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Hung Lou Meng, Book II by Cao Xueqin

Part 11 out of 14

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for fun?" they asked. "Is it likely that we improvise verses in real
earnest? Why, if any one treated our verses as genuine verses, and took
them outside this garden, people would have such a hearty laugh at our
expense that their very teeth would drop."

"This is again self-violence and self-abasement!" Pao-yü interposed. The
other day, I was outside the garden, consulting with the gentlemen about
paintings, and, when they came to hear that we had started a poetical
society, they begged of me to let them have the rough copies to read. So
I wrote out several stanzas, and gave them to them to look over, and who
did not praise them with all sincerity? They even copied them and took
them to have the blocks cut."

"Are you speaking the truth?" T'an Ch'un and Tai-yü eagerly inquired.

"If I'm telling a lie," Pao-yü laughed, "I'm like that cockatoo on that

"You verily do foolish things!" Tai-yü and T'an Ch'un exclaimed with one
voice, at these words. "But not to mention that they were doggerel
lines, had they even been anything like what verses should be, our
writings shouldn't have been hawked about outside."

"What's there to fear?" Pao-yü smiled. "Hadn't the writings of women of
old been handed outside the limits of the inner chambers, why, there
would, at present, be no one with any idea of their very existence."

While he passed this remark, they saw Ju Hua arrive from Hsi Ch'un's
quarters to ask Pao-yü to go over; and Pao-yü eventually took his

Hsiang Ling then pressed (Tai-yü) to give her T'u's poems. "Do choose
some theme," she also asked Tai-yü and T'an Ch'un, "and let me go and
write on it. When I've done, I'll bring it for you to correct."

"Last night," Tai-yü observed, "the moon was so magnificent, that I
meant to improvise a stanza on it; but as I haven't done yet, go at once
and write one using the fourteenth rhyme, 'han,' (cool). You're at
liberty to make use of whatever words you fancy."

Hearing this, Hsiang Ling was simply delighted, and taking the poems,
she went back. After considerable exertion, she succeeded in devising a
couplet, but so little able was she to tear herself away from the 'T'u'
poems, that she perused another couple of stanzas, until she had no
inclination for either tea or food, and she felt in an unsettled mood,
try though she did to sit or recline.

"Why," Pao-ch'ai remonstrated, "do you bring such trouble upon yourself?
It's that P'in Erh, who has led you on to it! But I'll settle accounts
with her! You've all along been a thick-headed fool; but now that you've
burdened yourself with all this, you've become a greater fool."

"Miss," smiled Hsiang Ling, "don't confuse me."

So saying, she set to work and put together a stanza, which she first
and foremost handed to Pao-ch'ai to look over.

"This isn't good!" Pao-ch'ai smilingly said. "This isn't the way to do
it! Don't fear of losing face, but take it and give it to her to peruse.
We'll see what she says."

At this suggestion, Hsiang Ling forthwith went with her verses in search
of Tai-yü. When Tai-yü came to read them, she found their text to be:

The night grows cool, what time Selene reacheth the mid-heavens.
Her radiance pure shineth around with such a spotless sheen.
Bards oft for inspiration raise on her their thoughts and eyes.
The rustic daren't see her, so fears he to enhance his grief.
Jade mirrors are suspended near the tower of malachite.
An icelike plate dangles outside the gem-laden portière.
The eve is fine, so why need any silvery candles burn?
A clear light shines with dazzling lustre on the painted rails.

"There's a good deal of spirit in them," Tai-yü smiled, "but the
language is not elegant. It's because you've only read a few poetical
works that you labour under restraint. Now put this stanza aside and
write another. Pluck up your courage and go and work away."

After listening to her advice, Hsiang Ling quietly wended her way back,
but so much the more (preoccupied) was she in her mind that she did not
even enter the house, but remaining under the trees, planted by the side
of the pond, she either seated herself on a rock and plunged in a
reverie, or squatted down and dug the ground, to the astonishment of all
those, who went backwards and forwards. Li wan, Pao-ch'ai, T'an Ch'un,
Pao-yü and some others heard about her; and, taking their position some
way off on the mound, they watched her, much amused. At one time, they
saw her pucker up her eyebrows; and at another smile to herself.

"That girl must certainly be cracked!" Pao-ch'ai laughed. "Last night
she kept on muttering away straight up to the fifth watch, when she at
last turned in. But shortly, daylight broke, and I heard her get up and
comb her hair, all in a hurry, and rush after P'in Erh. In a while,
however, she returned; and, after acting like an idiot the whole day,
she managed to put together a stanza. But it wasn't after all, good, so
she's, of course, now trying to devise another."

"This indeed shows," Pao-yü laughingly remarked, "that the earth is
spiritual, that man is intelligent, and that heaven does not in the
creation of human beings bestow on them natural gifts to no purpose.
We've been sighing and lamenting that it was a pity that such a one as
she, should, really, be so unpolished; but who could ever have
anticipated that things would, in the long run, reach the present pass?
This is a clear sign that heaven and earth are most equitable!"

"If only," smiled Pao-ch'ai, at these words, "you could be as
painstaking as she is, what a good thing it would be. And would you fail
to attain success in anything you might take up?"

Pao-yü made no reply. But realising that Hsiang Ling had crossed over in
high spirits to find Tai-yü again, T'an Ch'un laughed and suggested,
"Let's follow her there, and see whether her composition is any good."

At this proposal, they came in a body to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Here
they discovered Tai-yü holding the verses and explaining various things
to her.

"What are they like?" they all thereupon inquired of Tai-yü.

"This is naturally a hard job for her!" Tai-yü rejoined. "They're not
yet as good as they should be. This stanza is far too forced; you must
write another."

One and all however expressed a desire to look over the verses. On
perusal, they read:

'Tis not silver, neither water that on the windows shines so cold.
Selene, mark! covers, like a jade platter, the clear vault of heaven.
What time the fragrance faint of the plum bloom is fain to tinge the
The dew-bedecked silken willow trees begin to lose their leaves.
'Tis the remains of powder which methinks besmear the golden steps.
Her lustrous rays enshroud like light hoar-frost the jadelike
When from my dreams I wake, in the west tower, all human trace is
Her slanting orb can yet clearly be seen across the bamboo screen.

"It doesn't sound like a song on the moon," Pao-ch'ai smilingly
observed. "Yet were, after the word 'moon', that of 'light' supplied, it
would be better; for, just see, if each of these lines treated of the
moonlight, they would be all right. But poetry primarily springs from
nonsensical language. In a few days longer, you'll be able to do well."

Hsiang Ling had flattered herself that this last stanza was perfect, and
the criticisms, that fell on her ear, damped her spirits again. She was
not however disposed to relax in her endeavours, but felt eager to
commune with her own thoughts, so when she perceived the young ladies
chatting and laughing, she betook herself all alone to the bamboo-grove
at the foot of the steps; where she racked her brain, and ransacked her
mind with such intentness that her ears were deaf to everything around
her and her eyes blind to everything beyond her task.

"Miss Ling," T'an Ch'un presently cried, smiling from inside the window,
"do have a rest!"

"The character 'rest;'" Hsiang Ling nervously replied, "comes from lot
N.° 15, under 'shan', (to correct); so it's the wrong rhyme."

This rambling talk made them involuntarily burst out laughing.

"In very fact," Pao-sh'ai laughed, "she's under a poetical frenzy, and
it's all P'in Erh who has incited her."

"The holy man says," Tai-yü smilingly rejoined, "that 'one must not be
weary of exhorting people'; and if she comes, time and again, to ask me
this and that how can I possibly not tell her?"

"Let's take her to Miss Quarta's rooms," Li Wan smiled, "and if we could
coax her to look at the painting, and bring her to her senses, it will
be well."

Speaking the while, she actually walked out of the room, and laying hold
of her, she brought her through the Lotus Fragrance arbour to the bank
of Warm Fragrance. Hsi Ch'un was tired and languid, and was lying on the
window, having a midday siesta. The painting was resting against the
partition-wall, and was screened with a gauze cover. With one voice,
they roused Hsi Ch'un, and raising the gauze cover to contemplate her
work, they saw that three tenths of it had already been accomplished.
But their attention was attracted by the representation of several
beautiful girls, inserted in the picture, so pointing at Hsiang Ling:
"Every one who can write verses is to be put here," they said, "so be
quick and learn."

But while conversing, they played and laughed for a time, after which,
each went her own way.

Hsiang Ling was meanwhile preoccupied about her verses, so, when evening
came, she sat facing the lamp absorbed in thought. And the third watch
struck before she got to bed. But her eyes were so wide awake, that it
was only after the fifth watch had come and gone, that she, at length,
felt drowsy and fell fast asleep.

Presently, the day dawned, and Pao-ch'ai woke up; but, when she lent an
ear, she discovered (Hsiang Ling) in a sound sleep. "She has racked her
brains the whole night long," she pondered. "I wonder, however, whether
she has succeeded in finishing her task. She must be tired now, so I
won't disturb her."

But in the midst of her cogitations, she heard Hsiang Ling laugh and
exclaim in her sleep: "I've got it. It cannot be that this stanza too
won't be worth anything."

"How sad and ridiculous!" Pao-ch'ai soliloquised with a smile. And,
calling her by name, she woke her up. "What have you got?" she asked.
"With that firmness of purpose of yours, you could even become a spirit!
But before you can learn how to write poetry, you'll be getting some

Chiding her the while, she combed her hair and washed; and, this done,
she repaired, along with her cousins, into dowager lady Chia's quarters.

Hsiang Ling made, in fact, such desperate efforts to learn all about
poetry that her system got quite out of order. But although she did not
in the course of the day hit upon anything, she quite casually succeeded
in her dreams in devising eight lines; so concluding her toilette and
her ablutions, she hastily jotted them down, and betook herself into the
Hsin Fang pavilion. Here she saw Li Wan and the whole bevy of young
ladies, returning from Madame Wang's suite of apartments.

Pao-ch'ai was in the act of telling them of the verses composed by
Hsiang Ling, while asleep, and of the nonsense she had been talking, and
every one of them was convulsed with laughter. But upon raising their
heads, and perceiving that she was approaching, they vied with each
other in pressing her to let them see her composition.

But, reader, do you wish to know any further particulars? If you do;
read those given in the next chapter.


White snow and red plum blossom in the crystal world.
The pretty girl, fragrant with powder, cuts some meat and eats it.

Hsiang Ling, we will now proceed, perceived the young ladies engaged in
chatting and laughing, and went up to them with a smiling countenance.
"Just you look at this stanza!" she said. "If it's all right, then I'll
continue my studies; but if it isn't worth any thing, I'll banish at
once from my mind all idea of going in for versification."

