HUNG LOU MENG, BOOK I
OR, THE DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER, A CHINESE NOVEL IN TWO BOOKS
Translated by H. BENCRAFT JOLY
This translation was suggested not by any pretensions to range myself among the ranks of the body of sinologues, but by the perplexities and difficulties experienced by me as a student in Peking, when, at the completion of the Tzu Erh Chi, I had to plunge in the maze of the Hung Lou Meng.
Shortcomings are, I feel sure, to be discovered, both in the prose, as well as among the doggerel and uncouth rhymes, in which the text has been more adhered to than rhythm; but I shall feel satisfied with the result, if I succeed, even in the least degree, in affording a helping hand to present and future students of the Chinese language.
H. BENCRAFT JOLY, H.B.M. Vice-Consulate, Macao, 1st September, 1891.
THE DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER.
Chen Shih-yin, in a vision, apprehends perception and spirituality. Chia Yü-ts’un, in the (windy and dusty) world, cherishes fond thoughts of a beautiful maiden.
This is the opening section; this the first chapter. Subsequent to the visions of a dream which he had, on some previous occasion, experienced, the writer personally relates, he designedly concealed the true circumstances, and borrowed the attributes of perception and spirituality to relate this story of the Record of the Stone. With this purpose, he made use of such designations as Chen Shih-yin (truth under the garb of fiction) and the like. What are, however, the events recorded in this work? Who are the dramatis personae?
Wearied with the drudgery experienced of late in the world, the author speaking for himself, goes on to explain, with the lack of success which attended every single concern, I suddenly bethought myself of the womankind of past ages. Passing one by one under a minute scrutiny, I felt that in action and in lore, one and all were far above me; that in spite of the majesty of my manliness, I could not, in point of fact, compare with these characters of the gentle sex. And my shame forsooth then knew no bounds; while regret, on the other hand, was of no avail, as there was not even a remote possibility of a day of remedy.
On this very day it was that I became desirous to compile, in a connected form, for publication throughout the world, with a view to (universal) information, how that I bear inexorable and manifold retribution; inasmuch as what time, by the sustenance of the benevolence of Heaven, and the virtue of my ancestors, my apparel was rich and fine, and as what days my fare was savory and sumptuous, I disregarded the bounty of education and nurture of father and mother, and paid no heed to the virtue of precept and injunction of teachers and friends, with the result that I incurred the punishment, of failure recently in the least trifle, and the reckless waste of half my lifetime. There have been meanwhile, generation after generation, those in the inner chambers, the whole mass of whom could not, on any account, be, through my influence, allowed to fall into extinction, in order that I, unfilial as I have been, may have the means to screen my own shortcomings.
Hence it is that the thatched shed, with bamboo mat windows, the bed of tow and the stove of brick, which are at present my share, are not sufficient to deter me from carrying out the fixed purpose of my mind. And could I, furthermore, confront the morning breeze, the evening moon, the willows by the steps and the flowers in the courtyard, methinks these would moisten to a greater degree my mortal pen with ink; but though I lack culture and erudition, what harm is there, however, in employing fiction and unrecondite language to give utterance to the merits of these characters? And were I also able to induce the inmates of the inner chamber to understand and diffuse them, could I besides break the weariness of even so much as a single moment, or could I open the eyes of my contemporaries, will it not forsooth prove a boon?
This consideration has led to the usage of such names as Chia Yü-ts’un and other similar appellations.
More than any in these pages have been employed such words as dreams and visions; but these dreams constitute the main argument of this work, and combine, furthermore, the design of giving a word of warning to my readers.
Reader, can you suggest whence the story begins?
The narration may border on the limits of incoherency and triviality, but it possesses considerable zest. But to begin.
The Empress Nü Wo, (the goddess of works,) in fashioning blocks of stones, for the repair of the heavens, prepared, at the Ta Huang Hills and Wu Ch’i cave, 36,501 blocks of rough stone, each twelve chang in height, and twenty-four chang square. Of these stones, the Empress Wo only used 36,500; so that one single block remained over and above, without being turned to any account. This was cast down the Ch’ing Keng peak. This stone, strange to say, after having undergone a process of refinement, attained a nature of efficiency, and could, by its innate powers, set itself into motion and was able to expand and to contract.
When it became aware that the whole number of blocks had been made use of to repair the heavens, that it alone had been destitute of the necessary properties and had been unfit to attain selection, it forthwith felt within itself vexation and shame, and day and night, it gave way to anguish and sorrow.
One day, while it lamented its lot, it suddenly caught sight, at a great distance, of a Buddhist bonze and of a Taoist priest coming towards that direction. Their appearance was uncommon, their easy manner remarkable. When they drew near this Ch’ing Keng peak, they sat on the ground to rest, and began to converse. But on noticing the block newly-polished and brilliantly clear, which had moreover contracted in dimensions, and become no larger than the pendant of a fan, they were greatly filled with admiration. The Buddhist priest picked it up, and laid it in the palm of his hand.
“Your appearance,” he said laughingly, “may well declare you to be a supernatural object, but as you lack any inherent quality it is necessary to inscribe a few characters on you, so that every one who shall see you may at once recognise you to be a remarkable thing. And subsequently, when you will be taken into a country where honour and affluence will reign, into a family cultured in mind and of official status, in a land where flowers and trees shall flourish with luxuriance, in a town of refinement, renown and glory; when you once will have been there…”
The stone listened with intense delight.
“What characters may I ask,” it consequently inquired, “will you inscribe? and what place will I be taken to? pray, pray explain to me in lucid terms.” “You mustn’t be inquisitive,” the bonze replied, with a smile, “in days to come you’ll certainly understand everything.” Having concluded these words, he forthwith put the stone in his sleeve, and proceeded leisurely on his journey, in company with the Taoist priest. Whither, however, he took the stone, is not divulged. Nor can it be known how many centuries and ages elapsed, before a Taoist priest, K’ung K’ung by name, passed, during his researches after the eternal reason and his quest after immortality, by these Ta Huang Hills, Wu Ch’i cave and Ch’ing Keng Peak. Suddenly perceiving a large block of stone, on the surface of which the traces of characters giving, in a connected form, the various incidents of its fate, could be clearly deciphered, K’ung K’ung examined them from first to last. They, in fact, explained how that this block of worthless stone had originally been devoid of the properties essential for the repairs to the heavens, how it would be transmuted into human form and introduced by Mang Mang the High Lord, and Miao Miao, the Divine, into the world of mortals, and how it would be led over the other bank (across the San Sara). On the surface, the record of the spot where it would fall, the place of its birth, as well as various family trifles and trivial love affairs of young ladies, verses, odes, speeches and enigmas was still complete; but the name of the dynasty and the year of the reign were obliterated, and could not be ascertained.
On the obverse, were also the following enigmatical verses:
Lacking in virtues meet the azure skies to mend, In vain the mortal world full many a year I wend, Of a former and after life these facts that be, Who will for a tradition strange record for me?
K’ung K’ung, the Taoist, having pondered over these lines for a while, became aware that this stone had a history of some kind.
“Brother stone,” he forthwith said, addressing the stone, “the concerns of past days recorded on you possess, according to your own account, a considerable amount of interest, and have been for this reason inscribed, with the intent of soliciting generations to hand them down as remarkable occurrences. But in my own opinion, they lack, in the first place, any data by means of which to establish the name of the Emperor and the year of his reign; and, in the second place, these constitute no record of any excellent policy, adopted by any high worthies or high loyal statesmen, in the government of the state, or in the rule of public morals. The contents simply treat of a certain number of maidens, of exceptional character; either of their love affairs or infatuations, or of their small deserts or insignificant talents; and were I to transcribe the whole collection of them, they would, nevertheless, not be estimated as a book of any exceptional worth.”
“Sir Priest,” the stone replied with assurance, “why are you so excessively dull? The dynasties recorded in the rustic histories, which have been written from age to age, have, I am fain to think, invariably assumed, under false pretences, the mere nomenclature of the Han and T’ang dynasties. They differ from the events inscribed on my block, which do not borrow this customary practice, but, being based on my own experiences and natural feelings, present, on the contrary, a novel and unique character. Besides, in the pages of these rustic histories, either the aspersions upon sovereigns and statesmen, or the strictures upon individuals, their wives, and their daughters, or the deeds of licentiousness and violence are too numerous to be computed. Indeed, there is one more kind of loose literature, the wantonness and pollution in which work most easy havoc upon youth.
“As regards the works, in which the characters of scholars and beauties is delineated their allusions are again repeatedly of Wen Chün, their theme in every page of Tzu Chien; a thousand volumes present no diversity; and a thousand characters are but a counterpart of each other. What is more, these works, throughout all their pages, cannot help bordering on extreme licence. The authors, however, had no other object in view than to give utterance to a few sentimental odes and elegant ballads of their own, and for this reason they have fictitiously invented the names and surnames of both men and women, and necessarily introduced, in addition, some low characters, who should, like a buffoon in a play, create some excitement in the plot.
“Still more loathsome is a kind of pedantic and profligate literature, perfectly devoid of all natural sentiment, full of self-contradictions; and, in fact, the contrast to those maidens in my work, whom I have, during half my lifetime, seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. And though I will not presume to estimate them as superior to the heroes and heroines in the works of former ages, yet the perusal of the motives and issues of their experiences, may likewise afford matter sufficient to banish dulness, and to break the spell of melancholy.
“As regards the several stanzas of doggerel verse, they may too evoke such laughter as to compel the reader to blurt out the rice, and to spurt out the wine.
“In these pages, the scenes depicting the anguish of separation, the bliss of reunion, and the fortunes of prosperity and of adversity are all, in every detail, true to human nature, and I have not taken upon myself to make the slightest addition, or alteration, which might lead to the perversion of the truth.
“My only object has been that men may, after a drinking bout, or after they wake from sleep or when in need of relaxation from the pressure of business, take up this light literature, and not only expunge the traces of antiquated books, and obtain a new kind of distraction, but that they may also lay by a long life as well as energy and strength; for it bears no point of similarity to those works, whose designs are false, whose course is immoral. Now, Sir Priest, what are your views on the subject?”
K’ung K’ung having pondered for a while over the words, to which he had listened intently, re-perused, throughout, this record of the stone; and finding that the general purport consisted of nought else than a treatise on love, and likewise of an accurate transcription of facts, without the least taint of profligacy injurious to the times, he thereupon copied the contents, from beginning to end, to the intent of charging the world to hand them down as a strange story.
Hence it was that K’ung K’ung, the Taoist, in consequence of his perception, (in his state of) abstraction, of passion, the generation, from this passion, of voluptuousness, the transmission of this voluptuousness into passion, and the apprehension, by means of passion, of its unreality, forthwith altered his name for that of “Ch’ing Tseng” (the Voluptuous Bonze), and changed the title of “the Memoir of a Stone” (Shih-t’ou-chi,) for that of “Ch’ing Tseng Lu,” The Record of the Voluptuous Bonze; while K’ung Mei-chi of Tung Lu gave it the name of “Feng Yüeh Pao Chien,” “The Precious Mirror of Voluptuousness.” In later years, owing to the devotion by Tsao Hsüeh-ch’in in the Tao Hung study, of ten years to the perusal and revision of the work, the additions and modifications effected by him five times, the affix of an index and the division into periods and chapters, the book was again entitled “Chin Ling Shih Erh Ch’ai,” “The Twelve Maidens of Chin Ling.” A stanza was furthermore composed for the purpose. This then, and no other, is the origin of the Record of the Stone. The poet says appositely:–
Pages full of silly litter,
Tears a handful sour and bitter;
All a fool the author hold,
But their zest who can unfold?
