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Hung Lou Meng, Book II by Cao Xueqin

Part 9 out of 14

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enable every one to set their solicitude at rest, won't the right
principle be carried out to the full in one respect as well as another?"

"Yes, that would be better!" exclaimed Pei Ming.

Conversing the while, they wended their way into the Buddhistic hall.
Here the nun had, in point of fact, got ready a table with lenten
viands. Pao-yŁ hurriedly swallowed some refreshment and so did Pei Ming;
after which, they mounted their steeds and retraced their steps
homewards, by the road they had come.

Pei Ming followed behind. "Master Secundus!" he kept on shouting, "be
careful how you ride! That horse hasn't been ridden very much, so hold
him in tight a bit."

As he urged him to be careful, they reached the interior of the city
walls, and, making their entrance once more into the mansion by the back
gate, they betook themselves, with all possible despatch, into the I
Hung court. Hsi Jen and the other maids were not at home. Only a few old
women were there to look after the rooms. As soon as they saw him
arrive, they were so filled with gratification that their eyebrows
dilated and their eyes smiled. "O-mi-to-fu!" they said laughingly,
"you've come! You've all but driven Miss Hua mad from despair! In the
upper quarters, they're just seated at the feast, so be quick, Mr.
Secundus, and go and join them."

At these words, Pao-yŁ speedily divested himself of his plain clothes
and put on a coloured costume, reserved for festive occasions, which he
hunted up with his own hands. This done, "Where are they holding the
banquet?" he inquired.

"They're in the newly erected large reception pavilion," the old women

Upon catching their reply, Pao-yŁ straightway started for the
reception-pavilion. From an early moment, the strains of flageolets and
pipes, of song and of wind-instruments faintly fell on his ear. The
moment he reached the passage on the opposite side, he discerned YŁ
Ch'uan-erh seated all alone under the eaves of the verandah giving way
to tears. As soon as she became conscious of Pao-yŁ's arrival, she drew
a long, long breath. Smacking her lips, "Ai!" she cried, "the phoenix
has alighted! go in at once! Hadn't you come for another minute, every
one would have been quite upset!"

Pao-yŁ forced a smile. "Just try and guess where I've been?" he

YŁ Ch'uan-erh twisted herself round, and, paying no notice to him, she
continued drying her tears. Pao-yŁ had, therefore, no option but to
enter with hasty step. On his arrival in the reception-hall, he paid his
greetings to his grandmother Chia, to Madame Wang, and the other
inmates, and one and all felt, in fact, as happy to see him back as if
they had come into the possession of a phoenix.

"Where have you been," dowager lady Chia was the first to ask, "that you
come back at this hour? Don't you yet go and pay your congratulations to
your cousin?" And smiling she proceeded, addressing herself to lady
Feng, "Your cousin has no idea of what's right and what's wrong. Even
though he may have had something pressing to do, why didn't he utter
just one word, but stealthily bolted away on his own hook? Will this
sort of thing ever do? But should you behave again in this fashion by
and bye, I shall, when your father comes home, feel compelled to tell
him to chastise you."

Lady Feng smiled. "Congratulations are a small matter?" she observed.
"But, cousin Pao, you must, on no account, sneak away any more without
breathing a word to any one, and not sending for some people to escort
you, for carriages and horses throng the streets. First and foremost,
you're the means of making people uneasy at heart; and, what's more,
that isn't the way in which members of a family such as ours should go
out of doors!"

Dowager lady Chia meanwhile went on reprimanding the servants, who
waited on him. "Why," she said, "do you all listen to him and readily go
wherever he pleases without even reporting a single word? But where did
you really go?" Continuing, she asked, "Did you have anything to eat? Or
did you get any sort of fright, eh?"

"A beloved wife of the duke of Pei Ching departed this life," Pao-yŁ
merely returned for answer, "and I went to-day to express my condolences
to him. I found him in such bitter anguish that I couldn't very well
leave him and come back immediately. That's the reason why I tarried
with him a little longer."

"If hereafter you do again go out of doors slyly and on your own hook,"
dowager lady Chia impressed on his mind, "without first telling me, I
shall certainly bid your father give you a caning!"

Pao-yŁ signified his obedience with all promptitude. His grandmother
Chia was then bent upon having the servants, who were on attendance on
him, beaten, but the various inmates did their best to dissuade her.
"Venerable senior!" they said, "you can well dispense with flying into a
rage! He has already promised that he won't venture to go out again.
Besides, he has come back without any misadventure, so we should all
compose our minds and enjoy ourselves a bit!"

Old lady Chia had, at first, been full of solicitude. She had, as a
matter of course, been in a state of despair and displeasure; but,
seeing Pao-yŁ return in safety, she felt immoderately delighted, to such
a degree, that she could not reconcile herself to visit her resentment
upon him. She therefore dropped all mention of his escapade at once. And
as she entertained fears lest he may have been unhappy or have had, when
he was away, nothing to eat, or got a start on the road, she did not
punish him, but had, contrariwise, recourse to every sort of inducement
to coax him to feel at ease. But Hsi Jen soon came over and attended to
his wants, so the company once more turned their attention to the
theatricals. The play acted on that occasion was, "The record of the
boxwood hair-pin." Dowager lady Chia, Mrs. HsŁeh and the others were
deeply impressed by what they saw and gave way to tears. Some, however,
of the inmates were amused; others were provoked to anger; others gave
vent to abuse.

But, reader, do you wish to know the sequel? If so, the next chapter
will explain it.


By some inscrutable turn of affairs, lady Feng begins to feel the
pangs of jealousy.
Pao-yŁ experiences joy, beyond all his expectations, when P'ing Erh
(receives a slap from lady Feng) and has to adjust her hair.

But to resume our narrative. At the performance of the 'Record of the
boxwood hairpin,' at which all the inmates of the household were
present, Pao-yŁ and his female cousins sat together. When Lin Tai-yŁ
noticed that the act called, 'The man offers a sacrifice' had been
reached, "This Wang Shih-p'eng," she said to Pao-ch'ai, "is very stupid!
It would be quite immaterial where he offered his sacrifices, and why
must he repair to the riverside? 'At the sight of an object,' the
proverb has it, 'one thinks of a person. All waters under the heavens
revert but to one source.' So had he baled a bowlful from any stream,
and given way to his lamentations, while gazing on it, he could very
well have satisfied his feelings."

Pao-ch'ai however made no reply.

Pao-yŁ then turned his head round and asked for some warm wine to drink
to lady Feng's health. The fact is, that dowager lady Chia had enjoined
on them that this occasion was unlike others, and that it was absolutely
necessary for them to do the best to induce lady Feng to heartily enjoy
herself for the day. She herself, nevertheless, felt too listless to
join the banquet, so simply reclining on a sofa of the inner room, she
looked at the plays in company with Mrs. HsŁeh; and choosing several
kinds of such eatables as were to her taste, she placed them on a small
teapoy, and now helped herself to some, and now talked, as the fancy
took her. Then allotting what viands were served on the two tables
assigned to her to the elder and younger waiting-maids, for whom no
covers were laid, and to those female servants and other domestics, who
were on duty and had to answer calls, she urged them not to mind but to
seat themselves outside the windows, under the eaves of the verandahs,
and to eat and drink at their pleasure, without any regard to
conventionalities. Madame Wang and Madame Hsing occupied places at the
high table below; while round several tables outside sat the posse of
young ladies.

"Do let that girl Feng have the seat of honour," old lady Chia shortly
told Mrs. Yu and her contemporaries, "and mind be careful in doing the
honours for me, for she is subjected to endless trouble from one year's
end to another!"

"Very well," said Mrs. Yu. "I fancy," she went on to smile, "that little
used as she is to filling the place of honour, she's bound, if she takes
the high seat, to be so much at a loss how to behave, as to be loth even
to have any wine!"

Dowager lady Chia was much amused by her reply. "Well, if you can't
succeed," she said, "wait and I'll come and offer it to her."

Lady Feng with hasty step walked into the inner room. "Venerable
ancestor!" she smiled, "don't believe all they tell you! I've already
had several cups!"

"Quick, pull her out," old lady Chia laughingly cried to Mrs. Yu, "and
shove her into a chair, and let all of you drink by turns to her health!
If she then doesn't drink, I'll come myself in real earnest and make her
have some!"

At these words, Mrs. Yu speedily dragged her out, laughing the while,
and forced her into a seat, and, directing a servant to fetch a cup, she
filled it with wine. "You've got from one year's end to another," she
smiled, "the trouble and annoyance of conferring dutiful attentions upon
our venerable senior, upon Madame Wang and upon myself, so, as I've
nothing to-day, with which to prove my affection for you, have a sip,
from my hand, my own dear, of this cup of wine I poured for you myself!"

"If you deliberately wish to present me a glass," lady Feng laughed,
"fall on your knees and I'll drink at once!"

"What's this you say?" Mrs. Yu replied with a laugh. "And who are you, I
wonder? But let me tell you this once for all and finish that though
we've succeeded, after ever so many difficulties, in getting up this
entertainment to-day, there's no saying whether we shall in the future
be able to have anything more the like of this or not. Let's avail
ourselves then of the present to put our capacity to the strain and
drink a couple of cups!"

Lady Feng saw very well that she could not advance any excuses, and
necessity obliged her to swallow the contents of two cups. In quick
succession, however, the various young ladies also drew near her, and
lady Feng was constrained again to take a sip from the cup each held.
But nurse Lai Ta too felt compelled, at the sight of dowager lady Chia
still in buoyant spirits, to come forward and join in the merriment, so
putting herself at the head of a number of nurses, she approached and
proffered wine to lady Feng who found it once more so difficult to
refuse that she had to swallow a few mouthfuls. But YŁan Yang and her
companions next appeared, likewise, on the scene to hand her their share
of wine; but lady Feng felt, in fact, so little able to comply with
their wishes, that she promptly appealed to them entreatingly. "Dear
sisters," she pleaded, "do spare me! I'll drink some more to-morrow!"

"Quite so! we're a mean lot," YŁan Yang laughed. "But now that we stand
in the presence of your ladyship, do condescend to look upon us
favourably! We've always enjoyed some little consideration, and do you
put on the airs of a mistress on an occasion like the present, when
there's such a crowd of people standing by? Really, I shouldn't have
come. But, as you won't touch our wine, we might as well be quick and

While she spoke, she was actually walking away, when lady Feng hastened
to lay hold of her and to detain her. "Dear sister," she cried, "I'll
drink some and have done!"

So saying, she took the wine and filled a cup to the very brim, and
drained it. YŁan Yang then at length gave her a smile, (and she and her
friends) dispersed.

Subsequently, the company resumed their places at the banquet. But lady
Feng was conscious that the wine she had primed herself with was
mounting to her head, so abruptly staggering to the upper end, she meant
to betake herself home to lie down, when seeing the jugglers arrive,
"Get the tips ready!" she shouted to Mrs. Yu. "I'm off to wash my face a

Mrs. Yu nodded her head assentingly; and lady Feng, noticing that the
inmates were off their guard, left the banquet, and wended her steps
beneath the eaves towards the back entrance of the house. P'ing Erh had,
however, been keeping her eye on her, so hastily she followed in her
footsteps. Lady Feng at once propped herself on her arm. But no sooner
did they reach the covered passage than she discerned a young maid,
attached to her quarters, standing under it. (The girl), the moment she
perceived them, twisted herself round and beat a retreat. Lady Feng
forthwith began to give way to suspicion; and she immediately shouted
out to her to halt. The maid pretended at first not to hear, but, as,
while following her they called out to her time after time, she found
herself compelled to turn round. Lady Feng was seized with greater
doubts than ever. Quickly therefore entering the covered passage with
P'ing Erh, she bade the maid go along with them. Then opening a folding
screen, lady Feng stated herself on the steps leading to the small
courtyard, and made the girl fall on her knees. "Call two boy-servants
from among those on duty at the second gate," she cried out to P'ing
Erh, "to bring a whip of twisted cords, and to take this young wench,
who has no regard for her mistress, and beat her to shreds."