With these words, she handed the verses to Tai-yü and her companions.
When they came to look at them, they found this to be their burden:

If thou would'st screen Selene's beauteous sheen, thou'lt find it
Her shadows are by nature full of grace, frigid her form.
A row of clothes-stones batter, while she lights a thousand li.
When her disc's half, and the cock crows at the fifth watch, 'tis
Wrapped in my green cloak in autumn, I hear flutes on the stream.
While in the tower the red-sleeved maid leans on the rails at night.
She feels also constrained to ask of the goddess Ch'ang O:
'Why it is that she does not let the moon e'er remain round?'

"This stanza is not only good," they with one voice exclaimed, after
perusing it, "but it's original, it's charming. It bears out the
proverb: 'In the world, there's nothing difficult; the only thing hard
to get at is a human being with a will.' We'll certainly ask you to join
our club."

Hsiang Ling caught this remark; but so little did she credit it that
fancying that they were making fun of her, she still went on to press
Tai-yü, Pao-ch'ai and the other girls to give her their opinions. But
while engaged in speaking, she spied a number of young waiting-maids,
and old matrons come with hurried step. "Several young ladies and ladies
have come," they announced smilingly, "but we don't know any of them. So
your ladyship and you, young ladies, had better come at once and see
what relatives they are."

"What are you driving at?" Li Wan laughed. "You might, after all, state
distinctly whose relatives they are."

"Your ladyship's two young sisters have come," the matrons and maids
rejoined smiling. "There's also another young lady, who says she's miss
Hsüeh's cousin, and a gentleman who pretends to be Mr. Hsüeh P'an's
junior cousin. We are now off to ask Mrs. Hsüeh to meet them. But your
ladyship and the young ladies might go in advance and greet them." As
they spoke, they straightway took their leave.

"Has our Hsüeh K'o come along with his sisters?" Pao-ch'ai inquired,
with a smile.

"My aunt has probably also come to the capital," Li Wan laughed. "How is
it they've all arrived together? This is indeed a strange thing!" Then
adjourning in a body into Madame Wang's drawing rooms, they saw the
floor covered with a black mass of people.

Madame Hsing's sister-in-law was there as well. She had entered the
capital with her daughter, Chou Yen, to look up madame Hsing. But lady
Feng's brother, Wang Jen, had, as luck would have it, just been
preparing to start for the capital, so the two family connexions set out
in company for their common destination. After accomplishing half their
journey, they encountered, while their boats were lying at anchor, Li
Wan's widowed sister-in-law, who also was on her way to the metropolis,
with her two girls, the elder of whom was Li Wen and the younger Li
Ch'i. They all them talked matters over, and, induced by the ties of
relationship, the three families prosecuted their voyage together. But
subsequently, Hsüeh P'an's cousin Hsüeh K'o,--whose father had, when on
a visit years ago to the capital, engaged his uterine sister to the son
of the Han-lin Mei, whose residence was in the metropolis,--came while
planning to go and consummate the marriage, to learn of Wang Jen's
departure, so taking his sister with him, he kept in his track till he
managed to catch him up. Hence it happened that they all now arrived in
a body to look up their respective relatives. In due course, they
exchanged the conventional salutations; and these over, they had a chat.

Dowager lady Chia and madame Wang were both filled with ineffable

"Little wonder is it," smiled old lady Chia, "if the snuff of the lamp
crackled time and again; and if it formed and reformed into a head! It
was, indeed, sure to come to this to-day!"

While she conversed on every-day topics, the presents had to be put
away; and, as she, at the same time, expressed a wish to keep the new
arrivals to partake of some wine and eatables, lady Feng had, needless
to say, much extra work added to her ordinary duties.

Li Wan and Pao-ch'ai descanted, of course, with their aunts and cousins
on the events that had transpired since their separation. But Tai-yü,
though when they first met, continued in cheerful spirits, could not
again, when the recollection afterwards flashed through her mind that
one and all had their relatives, and that she alone had not a soul to
rely upon, avoid withdrawing out of the way, and giving vent to tears.

Pao-yü, however, read her feelings, and he had to do all that lay in his
power to exhort her and to console her for a time before she cheered up.
Pao-yü then hurried into the I Hung court. Going up to Hsi Jen, She Yüeh
and Chi'ng Wen: "Don't you yet hasten to go and see them?" he smiled.
"Who'd ever have fancied that cousin Pao-ch'ai's own cousin would be
what he is? That cousin of hers is so unique in appearance and in
deportment. He looks as if he were cousin Pao-ch'ai's uterine younger
brother. But what's still more odd is, that you should have kept on
saying the whole day long that cousin Pao-ch'ai is a very beautiful
creature. You should now see her cousin, as well as the two girls of her
senior sister-in-law. I couldn't adequately tell you what they're like.
Good heavens! Good heavens! What subtle splendour and spiritual beauty
must you possess to produce beings like them, so superior to other human
creatures! How plain it is that I'm like a frog wallowing at the bottom
of a well! I've throughout every hour of the day said to myself that
nowhere could any girls be found to equal those at present in our home;
but, as it happens, I haven't had far to look! Even in our own native
sphere, one would appear to eclipse the other! Here I have now managed
to add one more stratum to my store of learning! But can it possibly be
that outside these few, there can be any more like them?"

As he uttered these sentiments, he smiled to himself. But Hsi Jen
noticed how much under the influence of his insane fits he once more
was, and she promptly abandoned all idea of going over to pay her
respects to the visitors.

Ch'ing Wen and the other girls had already gone and seen them and come
back. Putting on a smile, "You'd better," they urged Hsi Jen, "be off at
once and have a look at them. Our elder mistress' niece, Miss Pao's
cousin, and our senior lady's two sisters resemble a bunch of four leeks
so pretty are they!"

But scarcely were these words out of their lips, than they perceived
T'an Ch'un too enter the room, beaming with smiles. She came in quest of

"Our poetical society is in a flourishing way," she remarked.

"It is," smiled Pao-yü. "Here no sooner do we, in the exuberance of our
spirits, start a poetical society, than the devils and gods bring
through their agency, all these people in our midst! There's only one
thing however. Have they, I wonder, ever learnt how to write poetry or

"I just now asked every one of them," T'an Ch'un replied. "Their ideas
of themselves are modest, it's true, yet from all I can gather there's
not one who can't versify. But should there even be any who can't,
there's nothing hard about it. Just look at Hsiang Ling. Her case will
show you the truth of what I say."

"Of the whole lot," smiled Ch'ing Wen, "Miss Hsüeh's cousin carries the
palm. What do you think about her, Miss Tertia?"

"It's really so!" T'an Ch'un responded. "In my own estimation, even her
elder cousin and all this bevy of girls are not fit to hold a candle to

Hsi Jen felt much surprise at what she heard. "This is indeed odd!" she
smiled. "Whence could one hunt up any better? We'd like to go and have a
peep at her."

"Our venerable senior," T'an Ch'un observed, "was at the very first
sight of her so charmed with her that there's nothing she wouldn't do.
She has already compelled our Madame Hsing to adopt her as a godchild.
Our dear ancestor wishes to bring her up herself; this point was settled
a little while back."

Pao-yü went into ecstasies. "Is this a fact?" he eagerly inquired.

"How often have I gone in for yarns?" T'an Ch'un said. "Now that our
worthy senior," continuing, she laughed, "has got this nice
granddaughter, she has banished from her mind all thought of a grandson
like you!"

"Never mind," answered Pao-yü smiling. "It's only right that girls
should be more doated upon. But to-morrow is the sixteenth, so we should
have a meeting."

"That girl Lin Tai-yü is no sooner out of bed," T'an Ch'un remarked,
"than cousin Secunda falls ill again. Everything is, in fact, up and

"Our cousin Secunda," Pao-yü explained, "doesn't also go in very much
for verses, so, what would it matter if she were left out?"

"It would be well to wait a few days," T'an Ch'un urged, "until the new
comers have had time to see enough of us to become intimate. We can then
invite them to join us. Won't this be better? Our senior sister-in-law
and cousin Pao have now no mind for poetry. Besides, Hsiang-yün has not
arrived. P'in Erh is just over her sickness. The members are not all
therefore in a fit state, so wouldn't it be preferable if we waited
until that girl Yün came? The new arrivals will also have a chance of
becoming friendly. P'in Erh will likewise recover entirely. Our senior
sister-in-law and cousin Pao will have time to compose their minds; and
Hsiang Ling to improve in her verses. We shall then be able to convene a
full meeting; and won't it be better? You and I must now go over to our
worthy ancestor's, on the other side, and hear what's up. But, barring
cousin Pao-ch'ai's cousin,--for we needn't take her into account, as
it's sure to have been decided that she should live in our home,--if the
other three are not to stay here with us, we should entreat our
grandmother to let them as well take up their quarters in the garden.
And if we succeed in adding a few more to our number, won't it be more
fun for us?"

Pao-yü at these words was so much the more gratified that his very
eyebrows distended, and his eyes laughed. "You've got your wits about
you!" he speedily exclaimed. "My mind is ever so dull! I've vainly given
way to a fit of joy. But to think of these contingencies was beyond me!"

So saying the two cousins repaired together to their grandmother's suite
of apartments; where, in point of fact, Madame Wang had already gone
through the ceremony of recognizing Hsüeh Pao-ch'in as her godchild.
Dowager lady Chia's fascination for her, however, was so much out of the
common run that she did not tell her to take up her quarters in the
garden. Of a night, she therefore slept with old lady Chia in the same
rooms; while Hsüeh K'o put up in Hsüeh P'an's study.

"Your niece needn't either return home," dowager lady Chia observed to
Madame Hsing. "Let her spend a few days in the garden and see the place
before she goes."

Madame Hsing's brother and sister-in-law were, indeed, in straitened
circumstances at home. So much so that they had, on their present visit
to the capital, actually to rely upon such accommodation as Madame Hsing
could procure for them and upon such help towards their travelling
expenses as she could afford to give them. When she consequently heard
her proposal, Madame Hsing was, of course, only too glad to comply with
her wishes, and readily she handed Hsing Chou-yen to the charge of lady
Feng. But lady Feng, bethinking herself of the number of young ladies
already in the garden, of their divergent dispositions and, above all
things, of the inconvenience of starting a separate household, deemed it
advisable to send her to live along with Ying Ch'un; for in the event,
(she thought), of Hsing Chou-yen meeting afterwards with any
contrarieties, she herself would be clear of all responsibility, even
though Madame Hsing came to hear about them. Deducting, therefore any
period, spent by Hsing Chou-yen on a visit home, lady Feng allowed Hsing
Chou-yen as well, if she extended her stay in the garden of Broad Vista
for any time over a month, an amount equal to that allotted to Ying

Lady Feng weighed with unprejudiced eye Hsing Chou-yen's temperament and
deportment. She found in her not the least resemblance to Madame Hsing,
or even to her father and mother; but thought her a most genial and
love-inspiring girl. This consideration actuated lady Feng (not to deal
harshly with her), but to pity her instead for the poverty, in which
they were placed at home, and for the hard lot she had to bear, and to
treat her with far more regard than she did any of the other young
ladies. Madame Hsing, however, did not lavish much attention on her.

Dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the rest had all along been fond of
Li Wan for her virtuous and benevolent character. Besides, her
continence in remaining a widow at her tender age commanded general
esteem. When they therefore now saw her husbandless sister-in-law come
to pay her a visit, they would not allow her to go and live outside the
mansion. Her sister-in-law was, it is true, extremely opposed to the
proposal, but as dowager lady Chia was firm in her determination, she
had no other course but to settle down, along with Li Wen and Li Ch'i,
in the Tao Hsiang village.

They had by this time assigned quarters to all the new comers, when, who
would have thought it, Shih Ting, Marquis of Chung Ching, was once again
appointed to a high office in another province, and he had shortly to
take his family and proceed to his post. But so little could old lady
Chia brook the separation from Hsiang-yün that she kept her behind and
received her in her own home. Her original idea was to have asked lady
Feng to have separate rooms arranged for her, but Shih Hsiang-yün was so
obstinate in her refusal, her sole wish being to put up with Pao-ch'ai,
that the idea had, in consequence, to be abandoned.

At this period, the garden of Broad Vista was again much more full of
life than it had ever been before. Li Wan was the chief inmate. The rest
consisted of Ying Ch'un, T'an Ch'un, Hsi Ch'un, Pao-ch'ai, Tai-yü,
Hsiang-yün, Li Wen, Li Ch'i, Pao Ch'in and Hsing Chou-yen. In addition
to these, there were lady Feng and Pao-yü, so that they mustered
thirteen in all. As regards age, irrespective of Li Wan, who was by far
the eldest, and lady Feng, who came next, the other inmates did not
exceed fourteen, sixteen or seventeen. But the majority of them had come
into the world in the same year, though in different months, so they
themselves could not remember distinctly who was senior, and who junior.
Even dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the matrons and maids in the
household were unable to tell the differences between them with any
accuracy, given as they were to the simple observance of addressing
themselves promiscuously and quite at random by the four words
representing 'female cousin' and 'male cousin.'

Hsiang Ling was gratifying her wishes to her heart's content and
devoting her mind exclusively to the composition of verses, not
presuming however to make herself too much of a nuisance to Pao-ch'ai,
when, by a lucky coincidence, Shih Hsiang-yün came on the scene. But how
was it possible for one so loquacious as Hsiang-yün to avoid the subject
of verses, when Hsiang Ling repeatedly begged her for explanations? This
inspirited her so much the more, that not a day went by, yea not a
single night, on which she did not start some loud argument and lengthy

"You really," Pao-ch'ai felt impelled to laugh, "kick up such a din,
that it's quite unbearable! Fancy a girl doing nothing else than turning
poetry into a legitimate thing for raising an argument! Why, were some
literary persons to hear you, they would, instead of praising you, have
a laugh at your expense, and say that you don't mind your own business.
We hadn't yet got rid of Hsiang Ling with all her rubbish, and here we
have a chatterbox like you thrown on us! But what is it that that mouth
of yours keeps on jabbering? What about the bathos of Tu Kung-pu; and
the unadorned refinement of Wei Su-chou? What also about Wen Pa-ch'a's
elegant diction; and Li I-shan's abstruseness? A pack of silly fools
that you are! Do you in any way behave like girls should?"

These sneers evoked laughter from both Hsiang Ling and Hsiang-yün. But
in the course of their conversation, they perceived Pao-ch'in drop in,
with a waterproof wrapper thrown over her, so dazzling with its gold and
purplish colours, that they were at a loss to make out what sort of
article it could be.

"Where did you get this?" Pao-ch'ai eagerly inquired.

"It was snowing," Pao-ch'in smilingly replied, "so her venerable
ladyship turned up this piece of clothing and gave it to me."

Hsiang Ling drew near and passed it under inspection. "No wonder," she
exclaimed, "it looks so handsome! It's verily woven with peacock's

"What about peacock's feathers?" Hsiang-yün laughed. "It's made of the
feathers plucked from the heads of wild ducks. This is a clear sign that
our worthy ancestor is fond of you, for with all her love for Pao-yü,
she hasn't given it to him to wear."

"Truly does the proverb say: 'that every human being has his respective
lot.'" Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Nothing ever was further from my thoughts than
that she would, at this juncture, drop on the scene! Come she may, but
here she also gets our dear ancestor to lavish such love on her!"

"Unless you stay with our worthy senior," Hsiang-yün said, "do come into
the garden. You may romp and laugh and eat and drink as much as you like
in these two places. But when you get over to Madame Hsing's rooms, talk
and joke with her, if she be at home, to your heart's content; it won't
matter if you tarry ever so long. But should she not be in, don't put
your foot inside; for the inmates are many in those rooms and their
hearts are evil. All they're up to is to do us harm."

These words much amused Pao-ch'ai, Pao-ch'in, Hsiang-Ling, Ying Erh and
the others present.

"Were one to say," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "that you're heartless, (it
wouldn't do); for you've got a heart. But despite your having a heart,
your tongue is, in fact, a little too outspoken! You should really
to-day acknowledge this Ch'in Erh of ours as your own sister!"

"This article of clothing," Hsiang-yün laughed, casting another glance
at Pao-ch'in, "is only meet for her to wear. It wouldn't verily look
well on any one else."

Saying this, she espied Hu Po enter the room. "Our old mistress," she
put in smiling, "bade me tell you, Miss Pao-ch'ai, not to keep too
strict a check over Miss Ch'in, for she's yet young; that you should let
her do as she pleases, and that whatever she wants you should ask for,
and not be afraid."

Pao-ch'ai hastily jumped to her feet and signified her obedience.
Pushing Pao-ch'in, she laughed. "Even you couldn't tell whence this
piece of good fortune hails from," she said. "Be off now; for mind, we
might hurt your feelings. I can never believe myself so inferior to

As she spoke, Pao-yü and Tai-yü walked in. But as Pao-ch'ai continued to
indulge in raillery to herself, "Cousin Pao," Hsiang-yün smilingly
remonstrated, "you may, it's true, be jesting, but what if there were
any one to entertain such ideas in real earnest?"

"If any one took things in earnest," Hu Po interposed laughing, "why,
she'd give offence to no one else but to him." Pointing, as she uttered
this remark, at Pao-yü.

"He's not that sort of person!" Pao-ch'ai and Hsiang-yün simultaneously
ventured, with a significant smile.

"If it isn't he," Hu Po proceeded still laughing, "it's she." Turning
again her finger towards Tai-yü.

Hsiang-yün expressed not a word by way of rejoinder.

"That's still less likely," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "for my cousin is like her
own sister; and she's far fonder of her than of me. How could she
therefore take offence? Do you credit that nonsensical trash uttered by
Yün-erh! Why what good ever comes out of that mouth of hers?"

Pao-yü was ever well aware that Tai-yü was gifted with a somewhat mean
disposition. He had not however as yet come to learn anything of what
had recently transpired between Tai-yü and Pao-ch'ai. He was therefore
just giving way to fears lest his grandmother's fondness for Pao-ch'in
should be the cause of her feeling dejected. But when he now heard the
remarks passed by Hsiang-yün, and the rejoinders made, on the other
hand, by Pao-ch'ai, and, when he noticed how different Tai-yü's voice
and manner were from former occasions, and how they actually bore out
Pao-ch'ai's insinuation, he was at a great loss how to solve the
mystery. "These two," he consequently pondered, "were never like this
before! From all I can now see, they're, really, a hundred times far
more friendly than any others are!" But presently he also observed Lin
Tai-yü rush after Pao-ch'in, and call out 'Sister,' and, without even
making any allusion to her name or any mention to her surname, treat her
in every respect, just as if she were her own sister.

This Pao-ch'in was young and warm-hearted. She was naturally besides of
an intelligent disposition. She had, from her very youth up, learnt how
to read and how to write. After a stay, on the present occasion, of a
couple of days in the Chia mansion, she became acquainted with nearly
every inmate. And as she saw that the whole bevy of young ladies were
not of a haughty nature, and that they kept on friendly terms with her
own cousin, she did not feel disposed to treat them with any
discourtesy. But she had likewise found out for herself that Lin Tai-yü
was the best among the whole lot, so she started with Tai-yü, more than
with any one else, a friendship of unusual fervour. This did not escape
Pao-yü's notice; but all he could do was to secretly give way to

Shortly, however, Pao-ch'ai and her cousin repaired to Mrs. Hsüeh's
quarters. Hsiang-yün then betook herself to dowager lady Chia's
apartments, while Lin Tai-yü returned to her room and lay down to rest.

Pao-yü thereupon came to look up Tai-yü.

"Albeit I've read the 'Record of the Western Side-room,'" he smiled,
"and understood a few passages of it, yet when I quoted some in order to
make you laugh, you flew into a huff! But I now remember that there is,
indeed, a passage, which is not intelligible to me; so let me quote it
for you to explain it for me!"

Hearing this, Tai-yü immediately concluded that his words harboured some
secret meaning, so putting on a smile, "Recite it and let me hear it,"
she said.

"In the 'Confusion' chapter," Pao-yü laughingly began, "there's a line
couched in most beautiful language. It's this: 'What time did Meng Kuang
receive Liang Hung's candlestick?' (When did you and Pao-ch'ai get to be
such friends?) These five characters simply bear on a stock story; but
to the credit of the writer be it, the question contained in the three
empty words representing, 'What time' is set so charmingly! When did she
receive it? Do tell me!"

At this inquiry, Tai-yü too could not help laughing. "The question was
originally nicely put," she felt urged to rejoin with a laugh. "But
though the writer sets it gracefully, you ask it likewise with equal

"At one time," Pao-yü. observed, "all you knew was to suspect that I
(was in love with Pao-ch'ai); and have you now no faults to find?"

"Who ever could have imagined her such a really nice girl!" Tai-yü
smiled. "I've all along thought her full of guile!" And seizing the
occasion, she told Pao-yü with full particulars how she had, in the game
of forfeits, made an improper quotation, and what advice Pao-ch'ai had
given her on the subject; how she had even sent her some birds' nests,
and what they had said in the course of the chat they had had during her

Pao-yü then at length came to see why it was that such a warm friendship
had sprung up between them. "To tell you the truth," he consequently
remarked smilingly, "I was just wondering when Meng Kuang had received
Liang Hung's candlestick; and, lo, you, indeed, got it, when a mere
child and through some reckless talk, (and your friendship was sealed)."