You have now understood the causes which brought about the Record of the Stone, but as you are not, as yet, aware what characters are depicted, and what circumstances are related on the surface of the block, reader, please lend an ear to the narrative on the stone, which runs as follows:–
In old days, the land in the South East lay low. In this South-East part of the world, was situated a walled town, Ku Su by name. Within the walls a locality, called the Ch’ang Men, was more than all others throughout the mortal world, the centre, which held the second, if not the first place for fashion and life. Beyond this Ch’ang Men was a street called Shih-li-chieh (Ten _Li_ street); in this street a lane, the Jen Ch’ing lane (Humanity and Purity); and in this lane stood an old temple, which on account of its diminutive dimensions, was called, by general consent, the Gourd temple. Next door to this temple lived the family of a district official, Chen by surname, Fei by name, and Shih-yin by style. His wife, née Feng, possessed a worthy and virtuous disposition, and had a clear perception of moral propriety and good conduct. This family, though not in actual possession of excessive affluence and honours, was, nevertheless, in their district, conceded to be a clan of well-to-do standing. As this Chen Shih-yin was of a contented and unambitious frame of mind, and entertained no hankering after any official distinction, but day after day of his life took delight in gazing at flowers, planting bamboos, sipping his wine and conning poetical works, he was in fact, in the indulgence of these pursuits, as happy as a supernatural being.
One thing alone marred his happiness. He had lived over half a century and had, as yet, no male offspring around his knees. He had one only child, a daughter, whose infant name was Ying Lien. She was just three years of age. On a long summer day, on which the heat had been intense, Shih-yin sat leisurely in his library. Feeling his hand tired, he dropped the book he held, leant his head on a teapoy, and fell asleep.
Of a sudden, while in this state of unconsciousness, it seemed as if he had betaken himself on foot to some spot or other whither he could not discriminate. Unexpectedly he espied, in the opposite direction, two priests coming towards him: the one a Buddhist, the other a Taoist. As they advanced they kept up the conversation in which they were engaged. “Whither do you purpose taking the object you have brought away?” he heard the Taoist inquire. To this question the Buddhist replied with a smile: “Set your mind at ease,” he said; “there’s now in maturity a plot of a general character involving mundane pleasures, which will presently come to a denouement. The whole number of the votaries of voluptuousness have, as yet, not been quickened or entered the world, and I mean to avail myself of this occasion to introduce this object among their number, so as to give it a chance to go through the span of human existence.” “The votaries of voluptuousness of these days will naturally have again to endure the ills of life during their course through the mortal world,” the Taoist remarked; “but when, I wonder, will they spring into existence? and in what place will they descend?”
“The account of these circumstances,” the bonze ventured to reply, “is enough to make you laugh! They amount to this: there existed in the west, on the bank of the Ling (spiritual) river, by the side of the San Sheng (thrice-born) stone, a blade of the Chiang Chu (purple pearl) grass. At about the same time it was that the block of stone was, consequent upon its rejection by the goddess of works, also left to ramble and wander to its own gratification, and to roam about at pleasure to every and any place. One day it came within the precincts of the Ching Huan (Monitory Vision) Fairy; and this Fairy, cognizant of the fact that this stone had a history, detained it, therefore, to reside at the Ch’ih Hsia (purple clouds) palace, and apportioned to it the duties of attendant on Shen Ying, a fairy of the Ch’ih Hsia palace.
“This stone would, however, often stroll along the banks of the Ling river, and having at the sight of the blade of spiritual grass been filled with admiration, it, day by day, moistened its roots with sweet dew. This purple pearl grass, at the outset, tarried for months and years; but being at a later period imbued with the essence and luxuriance of heaven and earth, and having incessantly received the moisture and nurture of the sweet dew, divested itself, in course of time, of the form of a grass; assuming, in lieu, a human nature, which gradually became perfected into the person of a girl.
“Every day she was wont to wander beyond the confines of the Li Hen (divested animosities) heavens. When hungry she fed on the Pi Ch’ing (hidden love) fruit–when thirsty she drank the Kuan ch’ou (discharged sorrows,) water. Having, however, up to this time, not shewn her gratitude for the virtue of nurture lavished upon her, the result was but natural that she should resolve in her heart upon a constant and incessant purpose to make suitable acknowledgment.
“I have been,” she would often commune within herself, “the recipient of the gracious bounty of rain and dew, but I possess no such water as was lavished upon me to repay it! But should it ever descend into the world in the form of a human being, I will also betake myself thither, along with it; and if I can only have the means of making restitution to it, with the tears of a whole lifetime, I may be able to make adequate return.”
“This resolution it is that will evolve the descent into the world of so many pleasure-bound spirits of retribution and the experience of fantastic destinies; and this crimson pearl blade will also be among the number. The stone still lies in its original place, and why should not you and I take it along before the tribunal of the Monitory Vision Fairy, and place on its behalf its name on record, so that it should descend into the world, in company with these spirits of passion, and bring this plot to an issue?”
“It is indeed ridiculous,” interposed the Taoist. “Never before have I heard even the very mention of restitution by means of tears! Why should not you and I avail ourselves of this opportunity to likewise go down into the world? and if successful in effecting the salvation of a few of them, will it not be a work meritorious and virtuous?”
“This proposal,” remarked the Buddhist, “is quite in harmony with my own views. Come along then with me to the palace of the Monitory Vision Fairy, and let us deliver up this good-for-nothing object, and have done with it! And when the company of pleasure-bound spirits of wrath descend into human existence, you and I can then enter the world. Half of them have already fallen into the dusty universe, but the whole number of them have not, as yet, come together.”
“Such being the case,” the Taoist acquiesced, “I am ready to follow you, whenever you please to go.”
But to return to Chen Shih-yin. Having heard every one of these words distinctly, he could not refrain from forthwith stepping forward and paying homage. “My spiritual lords,” he said, as he smiled, “accept my obeisance.” The Buddhist and Taoist priests lost no time in responding to the compliment, and they exchanged the usual salutations. “My spiritual lords,” Shih-yin continued; “I have just heard the conversation that passed between you, on causes and effects, a conversation the like of which few mortals have forsooth listened to; but your younger brother is sluggish of intellect, and cannot lucidly fathom the import! Yet could this dulness and simplicity be graciously dispelled, your younger brother may, by listening minutely, with undefiled ear and careful attention, to a certain degree be aroused to a sense of understanding; and what is more, possibly find the means of escaping the anguish of sinking down into Hades.”
The two spirits smiled, “The conversation,” they added, “refers to the primordial scheme and cannot be divulged before the proper season; but, when the time comes, mind do not forget us two, and you will readily be able to escape from the fiery furnace.”
Shih-yin, after this reply, felt it difficult to make any further inquiries. “The primordial scheme,” he however remarked smiling, “cannot, of course, be divulged; but what manner of thing, I wonder, is the good-for-nothing object you alluded to a short while back? May I not be allowed to judge for myself?”
“This object about which you ask,” the Buddhist Bonze responded, “is intended, I may tell you, by fate to be just glanced at by you.” With these words he produced it, and handed it over to Shih-yin.
Shih-yin received it. On scrutiny he found it, in fact, to be a beautiful gem, so lustrous and so clear that the traces of characters on the surface were distinctly visible. The characters inscribed consisted of the four “T’ung Ling Pao Yü,” “Precious Gem of Spiritual Perception.” On the obverse, were also several columns of minute words, which he was just in the act of looking at intently, when the Buddhist at once expostulated.
“We have already reached,” he exclaimed, “the confines of vision.” Snatching it violently out of his hands, he walked away with the Taoist, under a lofty stone portal, on the face of which appeared in large type the four characters: “T’ai Hsü Huan Ching,” “The Visionary limits of the Great Void.” On each side was a scroll with the lines:
When falsehood stands for truth, truth likewise becomes false, Where naught be made to aught, aught changes into naught.
Shih-yin meant also to follow them on the other side, but, as he was about to make one step forward, he suddenly heard a crash, just as if the mountains had fallen into ruins, and the earth sunk into destruction. As Shih-yin uttered a loud shout, he looked with strained eye; but all he could see was the fiery sun shining, with glowing rays, while the banana leaves drooped their heads. By that time, half of the circumstances connected with the dream he had had, had already slipped from his memory.
He also noticed a nurse coming towards him with Ying Lien in her arms. To Shih-yin’s eyes his daughter appeared even more beautiful, such a bright gem, so precious, and so lovable. Forthwith stretching out his arms, he took her over, and, as he held her in his embrace, he coaxed her to play with him for a while; after which he brought her up to the street to see the great stir occasioned by the procession that was going past.
He was about to come in, when he caught sight of two priests, one a Taoist, the other a Buddhist, coming hither from the opposite direction. The Buddhist had a head covered with mange, and went barefooted. The Taoist had a limping foot, and his hair was all dishevelled.
Like maniacs, they jostled along, chattering and laughing as they drew near.
As soon as they reached Shih-yin’s door, and they perceived him with Ying Lien in his arms, the Bonze began to weep aloud.
Turning towards Shih-yin, he said to him: “My good Sir, why need you carry in your embrace this living but luckless thing, which will involve father and mother in trouble?”
These words did not escape Shih-yin’s ear; but persuaded that they amounted to raving talk, he paid no heed whatever to the bonze.
“Part with her and give her to me,” the Buddhist still went on to say.
Shih-yin could not restrain his annoyance; and hastily pressing his daughter closer to him, he was intent upon going in, when the bonze pointed his hand at him, and burst out in a loud fit of laughter.
He then gave utterance to the four lines that follow:
You indulge your tender daughter and are laughed at as inane; Vain you face the snow, oh mirror! for it will evanescent wane, When the festival of lanterns is gone by, guard ‘gainst your doom, ‘Tis what time the flames will kindle, and the fire will consume.
Shih-yin understood distinctly the full import of what he heard; but his heart was still full of conjectures. He was about to inquire who and what they were, when he heard the Taoist remark,–“You and I cannot speed together; let us now part company, and each of us will be then able to go after his own business. After the lapse of three ages, I shall be at the Pei Mang mount, waiting for you; and we can, after our reunion, betake ourselves to the Visionary Confines of the Great Void, there to cancel the name of the stone from the records.”
“Excellent! first rate!” exclaimed the Bonze. And at the conclusion of these words, the two men parted, each going his own way, and no trace was again seen of them.
“These two men,” Shih-yin then pondered within his heart, “must have had many experiences, and I ought really to have made more inquiries of them; but at this juncture to indulge in regret is anyhow too late.”