The servant-maid fell into a state of consternation, and was scared out
of her very wits. Sobbing the while, she kept on bumping her head on the
ground and soliciting for grace.

"I'm really no ghost! So you must have seen me! Don't you know what good
manners mean and stand still?" lady Feng asked. "Why did you instead
persist in running on?"

"I truly did not see your ladyship coming," the maid replied with tears
in her eyes. "I was, besides, much concerned as there was no one in the
rooms; that's why I was running on."

"If there's no one in the rooms, who told you to come out again?" lady
Feng inquired. "And didn't you see me, together with P'ing Erh, at your
heels, stretching out our necks and calling out to you about ten times?
But the more we shouted, the faster you ran! You weren't far off from us
either, so is it likely that you got deaf? And are you still bent upon
bandying words with me?"

So speaking, she raised her hand and administered her a slap on the
face. But, while the girl staggered from the blow, she gave her a second
slap on the other side of the face, so both cheeks of the maid quickly
began to get purple and to swell.

P'ing Erh hastened to reason with her mistress. "My lady!" she said, "be
careful you'll be hurting your hand!"

"Go on, pommel her," urged lady Feng, "and ask her what made her run!
and, if she doesn't tell you, just you take her mouth and tear it to
pieces for her!"

At the outset, the girl obstinately prevaricated, but when she
eventually heard that lady Feng intended to take a red-hot branding-iron
and burn her mouth with, she at last sobbingly spoke out. "Our Master
Secundus, Mr. Lien, is at home," she remarked, "and he sent me here to
watch your movements, my lady; bidding me go ahead, when I saw you leave
the banquet, and convey the message to him. But, contrary to his hopes,
your ladyship came back just now!"

Lady Feng saw very well that there lurked something behind all she said.
"What did he ask you to watch me for?" she therefore eagerly asked. "Can
it be, pray, that he dreaded to see me return home? There must be some
other reason; so be quick and tell it to me and I shall henceforward
treat you with regard. If you don't minutely confess all to me, I shall
this very moment take a knife and pare off your flesh!"

Threatening her the while, she turned her head round, and, extracting a
hairpin from her coiffure, she stuck it promiscuously about the maid's
mouth. This so frightened the girl that, as she made every effort to get
out of her way, she burst out into tears and entreaties. "I'll tell your
ladyship everything," she cried, "but you mustn't say that it was I who
told you."

Ping Erh, who stood by, exhorted her to obey; but she at the same time
impressed on her mind to speak out without delay.

"Mr. Secundus himself arrived only a few minutes back," the maid began.
"The moment, however, he came, he opened a bog, and, taking two pieces
of silver, two hairpins, and a couple of rolls of silk, he bade me
stealthily take them to Pao Erh's wife and tell her to come in. As soon
as she put the things away, she hurried to our house, and Master
Secundus ordered me to keep an eye on your ladyship; but of what
happened after that, I've no idea whatever."

When these disclosures fell on lady Feng's ears, she flew into such a
rage that her whole person felt quite weak; and, rising immediately, she
straightway repaired home. The instant she reached the gate of the
courtyard, she espied a waiting-maid peep out of the entrance. Seeing
lady Feng, she too drew in her head, and tried at once to effect her
escape. But lady Feng called her by name, and made her stand still. This
girl had ever been very sharp, so when she realised that she could not
manage to beat a retreat, she went so far as to run out to her. "I was
just going to tell your ladyship," she smiled, "and here you come! What
a strange coincidence!"

"Tell me what?" lady Feng exclaimed.

"That Mr. Secundus is at home," the girl replied, "and has done so and
so." She then recounted to her all the incidents recorded a few minutes

"Ts'ui!" ejaculated lady Feng. "What were you up to before? Now, that
I've seen you, you come and try to clear yourself!"

As she spoke, she raised her arm and administered the maid a slap, which
upset her equilibrium. So with hurried step, she betook herself away.
Lady Feng then drew near the window. Lending an ear to what was going on
inside, she heard some one in the room laughingly observe: "When that
queen-of-hell sort of wife of yours dies, it will be a good riddance!"

"When she's gone," Chia Lien rejoined, "and I marry another, the like of
her, what will I again do?"

"When she's dead and gone," the woman resumed, "just raise P'ing Erh to
the rank of primary wife. I think she'll turn out considerably better
than she has."

"At present," Chia Lien put in, "she won't even let me enjoy P'ing Erh's
society! P'ing Erh herself is full of displeasure; yet she dares not
speak. How is it that it has been my fate to bring upon myself the
influence of this evil star?"

Lady Feng overheard these criticisms and flew into a fit of anger, which
made her tremble violently. When she, however, also caught the praise
heaped by both of them upon P'ing Erh, she harboured the suspicion that
P'ing Erh too must, as a matter of course, have all along employed the
sly resentful language against her. And, as the wine bubbled up more and
more into her head, she did not so much as give the matter a second
thought, but, twisting round, she first and foremost gave P'ing Erh a
couple of whacks, and, with one kick, she banged the door open, and
walked in. Then, without allowing her any time to give any explanation
in her own defence, she clutched Pao Erh's wife, and, tearing her about,
she belaboured her with blows. But the dread lest Chia Lien should slip
out of the room, induced her to post herself in such a way as to
obstruct the doorway. "What a fine wench!" she shouted out abusingly.
"You make a paramour of your mistress' husband, and then you wish to
compass your master's wife's death, for P'ing Erh to transfer her
quarters in here! You base hirelings! You're all of the same stamp,
thoroughly jealous of me; you try to cajole me by your outward display!"

While abusing them, she once more laid hold of P'ing Erh and beat her
several times. P'ing Erh was pummelled away till her heart thrilled with
a sense of injury, but she had nowhere to go, and breathe her woes. Such
resentment overpowered her feelings that she sobbed without a sign of a
tear. "You people," she railingly shouted, "go and do a lot of shameful
things, and then you also deliberately involve me; but why?"

So shouting, she too clutched Pao Erh's wife and began to assail her.
Chia Lien had freely primed himself with wine, so, on his return home,
he was in such exuberance of spirits that he observed no secresy in his
doings. The moment, however, he perceived lady Feng appear on the scene,
he got to his wits' end. Yet when he saw P'ing Erh also start a rumpus,
the liquor he had had aroused his ire. The sight of the assault
committed by lady Feng on Pao Erh's wife had already incensed him and
put him to shame, but he had not been able with any consistency to
interfere; but the instant he espied P'ing Erh herself lay hands on her,
he vehemently jumped forward and gave her a kick. "What a vixen!" he
cried. "Are you likewise going to start knocking people about?"

P'ing Erh was of a timid disposition. At once, therefore, she withheld
her hands, and melted into tears. "Why do you implicate me," she said,
"in things you say behind my back?"

When lady Feng descried in what fear and dread P'ing Erh was of Chia
Lien, she lost more than ever control over her temper, and, starting
again in pursuit of her, she struck P'ing Erh, while urging her to go
for Pao Erh's wife.

P'ing Erh was driven to exasperation; and forthwith rushing out of the
apartment, she went in search of a knife to commit suicide with. But the
company of old matrons, who stood outside, hastened to place impediments
in her way, and to argue with her.

Lady Feng, meanwhile, realised that P'ing Erh had gone to take her life,
and rolling, head foremost, into Chia Lien's embrace, "You put your
heads together to do me harm," she said, "and, when I overhear your
designs, you people conspire to frighten me! But strangle me and have

Chia Lien was driven to despair; to such a degree that unsheathing a
sword suspended on the wall, "There's no need for any one of you to
commit suicide!" he screamed. "I too am thoroughly exasperated, so I'll
kill the whole lot of you and pay the penalty with my own life! We'll
all then be free from further trouble!"

The bustle had just reached a climax beyond the chance of a settlement,
when they perceived Mrs. Yu and a crowd of inmates make their appearance
in the room. "What's the matter?" they asked. "There was nothing up just
now, so why is all this row for?"

At the sight of the new arrivals, Chia Lien more than ever made the
three parts of intoxication, under which he laboured, an excuse to
assume an air calculated to intimidate them, and to pretend, in order to
further his own ends, that he was bent upon despatching lady Feng.

But lady Feng, upon seeing her relatives appear, got into a mood less
perverse than the one she had been in previous to their arrival; and,
leaving the whole company of them, she scampered, all in tears, over to
the off side, into dowager lady Chia's quarters.

By this time, the play was over. Lady Feng rushed consequently into the
old lady's presence and fell into her lap. "Venerable ancestor! help
me!" she exclaimed. "Mr. Chia Lien wishes to kill me."

"What's up?" precipitately inquired dowager lady Chia, Mesdames Hsing
and Wang and the rest.

"I was just going to my rooms to change my dress," lady Feng wept, "when
I unexpectedly found Mr. Chia Lien at home, talking with some one.
Fancying that visitors had come, I was quite taken aback, and not
presuming to enter, I remained outside the window and listened. It
turned out, in fact, to be Pao Erh's wife holding council with him. She
said that I was dreadful, and that she meant to poison me so as to get
me out of the way and enable P'ing Erh to be promoted to be first wife.
At this, I lost my temper. But not venturing, none the less, to have a
row with him, I simply gave P'ing Erh two slaps; and then I asked him
why he wished to do me harm. But so stricken did he get with shame that
he tried there and then to despatch me."

Dowager lady Chia treated every word that fell on her ear as truth.
"Dreadful!" she ejaculated. "Bring here at once that low-bred

Barely was, however, this exclamation out of her lips, than they
perceived Chia Lien, a sword in hand, enter in pursuit of his wife,
followed closely by a bevy of inmates. Chia Lien evidently placed such
thorough reliance upon the love, which old lady Chia had all along
lavished upon them, that he entertained little regard even for his
mother or his aunt, so he came, with perfect effrontery, to stir up a
disturbance in their presence. When Mesdames Hsing and Wang saw him,
they got into a passion, and, with all despatch, they endeavoured to
deter him from his purpose. "You mean thing!" they shouted, abusing him.
"Your crime is more heinous, for our venerable senior is in here!"

"It's all because our worthy ancestor spoils her," cried Chia Lien, with
eyes awry, "that she behaved as she did and took upon herself to rate
even me!"

Madame Hsing was full of resentment. Snatching the sword from his grasp,
she kept on telling him to quit the room at once. But Chia Lien
continued to prattle foolish nonsense in a drivelling and maudlin way.
His manner exasperated dowager lady Chia. "I'm well aware," she
observed, "that you haven't the least consideration for any one of us.
Tell some one to go and call his father here and we'll see whether he
doesn't clear out."

When Chia Lien caught these words, he eventually tottered out of the
apartment. But in such a state of frenzy was he that he did not return
to his quarters, but betook himself into the outer study.

During this while, Mesdames Hsing and Wang also called lady Feng to

"Why, what serious matter could it ever have been?" old lady Chia
remarked. "But children of tender years are like greedy kittens, and how
can one say for certain that they won't do such things? Human beings
have, from their very infancy, to go through experiences of this kind!
It's all my fault, however, for pressing you to have a little more wine
than was good for you. But you've also gone and drunk the vinegar of

This insinuation made every one laugh.

"Compose your mind!" proceeded dowager lady Chia. "To-morrow I'll send
for him to apologise to you; but, you'd better to-day not go over, as
you might put him to shame!" Continuing, she also went on to abuse P'ing
Erh. "I've always thought highly of that wench," she said, "and how is
it that she's turned out to be secretly so bad?"

