Part 6 out of 14
"Your styles are very many," T'an Ch'un observed, "and what do you want
to choose another for? All you've got to do is to make suitable reply
when we call you whatever takes our fancy."
"I must however give you a name," Pao-ch'ai remarked. "There's a very
vulgar name, but it's just the very thing for you. What is difficult to
obtain in the world are riches and honours; what is not easy to combine
with them is leisure. These two blessings cannot be enjoyed together,
but, as it happens, you hold one along with the other, so that we might
as well dub you the 'rich and honourable idler.'"
"It won't do; it isn't suitable," Pao-yŁ laughed. "It's better that you
should call me, at random, whatever you like."
"What names are to be chosen for Miss Secunda and Miss Quarta?" Li Wan
"We also don't excel in versifying; what's the use consequently of
giving us names, all for no avail?" Ying Ch'un said.
"In spite of this," argued T'an Ch'un, "it would be well to likewise
find something for you!"
"She lives in the Tzu Ling Chou, (purple caltrop Isle), so let us call
her 'Ling Chou,'" Pao-ch'ai suggested. "As for that girl Quarta, she
lives in the On Hsiang Hsieh, (lotus fragrance pavilion); she should
thus be called On Hsieh and have done!"
"These will do very well!" Li Wan cried. "But as far as age goes, I am
the senior, and you should all defer to my wishes; but I feel certain
that when I've told you what they are, you will unanimously agree to
them. We are seven here to form the society, but neither I, nor Miss
Secunda, nor Miss Quarta can write verses; so if you will exclude us
three, we'll each share some special duties."
"Their names have already been chosen," T'an Ch'un smilingly demurred;
"and do you still keep on addressing them like this? Well, in that case,
won't it be as well for them to have no names? But we must also decide
upon some scale of fines, for future guidance, in the event of any
"There will be ample time to fix upon a scale of fines after the society
has been definitely established." Li Wan replied. "There's plenty of
room over in my place so let's hold our meetings there. I'm not, it is
true, a good hand at verses, but if you poets won't treat me
disdainfully as a rustic boor, and if you will allow me to play the
hostess, I may certainly also gradually become more and more refined. As
for conceding to me the presidentship of the society, it won't be
enough, of course, for me alone to preside; it will be necessary to
invite two others to serve as vice-presidents; you might then enlist
Ling Chou and Ou Hsieh, both of whom are cultured persons. The one to
choose the themes and assign the metre, the other to act as copyist and
supervisor. We three cannot, however, definitely say that we won't write
verses, for, if we come across any comparatively easy subject and metre,
we too will indite a stanza if we feel so disposed. But you four will
positively have to do so. If you agree to this, well, we can proceed
with the society; but, if you don't fall in with my wishes, I can't
presume to join you."
Ying Ch'un and Hsi Ch'un had a natural aversion for verses. What is
more, HsŁeh Pao-ch'ai and Lin Tai-yŁ were present. As soon therefore as
they heard these proposals, which harmonised so thoroughly with their
own views, they both, with one voice, approved them as excellent. T'an
Ch'un and the others were likewise well aware of their object, but they
could not, when they saw with what willingness they accepted the charge
insist, with any propriety, upon their writing verses, and they felt
obliged to say yes.
"Your proposals," she consequently said, "may be right enough; but in my
views they are ridiculous. For here I've had the trouble of initiating
this idea of a society, and, instead of my having anything to say in the
matter, I've been the means of making you three come and exercise
control over me."
"Well then," Pao-yŁ suggested, "let's go to the Tao Hsiang village."
"You're always in a hurry!" Li Wan remarked. "We're here to-day to
simply deliberate. So wait until I've sent for you again."
"It would be well," Pao-ch'ai interposed, "that we should also decide
every how many days we are to meet."
"If we meet too often," argued T'an Ch'un, "there won't be fun in it. We
should simply come together two or three times in a month."
"It will be ample if we meet twice or thrice a month," Pao-ch'ai added.
"But when the dates have been settled neither wind nor rain should
prevent us. Exclusive, however, of these two days, any one in high
spirits and disposed to have an extra meeting can either ask us to go
over to her place, or you can all come to us; either will do well
enough! But won't it be more pleasant if no hard-and-fast dates were
"This suggestion is excellent," they all exclaimed.
"This idea was primarily originated by me," T'an Ch'un observed, "and I
should be the first to play the hostess, so that these good spirits of
mine shouldn't all go for nothing."
"Well, after this remark," Li Wan proceeded, "what do you say to your
being the first to convene a meeting to-morrow?"
"To-morrow," T'an Ch'un demurred, "is not as good as to-day; the best
thing is to have it at once! You'd better therefore choose the subjects,
while Ling Chou can fix the metre, and Ou Hsieh act as supervisor."
"According to my ideas," Ying Ch'un chimed in, "we shouldn't yield to
the wishes of any single person in the choice of themes and the
settlement of the rhythm. What would really be fair and right would be
to draw lots."
"When I came just now," Li Wan pursued, "I noticed them bring in two
pots of white begonias, which were simply beautiful; and why should you
not write some verses on them?"
"Can we write verses," Ying Ch'un retorted, "before we have as yet seen
anything of the flowers?"
"They're purely and simply white begonias," Pao-chai answered, "and is
there again any need to see them before you put together your verses?
Men of old merely indited poetical compositions to express their good
cheer and conceal their sentiments; had they waited to write on things
they had seen, why, the whole number of their works would not be in
existence at present!"
"In that case," Ying Ch'un said, "let me fix the metre."
With these words, she walked up to the book-case, and, extracting a
volume, she opened it, at random, at some verses which turned out to be
a heptameter stanza. Then handing it round for general perusal,
everybody had to compose lines with seven words in each. Ying Ch'un next
closed the book of verses and addressed herself to a young waiting-maid.
"Just utter," she bade her, "the first character that comes to your
The waiting-maid was standing, leaning against the door, so readily she
suggested the word "door."
"The rhyme then will be the word 'door,'" Ying Ch'un smiled, "under the
thirteenth character 'Yuan.' The final word of the first line is
Saying this, she asked for the box with the rhyme slips, and, pulling
out the thirteenth drawer with the character "Yuan," she directed a
young waiting-maid to take four words as they came under her hand. The
waiting-maid complied with her directions, and picked out four slips, on
which were written "p'en, hun, hen and hun," pot, spirit, traces and
"The two characters pot and door," observed Pao-yŁ, "are not very easy
to rhyme with."
But Shih Shu then got ready four lots of paper and pens, share and share
alike, and one and all quietly set to work, racking their brains to
perform their task, with the exception of Tai-yŁ, who either kept on
rubbing the dryandra flowers, or looking at the autumnal weather, or
bandying jokes as well with the servant-girls; while Ying Ch'un ordered
a waiting-maid to light a "dream-sweet" incense stick.
This "dream-sweet" stick was, it must be explained, made only about
three inches long and about the thickness of a lamp-wick, in order to
easily burn down. Setting therefore her choice upon one of these as a
limit of time, any one who failed to accomplish the allotted task, by
the time the stick was consumed, had to pay a penalty.
Presently, T'an Ch'un was the first to think of some verses, and, taking
up her pen, she wrote them down; and, after submitting them to several
alterations, she handed them up to Ying Ch'un.
"Princess of Heng Wu," she then inquired of Pao-ch'ai, "have you
"As for finishing, I have finished," Pao-ch'ai rejoined; "but they're
Pao-yŁ paced up and down the verandah with his hands behind his back.
"Have you heard?" he thereupon said to Tai-yŁ, "they've all done!"
"Don't concern yourself about me!" Tai-yŁ returned for answer.
Pao-yŁ also perceived that Pao-ch'ai had already copied hers out.
"Dreadful!" he exclaimed. "There only remains an inch of the stick and
I've only just composed four lines. The incense stick is nearly burnt
out," he continued, speaking to Tai-yŁ, "and what do you keep squatting
on that damp ground like that for?"
But Tai-yŁ did not again worry her mind about what he said.
"Well," Pao-yŁ added, "I can't be looking after you! Whether good or
bad, I'll write mine out too and have done."
As he spoke, he likewise drew up to the table and began putting his
"We'll now peruse the verses," Li Wan interposed, "and if by the time
we've done, you haven't as yet handed up your papers, you'll have to be
"Old farmer of Tao Hsiang," Pao-yŁ remarked, "you're not, it is true, a
good hand at writing verses, but you can read well, and, what's more,
you're the fairest of the lot; so you'd better adjudge the good and bad,
and we'll submit to your judgment."
"Of course!" responded the party with one voice.
In due course, therefore, she first read T'an Ch'un's draft. It ran as
Verses on the Begonia.
What time the sun's rays slant, and the grass waxeth cold, close the
After a shower of rain, green moss plenteously covers the whole pot.
Beauteous is jade, but yet with thee in purity it cannot ever vie.
Thy frame, spotless as snow, from admiration easy robs me of my wits
Thy fragrant core is like unto a dot, so full of grace, so delicate!
When the moon reacheth the third watch, thy comely shade begins to
Do not tell me that a chaste fairy like thee can take wings and pass
How lovely are thy charms, when in thy company at dusk I sing my lay!
After she had read them aloud, one and all sang their praise for a time.
She then took up Pao-ch'ai's, which consisted of:
If thou would'st careful tend those fragrant lovely flowers, close of
a day the doors,
And with thine own hands take the can and sprinkle water o'er the
Red, as if with cosmetic washed, are the shadows in autumn on the
Their crystal snowy bloom invites the dew on their spirits to heap
Their extreme whiteness mostly shows that they're more comely than all
When much they grieve, how can their jade-like form lack the traces of
Would'st thou the god of those white flowers repay? then purity
need'st thou observe.
In silence plunges their fine bloom, now that once more day yields to
"After all," observed Li Wan, "it's the Princess of Heng Wu, who
expresses herself to the point."
Next they bestowed their attention on the following lines, composed by
Thy form in autumn faint reflects against the double doors.
So heaps the snow in the seventh feast that it filleth thy pots.
Thy shade is spotless as Tai Chen, when from her bath she hails.
Like Hsi Tzu's, whose hand ever pressed her heart, jade-like thy soul.
When the morn-ushering breeze falls not, thy thousand blossoms grieve.
To all thy tears the evening shower addeth another trace.
Alone thou lean'st against the coloured rails as if with sense imbued.
As heavy-hearted as the fond wife, beating clothes, or her that sadly
listens to the flute, thou mark'st the fall of dusk.
