to be headstrong!” Hsi Jen ventured, “not to speak besides of the nice things, which may be told her and the lots of money she may, in addition, be given; but were she even not to be paid any compliments, and not so much as a single cash given her, she won’t, if you set your mind upon keeping me here, presume not to comply with your wishes, were it also against my inclination. One thing however; our family would never rely upon prestige, and trust upon honorability to do anything so domineering as this! for this isn’t like anything else, which, because you take a fancy to it, a hundred per cent profit can be added, and it obtained for you! This action can be well taken if the seller doesn’t suffer loss! But in the present instance, were they to keep me back for no rhyme or reason, it would also be of no benefit to yourself; on the contrary, they would be instrumental in keeping us blood relatives far apart; a thing the like of which, I feel positive that dowager lady Chia and my lady will never do!”
After lending an ear to this argument, Pao-yue cogitated within himself for a while. “From what you say,” he then observed, “when you say you’ll go, it means that you’ll go for certain!”
“Yes, that I’ll go for certain,” Hsi Jen rejoined. ”Who would have anticipated,” Pao-yue, after these words, mused in his own
heart, “that a person like her would have shown such little sense of gratitude, and such a lack of respect! Had I,” he then remarked aloud with a sigh, “been aware, at an early date, that your whole wish would have been to go, I wouldn’t, in that case, have brought you over! But when you’re away, I shall remain alone, a solitary spirit!”
As he spoke, he lost control over his temper, and, getting into bed, he went to sleep.
The fact is that when Hsi Jen had been at home, and she heard her mother and brother express their intention of redeeming her back, she there and then observed that were she even at the point of death, she would not return home. “When in past days,” she had argued, “you had no rice to eat, there remained myself, who was still worth several taels; and hadn’t I urged you to sell me, wouldn’t I have seen both father and mother die of starvation under my very eyes? and you’ve now had the good fortune of selling me into this place, where I’m fed and clothed just like a mistress, and where I’m not beaten by day, nor abused by night! Besides, though now father be no more, you two have anyhow by putting things straight again, so adjusted the family estate that it has resumed its primitive condition. And were you, in fact, still in straitened circumstances, and you could by redeeming me back, make again some more money, that would be well and good; but the truth is that there’s no such need, and what would be the use for you to redeem me at such a time as this? You should temporarily treat me as dead and gone, and shouldn’t again recall any idea of redeeming me!”
Having in consequence indulged in a loud fit of crying, her mother and brother resolved, when they perceived her in this determined frame of mind, that for a fact there was no need for her to come out of service. What is more they had sold her under contract until death, in the distinct reliance that the Chia family, charitable and generous a family as it was, would, possibly, after no more than a few entreaties, make them a present of her person as well as the purchase money. In the second place, never had they in the Chia mansion ill-used any of those below; there being always plenty of grace and little of imperiousness. Besides, the servant-girls, who acted as personal attendants in the apartments of the old as well as of the young, were treated so far unlike the whole body of domestics in the household that the daughters even of an ordinary and penniless parentage could not have been so looked up to. And these considerations induced both the
mother as well as her son to at once dispel the intention and not to redeem her, and when Pao-yue had subsequently paid them an unexpected visit, and the two of them (Pao-yue and Hsi Jen) were seen to be also on such terms, the mother and her son obtained a clearer insight into their relations, and still one more burden (which had pressed on their mind) fell to the ground, and as besides this was a contingency, which they had never reckoned upon, they both composed their hearts, and did not again entertain any idea of ransoming her.
It must be noticed moreover that Hsi Jen had ever since her youth not been blind to the fact that Pao-yue had an extraordinary temperament, that he was self-willed and perverse, far even in excess of all young lads, and that he had, in addition, a good many peculiarities and many unspeakable defects. And as of late he had placed such reliance in the fond love of his grandmother that his father and mother even could not exercise any extreme control over him, he had become so much the more remiss, dissolute, selfish and unconcerned, not taking the least pleasure in what was proper, that she felt convinced, whenever she entertained the idea of tendering him advice, that he would not listen to her. On this day, by a strange coincidence, came about the discussion respecting her ransom, and she designedly made use, in the first instance, of deception with a view to ascertain his feelings, to suppress his temper, and to be able subsequently to extend to him some words of admonition; and when she perceived that Pao- yue had now silently gone to sleep, she knew that his feelings could not brook the idea of her return and that his temper had already subsided. She had never had, as far as she was concerned, any desire of eating chestnuts, but as she feared lest, on account of the cream, some trouble might arise, which might again lead to the same results as when Hsi Hsueeh drank the tea, she consequently made use of the pretence that she fancied chestnuts, in order to put off Pao-yue from alluding (to the cream) and to bring the matter speedily to an end. But telling forthwith the young waiting-maids to take the chestnuts away and eat them, she herself came and pushed Pao- yue; but at the sight of Pao-yue with the traces of tears on his face, she at once put on a smiling expression and said: “What’s there in this to wound your heart? If you positively do wish to keep me, I shall, of course, not go away!”
Pao-yue noticed that these words contained some hidden purpose, and
readily observed: “Do go on and tell me what else I can do to succeed in keeping you here, for of my own self I find it indeed difficult to say how!”
“Of our friendliness all along,” Hsi Jen smilingly rejoined, “there’s naturally no need to speak; but, if you have this day made up your mind to retain me here, it isn’t through this friendship that you’ll succeed in doing so. But I’ll go on and mention three distinct conditions, and, if you really do accede to my wishes, you’ll then have shown an earnest desire to keep me here, and I won’t go, were even a sword to be laid on my neck!”
“Do tell me what these conditions are,” Pao-yue pressed her with alacrity, as he smiled, “and I’ll assent to one and all. My dear sister, my own dear sister, not to speak of two or three, but even two or three hundred of them I’m quite ready to accept. All I entreat you is that you and all of you should combine to watch over me and take care of me, until some day when I shall be transformed into flying ashes; but flying ashes are, after all, not opportune, as they have form and substance and they likewise possess sense, but until I’ve been metamorphosed into a streak of subtle smoke. And when the wind shall have with one puff dispelled me, all of you then will be unable to attend to me, just as much as I myself won’t be able to heed you. You will, when that time comes, let me go where I please, as I’ll let you speed where you choose to go!”
These words so harassed Hsi Jen that she hastened to put her hand over his mouth. “Speak decently,” she said; “I was on account of this just about to admonish you, and now here you are uttering all this still more loathsome trash.”
“I won’t utter these words again,” Pao-yue eagerly added. “This is the first fault that you must change,” Hsi Jen replied.
“I’ll amend,” Pao-yue observed, “and if I say anything of the kind again you can wring my mouth; but what else is there?”
“The second thing is this,” Hsi Jen explained; “whether you really like to study or whether you only pretend to like study is immaterial; but you should, when you are in the presence of master, or in the presence of any one else, not do nothing else than find fault with people and make fun of them, but behave just as
if you were genuinely fond of study, so that you shouldn’t besides provoke your father so much to anger, and that he should before others have also a chance of saying something! ‘In my family,’ he reflects within himself, ‘generation after generation has been fond of books, but ever since I’ve had you, you haven’t accomplished my expectations, and not only is it that you don’t care about reading books,’–and this has already filled his heart with anger and vexation,– ‘but both before my face and behind my back, you utter all that stuff and nonsense, and give those persons, who have, through their knowledge of letters, attained high offices, the nickname of the “the salaried worms.” You also uphold that there’s no work exclusive (of the book where appears) “fathom spotless virtue;” and that all other books consist of foolish compilations, which owe their origin to former authors, who, unable themselves to expound the writings of Confucius, readily struck a new line and invented original notions.’ Now with words like these, how can one wonder if master loses all patience, and if he does from time to time give you a thrashing! and what do you make other people think of you?”
“I won’t say these things again,” Pao-yue laughingly protested, “these are the reckless and silly absurdities of a time when I was young and had no idea of the height of the heavens and the thickness of the earth; but I’ll now no more repeat them. What else is there besides?”
“It isn’t right that you should sneer at the bonzes and vilify the Taoist priests, nor mix cosmetics or prepare rouge,” Hsi Jen continued; “but there’s still another thing more important, you shouldn’t again indulge the bad habits of licking the cosmetic, applied by people on their lips, nor be fond of (girls dressed) in red!”
“I’ll change in all this,” Pao-yue added by way of rejoinder; “I’ll change in all this; and if there’s anything more be quick and tell me.”
“There’s nothing more,” Hsi Jen observed; “but you must in everything exercise a little more diligence, and not indulge your caprices and allow your wishes to run riot, and you’ll be all right. And should you comply to all these things in real earnest, you couldn’t carry me out, even in a chair with eight bearers.”
“Well, if you do stay in here long enough,” Pao-yue remarked with a smile, “there’s no fear as to your not having an eight-bearer-chair to sit in!”
Hsi Jen gave a sardonic grin. “I don’t care much about it,” she replied; “and were I even to have such good fortune, I couldn’t enjoy such a right. But allowing I could sit in one, there would be no pleasure in it!”
While these two were chatting, they saw Ch’iu Wen walk in. “It’s the third watch of the night,” she observed, “and you should go to sleep. Just a few moments back your grandmother lady Chia and our lady sent a nurse to ask about you, and I replied that you were asleep.”
Pao-yue bade her fetch a watch, and upon looking at the time, he found indeed that the hand was pointing at ten; whereupon rinsing his mouth again and loosening his clothes, he retired to rest, where we will leave him without any further comment.
The next day, Hsi Jen got up as soon as it was dawn, feeling her body heavy, her head sore, her eyes swollen, and her limbs burning like fire.
She managed however at first to keep up, an effort though it was, but as subsequently she was unable to endure the strain, and all she felt disposed to do was to recline, she therefore lay down in her clothes on the stove-couch. Pao-yue hastened to tell dowager lady Chia, and the doctor was sent for, who, upon feeling her pulse and diagnosing her complaint, declared that there was nothing else the matter with her than a chill, which she had suddenly contracted, that after she had taken a dose or two of medicine, it would be dispelled, and that she would be quite well. After he had written the prescription and taken his departure, some one was despatched to fetch the medicines, which when brought were properly decocted. As soon as she had swallowed a dose, Pao-yue bade her cover herself with her bed-clothes so as to bring on perspiration; while he himself came into Tai-yue’s room to look her up. Tai-yue was at this time quite alone, reclining on her bed having a midday siesta, and the waiting-maids having all gone out to attend to whatever they pleased, the whole room was plunged in stillness and silence. Pao-yue raised the embroidered soft thread portiere and walked in; and upon espying Tai-yue in the room fast asleep, he hurriedly approached her and pushing her: “Dear cousin,” he said, “you’ve just had your meal, and are you asleep already?” and he kept on calling “Tai-yue” till he woke her out of her sleep.
