HUNG LOU MENG, BOOK II
OR, THE DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER, A CHINESE NOVEL IN TWO BOOKS
Translated by H. BENCRAFT JOLY
H.B.M. CONSULAR SERVICE, CHINA.
By a demoniacal art, a junior uncle and an elder brother’s wife (Pao-yü and lady Feng) come across five devils. The gem of Spiritual Perception meets, in a fit of torpor, the two perfect men.
Hsiao Hung, the story continues, was much unsettled in her mind. Her thoughts rolled on in one connected string. But suddenly she became drowsy, and falling asleep, she encountered Chia Yün, who tried to carry out his intention to drag her near him. She twisted herself round, and endeavoured to run away; but was tripped over by the doorstep. This gave her such a start that she woke up. Then, at length, she realised that it was only a dream. But so restlessly did she, in consequence of this fright, keep on rolling and tossing that she could not close her eyes during the whole night. As soon as the light of the next day dawned, she got up. Several waiting-maids came at once to tell her to go and sweep the floor of the rooms, and to bring water to wash the face with. Hsiao Hung did not even wait to arrange her hair or perform her ablutions; but, turning towards the looking-glass, she pinned her chevelure up anyhow; and, rinsing her hands, and, tying a sash round her waist, she repaired directly to sweep the apartments.
Who would have thought it, Pao-yü also had set his heart upon her the moment he caught sight of her the previous day. Yet he feared, in the first place, that if he mentioned her by name and called her over into his service, Hsi Jen and the other girls might feel the pangs of jealousy. He did not, either in the second place, have any idea what her disposition was like. The consequence was that he felt downcast; so much so, that when he got up at an early hour, he did not even comb his hair or wash, but simply remained seated, and brooded in a state of abstraction. After a while, he lowered the window. Through the gauze frame, from which he could distinctly discern what was going on outside, he espied several servant-girls, engaged in sweeping the court. All of them were rouged and powdered; they had flowers inserted in their hair, and were grandly got up. But the only one, of whom he failed to get a glimpse, was the girl he had met the day before.
Pao-yü speedily walked out of the door with slipshod shoes. Under the pretence of admiring the flowers, he glanced, now towards the east; now towards the west. But upon raising his head, he descried, in the southwest corner, some one or other leaning by the side of the railing under the covered passage. A crab-apple tree, however, obstructed the view and he could not see distinctly who it was, so advancing a step further in, he stared with intent gaze. It was, in point of fact, the waiting-maid of the day before, tarrying about plunged in a reverie. His wish was to go forward and meet her, but he did not, on the other hand, see how he could very well do so. Just as he was cogitating within himself, he, of a sudden, perceived Pi Hen come and ask him to go and wash his face. This reminder placed him under the necessity of betaking himself into his room. But we will leave him there, without further details, so as to return to Hsiao Hung.
She was communing with her own thoughts. But unawares perceiving Hsi Jen wave her hand and call her by name, she had to walk up to her.
“Our watering-pot is spoilt,” Hsi Jen smiled and said, “so go to Miss Lin’s over there and find one for us to use.”
Hsiao Hung hastened on her way towards the Hsiao Hsiang Kuan.
When she got as far as the Ts’ui Yen bridge, she saw, on raising her head and looking round, the mounds and lofty places entirely shut in by screens, and she bethought herself that labourers were that day to plant trees in that particular locality.
At a great distance off, a band of men were, in very deed, engaged in digging up the soil, while Chia Yün was seated on a boulder on the hill, superintending the works. The time came for Hsiao Hung to pass by, but she could not muster the courage to do so. Nevertheless she had no other course than to quietly proceed to the Hsiao Hsiang Kuan. Then getting the watering-pot, she sped on her way back again. But being in low spirits, she retired alone into her room and lay herself down. One and all, however, simply maintained that she was out of sorts, so they did not pay any heed to her.
A day went by. On the morrow fell, in fact, the anniversary of the birth of Wang Tzu-t’eng’s spouse, and some one was despatched from his residence to come and invite dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang. Madame Wang found out however that dowager lady Chia would not avail herself of the invitation, and neither would she go. So Mrs. Hsüeh went along with lady Feng, and the three sisters of the Chia family, and Pao-ch’ai and Pao-yü, and only returned home late in the evening.
Madame Wang was sitting in Mrs. Hsüeh’s apartments, whither she had just crossed, when she perceived Chia Huan come back from school, and she bade him transcribe incantations out of the Chin Kang Canon and intonate them. Chia Huan accordingly came and seated himself on the stove-couch, occupied by Madame Wang, and, directing a servant to light the candles, he started copying in an ostentatious and dashing manner. Now he called Ts’ai Hsia to pour a cup of tea for him. Now he asked Yu Ch’uan to take the scissors and cut the snuff of the wick. “Chin Ch’uan!” he next cried, “you’re in the way of the rays of the lamp.”
The servant-girls had all along entertained an antipathy for him, and not one of them therefore worried her mind about what he said. Ts’ai Hsia was the only one who still got on well with him, so pouring a cup of tea, she handed it to him. But she felt prompted to whisper to him: “Keep quiet a bit! what’s the use of making people dislike you?”
“I know myself how matters stand,” Chia Huan rejoined, as he cast a steady glance at her; “so don’t you try and befool me! Now that you are on intimate terms with Pao-yü, you don’t pay much heed to me. I’ve also seen through it myself.”
Ts’ai Hsiao set her teeth together, and gave him a fillip on the head. “You heartless fellow!” she cried. “You’re like the dog, that bit Lü T’ung-pin. You have no idea of what’s right and what’s wrong!”
While these two nagged away, they noticed lady Feng and Madame Wang cross together over to them. Madame Wang at once assailed him with questions. She asked him how many ladies had been present on that day, whether the play had been good or bad, and what the banquet had been like.
But a brief interval over, Pao-yü too appeared on the scene. After saluting Madame Wang, he also made a few remarks, with all decorum; and then bidding a servant remove his frontlet, divest him of his long gown and pull off his boots, he rushed head foremost, into his mother’s lap.
Madame Wang caressed and patted him. But while Pao-yü clung to his mother’s neck, he spoke to her of one thing and then another.
“My child,” said Madame Wang, “you’ve again had too much to drink; your face is scalding hot, and if you still keep on rubbing and scraping it, why, you’ll by and bye stir up the fumes of wine! Don’t you yet go and lie down quietly over there for a little!”
Chiding him the while, she directed a servant to fetch a pillow. Pao-yü therefore lay himself down at the back of Madame Wang, and called Ts’ai Hsia to come and stroke him.
Pao-yü then began to bandy words with Ts’ai Hsia. But perceiving that Ts’ai Hsia was reserved, and, that instead of paying him any attention, she kept her eyes fixed upon Chia Huan, Pao-yü eagerly took her hand. “My dear girl!” he said; “do also heed me a little;” and as he gave utterance to this appeal, he kept her hand clasped in his.
Ts’ai Hsia, however, drew her hand away and would not let him hold it. “If you go on in this way,” she vehemently exclaimed, “I’ll shout out at once.”
These two were in the act of wrangling, when verily Chia Huan overheard what was going on. He had, in fact, all along hated Pao-yü; so when on this occasion, he espied him up to his larks with Ts’ai Hsia, he could much less than ever stifle feelings of resentment in his heart. After some reflection, therefore, an idea suggested itself to his mind, and pretending that it was by a slip of the hand, he shoved the candle, overflowing with tallow, into Pao-yü’s face.
“Ai ya!” Pao-yü was heard to exclaim. Every one in the whole room was plunged in consternation. With precipitate haste, the lanterns, standing on the floor, were moved over; and, with the first ray of light, they discovered that Pao-yü’s face was one mass of tallow.
Madame Wang gave way to anger as well as anxiety. At one time, she issued directions to the servants to rub and wash Pao-yü clean. At another, she heaped abuse upon Chia Huan.
Lady Feng jumped on to the stone-couch by leaps and bounds. But while intent upon removing the stuff from Pao-yü’s face, she simultaneously ejaculated: “Master Tertius, are you still such a trickster! I’ll tell you what, you’ll never turn to any good account! Yet dame Chao should ever correct and admonish him.”
This single remark suggested the idea to Madame Wang, and she lost no time in sending for Mrs. Chao to come round.
“You bring up,” she berated her, “such a black-hearted offspring like this, and don’t you, after all, advise and reprove him? Time and again I paid no notice whatever to what happened, and you and he have become more audacious, and have gone from worse to worse!”
Mrs. Chao had no alternative but to suppress every sense of injury, silence all grumblings, and go herself and lend a hand to the others in tidying Pao-yü. She then perceived that a whole row of blisters had risen on the left side of Pao-yü’s face, but that fortunately no injury had been done to his eyes.
When Madame Wang’s attention was drawn to them she felt her heart sore. It fell a prey to fears also lest when dowager lady Chia made any inquiries about them she should find it difficult to give her any satisfactory reply. And so distressed did she get that she gave Mrs. Chao another scolding. But while she tried to comfort Pao-yü, she, at the same time, fetched some powder for counteracting the effects of the virus, and applied it on his face.
“It’s rather sore,” said Pao-yü, “but it’s nothing to speak of. Tomorrow when my old grandmother asks about it, I can simply explain that I scalded it myself; that will be quite enough to tell her.”
“If you say that you scalded it yourself,” lady Feng observed, “why, she’ll also call people to task for not looking out; and a fit of rage will, beyond doubt, be the outcome of it all.”
Madame Wang then ordered the servants to take care and escort Pao-yü back to his room. On their arrival, Hsi Jen and his other attendants saw him, and they were all in a great state of flurry.
As for Lin Tai-yü, when she found that Pao-yü had gone out of doors, she continued the whole day a prey to ennui. In the evening, she deputed messengers two and three times to go and inquire about him. But when she came to know that he had been scalded, she hurried in person to come and see him. She then discovered Pao-yü all alone, holding a glass and scanning his features in it; while the left side of his face was plastered all over with some medicine.
Lin Tai-yü imagined that the burn was of an extremely serious nature, and she hastened to approach him with a view to examine it. Pao-yü, however, screened his face, and, waving his hand, bade her leave the room; for knowing her usual knack for tidiness he did not feel inclined to let her get a glimpse of his face. Tai-yü then gave up the attempt, and confined herself to asking him: “whether it was very painful?”
“It isn’t very sore,” replied Pao-yü, “if I look after it for a day or two, it will get all right.”
But after another short stay, Lin Tai-yü repaired back to her quarters.
The next day Pao-yü saw dowager lady Chia. But in spite of his confession that he himself was responsible for the scalding of his face, his grandmother could not refrain from reading another lecture to the servants who had been in attendance.
A day after, Ma, a Taoist matron, whose name was recorded as Pao-yü’s godmother, came on a visit to the mansion. Upon perceiving Pao-yü, she was very much taken aback, and asked all about the circumstances of the accident. When he explained that he had been scalded, she forthwith shook her head and heaved a sigh; then while making with her fingers a few passes over Pao-yü’s face, she went on to mutter incantations for several minutes. “I can guarantee that he’ll get all right,” she added, “for this is simply a sadden and fleeting accident!”
