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Hung Lou Meng, Book II by Cao Xueqin

Part 7 out of 14

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"Whether you go or not is your own look out," the maid replied. "It
isn't worth your while getting angry with me! If you dare, go and tell
these things to our mistress!"

P'ing Erh spat at her contemptuously, and rushed back in anxious haste.
She discovered, however, that lady Feng was not at home. But
unexpectedly she perceived that the old goody Liu, who had paid them a
visit on a previous occasion for the purpose of obtaining pecuniary
assistance, had come again with Pan Erh, and was seated in the opposite
room, along with Chang Ts'ai's wife and Chou Jui's wife, who kept her
company. But two or three servant-maids were inside as well emptying on
the floor bags containing dates, squash and various wild greens.

As soon as they saw her appear in the room, they promptly stood up in a
body. Old goody Liu had, on her last visit, learnt what P'ing Erh's
status in the establishment was, so vehemently jumping down, she
enquired, "Miss, how do you do? All at home," she pursued, "send you
their compliments. I meant to have come earlier and paid my respects to
my lady and to look you up, miss; but we've been very busy on the farm.
We managed this year to reap, after great labour, a few more piculs of
grain than usual. But melons, fruits and vegetables have also been
plentiful. These things, you see here, are what we picked during the
first crop; and as we didn't presume to sell them, we kept the best to
present to our lady and the young ladies to taste. The young ladies
must, of course, be surfeited with all the delicacies and fine things
they daily get, but by having some of our wild greens to eat, they will
show some regard for our poor attention."

"Many thanks for all the trouble you have taken!" Ping Erh eagerly
rejoined. Then pressing her to resume her place, she sat down herself;
and, urging Mrs. Chang and Mrs. Chou to take their seats, she bade a
young waiting-maid go and serve the tea.

"There's a joyous air about your face to-day, Miss, and your eye-balls
are all red," the wife of Chou Jui and the wife of Chang Ts'ai thereupon
smilingly ventured.

"Naturally!" P'ing Erh laughed. "I generally don't take any wine, but
our senior mistress, and our young ladies caught hold of me and insisted
upon pouring it down my throat. I had no alternative therefore but to
swallow two cups full; so my face at once flushed crimson."

"I have a longing for wine," Chang Ts'ai's wife smiled; "but there's no
one to offer me any. But when any one by and by invites you, Miss, do
take me along with you!"

At these words, one and all burst out laughing.

"Early this morning," Chou Jui's wife interposed, "I caught a glimpse of
those crabs. Only two or three of them would weigh a catty; so in those
two or three huge hampers, there must have been, I presume, seventy to
eighty catties!"

"If some were intended for those above as well as for those below;" Chou
Jui's wife added, "they couldn't, nevertheless, I fear, have been

"How could every one have had any?" P'ing Erh observed. "Those simply
with any name may have tasted a couple of them; but, as for the rest,
some may have touched them with the tips of their hands, but many may
even not have done as much."

"Crabs of this kind!" put in old goody Liu, "cost this year five
candareens a catty; ten catties for five mace; five times five make two
taels five, and three times five make fifteen; and adding what was
wanted for wines and eatables, the total must have come to something
over twenty taels. O-mi-to-fu! why, this heap of money is ample for us
country-people to live on through a whole year!"

"I expect you have seen our lady?" P'ing Erh then asked.

"Yes, I have seen her," assented old goody Liu. "She bade us wait." As
she spoke, she again looked out of the window to see what the time of
the day could be. "It's getting quite late," she afterwards proceeded.
"We must be going, or else we mayn't be in time to get out of the city
gates; and then we'll be in a nice fix."

"Quite right," Chou Jui's wife observed. "I'll go and see what she's up
to for you."

With these words, she straightway left the room. After a long absence,
she returned. "Good fortune has, indeed, descended upon you, old dame!"
she smiled. "Why, you've won the consideration of those two ladies!"

"What about it?" laughingly inquired P'ing Erh and the others.

"Lady Secunda," Chou Jui's wife explained with a smile, "was with our
venerable lady, so I gently whispered to her: 'old goody Liu wishes to
go home; it's getting late and she fears she mightn't be in time to go
out of the gates!' 'It's such a long way off!' Our lady Secunda
rejoined, 'and she had all the trouble and fatigue of carrying that load
of things; so if it's too late, why, let her spend the night here and
start on the morrow!' Now isn't this having enlisted our mistress'
sympathies? But not to speak of this! Our old lady also happened to
overhear what we said, and she inquired: 'who is old goody Liu?' Our
lady Secunda forthwith told her all. 'I was just longing,' her venerable
ladyship pursued, 'for some one well up in years to have a chat with;
ask her in, and let me see her!' So isn't this coming in for
consideration, when least unexpected?"

So speaking, she went on to urge old goody Liu to get down and betake
herself to the front.

"With a figure like this of mine," old goody Liu demurred, "how could I
very well appear before her? My dear sister-in-law, do tell her that
I've gone!"

"Get on! Be quick!" P'ing Erh speedily cried. "What does it matter? Our
old lady has the highest regard for old people and the greatest pity for
the needy! She's not one you could compare with those haughty and
overbearing people! But I fancy you're a little too timid, so I'll
accompany you as far as there, along with Mrs. Chou."

While tendering her services, she and Chou Jui's wife led off old goody
Liu and crossed over to dowager lady Chia's apartments on this side of
the mansion. The boy-servants on duty at the second gate stood up when
they saw P'ing Erh approach. But two of them also ran up to her, and,
keeping close to her heels: "Miss!" they shouted out. "Miss!"

"What have you again got to say?" P'ing Erh asked.

"It's pretty late just now," one of the boys smilingly remarked; "and
mother is ill and wants me to go and call the doctor, so I would, dear
Miss, like to have half a day's leave; may I?"

"Your doings are really fine!" P'ing Erh exclaimed. "You've agreed among
yourselves that each day one of you should apply for furlough; but
instead of speaking to your lady, you come and bother me! The other day
that Chu Erh went, Mr. Secundus happened not to want him, so I assented,
though I also added that I was doing it as a favour; but here you too
come to-day!"

"It's quite true that his mother is sick," Chou Jui's wife interceded;
"so, Miss, do say yes to him also, and let him go!"

"Be back as soon as it dawns to-morrow!" P'ing Erh enjoined. "Wait, I've
got something for you to do, for you'll again sleep away, and only turn
up after the sun has blazed away on your buttocks. As you go now, give a
message to Wang Erh! Tell him that our lady bade you warn him that if he
does not hand over the balance of the interest due by to-morrow, she
won't have anything to do with him. So he'd better let her have it to
meet her requirements and finish."

The servant-lad felt in high glee and exuberant spirits. Expressing his
obedience, he walked off.

P'ing Erh and her companions repaired then to old lady Chia's
apartments. Here the various young ladies from the Garden of Broad Vista
were at the time assembled paying their respects to their grandmother.
As soon as old goody Liu put her foot inside, she saw the room thronged
with girls (as seductive) as twigs of flowers waving to and fro, and so
richly dressed, as to look enveloped in pearls, and encircled with
king-fisher ornaments. But she could not make out who they all were. Her
gaze was, however, attracted by an old dame, reclining alone on a divan.
Behind her sat a girl, a regular beauty, clothed in gauze, engaged in
patting her legs. Lady Feng was on her feet in the act of cracking some

Old goody Liu readily concluded that it must be dowager lady Chia, so
promptly pressing forward, she put on a forced smile and made several
curtseys. "My obeisance to you, star of longevity!" she said.

Old lady Chia hastened, on her part, to bow and to inquire after her
health. Then she asked Chou Jui's wife to bring a chair over for her to
take a seat. But Pan Erh was still so very shy that he did not know how
to make his obeisance.

"Venerable relative," dowager lady Chia asked, "how old are you this

Old goody Liu immediately rose to her feet. "I'm seventy-five this
year," she rejoined.

"So old and yet so hardy!" Old lady Chia remarked, addressing herself to
the party. "Why she's older than myself by several years! When I reach
that age, I wonder whether I shall be able to move!"

"We people have," old goody Liu smilingly resumed, "to put up, from the
moment we come into the world, with ever so many hardships; while your
venerable ladyship enjoys, from your birth, every kind of blessing! Were
we also like this, there'd be no one to carry on that farming work."

"Are your eyes and teeth still good?" Dowager lady Chia went on to

"They're both still all right," old goody Liu replied. "The left molars,
however, have got rather shaky this year."

"As for me, I'm quite an old fossil," dowager lady Chia observed. "I'm
no good whatever. My eyesight is dim; my ears are deaf, my memory is
gone. I can't even recollect any of you, old family connections. When
therefore any of our relations come on a visit, I don't see them for
fear lest I should be ridiculed. All I can manage to eat are a few
mouthfuls of anything tender enough for my teeth; and I can just dose a
bit or, when I feel in low spirits, I distract myself a little with
these grandsons and grand-daughters of mine; that's all I'm good for."

"This is indeed your venerable ladyship's good fortune!" old goody Liu
smiled. "We couldn't enjoy anything of the kind, much though we may long
for it."

"What good fortune!" dowager lady Chia exclaimed. "I'm a useless old
thing, no more."

This remark made every one explode into laughter.

Dowager lady Chia also laughed. "I heard our lady Feng say a little
while back," she added, "that you had brought a lot of squash and
vegetables, and I told her to put them by at once. I had just been
craving to have newly-grown melons and vegetables; but those one buys
outside are not as luscious as those produced in your farms."

"This is the rustic notion," old goody Liu laughed, "to entirely subsist
on fresh things! Yet, we long to have fish and meat for our fare, but we
can't afford it."

"I've found a relative in you to-day," dowager lady Chia said, "so you
shouldn't go empty-handed! If you don't despise this place as too mean,
do stay a day or two before you start! We've also got a garden here; and
this garden produces fruits too; you can taste some of them to-morrow
and take a few along with you home, in order to make it look like a
visit to relatives."

When lady Feng saw how delighted old lady Chia was with the prospects of
the old dame's stay, she too lost no time in doing all she could to
induce her to remain. "Our place here," she urged, "isn't, it's true, as
spacious as your threshing-floor; but as we've got two vacant rooms,
you'd better put up in them for a couple of days, and choose some of
your village news and old stories and recount them to our worthy

"Now you, vixen Feng," smiled dowager lady Chia, "don't raise a laugh at
her expense! She's only a country woman; and will an old dame like her
stand any chaff from you?"

While remonstrating with her, she bade a servant go, before attending to
anything else, and pluck a few fruits. These she handed to Pan Erh to
eat. But Pan Erh did not venture to touch them, conscious as he was of
the presence of such a number of bystanders. So old lady Chia gave
orders that a few cash should be given him, and then directed the pages
to take him outside to play.