Perceiving that it was Pao-yue, “You had better go for a stroll,” Tai-yue urged,
“for the day before yesterday I was disturbed the whole night, and up to this day I haven’t had rest enough to get over the fatigue. My whole body feels languid and sore.”
“This languor and soreness,” Pao-yue rejoined, “are of no consequence; but if you go on sleeping you’ll be feeling very ill; so I’ll try and distract you, and when we’ve dispelled this lassitude, you’ll be all right.”
Tai-yue closed her eyes. “I don’t feel any lassitude,” she explained, “all I want is a little rest; and you had better go elsewhere and come back after romping about for a while.”
“Where can I go?” Pao-yue asked as he pushed her. “I’m quite sick and tired of seeing the others.”
At these words, Tai-yue burst out laughing with a sound of Ch’ih. “Well! since you wish to remain here,” she added, “go over there and sit down quietly, and let’s have a chat.”
“I’ll also recline,” Pao-yue suggested. “Well, then, recline!” Tai-yue assented.
“There’s no pillow,” observed Pao-yue, “so let us lie on the same pillow.”
“What nonsense!” Tai-yue urged, “aren’t those pillows outside? get one and lie on it.”
Pao-yue walked into the outer apartment, and having looked about him, he returned and remarked with a smile: “I don’t want those, they may be, for aught I know, some dirty old hag’s.”
Tai-yue at this remark opened her eyes wide, and as she raised herself up: “You’re really,” she exclaimed laughingly, “the evil star of my existence! here, please recline on this pillow!” and as she uttered these words, she pushed her own pillow towards Pao-yue, and, getting up she went and fetched another of her own, upon which she lay her head in such a way that both of them then reclined opposite to each other. But Tai-yue, upon turning up her eyes and looking, espied on Pao-
yue’s cheek on the left side of his face, a spot of blood about the size of a button, and speedily bending her body, she drew near to him, and rubbing it with her hand, she scrutinised it closely. “Whose nail,” she went on to inquire, “has scratched this open?”
Pao-yue with his body still reclining withdrew from her reach, and as he did so, he answered with a smile: “It isn’t a scratch; it must, I presume, be simply a drop, which bespattered my cheek when I was just now mixing and clarifying the cosmetic paste for them.”
Saying this, he tried to get at his handkerchief to wipe it off; but Tai-yue used her own and rubbed it clean for him, while she observed: “Do you still give your mind to such things? attend to them you may; but must you carry about you a placard (to make it public)? Though uncle mayn’t see it, were others to notice it, they would treat it as a strange occurrence and a novel bit of news, and go and tell him to curry favour, and when it has reached uncle’s ear, we shall all again not come out clean, and provoke him to anger.”
Pao-yue did not in the least heed what she said, being intent upon smelling a subtle scent which, in point of fact, emanated from Tai-yue’s sleeve, and when inhaled inebriated the soul and paralysed the bones. With a snatch, Pao-yue laid hold of Tai-yue’s sleeve meaning to see what object was concealed in it; but Tai- yue smilingly expostulated: “At such a time as this,” she said, “who keeps scents about one?”
“Well, in that case,” Pao-yue rejoined with a smirking face, “where does this scent come from?”
“I myself don’t know,” Tai-yue replied; “I presume it must be, there’s no saying, some scent in the press which has impregnated the clothes.”
“It doesn’t follow,” Pao-yue added, as he shook his head; “the fumes of this smell are very peculiar, and don’t resemble the perfume of scent-bottles, scent-balls, or scented satchets!”
“Is it likely that I have, like others, Buddhistic disciples,” Tai-yue asked laughing ironically, “or worthies to give me novel kinds of scents? But supposing there is about me some peculiar scent, I haven’t, at all events, any
older or younger brothers to get the flowers, buds, dew, and snow, and concoct any for me; all I have are those common scents, that’s all.”
“Whenever I utter any single remark,” Pao-yue urged with a grin, “you at once bring up all these insinuations; but unless I deal with you severely, you’ll never know what stuff I’m made of; but from henceforth I’ll no more show you any grace!”
As he spoke, he turned himself over, and raising himself, he puffed a couple of breaths into both his hands, and hastily stretching them out, he tickled Tai-yue promiscuously under her armpits, and along both sides. Tai-yue had never been able to stand tickling, so that when Pao-yue put out his two hands and tickled her violently, she forthwith giggled to such an extent that she could scarcely gasp for breath. “If you still go on teasing me,” she shouted, “I’ll get angry with you!”
Pao-yue then kept his hands off, and as he laughed, “Tell me,” he asked, “will you again come out with all those words or not?”
“I daren’t do it again,” Tai-yue smiled and adjusted her hair; adding with another laugh: “I may have peculiar scents, but have you any ‘warm’ scents?”
Pao-yue at this question, could not for a time unfold its meaning: “What ‘warm’ scent?” he therefore asked.
Tai-yue nodded her head and smiled deridingly. “How stupid! what a fool!” she sighed; “you have jade, and another person has gold to match with you, and if some one has ‘cold’ scent, haven’t you any ‘warm’ scent as a set-off?”
Pao-yue at this stage alone understood the import of her remark.
“A short while back you craved for mercy,” Pao-yue observed smilingly, “and here you are now going on talking worse than ever;” and as he spoke he again put out his hands.
“Dear cousin,” Tai-yue speedily implored with a smirk, “I won’t venture to do it again.”
“As for letting you off,” Pao-yue remarked laughing, “I’ll readily let you off, but do allow me to take your sleeve and smell it!” and while uttering these
words, he hastily pulled the sleeve, and pressing it against his face, kept on smelling it incessantly, whereupon Tai-yue drew her hand away and urged: “You must be going now!”
“Though you may wish me to go, I can’t,” Pao-yue smiled, “so let us now lie down with all propriety and have a chat,” laying himself down again, as he spoke, while Tai-yue likewise reclined, and covered her face with her handkerchief. Pao-yue in a rambling way gave vent to a lot of nonsense, which Tai-yue did not heed, and Pao-yue went on to inquire: “How old she was when she came to the capital? what sights and antiquities she saw on the journey? what relics and curiosities there were at Yang Chou? what were the local customs and the habits of the people?”
Tai-yue made no reply; and Pao-yue fearing lest she should go to sleep, and get ill, readily set to work to beguile her to keep awake. “Ai yah!” he exclaimed, “at Yang Chou, where your official residence is, has occurred a remarkable affair; have you heard about it?”
Tai-yue perceiving that he spoke in earnest, that his words were correct and his face serious, imagined that what he referred to was a true story, and she therefore inquired what it was?
Pao-yue upon hearing her ask this question, forthwith suppressed a laugh, and, with a glib tongue, he began to spin a yarn. “At Yang Chou,” he said, “there’s a hill called the Tai hill; and on this hill stands a cave called the Lin Tzu.”
“This must all be lies,” Tai-yue answered sneeringly, “as I’ve never before heard of such a hill.”
“Under the heavens many are the hills and rivers,” Pao-yue rejoined, “and how could you know them all? Wait until I’ve done speaking, when you will be free to express your opinion!”
“Go on then,” Tai-yue suggested, whereupon Pao-yue prosecuted his raillery. “In this Lin Tzu cave,” he said, “there was once upon a time a whole swarm of rat- elves. In some year or other and on the seventh day of the twelfth moon, an old rat ascended the throne to discuss matters. ‘Tomorrow,’ he argued, ‘is the eighth of the twelfth moon, and men in the world will all be cooking the congee of the
eighth of the twelfth moon. We have now in our cave a short supply of fruits of all kinds, and it would be well that we should seize this opportunity to steal a few and bring them over.’ Drawing a mandatory arrow, he handed it to a small rat, full of aptitude, to go forward on a tour of inspection. The young rat on his return reported that he had already concluded his search and inquiries in every place and corner, and that in the temple at the bottom of the hill alone was the largest stock of fruits and rice. ‘How many kinds of rice are there?’ the old rat ascertained, ‘and how many species of fruits?’ ‘Rice and beans,’ the young rat rejoined, ‘how many barns-full there are, I can’t remember; but in the way of fruits there are five kinds: 1st, red dates; 2nd, chestnuts; 3rd, ground nuts; 4th, water caltrops, and 5th, scented taros.’ At this report the old rat was so much elated that he promptly detailed rats to go forth; and as he drew the mandatory arrow, and inquired who would go and steal the rice, a rat readily received the order and went off to rob the rice. Drawing another mandatory arrow, he asked who would go and abstract the beans, when once more a rat took over the arrow and started to steal the beans; and one by one subsequently received each an arrow and started on his errand. There only remained the scented taros, so that picking again a mandatory arrow, he ascertained who would go and carry away the taros: whereupon a very puny and very delicate rat was heard to assent. ‘I would like,’ he said, ‘to go and steal the scented taros.’ The old rat and all the swarm of rats, upon noticing his state, feared that he would not be sufficiently expert, and apprehending at the same time that he was too weakly and too devoid of energy, they one and all would not allow him to proceed. ‘Though I be young in years and though my frame be delicate,’ the wee rat expostulated, ‘my devices are unlimited, my talk is glib and my designs deep and farseeing; and I feel convinced that, on this errand, I shall be more ingenious in pilfering than any of them.’ ‘How could you be more ingenious than they?’ the whole company of rats asked. ‘I won’t,’ explained the young rat, ‘follow their example, and go straight to work and steal, but by simply shaking my body, and transforming myself, I shall metamorphose myself into a taro, and roll myself among the heap of taros, so that people will not be able to detect me, and to hear me; whereupon I shall stealthily, by means of the magic art of dividing my body into many, begin the removal, and little by little transfer the whole lot away, and will not this be far more ingenious than any direct pilfering or forcible abstraction?’ After the whole swarm of rats had listened to what he had to say, they, with one voice, exclaimed: ‘Excellent it is indeed, but what is this art of metamorphosis we wonder? Go
forth you may, but first transform yourself and let us see you.’ At these words the young rat laughed. ‘This isn’t a hard task!’ he observed, ‘wait till I transform myself.’
“Having done speaking, he shook his body and shouted out ‘transform,’ when he was converted into a young girl, most beauteous and with a most lovely face.