Turning towards dowager lady Chia: “Venerable ancestor,” she observed, “Venerable Buddha! how could you ever be aware of the existence of the portentous passage in that Buddhistic classic, ‘to the effect that a son of every person, who holds the dignity of prince, duke or high functionary, has no sooner come into the world and reached a certain age than numerous evil spirits at once secretly haunt him, and pinch him, when they find an opportunity; or dig their nails into him; or knock his bowl of rice down, during, meal-time; or give him a shove and send him over, while he is quietly seated.’ So this is the reason why the majority of the sons and grandsons of those distinguished families do not grow up to attain manhood.”
Dowager lady Chia, upon hearing her speak in this wise, eagerly asked: “Is there any Buddhistic spell, by means of which to check their influence or not?”
“This is an easy job!” rejoined the Taoist matron Ma, “all one need do is to perform several meritorious deeds on his account so as to counteract the consequences of retribution and everything will then be put right. That canon further explains: ‘that in the western part of the world there is a mighty Buddha, whose glory illumines all things, and whose special charge is to cast his lustre on the evil spirits in dark places; that if any benevolent man or virtuous woman offers him oblations with sincerity of heart, he is able to so successfully perpetuate the peace and quiet of their sons and grandsons that these will no more meet with any calamities arising from being possessed by malevolent demons.'”
“But what, I wonder,” inquired dowager lady Chia, “could be offered to this god?”
“Nothing of any great value,” answered the Taoist matron, Ma. “Exclusive of offerings of scented candles, several catties of scented oil can be added, each day, to keep the lantern of the Great Sea alight. This ‘Great Sea’ lantern is the visible embodiment and Buddhistic representation of this divinity, so day and night we don’t venture to let it go out!”
“For a whole day and a whole night,” asked dowager lady Chia, “how much oil is needed, so that I too should accomplish a good action?”
“There is really no limit as to quantity. It rests upon the goodwill of the donor,” Ma, the Taoist matron, put in by way of reply. “In my quarters, for instance, I have several lanterns, the gifts of the consorts of princes and the spouses of high officials living in various localities. The consort of the mansion of the Prince of Nan Au has been prompted in her beneficence by a liberal spirit; she allows each day forty-eight catties of oil, and a catty of wick; so that her ‘Great Sea’ lamp is only a trifle smaller than a water-jar. The spouse of the marquis of Chin Hsiang comes next, with no more than twenty catties a day. Besides these, there are several other families; some giving ten catties; some eight catties; some three; some five; subject to no fixed rule; and of course I feel bound to keep the lanterns alight on their behalf.”
Dowager lady Chia nodded her head and gave way to reflection.
“There’s still another thing,” continued the Taoist matron, Ma. “If it be on account of father or mother or seniors, any excessive donation would not matter. But were you, venerable ancestor, to bestow too much in your offering for Pao-yü, our young master won’t, I fear, be equal to the gift; and instead of being benefited, his happiness will be snapped. If you therefore want to make a liberal gift seven catties will do; if a small one, then five catties will even be sufficient.”
“Well, in that case,” responded dowager lady Chia, “let us fix upon five catties a day, and every month come and receive payment of the whole lump sum!”
“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed Ma, the Taoist matron, “Oh merciful, and mighty P’u Sa!”
Dowager lady Chia then called the servants and impressed on their minds that whenever Pao-yü went out of doors in the future, they should give several strings of cash to the pages to bestow on charity among the bonzes and Taoist priests, and the poor and needy they might meet on the way.
These directions concluded, the Taoist matron trudged into the various quarters, and paid her respects, and then strolled leisurely about. Presently, she entered Mrs. Chao’s apartments. After the two ladies had exchanged salutations, Mrs. Chao bade a young servant-girl hand her guest a cup of tea. While Mrs. Chao busied herself pasting shoes, Ma, the Taoist matron, espied, piled up in a heap on the stove-couch, sundry pieces of silks and satins. “It just happens,” she consequently remarked, “that I have no facings for shoes, so my lady do give me a few odd cuttings of silk and satin, of no matter what colour, to make myself a pair of shoes with.”
Mrs. Chao heaved a sigh. “Look,” she said, “whether there be still among them any pieces good for anything. But anything that’s worth anything doesn’t find its way in here. If you don’t despise what’s worthless, you’re at liberty to select any two pieces and to take them away, and have done.”
The Taoist matron, Ma, chose with alacrity several pieces and shoved them in her breast.
“The other day,” Mrs. Chao went on to inquire, “I sent a servant over with five hundred cash; have you presented any offerings before the god of medicine or not?”
“I’ve offered them long ago for you,” the Taoist matron Ma rejoined.
“O-mi-to-fu!” ejaculated Mrs. Chao with a sigh, “were I a little better off, I’d also come often and offer gifts; but though my will be boundless, my means are insufficient!”
“Don’t trouble your mind on this score,” suggested Ma, the Taoist matron. “By and bye, when Mr. Huan has grown up into a man and obtained some official post or other, will there be then any fear of your not being able to afford such offerings as you might like to make?”
At these words Mrs. Chao gave a smile. “Enough, enough!” she cried. “Don’t again refer to such contingencies! the present is a fair criterion. For up to whom in this house can my son and I come? Pao-yü is still a mere child; but he is such that he wins people’s love. Those big people may be partial to him, and love him a good deal, I’ve nothing to say to it; but I can’t eat humble pie to this sort of mistress!”
While uttering this remark, she stretched out her two fingers.
Ma, the Taoist matron, understood the meaning she desired to convey. “It’s your lady Secunda, Lien, eh?” she forthwith asked.
Mrs. Chao was filled with trepidation. Hastily waving her hand, she got to her feet, raised the portiere, and peeped outside. Perceiving that there was no one about, she at length retraced her footsteps. “Dreadful!” she then said to the Taoist matron. “Dreadful! But speaking of this sort of mistress, I’m not so much as a human being, if she doesn’t manage to shift over into her mother’s home the whole of this family estate.”
“Need you tell me this!” Ma, the Taoist matron, at these words, remarked with a view to ascertain what she implied. “Haven’t I, forsooth, discovered it all for myself? Yet it’s fortunate that you don’t trouble your minds about her; for it’s far better that you should let her have her own way.”
“My dear woman,” rejoined Mrs. Chao, “Not let her have her own way! why, is it likely that any one would have the courage to tell her anything?”
“I don’t mean to utter any words that may bring upon me retribution,” added Ma, the Taoist matron, “but you people haven’t got the wits. But it’s no matter of surprise. Yet if you daren’t openly do anything, why, you could stealthily have devised some plan. And do you still tarry up to this day?”
Mrs. Chao realised that there lurked something in her insinuation, and she felt an inward secret joy. “What plan could I stealthily devise?” she asked. “I’ve got the will right enough, but I’m not a person gifted with this sort of gumption. So were you to impart to me some way or other, I would reward you most liberally.”
When the Taoist matron, Ma, heard this, she drew near to her. “O-mi-to-fu! desist at once from asking me!” she designedly exclaimed. “How can I know anything about such matters, contrary as they are to what is right?”
“There you are again!” Mrs. Chao replied. “You’re one ever most ready to succour those in distress, and to help those in danger, and is it likely that you’ll quietly look on, while some one comes and compasses my death as well as that of my son? Are you, pray, fearful lest I shouldn’t give you any reward?”
Ma, the Taoist matron, greeted this remark with a smile. “You’re right enough in what you say,” she ventured, “of my being unable to bear the sight of yourself and son receiving insult from a third party; but as for your mention of rewards, why, what’s there of yours that I still covet?”
This answer slightly reassured Mrs. Chao’s mind. “How is it,” she speedily urged, “that an intelligent person like you should have become so dense? If, indeed, the spell prove efficacious, and we exterminate them both, is there any apprehension that this family estate won’t be ours? and when that time comes, won’t you get all you may wish?”
At this disclosure, Ma, the Taoist matron, lowered her head for a long time. “When everything,” she observed, “shall have been settled satisfactorily, and when there’ll be, what’s more, no proof at all, will you still pay any heed to me?”
“What’s there hard about this?” remarked Mrs. Chao. “I’ve saved several taels from my own pin-money, and have besides a good number of clothes and head-ornaments. So you can first take several of these away with you. And I’ll further write an I.O.U., and entrust it to you, and when that time does come, I’ll pay you in full.”
“That will do!” answered the Taoist matron, Ma.
Mrs. Chao thereupon dismissed even a young servant-girl, who happened to be in the room, and hastily opening a trunk, she produced several articles of clothing and jewelry, as well as a few odd pieces of silver from her own pocket-money. Then also writing a promissory note for fifty taels, she surrendered the lot to Ma, the Taoist matron. “Take these,” she said, “in advance for presents in your temple.”
At the sight of the various articles and of the promissory note, the Taoist matron became at once unmindful of what was right and what was wrong; and while her mouth was full of assent, she stretched out her arm, and first and foremost laid hold of the hard cash, and next clutched the I.O.U. Turning then towards Mrs. Chao, she asked for a sheet of paper; and taking up a pair of scissors, she cut out two human beings and gave them to Mrs. Chao, enjoining her to write on the upper part of them the respective ages of the two persons in question. Looking further for a sheet of blue paper, she cut out five blue-faced devils, which she bade her place together side by side with the paper men, and taking a pin she made them fast. “When I get home,” she remarked, “I’ll have recourse to some art, which will, beyond doubt, prove efficacious.”
When she however had done speaking, she suddenly saw Madame Wang’s waiting-maid make her appearance inside the room. “What! my dame, are you in here!” the girl exclaimed. “Why, our lady is waiting for you!”
The two dames then parted company.
But passing them over, we will now allude to Lin Tai-yµ. As Pao-yü had scalded his face, and did not go out of doors very much, she often came to have a chat with him. On this particular day she took up, after her meal, some book or other and read a couple of pages out of it. Next, she busied herself a little with needlework, in company with Tzu Chuan. She felt however thoroughly dejected and out of sorts. So she strolled out of doors along with her. But catching sight of the newly sprouted bamboo shoots, in front of the pavilion, they involuntarily stepped out of the entrance of the court, and penetrated into the garden. They cast their eyes on all four quarters; but not a soul was visible. When they became conscious of the splendour of the flowers and the chatter of the birds, they, with listless step, turned their course towards the I Hung court. There they found several servant-girls baling out water; while a bevy of them stood under the verandah, watching the thrushes having their bath. They heard also the sound of laughter in the rooms.
The fact is that Li Kung-ts’ai, lady Feng, and Pao-ch’ai were assembled inside. As soon as they saw them walk in, they with one voice shouted, smiling: “Now, are not these two more!”
“We are a full company to-day,” laughed Tai-yü, “but who has issued the cards and invited us here?”
“The other day,” interposed lady Feng, “I sent servants with a present of two caddies of tea for you, Miss Lin; was it, after all, good?”
“I had just forgotten all about it,” Tai-yü rejoined, “many thanks for your kind attention!
“I tasted it,” observed Pao-yü. “I did not think it anything good. But I don’t know how others, who’ve had any of it, find it.”
