Hung Lou Meng, Book II (A)
By Cao Xueqin

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Public Domain Books

Chapter XXV.

  By a demoniacal art, a junior uncle and an elder brother’s wife
      (Pao-yü and lady Feng) come across five devils.
  The gem of Spiritual Perception meets, in a fit of torpor, the two
      perfect men.

Hsiao Hung, the story continues, was much unsettled in her mind. Her thoughts rolled on in one connected string. But suddenly she became drowsy, and falling asleep, she encountered Chia Yün, who tried to carry out his intention to drag her near him. She twisted herself round, and endeavoured to run away; but was tripped over by the doorstep. This gave her such a start that she woke up. Then, at length, she realised that it was only a dream. But so restlessly did she, in consequence of this fright, keep on rolling and tossing that she could not close her eyes during the whole night. As soon as the light of the next day dawned, she got up. Several waiting-maids came at once to tell her to go and sweep the floor of the rooms, and to bring water to wash the face with. Hsiao Hung did not even wait to arrange her hair or perform her ablutions; but, turning towards the looking-glass, she pinned her chevelure up anyhow; and, rinsing her hands, and, tying a sash round her waist, she repaired directly to sweep the apartments.

Who would have thought it, Pao-yü also had set his heart upon her the moment he caught sight of her the previous day. Yet he feared, in the first place, that if he mentioned her by name and called her over into his service, Hsi Jen and the other girls might feel the pangs of jealousy. He did not, either in the second place, have any idea what her disposition was like. The consequence was that he felt downcast; so much so, that when he got up at an early hour, he did not even comb his hair or wash, but simply remained seated, and brooded in a state of abstraction. After a while, he lowered the window. Through the gauze frame, from which he could distinctly discern what was going on outside, he espied several servant-girls, engaged in sweeping the court. All of them were rouged and powdered; they had flowers inserted in their hair, and were grandly got up. But the only one, of whom he failed to get a glimpse, was the girl he had met the day before.

Pao-yü speedily walked out of the door with slipshod shoes. Under the pretence of admiring the flowers, he glanced, now towards the east; now towards the west. But upon raising his head, he descried, in the southwest corner, some one or other leaning by the side of the railing under the covered passage. A crab-apple tree, however, obstructed the view and he could not see distinctly who it was, so advancing a step further in, he stared with intent gaze. It was, in point of fact, the waiting-maid of the day before, tarrying about plunged in a reverie. His wish was to go forward and meet her, but he did not, on the other hand, see how he could very well do so. Just as he was cogitating within himself, he, of a sudden, perceived Pi Hen come and ask him to go and wash his face. This reminder placed him under the necessity of betaking himself into his room. But we will leave him there, without further details, so as to return to Hsiao Hung.

She was communing with her own thoughts. But unawares perceiving Hsi Jen wave her hand and call her by name, she had to walk up to her.

“Our watering-pot is spoilt,” Hsi Jen smiled and said, “so go to Miss Lin’s over there and find one for us to use.”

Hsiao Hung hastened on her way towards the Hsiao Hsiang Kuan.

When she got as far as the Ts’ui Yen bridge, she saw, on raising her head and looking round, the mounds and lofty places entirely shut in by screens, and she bethought herself that labourers were that day to plant trees in that particular locality.

At a great distance off, a band of men were, in very deed, engaged in digging up the soil, while Chia Yün was seated on a boulder on the hill, superintending the works. The time came for Hsiao Hung to pass by, but she could not muster the courage to do so. Nevertheless she had no other course than to quietly proceed to the Hsiao Hsiang Kuan. Then getting the watering-pot, she sped on her way back again. But being in low spirits, she retired alone into her room and lay herself down. One and all, however, simply maintained that she was out of sorts, so they did not pay any heed to her.

A day went by. On the morrow fell, in fact, the anniversary of the birth of Wang Tzu-t’eng’s spouse, and some one was despatched from his residence to come and invite dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang. Madame Wang found out however that dowager lady Chia would not avail herself of the invitation, and neither would she go. So Mrs. Hsüeh went along with lady Feng, and the three sisters of the Chia family, and Pao-ch’ai and Pao-yü, and only returned home late in the evening.

Madame Wang was sitting in Mrs. Hsüeh’s apartments, whither she had just crossed, when she perceived Chia Huan come back from school, and she bade him transcribe incantations out of the Chin Kang Canon and intonate them. Chia Huan accordingly came and seated himself on the stove-couch, occupied by Madame Wang, and, directing a servant to light the candles, he started copying in an ostentatious and dashing manner. Now he called Ts’ai Hsia to pour a cup of tea for him. Now he asked Yu Ch’uan to take the scissors and cut the snuff of the wick. “Chin Ch’uan!” he next cried, “you’re in the way of the rays of the lamp.”

The servant-girls had all along entertained an antipathy for him, and not one of them therefore worried her mind about what he said. Ts’ai Hsia was the only one who still got on well with him, so pouring a cup of tea, she handed it to him. But she felt prompted to whisper to him: "Keep quiet a bit! what’s the use of making people dislike you?”

“I know myself how matters stand,” Chia Huan rejoined, as he cast a steady glance at her; “so don’t you try and befool me! Now that you are on intimate terms with Pao-yü, you don’t pay much heed to me. I’ve also seen through it myself.”

Ts’ai Hsiao set her teeth together, and gave him a fillip on the head. "You heartless fellow!” she cried. “You’re like the dog, that bit Lü T’ung-pin. You have no idea of what’s right and what’s wrong!”

While these two nagged away, they noticed lady Feng and Madame Wang cross together over to them. Madame Wang at once assailed him with questions. She asked him how many ladies had been present on that day, whether the play had been good or bad, and what the banquet had been like.

But a brief interval over, Pao-yü too appeared on the scene. After saluting Madame Wang, he also made a few remarks, with all decorum; and then bidding a servant remove his frontlet, divest him of his long gown and pull off his boots, he rushed head foremost, into his mother’s lap.

Madame Wang caressed and patted him. But while Pao-yü clung to his mother’s neck, he spoke to her of one thing and then another.

“My child,” said Madame Wang, “you’ve again had too much to drink; your face is scalding hot, and if you still keep on rubbing and scraping it, why, you’ll by and bye stir up the fumes of wine! Don’t you yet go and lie down quietly over there for a little!”

Chiding him the while, she directed a servant to fetch a pillow. Pao-yü therefore lay himself down at the back of Madame Wang, and called Ts’ai Hsia to come and stroke him.

Pao-yü then began to bandy words with Ts’ai Hsia. But perceiving that Ts’ai Hsia was reserved, and, that instead of paying him any attention, she kept her eyes fixed upon Chia Huan, Pao-yü eagerly took her hand. "My dear girl!” he said; “do also heed me a little;” and as he gave utterance to this appeal, he kept her hand clasped in his.

Ts’ai Hsia, however, drew her hand away and would not let him hold it. "If you go on in this way,” she vehemently exclaimed, “I’ll shout out at once.”

These two were in the act of wrangling, when verily Chia Huan overheard what was going on. He had, in fact, all along hated Pao-yü; so when on this occasion, he espied him up to his larks with Ts’ai Hsia, he could much less than ever stifle feelings of resentment in his heart. After some reflection, therefore, an idea suggested itself to his mind, and pretending that it was by a slip of the hand, he shoved the candle, overflowing with tallow, into Pao-yü’s face.

“Ai ya!” Pao-yü was heard to exclaim. Every one in the whole room was plunged in consternation. With precipitate haste, the lanterns, standing on the floor, were moved over; and, with the first ray of light, they discovered that Pao-yü’s face was one mass of tallow.

Madame Wang gave way to anger as well as anxiety. At one time, she issued directions to the servants to rub and wash Pao-yü clean. At another, she heaped abuse upon Chia Huan.

Lady Feng jumped on to the stone-couch by leaps and bounds. But while intent upon removing the stuff from Pao-yü’s face, she simultaneously ejaculated: “Master Tertius, are you still such a trickster! I’ll tell you what, you’ll never turn to any good account! Yet dame Chao should ever correct and admonish him.”

This single remark suggested the idea to Madame Wang, and she lost no time in sending for Mrs. Chao to come round.

“You bring up,” she berated her, “such a black-hearted offspring like this, and don’t you, after all, advise and reprove him? Time and again I paid no notice whatever to what happened, and you and he have become more audacious, and have gone from worse to worse!”

Mrs. Chao had no alternative but to suppress every sense of injury, silence all grumblings, and go herself and lend a hand to the others in tidying Pao-yü. She then perceived that a whole row of blisters had risen on the left side of Pao-yü’s face, but that fortunately no injury had been done to his eyes.

When Madame Wang’s attention was drawn to them she felt her heart sore. It fell a prey to fears also lest when dowager lady Chia made any inquiries about them she should find it difficult to give her any satisfactory reply. And so distressed did she get that she gave Mrs. Chao another scolding. But while she tried to comfort Pao-yü, she, at the same time, fetched some powder for counteracting the effects of the virus, and applied it on his face.

“It’s rather sore,” said Pao-yü, “but it’s nothing to speak of. Tomorrow when my old grandmother asks about it, I can simply explain that I scalded it myself; that will be quite enough to tell her.”

“If you say that you scalded it yourself,” lady Feng observed, “why, she’ll also call people to task for not looking out; and a fit of rage will, beyond doubt, be the outcome of it all.”

Madame Wang then ordered the servants to take care and escort Pao-yü back to his room. On their arrival, Hsi Jen and his other attendants saw him, and they were all in a great state of flurry.

As for Lin Tai-yü, when she found that Pao-yü had gone out of doors, she continued the whole day a prey to ennui. In the evening, she deputed messengers two and three times to go and inquire about him. But when she came to know that he had been scalded, she hurried in person to come and see him. She then discovered Pao-yü all alone, holding a glass and scanning his features in it; while the left side of his face was plastered all over with some medicine.

Lin Tai-yü imagined that the burn was of an extremely serious nature, and she hastened to approach him with a view to examine it. Pao-yü, however, screened his face, and, waving his hand, bade her leave the room; for knowing her usual knack for tidiness he did not feel inclined to let her get a glimpse of his face. Tai-yü then gave up the attempt, and confined herself to asking him: “whether it was very painful?”

“It isn’t very sore,” replied Pao-yü, “if I look after it for a day or two, it will get all right.”

But after another short stay, Lin Tai-yü repaired back to her quarters.

The next day Pao-yü saw dowager lady Chia. But in spite of his confession that he himself was responsible for the scalding of his face, his grandmother could not refrain from reading another lecture to the servants who had been in attendance.

A day after, Ma, a Taoist matron, whose name was recorded as Pao-yü’s godmother, came on a visit to the mansion. Upon perceiving Pao-yü, she was very much taken aback, and asked all about the circumstances of the accident. When he explained that he had been scalded, she forthwith shook her head and heaved a sigh; then while making with her fingers a few passes over Pao-yü’s face, she went on to mutter incantations for several minutes. “I can guarantee that he’ll get all right,” she added, "for this is simply a sadden and fleeting accident!”

Turning towards dowager lady Chia: “Venerable ancestor,” she observed, "Venerable Buddha! how could you ever be aware of the existence of the portentous passage in that Buddhistic classic, ’to the effect that a son of every person, who holds the dignity of prince, duke or high functionary, has no sooner come into the world and reached a certain age than numerous evil spirits at once secretly haunt him, and pinch him, when they find an opportunity; or dig their nails into him; or knock his bowl of rice down, during, meal-time; or give him a shove and send him over, while he is quietly seated.’ So this is the reason why the majority of the sons and grandsons of those distinguished families do not grow up to attain manhood.”

Dowager lady Chia, upon hearing her speak in this wise, eagerly asked: "Is there any Buddhistic spell, by means of which to check their influence or not?”

“This is an easy job!” rejoined the Taoist matron Ma, “all one need do is to perform several meritorious deeds on his account so as to counteract the consequences of retribution and everything will then be put right. That canon further explains: ’that in the western part of the world there is a mighty Buddha, whose glory illumines all things, and whose special charge is to cast his lustre on the evil spirits in dark places; that if any benevolent man or virtuous woman offers him oblations with sincerity of heart, he is able to so successfully perpetuate the peace and quiet of their sons and grandsons that these will no more meet with any calamities arising from being possessed by malevolent demons.’”

“But what, I wonder,” inquired dowager lady Chia, “could be offered to this god?”

“Nothing of any great value,” answered the Taoist matron, Ma. “Exclusive of offerings of scented candles, several catties of scented oil can be added, each day, to keep the lantern of the Great Sea alight. This ’Great Sea’ lantern is the visible embodiment and Buddhistic representation of this divinity, so day and night we don’t venture to let it go out!”

“For a whole day and a whole night,” asked dowager lady Chia, “how much oil is needed, so that I too should accomplish a good action?”

“There is really no limit as to quantity. It rests upon the goodwill of the donor,” Ma, the Taoist matron, put in by way of reply. “In my quarters, for instance, I have several lanterns, the gifts of the consorts of princes and the spouses of high officials living in various localities. The consort of the mansion of the Prince of Nan Au has been prompted in her beneficence by a liberal spirit; she allows each day forty-eight catties of oil, and a catty of wick; so that her ’Great Sea’ lamp is only a trifle smaller than a water-jar. The spouse of the marquis of Chin Hsiang comes next, with no more than twenty catties a day. Besides these, there are several other families; some giving ten catties; some eight catties; some three; some five; subject to no fixed rule; and of course I feel bound to keep the lanterns alight on their behalf.”

Dowager lady Chia nodded her head and gave way to reflection.

“There’s still another thing,” continued the Taoist matron, Ma. “If it be on account of father or mother or seniors, any excessive donation would not matter. But were you, venerable ancestor, to bestow too much in your offering for Pao-yü, our young master won’t, I fear, be equal to the gift; and instead of being benefited, his happiness will be snapped. If you therefore want to make a liberal gift seven catties will do; if a small one, then five catties will even be sufficient.”

“Well, in that case,” responded dowager lady Chia, “let us fix upon five catties a day, and every month come and receive payment of the whole lump sum!”

“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed Ma, the Taoist matron, “Oh merciful, and mighty P’u Sa!”

Dowager lady Chia then called the servants and impressed on their minds that whenever Pao-yü went out of doors in the future, they should give several strings of cash to the pages to bestow on charity among the bonzes and Taoist priests, and the poor and needy they might meet on the way.

These directions concluded, the Taoist matron trudged into the various quarters, and paid her respects, and then strolled leisurely about. Presently, she entered Mrs. Chao’s apartments. After the two ladies had exchanged salutations, Mrs. Chao bade a young servant-girl hand her guest a cup of tea. While Mrs. Chao busied herself pasting shoes, Ma, the Taoist matron, espied, piled up in a heap on the stove-couch, sundry pieces of silks and satins. “It just happens,” she consequently remarked, “that I have no facings for shoes, so my lady do give me a few odd cuttings of silk and satin, of no matter what colour, to make myself a pair of shoes with.”

Mrs. Chao heaved a sigh. “Look,” she said, “whether there be still among them any pieces good for anything. But anything that’s worth anything doesn’t find its way in here. If you don’t despise what’s worthless, you’re at liberty to select any two pieces and to take them away, and have done.”

The Taoist matron, Ma, chose with alacrity several pieces and shoved them in her breast.

“The other day,” Mrs. Chao went on to inquire, “I sent a servant over with five hundred cash; have you presented any offerings before the god of medicine or not?”

“I’ve offered them long ago for you,” the Taoist matron Ma rejoined.

“O-mi-to-fu!” ejaculated Mrs. Chao with a sigh, “were I a little better off, I’d also come often and offer gifts; but though my will be boundless, my means are insufficient!”

“Don’t trouble your mind on this score,” suggested Ma, the Taoist matron. “By and bye, when Mr. Huan has grown up into a man and obtained some official post or other, will there be then any fear of your not being able to afford such offerings as you might like to make?”

At these words Mrs. Chao gave a smile. “Enough, enough!” she cried. "Don’t again refer to such contingencies! the present is a fair criterion. For up to whom in this house can my son and I come? Pao-yü is still a mere child; but he is such that he wins people’s love. Those big people may be partial to him, and love him a good deal, I’ve nothing to say to it; but I can’t eat humble pie to this sort of mistress!”

While uttering this remark, she stretched out her two fingers.

Ma, the Taoist matron, understood the meaning she desired to convey. "It’s your lady Secunda, Lien, eh?” she forthwith asked.

Mrs. Chao was filled with trepidation. Hastily waving her hand, she got to her feet, raised the portiere, and peeped outside. Perceiving that there was no one about, she at length retraced her footsteps. "Dreadful!” she then said to the Taoist matron. “Dreadful! But speaking of this sort of mistress, I’m not so much as a human being, if she doesn’t manage to shift over into her mother’s home the whole of this family estate.”

“Need you tell me this!” Ma, the Taoist matron, at these words, remarked with a view to ascertain what she implied. “Haven’t I, forsooth, discovered it all for myself? Yet it’s fortunate that you don’t trouble your minds about her; for it’s far better that you should let her have her own way.”

“My dear woman,” rejoined Mrs. Chao, “Not let her have her own way! why, is it likely that any one would have the courage to tell her anything?”

“I don’t mean to utter any words that may bring upon me retribution," added Ma, the Taoist matron, “but you people haven’t got the wits. But it’s no matter of surprise. Yet if you daren’t openly do anything, why, you could stealthily have devised some plan. And do you still tarry up to this day?”

Mrs. Chao realised that there lurked something in her insinuation, and she felt an inward secret joy. “What plan could I stealthily devise?" she asked. “I’ve got the will right enough, but I’m not a person gifted with this sort of gumption. So were you to impart to me some way or other, I would reward you most liberally.”

When the Taoist matron, Ma, heard this, she drew near to her. "O-mi-to-fu! desist at once from asking me!” she designedly exclaimed. "How can I know anything about such matters, contrary as they are to what is right?”

“There you are again!” Mrs. Chao replied. “You’re one ever most ready to succour those in distress, and to help those in danger, and is it likely that you’ll quietly look on, while some one comes and compasses my death as well as that of my son? Are you, pray, fearful lest I shouldn’t give you any reward?”

Ma, the Taoist matron, greeted this remark with a smile. “You’re right enough in what you say,” she ventured, “of my being unable to bear the sight of yourself and son receiving insult from a third party; but as for your mention of rewards, why, what’s there of yours that I still covet?”

This answer slightly reassured Mrs. Chao’s mind. “How is it,” she speedily urged, “that an intelligent person like you should have become so dense? If, indeed, the spell prove efficacious, and we exterminate them both, is there any apprehension that this family estate won’t be ours? and when that time comes, won’t you get all you may wish?”

At this disclosure, Ma, the Taoist matron, lowered her head for a long time. “When everything,” she observed, “shall have been settled satisfactorily, and when there’ll be, what’s more, no proof at all, will you still pay any heed to me?”

“What’s there hard about this?” remarked Mrs. Chao. “I’ve saved several taels from my own pin-money, and have besides a good number of clothes and head-ornaments. So you can first take several of these away with you. And I’ll further write an I.O.U., and entrust it to you, and when that time does come, I’ll pay you in full.”

“That will do!” answered the Taoist matron, Ma.

Mrs. Chao thereupon dismissed even a young servant-girl, who happened to be in the room, and hastily opening a trunk, she produced several articles of clothing and jewelry, as well as a few odd pieces of silver from her own pocket-money. Then also writing a promissory note for fifty taels, she surrendered the lot to Ma, the Taoist matron. “Take these," she said, “in advance for presents in your temple.”

At the sight of the various articles and of the promissory note, the Taoist matron became at once unmindful of what was right and what was wrong; and while her mouth was full of assent, she stretched out her arm, and first and foremost laid hold of the hard cash, and next clutched the I.O.U. Turning then towards Mrs. Chao, she asked for a sheet of paper; and taking up a pair of scissors, she cut out two human beings and gave them to Mrs. Chao, enjoining her to write on the upper part of them the respective ages of the two persons in question. Looking further for a sheet of blue paper, she cut out five blue-faced devils, which she bade her place together side by side with the paper men, and taking a pin she made them fast. “When I get home,” she remarked, “I’ll have recourse to some art, which will, beyond doubt, prove efficacious.”

When she however had done speaking, she suddenly saw Madame Wang’s waiting-maid make her appearance inside the room. “What! my dame, are you in here!” the girl exclaimed. “Why, our lady is waiting for you!”

The two dames then parted company.

But passing them over, we will now allude to Lin Tai-yµ. As Pao-yü had scalded his face, and did not go out of doors very much, she often came to have a chat with him. On this particular day she took up, after her meal, some book or other and read a couple of pages out of it. Next, she busied herself a little with needlework, in company with Tzu Chuan. She felt however thoroughly dejected and out of sorts. So she strolled out of doors along with her. But catching sight of the newly sprouted bamboo shoots, in front of the pavilion, they involuntarily stepped out of the entrance of the court, and penetrated into the garden. They cast their eyes on all four quarters; but not a soul was visible. When they became conscious of the splendour of the flowers and the chatter of the birds, they, with listless step, turned their course towards the I Hung court. There they found several servant-girls baling out water; while a bevy of them stood under the verandah, watching the thrushes having their bath. They heard also the sound of laughter in the rooms.