While Shih-yin gave way to these foolish reflections, he suddenly noticed the arrival of a penniless scholar, Chia by surname, Hua by name, Shih-fei by style and Yü-ts’un by nickname, who had taken up his quarters in the Gourd temple next door. This Chia Yü-ts’un was originally a denizen of Hu-Chow, and was also of literary and official parentage, but as he was born of the youngest stock, and the possessions of his paternal and maternal ancestors were completely exhausted, and his parents and relatives were dead, he remained the sole and only survivor; and, as he found his residence in his native place of no avail, he therefore entered the capital in search of that reputation, which would enable him to put the family estate on a proper standing. He had arrived at this place since the year before last, and had, what is more, lived all along in very straitened circumstances. He had made the temple his temporary quarters, and earned a living by daily occupying himself in composing documents and writing letters for customers. Thus it was that Shih-yin had been in constant relations with him.
As soon as Yü-ts’un perceived Shih-yin, he lost no time in saluting him. “My worthy Sir,” he observed with a forced smile; “how is it you are leaning against the door and looking out? Is there perchance any news astir in the streets, or in the public places?”
“None whatever,” replied Shih-yin, as he returned the smile. “Just a while back, my young daughter was in sobs, and I coaxed her out here to amuse her. I am just now without anything whatever to attend to, so that, dear brother Chia, you come just in the nick of time. Please walk into my mean abode, and let us endeavour, in each other’s company, to while away this long summer day.”
After he had made this remark, he bade a servant take his daughter in, while he, hand-in-hand with Yü-ts’un, walked into the library, where a young page served tea. They had hardly exchanged a few sentences, when one of the household came in, in flying haste, to announce that Mr. Yen had come to pay a visit.
Shih-yin at once stood up. “Pray excuse my rudeness,” he remarked apologetically, “but do sit down; I shall shortly rejoin you, and enjoy the pleasure of your society.” “My dear Sir,” answered Yü-ts’un, as he got up, also in a conceding way, “suit your own convenience. I’ve often had the honour of being your guest, and what will it matter if I wait a little?” While these apologies were yet being spoken, Shih-yin had already walked out into the front parlour. During his absence, Yü-ts’un occupied himself in turning over the pages of some poetical work to dispel ennui, when suddenly he heard, outside the window, a woman’s cough. Yü-ts’un hurriedly got up and looked out. He saw at a glance that it was a servant girl engaged in picking flowers. Her deportment was out of the common; her eyes so bright, her eyebrows so well defined. Though not a perfect beauty, she possessed nevertheless charms sufficient to arouse the feelings. Yü-ts’un unwittingly gazed at her with fixed eye. This waiting-maid, belonging to the Chen family, had done picking flowers, and was on the point of going in, when she of a sudden raised her eyes and became aware of the presence of some person inside the window, whose head-gear consisted of a turban in tatters, while his clothes were the worse for wear. But in spite of his poverty, he was naturally endowed with a round waist, a broad back, a fat face, a square mouth; added to this, his eyebrows were swordlike, his eyes resembled stars, his nose was straight, his cheeks square.
This servant girl turned away in a hurry and made her escape.
“This man so burly and strong,” she communed within herself, “yet at the same time got up in such poor attire, must, I expect, be no one else than the man, whose name is Chia Yü-ts’un or such like, time after time referred to by my master, and to whom he has repeatedly wished to give a helping hand, but has failed to find a favourable opportunity. And as related to our family there is no connexion or friend in such straits, I feel certain it cannot be any other person than he. Strange to say, my master has further remarked that this man will, for a certainty, not always continue in such a state of destitution.”
As she indulged in this train of thought, she could not restrain herself from turning her head round once or twice.
When Yü-ts’un perceived that she had looked back, he readily interpreted it as a sign that in her heart her thoughts had been of him, and he was frantic with irrepressible joy.
“This girl,” he mused, “is, no doubt, keen-eyed and eminently shrewd, and one in this world who has seen through me.”
The servant youth, after a short time, came into the room; and when Yü-ts’un made inquiries and found out from him that the guests in the front parlour had been detained to dinner, he could not very well wait any longer, and promptly walked away down a side passage and out of a back door.
When the guests had taken their leave, Shih-yin did not go back to rejoin Yü-ts’un, as he had come to know that he had already left.
In time the mid-autumn festivities drew near; and Shih-yin, after the family banquet was over, had a separate table laid in the library, and crossed over, in the moonlight, as far as the temple and invited Yü-ts’un to come round.
The fact is that Yü-ts’un, ever since the day on which he had seen the girl of the Chen family turn twice round to glance at him, flattered himself that she was friendly disposed towards him, and incessantly fostered fond thoughts of her in his heart. And on this day, which happened to be the mid-autumn feast, he could not, as he gazed at the moon, refrain from cherishing her remembrance. Hence it was that he gave vent to these pentameter verses:
Alas! not yet divined my lifelong wish, And anguish ceaseless comes upon anguish I came, and sad at heart, my brow I frowned; She went, and oft her head to look turned round. Facing the breeze, her shadow she doth watch, Who’s meet this moonlight night with her to match? The lustrous rays if they my wish but read Would soon alight upon her beauteous head!
Yü-ts’un having, after this recitation, recalled again to mind how that throughout his lifetime his literary attainments had had an adverse fate and not met with an opportunity (of reaping distinction), went on to rub his brow, and as he raised his eyes to the skies, he heaved a deep sigh and once more intoned a couplet aloud:
The gem in the cask a high price it seeks, The pin in the case to take wing it waits.
As luck would have it, Shih-yin was at the moment approaching, and upon hearing the lines, he said with a smile: “My dear Yü-ts’un, really your attainments are of no ordinary capacity.”
Yü-ts’un lost no time in smiling and replying. “It would be presumption in my part to think so,” he observed. “I was simply at random humming a few verses composed by former writers, and what reason is there to laud me to such an excessive degree? To what, my dear Sir, do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” he went on to inquire. “Tonight,” replied Shih-yin, “is the mid-autumn feast, generally known as the full-moon festival; and as I could not help thinking that living, as you my worthy brother are, as a mere stranger in this Buddhist temple, you could not but experience the feeling of loneliness. I have, for the express purpose, prepared a small entertainment, and will be pleased if you will come to my mean abode to have a glass of wine. But I wonder whether you will entertain favourably my modest invitation?” Yü-ts’un, after listening to the proposal, put forward no refusal of any sort; but remarked complacently: “Being the recipient of such marked attention, how can I presume to repel your generous consideration?”
As he gave expression to these words, he walked off there and then, in company with Shih-yin, and came over once again into the court in front of the library. In a few minutes, tea was over.
The cups and dishes had been laid from an early hour, and needless to say the wines were luscious; the fare sumptuous.
The two friends took their seats. At first they leisurely replenished their glasses, and quietly sipped their wine; but as, little by little, they entered into conversation, their good cheer grew more genial, and unawares the glasses began to fly round, and the cups to be exchanged.
At this very hour, in every house of the neighbourhood, sounded the fife and lute, while the inmates indulged in music and singing. Above head, the orb of the radiant moon shone with an all-pervading splendour, and with a steady lustrous light, while the two friends, as their exuberance increased, drained their cups dry so soon as they reached their lips.
Yü-ts’un, at this stage of the collation, was considerably under the influence of wine, and the vehemence of his high spirits was irrepressible. As he gazed at the moon, he fostered thoughts, to which he gave vent by the recital of a double couplet.
‘Tis what time three meets five, Selene is a globe! Her pure rays fill the court, the jadelike rails enrobe! Lo! in the heavens her disk to view doth now arise, And in the earth below to gaze men lift their eyes.
“Excellent!” cried Shih-yin with a loud voice, after he had heard these lines; “I have repeatedly maintained that it was impossible for you to remain long inferior to any, and now the verses you have recited are a prognostic of your rapid advancement. Already it is evident that, before long, you will extend your footsteps far above the clouds! I must congratulate you! I must congratulate you! Let me, with my own hands, pour a glass of wine to pay you my compliments.”
Yü-ts’un drained the cup. “What I am about to say,” he explained as he suddenly heaved a sigh, “is not the maudlin talk of a man under the effects of wine. As far as the subjects at present set in the examinations go, I could, perchance, also have well been able to enter the list, and to send in my name as a candidate; but I have, just now, no means whatever to make provision for luggage and for travelling expenses. The distance too to Shen Ching is a long one, and I could not depend upon the sale of papers or the composition of essays to find the means of getting there.”
Shih-yin gave him no time to conclude. “Why did you not speak about this sooner?” he interposed with haste. “I have long entertained this suspicion; but as, whenever I met you, this conversation was never broached, I did not presume to make myself officious. But if such be the state of affairs just now, I lack, I admit, literary qualification, but on the two subjects of friendly spirit and pecuniary means, I have, nevertheless, some experience. Moreover, I rejoice that next year is just the season for the triennial examinations, and you should start for the capital with all despatch; and in the tripos next spring, you will, by carrying the prize, be able to do justice to the proficiency you can boast of. As regards the travelling expenses and the other items, the provision of everything necessary for you by my own self will again not render nugatory your mean acquaintance with me.”
Forthwith, he directed a servant lad to go and pack up at once fifty taels of pure silver and two suits of winter clothes.
“The nineteenth,” he continued, “is a propitious day, and you should lose no time in hiring a boat and starting on your journey westwards. And when, by your eminent talents, you shall have soared high to a lofty position, and we meet again next winter, will not the occasion be extremely felicitous?”
Yü-ts’un accepted the money and clothes with but scanty expression of gratitude. In fact, he paid no thought whatever to the gifts, but went on, again drinking his wine, as he chattered and laughed.
It was only when the third watch of that day had already struck that the two friends parted company; and Shih-yin, after seeing Yü-ts’un off, retired to his room and slept, with one sleep all through, never waking until the sun was well up in the skies.
Remembering the occurrence of the previous night, he meant to write a couple of letters of recommendation for Yü-ts’un to take along with him to the capital, to enable him, after handing them over at the mansions of certain officials, to find some place as a temporary home. He accordingly despatched a servant to ask him to come round, but the man returned and reported that from what the bonze said, “Mr. Chia had started on his journey to the capital, at the fifth watch of that very morning, that he had also left a message with the bonze to deliver to you, Sir, to the effect that men of letters paid no heed to lucky or unlucky days, that the sole consideration with them was the nature of the matter in hand, and that he could find no time to come round in person and bid good-bye.”
Shih-yin after hearing this message had no alternative but to banish the subject from his thoughts.
In comfortable circumstances, time indeed goes by with easy stride. Soon drew near also the happy festival of the 15th of the 1st moon, and Shih-yin told a servant Huo Ch’i to take Ying Lien to see the sacrificial fires and flowery lanterns.
About the middle of the night, Huo Ch’i was hard pressed, and he forthwith set Ying Lien down on the doorstep of a certain house. When he felt relieved, he came back to take her up, but failed to find anywhere any trace of Ying Lien. In a terrible plight, Huo Ch’i prosecuted his search throughout half the night; but even by the dawn of day, he had not discovered any clue of her whereabouts. Huo Ch’i, lacking, on the other hand, the courage to go back and face his master, promptly made his escape to his native village.
Shih-yin–in fact, the husband as well as the wife–seeing that their child had not come home during the whole night, readily concluded that some mishap must have befallen her. Hastily they despatched several servants to go in search of her, but one and all returned to report that there was neither vestige nor tidings of her.