“‘You’ve transformed yourself into the wrong thing,’ all the rats promptly added deridingly; ‘you said that you were to become a fruit, and how is it that you’ve turned into a young lady?’
“The young rat in its original form rejoined with a sneering smile: ‘You all lack, I maintain, experience of the world; what you simply are aware of is that this fruit is the scented taro, but have no idea that the young daughter of Mr. Lin, of the salt tax, is, in real truth, a genuine scented taro.'”
Tai-yue having listened to this story, turned herself round and raising herself, she observed laughing, while she pushed Pao-yue: “I’ll take that mouth of yours and pull it to pieces! Now I see that you’ve been imposing upon me.”
With these words on her lips, she readily gave him a pinch, and Pao-yue hastened to plead for mercy. “My dear cousin,” he said, “spare me; I won’t presume to do it again; and it’s when I came to perceive this perfume of yours, that I suddenly bethought myself of this old story.”
“You freely indulge in abusing people,” Tai-yue added with a smile, “and then go on to say that it’s an old story.”
But hardly had she concluded this remark before they caught sight of Pao- ch’ai walk in. “Who has been telling old stories?” she asked with a beaming face; “do let me also hear them.”
Tai-yue pressed her at once into a seat. “Just see for yourself who else besides is here!” she smiled; “he goes in for profuse abuses and then maintains that it’s an old story!”
“Is it indeed cousin Pao-yue?” Pao-ch’ai remarked. “Well, one can’t feel surprised at his doing it; for many have ever been the stories stored up in his brain. The only pity is that when he should make use of old stories, he
invariably forgets them! To-day, he can easily enough recall them to mind, but in the stanza of the other night on the banana leaves, when he should have remembered them, he couldn’t after all recollect what really stared him in the face! and while every one else seemed so cool, he was in such a flurry that he actually perspired! And yet, at this moment, he happens once again to have a memory!”
At these words, Tai-yue laughed. “O-mi-to-fu!” she exclaimed. “You are indeed my very good cousin! But you’ve also (to Pao-yue) come across your match. And this makes it clear that requital and retribution never fail or err.”
She had just reached this part of her sentence, when in Pao-yue’s rooms was heard a continuous sound of wrangling; but as what transpired is not yet known, the ensuing chapter will explain.
Wang Hsi-feng with earnest words upbraids Mrs. Chao’s jealous notions. Lin Tai-yue uses specious language to make sport of Shih Hsiang-yuen’s querulous tone of voice.
But to continue. Pao-yue was in Tai yue’s apartments relating about the rat-elves, when Pao-ch’ai entered unannounced, and began to gibe Pao-yue, with trenchant irony: how that on the fifteenth of the first moon, he had shown ignorance of the allusion to the green wax; and the three of them then indulged in that room in mutual poignant satire, for the sake of fun. Pao-yue had been giving way to solicitude lest Tai-yue should, by being bent upon napping soon after her meal, be shortly getting an indigestion, or lest sleep should, at night, be completely dispelled, as neither of these things were conducive to the preservation of good health, when luckily Pao-ch’ai walked in, and they chatted and laughed together; and when Lin Tai-yue at length lost all inclination to dose, he himself then felt composed in his mind. But suddenly they heard clamouring begin in his room, and after they had all lent an ear and listened, Lin Tai-yue was the first to smile and make a remark. “It’s your nurse having a row with Hsi Jen!” she said. “Hsi Jen treats her well enough, but that nurse of yours would also like to keep her well under her thumb; she’s indeed an old dotard;” and Pao-yue was anxious to go over at once, but Pao-ch’ai laid hold of him and kept him back, suggesting: “It’s as well that you shouldn’t wrangle with your nurse, for she’s quite stupid
from old age; and it’s but fair, on the contrary, that you should bear with her a little.”
“I know all about that!” Pao-yue rejoined. But having concluded this remark, he walked into his room, where he discovered nurse Li, leaning on her staff, standing in the centre of the floor, abusing Hsi Jen, saying: “You young wench! how utterly unmindful you are of your origin! It’s I who’ve raised you up, and yet, when I came just now, you put on high airs and mighty side, and remained reclining on the stove-couch! You saw me well enough, but you paid not the least heed to me! Your whole heart is set upon acting like a wily enchantress to befool Pao-yue; and you so impose upon Pao-yue that he doesn’t notice me, but merely lends an ear to what you people have to say! You’re no more than a low girl bought for a few taels and brought in here; and will it ever do that you should be up to your mischievous tricks in this room? But whether you like it or not, I’ll drag you out from this, and give you to some mean fellow, and we’ll see whether you will still behave like a very imp, and cajole people or not?”
Hsi Jen was, at first, under the simple impression that the nurse was wrath for no other reason than because she remained lying down, and she felt constrained to explain that “she was unwell, that she had just succeeded in perspiring, and that having had her head covered, she hadn’t really perceived the old lady;” but when she came subsequently to hear her mention that she imposed upon Pao- yue, and also go so far as to add that she would be given to some mean fellow, she unavoidably experienced both a sense of shame and injury, and found it impossible to restrain herself from beginning to cry.
Pao-yue had, it is true, caught all that had been said, but unable with any propriety to take notice of it, he thought it his duty to explain matters for her. “She’s ill,” he observed, “and is taking medicines; and if you don’t believe it,” he went on, “well then ask the rest of the servant-girls.”
Nurse Li at these words flew into a more violent dudgeon. “Your sole delight is to screen that lot of sly foxes!” she remarked, “and do you pay any notice to me? No, none at all! and whom would you like me to go and ask; who’s it that doesn’t back you? and who hasn’t been dismounted from her horse by Hsi Jen? I know all about it; but I’ll go with you and explain all these matters to our old
mistress and my lady; for I’ve nursed you till I’ve brought you to this age, and now that you don’t feed on milk, you thrust me on one side, and avail yourself of the servant-girls, in your wish to browbeat me.”
As she uttered this remark, she too gave way to tears, but by this time, Tai- yue and Pao-ch’ai had also come over, and they set to work to reassure her. “You, old lady,” they urged, “should bear with them a little, and everything will be right!” And when nurse Li saw these two arrive, she hastened to lay bare her grievances to them; and taking up the question of the dismissal in days gone by, of Hsi Hsueeh, for having drunk some tea, of the cream eaten on the previous day, and other similar matters, she spun a long, interminable yarn.
By a strange coincidence lady Feng was at this moment in the upper rooms, where she had been making up the account of losses and winnings, and upon hearing at the back a continuous sound of shouting and bustling, she readily concluded that nurse Li’s old complaint was breaking forth, and that she was finding fault with Pao-yue’s servants. But she had, as luck would have it, lost money in gambling on this occasion, so that she was ready to visit her resentment upon others. With hurried step, she forthwith came over, and laying hold of nurse Li, “Nurse,” she said smiling, “don’t lose your temper, on a great festival like this, and after our venerable lady has just gone through a day in excellent spirits! You’re an old dame, and should, when others get up a row, still do what is right and keep them in proper order; and aren’t you, instead of that, aware what good manners imply, that you will start vociferating in this place, and make our dowager lady full of displeasure? Tell me who’s not good, and I’ll beat her for you; but be quick and come along with me over to my quarters, where a pheasant which they have roasted is scalding hot, and let us go and have a glass of wine!” And as she spoke, she dragged her along and went on her way. “Feng Erh,” she also called, “hold the staff for your old lady Li, and the handkerchief to wipe her tears with!” While nurse Li walked along with lady Feng, her feet scarcely touched the ground, as she kept on saying: “I don’t really attach any value to this decrepid existence
of mine! and I had rather disregard good manners, have a row and lose face, as it’s better, it seems to me, than to put up with the temper of that wench!”
Behind followed Pao-ch’ai and Tai-yue, and at the sight of the way in which lady Feng dealt with her, they both clapped their hands, and exclaimed, laughing,
“What piece of luck that this gust of wind has come, and dragged away this old matron!” while Pao-yue nodded his head to and fro and soliloquised with a sigh: “One can neither know whence originates this score; for she will choose the weak one to maltreat; nor can one see what girl has given her offence that she has come to be put in her black books!”
Scarcely had he ended this remark, before Ch’ing Wen, who stood by, put in her word. “Who’s gone mad again?” she interposed, “and what good would come by hurting her feelings? But did even any one happen to hurt her, she would have pluck enough to bear the brunt, and wouldn’t act so improperly as to involve others!”
Hsi Jen wept, and as she, did so, she drew Pao-yue towards her: “All through my having aggrieved an old nurse,” she urged, “you’ve now again given umbrage, entirely on my account, to this crowd of people; and isn’t this still enough for me to bear but must you also go and drag in third parties?”
When Pao-yue realised that to this sickness of hers, had also been superadded all these annoyances, he promptly stifled his resentment, suppressed his voice and consoled her so far as to induce her to lie down again to perspire. And when he further noticed how scalding like soup and burning like fire she was, he himself watched by her, and reclining by her side, he tried to cheer her, saying: “All you must do is to take good care of your ailment; and don’t give your mind to those trifling matters, and get angry.”
“Were I,” Hsi Jen smiled sardonically, “to lose my temper over such concerns, would I be able to stand one moment longer in this room? The only thing is that if she goes on, day after day, doing nothing else than clamour in this manner, how can she let people get along? But you rashly go and hurt people’s feelings for our sakes; but they’ll bear it in mind, and when they find an opportunity, they’ll come out with what’s easy enough to say, but what’s not pleasant to hear, and how will we all feel then?”
While her mouth gave utterance to these words, she could not stop her tears from running; but fearful, on the other hand, lest Pao-yue should be annoyed, she felt compelled to again strain every nerve to repress them. But in a short while, the old matrons employed for all sorts of duties, brought in
some mixture of two drugs; and, as Pao-yue noticed that she was just on the point of perspiring, he did not allow her to get up, but readily taking it up to her, she immediately swallowed it, with her head still on her pillow; whereupon he gave speedy directions to the young servant-maids to lay her stove-couch in order.
“Whether you mean to have anything to eat or not,” Hsi Jen advised, “you should after all sit for a time with our old mistress and our lady, and have a romp with the young ladies; after which you can come back again; while I, by quietly keeping lying down, will also feel the better.”