"P'ing Erh isn't to blame!" Mrs. Yu and the others smiled. "It's lady
Feng who makes people her tools to give vent to her spite! Husband and
wife could not very well come to blows face to face, so they combined in
using P'ing Erh as their scapegoat! What injuries haven't fallen to
P'ing Erh's lot! And do you, venerable senior, still go on blowing her

"Is it really so!" exclaimed old lady Chia. "I always said that that
girl wasn't anything like that artful shrew! Well, in that case, she is
to be pitied, for she has had to bear the brunt of her anger, and all
through no fault of hers!" Calling Hu Po to her, "Go," she added, "and
tell P'ing Erh all I enjoin you; 'that I know that she has been insulted
and that to-morrow I'll send for her mistress to make amends, but that
being her mistress' birthday to-day, I won't have her give rise to any
reckless fuss'!"

P'ing Erh had, we may explain, from an early hour, been dragged by Li
Wan into the garden of Broad Vista. Here P'ing Erh gave way to bitter
tears. So much so, that her throat choked with sobs, and could not give
utterance to speech.

"You are an intelligent person," exhorted her Pao-ch'ai, "and how
considerately has your lady treated you all along! It was simply because
she has had a little too much wine that she behaved as she did to-day!
But had she not made you the means of giving vent to her spite, is it
likely that she could very well have aired her grievances upon any one
else? Besides, any one else would have laughed at her for acting in a
sham way!"

While she reasoned with her, she saw Hu Po approach, and deliver dowager
lady Chia's message. P'ing Erh then felt in herself that she had come
out of the whole affair with some credit, and she, little by little,
resumed her equilibrium. She did not, nevertheless, put her foot
anywhere near the front part of the compound.

After a little rest, Pao Ch'ai and her companions came and paid a visit
to old lady Chia and lady Feng, while Pao-yŁ pressed P'ing Erh to come
to the I Hung court. Hsi Jen received her with alacrity. "I meant," she
said, "to be the first to ask you, but as our senior lady, Chia Chu, and
the young ladies invited you, I couldn't very well do so myself."

P'ing Erh returned her smile. "Many thanks!" she rejoined. "How words
ever commenced between us;" she then went on, "when there was no
provocation, I can't tell! But without rhyme or reason, I came in for a
spell of resentment."

"Our lady Secunda has always been very good to you," laughingly remarked
Hsi Jen, "so she must have done this in a sudden fit of exasperation!"

"Our lady Secunda did not, after all, say anything to me," P'ing Erh
explained. "It was that wench that blew me up. And she deliberately made
a laughing-stock of me. But that fool also of a master of ours struck

While recounting her experiences, she felt a keener sense of injustice
than before, and she found it hard to restrain her tears from trickling
down her cheeks.

"My dear sister," Pao-yŁ hastily advised her, "don't wound your heart!
I'm quite ready to express my apologies on behalf of that pair!"

"What business is that of yours?" P'ing Erh smiled.

"We cousins, whether male or female, are all alike." Pao-yŁ smilingly
argued. "So when they hurt any one's feelings, I apologise for them;
it's only right that I should do so. What a pity;" he continued, "these
new clothes too have been stained! But you'll find your sister Hua's
costumes in here, and why don't you put one on, and take some hot wine
and spurt it over yours and iron them out? You might also remake your

Speaking, he directed the young maids to draw some water for washing the
face and to heat an iron and bring it.

P'ing Erh had ever heard people maintain that all that Pao-yŁ excelled
in was in knitting friendships with girls. But Pao-yŁ had so far been
loth, seeing that P'ing Erh was Chia Lien's beloved secondary wife, and
lady Feng's confidante, to indulge in any familiarities with her. And
being precluded from accomplishing the desire upon which his heart was
set, he time and again gave way to vexation. When P'ing Erh, however,
remarked his conduct towards her on this occasion, she secretly resolved
within herself that what was said of him was indeed no idle rumour. But
as he had anticipated every one of her wants, and she saw moreover that
Hsi Jen had, for her special benefit, opened a box and produced two
articles of clothing, not much worn by her, she speedily drew near and
washed her face.

Pao-yŁ stood by her side. "You must, dear girl, also apply a little
cosmetic and powder," she smiled; "otherwise you'll look as if you were
angry with lady Feng. It's her birthday, besides; and our old ancestor
has sent some one again to come and cheer you up."

Hearing how reasonable his suggestions were, P'ing Erh readily went in
search of powder; but she failed to notice any about, so Pao-yŁ
hurriedly drew up to the toilet-table, and, removing the lid of a
porcelain box made at the "HsŁan" kiln, which contained a set of ten
small ladles, tuberose-like in shape, (for helping one's self to powder
with), he drew out one of them and handed it to P'ing Erh. "This isn't
lead powder," he smiled. "This is made of the seeds of red jasmine, well
triturated, and compounded with suitable first class ingredients."

P'ing Erh emptied some on the palm of her hand. On examination, she
really found that it was light, clear, red and scented; perfect in all
four properties; that it was easy to apply evenly to the face, that it
kept moist, and that it differed from other kinds of powder, ordinarily
so rough. She subsequently noticed that the cosmetic too was not spread
on a sheet, but that it was contained in a tiny box of white jade, the
contents of which bore the semblance of rose-paste.

"The cosmetic one buys in the market isn't clean;" Pao-yŁ remarked
smilingly. "Its colour is faint as well. But this is cosmetic of
superior quality. The juice was squeezed out, strained clear, mixed with
perfume of flowers and decocted. All you need do is to take some with
that hair-pin and rub it on your lips, that will be enough; and if you
dissolve some in a little water, and rub it on the palm of your hand, it
will be ample for you to cover your whole face with."

P'ing Erh followed his directions and performed her toilette. She looked
exceptionally fresh and beautiful. A sweet fragrance pervaded her
cheeks. Pao-yŁ then cut, with a pair of bamboo scissors, a stalk, with
two autumn orchids, which had blossomed in a flower pot, and he pinned
it in her side-hair. But a maid was unexpectedly seen to enter the room,
sent by Li Wan to come and call her, so she quitted his quarters with
all possible despatch.

Pao-yŁ had not so far been able to have his wishes to revel in P'ing
Erh's society gratified. P'ing Erh was furthermore a girl of a high
grade, most intelligent, most winsome, and unlike that sort of vulgar
and dull-minded beings, so that he cherished intense disgust against his

The present occasion had been the anniversary of Chin Ch'uan-erh's
birth, and he had remained, in consequence, plunged in a disconsolate
frame of mind throughout the whole day. But, contrary to his
expectations, the incident eventually occurred, which afforded him,
after all, an opportunity to dangle in P'ing Erh's society and to
gratify to some small degree a particle of his wish. This had been a
piece of good fortune he so little expected would fall to his share
during the course of his present existence, that as he reclined on his
bed, his heart swelled with happiness and contentment. Suddenly, he
reflected that Chia Lien's sole thought was to make licentious pleasures
the means of gratifying his passions, and that he had no idea how to
show the least regard to the fair sex; and he mused that P'ing Erh was
without father or mother, brothers or sisters, a solitary being destined
to dance attendance upon a couple such as Chia Lien and his wife; that
Chia Lien was vulgar, and lady Feng haughty, but that she was gifted
nevertheless with the knack of splendidly managing things; and that
(P'ing Erh) had again to-day come across bitter sorrow, and that her
destiny was extremely unfortunate.

At this stage of his reverie, he began to feel wounded and distressed.
When he rose once more to his feet, he noticed that the wine, which she
had spurted on the clothes, she had a few minutes back divested herself
of, had already half dried, and, taking up the iron, he smoothed them
and folded them nicely for her. He then discovered that she had left her
handkerchief behind, and that it still bore traces of tears, so throwing
it into the basin, he rinsed it and hung it up to dry, with feelings
bordering on joy as well as sadness. But after a short time spent in a
brown study, he too betook himself to the Tao Hsiang village for a chat;
and it was only when the lamps had been lit that he got up to take his

P'ing Erh put up in Li Wan's quarters for the night. Lady Feng slept
with dowager lady Chia, while Chia Lien returned at a late hour to his
home. He found it however very lonely. Yet unable to go and call his
wife over, he had no alternative but to sleep as best he could for that
night. On the morrow, he remembered, as soon as he opened his eyes, the
occurrence of the previous day, and he fell a prey to such extreme
unhappiness that he could not be conscience-stricken enough.

Madame Hsing pondered with solicitude on Chia Lien's drunken fit the day
before. The moment therefore it was light, she hastily crossed over, and
sent for Chia Lien to repair to dowager lady Chia's apartments. Chia
Lien was thus compelled to suppress all timidity and to repair to the
front part of the mansion and fall on his knees at the feet of his old

"What was the matter?" inquired old lady Chia.

"I really had too much wine yesterday," Chia Lien promptly answered with
a forced smile. "I must have given you a fright, worthy ancestor, so I
come to-day to receive condign punishment."

"You mean fellow!" shouted dowager lady Chia, spitting at him
disdainfully. "You go and glut yourself with spirits, and, not to speak
of your not going to stretch yourself like a corpse and sleep it off,
you contrariwise start beating your wife! But that vixen Feng brags away
the whole day long, as if she were a human being as valiant as any
tyrant, and yet yesterday she got into such a funk that she presented a
woeful sight! Had it not been for me, you would have done her bodily
harm; and what would you feel like now?"

Chia Lien was at heart full of a sense of injury, but he could not
master sufficient courage to say anything in his own defence. The only
course open to him was therefore to make a confession of fault.

"Don't lady Feng and P'ing Erh possess the charms of handsome women?"
dowager lady Chia resumed. "And aren't you yet satisfied with them that
you must, of a day, go slyly prowling and gallavanting about, dragging
indiscriminately into your rooms frowsy and filthy people? Is it for the
sake of this sort of wenches that you beat your wife and belabour the
inmates of your quarters? You've nevertheless had the good fortune of
starting in life as the scion of a great family; and do you, with eyes
wide open, bring disgrace upon your own head? If you have any regard for
me, well, then get up and I'll spare you! And if you make your apologies
in a proper manner to your wife and take her home, I'll be satisfied.
But if you don't, just you clear out of this, for I won't even presume
to have any of your genuflexions!"

Chia Lien took to heart the injunctions that fell on his ear. Espying
besides lady Feng standing opposite to him in undress, her eyes swollen
from crying, and her face quite sallow, without cosmetic or powder, he
thought her more lovable and charming than ever. "Wouldn't it be well,"
he therefore mused, "that I should make amends, so that she and I may be
on friendly terms again and that I should win the good pleasure of my
old ancestor?"

At the conclusion of his reflections, he forthwith put on a smile.
"After your advice, venerable senior," he said, "I couldn't be so bold
as not to accede to your wishes! But this is shewing her more indulgence
than ever!"

"What nonsense!" exclaimed dowager lady Chia laughingly. "I am well
aware that with her extreme decorum she couldn't hurt any one's
susceptibilities. But should she, in the future, wrong you in any way, I
shall, of course, take the law into my own hands and bid you make her
submit to your authority and finish."

Chia Lien, at this assurance, crawled up and made a bow to lady Feng.
"It was really my fault, so don't be angry, lady Secunda," he said.

Every one in the room laughed.

"Now, my girl Feng," lady Chia laughingly observed, "you are not to lose
your temper; for if you do, I'll lose mine too!"

Continuing, she directed a servant to go and call P'ing Erh; and, on her
arrival, she advised lady Feng and Chia Lien to do all they could to
reconcile her. At the sight of P'ing Erh, Chia Lien showed less regard
than ever for the saying that 'a primary wife differs from a secondary
wife,' and the instant he heard old lady Chia's exhortation he drew near
her. "The injuries," he remarked, "to which you were subjected
yesterday, Miss, were entirely due to my shortcoming. If your lady hurt
your feelings, it was likewise all through me that the thing began. So I
express my regret; but, besides this, I tender my apologies as well on
behalf of your mistress."

Saying this, he made another bow. This evoked a smile from dowager lady
Chia. Lady Feng, however, also laughed. Their old ancestor then desired
lady Feng to come and console P'ing Erh, but P'ing Erh hastily advanced
and knocked her head before lady Feng. "I do deserve death," she urged,
"for provoking your ladyship to wrath on the day of your birthday!"