This couple had only had this child, and this at the meridian of their life, so that her sudden disappearance plunged them in such great distress that day and night they mourned her loss to such a point as to well nigh pay no heed to their very lives.
A month in no time went by. Shih-yin was the first to fall ill, and his wife, Dame Feng, likewise, by dint of fretting for her daughter, was also prostrated with sickness. The doctor was, day after day, sent for, and the oracle consulted by means of divination.
Little did any one think that on this day, being the 15th of the 3rd moon, while the sacrificial oblations were being prepared in the Hu Lu temple, a pan with oil would have caught fire, through the want of care on the part of the bonze, and that in a short time the flames would have consumed the paper pasted on the windows.
Among the natives of this district bamboo fences and wooden partitions were in general use, and these too proved a source of calamity so ordained by fate (to consummate this decree).
With promptness (the fire) extended to two buildings, then enveloped three, then dragged four (into ruin), and then spread to five houses, until the whole street was in a blaze, resembling the flames of a volcano. Though both the military and the people at once ran to the rescue, the fire had already assumed a serious hold, so that it was impossible for them to afford any effective assistance for its suppression.
It blazed away straight through the night, before it was extinguished, and consumed, there is in fact no saying how many dwelling houses. Anyhow, pitiful to relate, the Chen house, situated as it was next door to the temple, was, at an early part of the evening, reduced to a heap of tiles and bricks; and nothing but the lives of that couple and several inmates of the family did not sustain any injuries.
Shih-yin was in despair, but all he could do was to stamp his feet and heave deep sighs. After consulting with his wife, they betook themselves to a farm of theirs, where they took up their quarters temporarily. But as it happened that water had of late years been scarce, and no crops been reaped, robbers and thieves had sprung up like bees, and though the Government troops were bent upon their capture, it was anyhow difficult to settle down quietly on the farm. He therefore had no other resource than to convert, at a loss, the whole of his property into money, and to take his wife and two servant girls and come over for shelter to the house of his father-in-law.
His father-in-law, Feng Su, by name, was a native of Ta Ju Chou. Although only a labourer, he was nevertheless in easy circumstances at home. When he on this occasion saw his son-in-law come to him in such distress, he forthwith felt at heart considerable displeasure. Fortunately Shih-yin had still in his possession the money derived from the unprofitable realization of his property, so that he produced and handed it to his father-in-law, commissioning him to purchase, whenever a suitable opportunity presented itself, a house and land as a provision for food and raiment against days to come. This Feng Su, however, only expended the half of the sum, and pocketed the other half, merely acquiring for him some fallow land and a dilapidated house.
Shih-yin being, on the other hand, a man of books and with no experience in matters connected with business and with sowing and reaping, subsisted, by hook and by crook, for about a year or two, when he became more impoverished.
In his presence, Feng Su would readily give vent to specious utterances, while, with others, and behind his back, he on the contrary expressed his indignation against his improvidence in his mode of living, and against his sole delight of eating and playing the lazy.
Shih-yin, aware of the want of harmony with his father-in-law, could not help giving way, in his own heart, to feelings of regret and pain. In addition to this, the fright and vexation which he had undergone the year before, the anguish and suffering (he had had to endure), had already worked havoc (on his constitution); and being a man advanced in years, and assailed by the joint attack of poverty and disease, he at length gradually began to display symptoms of decline.
Strange coincidence, as he, on this day, came leaning on his staff and with considerable strain, as far as the street for a little relaxation, he suddenly caught sight, approaching from the off side, of a Taoist priest with a crippled foot; his maniac appearance so repulsive, his shoes of straw, his dress all in tatters, muttering several sentiments to this effect:
All men spiritual life know to be good, But fame to disregard they ne’er succeed! From old till now the statesmen where are they? Waste lie their graves, a heap of grass, extinct. All men spiritual life know to be good, But to forget gold, silver, ill succeed! Through life they grudge their hoardings to be scant, And when plenty has come, their eyelids close. All men spiritual life hold to be good, Yet to forget wives, maids, they ne’er succeed! Who speak of grateful love while lives their lord, And dead their lord, another they pursue. All men spiritual life know to be good, But sons and grandsons to forget never succeed! From old till now of parents soft many, But filial sons and grandsons who have seen?
Shih-yin upon hearing these words, hastily came up to the priest, “What were you so glibly holding forth?” he inquired. “All I could hear were a lot of hao liao (excellent, finality.”)
“You may well have heard the two words ‘hao liao,'” answered the Taoist with a smile, “but can you be said to have fathomed their meaning? You should know that all things in this world are excellent, when they have attained finality; when they have attained finality, they are excellent; but when they have not attained finality, they are not excellent; if they would be excellent, they should attain finality. My song is entitled Excellent-finality (hao liao).”
Shih-yin was gifted with a natural perspicacity that enabled him, as soon as he heard these remarks, to grasp their spirit.
“Wait a while,” he therefore said smilingly; “let me unravel this excellent-finality song of yours; do you mind?”
“Please by all means go on with the interpretation,” urged the Taoist; whereupon Shih-yin proceeded in this strain:
Sordid rooms and vacant courts,
Replete in years gone by with beds where statesmen lay; Parched grass and withered banian trees, Where once were halls for song and dance! Spiders’ webs the carved pillars intertwine, The green gauze now is also pasted on the straw windows! What about the cosmetic fresh concocted or the powder just scented; Why has the hair too on each temple become white like hoarfrost! Yesterday the tumulus of yellow earth buried the bleached bones, To-night under the red silk curtain reclines the couple! Gold fills the coffers, silver fills the boxes, But in a twinkle, the beggars will all abuse you! While you deplore that the life of others is not long, You forget that you yourself are approaching death! You educate your sons with all propriety, But they may some day, ’tis hard to say become thieves; Though you choose (your fare and home) the fatted beam, You may, who can say, fall into some place of easy virtue! Through your dislike of the gauze hat as mean, You have come to be locked in a cangue; Yesterday, poor fellow, you felt cold in a tattered coat, To-day, you despise the purple embroidered dress as long! Confusion reigns far and wide! you have just sung your part, I come on the boards,
Instead of yours, you recognise another as your native land; What utter perversion!
In one word, it comes to this we make wedding clothes for others! (We sow for others to reap.)
The crazy limping Taoist clapped his hands. “Your interpretation is explicit,” he remarked with a hearty laugh, “your interpretation is explicit!”
Shih-yin promptly said nothing more than,–“Walk on;” and seizing the stole from the Taoist’s shoulder, he flung it over his own. He did not, however, return home, but leisurely walked away, in company with the eccentric priest.
The report of his disappearance was at once bruited abroad, and plunged the whole neighbourhood in commotion; and converted into a piece of news, it was circulated from mouth to mouth.
Dame Feng, Shih-yin’s wife, upon hearing the tidings, had such a fit of weeping that she hung between life and death; but her only alternative was to consult with her father, and to despatch servants on all sides to institute inquiries. No news was however received of him, and she had nothing else to do but to practise resignation, and to remain dependent upon the support of her parents for her subsistence. She had fortunately still by her side, to wait upon her, two servant girls, who had been with her in days gone by; and the three of them, mistress as well as servants, occupied themselves day and night with needlework, to assist her father in his daily expenses.
This Feng Su had after all, in spite of his daily murmurings against his bad luck, no help but to submit to the inevitable.
On a certain day, the elder servant girl of the Chen family was at the door purchasing thread, and while there, she of a sudden heard in the street shouts of runners clearing the way, and every one explain that the new magistrate had come to take up his office.
The girl, as she peeped out from inside the door, perceived the lictors and policemen go by two by two; and when unexpectedly in a state chair, was carried past an official, in black hat and red coat, she was indeed quite taken aback.
“The face of this officer would seem familiar,” she argued within herself; “just as if I had seen him somewhere or other ere this.”
Shortly she entered the house, and banishing at once the occurrence from her mind, she did not give it a second thought. At night, however, while she was waiting to go to bed, she suddenly heard a sound like a rap at the door. A band of men boisterously cried out: “We are messengers, deputed by the worthy magistrate of this district, and come to summon one of you to an enquiry.”
Feng Su, upon hearing these words, fell into such a terrible consternation that his eyes stared wide and his mouth gaped.
What calamity was impending is not as yet ascertained, but, reader, listen to the explanation contained in the next chapter.
The spirit of Mrs. Chia Shih-yin departs from the town of Yang Chou. Leng Tzu-hsing dilates upon the Jung Kuo Mansion.
To continue. Feng Su, upon hearing the shouts of the public messengers, came out in a flurry and forcing a smile, he asked them to explain (their errand); but all these people did was to continue bawling out: “Be quick, and ask Mr. Chen to come out.”
“My surname is Feng,” said Feng Su, as he promptly forced himself to smile; “It is’nt Chen at all: I had once a son-in-law whose surname was Chen, but he has left home, it is now already a year or two back. Is it perchance about him that you are inquiring?”
To which the public servants remarked: “We know nothing about Chen or Chia (true or false); but as he is your son-in-law, we’ll take you at once along with us to make verbal answer to our master and have done with it.”
And forthwith the whole bevy of public servants hustled Feng Su on, as they went on their way back; while every one in the Feng family was seized with consternation, and could not imagine what it was all about.
It was no earlier than the second watch, when Feng Su returned home; and they, one and all, pressed him with questions as to what had happened.
“The fact is,” he explained, “the newly-appointed Magistrate, whose surname is Chia, whose name is Huo and who is a native of Hu-chow, has been on intimate terms, in years gone by, with our son-in-law; that at the sight of the girl Chiao Hsing, standing at the door, in the act of buying thread, he concluded that he must have shifted his quarters over here, and hence it was that his messengers came to fetch him. I gave him a clear account of the various circumstances (of his misfortunes), and the Magistrate was for a time much distressed and expressed his regret. He then went on to make inquiries about my grand-daughter, and I explained that she had been lost, while looking at the illuminations. ‘No matter,’ put in the Magistrate, ‘I will by and by order my men to make search, and I feel certain that they will find her and bring her back.’ Then ensued a short conversation, after which I was about to go, when he presented me with the sum of two taels.”
The mistress of the Chen family (Mrs. Chen Shih-yin) could not but feel very much affected by what she heard, and the whole evening she uttered not a word.
The next day, at an early hour, Yü-ts’un sent some of his men to bring over to Chen’s wife presents, consisting of two packets of silver, and four pieces of brocaded silk, as a token of gratitude, and to Feng Su also a confidential letter, requesting him to ask of Mrs. Chen her maid Chiao Hsing to become his second wife.
Feng Su was so intensely delighted that his eyebrows expanded, his eyes smiled, and he felt eager to toady to the Magistrate (by presenting the girl to him). He hastened to employ all his persuasive powers with his daughter (to further his purpose), and on the same evening he forthwith escorted Chiao Hsing in a small chair to the Yamên.
The joy experienced by Yü-ts’un need not be dilated upon. He also presented Feng Su with a packet containing one hundred ounces of gold; and sent numerous valuable presents to Mrs. Chen, enjoining her “to live cheerfully in the anticipation of finding out the whereabouts of her daughter.”
It must be explained, however, that the maid Chi’ao Hsing was the very person, who, a few years ago, had looked round at Yü-ts’un and who, by one simple, unpremeditated glance, evolved, in fact, this extraordinary destiny which was indeed an event beyond conception.