As the conversation again turned on Pao-ch'in, Tai-yü recalled to mind
that she had no sister, and she could not help melting once more into

Pao-yü hastened to reason with her. "This is again bringing trouble upon
yourself!" he argued. "Just see how much thinner you are this year than
you were last; and don't you yet look after your health? You
deliberately worry yourself every day of your life. And when you've had
a good cry, you feel at last that you've acquitted yourself of the
duties of the day."

"Of late," Tai-yü observed, drying her tears, "I feel sore at heart. But
my tears are scantier by far than they were in years gone by. With all
the grief and anguish, which gnaw my heart, my tears won't fall

"This is because weeping has become a habit with you," Pao-yü added.
"But though you fancy to yourself that it is so, how can your tears have
become scantier than they were?"

While arguing with her, he perceived a young waiting-maid, attached to
his room, bring him a red felt wrapper. "Our senior mistress, lady Chia
Chu," she went on, "has just sent a servant to say that, as it snows,
arrangements should be made for inviting people to-morrow to write

But hardly was this message delivered, than they saw Li Wan's maid
enter, and invite Tai-yü to go over. Pao-yü then proposed to Tai-yü to
accompany him, and together they came to the Tao Hsiang village. Tai-yü
changed her shoes for a pair of low shoes made of red scented sheep
skin, ornamented with gold, and hollowed clouds. She put on a deep red
crape cloak, lined with white fox fur; girdled herself with a
lapis-lazuli coloured sash, decorated with bright green double rings and
four sceptres; and covered her head with a hat suitable for rainy
weather. After which, the two cousins trudged in the snow, and repaired
to this side of the mansion. Here they discovered the young ladies
assembled, dressed all alike in deep red felt or camlet capes, with the
exception of Li Wan, who was clad in a woollen jacket, buttoning in the

Hsüeh Pao-ch'ai wore a pinkish-purple twilled pelisse, lined with
foreign 'pa' fur, worked with threads from abroad, and ornamented with
double embroidery. Hsing Chou-yen was still attired in an old costume,
she ordinarily used at home, without any garment for protection against
the rain. Shortly, Shih Hsiang-yün arrived. She wore the long pelisse,
given her by dowager lady Chia, which gave warmth both from the inside
and outside, as the top consisted of martin-head fur, and the lining of
the long-haired coat of the dark grey squirrel. On her head, she had a
deep red woollen hood, made _á la_ Chao Chün, with designs of
clouds scooped out on it. This was lined with gosling-yellow,
gold-streaked silk. Round her neck, she had a collar of sable fur.

"Just see here!" Tai-yü was the first to shout with a laugh. "Here comes
Sun Hsing-che the 'monkey-walker!' Lo, like him, she holds a snow cloak,
and purposely puts on the air of a young bewitching ape!"

"Look here, all of you!" Hsiang-yün laughed. "See what I wear inside!"

So saying, she threw off her cloak. This enabled them to notice that she
wore underneath a half-new garment with three different coloured borders
on the collar and cuffs, consisting of a short pelisse of russet
material lined with ermine and ornamented with dragons embroidered in
variegated silks whose coils were worked with golden threads. The lapel
was narrow. The sleeves were short. The folds buttoned on the side.
Under this, she had a very short light-red brocaded satin bodkin, lined
with fur from foxes' ribs. Round her waist was lightly attached a
many-hued palace sash, with butterfly knots and long tassels. On her
feet, she too wore a pair of low shoes made of deer leather. Her waist
looked more than ever like that of a wasp, her back like that of the
gibbon. Her bearing resembled that of a crane, her figure that of a

"Her weak point," they laughed unanimously, "is to get herself up to
look like a young masher. But she does, there's no denying, cut a much
handsomer figure like this, than when she's dressed up like a girl!"

"Lose no time," Hsiang-yün smiled, "in deliberating about writing
verses, for I'd like to hear who is to stand treat."

"According to my idea," Li Wan chimed in, "I think that as the
legitimate day, which was yesterday, has gone by, it would be too long
to wait for another proper date. As luck would have it, it's snowing
again to-day, so won't it be well to raise contributions among ourselves
and have a meeting? We'll thus be able to give the visitors a greeting;
and to get an opportunity of writing a few verses. But what are your
views on the subject?"

"This proposal is excellent!" Pao-yü was the first to exclaim. "The only
thing is that it's too late to-day; and if it clears up by to-morrow,
there will be really no fun."

"It isn't likely," cried out the party with one voice, "that this snowy
weather will clear up. But even supposing it does, the snow which will
fall during this night will be sufficient for our enjoyment."

"This place of mine is nice enough, it's true," Li Wan added, "yet it
isn't up to the Lu Hsüeh Pavilion. I've already therefore despatched
workmen to raise earthen couches, so that we should all be able to sit
round the fire and compose our verses. Our venerable senior, I fancy, is
not sure about caring to join us. Besides, this is only a small
amusement between ourselves so if we just let that hussy Feng know
something about it, it will be quite enough. A tael from each of you
will be ample, but send your money to me here! As regards Hsiang Ling,
Pao-ch'in, Li Wen, Li Ch'i and Chou-yen, the five of them, we needn't
count them. Neither need we include the two girls of our number, who are
ill; nor take into account the four girls who've asked for leave. If you
will let me have your four shares, I'll undertake to see that five or
six taels be made to suffice."

Pao-ch'ai and the others without exception signified their acquiescence.
They consequently proceeded to propose the themes and to fix upon the

"I've long ago," smiled Li Wan, "settled them in my own mind, so
tomorrow at the proper time you'll really know all about them."

At the conclusion of this remark, they indulged in another chat on
irrelevant topics; and this over, they came into old lady Chia's

Nothing of any note transpired during the course of that day. At an
early hour on the morrow, Pao-yü--for he had been looking forward with
such keen expectation to the coming event that he had found it
impossible to have any sleep during the night,--jumped out of bed with
the first blush of dawn. Upon raising his curtain and looking out, he
observed that, albeit the doors and windows were as yet closed, a bright
light shone on the lattice sufficient to dazzle the eyes, and his mind
began at once to entertain misgivings, and to feel regrets, in the
assurance that the weather had turned out fine, and that the sun had
already risen. In a hurry, he simultaneously sprung to his feet, and
flung the window-frame open, then casting a glance outside, from within
the glass casement, he realised that it was not the reflection of the
sun, but that of the snow, which had fallen throughout the night to the
depth of over a foot, and that the heavens were still covered as if with
twisted cotton and unravelled floss. Pao-yü got, by this time, into an
unusual state of exhilaration. Hastily calling up the servants, and
completing his ablutions, he robed himself in an egg-plant-coloured
camlet, fox-fur lined pelisse; donned a short-sleeved falconry surtout
ornamented with water dragons; tied a sash round his waist; threw over
his shoulders a fine bamboo waterproof; covered his head with a golden
rattan rain-hat; put on a pair of 'sha t'ang' wood clogs, and rushed out
with precipitate step towards the direction of the Lu Hsüeh Pavilion.

As soon as he sallied out of the gate of the courtyard, he gazed on all
four quarters. No trace whatever of any other colour (but white) struck
his eye. In the distance stood the green fir-trees and the
kingfisherlike bamboos. They too looked, however, as if they were placed
in a glass bowl.

Forthwith he wended his way down the slope and trudged along the foot of
the hill. But the moment he turned the bend, he felt a whiff of cold
fragrance come wafted into his nostrils. Turning his head, he espied ten
and more red plum trees, over at Miao Yü's in the Lung Ts'ui monastery.
They were red like very rouge. And, reflecting the white colour of the
snow, they showed off their beauty to such an extraordinary degree as to
present a most pleasing sight.

Pao-yü quickly stood still, and gazed, with all intentness, at the
landscape for a time. But just as he was proceeding on his way, he
caught sight of some one on the "Wasp waist" wooden bridge, advancing in
his direction, with an umbrella in hand. It was the servant, despatched
by Li Wan, to request lady Peng to go over.

On his arrival in the Lu Hsüeh pavilion, Pao-yü found the maids and
matrons engaged in sweeping away the snow and opening a passage. This Lu
Hsüeh (Water-rush snow) pavilion was, we might explain, situated on a
side hill, in the vicinity of a stream and spanned the rapids formed by
it. The whole place consisted of several thatched roofs, mud walls, side
fences, bamboo lattice windows and pushing windows, out of which
fishing-lines could be conveniently dropped. On all four sides
flourished one mass of reeds, which concealed the single path out of the
pavilion. Turning and twisting, he penetrated on his way through the
growth of reeds until he reached the spot where stretched the bamboo
bridge leading to the Lotus Fragrance Arbour.

The moment the maids and matrons saw him approach with his
waterproof-wrapper thrown over his person and his rain-hat on his head,
they with one voice laughed, "We were just remarking that what was
lacking was a fisherman, and lo, now we've got everything that was
wanted! The young ladies are coming after their breakfast; you're in too
impatient a mood!"

At these words, Pao-yü had no help but to retrace his footsteps. As soon
as he reached the Hsin Tang pavilion, he perceived T'an Ch'un, issuing
from the Ch'iu Shuang Study, wrapped in a deep red woollen waterproof,
and a 'Kuan Yin' hood on her head, supporting herself on the arm of a
young maid. Behind her, followed a married woman, holding a glazed
umbrella made of green satin.

Pao-yü knew very well that she was on her way to his grandmother's, so
speedily halting by the side of the pavilion, he waited for her to come
up. The two cousins then left the garden together, and betook themselves
to the front part of the mansion. Pao-ch'in was at the time in the inner
apartments, combing her hair, washing her hands and face and changing
her apparel. Shortly, the whole number of girls arrived. "I feel
peckish!" Pao-yü shouted; and again and again he tried to hurry the
meal. It was with great impatience that he waited until the eatables
could be laid on the table.

One of the dishes consisted of kid, boiled in cow's milk. "This is
medicine for us, who are advanced in years," old lady Chia observed.
"They're things that haven't seen the light! The pity is that you young
people can't have any. There's some fresh venison to-day as an extra
course, so you'd better wait and eat some of that!"

One and all expressed their readiness to wait. Pao-yü however could not
delay having something to eat. Seizing a cup of tea, he soaked a bowlful
of rice, to which he added some meat from a pheasant's leg, and gobbled
it down in a scramble.

"I'm well aware," dowager lady Chia said, "that as you're up to
something again to-day, you people have no mind even for your meal. Let
them keep," she therefore cried, "that venison for their evening

"What an idea!" lady Feng promptly put in. "We'll have enough with what
remains of it."