“Its flavour,” said Tai-yü, “is good; the only thing is, it has no colour.”
“It’s tribute tea from the Laos Kingdom,” continued lady Feng. “When I tried it, I didn’t either find it anything very fine. It’s not up to what we ordinarily drink.”
“To my taste, it’s all right,” put in Tai-yü. “But what your palates are like, I can’t make out.”
“As you say it’s good,” suggested Pao-yü, “you’re quite at liberty to take all I have for your use.”
“I’ve got a great deal more of it over there,” lady Feng remarked.
“I’ll tell a servant-girl to go and fetch it,” Tai-yü replied.
“No need,” lady Feng went on. “I’ll send it over with some one. I also have a favour to ask of you to-morrow, so I may as well tell the servant to bring it along at the same time.”
When Lin Tai-yü heard these words, she put on a smile. “You just mark this,” she observed. “I’ve had to-day a little tea from her place, and she at once begins making a tool of me!”
“Since you’ve had some of our tea,” lady Feng laughed, “how is it that you have not yet become a wife in our household?”
The whole party burst out laughing aloud. So much so, that they found it difficult to repress themselves. But Tai-yü’s face was suffused with blushes. She turned her head the other way, and uttered not a word.
“Our sister-in-law Secunda’s jibes are first-rate!” Pao-ch’ai chimed in with a laugh.
“What jibes!” exclaimed Tai-yü; “they’re purely and simply the prattle of a mean mouth and vile tongue! They’re enough to evoke people’s displeasure!”
Saying this, she went on to sputter in disgust.
“Were you,” insinuated lady Feng, “to become a wife in my family, what is there that you would lack?” Pointing then at Pao-yü, “Look here!” she cried–“Is not this human being worthy of you? Is not his station in life good enough for you? Are not our stock and estate sufficient for you? and in what slight degree can he make you lose caste?”
Tai-yü rose to her feet, and retired immediately. But Pao-ch’ai shouted out: “Here’s P’in Erh in a huff! Don’t you yet come back? when you’ve gone, there will really be no fun!”
While calling out to her, she jumped up to pull her back. As soon, however, as she reached the door of the room, she beheld Mrs. Chao, accompanied by Mrs. Chou; both coming to look up Pao-yü. Pao-yü and his companions got up in a body and pressed them into a seat. Lady Feng was the sole person who did not heed them.
But just as Pao-ch’ai was about to open her lips, she perceived a servant-girl, attached to Madame Wang’s apartments, appear on the scene. “Your maternal uncle’s wife has come,” she said, “and she requests you, ladies and young ladies, to come out and see her.”
Li Kung-ts’ai hurriedly walked away in company with lady Feng. The two dames, Mrs. Chao and Mrs. Chou, in like manner took their leave and quitted the room.
“As for me, I can’t go out,” Pao-yü shouted. “But whatever you do, pray, don’t ask aunt to come in here.” “Cousin Lin,” he went on to say, “do stay on a while; I’ve got something to tell you.”
Lady Feng overheard him. Turning her head towards Lin Tai-yü, “There’s some one,” she cried; “who wants to speak to you.” And forthwith laying hold of Lin Tai-yü, she pushed her back and then trudged away, along with Li Kung-ts’ai.
During this time, Pao-yü clasped Tai-yü’s hand in his. He did nothing than smile. But not a word did he utter. Tai-yü naturally, therefore, got crimson in the face, and struggled to escape his importunities.
“Ai-ya!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “How my head is sore!”
“It should be!” rejoined Tai-yü. “O-mi-to-fu.”
Pao-yü then gave vent to a loud shout. His body bounced three or four feet high from the ground. His mouth was full of confused shrieks. But all he said was rambling talk.
Tai-yü and the servant-girls were full of consternation, and, with all possible haste, they ran and apprised Madame Wang and dowager lady Chia.
Wang Tzu-t’eng’s wife was, at this time, also with them, so they all came in a body to see him. Pao-yü behaved more and more as if determined to clutch a sword or seize a spear to put an end to his existence. He raged in a manner sufficient to subvert the heavens and upset the earth.
As soon as dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang caught sight of him, they were struck with terror. They trembled wildly like a piece of clothing that is being shaken. Uttering a shout of: “My son,” and another of: “My flesh,” they burst out into a loud fit of crying. Presently, all the inmates were seized with fright. Even Chia She, Madame Hsing, Chia Cheng, Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Chia Jung, Chia Yün, Chia P’ing, Mrs. Hsüeh, Hsüeh P’an, Chou Jui’s wife, and the various members of the household, whether high or low, and the servant-girls and married women too, rushed into the garden to see what was up.
The confusion that prevailed was, at the moment, like entangled flax. Every one was at a loss what to do, when they espied lady Feng dash into the garden, a glistening sword in hand, and try to cut down everything that came in her way, ogle vacantly whomsoever struck her gaze, and make forthwith an attempt to despatch them. A greater panic than ever broke out among the whole assemblage. But placing herself at the head of a handful of sturdy female servants, Chou Jui’s wife precipitated herself forward, and clasping her tight, they succeeded in snatching the sword from her grip, and carrying her back into her room.
P’ing Erh, Feng Erh, and the other girls began to weep. They invoked the heavens and appealed to the earth. Even Chia Cheng was distressed at heart. One and all at this stage started shouting, some, one thing; some, another. Some suggested exorcists. Some cried out for the posture-makers to attract the devils. Others recommended that Chang, the Taoist priest, of the Yü Huang temple, should catch the evil spirits. A thorough turmoil reigned supreme for a long time. The gods were implored. Prayers were offered. Every kind of remedy was tried, but no benefit whatever became visible.
After sunset, the spouse of Wang Tzu-t’eng said good-bye and took her departure. On the ensuing day, Wang Tzu-t’eng himself also came to make inquiries. Following closely upon him, arrived, in a body, messengers from the young marquis Shih, Madame Hsing’s young brother, and their various relatives to ascertain for themselves how (lady Feng and Pao-yü) were progressing. Some brought charm-water. Some recommended bonzes and Taoist priests. Others spoke highly of doctors. But that young fellow and his elder brother’s wife fell into such greater and greater stupor that they lost all consciousness. Their bodies were hot like fire. As they lay prostrate on their beds, they talked deliriously. With the fall of the shades of night their condition aggravated. So much so, that the matrons and servant-girls did not venture to volunteer their attendance. They had, therefore, to be both moved into Madame Wang’s quarters, where servants were told off to take their turn and watch them.
Dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang, Madame Hsing and Mrs. Hsüeh did not budge an inch or a step from their side. They sat round them, and did nothing but cry. Chia She and Chia Cheng too were a prey, at this juncture, to misgivings lest weeping should upset dowager lady Chia. Day and night oil was burnt and fires were, mindless of expense, kept alight. The bustle and confusion was such that no one, either master or servant, got any rest.
Chia She also sped on every side in search of Buddhist and Taoist priests. But Chia Cheng had witnessed how little relief these things could afford, and he felt constrained to dissuade Chia She from his endeavours. “The destiny,” he argued, “of our son and daughter is entirely dependent upon the will of Heaven, and no human strength can prevail. The malady of these two persons would not be healed, even were every kind of treatment tried, and as I feel confident that it is the design of heaven that things should be as they are, all we can do is to allow it to carry out its purpose.”
Chia She, however, paid no notice to his remonstrances and continued as hitherto to fuss in every imaginable way. In no time three days elapsed. Lady Feng and Pao-yü were still confined to their beds. Their very breaths had grown fainter. The whole household, therefore, unanimously arrived at the conclusion that there was no hope, and with all despatch they made every necessary preparation for the subsequent requirements of both their relatives.
Dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang, Chia Lien, P’ing Erh, Hsi Jen and the others indulged in tears with keener and keener anguish. They hung between life and death. Mrs. Chao alone was the one who assumed an outward sham air of distress, while in her heart she felt her wishes gratified.
The fourth day arrived. At an early hour Pao-yü suddenly opened his eyes and addressed himself to his grandmother Chia. “From this day forward,” he said, “I may no longer abide in your house, so you had better send me off at once!”
These words made dowager lady Chia feel as if her very heart had been wrenched out of her. Mrs. Chao, who stood by, exhorted her. “You shouldn’t, venerable lady,” she said, “indulge in excessive grief. This young man has been long ago of no good; so wouldn’t it be as well to dress him up and let him go back a moment sooner from this world. You’ll also be thus sparing him considerable suffering. But, if you persist, in not reconciling yourself to the separation and this breath of his is not cut off, he will lie there and suffer without any respite….”
Her arguments were scarcely ended, when she was spat upon by dowager lady Chia. “You rotten-tongued, good-for-nothing hag!” she cried abusively. “What makes you fancy him of no good! You wish him dead and gone; but what benefit will you then derive? Don’t give way to any dreams; for, if he does die, I’ll just exact your lives from you! It’s all because you’ve been continuously at him, inciting and urging him to read and write, that his spirit has become so intimidated that, at the sight of his father, he behaves just like a rat trying to get out of the way of a cat! And is not all this the result of the bullying of such a mean herd of women as yourselves! Could you now drive him to death, your wishes would immediately be fulfilled; but which of you will I let off?”
Now she shed tears; now she gave vent to abuse.
Chia Cheng, who stood by, heard these invectives; and they so enhanced his exasperation that he promptly shouted out and made Mrs. Chao withdraw. He then exerted himself for a time to console (his senior) by using kindly accents. But suddenly some one came to announce that the two coffins had been completed. This announcement pierced, like a dagger, dowager lady Chia to the heart; and while weeping with despair more intense, she broke forth in violent upbraidings.
“Who is it,”–she inquired; “who gave orders to make the coffins? Bring at once the coffin-makers and beat them to death!”
A stir ensued sufficient to convulse the heavens and to subvert the earth. But at an unforeseen moment resounded in the air the gentle rapping of a ‘wooden fish’ bell. A voice recited the sentence: “Ave! Buddha able to unravel retribution and dispel grievances! Should any human being lie in sickness, and his family be solicitous on his account; or should any one have met with evil spirits and come across any baleful evils, we have the means to effect a cure.”
Dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang at once directed servants to go out into the street and find out who it was. It turned out to be, in fact, a mangy-headed bonze and a hobbling Taoist priest. What was the appearance of the bonze?
His nose like a suspended gall; his two eyebrows so long, His eyes, resembling radiant stars, possessed a precious glow, His coat in tatters and his shoes of straw, without a home; Rolling in filth, and, a worse fate, his head one mass of boils.
And the Taoist priest, what was he like?
With one leg perchèd high he comes, with one leg low; His whole frame drenching wet, bespattered all with mud. If you perchance meet him, and ask him where’s his home, “In fairyland, west of the ‘Weak Water,’ he’ll say.”
Chia Cheng ordered the servants to invite them to walk in. “On what hill,” he asked those two persons, “do you cultivate the principles of reason?
“Worthy official!” the bonze smiled, “you must not ask too many questions! It’s because we’ve learnt that there are inmates of your honourable mansion in a poor state of health that we come with the express design of working a cure.”