Who would ever have foreseen that fate and fortune would both have so favoured her that she should, contrary to all anticipation, give birth to a son, after living with Yü-ts’un barely a year, that in addition to this, after the lapse of another half year, Yü-ts’un’s wife should have contracted a sudden illness and departed this life, and that Yü-ts’un should have at once raised her to the rank of first wife. Her destiny is adequately expressed by the lines:
Through but one single, casual look
Soon an exalted place she took.
The fact is that after Yü-ts’un had been presented with the money by Shih-yin, he promptly started on the 16th day for the capital, and at the triennial great tripos, his wishes were gratified to the full. Having successfully carried off his degree of graduate of the third rank, his name was put by selection on the list for provincial appointments. By this time, he had been raised to the rank of Magistrate in this district; but, in spite of the excellence and sufficiency of his accomplishments and abilities, he could not escape being ambitious and overbearing. He failed besides, confident as he was in his own merits, in respect toward his superiors, with the result that these officials looked upon him scornfully with the corner of the eye.
A year had hardly elapsed, when he was readily denounced in a memorial to the Throne by the High Provincial authorities, who represented that he was of a haughty disposition, that he had taken upon himself to introduce innovations in the rites and ceremonies, that overtly, while he endeavoured to enjoy the reputation of probity and uprightness, he, secretly, combined the nature of the tiger and wolf; with the consequence that he had been the cause of much trouble in the district, and that he had made life intolerable for the people, &c. &c.
The Dragon countenance of the Emperor was considerably incensed. His Majesty lost no time in issuing commands, in reply to the Memorial, that he should be deprived of his official status.
On the arrival of the despatch from the Board, great was the joy felt by every officer, without exception, of the prefecture in which he had held office. Yü-ts’un, though at heart intensely mortified and incensed, betrayed not the least outward symptom of annoyance, but still preserved, as of old, a smiling and cheerful countenance.
He handed over charge of all official business and removed the savings which he had accumulated during the several years he had been in office, his family and all his chattels to his original home; where, after having put everything in proper order, he himself travelled (carried the winds and sleeved the moon) far and wide, visiting every relic of note in the whole Empire.
As luck would have it, on a certain day while making a second journey through the Wei Yang district, he heard the news that the Salt Commissioner appointed this year was Lin Ju-hai. This Lin Ju-hai’s family name was Lin, his name Hai and his style Ju-hai. He had obtained the third place in the previous triennial examination, and had, by this time, already risen to the rank of Director of the Court of Censors. He was a native of Kú Su. He had been recently named by Imperial appointment a Censor attached to the Salt Inspectorate, and had arrived at his post only a short while back.
In fact, the ancestors of Lin Ju-hai had, from years back, successively inherited the title of Marquis, which rank, by its present descent to Ju-hai, had already been enjoyed by five generations. When first conferred, the hereditary right to the title had been limited to three generations; but of late years, by an act of magnanimous favour and generous beneficence, extraordinary bounty had been superadded; and on the arrival of the succession to the father of Ju-hai, the right had been extended to another degree. It had now descended to Ju-hai, who had, besides this title of nobility, begun his career as a successful graduate. But though his family had been through uninterrupted ages the recipient of imperial bounties, his kindred had all been anyhow men of culture.
The only misfortune had been that the several branches of the Lin family had not been prolific, so that the numbers of its members continued limited; and though there existed several households, they were all however to Ju-hai no closer relatives than first cousins. Neither were there any connections of the same lineage, or of the same parentage.
Ju-hai was at this date past forty; and had only had a son, who had died the previous year, in the third year of his age. Though he had several handmaids, he had not had the good fortune of having another son; but this was too a matter that could not be remedied.
By his wife, née Chia, he had a daughter, to whom the infant name of Tai Yü was given. She was, at this time, in her fifth year. Upon her the parents doated as much as if she were a brilliant pearl in the palm of their hand. Seeing that she was endowed with natural gifts of intelligence and good looks, they also felt solicitous to bestow upon her a certain knowledge of books, with no other purpose than that of satisfying, by this illusory way, their wishes of having a son to nurture and of dispelling the anguish felt by them, on account of the desolation and void in their family circle (round their knees).
But to proceed. Yü-ts’un, while sojourning at an inn, was unexpectedly laid up with a violent chill. Finding on his recovery, that his funds were not sufficient to pay his expenses, he was thinking of looking out for some house where he could find a resting place when he suddenly came across two friends acquainted with the new Salt Commissioner. Knowing that this official was desirous to find a tutor to instruct his daughter, they lost no time in recommending Yü-ts’un, who moved into the Yamên.
His female pupil was youthful in years and delicate in physique, so that her lessons were irregular. Besides herself, there were only two waiting girls, who remained in attendance during the hours of study, so that Yü-ts’un was spared considerable trouble and had a suitable opportunity to attend to the improvement of his health.
In a twinkle, another year and more slipped by, and when least expected, the mother of his ward, née Chia, was carried away after a short illness. His pupil (during her mother’s sickness) was dutiful in her attendance, and prepared the medicines for her use. (And after her death,) she went into the deepest mourning prescribed by the rites, and gave way to such excess of grief that, naturally delicate as she was, her old complaint, on this account, broke out anew.
Being unable for a considerable time to prosecute her studies, Yü-ts’un lived at leisure and had no duties to attend to. Whenever therefore the wind was genial and the sun mild, he was wont to stroll at random, after he had done with his meals.
On this particular day, he, by some accident, extended his walk beyond the suburbs, and desirous to contemplate the nature of the rustic scenery, he, with listless step, came up to a spot encircled by hills and streaming pools, by luxuriant clumps of trees and thick groves of bamboos. Nestling in the dense foliage stood a temple. The doors and courts were in ruins. The walls, inner and outer, in disrepair. An inscription on a tablet testified that this was the temple of Spiritual Perception. On the sides of the door was also a pair of old and dilapidated scrolls with the following enigmatical verses.
Behind ample there is, yet to retract the hand, the mind heeds not, until.
Before the mortal vision lies no path, when comes to turn the will.
“These two sentences,” Yü-ts’un pondered after perusal, “although simple in language, are profound in signification. I have previous to this visited many a spacious temple, located on hills of note, but never have I beheld an inscription referring to anything of the kind. The meaning contained in these words must, I feel certain, owe their origin to the experiences of some person or other; but there’s no saying. But why should I not go in and inquire for myself?”
Upon walking in, he at a glance caught sight of no one else, but of a very aged bonze, of unkempt appearance, cooking his rice. When Yü-ts’un perceived that he paid no notice, he went up to him and asked him one or two questions, but as the old priest was dull of hearing and a dotard, and as he had lost his teeth, and his tongue was blunt, he made most irrelevant replies.
Yü-ts’un lost all patience with him, and withdrew again from the compound with the intention of going as far as the village public house to have a drink or two, so as to enhance the enjoyment of the rustic scenery. With easy stride, he accordingly walked up to the place. Scarcely had he passed the threshold of the public house, when he perceived some one or other among the visitors who had been sitting sipping their wine on the divan, jump up and come up to greet him, with a face beaming with laughter.
“What a strange meeting! What a strange meeting!” he exclaimed aloud.
Yü-ts’un speedily looked at him, (and remembered) that this person had, in past days, carried on business in a curio establishment in the capital, and that his surname was Leng and his style Tzu-hsing.
A mutual friendship had existed between them during their sojourn, in days of yore, in the capital; and as Yü-ts’un had entertained the highest opinion of Leng Tzu-hsing, as being a man of action and of great abilities, while this Leng Tzu-hsing, on the other hand, borrowed of the reputation of refinement enjoyed by Yü-ts’un, the two had consequently all along lived in perfect harmony and companionship.
“When did you get here?” Yü-ts’un eagerly inquired also smilingly. “I wasn’t in the least aware of your arrival. This unexpected meeting is positively a strange piece of good fortune.”
“I went home,” Tzu-hsing replied, “about the close of last year, but now as I am again bound to the capital, I passed through here on my way to look up a friend of mine and talk some matters over. He had the kindness to press me to stay with him for a couple of days longer, and as I after all have no urgent business to attend to, I am tarrying a few days, but purpose starting about the middle of the moon. My friend is busy to-day, so I roamed listlessly as far as here, never dreaming of such a fortunate meeting.”
While speaking, he made Yü-ts’un sit down at the same table, and ordered a fresh supply of wine and eatables; and as the two friends chatted of one thing and another, they slowly sipped their wine.
The conversation ran on what had occurred after the separation, and Yü-ts’un inquired, “Is there any news of any kind in the capital?”
“There’s nothing new whatever,” answered Tzu-hsing. “There is one thing however: in the family of one of your worthy kinsmen, of the same name as yourself, a trifling, but yet remarkable, occurrence has taken place.”
“None of my kindred reside in the capital,” rejoined Yü-ts’un with a smile. “To what can you be alluding?”
“How can it be that you people who have the same surname do not belong to one clan?” remarked Tzu-hsing, sarcastically.
“In whose family?” inquired Yü-ts’un.
“The Chia family,” replied Tzu-hsing smiling, “whose quarters are in the Jung Kuo Mansion, does not after all reflect discredit upon the lintel of your door, my venerable friend.”
“What!” exclaimed Yü-ts’un, “did this affair take place in that family? Were we to begin reckoning, we would find the members of my clan to be anything but limited in number. Since the time of our ancestor Chia Fu, who lived while the Eastern Han dynasty occupied the Throne, the branches of our family have been numerous and flourishing; they are now to be found in every single province, and who could, with any accuracy, ascertain their whereabouts? As regards the Jung-kuo branch in particular, their names are in fact inscribed on the same register as our own, but rich and exalted as they are, we have never presumed to claim them as our relatives, so that we have become more and more estranged.”
“Don’t make any such assertions,” Tzu-hsing remarked with a sigh, “the present two mansions of Jung and Ning have both alike also suffered reverses, and they cannot come up to their state of days of yore.”
“Up to this day, these two households of Ning and of Jung,” Yü-ts’un suggested, “still maintain a very large retinue of people, and how can it be that they have met with reverses?”
“To explain this would be indeed a long story,” said Leng Tzu-hsing. “Last year,” continued Yü-ts’un, “I arrived at Chin Ling, as I entertained a wish to visit the remains of interest of the six dynasties, and as I on that day entered the walled town of Shih T’ou, I passed by the entrance of that old residence. On the east side of the street, stood the Ning Kuo mansion; on the west the Jung Kuo mansion; and these two, adjoining each other as they do, cover in fact well-nigh half of the whole length of the street. Outside the front gate everything was, it is true, lonely and deserted; but at a glance into the interior over the enclosing wall, I perceived that the halls, pavilions, two-storied structures and porches presented still a majestic and lofty appearance. Even the flower garden, which extends over the whole area of the back grounds, with its trees and rockeries, also possessed to that day an air of luxuriance and freshness, which betrayed no signs of a ruined or decrepid establishment.”