When they had perused his verses, Pao-yŁ opined that T'an Ch'un's
carried the palm. Li Wan was, however, inclined to concede to the
stanza, indited by Pao-ch'ai, the credit of possessing much merit. But
she then went on to tell Tai-yŁ to look sharp.
"Have you all done?" Tai-yŁ asked.
So saying, she picked up a pen and completing her task, with a few
dashes, she threw it to them to look over. On perusal, Li Wan and her
companions found her verses to run in this strain:--
Half rolled the speckled portiere hangs, half closed the door.
Thy mould like broken ice it looks, jade-like thy pot.
This couplet over, Pao-yŁ took the initiative and shouted: "Capital."
But he had just had time to inquire where she had recalled them to mind
from, when they turned their mind to the succeeding lines:
Three points of whiteness from the pear petals thou steal'st;
And from the plum bloom its spirit thou borrowest.
"Splendid!" every one (who heard) them conned over, felt impelled to
cry. "It is a positive fact," they said, "that her imagination is,
compared with that of others, quite unique."
But the rest of the composition was next considered. Its text was:
The fairy in Selene's cavity donneth a plain attire.
The maiden, plunged in autumn grief, dries in her room the prints of
Winsome she blushes, in silence she's plunged, with none a word she
But wearily she leans against the eastern breeze, though dusk has long
"This stanza ranks above all!" they unanimously remarked, after it had
been read for their benefit.
"As regards beauty of thought and originality, this stanza certainly
deserves credit," Li Wan asserted; "but as regards pregnancy and
simplicity of language, it, after all, yields to that of Heng Wu."
"This criticism is right." T'an Ch'un put in. "That of the Hsiao Hsiang
consort must take second place."
"Yours, gentleman of I Hung," Li Wan pursued, "is the last of the lot.
Do you agreeably submit to this verdict?"
"My stanza," Pao-yŁ ventured, "isn't really worth a straw. Your
criticism is exceedingly fair. But," he smilingly added, "the two poems,
written by Heng Wu and Hsiao Hsiang, have still to be discussed."
"You should," argued Li Wan, "fall in with my judgment; this is no
business of any of you, so whoever says anything more will have to pay a
Pao-yŁ at this reply found that he had no alternative but to drop the
"I decide that from henceforward," Li Wan proceeded, "we should hold
meetings twice every month, on the second and sixteenth. In the
selection of themes and the settlement of the rhymes, you'll all have
then to do as I wish. But any person who may, during the intervals, feel
so disposed, will be at perfect liberty to choose another day for an
extra meeting. What will I care if there's a meeting every day of the
moon? It will be no concern of mine, so long as when the second and
sixteenth arrive, you do, as you're bound to, and come over to my
"We should, as is but right," Pao-yŁ suggested, "choose some name or
other for our society."
"Were an ordinary one chosen, it wouldn't be nice," T'an Ch'un
explained, "and anything too new-fangled, eccentric or strange won't
also be quite the thing! As luck would have it, we've just started with
the poems on the begonia, so let us call it the 'Begonia Poetical
Society.' This title is, it's true, somewhat commonplace; but as it's
positively based on fact, it shouldn't matter."
After this proposal of hers, they held further consultation; and
partaking of some slight refreshments, each of them eventually retired.
Some repaired to their quarters. Others went to dowager lady Chia's or
Madame Wang's apartments. But we will leave them without further
When Hsi Jen, for we will now come to her, perceived Pao-yŁ peruse the
note and walk off in a great flurry, along with Ts'ui Mo, she was quite
at a loss what to make of it. Subsequently, she also saw the matrons, on
duty at the back gate, bring two pots of begonias. Hsi Jen inquired of
them where they came from. The women explained to her all about them. As
soon as Hsi Jen heard their reply, she at once desired them to put the
flowers in their proper places, and asked them to sit down in the lower
rooms. She then entered the house, and, weighing six mace of silver, she
wrapped it up properly, and fetching besides three hundred cash, she
came over and handed both the amounts to the two matrons. "This silver,"
she said, "is a present for the boys, who carried the flowers; and these
cash are for you to buy yourselves a cup of tea with."
The women rose to their feet in such high glee that their eyebrows
dilated and their eyes smiled; but, though they waxed eloquent in the
expression of their deep gratitude, they would not accept the money. It
was only after they had perceived how obstinate Hsi Jen was in not
taking it back that they at last volunteered to keep it.
"Are there," Hsi Jen then inquired, "any servant-boys on duty outside
the back gate?"
"There are four of them every day," answered one of the matrons.
"They're put there with the sole idea of attending to any orders that
might be given them from inside. But, Miss, if you've anything to order
them to do, we'll go and deliver your message."
"What orders can I have to give them?" Hsi Jen laughed. "Mr. Pao, our
master Secundus, was purposing to send some one to-day to the young
marquis' house to take something over to Miss Shih. But you come at an
opportune moment so you might, on your way out, tell the servant-boys at
the back gate to hire a carriage; and on its return you can come here
and get the money. But don't let them rush recklessly against people in
the front part of the compound!"
The matrons signified their obedience and took their leave. Hsi Jen
retraced her steps into the house to fetch a tray in which to place the
presents intended for Shih Hsiang-yŁn, but she discovered the shelf for
trays empty. Upon turning round, however, she caught sight of Ch'ing
Wen, Ch'iu Wen, She YŁeh and the other girls, seated together, busy with
their needlework. "Where is the white cornelian tray with twisted
threads gone to?" Hsi Jen asked.
At this question, one looked at the one, and the other stared at the
other, but none of them could remember anything about it. After a
protracted lapse of time, Ch'ing Wen smiled. "It was taken to Miss
Tertia's with a present of lichees," she rejoined, "and it hasn't as yet
"There are plenty of articles," Hsi Jen remarked, "for sending over
things on ordinary occasions; and do you deliberately go and carry this
"Didn't I maintain the same thing?" Ch'ing Wen retorted. "But so well
did this tray match with the fresh lichees it contained, that when I
took it over, Miss T'an Ch'un herself noticed the fact. 'How splendid,'
she said, and lo, putting even the tray by, she never had it brought
over. But, look! hasn't the pair of beaded vases, which stood on the
very top of that shelf, been fetched as yet?"
"The mention of these vases," Ch'iu Wen laughed, "reminds me again of a
funny incident. Whenever our Mr. Pao-yŁ's filial piety is aroused, he
shows himself filial over and above the highest degree! The other day,
he espied the olea flowers in the park, and he plucked two twigs. His
original idea was to place them in a vase for himself, but a sudden
thought struck him. 'These are flowers,' he mused, 'which have newly
opened in our garden, so how can I presume to be the first to enjoy
them?' And actually taking down that pair of vases, he filled them with
water with his own hands, put the flowers in, and, calling a servant to
carry them, he in person took one of the vases into dowager lady Chia's,
and then took the other to Madame Wang's. But, as it happens, even his
attendants reap some benefit, when once his filial feelings are stirred
up! As luck would have it, the one who carried the vases over on that
day was myself. The sight of these flowers so enchanted our venerable
lady that there was nothing that she wouldn't do. 'Pao-yŁ,' she said to
every one she met, 'is the one, after all, who shows me much attention.
So much so, that he has even thought of bringing me a twig of flowers!
And yet, the others bear me a grudge on account of the love that I
lavish on him!' Our venerable mistress, you all know very well, has
never had much to say to me. I have all along not been much of a
favourite in the old lady's eyes. But on that occasion she verily
directed some one to give me several hundreds of cash. 'I was to be
pitied,' she observed, 'for being born with a weak physique!' This was,
indeed, an unforeseen piece of good luck! The several hundreds of cash
are a mere trifle; but what's not easy to get is this sort of honour!
After that, we went over into Madame Wang's. Madame Wang was, at the
time, with our lady Secunda, Mrs. Chao, and a whole lot of people;
turning the boxes topsy-turvey, trying to find some coloured clothes her
ladyship had worn long ago in her youth, so as to give them to some one
or other. Who it was, I don't know. But the moment she saw us, she did
not even think of searching for any clothes, but got lost in admiration
for the flowers. Our lady Secunda was also standing by, and she made
sport of the matter. She extolled our master Pao, for his filial piety
and for his knowledge of right and wrong; and what with what was true
and what wasn't, she came out with two cart-loads of compliments. These
things spoken in the presence of the whole company so added to Madame
Wang's lustre and sealed every one's mouth, that her ladyship was more
and more filled with gratification, and she gave me two ready-made
clothes as a present. These too are of no consequence; one way or
another, we get some every year; but nothing can come up to this sort of
"Psha!" Ch'ing Wen ejaculated with a significant smile, "you are indeed
a mean thing, who has seen nothing of the world! She gave the good ones
to others and the refuse to you; and do you still pat on all this side?"
"No matter whether what she gave me was refuse or not," Ch'iu Wen
protested, "it's, after all, an act of bounty on the part of her
"Had it been myself," Ch'ing Wen pursued, "I would at once have refused
them! It wouldn't have mattered if she had given me what had been left
by some one else; but we all stand on an equal footing in these rooms,
and is there any one, forsooth, so much the more exalted or honorable
than the other as to justify her taking what is good and bestowing it
upon her and giving me what is left? I had rather not take them! I might
have had to give offence to Madame Wang, but I wouldn't have put up with
such a slight!"
"To whom did she give any in these rooms?" Ch'iu Wen vehemently
inquired. "I was unwell and went home for several days, so that I am not
aware to whom any were given. Dear sister, do tell me who it is so that
I may know."
"Were I to tell you," Ch'ing Wen rejoined, "is it likely that you would
return them at this hour to Madame Wang?"
"What nonsense," Ch'iu Wen laughed. "Ever since I've heard about it,
I've been delighted and happy. No matter if she even bestowed upon me
what remained from anything given to a dog in these rooms, I would have
been thankful for her ladyship's kindness. I wouldn't have worried my
mind with anything else!"
After listening to her, everybody laughed. "Doesn't she know how to jeer
in fine style!" they ejaculated unanimously; "for weren't they given to
that foreign spotted pug dog?"
"You lot of filthy-tongued creatures!" Hsi Jen laughed, "when you've got
nothing to do, you make me the scapegoat to crack your jokes, and poke
your fun at! But what kind of death will, I wonder, each of you have!"
"Was it verily you, sister, who got them?" Ch'iu Wen asked with a smile.
"I assure you I had no idea about it! I tender you my apologies."
"You might be a little less domineering!" Hsi Jen remarked smilingly.
"The thing now is, who of you will go and fetch the tray."