The fact is that Li Kung-ts’ai, lady Feng, and Pao-ch’ai were assembled inside. As soon as they saw them walk in, they with one voice shouted, smiling: “Now, are not these two more!”

“We are a full company to-day,” laughed Tai-yü, “but who has issued the cards and invited us here?”

“The other day,” interposed lady Feng, “I sent servants with a present of two caddies of tea for you, Miss Lin; was it, after all, good?”

“I had just forgotten all about it,” Tai-yü rejoined, “many thanks for your kind attention!

“I tasted it,” observed Pao-yü. “I did not think it anything good. But I don’t know how others, who’ve had any of it, find it.”

“Its flavour,” said Tai-yü, “is good; the only thing is, it has no colour.”

“It’s tribute tea from the Laos Kingdom,” continued lady Feng. “When I tried it, I didn’t either find it anything very fine. It’s not up to what we ordinarily drink.”

“To my taste, it’s all right,” put in Tai-yü. “But what your palates are like, I can’t make out.”

“As you say it’s good,” suggested Pao-yü, “you’re quite at liberty to take all I have for your use.”

“I’ve got a great deal more of it over there,” lady Feng remarked.

“I’ll tell a servant-girl to go and fetch it,” Tai-yü replied.

“No need,” lady Feng went on. “I’ll send it over with some one. I also have a favour to ask of you to-morrow, so I may as well tell the servant to bring it along at the same time.”

When Lin Tai-yü heard these words, she put on a smile. “You just mark this,” she observed. “I’ve had to-day a little tea from her place, and she at once begins making a tool of me!”

“Since you’ve had some of our tea,” lady Feng laughed, “how is it that you have not yet become a wife in our household?”

The whole party burst out laughing aloud. So much so, that they found it difficult to repress themselves. But Tai-yü’s face was suffused with blushes. She turned her head the other way, and uttered not a word.

“Our sister-in-law Secunda’s jibes are first-rate!” Pao-ch’ai chimed in with a laugh.

“What jibes!” exclaimed Tai-yü; “they’re purely and simply the prattle of a mean mouth and vile tongue! They’re enough to evoke people’s displeasure!”

Saying this, she went on to sputter in disgust.

“Were you,” insinuated lady Feng, “to become a wife in my family, what is there that you would lack?” Pointing then at Pao-yü, “Look here!” she cried–"Is not this human being worthy of you? Is not his station in life good enough for you? Are not our stock and estate sufficient for you? and in what slight degree can he make you lose caste?”

Tai-yü rose to her feet, and retired immediately. But Pao-ch’ai shouted out: “Here’s P’in Erh in a huff! Don’t you yet come back? when you’ve gone, there will really be no fun!”

While calling out to her, she jumped up to pull her back. As soon, however, as she reached the door of the room, she beheld Mrs. Chao, accompanied by Mrs. Chou; both coming to look up Pao-yü. Pao-yü and his companions got up in a body and pressed them into a seat. Lady Feng was the sole person who did not heed them.

But just as Pao-ch’ai was about to open her lips, she perceived a servant-girl, attached to Madame Wang’s apartments, appear on the scene. "Your maternal uncle’s wife has come,” she said, “and she requests you, ladies and young ladies, to come out and see her.”

Li Kung-ts’ai hurriedly walked away in company with lady Feng. The two dames, Mrs. Chao and Mrs. Chou, in like manner took their leave and quitted the room.

“As for me, I can’t go out,” Pao-yü shouted. “But whatever you do, pray, don’t ask aunt to come in here.” “Cousin Lin,” he went on to say, “do stay on a while; I’ve got something to tell you.”

Lady Feng overheard him. Turning her head towards Lin Tai-yü, “There’s some one,” she cried; “who wants to speak to you.” And forthwith laying hold of Lin Tai-yü, she pushed her back and then trudged away, along with Li Kung-ts’ai.

During this time, Pao-yü clasped Tai-yü’s hand in his. He did nothing than smile. But not a word did he utter. Tai-yü naturally, therefore, got crimson in the face, and struggled to escape his importunities.

“Ai-ya!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “How my head is sore!”

“It should be!” rejoined Tai-yü. “O-mi-to-fu.”

Pao-yü then gave vent to a loud shout. His body bounced three or four feet high from the ground. His mouth was full of confused shrieks. But all he said was rambling talk.

Tai-yü and the servant-girls were full of consternation, and, with all possible haste, they ran and apprised Madame Wang and dowager lady Chia.

Wang Tzu-t’eng’s wife was, at this time, also with them, so they all came in a body to see him. Pao-yü behaved more and more as if determined to clutch a sword or seize a spear to put an end to his existence. He raged in a manner sufficient to subvert the heavens and upset the earth.

As soon as dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang caught sight of him, they were struck with terror. They trembled wildly like a piece of clothing that is being shaken. Uttering a shout of: “My son,” and another of: “My flesh,” they burst out into a loud fit of crying. Presently, all the inmates were seized with fright. Even Chia She, Madame Hsing, Chia Cheng, Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Chia Jung, Chia Yün, Chia P’ing, Mrs. Hsüeh, Hsüeh P’an, Chou Jui’s wife, and the various members of the household, whether high or low, and the servant-girls and married women too, rushed into the garden to see what was up.

The confusion that prevailed was, at the moment, like entangled flax. Every one was at a loss what to do, when they espied lady Feng dash into the garden, a glistening sword in hand, and try to cut down everything that came in her way, ogle vacantly whomsoever struck her gaze, and make forthwith an attempt to despatch them. A greater panic than ever broke out among the whole assemblage. But placing herself at the head of a handful of sturdy female servants, Chou Jui’s wife precipitated herself forward, and clasping her tight, they succeeded in snatching the sword from her grip, and carrying her back into her room.

P’ing Erh, Feng Erh, and the other girls began to weep. They invoked the heavens and appealed to the earth. Even Chia Cheng was distressed at heart. One and all at this stage started shouting, some, one thing; some, another. Some suggested exorcists. Some cried out for the posture-makers to attract the devils. Others recommended that Chang, the Taoist priest, of the Yü Huang temple, should catch the evil spirits. A thorough turmoil reigned supreme for a long time. The gods were implored. Prayers were offered. Every kind of remedy was tried, but no benefit whatever became visible.

After sunset, the spouse of Wang Tzu-t’eng said good-bye and took her departure. On the ensuing day, Wang Tzu-t’eng himself also came to make inquiries. Following closely upon him, arrived, in a body, messengers from the young marquis Shih, Madame Hsing’s young brother, and their various relatives to ascertain for themselves how (lady Feng and Pao-yü) were progressing. Some brought charm-water. Some recommended bonzes and Taoist priests. Others spoke highly of doctors. But that young fellow and his elder brother’s wife fell into such greater and greater stupor that they lost all consciousness. Their bodies were hot like fire. As they lay prostrate on their beds, they talked deliriously. With the fall of the shades of night their condition aggravated. So much so, that the matrons and servant-girls did not venture to volunteer their attendance. They had, therefore, to be both moved into Madame Wang’s quarters, where servants were told off to take their turn and watch them.

Dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang, Madame Hsing and Mrs. Hsüeh did not budge an inch or a step from their side. They sat round them, and did nothing but cry. Chia She and Chia Cheng too were a prey, at this juncture, to misgivings lest weeping should upset dowager lady Chia. Day and night oil was burnt and fires were, mindless of expense, kept alight. The bustle and confusion was such that no one, either master or servant, got any rest.

Chia She also sped on every side in search of Buddhist and Taoist priests. But Chia Cheng had witnessed how little relief these things could afford, and he felt constrained to dissuade Chia She from his endeavours. “The destiny,” he argued, “of our son and daughter is entirely dependent upon the will of Heaven, and no human strength can prevail. The malady of these two persons would not be healed, even were every kind of treatment tried, and as I feel confident that it is the design of heaven that things should be as they are, all we can do is to allow it to carry out its purpose.”

Chia She, however, paid no notice to his remonstrances and continued as hitherto to fuss in every imaginable way. In no time three days elapsed. Lady Feng and Pao-yü were still confined to their beds. Their very breaths had grown fainter. The whole household, therefore, unanimously arrived at the conclusion that there was no hope, and with all despatch they made every necessary preparation for the subsequent requirements of both their relatives.

Dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang, Chia Lien, P’ing Erh, Hsi Jen and the others indulged in tears with keener and keener anguish. They hung between life and death. Mrs. Chao alone was the one who assumed an outward sham air of distress, while in her heart she felt her wishes gratified.

The fourth day arrived. At an early hour Pao-yü suddenly opened his eyes and addressed himself to his grandmother Chia. “From this day forward," he said, “I may no longer abide in your house, so you had better send me off at once!”

These words made dowager lady Chia feel as if her very heart had been wrenched out of her. Mrs. Chao, who stood by, exhorted her. “You shouldn’t, venerable lady,” she said, “indulge in excessive grief. This young man has been long ago of no good; so wouldn’t it be as well to dress him up and let him go back a moment sooner from this world. You’ll also be thus sparing him considerable suffering. But, if you persist, in not reconciling yourself to the separation and this breath of his is not cut off, he will lie there and suffer without any respite....”

Her arguments were scarcely ended, when she was spat upon by dowager lady Chia. “You rotten-tongued, good-for-nothing hag!” she cried abusively. “What makes you fancy him of no good! You wish him dead and gone; but what benefit will you then derive? Don’t give way to any dreams; for, if he does die, I’ll just exact your lives from you! It’s all because you’ve been continuously at him, inciting and urging him to read and write, that his spirit has become so intimidated that, at the sight of his father, he behaves just like a rat trying to get out of the way of a cat! And is not all this the result of the bullying of such a mean herd of women as yourselves! Could you now drive him to death, your wishes would immediately be fulfilled; but which of you will I let off?”

Now she shed tears; now she gave vent to abuse.

Chia Cheng, who stood by, heard these invectives; and they so enhanced his exasperation that he promptly shouted out and made Mrs. Chao withdraw. He then exerted himself for a time to console (his senior) by using kindly accents. But suddenly some one came to announce that the two coffins had been completed. This announcement pierced, like a dagger, dowager lady Chia to the heart; and while weeping with despair more intense, she broke forth in violent upbraidings.

“Who is it,"–she inquired; “who gave orders to make the coffins? Bring at once the coffin-makers and beat them to death!”

A stir ensued sufficient to convulse the heavens and to subvert the earth. But at an unforeseen moment resounded in the air the gentle rapping of a ’wooden fish’ bell. A voice recited the sentence: “Ave! Buddha able to unravel retribution and dispel grievances! Should any human being lie in sickness, and his family be solicitous on his account; or should any one have met with evil spirits and come across any baleful evils, we have the means to effect a cure.”

Dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang at once directed servants to go out into the street and find out who it was. It turned out to be, in fact, a mangy-headed bonze and a hobbling Taoist priest. What was the appearance of the bonze?

  His nose like a suspended gall; his two eyebrows so long,
  His eyes, resembling radiant stars, possessed a precious glow,
  His coat in tatters and his shoes of straw, without a home;
  Rolling in filth, and, a worse fate, his head one mass of boils.

And the Taoist priest, what was he like?

  With one leg perchèd high he comes, with one leg low;
  His whole frame drenching wet, bespattered all with mud.
  If you perchance meet him, and ask him where’s his home,
  “In fairyland, west of the ’Weak Water,’ he’ll say.”

Chia Cheng ordered the servants to invite them to walk in. “On what hill,” he asked those two persons, “do you cultivate the principles of reason?

“Worthy official!” the bonze smiled, “you must not ask too many questions! It’s because we’ve learnt that there are inmates of your honourable mansion in a poor state of health that we come with the express design of working a cure.”

“There are,” explained Chia Cheng, “two of our members, who have been possessed of evil spirits. But, is there, I wonder, any remedy by means of which they could he healed?”

“In your family,” laughingly observed the Taoist priest, “you have ready at hand a precious thing, the like of which is rare to find in the world. It possesses the virtue of alleviating the ailment, so why need you inquire about remedies?”

Chia Cheng’s mind was forthwith aroused. “It’s true,” he consequently rejoined, “that my son brought along with him, at the time of his birth, a piece of jade, on the surface of which was inscribed that it had the virtue of dispelling evil influences, but we haven’t seen any efficacy in it.”

“There is, worthy officer,” said the bonze, “something in it which you do not understand. That precious jade was, in its primitive state, efficacious, but consequent upon its having been polluted by music, lewdness, property and gain it has lost its spiritual properties. But produce now that valuable thing and wait till I have taken it into my hands and pronounced incantations over it, when it will become as full of efficacy as of old!”

Chia Cheng accordingly unclasped the piece of jade from Pao-yü’s neck, and handed it to the two divines. The Buddhist priest held it with reverence in the palm of his hand and heaving a deep sigh, “Since our parting,” he cried, “at the foot of the Ch’ing Keng peak, about thirteen years have elapsed. How time flies in the mortal world! Thine earthly destiny has not yet been determined. Alas, alas! how admirable were the qualities thou did’st possess in those days!

 “By Heaven unrestrained, without constraint from Earth,
  No joys lived in thy heart, but sorrows none as well;
  Yet when perception, through refinement, thou did’st reach,
  Thou went’st among mankind to trouble to give rise.
  How sad the lot which thou of late hast had to hear!
  Powder prints and rouge stains thy precious lustre dim.
  House bars both day and night encage thee like a duck.
  Deep wilt thou sleep, but from thy dream at length thou’lt wake,
  Thy debt of vengeance, once discharged, thou wilt depart.”

At the conclusion of this recital, he again rubbed the stone for a while, and gave vent to some nonsensical utterances, after which he surrendered it to Chia Cheng. “This object,” he said, “has already resumed its efficacy; but you shouldn’t do anything to desecrate it. Hang it on the post of the door in his bed-room, and with the exception of his own relatives, you must not let any outside female pollute it. After the expiry of thirty-three days, he will, I can guarantee, be all right.”

Chia Cheng then gave orders to present tea; but the two priests had already walked away. He had, however, no alternative but to comply with their injunctions, and lady Feng and Pao-yü, in point of fact, got better from day to day. Little by little they returned to their senses and experienced hunger. Dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang, at length, felt composed in their minds. All the cousins heard the news outside. Tai-yü, previous to anything else, muttered a prayer to Buddha; while Pao-ch’ai laughed and said not a word.

“Sister Pao,” inquired Hsi Ch’un, “what are you laughing for?”

“I laugh,” replied Pao-ch’ai, “because the ’Thus-Come’ Joss has more to do than any human being. He’s got to see to the conversion of all mankind, and to take care of the ailments, to which all flesh is heir; for he restores every one of them at once to health; and he has as well to control people’s marriages so as to bring them about through his aid; and what do you say, has he ample to do or not? Now, isn’t this enough to make one laugh, eh?”

Lin Tai-yü blushed. “Ts’ui!” she exclaimed; “none of you are good people. Instead of following the example of worthy persons, you try to rival the mean mouth of that hussey Feng.”

As she uttered these words, she raised the portiere and made her exit.

But, reader, do you want to know any further circumstances? If so, the next chapter will explain them to you.

Chapter XXVI.

  On the Feng Yao bridge, Hsiao Hung makes known sentimental matters in
      equivocal language.
  In the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, Tai-yü gives, while under the effects of
      the spring lassitude, expression to her secret feelings.

After thirty days’ careful nursing, Pao-yü, we will now notice, not only got strong and hale in body, but the scars even on his face completely healed up; so he was able to shift his quarters again into the garden of Broad Vista.

But we will banish this topic as it does not deserve any additional explanations. Let us now turn our attention elsewhere. During the time that Pao-yü was of late laid up in bed, Chia Yün along with the young pages of the household sat up on watch to keep an eye over him, and both day and night, they tarried on this side of the mansion. But Hsiao Hung as well as all the other waiting-maids remained in the same part to nurse Pao-yü, so (Chia Yün) and she saw a good deal of each other on several occasions, and gradually an intimacy sprung up between them.

Hsiao Hung observed that Chia Yün held in his hand a handkerchief very much like the one she herself had dropped some time ago and was bent upon asking him for it, but she did, on the other hand, not think she could do so with propriety. The unexpected visit of the bonze and Taoist priest rendered, however, superfluous the services of the various male attendants, and Chia-yün had therefore to go again and oversee the men planting the trees. Now she had a mind to drop the whole question, but she could not reconcile herself to it; and now she longed to go and ask him about it, but fears rose in her mind lest people should entertain any suspicions as to the relations that existed between them. But just as she faltered, quite irresolute, and her heart was thoroughly unsettled, she unawares heard some one outside inquire: “Sister, are you in the room or not?”

Hsiao Hung, upon catching this question, looked out through a hole in the window; and perceiving at a glance that it was no one else than a young servant-girl, attached to the same court as herself, Chia Hui by name, she consequently said by way of reply: “Yes, I am; come in!”

When these words reached her ear, Chia Hui ran in, and taking at once a seat on the bed, she observed with a smile: “How lucky I’ve been! I was a little time back in the court washing a few things, when Pao-yü cried out that some tea should be sent over to Miss Lin, and sister Hua handed it to me to go on the errand. By a strange coincidence our old lady had presented some money to Miss Lin and she was engaged at the moment in distributing it among their servant-girls. As soon therefore as she saw me get there, Miss Lin forthwith grasped two handfuls of cash and gave them to me; how many there are I don’t know, but do keep them for me!”

Speedily then opening her handkerchief, she emptied the cash. Hsiao Hung counted them for her by fives and tens at a time. She was beginning to put them away, when Chia Hui remarked: “How are you, after all, feeling of late in your mind? I’ll tell you what; you should really go and stay at home for a couple of days. And were you to ask a doctor round and to have a few doses of medicine you’ll get all right at once!”

“What are you talking about?” Hsiao Hung replied. “What shall I go home for, when there’s neither rhyme nor reason for it!”

“Miss Lin, I remember, is naturally of a weak physique, and has constantly to take medicines,” Chia Hui added, “so were you to ask her for some and bring them over and take them, it would come to the same thing.”

“Nonsense!” rejoined Hsiao Hung, “are medicines also to be recklessly taken ?”

“You can’t so on for ever like this,” continued Chia Hui; “you’re besides loth to eat and loth to drink, and what will you be like in the long run?”

“What’s there to fear?” observed Hsiao Hung; “won’t it anyhow be better to die a little earlier? It would be a riddance!”

“Why do you deliberately come out with all this talk?” Chia Hui demurred.

“How could you ever know anything of the secrets of my heart?” Hsiao Hung inquired.

Chia Hui nodded her head and gave way to reflection. “I don’t think it strange on your part,” she said after a time; “for it is really difficult to abide in this place! Yesterday, for instance, our dowager lady remarked that the servants in attendance had had, during all the days that Pao-yü was ill, a good deal to put up with, and that now that he has recovered, incense should be burnt everywhere, and the vows fulfilled; and she expressed a wish that those in his service should, one and all, be rewarded according to their grade. I and several others can be safely looked upon as young in years, and unworthy to presume so high; so I don’t feel in any way aggrieved; but how is it that one like you couldn’t be included in the number? My heart is much annoyed at it! Had there been any fear that Hsi Jen would have got ten times more, I could not even then have felt sore against her, for she really deserves it! I’ll just tell you an honest truth; who else is there like her? Not to speak of the diligence and carefulness she has displayed all along, even had she not been so diligent and careful, she couldn’t have been set aside! But what is provoking is that that lot, like Ch’ing Wen and Ch’i Hsia, should have been included in the upper class. Yet it’s because every one places such reliance on the fine reputation of their father and mother that they exalt them. Now, do tell me, is this sufficient to anger one or not?”

“It won’t do to be angry with them!” Hsiao Hung observed. “The proverb says: ’You may erect a shed a thousand li long, but there is no entertainment from which the guests will not disperse!’ And who is it that will tarry here for a whole lifetime? In another three years or five years every single one of us will have gone her own way; and who will, when that time comes, worry her mind about any one else?”

These allusions had the unexpected effect of touching Chia Hui to the heart; and in spite of herself the very balls of her eyes got red. But so uneasy did she feel at crying for no reason that she had to exert herself to force a smile. “What you say is true,” she ventured. “And yet, Pao-yü even yesterday explained how the rooms should be arranged by and bye; and how the clothes should be made, just as if he was bound to hang on to dear life for several hundreds of years.”

Hsiao Hung, at these words, gave a couple of sardonic smiles. But when about to pass some remark, she perceived a youthful servant-girl, who had not as yet let her hair grow, walk in, holding in her hands several patterns and two sheets of paper. “You are asked,” she said, “to trace these two designs!”

As she spoke, she threw them at Hsiao Hung, and twisting herself round, she immediately scampered away.

“Whose are they, after all?” Hsiao Hung inquired, addressing herself outside. “Couldn’t you wait even so much as to conclude what you had to say, but flew off at once? Who is steaming bread and waiting for you? Or are you afraid, forsooth, lest it should get cold?”

“They belong to sister Ch’i,” the young servant-girl merely returned for answer from outside the window; and raising her feet high, she ran tramp-tramp on her way back again.