After sipping a cup of tea, old goody Liu began to relate, for the
benefit of dowager lady Chia, a few of the occurrences she had seen or
heard of in the country. These had the effect of putting old lady Chia
in a more exuberant frame of mind. But in the midst of her narration, a
servant, at lady Feng's instance, asked goody Liu to go and have her
evening meal. Dowager lady Chia then picked out, as well, several kinds
of eatables from her own repast, and charged some one to take them to
goody Liu to feast on.

But the consciousness that the old dame had taken her senior's fancy
induced lady Feng to send her back again as soon as she had taken some
refreshments. On her arrival, YŁan Yang hastily deputed a matron to take
goody Liu to have a bath. She herself then went and selected two pieces
of ordinary clothes, and these she entrusted to a servant to hand to the
old dame to change. Goody Liu had hitherto not set eyes upon any such
grand things, so with eagerness she effected the necessary alterations
in her costume. This over, she made her appearance outside, and, sitting
in front of the divan occupied by dowager lady Chia, she went on to
narrate as many stories as she could recall to mind. Pao-yŁ and his
cousins too were, at the time, assembled in the room, and as they had
never before heard anything the like of what she said, they, of course,
thought her tales more full of zest than those related by itinerant
blind story-tellers.

Old goody Liu was, albeit a rustic person, gifted by nature with a good
deal of discrimination. She was besides advanced in years; and had gone
through many experiences in her lifetime, so when she, in the first
place, saw how extremely delighted old lady Chia was with her, and, in
the second, how eager the whole crowd of young lads and lasses were to
listen to what fell from her mouth, she even invented, when she found
her own stock exhausted, a good many yarns to recount to them.

"What with all the sowing we have to do in our fields and the vegetables
we have to plant," she consequently proceeded, "have we ever in our
village any leisure to sit with lazy hands from year to year and day to
day; no matter whether it's spring, summer, autumn or winter, whether it
blows or whether it rains? Yea, day after day all that we can do is to
turn the bare road into a kind of pavilion to rest and cool ourselves
on! But what strange things don't we see! Last winter, for instance,
snow fell for several consecutive days, and it piled up on the ground
three or four feet deep. One day, I got up early, but I hadn't as yet
gone out of the door of our house when I heard outside the noise of
firewood (being moved). I fancied that some one must have come to steal
it, so I crept up to a hole in the window; but, lo, I discovered that it
was no one from our own village."

"It must have been," interposed dowager lady Chia, "some wayfarers, who
being smitten with the cold, took some of the firewood, they saw ready
at hand, to go and make a fire and warm themselves with! That's highly

"It was no wayfarers at all," old goody Liu retorted smiling, "and
that's what makes the story so strange. Who do you think it was,
venerable star of longevity? It was really a most handsome girl of
seventeen or eighteen, whose hair was combed as smooth as if oil had
been poured over it. She was dressed in a deep red jacket, a white silk

When she reached this part of her narrative, suddenly became audible the
voices of people bawling outside. "It's nothing much," they shouted,
"don't frighten our old mistress!" Dowager lady Chia and the other
inmates caught, however, their cries and hurriedly inquired what had
happened. A servant-maid explained in reply that a fire had broken out
in the stables in the southern court, but that there was no danger, as
the flames had been suppressed.

Their old grandmother was a person with very little nerve. The moment,
therefore, the report fell on her car, she jumped up with all despatch,
and leaning on one of the family, she rushed on to the verandah to
ascertain the state of things. At the sight of the still brilliant
light, shed by the flames, on the south east part of the compound, old
lady Chia was plunged in consternation, and invoking Buddha, she went on
to shout to the servants to go and burn incense before the god of fire.

Madame Wang and the rest of the members of the household lost no time in
crossing over in a body to see how she was getting on. "The fire has
been already extinguished," they too assured her, "please, dear
ancestor, repair into your rooms!"

But it was only after old lady Chia had seen the light of the flames
entirely subside that she at length led the whole company indoors. "What
was that girl up to, taking the firewood in that heavy fall of snow?"
Pao-yŁ thereupon vehemently inquired of goody Liu. "What, if she had got
frostbitten and fallen ill?"

"It was the reference made recently to the firewood that was being
abstracted," his grandmother Chia said, "that brought about this fire;
and do you still go on asking more about it? Leave this story alone, and
tell us something else!"

Hearing this reminder, Pao-yŁ felt constrained to drop the subject, much
against his wishes, and old goody Liu forthwith thought of something
else to tell them.

"In our village," she resumed, "and on the eastern side of our
farmstead, there lives an old dame, whose age is this year, over ninety.
She goes in daily for fasting, and worshipping Buddha. Who'd have
thought it, she so moved the pity of the goddess of mercy that she gave
her this message in a dream: 'It was at one time ordained that you
should have no posterity, but as you have proved so devout, I have now
memorialised the Pearly Emperor to grant you a grandson!' The fact is,
this old dame had one son. This son had had too an only son; but he died
after they had with great difficulty managed to rear him to the age of
seventeen or eighteen. And what tears didn't they shed for him! But, in
course of time, another son was actually born to him. He is this year
just thirteen or fourteen, resembles a very ball of flower, (so plump is
he), and is clever and sharp to an exceptional degree! So this is indeed
a clear proof that those spirits and gods do exist!"

This long tirade proved to be in harmony with dowager lady Chia's and
Madame Wang's secret convictions on the subject. Even Madame Wang
therefore listened to every word with all profound attention. Pao-yŁ,
however, was so pre-occupied with the story about the stolen firewood
that he fell in a brown study and gave way to conjectures.

"Yesterday," T'an Ch'un at this point remarked, "We put cousin Shih to a
lot of trouble and inconvenience, so, when we get back, we must consult
about convening a meeting, and, while returning her entertainment, we
can also invite our venerable ancestor to come and admire the
chrysanthemums; what do you think of this?"

"Our worthy senior," smiled Pao-yŁ, "has intimated that she means to
give a banquet to return cousin Shih's hospitality, and to ask us to do
the honours. Let's wait therefore until we partake of grandmother's
collation, before we issue our own invitations; there will be ample time
then to do so."

"The later it gets, the cooler the weather becomes," T'an Ch'un
observed, "and our dear senior is not likely to enjoy herself."

"Grandmother," added Pao-yŁ, "is also fond of rain and snow, so wouldn't
it be as well to wait until the first fall, and then ask her to come and
look at the snow. This will be better, won't it? And were we to recite
our verses with snow about us, it will be ever so much more fun!"

"To hum verses in the snow," Lin Tai-yŁ speedily demurred with a smile,
"won't, in my idea, be half as nice as building up a heap of firewood
and then stealing it, with the flakes playing about us. This will be by
far more enjoyable!"

This proposal made Pao-ch'ai and the others laugh. Pao-yŁ cast a glance
at her but made no reply.

But, in a short time, the company broke up. Pao-yŁ eventually gave old
goody Liu a tug on the sly and plied her with minute questions as to who
the girl was. The old dame was placed under the necessity of fabricating
something for his benefit. "The truth is," she said, "that there stands
on the north bank of the ditch in our village a small ancestral hall, in
which offerings are made, but not to spirits or gods. There was in
former days some official or other..."

"While speaking, she went on to try and recollect his name and surname.

"No matter about names or surnames!" Pao-yŁ expostulated. "There's no
need for you to recall them to memory! Just mention the facts; they'll
be enough."

"This official," old goody Liu resumed, "had no son. His offspring
consisted of one young daughter, who went under the name of Jo YŁ, (like
Jade). She could read and write, and was doated upon by this official
and his consort, just as if she were a precious jewel. But,
unfortunately, when this young lady, Jo YŁ, grew up to be seventeen, she
contracted some disease and died."

When these words fell on Pao-yŁ's ears, he stamped his foot and heaved a
sigh. "What happened after that?" he then asked.

Old goody Liu pursued her story.

"So incessantly," she continued, "did this official and his consort
think of their child that they raised this ancestral hall, erected a
clay image of their young daughter Jo YŁ in it, and appointed some one
to burn incense and trim the fires. But so many days and years have now
elapsed that the people themselves are no more alive, the temple is in
decay, and the image itself is become a spirit."

"It hasn't become a spirit," remonstrated Pao-yŁ with vehemence. "Human
beings of this kind may, the rule is, die, yet they are not dead."

"O-mi-to-fu!" ejaculated old goody Liu; "is it really so! Had you, sir,
not enlightened us, we would have remained under the impression that she
had become a spirit! But she repeatedly transforms herself into a human
being, and there she roams about in every village, farmstead, inn and
roadside. And the one I mentioned just now as having taken the firewood
is that very girl! The villagers in our place are still consulting with
the idea of breaking this clay image and razing the temple to the

"Be quick and dissuade them!" eagerly exclaimed Pao-yŁ. "Were they to
raze the temple to the ground, their crime won't be small."

"It's lucky that you told me, Sir," old goody Liu added. "When I get
back to-morrow, I'll make them relinquish the idea and finish!"

"Our venerable senior and my mother," Pao-yŁ pursued, "are both
charitable persons. In fact, all the inmates of our family, whether old
or young, do, in like manner, delight in good deeds, and take pleasure
in distributing alms. Their greatest relish is to repair temples, and to
put up images to the spirits; so to-morrow, I'll make a subscription and
collect a few donations for you, and you can then act as incense-burner.
When sufficient money has been raised, this fane can be repaired, and
another clay image put up; and month by month I'll give you incense and
fire money to enable you to burn joss-sticks; won't this be A good thing
for you?"

"In that case," old goody Liu rejoined, "I shall, thanks to that young
lady's good fortune, have also a few cash to spend."

Pao-yŁ thereupon likewise wanted to know what the name of the place was,
the name of the village, how far it was there and back, and whereabout
the temple was situated.

Old goody Liu replied to his questions, by telling him every idle
thought that came first to her lips. Pao-yŁ, however, credited the
information she gave him and, on his return to his rooms, he exercised,
the whole night, his mind with building castles in the air.

On the morrow, as soon as daylight dawned, he speedily stepped out of
his room, and, handing Pei Ming several hundreds of cash, he bade him
proceed first in the direction and to the place specified by old goody
Liu, and clearly ascertain every detail, so as to enable him, on his
return from his errand, to arrive at a suitable decision to carry out
his purpose. After Pei Ming's departure, Pao-yŁ continued on pins on
needles and on the tiptoe of expectation. Into such a pitch of
excitement did he work himself, that he felt like an ant in a burning
pan. With suppressed impatience, he waited and waited until sunset. At
last then he perceived Pei Ming walk in, in high glee.