Lady Feng was at the moment pricked by shame and remorse for having so
freely indulged in wine the previous day as to completely have lost
sight of longstanding friendships, and for allowing her temper to so
thoroughly flare up as to lend a patient ear to the gossip of outsiders,
and unjustly put P'ing Erh out of countenance, so when she contrariwise
now saw her make advances, she felt both abashed and grieved, and,
promptly extending her arms, she dragged her up and gave way to tears.

"I've waited upon your ladyship for all these years," P'ing Erh pleaded,
"and you've never so much as given me a single fillip; and yet, you beat
me yesterday. But I don't bear you any grudge, my lady, for it was that
wench, who was at the bottom of it all. Nor do I wonder that your
ladyship lost control over your temper."

As she spoke, tears trickled down her cheeks too.

"Escort those three home!" dowager lady Chia shouted to the servants.
"If any one of them makes the least allusion to the subject, come at
once and tell me of it; for without any regard as to who it may be, I
shall take my staff and give him or her a sound flogging."

The trio then prostrated themselves before dowager lady Chia and the two
ladies, Mesdames Hsing and Wang. And assenting to her old mistress'
injunctions, an old nurse accompanied the three inmates to their

When they got home, lady Feng assured herself that there was no one
about. "How is it," she next asked, "that I'm like a queen of hell, or
like a 'Yakcha' demon? That courtesan swore at me and wished me dead;
and did you too help her to curse me? If I'm not nice a thousand days,
why, I must be nice on some one day! But if, poor me, I'm so bad as not
even to compare with a disorderly woman, how can I have the face to come
and spend my life with you here?"

So speaking, she melted into tears.

"Aren't you yet gratified?" cried Chia Lien. "Just reflect carefully who
was most to blame yesterday! And yet, in the presence of so many people,
it was I who, after all, fell to-day on my knees and made apologies as
well. You came in for plenty of credit, and do you now go on jabber,
jabber? Can it be that you'd like to make me kneel at your feet before
you let matters rest? If you try and play the bully beyond bounds, it
won't be a good thing for you!"

To these arguments, lady Feng could find no suitable response.

P'ing Erh then blurted out laughing.

"She's all right again!" Chia Lien smiled. "But I'm really quite at a
loss what to do with this one."

These words were still on his lips, when they saw a married woman walk
in. "Pao Erh's wife has committed suicide by hanging herself," she said.

This announcement plunged both Chia Lien and lady Feng into great
consternation. Lady Feng, however, lost no time in putting away every
sign of excitement. "Dead, eh? What a riddance!" she shouted instead.
"What's the use of making such a fuss about a mere trifle?"

But not long elapsed before she perceived Lin Chih-hsiao's wife make her
appearance in the room. "Pao Erh's wife has hung herself," she whispered
to lady Feng in a low tone of voice, "and her mother's relatives want to
take legal proceedings."

Lady Feng gave a sardonic smile. "That's all right!" she observed. "I
myself was just thinking about lodging a complaint!"

"I and the others tried to dissuade them," Lin Chih-hsiao's wife
continued. "And by having recourse to intimidation as well as to
promises of money, they, at last, agreed to our terms."

"I haven't got a cash," lady Feng replied. "Had I even any money, I
wouldn't let them have it; so just let them go and lodge any charge they
fancy. You needn't either dissuade them or intimidate them. Let them go
and complain as much as they like. But if they fail to establish a case
against me, they'll, after all, be punished for trying to make the
corpse the means of extorting money out of me!"

Lin Chih-hsiao's wife was in a dilemma, when she espied Chia Lien wink
at her. Comprehending his purpose, she readily quitted the apartment and
waited for him outside.

"I'll go out and see what they're up to!" Chia Lien remarked.

"Mind, I won't have you give them any money!" shouted lady Feng.

Chia Lien straightway made his exit. He came and held consultation with
Lin Chih-hsiao, and then directed the servants to go and use some fair
means, others harsh. The matter was, however, not brought to any
satisfactory arrangement until he engaged to pay two hundred taels for
burial expenses. But so apprehensive was Chia Lien lest something might
occur to make the relatives change their ideas, that he also despatched
a messenger to lay the affair before Wang Tzu-t'eng, who bade a few
constables, coroners and other official servants come and help him to
effect the necessary preparations for the funeral. The parties concerned
did not venture, when they saw the precautions he had adopted, to raise
any objections, disposed though they may have been to try and bring
forward other arguments. Their sole alternative therefore was to
suppress their resentment, to refrain from further importunities and let
the matter drop into oblivion.

Chia Lien then impressed upon Lin Chih-hsiao to insert the two hundred
taels in the accounts for the current year, by making such additions to
various items here and there as would suffice to clear them off, and
presented Pao Erh with money out of his own pocket as a crumb of
comfort, adding, "By and bye, I'll choose a nice wife for you." When Pao
Erh, therefore, came in for a share of credit as well as of hard cash,
he could not possibly do otherwise than practise contentment; and
forthwith, needless to dilate on this topic, he began to pay court to
Chia Lien as much as ever.

In the inner rooms, lady Feng was, it is true, much cut up at heart; but
she strained every nerve to preserve an exterior of total indifference.
Noticing that there was no one present in the apartment, she drew P'ing
Erh to her. "I drank yesterday," she smiled, "a little more wine than
was good for me, so don't bear me a grudge. Where did I strike you, let
me see?"

"You didn't really strike me hard!" P'ing Erh said by way of reply.

But at this stage they heard some one remark that the ladies and young
ladies had come in.

If you desire, reader, to know any of the subsequent circumstances,
peruse the account given in the following chapter.


Friends interchange words of friendship.
Tai-yŁ feels dull on a windy and rainy evening, and indites verses on
wind and rain.

Lady Feng, we will now go on to explain, was engaged in comforting P'ing
Erh, when upon unawares perceiving the young ladies enter the room, she
hastened to make them sit down while P'ing Erh poured the tea.

"So many of you come to-day," lady Feng smiled, "that it looks as if
you'd been asked to come by invitation."

T'an Ch'un was the first to speak. "We have," she smilingly rejoined,
"two objects in view, the one concerns me; the other cousin Quarta; but
among these are, besides, certain things said by our venerable senior."

"What's up?" inquired lady Feng with a laugh. "Is it so urgent?"

"Some time ago," T'an Ch'un proceeded laughingly, "we started a rhyming
club; but the first meeting was not quite a success. Every one of us
proved so soft-hearted! The rules therefore were set at naught. So I
can't help thinking that we must enlist your services as president of
the society and superintendent; for what is needed to make the thing
turn out well is firmness and no favour. The next matter is: cousin
Quarta explained to our worthy ancestor that the requisites for painting
the picture of the garden were short of one thing and another, and she
said: 'that there must still be,' she fancied, 'in the lower story of
the back loft some articles, remaining over from previous years, and
that we should go and look for them. That if there be any, they should
be taken out, but that in the event of their being none, some one should
be commissioned to go and purchase a supply of them.'"

"I'm not up to doing anything wet or dry, (play on word 'shih,'
verses)," lady Feng laughed, "and would you have me, pray, come and

"You may, it's possible, not be up to any of these things," T'an Ch'un
replied, "but we don't expect you to do anything! All we want you for is
to see whether there be among us any remiss or lazy, and to decide how
they should be punished, that's all."

"You shouldn't try and play your tricks upon me!" lady Feng smiled, "I
can see through your little game! Is it that you wish me to act as
president and superintendent? No! it's as clear as day that your object
is that I should play the part of that copper merchant, who put in
contributions in hard cash. You have, at every meeting you hold, to each
take turn and pay the piper; but, as your funds are not sufficient,
you've invented this plan to come and inveigle me into your club, in
order to wheedle money out of me! This must be your little conspiracy!"

These words evoked general laughter. "You've guessed right!" they

"In very truth," Li Wan smiled, "you're a creature with an intellect as
transparent as crystal, and with wits as clear as glass!"

"You've got the good fortune of being their elder sister-in-law," lady
Feng smilingly remarked, "so the young ladies asked you to take them in
hand, and teach them how to read, and make them learn good manners and
needlework; and it's for you to guide and direct them in everything! But
here they start a rhyming society, for which not much can be needed, and
don't you concern yourself about them? We'll leave our worthy ancestor
and our Madame Wang aside; they are old people, but you receive each
moon an allowance of ten taels, which is twice as much as what any one
of us gets. More, our worthy ancestor and Madame Wang maintain that
being a widow, and having lost your home, you haven't, poor thing,
enough to live upon, and that you have a young child as well to bring
up; so they added with extreme liberality another ten taels to your
original share. Your allowance therefore is on a par with that of our
dear senior. But they likewise gave you a piece of land in the garden,
and you also come in for the lion's share of rents, collected from
various quarters, and of the annual allowances, apportioned at the close
of each year. Yet, you and your son don't muster, masters and servants,
ten persons in all. What you eat and what your wear comes, just as ever,
out of the general public fund, so that, computing everything together,
you get as much as four to five hundred taels. Were you then to
contribute each year a hundred or two hundred taels, to help them to
have some fun, how many years could this outlay continue? They'll very
soon be getting married, and, are they likely then to still expect you
to make any contributions? So loth are you, however, at present to fork
out any cash that you've egged them on to come and worry me! I'm quite
prepared to spend away until we've drained our chest dry! Don't I know
that the money isn't mine?"

"Just you listen to her," Li Wan laughed. "I simply made one single
remark, and out she came with two cartloads of nonsensical trash! You're
as rough a diamond as a leg made of clay! All you're good for is to work
the small abacus, to divide a catty and to fraction an ounce, so
finicking are you! A nice thing you are, and yet, you've been lucky
enough to come to life as the child of a family of learned and high
officials. You've also made such a splendid match; and do you still
behave in the way you do? Had you been a son or daughter born in some
poverty-stricken, humble and low household, there's no saying what a
mean thing you wouldn't have been! Every one in this world has been
gulled by you; and yesterday you went so far as to strike P'ing Erh! But
it wasn't the proper thing for you to stretch out your hand on her! Was
all that liquor, forsooth, poured down a cur's stomach? My monkey was
up, and I meant to have taken upon myself to avenge P'ing Erh's
grievance; but, after mature consideration, I thought to myself, 'her
birthday is as slow to come round as a dog's tail grows to a point.' I
also feared lest our venerable senior might be made to feel unhappy; so
I did not come forward. Anyhow, my resentment isn't yet spent; and do
you come to-day to try and irritate me? You aren't fit to even pick up
shoes for P'ing Erh! You two should therefore change your respective

These taunts created merriment among the whole party.

"Oh!" hastily exclaimed lady Feng, laughingly, "I know everything! You
don't at all come to look me up on account of verses or paintings, but
simply to take revenge on P'ing Erh's behalf! I never had any idea that
P'ing Erh had such a backer as yourself to bolster her up! Had I known
it, I wouldn't have ventured to strike her, even though a spirit had
been tugging my arm! Miss P'ing come over and let me tender my apologies
to you, in the presence of your senior lady and the young ladies. Do
bear with me for having proved so utterly wanting in virtue, after I had
had a few drinks!"

Every one felt amused by her insinuations.

"What do you say?" Li Wan asked P'ing Erh smiling. "As for me, I think
it my bounden duty to vindicate your wrongs, before we let the matter

"Your remarks, ladies, may be spoken in jest," P'ing Erh smiled, "but I
am not worthy of such a fuss!"

"What about worthy and unworthy?" Li Wan observed. "I'm here for you!
Quick, get the key, and let your mistress go and open the doors and hunt
up the things!"

"Dear sister-in-law," lady Feng said with a smile, "you'd better go
along with them into the garden. I'm about to take the rice accounts in
hand and square them up with them. Our senior lady, Madame Hsing, has
also sent some one to call me; what she wants to tell me again, I can't
make out; but I must need go over for a turn. There are, besides, all
those extra clothes for you people to wear at the end of the year, and I
must get them ready and give them to be made!"