"The vases too," Shih YŁeh suggested, "must be got back when there's any
time to spare; for there's nothing to say about our venerable mistress'
quarters, but Madame Wang's apartments teem with people and many hands.
The rest are all right; but Mrs. Chao and all that company will, when
they see that the vase hails from these rooms, surely again foster evil
designs, and they won't feel happy until they've done all they can to
spoil it! Besides, Madame Wang doesn't trouble herself about such
things. So had we not as well bring it over a moment sooner?"
Hearing this, Ch'ing Wen threw down her needlework. "What you say is
perfectly right," she assented, "so you'd better let me go and fetch
"I'll, after all, go for it." Ch'iu Wen cried. "You can go and get that
tray of yours!"
"You should let me once go for something!" Ch'ing Wen pleaded. "Whenever
any lucky chance has turned up, you've invariably grabbed it; and can it
be that you won't let me have a single turn?"
"Altogether," She YŁeh said laughingly, "that girl Ch'iu Wen got a few
clothes just once; can such a lucky coincidence present itself again
today that you too should find them engaged in searching for clothes?"
"Albeit I mayn't come across any clothes," Ch'ing Wen rejoined with a
sardonic smile, "our Madame Wang may notice how diligent I am, and
apportion me a couple of taels out of her public expenses; there's no
saying." Continuing, "Don't you people," she laughed, "try and play your
pranks with me; for is there anything that I don't twig?"
As she spoke, she ran outside. Ch'iu Wen too left the room in her
company; but she repaired to T'an Ch'un's quarters and fetched the tray.
Hsi Jen then got everything ready. Calling an old nurse attached to the
same place as herself, Sung by name, "Just go first and wash, comb your
hair and put on your out-of-door clothes," she said to her, "and then
come back as I want to send you at once with a present to Miss Shih."
"Miss," urged the nurse Sung, "just give me what you have; and, if you
have any message, tell it me; so that when I've tidied myself I may go
Hsi Jen, at this proposal, brought two small twisted wire boxes; and,
opening first the one in which were two kinds of fresh fruits,
consisting of caltrops and "chicken head" fruit, and afterwards
uncovering the other, containing a tray with new cakes, made of chestnut
powder, and steamed in sugar, scented with the olea, "All these fresh
fruits are newly plucked this year from our own garden," she observed;
"our Mr. Secundus sends them to Miss Shih to taste. The other day, too,
she was quite taken with this cornelian tray so let her keep it for her
use. In this silk bag she'll find the work, which she asked me some time
ago to do for her. (Tell her) that she mustn't despise it for its
coarseness, but make the best of it and turn it to some account. Present
respects to her from our part and inquire after her health on behalf of
Mr. Pao-yŁ; that will be all there's to say."
"Has Mr. Pao, I wonder, anything more for me to tell her?" the nurse
Sung added, "Miss, do go and inquire, so that on my return, he mayn't
again say that I forgot."
"He was just now," Hsi Jen consequently asked Ch'iu Wen, "over there in
Miss Tertia's rooms, wasn't he?"
"They were all assembled there, deliberating about starting some
poetical society or other," Ch'iu Wen explained, "and they all wrote
verses too. But I fancy he's got no message to give you; so you might as
After this assurance, nurse Sung forthwith took the things, and quitted
the apartment. When she had changed her clothes and arranged her hair,
Hsi Jen further enjoined them to go by the back door, where there was a
servant-boy, waiting with a curricle. Nurse Sung thereupon set out on
her errand. But we will leave her for the present.
In a little time Pao-yŁ came back. After first cursorily glancing at the
begonias for a time, he walked into his rooms, and explained to Hsi Jen
all about the poetical society they had managed to establish, Hsi Jen
then told him that she had sent the nurse Sung along with some things,
to Shih Hsiang-yŁn. As soon as Pao-yŁ heard this, he clapped his hands.
"I forgot all about her!" he cried. "I knew very well that I had
something to attend to; but I couldn't remember what it was! Luckily,
you've alluded to her! I was just meaning to ask her to come, for what
fun will there be in this poetical society without her?"
"Is this of any serious import?" Hsi Jen reasoned with him. "It's all,
for the mere sake of recreation! She's not however able to go about at
her own free will as you people do. Nor can she at home have her own
way. When you therefore let her know, it won't again rest with her,
however willing she may be to avail herself of your invitation. And if
she can't come, she will long and crave to be with you all, so isn't it
better that you shouldn't be the means of making her unhappy?"
"Never mind!" responded Pao-yŁ. "I'll tell our venerable senior to
despatch some one to bring her over."
But in the middle of their conversation, nurse Sung returned already
from her mission, and expressed to him, (Hsiang-yŁn's) acknowledgment;
and to Hsi Jen her thanks for the trouble. "She also inquired," the
nurse proceeded, "what you, master Secundus, were up to, and I told her
that you had started some poetical club or other with the young ladies
and that you were engaged in writing verses. Miss Shih wondered why it
was, if you were writing verses, that you didn't even mention anything
to her; and she was extremely distressed about it."
Pao-yŁ, at these words, turned himself round and betook himself
immediately into his grandmother's apartments, where he did all that lay
in his power to urge her to depute servants to go and fetch her.
"It's too late to-day," dowager lady Chia answered; "they'll go
tomorrow, as soon as it's daylight."
Pao-yŁ had no other course but to accede to her wishes. He, however,
retraced his steps back to his room with a heavy heart. On the morrow,
at early dawn, he paid another visit to old lady Chia and brought
pressure to bear on her until she sent some one for her. Soon after
midday, Shih Hsiang-yŁn arrived. Pao-yŁ felt at length much relieved in
his mind. Upon meeting her, he recounted to her all that had taken place
from beginning to end. His purpose was likewise to let her see the
poetical composition, but Li Wan and the others remonstrated. "Don't,"
they said, "allow her to see them! First tell her the rhymes and number
of feet; and, as she comes late, she should, as a first step, pay a
penalty by conforming to the task we had to do. Should what she writes
be good, then she can readily be admitted as a member of the society;
but if not good, she should be further punished by being made to stand a
treat; after which, we can decide what's to be done."
"You've forgotten to ask me round," Hsiang-yŁn laughed, "and I should,
after all, fine you people! But produce the metre; for though I don't
excel in versifying, I shall exert myself to do the best I can, so as to
get rid of every slur. If you will admit me into the club, I shall be
even willing to sweep the floors and burn the incense."
When they all saw how full of fun she was, they felt more than ever
delighted with her and they reproached themselves, for having somehow or
other managed to forget her on the previous day. But they lost no time
in telling her the metre of the verses.
Shih Hsiang-yŁn was inwardly in ecstasies. So much so, that she could
not wait to beat the tattoo and effect any alterations. But having
succeeded, while conversing with her cousins, in devising a stanza in
her mind, she promptly inscribed it on the first piece of paper that
came to hand. "I have," she remarked, with a precursory smile, "stuck to
the metre and written two stanzas. Whether they be good or bad, I cannot
say; all I've kept in view was to simply comply with your wishes."
So speaking, she handed her paper to the company.
"We thought our four stanzas," they observed, "had so thoroughly
exhausted everything that could be imagined on the subject that another
stanza was out of the question, and there you've devised a couple more!
How could there be so much to say? These must be mere repetitions of our
While bandying words, they perused her two stanzas. They found this to
be their burden:
The fairies yesterday came down within the city gates,
And like those gems, sown in the grassy field, planted one pot.
How clear it is that the goddess of frost is fond of cold!
It is no question of a pretty girl bent upon death!
Where does the snow, which comes in gloomy weather, issue from?
The drops of rain increase the prints, left from the previous night.
How the flowers rejoice that bards are not weary of song!
But are they ever left to spend in peace a day or night?
The "heng chih" covered steps lead to the creeper-laden door.
How fit to plant by the corner of walls; how fit for pots?
The flowers so relish purity that they can't find a mate.
Easy in autumn snaps the soul of sorrow-wasted man.
The tears, which from the jade-like candle drip, dry in the wind.
The crystal-like portiere asunder rends Selene's rays.
Their private feelings to the moon goddess they longed to tell,
But gone, alas! is the lustre she shed on the empty court!
Every line filled them with wonder and admiration. What they read, they
praised. "This," they exclaimed, with one consent, "is not writing
verses on the begonia for no purpose! We must really start a Begonia
"To-morrow," Shih Hsiang-yŁn proposed, "first fine me by making me stand
a treat, and letting me be the first to convene a meeting; may I?"
"This would be far better!" they all assented. So producing also the
verses, composed the previous day, they submitted them to her for
In the evening, Hsiang-yŁn came at the invitation of Pao-ch'ai, to the
Heng Wu YŁan to put up with her for the night. By lamplight, Hsiang-yŁn
consulted with her how she was to play the hostess and fix upon the
themes; but, after lending a patient ear to all her proposals for a long
time, Pao-ch'ai thought them so unsuitable for the occasion, that
turning towards her, she raised objections. "If you want," she said, "to
hold a meeting, you have to pay the piper. And albeit it's for mere fun,
you have to make every possible provision; for while consulting your own
interests, you must guard against giving umbrage to people. In that case
every one will afterwards be happy and contented. You count for nothing
too in your own home; and the whole lump sum of those few tiaos, you
draw each month, are not sufficient for your own wants, and do you now
also wish to burden yourself with this useless sort of thing? Why, if
your aunt gets wind of it, won't she be more incensed with you than
ever! What's more, even though you might fork out all the money you can
call your own to bear the outlay of this entertainment with, it won't be
anything like enough, and can it possibly be, pray, that you would go
home for the express purpose of requisitioning the necessary funds? Or
will you perchance ask for some from in here?"
This long tirade had the effect of bringing the true facts of the case
to Hsiang-yŁn's notice, and she began to waver in a state of
"I have already fixed upon a plan in my mind," Pao-ch'ai resumed.
"There's an assistant in our pawnshop from whose family farm come some
splendid crabs. Some time back, he sent us a few as a present, and now,
starting from our venerable senior and including the inmates of the
upper quarters, most of them are quite in love with crabs. It was only
the other day that my mother mentioned that she intended inviting our
worthy ancestor into the garden to look at the olea flowers and partake
of crabs, but she has had her hands so full that she hasn't as yet asked
her round. So just you now drop the poetical meeting, and invite the
whole crowd to a show; and if we wait until they go, won't we be able to
indite as many poems as we like? But let me speak to my brother and ask
him to let us have several baskets of the fattest and largest crabs he
can get, and to also go to some shop and fetch several jars of luscious
wine. And if we then lay out four or five tables with plates full of
refreshments, won't we save trouble and all have a jolly time as well?"