"Have you discovered the place?" hastily inquired Pao-yŁ.

"Master," Pei Ming laughed, "you didn't catch distinctly the directions
given you, and you made me search in a nice way! The name of the place
and the bearings can't be those you gave me, Sir; that is why I've had
to hunt about the whole day long! I prosecuted my inquiries up to the
very ditch on the north east side, before I eventually found a ruined

Upon hearing the result of his researches, Pao-yŁ was much gratified.
His very eyebrows distended. His eyes laughed. "Old goody Liu," he said
with eagerness, "is a person well up in years, and she may at the moment
have remembered wrong; it's very likely she did. But recount to me what
you saw."

"The door of that temple," Pei Ming explained, "really faces south, and
is all in a tumble-down condition. I searched and searched till I was
driven to utter despair. As soon, however, as I caught sight of it,
'that's right,' I shouted, and promptly walked in. But I at once
discovered a clay figure, which gave me such a fearful start, that I
scampered out again; for it looked as much alive as if it were a real
living being."

Pao-yŁ smiled full of joy. "It can metamorphose itself into a human
being," he observed, "so, of course, it has more or less a life-like

"Was it ever a girl?" Pei Ming rejoined clapping his hands. "Why it was,
in fact, no more than a green-faced and red-haired god of plagues."

Pao-yŁ, at this answer, spat at him contemptuously. "You are, in very
truth, a useless fool!" he cried. "Haven't you even enough gumption for
such a trifling job as this?"

"What book, I wonder, have you again been reading, master?" Pei Ming
continued. "Or you may, perhaps, have heard some one prattle a lot of
trash and believed it as true! You send me on this sort of wild goose
chase and make me go and knock my head about, and how can you ever say
that I'm good for nothing?"

Pao-yŁ did not fail to notice that he was in a state of exasperation so
he lost no time in trying to calm him. "Don't be impatient!" he urged.
"You can go again some other day, when you've got nothing to attend to,
and institute further inquiries! If it turns out that she has
hood-winked us, why, there will, naturally, be no such thing. But if,
verily, there is, won't you also lay up for yourself a store of good
deeds? I shall feel it my duty to reward you in a most handsome manner."

As he spoke, he espied a servant-lad, on service at the second gate,
approach and report to him: "The young ladies in our venerable
ladyship's apartments are standing at the threshold of the second gate
and looking out for you, Mr. Secundus."

But as, reader, you are not aware what they were on the look-out to tell
him, the subsequent chapter will explain it for you.


The venerable lady Shih attends a second banquet in the garden of
Broad Vista.
Chin YŁan-yang three times promulgates, by means of dominoes, the
order to quote passages from old writers.

As soon as Pao-yŁ, we will now explain, heard what the lad told him, he
rushed with eagerness inside. When he came to look about him, he
discovered Hu Po standing in front of the screen. "Be quick and go," she
urged. "They're waiting to speak to you."

Pao-yŁ wended his way into the drawing rooms. Here he found dowager lady
Chia, consulting with Madame Wang and the whole body of young ladies,
about the return feast to be given to Shih Hsiang-yŁn.

"I've got a plan to suggest," he consequently interposed. "As there are
to be no outside guests, the eatables too should not be limited to any
kind or number. A few of such dishes, as have ever been to the liking of
any of us, should be fixed upon and prepared for the occasion. Neither
should any banquet be spread, but a high teapoy can be placed in front
of each, with one or two things to suit our particular tastes. Besides,
a painted box with partitions and a decanter. Won't this be an original

"Capital!" shouted old lady Chia. "Go and tell the people in the cook
house," she forthwith ordered a servant, "to get ready to-morrow such
dishes as we relish, and to put them in as many boxes as there will be
people, and bring them over. We can have breakfast too in the garden."

But while they were deliberating, the time came to light the lamps.
Nothing of any note transpired the whole night. The next day, they got
up at early dawn. The weather, fortunately, was beautifully clear. Li
Wan turned out of bed at daybreak. She was engaged in watching the old
matrons and servant-girls sweeping the fallen leaves, rubbing the tables
and chairs, and preparing the tea and wine vessels, when she perceived
Feng Erh usher in old goody Liu and Pan Erh. "You're very busy, our
senior lady!" they said.

"I told you that you wouldn't manage to start yesterday," Li Wan smiled,
"but you were in a hurry to get away."

"Your worthy old lady," goody Liu replied laughingly, "wouldn't let me
go. She wanted me to enjoy myself too for a day before I went."

Feng Erh then produced several large and small keys. "Our mistress Lien
says," she remarked, "that she fears that the high teapoys which are out
are not enough, and she thinks it would be as well to open the loft and
take out those that are put away and use them for a day. Our lady should
really have come and seen to it in person, but as she has something to
tell Madame Wang, she begs your ladyship to open the place, and get a
few servants to bring them out."

Li Wan there and then told Su YŁn to take the keys. She also bade a
matron go out and call a few servant-boys from those on duty at the
second gate. When they came, Li Wan remained in the lower story of the
Ta Kuan loft, and looking up, she ordered the servants to go and open
the Cho Chin hall and to bring the teapoys one by one. The young
servant-lads, matrons and servant-maids then set to work, in a body, and
carried down over twenty of them.

"Be careful with them," shouted Li Wan. "Don't be bustling about just as
if you were being pursued by ghosts! Mind you don't break the tenons!"
Turning her head round, "old dame," she observed, addressing herself
smilingly to goody Liu, "go upstairs too and have a look!"

Old goody Liu was longing to satisfy her curiosity, so at the bare
mention of the permission, she uttered just one word ("come") and,
dragging Pan Erh along, she trudged up the stairs. On her arrival
inside, she espied, pile upon pile, a whole heap of screens, tables and
chairs, painted lanterns of different sizes, and other similar articles.
She could not, it is true, make out the use of the various things, but,
at the sight of so many colours, of such finery and of the unusual
beauty of each article, she muttered time after time the name of Buddha,
and then forthwith wended her way downstairs. Subsequently (the
servants) locked the doors and every one of them came down.

"I fancy," cried Li Wan, "that our dowager lady will feel disposed (to
go on the water), so you'd better also get the poles, oars and awnings
for the boats and keep them in readiness."

The servants expressed their obedience. Once more they unlocked the
doors, and carried down everything required. She then bade a lad notify
the boatwomen go to the dock and punt out two boats. But while all this
bustle was going on, they discovered that dowager lady Chia had already
arrived at the head of a whole company of people. Li Wan promptly went
up to greet them.

"Dear venerable senior," she smiled, "you must be in good spirits to
have come in here! Imagining that you hadn't as yet combed your hair, I
just plucked a few chrysanthemums, meaning to send them to you."

While she spoke, Pi YŁeh at once presented to her a jadite tray, of the
size of a lotus leaf, containing twigs cut from every species of
chrysanthemum. Old lady Chia selected a cluster of deep red and pinned
it in her hair about her temples. But turning round, she noticed old
goody Liu. "Come over here," she vehemently cried with a smile; "and put
on a few flowers."

Scarcely was this remark concluded, than lady Feng dragged goody Liu
forward. "Let me deck you up!" she laughed. With these words, she seized
a whole plateful of flowers and stuck them three this way, four that
way, all over her head. Old lady Chia, and the whole party were greatly
amused; so much so, that they could not check themselves.

"I wonder," shouted goody Liu smiling, "what blessings I have brought
upon my head that such honours are conferred upon it to-day!"

"Don't you yet pull them away," they all laughed, "and chuck them in her
face! She has got you up in such a way as to make a regular old elf of

"I'm an old hag, I admit," goody Liu pursued with a laugh; "but when I
was young, I too was pretty and fond of flowers and powder! But the best
thing I can do now is to keep to such fineries as befit my advanced

While they bandied words, they reached the Hsin Fang pavilion. The
waiting maids brought a large embroidered rug and spread it over the
planks of the divan near the balustrade. On this rug dowager lady Chia
sat, with her back leaning against the railing; and, inviting goody Liu
to also take a seat next to her, "Is this garden nice or not?" she asked

Old goody Liu invoked Buddha several times. "We country-people," she
rejoined, "do invariably come, at the close of each year, into the city
and buy pictures and stick them about. And frequently do we find
ourselves in our leisure moments wondering how we too could manage to
get into the pictures, and walk about the scenes they represent. I
presumed that those pictures were purely and simply fictitious, for how
could there be any such places in reality? But, contrary to my
expectations, I found, as soon as I entered this garden to-day and had a
look about it, that it was, after all, a hundred times better than these
very pictures. But if only I could get some one to make me a sketch of
this garden, to take home with me and let them see it, so that when we
die we may have reaped some benefit!"

Upon catching the wish she expressed, dowager lady Chia pointed at Hsi
Ch'un. "Look at that young granddaughter of mine!" she smiled. "She's
got the knack of drawing. So what do you say to my asking her to-morrow
to make a picture for you?"

This suggestion filled goody Liu with enthusiasm and speedily crossing
over, she clasped Hsi Ch'un in her arms. "My dear Miss!" she cried, "so
young in years, and yet so pretty, and so accomplished too! Mightn't you
be a spirit come to life!"

After old lady Chia had had a little rest, she in person took goody Liu
and showed her everything there was to be seen. First, they visited the
Hsiao Hsiang lodge. The moment they stepped into the entrance, a narrow
avenue, flanked on either side with kingfisher-like green bamboos, met
their gaze. The earth below was turfed all over with moss. In the
centre, extended a tortuous road, paved with pebbles. Goody Liu left
dowager lady Chia and the party walk on the raised road, while she
herself stepped on the earth. But Hu Po tugged at her. "Come up, old
dame, and walk here!" she exclaimed. "Mind the fresh moss is slippery
and you might fall."

"I don't mind it!" answered goody Liu. "We people are accustomed to
walking (on such slippery things)! So, young ladies, please proceed. And
do look after your embroidered shoes! Don't splash them with mud."

But while bent upon talking with those who kept on the raised road, she
unawares reached a spot, which was actually slippery, and with a sound
of "ku tang" she tumbled over.

The whole company clapped their hands and laughed boisterously.

"You young wenches," shouted out dowager lady Chia, "don't you yet raise
her up, but stand by giggling?"

This reprimand was still being uttered when goody Liu had already
crawled up. She too was highly amused. "Just as my mouth was bragging,"
she observed, "I got a whack on the lips!"

"Have you perchance twisted your waist?" inquired old lady Chia. "Tell
the servant-girls to pat it for you!"

"What an idea!" retorted goody Liu, "am I so delicate? What day ever
goes by without my tumbling down a couple of times? And if I had to be
patted every time wouldn't it be dreadful!"