Shih Hsiang-yün thereupon consulted with Pao-yü. "As there's fresh
venison," she said, "wouldn't it be nice to ask for a haunch and take it
into the garden and prepare it ourselves? We'll thus be able to sate our
hunger, and have some fun as well."

At this proposal, Pao-yü actually asked lady Feng to let them have a
haunch, and he bade a matron carry it into the garden.

Presently, they all got up from table. After a time, they entered the
garden and came in a body to the Lu Hsüeh pavilion to hear Li Wan give
out the themes, and fix upon the rhymes. But Hsiang-yün and Pao-yü were
the only two of whom nothing was seen.

"Those two," Tai-yü observed, "can't get together! The moment they meet,
how much trouble doesn't arise! They must surely have now gone to hatch
their plans over that haunch of venison."

These words were still on her lips when she saw 'sister-in-law' Li
coming also to see what the noise was all about. "How is it," she then
inquired of Li Wan, "that that young fellow, with the jade, and that
girl, with the golden unicorn round her neck, both of whom are so
cleanly and tidy, and have besides ample to eat, are over there
conferring about eating raw meat? There they are chatting, saying this
and saying that; but I can't see how meat can be eaten raw!"

This remark much amused the party. "How dreadful!" they exclaimed, "Be
quick and bring them both here!"

"All this fuss," Tay-yü smiled, "is the work of that girl Yün. I'm not
far off again in my surmises."

Li Wan went out with precipitate step in search of the cousins. "If you
two are bent upon eating raw meat," she cried, "I'll send you over to
our old senior's; you can do so there. What will I care then if you have
a whole deer raw and make yourselves ill over it? It won't be any
business of mine. But it's snowing hard and it's bitterly cold, so be
quick and go and write some verses for me and be off!"

"We're doing nothing of the kind," Pao-yü hastily rejoined. "We're going
to eat some roasted meat."

"Well, that won't matter!" Li Wan observed. And seeing the old matrons
bring an iron stove, prongs and a gridiron of iron wire, "Mind you don't
cut your hands," Li Wan resumed, "for we won't have any crying!"

This remark concluded, she walked in.

Lady Feng had sent P'ing Erh from her quarters to announce that she was
unable to come, as the issue of the customary annual money gave her just
at present, plenty to keep her busy.

Hsiang-yün caught sight of P'ing Erh and would not let her go on her
errand. But P'ing Erh too was fond of amusement, and had ever followed
lady Feng everywhere she went, so, when she perceived what fun was to be
got, and how merrily they joked and laughed, she felt impelled to take
off her bracelets (and to join them). The trio then pressed round the
fire; and P'ing Erh wanted to be the first to roast three pieces of
venison to regale themselves with.

On the other side, Pao-ch'ai and Tai-yü had, even in ordinary times,
seen enough of occasions like the present. They did not therefore think
it anything out of the way; but Pao-ch'in and the other visitors,
inclusive of 'sister-in-law' Li, were filled with intense wonder.

T'an Ch'un had, with the help of Li Wan, and her companions, succeeded
by this time in choosing the subjects and rhymes. "Just smell that sweet
fragrance," T'an Ch'un remarked. "One can smell it even here! I'm also
going to taste some."

So speaking, she too went to look them up. But Li Wan likewise followed
her out. "The guests are all assembled," she observed. "Haven't you
people had enough as yet?"

While Hsiang-yün munched what she had in her month, she replied to her
question. "Whenever," she said, "I eat this sort of thing, I feel a
craving for wine. It's only after I've had some that I shall be able to
rhyme. Were it not for this venison, I would to-day have positively been
quite unfit for any poetry." As she spoke, she discerned Pao-ch'in,
standing and laughing opposite to her, in her duck-down garment.

"You idiot," Hsiang-yün laughingly cried, "come and have a mouthful to

"It's too filthy!" Pao-ch'in replied smiling.

"You go and try it." Pao-ch'ai added with a laugh. "It's capital! Your
cousin Lin is so very weak that she couldn't digest it, if she had any.
Otherwise she too is very fond of this."

Upon hearing this, Pao-ch'in readily crossed over and put a piece in her
mouth; and so good did she find it that she likewise started eating some
of it.

In a little time, however, lady Feng sent a young maid to call P'ing

"Miss Shih," P'ing Erh explained, "won't let me go. So just return ahead
of me."

The maid thereupon took her leave; but shortly after they saw lady Feng
arrive; she too with a wrapper over her shoulders.

"You're having," she smiled; "such dainties to eat, and don't you tell

Saying this, she also drew near and began to eat.

"Where has this crowd of beggars turned up from?" Tai-yü put in with a
laugh. "But never mind, never mind! Here's the Lu Hsüeh pavilion come in
for this calamity to-day, and, as it happens, it's that chit Yün by whom
it has been polluted! But I'll have a good cry for the Lu Hsüeh

Hsiang-yün gave an ironical smile. "What do you know?" she exclaimed. "A
genuine man of letters is naturally refined. But as for the whole lot of
you, your poor and lofty notions are all a sham! You are most loathsome!
We may now be frowzy and smelly, as we munch away lustily with our
voracious appetites, but by and bye we'll prove as refined as scholars,
as if we had cultured minds and polished tongues."

"If by and bye," Pao-ch'ai laughingly interposed, "the verses you
compose are not worth anything, I'll tug out that meat you've eaten, and
take some of these snow-buried weeds and stuff you up with. I'll thus
put an end to this evil fortune!"

While bandying words, they finished eating. For a time, they busied
themselves with washing their hands. But when P'ing Erh came to put on
her bracelets, she found one missing. She looked in a confused manner,
at one time to the left, at another to the right; now in front of her,
and then behind her for ever so long, but not a single vestige of it was
visible. One and all were therefore filled with utter astonishment.

"I know where this bracelet has gone to;" lady Feng suggested smilingly.
"But just you all go and attend to your poetry. We too can well dispense
with searching for it, and repair to the front. Before three days are
out, I'll wager that it turns up. What verses are you writing to-day?"
continuing she went on to inquire. "Our worthy senior says that the end
of the year is again nigh at hand, and that in the first moon some more
conundrums will have to be devised to be affixed on lanterns, for the
recreation of the whole family."

"Of course we'll have to write a few," they laughingly rejoined, upon
hearing her remarks. "We forgot all about it. Let's hurry up now, and
compose a few fine ones, so as to have them ready to enjoy some good fun
in the first moon."

Speaking the while, they came in a body into the room with the earthen
couches, where they found the cups, dishes and eatables already laid out
in readiness. On the walls had been put up the themes, metre, and
specimen verses. Pao-yü and Hsiang-yün hastened to examine what was
written. They saw that they had to take for a theme something on the
present scenery and indite a stanza with antithetical pentameter lines;
that the word 'hsiao,' second (in the book of metre), had been fixed
upon as a rhyme; but that there was, below that, no mention, as yet,
made of any precedence.

"I can't write verses very well," Li Wan pleaded, "so all I'll do will
be to devise three lines, and the one, who'll finish the task first,
we'll have afterwards to pair them."

"We should, after all," Pao-ch'ai urged, "make some distinction with
regard to order."

But, reader, if you entertain any desire to know the sequel, peruse the
particulars recorded in the chapter that follows.


In the Lu Hsüeh pavilion, they vie with each other in pairing verses
on the scenery.
In the Nuan Hsiang village, they compose, in beautiful style, riddles
for the spring lanterns.

But to continue. "We should, after all," Pao-ch'ai suggested, "make some
distinction as to order. Let me write out what's needful."

After uttering this proposal, she urged every one to draw lots and
determine the precedence. The first one to draw was Li Wan. After her, a
list of the respective names was made in the order in which they came

"Well, in that case," lady Feng rejoined, "I'll also give a top line."

The whole party laughed in chorus. "It will be ever so much better like
this," they said.

Pao-ch'ai supplied above 'the old labourer of Tao Hsiang' the word
'Feng,' whereupon Li Wan went on to explain the theme to her.

"You musn't poke fun at me!" lady Feng smiled, after considerable
reflection. "I've only managed to get a coarse line. It consists of five
words. As for the rest, I have no idea how to manage them."

"The coarser the language, the better it is," one and all laughed. "Out
with it! You can then go and attend to your legitimate business!"

"I fancy," lady Feng observed, "that when it snows there's bound to be
northerly wind, for last night I heard the wind blow from the north the
whole night long. I've got a line, it's:

"'The whole night long the northern wind was high;'

"but whether it will do or not, I am not going to worry my mind about

One and all, upon hearing this, exchanged looks. "This line is, it's
true, coarse," they smiled, "and gives no insight into what comes below,
but it's just the kind of opening that would be used by such as
understand versification. It's not only good, but it will afford to
those, who come after you, inexhaustible scope for writing. In fact,
this line will take the lead, so 'old labourer of Tao Hsiang' be quick
and indite some more to tag on below."

Lady Feng, 'sister-in-law' Li, and P'ing Erh had then another couple of
glasses, after which each went her own way. During this while Li Wan
wrote down:

The whole night long the northern wind was high;

and then she herself subjoined the antithetical couplet:

The door I ope, and lo the flakes of snow are still toss'd by the
And drop into the slush. Oh, what a pity they're so purely white!

Hsiang Ling recited:

All o'er the ground is spread, alas, this bright, refulgent gem;
But with an aim; for it is meant dry herbage to revive.

T'an Ch'un said:

Without design the dying sprouts of grain it nutrifies.
But in the villages the price of mellow wine doth rise.

Li Ch'i added:

In a good year, grain in the house is plentiful.
The bulrush moves and the ash issues from the tube.

Li Wen continued:

What time spring comes the handle of the Dipper turns.
The bleaky hills have long ago their verdure lost.

Chou-yen proceeded:

On a frost-covered stream, no tide can ever rise.
Easy the snow hangs on the sparse-leaved willow twigs.

Hsiang-yün pursued:

Hard 'tis for snow to pile on broken plantain leaves.
The coal, musk-scented, burns in the precious tripod.

Pao-ch'in recited:

Th' embroidered sleeve enwraps the golden sable in its folds.
The snow transcends the mirror by the window in lustre.

Pao-yü suggested:

The fragrant pepper clings unto the wall.
The side wind still in whistling gusts doth blow.

Tai-yü added:

A quiet dream becomes a cheerless thing.
Where is the fife with plum bloom painted on?

Pao-ch'ai continued:

In whose household is there a flute made of green jade?
The fish fears lest the earth from its axis might drop.

"I'll go and see that the wine is warm for you people," Li Wan smiled.