As soon as Hsiang-yŁn heard (the alternative proposed by Pao-ch'ai,) she
felt her heart throb with gratitude and in most profuse terms she
praised her for her forethought.
"The proposal I've made." Pao-ch'ai pursued smilingly; "is prompted
entirely by my sincere feelings for you; so whatever you do don't be
touchy and imagine that I look down upon you; for in that case we two
will have been good friends all in vain. But if you won't give way to
suspicion, I'll be able to tell them at once to go and get things
"My dear cousin," eagerly rejoined Hsiang-yŁn, a smile on her lips, "if
you say these things it's you who treat me with suspicion; for no matter
how foolish a person I may be, as not to even know what's good and bad,
I'm still a human being! Did I not regard you, cousin, in the same light
as my own very sister, I wouldn't last time have had any wish or
inclination to disclose to you every bit of those troubles, which
ordinarily fall to my share at home."
After listening to these assurances, Pao-ch'ai summoned a matron and
bade her go out and tell her master, HsŁeh P'an, to procure a few
hampers of crabs of the same kind as those which were sent on the
previous occasion. "Our venerable senior," (she said,) "and aunt Wang
are asked to come to-morrow after their meal and admire the olea
flowers, so mind, impress upon your master to please not forget, as I've
already to-day issued the invitations."
The matron walked out of the garden and distinctly delivered the
message. But, on her return, she brought no reply.
During this while, Pao-ch'ai continued her conversation with Hsiang-yŁn.
"The themes for the verses," she advised her, "mustn't also be too
out-of-the-way. Just search the works of old writers, and where will you
find any eccentric and peculiar subjects, or any extra difficult metre!
If the subject be too much out-of-the-way and the metre too difficult,
one cannot get good verses. In a word, we are a mean lot and our verses
are certain, I fear, to consist of mere repetitions. Nor is it advisable
for us to aim at excessive originality. The first thing for us to do is
to have our ideas clear, as our language will then not be commonplace.
In fact, this sort of thing is no vital matter; spinning and needlework
are, in a word, the legitimate duties of you and me. Yet, if we can at
any time afford the leisure, it's only right and proper that we should
take some book, that will benefit both body and mind, and read a few
chapters out of it."
Hsiang-yŁn simply signified her assent. "I'm now cogitating in my mind,"
she then laughingly remarked, "that as the verses we wrote yesterday
treated of begonias, we should, I think, compose on this occasion some
on chrysanthemums, eh? What do you say?"
"Chrysanthemums are in season," Pao-ch'ai replied. "The only objection
to them is that too many writers of old have made them the subject of
"I also think so," Hsiang-yŁn added, "so that, I fear, we shall only be
following in their footsteps."
After some reflection, Pao-ch'ai exclaimed, "I've hit upon something! If
we take, for the present instance, the chrysanthemums as a secondary
term, and man as the primary, we can, after all, select several themes.
But they must all consist of two characters: the one, an empty word; the
other, a full one. The full word might be chrysanthemums; while for the
empty one, we might employ some word in general use. In this manner, we
shall, on one hand, sing the chrysanthemum; and, on the other, compose
verses on the theme. And as old writers have not written much in this
style, it will be impossible for us to drift into the groove of their
ideas. Thus in versifying on the scenery and in singing the objects, we
will, in both respects, combine originality with liberality of thought."
"This is all very well," smiled Hsiang-yŁn. "The only thing is what kind
of empty words will, I wonder, be best to use? Just you first think of
one and let me see."
Pao-ch'ai plunged in thought for a time, after which she laughingly
remarked: "Dream of chrysanthemums is good."
"It's positively good!" Hsiang-yŁn smiled. "I've also got one: 'the
Chrysanthemum shadow,' will that do?"
"Well enough," Pao-ch'ai answered, "the only objection is that people
have written on it; yet if the themes are to be many, we might throw
this in. I've got another one too!"
"Be quick, and tell it!" Hsiang-yŁn urged.
"What do you say to 'ask the Chrysanthemums?'" Pao-ch'ai observed.
Hsiang-yŁn clapped her hand on the table. "Capital," she cried. "I've
thought of one also." She then quickly continued, "It is, search for
chrysanthemums; what's your idea about it?"
Pao-ch'ai thought that too would do very well. "Let's choose ten of them
first," she next proposed; "and afterwards note them down!"
While talking, they rubbed the ink and moistened the pens. These
preparations over, Hsiang-yŁn began to write, while Pao-ch'ai enumerated
the themes. In a short time, they got ten of them.
"Ten don't form a set," Hsiang-yŁn went on to smilingly suggest, after
reading them over. "We'd better complete them by raising their number to
twelve; they'll then also be on the same footing as people's pictures
Hearing this proposal, Pao-ch'ai devised another couple of themes, thus
bringing them to a dozen. "Well, since we've got so far," she pursued,
"let's go one step further and copy them out in their proper order,
putting those that are first, first; and those that come last, last."
"It would be still better like that," Hsiang-yŁn acquiesced, "as we'll
be able to make up a 'chrysanthemum book.'"
"The first stanza should be: 'Longing for chrysanthemums,'" Pao-chai
said, "and as one cannot get them by wishing, and has, in consequence,
to search for them, the second should be 'searching for chrysanthemums.'
After due search, one finds them, and plants them, so the third must be:
'planting chrysanthemums.' After they've been planted, they, blossom,
and one faces them and enjoys them, so the fourth should be 'facing the
chrysanthemums.' By facing them, one derives such excessive delight that
one plucks them and brings them in and puts them in vases for one's own
delectation, so the fifth must be 'placing chrysanthemums in vases.' If
no verses are sung in their praise, after they've been placed in vases,
it's tantamount to seeing no point of beauty in chrysanthemums, so the
sixth must be 'sing about chrysanthemums.' After making them the burden
of one's song, one can't help representing them in pictures. The seventh
place should therefore be conceded to 'drawing chrysanthemums.' Seeing
that in spite of all the labour bestowed on the drawing of
chrysanthemums, the fine traits there may be about them are not yet, in
fact, apparent, one impulsively tries to find them out by inquiries, so
the eighth should be 'asking the chrysanthemums.' As any perception,
which the chrysanthemums might display in fathoming the questions set
would help to make the inquirer immoderately happy, the ninth must be
'pinning the chrysanthemums in the hair.' And as after everything has
been accomplished, that comes within the sphere of man, there will
remain still some chrysanthemums about which something could be written,
two stanzas on the 'shadow of the chrysanthemums,' and the 'dream about
chrysanthemums' must be tagged on as numbers ten and eleven. While the
last section should be 'the withering of the chrysanthemums' so as to
bring to a close the sentiments expressed in the foregoing subjects. In
this wise the fine scenery and fine doings of the third part of autumn,
will both alike be included in our themes."
Hsiang-yŁn signified her approval, and taking the list she copied it out
clean. But after once more passing her eye over it, she went on to
inquire what rhymes should be determined upon.
"I do not, as a rule, like hard-and-fast rhymes," Pao-ch'ai retorted.
"It's evident enough that we can have good verses without them, so
what's the use of any rhymes to shackle us? Don't let us imitate that
mean lot of people. Let's simply choose our subject and pay no notice to
rhymes. Our main object is to see whether we cannot by chance hit upon
some well-written lines for the sake of fun. It isn't to make this the
means of subjecting people to perplexities."
"What you say is perfectly right," Hsiang-yŁn observed. "In this manner
our poetical composition will improve one step higher. But we only
muster five members, and there are here twelve themes. Is it likely that
each one of us will have to indite verses on all twelve?"
"That would be far too hard on the members!" Pao-ch'ai rejoined. "But
let's copy out the themes clean, for lines with seven words will have to
be written on every one, and stick them to-morrow on the wall for
general perusal. Each member can write on the subject which may be most
in his or her line. Those, with any ability, may choose all twelve.
While those, with none, may only limit themselves to one stanza. Both
will do. Those, however, who will show high mental capacity, combined
with quickness, will be held the best. But any one, who shall have
completed all twelve themes, won't be permitted to hasten and begin over
again; we'll have to fine such a one, and finish."
"Yes, that will do," assented Hsiang-yŁn. But after settling everything
satisfactorily, they extinguished the lamp and went to bed.
Reader, do you want to know what subsequently took place? If you do,
then listen to what is contained in the way of explanation in the
Lin Hsiao-Hsiang carries the first prize in the poems on
Hsueh Heng-wu chaffs Pao-yŁ by composing verses in the same style as
his on the crabs.
After Pao-ch'ai and Hsiang-yŁn, we will now explain, settled everything
in their deliberations, nothing memorable occurred, the whole night,
which deserves to be put on record.
The next day, Hsiang-yŁn invited dowager lady Chia and her other
relatives to come and look at the olea flowers. Old lady Chia and every
one else answered that as she had had the kind attention to ask them,
they felt it their duty to avail themselves of her gracious invitation,
much though they would be putting her to trouble and inconvenience. At
twelve o'clock, therefore, old lady Chia actually took with her Madame
Wang and lady Feng, as well as Mrs. HsŁeh and other members of her
family whom she had asked to join them, and repaired into the garden.
"Which is the best spot?" old lady Chia inquired.
"We are ready to go wherever you may like, dear senior," Madame Wang
ventured in response.
"A collation has already been spread in the Lotus Fragrance Arbour,"
lady Feng interposed. "Besides, the two olea plants, on that hill,
yonder, are now lovely in their full blossom, and the water of that
stream is jade-like and pellucid, so if we sit in the pavilion in the
middle of it, won't we enjoy an open and bright view? It will be
refreshing too to our eyes to watch the pool."
"Quite right!" assented dowager lady Chia at this suggestion; and while
expressing her approbation, she ushered her train of followers into the
Arbour of Lotus Fragrance.
This Arbour of Lotus Fragrance had, in fact, been erected in the centre
of the pool. It had windows on all four sides. On the left and on the
right, stood covered passages, which spanned the stream and connected
with the hills. At the back, figured a winding bridge.
As the party ascended the bamboo bridge, lady Feng promptly advanced and
supported dowager lady Chia. "Venerable ancestor," she said, "just walk
boldly and with confident step; there's nothing to fear; it's the way of
these bamboo bridges to go on creaking like this."