Hsiao Hung lost control over her temper, and snatching the designs, she flung them on one side. She then rummaged in a drawer for a pencil, but finding, after a prolonged search, that they were all blunt; “Where did I,” she thereupon ejaculated, “put that brand-new pencil the other day? How is it I can’t remember where it is?”

While she soliloquised, she became wrapt in thought. After some reflection she, at length, gave a smile. “Of course!” she exclaimed, "the other evening Ying Erh took it away.” And turning towards Chia Hui, "Fetch it for me,” she shouted.

“Sister Hua,” Chia Hui rejoined, “is waiting for me to get a box for her, so you had better go for it yourself!”

“What!” remarked Hsiao Hung, “she’s waiting for you, and are you still squatting here chatting leisurely? Hadn’t it been that I asked you to go and fetch it, she too wouldn’t have been waiting for you; you most perverse vixen!”

With these words on her lips, she herself walked out of the room, and leaving the I Hung court, she straightway proceeded in the direction of Pao-ch’ai’s court. As soon, however, as she reached the Hsin Fang pavilion, she saw dame Li, Pao-yü’s nurse, appear in view from the opposite side; so Hsiao Hung halted and putting on a smile, “Nurse Li," she asked, “where are you, old dame, bound for? How is it you’re coming this way?”

Nurse Li stopped short, and clapped her hands. “Tell me,” she said, “has he deliberately again gone and fallen in love with that Mr. something or other like Yun (cloud), or Yü (rain)? They now insist upon my bringing him inside, but if they get wind of it by and bye in the upper rooms, it won’t again be a nice thing.”

“Are you, old lady,” replied Hsiao Hung smiling, “taking things in such real earnest that you readily believe them and want to go and ask him in here?”

“What can I do?” rejoined nurse Li.

“Why, that fellow,” added Hsiao Hung laughingly, “will, if he has any idea of decency, do the right thing and not come.”

“Besides, he’s not a fool!” pleaded nurse Li; “so why shouldn’t he come in?”

“Well, if he is to come,” answered Hsiao Hung, “it will devolve upon you, worthy dame, to lead him along with you; for were you by and bye to let him penetrate inside all alone and knock recklessly about, why, it won’t do at all.”

“Have I got all that leisure,” retorted nurse Li, “to trudge along with him? I’ll simply tell him to come; and later on I can despatch a young servant-girl or some old woman to bring him in, and have done.”

Saying this, she continued her way, leaning on her staff.

After listening to her rejoinder, Hsiao Hung stood still; and plunging in abstraction, she did not go and fetch the pencil. But presently, she caught sight of a servant-girl running that way. Espying Hsiao Hung lingering in that spot, “Sister Hung,” she cried, “what are you doing in here?”

Hsiao Hung raised her head, and recognised a young waiting-maid called Chui Erh. “Where are you off too?” Hsiao Hung asked.

“I’ve been told to bring in master Secundus, Mr. Yün,” Chui Erh replied. After which answer, she there and then departed with all speed.

Hsiao Hung reached, meanwhile, the Feng Yao bridge. As soon as she approached the gateway, she perceived Chui Erh coming along with Chia Yün from the opposite direction. While advancing Chia Yün ogled Hsiao Hung; and Hsiao Hung too, though pretending to be addressing herself to Chui Erh, cast a glance at Chia Yün; and their four eyes, as luck would have it, met. Hsiao Hung involuntarily blushed all over; and turning herself round, she walked off towards the Heng Wu court. But we will leave her there without further remarks.

During this time, Chia Yün followed Chui Erh, by a circuitous way, into the I Hung court. Chui Erh entered first and made the necessary announcement. Then subsequently she ushered in Chia Yün. When Chia Yün scrutinised the surroundings, he perceived, here and there in the court, several blocks of rockery, among which were planted banana-trees. On the opposite side were two storks preening their feathers under the fir trees. Under the covered passage were suspended, in a row, cages of every description, containing all sorts of fairylike, rare birds. In the upper part were five diminutive anterooms, uniformly carved with, unique designs; and above the framework of the door was hung a tablet with the inscription in four huge characters–"I Hung K’uai Lü, the happy red and joyful green.”

“I thought it strange,” Chia Yün argued mentally, “that it should be called the I Hung court; but are these, in fact, the four characters inscribed on the tablet!”

But while he was communing within himself, he heard some one laugh and then exclaim from the inner side of the gauze window: “Come in at once! How is it that I’ve forgotten you these two or three months?”

As soon as Chia Yün recognised Pao-yü’s voice, he entered the room with hurried step. On raising his head, his eye was attracted by the brilliant splendour emitted by gold and jade and by the dazzling lustre of the elegant arrangements. He failed, however, to detect where Pao-yü was ensconced. The moment he turned his head round, he espied, on the left side, a large cheval-glass; behind which appeared to view, standing side by side, two servant-girls of fifteen or sixteen years of age. "Master Secundus,” they ventured, “please take a seat in the inner room.”

Chia Yün could not even muster courage to look at them straight in the face; but promptly assenting, he walked into a green gauze mosquito-house, where he saw a small lacquered bed, hung with curtains of a deep red colour, with clusters of flowers embroidered in gold. Pao-yü, wearing a house-dress and slipshod shoes, was reclining on the bed, a book in hand. The moment he perceived Chia Yün walk in, he discarded his book, and forthwith smiled and raised himself up. Chia Yün hurriedly pressed forward and paid his salutation. Pao-yü then offered him a seat; but he simply chose a chair in the lower part of the apartment.

“Ever since the moon in which I came across you,” Pao-yü observed smilingly, “and told you to come into the library, I’ve had, who would have thought it, endless things to continuously attend to, so that I forgot all about you.”

“It’s I, indeed, who lacked good fortune!” rejoined Chia Yün, with a laugh; “particularly so, as it again happened that you, uncle, fell ill. But are you quite right once more?”

“All right!” answered Pao-yü. “I heard that you’ve been put to much trouble and inconvenience on a good number of days!”

“Had I even had any trouble to bear,” added Chia Yün, “it would have been my duty to bear it. But your complete recovery, uncle, is really a blessing to our whole family.”

As he spoke, he discerned a couple of servant-maids come to help him to a cup of tea. But while conversing with Pao-yü, Chia Yün was intent upon scrutinising the girl with slim figure, and oval face, and clad in a silvery-red jacket, a blue satin waistcoat and a white silk petticoat with narrow pleats.

At the time of Pao-yü’s illness, Chia Yün had spent a couple of days in the inner apartments, so that he remembered half of the inmates of note, and the moment he set eyes upon this servant-girl he knew that it was Hsi Jen; and that she was in Pao-yü’s rooms on a different standing to the rest. Now therefore that she brought the tea in herself and that Pao-yü was, besides, sitting by, he rose to his feet with alacrity and put on a smile. “Sister,” he said, “how is it that you are pouring tea for me? I came here to pay uncle a visit; what’s more I’m no stranger, so let me pour it with my own hands!”

“Just you sit down and finish!” Pao-yü interposed; “will you also behave in this fashion with servant-girls?”

“In spite of what you say;” remarked Chia Yün smiling, “they are young ladies attached to your rooms, uncle, and how could I presume to be disorderly in my conduct?”

So saying, he took a seat and drank his tea. Pao-yü then talked to him about trivial and irrelevant matters; and afterwards went on to tell him in whose household the actresses were best, and whose gardens were pretty. He further mentioned to him in whose quarters the servant-girls were handsome, whose banquets were sumptuous, as well as in whose home were to be found strange things, and what family possessed remarkable objects. Chia Yün was constrained to humour him in his conversation; but after a chat, which lasted for some time, he noticed that Pao-yü was somewhat listless, and he promptly stood up and took his leave. And Pao-yü too did not use much pressure to detain him. “To-morrow, if you have nothing to do, do come over!” he merely observed; after which, he again bade the young waiting-maid, Chui Erh, see him out.

Having left the I Hung court, Chia Yün cast a glance all round; and, realising that there was no one about, he slackened his pace at once, and while proceeding leisurely, he conversed, in a friendly way, with Chui Erh on one thing and another. First and foremost he inquired of her what was her age; and her name. “Of what standing are your father and mother?” he said, “How many years have you been in uncle Pao’s apartments? How much money do you get a month? In all how many girls are there in uncle Pao’s rooms?”

As Chui Erh heard the questions set to her, she readily made suitable reply to each.

“The one, who was a while back talking to you,” continued Chia Yün, “is called Hsiao Hung, isn’t she?”

“Yes, her name is Hsiao Hung!” replied Chui Erh smiling; “but why do you ask about her?”

“She inquired of you just now about some handkerchief or other," answered Chia Yün; “well, I’ve picked one up.”

Chui Erh greeted this response with a smile. “Many are the times,” she said; “that she has asked me whether I had seen her handkerchief; but have I got all that leisure to worry my mind about such things? She spoke to me about it again to-day; and she suggested that I should find it for her, and that she would also recompense me. This she told me when we were just now at the entrance of the Heng Wu court, and you too, Mr. Secundus, overheard her, so that I’m not lying. But, dear Mr. Secundus, since you’ve picked it up, give it to me. Do! And I’ll see what she will give me as a reward.”

The truth is that Chia Yün had, the previous moon when he had come into the garden to attend to the planting of trees, picked up a handkerchief, which he conjectured must have been dropped by some inmate of those grounds; but as he was not aware whose it was, he did not consequently presume to act with indiscretion. But on this occasion, he overheard Hsiao Hung make inquiries of Chui Erh on the subject; and concluding that it must belong to her, he felt immeasurably delighted. Seeing, besides, how importunate Chui Erh was, he at once devised a plan within himself, and vehemently producing from his sleeve a handkerchief of his own, he observed, as he turned towards Chui Erh with a smile: “As for giving it to you, I’ll do so; but in the event of your obtaining any present from her, you mustn’t impose upon me.”

Chui Erh assented to his proposal most profusely; and, taking the handkerchief, she saw Chia Yün out and then came back in search of Hsiao Hung. But we will leave her there for the present.

We will now return to Pao-yü. After dismissing Chia Yün, he lay in such complete listlessness on the bed that he betrayed every sign of being half asleep. Hsi Jen walked up to him, and seated herself on the edge of the bed, and pushing him, “What are you about to go to sleep again,” she said. “Would it not do your languid spirits good if you went out for a bit of a stroll?”

Upon hearing her voice, Pao-yü grasped her hand in his. “I would like to go out,” he smiled, “but I can’t reconcile myself to the separation from you!”

“Get up at once!” laughed Hsi Jen. And as she uttered these words, she pulled Pao-yü up.

“Where can I go?” exclaimed Pao-yü. “I’m quite surfeited with everything.”

“Once out you’ll be all right,” Hsi Jen answered, “but if you simply give way to this languor, you’ll be more than ever sick of everything at heart.”

Pao-yü could not do otherwise, dull and out of sorts though he was, than accede to her importunities. Strolling leisurely out of the door of the room, he amused himself a little with the birds suspended under the verandah; then he wended his steps outside the court, and followed the course of the Hsin Fang stream; but after admiring the golden fish for a time, he espied, on the opposite hillock, two young deer come rushing down as swift as an arrow. What they were up to Pao-yü could not discern; but while abandoning himself to melancholy, he caught sight of Chia Lan, following behind, with a small bow in his hand, and hurrying down hill in pursuit of them.

As soon as he realised that Pao-yü stood ahead of him, he speedily halted. “Uncle Secundus,” he smiled, “are you at home? I imagined you had gone out of doors!”

“You are up to mischief again, eh?” Pao-yü rejoined. “They’ve done nothing to you, and why shoot at them with your arrows?”

“I had no studies to attend to just now, so, being free with nothing to do,” Chia Lan replied laughingly, “I was practising riding and archery.”

“Shut up!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “When are you not engaged in practising?”

Saying this, he continued his way and straightway reached the entrance of a court. Here the bamboo foliage was thick, and the breeze sighed gently. This was the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Pao-yü listlessly rambled in. He saw a bamboo portière hanging down to the ground. Stillness prevailed. Not a human voice fell on the ear. He advanced as far as the window. Noticing that a whiff of subtle scent stole softly through the green gauze casement, Pao-yü applied his face closely against the frame to peep in, but suddenly he caught the faint sound of a deep sigh and the words: “Day after day my feelings slumber drowsily!” Upon overhearing this exclamation, Pao-yü unconsciously began to feel a prey to inward longings; but casting a second glance, he saw Tai-yü stretching herself on the bed.

“Why is it,” smiled Pao-yü, from outside the window, “that your feelings day after day slumber drowsily?” So saying, he raised the portière and stepped in.

The consciousness that she had not been reticent about her feelings made Tai-yü unwittingly flush scarlet. Taking hold of her sleeve, she screened her face; and, turning her body round towards the inside, she pretended to be fast asleep. Pao-yü drew near her. He was about to pull her round when he saw Tai-yü’s nurse enter the apartment, followed by two matrons.

“Is Miss asleep?” they said. “If so, we’ll ask her over, when she wakes up.”

As these words were being spoken, Tai-yü eagerly twisted herself round and sat up. “Who’s asleep?” she laughed.

“We thought you were fast asleep, Miss,” smiled the two or three matrons as soon as they perceived Tai-yü get up. This greeting over, they called Tzu Chüan. “Your young mistress,” they said, “has awoke; come in and wait on her!”

While calling her, they quitted the room in a body. Tai-yü remained seated on the bed. Raising her arms, she adjusted her hair, and smilingly she observed to Pao-yü, “When people are asleep, what do you walk in for?”

At the sight of her half-closed starlike eyes and of her fragrant cheeks, suffused with a crimson blush, Pao-yü’s feelings were of a sudden awakened; so, bending his body, he took a seat on a chair, and asked with a smile: “What were you saying a short while back?”

“I wasn’t saying anything,” Tai-yü replied.

“What a lie you’re trying to ram down my throat!” laughed Pao-yü. “I heard all.”

But in the middle of their colloquy, they saw Tzu Chüan enter. Pao-yü then put on a smiling face. “Tzu Chüan!” he cried, “pour me a cup of your good tea!”

“Where’s the good tea to be had?” Tzu Chüan answered. “If you want good tea, you’d better wait till Hsi Jen comes.”

“Don’t heed him!” interposed Tai-yü. “Just go first and draw me some water.”

“He’s a visitor,” remonstrated Tzu Chüan, “and, of course, I should first pour him a cup of tea, and then go and draw the water.”

With this answer, she started to serve the tea.

“My dear girl,” Pao-yü exclaimed laughingly, “If I could only share the same bridal curtain with your lovable young mistress, would I ever be able (to treat you as a servant) by making you fold the covers and make the beds.”

Lin Tai-yü at once drooped her head. “What are you saying?” she remonstrated.

“What, did I say anything?” smiled Pao-yü.

Tai-yü burst into tears. “You’ve recently,” she observed, “got into a new way. Whatever slang you happen to hear outside you come and tell me. And whenever you read any improper book, you poke your fun at me. What! have I become a laughing-stock for gentlemen!”

As she began to cry, she jumped down from bed, and promptly left the room. Pao-yü was at a loss how to act. So agitated was he that he hastily ran up to her, “My dear cousin,” he pleaded, “I do deserve death; but don’t go and tell any one! If again I venture to utter such kind of language, may blisters grow on my mouth and may my tongue waste away!”

But while appealing to her feelings, he saw Hsi Jen approach him. “Go back at once,” she cried, “and put on your clothes as master wants to see you.”

At the very mention of his father, Pao-yü felt suddenly as if struck by lightning. Regardless of everything and anything, he rushed, as fast as possible, back to his room, and changing his clothes, he came out into the garden. Here he discovered Pei Ming, standing at the second gateway, waiting for him.

“Do you perchance know what he wants me for?” Pao-yü inquired.

“Master, hurry out at once!” Pei Ming replied. “You must, of course, go and see him. When you get there, you are sure to find out what it’s all about.”

This said, he urged Pao-yü on, and together they turned past the large pavilion. Pao-yü was, however, still labouring under suspicion, when he heard, from the corner of the wall, a loud outburst of laughter. Upon turning his head round, he caught sight of Hsüeh P’an jump out, clapping his hands. “Hadn’t I said that my uncle wanted you?” he laughed. “Would you ever have rushed out with such alacrity?”

Pei Ming also laughed, and fell on his knees. But Pao-yü remained for a long time under the spell of utter astonishment, before he, at length, realised that it was Hsüeh P’au who had inveigled him to come out.

Hsüeh P’an hastily made a salutation and a curtsey, and confessed his fault. He next gave way to entreaties, saying: “Don’t punish the young servant, for it is simply I who begged him go.”

Pao-yü too had then no other alternative but to smile. “I don’t mind your playing your larks on me; but why,” he inquired, “did you mention my father? Were I to go and tell my aunt, your mother, to see to the rights and the wrongs of the case, how would you like it?”

“My dear cousin,” remarked Hsüeh P’an vehemently, “the primary idea I had in view was to ask you to come out a moment sooner and I forgot to respectfully shun the expression. But by and bye, when you wish to chaff me, just you likewise allude to my father, and we’ll thus be square.”

“Ai-ya!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “You do more than ever deserve death!!” Then turning again towards Pei Ming, “You ruffian!” he said, “what are you still kneeling for?”

Pei Ming began to bump his head on the ground with vehemence.

“Had it been for anything else,” Hsüeh P’an chimed in, “I wouldn’t have made bold to disturb you; but it’s simply in connection with my birthday which is to-morrow, the third day of the fifth moon. Ch’eng Jih-hsing, who is in that curio shop of ours, unexpectedly brought along, goodness knows where he fished them from, fresh lotus so thick and so long, so mealy and so crisp; melons of this size; and a Siamese porpoise, that long and that big, smoked with cedar, such as is sent as tribute from the kingdom of Siam. Are not these four presents, pray, rare delicacies? The porpoise is not only expensive, but difficult to get, and that kind of lotus and melon must have cost him no end of trouble to grow! I lost no time in presenting some to my mother, and at once sent some to your old grandmother, and my aunt. But a good many of them still remain now; and were I to eat them all alone, it would, I fear, be more than I deserve; so I concluded, after thinking right and left, that there was, besides myself, only you good enough to partake of some. That is why I specially invite you to taste them. But, as luck would have it, a young singing-boy has also come, so what do you say to you and I having a jolly day of it?”

As they talked, they walked; and, as they walked, they reached the interior of the library. Here they discovered a whole assemblage consisting of Tan Kuang, Ch’eng Jih-hsing, Hu Ch’i-lai, Tan T’ing-jen and others, and the singing-boy as well. As soon as these saw Pao-yü walk in, some paid their respects to him; others inquired how he was; and after the interchange of salutations, tea was drunk. Hsüeh P’an then gave orders to serve the wine. Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than the servant-lads bustled and fussed for a long while laying the table. When at last the necessary arrangements had been completed, the company took their seats.

Pao-yü verily found the melons and lotus of an exceptional description. "My birthday presents have not as yet been sent round,” he felt impelled to say, a smile on his lips, “and here I come, ahead of them, to trespass on your hospitality.”

“Just so!” retorted Hsüeh P’an, “but when you come to-morrow to congratulate me we’ll consider what novel kind of present you can give me.”

“I’ve got nothing that I can give you,” rejoined Pao-yü. “As far as money, clothes, eatables and other such articles go, they are not really mine: all I can call my own are such pages of characters that I may write, or pictures that I may draw.”

“Your reference to pictures,” added Hsüeh P’an smiling, “reminds me of a book I saw yesterday, containing immodest drawings; they were, truly, beautifully done. On the front page there figured also a whole lot of characters. But I didn’t carefully look at them; I simply noticed the name of the person, who had executed them. It was, in fact, something or other like Keng Huang. The pictures were, actually, exceedingly good!”

This allusion made Pao-yü exercise his mind with innumerable conjectures.

“Of pictures drawn from past years to the present, I have,” he said, "seen a good many, but I’ve never come across any Keng Huang.”

After considerable thought, he could not repress himself from bursting out laughing. Then asking a servant to fetch him a pencil, he wrote a couple of words on the palm of his hand. This done, he went on to inquire of Hsüeh. P’an: “Did you see correctly that it read Keng Huang?”

“How could I not have seen correctly?” ejaculated Hsüeh P’an.

Pao-yü thereupon unclenched his hand and allowed him to peruse, what was written in it. “Were they possibly these two characters?” he remarked. "These are, in point of fact, not very dissimilar from what Keng Huang look like?”

On scrutinising them, the company noticed the two words T’ang Yin, and they all laughed. “They must, we fancy, have been these two characters!" they cried. “Your eyes, Sir, may, there’s no saying, have suddenly grown dim!”

Hsüeh P’an felt utterly abashed. “Who could have said,” he smiled, "whether they were T’ang Yin or Kuo Yin, (candied silver or fruit silver).”

As he cracked this joke, however, a young page came and announced that Mr. Feng had arrived. Pao-yü concluded that the new comer must be Feng Tzu-ying, the son of Feng T’ang, general with the prefix of Shen Wu.”

“Ask him in at once,” Hsüeh P’an and his companions shouted with one voice.