“There are,” explained Chia Cheng, “two of our members, who have been possessed of evil spirits. But, is there, I wonder, any remedy by means of which they could he healed?”
“In your family,” laughingly observed the Taoist priest, “you have ready at hand a precious thing, the like of which is rare to find in the world. It possesses the virtue of alleviating the ailment, so why need you inquire about remedies?”
Chia Cheng’s mind was forthwith aroused. “It’s true,” he consequently rejoined, “that my son brought along with him, at the time of his birth, a piece of jade, on the surface of which was inscribed that it had the virtue of dispelling evil influences, but we haven’t seen any efficacy in it.”
“There is, worthy officer,” said the bonze, “something in it which you do not understand. That precious jade was, in its primitive state, efficacious, but consequent upon its having been polluted by music, lewdness, property and gain it has lost its spiritual properties. But produce now that valuable thing and wait till I have taken it into my hands and pronounced incantations over it, when it will become as full of efficacy as of old!”
Chia Cheng accordingly unclasped the piece of jade from Pao-yü’s neck, and handed it to the two divines. The Buddhist priest held it with reverence in the palm of his hand and heaving a deep sigh, “Since our parting,” he cried, “at the foot of the Ch’ing Keng peak, about thirteen years have elapsed. How time flies in the mortal world! Thine earthly destiny has not yet been determined. Alas, alas! how admirable were the qualities thou did’st possess in those days!
“By Heaven unrestrained, without constraint from Earth, No joys lived in thy heart, but sorrows none as well; Yet when perception, through refinement, thou did’st reach, Thou went’st among mankind to trouble to give rise. How sad the lot which thou of late hast had to hear! Powder prints and rouge stains thy precious lustre dim. House bars both day and night encage thee like a duck. Deep wilt thou sleep, but from thy dream at length thou’lt wake, Thy debt of vengeance, once discharged, thou wilt depart.”
At the conclusion of this recital, he again rubbed the stone for a while, and gave vent to some nonsensical utterances, after which he surrendered it to Chia Cheng. “This object,” he said, “has already resumed its efficacy; but you shouldn’t do anything to desecrate it. Hang it on the post of the door in his bed-room, and with the exception of his own relatives, you must not let any outside female pollute it. After the expiry of thirty-three days, he will, I can guarantee, be all right.”
Chia Cheng then gave orders to present tea; but the two priests had already walked away. He had, however, no alternative but to comply with their injunctions, and lady Feng and Pao-yü, in point of fact, got better from day to day. Little by little they returned to their senses and experienced hunger. Dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang, at length, felt composed in their minds. All the cousins heard the news outside. Tai-yü, previous to anything else, muttered a prayer to Buddha; while Pao-ch’ai laughed and said not a word.
“Sister Pao,” inquired Hsi Ch’un, “what are you laughing for?”
“I laugh,” replied Pao-ch’ai, “because the ‘Thus-Come’ Joss has more to do than any human being. He’s got to see to the conversion of all mankind, and to take care of the ailments, to which all flesh is heir; for he restores every one of them at once to health; and he has as well to control people’s marriages so as to bring them about through his aid; and what do you say, has he ample to do or not? Now, isn’t this enough to make one laugh, eh?”
Lin Tai-yü blushed. “Ts’ui!” she exclaimed; “none of you are good people. Instead of following the example of worthy persons, you try to rival the mean mouth of that hussey Feng.”
As she uttered these words, she raised the portiere and made her exit.
But, reader, do you want to know any further circumstances? If so, the next chapter will explain them to you.
On the Feng Yao bridge, Hsiao Hung makes known sentimental matters in equivocal language.
In the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, Tai-yü gives, while under the effects of the spring lassitude, expression to her secret feelings.
After thirty days’ careful nursing, Pao-yü, we will now notice, not only got strong and hale in body, but the scars even on his face completely healed up; so he was able to shift his quarters again into the garden of Broad Vista.
But we will banish this topic as it does not deserve any additional explanations. Let us now turn our attention elsewhere. During the time that Pao-yü was of late laid up in bed, Chia Yün along with the young pages of the household sat up on watch to keep an eye over him, and both day and night, they tarried on this side of the mansion. But Hsiao Hung as well as all the other waiting-maids remained in the same part to nurse Pao-yü, so (Chia Yün) and she saw a good deal of each other on several occasions, and gradually an intimacy sprung up between them.
Hsiao Hung observed that Chia Yün held in his hand a handkerchief very much like the one she herself had dropped some time ago and was bent upon asking him for it, but she did, on the other hand, not think she could do so with propriety. The unexpected visit of the bonze and Taoist priest rendered, however, superfluous the services of the various male attendants, and Chia-yün had therefore to go again and oversee the men planting the trees. Now she had a mind to drop the whole question, but she could not reconcile herself to it; and now she longed to go and ask him about it, but fears rose in her mind lest people should entertain any suspicions as to the relations that existed between them. But just as she faltered, quite irresolute, and her heart was thoroughly unsettled, she unawares heard some one outside inquire: “Sister, are you in the room or not?”
Hsiao Hung, upon catching this question, looked out through a hole in the window; and perceiving at a glance that it was no one else than a young servant-girl, attached to the same court as herself, Chia Hui by name, she consequently said by way of reply: “Yes, I am; come in!”
When these words reached her ear, Chia Hui ran in, and taking at once a seat on the bed, she observed with a smile: “How lucky I’ve been! I was a little time back in the court washing a few things, when Pao-yü cried out that some tea should be sent over to Miss Lin, and sister Hua handed it to me to go on the errand. By a strange coincidence our old lady had presented some money to Miss Lin and she was engaged at the moment in distributing it among their servant-girls. As soon therefore as she saw me get there, Miss Lin forthwith grasped two handfuls of cash and gave them to me; how many there are I don’t know, but do keep them for me!”
Speedily then opening her handkerchief, she emptied the cash. Hsiao Hung counted them for her by fives and tens at a time. She was beginning to put them away, when Chia Hui remarked: “How are you, after all, feeling of late in your mind? I’ll tell you what; you should really go and stay at home for a couple of days. And were you to ask a doctor round and to have a few doses of medicine you’ll get all right at once!”
“What are you talking about?” Hsiao Hung replied. “What shall I go home for, when there’s neither rhyme nor reason for it!”
“Miss Lin, I remember, is naturally of a weak physique, and has constantly to take medicines,” Chia Hui added, “so were you to ask her for some and bring them over and take them, it would come to the same thing.”
“Nonsense!” rejoined Hsiao Hung, “are medicines also to be recklessly taken ?”
“You can’t so on for ever like this,” continued Chia Hui; “you’re besides loth to eat and loth to drink, and what will you be like in the long run?”
“What’s there to fear?” observed Hsiao Hung; “won’t it anyhow be better to die a little earlier? It would be a riddance!”
“Why do you deliberately come out with all this talk?” Chia Hui demurred.
“How could you ever know anything of the secrets of my heart?” Hsiao Hung inquired.
Chia Hui nodded her head and gave way to reflection. “I don’t think it strange on your part,” she said after a time; “for it is really difficult to abide in this place! Yesterday, for instance, our dowager lady remarked that the servants in attendance had had, during all the days that Pao-yü was ill, a good deal to put up with, and that now that he has recovered, incense should be burnt everywhere, and the vows fulfilled; and she expressed a wish that those in his service should, one and all, be rewarded according to their grade. I and several others can be safely looked upon as young in years, and unworthy to presume so high; so I don’t feel in any way aggrieved; but how is it that one like you couldn’t be included in the number? My heart is much annoyed at it! Had there been any fear that Hsi Jen would have got ten times more, I could not even then have felt sore against her, for she really deserves it! I’ll just tell you an honest truth; who else is there like her? Not to speak of the diligence and carefulness she has displayed all along, even had she not been so diligent and careful, she couldn’t have been set aside! But what is provoking is that that lot, like Ch’ing Wen and Ch’i Hsia, should have been included in the upper class. Yet it’s because every one places such reliance on the fine reputation of their father and mother that they exalt them. Now, do tell me, is this sufficient to anger one or not?”
“It won’t do to be angry with them!” Hsiao Hung observed. “The proverb says: ‘You may erect a shed a thousand _li_ long, but there is no entertainment from which the guests will not disperse!’ And who is it that will tarry here for a whole lifetime? In another three years or five years every single one of us will have gone her own way; and who will, when that time comes, worry her mind about any one else?”
These allusions had the unexpected effect of touching Chia Hui to the heart; and in spite of herself the very balls of her eyes got red. But so uneasy did she feel at crying for no reason that she had to exert herself to force a smile. “What you say is true,” she ventured. “And yet, Pao-yü even yesterday explained how the rooms should be arranged by and bye; and how the clothes should be made, just as if he was bound to hang on to dear life for several hundreds of years.”
Hsiao Hung, at these words, gave a couple of sardonic smiles. But when about to pass some remark, she perceived a youthful servant-girl, who had not as yet let her hair grow, walk in, holding in her hands several patterns and two sheets of paper. “You are asked,” she said, “to trace these two designs!”
As she spoke, she threw them at Hsiao Hung, and twisting herself round, she immediately scampered away.
“Whose are they, after all?” Hsiao Hung inquired, addressing herself outside. “Couldn’t you wait even so much as to conclude what you had to say, but flew off at once? Who is steaming bread and waiting for you? Or are you afraid, forsooth, lest it should get cold?”
“They belong to sister Ch’i,” the young servant-girl merely returned for answer from outside the window; and raising her feet high, she ran tramp-tramp on her way back again.
Hsiao Hung lost control over her temper, and snatching the designs, she flung them on one side. She then rummaged in a drawer for a pencil, but finding, after a prolonged search, that they were all blunt; “Where did I,” she thereupon ejaculated, “put that brand-new pencil the other day? How is it I can’t remember where it is?”
While she soliloquised, she became wrapt in thought. After some reflection she, at length, gave a smile. “Of course!” she exclaimed, “the other evening Ying Erh took it away.” And turning towards Chia Hui, “Fetch it for me,” she shouted.
“Sister Hua,” Chia Hui rejoined, “is waiting for me to get a box for her, so you had better go for it yourself!”
“What!” remarked Hsiao Hung, “she’s waiting for you, and are you still squatting here chatting leisurely? Hadn’t it been that I asked you to go and fetch it, she too wouldn’t have been waiting for you; you most perverse vixen!”
With these words on her lips, she herself walked out of the room, and leaving the I Hung court, she straightway proceeded in the direction of Pao-ch’ai’s court. As soon, however, as she reached the Hsin Fang pavilion, she saw dame Li, Pao-yü’s nurse, appear in view from the opposite side; so Hsiao Hung halted and putting on a smile, “Nurse Li,” she asked, “where are you, old dame, bound for? How is it you’re coming this way?”
Nurse Li stopped short, and clapped her hands. “Tell me,” she said, “has he deliberately again gone and fallen in love with that Mr. something or other like Yun (cloud), or Yü (rain)? They now insist upon my bringing him inside, but if they get wind of it by and bye in the upper rooms, it won’t again be a nice thing.”