Presently, they entered the arbour. Here they saw two additional bamboo
tables, placed beyond the balustrade. On the one, were arranged cups,
chopsticks and every article necessary for drinking wine. On the other,
were laid bamboo utensils for tea, a tea-service and various cups and
saucers. On the off side, two or three waiting-maids were engaged in
fanning the stove to boil the water for tea. On the near side were
visible several other girls, who were trying with their fans to get a
fire to light in the stove so as to warm the wines.
"It was a capital idea," dowager lady Chia hastily exclaimed laughingly
with vehemence, "to bring tea here. What's more, the spot and the
appurtenances are alike so spick and span!"
"These things were brought by cousin Pao-ch'ai," Hsiang-yŁn smilingly
explained, "so I got them ready."
"This child is, I say, so scrupulously particular," old lady Chia
observed, "that everything she does is thoroughly devised."
As she gave utterance to her feelings, her attention was attracted by a
pair of scrolls of black lacquer, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, suspended
on the pillars, and she asked Hsiang-yŁn to tell her what the mottoes
The text she read was:
Snapped is the shade of the hibiscus by the fragrant oar of a boat
Deep flows the perfume of the lily and the lotus underneath the bamboo
After listening to the motto, old lady Chia raised her head and cast a
glance upon the tablet; then turning round: "Long ago, when I was
young," she observed, addressing herself to Mrs. HsŁeh, "we likewise had
at home a pavilion like this called 'the Hall reclining on the russet
clouds,' or some other such name. At that time, I was of the same age as
the girls, and my wont was to go day after day and play with my sisters
there. One day, I, unexpectedly, slipped and fell into the water, and I
had a narrow escape from being drowned; for it was after great
difficulty, that they managed to drag me out safe and sound. But my head
was, after all, bumped about against the wooden nails; so much so, that
this hole of the length of a finger, which you can see up to this day on
my temple, comes from the bruises I sustained. All my people were in a
funk that I'd be the worse for this ducking and continued in fear and
trembling lest I should catch a chill. 'It was dreadful, dreadful!' they
opined, but I managed, little though every one thought it, to keep in
Lady Feng allowed no time to any one else to put in a word; but
anticipating them: "Had you then not survived, who would now be enjoying
these immense blessings!" she smiled. "This makes it evident that no
small amount of happiness and long life were in store for you, venerable
ancestor, from your very youth up! It was by the agency of the spirits
that this hole was knocked open so that they might fill it up with
happiness and longevity! The old man Shou Hsing had, in fact, a hole in
his head, which was so full of every kind of blessing conducive to
happiness and long life that it bulged up ever so high!"
Before, however, she could conclude, dowager lady Chia and the rest were
convulsed with such laughter that their bodies doubled in two.
"This monkey is given to dreadful tricks!" laughed old lady Chia. "She's
always ready to make a scapegoat of me to evoke amusement. But would
that I could take that glib mouth of yours and rend it in pieces."
"It's because I feared that the cold might, when you by and bye have
some crabs to eat, accumulate in your intestines," lady Feng pleaded,
"that I tried to induce you, dear senior, to have a laugh, so as to make
you gay and merry. For one can, when in high spirits, indulge in a
couple of them more with impunity."
"By and bye," smiled old lady Chia, "I'll make you follow me day and
night, so that I may constantly be amused and feel my mind diverted; I
won't let you go back to your home."
"It's that weakness of yours for her, venerable senior," Madame Wang
observed with a smile, "that has got her into the way of behaving in
this manner, and, if you go on speaking to her as you do, she'll soon
become ever so much the more unreasonable."
"I like her such as she is," dowager lady Chia laughed. "Besides, she's
truly no child, ignorant of the distinction between high and low. When
we are at home, with no strangers present, we ladies should be on terms
like these, and as long, in fact, as we don't overstep propriety, it's
all right. If not, what would he the earthly use of making them behave
like so many saints?"
While bandying words, they entered the pavilion in a body. After tea,
lady Feng hastened to lay out the cups and chopsticks. At the upper
table then seated herself old lady Chia, Mrs. HsŁeh, Pao-ch'ai, Tai-yŁ
and Pao-yŁ. Round the table, on the east, sat Shih Hsiang-yŁn, Madame
Wang, Ying Ch'un, T'an Ch'un and Hsi Ch'un. At the small table, leaning
against the door on the west side, Li Wan and lady Feng assigned
themselves places. But it was for the mere sake of appearances, as
neither of them ventured to sit down, but remained in attendance at the
two tables, occupied by old lady Chia and Madame Wang.
"You'd better," lady Feng said, "not bring in too many crabs at a time.
Throw these again into the steaming-basket! Only serve ten; and when
they're eaten, a fresh supply can be fetched!"
Asking, at the same time, for water, she washed her hands, and, taking
her position near dowager lady Chia, she scooped out the meat from a
crab, and offered the first help to Mrs. HsŁeh.
"They'll be sweeter were I to open them with my own hands," Mrs. HsŁeh
remarked, "there's no need for any one to serve me."
Lady Feng, therefore, presented it to old lady Chia and handed a second
portion to Pao-yŁ.
"Make the wine as warm as possible and bring it in!" she then went on to
cry. "Go," she added, directing the servant-girls, "and fetch the
powder, made of green beans, and scented with the leaves of
chrysanthemums and the stamens of the olea fragrans; and keep it ready
to rinse our hands with."
Shih Hsiang-yŁn had a crab to bear the others company, but no sooner had
she done than she retired to a lower seat, from where she helped her
guests. When she, however, walked out a second time to give orders to
fill two dishes and send them over to Mrs. Chao, she perceived lady Feng
come up to her again. "You're not accustomed to entertaining," she said,
"so go and have your share to eat. I'll attend to the people for you
first, and, when they've gone, I'll have all I want."
Hsiang-yŁn would not agree to her proposal. But giving further
directions to the servants to spread two tables under the verandah on
the off-side, she pressed YŁan Yang, Hu Po, Ts'ai Hsia, Ts'ai YŁn and
P'ing Erh to go and seat themselves.
"Lady Secunda," consequently ventured YŁan Yang, "you're in here doing
the honours, so may I go and have something to eat?"
"You can all go," replied lady Feng; "leave everything in my charge, and
it will be all right."
While these words were being spoken, Shih Hsiang-yŁn resumed her place
at the banquet. Lady Feng and Li Wan then took hurry-scurry something to
eat as a matter of form; but lady Feng came down once more to look after
things. After a time, she stepped out on the verandah where YŁan Yang
and the other girls were having their refreshments in high glee. As soon
as they caught sight of her, Yuan Yang and her companions stood up.
"What has your ladyship come out again for?" they inquired. "Do let us
also enjoy a little peace and quiet!"
"This chit YŁan Yang is worse than ever!" lady Feng laughed. "Here I'm
slaving away for you, and, instead of feeling grateful to me, you bear
me a grudge! But don't you yet quick pour me a cup of wine?"
YŁan Yang immediately smiled, and filling a cup, she applied it to lady
Feng's lips. Lady Feng stretched out her neck and emptied it. But Hu Po
and Ts'ai Hsia thereupon likewise replenished a cup and put it to lady
Feng's mouth. Lady Feng swallowed the contents of that as well. P'ing
Erh had, by this time, brought her some yellow meat which she had picked
out from the shell. "Pour plenty of ginger and vinegar!" shouted lady
Feng, and, in a moment, she made short work of that too. "You people,"
she smiled, "had better sit down and have something to eat, for I'm off
"You brazen-faced thing," exclaimed YŁan Yang laughingly, "to eat what
was intended for us!"
"Don't be so captious with me!" smiled lady Feng. "Are you aware that
your master Secundus, Mr. Lien, has taken such a violent fancy to you
that he means to speak to our old lady to let you be his secondary
YŁan Yang blushed crimson. "Ts'ui!" she shouted. "Are these really words
to issue from the mouth of a lady! But if I don't daub your face all
over with my filthy hands, I won't feel happy!"
Saying this, she rushed up to her. She was about to besmear her face,
when lady Feng pleaded: "My dear child, do let me off this time!"
"Lo, that girl YŁan," laughed Hu Po, "wishes to smear her, and that
hussey P'ing still spares her! Look here, she has scarcely had two
crabs, and she has drunk a whole saucerful of vinegar!"
P'ing Erh was holding a crab full of yellow meat, which she was in the
act of cleaning. As soon therefore as she heard this taunt, she came,
crab in hand, to spatter Hu Po's face, as she laughingly reviled her.
"I'll take you minx with that cajoling tongue of yours" she cried,
But, Hu Po, while also indulging in laughter, drew aside; so P'ing Erh
beat the air, and fell forward, daubing, by a strange coincidence, the
cheek of lady Feng. Lady Feng was at the moment having a little
good-humoured raillery with YŁan Yang, and was taken so much off her
guard, that she was quite startled out of her senses. "Ai-yah!" she
ejaculated. The bystanders found it difficult to keep their countenance,
and, with one voice, they exploded into a boisterous fit of laughter.
Lady Feng as well could not help feeling amused, and smilingly she
upbraided her. "You stupid wench!" she said; "Have you by gorging lost
your eyesight that you recklessly smudge your mistress' face?"
P'ing Erh hastily crossed over and wiped her face for her, and then went
in person to fetch some water.
"O-mi-to-fu," ejaculated YŁan Yang, "this is a distinct retribution!"
Dowager lady Chia, though seated on the other side, overheard their
shouts, and she consecutively made inquiries as to what they had seen to
tickled their fancy so. "Tell us," (she urged), "what it is so that we
too should have a laugh."
"Our lady Secunda," YŁan Yang and the other maids forthwith laughingly
cried, "came to steal our crabs and eat them, and P'ing Erh got angry
and daubed her mistress' face all over with yellow meat. So our mistress
and that slave-girl are now having a scuffle over it."
This report filled dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the other inmates
with them with much merriment. "Do have pity on her," dowager lady Chia
laughed, "and let her have some of those small legs and entrails to eat,
and have done!"
Yuan Yang and her companions assented, much amused. "Mistress Secunda,"
they shouted in a loud tone of voice, "you're at liberty to eat this
whole tableful of legs!"
But having washed her face clean, lady Feng approached old lady Chia and
the other guests and waited upon them for a time, while they partook of
Tai-yŁ did not, with her weak physique, venture to overload her stomach,
so partaking of a little meat from the claws, she left the table.
Presently, however, dowager lady Chia too abandoned all idea of having
anything more to eat. The company therefore quitted the banquet; and,
when they had rinsed their hands, some admired the flowers, some played
with the water, others looked at the fish.
After a short stroll, Madame Wang turned round and remarked to old lady
Chia: "There's plenty of wind here. Besides, you've just had crabs; so
it would be prudent for you, venerable senior, to return home and rest.