But barely were these words out of their mouths, than they realised that Feng Tzu-ying had already stepped in, talking and laughing as he approached.

The company speedily rose from table and offered him a seat.

“That’s right!” smiled Feng Tzu-ying. “You don’t go out of doors, but remain at home and go in for high fun!”

Both Pao-yü and Hsüeh P’an put on a smile. “We haven’t,” they remarked, "seen you for ever so long. Is your venerable father strong and hale?”

“My father,” rejoined Tzu-ying, “is, thanks to you, strong and hale; but my mother recently contracted a sudden chill and has been unwell for a couple of days.”

Hsüeh P’an discerned on his face a slight bluish wound. “With whom have you again been boxing,” he laughingly inquired, “that you’ve hung up this sign board?”

“Since the occasion,” laughed Feng Tzu-ying, “on which I wounded lieutenant-colonel Ch’ou’s son, I’ve borne the lesson in mind, and never lost my temper. So how is it you say that I’ve again been boxing? This thing on my face was caused, when I was out shooting the other day on the T’ieh Wang hills, by a flap from the wing of the falcon.”

“When was that?” asked Pao-yü.

“I started,” explained Tzu-ying, “on the 28th of the third moon and came back only the day before yesterday.”

“It isn’t to be wondered at then,” observed Pao-yü, “that when I went the other day, on the third and fourth, to a banquet at friend Shen’s house, I didn’t see you there. Yet I meant to have inquired about you; but I don’t know how it slipped from my memory. Did you go alone, or did your venerable father accompany you?”

“Of course, my father went,” Tzu-ying replied, “so I had no help but to go. For is it likely, forsooth, that I’ve gone mad from lack of anything to do! Don’t we, a goodly number as we are, derive enough pleasure from our wine-bouts and plays that I should go in quest of such kind of fatiguing recreation! But in this instance a great piece of good fortune turned up in evil fortune!”

Hsüeh P’an and his companions noticed that he had finished his tea. "Come along,” they one and all proposed, “and join the banquet; you can then quietly recount to us all your experiences.”

At this suggestion Feng Tzu-ying there and then rose to his feet. "According to etiquette,” he said. “I should join you in drinking a few cups; but to-day I have still a very urgent matter to see my father about on my return so that I truly cannot accept your invitation.”

Hsüeh P’an, Pao-yü and the other young fellows would on no account listen to his excuses. They pulled him vigorously about and would not let him go.

“This is, indeed, strange!” laughed Feng Tzu-ying. “When have you and I had, during all these years, to have recourse to such proceedings! I really am unable to comply with your wishes. But if you do insist upon making me have a drink, well, then bring a large cup and I’ll take two cups full and finish.”

After this rejoinder, the party could not but give in. Hsüeh P’an took hold of the kettle, while Pao-yü grasped the cup, and they poured two large cups full. Feng Tzu-ying stood up and quaffed them with one draught.

“But do, after all,” urged Pao-yü, “finish this thing about a piece of good fortune in the midst of misfortune before you go.”

“To tell you this to-day,” smiled Feng Tzu-ying, “will be no great fun. But for this purpose I intend standing a special entertainment, and inviting you all to come and have a long chat; and, in the second place, I’ve also got a favour to ask of you.”

Saying this, he pushed his way and was going off at once, when Hsüeh P’an interposed. “What you’ve said,” he observed, “has put us more than ever on pins and needles. We cannot brook any delay. Who knows when you will ask us round; so better tell us, and thus avoid keeping people in suspense!”

“The latest,” rejoined Feng Tzu-ying, “in ten days; the earliest in eight.” With this answer he went out of the door, mounted his horse, and took his departure.

The party resumed their seats at table. They had another bout, and then eventually dispersed.

Pao-yü returned into the garden in time to find Hsi Jen thinking with solicitude that he had gone to see Chia Cheng and wondering whether it foreboded good or evil. As soon as she perceived Pao-yü come back in a drunken state, she felt urged to inquire the reason of it all. Pao-yü told her one by one the particulars of what happened.

“People,” added Hsi Jen, “wait for you with lacerated heart and anxious mind, and there you go and make merry; yet you could very well, after all, have sent some one with a message.”

“Didn’t I purpose sending a message?” exclaimed Pao-yü. “Of course, I did! But I failed to do so, as on the arrival of friend Feng, I got so mixed up that the intention vanished entirely from my mind.”

While excusing himself, he saw Pao-ch’ai enter the apartment. “Have you tasted any of our new things?” she asked, a smile curling her lips.

“Cousin,” laughed Pao-yü, “you must have certainly tasted what you’ve got in your house long before us.”

Pao-ch’ai shook her head and smiled. “Yesterday,” she said, “my brother did actually make it a point to ask me to have some; but I had none; I told him to keep them and send them to others, so confident am I that with my mean lot and scanty blessings I little deserve to touch such dainties.”

As she spoke, a servant-girl poured her a cup of tea and brought it to her. While she sipped it, she carried on a conversation on irrelevant matters; which we need not notice, but turn our attention to Lin Tai-yü.

The instant she heard that Chia Cheng had sent for Pao-yü, and that he had not come back during the whole day, she felt very distressed on his account. After supper, the news of Pao-yü’s return reached her, and she keenly longed to see him and ask him what was up. Step by step she trudged along, when espying Pao-ch’ai going into Pao-yü’s garden, she herself followed close in her track. But on their arrival at the Hsin Fang bridge, she caught sight of the various kinds of water-fowl, bathing together in the pond, and although unable to discriminate the numerous species, her gaze became so transfixed by their respective variegated and bright plumage and by their exceptional beauty, that she halted. And it was after she had spent some considerable time in admiring them that she repaired at last to the I Hung court. The gate was already closed. Tai-yü, however, lost no time in knocking. But Ch’ing Wen and Pi Hen had, who would have thought it, been having a tiff, and were in a captious mood, so upon unawares seeing Pao-ch’ai step on the scene, Ch’ing Wen at once visited her resentment upon Pao-ch’ai. She was just standing in the court giving vent to her wrongs, shouting: “You’re always running over and seating yourself here, whether you’ve got good reason for doing so or not; and there’s no sleep for us at the third watch, the middle of the night though it be,” when, all of a sudden, she heard some one else calling at the door. Ch’ing Wen was the more moved to anger. Without even asking who it was, she rapidly bawled out: “They’ve all gone to sleep; you’d better come to-morrow.”

Lin Tai-yü was well aware of the natural peculiarities of the waiting-maids, and of their habit of playing practical jokes upon each other, so fearing that the girl in the inner room had failed to recognise her voice, and had refused to open under the misconception that it was some other servant-girl, she gave a second shout in a higher pitch. “It’s I!” she cried, “don’t you yet open the gate?”

Ch’ing Wen, as it happened, did not still distinguish her voice; and in an irritable strain, she rejoined: “It’s no matter who you may be; Mr. Secundus has given orders that no one at all should be allowed to come in.”

As these words reached Lin Tai-yü’s ear, she unwittingly was overcome with indignation at being left standing outside. But when on the point of raising her voice to ask her one or two things, and to start a quarrel with her; “albeit,” she again argued mentally, “I can call this my aunt’s house, and it should be just as if it were my own, it’s, after all, a strange place, and now that my father and mother are both dead, and that I am left with no one to rely upon, I have for the present to depend upon her family for a home. Were I now therefore to give way to a regular fit of anger with her, I’ll really get no good out of it.”

While indulging in reflection, tears trickled from her eyes. But just as she was feeling unable to retrace her steps, and unable to remain standing any longer, and quite at a loss what to do, she overheard the sound of jocular language inside, and listening carefully, she discovered that it was, indeed, Pao-yü and Pao-ch’ai. Lin Tai-yü waxed more wroth. After much thought and cogitation, the incidents of the morning flashed unawares through her memory. “It must, in fact,” she mused, “be because Pao-yü is angry with me for having explained to him the true reasons. But why did I ever go and tell you? You should, however, have made inquiries before you lost your temper to such an extent with me as to refuse to let me in to-day; but is it likely that we shall not by and bye meet face to face again?”

The more she gave way to thought, the more she felt wounded and agitated; and without heeding the moss, laden with cold dew, the path covered with vegetation, and the chilly blasts of wind, she lingered all alone, under the shadow of the bushes at the corner of the wall, so thoroughly sad and dejected that she broke forth into sobs.

Lin Tai-yü was, indeed, endowed with exceptional beauty and with charms rarely met with in the world. As soon therefore as she suddenly melted into tears, and the birds and rooks roosting on the neighbouring willow boughs and branches of shrubs caught the sound of her plaintive tones, they one and all fell into a most terrific flutter, and, taking to their wings, they flew away to distant recesses, so little were they able to listen with equanimity to such accents. But the spirits of the flowers were, at the time, silent and devoid of feeling, the birds were plunged in dreams and in a state of stupor, so why did they start? A stanza appositely assigns the reason:–

  P’in Erh’s mental talents and looks must in the world be rare–.
  Alone, clasped in a subtle smell, she quits her maiden room.
  The sound of but one single sob scarcely dies away,
  And drooping flowers cover the ground and birds fly in dismay.

Lin Tai-yü was sobbing in her solitude, when a creaking noise struck her ear and the door of the court was flung open. Who came out, is not yet ascertained; but, reader, should you wish to know, the next chapter will explain.

Chapter XXVII

  In the Ti Ts’ui pavilion, Pao-ch’ai diverts herself with the
      multi-coloured butterflies.
  Over the mound, where the flowers had been interred, Tai-yü bewails
      their withered bloom.

Lin Tai-yü, we must explain in taking up the thread of our narrative, was disconsolately bathed in tears, when her ear was suddenly attracted by the creak of the court gate, and her eyes by the appearance of Pao-ch’ai beyond the threshold. Pao-yü, Hsi Jen and a whole posse of inmates then walked out. She felt inclined to go up to Pao-yü and ask him a question; but dreading that if she made any inquiries in the presence of such a company, Pao-yü would be put to the blush and placed in an awkward position, she slipped aside and allowed Pao-ch’ai to prosecute her way. And it was only after Pao-yü and the rest of the party had entered and closed the gate behind them that she at last issued from her retreat. Then fixing her gaze steadfastly on the gateway, she dropped a few tears. But inwardly conscious of their utter futility she retraced her footsteps and wended her way back into her apartment. And with heavy heart and despondent spirits, she divested herself of the remainder of her habiliments.

Tzu Chüan and Hsüeh Yen were well aware, from the experience they had reaped in past days, that Lin Tai-yü was, in the absence of anything to occupy her mind, prone to sit and mope, and that if she did not frown her eyebrows, she anyway heaved deep sighs; but they were quite at a loss to divine why she was, with no rhyme or reason, ever so ready to indulge, to herself, in inexhaustible gushes of tears. At first, there were such as still endeavoured to afford her solace; or who, suspecting lest she brooded over the memory of her father and mother, felt home-sick, or aggrieved, through some offence given her, tried by every persuasion to console and cheer her; but, as contrary to all expectations, she subsequently persisted time and again in this dull mood, through each succeeding month and year, people got accustomed to her eccentricities and did not extend to her the least sympathy. Hence it was that no one (on this occasion) troubled her mind about her, but letting her sit and sulk to her heart’s content, they one and all turned in and went to sleep.

Lin Tai-yü leaned against the railing of the bed, clasping her knees with both hands, her eyes suffused with tears. She looked, in very truth, like a carved wooden image or one fashioned of mud. There she sat straight up to the second watch, even later, when she eventually fell asleep.

The whole night nothing remarkable transpired. The morrow was the 26th day of the fourth moon. Indeed on this day, at one p.m., commenced the season of the ’Sprouting seeds,’ and, according to an old custom, on the day on which this feast of ’Sprouting seeds’ fell, every one had to lay all kinds of offerings and sacrificial viands on the altar of the god of flowers. Soon after the expiry of this season of ’Sprouting seeds’ follows summertide, and us plants in general then wither and the god of flowers resigns his throne, it is compulsory to feast him at some entertainment, previous to his departure.

In the ladies’ apartments this custom was observed with still more rigour; and, for this reason, the various inmates Of the park of Broad Vista had, without a single exception, got up at an early hour. The young people either twisted flowers and willow twigs in such a way as to represent chairs and horses, or made tufted banners with damask, brocaded gauze and silk, and bound them with variegated threads. These articles of decoration were alike attached on every tree and plant; and throughout the whole expanse of the park, embroidered sashes waved to and fro, and ornamented branches nodded their heads about. In addition to this, the members of the family were clad in such fineries that they put the peach tree to shame, made the almond yield the palm, the swallow envious and the hawk to blush. We could not therefore exhaustively describe them within our limited space of time.

Pao-ch’ai, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un, Li Wan, lady Feng and other girls, as well as Ta Chieh Erh, Hsiang Ling and the waiting-maids were, one and all, we will now notice, in the garden enjoying themselves; the only person who could not be seen was Lin Tai-yü.

“How is it,” consequently inquired Ying Ch’un, “that I don’t see cousin Liu? What a lazy girl! Is she forsooth fast asleep even at this late hour of the day?”

“Wait all of you here,” rejoined Pao-ch’ai, “and I’ll go and shake her up and bring her.”

With these words, she speedily left her companions and repaired straightway into the Hsiao Hsiang lodge.

While she was going on her errand, she met Wen Kuan and the rest of the girls, twelve in all, on their way to seek the party. Drawing near, they inquired after her health. After exchanging a few commonplace remarks, Pao-ch’ai turned round and pointing, said: “you will find them all in there; you had better go and join them. As for me, I’m going to fetch Miss Lin, but I’ll be back soon.”

Saying this, she followed the winding path, and came to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Upon suddenly raising her eyes, she saw Pao-yü walk in. Pao-ch’ai immediately halted, and, lowering her head, she gave way to meditation for a time. “Pao-yü and Lin Tai-yü,” she reflected, “have grown up together from their very infancy. But cousins, though they be, there are many instances in which they cannot evade suspicion, for they joke without heeding propriety; and at one time they are friends and at another at daggers drawn. Tai-yü has, moreover, always been full of envy; and has ever displayed a peevish disposition, so were I to follow him in at this juncture, why, Pao-yü would, in the first place, not feel at ease, and, in the second, Tai-yü would give way to jealousy. Better therefore for me to turn back.”

At the close of this train of thought, she retraced her steps. But just as she was starting to join her other cousins, she unexpectedly descried, ahead of her, a pair of jade-coloured butterflies, of the size of a circular fan. Now they soared high, now they made a swoop down, in their flight against the breeze; much to her amusement.

Pao-ch’ai felt a wish to catch them for mere fun’s sake, so producing a fan from inside her sleeve, she descended on to the turfed ground to flap them with it. The two butterflies suddenly were seen to rise; suddenly to drop: sometimes to come; at others to go. Just as they were on the point of flying across the stream to the other side, the enticement proved too much for Pao-ch’ai, and she pursued them on tiptoe straight up to the Ti Ts’ui pavilion, nestling on the bank of the pond; while fragrant perspiration dripped drop by drop, and her sweet breath panted gently. But Pao-ch’ai abandoned the idea of catching them, and was about to beat a retreat, when all at once she overheard, in the pavilion, the chatter of people engaged in conversation.

This pavilion had, it must be added, a verandah and zig-zag balustrades running all round. It was erected over the water, in the centre of a pond, and had on the four sides window-frames of carved wood work, stuck with paper. So when Pao-ch’ai caught, from without the pavilion, the sound of voices, she at once stood still and lent an attentive ear to what was being said.

“Look at this handkerchief,” she overheard. “If it’s really the one you’ve lost, well then keep it; but if it isn’t you must return it to Mr. Yün.”

“To be sure it is my own,” another party observed, “bring it along and give it to me.”

“What reward will you give me?” she further heard. “Is it likely that I’ve searched all for nothing!”

“I’ve long ago promised to recompense you, and of course I won’t play you false,” some one again rejoined.

“I found it and brought it round,” also reached her ear, “and you naturally will recompense me; but won’t you give anything to the person who picked it up?”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” the other party added, “he belongs to a family of gentlemen, and anything of ours he may pick up it’s his bounden duty to restore to us. What reward could you have me give him?”

“If you don’t reward him,” she heard some one continue, “what will I be able to tell him? Besides, he enjoined me time after time that if there was to be no recompense, I was not to give it to you.”

A short pause ensued. “Never mind!” then came out again to her, “take this thing of mine and present it to him and have done! But do you mean to let the cat out of the bag with any one else? You should take some oath.”

“If I tell any one,” she likewise overheard, “may an ulcer grow on my mouth, and may I, in course of time, die an unnatural death!”

“Ai-ya!” was the reply she heard; “our minds are merely bent upon talking, but some one might come and quietly listen from outside; wouldn’t it be as well to push all the venetians open. Any one seeing us in here will then imagine that we are simply chatting about nonsense. Besides, should they approach, we shall be able to observe them, and at once stop our conversation!”

Pao-ch’ai listened to these words from outside, with a heart full of astonishment. “How can one wonder,” she argued mentally, “if all those lewd and dishonest people, who have lived from olden times to the present, have devised such thorough artifices! But were they now to open and see me here, won’t they feel ashamed. Moreover, the voice in which those remarks were uttered resembles very much that of Hung Erh, attached to Pao-yü’s rooms, who has all along shown a sharp eye and a shrewd mind. She’s an artful and perverse thing of the first class! And as I have now overheard her peccadilloes, and a person in despair rebels as sure as a dog in distress jumps over the wall, not only will trouble arise, but I too shall derive no benefit. It would be better at present therefore for me to lose no time in retiring. But as I fear I mayn’t be in time to get out of the way, the only alternative for me is to make use of some art like that of the cicada, which can divest itself of its exuviae.”

She had scarcely brought her reflections to a close before a sound of ’ko-chih’ reached her ears. Pao-ch’ai purposely hastened to tread with heavy step. “P’in Erh, I see where you’re hiding!” she cried out laughingly; and as she shouted, she pretended to be running ahead in pursuit of her.

As soon as Hsiao Hung and Chui Erh pushed the windows open from inside the pavilion, they heard Pao-ch’ai screaming, while rushing forward; and both fell into a state of trepidation from the fright they sustained.

Pao-ch’ai turned round and faced them. “Where have you been hiding Miss Lin?” she smiled.

“Who has seen anything of Miss Lin,” retorted Chui Erh.

“I was just now,” proceeded Pao-ch’ai, “on that side of the pool, and discerned Miss Lin squatting down over there and playing with the water. I meant to have gently given her a start, but scarcely had I walked up to her, when she saw me, and, with a detour towards the East, she at once vanished from sight. So mayn’t she be concealing herself in there?”

As she spoke, she designedly stepped in and searched about for her. This over, she betook herself away, adding: “she’s certain to have got again into that cave in the hill, and come across a snake, which must have bitten her and put an end to her.”

So saying, she distanced them, feeling again very much amused. “I have managed,” she thought, “to ward off this piece of business, but I wonder what those two think about it.”

Hsiao Hung, who would have anticipated, readily credited as gospel the remarks she heard Pao-ch’ai make. But allowing just time enough to Pao-ch’ai to got to a certain distance, she instantly drew Chui Erh to her. “Dreadful!” she observed, “Miss Lin was squatting in here and must for a certainty have overheard what we said before she left.”

Albeit Chui Erh listened to her words, she kept her own counsel for a long time. “What’s to be done?” Hsiao Hung consequently exclaimed.

“Even supposing she did overhear what we said,” rejoined Chui Erh by way of answer, “why should she meddle in what does not concern her? Every one should mind her own business.”

“Had it been Miss Pao, it would not have mattered,” remarked Hsiao Hung, "but Miss Lin delights in telling mean things of people and is, besides, so petty-minded. Should she have heard and anything perchance comes to light, what will we do?”

During their colloquy, they noticed Wen Kuan, Hsiang Ling, Ssu Ch’i, Shih Shu and the other girls enter the pavilion, so they were compelled to drop the conversation and to play and laugh with them. They then espied lady Feng standing on the top of the hillock, waving her hand, beckoning to Hsiao Hung. Hurriedly therefore leaving the company, she ran up to lady Feng and with smile heaped upon smile, “my lady,” she inquired, “what is it that you want?”

Lady Feng scrutinised her for a time. Observing how spruce and pretty she was in looks, and how genial in her speech, she felt prompted to give her a smile. “My own waiting-maid,” she said, “hasn’t followed me in here to-day; and as I’ve just this moment bethought myself of something and would like to send some one on an errand, I wonder whether you’re fit to undertake the charge and deliver a message faithfully.”

“Don’t hesitate in entrusting me with any message you may have to send," replied Hsiao Hung with a laugh. “I’ll readily go and deliver it. Should I not do so faithfully, and blunder in fulfilling your business, my lady, you may visit me with any punishment your ladyship may please, and I’ll have nothing to say.”

“What young lady’s servant are you,” smiled lady Feng? “Tell me, so that when she comes back, after I’ve sent you out, and looks for you, I may be able to tell her about you.”

“I’m attached to our Master Secundus,’ Mr. Pao’s rooms,” answered Hsiao Hung.