Tzu Chuan had at an early period raised the speckled bamboo portiere.
Dowager lady Chia and her companions entered and seated themselves. Lin
Tai-yŁ with her own hands took a small tray and came to present a
covered cup of tea to her grandmother.

"We won't have any tea!" Madame Wang interposed, "so, miss, you needn't
pour any."

Lin Tai-yŁ, hearing this, bade a waiting-maid fetch the chair from under
the window where she herself often sat, and moving it to the lower side,
she pressed Madame Wang into it. But goody Liu caught sight of the
pencils and inkslabs, lying on the table placed next to the window, and
espied the bookcase piled up to the utmost with books. "This must
surely," the old dame ejaculated, "be some young gentleman's study!"

"This is the room of this granddaughter-in-law of mine," dowager lady
Chia explained, smilingly pointing to Tai-yŁ.

Goody Liu scrutinised Lin Tai-yŁ with intentness for a while. "Is this
anything like a young lady's private room?" she then observed with a
smile. "Why, in very deed, it's superior to any first class library!"

"How is it I don't see Pao-yŁ?" his grandmother Chia went on to inquire.

"He's in the boat, on the pond," the waiting-maids, with one voice,
returned for answer.

"Who also got the boats ready?" old lady Chia asked.

"The loft was open just now so they were taken out," Li Wan said, "and
as I thought that you might, venerable senior, feel inclined to have a
row, I got everything ready."

After listening to this explanation, dowager lady Chia was about to pass
some remark, but some one came and reported to her that Mrs. HsŁeh had
arrived. No sooner had old lady Chia and the others sprung to their feet
than they noticed that Mrs. HsŁeh had already made her appearance. While
taking a seat: "Your venerable ladyship," she smiled, "must be in
capital spirits to-day to have come at this early hour!"

"It's only this very minute that I proposed that any one who came late,
should be fined," dowager lady Chia laughed, "and, who'd have thought
it, here you, Mrs. HsŁeh, arrive late!"

After they had indulged in good-humoured raillery for a time, old lady
Chia's attention was attracted by the faded colour of the gauze on the
windows, and she addressed herself to Madame Wang. "This gauze," she
said, "may have been nice enough when it was newly pasted, but after a
time nothing remained of kingfisher green. In this court too there are
no peach or apricot trees and these bamboos already are green in
themselves, so were this shade of green gauze to be put up again, it
would, instead of improving matters, not harmonise with the
surroundings. I remember that we had at one time four or five kinds of
coloured gauzes for sticking on windows, so give her some to-morrow to
change that on there."

"When I opened the store yesterday," hastily put in Lady Feng, "I
noticed that there were still in those boxes, made of large planks,
several rolls of 'cicada wing' gauze of silvery red colour. There were
also several rolls with designs of twigs of flowers of every kind,
several with 'the rolling clouds and bats' pattern, and several with
figures representing hundreds of butterflies, interspersed among
flowers. The colours of all these were fresh, and the gauze supple. But
I failed to see anything of the kind you speak of. Were two rolls taken
(from those I referred to), and a couple of bed-covers of embroidered
gauze made out of them, they would, I fancy, be a pretty sight!"

"Pshaw!" laughed old lady Chia, "every one says that there's nothing you
haven't gone through and nothing you haven't seen, and don't you even
know what this gauze is? Will you again brag by and bye, after this?"

Mrs. HsŁeh and all the others smiled. "She may have gone through a good
deal," they remarked, "but how can she ever presume to pit herself
against an old lady like you? So why don't you, venerable senior, tell
her what it is so that we too may be edified."

Lady Feng too gave a smile. "My dear ancestor," she pleaded, "do tell me
what it is like."

Dowager lady Chia thereupon proceeded to enlighten Mrs. HsŁeh and the
whole company. "That gauze is older in years than any one of you," she
said. "It isn't therefore to be wondered, if you make a mistake and take
it for 'cicada wing' gauze. But it really bears some resemblance to it;
so much so, indeed, that any one, not knowing the difference, would
imagine it to be the 'cicada wing' gauze. Its true name, however, is
'soft smoke' silk."

"This is also a nice sounding name," lady Feng agreed. "But up to the
age I've reached, I have never heard of any such designation, in spite
of the many hundreds of specimens of gauzes and silks, I've seen."

"How long can you have lived?" old lady Chia added smilingly, "and how
many kinds of things can you have met, that you indulge in this tall
talk? Of this 'soft smoke' silk, there only exist four kinds of colours.
The one is red-blue; the other is russet; the other pine-green; the
other silvery-red; and it's because, when made into curtains or stuck on
window-frames, it looks from far like smoke or mist, that it is called
'soft smoke' silk. The silvery-red is also called 'russet shadow' gauze.
Among the gauzes used in the present day, in the palace above, there are
none so supple and rich, light and closely-woven as this!"

"Not to speak of that girl Feng not having seen it," Mrs. HsŁeh laughed,
"why, even I have never so much as heard anything of it."

While the conversation proceeded in this strain, lady Feng soon directed
a servant to fetch a roll. "Now isn't this the kind!" dowager lady Chia
exclaimed. "At first, we simply had it stuck on the window frames, but
we subsequently used it for covers and curtains, just for a trial, and
really they were splendid! So you had better to-morrow try and find
several rolls, and take some of the silvery-red one and have it fixed on
the windows for her."

While lady Feng promised to attend to her commission, the party
scrutinised it, and unanimously extolled it with effusion. Old goody Liu
too strained her eyes and examined it, and her lips incessantly muttered
Buddha's name. "We couldn't," she ventured, "afford to make clothes of
such stuff, much though we may long to do so; and won't it be a pity to
use it for sticking on windows?"

"But it doesn't, after all, look well, when made into clothes," old lady
Chia explained.

Lady Feng hastily pulled out the lapel of the deep-red brocaded gauze
jacket she had on, and, facing dowager lady Chia and Mrs. HsŁeh, "Look
at this jacket of mine," she remarked.

"This is also of first-rate quality!" old lady Chia and Mrs. HsŁeh
rejoined. "This is nowadays made in the palace for imperial use, but it
can't possibly come up to this!"

"It's such thin stuff," lady Feng observed, "and do you still say that
it was made in the palace for imperial use? Why, it doesn't, in fact,
compare favourably with even this, which is worn by officials!"

"You'd better search again!" old lady Chia urged; "I believe there must
be more of it! If there be, bring it all out, and give this old relative
Liu a couple of rolls! Should there be any red-blue, I'll make a curtain
to hang up. What remains can be matched with some lining, and cut into a
few double waistcoats for the waiting-maids to wear. It would be sheer
waste to keep these things, as they will be spoilt by the damp."

Lady Feng vehemently acquiesced; after which, she told a servant to take
the gauze away.

"These rooms are so small!" dowager lady Chia then observed, smiling.
"We had better go elsewhere for a stroll."

"Every one says," old goody Liu put in, "that big people live in big
houses! When I saw yesterday your main apartments, dowager lady, with
all those large boxes, immense presses, big tables, and spacious beds to
match, they did, indeed, present an imposing sight! Those presses are
larger than our whole house; yea loftier too! But strange to say there
were ladders in the back court. 'They don't also,' I thought, 'go up to
the house tops to sun things, so what can they keep those ladders in
readiness for?' Well, after that, I remembered that they must be
required for opening the presses to take out or put in things. And that
without those ladders, how could one ever reach that height? But now
that I've also seen these small rooms, more luxuriously got up than the
large ones, and full of various articles, all so fascinating and hardly
even known to me by name, I feel, the more I feast my eyes on them, the
more unable to tear myself away from them."

"There are other things still better than this," lady Feng added. "I'll
take you to see them all!"

Saying this, they straightway left the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. From a
distance, they spied a whole crowd of people punting the boats in the

"As they've got the boats ready," old lady Chia proposed, "we may as
well go and have a row in them!"

As she uttered this suggestion, they wended their steps along the
persicary-covered bank of the Purple Lily Isle. But before reaching the
lake, they perceived several matrons advancing that way with large
multi-coloured boxes in their hands, made all alike of twisted wire and
inlaid with gold. Lady Feng hastened to inquire of Madame Wang where
breakfast was to be served.

"Ask our venerable senior," Madame Wang replied, "and let them lay it
wherever she pleases."

Old lady Chia overheard her answer, and turning her head round: "Miss
Tertia," she said, "take the servants, and make them lay breakfast
wherever you think best! We'll get into the boats from here."

Upon catching her senior's wishes, lady Feng retraced her footsteps, and
accompanied by Li Wan, T'an Ch'un, YŁan Yang and Hu Po, she led off the
servants, carrying the eatables, and other domestics, and came by the
nearest way, to the Ch'iu Shuang library, where they arranged the tables
in the Hsiao Ts'ui hall.

"We daily say that whenever the gentlemen outside have anything to drink
or eat, they invariably have some one who can raise a laugh and whom
they can chaff for fun's sake," Yuan Yang smiled, "so let's also to-day
get a female family-companion."

Li Wan, being a person full of kindly feelings, did not fathom the
insinuation, though it did not escape her ear. Lady Feng, however,
thoroughly understood that she alluded to old goody Liu. "Let us too
to-day," she smilingly remarked, "chaff her for a bit of fun!"

These two then began to mature their plans.

Li Wan chided them with a smile. "You people," she said, "don't know
even how to perform the least good act! But you're not small children
any more, and are you still up to these pranks? Mind, our venerable
ancestor might call you to task!"

"That has nothing whatever to do with you, senior lady," YŁan Yang
laughed, "it's my own look out!"

These words were still on her lips, when she saw dowager lady Chia and
the rest of the company arrive. They each sat where and how they
pleased. First and foremost, a waiting-maid brought two trays of tea.
After tea, lady Feng laid hold of a napkin, made of foreign cloth, in
which were wrapped a handful of blackwood chopsticks, encircled with
three rings, of inlaid silver, and distributed them on the tables, in
the order in which they were placed.

"Bring that small hard-wood table over," old lady Chia then exclaimed;
"and let our relative Liu sit next to me here!"

No sooner did the servants hear her order than they hurried to move the
table to where she wanted it. Lady Feng, during this interval, made a
sign with her eye to YŁan Yang. YŁan Yang there and then dragged goody
Liu out of the hall and began to impress in a low tone of voice various
things on her mind. "This is the custom which prevails in our
household," she proceeded, "and if you disregard it we'll have a laugh
at your expense!"