And if you feel in the humour, we can come again for a turn to-morrow."
"Quite true!" acquiesced dowager lady Chia, in reply to this suggestion.
"I was afraid that if I left, now that you're all in exuberant spirits,
I mightn't again be spoiling your fun, (so I didn't budge). But as the
idea originates from yourselves do go as you please, (while I retire).
But," she said to Hsiang-yŁn, "don't allow your cousin Secundus, Pao-yŁ,
and your cousin Lin to have too much to eat." Then when Hsiang-yŁn had
signified her obedience, "You two girls," continuing, she recommended
Hsiang-yŁn and Pao-ch'ai, "must not also have more than is good for you.
Those things are, it's true, luscious, but they're not very wholesome;
and if you eat immoderately of them, why, you'll get stomachaches."
Both girls promised with alacrity to be careful; and, having escorted
her beyond the confines of the garden, they retraced their steps and
ordered the servants to clear the remnants of the banquet and to lay out
a new supply of refreshments.
"There's no use of any regular spread out!" Pao-yŁ interposed. "When you
are about to write verses, that big round table can be put in the centre
and the wines and eatables laid on it. Neither will there be any need to
ceremoniously have any fixed seats. Let those who may want anything to
eat, go up to it and take what they like; and if we seat ourselves,
scattered all over the place, won't it be far more convenient for us?"
"Your idea is excellent!" Pao-ch'ai answered.
"This is all very well," Hsiang-yŁn observed, "but there are others to
be studied besides ourselves!"
Issuing consequently further directions for another table to be laid,
and picking out some hot crabs, she asked Hsi Jen, Tzu ChŁan, Ssu Ch'i,
Shih Shu, Ju Hua, Ying Erh, Ts'ui Mo and the other girls to sit together
and form a party. Then having a couple of flowered rugs spread under the
olea trees on the hills, she bade the matrons on duty, the waiting-maids
and other servants to likewise make themselves comfortable and to eat
and drink at their pleasure until they were wanted, when they could come
and answer the calls.
Hsiang-yŁn next fetched the themes for the verses and pinned them with a
needle on the wall. "They're full of originality," one and all exclaimed
after perusal, "we fear we couldn't write anything on them."
Hsiang-yŁn then went onto explain to them the reasons that had prompted
her not to determine upon any particular rhymes.
"Yes, quite right!" put in Pao-yŁ. "I myself don't fancy hard and fast
But Lin Tai-yŁ, being unable to stand much wine and to take any crabs,
told, on her own account, a servant to fetch an embroidered cushion;
and, seating herself in such a way as to lean against the railing, she
took up a fishing-rod and began to fish. Pao-ch'ai played for a time
with a twig of olea she held in her hand, then resting on the
window-sill, she plucked the petals, and threw them into the water,
attracting the fish, which went by, to rise to the surface and nibble at
them. Hsiang-yŁn, after a few moments of abstraction, urged Hsi Jen and
the other girls to help themselves to anything they wanted, and beckoned
to the servants, seated at the foot of the hill, to eat to their heart's
content. Tan Ch'un, in company with Li Wan and Hsi Ch'un, stood
meanwhile under the shade of the weeping willows, and looked at the
widgeons and egrets. Ying Ch'un, on the other hand, was all alone under
the shade of some trees, threading double jasmine flowers, with a needle
specially adapted for the purpose. Pao-yŁ too watched Tai-yŁ fishing for
a while. At one time he leant next to Pao-ch'ai and cracked a few jokes
with her. And at another, he drank, when he noticed Hsi Jen feasting on
crabs with her companions, a few mouthfuls of wine to keep her company.
At this, Hsi Jen cleaned the meat out of a shell, and gave it to him to
Tai-yŁ then put down the fishing-rod, and, approaching the seats, she
laid hold of a small black tankard, ornamented with silver plum flowers,
and selected a tiny cup, made of transparent stone, red like a begonia,
and in the shape of a banana leaf. A servant-girl observed her
movements, and, concluding that she felt inclined to have a drink, she
drew near with hurried step to pour some wine for her.
"You girls had better go on eating," Tai-yŁ remonstrated, "and let me
help myself; there'll be some fun in it then!"
So speaking, she filled for herself a cup half full; but discovering
that it was yellow wine, "I've eaten only a little bit of crab," she
said, "and yet I feel my mouth slightly sore; so what would do for me
now is a mouthful of very hot distilled spirit."
Pao-yŁ hastened to take up her remark. "There's some distilled spirit,"
he chimed in. "Take some of that wine," he there and then shouted out to
a servant, "scented with acacia flowers, and warm a tankard of it."
When however it was brought Tai-yŁ simply took a sip and put it down
Pao-ch'ai too then came forward, and picked up a double cup; but, after
drinking a mouthful of it, she lay it aside, and, moistening her pen,
she walked up to the wall, and marked off the first theme: "longing for
chrysanthemums," below which she appended a character "Heng."
"My dear cousin," promptly remarked Pao-yŁ. "I've already got four lines
of the second theme so let me write on it!"
"I managed, after ever so much difficulty, to put a stanza together,"
Pao-ch'ai smiled, "and are you now in such a hurry to deprive me of it?"
Without so much as a word, Tai-yŁ took a pen and put a distinctive sign
opposite the eighth, consisting of: "ask the chrysanthemums;" and,
singling out, in quick succession, the eleventh: "dream of
chrysanthemums," as well, she too affixed for herself the word "Hsiao"
below. But Pao-yŁ likewise got a pen, and marked his choice, the twelfth
on the list: "seek for chrysanthemums," by the side of which he wrote
the character "Chiang."
T'an Ch'un thereupon rose to her feet. "If there's no one to write on
'Pinning the chrysanthemums'" she observed, while scrutinising the
themes, "do let me have it! It has just been ruled," she continued,
pointing at Pao-yŁ with a significant smile, "that it is on no account
permissible to introduce any expressions, bearing reference to the inner
chambers, so you'd better be on your guard!"
But as she spoke, she perceived Hsiang-yŁn come forward, and jointly
mark the fourth and fifth, that is: "facing the chrysanthemums," and
"putting chrysanthemums in vases," to which she, like the others,
appended a word, Hsiang."
"You too should get a style or other!" T'an Ch'un suggested.
"In our home," smiled Hsiang-yŁn, "there exist, it is true, at present
several halls and structures, but as I don't live in either, there'll be
no fun in it were I to borrow the name of any one of them!"
"Our venerable senior just said," Pao-ch'ai observed laughingly, "that
there was also in your home a water-pavilion called 'leaning on russet
clouds hall,' and is it likely that it wasn't yours? But albeit it
doesn't exist now-a-days, you were anyhow its mistress of old."
"She's right!" one and all exclaimed.
Pao-yŁ therefore allowed Hsiang-yŁn no time to make a move, but
forthwith rubbed off the character "Hsiang," for her and substituted
that of "Hsia" (russet).
A short time only elapsed before the compositions on the twelve themes
had all been completed. After they had each copied out their respective
verses, they handed them to Ying Ch'un, who took a separate sheet of
snow-white fancy paper, and transcribed them together, affixing
distinctly under each stanza the style of the composer. Li Wan and her
assistants then began to read, starting from the first on the list, the
verses which follow:
"Longing for chrysanthemums," by the "Princess of Heng Wu."
With anguish sore I face the western breeze, and wrapt in grief, I
pine for you!
What time the smart weed russet turns, and the reeds white, my heart
is rent in two.
When in autumn the hedges thin, and gardens waste, all trace of you is
When the moon waxeth cold, and the dew pure, my dreams then know
something of you.
With constant yearnings my heart follows you as far as wild geese
Lonesome I sit and lend an ear, till a late hour to the sound of the
For you, ye yellow flowers, I've grown haggard and worn, but who doth
And breathe one word of cheer that in the ninth moon I will soon meet
"Search for chrysanthemums," by the "Gentleman of I Hung:"
When I have naught to do, I'll seize the first fine day to try and
Neither wine-cups nor cups of medicine will then deter me from my
Who plants the flowers in all those spots, facing the dew and under
the moon's rays?
Outside the rails they grow and by the hedge; but in autumn where do
With sandals waxed I come from distant shores; my feelings all
But as on this cold day I can't exhaust my song, my spirits get
The yellow flowers, if they but knew how comfort to a poet to afford,
Would not let me this early morn trudge out in vain with my cash-laden
"Planting chrysanthemums," by the Gentleman of "I Hung:"
When autumn breaks, I take my hoe, and moving them myself out of the
I plant them everywhere near the hedges and in the foreground of the
Last night, when least expected, they got a good shower, which made
them all revive.
This morn my spirits still rise high, as the buds burst in bloom
bedecked with frost.
Now that it's cool, a thousand stanzas on the autumn scenery I sing.
In ecstasies from drink, I toast their blossom in a cup of cold, and
With spring water. I sprinkle them, cover the roots with mould and
well tend them,
So that they may, like the path near the well, be free of every grain
"Facing the chrysanthemums," by the "Old friend of the Hall reclining on
the russet clouds."
From other gardens I transplant them, and I treasure them like gold.
One cluster bears light-coloured bloom; another bears dark shades.
I sit with head uncovered by the sparse-leaved artemesia hedge,
And in their pure and cool fragrance, clasping my knees, I hum my
In the whole world, methinks, none see the light as peerless as these
From all I see you have no other friend more intimate than me.
Such autumn splendour, I must not misuse, as steadily it fleets.
My gaze I fix on you as I am fain each moment to enjoy!
"Putting chrysanthemums in vases," by the "Old Friend of the hall
reclining on the russet clouds."
The lute I thrum, and quaff my wine, joyful at heart that ye are meet
to be my mates.
The various tables, on which ye are laid, adorn with beauteous grace
this quiet nook.
The fragrant dew, next to the spot I sit, is far apart from that by
the three paths.
I fling my book aside and turn my gaze upon a twig full of your autumn
What time the frost is pure, a new dream steals o'er me, as by the
paper screen I rest.
When cold holdeth the park, and the sun's rays do slant, I long and
yearn for you, old friends.
I too differ from others in this world, for my own tastes resemble
those of yours.
The vernal winds do not hinder the peach tree and the pear from
bursting forth in bloom.
"Singing chrysanthemums," by the "Hsiao Hsiang consort."
Eating the bread of idleness, the frenzy of poetry creeps over me both
night and day.
Round past the hedge I wend, and, leaning on the rock, I intone verses
gently to myself.