“Ai-ya!” ejaculated lady Feng, as soon as she heard these words. “Are you really in Pao-yü’s rooms! How strange! Yet it comes to the same thing. Well, if he asks for you, I’ll tell him where you are. Go now to our house and tell your sister P’ing that she’ll find on the table in the outer apartment and under the stand with the plate from the Ju kiln, a bundle of silver; that it contains the one hundred and twenty taels for the embroiderers’ wages; and that when Chang Ts’ai’s wife comes, the money should be handed to her to take away, after having been weighed in her presence and been given to her to tally. Another thing too I want. In the inner apartment and at the head of the bed you’ll find a small purse, bring it along to me.”

Hsiao Hung listened to her orders and then started to carry them out. On her return, in a short while, she discovered that lady Feng was not on the hillock. But perceiving Ssu Ch’i egress from the cave and stand still to tie her petticoat, she walked up to her. “Sister, do you know where our lady Secunda is gone to?” she asked.

“I didn’t notice,” rejoined Ssu Ch’i.

At this reply, Hsiao Hung turned round and cast a glance on all four quarters. Seeing T’an Ch’un and Pao-ch’ai standing by the bank of the pond on the opposite side and looking at the fish, Hsiao Hung advanced up to them. “Young ladies,” she said, straining a smile, “do you perchance have any idea where our lady Secunda is gone to now?”

“Go into your senior lady’s court and look for her!” T’an Ch’un answered.

Hearing this, Hsiao Hung was proceeding immediately towards the Tao Hsiang village, when she caught sight, just ahead of her, of Ch’ing Wen, Ch’i Hsia, Pi Hen, Ch’iu Wen, She Yüeh, Shih Shu, Ju Hua, Ying Erh and some other girls coming towards her in a group.

The moment Ch’ing Wen saw Hsiao Hung, she called out to her. “Are you gone clean off your head?” she exclaimed. “You don’t water the flowers, nor feed the birds or prepare the tea stove, but gad about outside!”

“Yesterday,” replied Hsiao Hung, “Mr. Secundus told me that there was no need for me to water the flowers to-day; that it was enough if they were watered every other day. As for the birds, you’re still in the arms of Morpheus, sister, when I give them their food.”

“And what about the tea-stove?” interposed Pi Hen.

“To-day,” retorted Hsiao Hung, “is not my turn on duty, so don’t ask me whether there be any tea or not!”

“Do you listen to that mouth of hers!” cried Ch’i Hsia, “but don’t you girls speak to her; let her stroll about and have done!”

“You’d better all go and ask whether I’ve been gadding about or not," continued Hsiao Hung. “Our lady Secunda has just bidden me go and deliver a message, and fetch something.”

Saying this, she raised the purse and let them see it; and they, finding they could hit upon nothing more to taunt her with, trudged along onwards.

Ch’ing Wen smiled a sarcastic smile. “How funny!” she cried. “Lo, she climbs up a high branch and doesn’t condescend to look at any one of us! All she told her must have been just some word or two, who knows! But is it likely that our lady has the least notion of her name or surname that she rides such a high horse, and behaves in this manner! What credit is it in having been sent on a trifling errand like this! Will we, by and bye, pray, hear anything more about you? If you’ve got any gumption, you’d better skedaddle out of this garden this very day. For, mind, it’s only if you manage to hold your lofty perch for any length of time that you can be thought something of!”

As she derided her, she continued on her way.

During this while, Hsiao Hung listened to her, but as she did not find it a suitable moment to retaliate, she felt constrained to suppress her resentment and go in search of lady Feng.

On her arrival at widow Li’s quarters, she, in point of fact, discovered lady Feng seated inside with her having a chat. Hsiao Hung approached her and made her report. “Sister P’ing says,” she observed, “that as soon as your ladyship left the house, she put the money by, and that when Chang Ts’ai’s wife went in a little time to fetch it, she had it weighed in her presence, after which she gave it to her to take away.”

With these words, she produced the purse and presented it to her. "Sister P’ing bade me come and tell your ladyship,” she added, continuing, “that Wang Erh came just now to crave your orders, as to who are the parties from whom he has to go and (collect interest on money due) and sister P’ing explained to him what your wishes were and sent him off.”

“How could she tell him where I wanted him to go?” Lady Feng laughed.

“Sister P’ing says,” Hsiao Hung proceeded, “that our lady presents her compliments to your ladyship (widow Li) here-(_To lady Feng_) that our master Secundus has in fact not come home, and that albeit a delay of (a day) or two will take place (in the collection of the money), your ladyship should, she begs, set your mind at ease. (_To Li Wan_). That when lady Quinta is somewhat better, our lady will let lady Quinta know and come along with her to see your ladyship. (_To lady Feng_). That lady Quinta sent a servant the day before yesterday to come over and say that our lady, your worthy maternal aunt, had despatched a letter to inquire after your ladyship’s health; that she also wished to ask you, my lady, her worthy niece in here, for a couple of ’long-life-great-efficacy-full-of-every-virtue’ pills; and that if you have any, they should, when our lady bids a servant come over, be simply given her to bring to our lady here, and that any one bound to-morrow for that side could then deliver them on her way to her ladyship, your aunt yonder, to take along with her.”

“Ai-yo-yo!” exclaimed widow Li, before the close of the message. “It’s impossible for me to make out what you’re driving at! What a heap of ladyships and misters!”

“It’s not to be wondered at that you can’t make them out,” interposed lady Feng laughing. “Why, her remarks refer to four or five distinct families.”

While speaking, she again faced Hsiao Hung. “My dear girl,” she smiled, "what a trouble you’ve been put to! But you speak decently, and unlike the others who keep on buzz-buzz-buzz, like mosquitoes! You’re not aware, sister-in-law, that I actually dread uttering a word to any of the girls outside the few servant-girls and matrons in my own immediate service; for they invariably spin out, what could be condensed in a single phrase, into a long interminable yarn, and they munch and chew their words; and sticking to a peculiar drawl, they groan and moan; so much so, that they exasperate me till I fly into a regular rage. Yet how are they to know that our P’ing Erh too was once like them. But when I asked her: ’must you forsooth imitate the humming of a mosquito, in order to be accounted a handsome girl?’ and spoke to her, on several occasions, she at length improved considerably.”

“What a good thing it would be,” laughed Li Kung-ts’ai, “if they could all be as smart as you are.”

“This girl is first-rate!” rejoined lady Feng, “she just now delivered two messages. They didn’t, I admit, amount to much, yet to listen to her, she spoke to the point.”

“To-morrow,” she continued, addressing herself to Hsiao Hung smilingly, "come and wait on me, and I’ll acknowledge you as my daughter; and the moment you come under my control, you’ll readily improve.”

At this news, Hsiao Hung spurted out laughing aloud.

“What are you laughing for?” Lady Feng inquired. “You must say to yourself that I am young in years and that how much older can I be than yourself to become your mother; but are you under the influence of a spring dream? Go and ask all those people older than yourself. They would be only too ready to call me mother. But snapping my fingers at them, I to-day exalt you.”

“I wasn’t laughing about that,” Hsiao Hung answered with a smiling face. "I was amused by the mistake your ladyship made about our generations. Why, my mother claims to be your daughter, my lady, and are you now going to recognise me too as your daughter?”

“Who’s your mother?” Lady Feng exclaimed.

“Don’t you actually know her?” put in Li Kung-ts’ai with a smile. “She’s Lin Chih-hsiao’s child.”

This disclosure greatly surprised lady Feng. “What!” she consequently cried, “is she really his daughter?”

“Why Lin Chih-hsiao and his wife,” she resumed smilingly, “couldn’t either of them utter a sound if even they were pricked with an awl. I’ve always maintained that they’re a well-suited couple; as the one is as deaf as a post, and the other as dumb as a mute. But who would ever have expected them to have such a clever girl! By how much are you in your teens?”

“I’m seventeen,” replied Hsia Hung.

“What is your name?” she went on to ask.

“My name was once Hung Yü.” Hsiao Hung rejoined. “But as it was a duplicate of that of Master Secundus, Mr. Pao-yü, I’m now simply called Hsiao Hung.”

Upon hearing this explanation, lady Feng raised her eyebrows into a frown, and turning her head round: “It’s most disgusting!” she remarked, "Those bearing the name Yü would seem to be very cheap; for your name is Yü, and so is also mine Yü. Sister-in-law,” she then observed; “I never let you know anything about it, but I mentioned to her mother that Lai Ta’s wife has at present her hands quite full, and that she hasn’t either any notion as to who is who in this mansion. ’You had better,’ (I said), ’carefully select a couple of girls for my service.’ She assented unreservedly, but she put it off and never chose any. On the contrary, she sent this girl to some other place. But is it likely that she wouldn’t have been well off with me?”

“Here you are again full of suspicion!” Li Wan laughed. “She came in here long before you ever breathed a word to her! So how could you bear a grudge against her mother?”

“Well, in that case,” added lady Feng, “I’ll speak to Pao-yü to-morrow, and induce him to find another one, and to allow this girl to come along with me. I wonder, however, whether she herself is willing or not?”

“Whether willing or not,” interposed Hsiao Hung smiling, “such as we couldn’t really presume to raise our voices and object. We should feel it our privilege to serve such a one as your ladyship, and learn a little how to discriminate when people raise or drop their eyebrows and eyes (with pleasure or displeasure), and reap as well some experience in such matters as go out or come in, whether high or low, great and small.”

But during her reply, she perceived Madame Wang’s waiting-maid come and invite lady Feng to go over. Lady Feng bade good-bye at once to Li Kung-ts’ai and took her departure.

Hsiao Hung then returned into the I Hung court, where we will leave her and devote our attention for the present to Lin Tai-yü.

As she had had but little sleep in the night, she got up the next day at a late hour. When she heard that all her cousins were collected in the park, giving a farewell entertainment for the god of flowers, she hastened, for fear people should laugh at her for being lazy, to comb her hair, perform her ablutions, and go out and join them. As soon as she reached the interior of the court, she caught sight of Pao-yü, entering the door, who speedily greeted her with a smile. “My dear cousin,” he said, “did you lodge a complaint against me yesterday? I’ve been on pins and needles the whole night long.”

Tai-yü forthwith turned her head away. “Put the room in order,” she shouted to Tzu Chüan, “and lower one of the gauze window-frames. And when you’ve seen the swallows come back, drop the curtain; keep it down then by placing the lion on it, and after you have burnt the incense, mind you cover the censer.”

So saying she stepped outside.

Pao-yü perceiving her manner, concluded again that it must be on account of the incident of the previous noon, but how could he have had any idea about what had happened in the evening? He kept on still bowing and curtseying; but Lin Tai-yü did not even so much as look at him straight in the face, but egressing alone out of the door of the court, she proceeded there and then in search of the other girls.

Pao-yü fell into a despondent mood and gave way to conjectures.

“Judging,” he reflected, “from this behaviour of hers, it would seem as if it could not be for what transpired yesterday. Yesterday too I came back late in the evening, and, what’s more, I didn’t see her, so that there was no occasion on which I could have given her offence.”

As he indulged in these reflections, he involuntarily followed in her footsteps to try and catch her up, when he descried Pao-ch’ai and T’an-ch’un on the opposite side watching the frolics of the storks.

As soon as they saw Tai-yü approach, the trio stood together and started a friendly chat. But noticing Pao-yü also come up, T’an Ch’un smiled. "Brother Pao,” she said, “are you all right. It’s just three days that I haven’t seen anything of you?”

“Are you sister quite well?” Pao-yü rejoined, a smile on his lips. “The other day, I asked news of you of our senior sister-in-law.”

“Brother Pao,” T’an Ch’un remarked, “come over here; I want to tell you something.”

The moment Pao-yü heard this, he quickly went with her. Distancing Pao-ch’ai and Tai-yü, the two of them came under a pomegranate tree. "Has father sent for you these last few days?” T’an Ch’un then asked.

“He hasn’t,” Pao-yü answered laughingly by way of reply.

“Yesterday,” proceeded T’an Ch’un, “I heard vaguely something or other about father sending for you to go out.”

“I presume,” Pao-yü smiled, “that some one must have heard wrong, for he never sent for me.”

“I’ve again managed to save during the last few months,” added T’an Ch’un with another smile, “fully ten tiaos, so take them and bring me, when at any time you stroll out of doors, either some fine writings or some ingenious knicknack.”

“Much as I have roamed inside and outside the city walls,” answered Pao-yü, “and seen grand establishments and large temples, I’ve never come across anything novel or pretty. One simply sees articles made of gold, jade, copper and porcelain, as well as such curios for which we could find no place here. Besides these, there are satins, eatables, and wearing apparel.”

“Who cares for such baubles!” exclaimed T’an Ch’un. “How could they come up to what you purchased the last time; that wee basket, made of willow twigs, that scent-box, scooped out of a root of real bamboo, that portable stove fashioned of glutinous clay; these things were, oh, so very nice! I was as fond of them as I don’t know what; but, who’d have thought it, they fell in love with them and bundled them all off, just as if they were precious things.”

“Is it things of this kind that you really want?” laughed Pao-yü. “Why, these are worth nothing! Were you to take a hundred cash and give them to the servant-boys, they could, I’m sure, bring two cart-loads of them.”

“What do the servant-boys know?” T’an Ch’un replied. “Those you chose for me were plain yet not commonplace. Neither were they of coarse make. So were you to procure me as many as you can get of them, I’ll work you a pair of slippers like those I gave you last time, and spend twice as much trouble over them as I did over that pair you have. Now, what do you say to this bargain?”

“Your reference to this,” smiled Pao-yü, “reminds me of an old incident. One day I had them on, and by a strange coincidence, I met father, whose fancy they did not take, and he inquired who had worked them. But how could I muster up courage to allude to the three words: my sister Tertia, so I answered that my maternal aunt had given them to me on the recent occasion of my birthday. When father heard that they had been given to me by my aunt, he could not very well say anything. But after a while, ’why uselessly waste,’ he observed, ’human labour, and throw away silks to make things of this sort!’ On my return, I told Hsi Jen about it. ’Never mind,’ said Hsi Jen; but Mrs. Chao got angry. ’Her own brother,’ she murmured indignantly, ’wears slipshod shoes and socks in holes, and there’s no one to look after him, and does she go and work all these things!’”

T’an Ch’un, hearing this, immediately lowered her face. “Now tell me, aren’t these words utter rot!” she shouted. “What am I that I have to make shoes? And is it likely that Huan Erh hasn’t his own share of things! Clothes are clothes, and shoes and socks are shoes and socks; and how is it that any grudges arise in the room of a mere servant-girl and old matron? For whose benefit does she come out with all these things! I simply work a pair or part of a pair when I am at leisure, with time on my hands. And I can give them to any brother, elder or younger, I fancy; and who has a right to interfere with me? This is just another bit of blind anger!”

After listening to her, Pao-yü nodded his head and smiled. “Yet,” he said, “you don’t know what her motives may be. It’s but natural that she should also cherish some expectations.”

This apology incensed T’an Ch’un more than ever, and twisting her head round, “Even you have grown dull!” she cried. “She does, of course, indulge in expectations, but they are actuated by some underhand and paltry notion! She may go on giving way to these ideas, but I, for my part, will only care for Mr. Chia Cheng and Madame Wang. I won’t care a rap for any one else. In fact, I’ll be nice with such of my sisters and brothers, as are nice to me; and won’t even draw any distinction between those born of primary wives and those of secondary ones. Properly speaking, I shouldn’t say these things about her, but she’s narrow-minded to a degree, and unlike what she should be. There’s besides another ridiculous thing. This took place the last time I gave you the money to get me those trifles. Well, two days after that, she saw me, and she began again to represent that she had no money and that she was hard up. Nevertheless, I did not worry my brain with her goings on. But as it happened, the servant-girls subsequently quitted the room, and she at once started finding fault with me. ’Why,’ she asked, ’do I give you my savings to spend and don’t, after all, let Huan Erh have them and enjoy them?’ When I heard these reproaches, I felt both inclined to laugh, and also disposed to lose my temper; but I there and then skedaddled out of her quarters, and went over to our Madame Wang.”

As she was recounting this incident, “Well,” she overheard Pao-ch’ai sarcastically observe from the opposite direction, “have you done spinning your yarns? If you have, come along! It’s quite evident that you are brother and sister, for here you leave every one else and go and discuss your own private matters. Couldn’t we too listen to a single sentence of what you have to say?”

While she taunted them, T’an Ch’un and Pao-yü eventually drew near her with smiling faces.

Pao-yü, however, failed to see Lin Tai-yü and he concluded that she had dodged out of the way and gone elsewhere. “It would be better,” he muttered, after some thought, “that I should let two days elapse, and give her temper time to evaporate before I go to her.” But as he drooped his head, his eye was attracted by a heap of touch-me-nots, pomegranate blossom and various kinds of fallen flowers, which covered the ground thick as tapestry, and he heaved a sigh. “It’s because,” he pondered, "she’s angry that she did not remove these flowers; but I’ll take them over to the place, and by and bye ask her about them.”

As he argued to himself, he heard Pao-ch’ai bid them go out. “I’ll join you in a moment,” Pao-yü replied; and waiting till his two cousins had gone some distance, he bundled the flowers into his coat, and ascending the hill, he crossed the stream, penetrated into the arbour, passed through the avenues with flowers and wended his way straight for the spot, where he had, on a previous occasion, interred the peach-blossoms with the assistance of Lin Tai-yü. But scarcely had he reached the mound containing the flowers, and before he had, as yet, rounded the brow of the hill, than he caught, emanating from the off side, the sound of some one sobbing, who while giving way to invective, wept in a most heart-rending way.

“I wonder,” soliloquised Pao-yü, “whose servant-girl this is, who has been so aggrieved as to run over here to have a good cry!”

While speculating within himself, he halted. He then heard, mingled with wails:–

  Flowers wither and decay; and flowers do fleet; they fly all o’er the
  Their bloom wanes; their smell dies; but who is there with them to
  While vagrant gossamer soft doth on fluttering spring-bowers bind its
  And drooping catkins lightly strike and cling on the embroidered
  A maiden in the inner rooms, I sore deplore the close of spring.
  Such ceaseless sorrow fills my breast, that solace nowhere can I find.
  Past the embroidered screen I issue forth, taking with me a hoe,
  And on the faded flowers to tread I needs must, as I come and go.
  The willow fibres and elm seeds have each a fragrance of their own.
  What care I, peach blossoms may fall, pear flowers away be blown;
  Yet peach and pear will, when next year returns, burst out again in
  But can it e’er be told who will next year dwell in the inner room?
  What time the third moon comes, the scented nests have been already
  And on the beams the swallows perch, excessive spiritless and staid;
  Next year, when the flowers bud, they may, it’s true, have ample to
      feed on:
  But they know not that when I’m gone beams will be vacant and nests
  In a whole year, which doth consist of three hundred and sixty days,
  Winds sharp as swords and frost like unto spears each other rigorous
  So that how long can last their beauty bright; their fresh charm how
      long stays?
  Sudden they droop and fly; and whither they have flown, ’tis hard to
  Flowers, while in bloom, easy the eye attract; but, when they wither,
      hard they are to find.
  Now by the footsteps, I bury the flowers, but sorrow will slay me.
  Alone I stand, and as I clutch the hoe, silent tears trickle down,
  And drip on the bare twigs, leaving behind them the traces of blood.
  The goatsucker hath sung his song, the shades lower of eventide,
  So with the lotus hoe I return home and shut the double doors.
  Upon the wall the green lamp sheds its rays just as I go to sleep.
  The cover is yet cold; against the window patters the bleak rain.
  How strange! Why can it ever be that I feel so wounded at heart!
  Partly, because spring I regret; partly, because with spring I’m
  Regret for spring, because it sudden comes; vexed, for it sudden goes.
  For without warning, lo! it comes; and without asking it doth fleet.
  Yesterday night, outside the hall sorrowful songs burst from my mouth,
  For I found out that flowers decay, and that birds also pass away.
  The soul of flowers, and the spirit of birds are both hard to
  Birds, to themselves when left, in silence plunge; and flowers, alone,
      they blush.
  Oh! would that on my sides a pair of wings could grow,
  That to the end of heaven I may fly in the wake of flowers!
  Yea to the very end of heaven,
  Where I could find a fragrant grave!
  For better, is it not, that an embroidered bag should hold my
      well-shaped bones,
  And that a heap of stainless earth should in its folds my winsome
      charms enshroud.
  For spotless once my frame did come, and spotless again it will go!
  Far better than that I, like filthy mire, should sink into some drain!
  Ye flowers are now faded and gone, and, lo, I come to bury you.
  But as for me, what day I shall see death is not as yet divined!
  Here I am fain these flowers to inter; but humankind will laugh me as
      a fool.
  Who knows, who will, in years to come, commit me to my grave!
  Mark, and you’ll find the close of spring, and the gradual decay of
  Resemble faithfully the time of death of maidens ripe in years!
  In a twinkle, spring time draws to a close, and maidens wax in age.
  Flowers fade and maidens die; and of either nought any more is known.

After listening to these effusions, Pao-yü unconsciously threw himself down in a wandering frame of mind.