"These matters are none of my business!" Li Wan laughingly answered.
"First settle my concerns so as to enable me to retire to rest, and
escape the bother of having all these girls at me!"

"Dear sister-in-law," vehemently smiled lady Feng, "be good enough to
give me a little time! You've ever been the one to love me best, and how
is it that you have, on P'ing Erh's account, ceased to care for me? Time
and again have you impressed on my mind that I should, despite my
manifold duties, take good care of my health, and manage things in such
a way as to find a little leisure for rest, and do you now contrariwise
come to press the very life out of me? There's another thing besides.
Should such clothes as will be required at the end of the year by any
other persons be delayed, it won't matter; but, should those of the
young ladies be behind time, let the responsibility rest upon your
shoulders! And won't our old lady bear you a grudge, if you don't mind
these small things? But as for me, I won't utter a single word against
you, for, as I had rather bear the blame myself, I won't venture, to
involve you!"

"Listen to her!" Li Wan smiled. "Hasn't she got the gift of the gab? But
let me ask you. Will you, after all, assume the control of this rhyming
society or not?"

"What's this nonsense you're talking?" lady Feng laughed. "Were I not to
enter the society, and spend a little money, won't I be treated as a
rebel in this garden of Broad Vista? And will I then still think of
tarrying here to eat my head off? So soon as the day dawns to-morrow,
I'll arrive at my post, dismount from my horse, and, after kneeling
before the seals, my first act will be to give fifty taels for you to
quietly cover the expenses of your meetings. Yet after a few days, I
shall neither indite any verses, nor write any compositions, as I am
simply a rustic boor, nothing more! But it will be just the same whether
I assume the direction or not; for after you pocket my money, there's no
fear of your not driving me out of the place!"

As these words dropped from her lips, one and all laughed again.

"I'll now open the loft," proceeded lady Feng. "Should there be any of
the articles you want, you can tell the servants to bring them out for
you to look at them! If any will serve your purpose, keep them and use
them. If any be short, I'll bid a servant go and purchase them according
to your list. I'll go at once and cut the satin for the painting. As for
the plan, it isn't with Madame Wang; it's still over there, at Mr. Chia
Chen's. I tell you all this so that you should avoid going over to
Madame Wang's and getting into trouble! But I'll go and depute some one
to fetch it. I'll direct also a servant to take the satin and give it to
the gentlemen to size with alum; will this be all right?"

Li Wan nodded her head by way of assent and smiled. "This will be
putting you to much trouble and inconvenience," she said. "But we must
really act as you suggest. Well in that case, go home all of you, and,
if after a time, she doesn't send the thing round, you can come again
and bully her."

So saying, she there and then led off the young ladies, and was making
her way out, when lady Feng exclaimed: "It's Pao-yŁ and he alone, who
has given rise to all this fuss."

Li Wan overheard her remark and hastily turned herself round. "We did,
in fact, come over," she smiled, "on account of Pao-yŁ, and we forgot,
instead all about him! The first meeting was deferred through him; but
we are too soft-hearted, so tell us what penalty to inflict on him!"

Lady Feng gave herself to reflection. "There's only one thing to do,"
she then remarked. "Just punish him by making him sweep the floor of
each of your rooms. This will do!"

"Your verdict is faultless!" they laughed with one accord.

While they conversed they were on the point of starting on their way
back, when they caught sight of a young maid walk in, supporting nurse
Lai. Lady Feng and her companions immediately rose to their feet, their
faces beaming with smiles. "Venerable mother!" they said, "do take a
seat!" They then in a body presented their congratulations to her.

Nurse Lai seated herself on the edge of the stovecouch and returned
their smiles. "I'm to be congratulated," she rejoined, "but you,
mistresses, are to be congratulated as well; for had it had not been for
the bountiful grace displaced by you, mistresses, whence would this joy
of mine have come? Your ladyship sent Ts'ai Ko again yesterday to bring
me presents, but my grandson _kotowed_ at the door, with his face
turned towards the upper quarters."

"When is he going to his post?" Li Wan inquired, with a smile.

Nurse Lai heaved a sigh. "How can I interfere with them?" she answered.
"Why, I let them have their own way and start when they like! The other
day, they were at my house, and they prostrated themselves before me;
but I could find no complimentary remark to make to him, so, 'Sir!' I
said, 'putting aside that you're an official, you've lived in a reckless
and dissolute way, for now thirty years. You should, it's true, have
been people's bond-servant, but from the moment you came out of your
mother's womb, your master graciously accorded you your liberty. Thanks,
above, to the boundless blessings showered upon you by your lord, and,
below, to the favour of your father and mother, you're like a noble
scion and a gentleman, able to read and to write; and you have been
carried about by maids, old matrons, and nurses, just as if you had been
a very phoenix! But now that you've grown up and reached this age, do
you have the faintest notion of what the two words 'bond-servant' imply?
All you think of is to enjoy your benefits. But what hardships your
grandfather and father had to bear, in slaving away for two or three
generations, before they succeeded, after ever so many ups and downs, in
raising up a thing like you, you don't at all know! From your very
infancy, you ever ailed from this, or sickened for that, so that the
money that was expended on your behalf, would suffice to fuse into a
lifelike silver image of you! At the age of twenty, you again received
the bounty of your master in the shape of a promise to purchase official
status for you. But just mark, how many inmates of the principal branch
and main offspring have to endure privation, and suffer the pangs of
hunger! So beware you, who are the offshoot of a bond-servant, lest you
snap your happiness! After enjoying so many good things for a decade, by
the help of what spirits, and the agency of what devils have you, I
wonder, managed to so successfully entreat your master as to induce him
to bring you to the fore again and select you for office? Magistrates
may be minor officials, but their functions are none the less onerous.
In whatever district they obtain a post, they become the father and
mother of that particular locality. If you therefore don't mind your
business, and look after your duties in such a way as to acquit yourself
of your loyal obligations, to prove your gratitude to the state and to
show obedience and reverence to your lord, heaven, I fear, will not even
bear with you!'"

Li Wan and lady Feng laughed. "You're too full of misgivings!" they
observed. "From what we can see of him, he's all right! Some years back,
he paid us a visit or two; but it's many years now that he hasn't put
his foot here. At the close of each year, and on birthdays, we've simply
seen his name brought in, that's all. The other day, that he came to
knock his head before our venerable senior and Madame Wang, we caught
sight of him in her courtyard yonder; and, got up in the uniform of his
new office, he looked so dignified, and stouter too than before. Now
that he has got this post, you should be quite happy; instead of that
you worry and fret about this and that! If he does get bad, why, he has
his father and mother yet to take care of him, so all you need do is to
be cheerful and content! When you've got time to spare, do get into a
chair and come in and have a game of cards and a chat with our worthy
senior; and who ever will have the face to hurt your feelings? Why, were
you go to your home, you'd also have there houses and halls, and who is
there who would not hold you in high respect? You're certainly, what one
would call, a venerable old dame!"

P'ing Erh poured a cup of tea and brought it to her. Nurse Lai speedily
stood up. "You could have asked any girl to do this for me; it wouldn't
have mattered! But here I'm troubling you again!"

Apologising, she resumed, sipping her tea the while: "My lady you're not
aware that young girls of this age must be in everything kept strictly
in hand. In the event of any license, they're sure to find time to kick
up trouble, and annoy their elders. Those, who know (how well they are
supervised), will then say that children are always up to mischief. But
those, who don't, will maintain that they take advantage of their
wealthy position to despise people; to the detriment as well of their
mistresses' reputation. How I regret that there's nothing that I can do
with him. Time after time, have I had to send for his father; and he has
been the better, after a scolding from him." Pointing at Pao-yŁ, "I
don't mind whether you feel angry with me for what I'm going to say,"
she proceeded, "but if your father were to attempt now to exercise ever
so little control over you, your venerable grandmother is sure to try
and screen you. Yet, when in days gone by your worthy father was young,
he used to be beaten by your grandfather. Who hasn't seen him do it? But
did your father, in his youth resemble you, who have neither fear for
God or man? There was also our senior master, on the other side, Mr.
Chia She. He was, I admit, wild; but never such a crossgrained fellow as
yourself; and yet he too had his daily dose of the whip. There was
besides the father of your elder cousin Chen, of the eastern mansion. He
had a disposition that flared up like a fire over which oil is poured.
If anything was said, and he flew into a rage, why, talk about a son, it
was really as if he tortured a robber. From all I can now see and hear,
Mr. Chen keeps his son in check just as much as was the custom in old
days among his ancestors; the only thing is that he abides by it in some
respects, but not in others. Besides, he doesn't exercise the least
restraint over his own self, so is it to be wondered at if all his
cousins and nieces don't respect him? If you've got any sense about you,
you'll only be too glad that I speak to you in this wise; but if you
haven't, you mayn't be very well able to say anything openly to me, but
you'll inwardly abuse me, who knows to what extent!"

As she reproved him, they saw Lai Ta's wife arrive. In close succession
came Chou Jui's wife along with Chang Ts'ai's wife to report various

"A wife," laughed lady Feng, "has come to fetch her mother-in-law!"

"I haven't come to fetch our old dame," Lai Ta's wife smilingly
rejoined, "but to inquire whether you, my lady and the young ladies,
will confer upon us the honour of your company?"

When nurse Lai caught this remark, she smiled. "I've really grown quite
idiotic!" "What," she exclaimed, "was right and proper for me to say, I
didn't say, but I went on talking instead a lot of rot and rubbish! As
our relatives and friends are presenting their congratulations to our
grandson for having been selected to fill up that office of his, we find
ourselves under the necessity of giving a banquet at home. But I was
thinking that it wouldn't do, if we kept a feast going the whole day,
and we invited this one, and not that one. Reflecting also that it was
thanks to our master's vast bounty that we've come in for this
unforeseen glory and splendour, I felt quite agreeable to do anything,
even though it may entail the collapse of our household. I therefore
advised his father to give banquets on three consecutive days. That he
should, on the first, put up several tables, and a stage in our mean
garden, and invite your venerable dowager lady, the senior ladies,
junior ladies, and young ladies to come and have some distraction during
the day, and that he should have several tables laid on the stage in the
main pavilion outside, and request the senior and junior gentlemen to
confer upon us the lustre of their presence. That for the second day, we
should ask our relatives and friends; and that for the third, we should
invite our companions from the two mansions. In this way, we'll have
three days' excitement, and, by the boundless favour of our master,
we'll have the benefit of enjoying the honour of your society."

"When is it to be?" Li Wan and lady Feng inquired, smilingly. "As far as
we are concerned, we'll feel it our duty to come. And we hope that our
worthy senior may feel in the humour to go. But there's no saying for

"The day chosen is the fourteenth," Lai Ta's wife eagerly replied. "Just
come for the sake of our old mother-in-law!"

"I can't tell about the others," lady Feng explained with a laugh, "but
as for me I shall positively come. I must however tell you beforehand
that I've no congratulatory presents to give you. Nor do I know anything
about tips to players or others. As soon as I shall have done eating, I
shall bolt, so don't laugh at me."

"Fiddlesticks!" Lai Ta's wife laughed. "Were your ladyship disposed, you
could well afford to give us twenty and thirty thousand taels."

"I'm off now to invite our venerable mistress," nurse Lai smilingly
remarked. "And if her ladyship also agrees to come, I shall deem it a
greater honour than ever conferred upon me."

Having said this, she went on to issue some injunctions; after which,
she got up to go, when the sight of Chou Jui's wife reminded her of

"Of course!" she consequently observed. "I've got one more question to
ask you, my lady. What did sister-in-law Chou's son do to incur blame,
that he was packed off, and his services dispensed with?"