When Pao-yue heard this suggestion, he had no help but to accede, and, after she had divested herself of her hair-pins and earrings, and he saw her lie down, he betook himself into the drawing-rooms, where he had his repast with old lady Chia. But the meal over, her ladyship felt still disposed to play at cards with the nurses, who had looked after the household for many years; and Pao-yue, bethinking himself of Hsi Jen, hastened to return to his apartments; where seeing that Hsi Jen was drowsily falling asleep, he himself would have wished to go to bed, but the hour was yet early. And as about this time Ch’ing Wen, I Hsia, Ch’in Wen, Pi Hen had all, in their desire of getting some excitement, started in search of Yuean Yang, Hu Po and their companions, to have a romp with them, and he espied She Yueeh alone in the outer room, having a game of dominoes by lamp- light, Pao-yue inquired full of smiles: “How is it you don’t go with them?”
“I’ve no money,” She Yueeh replied.
“Under the bed,” continued Pao-yue, “is heaped up all that money, and isn’t it enough yet for you to lose from?”
“Had we all gone to play,” She Yueeh added, “to whom would the charge of this apartment have been handed over? That other one is sick again, and the whole room is above, one mass of lamps, and below, full of fire; and all those old matrons, ancient as the heavens, should, after all their exertions in waiting upon you from morning to night, be also allowed some rest; while the young servant girls, on the other hand, have likewise been on duty the whole day long, and shouldn’t they even at this hour be left to go and have some distraction? and that’s why I am in here on watch.”
When Pao-yue heard these words, which demonstrated distinctly that she was another Hsi Jen, he consequently put on a smile and remarked: “I’ll sit in here, so you had better set your mind at ease and go!”
“Since you remain in here, there’s less need for me to go,” resumed She Yueeh, “for we two can chat and play and laugh; and won’t that be nice?”
“What can we two do? it will be awfully dull! but never mind,” Pao-yue rejoined; “this morning you said that your head itched, and now that you have nothing to do, I may as well comb it for you.”
“Yes! do so!” readily assented She Yueeh, upon catching what he suggested; and while still speaking, she brought over the dressing-case containing a set of small drawers and looking-glass, and taking off her ornaments, she dishevelled her hair; whereupon Pao-yue picked up the fine comb and passed it repeatedly through her hair; but he had only combed it three or five times, when he perceived Ch’ing Wen hurriedly walk in to fetch some money. As soon as she caught sight of them both: “You haven’t as yet drunk from the marriage cup,” she said with a smile full of irony, “and have you already put up your hair?”
“Now that you’ve come, let me also comb yours for you,” Pao-yue continued.
“I’m not blessed with such excessive good fortune!” Ch’ing Wen retorted, and as she uttered these words, she took the money, and forthwith dashing the portiere after her, she quitted the room.
Pao-yue stood at the back of She Yueeh, and She Yueeh sat opposite the glass, so that the two of them faced each other in it, and Pao-yue readily observed as he gazed in the glass, “In the whole number of rooms she’s the only one who has a glib tongue!”
She Yueeh at these words hastily waved her hand towards the inside of the glass, and Pao-yue understood the hint; and suddenly a sound of “hu” was heard from the portiere, and Ch’ing Wen ran in once again.
“How have I got a glib tongue?” she inquired; “it would be well for us to explain ourselves.”
“Go after your business, and have done,” She Yueeh interposed laughingly; “what’s the use of your coming and asking questions of people?”
“Will you also screen him?” Ch’ing Wen smiled significantly; “I know all about your secret doings, but wait until I’ve got back my capital, and we’ll then talk matters over!”
With this remark still on her lips, she straightway quitted the room, and during this while, Pao-yue having finished combing her hair, asked She Yueeh to quietly wait upon him, while he went to sleep, as he would not like to disturb Hsi Jen.
Of the whole night there is nothing to record. But the next day, when he got up at early dawn, Hsi Jen had already perspired, during the night, so that she felt considerably lighter and better; but limiting her diet to a little rice soup, she remained quiet and nursed herself, and Pao-yue was so relieved in mind that he came, after his meal, over on this side to his aunt Hsueeh’s on a saunter. The season was the course of the first moon, and the school was shut up for the new year holidays; while in the inner chambers the girls had put by their needlework, and were all having a time of leisure, and hence it was that when Chia Huan too came over in search of distraction, he discovered Pao-ch’ai, Hsiang Ling, Ying Erh, the three of them, in the act of recreating themselves by playing at chess. Chia Huan, at the sight of them, also wished to join in their games; and Pao- ch’ai, who had always looked upon him with, in fact, the same eye as she did Pao-yue, and with no different sentiment of any kind, pressed him to come up, upon hearing that he was on this occasion desirous to play; and, when he had seated himself together with them, they began to gamble, staking each time a pile of ten cash. The first time, he was the winner, and he felt supremely elated at heart, but as it happened that he subsequently lost in several consecutive games he soon became a prey to considerable distress. But in due course came the game in which it was his turn to cast the dice, and, if in throwing, he got seven spots, he stood to win, but he was likewise bound to be a winner were he to turn up six; and when Ying Erh had turned up three spots and lost, he consequently took up the dice, and dashing them with spite, one of them settled at five; and, as the other reeled wildly about, Ying Erh clapped her hands, and kept on shouting, “one spot;” while Chia Huan at once gazed with fixed eye and cried at random: “It’s six, it’s seven, it’s eight!” But the dice, as it
happened, turned up at one spot, and Chia Huan was so exasperated that putting out his hand, he speedily made a snatch at the dice, and eventually was about to lay hold of the money, arguing that it was six spot. But Ying Erh expostulated, “It was distinctly an ace,” she said. And as Pao-ch’ai noticed how distressed Chia Huan was, she forthwith cast a glance at Ying Erh and observed: “The older you get, the less manners you have! Is it likely that gentlemen will cheat you? and don’t you yet put down the money?”
Ying Erh felt her whole heart much aggrieved, but as she heard Pao-ch’ai make these remarks, she did not presume to utter a sound, and as she was under the necessity of laying down the cash, she muttered to herself: “This one calls himself a gentleman, and yet cheats us of these few cash, for which I myself even have no eye! The other day when I played with Mr. Pao-yue, he lost ever so many, and yet he did not distress himself! and what remained of the cash were besides snatched away by a few servant-girls, but all he did was to smile, that’s all!”
Pao-ch’ai did not allow her time to complete what she had to say, but there and then called her to account and made her desist; whereupon Chia Huan exclaimed: “How can I compare with Pao-yue; you all fear him, and keep on good terms with him, while you all look down upon me for not being the child of my lady.” And as he uttered these words, he at once gave way to tears.
“My dear cousin,” Pao-ch’ai hastened to advise him, “leave off at once language of this kind, for people will laugh at you;” and then went on to scold Ying Erh, when Pao-yue just happened to come in. Perceiving him in this plight, “What is the matter?” he asked; but Chia Huan had not the courage to say anything.
Pao-ch’ai was well aware of the custom, which prevailed in their family, that younger brothers lived in respect of the elder brothers, but she was not however cognisant of the fact that Pao-yue would not that any one should entertain any fear of him. His idea being that elder as well as younger brothers had, all alike, father and mother to admonish them, and that there was no need for any of that officiousness, which, instead of doing good gave, on the contrary, rise to estrangement. “Besides,” (he reasoned,) “I’m the offspring of the primary wife, while he’s the son of the secondary wife, and, if by treating him as leniently as I have done, there are still those to talk about me, behind my back, how could I
exercise any control over him?” But besides these, there were other still more foolish notions, which he fostered in his mind; but what foolish notions they were can you, reader, guess? As a result of his growing up, from his early youth, among a crowd of girls, of whom, in the way of sister, there was Yuean Ch’un, of cousins, from his paternal uncle’s side, there were Ying Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un, and of relatives also there were Shih Hsiang-yuen, Lin Tai-yue, Hsueeh Pao-ch’ai and the rest, he, in due course, resolved in his mind that the divine and unsullied virtue of Heaven and earth was only implanted in womankind, and that men were no more than feculent dregs and foul dirt. And for this reason it was that men were without discrimination, considered by him as so many filthy objects, which might or might not exist; while the relationships of father, paternal uncles, and brothers, he did not however presume to disregard, as these were among the injunctions bequeathed by the holy man, and he felt bound to listen to a few of their precepts. But to the above causes must be assigned the fact that, among his brothers, he did no more than accomplish the general purport of the principle of human affections; bearing in mind no thought whatever that he himself was a human being of the male sex, and that it was his duty to be an example to his younger brothers. And this is why Chia Huan and the others entertained no respect for him, though in their veneration for dowager lady Chia, they yielded to him to a certain degree.
Pao-ch’ai harboured fears lest, on this occasion, Pao-yue should call him to book, and put him out of face, and she there and then lost no time in taking Chia Huan’s part with a view to screening him.
“In this felicitous first moon what are you blubbering for?” Pao-yue inquired, “if this place isn’t nice, why then go somewhere else to play. But from reading books, day after day, you’ve studied so much that you’ve become quite a dunce. If this thing, for instance, isn’t good, that must, of course, be good, so then discard this and take up that, but is it likely that by sticking to this thing and crying for a while that it will become good? You came originally with the idea of reaping some fun, and you’ve instead provoked yourself to displeasure, and isn’t it better then that you should be off at once.”
Chia Huan upon hearing these words could not but come back to his quarters; and Mrs. Chao noticing the frame of mind in which he was felt constrained to
inquire: “Where is it that you’ve been looked down upon by being made to fill up a hole, and being trodden under foot?”
“I was playing with cousin Pao-ch’ai,” Chia Huan readily replied, “when Ying Erh insulted me, and deprived me of my money, and brother Pao-yue drove me away.”
“Ts’ui!” exclaimed Mrs. Chao, “who bade you (presume so high) as to get up into that lofty tray? You low and barefaced thing! What place is there that you can’t go to and play; and who told you to run over there and bring upon yourself all this shame?”
As she spoke, lady Feng was, by a strange coincidence, passing outside under the window; so that every word reached her ear, and she speedily asked from outside the window: “What are you up to in this happy first moon? These brothers are, really, but mere children, and will you just for a slight mistake, go on preaching to him! what’s the use of coming out with all you’ve said? Let him go wherever he pleases; for there are still our lady and Mr. Chia Cheng to keep him in order. But you go and sputter him with your gigantic mouth; he’s at present a master, and if there be anything wrong about him, there are, after all, those to rate him; and what business is that of yours? Brother Huan, come out with you, and follow me and let us go and enjoy ourselves.”
Chia Huan had ever been in greater fear and trembling of lady Feng, than of madame Wang, so that when her summons reached his ear, he hurriedly went out, while Mrs. Chao, on the other hand, did not venture to breathe a single word.