“Are you, old lady,” replied Hsiao Hung smiling, “taking things in such real earnest that you readily believe them and want to go and ask him in here?”
“What can I do?” rejoined nurse Li.
“Why, that fellow,” added Hsiao Hung laughingly, “will, if he has any idea of decency, do the right thing and not come.”
“Besides, he’s not a fool!” pleaded nurse Li; “so why shouldn’t he come in?”
“Well, if he is to come,” answered Hsiao Hung, “it will devolve upon you, worthy dame, to lead him along with you; for were you by and bye to let him penetrate inside all alone and knock recklessly about, why, it won’t do at all.”
“Have I got all that leisure,” retorted nurse Li, “to trudge along with him? I’ll simply tell him to come; and later on I can despatch a young servant-girl or some old woman to bring him in, and have done.”
Saying this, she continued her way, leaning on her staff.
After listening to her rejoinder, Hsiao Hung stood still; and plunging in abstraction, she did not go and fetch the pencil. But presently, she caught sight of a servant-girl running that way. Espying Hsiao Hung lingering in that spot, “Sister Hung,” she cried, “what are you doing in here?”
Hsiao Hung raised her head, and recognised a young waiting-maid called Chui Erh. “Where are you off too?” Hsiao Hung asked.
“I’ve been told to bring in master Secundus, Mr. Yün,” Chui Erh replied. After which answer, she there and then departed with all speed.
Hsiao Hung reached, meanwhile, the Feng Yao bridge. As soon as she approached the gateway, she perceived Chui Erh coming along with Chia Yün from the opposite direction. While advancing Chia Yün ogled Hsiao Hung; and Hsiao Hung too, though pretending to be addressing herself to Chui Erh, cast a glance at Chia Yün; and their four eyes, as luck would have it, met. Hsiao Hung involuntarily blushed all over; and turning herself round, she walked off towards the Heng Wu court. But we will leave her there without further remarks.
During this time, Chia Yün followed Chui Erh, by a circuitous way, into the I Hung court. Chui Erh entered first and made the necessary announcement. Then subsequently she ushered in Chia Yün. When Chia Yün scrutinised the surroundings, he perceived, here and there in the court, several blocks of rockery, among which were planted banana-trees. On the opposite side were two storks preening their feathers under the fir trees. Under the covered passage were suspended, in a row, cages of every description, containing all sorts of fairylike, rare birds. In the upper part were five diminutive anterooms, uniformly carved with, unique designs; and above the framework of the door was hung a tablet with the inscription in four huge characters–“I Hung K’uai Lü, the happy red and joyful green.”
“I thought it strange,” Chia Yün argued mentally, “that it should be called the I Hung court; but are these, in fact, the four characters inscribed on the tablet!”
But while he was communing within himself, he heard some one laugh and then exclaim from the inner side of the gauze window: “Come in at once! How is it that I’ve forgotten you these two or three months?”
As soon as Chia Yün recognised Pao-yü’s voice, he entered the room with hurried step. On raising his head, his eye was attracted by the brilliant splendour emitted by gold and jade and by the dazzling lustre of the elegant arrangements. He failed, however, to detect where Pao-yü was ensconced. The moment he turned his head round, he espied, on the left side, a large cheval-glass; behind which appeared to view, standing side by side, two servant-girls of fifteen or sixteen years of age. “Master Secundus,” they ventured, “please take a seat in the inner room.”
Chia Yün could not even muster courage to look at them straight in the face; but promptly assenting, he walked into a green gauze mosquito-house, where he saw a small lacquered bed, hung with curtains of a deep red colour, with clusters of flowers embroidered in gold. Pao-yü, wearing a house-dress and slipshod shoes, was reclining on the bed, a book in hand. The moment he perceived Chia Yün walk in, he discarded his book, and forthwith smiled and raised himself up. Chia Yün hurriedly pressed forward and paid his salutation. Pao-yü then offered him a seat; but he simply chose a chair in the lower part of the apartment.
“Ever since the moon in which I came across you,” Pao-yü observed smilingly, “and told you to come into the library, I’ve had, who would have thought it, endless things to continuously attend to, so that I forgot all about you.”
“It’s I, indeed, who lacked good fortune!” rejoined Chia Yün, with a laugh; “particularly so, as it again happened that you, uncle, fell ill. But are you quite right once more?”
“All right!” answered Pao-yü. “I heard that you’ve been put to much trouble and inconvenience on a good number of days!”
“Had I even had any trouble to bear,” added Chia Yün, “it would have been my duty to bear it. But your complete recovery, uncle, is really a blessing to our whole family.”
As he spoke, he discerned a couple of servant-maids come to help him to a cup of tea. But while conversing with Pao-yü, Chia Yün was intent upon scrutinising the girl with slim figure, and oval face, and clad in a silvery-red jacket, a blue satin waistcoat and a white silk petticoat with narrow pleats.
At the time of Pao-yü’s illness, Chia Yün had spent a couple of days in the inner apartments, so that he remembered half of the inmates of note, and the moment he set eyes upon this servant-girl he knew that it was Hsi Jen; and that she was in Pao-yü’s rooms on a different standing to the rest. Now therefore that she brought the tea in herself and that Pao-yü was, besides, sitting by, he rose to his feet with alacrity and put on a smile. “Sister,” he said, “how is it that you are pouring tea for me? I came here to pay uncle a visit; what’s more I’m no stranger, so let me pour it with my own hands!”
“Just you sit down and finish!” Pao-yü interposed; “will you also behave in this fashion with servant-girls?”
“In spite of what you say;” remarked Chia Yün smiling, “they are young ladies attached to your rooms, uncle, and how could I presume to be disorderly in my conduct?”
So saying, he took a seat and drank his tea. Pao-yü then talked to him about trivial and irrelevant matters; and afterwards went on to tell him in whose household the actresses were best, and whose gardens were pretty. He further mentioned to him in whose quarters the servant-girls were handsome, whose banquets were sumptuous, as well as in whose home were to be found strange things, and what family possessed remarkable objects. Chia Yün was constrained to humour him in his conversation; but after a chat, which lasted for some time, he noticed that Pao-yü was somewhat listless, and he promptly stood up and took his leave. And Pao-yü too did not use much pressure to detain him. “To-morrow, if you have nothing to do, do come over!” he merely observed; after which, he again bade the young waiting-maid, Chui Erh, see him out.
Having left the I Hung court, Chia Yün cast a glance all round; and, realising that there was no one about, he slackened his pace at once, and while proceeding leisurely, he conversed, in a friendly way, with Chui Erh on one thing and another. First and foremost he inquired of her what was her age; and her name. “Of what standing are your father and mother?” he said, “How many years have you been in uncle Pao’s apartments? How much money do you get a month? In all how many girls are there in uncle Pao’s rooms?”
As Chui Erh heard the questions set to her, she readily made suitable reply to each.
“The one, who was a while back talking to you,” continued Chia Yün, “is called Hsiao Hung, isn’t she?”
“Yes, her name is Hsiao Hung!” replied Chui Erh smiling; “but why do you ask about her?”
“She inquired of you just now about some handkerchief or other,” answered Chia Yün; “well, I’ve picked one up.”
Chui Erh greeted this response with a smile. “Many are the times,” she said; “that she has asked me whether I had seen her handkerchief; but have I got all that leisure to worry my mind about such things? She spoke to me about it again to-day; and she suggested that I should find it for her, and that she would also recompense me. This she told me when we were just now at the entrance of the Heng Wu court, and you too, Mr. Secundus, overheard her, so that I’m not lying. But, dear Mr. Secundus, since you’ve picked it up, give it to me. Do! And I’ll see what she will give me as a reward.”
The truth is that Chia Yün had, the previous moon when he had come into the garden to attend to the planting of trees, picked up a handkerchief, which he conjectured must have been dropped by some inmate of those grounds; but as he was not aware whose it was, he did not consequently presume to act with indiscretion. But on this occasion, he overheard Hsiao Hung make inquiries of Chui Erh on the subject; and concluding that it must belong to her, he felt immeasurably delighted. Seeing, besides, how importunate Chui Erh was, he at once devised a plan within himself, and vehemently producing from his sleeve a handkerchief of his own, he observed, as he turned towards Chui Erh with a smile: “As for giving it to you, I’ll do so; but in the event of your obtaining any present from her, you mustn’t impose upon me.”
Chui Erh assented to his proposal most profusely; and, taking the handkerchief, she saw Chia Yün out and then came back in search of Hsiao Hung. But we will leave her there for the present.
We will now return to Pao-yü. After dismissing Chia Yün, he lay in such complete listlessness on the bed that he betrayed every sign of being half asleep. Hsi Jen walked up to him, and seated herself on the edge of the bed, and pushing him, “What are you about to go to sleep again,” she said. “Would it not do your languid spirits good if you went out for a bit of a stroll?”
Upon hearing her voice, Pao-yü grasped her hand in his. “I would like to go out,” he smiled, “but I can’t reconcile myself to the separation from you!”
“Get up at once!” laughed Hsi Jen. And as she uttered these words, she pulled Pao-yü up.
“Where can I go?” exclaimed Pao-yü. “I’m quite surfeited with everything.”
“Once out you’ll be all right,” Hsi Jen answered, “but if you simply give way to this languor, you’ll be more than ever sick of everything at heart.”
Pao-yü could not do otherwise, dull and out of sorts though he was, than accede to her importunities. Strolling leisurely out of the door of the room, he amused himself a little with the birds suspended under the verandah; then he wended his steps outside the court, and followed the course of the Hsin Fang stream; but after admiring the golden fish for a time, he espied, on the opposite hillock, two young deer come rushing down as swift as an arrow. What they were up to Pao-yü could not discern; but while abandoning himself to melancholy, he caught sight of Chia Lan, following behind, with a small bow in his hand, and hurrying down hill in pursuit of them.
As soon as he realised that Pao-yü stood ahead of him, he speedily halted. “Uncle Secundus,” he smiled, “are you at home? I imagined you had gone out of doors!”
“You are up to mischief again, eh?” Pao-yü rejoined. “They’ve done nothing to you, and why shoot at them with your arrows?”
“I had no studies to attend to just now, so, being free with nothing to do,” Chia Lan replied laughingly, “I was practising riding and archery.”
“Shut up!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “When are you not engaged in practising?”
Saying this, he continued his way and straightway reached the entrance of a court. Here the bamboo foliage was thick, and the breeze sighed gently. This was the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Pao-yü listlessly rambled in. He saw a bamboo portière hanging down to the ground. Stillness prevailed. Not a human voice fell on the ear. He advanced as far as the window. Noticing that a whiff of subtle scent stole softly through the green gauze casement, Pao-yü applied his face closely against the frame to peep in, but suddenly he caught the faint sound of a deep sigh and the words: “Day after day my feelings slumber drowsily!” Upon overhearing this exclamation, Pao-yü unconsciously began to feel a prey to inward longings; but casting a second glance, he saw Tai-yü stretching herself on the bed.
“Why is it,” smiled Pao-yü, from outside the window, “that your feelings day after day slumber drowsily?” So saying, he raised the portière and stepped in.