"I was just about to tell your daughter-in-law," lady Feng answered
smilingly, after listening to her question, "but with so many things to
preoccupy me, it slipped from my memory! When you get home,
sister-in-law Lai, explain to that old husband of yours that we won't
have his, (Chou Jui's), son kept in either of the mansions; and that he
can tell him to go about his own business!"

Lai Ta's wife had no option but to express her acquiescence. Chou Jui's
wife however speedily fell on her knees and gave way to urgent

"What is it all about?" nurse Lai shouted. "Tell me and let me determine
the right and wrong of the question."

"The other day," lady Feng observed, "that my birthday was celebrated,
that young fellow of his got drunk, before the wine ever went round; and
when the old dame, over there, sent presents, he didn't go outside to
give a helping hand, but squatted down, instead, and upbraided people.
Even the presents he wouldn't carry inside. And it was only after the
two girls had come indoors that he eventually got the servant-lads and
brought them in. Those lads were however careful enough in what they
did, but as for him, he let the box, he held, slip from his hands, and
bestrewed the whole courtyard with cakes. When every one had left, I
deputed Ts'ai Ming to go and talk to him; but he then turned round and
gave Ts'ai Ming a regular scolding. So what's the use of not bundling
off a disorderly rascal like him, who neither shows any regard for
discipline or heaven?"

"I was wondering what it could be!" nurse Lai ventured. "Was it really
about this? My lady, listen to me! If he has done anything wrong, thrash
him and scold him, until you make him mend his ways, and finish with it!
But to drive him out of the place, will never, by any manner of means,
do. He isn't, besides, to be treated like a child born in our household.
He is at present employed as Madame Wang's attendant, so if you carry
out your purpose of expelling him, her ladyship's face will be put to
the blush. My idea is that you should, my lady, give him a lesson by
letting him have several whacks with a cane so as to induce him to
abstain from wine in the future. If you then retain him in your service
as hitherto he'll be all right! If you don't do it for his mother's
sake; do it at least for that of Madame Wang!"

After lending an ear to her arguments, lady Feng addressed herself to
Lai Ta's wife. "Well, in that case," she said, "call him over to-morrow
and give him forty blows; and don't let him after this touch any more

Lai Ta's wife promised to execute her directions. Chou Jui's wife then
kotowed and rose to her feet. But she also persisted upon prostrating
herself before nurse Lai; and only desisted when Lai Ta's wife pulled
her up. But presently the trio took their departure, and Li Wan and her
companions sped back into the garden.

When evening came, lady Feng actually bade the servants go and look
(into the loft), and when they discovered a lot of painting materials,
which had been put away long ago, they brought them into the garden.
Pao-ch'ai and her friends then selected such as they deemed suitable.
But as they only had as yet half the necessaries they required, they
drew out a list of the other half and sent it to lady Feng, who,
needless for us to particularise, had the different articles purchased,
according to the specimens supplied.

By a certain day, the silk had been sized outside, a rough sketch drawn,
and both returned into the garden. Pao-yŁ therefore was day after day to
be found over at Hsi Ch'un's, doing his best to help her in her hard
work. But T'an Ch'un, Li Wan, Ying Ch'un, Pao-ch'ai and the other girls
likewise congregated in her quarters, and sat with her when they were at
leisure, as they could, in the first place, watch the progress of the
painting, and as secondly they were able to conveniently see something
of each other.

When Pao-ch'ai perceived how cool and pleasant the weather was getting,
and how the nights were beginning again to gradually draw out, she came
and found her mother, and consulted with her, until they got some
needlework ready. Of a day, she would cross over to the quarters of
dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang, and twice pay her salutations, but,
she could not help as well amusing them and sitting with them to keep
them company. When free, she would come and see her cousins in the
garden, and have, at odd times, a chat with them, so having, during
daylight no leisure to speak of, she was wont, of a night, to ply her
needle by lamplight, and only retire to sleep after the third watch had
come and gone.

As for Tai-yŁ, she had, as a matter of course, a relapse of her
complaint regularly every year, soon after the spring equinox and autumn
solstice. But she had, during the last autumn, also found her
grandmother Chia in such buoyant spirits, that she had walked a little
too much on two distinct occasions, and naturally fatigued herself more
than was good for her. Recently, too, she had begun to cough and to feel
heavier than she had done at ordinary times, so she never by any chance
put her foot out of doors, but remained at home and looked after her
health. When at times, dullness crept over her, she longed for her
cousins to come and chat with her and dispel her despondent feelings.
But whenever Pao-ch'ai or any of her cousins paid her a visit, she
barely uttered half a dozen, words, before she felt quite averse to any
society. Yet one and all made every allowance for her illness. And as
she had ever been in poor health and not strong enough to resist any
annoyance, they did not find the least fault with her, despite even any
lack of propriety she showed in playing the hostess with them, or any
remissness on her part in observing the prescribed rules of etiquette.

Pao-ch'ai came, on this occasion to call on her. The conversation
started on the symptoms of her ailment. "The various doctors, who visit
this place," Pao-ch'ai consequently remarked, "may, it's true, be all
very able practitioners; but you take their medicines and don't reap the
least benefit! Wouldn't it be as well therefore to ask some other person
of note to come and see you? And could he succeed in getting you all
right, wouldn't it be nice? Here you year by year ail away throughout
the whole length of spring and summer; but you're neither so old nor so
young, so what will be the end of it? Besides, it can't go on for ever."

"It's no use," Tai-yŁ rejoined. "I know well enough that there's no cure
for this complaint of mine! Not to speak of when I'm unwell, why even
when I'm not, my state is such that one can see very well that there's
no hope!"

Pao-ch'ai shook her head. "Quite so!" she ventured. "An old writer says:
'Those who eat, live.' But what you've all along eaten hasn't been
enough to strengthen your energies and physique. This isn't a good

Tai-yŁ heaved a sigh. "Whether I'm to live or die is all destiny!" she
said. "Riches and honours are in the hands of heaven; and human strength
cannot suffice to forcibly get even them! But my complaint this year
seems to be far worse than in past years, instead of any better."

While deploring her lot, she coughed two or three times. "It struck me,"
Pao-ch'ai said, "that in that prescription of yours I saw yesterday
there was far too much ginseng and cinnamon. They are splendid tonics,
of course, but too many heating things are not good. I think that the
first urgent thing to do is to ease the liver and give tone to the
stomach. When once the fire in the liver is reduced, it will not be able
to overcome the stomach; and, when once the digestive organs are free of
ailment, drink and food will be able to give nutriment to the human
frame. As soon as you get out of bed, every morning, take one ounce of
birds' nests, of superior quality, and five mace of sugar candy and
prepare congee with them in a silver kettle. When once you get into the
way of taking this decoction, you'll find it far more efficacious than
medicines; for it possesses the highest virtue for invigorating the
vagina and bracing up the physique."

"You've certainly always treated people with extreme consideration,"
sighed Tai-yŁ, "but such a supremely suspicious person am I that I
imagined that you inwardly concealed some evil design! Yet ever since
the day on which you represented to me how unwholesome it was to read
obscene books, and you gave me all that good advice, I've felt most
grateful to you! I've hitherto, in fact, been mistaken in my opinion;
and the truth of the matter is that I remained under this misconception
up to the very present. But you must carefully consider that when my
mother died, I hadn't even any sisters or brothers; and that up to this
my fifteenth year there has never been a single person to admonish me as
you did the other day. Little wonder is it if that girl YŁn speaks well
of you! Whenever, in former days, I heard her heap praise upon you, I
felt uneasy in my mind, but, after my experiences of yesterday, I see
how right she was. When you, for instance, began to tell me all those
things, I didn't forgive you at the time, but, without worrying yourself
in the least about it you went on, contrariwise, to tender me the advice
you did. This makes it evident that I have laboured under a mistaken
idea! Had I not made this discovery the other day, I wouldn't be
speaking like this to your very face to-day. You told me a few minutes
back to take bird's nest congee; but birds' nests are, I admit, easily
procured; yet all on account of my sickly constitution and of the
relapses I have every year of this complaint of mine, which amounts to
nothing, doctors have had to be sent for, medicines, with ginseng and
cinnamon, have had to be concocted, and I've given already such trouble
as to turn heaven and earth topsy-turvey; so were I now to start again a
new fad, by having some birds' nests congee or other prepared, our
worthy senior, Madame Wang, and lady Feng, will, all three of them, have
no objection to raise; but that posse of matrons and maids below will
unavoidably despise me for my excessive fussiness! Just notice how every
one in here ogles wildly like tigers their prey; and stealthily says one
thing and another, simply because they see how fond our worthy ancestor
is of both Pao-yŁ and lady Feng, and how much more won't they do these
things with me? What's more, I'm not a pucker mistress. I've really come
here as a mere refugee, for I had no one to sustain me and no one to
depend upon. They already bear me considerable dislike; so much so, that
I'm still quite at a loss whether I should stay or go; and why should I
make them heap execrations upon me?"

"Well, in that case," Pao-ch'ai observed, "I'm too in the same plight as

"How can you compare yourself with me?" Tai-yŁ exclaimed. "You have a
mother; and a brother as well! You've also got some business and land in
here, and, at home, you can call houses' and fields your own. It's only
therefore the ties of relationship, which make you stay here at all.
Neither are you in anything whether large or small, in their debt for
one single cash or even half a one; and when you want to go, you're at
liberty to go. But I, have nothing whatever that I can call my own. Yet,
in what I eat, wear, and use, I am, in every trifle, entirely on the
same footing as the young ladies in their household, so how ever can
that mean lot not despise me out and out?"

"The only extra expense they'll have to go to by and bye," Pao-ch'ai
laughed, "will be to get one more trousseau, that's all. And for the
present, it's too soon yet to worry yourself about that!"

At this insinuation, Tai-yŁ unconsciously blushed scarlet. "One treats
you," she smiled, "as a decent sort of person, and confides in you the
woes of one's heart, and, instead of sympathising with me, you make me
the means of raising a laugh!"

"Albeit I raise a laugh at your expense," Pao-ch'ai rejoined, a smile
curling her lips, "what I say is none the less true! But compose your
mind! I'll try every day that I'm here to cheer you up; so come to me
with every grievance or trouble, for I shall, needless to say, dispel
those that are within my power. Notwithstanding that I have a brother,
you yourself know well enough what he's like! All I have is a mother, so
I'm just a trifle better off than you! We can therefore well look upon
ourselves as being in the same boat, and sympathise with each other. You
have, besides, plenty of wits about you, so why need you give way to
groans, as did Ssu Ma-niu? What you said just now is quite right; but,
you should worry and fret about as little and not as much as you can. On
my return home, to-morrow, I'll tell my mother; and, as I think there
must be still some birds' nests in our house, we'll send you several
ounces of them. You can then tell the servant-maids to prepare some for
you at whatever time you want every day; and you'll thus be suiting your
own convenience and be giving no trouble or annoyance to any one."

"The things are, of themselves, of little account," eagerly responded
Tai-yŁ laughingly. "What's difficult to find is one with as much feeling
as yourself."

"What's there in this worth speaking about?" Pao-ch'ai said. "What
grieves me is that I fail to be as nice as I should be with those I come
across. But, I presume, you feel quite done up now, so I'll be off!"

"Come in the evening again," Tai-yŁ pressed her, "and have a chat with

While assuring her that she would come, Pao-ch'ai walked out, so let us
leave her alone for the present.