But, reader, do you feel any interest in him? If you do, the subsequent chapter contains further details about him.

Chapter XXVIII.

  Chiang Yü-han lovingly presents a rubia-scented silk sash.
  Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai blushingly covers her musk-perfumed string of red

Lin Tai-yü, the story goes, dwelt, after Ch’ing Wen’s refusal, the previous night, to open the door, under the impression that the blame lay with Pao-yü. The following day, which by another remarkable coincidence, happened to correspond with the season, when the god of flowers had to be feasted, her total ignorance of the true circumstances, and her resentment, as yet unspent, aroused again in her despondent thoughts, suggested by the decline of spring time. She consequently gathered a quantity of faded flowers and fallen petals, and went and interred them. Unable to check the emotion, caused by the decay of the flowers, she spontaneously recited, after giving way to several loud lamentations, those verses which Pao-yü, she little thought, overheard from his position on the mound. At first, he did no more than nod his head and heave sighs, full of feeling. But when subsequently his ear caught:

  “Here I am fain these flowers to inter, but humankind will laugh me as
      a fool;
  Who knows who will, in years to come, commit me to my grave!
  In a twinkle springtime draws to an end, and maidens wax in age.
  Flowers fade and maidens die; and of either naught any more is known.”

he unconsciously was so overpowered with grief that he threw himself on the mound, bestrewing the whole ground with the fallen flowers he carried in his coat, close to his chest. “When Tai-yü’s flowerlike charms and moon-like beauty,” he reflected, “by and bye likewise reach a time when they will vanish beyond any hope of recovery, won’t my heart be lacerated and my feelings be mangled! And extending, since Tai-yü must at length some day revert to a state when it will be difficult to find her, this reasoning to other persons, like Pao-ch’ai, Hsiang Ling, Hsi Jen and the other girls, they too are equally liable to attain a state beyond the reach of human search. But when Pao-ch’ai and all the rest have ultimately reached that stage when no trace will be visible of them, where shall I myself be then? And when my own human form will have vanished and gone, whither I know not yet, to what person, I wonder, will this place, this garden and these plants, revert?”

From one to a second, and from a second to a third, he thus pursued his reflections, backwards and forwards, until he really did not know how he could best, at this time and at such a juncture, dispel his fit of anguish. His state is adequately described by:

  The shadow of a flower cannot err from the flower itself to the left
      or the right.
  The song of birds can only penetrate into the ear from the east or the

Lin Tai-yü was herself a prey to emotion and agitation, when unawares sorrowful accents also struck her ear, from the direction of the mound. "Every one,” she cogitated, “laughs at me for labouring under a foolish mania, but is there likely another fool besides myself?” She then raised her head, and, casting a glance about her, she discovered that it was Pao-yü. “Ts’ui!” eagerly cried Tai-yü, “I was wondering who it was; but is it truly this ruthless-hearted and short-lived fellow!”

But the moment the two words “short-lived” dropped from her mouth, she sealed her lips; and, heaving a deep sigh, she turned herself round and hurriedly walked off.

Pao-yü, meanwhile, remained for a time a prey to melancholy. But perceiving that Tai-yü had retired, he at once realised that she must have caught sight of him and got out of his way; and, as his own company afforded him no pleasure, he shook the dust off his clothes, rose to his feet and descending the hill, he started for the I Hung court by the path by which he had come. But he espied Tai-yü walking in advance of him, and with rapid stride, he overtook her. “Stop a little!” he cried. "I know you don’t care a rap for me; but I’ll just make one single remark, and from this day forward we’ll part company.”

Tai-yü looked round. Observing that it was Pao-yü, she was about to ignore him; hearing him however mention that he had only one thing to say, “Please tell me what it is,” she forthwith rejoined.

Pao-yü smiled at her. “If I pass two remarks will you listen to me; yes or no?” he asked.

At these words, Tai-yü twisted herself round and beat a retreat. Pao-yü however followed behind.

“Since this is what we’ve come to now,” he sighed, “what was the use of what existed between us in days gone by?”

As soon as Tai-yü heard his exclamation, she stopped short impulsively. Turning her face towards him, “what about days gone by,” she remarked, "and what about now?”

“Ai!” ejaculated Pao-yü, “when you got here in days gone by, wasn’t I your playmate in all your romps and in all your fun? My heart may have been set upon anything, but if you wanted it you could take it away at once. I may have been fond of any eatable, but if I came to learn that you too fancied it, I there and then put away what could be put away, in a clean place, to wait, Miss, for your return. We had our meals at one table; we slept in one and the same bed; whatever the servant-girls could not remember, I reminded them of, for fear lest your temper, Miss, should get ruffled. I flattered myself that cousins, who have grown up together from their infancy, as you and I have, would have continued, through intimacy or friendship, either would have done, in peace and harmony until the end, so as to make it palpable that we are above the rest. But, contrary to all my expectations, now that you, Miss, have developed in body as well as in mind, you don’t take the least heed of me. You lay hold instead of some cousin Pao or cousin Feng or other from here, there and everywhere and give them a place in your affections; while on the contrary you disregard me for three days at a stretch and decline to see anything of me for four! I have besides no brother or sister of the same mother as myself. It’s true there are a couple of them, but these, are you not forsooth aware, are by another mother! You and I are only children, so I ventured to hope that you would have reciprocated my feelings. But, who’d have thought it, I’ve simply thrown away this heart of mine, and here I am with plenty of woes to bear, but with nowhere to go and utter them!”

While expressing these sentiments, tears, unexpectedly, trickled from his eyes.

When Lin Tai-yü caught, with her ears, his protestations, and noticed with her eyes his state of mind, she unconsciously experienced an inward pang, and, much against her will, tears too besprinkled her cheeks; so, drooping her head, she kept silent.

Her manner did not escape Pao-yü’s notice. “I myself am aware,” he speedily resumed, “that I’m worth nothing now; but, however imperfect I may be, I could on no account presume to become guilty of any shortcoming with you cousin. Were I to ever commit the slightest fault, your task should be either to tender me advice and warn me not to do it again, or to blow me up a little, or give me a few whacks; and all this reproof I wouldn’t take amiss. But no one would have ever anticipated that you wouldn’t bother your head in the least about me, and that you would be the means of driving me to my wits’ ends, and so much out of my mind and off my head, as to be quite at a loss how to act for the best. In fact, were death to come upon me, I would be a spirit driven to my grave by grievances. However much exalted bonzes and eminent Taoist priests might do penance, they wouldn’t succeed in releasing my soul from suffering; for it would still be needful for you to clearly explain the facts, so that I might at last be able to come to life.”

After lending him a patient ear, Tai-yü suddenly banished from her memory all recollection of the occurrences of the previous night. “Well, in that case,” she said, “why did you not let a servant-girl open the door when I came over?”

This question took Pao-yü by surprise. “What prompts you to say this?" he exclaimed. “If I have done anything of the kind, may I die at once.”

“Psha!” cried Tai-yü, “it’s not right that you-should recklessly broach the subject of living or dying at this early morn! If you say yea, it’s yea; and nay, it’s nay; what use is there to utter such oaths!”

“I didn’t really see you come over,” protested Pao-yü. “Cousin Pao-ch’ai it was, who came and sat for a while and then left.”

After some reflection, Lin Tai-yü smiled. “Yes,” she observed, “your servant-girls must, I fancy, have been too lazy to budge, grumpy and in a cross-grained mood; this is probable enough.”

“This is, I feel sure, the reason,” answered Pao-yü, “so when I go back, I’ll find out who it was, call them to task and put things right.”

“Those girls of yours;” continued Tai-yü, “should be given a lesson, but properly speaking it isn’t for me to mention anything about it. Their present insult to me is a mere trifle; but were to-morrow some Miss Pao (precious) or some Miss Pei (jewel) or other to come, and were she to be subjected to insult, won’t it be a grave matter?”

While she taunted him, she pressed her lips, and laughed sarcastically.

Pao-yü heard her remarks and felt both disposed to gnash his teeth with rage, and to treat them as a joke; but in the midst of their colloquy, they perceived a waiting-maid approach and invite them to have their meal.

Presently, the whole body of inmates crossed over to the front.

“Miss,” inquired Madame Wang at the sight of Tai-yü, “have you taken any of Dr. Pao’s medicines? Do you feel any better?”

“I simply feel so-so,” replied Lin Tai-yü, “but grandmother Chia recommended me to go on taking Dr. Wang’s medicines.”

“Mother,” Pao-yü interposed, “you’ve no idea that cousin Lin’s is an internal derangement; it’s because she was born with a delicate physique that she can’t stand the slightest cold. All she need do is to take a couple of closes of some decoction to dispel the chill; yet it’s preferable that she should have medicine in pills.”

“The other day,” said Madame Wang, “the doctor mentioned the name of some pills, but I’ve forgotten what it is.”

“I know something about pills,” put in Pao-yü; “he merely told her to take some pills or other called ’ginseng as-a-restorative-of-the-system.’”

“That isn’t it,” Madame Wang demurred.

“The ’Eight-precious-wholesome-to-mother’ pills,” Pao-yü proceeded, “or the ’Left-angelica’ or ’Right-angelica;’ if these also aren’t the ones, they must be the ’Eight-flavour Rehmannia-glutinosa’ pills.”

“None of these,” rejoined Madame Wang, “for I remember well that there were the two words chin kang (guardians in Buddhistic temples).”

“I’ve never before,” observed Pao-yü, clapping his hands, “heard of the existence of chin kang pills; but in the event of there being any chin kang pills, there must, for a certainty, be such a thing as P’u Sa (Buddha) powder.”

At this joke, every one in the whole room burst out laughing. Pao-ch’ai compressed her lips and gave a smile. “It must, I’m inclined to think," she suggested, “be the ’lord-of-heaven-strengthen-the-heart’ pills!”

“Yes, that’s the name,” Madame Wang laughed, “why, now, I too have become muddle-headed.”

“You’re not muddle-headed, mother,” said Pao-yü, “it’s the mention of Chin kangs and Buddhas which confused you.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” ejaculated Madame Wang. “What you want again is your father to whip you!”

“My father,” Pao-yü laughed, “wouldn’t whip me for a thing like this.”

“Well, this being their name,” resumed Madame Wang, “you had better tell some one to-morrow to buy you a few.”

“All these drugs,” expostulated Pao-yü, “are of no earthly use. Were you, mother, to give me three hundred and sixty taels, I’ll concoct a supply of pills for my cousin, which I can certify will make her feel quite herself again before she has finished a single supply.”

“What trash!” cried Madame Wang. “What kind of medicine is there so costly!”

“It’s a positive fact,” smiled Pao-yü. “This prescription of mine is unlike all others. Besides, the very names of those drugs are quaint, and couldn’t be enumerated in a moment; suffice it to mention the placenta of the first child; three hundred and sixty ginseng roots, shaped like human beings and studded with leaves; four fat tortoises; full-grown polygonum multiflorum; the core of the Pachyma cocos, found on the roots of a fir tree of a thousand years old; and other such species of medicines. They’re not, I admit, out-of-the-way things; but they are the most excellent among that whole crowd of medicines; and were I to begin to give you a list of them, why, they’d take you all quite aback. The year before last, I at length let Hsüeh P’an have this recipe, after he had made ever so many entreaties during one or two years. When, however, he got the prescription, he had to search for another two or three years and to spend over and above a thousand taels before he succeeded in having it prepared. If you don’t believe me, mother, you are at liberty to ask cousin Pao-ch’ai about it.”

At the mention of her name, Pao-ch’ai laughingly waved her hand. “I know nothing about it,” she observed. “Nor have I heard anything about it, so don’t tell your mother to ask me any questions.”

“Really,” said Madame Wang smiling, “Pao-ch’ai is a good girl; she does not tell lies.”

Pao-yü was standing in the centre of the room. Upon hearing these words, he turned round sharply and clapped his hands. “What I stated just now," he explained, “was the truth; yet you maintain that it was all lies.”

As he defended himself, he casually looked round, and caught sight of Lin Tai-yü at the back of Pao-ch’ai laughing with tight-set lips, and applying her fingers to her face to put him to shame.

But Lady Feng, who had been in the inner rooms overseeing the servants laying the table, came out at once, as soon as she overheard the conversation. “Brother Pao tells no lies,” she smilingly chimed in, "this is really a fact. Some time ago cousin Hsüeh P’an came over in person and asked me for pearls, and when I inquired of him what he wanted them for, he explained that they were intended to compound some medicine with; adding, in an aggrieved way, that it would have been better hadn’t he taken it in hand for he never had any idea that it would involve such a lot of trouble! When I questioned him what the medicine was, he returned for answer that it was a prescription of brother Pao’s; and he mentioned ever so many ingredients, which I don’t even remember. ’Under other circumstances,’ he went on to say, ’I would have purchased a few pearls, but what are absolutely wanted are such pearls as have been worn on the head; and that’s why I come to ask you, cousin, for some. If, cousin, you’ve got no broken ornaments at hand, in the shape of flowers, why, those that you have on your head will do as well; and by and bye I’ll choose a few good ones and give them to you, to wear.’ I had no other course therefore than to snap a couple of twigs from some flowers I have, made of pearls, and to let him take them away. One also requires a piece of deep red gauze, three feet in length of the best quality; and the pearls must be triturated to powder in a mortar.”

After each sentence expressed by lady Feng, Pao-yü muttered an invocation to Buddha. “The thing is as clear as sunlight now,” he remarked.

The moment lady Feng had done speaking, Pao-yü put in his word. "Mother,” he added, “you should know that this is a mere makeshift, for really, according to the letter of the prescription, these pearls and precious stones should, properly speaking, consist of such as had been obtained from, some old grave and been worn as head-ornaments by some wealthy and honourable person of bygone days. But how could one go now on this account and dig up graves, and open tombs! Hence it is that such as are simply in use among living persons can equally well be substituted.”

“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed Madame Wang, after listening to him throughout. "That will never do, and what an arduous job to uselessly saddle one’s self with; for even though there be interred in some graves people, who’ve been dead for several hundreds of years, it wouldn’t be a propitious thing were their corpses turned topsy-turvey now and the bones abstracted; just for the sake of preparing some medicine or other.”

Pao-yü thereupon addressed himself to Tai-yü. “Have you heard what was said or not?” he asked. “And is there, pray, any likelihood that cousin Secunda would also follow in my lead and tell lies?”

While saying this, his eyes were, albeit his face was turned towards Lin Tai-yü, fixed upon Pao-ch’ai.

Lin Tai-yü pulled Madame Wang. “You just listen to him, aunt,” she observed. “All because cousin Pao-ch’ai would not accommodate him by lying, he appeals to me.”

“Pao-yü has a great knack,” Madame Wang said, “of dealing contemptuously with you, his cousin.”

“Mother,” Pao-yü smilingly protested, “you are not aware how the case stands. When cousin Pao-ch’ai lived at home, she knew nothing whatever about my elder cousin Hsüeh P’an’s affairs, and how much less now that she has taken up her quarters inside the garden? She, of course, knows less than ever about them! Yet, cousin Lin just now stealthily treated my statements as lies, and put me to the blush.”

These words were still on his lips, when they perceived a waiting-maid, from dowager lady Chia’s apartments, come in quest of Pao-yü and Lin Tai-yü to go and have their meal. Lin Tai-yü, however, did not even call Pao-yü, but forthwith rising to her feet, she went along, dragging the waiting-maid by the hand.

“Let’s wait for master Secundus, Mr. Pao, to go along with us,” demurred the girl.

“He doesn’t want anything to eat,” Lin Tai-yü replied; “he won’t come with us, so I’ll go ahead.” So saying she promptly left the room.

“I’ll have my repast with my mother to-day,” Pao-yü said.

“Not at all,” Madame Wang remarked, “not at all. I’m going to fast to-day, so it’s only right and proper that you should go and have your own.”

“I’ll also fast with you then,” Pao-yü retorted.

As he spoke, he called out to the servant to go back, and rushing up to the table, he took a seat.

Madame Wang faced Pao-ch’ai and her companions. “You, girls,” she observed, “had better have your meal, and let him have his own way!”

“It’s only right that you should go,” Pao-ch’ai smiled. “Whether you have anything to eat or not, you should go over for a while to keep company to cousin Lin, as she will be quite distressed and out of spirits.”

“Who cares about her!” Pao-yü rejoined, “she’ll get all right again after a time.”

Shortly, they finished their repast. But Pao-yü apprehended, in the first place, that his grandmother Chia, would be solicitous on his account, and longed, in the second, to be with Lin Tai-yü, so he hurriedly asked for some tea to rinse his mouth with.

“Cousin Secundus,” T’an Ch’un and Hsi Ch’un interposed with an ironic laugh, “what’s the use of the hurry-scurry you’re in the whole day long! Even when you’re having your meals, or your tea, you’re in this sort of fussy helter-skelter!”

“Make him hurry up and have his tea,” Pao-ch’ai chimed in smiling, “so that he may go and look up his cousin Lin. He’ll be up to all kinds of mischief if you keep him here!”

Pao-yü drank his tea. Then hastily leaving the apartment, he proceeded straightway towards the eastern court. As luck would have it, the moment he got near lady Feng’s court, he descried lady Feng standing at the gateway. While standing on the step, and picking her teeth with an ear-cleaner, she superintended about ten young servant-boys removing the flower-pots from place to place. As soon as she caught sight of Pao-yü approaching, she put on a smiling face. “You come quite opportunely," she said; “walk in, walk in, and write a few characters for me.”

Pao-yü had no option but to follow her in. When they reached the interior of her rooms, lady Feng gave orders to a servant to fetch a pen, inkslab and paper.

“Forty rolls of deep red ornamented satin,” she began, addressing herself to Pao-yü, “forty rolls of satin with dragons; a hundred rolls of gauzes of every colour, of the finest quality; four gold necklaces....”

“What’s this?” Pao-yü shouted, “it is neither a bill; nor is it a list of presents, and in what style shall I write it?”

Lady Feng remonstrated with him. “Just you go on writing,” she said, "for, in fact, as long as I can make out what it means, it’s all that is needed." Pao-yü at this response felt constrained to proceed with the writing.

This over lady Feng put the paper by. As she did so, “I’ve still something more to tell you,” she smilingly pursued, “but I wonder whether you will accede to it or not. There is in your rooms a servant-maid, Hsiao Hung by name, whom I would like to bring over into my service, and I’ll select several girls to-morrow to wait on you; will this do?”

“The servants in my quarters,” answered Pao-yü, “muster a large crowd, so that, cousin, you are at perfect liberty to send for any one of them, who might take your fancy; what’s the need therefore of asking me about it?”

“If that be so,” continued lady Feng laughingly, “I’ll tell some one at once to go and bring her over.”

“Yes, she can go and fetch her,” acquiesced Pao-yü.

While replying, he made an attempt to take his leave. “Come back," shouted lady Feng, “I’ve got something more to tell you.”

“Our venerable senior has sent for me,” Pao-yü rejoined; “if you have anything to tell me you must wait till my return.”

After this explanation, he there and then came over to his grandmother Chia’s on this side, where he found that they had already got through their meal.

“Have you had anything nice to eat with your mother?” old lady Chia asked.

“There was really nothing nice,” Pao-yü smiled. “Yet I managed to have a bowl of rice more than usual.”

“Where’s cousin Lin?” he then inquired.

“She’s in the inner rooms,” answered his grandmother.

Pao-yü stepped in. He caught sight of a waiting-maid, standing below, blowing into an iron, and two servant-girls seated on the stove-couch making a chalk line. Tai-yü with stooping head was cutting out something or other with a pair of scissors she held in her hand.

Pao-yü advanced further in. “O! what’s this that you are up to!” he smiled. “You have just had your rice and do you bob your head down in this way! Why, in a short while you’ll be having a headache again!”

Tai-yü, however, did not heed him in the least, but busied herself cutting out what she had to do.

“The corner of that piece of satin is not yet right,” a servant-girl put in. “You had better iron it again!”

Tai-yü threw down the scissors. “Why worry yourself about it?” she said; "it will get quite right after a time.”

But while Pao-yü was listening to what was being said, and was inwardly feeling in low spirits, he became aware that Pao-ch’ai, T’an Ch’un and the other girls had also arrived. After a short chat with dowager lady Chia, Pao-ch’ai likewise entered the apartment to find out what her cousin Lin was up to. The moment she espied Lin Tai-yü engaged in cutting out something: “You have,” she cried, “attained more skill than ever; for there you can even cut out clothes!”

“This too,” laughed Tai-yü sarcastically, “is a mere falsehood, to hoodwink people with, nothing more.”

“I’ll tell you a joke,” replied Pao-ch’ai smiling, “when I just now said that I did not know anything about that medicine, cousin Pao-yü felt displeased.” “Who cares!” shouted Lin Tai-yü. “He’ll get all right shortly.”

“Our worthy grandmother wishes to play at dominoes,” Pao-yü thereupon interposed directing his remarks to Pao-ch’ai; “and there’s no one there at present to have a game with her; so you’d better go and play with her.”

“Have I come over now to play dominoes!” promptly smiled Pao-ch’ai when she heard his suggestion. With this remark, she nevertheless at once quitted the room.