The consciousness that she had not been reticent about her feelings made Tai-yü unwittingly flush scarlet. Taking hold of her sleeve, she screened her face; and, turning her body round towards the inside, she pretended to be fast asleep. Pao-yü drew near her. He was about to pull her round when he saw Tai-yü’s nurse enter the apartment, followed by two matrons.
“Is Miss asleep?” they said. “If so, we’ll ask her over, when she wakes up.”
As these words were being spoken, Tai-yü eagerly twisted herself round and sat up. “Who’s asleep?” she laughed.
“We thought you were fast asleep, Miss,” smiled the two or three matrons as soon as they perceived Tai-yü get up. This greeting over, they called Tzu Chüan. “Your young mistress,” they said, “has awoke; come in and wait on her!”
While calling her, they quitted the room in a body. Tai-yü remained seated on the bed. Raising her arms, she adjusted her hair, and smilingly she observed to Pao-yü, “When people are asleep, what do you walk in for?”
At the sight of her half-closed starlike eyes and of her fragrant cheeks, suffused with a crimson blush, Pao-yü’s feelings were of a sudden awakened; so, bending his body, he took a seat on a chair, and asked with a smile: “What were you saying a short while back?”
“I wasn’t saying anything,” Tai-yü replied.
“What a lie you’re trying to ram down my throat!” laughed Pao-yü. “I heard all.”
But in the middle of their colloquy, they saw Tzu Chüan enter. Pao-yü then put on a smiling face. “Tzu Chüan!” he cried, “pour me a cup of your good tea!”
“Where’s the good tea to be had?” Tzu Chüan answered. “If you want good tea, you’d better wait till Hsi Jen comes.”
“Don’t heed him!” interposed Tai-yü. “Just go first and draw me some water.”
“He’s a visitor,” remonstrated Tzu Chüan, “and, of course, I should first pour him a cup of tea, and then go and draw the water.”
With this answer, she started to serve the tea.
“My dear girl,” Pao-yü exclaimed laughingly, “If I could only share the same bridal curtain with your lovable young mistress, would I ever be able (to treat you as a servant) by making you fold the covers and make the beds.”
Lin Tai-yü at once drooped her head. “What are you saying?” she remonstrated.
“What, did I say anything?” smiled Pao-yü.
Tai-yü burst into tears. “You’ve recently,” she observed, “got into a new way. Whatever slang you happen to hear outside you come and tell me. And whenever you read any improper book, you poke your fun at me. What! have I become a laughing-stock for gentlemen!”
As she began to cry, she jumped down from bed, and promptly left the room. Pao-yü was at a loss how to act. So agitated was he that he hastily ran up to her, “My dear cousin,” he pleaded, “I do deserve death; but don’t go and tell any one! If again I venture to utter such kind of language, may blisters grow on my mouth and may my tongue waste away!”
But while appealing to her feelings, he saw Hsi Jen approach him. “Go back at once,” she cried, “and put on your clothes as master wants to see you.”
At the very mention of his father, Pao-yü felt suddenly as if struck by lightning. Regardless of everything and anything, he rushed, as fast as possible, back to his room, and changing his clothes, he came out into the garden. Here he discovered Pei Ming, standing at the second gateway, waiting for him.
“Do you perchance know what he wants me for?” Pao-yü inquired.
“Master, hurry out at once!” Pei Ming replied. “You must, of course, go and see him. When you get there, you are sure to find out what it’s all about.”
This said, he urged Pao-yü on, and together they turned past the large pavilion. Pao-yü was, however, still labouring under suspicion, when he heard, from the corner of the wall, a loud outburst of laughter. Upon turning his head round, he caught sight of Hsüeh P’an jump out, clapping his hands. “Hadn’t I said that my uncle wanted you?” he laughed. “Would you ever have rushed out with such alacrity?”
Pei Ming also laughed, and fell on his knees. But Pao-yü remained for a long time under the spell of utter astonishment, before he, at length, realised that it was Hsüeh P’au who had inveigled him to come out.
Hsüeh P’an hastily made a salutation and a curtsey, and confessed his fault. He next gave way to entreaties, saying: “Don’t punish the young servant, for it is simply I who begged him go.”
Pao-yü too had then no other alternative but to smile. “I don’t mind your playing your larks on me; but why,” he inquired, “did you mention my father? Were I to go and tell my aunt, your mother, to see to the rights and the wrongs of the case, how would you like it?”
“My dear cousin,” remarked Hsüeh P’an vehemently, “the primary idea I had in view was to ask you to come out a moment sooner and I forgot to respectfully shun the expression. But by and bye, when you wish to chaff me, just you likewise allude to my father, and we’ll thus be square.”
“Ai-ya!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “You do more than ever deserve death!!” Then turning again towards Pei Ming, “You ruffian!” he said, “what are you still kneeling for?”
Pei Ming began to bump his head on the ground with vehemence.
“Had it been for anything else,” Hsüeh P’an chimed in, “I wouldn’t have made bold to disturb you; but it’s simply in connection with my birthday which is to-morrow, the third day of the fifth moon. Ch’eng Jih-hsing, who is in that curio shop of ours, unexpectedly brought along, goodness knows where he fished them from, fresh lotus so thick and so long, so mealy and so crisp; melons of this size; and a Siamese porpoise, that long and that big, smoked with cedar, such as is sent as tribute from the kingdom of Siam. Are not these four presents, pray, rare delicacies? The porpoise is not only expensive, but difficult to get, and that kind of lotus and melon must have cost him no end of trouble to grow! I lost no time in presenting some to my mother, and at once sent some to your old grandmother, and my aunt. But a good many of them still remain now; and were I to eat them all alone, it would, I fear, be more than I deserve; so I concluded, after thinking right and left, that there was, besides myself, only you good enough to partake of some. That is why I specially invite you to taste them. But, as luck would have it, a young singing-boy has also come, so what do you say to you and I having a jolly day of it?”
As they talked, they walked; and, as they walked, they reached the interior of the library. Here they discovered a whole assemblage consisting of Tan Kuang, Ch’eng Jih-hsing, Hu Ch’i-lai, Tan T’ing-jen and others, and the singing-boy as well. As soon as these saw Pao-yü walk in, some paid their respects to him; others inquired how he was; and after the interchange of salutations, tea was drunk. Hsüeh P’an then gave orders to serve the wine. Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than the servant-lads bustled and fussed for a long while laying the table. When at last the necessary arrangements had been completed, the company took their seats.
Pao-yü verily found the melons and lotus of an exceptional description. “My birthday presents have not as yet been sent round,” he felt impelled to say, a smile on his lips, “and here I come, ahead of them, to trespass on your hospitality.”
“Just so!” retorted Hsüeh P’an, “but when you come to-morrow to congratulate me we’ll consider what novel kind of present you can give me.”
“I’ve got nothing that I can give you,” rejoined Pao-yü. “As far as money, clothes, eatables and other such articles go, they are not really mine: all I can call my own are such pages of characters that I may write, or pictures that I may draw.”
“Your reference to pictures,” added Hsüeh P’an smiling, “reminds me of a book I saw yesterday, containing immodest drawings; they were, truly, beautifully done. On the front page there figured also a whole lot of characters. But I didn’t carefully look at them; I simply noticed the name of the person, who had executed them. It was, in fact, something or other like Keng Huang. The pictures were, actually, exceedingly good!”
This allusion made Pao-yü exercise his mind with innumerable conjectures.
“Of pictures drawn from past years to the present, I have,” he said, “seen a good many, but I’ve never come across any Keng Huang.”
After considerable thought, he could not repress himself from bursting out laughing. Then asking a servant to fetch him a pencil, he wrote a couple of words on the palm of his hand. This done, he went on to inquire of Hsüeh. P’an: “Did you see correctly that it read Keng Huang?”
“How could I not have seen correctly?” ejaculated Hsüeh P’an.
Pao-yü thereupon unclenched his hand and allowed him to peruse, what was written in it. “Were they possibly these two characters?” he remarked. “These are, in point of fact, not very dissimilar from what Keng Huang look like?”
On scrutinising them, the company noticed the two words T’ang Yin, and they all laughed. “They must, we fancy, have been these two characters!” they cried. “Your eyes, Sir, may, there’s no saying, have suddenly grown dim!”
Hsüeh P’an felt utterly abashed. “Who could have said,” he smiled, “whether they were T’ang Yin or Kuo Yin, (candied silver or fruit silver).”
As he cracked this joke, however, a young page came and announced that Mr. Feng had arrived. Pao-yü concluded that the new comer must be Feng Tzu-ying, the son of Feng T’ang, general with the prefix of Shen Wu.”
“Ask him in at once,” Hsüeh P’an and his companions shouted with one voice.
But barely were these words out of their mouths, than they realised that Feng Tzu-ying had already stepped in, talking and laughing as he approached.
The company speedily rose from table and offered him a seat.
“That’s right!” smiled Feng Tzu-ying. “You don’t go out of doors, but remain at home and go in for high fun!”
Both Pao-yü and Hsüeh P’an put on a smile. “We haven’t,” they remarked, “seen you for ever so long. Is your venerable father strong and hale?”
“My father,” rejoined Tzu-ying, “is, thanks to you, strong and hale; but my mother recently contracted a sudden chill and has been unwell for a couple of days.”
Hsüeh P’an discerned on his face a slight bluish wound. “With whom have you again been boxing,” he laughingly inquired, “that you’ve hung up this sign board?”
“Since the occasion,” laughed Feng Tzu-ying, “on which I wounded lieutenant-colonel Ch’ou’s son, I’ve borne the lesson in mind, and never lost my temper. So how is it you say that I’ve again been boxing? This thing on my face was caused, when I was out shooting the other day on the T’ieh Wang hills, by a flap from the wing of the falcon.”
“When was that?” asked Pao-yü.
“I started,” explained Tzu-ying, “on the 28th of the third moon and came back only the day before yesterday.”
“It isn’t to be wondered at then,” observed Pao-yü, “that when I went the other day, on the third and fourth, to a banquet at friend Shen’s house, I didn’t see you there. Yet I meant to have inquired about you; but I don’t know how it slipped from my memory. Did you go alone, or did your venerable father accompany you?”
“Of course, my father went,” Tzu-ying replied, “so I had no help but to go. For is it likely, forsooth, that I’ve gone mad from lack of anything to do! Don’t we, a goodly number as we are, derive enough pleasure from our wine-bouts and plays that I should go in quest of such kind of fatiguing recreation! But in this instance a great piece of good fortune turned up in evil fortune!”
Hsüeh P’an and his companions noticed that he had finished his tea. “Come along,” they one and all proposed, “and join the banquet; you can then quietly recount to us all your experiences.”
At this suggestion Feng Tzu-ying there and then rose to his feet. “According to etiquette,” he said. “I should join you in drinking a few cups; but to-day I have still a very urgent matter to see my father about on my return so that I truly cannot accept your invitation.”
Hsüeh P’an, Pao-yü and the other young fellows would on no account listen to his excuses. They pulled him vigorously about and would not let him go.
“This is, indeed, strange!” laughed Feng Tzu-ying. “When have you and I had, during all these years, to have recourse to such proceedings! I really am unable to comply with your wishes. But if you do insist upon making me have a drink, well, then bring a large cup and I’ll take two cups full and finish.”