“You have had the good fortune of starting in life as a graduate,” explained Tzu-tsing as he smiled, “and yet are not aware of the saying uttered by some one of old: that a centipede even when dead does not lie stiff. (These families) may, according to your version, not be up to the prosperity of former years, but, compared with the family of an ordinary official, their condition anyhow presents a difference. Of late the number of the inmates has, day by day, been on the increase; their affairs have become daily more numerous; of masters and servants, high and low, who live in ease and respectability very many there are; but of those who exercise any forethought, or make any provision, there is not even one. In their daily wants, their extravagances, and their expenditure, they are also unable to adapt themselves to circumstances and practise economy; (so that though) the present external framework may not have suffered any considerable collapse, their purses have anyhow begun to feel an exhausting process! But this is a mere trifle. There is another more serious matter. Would any one ever believe that in such families of official status, in a clan of education and culture, the sons and grandsons of the present age would after all be each (succeeding) generation below the standard of the former?”
Yü-ts’un, having listened to these remarks, observed: “How ever can it be possible that families of such education and refinement can observe any system of training and nurture which is not excellent? Concerning the other branches, I am not in a position to say anything; but restricting myself to the two mansions of Jung and Ning, they are those in which, above all others, the education of their children is methodical.”
“I was just now alluding to none other than these two establishments,” Tzu-hsing observed with a sigh; “but let me tell you all. In days of yore, the duke of Ning Kuo and the duke of Jung Kuo were two uterine brothers. The Ning duke was the elder; he had four sons. After the death of the duke of Ning Kuo, his eldest son, Chia Tai-hua, came into the title. He also had two sons; but the eldest, whose name was Hu, died at the age of eight or nine; and the only survivor, the second son, Chia Ching, inherited the title. His whole mind is at this time set upon Taoist doctrines; his sole delight is to burn the pill and refine the dual powers; while every other thought finds no place in his mind. Happily, he had, at an early age, left a son, Chia Chen, behind in the lay world, and his father, engrossed as his whole heart was with the idea of attaining spiritual life, ceded the succession of the official title to him. His parent is, besides, not willing to return to the original family seat, but lives outside the walls of the capital, foolishly hobnobbing with all the Taoist priests. This Mr. Chen had also a son, Chia Jung, who is, at this period, just in his sixteenth year. Mr. Ching gives at present no attention to anything at all, so that Mr. Chen naturally devotes no time to his studies, but being bent upon nought else but incessant high pleasure, he has subversed the order of things in the Ning Kuo mansion, and yet no one can summon the courage to come and hold him in check. But I’ll now tell you about the Jung mansion for your edification. The strange occurrence, to which I alluded just now, came about in this manner. After the demise of the Jung duke, the eldest son, Chia Tai-shan, inherited the rank. He took to himself as wife, the daughter of Marquis Shih, a noble family of Chin Ling, by whom he had two sons; the elder being Chia She, the younger Chia Cheng. This Tai Shan is now dead long ago; but his wife is still alive, and the elder son, Chia She, succeeded to the degree. He is a man of amiable and genial disposition, but he likewise gives no thought to the direction of any domestic concern. The second son Chia Cheng displayed, from his early childhood, a great liking for books, and grew up to be correct and upright in character. His grandfather doated upon him, and would have had him start in life through the arena of public examinations, but, when least expected, Tai-shan, being on the point of death, bequeathed a petition, which was laid before the Emperor. His Majesty, out of regard for his former minister, issued immediate commands that the elder son should inherit the estate, and further inquired how many sons there were besides him, all of whom he at once expressed a wish to be introduced in his imperial presence. His Majesty, moreover, displayed exceptional favour, and conferred upon Mr. Cheng the brevet rank of second class Assistant Secretary (of a Board), and commanded him to enter the Board to acquire the necessary experience. He has already now been promoted to the office of second class Secretary. This Mr. Cheng’s wife, nèe Wang, first gave birth to a son called Chia Chu, who became a Licentiate in his fourteenth year. At barely twenty, he married, but fell ill and died soon after the birth of a son. Her (Mrs. Cheng’s) second child was a daughter, who came into the world, by a strange coincidence, on the first day of the year. She had an unexpected (pleasure) in the birth, the succeeding year, of another son, who, still more remarkable to say, had, at the time of his birth, a piece of variegated and crystal-like brilliant jade in his mouth, on which were yet visible the outlines of several characters. Now, tell me, was not this a novel and strange occurrence? eh?”
“Strange indeed!” exclaimed Yü-ts’un with a smile; “but I presume the coming experiences of this being will not be mean.”
Tzu-hsing gave a faint smile. “One and all,” he remarked, “entertain the same idea. Hence it is that his mother doats upon him like upon a precious jewel. On the day of his first birthday, Mr. Cheng readily entertained a wish to put the bent of his inclinations to the test, and placed before the child all kinds of things, without number, for him to grasp from. Contrary to every expectation, he scorned every other object, and, stretching forth his hand, he simply took hold of rouge, powder and a few hair-pins, with which he began to play. Mr. Cheng experienced at once displeasure, as he maintained that this youth would, by and bye, grow up into a sybarite, devoted to wine and women, and for this reason it is, that he soon began to feel not much attachment for him. But his grandmother is the one who, in spite of everything, prizes him like the breath of her own life. The very mention of what happened is even strange! He is now grown up to be seven or eight years old, and, although exceptionally wilful, in intelligence and precocity, however, not one in a hundred could come up to him! And as for the utterances of this child, they are no less remarkable. The bones and flesh of woman, he argues, are made of water, while those of man of mud. ‘Women to my eyes are pure and pleasing,’ he says, ‘while at the sight of man, I readily feel how corrupt, foul and repelling they are!’ Now tell me, are not these words ridiculous? There can be no doubt whatever that he will by and bye turn out to be a licentious roué.”
Yü-ts’un, whose countenance suddenly assumed a stern air, promptly interrupted the conversation. “It doesn’t quite follow,” he suggested. “You people don’t, I regret to say, understand the destiny of this child. The fact is that even the old Hanlin scholar Mr. Cheng was erroneously looked upon as a loose rake and dissolute debauchee! But unless a person, through much study of books and knowledge of letters, so increases (in lore) as to attain the talent of discerning the nature of things, and the vigour of mind to fathom the Taoist reason as well as to comprehend the first principle, he is not in a position to form any judgment.”
Tzu-hsing upon perceiving the weighty import of what he propounded, “Please explain,” he asked hastily, “the drift (of your argument).” To which Yü-ts’un responded: “Of the human beings created by the operation of heaven and earth, if we exclude those who are gifted with extreme benevolence and extreme viciousness, the rest, for the most part, present no striking diversity. If they be extremely benevolent, they fall in, at the time of their birth, with an era of propitious fortune; while those extremely vicious correspond, at the time of their existence, with an era of calamity. When those who coexist with propitious fortune come into life, the world is in order; when those who coexist with unpropitious fortune come into life, the world is in danger. Yao, Shun, Yü, Ch’eng T’ang, Wen Wang, Wu Wang, Chou Kung, Chao Kung, Confucius, Mencius, T’ung Hu, Han Hsin, Chou Tzu, Ch’eng Tzu, Chu Tzu and Chang Tzu were ordained to see light in an auspicious era. Whereas Ch’i Yu, Kung Kung, Chieh Wang, Chou Wang, Shih Huang, Wang Mang, Tsao Ts’ao, Wen Wen, An Hu-shan, Ch’in Kuei and others were one and all destined to come into the world during a calamitous age. Those endowed with extreme benevolence set the world in order; those possessed of extreme maliciousness turn the world into disorder. Purity, intelligence, spirituality and subtlety constitute the vital spirit of right which pervades heaven and earth, and the persons gifted with benevolence are its natural fruit. Malignity and perversity constitute the spirit of evil, which permeates heaven and earth, and malicious persons are affected by its influence. The days of perpetual happiness and eminent good fortune, and the era of perfect peace and tranquility, which now prevail, are the offspring of the pure, intelligent, divine and subtle spirit which ascends above, to the very Emperor, and below reaches the rustic and uncultured classes. Every one is without exception under its influence. The superfluity of the subtle spirit expands far and wide, and finding nowhere to betake itself to, becomes, in due course, transformed into dew, or gentle breeze; and, by a process of diffusion, it pervades the whole world.
“The spirit of malignity and perversity, unable to expand under the brilliant sky and transmuting sun, eventually coagulates, pervades and stops up the deep gutters and extensive caverns; and when of a sudden the wind agitates it or it be impelled by the clouds, and any slight disposition, on its part, supervenes to set itself in motion, or to break its bounds, and so little as even the minutest fraction does unexpectedly find an outlet, and happens to come across any spirit of perception and subtlety which may be at the time passing by, the spirit of right does not yield to the spirit of evil, and the spirit of evil is again envious of the spirit of right, so that the two do not harmonize. Just like wind, water, thunder and lightning, which, when they meet in the bowels of the earth, must necessarily, as they are both to dissolve and are likewise unable to yield, clash and explode to the end that they may at length exhaust themselves. Hence it is that these spirits have also forcibly to diffuse themselves into the human race to find an outlet, so that they may then completely disperse, with the result that men and women are suddenly imbued with these spirits and spring into existence. At best, (these human beings) cannot be generated into philanthropists or perfect men; at worst, they cannot also embody extreme perversity or extreme wickedness. Yet placed among one million beings, the spirit of intelligence, refinement, perception and subtlety will be above these one million beings; while, on the other hand, the perverse, depraved and inhuman embodiment will likewise be below the million of men. Born in a noble and wealthy family, these men will be a salacious, lustful lot; born of literary, virtuous or poor parentage, they will turn out retired scholars or men of mark; though they may by some accident be born in a destitute and poverty-stricken home, they cannot possibly, in fact, ever sink so low as to become runners or menials, or contentedly brook to be of the common herd or to be driven and curbed like a horse in harness. They will become, for a certainty, either actors of note or courtesans of notoriety; as instanced in former years by Hsü Yu, T’ao Ch’ien, Yuan Chi, Chi Kang, Liu Ling, the two families of Wang and Hsieh, Ku Hu-t’ou, Ch’en Hou-chu, T’ang Ming-huang, Sung Hui-tsung, Liu T’ing-chih, Wen Fei-ching, Mei Nan-kung, Shih Man-ch’ing, Lui C’hih-ch’ing and Chin Shao-yu, and exemplified now-a-days by Ni Yün-lin, T’ang Po-hu, Chu Chih-shan, and also by Li Kuei-men, Huang P’an-cho, Ching Hsin-mo, Cho Wen-chün; and the women Hung Fu, Hsieh T’ao, Ch’ü Ying, Ch’ao Yün and others; all of whom were and are of the same stamp, though placed in different scenes of action.”
“From what you say,” observed Tzu-hsing, “success makes (a man) a duke or a marquis; ruin, a thief!”
“Quite so; that’s just my idea!” replied Yü-ts’un; “I’ve not as yet let you know that after my degradation from office, I spent the last couple of years in travelling for pleasure all over each province, and that I also myself came across two extraordinary youths. This is why, when a short while back you alluded to this Pao-yü, I at once conjectured, with a good deal of certainty, that he must be a human being of the same stamp. There’s no need for me to speak of any farther than the walled city of Chin Ling. This Mr. Chen was, by imperial appointment, named Principal of the Government Public College of the Chin Ling province. Do you perhaps know him?”