“You too,” resumed lady Feng, addressing Chia Huan; “are a thing devoid of all natural spirit! I’ve often told you that if you want to eat, drink, play, or laugh, you were quite free to go and play with whatever female cousin, male cousin, or sister-in-law you choose to disport yourself with; but you won’t listen to my words. On the contrary, you let all these persons teach you to be depraved in your heart, perverse in your mind, to be sly, artful, and domineering; and you’ve, besides, no respect for your own self, but will go with that low-bred lot! and your perverse purpose is to begrudge people’s preferences! But what you’ve lost are simply a few cash, and do you behave in this manner? How much did you lose?” she proceeded to ask Chia Huan; and
Chia Huan, upon hearing this question, felt constrained to obey, by saying something in the way of a reply. “I’ve lost,” he explained, “some hundred or two hundred cash.”
“You have,” rejoined lady Feng, “the good fortune of being a gentleman, and do you make such a fuss for the loss of a hundred or two hundred cash!” and turning her head round, “Feng Erh,” she added, “go and fetch a thousand cash; and as the girls are all playing at the back, take him along to go and play. And if again by and by, you’re so mean and deceitful, I shall, first of all, beat you, and then tell some one to report it at school, and won’t your skin be flayed for you? All because of this want of respect of yours, your elder cousin is so angry with you that his teeth itch; and were it not that I prevent him, he would hit you with his foot in the stomach and kick all your intestines out! Get away,” she then cried; whereupon Chia Huan obediently followed Feng Erh, and taking the money he went all by himself to play with Ying Ch’un and the rest; where we shall leave him without another word.
But to return to Pao-yue. He was just amusing himself and laughing with Pao- ch’ai, when at an unexpected moment, he heard some one announce that Miss Shih had come. At these words, Pao-yue rose, and was at once going off when “Wait,” shouted Pao-ch’ai with a smile, “and we’ll go over together and see her.”
Saying this, she descended from the stove-couch, and came, in company with Pao-yue, to dowager lady Chia’s on this side, where they saw Shih Hsiang-yuen laughing aloud, and talking immoderately; and upon catching sight of them both, she promptly inquired after their healths, and exchanged salutations.
Lin Tai-yue just happened to be standing by, and having set the question to Pao-yue “Where do you come from?” “I come from cousin Pao-ch’ai’s rooms,” Pao-yue readily replied.
Tai-yue gave a sardonic smile. “What I maintain is this,” she rejoined, “that lucky enough for you, you were detained over there; otherwise, you would long ago have, at once, come flying in here!”
“Am I only free to play with you?” Pao-yue inquired, “and to dispel your ennui! I simply went over to her place for a run, and that quite casually, and will you insinuate all these things?”
“Your words are quite devoid of sense,” Tai-yue added; “whether you go or not what’s that to me? neither did I tell you to give me any distraction; you’re quite at liberty from this time forth not to pay any notice to me!”
Saying this, she flew into a high dudgeon and rushed back into her room; but Pao- yue promptly followed in her footsteps: “Here you are again in a huff,” he urged, “and all for no reason! Had I even passed any remark that I shouldn’t, you should anyhow have still sat in there, and chatted and laughed with the others for a while; instead of that, you come again to sit and mope all alone!”
“Are you my keeper?” Tai-yue expostulated.
“I couldn’t, of course,” Pao-yue smiled, “presume to exercise any influence over you; but the only thing is that you are doing your own health harm!”
“If I do ruin my health,” Tai-yue rejoined, “and I die, it’s my own lookout! what’s that to do with you?”
“What’s the good,” protested Pao-yue, “of talking in this happy first moon of dying and of living?”
“I _will_ say die,” insisted Tai-yue, “die now, at this very moment! but you’re afraid of death; and you may live a long life of a hundred years, but what good will that be!”
“If all we do is to go on nagging in this way,” Pao-yue remarked smiling, “will I any more be afraid to die? on the contrary, it would be better to die, and be free!”
“Quite so!” continued Tai-yue with alacrity, “if we go on nagging in this way, it would be better for me to die, and that you should be free of me!”
“I speak of my own self dying,” Pao-yue added, “so don’t misunderstand my words and accuse people wrongly.”
While he was as yet speaking, Pao-ch’ai entered the room: “Cousin Shih is waiting for you;” she said; and with these words, she hastily pushed Pao-yue on, and they walked away.
Tai-yue, meanwhile, became more and more a prey to resentment; and disconsolate as she felt, she shed tears in front of the window. But not time enough had transpired to allow two cups of tea to be drunk, before Pao-yue came back again. At the sight of him, Tai-yue sobbed still more fervently and incessantly, and Pao-yue realising the state she was in, and knowing well enough how arduous a task it would be to bring her round, began to join together a hundred, yea a thousand kinds of soft phrases and tender words to console her. But at an unforeseen moment, and before he could himself open his mouth, he heard Tai-yue anticipate him.
“What have you come back again for?” she asked. “Let me die or live, as I please, and have done! You’ve really got at present some one to play with you, one who, compared with me, is able to read and able to compose, able to write, to speak, as well as to joke, one too who for fear lest you should have ruffled your temper dragged you away: and what do you return here for now?”
Pao-yue, after listening to all she had to say, hastened to come up to her. “Is it likely,” he observed in a low tone of voice, “that an intelligent person like you isn’t so much as aware that near relatives can’t be separated by a distant relative, and a remote friend set aside an old friend! I’m stupid, there’s no gainsaying, but I do anyhow understand what these two sentiments imply. You and I are, in the first place, cousins on my father’s sister’s side; while sister Pao-ch’ai and I are two cousins on mother’s sides, so that, according to the degrees of relationship, she’s more distant than yourself. In the second place, you came here first, and we two have our meals at one table and sleep in one bed, having ever since our youth grown up together; while she has only recently come, and how could I ever distance you on her account?”
“Ts’ui!” Tai-yue exclaimed. “Will I forsooth ever make you distance her! who and what kind of person have I become to do such a thing? What (I said) was prompted by my own motives.”
“I too,” Pao-yue urged, “made those remarks prompted by my own heart’s motives, and do you mean to say that your heart can only read the feelings of your own heart, and has no idea whatsoever of my own?”
Tai-yue at these words, lowered her head and said not a word. But after a long interval, “You only know,” she continued, “how to feel bitter against people for
their action in censuring you: but you don’t, after all, know that you yourself provoke people to such a degree, that it’s hard for them to put up with it! Take for instance the weather of to-day as an example. It’s distinctly very cold, to-day, and yet, how is it that you are so contrary as to go and divest yourself of the pelisse with the bluish breast-fur overlapping the cloth?”
“Why say I didn’t wear it?” Pao-yue smilingly observed. “I did, but seeing you get angry I felt suddenly in such a terrible blaze, that I at once took it off!”
Tai-yue heaved a sigh. “You’ll by and by catch a cold,” she remarked, “and then you’ll again have to starve, and vociferate for something to eat!”
While these two were having this colloquy, Hsiang-yuen was seen to walk in! “You two, Ai cousin and cousin Lin,” she ventured jokingly, “are together playing every day, and though I’ve managed to come after ever so much trouble, you pay no heed to me at all!”
“It’s invariably the rule,” Tai-yue retorted smilingly, “that those who have a defect in their speech will insist upon talking; she can’t even come out correctly with ‘Erh’ (secundus) cousin, and keeps on calling him ‘Ai’ cousin, ‘Ai’ cousin! And by and by when you play ‘Wei Ch’i’ you’re sure also to shout out yao, ai, (instead of erh), san; (one, two, three).”
Pao-yue laughed. “If you imitate her,” he interposed, “and get into that habit, you’ll also begin to bite your tongue when you talk.”
“She won’t make even the slightest allowance for any one,” Hsiang-yuen rejoined; “her sole idea being to pick out others’ faults. You may readily be superior to any mortal being, but you shouldn’t, after all, offend against what’s right and make fun of every person you come across! But I’ll point out some one, and if you venture to jeer her, I’ll at once submit to you.”
“Who is it?” Tai-yue vehemently inquired.
“If you do have the courage,” Hsiang-yuen answered, “to pick out cousin Pao- ch’ai’s faults, you then may well be held to be first-rate!”
Tai-yue after hearing these words, gave a sarcastic smile. “I was
wondering,” she observed, “who it was. Is it indeed she? How could I ever presume to pick out hers?”
Pao-yue allowed her no time to finish, but hastened to say something to interrupt the conversation.
“I couldn’t, of course, during the whole of this my lifetime,” Hsiang-yuen laughed, “attain your standard! but my earnest wish is that by and by should be found for you, cousin Lin, a husband, who bites his tongue when he speaks, so that you should every minute and second listen to ‘ai-ya-os!’ O-mi-to-fu, won’t then your reward be manifest to my eyes!”
As she made this remark, they all burst out laughing heartily, and Hsiang-yuen speedily turned herself round and ran away.
But reader, do you want to know the sequel? Well, then listen to the explanation given in the next chapter.
The eminent Hsi Jen, with winsome ways, rails at Pao-yue, with a view to exhortation. The beauteous P’ing Erh, with soft words, screens Chia Lien.
But to resume our story. When Shih Hsiang-yuen ran out of the room, she was all in a flutter lest Lin Tai-yue should catch her up; but Pao-yue, who came after her, readily shouted out, “You’ll trip and fall. How ever could she come up to you?”
Lin Tai-yue went in pursuit of her as far as the entrance, when she was impeded from making further progress by Pao-yue, who stretched his arms out against the posts of the door.
“Were I to spare Yuen Erh, I couldn’t live!” Lin Tai-yue exclaimed, as she tugged at his arms. But Hsiang-yuen, perceiving that Pao-yue obstructed the door, and surmising that Tai-yue could not come out, speedily stood still. “My dear cousin,” she smilingly pleaded, “do let me off this time!”
But it just happened that Pao-ch’ai, who was coming along, was at the back of Hsiang-yuen, and with a face also beaming with smiles: “I advise you both,” she said, “to leave off out of respect for cousin Pao-yue, and have done.”
“I don’t agree to that,” Tai-yue rejoined; “are you people, pray, all of one mind to do nothing but make fun of me?”
“Who ventures to make fun of you?” Pao-yue observed advisingly; “and hadn’t you made sport of her, would she have presumed to have said anything about you?”