After this rejoinder, the party could not but give in. Hsüeh P’an took hold of the kettle, while Pao-yü grasped the cup, and they poured two large cups full. Feng Tzu-ying stood up and quaffed them with one draught.
“But do, after all,” urged Pao-yü, “finish this thing about a piece of good fortune in the midst of misfortune before you go.”
“To tell you this to-day,” smiled Feng Tzu-ying, “will be no great fun. But for this purpose I intend standing a special entertainment, and inviting you all to come and have a long chat; and, in the second place, I’ve also got a favour to ask of you.”
Saying this, he pushed his way and was going off at once, when Hsüeh P’an interposed. “What you’ve said,” he observed, “has put us more than ever on pins and needles. We cannot brook any delay. Who knows when you will ask us round; so better tell us, and thus avoid keeping people in suspense!”
“The latest,” rejoined Feng Tzu-ying, “in ten days; the earliest in eight.” With this answer he went out of the door, mounted his horse, and took his departure.
The party resumed their seats at table. They had another bout, and then eventually dispersed.
Pao-yü returned into the garden in time to find Hsi Jen thinking with solicitude that he had gone to see Chia Cheng and wondering whether it foreboded good or evil. As soon as she perceived Pao-yü come back in a drunken state, she felt urged to inquire the reason of it all. Pao-yü told her one by one the particulars of what happened.
“People,” added Hsi Jen, “wait for you with lacerated heart and anxious mind, and there you go and make merry; yet you could very well, after all, have sent some one with a message.”
“Didn’t I purpose sending a message?” exclaimed Pao-yü. “Of course, I did! But I failed to do so, as on the arrival of friend Feng, I got so mixed up that the intention vanished entirely from my mind.”
While excusing himself, he saw Pao-ch’ai enter the apartment. “Have you tasted any of our new things?” she asked, a smile curling her lips.
“Cousin,” laughed Pao-yü, “you must have certainly tasted what you’ve got in your house long before us.”
Pao-ch’ai shook her head and smiled. “Yesterday,” she said, “my brother did actually make it a point to ask me to have some; but I had none; I told him to keep them and send them to others, so confident am I that with my mean lot and scanty blessings I little deserve to touch such dainties.”
As she spoke, a servant-girl poured her a cup of tea and brought it to her. While she sipped it, she carried on a conversation on irrelevant matters; which we need not notice, but turn our attention to Lin Tai-yü.
The instant she heard that Chia Cheng had sent for Pao-yü, and that he had not come back during the whole day, she felt very distressed on his account. After supper, the news of Pao-yü’s return reached her, and she keenly longed to see him and ask him what was up. Step by step she trudged along, when espying Pao-ch’ai going into Pao-yü’s garden, she herself followed close in her track. But on their arrival at the Hsin Fang bridge, she caught sight of the various kinds of water-fowl, bathing together in the pond, and although unable to discriminate the numerous species, her gaze became so transfixed by their respective variegated and bright plumage and by their exceptional beauty, that she halted. And it was after she had spent some considerable time in admiring them that she repaired at last to the I Hung court. The gate was already closed. Tai-yü, however, lost no time in knocking. But Ch’ing Wen and Pi Hen had, who would have thought it, been having a tiff, and were in a captious mood, so upon unawares seeing Pao-ch’ai step on the scene, Ch’ing Wen at once visited her resentment upon Pao-ch’ai. She was just standing in the court giving vent to her wrongs, shouting: “You’re always running over and seating yourself here, whether you’ve got good reason for doing so or not; and there’s no sleep for us at the third watch, the middle of the night though it be,” when, all of a sudden, she heard some one else calling at the door. Ch’ing Wen was the more moved to anger. Without even asking who it was, she rapidly bawled out: “They’ve all gone to sleep; you’d better come to-morrow.”
Lin Tai-yü was well aware of the natural peculiarities of the waiting-maids, and of their habit of playing practical jokes upon each other, so fearing that the girl in the inner room had failed to recognise her voice, and had refused to open under the misconception that it was some other servant-girl, she gave a second shout in a higher pitch. “It’s I!” she cried, “don’t you yet open the gate?”
Ch’ing Wen, as it happened, did not still distinguish her voice; and in an irritable strain, she rejoined: “It’s no matter who you may be; Mr. Secundus has given orders that no one at all should be allowed to come in.”
As these words reached Lin Tai-yü’s ear, she unwittingly was overcome with indignation at being left standing outside. But when on the point of raising her voice to ask her one or two things, and to start a quarrel with her; “albeit,” she again argued mentally, “I can call this my aunt’s house, and it should be just as if it were my own, it’s, after all, a strange place, and now that my father and mother are both dead, and that I am left with no one to rely upon, I have for the present to depend upon her family for a home. Were I now therefore to give way to a regular fit of anger with her, I’ll really get no good out of it.”
While indulging in reflection, tears trickled from her eyes. But just as she was feeling unable to retrace her steps, and unable to remain standing any longer, and quite at a loss what to do, she overheard the sound of jocular language inside, and listening carefully, she discovered that it was, indeed, Pao-yü and Pao-ch’ai. Lin Tai-yü waxed more wroth. After much thought and cogitation, the incidents of the morning flashed unawares through her memory. “It must, in fact,” she mused, “be because Pao-yü is angry with me for having explained to him the true reasons. But why did I ever go and tell you? You should, however, have made inquiries before you lost your temper to such an extent with me as to refuse to let me in to-day; but is it likely that we shall not by and bye meet face to face again?”
The more she gave way to thought, the more she felt wounded and agitated; and without heeding the moss, laden with cold dew, the path covered with vegetation, and the chilly blasts of wind, she lingered all alone, under the shadow of the bushes at the corner of the wall, so thoroughly sad and dejected that she broke forth into sobs.
Lin Tai-yü was, indeed, endowed with exceptional beauty and with charms rarely met with in the world. As soon therefore as she suddenly melted into tears, and the birds and rooks roosting on the neighbouring willow boughs and branches of shrubs caught the sound of her plaintive tones, they one and all fell into a most terrific flutter, and, taking to their wings, they flew away to distant recesses, so little were they able to listen with equanimity to such accents. But the spirits of the flowers were, at the time, silent and devoid of feeling, the birds were plunged in dreams and in a state of stupor, so why did they start? A stanza appositely assigns the reason:–
P’in Erh’s mental talents and looks must in the world be rare–. Alone, clasped in a subtle smell, she quits her maiden room. The sound of but one single sob scarcely dies away, And drooping flowers cover the ground and birds fly in dismay.
Lin Tai-yü was sobbing in her solitude, when a creaking noise struck her ear and the door of the court was flung open. Who came out, is not yet ascertained; but, reader, should you wish to know, the next chapter will explain.
In the Ti Ts’ui pavilion, Pao-ch’ai diverts herself with the multi-coloured butterflies.
Over the mound, where the flowers had been interred, Tai-yü bewails their withered bloom.
Lin Tai-yü, we must explain in taking up the thread of our narrative, was disconsolately bathed in tears, when her ear was suddenly attracted by the creak of the court gate, and her eyes by the appearance of Pao-ch’ai beyond the threshold. Pao-yü, Hsi Jen and a whole posse of inmates then walked out. She felt inclined to go up to Pao-yü and ask him a question; but dreading that if she made any inquiries in the presence of such a company, Pao-yü would be put to the blush and placed in an awkward position, she slipped aside and allowed Pao-ch’ai to prosecute her way. And it was only after Pao-yü and the rest of the party had entered and closed the gate behind them that she at last issued from her retreat. Then fixing her gaze steadfastly on the gateway, she dropped a few tears. But inwardly conscious of their utter futility she retraced her footsteps and wended her way back into her apartment. And with heavy heart and despondent spirits, she divested herself of the remainder of her habiliments.
Tzu Chüan and Hsüeh Yen were well aware, from the experience they had reaped in past days, that Lin Tai-yü was, in the absence of anything to occupy her mind, prone to sit and mope, and that if she did not frown her eyebrows, she anyway heaved deep sighs; but they were quite at a loss to divine why she was, with no rhyme or reason, ever so ready to indulge, to herself, in inexhaustible gushes of tears. At first, there were such as still endeavoured to afford her solace; or who, suspecting lest she brooded over the memory of her father and mother, felt home-sick, or aggrieved, through some offence given her, tried by every persuasion to console and cheer her; but, as contrary to all expectations, she subsequently persisted time and again in this dull mood, through each succeeding month and year, people got accustomed to her eccentricities and did not extend to her the least sympathy. Hence it was that no one (on this occasion) troubled her mind about her, but letting her sit and sulk to her heart’s content, they one and all turned in and went to sleep.
Lin Tai-yü leaned against the railing of the bed, clasping her knees with both hands, her eyes suffused with tears. She looked, in very truth, like a carved wooden image or one fashioned of mud. There she sat straight up to the second watch, even later, when she eventually fell asleep.
The whole night nothing remarkable transpired. The morrow was the 26th day of the fourth moon. Indeed on this day, at one p.m., commenced the season of the ‘Sprouting seeds,’ and, according to an old custom, on the day on which this feast of ‘Sprouting seeds’ fell, every one had to lay all kinds of offerings and sacrificial viands on the altar of the god of flowers. Soon after the expiry of this season of ‘Sprouting seeds’ follows summertide, and us plants in general then wither and the god of flowers resigns his throne, it is compulsory to feast him at some entertainment, previous to his departure.
In the ladies’ apartments this custom was observed with still more rigour; and, for this reason, the various inmates Of the park of Broad Vista had, without a single exception, got up at an early hour. The young people either twisted flowers and willow twigs in such a way as to represent chairs and horses, or made tufted banners with damask, brocaded gauze and silk, and bound them with variegated threads. These articles of decoration were alike attached on every tree and plant; and throughout the whole expanse of the park, embroidered sashes waved to and fro, and ornamented branches nodded their heads about. In addition to this, the members of the family were clad in such fineries that they put the peach tree to shame, made the almond yield the palm, the swallow envious and the hawk to blush. We could not therefore exhaustively describe them within our limited space of time.
Pao-ch’ai, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un, Li Wan, lady Feng and other girls, as well as Ta Chieh Erh, Hsiang Ling and the waiting-maids were, one and all, we will now notice, in the garden enjoying themselves; the only person who could not be seen was Lin Tai-yü.
“How is it,” consequently inquired Ying Ch’un, “that I don’t see cousin Liu? What a lazy girl! Is she forsooth fast asleep even at this late hour of the day?”
“Wait all of you here,” rejoined Pao-ch’ai, “and I’ll go and shake her up and bring her.”
With these words, she speedily left her companions and repaired straightway into the Hsiao Hsiang lodge.
While she was going on her errand, she met Wen Kuan and the rest of the girls, twelve in all, on their way to seek the party. Drawing near, they inquired after her health. After exchanging a few commonplace remarks, Pao-ch’ai turned round and pointing, said: “you will find them all in there; you had better go and join them. As for me, I’m going to fetch Miss Lin, but I’ll be back soon.”