Tai-yŁ, meanwhile, drank a few sips of thin congee, and then once more
lay herself down on her bed. But before the sun set, the weather
unexpectedly changed, and a fine drizzling rain set in. So gently come
the autumn showers that dull and fine are subject to uncertain
alternations. The shades of twilight gradually fell on this occasion.
The heavens too got so overcast as to look deep black. Besides the
effect of this change on her mind, the patter of the rain on the bamboo
tops intensified her despondency, and, concluding that Pao-ch'ai would
be deterred from coming, she took up, in the lamp light, the first book
within her reach, which turned out to be the 'Treasury of Miscellaneous
Lyrics.' Finding among these 'the Pinings of a maiden in autumn,' 'the
Anguish of Separation,' and other similar poems, Tai-yŁ felt unawares
much affected; and, unable to restrain herself from giving vent to her
feelings in writing, she, there and then, improvised the following
stanza, in the same strain as the one on separation; complying with the
rules observed in the 'Spring River-Flower' and 'Moonlight Night.' These
verses, she then entitled 'the Poem on the Autumn evening, when wind and
rain raged outside the window.' Their burden was:

In autumn, flowers decay; herbage, when autumn comes, doth yellow
On long autumnal nights, the autumn lanterns with bright radiance
As from my window autumn scenes I scan, autumn endless doth seem.
This mood how can I bear, when wind and rain despondency enhance?
How sudden break forth wind and rain, and help to make the autumntide!
Fright snaps my autumn dreams, those dreams which under my lattice I
A sad autumnal gloom enclasps my heart, and drives all sleep away!
In person I approach the autumn screen to snuff the weeping wick.
The tearful candles with a flickering flame consume on their short
They stir up grief, dazzle my eyes, and a sense of parting arouse.
In what family's courts do not the blasts of autumn winds intrude?
And where in autumn does not rain patter against the window-frames?
The silken quilt cannot ward off the nipping force of autumn winds.
The drip of the half drained water-clock impels the autumn rains.
A lull for few nights reigned, but the wind has again risen in
By the lantern I weep, as if I sat with some one who must go.
The small courtyard, full of bleak mist, is now become quite desolate.
With quick drip drops the rain on the distant bamboos and vacant
What time, I wonder, will the wind and rain their howl and patter
The tears already I have shed have soakŤd through the window gauze.

After scanning her verses, she flung the pen aside, and was just on the
point of retiring to rest, when a waiting-maid announced that 'master
Secundus, Mr. Pao-yŁ, had come.' Barely was the announcement out of her
lips, than Pao-yŁ appeared on the scene with a large bamboo hat on his
head, and a wrapper thrown over his shoulders. Of a sudden, a smile
betrayed itself on Tai-yŁ's lips. "Where does this fisherman come from?"
she exclaimed.

"Are you better to-day?" Pao-yŁ inquired with alacrity. "Have you had
any medicines? How much rice have you had to eat to-day?"

While plying her with questions, he took off the hat and divested
himself of the wrapper; and, promptly raising the lamp with one hand, he
screened it with the other and threw its rays upon Tai-yŁ's face. Then
straining his eyes, he scrutinised her for a while. "You look better
to-day," he smiled.

As soon as he threw off his wrapper, Tai-yŁ noticed that he was clad in
a short red silk jacket, the worse for wear; that he was girded with a
green sash, and that, about his knees, his nether garments were visible,
made of green thin silk, brocaded with flowers. Below these, he wore
embroidered gauze socks, worked all over with twisted gold thread, and a
pair of shoes ornamented with butterflies and clusters of fallen

"Above, you fight shy of the rain," Tai-yŁ remarked, "but aren't these
shoes and socks below afraid of rain? Yet they're quite clean!"

"This suit is complete!" Pao-yŁ smiled. "I've got a pair of crab-wood
clogs, I put on to come over; but I took them off under the eaves of the

Tai-yŁ's attention was then attracted by the extreme fineness and
lightness of the texture of his wrapper and hat, which were unlike those
sold in the market places. "With what grass are they plaited?" she
consequently asked. "It would be strange if you didn't, with this sort
of things on, look like a very hedgehog!"

"These three articles are a gift from the Prince of Pei Ching," Pao-yŁ
answered. "Ordinarily, when it rains, he too wears this kind of outfit
at home. But if it has taken your fancy, I'll have a suit made for you.
There's nothing peculiar about the other things, but this hat is funny!
The crown at the top is movable; so if you want to wear a hat, during
snowy weather in wintertime, you pull off the bamboo pegs, and remove
the crown, and there you only have the circular brim. This is worn, when
it snows, by men and women alike. I'll give you one therefore to wear in
the wintry snowy months."

"I don't want it!" laughed Tai-yŁ. "Were I to wear this sort of thing,
I'd look like one of those fisherwomen, one sees depicted in pictures or
represented on the stage!"

Upon reaching this point, she remembered that there was some connection
between her present remarks and the comparison she had some time back
made with regard to Pao-yŁ, and, before she had time to indulge in
regrets, a sense of shame so intense overpowered her that the colour
rushed to her face, and, leaning her head on the table, she coughed and
coughed till she could not stop. Pao-yŁ, however, did not detect her
embarrassment; but catching sight of some verses lying on the table, he
eagerly snatched them up and conned them from beginning to end.
"Splendid!" he could not help crying. But the moment Tai-yŁ heard his
exclamation, she speedily jumped to her feet, and clutched the verses
and burnt them over the lamp.

"I've already committed them sufficiently to memory!" Pao-yŁ laughed.

"I want to have a little rest," Tai-yŁ said, "so please get away; come
back again to-morrow."

At these words, Pao-yŁ drew back his hand, and producing from his breast
a gold watch about the size of a walnut, he looked at the time. The hand
pointed between eight and nine p.m.; so hastily putting it away, "You
should certainly retire to rest!" he replied. "My visit has upset you.
I've quite tired you out this long while." With these apologies, he
threw the wrapper over him, put on the rain-hat and quitted the room.
But turning round, he retraced his steps inside. "Is there anything you
fancy to eat?" he asked. "If there be, tell me, and I'll let our
venerable ancestor know of it to-morrow as soon as it's day. Won't I
explain things clearer than any of the old matrons could?"

"Let me," rejoined Tai-yŁ smiling, "think in the night. I'll let you
know early to-morrow. But harken, it's raining harder than it did; so be
off at once! Have you got any attendants, or no?"

"Yes!" interposed the two matrons. "There are servants to wait on him.
They're outside holding his umbrella and lighting the lanterns."

"Are they lighting lanterns with this weather?" laughed Tai-yŁ.

"It won't hurt them!" Pao-yŁ answered. "They're made of sheep's horn, so
they don't mind the rain."

Hearing this, Tai-yŁ put back her hand, and, taking down an ornamented
glass lantern in the shape of a ball from the book case, she asked the
servants to light a small candle and bring it to her; after which, she
handed the lantern to Pao-yŁ. "This," she said, "gives out more light
than the others; and is just the thing for rainy weather."

"I've also got one like it." Pao-yŁ replied. "But fearing lest they
might slip, fall down and break it, I did not have it lighted and
brought round."

"What's of more account," Tai-yŁ inquired, "harm to a lantern or to a
human being? You're not besides accustomed to wearing clogs, so tell
them to walk ahead with those lanterns. This one is as light and handy
as it is light-giving; and is really adapted for rainy weather, so
wouldn't it be well if you carried it yourself? You can send it over to
me to-morrow! But, were it even to slip from your hand, it wouldn't
matter much. How is it that you've also suddenly developed this
money-grabbing sort of temperament? It's as bad as if you ripped your
intestines to secrete pearls in."

After these words, Pao-yŁ approached her and took the lantern from her.
Ahead then advanced two matrons, with umbrellas and sheep horn lanterns,
and behind followed a couple of waiting-maids also with umbrellas.
Pao-yŁ handed the glass lantern to a young maid to carry, and,
supporting himself on her shoulder, he straightway wended his steps on
his way back.

But presently arrived an old servant from the Heng Wu court, provided as
well with an umbrella and a lantern, to bring over a large bundle of
birds' nests, and a packet of foreign sugar, pure as powder, and white
as petals of plum-blossom and flakes of snow. "These," she said, "are
much better than what you can buy. Our young lady sends you word, miss,
to first go on with these. When you've done with them, she'll let you
have some more."

"Many thanks for the trouble you've taken!" Tai-yŁ returned for answer;
and then asked her to go and sit outside and have a cup of tea.

"I won't have any tea," the old servant smiled. "I've got something else
to attend to."

"I'm well aware that you've all got plenty in hand," Tai-yŁ resumed with
a smiling countenance. "But the weather being cool now and the nights
long, it's more expedient than ever to establish two things: a night
club and a gambling place."

"I won't disguise the fact from you, miss," the old servant laughingly
observed, "that I've managed this year to win plenty of money. Several
servants have, under any circumstances, to do night duty; and, as any
neglect in keeping watch wouldn't be the right thing, isn't it as well
to have a night club, as one can sit on the look-out and dispel dullness
as well? But it's again my turn to play the croupier to-day, so I must
be getting along to the place, as the garden gate, will, by this time,
be nearly closing!"

This rejoinder evoked a laugh from Tai-yŁ. "I've given you all this
bother," she remarked, "and made you lose your chances of getting money,
just to bring these things in the rain." And calling a servant she bade
her present her with several hundreds of cash to buy some wine with, to
drive the damp away.

"I've uselessly put you again, miss, to the expense of giving me a tip
for wine," the old servant smiled. But saying this she knocked her
forehead before her; and issuing outside, she received the money, after
which, she opened her umbrella, and trudged back.

Tzu ChŁan meanwhile put the birds' nests away; and removing afterwards
the lamps, she lowered the portiŤres and waited upon Tai-yŁ until she
lay herself down to sleep.

While she reclined all alone on her pillow, Tai-yŁ thought gratefully of
Pao-ch'ai. At one moment, she envied her for having a mother and a
brother; and at another, she mused that with the friendliness Pao-yŁ had
ever shown her they were bound to be the victims of suspicion. But the
pitter-patter of the rain, dripping on the bamboo tops and banana
leaves, fell on her ear; and, as a fresh coolness penetrated the
curtain, tears once more unconsciously trickled down her cheeks. In this
frame of mind, she continued straight up to the fourth watch, when she
at last gradually dropped into a sound sleep.

For the time, however, there is nothing that we can add. So should you,
reader, desire to know any subsequent details, peruse what is written in
the next chapter.


An improper man with difficulty keeps from improprieties.
The maid, YŁan Yang, vows to break off the marriage match.

Lin Tai-yŁ, to resume our story, dropped off gradually to sleep about
the close of the fourth watch. As there is therefore nothing more that
we can for the present say about her, let us take up the thread of our
narrative with lady Feng.

Upon hearing that Madame Hsing wanted to see her, she could not make out
what it could be about, so hurriedly putting on some extra things on her
person and head, she got into a carriage and crossed over.

Madame Hsing at once dismissed every attendant from her suite of
apartments. "I sent for you," she began, addressing herself to lady
Feng, in a confidential tone, "not for anything else, but on account of
something which places me on the horns of a dilemma. My husband has
entrusted me with a job; and being quite at my wits' ends how to act,
I'd like first to consult with you. My husband has taken quite a fancy
to YŁan Yang, who is in our worthy senior's rooms; so much so, that he's
desirous to get her into his quarters as a secondary wife. He has
deputed me therefore to ask her of our venerable ancestor. I know that
this is quite an ordinary matter. Yet I can't help fearing that our
worthy senior may refuse to give her. But do you perchance see your way
to bring this concern about?"

Lady Feng listened to her. "You shouldn't, I say, go and bang your head
against a nail!" she then vehemently exclaimed. "Were our old ancestor
separated from YŁan Yang, she wouldn't even touch her rice! How ever
could she reconcile herself to part from her? Besides, our worthy senior
has time and again said, in the course of a chat, 'that she can't see
the earthly use of a man well up in years, as your lord and master is,
having here one concubine, and there another? That cooping them up in
his rooms, is a mere waste of human beings. That he neglects his
constitution and doesn't husband it; and that he doesn't either attend
diligently to his official duties, but spends his whole days in boozing
with his young concubines. When your ladyship hears these nice doings of
his, don't you feel enamoured with that fine gentleman of ours? Were he
even to try, at this juncture, to beat a retreat, he couldn't, I fear,
effectively do so. Yet, instead of (making an effort to turn tail), he
wants to go and dig the tiger's nostrils with a blade of straw. Don't,
my lady, be angry with me; but I daren't undertake the errand. It's
clear as day that it will be a wild goose chase. What's more, it will do
him no good; but will, contrariwise, heap disgrace upon his own head!
Our Mr. Chia She is now so stricken in years, that in all his actions he
unavoidably behaves somewhat as a dotard. It would be well therefore for
your ladyship to advise him what to do. It isn't as if he were in the
prime of life to be able to do all these things with impunity! He's got
at present a whole array of brothers, nieces, sons, and grandsons; and
should he still go on in this wild sort of way, how will he be able to
face any of them?"