But when Pao-ch'ai told Pao-ch'in to connect some lines, she caught
sight of Hsiang-yün rise to her feet and put in:

What time the dragon wages war, the clouds dispel.
Back to the wild shore turns the man with single scull.

Pao-ch'in thereupon again appended the couplet:

The old man hums his lines, and with his whip he points at the 'Pa'
Fur coats are, out of pity, on the troops at the frontiers bestowed.

But would Hsiang-yün allow any one to have a say? The others could not
besides come up to her in quickness of wits so that, while their eyes
were fixed on her, she with eyebrows uplifted and figure outstretched
proceeded to say:

More cotton coats confer, for bear in memory th' imperial serfs!
The rugged barbarous lands are (on account of snow) with dangers

Pao-ch'ai praised the verses again and again, and next contributed the

The twigs and branches live in fear of being tossed about.
With what whiteness and feath'ry step the flakes of snow descend!

Tai-yü eagerly subjoined the lines:

The snow as nimbly falls as moves the waist of the 'Sui' man when
brandishing the sword.
The tender leaves of tea, so acrid to the taste, have just been newly
brewed and tried.

As she recited this couplet, she gave Pao-yü a shove and urged him to go
on. Pao-yü was, at the moment, enjoying the intense pleasure of watching
the three girls Pao-ch'ai, Pao-ch'in and Tai-yü make a joint onslaught
on Hsiang-yün, so that he had of course not given his mind to tagging
any antithetical verses. But when he now felt Tai-yü push him he at
length chimed in with:

The fir is the sole tree which is decreed for ever to subsist.
The wild goose follows in the mud the prints and traces of its steps.

Pao-ch'in took up the clue, adding:

In the forest, the axe of the woodcutter may betimes be heard.
With (snow) covered contours, a thousand peaks their heads jut in the

Hsiang-yün with alacrity annexed the verses:

The whole way tortuous winds like a coiled snake.
The flowers have felt the cold and ceased to bud.

Pao-ch'ai and her companions again with one voice eulogised their fine

T'an Ch'un then continued:

Could e'er the beauteous snow dread the nipping of frost?
In the deep court the shivering birds are startled by its fall.

Hsiang-yün happened to be feeling thirsty and was hurriedly swallowing a
cup of tea, when her turn was at once snatched by Chou-yen, who gave out
the lines,

On the bare mountain wails the old man Hsiao.
The snow covers the steps, both high and low.

Hsiang-yün immediately put away the tea-cup and added:

On the pond's surface, it allows itself to float.
At the first blush of dawn with effulgence it shines.

Tai-yü recited with alacrity the couplet:

In confused flakes, it ceaseless falls the whole night long.
Troth one forgets that it implies three feet of cold.

Hsiang-yün hastened to smilingly interpose with the distich:

Its auspicious descent dispels the Emperor's grief.
There lies one frozen-stiff, but who asks him a word?

Pao-ch'in too speedily put on a smile and added:
Glad is the proud wayfarer when he's pressed to drink.
Snapped is the weaving belt in the heavenly machine.

Hsiang-yün once again eagerly quoted the line:

In the seaside market is lost a silk kerchief.

But Lin Tai-yü would not let her continue, and taking up the thread, she
forthwith said:

With quiet silence, it enshrouds the raiséd kiosque.

Hsiang-yün vehemently gave the antithetical verse:

The utter poor clings to his pannier and his bowl.

Pao-ch'in too would not give in as a favour to any one, so hastily she

The water meant to brew the tea with gently bubbles up.

Hsiang-yün saw how excited they were getting and she thought it
naturally great fun. Laughing, she eagerly gave out:

When wine is boiled with leaves 'tis not easy to burn.

Tai-yü also smiled while suggesting:

The broom, with which the bonze sweepeth the hill, is sunk in snow.

Pao-ch'in too smilingly cried:

The young lad takes away the lute interred in snow.

Hsiang-yün laughed to such a degree that she was bent in two; and she
muttered a line with such rapidity that one and all inquired of her:
"What are you, after all, saying?"

In the stone tower leisurely sleeps the stork.

Hsiang-yün repeated.

Tai-yü clasped her breast so convulsed was she with laughter. With loud
voice she bawled out:

Th' embroidered carpet warms the affectionate cat.

Pao-ch'in quickly, again laughingly, exclaimed:

Inside Selene's cave lo, roll the silvery waves.

Hsiang-yün added, with eager haste:

Within the city walls at eve was hid a purple flag.

Tai-yü with alacrity continued with a smile:

The fragrance sweet, which penetrates into the plums, is good to eat.

Pao-ch'ai smiled. "What a fine line!" she ejaculated; after which, she
hastened to complete the couplet by saying:

The drops from the bamboo are meet, when one is drunk, to mix with

Pao-ch'in likewise made haste to add:

Betimes, the hymeneal girdle it moistens.

Hsiang-yün eagerly paired it with:

Oft, it freezeth on the kingfisher shoes.

Tai-yü once more exclaimed with vehemence:

No wind doth blow, but yet there is a rush.

Pao-ch'in promptly also smiled, and strung on:

No rain lo falls, but still a patter's heard.

Hsiang-yün was leaning over, indulging in such merriment that she was
quite doubled up in two. But everybody else had realised that the trio
was struggling for mastery, so without attempting to versify they kept
their gaze fixed on them and gave way to laughter.

Tai-yü gave her another push to try and induce her to go on. "Do you
also sometimes come to your wits' ends; and run to the end of your
tether?" she went on to say. "I'd like to see what other stuff and
nonsense you can come out with!"

Hsiang-yün however simply fell forward on Pao-ch'ai's lap and laughed

"If you've got any gumption about you," Pao-ch'ai exclaimed, shoving her
up, "take the second rhymes under 'Hsiao' and exhaust them all, and I'll
then bend the knee to you."

"It isn't as if I were writing verses," Hsiang-yün laughed rising to her
feet; "it's really as if I were fighting for very life."

"It's for you to come out with something," they all cried with a laugh.

T'an Ch'un had long ago determined in her mind that there could be no
other antithetical sentences that she herself could possibly propose,
and she forthwith set to work to copy out the verses. But as she passed
the remark: "They haven't as yet been brought to a proper close," Li Wen
took up the clue, as soon as she caught her words, and added the

My wish is to record this morning's fun.

Li Ch'i then suggested as a finale the line:

By these verses, I'd fain sing th' Emperor's praise.

"That's enough, that will do!" Li Wan cried. "The rhymes haven't, I
admit, been exhausted, but any outside words you might introduce, will,
if used in a forced sense, be worth nothing at all."

While continuing their arguments, the various inmates drew near and kept
up a searching criticism for a time.

Hsiang-yün was found to be the one among them, who had devised the
largest number of lines.

"This is mainly due," they unanimously laughed, "to the virtue of that
piece of venison!"

"Let's review them line by line as they come," Li Wan smilingly
proposed, "but yet as if they formed one continuous poem. Here's Pao-yü
last again!"

"I haven't, the fact is, the knack of pairing sentences," Pao-yü
rejoined with a smile. "You'd better therefore make some allowance for

"There's no such thing as making allowances for you in meeting after
meeting," Li Wan demurred laughing, "that you should again after that
give out the rhymes in a reckless manner, waste your time and not show
yourself able to put two lines together. You must absolutely bear a
penalty today. I just caught a glimpse of the red plum in the Lung Ts'ui
monastery; and how charming it is! I meant to have plucked a twig to put
in a vase, but so loathsome is the way in which Miao Yü goes on, that I
won't have anything to do with her! But we'll punish him by making him,
for the sake of fun, fetch a twig for us to put in water."

"This penalty," they shouted with one accord, "is both excellent as well
as pleasant."

Pao-yü himself was no less delighted to carry it into execution, so
signifying his readiness to comply with their wishes, he felt desirous
to be off at once.

"It's exceedingly cold outside," Hsiang-yün and Tai-yü simultaneously
remarked, "so have a glass of warm wine before you go."

Hsiang-yün speedily took up the kettle, and Tai-yü handed him a large
cup, filled to the very brim.

"Now swallow the wine we give you," Hsiang-yün smiled. "And if you don't
bring any plum blossom, we'll inflict a double penalty."

Pao-yü gulped down hurry-scurry the whole contents of the cup and
started on his errand in the face of the snow.

"Follow him carefully." Li Wan enjoined the servants.

Tai-yü, however, hastened to interfere and make her desist. "There's no
such need," she cried. "Were any one to go with him, he'll contrariwise
not get the flowers."

Li Wan nodded her head. "Yes!" she assented, and then went on to direct
a waiting-maid to bring a vase, in the shape of a beautiful girl with
high shoulders, to fill it with water, and get it ready to put the plum
blossom in. "And when he comes back," she felt induced to add, "we must
recite verses on the red plum."

"I'll indite a stanza in advance," eagerly exclaimed Hsiang-yün.

"We'll on no account let you indite any more to-day," Pao-ch'ai laughed.
"You beat every one of us hollow; so if we sit with idle hands, there
won't be any fun. But by and bye we'll fine Pao-yü; and, as he says that
he can't pair antithetical lines, we'll now make him compose a stanza

"This is a capital idea!" Tai-yü smiled. "But I've got another proposal.
As the lines just paired are not sufficient, won't it be well to pick
out those who've put together the fewest distiches, and make them
versify on the red plum blossom?"

"An excellent proposal!" Pao-ch'ai ventured laughing. "The three girls
Hsing Chou-yen, Li Wen and Li Ch'i, failed just now to do justice to
their talents; besides they are visitors; and as Ch'in Erh, P'in Erh and
Yün Erh got the best of us by a good deal, it's only right that none of
us should compose any more, and that that trio should only do so."

"Ch'i Erh," Li Wan thereupon retorted, "is also not a very good hand at
verses, let therefore cousin Ch'in have a try!"

Pao-ch'ai had no alternative but to express her acquiescence.

"Let the three words 'red plum blossom,'" she then suggested, "be used
for rhymes; and let each person compose an heptameter stanza. Cousin
Hsing to indite on the word 'red;' your elder cousin Li on 'plum;' and
Ch'in Erh on 'blossom.'"

"If you let Pao-yü off," Li Wan interposed, "I won't have it!"

"I've got a capital theme," Hsiung-yün eagerly remarked, "so let's make
him write some!"

"What theme is it?" one and all inquired.

"If we made him," Hsiang-yün resumed, "versify on: 'In search of Miao Yü
to beg for red plum blossom,' won't it be full of fun?"

"That will be full of zest," the party exclaimed, upon hearing the theme
propounded by her. But hardly had they given expression to their
approval than they perceived Pao-yü come in, beaming with smiles and
glee, and holding with both hands a branch of red plum blossom. The
maids hurriedly relieved him of his burden and put the branch in the
vase, and the inmates present came over in a body to feast their eyes on

"Well, may you look at it now," Pao-yü smiled. "You've no idea what an
amount of trouble it has cost me!"