“It would be well for you to go,” urged Lin Tai-yü, “for there’s a tiger in here; and, look out, he might eat you up.”

As she spoke, she went on with her cutting.

Pao-yü perceived how both she was to give him any of her attention, and he had no alternative but to force a smile and to observe: “You should also go for a stroll! It will be time enough by and bye to continue your cutting.”

But Tai-yü would pay no heed whatever to him. Pao-yü addressed himself therefore to the servant-girls. “Who has taught her how to cut out these things?” he asked.

“What does it matter who taught me how to cut?” Tai-yü vehemently exclaimed, when she realised that he was speaking to the maids. “It’s no business of yours, Mr. Secundus.”

Pao-yü was then about to say something in his defence when he saw a servant come in and report that there was some one outside who wished to see him. At this announcement, Pao-yü betook himself with alacrity out of the room.

“O-mi-to-fu!” observed Tai-yü, turning outwards, “it wouldn’t matter to you if you found me dead on your return!”

On his arrival outside, Pao-yü discovered Pei Ming. “You are invited," he said, “to go to Mr. Feng’s house.”

Upon hearing this message, Pao-yü knew well enough that it was about the project mooted the previous day, and accordingly he told him to go and ask for his clothes, while he himself wended his steps into the library.

Pei Ming came forthwith to the second gate and waited for some one to appear. Seeing an old woman walk out, Pei Ming went up to her. “Our Master Secundus, Mr. Pao,” he told her, “is in the study waiting for his out-door clothes; so do go in, worthy dame, and deliver the message.”

“It would be better,” replied the old woman, “if you did not echo your mother’s absurdities! Our Master Secundus, Mr. Pao, now lives in the garden, and all the servants, who attend on him, stay in the garden; and do you again come and bring the message here?”

At these words, Pei Ming smiled. “You’re quite right,” he rejoined, “in reproving me, for I’ve become quite idiotic.”

So saying, he repaired with quick step to the second gate on the east side, where, by a lucky hit, the young servant-boys on duty, were kicking marbles on the raised road. Pei Ming explained to them the object of his coming. A young boy thereupon ran in. After a long interval, he, at length, made his appearance, holding, enfolded in his arms, a bundle of clothes, which he handed to Pei Ming, who then returned to the library. Pao-yü effected a change in his costume, and giving directions to saddle his horse, he only took along with him the four servant-boys, Pei Ming, Chu Lo, Shuang Jui and Shou Erh, and started on his way. He reached Feng Tzu-ying’s doorway by a short cut. A servant announced his arrival, and Feng Tzu-ying came out and ushered him in. Here he discovered Hsüeh P’an, who had already been waiting a long time, and several singing-boys besides; as well as Chiang Yü-han, who played female roles, and Yün Erh, a courtesan in the Chin Hsiang court. The whole company exchanged salutations. They next had tea. “What you said the other day,” smiled Pao-yü, raising his cup, “about good fortune coming out of evil fortune has preyed so much upon my mind, both by day and night, that the moment I received your summons I hurried to come immediately.”

“My worthy cousins,” rejoined Feng Tzu-ying smiling. “You’re all far too credulous! It’s a mere hoax that I made use of the other day. For so much did I fear that you would be sure to refuse if I openly asked you to a drinking bout, that I thought it fit to say what I did. But your attendance to-day, so soon after my invitation, makes it clear, little though one would have thought it, that you’ve all taken it as pure gospel truth.”

This admission evoked laughter from the whole company. The wines were afterwards placed on the table, and they took the seats consistent with their grades. Feng Tzu-ying first and foremost called the singing-boys and offered them a drink. Next he told Yün Erh to also approach and have a cup of wine.

By the time, however, that Hsüeh P’an had had his third cup, he of a sudden lost control over his feelings, and clasping Yün Erh’s hand in his: “Do sing me,” he smiled, “that novel ballad of your own composition; and I’ll drink a whole jar full. Eh, will you?”

This appeal compelled Yün Erh to take up the guitar. She then sang:

  Lovers have I two.
  To set aside either I cannot bear.
  When my heart longs for thee to come,
  It also yearns for him.
  Both are in form handsome and fair.
  Their beauty to describe it would be hard.
  Just think, last night, when at a silent hour, we met in secret, by
      the trellis
  frame laden with roses white,
  One to his feelings stealthily was giving vent,
  When lo, the other caught us in the act,
  And laying hands on us; there we three stood like litigants before the
  And I had, verily, no word in answer for myself to give.

At the close of her song, she laughed. “Well now,” she cried, “down with that whole jar!”

“Why, it isn’t worth a jarful,” smiled Hsüeh P’an at these words. "Favour us with some other good song!”

“Listen to what I have to suggest,” Pao-yü interposed, a smile on his lips. “If you go on drinking in this reckless manner, we will easily get drunk and there will be no fun in it. I’ll take the lead and swallow a large cupful and put in force a new penalty; and any one of you who doesn’t comply with it, will be mulcted in ten large cupfuls, in quick succession!”

Speedily rising from the banquet, he poured the wine for the company. Feng Tzu-ying and the rest meanwhile exclaimed with one voice: “Quite right! quite right!”

Pao-yü then lifted a large cup and drained it with one draught. “We will now,” he proposed, “dilate on the four characters, ’sad, wounded, glad and joyful.’ But while discoursing about young ladies, we’ll have to illustrate the four states as well. At the end of this recitation, we’ll have to drink the ’door cup’ over the wine, to sing an original and seasonable ballad, while over the heel taps, to make allusion to some object on the table, and devise something with some old poetical lines or ancient scrolls, from the Four Books or the Five Classics, or with some set phrases.”

Hsüeh P’an gave him no time to finish. He was the first to stand up and prevent him from proceeding. “I won’t join you, so don’t count me; this is, in fact, done in order to play tricks upon me.”

Yün Erh, however, also rose to her feet and shoved him down into his seat.

“What are you in such a funk for?” she laughed. “You’re fortunate enough to be able to drink wine daily, and can’t you, forsooth, even come up to me? Yet I mean to recite, by and bye, my own share. If you say what’s right, well and good; if you don’t, you will simply have to swallow several cups of wine as a forfeit, and is it likely you’ll die from drunkenness? Are you, pray, going now to disregard this rule and to drink, instead, ten large cups; besides going down to pour the wine?”

One and all clapped in applause. “Well said!” they shouted.

After this, Hüeh P’an had no way out of it and felt compelled to resume his seat.

They then heard Pao-yü recite:

  A girl is sad,
  When her spring-time of life is far advanced and she still occupies a
      vacant inner-room.
  A girl feels wounded in her heart,
  When she regrets having allowed her better half to go abroad and win a
  A girl is glad,
  When looking in the mirror, at the time of her morning toilette, she
      finds her colour fair.
  A girl is joyful,
  What time she sits on the frame of a gallows-swing, clad in a thin
      spring gown.

Having listened to him, “Capital!” one and all cried out in a chorus. Hsüeh P’an alone raised his face, shook his head and remarked: “It isn’t good, he must be fined.”

“Why should he be fined?” demurred the party.

“Because,” retorted Hsüeh P’an, “what he says is entirely unintelligible to me. So how can he not be fined?”

Yün Erh gave him a pinch.–"Just you quietly think of yours,” she laughed; “for if by and bye you are not ready you’ll also have to bear a fine.”

In due course Pao-yü took up the guitar. He was heard to sing:

  “When mutual thoughts arise, tears, blood-stained, endless drop, like
      lentiles sown broadcast.
  In spring, in ceaseless bloom nourish willows and flowers around the
      painted tower.
  Inside the gauze-lattice peaceful sleep flies, when, after dark, come
      wind and rain.
  Both new-born sorrows and long-standing griefs cannot from memory ever
  E’en jade-fine rice, and gold-like drinks they make hard to go down;
      they choke the throat.
  The lass has not the heart to desist gazing in the glass at her wan
  Nothing can from that knitted brow of hers those frowns dispel;
  For hard she finds it patient to abide till the clepsydra will have
      run its course.
  Alas! how fitly like the faint outline of a green hill which nought
      can screen;
  Or like a green-tinged stream, which ever ceaseless floweth onward far
      and wide!”

When the song drew to an end, his companions with one voice cried out: "Excellent!”

Hsüeh P’an was the only one to find fault. “There’s no metre in them," he said.

Pao-yü quaffed the “opening cup,” then seizing a pear, he added:

“While the rain strikes the pear-blossom I firmly close the door,”

and thus accomplished the requirements of the rule.

Feng Tzu-ying’s turn came next.

“A maid is glad.”

he commenced:

  When at her first confinement she gives birth to twins, both sons.
  A maid is joyful,
  When on the sly she to the garden creeps crickets to catch.
  A maid is sad,
  When her husband some sickness gets and lies in a bad state.
  A maiden is wounded at heart,
  When a fierce wind blows down the tower, where she makes her toilette.

Concluding this recitation, he raised the cup and sang:

  “Thou art what one could aptly call a man.
  But thou’rt endowed with somewhat too much heart!
  How queer thou art, cross-grained and impish shrewd!
  A spirit too, thou couldst not be more shrewd.
  If all I say thou dost not think is true,
  In secret just a minute search pursue;
  For then thou’lt know if I love thee or not.”

His song over, he drank the “opening cup” and then observed:

“The cock crows when the moon’s rays shine upon the thatchèd inn.”

After his observance of the rule followed Yün Erh’s turn.

A girl is sad,

Yün Erh began,

  When she tries to divine on whom she will depend towards the end of

“My dear child!” laughingly exclaimed Hsüeh P’an, “your worthy Mr. Hsüeh still lives, and why do you give way to fears?”

“Don’t confuse her!” remonstrated every one of the party, “don’t muddle her!”

“A maiden is wounded at heart.”

Yün Erh proceeded:

  “When her mother beats and scolds her and never for an instant doth

“It was only the other day,” interposed Hsüeh P’an, “that I saw your mother and that I told her that I would not have her beat you.”

“If you still go on babbling,” put in the company with one consent, "you’ll be fined ten cups.”

Hsüeh P’an promptly administered himself a slap on the mouth. “How you lack the faculty of hearing!” he exclaimed. “You are not to say a word more!”

“A girl is glad,”

Yün Erh then resumed:

  When her lover cannot brook to leave her and return home.
  A maiden is joyful,
  When hushing the pan-pipe and double pipe, a stringed instrument she

At the end of her effusion, she at once began to sing:

  “T’is the third day of the third moon, the nutmegs bloom;
  A maggot, lo, works hard to pierce into a flower;
  But though it ceaseless bores it cannot penetrate.
  So crouching on the buds, it swing-like rocks itself.
  My precious pet, my own dear little darling,
  If I don’t choose to open how can you steal in?”

Finishing her song, she drank the “opening cup,” after which she added: "the delicate peach-blossom,” and thus complied with the exigencies of the rule.

Next came Hsüeh P’an. “Is it for me to speak now?” Hsüeh P’an asked.

“A maiden is sad...”

But a long time elapsed after these words were uttered and yet nothing further was heard.

“Sad for what?” Feng Tzu-ying laughingly asked. “Go on and tell us at once!”

Hsüeh P’an was much perplexed. His eyes rolled about like a bell.

“A girl is sad...”

he hastily repeated. But here again he coughed twice before he proceeded.

“A girl is sad.”

he said:

“When she marries a spouse who is a libertine.”

This sentence so tickled the fancy of the company that they burst out into a loud fit of laughter.

“What amuses you so?” shouted Hsüeh P’an, “is it likely that what I say is not correct? If a girl marries a man, who chooses to forget all virtue, how can she not feel sore at heart?”

But so heartily did they all laugh that their bodies were bent in two. "What you say is quite right,” they eagerly replied. “So proceed at once with the rest.”

Hsüeh P’an thereupon stared with vacant gaze.

“A girl is grieved....”

he added:

But after these few words he once more could find nothing to say.

“What is she grieved about?” they asked.

“When a huge monkey finds its way into the inner room.”

Hsüeh P’an retorted.

This reply set every one laughing. “He must be mulcted,” they cried, “he must be mulcted. The first one could anyhow be overlooked; but this line is more unintelligible.”

As they said this, they were about to pour the wine, when Pao-yü smilingly interfered. “The rhyme is all right,” he observed.

“The master of the rules,” Hsüeh P’an remarked, “approves it in every way, so what are you people fussing about?”

Hearing this, the company eventually let the matter drop.

“The two lines, that follow, are still more difficult,” suggested Yün Erh with a smile, “so you had better let me recite for you.”

“Fiddlesticks!” exclaimed Hsüeh P’an, “do you really fancy that I have no good ones! Just you listen to what I shall say.

 “A girl is glad,
  When in the bridal room she lies, with flowery candles burning, and
      she is loth to rise at morn.”

This sentiment filled one and all with amazement. “How supremely excellent this line is!” they ejaculated.

“A girl is joyful,”

Hsüeh P’an resumed,

“During the consummation of wedlock.”

Upon catching this remark, the party turned their heads away, and shouted: “Dreadful! Dreadful! But quick sing your song and have done.”

Forthwith Hsüeh P’an sang:

“A mosquito buzzes heng, heng, heng!”

Every one was taken by surprise. “What kind of song is this?” they inquired.

But Hsüeh P’an went on singing:

“Two flies buzz weng, weng, weng.”

“Enough,” shouted his companions, “that will do, that will do!”

“Do you want to hear it or not?” asked Hsüeh P’an, “this is a new kind of song, called the ’Heng, heng air,’ but if you people are not disposed to listen, let me off also from saying what I have to say over the heel-taps and I won’t then sing.”

“We’ll let you off! We’ll let you off,” answered one and all, “so don’t be hindering others.”

“A maiden is sad,”

Chiang Yü-han at once began,

  When her husband leaves home and never does return.
  A maiden is disconsolate,
  When she has no money to go and buy some olea frangrans oil.
  A maiden is glad,
  When the wick of the lantern forms two heads like twin flowers on one
  A maiden is joyful,
  When true conjugal peace prevails between her and her mate.

His recital over, he went on to sing:

  “How I love thee with those seductive charms of thine, heaven-born!
  In truth thou’rt like a living fairy from the azure skies!
  The spring of life we now enjoy; we are yet young in years.
  Our union is, indeed, a happy match!
  But. lo! the milky way doth at its zenith soar;
  Hark to the drums which beat around in the watch towers;
  So raise the silver lamp and let us soft under the nuptial curtain

Finishing the song, he drank the “opening cup.” “I know,” he smiled, "few poetical quotations bearing on this sort of thing. By a stroke of good fortune, however, I yesterday conned a pair of antithetical scrolls; of these I can only remember just one line, but lucky enough for me the object it refers to figures as well on this festive board.”

This said he forthwith drained the wine, and, picking up a bud of a diminutive variety of olea fragrans, he recited:

  “When the perfume of flowers wafts (hsi jen) itself into a man, he
      knows the day is warm.”

The company unanimously conceded that the rule had been adhered to. But Hsüeh P’an once again jumped up. “It’s awful, awful!” he bawled out boisterously; “he should be fined, he should be made to pay a forfeit; there’s no precious article whatever on this table; how is it then that you introduce precious things?”

“There was nothing about precious things!” Chiang Yü-han vehemently explained.

“What I are you still prevaricating?” Hsüeh P’an cried, “Well, repeat it again!”

Chiang Yü-han had no other course but to recite the line a second time. "Now is not Hsi Jen a precious thing?” Hsüeh P’an asked. “If she isn’t, what is she? And if you don’t believe me, you ask him about it," pointing, at the conclusion of this remark, at Pao-yü.

Pao-yü felt very uncomfortable. Rising to his feet, “Cousin,” he observed, “you should be fined heavily.”

“I should be! I should be!” Hsüeh P’an shouted, and saying this, he took up the wine and poured it down his throat with one gulp.

Feng Tzu-ying, Chiang Yü-han and their companions thereupon asked him to explain the allusion. Yün Erh readily told them, and Chiang Yü-han hastily got up and pleaded guilty.

“Ignorance,” the party said with one consent, “does not amount to guilt.”

But presently Pao-yü quitted the banquet to go and satisfy a natural want and Chiang Yü-han followed him out. The two young fellows halted under the eaves of the verandah, and Chiang Yü-han then recommenced to make ample apologies. Pao-yü, however, was so attracted by his handsome and genial appearance, that he took quite a violent fancy to him; and squeezing his hand in a firm grip. “If you have nothing to do,” he urged, “do let us go over to our place. I’ve got something more to ask you. It’s this, there’s in your worthy company some one called Ch’i Kuan, with a reputation extending at present throughout the world; but, unfortunately, I alone have not had the good luck of seeing him even once.”

“This is really,” rejoined Chiang Yü-han with a smile, “my own infant • name.”

This disclosure at once made Pao-yü quite exuberant, and stamping his feet he smiled. “How lucky! I’m in luck’s way!” he exclaimed. “In very truth your reputation is no idle report. But to-day is our first meeting, and what shall I do?”

After some thought, he produced a fan from his sleeve, and, unloosening one of the jade pendants, he handed it to Ch’i Kuan. “This is a mere trifle,” he said. “It does not deserve your acceptance, yet it will be a small souvenir of our acquaintance to-day.”

Ch’i Kuan received it with a smile. “I do not deserve,” he replied, "such a present. How am I worthy of such an honour! But never mind, I’ve also got about me here a strange thing, which I put on this morning; it is brand-new yet, and will, I hope, suffice to prove to you a little of the feeling of esteem which I entertain for you.”

With these protestations, he raised his garment, and, untying a deep red sash, with which his nether clothes were fastened, he presented it to Pao-yü. “This sash,” he remarked, “is an article brought as tribute from the Queen of the Hsi Hsiang Kingdom. If you attach this round you in summer, your person will emit a fragrant perfume, and it will not perspire. It was given to me yesterday by the Prince of Pei Ching, and it is only to-day that I put it on. To any one else, I would certainly not be willing to present it. But, Mr. Secundus, please do unfasten the one you have on and give it to me to bind round me.”

This proposal extremely delighted Pao-yü. With precipitate haste, he accepted his gift, and, undoing the dark brown sash he wore, he surrendered it to Ch’i Kuan. But both had just had time to adjust their respective sashes when they heard a loud voice say: “Oh! I’ve caught you!” And they perceived Hsüeh P’an come out by leaps and bounds. Clutching the two young fellows, “What do you,” he exclaimed, “leave your wine for and withdraw from the banquet. Be quick and produce those things, and let me see them!”

“There’s nothing to see!” rejoined the two young fellows with one voice.

Hsüeh P’an, however, would by no means fall in with their views. And it was only Feng Tzu-ying, who made his appearance on the scene, who succeeded in dissuading him. So resuming their seats, they drank until dark, when the company broke up.

Pao-yü, on his return into the garden, loosened his clothes, and had tea. But Hsi Jen noticed that the pendant had disappeared from his fan and she inquired of him what had become of it.

“I must have lost it this very moment,” Pao-yü replied.

At bedtime, however, descrying a deep red sash, with spots like specks of blood, attached round his waist, Hsi Jen guessed more or less the truth of what must have transpired. “As you have such a nice sash to fasten your trousers with,” Hsi Jen consequently said, “you’d better return that one of mine.”

This reminder made the fact dawn upon Pao-yü that the sash had originally been the property of Hsi Jen, and that he should by rights not have parted with it; but however much he felt his conscience smitten by remorse, he failed to see how he could very well disclose the truth to her. He could therefore only put on a smiling expression and add, "I’ll give you another one instead.”

Hsi Jen was prompted by his rejoinder to nod her head and sigh. “I felt sure;” she observed; “that you’d go again and do these things! Yet you shouldn’t take my belongings and bestow them on that low-bred sort of people. Can it be that no consideration finds a place in your heart?”

She then felt disposed to tender him a few more words of admonition, but dreading, on the other hand, lest she should, by irritating him, bring the fumes of the wine to his head, she thought it best to also retire to bed.

Nothing worth noticing occurred during that night. The next day, when she woke up at the break of day, she heard Pao-yü call out laughingly: "Robbers have been here in the night; are you not aware of it? Just you look at my trousers.”

Hsi Jen lowered her head and looked. She saw at a glance that the sash, which Pao-yü had worn the previous day, was bound round her own waist, and she at once realised that Pao-yü must have effected the change during the night; but promptly unbinding it, “I don’t care for such things!” she cried, “quick, take it away!”

At the sight of her manner, Pao-yü had to coax her with gentle terms. This so disarmed Hsi Jen, that she felt under the necessity of putting on the sash; but, subsequently when Pao-yü stepped out of the apartment, she at last pulled it off, and, throwing it away in an empty box, she found one of hers and fastened it round her waist.

Pao-yü, however, did not in the least notice what she did, but inquired whether anything had happened the day before.

“Lady Secunda,” Hsi Jen explained, “dispatched some one and fetched Hsiao Hung away. Her wish was to have waited for your return; but as I thought that it was of no consequence, I took upon myself to decide, and sent her off.”

“That’s all right!” rejoined Pao-yü. “I knew all about it, there was no need for her to wait.”