From the point of my pencil emanate lines of recondite grace, so near
the frost I write.
Some scent I hold by the side of my mouth, and, turning to the moon, I
sing my sentiments.
With self-pitying lines pages I fill, so as utterance to give to all
my cares and woes.
From these few scanty words, who could fathom the secrets of my heart
about the autumntide?
Beginning from the time when T'ao, the magistrate, did criticise the
beauty of your bloom,
Yea, from that date remote up to this very day, your high renown has
ever been extolled.
"Drawing chrysanthemums," by the "Princess of Heng Wu."
Verses I've had enough, so with my pens I play; with no idea that I am
Do I make use of pigments red or green as to involve a task of
To form clusters of leaves, I sprinkle simply here and there a
thousand specks of ink.
And when I've drawn the semblance of the flowers, some spots I make to
represent the frost.
The light and dark so life-like harmonise with the figure of those
there in the wind,
That when I've done tracing their autumn growth, a fragrant smell
issues under my wrist.
Do you not mark how they resemble those, by the east hedge, which you
Upon the screens their image I affix to solace me for those of the
"Asking the chrysanthemums," by the "Hsiao Hsiang consort."
Your heart, in autumn, I would like to read, but know it no one could!
While humming with my arms behind my back, on the east hedge I rap.
So peerless and unique are ye that who is meet with you to stay?
Why are you of all flowers the only ones to burst the last in bloom?
Why in such silence plunge the garden dew and the frost in the hall?
When wild geese homeward fly and crickets sicken, do you think of me?
Do not tell me that in the world none of you grow with power of
But if ye fathom what I say, why not converse with me a while?
"Pinning the chrysanthemums in the hair," by the "Visitor under the
I put some in a vase, and plant some by the hedge, so day by day I
have ample to do.
I pluck them, yet don't fancy they are meant for girls to pin before
the glass in their coiffure.
My mania for these flowers is just as keen as was that of the squire,
who once lived in Ch'ang An.
I rave as much for them as raved Mr. P'eng TsÍ, when he was under the
effects of wine.
Cold is the short hair on his temples and moistened with dew, which on
it dripped from the three paths.
His flaxen turban is suffused with the sweet fragrance of the autumn
frost in the ninth moon.
That strong weakness of mine to pin them in my hair is viewed with
sneers by my contemporaries.
They clap their hands, but they are free to laugh at me by the
roadside as much us e'er they list.
"The shadow of the chrysanthemums," by the "Old Friend of the hall
reclining on the russet clouds."
In layers upon layers their autumn splendour grows and e'er thick and
I make off furtively, and stealthily transplant them from the three
The distant lamp, inside the window-frame, depicts their shade both
far and near.
The hedge riddles the moon's rays, like unto a sieve, but the flowers
stop the holes.
As their reflection cold and fragrant tarries here, their soul must
The dew-dry spot beneath the flowers is so like them that what is said
of dreams is trash.
Their precious shadows, full of subtle scent, are trodden down to
pieces here and there.
Could any one with eyes half closed from drinking, not mistake the
shadow for the flowers.
"Dreaming of chrysanthemums," by the "Hsiao Hsiang consort."
What vivid dreams arise as I dose by the hedge amidst those autumn
Whether clouds bear me company or the moon be my mate, I can't
In fairyland I soar, not that I would become a butterfly like Chang.
So long I for my old friend T'ao, the magistrate, that I again seek
In a sound sleep I fell; but so soon as the wild geese cried, they
broke my rest.
The chirp of the cicadas gave me such a start that I bear them a
My secret wrongs to whom can I go and divulge, when I wake up from
The faded flowers and the cold mist make my feelings of anguish know
"Fading of the chrysanthemums," by the "Visitor under the banana trees."
The dew congeals; the frost waxes in weight; and gradually dwindles
After the feast, with the flower show, follows the season of the
The stalks retain still some redundant smell, but the flowers' golden
tinge is faint.
The stems do not bear sign of even one whole leaf; their verdure is
Naught but the chirp of crickets strikes my ear, while the moon shines
on half my bed.
Near the cold clouds, distant a thousand li, a flock of wild geese
When autumn breaks again next year, I feel certain that we will meet
We part, but only for a time, so don't let us indulge in anxious
Each stanza they read they praised; and they heaped upon each other
"Let me now criticise them; I'll do so with all fairness!" Li Wan
smiled. "As I glance over the page," she said, "I find that each of you
has some distinct admirable sentiments; but in order to be impartial in
my criticism to-day, I must concede the first place to: 'Singing the
chrysanthemums;' the second to: 'Asking the chrysanthemums;' and the
third to: 'Dreaming of chrysanthemums.' The original nature of the
themes makes the verses full of originality, and their conception still
more original. But we must allow to the 'Hsiao Hsiang consort' the
credit of being the best; next in order following: 'Pinning
chrysanthemums in the hair,' 'Facing the chrysanthemums,' 'Putting the
chrysanthemums, in vases,' 'Drawing the chrysanthemums,' and 'Longing
for chrysanthemums,' as second best."
This decision filled Pao-yŁ with intense gratification. Clapping his
hands, "Quite right! it's most just," he shouted.
"My verses are worth nothing!" Tai-yŁ remarked. "Their fault, after all,
is that they are a little too minutely subtile."
"They are subtile but good," Li Wan rejoined; "for there's no
artificialness or stiffness about them."
"According to my views," Tai-yŁ observed, "the best line is:
"'When cold holdeth the park and the sun's rays do slant, I long and
yearn for you, old friends.'
"'I fling my book aside and turn my gaze upon a twig of autumn.'
is already admirable! She has dealt so exhaustively with 'putting
chrysanthemums in a vase' that she has left nothing unsaid that could be
said, and has had in consequence to turn her thought back and consider
the time anterior to their being plucked and placed in vases. Her
sentiments are profound!"
"What you say is certainly so," explained Li Wan smiling; "but that line
"'Some scent I hold by the side of my mouth,....'
"After all," said T'an Ch'un, "we must admit that there's depth of
thought in those of the 'Princess of Heng Wu' with:
"'...in autumn all trace of you is gone;'
"'...my dreams then know something of you!'
"They really make the meaning implied by the words 'long for' stand out
"Those passages of yours:
"'Cold is the short hair on his temples and moistened....'
"'His flaxen turban is suffused with the sweet fragrance....;'"
laughingly observed Puo-ch'ai, "likewise bring out the idea of 'pinning
the chrysanthemums in the hair' so thoroughly that one couldn't get a
loop hole for fault-finding."
Hsiang-yŁn then smiled.
"'...who is meet with you to stay'"
she said, "and
"'...burst the last in bloom.'
"are questions so straight to the point set to the chrysanthemums, that
they are quite at a loss what answer to give."
"Were what you say:
"'I sit with head uncovered....'
"'...clasping my knees, I hum my lays....'
"as if you couldn't, in fact, tear yourself away for even a moment from
them," Li Wan laughed, "to come to the knowledge of the chrysanthemums,
why, they would certainly be sick and tired of you."
This joke made every one laugh.
"I'm last again!" smiled Pao-yŁ. "Is it likely that:
"'Who plants the flowers?....
...in autumn where do they go?
With sandals waxed I come from distant shores;....
...and as on this cold day I can't exhaust my song;....'
"do not all forsooth amount to searching for chrysanthemums? And that
"'Last night they got a shower....
And this morn ... bedecked with frost,'
"don't both bear on planting them? But unfortunately they can't come up
to these lines:
"'Some scent I hold by the side of my mouth and turning to the moon I
sing my sentiments.'
'In their pure and cool fragrance, clasping my knees I hum my lays.'
'...short hair on his temples....'
'His flaxen turban....
...golden tinge is faint.
...verdure is all past.
...in autumn ... all trace of you is gone.
...my dreams then know something of you.'
"But to-morrow," he proceeded, "if I have got nothing to do, I'll write
twelve stanzas my self."
"Yours are also good," Li Wan pursued, "the only thing is that they
aren't as full of original conception as those other lines, that's all."
But after a few further criticisms, they asked for some more warm crabs;
and, helping themselves, as soon as they were brought, from the large
circular table, they regaled themselves for a time.
"With the crabs to-day in one's hand and the olea before one's eyes, one
cannot help inditing verses," Pao-yŁ smiled. "I've already thought of a
few; but will any of you again have the pluck to devise any?"
With this challenge, he there and then hastily washed his hands and
picking up a pen he wrote out what, his companions found on perusal, to
run in this strain:
When in my hands I clasp a crab what most enchants my heart is the
cassia's cool shade.
While I pour vinegar and ground ginger, I feel from joy as if I would
With so much gluttony the prince's grandson eats his crabs that he
should have some wine.
The side-walking young gentleman has no intestines in his frame at
I lose sight in my greediness that in my stomach cold accumulates.
To my fingers a strong smell doth adhere and though I wash them yet
the smell clings fast.
The main secret of this is that men in this world make much of food.
The P'o Spirit has laughed at them that all their lives they only seek
"I could readily compose a hundred stanzas with such verses in no time,"
Tai-yŁ observed with a sarcastic smile.
"Your mental energies are now long ago exhausted," Pao-yŁ rejoined
laughingly, "and instead of confessing your inability to devise any, you
still go on heaping invective upon people!"
Tai-yŁ, upon catching this insinuation, made no reply of any kind; but
slightly raising her head she hummed something to herself for a while,
and then taking up a pen she completed a whole stanza with a few dashes.
The company then read her lines. They consisted of--
E'en after death, their armour and their lengthy spears are never cast
So nice they look, piled in the plate, that first to taste them I'd
In every pair of legs they have, the crabs are full of tender
Each piece of ruddy fat, which in their shell bumps up, emits a
Besides much meat, they have a greater relish for me still, eight feet
Who bids me drink a thousand cups of wine in order to enhance my joy?
What time I can behold their luscious food, with the fine season doth
When cassias wave with fragrance pure, and the chrysanthemums are
decked with frost.
Pao-yŁ had just finished conning it over and was beginning to sing its
praise, when Tai-yŁ, with one snatch, tore it to pieces and bade a
servant go and burn it.
"As my compositions can't come up to yours," she then observed, "I'll
burn it. Yours is capital, much better than the lines you wrote a little
time back on the chrysanthemums, so keep it for the benefit of others."
"I've likewise succeeded, after much effort, in putting together a
stanza," Pao-ch'ai laughingly remarked. "It cannot, of course, be worth
much, but I'll put it down for fun's sake."