As he uttered these words, T'an Ch'un handed him at once another cup of
warm wine; and the maids approached, and took his wrapper and hat, and
shook off the snow.

But the servant-girls attached to their respective quarters then brought
them over extra articles of clothing. Hsi Jen, in like manner,
despatched a domestic with a pelisse, the worse for wear, lined with fur
from foxes' ribs, so Li Wan, having directed a servant to fill a plate
with steamed large taros, and to make up two dishes with red-skinned
oranges, yellow coolie oranges, olives and other like things, bade some
one take them over to Hsi Jen.

Hsiang-yün also communicated to Pao-yü the subject for verses they had
decided upon a short while back. But she likewise urged Pao-yü to be
quick and accomplish his task.

"Dear senior cousin, dear junior cousin," pleaded Pao-yü, "let me use my
own rhymes. Don't bind me down to any."

"Go on as you like," they replied with one consent.

But conversing the while, they passed the plum blossom under inspection.

This bough of plum blossom was, in fact, only two feet in height; but
from the side projected a branch, crosswise, about two or three feet in
length the small twigs and stalks on which resembled coiled dragons, or
crouching earthworms; and were either single and trimmed pencil-like, or
thick and bushy grove-like. Indeed, their appearance was as if the
blossom spurted cosmetic. This fragrance put orchids to the blush. So
every one present contributed her quota of praise.

Chou-yen, Li Wen and Pao-ch'in had, little though it was expected, all
three already finished their lines and each copied them out for herself,
so the company began to peruse their compositions, subjoined below, in
the order of the three words: 'red plum blossom.'

Verses to the red plum blossom by Hsing Chou-yen.

The peach tree has not donned its fragrance yet, the almond is not
What time it strikes the cold, it's first joyful to smile at the east
When its spirit to the Yü Ling hath flown, 'tis hard to say 'tis
The russet clouds across the 'Lo Fu' lie, so e'en to dreams it's
The green petals add grace to a coiffure, when painted candles burn.
The simple elf when primed with wine doth the waning rainbow bestride.
Does its appearance speak of a colour of ordinary run?
Both dark and light fall of their own free will into the ice and snow.

The next was the production of Li Wen, and its burden was:

To write on the white plum I'm not disposed, but I'll write on the
Proud of its beauteous charms, 'tis first to meet the opening drunken
On its frost-nipped face are marks; and these consist wholly of blood.
Its heart is sore, but no anger it knows; to ashes too it turns.
By some mistake a pill (a fairy) takes and quits her real frame.
From the fairyland pool she secret drops, and casts off her old form.
In spring, both north and south of the river, with splendour it doth
Send word to bees and butterflies that they need not give way to

This stanza came next from the pen of Hsüeh Pao-ch'in,

Far distant do the branches grow; but how beauteous the blossom
The maidens try with profuse show to compete in their spring
No snow remains on the vacant pavilion and the tortuous rails.
Upon the running stream and desolate hills descend the russet clouds.
When cold prevails one can in a still dream follow the lass-blown
The wandering elf roweth in fragrant spring, the boat in the red
In a previous existence, it must sure have been of fairy form.
No doubt need 'gain arise as to its beauty differing from then.

The perusal over, they spent some time in heaping, smiling the while,
eulogiums upon the compositions. And they pointed at the last stanza as
the best of the lot; which made it evident to Pao-yü that Pao-ch'in,
albeit the youngest in years, was, on the other hand, the quickest in

Tai-yü and Hsiang-yün then filled up a small cup with wine and
simultaneously offered their congratulations to Pao-ch'in.

"Each of the three stanzas has its beauty," Pao-ch'ai remarked, a smile
playing round her lips. "You two have daily made a fool of me, and are
you now going to fool her also?"

"Have you got yours ready?" Li Wan went on to inquire of Pao-yü.

"I'd got them," Pao-yü promptly answered, "but the moment I read their
three stanzas, I once more became so nervous that they quite slipped
from my mind. But let me think again."

Hsiang-yün, at this reply, fetched a copper poker, and, while beating on
the hand-stove, she laughingly said: "I shall go on tattooing. Now mind
if when the drumming ceases, you haven't accomplished your task, you'll
have to bear another fine."

"I've already got them!" Pao-yü rejoined, smilingly.

Tai-yü then picked up a pencil. "Recite them," she smiled, "and I'll
write them down."

Hsiang-yün beat one stroke (on the stove). "The first tattoo is over,"
she laughed.

"I'm ready," Pao-yü smiled. "Go on writing."

At this, they heard him recite:

The wine bottle is not opened, the line is not put into shape.

Tai-yü noted it down, and shaking her head, "They begin very smoothly,"
she said, as she smiled.

"Be quick!" Hsiang-yün again urged.

Pao-yü laughingly continued:

To fairyland I speed to seek for spring, and the twelfth moon to find.

Tai-yü and Hsiang-yün both nodded. "It's rather good," they smiled.

Pao-yü resumed, saying:

I will not beg the high god for a bottle of the (healing) dew,
But pray Shuang O to give me some plum bloom beyond the rails.

Tai-yü jotted the lines down and wagged her head to and fro. "They're
ingenious, that's all," she observed.

Hsiang-yün gave another rap with her hand.

Pao-yü thereupon smilingly added:

I come into the world and, in the cold, I pick out some red snow.
I leave the dusty sphere and speed to pluck the fragrant purple
I bring a jagged branch, but who in pity sings my shoulders thin?
On my clothes still sticketh the moss from yon Buddhistic court.

As soon as Tai-yü had done writing, Hsiang-yün and the rest of the
company began to discuss the merits of the verses; but they then saw
several servant-maids rush in, shouting: "Our venerable mistress has

One and all hurried out with all despatch to meet her. "How comes it
that she is in such good cheer?" every one also laughed.

Speaking the while, they discerned, at a great distance, their
grandmother Chia seated, enveloped in a capacious wrapper, and rolled up
in a warm hood lined with squirrel fur, in a small bamboo sedan-chair
with an open green silk glazed umbrella in her hand. Yüan Yang, Hu Po
and some other girls, mustering in all five or six, held each an
umbrella and pressed round the chair, as they advanced.

Li Wan and her companions went up to them with hasty step; but dowager
lady Chia directed the servants to make them stop; explaining that it
would be quite enough if they stood where they were.

On her approach, old lady Chia smiled. "I've given," she observed, "your
Madame Wang and that girl Feng the slip and come. What deep snow covers
the ground! For me, I'm seated in this, so it doesn't matter; but you
mustn't let those ladies trudge in the snow."

The various followers rushed forward to take her wrapper and to support
her, and as they did so, they expressed their acquiescence.

As soon as she got indoors old lady Chia was the first to exclaim with a
beaming face: "What beautiful plum blossom! You well know how to make
merry; but I too won't let you off!"

But in the course of her remarks, Li Wan quickly gave orders to a
domestic to fetch a large wolf skin rug, and to spread it in the centre,
so dowager lady Chia made herself comfortable on it. "Just go on as
before with your romping and joking, drinking and eating," she then
laughed. "As the days are so short, I did not venture to have a midday
siesta. After therefore playing at dominoes for a time, I bethought
myself of you people, and likewise came to join the fun."

Li Wan soon also presented her a hand-stove, while T'an Ch'un brought an
extra set of cups and chopsticks, and filling with her own hands, a cup
with warm wine, she handed it to her grandmother Chia. Old lady Chia
swallowed a sip. "What's there in that dish?" she afterwards inquired.

The various inmates hurriedly carried it over to her, and explained that
'they were pickled quails.'

"These won't hurt me," dowager lady Chia said, "so cut off a piece of
the leg and give it to me."

"Yes!" promptly acquiesced Li Wan, and asking for water, she washed her
hands, and then came in person to carve the quail.

"Sit down again," dowager lady Chia said, pressing them, "and go on with
your chatting and laughing. Let me hear you, and feel happy. Just you
also seat yourself," continuing, she remarked to Li Wan, "and behave as
if I were not here. If you do so, well and good. Otherwise, I shall take
myself off at once."

But it was only when they heard how persistent she was in her
solicitations that they all resumed the seats, which accorded with their
age, with the exception of Li Wan, who moved to the furthest side.

"What were you playing at?" old lady Chia thereupon asked.

"We were writing verses," answered the whole party.

"Wouldn't it be well for those who are up to poetry," dowager lady Chia
suggested; "to devise a few puns for lanterns so that the whole lot of
us should be able to have some fun in the first moon?"

With one voice, they expressed their approval. But after they had jested
for a little time; "It's damp in here;" old lady Chia said, "so don't
you sit long, for mind you might be catching cold. Where it's nice and
warm is in your cousin Quarta's over there, so let's all go and see how
she is getting on with her painting, and whether it will be ready or not
by the end of the year."

"How could it be completed by the close of the year?" they smiled. "She
could only, we fancy, get it ready by the dragon boat festival next

"This is dreadful!" old lady Chia exclaimed. "Why, she has really wasted
more labour on it than would have been actually required to lay out this

With these words still on her lips, she ensconced herself again in the
bamboo sedan, and closed in or followed by the whole company, she
repaired to the Lotus Fragrance Arbour, where they got into a narrow
passage, flanked on the east as well as the west, with doors from which
they could cross the street. Over these doorways on the inside as well
as outside were inserted alike tablets made of stone. The door they went
in by, on this occasion, lay on the west. On the tablet facing outwards,
were cut out the two words representing: 'Penetrating into the clouds.'
On that inside, were engraved the two characters meaning: 'crossing to
the moon.' On their arrival at the hall, they walked in by the main
entrance, which looked towards the south. Dowager lady Chia then
alighted from her chair. Hsi Ch'un had already made her appearance out
of doors to welcome her, so taking the inner covered passage, they
passed over to the other side and reached Hsi Ch'un's bedroom; on the
door posts of which figured the three words: 'Warm fragrance isle.'
Several servants were at once at hand; and no sooner had they raised the
red woollen portière, than a soft fragrance wafted itself into their
faces. The various inmates stepped into the room. Old lady Chia,
however, did not take a seat, but simply inquired where the painting

"The weather is so bitterly cold," Hsi Ch'un consequently explained
smiling, "that the glue, whose property is mainly to coagulate, cannot
be moistened, so I feared that, were I to have gone on with the
painting, it wouldn't be worth looking at; and I therefore put it away."

"I must have it by the close of the year," dowager lady Chia laughed,
"so don't idle your time away. Produce it at once and go on painting for
me, as quick as you can."