Having arranged everything she had in view, they at length returned to
their places. Mrs. HsŁeh had come over, after her meal, so she simply
seated herself on one side and sipped her tea. Dowager lady Chia with
Pao-yŁ, Hsiang-yŁn, Tai-yŁ and Pao-ch'ai sat at one table. Madame Wang
took the girls, Ying Ch'un, and her sisters, and occupied one table. Old
goody Liu took a seat at a table next to dowager lady Chia. Heretofore,
while their old mistress had her repast, a young servant-maid usually
stood by her to hold the finger bowl, yak-brush, napkin and other such
necessaries, but YŁan Yang did not of late fulfil any of these duties,
so when, on this occasion, she deliberately seized the yak-brush and
came over and flapped it about, the servant-girls concluded that she was
bent upon playing some tricks upon goody Liu, and they readily withdrew
and let her have her way.

While YŁan Yang attended to her self-imposed duties, she winked at the
old dame.

"Miss," goody Liu exclaimed, "set your mind at ease!" Goody Liu sat down
at the table and took up the chopsticks, but so heavy and clumsy did she
find them that she could not handle them conveniently. The fact is that
lady Feng and YŁan Yang had put their heads together and decided to only
assign to goody Liu a pair of antiquated four-cornered ivory chopsticks,
inlaid with gold.

"These forks," shouted goody Liu, after scrutinising them, "are heavier
than the very iron-lever over at my place. How ever can I move them

This remark had the effect of making every one explode into a fit of
laughter. But a married woman standing in the centre of the room, with a
box in her hands, attracted their gaze. A waiting-maid went up to her
and removed the cover of the box. Its contents were two bowls of
eatables. Li Wan took one of these and placed it on dowager lady Chia's
table, while lady Feng chose the bowl with pigeon's eggs and put it on
goody Liu's table.

"Please (commence)," Dowager lady Chia uttered from the near side, where
she sat.

Goody Liu at this speedily sprung to her feet. "Old Liu, old Liu," she
roared with a loud voice, "your eating capacity is as big as that of a
buffalo! You've gorged like an old sow and can't raise your head up!"
Then puffing out her cheeks, she added not a word.

The whole party was at first taken quite aback. But, as soon as they
heard the drift of her remarks, every one, both high as well as low,
began to laugh boisterously. Hsiang-yŁn found it so difficult to
restrain herself that she spurted out the tea she had in her mouth. Lin
Tai-yŁ indulged in such laughter that she was quite out of breath, and
propping herself up on the table, she kept on ejaculating 'Ai-yo.'
Pao-yŁ rolled into his grandmother's lap. The old lady herself was so
amused that she clasped Pao-yŁ in her embrace, and gave way to endearing
epithets. Madame Wang laughed, and pointed at lady Feng with her finger;
but as for saying a word, she could not. Mrs. HsŁeh had much difficulty
in curbing her mirth, and she sputtered the tea, with which her mouth
was full, all over T'an Ch'un's petticoat. T'an Ch'un threw the contents
of the teacup, she held in her hand, over Ying Ch'un; while Hsi Ch'un
quitted her seat, and, pulling her nurse away, bade her rub her stomach
for her.

Below, among the lower seats, there was not one who was not with bent
waist and doubled-up back. Some retired to a corner and, squatting down,
laughed away. Others suppressed their laughter and came up and changed
the clothes of their young mistresses. Lady Feng and Yuan Yang were the
only ones, who kept their countenance. Still they continued helping old
goody Liu to food.

Old goody Liu took up the chopsticks. "Even the chickens in this place
are fine," she went on to add, pretending, she did not hear what was
going on; "the eggs they lay are small, but so dainty! How very pretty
they are! Let me help myself to one!"

The company had just managed to check themselves, but, the moment these
words fell on their ears, they started again with their laughter. Old
lady Chia laughed to such an extent that tears streamed from her eyes.
And so little could she bear the strain any longer that Hu Po stood
behind her and patted her.

"This must be the work of that vixen Feng!" old lady Chia laughed. "She
has ever been up to tricks like a very imp, so be quick and disbelieve
all her yarns!"

Goody Liu was in the act of praising the eggs as small yet dainty, when
lady Feng interposed with a smile. "They're one tael each, be quick, and
taste them;" she said; "they're not nice when they get cold!"

Goody Liu forthwith stretched out the chopsticks with the intent of
catching one; but how could she manage to do so? They rolled and rolled
in the bowl for ever so long; and, it was only after extreme difficulty
that she succeeded in shoving one up. Extending her neck forward, she
was about to put it in her mouth, when it slipped down again, and rolled
on to the floor. She hastily banged down the chopsticks, and was going
herself to pick it up, when a servant, who stood below, got hold of it
and took it out of the room.

Old goody Liu heaved a sigh. "A tael!" she soliloquised, "and here it
goes without a sound!"

Every one had long ago abandoned all idea of eating, and, gazing at her,
they enjoyed the fun.

"Who has now brought out these chopsticks again?" old lady Chia went on
to ask. "We haven't invited any strangers or spread any large banquet!
It must be that vixen Feng who gave them out! But don't you yet change

The servants, standing on the floor below, had indeed had no hand in
getting those ivory chopsticks; they had, in fact, been brought by lady
Feng and YŁan Yang; but when they heard these remarks, they hurried to
put them away and to change them for a pair similar to those used by the
others, made of blackwood inlaid with silver.

"They've taken away the gold ones," old goody Liu shouted, "and here
come silver ones! But, after all, they're not as handy as those we use!"

"Should there be any poison in the viands," lady Feng observed, "you can
detect it, as soon as this silver is dipped into them!"

"If there's poison in such viands as these," old goody Liu added, "why
those of ours must be all arsenic! But though it be the death of me,
I'll swallow every morsel!"

Seeing how amusing the old woman was and with what relish she devoured
her food, dowager lady Chia took her own dishes and passed them over to

She then likewise bade an old matron take various viands and put them in
a bowl for Pan Erh. But presently, the repast was concluded, and old
lady Chia and all the other inmates adjoined into T'an Ch'un's bedroom
for a chat.

The remnants were, meanwhile, cleared away, and fresh tables were laid.

Old goody Liu watched Li Wan and lady Feng sit opposite each other and
eat. "Putting everything else aside," she sighed, "what most takes my
fancy is the way things are done in your mansion. It isn't to be
wondered at that the adage has it that: 'propriety originates from great

"Don't be too touchy," lady Feng hastily smiled, "we all made fun of you
just now."

But barely had she done speaking, when YŁan Yang too walked in. "Old
goody Liu," she said laughingly, "don't be angry! I tender you my
apologies, venerable dame!"

"What are you saying, Miss?" old goody Liu rejoined smiling. "We've
coaxed our dowager lady to get a little distraction; and what reason is
there to be angry? From the very first moment you spoke to me, I knew at
once that it was intended to afford merriment to you all! Had I been
angry at heart, I wouldn't have gone so far as to say what I did!"

YŁan Yang then blew up the servants. "Why," she shouted, "don't you pour
a cup of tea for the old dame?"

"That sister-in-law," promptly explained old goody Liu, "gave me a cup a
little while back. I've had it already. But you, Miss, must also have
something to eat."

Lady Feng dragged YŁan Yang into a seat. "Have your meal with us!" she
said. "You'll thus save another fuss by and bye."

YŁan Yang readily seated herself. The matrons came up and added to the
number of bowls and chopsticks, and the trio went through their meal.

"From all I see," smiled goody Liu, "you people eat just a little and
finish. It's lucky you don't feel the pangs of hunger! But it isn't
astonishing if a whiff of wind can puff you over!"

"A good many eatables remained over to-day. Where are they all gone to?"
YŁan Yang inquired.

"They haven't as yet been apportioned!" the matrons responded. "They're
kept in here until they can be given in a lump to them to eat!"

"They can't get through so many things!" YŁan Yang resumed. "You had as
well therefore choose two bowls and send them over to that girl P'ing,
in your mistress Secundus' rooms."

"She has had her repast long ago." lady Feng put in. "There's no need to
give her any!"

"With what she can't eat, herself," YŁan Yang continued, "she can feed
the cats."

At these words, a matron lost no time in selecting two sorts of
eatables, and, taking the box, she went to take them over.

"Where's Su Yun gone to?" YŁan Yang asked.

"They're all in here having their meal together." Li Wan replied. "What
do you want her for again?"

"Well, in that case, never mind," YŁan Yang answered.

"Hsi Jen isn't here," lady Feng observed, "so tell some one to take her
a few things!"

Yuan Yang, hearing this, directed a servant to send her also a few
eatables. "Have the partition boxes been filled with wine for by and
bye?" YŁan Yang went on to ask the matrons.

"They'll be ready, I think, in a little while," a matron explained.

"Hurry them up a bit!" YŁan Yang added.

The matron signified her assent.

Lady Feng and her friends then came into T'an Ch'un's apartments, where
they found the ladies chatting and laughing.

T'an Ch'un had ever shown an inclination for plenty of room. Hence that
suite of three apartments had never been partitioned. In the centre was
placed a large table of rosewood and Ta li marble. On this table, were
laid in a heap every kind of copyslips written by persons of note.
Several tens of valuable inkslabs and various specimens of tubes and
receptacles for pens figured also about; the pens in which were as
thickly packed as trees in a forest. On the off side, stood a flower
bowl from the 'Ju' kiln, as large as a bushel measure. In it was placed,
till it was quite full, a bunch of white chrysanthemums, in appearance
like crystal balls. In the middle of the west wall, was suspended a
large picture representing vapor and rain; the handiwork of Mi
Nang-yang. On the left and right of this picture was hung a pair of
antithetical scrolls--the autograph of Yen LŁ. The lines on these
scrolls were:

Wild scenes are to the taste of those who leisure love,
And springs and rookeries are their rustic resort.

On the table, figured a large tripod. On the left, stood on a blackwood
cabinet, a huge bowl from a renowned government kiln. This bowl
contained about ten "Buddha's hands" of beautiful yellow and fine
proportions. On the right, was suspended, on a Japanese-lacquered frame,
a white jade sonorous plate. Its shape resembled two eyes, one by the
side of the other. Next to it hung a small hammer.

Pan Erh had become a little more confident and was about to seize the
hammer and beat the plate, when the waiting-maids hastened to prevent
him. Next, he wanted a "Buddha's hand" to eat. T'an Ch'un chose one and
let him have it. "You may play with it," she said, "but you can't eat

On the east side stood a sleeping divan. On a movable bed was hung a
leek-green gauze curtain, ornamented with double embroideries,
representing flowers, plants and insects. Pan Erh ran up to have a look.
"This is a green-cicada," he shouted; "this a grasshopper!"

But old goody Liu promptly gave him a slap. "You mean scamp!" she cried.
"What an awful rumpus you're kicking up! I simply brought you along with
me to look at things; and lo, you put on airs;" and she beat Pan Erh
until he burst out crying. It was only after every one quickly combined
in using their efforts to solace him that he at length desisted.