“Who doesn’t know him?” remarked Tzu-hsing. “This Chen family is an old connection of the Chia family. These two families were on terms of great intimacy, and I myself likewise enjoyed the pleasure of their friendship for many a day.”
“Last year, when at Chin Ling,” Yü-ts’un continued with a smile, “some one recommended me as resident tutor to the school in the Chen mansion; and when I moved into it I saw for myself the state of things. Who would ever think that that household was grand and luxurious to such a degree! But they are an affluent family, and withal full of propriety, so that a school like this was of course not one easy to obtain. The pupil, however, was, it is true, a young tyro, but far more troublesome to teach than a candidate for the examination of graduate of the second degree. Were I to enter into details, you would indeed have a laugh. ‘I must needs,’ he explained, ‘have the company of two girls in my studies to enable me to read at all, and to keep likewise my brain clear. Otherwise, if left to myself, my head gets all in a muddle.’ Time after time, he further expounded to his young attendants, how extremely honourable and extremely pure were the two words representing woman, that they are more valuable and precious than the auspicious animal, the felicitous bird, rare flowers and uncommon plants. ‘You may not’ (he was wont to say), ‘on any account heedlessly utter them, you set of foul mouths and filthy tongues! these two words are of the utmost import! Whenever you have occasion to allude to them, you must, before you can do so with impunity, take pure water and scented tea and rinse your mouths. In the event of any slip of the tongue, I shall at once have your teeth extracted, and your eyes gouged out.’ His obstinacy and waywardness are, in every respect, out of the common. After he was allowed to leave school, and to return home, he became, at the sight of the young ladies, so tractable, gentle, sharp, and polite, transformed, in fact, like one of them. And though, for this reason, his father has punished him on more than one occasion, by giving him a sound thrashing, such as brought him to the verge of death, he cannot however change. Whenever he was being beaten, and could no more endure the pain, he was wont to promptly break forth in promiscuous loud shouts, ‘Girls! girls!’ The young ladies, who heard him from the inner chambers, subsequently made fun of him. ‘Why,’ they said, ‘when you are being thrashed, and you are in pain, your only thought is to bawl out girls! Is it perchance that you expect us young ladies to go and intercede for you? How is that you have no sense of shame?’ To their taunts he gave a most plausible explanation. ‘Once,’ he replied, ‘when in the agony of pain, I gave vent to shouting girls, in the hope, perchance, I did not then know, of its being able to alleviate the soreness. After I had, with this purpose, given one cry, I really felt the pain considerably better; and now that I have obtained this secret spell, I have recourse, at once, when I am in the height of anguish, to shouts of girls, one shout after another. Now what do you say to this? Isn’t this absurd, eh?”
“The grandmother is so infatuated by her extreme tenderness for this youth, that, time after time, she has, on her grandson’s account, found fault with the tutor, and called her son to task, with the result that I resigned my post and took my leave. A youth, with a disposition such as his, cannot assuredly either perpetuate intact the estate of his father and grandfather, or follow the injunctions of teacher or advice of friends. The pity is, however, that there are, in that family, several excellent female cousins, the like of all of whom it would be difficult to discover.”
“Quite so!” remarked Tzu-hsing; “there are now three young ladies in the Chia family who are simply perfection itself. The eldest is a daughter of Mr. Cheng, Yuan Ch’un by name, who, on account of her excellence, filial piety, talents, and virtue, has been selected as a governess in the palace. The second is the daughter of Mr. She’s handmaid, and is called Ying Ch’un; the third is T’an Ch’un, the child of Mr. Cheng’s handmaid; while the fourth is the uterine sister of Mr. Chen of the Ning Mansion. Her name is Hsi Ch’un. As dowager lady Shih is so fondly attached to her granddaughters, they come, for the most part, over to their grandmother’s place to prosecute their studies together, and each one of these girls is, I hear, without a fault.”
“More admirable,” observed Yü-ts’un, “is the régime (adhered to) in the Chen family, where the names of the female children have all been selected from the list of male names, and are unlike all those out-of-the-way names, such as Spring Blossom, Scented Gem, and the like flowery terms in vogue in other families. But how is it that the Chia family have likewise fallen into this common practice?”
“Not so!” ventured Tzu-h’sing. “It is simply because the eldest daughter was born on the first of the first moon, that the name of Yuan Ch’un was given to her; while with the rest this character Ch’un (spring) was then followed. The names of the senior generation are, in like manner, adopted from those of their brothers; and there is at present an instance in support of this. The wife of your present worthy master, Mr. Lin, is the uterine sister of Mr. Chia. She and Mr. Chia Cheng, and she went, while at home, under the name of Chia Min. Should you question the truth of what I say, you are at liberty, on your return, to make minute inquiries and you’ll be convinced.”
Yü-ts’un clapped his hands and said smiling, “It’s so, I know! for this female pupil of mine, whose name is Tai-yü, invariably pronounces the character _min_ as _mi_, whenever she comes across it in the course of her reading; while, in writing, when she comes to the character ‘min,’ she likewise reduces the strokes by one, sometimes by two. Often have I speculated in my mind (as to the cause), but the remarks I’ve heard you mention, convince me, without doubt, that it is no other reason (than that of reverence to her mother’s name). Strange enough, this pupil of mine is unique in her speech and deportment, and in no way like any ordinary young lady. But considering that her mother was no commonplace woman herself, it is natural that she should have given birth to such a child. Besides, knowing, as I do now, that she is the granddaughter of the Jung family, it is no matter of surprise to me that she is what she is. Poor girl, her mother, after all, died in the course of the last month.”
Tzu-hsing heaved a sigh. “Of three elderly sisters,” he explained, “this one was the youngest, and she too is gone! Of the sisters of the senior generation not one even survives! But now we’ll see what the husbands of this younger generation will be like by and bye!”
“Yes,” replied Yü-ts’un. “But some while back you mentioned that Mr. Cheng has had a son, born with a piece of jade in his mouth, and that he has besides a tender-aged grandson left by his eldest son; but is it likely that this Mr. She has not, himself, as yet, had any male issue?”
“After Mr. Cheng had this son with the jade,” Tzu-hsing added, “his handmaid gave birth to another son, who whether he be good or bad, I don’t at all know. At all events, he has by his side two sons and a grandson, but what these will grow up to be by and bye, I cannot tell. As regards Mr. Chia She, he too has had two sons; the second of whom, Chia Lien, is by this time about twenty. He took to wife a relative of his, a niece of Mr. Cheng’s wife, a Miss Wang, and has now been married for the last two years. This Mr. Lien has lately obtained by purchase the rank of sub-prefect. He too takes little pleasure in books, but as far as worldly affairs go, he is so versatile and glib of tongue, that he has recently taken up his quarters with his uncle Mr. Cheng, to whom he gives a helping hand in the management of domestic matters. Who would have thought it, however, ever since his marriage with his worthy wife, not a single person, whether high or low, has there been who has not looked up to her with regard: with the result that Mr. Lien himself has, in fact, had to take a back seat (_lit_. withdrew 35 li). In looks, she is also so extremely beautiful, in speech so extremely quick and fluent, in ingenuity so deep and astute, that even a man could, in no way, come up to her mark.”
After hearing these remarks Yü-ts’un smiled. “You now perceive,” he said, “that my argument is no fallacy, and that the several persons about whom you and I have just been talking are, we may presume, human beings, who, one and all, have been generated by the spirit of right, and the spirit of evil, and come to life by the same royal road; but of course there’s no saying.”
“Enough,” cried Tzu-hsing, “of right and enough of evil; we’ve been doing nothing but settling other people’s accounts; come now, have another glass, and you’ll be the better for it!”
“While bent upon talking,” Yü-ts’un explained, “I’ve had more glasses than is good for me.”
“Speaking of irrelevant matters about other people,” Tzu-hsing rejoined complacently, “is quite the thing to help us swallow our wine; so come now; what harm will happen, if we do have a few glasses more.”
Yü-ts’un thereupon looked out of the window.
“The day is also far advanced,” he remarked, “and if we don’t take care, the gates will be closing; let us leisurely enter the city, and as we go along, there will be nothing to prevent us from continuing our chat.”
Forthwith the two friends rose from their seats, settled and paid their wine bill, and were just going, when they unexpectedly heard some one from behind say with a loud voice:
“Accept my congratulations, Brother Yü-ts’un; I’ve now come, with the express purpose of giving you the welcome news!”
Yü-ts’un lost no time in turning his head round to look at the speaker. But reader, if you wish to learn who the man was, listen to the details given in the following chapter.
Lin Ju-hai appeals to his brother-in-law, Chia Cheng, recommending Yü-ts’un, his daughter’s tutor, to his consideration. Dowager lady Chia sends to fetch her granddaughter, out of commiseration for her being a motherless child.
But to proceed with our narrative.
Yü-ts’un, on speedily turning round, perceived that the speaker was no other than a certain Chang Ju-kuei, an old colleague of his, who had been denounced and deprived of office, on account of some case or other; a native of that district, who had, since his degradation, resided in his family home.
Having lately come to hear the news that a memorial, presented in the capital, that the former officers (who had been cashiered) should be reinstated, had received the imperial consent, he had promptly done all he could, in every nook and corner, to obtain influence, and to find the means (of righting his position,) when he, unexpectedly, came across Yü-ts’un, to whom he therefore lost no time in offering his congratulations. The two friends exchanged the conventional salutations, and Chang Ju-kuei forthwith communicated the tidings to Yü-ts’un.
Yü-ts’un was delighted, but after he had made a few remarks, in a great hurry, each took his leave and sped on his own way homewards.
Leng Tzu-hsing, upon hearing this conversation, hastened at once to propose a plan, advising Yü-ts’un to request Lin Ju-hai, in his turn, to appeal in the capital to Mr. Chia Cheng for support.
Yü-ts’un accepted the suggestion, and parted from his companion.
On his return to his quarters, he made all haste to lay his hand on the Metropolitan Gazette, and having ascertained that the news was authentic, he had on the next day a personal consultation with Ju-hai.
“Providence and good fortune are both alike propitious!” exclaimed Ju-hai. “After the death of my wife, my mother-in-law, whose residence is in the capital, was so very solicitous on my daughter’s account, for having no one to depend upon, that she despatched, at an early period, boats with men and women servants to come and fetch her. But my child was at the time not quite over her illness, and that is why she has not yet started. I was, this very moment, cogitating to send my daughter to the capital. And in view of the obligation, under which I am to you for the instruction you have heretofore conferred upon her, remaining as yet unrequited, there is no reason why, when such an opportunity as this presents itself, I should not do my utmost to find means to make proper acknowledgment. I have already, in anticipation, given the matter my attention, and written a letter of recommendation to my brother-in-law, urging him to put everything right for you, in order that I may, to a certain extent, be able to give effect to my modest wishes. As for any outlay that may prove necessary, I have given proper explanation, in the letter to my brother-in-law, so that you, my brother, need not trouble yourself by giving way to much anxiety.”
As Yü-ts’un bowed and expressed his appreciation in most profuse language,–
“Pray,” he asked, “where does your honoured brother-in-law reside? and what is his official capacity? But I fear I’m too coarse in my manner, and could not presume to obtrude myself in his presence.”