Madame Hsing gave a sardonic smile. "There are endless wealthy families
with three and four concubines," she said, "and is it in ours that such
a thing won't do? But were I even to tender him as much advice as I can,
it isn't at all likely that he'll abide by it! Even though that maid be
one beloved by our venerable senior, it doesn't follow that she'll very
well be able to give a rebuff to a hoary-bearded elderly son, and,
erewhile, an official, were he to express a wish to have her as an
inmate of his household! I sent for you for no other purpose than to
deliberate with you, and here you take the initiative and enumerate a
whole array of shortcomings. But is there any reason why I should
commission you to go? Of course I'll go and speak to her! You make a
bold statement that I don't give him any good counsel; but don't you yet
know that with a disposition, such as his, he rushes, before I can very
well open my lips to advise him, into a tantrum with me?"

Lady Feng was well alive to the fact that Madame Hsing was, by nature,
simple and weak-minded, and that all she knew was to adulate Chia She so
as to ensure her own safety. That she was, in the next place, ever
ready, so greedy was she, to grasp as much hard cash and as many
effects, as she could lay hold of, for her own private gain. That she
left all family matters, irrespective of important or unimportant, under
the sole control of Chia She; but that, whenever anything turned up,
involving any receipts or payments, she extorted an unusual percentage,
the moment the money passed through her clutches, giving out as a
pretence: 'Well Chia She is so extravagant that I have to interfere and
effect sufficient economies to enable us to make up our deficits.' And
that she would not trust any one, whether son, daughter or servant, nor
lend an ear to a single word of remonstrance. When she therefore now
heard Madame Hsing speak as she did, she concluded that she must be in
another of her perverse moods, and that any admonitions would be of no
avail. So hastily forcing a smile: "My lady," she observed, "you're
perfectly right in your remarks! But how long can I have lived, and what
discrimination can I boast of? It seems to me that if a father and
mother do not bestow, not a mere servant-girl like she is, but a living
jewel of the size of her, on one like Mr. Chia She, to whom are they
likely to give her? How can one give faith to words spoken behind one's
back? So what a fool I was (in cramming what I heard down my throat)!
Just take our Mr. Secundus, (my husband), as an instance. If ever he
does anything to incur blame, Mr. Chia She and you, my lady, feel so
wrath with him as to only wish you could lay hands upon him there and
then and give him such a blow as would kill him downright, but the
moment you set eyes on his face, your whole resentment vanishes, and lo,
you again let him have, as of old, everything, and anything, much though
both of you might relish it in your hearts! Our worthy ancestor will
certainly therefore behave in the present instance, with equal
liberality, towards Mr. Chia She! So if her ladyship feels in the humour
to-day, she'll let him have her, I fancy, at once this very day, if he
makes the proper advances. But I'll go ahead and coax our venerable
senior; and, when your ladyship comes over, I'll find some pretence to
get out of the way, and take along with me those too who may be present
in her rooms, so as to make it convenient for you to broach the subject.
If she gives her, so much the better. But if even she doesn't, it won't
matter; for none of the inmates will have any idea what the object of
your mission could have been."

After listening to her suggestion, Madame Hsing began again to feel in a
happier frame of mind. "My idea is," she observed, "that I shouldn't
start by mentioning anything to our venerable senior, for were she to
say that she wouldn't give her, the matter would be simply quashed on
the head. I can't help thinking that I should first and foremost quietly
approach YŁan Yang on the subject. She will, of course, feel extremely
ashamed, but when I explain everything minutely to her, she'll certainly
have nothing to say against the proposal, and everything will be all
right. I can then speak to our old senior; and, despite any desire on
her part not to accede to our wishes, she won't be able to put the girl
off, provided she herself be willing; for as the adage says: 'If a
person wishes to go, it's no use trying to keep him.' Thus needless to
say, the whole thing will be satisfactorily settled!"

"You're really shrewd in your devices, my lady!" lady Feng smilingly
ejaculated. "This is perfect in every respect! For without taking YŁan
Yang into account, what girl does not long to rise high, or hope to
exalt herself, or think of pushing herself forward above the rest as to
cast away the chances of becoming half a mistress, and prefer instead
being a maid, and merely becoming by and bye the mate of some

"Quite so!" Madame Hsing smiled. "But let's put YŁan Yang aside. Who is
there, even among the various elderly waiting-maids, who look after the
house, who wouldn't be only too willing to step into these shoes? You'd
better then go ahead. But, mind, don't let the cat out of the bag! I'll
join you as soon as I can finish my evening meal."

"YŁan Yang," thereupon secretly reflected lady Feng, "has always been an
extremely shrewd-minded girl; to such a degree, that there is
notwithstanding all our arguments, no saying positively whether she'll
accept or refuse. So were I to go ahead, and Madame Hsing to follow me
by and bye, there won't be any occasion for her to grumble or complain,
so long as she assents; but, if she doesn't, why, Madame Hsing, who is
so suspicious a creature, will possibly imagine that I've been gassing
with her, and been the means of making her put on side and assume high
airs. When Madame Hsing finds then that my conjectures have turned out
true again, her shame will be converted into anger, and she'll so vent
her spite upon me that I shall, after all, be put in a false position.
Would it not be better then that she and I should go together; for, if
she says 'yes,' I'll be all right; and, if she replies 'no,' I'll be on
the safe side; and no suspicion, of any kind, will fall upon me!"

At the close of her reflections, "As I was about to cross over here,"
she remarked laughingly, "our aunt yonder sent us two baskets of quails,
and I gave orders that they should be fried, with the idea that they
should be brought to your ladyship, in time for you to have some at your
evening repast. Just as I was stepping inside the main entrance, I saw
the servant-boys carrying your curricle; they said that it was your
ladyship's vehicle, that it had cracked, and that they were taking it to
be repaired. Wouldn't it be as well then that you should now come in my
carriage, for it will be better for you and me to get there together?"

At this suggestion, Madame Hsing directed her servants to come and
change her costume. Lady Feng quickly waited upon her, and in a while
the two ladies got into one and the same curricle and drove over.

"My lady," lady Feng went on to say, "it would be well for you to look
up our worthy senior, for were I to accompany you, and her ladyship to
ask me what was the object of my visit, it would be rather awkward. The
best way is for your ladyship to go first, and I'll join you, as soon as
I divest myself of my fine clothes."

Madame Hsing noticed how reasonable her proposal was, and she readily
betook herself to old lady Chia's quarters. But after a chat with her
senior, she quitted the apartment, under the pretence that she was going
to Madame Wang's rooms. Then making her exit by the back door, she
passed in front of YŁan Yang's bedroom. Here she saw YŁan Yang sitting,
hard at work at some needlework. The moment she caught sight of Madame
Hsing, she rose to her feet.

"What are you up to?" Madame Hsing laughingly inquired. "Let me see! How
much nicer you embroider artificial flowers now!"

So speaking, she entered, and, taking the needlework from her hands, she
scrutinised it, while extolling its beauty. Then laying down the work,
and scanning her again from head to foot, she observed that her costume
consisted of a half-new, grey thin silk jacket, and a bluish satin
waistcoat with scollops; that below this came a water-green jupe; that
her waist was slim as that of a wasp; that her shoulders sloped as if
pared; that her face resembled a duck's egg; that her hair was black and
shiny; that her nose was very high, and that on both her cheeks were
slightly visible several small flat moles.

YŁan Yang realised how intently she was being passed under scrutiny, and
began to feel inwardly uneasy; while utter astonishment prevailed in her
mind. "Madame," she felt impelled to ask, "what do you come for at this
impossible hour?"

At a wink from Madame Hsing, her attendants withdrew from the room.
Madame Hsing forthwith seated herself, and grasped YŁan Yang's hand in
hers. "I've come," she smiled, "with the special purpose of presenting
you my congratulations."

This reply enabled YŁan Yang at once to form within herself some surmise
more or less correct of the object of her errand, and suddenly blushing
crimson, she lowered her head, and uttered not a word.

"You know well enough," she next heard Madame Hsing resume, "that
there's not a single reliable person with my husband; but much though
we'd like to purchase some other girl we fear that such as might come
out of a broker's household wouldn't be quite spotless and taintless.
Nor would one be able to get any idea what her failings are, until after
she has been purchased and brought home; when she too will be sure, in
two or three days, to behave like an imp and play some monkey tricks!
That's why we thought of choosing some home-born girl out of those which
throng in our mansion, but then again we could find none decent enough;
for if her looks were not at fault, her disposition was not proper; and
if she possessed this quality, she lacked that one. Hence it is that
after repeatedly choosing with dispassionate eye, during half a year,
(he finds) that there's only you among that whole bevy of girls, who's
worth anything; that in looks, behaviour and deportment, you're gentle,
trustworthy, and perfection itself in every respect. His intention
therefore is to ask your hand of our old lady and take you over and
attach you to his quarters. You won't be treated as one newly-purchased,
or newly-sought for outside; for the moment you put your foot into our
house, you'll at once have your face shaved and be promoted to a
secondary wife; so you'll thus attain as much dignity as honour. More,
you're one who is anxious to excel; and, as the proverb says, 'gold will
still be exchanged for gold.' My husband has, who'd have thought it,
taken a fancy to you, so when you now enter our threshold, you'll fulfil
the wish you've cherished all along with such high purpose and lofty
aim, and stop the mouths of those persons, who are envious of your lot.
Follow me therefore and let's go and lay the matter before our venerable

Arguing the while, she dragged her by the hand with the idea of hurrying
her off there and then. YŁan Yang, however, blushed to her very ears,
and, snatching her hand out of her grip she refused to budge.

Madame Hsing was conscious that she was under the spell of intense
shame. "What's there in this to be ashamed?" she continued, "You needn't
besides breathe a word! All you have to do is to follow me, that's all."

YŁan Yang continued to droop her head and to decline to go with her.
Madame Hsing, perceiving her behaviour, went on to exhort her. "Is it
likely, pray," she said, "that you still hesitate? If you actually don't
feel inclined to accept the offer, you're, in real truth, a foolish
girl; for here you let go the chances of becoming the secondary consort
of a master, and choose instead to continue a servant-girl. You'll be
united, in two or three years, to no one higher than some young
domestic, and remain as much a bond-servant as ever! If you come along
with us, you know that my disposition too is gentle; that I'm not one of
those persons, who don't show any regard for any one; that my husband
will also treat you as well as he does every one else, and that when, in
the course of a year or so, you give birth to a son or daughter, you'll
be placed on the same footing as myself. And of all the servants at
home, will any you may wish to employ not deign to move to execute your
orders? If now that you have a chance of becoming a mistress, you don't
choose to, why, you'll miss the opportunity, and then you may repent it,
but it will be too late!"

YŁan Yang still kept her head bent against her chest and spake not a
syllable by way of reply.

"How is it," added Madame Hsing, "that you, who've ever been so quick
have now too begun to be so infirm of purpose? What is there that
doesn't fall in with your wishes? Just tell me; and I can safely assure
you that you'll have everything done to satisfy you."

YŁan Yang observed, as hitherto, perfect silence.

"I suppose," laughed Madame Hsing, "that having a father and mother, you
yourself don't wish to speak, for fear of being put to the blush, and
that you want to wait until such time as they consult you about it, eh?

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