Old lady Chia then looked through the gauze casement into the back court
for some time. "The dryandra trees by the eaves of the covered passage
are growing all right," she remarked. "The only thing is that their
foliage is rather sparse."

But while she passed this remark, a sudden gust of wind swept by, and
faintly on her ear fell the strains of music. "In whose house is there a
wedding?" old lady Chia inquired. "This place must be very near the

"How could one hear what's going on in the street?" Madame Wang and the
others smiled. "It's our twelve girls practising on their wind and
string instruments!"

"As they're practising," dowager lady Chia eagerly cried, smilingly,
"why not ask them to come in here and practise? They'll be able to have
a stroll also, while we, on our part, will derive some enjoyment."

Upon hearing this suggestion, lady Feng immediately directed a servant
to go out and call them in. She further issued orders to bring a table
and spread a red cover over it.

"Let it be put," old lady Chia chimed in, "in the water-pavilion of the
Lotus Fragrance Arbour, for (the music) will borrow the ripple of the
stream and sound ever so much more pleasant to the ear. We can by and
bye drink our wine in the Cho Chin Hall; we'll thus have ample room, and
be able to listen from close!"

Every one admitted that the spot was well adapted. Dowager lady Chia
turned herself towards Mrs. HsŁeh. "Let's get ahead!" she laughed. "The
young ladies don't like any one to come in here, for fear lest their
quarters should get contaminated; so don't let us show ourselves
disregardful of their wishes! The right thing would be to go and have
our wine aboard one of those boats!"

As she spoke, one and all rose to their feet. They were making their way
out when T'an Ch'un interposed. "What's this that you're saying?" she
smiled. "Please do seat yourselves, venerable senior, and you, Mrs.
HsŁeh, and Madame Wang! You can't be going yet?"

"These three girls of mine are really nice! There are only two
mistresses that are simply dreadful." Dowager lady Chia said smilingly.
"When we get drunk shortly, we'll go and sit in their rooms and have a

These words evoked laughter from every one. In a body they quitted the
place. But they had not proceeded far before they reached the bank
covered with aquatic plants, to which place the boat-women, who had been
brought from Ku Su, had already punted two crab-wood boats. Into one of
these boats, they helped old lady Chia, Madame Wang, Mrs. HsŁeh, old
goody Liu, YŁan Yang, and YŁ Ch'uan-Erh. Last in order Li Wan followed
on board. But lady Feng too stepped in, and standing up on the bow, she
insisted upon punting.

Dowager lady Chia, however, remonstrated from her seat in the bottom of
the boat. "This isn't a joke," she cried, "we're not on the river, it's
true, but there are some very deep places about, so be quick and come
in. Do it for my sake."

"What's there to be afraid of?" lady Feng laughed. "Compose your mind,
worthy ancestor."

Saying this, the boat was pushed off with one shove. When it reached the
middle of the lake, lady Feng became nervous, for the craft was small
and the occupants many, and hastily handing the pole to a boatwoman, she
squatted down at last.

Ying Ch'un, her sisters, their cousins, as well as Pao-yŁ subsequently
got on board the second boat, and followed in their track; while the
rest of the company, consisting of old nurses and a bevy of
waiting-maids, kept pace with them along the bank of the stream.

"All these broken lotus leaves are dreadful!" Pao-yŁ shouted. "Why don't
you yet tell the servants to pull them off?"

"When was this garden left quiet during all the days of this year?"
Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Why, people have come, day after day, to visit it, so
was there ever any time to tell the servants to come and clean it?"

"I have the greatest abhorrence," Lin Tai-yŁ chimed in, "for Li I's
poetical works, but there's only this line in them which I like:

"'Leave the dry lotus leaves so as to hear the patter of the rain.'

"and here you people deliberately mean again not to leave the dry lotus
stay where they are."

"This is indeed a fine line!" Pao-yŁ exclaimed. "We mustn't hereafter
let them pull them away!"

While this conversation continued, they reached the shoaly inlet under
the flower-laden beech. They felt a coolness from the shady overgrowth
penetrate their very bones. The decaying vegetation and the withered
aquatic chestnut plants on the sand-bank enhanced, to a greater degree,
the beauty of the autumn scenery.

Dowager lady Chia at this point observed some spotless rooms on the
bank, so spick and so span. "Are not these Miss HsŁeh's quarters," she
asked. "Eh?"

"Yes, they are!" everybody answered.

Old lady Chia promptly bade them go alongside, and wending their way up
the marble steps, which seemed to lead to the clouds, they in a body
entered the Heng Wu court. Here they felt a peculiar perfume come
wafting into their nostrils, for the colder the season got the greener
grew that strange vegetation, and those fairy-like creepers. The various
plants were laden with seeds, which closely resembled red coral beans,
as they drooped in lovely clusters.

The house, as soon as they put their foot into it, presented the aspect
of a snow cave. There was a total absence of every object of ornament.
On the table figured merely an earthenware vase, in which were placed
several chrysanthemums. A few books and teacups were also conspicuous,
but no further knicknacks. On the bed was suspended a green gauze
curtain, and of equally extreme plainness were the coverlets and
mattresses belonging to it.

"This child," dowager lady Chia sighed, "is too simple! If you've got
nothing to lay about, why not ask your aunt for a few articles? I would
never raise any objection. I never thought about them. Your things, of
course, have been left at home, and have not been brought over."

So saying, she told Yuan Yang to go and fetch several bric-a-brac. She
next went on to call lady Feng to task.

"She herself wouldn't have them," (lady Feng) rejoined. "We really sent
over a few, but she refused every one of them and returned them."

"In her home also," smiled Mrs. HsŁeh, "she does not go in very much for
such sort of things."

Old lady Chia nodded her head. "It will never do!" she added. "It does,
it's true, save trouble; but were some relative to come on a visit,
she'll find things in an impossible way. In the second place, such
simplicity in the apartments of young ladies of tender age is quite
unpropitious! Why, if you young people go on in this way, we old fogies
should go further and live in stables! You've all heard what is said in
those books and plays about the dreadful luxury, with which young
ladies' quarters are got up. And though these girls of ours could not
presume to place themselves on the same footing as those young ladies,
they shouldn't nevertheless exceed too much the bounds of what
constitutes the right thing. If they have any objects ready at hand, why
shouldn't they lay them out? And if they have any strong predilection
for simplicity, a few things less will do quite as well. I've always had
the greatest knack for titifying a room, but being an old woman now I
haven't the ease and inclination to attend to such things! These girls
are, however, learning how to do things very nicely. I was afraid that
there would be an appearance of vulgarity in what they did, and that,
even had they anything worth having, they'd so place them about as to
spoil them; but from what I can see there's nothing vulgar about them.
But let me now put things right for you, and I'll wager that everything
will look grand as well as plain. I've got a couple of my own
knicknacks, which I've managed to keep to this day, by not allowing
Pao-yŁ to get a glimpse of them; for had he ever seen them, they too
would have long ago disappeared!" Continuing, she called YŁan Yang.
"Fetch that marble pot with scenery on it," she said to her; "that gauze
screen, and that tripod of transparent stone with black streaks, which
you'll find in there, and lay out all three on this table. They'll be
ample! Bring likewise those ink pictures and white silk curtains, and
change these curtains."

YŁan Yang expressed her obedience. "All these articles have been put
away in the eastern loft," she smiled. "In what boxes they've been put,
I couldn't tell; I must therefore go and find them quietly and if I
bring them over to-morrow, it will be time enough."

"To-morrow or the day after will do very well; but don't forget, that's
all," dowager lady Chia urged.

While conversing, they sat for a while. Presently, they left the rooms
and repaired straightway into the Cho Chin hall. Wen Kuan and the other
girls came up and paid their obeisance. They next inquired what songs
they were to practise.

"You'd better choose a few pieces to rehearse out of those you know
best," old lady Chia rejoined.

Wen Kuan and her companions then withdrew and betook themselves to the
Lotus Fragrance Pavilion. But we will leave them there without further
allusion to them.

During this while, lady Feng had already, with the help of servants, got
everything in perfect order. On the left and right of the side of honour
were placed two divans. These divans were completely covered with
embroidered covers and fine variegated mats. In front of each divan
stood two lacquer teapoys, inlaid, some with designs of crab-apple
flowers; others of plum blossom, some of lotus leaves, others of
sun-flowers. Some of these teapoys were square, others round. Their
shapes were all different. On each was placed a set consisting of a
stove and a bottle, also a box with partitions. The two divans and four
teapoys, in the place of honour, were used by dowager lady Chia and Mrs.
HsŁeh. The chair and two teapoys in the next best place, by Madame Wang.
The rest of the inmates had, all alike, a chair and a teapoy. On the
east side sat old goody Liu. Below old goody Liu came Madame Wang. On
the west was seated Shih Hsiang-yŁn. The second place was occupied by
Pao-ch'ai; the third by Tai-yŁ; the fourth by Ying Ch'un. T'an Ch'un and
Hsi Ch'un filled the lower seats, in their proper order; Pao-yŁ sat in
the last place. The two teapoys assigned to Li Wan and lady Feng stood
within the third line of railings, and beyond the second row of gauze
frames. The pattern of the partition-boxes corresponded likewise with
the pattern on the teapoys. Each inmate had a black decanter, with
silver, inlaid in foreign designs; as well as an ornamented, enamelled

After they had all occupied the seats assigned to them, dowager lady
Chia took the initiative and smilingly suggested: "Let's begin by
drinking a couple of cups of wine. But we should also have a game of
forfeits to-day, we'll have plenty of fun then."

"You, venerable senior, must certainly have a good wine order to
impose," Mrs. HsŁeh laughingly observed, "but how could we ever comply
with it? But if your aim be to intoxicate us, why, we'll all straightway
drink one or two cups more than is good for us and finish!"

"Here's Mrs. HsŁeh beginning to be modest again to-day!" old lady Chia
smiled. "But I expect it's because she looks down upon me as being an
old hag!"

"It isn't modesty!" Mrs. HsŁeh replied smiling. "It's all a dread lest I
shouldn't be able to observe the order and thus incur ridicule."

"If you don't give the right answer," Madame Wang promptly interposed
with a smile, "you'll only have to drink a cup or two more of wine, and
should we get drunk, we can go to sleep; and who'll, pray laugh at us?"

Mrs. HsŁeh nodded her head. "I'll agree to the order," she laughed,
"but, dear senior, you must, after all, do the right thing and have a
cup of wine to start it."

"This is quite natural!" old lady Chia answered laughingly; and with
these words, she forthwith emptied a cup.

Lady Feng with hurried steps advanced to the centre of the room. "If we
are to play at forfeits," she smilingly proposed, "we'd better invite
sister YŁan Yang to come and join us."