But scarcely had she concluded her remark, than she unexpectedly
perceived lady Feng arrive, smirking and laughing, with a purple
pelisse, lined with deer fur, thrown over her shoulders. "Venerable
senior!" she shouted, "You don't even so much as let any one know
to-day, but sneak over stealthily. I've had a good hunt for you!"

When old lady Chia saw her join them, she felt filled with delight. "I
was afraid," she rejoined, "that you'd be feeling cold. That's why, I
didn't allow any one to tell you. You're really as sharp as a spirit to
have, at last, been able to trace my whereabouts! But according to
strict etiquette, you shouldn't show filial piety to such a degree!"

"Is it out of any idea of filial piety that I came after you? Not at
all!" lady Feng added with a laugh. "But when I got to your place,
worthy senior, I found everything so quiet that not even the caw of a
crow could be heard, and when I asked the young maids where you'd gone,
they wouldn't let me come and search in the garden. So I began to give
way to surmises. Suddenly also arrived two or three nuns; and then, at
length, I jumped at the conclusion that these women must have come to
bring their yearly prayers, or to ask for their annual or incense
allowance, and that, with the amount of things you also, venerable
ancestor, have to do for the end of the year, you had for certain got
out of the way of your debts. Speedily therefore I inquired of the nuns
what it was that brought them there, and, for a fact, there was no
mistake in my surmises. So promptly issuing the annual allowances to
them, I now come to report to you, worthy senior, that your creditors
have gone, and that there's no need for you to skulk away. But I've had
some tender pheasant prepared; so please come, and have your evening
meal; for if you delay any longer, it will get quite stale."

As she spoke, everybody burst out laughing. But lady Feng did not allow
any time to dowager lady Chia to pass any observations, but forthwith
directed the servants to bring the chair over. Old lady Chia then
smilingly laid hold of lady Feng's hand and got again into her chair;
but she took along with her the whole company of relatives for a chat
and a laugh.

Upon issuing out of the gate on the east side of the narrow passage, the
four quarters presented to their gaze the appearance of being adorned
with powder, and inlaid with silver. Unawares, they caught sight of
Pao-ch'in, in a duck down cloak, waiting at a distance at the back of
the hill slope; while behind her stood a maid, holding a vase full of
red plum blossoms.

"Strange enough," they all exclaimed laughingly, "two of us were
missing! But she's waiting over there. She's also been after some

"Just look," dowager lady Chia eagerly cried out joyfully, "that human
creature has been put there to match with the snow-covered hill! But
with that costume, and the plum-blossom at the back of her, to what does
she bear a resemblance?"

"She resembles," one and all smiled, "Chou Shih-ch'ou's beautiful snow
picture, suspended in your apartments, venerable ancestor."

"Is there in that picture any such costume?" Old lady Chia demurred,
nodding her head and smiling. "What's more the persons represented in it
could never be so pretty!"

Hardly had this remark dropped from her mouth, than she discerned some
one else, clad in a deep red woollen cloak, appear to view at the back
of Pao-ch'in. "What other girl is that?" dowager lady Chia asked.

"We girls are all here." they laughingly answered. "That's Pao-yü."

"My eyes," old lady Chia smiled, "are getting dimmer and dimmer!"

So saying, they drew near, and of course, they turned out to be Pao-yü
and Pao-ch'in.

"I've just been again to the Lung Ts'ui monastery," Pao-yü smiled to
Pao-ch'ai, Tai-yü and his other cousins, "and Miao Yü gave me for each
of you a twig of plum blossom. I've already sent a servant to take them

"Many thanks for the trouble you've been put to," they, with one voice,

But speaking the while, they sallied out of the garden gate, and
repaired to their grandmother Chia's suite of apartments. Their meal
over, they joined in a further chat and laugh, when unexpectedly they
saw Mrs. Hsüeh also arrive.

"With all this snow," she observed, "I haven't been over the whole day
to see how you, venerable senior, were getting on. Your ladyship
couldn't have been in a good sort of mood to-day, for you should have
gone and seen the snow."

"How not in a good mood?" old lady Chia exclaimed. "I went and looked up
these young ladies and had a romp with them for a time."

"Last night," Mrs. Hsüeh smiled, "I was thinking of getting from our
Madame Wang to-day the loan of the garden for the nonce and spreading
two tables with our mean wine, and inviting you, worthy senior, to enjoy
the snow; but as I saw that you were having a rest, and I heard, at an
early hour, that Pao-yü had said that you were not in a joyful frame of
mind, I did not, in consequence, presume to come and disturb you to-day.
But had I known sooner the real state of affairs, I would have felt it
my bounden duty to have asked you round."

"This is," rejoined dowager lady Chia with a smile, "only the first fall
of snow in the tenth moon. We'll have, after this, plenty of snowy days
so there will be ample time to put your ladyship to wasteful expense."

"Verily in that case," Mrs. Hsüeh laughingly added, "my filial
intentions may well be looked upon as having been accomplished."

"Mrs. Hsüeh," interposed lady Feng smiling, "mind you don't forget it!
But you might as well weigh fifty taels this very moment, and hand them
over to me to keep, until the first fall of snow, when I can get
everything ready for the banquet. In this way, you will neither have
anything to bother you, aunt, nor will you have a chance of forgetting."

"Well, since that be so," old lady Chia remarked with a laugh, "your
ladyship had better give her fifty taels, and I'll share it with her;
each one of us taking twenty-five taels; and on any day it might snow,
I'll pretend I don't feel in proper trim and let it slip by. You'll have
thus still less occasion to trouble yourself, and I and lady Feng will
reap a substantial benefit."

Lady Feng clapped her hands. "An excellent idea," she laughed. "This
quite falls in with my views."

The whole company were much amused.

"Pshaw!" dowager lady Chia laughingly ejaculated. "You barefaced thing!
(You're like a snake, which) avails itself of the rod, with which it is
being beaten, to crawl up (and do harm)! You don't try to convince us
that it properly devolves upon us, as Mrs. Hsüeh is our guest and
receives such poor treatment in our household, to invite her; for with
what right could we subject her ladyship to any reckless outlay? but you
have the impudence, of impressing upon our minds to insist upon the
payment, in advance, of fifty taels! Are you really not thoroughly
ashamed of yourself?"

"Oh, worthy senior," lady Feng laughed, "you're most sharp-sighted! You
try to see whether Mrs. Hsüeh will be soft enough to produce fifty taels
for you to share with me, but fancying now that it's of no avail, you
turn round and begin to rate me by coming out with all these grand
words! I won't however take any money from you, Mrs. Hsüeh. I'll, in
fact, contribute some on your ladyship's account, and when I get the
banquet ready and invite you, venerable ancestor, to come and partake of
it, I'll also wrap fifty taels in a piece of paper, and dutifully
present them to you, as a penalty for my officious interference in
matters that don't concern me. Will this be all right or not?"

Before these words were brought to a close, the various inmates were so
convulsed with hearty laughter that they reeled over on the stove-couch.

Dowager lady Chia then went on to explain how much nicer Pao-ch'in was,
plucking plum blossom in the snow, than the very picture itself; and she
next minutely inquired what the year, moon, day and hour of her birth
were, and how things were getting on in her home.

Mrs. Hsüeh conjectured that the object she had in mind was, in all
probability, to seek a partner for her. In the secret recesses of her
heart, Mrs. Hsüeh on this account fell in also with her views.
(Pao-ch'in) had, however, already been promised in marriage to the Mei
family. But as dowager lady Chia had made, as yet, no open allusion to
her intentions, (Mrs. Hsüeh) did not think it nice on her part to come
out with any definite statement, and she accordingly observed to old
lady Chia in a vague sort of way: "What a pity it is that this girl
should have had so little good fortune as to lose her father the year
before last. But ever since her youth up, she has seen much of the
world, for she has been with her parent to every place of note. Her
father was a man fond of pleasure; and as he had business in every
direction, he took his family along with him. After tarrying in this
province for a whole year, he would next year again go to that province,
and spend half a year roaming about it everywhere. Hence it is that he
had visited five or six tenths of the whole empire. The other year, when
they were here, he engaged her to the son of the Hanlin Mei. But, as it
happened, her father died the year after, and here is her mother too now
ailing from a superfluity of phlegm."

Lady Feng gave her no time to complete what she meant to say. "Hai!" she
exclaimed, stamping her foot. "What you say isn't opportune! I was about
to act as a go-between. But is she too already engaged?"

"For whom did you mean to act as go-between?" old lady Chia smiled.

"My dear ancestor," lady Feng remarked, "don't concern yourself about
it! I had determined in my mind that those two would make a suitable
match. But as she has now long ago been promised to some one, it would
be of no use, were I even to speak out. Isn't it better that I should
hold my peace, and drop the whole thing?"

Dowager lady Chia herself was cognizant of lady Feng's purpose, so upon
hearing that she already had a suitor, she at once desisted from making
any further reference to the subject. The whole company then continued
another chat on irrelevant matters for a time, after which, they broke

Nothing of any interest transpired the whole night. The next day, the
snowy weather had cleared up. After breakfast, her grandmother Chia
again pressed Hsi Ch'un. "You should go on," she said, "with your
painting, irrespective of cold or heat. If you can't absolutely finish
it by the end of the year, it won't much matter! The main thing is that
you must at once introduce in it Ch'in Erh and the maid with the plum
blossom, as we saw them yesterday, in strict accordance with the
original and without the least discrepancy of so much as a stroke."

Hsi Ch'un listened to her and felt it her duty to signify her assent, in
spite of the task being no easy one for her to execute.

After a time, a number of her relatives came, in a body, to watch the
progress of the painting. But they discovered Hsi Ch'un plunged in a
reverie. "Let's leave her alone," Li Wan smilingly observed to them all,
"to proceed with her meditations; we can meanwhile have a chat among
ourselves. Yesterday our worthy senior bade us devise a few
lantern-conundrums, so when we got home, I and Ch'i Erh and Wen Erh did
not turn in (but set to work). I composed a couple on the Four Books;
but those two girls also managed to put together another pair of them."

"We should hear what they're like," they laughingly exclaimed in chorus,
when they heard what they had done. "Tell them to us first, and let's
have a guess!"

"The goddess of mercy has not been handed down by any ancestors."

Li Ch'i smiled. "This refers to a passage in the Four Books."

"In one's conduct, one must press towards the highest benevolence."

Hsiang-yün quickly interposed; taking up the thread of the conversation.

"You should ponder over the meaning of the three words implying: 'handed
down by ancestors'," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "before you venture a guess."

"Think again!" Li Wan urged with a smile.

"I've guessed it!" Tai-yü smiled. "It's:

"'If, notwithstanding all that benevolence, there be no outward visible

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