While this quartet were finding it an arduous task to understand one another, a servant came to invite them to have their repast, and they eventually crossed over to the front side, and as it was already time for the lamps to be lit, madame Wang, widow Li Wan, lady Feng, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un and the other cousins, adjourned in a body to dowager lady Chia’s apartments on this side, where the whole company spent a while in a chat on irrelevant topics, after which they each returned to their rooms and retired to bed. Hsiang-yuen, as of old, betook herself to Tai-yue’s quarters to rest, and Pao-yue escorted them both into their apartment, and it was after the hour had already past the second watch, and Hsi Jen had come and pressed him several times, that he at length returned to his own bedroom and went to sleep. The next morning, as soon as it was daylight, he threw his clothes over him, put on his low shoes and came over into Tai-yue’s room, where he however saw nothing of the two girls Tzu Chuean and Ts’ui Lu, as there was no one else here in there besides his two cousins, still reclining under the coverlets. Tai-yue was closely wrapped in a quilt of almond-red silk, and lying quietly, with closed eyes fast asleep; while Shih Hsiang-yuen, with her handful of shiny hair draggling along the edge of the pillow, was covered only up to the chest, and outside the coverlet rested her curved snow-white arm, with the gold bracelets, which she had on.
At the sight of her, Pao-yue heaved a sigh. “Even when asleep,” he soliloquised, “she can’t be quiet! but by and by, when the wind will have blown on her, she’ll again shout that her shoulder is sore!” With these words, he gently covered her, but Lin Tai-yue had already awoke out of her sleep, and becoming aware that there was some one about, she promptly concluded that it must, for a certainty, be Pao-yue, and turning herself accordingly round, and
discovering at a glance that the truth was not beyond her conjectures, she observed: “What have you run over to do at this early hour?” to which question Pao-yue replied: “Do you call this early? but get up and see for yourself!”
“First quit the room,” Tai-yue suggested, “and let us get up!”
Pao-yue thereupon made his exit into the ante-chamber, and Tai-yue jumped out of bed, and awoke Hsiang-yuen. When both of them had put on their clothes, Pao-yue re-entered and took a seat by the side of the toilet table; whence he beheld Tzu-chuean and Hsueeh Yen walk in and wait upon them, as they dressed their hair and performed their ablutions. Hsiang-yuen had done washing her face, and Ts’uei Lue at once took the remaining water and was about to throw it away, when Pao-yue interposed, saying: “Wait, I’ll avail myself of this opportunity to wash too and finish with it, and thus save myself the trouble of having again to go over!” Speaking the while, he hastily came forward, and bending his waist, he washed his face twice with two handfuls of water, and when Tzu Chuean went over to give him the scented soap, Pao-yue added: “In this basin, there’s a good deal of it, and there’s no need of rubbing any more!” He then washed his face with two more handfuls, and forthwith asked for a towel, and Ts’uei Lue exclaimed: “What! have you still got this failing? when will you turn a new leaf?” But Pao-yue paid not so much as any heed to her, and there and then called for some salt, with which he rubbed his teeth, and rinsed his mouth. When he had done, he perceived that Hsiang-yuen had already finished combing her hair, and speedily coming up to her, he put on a smile, and said: “My dear cousin, comb my hair for me!”
“This can’t be done!” Hsiang-yuen objected.
“My dear cousin,” Pao-yue continued smirkingly, “how is it that you combed it for me in former times?”
“I’ve forgotten now how to comb it!” Hsiang-yuen replied.
“I’m not, after all, going out of doors,” Pao-yue observed, “nor will I wear a hat or frontlet, so that all that need be done is to plait a few queues, that’s all!” Saying this, he went on to appeal to her in a thousand and one endearing terms, so that Hsiang-yuen had no alternative, but to draw his head nearer to her and to
comb one queue after another, and as when he stayed at home he wore no hat, nor had, in fact, any tufted horns, she merely took the short surrounding hair from all four sides, and twisting it into small tufts, she collected it together over the hair on the crown of the head, and plaited a large queue, binding it fast with red ribbon; while from the root of the hair to the end of the queue, were four pearls in a row, below which, in the way of a tip, was suspended a golden pendant.
“Of these pearls there are only three,” Hsiang-yuen remarked as she went on plaiting; “this isn’t one like them; I remember these were all of one kind, and how is it that there’s one short?”
“I’ve lost one,” Pao-yue rejoined.
“It must have dropped,” Hsiang-yuen added, “when you went out of doors, and been picked up by some one when you were off your guard; and he’s now, instead of you, the richer for it.”
“One can neither tell whether it has been really lost,” Tai-yue, who stood by, interposed, smiling the while sarcastically; “nor could one say whether it hasn’t been given away to some one to be mounted in some trinket or other and worn!”
Pao-yue made no reply; but set to work, seeing that the two sides of the dressing table were all full of toilet boxes and other such articles, taking up those that came under his hand and examining them. Grasping unawares a box of cosmetic, which was within his reach, he would have liked to have brought it to his lips, but he feared again lest Hsiang-yuen should chide him. While he was hesitating whether to do so or not, Hsiang-yuen, from behind, stretched forth her arm and gave him a smack, which sent the cosmetic flying from his hand, as she cried out: “You good-for-nothing! when will you mend those weaknesses of yours!” But hardly had she had time to complete this remark, when she caught sight of Hsi Jen walk in, who upon perceiving this state of things, became aware that he was already combed and washed, and she felt constrained to go back and attend to her own coiffure and ablutions. But suddenly, she saw Pao-ch’ai come in and inquire: “Where’s cousin Pao-yue gone?”
“Do you mean to say,” Hsi Jen insinuated with a sardonic smile, “that
your cousin Pao-yue has leisure to stay at home?”
When Pao-ch’ai heard these words, she inwardly comprehended her meaning, and when she further heard Hsi Jen remark with a sigh: “Cousins may well be on intimate terms, but they should also observe some sort of propriety; and they shouldn’t night and day romp together; and no matter how people may tender advice it’s all like so much wind blowing past the ears.” Pao-ch’ai began, at these remarks, to cogitate within her mind: “May I not, possibly, have been mistaken in my estimation of this girl; for to listen to her words, she would really seem to have a certain amount of _savoir faire_!”
Pao-ch’ai thereupon took a seat on the stove-couch, and quietly, in the course of their conversation on one thing and another, she managed to ascertain her age, her native village and other such particulars, and then setting her mind diligently to put, on the sly, her conversation and mental capacity to the test, she discovered how deeply worthy she was to be respected and loved. But in a while Pao-yue arrived, and Pao-ch’ai at once quitted the apartment.
“How is it,” Pao-yue at once inquired, “that cousin Pao-ch’ai was chatting along with you so lustily, and that as soon as she saw me enter, she promptly ran away?”
Hsi Jen did not make any reply to his first question, and it was only when he had repeated it that Hsi Jen remarked: “Do you ask me? How can I know what goes on between you two?”
When Pao-yue heard these words, and he noticed that the look on her face was so unlike that of former days, he lost no time in putting on a smile and asking: “Why is it that you too are angry in real earnest?”
“How could I presume to get angry!” Hsi Jen rejoined smiling indifferently; “but you mustn’t, from this day forth, put your foot into this room! and as you have anyhow people to wait on you, you shouldn’t come again to make use of my services, for I mean to go and attend to our old mistress, as in days of old.”
With this remark still on her lips, she lay herself down on the stove-couch and closed her eyes. When Pao-yue perceived the state of mind she was in, he felt
deeply surprised and could not refrain from coming forward and trying to cheer her up. But Hsi Jen kept her eyes closed and paid no heed to him, so that Pao-yue was quite at a loss how to act. But espying She Yueeh enter the room, he said with alacrity: “What’s up with your sister?”
“Do I know?” answered She Yueeh, “examine your own self and you’ll readily know!”
After these words had been heard by Pao-yue, he gazed vacantly for some time, feeling the while very unhappy; but raising himself impetuously: “Well!” he exclaimed, “if you don’t notice me, all right, I too will go to sleep,” and as he spoke he got up, and, descending from the couch, he betook himself to his own bed and went to sleep. Hsi Jen noticing that he had not budged for ever so long, and that he faintly snored, presumed that he must have fallen fast asleep, so she speedily rose to her feet, and, taking a wrapper, came over and covered him. But a sound of “hu” reached her ear, as Pao-yue promptly threw it off and once again closed his eyes and feigned sleep. Hsi Jen distinctly grasped his idea and, forthwith nodding her head, she smiled coldly. “You really needn’t lose your temper! but from this time forth, I’ll become mute, and not say one word to you; and what if I do?”
Pao-yue could not restrain himself from rising. “What have I been up to again,” he asked, “that you’re once more at me with your advice? As far as your advice goes, it’s all well and good; but just now without one word of counsel, you paid no heed to me when I came in, but, flying into a huff, you went to sleep. Nor could I make out what it was all about, and now here you are again maintaining that I’m angry. But when did I hear you, pray, give me a word of advice of any kind?”
“Doesn’t your mind yet see for itself?” Hsi Jen replied; “and do you still expect me to tell you?”
While they were disputing, dowager lady Chia sent a servant to call him to his repast, and he thereupon crossed over to the front; but after he had hurriedly swallowed a few bowls of rice, he returned to his own apartment, where he discovered Hsi Jen reclining on the outer stove-couch, while She Yueeh was playing with the dominoes by her side.
Pao-yue had been ever aware of the intimacy which existed between She Yueeh and Hsi Jen, so that paying not the slightest notice to even She Yueeh, he raised the soft portiere and straightway walked all alone into the inner apartment. She Yueeh felt constrained to follow him in, but Pao-yue at once pushed her out, saying: “I don’t venture to disturb you two;” so that She Yueeh had no alternative but to leave the room with a smiling countenance, and to bid two young waiting-maids go in. Pao-yue took hold of a book and read for a considerable time in a reclining position; but upon raising his head to ask for some tea, he caught sight of a couple of waiting-maids, standing below; the one of whom, slightly older than the other, was exceedingly winsome.
“What’s your name?” Pao-yue eagerly inquired.
“I’m called Hui Hsiang, (orchid fragrance),” that waiting-maid rejoined simperingly.
“Who gave you this name?” Pao-yue went on to ask.
“I went originally under the name of Yuen Hsiang (Gum Sandarac),” added Hui Hsiang, “but Miss Hua it was who changed it.”
“You should really be called Hui Ch’i, (latent fragrance), that would be proper; and why such stuff as Hui Hsiang, (orchid fragrance)?”
“How many sisters have you got?” he further went on to ask of her. “Four,” replied Hui Hsiang. ”Which of them are you?” Pao-yue asked. ”The fourth,” answered Hui Hsiang.