The whole company was perfectly aware that if dowager lady Chia had to
give out the rule of forfeits, YŁan Yang would necessarily have to
suggest it, so the moment they heard the proposal they, with common
consent, approved it as excellent. Lady Feng therefore there and then
dragged YŁan Yang over.

"As you're to take a part in the game of forfeits," Madame Wang
smilingly observed, "there's no reason why you should stand up." And
turning her head round, "Bring over," she bade a young waiting-maid, "a
chair and place it at your Mistress Secunda's table."

YŁan Yang, half refusing and half assenting, expressed her thanks, and
took the seat. After partaking also of a cup of wine, "Drinking rules,"
she smiled, "resemble very much martial law; so irrespective of high or
low, I alone will preside. Any one therefore who disobeys my words will
have to suffer a penalty."

"Of course, it should be so!" Madame Wang and the others laughed, "so be
quick and give out the rule!"

But before YŁan Yang had as yet opened her lips to speak, old goody Liu
left the table, and waving her hand: "Don't," she said, "make fun of
people in this way, for I'll go home."

"This will never do!" One and all smilingly protested.

YŁan Yang shouted to the young waiting-maids to drag her back to her
table; and the maids, while also indulging in laughter, actually pulled
her and compelled her to rejoin the banquet.

"Spare me!" old goody Liu kept on crying, "spare me!"

"Any one who says one word more," YŁan Yang exclaimed, "will be fined a
whole decanter full."

Old goody Liu then at length observed silence.

"I'll now give out the set of dominoes." YŁan Yang proceeded. "I'll
begin from our venerable mistress and follow down in proper order until
I come to old goody Liu, when I shall stop. So as to illustrate what I
meant just now by giving out a set, I'll take these three dominoes and
place them apart; you have to begin by saying something on the first,
next, to allude to the second, and, after finishing with all three, to
take the name of the whole set and match it with a line, no matter
whether it be from some stanza or roundelay, song or idyl, set phrases
or proverbs. But they must rhyme. And any one making a mistake will be
mulcted in one cup."

"This rule is splendid; begin at once!" they all exclaimed.

"I've got a set," YŁan Yang pursued; "on the left, is the piece
'heaven,' (twelve dots)."

"Above head stretches the blue heaven,"

dowager lady Chia said.

"Good!" shouted every one.

"In the centre is a five and six," YŁan Yang resumed.

The fragrance of the plum blossom pierces the bones on the bridge

old lady Chia added.

"There now remains," YŁan Yang explained, "one piece, the six and one."

"From among the fleecy clouds issues the wheel-like russet sun."

dowager lady Chia continued.

"The whole combined," Yuan Yang observed "forms 'the devil with
dishevelled hair.'"

"This devil clasps the leg of the 'Chung Pa' devil,"

old lady Chia observed.

At the conclusion of her recitation, they all burst out laughing.
"Capital!" they shouted. Old lady Chia drained a cup. YŁan Yang then
went on to remark, "I've got another set; the one on the left is a
double five."

"Bud after bud of the plum bloom dances in the wind,"

Mrs. HsŁeh replied.

"The one on the right is a ten spot," YŁan Yang pursued.

"In the tenth moon the plum bloom on the hills emits its fragrant

Mrs. HsŁeh added.

"The middle piece is the two and five, making the 'unlike seven;'" YŁan
Yang observed.

"The 'spinning damsel' star meets the 'cow-herd' on the eve of the
seventh day of the seventh moon,"

Miss HsŁeh said.

"Together they form: 'Erh Lang strolls on the five mounds;'" YŁan Yang

"Mortals cannot be happy as immortals,"

Mrs. HsŁeh rejoined.

Her answers over, the whole company extolled them and had a drink. "I've
got another set!" YŁan Yang once more exclaimed. "On the left, are
distinctly the distant dots of the double ace."

"Both sun and moon are so suspended as to shine on heaven and earth,"

Hsiang-yŁn ventured.

"On the right, are a couple of spots, far apart, which clearly form a
one and one." YŁan Yang pursued.

"What time a lonesome flower falls to the ground, no sound is

Hsiang-yŁn rejoined.

"In the middle, there is the one and four," YŁan Yang added.

"The red apricot tree is planted by the sun, and leans against the

Hsiang-yŁn answered.

"Together they form the 'cherry fruit ripens for the ninth time,'" YŁan
Yang said.

"In the imperial garden it is pecked by birds."

Hsiang-yŁn replied.

When she had done with her part, she drank a cup of wine. "I've got
another set," YŁan Yang began, "the one on the left is a double three."

"The swallows, pair by pair, chatter on the beams;"

Pao-ch'ai remarked.

"The right piece is a six," YŁan Yang added.

"The marsh flower is stretched by the breeze e'en to the length of a
green sash,"

Pao-ch'ai returned.

"The centre piece is a three and six, making a nine spot," YŁan Yang

"The three hills tower half beyond the azure skies;"

Pao-ch'ai rejoined.

"Lumped together they form: a 'chain-bound solitary boat,'" YŁan Yang

"Where there are wind and waves, there I feel sad;"

Pao-ch'ai answered.

When she had finished her turn and drained her cup, YŁan Yang went on
again. "On the left," she said, "there's a 'heaven.'"

"A morning fine and beauteous scenery, but, alas, what a day for me!"

Tai-yŁ replied.

When this line fell on Pao-chai's ear, she turned her head round and
cast a glance at her, but Tai-yŁ was so nervous lest she should have to
pay a forfeit that she did not so much as notice her.

"In the middle there's the 'colour of the embroidered screen, (ten
spots, four and six), is beautiful,'" YŁan Yang proceeded.

"Not e'en Hung Niang to the gauze window comes, any message to bring."

Tai-yŁ responded.

"There now remains a two and six, eight in all," YŁan Yang resumed.

"Twice see the jady throne when led in to perform the court ritual,"

Tai-yŁ replied.

"Together they form 'a basket suitable for putting plucked flowers in,'"
YŁan Yang continued.

"The fairy wand smells nice as on it hangs a peony."

Tai-yŁ retorted.

At the close of her replies, she took a sip of wine. YŁan Yang then
resumed. "On the left," she said, "there's a four and five, making a
'different-combined nine.'"

"The peach blossoms bear heavy drops of rain;"

Ying Ch'un remarked.

The company laughed. "She must be fined!" they exclaimed. "She has made
a mistake in the rhyme. Besides, it isn't right!"

Ying Ch'un smiled and drank a sip. The fact is that both lady Feng and
YŁan Yang were so eager to hear the funny things that would be uttered
by old goody Liu, that they with one voice purposely ruled that every
one answered wrong and fined them. When it came to Madame Wang's turn,
YŁan Yang recited something for her. Next followed old goody Liu.

"When we country-people have got nothing to do," old goody Liu said, "a
few of us too often come together and play this sort of game; but the
answers we give are not so high-flown; yet, as I can't get out of it,
I'll likewise make a try!"

"It's easy enough to say what there is," one and all laughed, "so just
you go on and don't mind!"

"On the left," YŁan Yang smiled, "there's a double four, i.e. 'man.'"

Goody Liu listened intently. After considerable reflection,

"It's a peasant!"

she cried.

One and all in the room blurted out laughing.

"Well-said!" dowager lady Chia observed with a laugh, "that's the way."

"All we country-people know," old goody Liu proceeded, also laughing,
"is just what comes within our own rough-and-ready wits, so young ladies
and ladies pray don't poke fun at me!"

"In the centre there's the three and four, green matched with red," YŁan
Yang pursued.

"The large fire burnt the hairy caterpillar;"

old goody Liu ventured.

"This will do very well!", the party laughed, "go on with what is in
your line."

"On the right," YŁan Yang smilingly continued, "there's a one and four,
and is really pretty."

"A turnip and a head of garlic."

old goody Liu answered.

This reply evoked further laughter from the whole company.

"Altogether, it's a twig of flowers," YŁan Yang added laughing.

"The flower dropped, and a huge melon formed."

old goody Liu observed, while gesticulating with both her hands by way
of illustration.

The party once more exploded in loud merriment.

But, reader, if you entertain any curiosity to hear what else was said
during the banquet, listen to the explanation given in the next chapter.


Chia Pao-yŁ tastes tea in the Lung Ts'ui monastery.
Old goody Liu gets drunk and falls asleep in the I Hung court.

Old goody Liu, so the story goes, exclaimed, while making signs with
both hands,

"The flower dropped and a huge melon formed;"

to the intense amusement of all the inmates, who burst into a boisterous
fit of laughter. In due course, however, she drank the closing cup. Then
she made another effort to evoke merriment. "To speak the truth to-day,"
she smilingly observed, "my hands and my feet are so rough, and I've had
so much wine that I must be careful; or else I might, by a slip of the
hand, break the porcelain cups. If you have got any wooden cups, you'd
better produce them. It wouldn't matter then if even they were to slip
out of my hands and drop on the ground!"

This joke excited some more mirth. But lady Feng, upon hearing this
speedily put on a smile. "Well," she said, "if you really want a wooden
one, I'll fetch you one at once! But there's just one word I'd like to
tell you beforehand. Wooden cups are not like porcelain ones. They go in
sets; so you'll have to do the right thing and drink from every cup of
the set."

"I just now simply spoke in jest about those cups in order to induce
them to laugh," old goody Liu at these words, mused within herself,
"but, who would have thought that she actually has some of the kind.
I've often been to the large households of village gentry on a visit,
and even been to banquets there and seen both gold cups and silver cups;
but never have I beheld any wooden ones about! Ah, of course! They must,
I expect, be the wooden bowls used by the young children. Their object
must be to inveigle me to have a couple of bowlfuls more than is good
for me! But I don't mind it. This wine is, verily, like honey, so if I
drink a little more, it won't do me any harm."

Bringing this train of thought to a close, "Fetch them!" she said aloud.
"We'll talk about them by and bye."

Lady Feng then directed Feng Erh to go and bring the set of ten cups,
made of bamboo roots, from the book-case in the front inner room. Upon
hearing her orders, Feng Erh was about to go and execute them, when YŁan
Yang smilingly interposed. "I know those ten cups of yours," she
remarked, "they're small. What's more, a while back you mentioned wooden
ones, and if you have bamboo ones brought now, it won't look well; so
we'd better get from our place that set of ten large cups, scooped out
of whole blocks of aspen roots, and pour the contents of all ten of them
down her throat?"

"Yes, that would be much better," lady Feng smiled.