Ju-hai smiled. “And yet,” he remarked, “this brother-in-law of mine is after all of one and the same family as your worthy self, for he is the grandson of the Duke Jung. My elder brother-in-law has now inherited the status of Captain-General of the first grade. His name is She, his style Ngen-hou. My second brother-in-law’s name is Cheng, his style is Tzu-chou. His present post is that of a Second class Secretary in the Board of Works. He is modest and kindhearted, and has much in him of the habits of his grandfather; not one of that purse-proud and haughty kind of men. That is why I have written to him and made the request on your behalf. Were he different to what he really is, not only would he cast a slur upon your honest purpose, honourable brother, but I myself likewise would not have been as prompt in taking action.”
When Yü-ts’un heard these remarks, he at length credited what had been told him by Tzu-hsing the day before, and he lost no time in again expressing his sense of gratitude to Lin Ju-hai.
Ju-hai resumed the conversation.
“I have fixed,” (he explained,) “upon the second of next month, for my young daughter’s departure for the capital, and, if you, brother mine, were to travel along with her, would it not be an advantage to herself, as well as to yourself?”
Yü-ts’un signified his acquiescence as he listened to his proposal; feeling in his inner self extremely elated.
Ju-hai availed himself of the earliest opportunity to get ready the presents (for the capital) and all the requirements for the journey, which (when completed,) Yü-ts’un took over one by one. His pupil could not, at first, brook the idea, of a separation from her father, but the pressing wishes of her grandmother left her no course (but to comply).
“Your father,” Ju-hai furthermore argued with her, “is already fifty; and I entertain no wish to marry again; and then you are always ailing; besides, with your extreme youth, you have, above, no mother of your own to take care of you, and below, no sisters to attend to you. If you now go and have your maternal grandmother, as well as your mother’s brothers and your cousins to depend upon, you will be doing the best thing to reduce the anxiety which I feel in my heart on your behalf. Why then should you not go?”
Tai-yü, after listening to what her father had to say, parted from him in a flood of tears and followed her nurse and several old matrons from the Jung mansion on board her boat, and set out on her journey.
Yü-ts’un had a boat to himself, and with two youths to wait on him, he prosecuted his voyage in the wake of Tai-yü.
By a certain day, they reached Ching Tu; and Yü-ts’un, after first adjusting his hat and clothes, came, attended by a youth, to the door of the Jung mansion, and sent in a card, which showed his lineage.
Chia Cheng had, by this time, perused his brother-in-law’s letter, and he speedily asked him to walk in. When they met, he found in Yü-ts’un an imposing manner and polite address.
This Chia Cheng had, in fact, a great penchant above all things for men of education, men courteous to the talented, respectful to the learned, ready to lend a helping hand to the needy and to succour the distressed, and was, to a great extent, like his grandfather. As it was besides a wish intimated by his brother-in-law, he therefore treated Yü-ts’un with a consideration still more unusual, and readily strained all his resources to assist him.
On the very day on which the memorial was submitted to the Throne, he obtained by his efforts, a reinstatement to office, and before the expiry of two months, Yü-t’sun was forthwith selected to fill the appointment of prefect of Ying T’ien in Chin Ling. Taking leave of Chia Cheng, he chose a propitious day, and proceeded to his post, where we will leave him without further notice for the present.
But to return to Tai-yü. On the day on which she left the boat, and the moment she put her foot on shore, there were forthwith at her disposal chairs for her own use, and carts for the luggage, sent over from the Jung mansion.
Lin Tai-yü had often heard her mother recount how different was her grandmother’s house from that of other people’s; and having seen for herself how above the common run were already the attendants of the three grades, (sent to wait upon her,) in attire, in their fare, in all their articles of use, “how much more,” (she thought to herself) “now that I am going to her home, must I be careful at every step, and circumspect at every moment! Nor must I utter one word too many, nor make one step more than is proper, for fear lest I should be ridiculed by any of them!”
From the moment she got into the chair, and they had entered within the city walls, she found, as she looked around, through the gauze window, at the bustle in the streets and public places and at the immense concourse of people, everything naturally so unlike what she had seen elsewhere.
After they had also been a considerable time on the way, she suddenly caught sight, at the northern end of the street, of two huge squatting lions of marble and of three lofty gates with (knockers representing) the heads of animals. In front of these gates, sat, in a row, about ten men in coloured hats and fine attire. The main gate was not open. It was only through the side gates, on the east and west, that people went in and came out. Above the centre gate was a tablet. On this tablet were inscribed in five large characters–“The Ning Kuo mansion erected by imperial command.”
“This must be grandmother’s eldest son’s residence,” reflected Tai-yü.
Towards the east, again, at no great distance, were three more high gateways, likewise of the same kind as those she had just seen. This was the Jung Kuo mansion.
They did not however go in by the main gate; but simply made their entrance through the east side door.
With the sedans on their shoulders, (the bearers) proceeded about the distance of the throw of an arrow, when upon turning a corner, they hastily put down the chairs. The matrons, who came behind, one and all also dismounted. (The bearers) were changed for four youths of seventeen or eighteen, with hats and clothes without a blemish, and while they carried the chair, the whole bevy of matrons followed on foot.
When they reached a creeper-laden gate, the sedan was put down, and all the youths stepped back and retired. The matrons came forward, raised the screen, and supported Tai-yü to descend from the chair.
Lin Tai-yü entered the door with the creepers, resting on the hand of a matron.
On both sides was a verandah, like two outstretched arms. An Entrance Hall stood in the centre, in the middle of which was a door-screen of Ta Li marble, set in an ebony frame. On the other side of this screen were three very small halls. At the back of these came at once an extensive courtyard, belonging to the main building.
In the front part were five parlours, the frieze of the ceiling of which was all carved, and the pillars ornamented. On either side, were covered avenues, resembling passages through a rock. In the side-rooms were suspended cages, full of parrots of every colour, thrushes, and birds of every description.
On the terrace-steps, sat several waiting maids, dressed in red and green, and the whole company of them advanced, with beaming faces, to greet them, when they saw the party approach. “Her venerable ladyship,” they said, “was at this very moment thinking of you, miss, and, by a strange coincidence, here you are.”
Three or four of them forthwith vied with each other in raising the door curtain, while at the same time was heard some one announce: “Miss Lin has arrived.”
No sooner had she entered the room, than she espied two servants supporting a venerable lady, with silver-white hair, coming forward to greet her. Convinced that this lady must be her grandmother, she was about to prostrate herself and pay her obeisance, when she was quickly clasped in the arms of her grandmother, who held her close against her bosom; and as she called her “my liver! my flesh!” (my love! my darling!) she began to sob aloud.
The bystanders too, at once, without one exception, melted into tears; and Tai-yü herself found some difficulty in restraining her sobs. Little by little the whole party succeeded in consoling her, and Tai-yü at length paid her obeisance to her grandmother. Her ladyship thereupon pointed them out one by one to Tai-yü. “This,” she said, “is the wife of your uncle, your mother’s elder brother; this is the wife of your uncle, her second brother; and this is your eldest sister-in-law Chu, the wife of your senior cousin Chu.”
Tai-yü bowed to each one of them (with folded arms).
“Ask the young ladies in,” dowager lady Chia went on to say; “tell them a guest from afar has just arrived, one who comes for the first time; and that they may not go to their lessons.”
The servants with one voice signified their obedience, and two of them speedily went to carry out her orders.
Not long after three nurses and five or six waiting-maids were seen ushering in three young ladies. The first was somewhat plump in figure and of medium height; her cheeks had a congealed appearance, like a fresh lichee; her nose was glossy like goose fat. She was gracious, demure, and lovable to look at.
The second had sloping shoulders, and a slim waist. Tall and slender was she in stature, with a face like the egg of a goose. Her eyes so beautiful, with their well-curved eyebrows, possessed in their gaze a bewitching flash. At the very sight of her refined and elegant manners all idea of vulgarity was forgotten.
The third was below the medium size, and her mien was, as yet, childlike.
In their head ornaments, jewelry, and dress, the get-up of the three young ladies was identical.
Tai-yü speedily rose to greet them and to exchange salutations. After they had made each other’s acquaintance, they all took a seat, whereupon the servants brought the tea. Their conversation was confined to Tai-yü’s mother,–how she had fallen ill, what doctors had attended her, what medicines had been given her, and how she had been buried and mourned; and dowager lady Chia was naturally again in great anguish.
“Of all my daughters,” she remarked, “your mother was the one I loved best, and now in a twinkle, she has passed away, before me too, and I’ve not been able to so much as see her face. How can this not make my heart sore-stricken?”
And as she gave vent to these feelings, she took Tai-yü’s hand in hers, and again gave way to sobs; and it was only after the members of the family had quickly made use of much exhortation and coaxing, that they succeeded, little by little, in stopping her tears.
They all perceived that Tai-yü, despite her youthful years and appearance, was lady-like in her deportment and address, and that though with her delicate figure and countenance, (she seemed as if) unable to bear the very weight of her clothes, she possessed, however, a certain captivating air. And as they readily noticed the symptoms of a weak constitution, they went on in consequence to make inquiries as to what medicines she ordinarily took, and how it was that her complaint had not been cured.
“I have,” explained Tai-yü, “been in this state ever since I was born; though I’ve taken medicines from the very time I was able to eat rice, up to the present, and have been treated by ever so many doctors of note, I’ve not derived any benefit. In the year when I was yet only three, I remember a mangy-headed bonze coming to our house, and saying that he would take me along, and make a nun of me; but my father and mother would, on no account, give their consent. ‘As you cannot bear to part from her and to give her up,’ he then remarked, ‘her ailment will, I fear, never, throughout her life, be cured. If you wish to see her all right, it is only to be done by not letting her, from this day forward, on any account, listen to the sound of weeping, or see, with the exception of her parents, any relatives outside the family circle. Then alone will she be able to go through this existence in peace and in quiet.’ No one heeded the nonsensical talk of this raving priest; but here am I, up to this very day, dosing myself with ginseng pills as a tonic.”
“What a lucky coincidence!” interposed dowager lady Chia; “some of these pills are being compounded here, and I’ll simply tell them to have an extra supply made; that’s all.”
Hardly had she finished these words, when a sound of laughter was heard from the back courtyard. “Here I am too late!” the voice said, “and not in time to receive the distant visitor!”
“Every one of all these people,” reflected Tai-yü, “holds her peace and suppresses the very breath of her mouth; and who, I wonder, is this coming in this reckless and rude manner?”
While, as yet, preoccupied with these thoughts, she caught sight of a crowd of married women and waiting-maids enter from the back room, pressing round a regular beauty.
The attire of this person bore no similarity to that of the young ladies. In all her splendour and lustre, she looked like a fairy or a goddess. In her coiffure, she had a band of gold filigree work, representing the eight precious things, inlaid with pearls; and wore pins, at the head of each of which were five phoenixes in a rampant position, with pendants of pearls. On her neck, she had a reddish gold necklet, like coiled dragons, with a fringe of tassels. On her person, she wore a tight-sleeved jacket, of dark red flowered satin, covered with hundreds of butterflies, embroidered in gold, interspersed with flowers. Over all, she had a variegated stiff-silk pelisse, lined with slate-blue ermine; while her nether garments consisted of a jupe of kingfisher-colour foreign crepe, brocaded with flowers.