“By and by you must be called Ssu Erh, (fourth child),” Pao-yue suggested, “for there’s no need for any such nonsense as Hui Hsiang (orchid fragrance) or Lan Ch’i (epidendrum perfume.) Which single girl deserves to be compared to all these flowers, without profaning pretty names and fine surnames!”
As he uttered these words, he bade her give him some tea, which he drank; while Hsi Jen and She Yueeh, who were in the outer apartment, had been listening for a
long time and laughing with compressed lips.
Pao-yue did not, on this day, so much as put his foot outside the door of his room, but sat all alone sad and dejected, simply taking up his books, in order to dispel his melancholy fit, or diverting himself with his writing materials; while he did not even avail himself of the services of any of the family servants, but simply bade Ssu Erh answer his calls.
This Ssu Erh was, who would have thought it, a girl gifted with matchless artfulness, and perceiving that Pao-yue had requisitioned her services, she speedily began to devise extreme ways and means to inveigle him. When evening came, and dinner was over, Pao-yue’s eyes were scorching hot and his ears burning from the effects of two cups of wine that he had taken. Had it been in past days, he would have now had Hsi Jen and her companions with him, and with all their good cheer and laughter, he would have been enjoying himself. But here was he, on this occasion, dull and forlorn, a solitary being, gazing at the lamp with an absolute lack of pleasure. By and by he felt a certain wish to go after them, but dreading that if they carried their point, they would, in the future, come and tender advice still more immoderate, and that, were he to put on the airs of a superior to intimidate them, he would appear to be too deeply devoid of all feeling, he therefore, needless to say, thwarted the wish of his heart, and treated them just as if they were dead. And as anyway he was constrained also to live, alone though he was, he readily looked upon them, for the time being as departed, and did not worry his mind in the least on their account. On the contrary, he was able to feel happy and contented with his own society. Hence it was that bidding Ssu Erh trim the candles and brew the tea, he himself perused for a time the “Nan Hua Ching,” and upon reaching the precept: “On thieves,” given on some additional pages, the burden of which was: “Therefore by exterminating intuitive wisdom, and by discarding knowledge, highway robbers will cease to exist, and by taking off the jade and by putting away the pearls, pilferers will not spring to existence; by burning the slips and by breaking up the seals, by smashing the measures, and snapping the scales, the result will be that the people will not wrangle; by abrogating, to the utmost degree, wise rules under the heavens, the people will, at length, be able to take part in deliberation. By putting to confusion the musical scale, and destroying fifes and lutes, by deafening the ears of the blind Kuang, then, at last, will the human race in the world constrain his sense of hearing. By extinguishing literary compositions, by
dispersing the five colours and by sticking the eyes of Li Chu, then, at length, mankind under the whole sky, will restrain the perception of his eyes. By destroying and eliminating the hooks and lines, by discarding the compasses and squares, and by amputating Kung Chui’s fingers, the human race will ultimately succeed in constraining his ingenuity,”–his high spirits, on perusal of this passage, were so exultant that taking advantage of the exuberance caused by the wine, he picked up his pen, for he could not repress himself, and continued the text in this wise: “By burning the flower, (Hua-Hsi Jen) and dispersing the musk, (She Yueeh), the consequence will be that the inmates of the inner chambers will, eventually, keep advice to themselves. By obliterating Pao-ch’ai’s supernatural beauty, by reducing to ashes Tai-yue’s spiritual perception, and by destroying and extinguishing my affectionate preferences, the beautiful in the inner chambers as well as the plain will then, at length, be put on the same footing. And as they will keep advice to themselves, there will be no fear of any disagreement. By obliterating her supernatural beauty, I shall then have no incentive for any violent affection; by dissolving her spiritual perception, I will have no feelings with which to foster the memory of her talents. The hair-pin, jade, flower and musk (Pao- ch’ai, Tai-yue, Hsi Jen and She Yueeh) do each and all spread out their snares and dig mines, and thus succeed in inveigling and entrapping every one in the world.”
At the conclusion of this annex, he flung the pen away, and lay himself down to sleep. His head had barely reached the pillow before he at once fell fast asleep, remaining the whole night long perfectly unconscious of everything straight up to the break of day, when upon waking and turning himself round, he, at a glance, caught sight of no one else than Hsi Jen, sleeping in her clothes over the coverlet.
Pao-yue had already banished from his mind every thought of what had transpired the previous day, so that forthwith giving Hsi Jen a push: “Get up!” he said, “and be careful where you sleep, as you may catch cold.”
The fact is that Hsi Jen was aware that he was, without regard to day or night, ever up to mischief with his female cousins; but presuming that if she earnestly called him to account, he would not mend his ways, she had, for this reason, had recourse to tender language to exhort him, in the hope that, in a short while, he would come round again to his better self. But against all her expectations Pao-yue had, after the lapse of a whole day and night, not
changed the least in his manner, and as she really was in her heart quite at a loss what to do, she failed to find throughout the whole night any proper sleep. But when on this day, she unexpectedly perceived Pao-yue in this mood, she flattered herself that he had made up his mind to effect a change, and readily thought it best not to notice him. Pao-yue, seeing that she made no reply, forthwith stretched out his hand and undid her jacket; but he had just unclasped the button, when his arm was pushed away by Hsi Jen, who again made it fast herself.
Pao-yue was so much at his wit’s ends that he had no alternative but to take her hand and smilingly ask: “What’s the matter with you, after all, that I’ve had to ask you something time after time?”
Hsi Jen opened her eyes wide. “There’s nothing really the matter with me!” she observed; “but as you’re awake, you surely had better be going over into the opposite room to comb your hair and wash; for if you dilly-dally any longer, you won’t be in time.”
“Where shall I go over to?” Pao-yue inquired.
Hsi Jen gave a sarcastic grin. “Do you ask me?” she rejoined; “do I know? you’re at perfect liberty to go over wherever you like; from this day forth you and I must part company so as to avoid fighting like cocks or brawling like geese, to the amusement of third parties. Indeed, when you get surfeited on that side, you come over to this, where there are, after all, such girls as Fours and Fives (Ssu Erh and Wu Erh) to dance attendance upon you. But such kind of things as ourselves uselessly defile fine names and fine surnames.”
“Do you still remember this to-day!” Pao-yue asked with a smirk.
“Hundred years hence I shall still bear it in mind,” Hsi Jen protested; “I’m not like you, who treat my words as so much wind blowing by the side of your ears, that what I’ve said at night, you’ve forgotten early in the morning.”
Pao-yue perceiving what a seductive though angry air pervaded her face found it difficult to repress his feelings, and speedily taking up, from the side of the pillow, a hair-pin made of jade, he dashed it down breaking it into two exclaiming: “If I again don’t listen to your words, may I fare like this hair-pin.”
Hsi Jen immediately picked up the hair-pin, as she remarked: “What’s up with you at this early hour of the morning? Whether you listen or not is of no consequence; and is it worth while that you should behave as you do?”
“How can you know,” Pao-yue answered, “the anguish in my heart!”
“Do you also know what anguish means?” Hsi Jen observed laughing; “if you do, then you can judge what the state of my heart is! But be quick and get up, and wash your face and be off!”
As she spoke, they both got out of bed and performed their toilette; but after Pao- yue had gone to the drawing rooms, and at a moment least expected by any one, Tai-yue walked into his apartment. Noticing that Pao-yue was not in, she was fumbling with the books on the table and examining them, when, as luck would have it, she turned up the Chuang Tzu of the previous day. Upon perusing the passage tagged on by Pao-yue, she could not help feeling both incensed and amused. Nor could she restrain herself from taking up the pen and appending a stanza to this effect:
Who is that man, who of his pen, without good rhyme, made use, A toilsome task to do into the Chuang-tzu text to steal, Who for the knowledge he doth lack no sense of shame doth feel, But language vile and foul employs third parties to abuse?
At the conclusion of what she had to write, she too came into the drawing room; but after paying her respects to dowager lady Chia, she walked over to madame Wang’s quarters.
Contrary to everybody’s expectations, lady Feng’s daughter, Ta Chieh Erh, had fallen ill, and a great fuss was just going on as the doctor had been sent for to diagnose her ailment.
“My congratulations to you, ladies,” the doctor explained; “this young lady has fever, as she has small-pox; indeed it’s no other complaint!”
As soon as madame Wang and lady Feng heard the tidings, they lost no time in
sending round to ascertain whether she was getting on all right or not, and the doctor replied: “The symptoms are, it is true, serious, but favourable; but though after all importing no danger, it’s necessary to get ready the silkworms and pigs’ tails.”
When lady Feng received this report, she, there and then, hastened to make the necessary preparations, and while she had the rooms swept and oblations offered to the goddess of small-pox, she, at the same time, transmitted orders to her household to avoid viands fried or roasted in fat, or other such heating things; and also bade P’ing Erh get ready the bedding and clothes for Chia Lien in a separate room, and taking pieces of deep red cotton material, she distributed them to the nurses, waiting-maids and all the servants, who were in close attendance, to cut out clothes for themselves. And having had likewise some apartments outside swept clean, she detained two doctors to alternately deliberate on the treatment, feel the pulse and administer the medicines; and for twelve days, they were not at liberty to return to their homes; while Chia Lien had no help but to move his quarters temporarily into the outer library, and lady Feng and P’ing Erh remained both in daily attendance upon madame Wang in her devotions to the goddess.
Chia Lien, now that he was separated from lady Feng, soon felt disposed to look round for a flame. He had only slept alone for a couple of nights, but these nights had been so intensely intolerable that he had no option than to choose, for the time being, from among the young pages, those who were of handsome appearance, and bring them over to relieve his monotony. In the Jung Kuo mansion, there was, it happened, a cook, a most useless, good-for-nothing drunkard, whose name was To Kuan, in whom people recognised an infirm and a useless husband so that they all dubbed him with the name of To Hun Ch’ung, the stupid worm To. As the wife given to him in marriage by his father and mother was this year just twenty, and possessed further several traits of beauty, and was also naturally of a flighty and frivolous disposition, she had an extreme penchant for violent flirtations. But To Hun-ch’ung, on the other hand, did not concern himself (with her deportment), and as long as he had wine, meat and money he paid no heed whatever to anything. And for this reason it was that all the men in the two mansions of Ning and Jung had been successful in their attentions; and as this woman was exceptionally fascinating and incomparably giddy, she was generally known by all by the name To Ku Ning (Miss To).