The cups were then actually brought by a servant, at the direction of
YŁan Yang. At the sight of them, old goody Liu was filled with surprise
as well as with admiration. Surprise, as the ten formed one set going in
gradation from large to small; the largest being amply of the size of a
small basin, the smallest even measuring two of those she held in her
hand. Admiration, as they were all alike, engraved, in perfect style,
with scenery, trees, and human beings, and bore inscriptions in the
'grass' character as well as the seal of the writer.

"It will be enough," she consequently shouted with alacrity, "if you
give me that small one."

"There's no one," lady Feng laughingly insinuated, "with the capacity to
tackle these! Hence it is that not a soul can pluck up courage enough to
use them! But as you, old dame, asked for them, and they were fished
out, after ever so much trouble, you're bound to do the proper thing and
drink out of each, one after the other."

Old goody Liu was quite taken aback. "I daren't!" she promptly demurred.
"My dear lady, do let me off!"

Dowager lady Chia, Mrs. HsŁeh and Madame Wang were quite alive to the
fact that a person advanced in years as she was could not be gifted with
such powers of endurance, and they hastened to smilingly expostulate.
"To speak is to speak, and a joke is a joke, but she mayn't take too
much," they said; "let her just empty this first cup, and have done."

"O-mi-to-fu!" ejaculated old goody Liu. "I'll only have a small cupful,
and put this huge fellow away, and take it home and drink at my

At this remark, the whole company once more gave way to laughter. YŁan
Yang had no alternative but to give in and she had to bid a servant fill
a large cup full of wine. Old goody Liu laid hold of it with both hands
and raised it to her mouth.

"Gently a bit!" old lady Chia and Mrs. HsŁeh shouted. "Mind you don't

Mrs. HsŁeh then told lady Feng to put some viands before her. "Goody
Liu!" smiled lady Feng, "tell me the name of anything you fancy, and
I'll bring it and feed you."

"What names can I know?" old goody Liu rejoined. "Everything is good!"

"Bring some egg-plant and salt-fish for her!" dowager lady Chia
suggested with a smile.

Lady Feng, upon hearing this suggestion, complied with it by catching
some egg-plant and salt-fish with two chopsticks and putting them into
old goody Liu's mouth. "You people," she smiled, "daily feed on
egg-plants; so taste these of ours and see whether they've been nicely
prepared or not."

"Don't be making a fool of me!" old goody Liu answered smilingly. "If
egg-plants can have such flavour, we ourselves needn't sow any cereals,
but confine ourselves to growing nothing but egg-plants!"

"They're really egg-plants!" one and all protested. "She's not pulling
your leg!"

Old goody Liu was amazed. "If these be actually egg-plants," she said,
"I've uselessly eaten them so long! But, my lady, do give me a few more;
I'd like to taste the next mouthful carefully!"

Lady Feng brought her, in very deed, another lot, and put it in her
mouth. Old goody Liu munched for long with particular care. "There is,
it's true, something about them of the flavour of egg-plant," she
laughingly remarked, "yet they don't quite taste like egg-plants. But
tell me how they're cooked, so that I may prepare them in the same way
for myself."

"There's nothing hard about it!" lady Feng answered smiling. "You take
the newly cut egg-plants and pare the skin off. All you want then is
some fresh meat. You hash it into fine mince, and fry it in chicken fat.
Then you take some dry chicken meat, and mix it with mushrooms, new
bamboo shoots, sweet mushrooms, dry beancurd paste, flavoured with five
spices, and every kind of dry fruits, and you chop the whole lot into
fine pieces. You then bake all these things in chicken broth, until it's
absorbed, when you fry them, to finish, in sweet oil, and adding some
oil, made of the grains of wine, you place them in a porcelain jar, and
close it hermetically. At any time that you want any to eat, all you
have to do is to take out some, and mix it with some roasted chicken,
and there it is all ready."

Old goody Liu a shook her head and put out her tongue. "My Buddha's
ancestor!" she shouted. "One wants about ten chickens to prepare this
dish! It isn't strange then that it has this flavour!"

Saying this, she quietly finished her wine. But still she kept on
minutely scrutinizing the cup.

"Haven't you yet had enough to satisfy you?" lady Feng smiled. "If you
haven't, well, then drink another cup."

"Dreadful!" eagerly exclaimed old goody Liu. "I shall be soon getting so
drunk that it will be the very death of me. I was only looking at it as
I admire pretty things like this! But what a trouble it must have cost
to turn out!"

"Have you done with your wine?" Yuan Yang laughingly inquired. "But,
after all, what kind of wood is this cup made of?"

"It isn't to be wondered at," old goody Liu smiled, "that you can't make
it out Miss! How ever could you people, who live inside golden doors and
embroidered apartments, know anything of wood! We have the whole day
long the trees in the woods as our neighbours. When weary, we use them
as our pillows and go to sleep on them. When exhausted, we sit with our
backs leaning against them. When, in years of dearth, we feel the pangs
of hunger, we also feed on them. Day after day, we see them with our
eyes; day after day we listen to them with our ears; day after day, we
talk of them with our mouths. I am therefore well able to tell whether
any wood be good or bad, genuine or false. Do let me then see what it

As she spoke, she intently scanned the cup for a considerable length of
time. "Such a family as yours," she then said, "could on no account own
mean things! Any wood that is easily procured, wouldn't even find a
place in here. This feels so heavy, as I weigh it in my hands, that if
it isn't aspen, it must, for a certainty, be yellow cedar."

Her rejoinder amused every one in the room. But they then perceived an
old matron come up. After asking permission of dowager lady Chia to
speak: "The young ladies," she said, "have got to the Lotus Fragrance
pavilion, and they request your commands, as to whether they should
start with the rehearsal at once or tarry a while."

"I forgot all about them!" old lady Chia promptly cried with a smile.
"Tell them to begin rehearsing at once!"

The matron expressed her obedience and walked away. Presently, became
audible the notes of the pan-pipe and double flute, now soft, now loud,
and the blended accents of the pipe and fife. So balmy did the breeze
happen to be and the weather so fine that the strains of music came
wafted across the arbours and over the stream, and, needless to say,
conduced to exhilarate their spirits and to cheer their hearts. Unable
to resist the temptation, Pao-yŁ was the first to snatch a decanter and
to fill a cup for himself. He quaffed it with one breath. Then pouring
another cup, he was about to drain it, when he noticed that Madame Wang
too was anxious for a drink, and that she bade a servant bring a warm
supply of wine. "With alacrity, Pao-yŁ crossed over to her, and,
presenting his own cup, he applied it to Madame Wang's lips. His mother
drank two sips while he held it in his hands, but on the arrival of the
warm wine, Pao-yŁ resumed his seat. Madame Wang laid hold of the warm
decanter, and left the table, while the whole party quitted their places
at the banquet; and Mrs. HsŁeh too rose to her feet.

"Take over that decanter from her," dowager lady Chia promptly shouted
to Li Wan and lady Feng, "and press your aunt into a seat. We shall all
then feel at ease!"

Hearing this, Madame Wang surrendered the decanter to lady Feng and
returned to her seat.

"Let's all have a couple of cups of wine!" old lady Chia laughingly
cried. "It's capital fun to-day!"

With this proposal, she laid hold of a cup and offered it to Mrs. HsŁeh.
Turning also towards Hsiang-yŁn and Pao-ch'ai: "You two cousins!" she
added, "must also have a cup. Your cousin Lin can't take much wine, but
even she mustn't be let off."

While pressing them, she drained her cup. Hsiang-yŁn, Pao-ch'ai and
Tai-y Ł then had their drink. But about this time old goody Liu caught
the strains of music, and, being already under the influence of liquor,
her spirits became more and more exuberant, and she began to gesticulate
and skip about. Her pranks amused Pao-yŁ to such a degree that leaving
the table, he crossed over to where Tai-yŁ was seated and observed
laughingly: "Just you look at the way old goody Liu is going on!"

"In days of yore," Tai-yŁ smiled, "every species of animal commenced to
dance the moment the sounds of music broke forth. She's like a buffalo

This simile made her cousins laugh. But shortly the music ceased. "We've
all had our wine," Mrs. HsŁeh smilingly proposed, "so let's go and
stroll about for a time; we can after that sit down again!"

Dowager lady Chia herself was at the moment feeling a strong inclination
to have a ramble. In due course, therefore, they all left the banquet
and went with their old senior, for a walk. Dowager lady Chia, however,
longed to take goody Liu along with her to help her dispel her ennui, so
promptly seizing the old dame's hand in hers, they threaded their way as
far as the trees, which stood facing the hill. After lolling about with
her for a few minutes, "What kind of tree is this?" she went on to
inquire of her. "What kind of stone is this? What species of flower is

Old goody Liu gave suitable reply to each of her questions. "Who'd ever
have imagined it," she proceeded to tell dowager lady Chia; "not only
are the human beings in the city grand, but even the birds are grand.
Why, the moment these birds fly into your mansion, they also become
beautiful things, and acquire the gift of speech as well!"

The company could not make out the drift of her observations. "What
birds get transformed into beautiful things and become able to speak?"
they felt impelled to ask.

"Those perched on those gold stands, under the verandah, with green
plumage and red beaks are parrots. I know them well enough!" Goody Liu
replied. "But those old black crows in the cages there have crests like
phoenixes! They can talk too!"

One and all laughed. But not long elapsed before they caught sight of
several waiting-maids, who came to invite them to a collation.

"After the number of cups of wine I've had," old lady Chia said, "I
don't feel hungry. But never mind, bring the things here. We can nibble
something at our leisure."

The maids speedily went off and fetched two teapoys; but they also
brought a couple of small boxes with partitions. When they came to be
opened and to be examined, the contents of each were found to consist of
two kinds of viands. In the one, were two sorts of steamed eatables. One
of these was a sweet cake, made of lotus powder, scented with
sun-flower. The other being rolls with goose fat and fir cone seeds. The
second box contained two kinds of fried eatables; one of which was small
dumplings, about an inch in size.

"What stuffing have they put in them?" dowager lady Chia asked.

"They're with crabs inside," 'hastily rejoined the matrons.

Their old mistress, at this reply, knitted her eyebrows. "These fat,
greasy viands for such a time!" she observed. "Who'll ever eat these

But finding, when she came to inspect the other kind, that it consisted
of small fruits of flour, fashioned in every shape, and fried in butter,
she did not fancy these either. She then however pressed Mrs. HsŁeh to
have something to eat, but Mrs. HsŁeh merely took a piece of cake, while
dowager lady Chia helped herself to a roll; but after tasting a bit, she
gave the remaining half to a servant girl.

Goody Liu saw how beautifully worked those small flour fruits were, made
as they were in various colours and designs, and she took, after picking
and choosing, one which looked like a peony. "The most ingenious girls
in our village could not, even with a pair of scissors, cut out anything
like this in paper!" she exclaimed. "I would like to eat it, but I can't

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