Saying this, she followed the winding path, and came to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Upon suddenly raising her eyes, she saw Pao-yü walk in. Pao-ch’ai immediately halted, and, lowering her head, she gave way to meditation for a time. “Pao-yü and Lin Tai-yü,” she reflected, “have grown up together from their very infancy. But cousins, though they be, there are many instances in which they cannot evade suspicion, for they joke without heeding propriety; and at one time they are friends and at another at daggers drawn. Tai-yü has, moreover, always been full of envy; and has ever displayed a peevish disposition, so were I to follow him in at this juncture, why, Pao-yü would, in the first place, not feel at ease, and, in the second, Tai-yü would give way to jealousy. Better therefore for me to turn back.”
At the close of this train of thought, she retraced her steps. But just as she was starting to join her other cousins, she unexpectedly descried, ahead of her, a pair of jade-coloured butterflies, of the size of a circular fan. Now they soared high, now they made a swoop down, in their flight against the breeze; much to her amusement.
Pao-ch’ai felt a wish to catch them for mere fun’s sake, so producing a fan from inside her sleeve, she descended on to the turfed ground to flap them with it. The two butterflies suddenly were seen to rise; suddenly to drop: sometimes to come; at others to go. Just as they were on the point of flying across the stream to the other side, the enticement proved too much for Pao-ch’ai, and she pursued them on tiptoe straight up to the Ti Ts’ui pavilion, nestling on the bank of the pond; while fragrant perspiration dripped drop by drop, and her sweet breath panted gently. But Pao-ch’ai abandoned the idea of catching them, and was about to beat a retreat, when all at once she overheard, in the pavilion, the chatter of people engaged in conversation.
This pavilion had, it must be added, a verandah and zig-zag balustrades running all round. It was erected over the water, in the centre of a pond, and had on the four sides window-frames of carved wood work, stuck with paper. So when Pao-ch’ai caught, from without the pavilion, the sound of voices, she at once stood still and lent an attentive ear to what was being said.
“Look at this handkerchief,” she overheard. “If it’s really the one you’ve lost, well then keep it; but if it isn’t you must return it to Mr. Yün.”
“To be sure it is my own,” another party observed, “bring it along and give it to me.”
“What reward will you give me?” she further heard. “Is it likely that I’ve searched all for nothing!”
“I’ve long ago promised to recompense you, and of course I won’t play you false,” some one again rejoined.
“I found it and brought it round,” also reached her ear, “and you naturally will recompense me; but won’t you give anything to the person who picked it up?”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” the other party added, “he belongs to a family of gentlemen, and anything of ours he may pick up it’s his bounden duty to restore to us. What reward could you have me give him?”
“If you don’t reward him,” she heard some one continue, “what will I be able to tell him? Besides, he enjoined me time after time that if there was to be no recompense, I was not to give it to you.”
A short pause ensued. “Never mind!” then came out again to her, “take this thing of mine and present it to him and have done! But do you mean to let the cat out of the bag with any one else? You should take some oath.”
“If I tell any one,” she likewise overheard, “may an ulcer grow on my mouth, and may I, in course of time, die an unnatural death!”
“Ai-ya!” was the reply she heard; “our minds are merely bent upon talking, but some one might come and quietly listen from outside; wouldn’t it be as well to push all the venetians open. Any one seeing us in here will then imagine that we are simply chatting about nonsense. Besides, should they approach, we shall be able to observe them, and at once stop our conversation!”
Pao-ch’ai listened to these words from outside, with a heart full of astonishment. “How can one wonder,” she argued mentally, “if all those lewd and dishonest people, who have lived from olden times to the present, have devised such thorough artifices! But were they now to open and see me here, won’t they feel ashamed. Moreover, the voice in which those remarks were uttered resembles very much that of Hung Erh, attached to Pao-yü’s rooms, who has all along shown a sharp eye and a shrewd mind. She’s an artful and perverse thing of the first class! And as I have now overheard her peccadilloes, and a person in despair rebels as sure as a dog in distress jumps over the wall, not only will trouble arise, but I too shall derive no benefit. It would be better at present therefore for me to lose no time in retiring. But as I fear I mayn’t be in time to get out of the way, the only alternative for me is to make use of some art like that of the cicada, which can divest itself of its _exuviae_.”
She had scarcely brought her reflections to a close before a sound of ‘ko-chih’ reached her ears. Pao-ch’ai purposely hastened to tread with heavy step. “P’in Erh, I see where you’re hiding!” she cried out laughingly; and as she shouted, she pretended to be running ahead in pursuit of her.
As soon as Hsiao Hung and Chui Erh pushed the windows open from inside the pavilion, they heard Pao-ch’ai screaming, while rushing forward; and both fell into a state of trepidation from the fright they sustained.
Pao-ch’ai turned round and faced them. “Where have you been hiding Miss Lin?” she smiled.
“Who has seen anything of Miss Lin,” retorted Chui Erh.
“I was just now,” proceeded Pao-ch’ai, “on that side of the pool, and discerned Miss Lin squatting down over there and playing with the water. I meant to have gently given her a start, but scarcely had I walked up to her, when she saw me, and, with a _detour_ towards the East, she at once vanished from sight. So mayn’t she be concealing herself in there?”
As she spoke, she designedly stepped in and searched about for her. This over, she betook herself away, adding: “she’s certain to have got again into that cave in the hill, and come across a snake, which must have bitten her and put an end to her.”
So saying, she distanced them, feeling again very much amused. “I have managed,” she thought, “to ward off this piece of business, but I wonder what those two think about it.”
Hsiao Hung, who would have anticipated, readily credited as gospel the remarks she heard Pao-ch’ai make. But allowing just time enough to Pao-ch’ai to got to a certain distance, she instantly drew Chui Erh to her. “Dreadful!” she observed, “Miss Lin was squatting in here and must for a certainty have overheard what we said before she left.”
Albeit Chui Erh listened to her words, she kept her own counsel for a long time. “What’s to be done?” Hsiao Hung consequently exclaimed.
“Even supposing she did overhear what we said,” rejoined Chui Erh by way of answer, “why should she meddle in what does not concern her? Every one should mind her own business.”
“Had it been Miss Pao, it would not have mattered,” remarked Hsiao Hung, “but Miss Lin delights in telling mean things of people and is, besides, so petty-minded. Should she have heard and anything perchance comes to light, what will we do?”
During their colloquy, they noticed Wen Kuan, Hsiang Ling, Ssu Ch’i, Shih Shu and the other girls enter the pavilion, so they were compelled to drop the conversation and to play and laugh with them. They then espied lady Feng standing on the top of the hillock, waving her hand, beckoning to Hsiao Hung. Hurriedly therefore leaving the company, she ran up to lady Feng and with smile heaped upon smile, “my lady,” she inquired, “what is it that you want?”
Lady Feng scrutinised her for a time. Observing how spruce and pretty she was in looks, and how genial in her speech, she felt prompted to give her a smile. “My own waiting-maid,” she said, “hasn’t followed me in here to-day; and as I’ve just this moment bethought myself of something and would like to send some one on an errand, I wonder whether you’re fit to undertake the charge and deliver a message faithfully.”
“Don’t hesitate in entrusting me with any message you may have to send,” replied Hsiao Hung with a laugh. “I’ll readily go and deliver it. Should I not do so faithfully, and blunder in fulfilling your business, my lady, you may visit me with any punishment your ladyship may please, and I’ll have nothing to say.”
“What young lady’s servant are you,” smiled lady Feng? “Tell me, so that when she comes back, after I’ve sent you out, and looks for you, I may be able to tell her about you.”
“I’m attached to our Master Secundus,’ Mr. Pao’s rooms,” answered Hsiao Hung.
“Ai-ya!” ejaculated lady Feng, as soon as she heard these words. “Are you really in Pao-yü’s rooms! How strange! Yet it comes to the same thing. Well, if he asks for you, I’ll tell him where you are. Go now to our house and tell your sister P’ing that she’ll find on the table in the outer apartment and under the stand with the plate from the Ju kiln, a bundle of silver; that it contains the one hundred and twenty taels for the embroiderers’ wages; and that when Chang Ts’ai’s wife comes, the money should be handed to her to take away, after having been weighed in her presence and been given to her to tally. Another thing too I want. In the inner apartment and at the head of the bed you’ll find a small purse, bring it along to me.”
Hsiao Hung listened to her orders and then started to carry them out. On her return, in a short while, she discovered that lady Feng was not on the hillock. But perceiving Ssu Ch’i egress from the cave and stand still to tie her petticoat, she walked up to her. “Sister, do you know where our lady Secunda is gone to?” she asked.
“I didn’t notice,” rejoined Ssu Ch’i.
At this reply, Hsiao Hung turned round and cast a glance on all four quarters. Seeing T’an Ch’un and Pao-ch’ai standing by the bank of the pond on the opposite side and looking at the fish, Hsiao Hung advanced up to them. “Young ladies,” she said, straining a smile, “do you perchance have any idea where our lady Secunda is gone to now?”
“Go into your senior lady’s court and look for her!” T’an Ch’un answered.
Hearing this, Hsiao Hung was proceeding immediately towards the Tao Hsiang village, when she caught sight, just ahead of her, of Ch’ing Wen, Ch’i Hsia, Pi Hen, Ch’iu Wen, She Yüeh, Shih Shu, Ju Hua, Ying Erh and some other girls coming towards her in a group.
The moment Ch’ing Wen saw Hsiao Hung, she called out to her. “Are you gone clean off your head?” she exclaimed. “You don’t water the flowers, nor feed the birds or prepare the tea stove, but gad about outside!”
“Yesterday,” replied Hsiao Hung, “Mr. Secundus told me that there was no need for me to water the flowers to-day; that it was enough if they were watered every other day. As for the birds, you’re still in the arms of Morpheus, sister, when I give them their food.”
“And what about the tea-stove?” interposed Pi Hen.
“To-day,” retorted Hsiao Hung, “is not my turn on duty, so don’t ask me whether there be any tea or not!”
“Do you listen to that mouth of hers!” cried Ch’i Hsia, “but don’t you girls speak to her; let her stroll about and have done!”
“You’d better all go and ask whether I’ve been gadding about or not,” continued Hsiao Hung. “Our lady Secunda has just bidden me go and deliver a message, and fetch something.”
Saying this, she raised the purse and let them see it; and they, finding they could hit upon nothing more to taunt her with, trudged along onwards.
Ch’ing Wen smiled a sarcastic smile. “How funny!” she cried. “Lo, she climbs up a high branch and doesn’t condescend to look at any one of us! All she told her must have been just some word or two, who knows! But is it likely that our lady has the least notion of her name or surname that she rides such a high horse, and behaves in this manner! What credit is it in having been sent on a trifling errand like this! Will we, by and bye, pray, hear anything more about you? If you’ve got any gumption, you’d better skedaddle out of this garden this very day. For, mind, it’s only if you manage to hold your lofty perch for any length of time that you can be thought something of!”
As she derided her, she continued on her way.
During this while, Hsiao Hung listened to her, but as she did not find it a suitable moment to retaliate, she felt constrained to suppress her