As she spoke, she too wrote down her lines. When they came to look at
them, they read--
On this bright beauteous day, I bask in the dryandra shade, with a cup
in my hand.
When I was at Ch'ang An, with drivelling mouth, I longed for the ninth
day of the ninth moon.
The road stretches before their very eyes, but they can't tell between
straight and transverse.
Under their shells in spring and autumn only reigns a vacuum, yellow
At this point, they felt unable to refrain from shouting: "Excellent!"
"She abuses in fine style!" Pao-yŁ shouted. "But my lines should also be
committed to the flames."
The company thereupon scanned the remainder of the stanza, which was
couched in this wise:
When all the stock of wine is gone, chrysanthemums then use to scour
away the smell.
So as to counteract their properties of gath'ring cold, fresh ginger
you should take.
Alas! now that they have been dropped into the boiling pot, what good
do they derive?
About the moonlit river banks there but remains the fragrant aroma of
At the close of their perusal, they with one voice, explained that this
was a first-rate song on crab-eating; that minor themes of this kind
should really conceal lofty thoughts, before they could be held to be of
any great merit, and that the only thing was that it chaffed people
rather too virulently.
But while they were engaged in conversation, P'ing Erh was again seen
coming into the garden. What she wanted is not, however, yet known; so,
reader, peruse the details given in the subsequent chapter.
The tongue of the village old dame finds as free vent as a river that
has broken its banks.
The affectionate cousin makes up his mind to sift to the very bottom
the story told by old goody Liu.
Upon seeing, the story explains, P'ing Erh arrive, they unanimously
inquired, "What is your mistress up to? How is it she hasn't come?"
"How ever could she spare the time to get as far as here?" P'ing Erh
smiled and replied. "But, she said, she hasn't anything good to eat, so
she bade me, as she couldn't possibly run over, come and find out
whether there be any more crabs or not; (if there be), she enjoined me
to ask for a few to take to her to eat at home."
"There are plenty!" Hsiang-yŁn rejoined; and directing, with alacrity, a
servant to fetch a present box, she put in it ten of the largest crabs.
"I'll take a few more of the female ones," P'ing Erh remarked.
One and all then laid hands upon P'ing Erh and tried to drag her into a
seat, but P'ing Erh would not accede to their importunities.
"I insist upon your sitting down," Li Wan laughingly exclaimed, and as
she kept pulling her about, and forcing her to sit next to her, she
filled a cup of wine and put it to her lips. P'ing Erh hastily swallowed
a sip and endeavoured immediately to beat a retreat.
"I won't let you go," shouted Li Wan. "It's so evident that you're only
got that woman Feng in your thoughts as you don't listen to any of my
Saying this, she went on to bid the nurses go ahead, and take the box
over. "Tell her," she added, "that I've kept P'ing Erh here."
A matron presently returned with a box. "Lady Secunda," she reported,
"says that you, lady Chu, and our young mistresses must not make fun of
her for having asked for something to eat; and that in this box you'll
find cakes made of water-lily powder, and rolls prepared with chicken
fat, which your maternal aunt, on the other side, just sent for your
ladyship and for you, young ladies, to taste. That she bids you," (the
matron) continued, turning towards P'ing Erh, "come over on duty, but
your mind is so set upon pleasure that you loiter behind and don't go
back. She advises you, however, not to have too many cups of wine."
"Were I even to have too much," P'ing Erh smiled, "what could she do to
Uttering these words, she went on with her drink; after which she
partook of some more crab.
"What a pity it is," interposed Li Wan, caressing her, "that a girl with
such good looks as you should have so ordinary a fortune as to simply
fall into that room as a menial! But wouldn't any one, who is not
acquainted with actual facts, take you for a lady and a mistress?"
While she went on eating and drinking with Pao-ch'ai, Hsiang-yŁn and the
other girls, P'ing Erh turned her head round. "Don't rub me like that!"
she laughed, "It makes me feel quite ticklish."
"Ai-yo!" shouted Li Wan. "What's this hard thing?"
"It's a key," P'ing Erh answered.
"What fine things have you got that the fear lest people should take it
away, prompts you to carry this about you? I keep on, just for a laugh,
telling people the whole day long that when the bonze T'ang was fetching
the canons, a white horse came and carried him! That when Liu Chih-yŁan
was attacking the empire, a melon-spirit appeared and brought him a coat
of mail, and that in the same way, where our vixen Feng is, there you
are to be found! You are your mistress' general key; and what do you
want this other key for?"
"You've primed yourself with wine, my lady," P'ing Erh smiled, "and here
you once more chaff me and make a laughing-stock of me."
"This is really quite true," Pao-ch'ai laughed. "Whenever we've got
nothing to do, and we talk matters over, (we're quite unanimous) that
not one in a hundred could be picked out to equal you girls in here. The
beauty is that each one of you possesses her own good qualities!"
"In every thing, whether large or small, a heavenly principle rules
alike," Li Wan explained. "Were there, for instance, no YŁan Yang in our
venerable senior's apartments, how would it ever do? Commencing with
Madame Wang herself, who is it who could muster sufficient courage to
expostulate with the old lady? Yet she plainly has the pluck to put in
her remonstrances with her; and, as it happens, our worthy ancestor
lends a patient ear to only what she says and no one else. None of the
others can remember what our old senior has in the way of clothes and
head-ornaments, but she can remember everything; and, were she not there
to look after things, there is no knowing how many would not be swindled
away. That child besides is so straightforward at heart, that, despite
all this, she often puts in a good word for others, and doesn't rely
upon her influence to look down disdainfully upon any one!"
"It was only yesterday," Hsi Ch'un observed with a smile, "that our dear
ancestor said that she was ever so much better than the whole lot of
"She's certainly splendid!" P'ing Erh ventured. "How could we rise up to
"Ts'ai Hsia," Pao-yŁ put in, "who is in mother's rooms, is a good sort
"Of course she is!" T'an Ch'un assented. "But she's good enough as far
as external appearances go, but inwardly she's a sly one! Madame Wang is
just like a joss; she does not give her mind to any sort of business;
but this girl is up to everything; and it is she who in all manner of
things reminds her mistress what there is to be done. She even knows
everything, whether large or small, connected with Mr. Chia Cheng's
staying at home or going out of doors; and when at any time Madame Wang
forgets, she, from behind the scenes, prompts her how to act."
"Well, never mind about her!" Li Wan suggested. "But were," she pursued,
pointing at Pao-yŁ, "no Hsi Jen in this young gentleman's quarters, just
you imagine what a pitch things would reach! That vixen Feng may truly
resemble the prince Pa of the Ch'u kingdom; and she may have two arms
strong enough to raise a tripod weighing a thousand catties, but had she
not this maid (P'ing Erh), would she be able to accomplish everything so
"In days gone by," P'ing Erh interposed, "four servant-girls came along
with her, but what with those who've died and those who've gone, only I
remain like a solitary spirit."
"You're, after all, the fortunate one!" Li Wan retorted, "but our hussey
Feng too is lucky in having you! Had I not also once, just remember, two
girls, when your senior master Chu was alive? Am I not, you've seen for
yourselves, a person to bear with people? But in such a surly frame of
mind did I find them both day after day that, as soon as your senior
master departed this life, I availed myself of their youth (to give them
in marriage) and to pack both of them out of my place. But had either of
them been good for anything and worthy to be kept, I would, in fact,
have now had some one to give me a helping hand!"
As she spoke, the very balls of her eyes suddenly became quite red.
"Why need you again distress your mind?" they with one voice, exclaimed.
"Isn't it better that we should break up?"
While conversing, they rinsed their hands; and, when they had agreed to
go in a company to dowager lady Chia's and Madame Wang's and inquire
after their health, the matrons and servant-maids swept the pavilion and
collected and washed the cups and saucers.
Hsi Jen proceeded on her way along with P'ing Erh. "Come into my room,"
said Hsi Jen to P'ing Erh, "and sit down and have another cup of tea."
"I won't have any tea just now," P'ing Erh answered. "I'll come some
So saying, she was about to go off when Hsi Jen called out to her and
"This month's allowances," she asked, "haven't yet been issued, not even
to our old mistress and Madame Wang; why is it?"
Upon catching this inquiry, P'ing Erh hastily retraced her steps and
drew near Hsi Jen. After looking about to see that no one was in the
neighbourhood, she rejoined in a low tone of voice, "Drop these
questions at once! They're sure, anyhow, to be issued in a couple of
"Why is it," smiled Hsi Jen, "that this gives you such a start?"
"This month's allowances," P'ing Erh explained to her in a whisper,
"have long ago been obtained in advance by our mistress Secunda and
given to people for their own purposes; and it's when the interest has
been brought from here and there that the various sums will be lumped
together and payment be effected. I confide this to you, but, mind, you
mustn't go and tell any other person about it."
"Is it likely that she hasn't yet enough money for her own
requirements?" Hsi Jen smiled. "Or is it that she's still not satisfied?
And what's the use of her still going on bothering herself in this way?"
"Isn't it so!" laughed P'ing Erh. "From just handling the funds for this
particular item, she has, during these few years, so manipulated them as
to turn up several hundreds of taels profit out of them. Nor does she
spend that monthly allowance of hers for public expenses. But the moment
she accumulates anything like eight or ten taels odd, she gives them out
too. Thus the interest on her own money alone comes up to nearly a
thousand taels a year."
"You and your mistress take our money," Hsi Jen observed laughingly,
"and get interest on it; fooling us as if we were no better than
"Here you are again with your uncharitable words!" P'ing Erh
remonstrated. "Can it be that you haven't yet enough to meet your own
"I am, it's true, not short of money," Hsi Jen replied, "as I have
nowhere to go and spend it; but the thing is that I'm making provision
for that fellow of ours, (Pao-yŁ)."
"If you ever find yourself in any great straits and need money," P'ing
Erh resumed, "you're at liberty to take first those few taels I've got
over there to suit your own convenience with, and by and bye I can
reduce them from what is due to you and we'll be square."
"I'm not in need of any just now," retorted Hsi Jen. "But should I not
have enough, when I want some, I'll send some one to fetch them, and
P'ing Erh promised that she would let her have the money at any time she
sent for it, and, and taking the shortest cut, she issued out of the
garden gate. Here she encountered a servant despatched from the other
side by lady Feng. She came in search of P'ing Erh. "Our lady," she
said, "has something for you to do, and is waiting for you."
"What's up that it's so pressing?" P'ing Erh inquired. "Our senior
mistress detained me by force to have a chat, so I couldn't manage to
get away. But here she time after time sends people after me in this