Chia Lien, now that he had his quarters outside, chafed under the pangs of irksome ennui, yet he too, in days gone by, had set his eyes upon this woman, and had for long, watered in the mouth with admiration; but as, inside, he feared his winsome wife, and outside, he dreaded his beloved lads, he had not made any advances. But this To Ku Niang had likewise a liking for Chia Lien, and was full of resentment at the absence of a favourable opportunity; but she had recently come to hear that Chia Lien had shifted his quarters into the outer library, and her wont was, even in the absence of any legitimate purpose, to go over three and four times to entice him on; but though Chia Lien was, in every respect, like a rat smitten with hunger, he could not dispense with holding consultation with the young friends who enjoyed his confidence; and as he struck a bargain with them for a large amount of money and silks, how could they ever not have come to terms (with him to speak on his behalf)? Besides, they were all old friends of this woman, so that, as soon as they conveyed the proposal, she willingly accepted it. When night came To Hun Ch’ung was lying on the couch in a state of drunkenness, and at the second watch, when every one was quiet, Chia Lien at once slipped in, and they had their assignation. As soon as he gazed upon her face, he lost control over his senses, and without even one word of ordinary greeting or commonplace remark, they forthwith, fervently indulged in a most endearing tete-a-tete.
This woman possessed, who could have thought it, a strange natural charm; for, as soon as any one of her lovers came within any close distance of her, he speedily could not but notice that her very tendons and bones mollified, paralysed-like from feeling, so that his was the sensation of basking in a soft bower of love. What is more, her demonstrative ways and free-and-easy talk put even those of a born coquette to shame, with the result that while Chia Lien, at this time, longed to become heart and soul one with her, the woman designedly indulged in immodest innuendoes.
“Your daughter is at home,” she insinuated in her recumbent position, “ill with the small-pox, and prayers are being offered to the goddess; and your duty too should be to abstain from love affairs for a couple of days, but on the contrary, by flirting with me, you’ve contaminated yourself! but, you’d better be off at once from me here!”
“You’re my goddess!” gaspingly protested Chia Lien, as he gave way to
demonstrativeness; “what do I care about any other goddess!”
The woman began to be still more indelicate in her manner, so that Chia Lien could not refrain himself from making a full exhibition of his warm sentiments. When their tete-a-tete had come to a close, they both went on again to vow by the mountains and swear by the seas, and though they found it difficult to part company and hard to tear themselves away, they, in due course, became, after this occasion, mutual sworn friends.
But by a certain day the virus in Ta Chieh’s system had become exhausted, and the spots subsided, and at the expiry of twelve days the goddess was removed, and the whole household offered sacrifices to heaven, worshipped the ancestors, paid their vows, burnt incense, exchanged congratulations, and distributed presents. And these formalities observed, Chia Lien once more moved back into his own bedroom and was reunited with lady Feng. The proverb is indeed true which says: “That a new marriage is not equal to a long separation,” for there ensued between them demonstrations of loving affection still more numerous than heretofore, to which we need not, of course, refer with any minuteness.
The next day, at an early hour, after lady Feng had gone into the upper rooms, P’ing Erh set to work to put in order the clothes and bedding, which had been brought from outside, when, contrary to her expectation, a tress of hair fell out from inside the pillow-case, as she was intent upon shaking it. P’ing Erh understood its import, and taking at once the hair, she concealed it in her sleeve, and there and then came over into the room on this side, where she produced the hair, and smirkingly asked Chia Lien, “What’s this?”
Chia Lien, at the sight of it, lost no time in making a snatch with the idea of depriving her of it; and when P’ing Erh speedily endeavoured to run away, she was clutched by Chia Lien, who put her down on the stove-couch, and came up to take it from her hand.
“You heartless fellow!” P’ing Erh laughingly exclaimed, “I conceal this, with every good purpose, from her knowledge, and come to ask you about it, and you, on the contrary, fly into a rage! But wait till she comes back, and I’ll tell her, and we’ll see what will happen.”
At these words, Chia Lien hastily forced a smile. “Dear girl!” he
entreated, “give it to me, and I won’t venture again to fly into a passion.”
But hardly was this remark finished, when they heard the voice of lady Feng penetrate into the room. As soon as it reached the ear of Chia Lien, he was at a loss whether it was better to let her go or to snatch it away, and kept on shouting, “My dear girl! don’t let her know.”
P’ing Erh at once rose to her feet; but lady Feng had already entered the room; and she went on to bid P’ing Erh be quick and open a box and find a pattern for madame Wang. P’ing Erh expressed her obedience with alacrity; but while in search of it, lady Feng caught sight of Chia Lien; and suddenly remembering something, she hastened to ask P’ing Erh about it.
“The other day,” she observed, “some things were taken out, and have you brought them all in or not?”
“I have!” P’ing Erh assented. ”Is there anything short or not?” lady Feng inquired.
“I’ve carefully looked at them,” P’ing Erh added, “and haven’t found even one single thing short.”
“Is there anything in excess?” lady Feng went on to ascertain.
P’ing Erh laughed. “It’s enough,” she rejoined, “that there’s nothing short; and how could there really turn out to be anything over and above?”
“That this half month,” lady Feng continued still smiling, “things have gone on immaculately it would be hard to vouch; for some intimate friend there may have been, who possibly has left something behind, in the shape of a ring, handkerchief or other such object, there’s no saying for certain!”
While these words were being spoken, Chia Lien’s face turned perfectly sallow, and, as he stood behind lady Feng, he was intent upon gazing at P’ing Erh, making signs to her (that he was going) to cut her throat as a chicken is killed, (threatening her not to utter a sound) and entreating her to screen him; but
P’ing Erh pretended not to notice him, and consequently observed smiling: “How is it that my ideas should coincide with those of yours, my lady; and as I suspected that there may have been something of the kind, I carefully searched all over, but I didn’t find even so much as the slightest thing wrong; and if you don’t believe me, my lady, you can search for your own self.”
“You fool!” lady Feng laughed, “had he any things of the sort, would he be likely to let you and I discover them!”
With these words still on her lips, she took the patterns and went her way; whereupon P’ing Erh pointed at her nose, and shook her head to and fro. “In this matter,” she smiled, “how much you should be grateful to me!” A remark which so delighted Chia Lien that his eyebrows distended, and his eyes smiled, and running over, he clasped her in his embrace, and called her promiscuously: “My darling, my pet, my own treasure!”
“This,” observed P’ing Erh, with the tress in her hand, “will be my source of power, during all my lifetime! if you treat me kindly, then well and good! but if you behave unkindly, then we’ll at once produce this thing!”
“Do put it away, please,” Chia Lien entreated smirkingly, “and don’t, on an any account, let her know about it!” and as he uttered these words, he noticed that she was off her guard, and, with a snatch, readily grabbed it adding laughingly: “In your hands, it would be a source of woe, so that it’s better that I should burn it, and have done with it!” Saying this he simultaneously shoved it down the sides of his boot, while P’ing Erh shouted as she set her teeth close: “You wicked man! you cross the river and then demolish the bridge! but do you imagine that I’ll by and by again tell lies on your behalf!”
Chia Lien perceiving how heart-stirring her seductive charms were, forthwith clasped her in his arms, and begged her to be his; but P’ing Erh snatched her hands out of his grasp and ran away out of the room; which so exasperated Chia Lien that as he bent his body, he exclaimed, full of indignation: “What a dreadful niggardly young wench! she actually sets her mind to stir up people’s affections with her wanton blandishments, and then, after all, she runs away!”
“If I be wanton, it’s my own look-out;” P’ing Erh answered, from outside the
window, with a grin, “and who told you to arouse your affections? Do you forsooth mean to imply that my wish is to become your tool? And did she come to know about it would she again ever forgive me?”
“You needn’t dread her!” Chia Lien urged; “wait till my monkey is up, and I’ll take this jealous woman, and beat her to atoms; and she’ll then know what stuff I’m made of. She watches me just as she would watch a thief! and she’s only to hobnob with men, and I’m not to say a word to any girl! and if I do say aught to a girl, or get anywhere near one, she must at once give way to suspicion. But with no regard to younger brothers or nephews, to young and old, she prattles and giggles with them, and doesn’t entertain any fear that I may be jealous; but henceforward I too won’t allow her to set eyes upon any man.”
“If she be jealous, there’s every reason,” P’ing Erh answered, “but for you to be jealous on her account isn’t right. Her conduct is really straightforward, and her deportment upright, but your conduct is actuated by an evil heart, so much so that even I don’t feel my heart at ease, not to say anything of her.”
“You two,” continued Chia Lien, “have a mouth full of malicious breath! Everything the couple of you do is invariably proper, while whatever I do is all from an evil heart! But some time or other I shall bring you both to your end with my own hands!”
This sentence was scarcely at an end, when lady Feng walked into the court. “If you’re bent upon chatting,” she urgently inquired, upon seeing P’ing Erh outside the window, “why don’t you go into the room? and what do you mean, instead, by running out, and speaking with the window between?”
Chia Lien from inside took up the string of the conversation. “You should ask her,” he said. “It would verily seem as if there were a tiger in the room to eat her up.”
“There’s not a single person in the room,” P’ing Erh rejoined, “and what shall I stay and do with him?”
“It’s just the proper thing that there should be no one else! Isn’t it?” lady Feng remarked grinning sarcastically.
“Do these words allude to me?” P’ing Erh hastily asked, as soon as she had heard what she said.
Lady Feng forthwith laughed. “If they don’t allude to you,” she continued, “to whom do they?”
“Don’t press me to come out with some nice things!” P’ing Erh insinuated, and, as she spoke, she did not even raise the portiere (for lady Feng to enter), but straightway betook herself to the opposite side.
Lady Feng lifted the portiere with her own hands, and walked into the room. “That girl P’ing Erh,” she exclaimed, “has gone mad, and if this hussey does in real earnest wish to try and get the upper hand of me, it would be well for you to mind your skin.”
Chia Lien listened to her, as he kept reclining on the couch. “I never in the least knew,” he ventured, clapping his hands and laughing, “that P’ing Erh was so dreadful; and I must, after all, from henceforth look up to her with respect!”
“It’s all through your humouring her,” lady Feng rejoined; “so I’ll simply settle scores with you and finish with it.”
“Ts’ui!” ejaculated Chia Lien at these words, “because you two can’t agree, must you again make a scapegoat of me! Well then, I’ll get out of the way of both of you!”
“I’ll see where you’ll go and hide,” lady Feng observed.
“I’ve got somewhere to go!” Chia Lien added; and with these words, he was about to go, when lady Feng urged: “Don’t be off! I have something to tell you.”
What it is, is not yet known, but, reader, listen to the account given in the next chapter.