“Yesterday,” resumed Hsi Jen, “the Imperial Consort deputed the Eunuch Hsia to bring a hundred and twenty ounces of silver and to convey her commands that from the first to the third, there should be offered, in the Ch’ing Hsu temple, thanksgiving services to last for three days and that theatrical performances should be given, and oblations presented: and to tell our senior master, Mr. Chia Chen, to take all the gentlemen, and go and burn incense and worship Buddha. Besides this, she also sent presents for the dragon festival.”

Continuing, she bade a young servant-maid produce the presents, which had been received the previous day. Then he saw two palace fans of the best quality, two strings of musk-scented beads, two rolls of silk, as fine as the phoenix tail, and a superior mat worked with hibiscus. At the sight of these things, Pao-yü was filled with immeasurable pleasure, and he asked whether the articles brought to all the others were similar to his. “The only things in excess of yours that our venerable mistress has," Hsi Jen explained, “consist of a scented jade sceptre and a pillow made of agate. Those of your worthy father and mother, our master and mistress, and of your aunt exceed yours by a scented sceptre of jade. Yours are the same as Miss Pao’s. Miss Lin’s are like those of Misses Secunda, Tertia and Quarta, who received nothing beyond a fan and several pearls and none of all the other things. As for our senior lady, Mrs. Chia Chu, and lady Secunda, these two got each two rolls of gauze, two rolls of silk, two scented bags, and two sticks of medicine.”

After listening to her enumeration, “What’s the reason of this?” he smiled. “How is it that Miss Lin’s are not the same as mine, but that Miss Pao’s instead are like my own? May not the message have been wrongly delivered?”

“When they were brought out of the palace yesterday,” Hsi Jen rejoined, "they were already divided in respective shares, and slips were also placed on them, so that how could any mistake have been made? Yours were among those for our dowager lady’s apartments. When I went and fetched them, her venerable ladyship said that I should tell you to go there to-morrow at the fifth watch to return thanks.

“Of course, it’s my duty to go over,” Pao-yü cried at these words, but forthwith calling Tzu Chüan: “Take these to your Miss Lin,” he told her, "and say that I got them, yesterday, and that she is at liberty to keep out of them any that take her fancy.”

Tzu Chüan expressed her obedience and took the things away. After a short time she returned. “Miss Lin says,” she explained, “that she also got some yesterday, and that you, Master Secundus, should keep yours.”

Hearing this reply, Pao-yü quickly directed a servant to put them away. But when he had washed his face and stepped out of doors, bent upon going to his grandmother’s on the other side, in order to pay his obeisance, he caught sight of Lin Tai-yü coming along towards him, from the opposite direction. Pao-yü hurriedly walked up to her, “I told you," he smiled, “to select those you liked from my things; how is it you didn’t choose any?”

Lin Tai-yü had long before banished from her recollection the incident of the previous day, which had made her angry with Pao-yü, and was only exercised about the occurrence of this present occasion. “I’m not gifted with such extreme good fortune,” she consequently answered, “as to be able to accept them. I can’t compete with Miss Pao, in connection with whom something or other about gold or about jade is mentioned. We are simply beings connected with the vegetable kingdom.”

The allusion to the two words “gold and jade,” aroused, of a sudden, much emotion in the heart of Pao-yü. “If beyond what people say about gold or jade,” he protested, “the idea of any such things ever crosses my mind, may the heavens annihilate me, and may the earth extinguish me, and may I for ten thousand generations never assume human form!”

These protestations convinced Lin Tai-yü that suspicion had been aroused in him. With all promptitude, she smiled and observed, “They’re all to no use! Why utter such oaths, when there’s no rhyme or reason! Who cares about any gold or any jade of yours!”

“It would be difficult for me to tell you, to your face, all the secrets of my heart,” Pao-yü resumed, “but by and bye you’ll surely come to know all about them! After the three–my old grandmother, my father and my mother–you, my cousin, hold the fourth place; and, if there be a fifth, I’m ready to swear another oath.”

“You needn’t swear any more,” Lin Tai-yü replied, “I’m well aware that I, your younger cousin, have a place in your heart; but the thing is that at the sight of your elder cousin, you at once forget all about your younger cousin.”

“This comes again from over-suspicion!” ejaculated Pao; “for I’m not at all disposed that way.”

“Well,” resumed Lin Tai-yü, “why did you yesterday appeal to me when that hussey Pao-ch’ai would not help you by telling a story? Had it been I, who had been guilty of any such thing, I don’t know what you wouldn’t have done again.”

But during their tête-a-tête, they espied Pao-ch’ai approach from the opposite direction, so readily they beat a retreat. Pao-ch’ai had distinctly caught sight of them, but pretending she had not seen them, she trudged on her way, with lowered head, and repaired into Madame Wang’s apartments. After a short stay, she came to this side to pay dowager lady Chia a visit. With her she also found Pao-yü.

Pao-ch’ai ever made it a point to hold Pao-yü aloof as her mother had in days gone by mentioned to Madame Wang and her other relatives that the gold locket had been the gift of a bonze, that she had to wait until such time as some suitor with jade turned up before she could be given in marriage, and other similar confidences. But on discovery the previous day that Yüan Ch’un’s presents to her alone resembled those of Pao-yü, she began to feel all the more embarrassed. Luckily, however, Pao-yü was so entangled in Lin Tai-yü’s meshes and so absorbed in heart and mind with fond thoughts of his Lin Tai-yü that he did not pay the least attention to this circumstance. But she unawares now heard Pao-yü remark with a smile: “Cousin Pao, let me see that string of scented beads of yours!”

By a strange coincidence, Pao-ch’ai wore the string of beads round her left wrist so she had no alternative, when Pao-yü asked her for it, than to take it off. Pao-ch’ai, however, was naturally inclined to embonpoint, and it proved therefore no easy matter for her to get the beads off; and while Pao-yü stood by watching her snow-white arm, feelings of admiration were quickly stirred up in his heart. “Were this arm attached to Miss Lin’s person,” he secretly pondered, “I might, possibly have been able to caress it! But it is, as it happens, part and parcel of her body; how I really do deplore this lack of good fortune.”

Suddenly he bethought himself of the secret of gold and jade, and he again scanned Pao-ch’ai’s appearance. At the sight of her countenance, resembling a silver bowl, her eyes limpid like water and almond-like in shape, her lips crimson, though not rouged, her eyebrows jet-black, though not pencilled, also of that fascination and grace which presented such a contrast to Lin Tai-yü’s style of beauty, he could not refrain from falling into such a stupid reverie, that though Pao-ch’ai had got the string of beads off her wrist, and was handing them to him, he forgot all about them and made no effort to take them. Pao-ch’ai realised that he was plunged in abstraction, and conscious of the awkward position in which she was placed, she put down the string of beads, and turning round was on the point of betaking herself away, when she perceived Lin Tai-yü, standing on the door-step, laughing significantly while biting a handkerchief she held in her mouth. “You can’t resist,” Pao-ch’ai said, “a single puff of wind; and why do you stand there and expose yourself to the very teeth of it?”

“Wasn’t I inside the room?” rejoined Lin Tai-yü, with a cynical smile. "But I came out to have a look as I heard a shriek in the heavens; it turned out, in fact, to be a stupid wild goose!”

“A stupid wild goose!” repeated Pao-ch’ai. “Where is it, let me also see it!”

“As soon as I got out,” answered Lin Tai-yü, “it flew away with a ’t’e-rh’ sort of noise.”

While replying, she threw the handkerchief, she was holding, straight into Pao-yü’s face. Pao-yü was quite taken by surprise. He was hit on the eye. “Ai-yah!” he exclaimed.

But, reader, do you want to hear the sequel? In that case, listen to the circumstances, which will be disclosed in the next chapter.

Chapter XXIX.

  A happy man enjoys a full measure of happiness, but still prays for
  A beloved girl is very much loved, but yet craves for more love.

Pao-yü, so our story runs, was gazing vacantly, when Tai-yü, at a moment least expected, flung her handkerchief at him, which just hit him on the eyes, and frightened him out of his wits. “Who was it?” he cried.

Lin Tai-yü nodded her head and smiled. “I would not venture to do such a thing,” she said, “it was a mere slip of my hand. As cousin Pao-ch’ai wished to see the silly wild goose, I was pointing it out to her, when the handkerchief inadvertently flew out of my grip.”

Pao-yü kept on rubbing his eyes. The idea suggested itself to him to make some remonstrance, but he could not again very well open his lips.

Presently, lady Feng arrived. She then alluded, in the course of conversation, to the thanksgiving service, which was to be offered on the first, in the Ch’ing Hsü temple, and invited Pao-ch’ai, Pao-yü, Tai-yü and the other inmates with them to be present at the theatricals.

“Never mind,” smiled Pao-ch’ai, “it’s too hot; besides, what plays haven’t I seen? I don’t mean to come.”

“It’s cool enough over at their place,” answered lady Feng. “There are also two-storied buildings on either side; so we must all go! I’ll send servants a few days before to drive all that herd of Taoist priests out, to sweep the upper stories, hang up curtains, and to keep out every single loafer from the interior of the temple; so it will be all right like that. I’ve already told our Madame Wang that if you people don’t go, I mean to go all alone, as I’ve been again in very low spirits these last few days, and as when theatricals come off at home, it’s out of the question for me to look on with any peace and quiet.”

When dowager lady Chia heard what she said, she smiled. “Well, in that case,” she remarked, “I’ll go along with you.”

Lady Feng, at these words, gave a smile. “Venerable ancestor,” she replied, “were you also to go, it would be ever so much better; yet I won’t feel quite at my ease!”

“To-morrow,” dowager lady Chia continued, “I can stay in the two-storied building, situated on the principal site, while you can go to the one on the side. You can then likewise dispense with coming over to where I shall be to stand on any ceremonies. Will this suit you or not?”

“This is indeed,” lady Feng smiled, “a proof of your regard for me, my worthy senior.”

Old lady Chia at this stage faced Pao-ch’ai. “You too should go,” she said, “so should your mother; for if you remain the whole day long at home, you will again sleep your head off.”

Pao-ch’ai felt constrained to signify her assent. Dowager lady Chia then also despatched domestics to invite Mrs. Hsüeh; and, on their way, they notified Madame Wang that she was to take the young ladies along with her. But Madame Wang felt, in the first place, in a poor state of health, and was, in the second, engaged in making preparations for the reception of any arrivals from Yüan Ch’un, so that she, at an early hour, sent word that it was impossible for her to leave the house. Yet when she received old lady Chia’s behest, she smiled and exclaimed: “Are her spirits still so buoyant!” and transmitted the message into the garden that any, who had any wish to avail themselves of the opportunity, were at liberty to go on the first, with their venerable senior as their chaperonne. As soon as these tidings were spread abroad, every one else was indifferent as to whether they went or not; but of those girls who, day after day, never put their foot outside the doorstep, which of them was not keen upon going, the moment they heard the permission conceded to them? Even if any of their respective mistresses were too lazy to move, they employed every expedient to induce them to go. Hence it was that Li Kung-ts’ai and the other inmates signified their unanimous intention to be present. Dowager lady Chia, at this, grew more exultant than ever, and she issued immediate directions for servants to go and sweep and put things in proper order. But to all these preparations, there is no necessity of making detailed reference; sufficient to relate that on the first day of the moon, carriages stood in a thick maze, and men and horses in close concourse, at the entrance of the Jung Kuo mansion.

When the servants, the various managers and other domestics came to learn that the Imperial Consort was to perform good deeds and that dowager lady Chia was to go in person and offer incense, they arranged, as it happened that the first of the moon, which was the principal day of the ceremonies, was, in addition, the season of the dragon-boat festival, all the necessary articles in perfect readiness and with unusual splendour. Shortly, old lady Chia and the other inmates started on their way. The old lady sat in an official chair, carried by eight bearers: widow Li, lady Feng and Mrs. Hsüeh, each in a four-bearer chair. Pao-ch’ai and Tai-yü mounted together a curricle with green cover and pearl tassels, bearing the eight precious things. The three sisters, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un got in a carriage with red wheels and ornamented hood. Next in order, followed dowager lady Chia’s waiting-maids, Yüan Yang, Ying Wu, Hu Po, Chen Chu; Lin Tai-yü’s waiting-maids Tzu Chüan, Hsüeh Yen, and Ch’un Ch’ien; Pao-ch’ai’s waiting-maids Ying Erh and Wen Hsing; Ying Ch’un’s servant-girls Ssu Ch’i and Hsiu Chü; T’an Ch’un’s waiting-maids Shih Shu and Ts’ui Mo; Hsi Ch’un’s servant-girls Ju Hua and Ts’ai P’ing; and Mrs. Hsüeh’s waiting-maids T’ung Hsi, and T’ung Kuei. Besides these, were joined to their retinue: Hsiang Ling and Hsiang Ling’s servant-girl Ch’in Erh; Mrs. Li’s waiting-maids Su Yün and Pi Yüeh; lady Feng’s servant-girls P’ing Erh, Feng Erh and Hsiao Hung, as well as Madame Wang’s two waiting-maids Chin Ch’uan and Ts’ai Yün. Along with lady Feng, came a nurse carrying Ta Chieh Erh. She drove in a separate carriage, together with a couple of servant-girls. Added also to the number of the suite were matrons and nurses, attached to the various establishments, and the wives of the servants of the household, who were in attendance out of doors. Their carriages, forming one black solid mass, therefore, crammed the whole extent of the street.

Dowager lady Chia and other members of the party had already proceeded a considerable distance in their chairs, and yet the inmates at the gate had not finished mounting their vehicles. This one shouted: “I won’t sit with you.” That one cried: “You’ve crushed our mistress’ bundle.” In the carriages yonder, one screamed: “You’ve pulled my flowers off.” Another one nearer exclaimed: “You’ve broken my fan.” And they chatted and chatted, and talked and laughed with such incessant volubility, that Chou Jui’s wife had to go backward and forward calling them to task. "Girls,” she said, “this is the street. The on-lookers will laugh at you!” But it was only after she had expostulated with them several times that any sign of improvement became at last visible.

The van of the procession had long ago reached the entrance of the Ch’ing Hsü Temple. Pao-yü rode on horseback. He preceded the chair occupied by his grandmother Chia. The throngs that filled the streets ranged themselves on either side.

On their arrival at the temple, the sound of bells and the rattle of drums struck their ear. Forthwith appeared the head-bonze Chang, a stick of incense in hand; his cloak thrown over his shoulders. He took his stand by the wayside at the head of a company of Taoist priests to present his greetings. The moment dowager lady Chia reached, in her chair, the interior of the main gate, she descried the lares and penates, the lord presiding over that particular district, and the clay images of the various gods, and she at once gave orders to halt. Chia Chen advanced to receive her acting as leader to the male members of the family. Lady Feng was well aware that Yüan Yang and the other attendants were at the back and could not overtake their old mistress, so she herself alighted from her chair to volunteer her services. She was about to hastily press forward and support her, when, by a strange accident, a young Taoist neophyte, of twelve or thirteen years of age, who held a case containing scissors, with which he had been snuffing the candles burning in the various places, just seized the opportunity to run out and hide himself, when he unawares rushed, head foremost, into lady Feng’s arms. Lady Feng speedily raised her hand and gave him such a slap on the face that she made the young fellow reel over and perform a somersault. “You boorish young bastard!” she shouted, “where are you running to?”

The young Taoist did not even give a thought to picking up the scissors, but crawling up on to his feet again, he tried to scamper outside. But just at that very moment Pao-ch’ai and the rest of the young ladies were dismounting from their vehicles, and the matrons and women-servants were closing them in so thoroughly on all sides that not a puff of wind or a drop of rain could penetrate, and when they perceived a Taoist neophyte come rushing headlong out of the place, they, with one voice, exclaimed: "Catch him, catch him! Beat him, beat him!”

Old lady Chia overheard their cries. She asked with alacrity what the fuss was all about. Chia Chen immediately stepped outside to make inquiries. Lady Feng then advanced and, propping up her old senior, she went on to explain to her that a young Taoist priest, whose duties were to snuff the candles, had not previously retired out of the compound, and that he was now endeavouring to recklessly force his way out.”

“Be quick and bring the lad here,” shouted dowager lady Chia, as soon as she heard her explanation, “but, mind, don’t frighten him. Children of mean families invariably get into the way of being spoilt by over-indulgence. How ever could he have set eyes before upon such display as this! Were you to frighten him, he will really be much to be pitied; and won’t his father and mother be exceedingly cut up?”

As she spoke, she asked Chia Chen to go and do his best to bring him round. Chia Chen felt under the necessity of going, and he managed to drag the lad into her presence. With the scissors still clasped in his hand, the lad fell on his knees, and trembled violently.

Dowager lady Chia bade Chia Chen raise him up. “There’s nothing to fear!” she said reassuringly. Then she asked him how old he was.

The boy, however, could on no account give vent to speech.

“Poor boy!” once more exclaimed the old lady. And continuing: “Brother Chen,” she added, addressing herself to Chia Chen, “take him away, and give him a few cash to buy himself fruit with; and do impress upon every one that they are not to bully him.”

Chia Chen signified his assent and led him off.

During this time, old lady Chia, taking along with her the whole family party, paid her devotions in storey after storey, and visited every place.

The young pages, who stood outside, watched their old mistress and the other inmates enter the second row of gates. But of a sudden they espied Chia Chen wend his way outwards, leading a young Taoist priest, and calling the servants to come, say; “Take him and give him several hundreds of cash and abstain from ill-treating him.” At these orders, the domestics approached with hurried step and led him off.

Chia Chen then inquired from the terrace-steps where the majordomo was. At this inquiry, the pages standing below, called out in chorus, "Majordomo!”

Lin Chih-hsiao ran over at once, while adjusting his hat with one hand, and appeared in the presence of Chia Chen.

“Albeit this is a spacious place,” Chia Chen began, “we muster a good concourse to-day, so you’d better bring into this court those servants, who’ll be of any use to you, and send over into that one those who won’t. And choose a few from among those young pages to remain on duty, at the second gate and at the two side entrances, so as to ask for things and deliver messages. Do you understand me, yes or no? The young ladies and ladies have all come out of town to-day, and not a single outsider must be permitted to put his foot in here.”

“I understand,” replied Lin Chih-hsiao hurriedly signifying his obedience. Next he uttered several yes’s.

“Now,” proceeded Chia Chen; “you can go on your way. But how is it, I don’t see anything of Jung Erh?” he went on to ask.

This question was barely out of his lips, when he caught sight of Jung Erh running out of the belfry. “Look at him,” shouted Chia Chen. “Look at him! I don’t feel hot in here, and yet he must go in search of a cool place. Spit at him!” he cried to the family servants.

The young pages were fully aware that Chia Chen’s ordinary disposition was such that he could not brook contradiction, and one of the lads speedily came forward and sputtered in Chia Jung’s face. But Chia Chen still kept his gaze fixed on him, so the young page had to inquire of Chia Jung: “Master doesn’t feel hot here, and how is it that you, Sir, have been the first to go and get cool?”

Chia Jung however dropped his arms, and did not venture to utter a single sound. Chia Yün, Chia P’ing, Chia Ch’in and the other young people overheard what was going on and not only were they scared out of their wits, but even Chia Lien, Chia Pin, Chia Ch’ung and their companions were stricken with intense fright and one by one they quietly slipped down along the foot of the wall.

“What are you standing there for?” Chia Chen shouted to Chia Jung. "Don’t you yet get on your horse and gallop home and tell your mother that our venerable senior is here with all the young ladies, and bid them come at once and wait upon them?”

As soon as Chia Jung heard these words, he ran out with hurried stride and called out repeatedly for his horse. Now he felt resentment, arguing within himself: “Who knows what he has been up to the whole morning, that he now finds fault with me!” Now he went on to abuse the young servants, crying: “Are your hands made fast, that you can’t lead the horse round?” And he felt inclined to bid a servant-boy go on the errand, but fearing again lest he should subsequently be found out, and be at a loss how to account for his conduct he felt compelled to proceed in person; so mounting his steed, he started on his way.

But to return to Chia Chen. Just as he was about to be take himself inside, he noticed the Taoist Chang, who stood next to him, force a smile. “I’m not properly speaking,” he remarked, “on the same footing as the others and should be in attendance inside, but as on account of the intense heat, the young ladies have come out of doors, I couldn’t presume to take upon myself to intrude and ask what your orders, Sir, are. But the dowager lady may possibly inquire about me, or may like to visit any part of the temple, so I shall wait in here.”

Chia Chen was fully cognisant that this Taoist priest, Chang, had, it is true, in past days, stood as a substitute for the Duke of the Jung Kuo mansion, but that the former Emperor had, with his own lips, conferred upon him the appellation of the ’Immortal being of the Great Unreal,’ that he held at present the seal of ’Taoist Superior,’ that the reigning Emperor had raised him to the rank of the ’Pure man,’ that the princes, now-a-days, dukes, and high officials styled him the “Supernatural being,” and he did not therefore venture to treat him with any disrespect. In the second place, (he knew that) he had paid frequent visits to the mansions, and that he had made the acquaintance of the ladies and young ladies, so when he heard his present remark he smilingly rejoined. “Do you again make use of such language amongst ourselves? One word more, and I’ll take that beard of yours, and outroot it! Don’t you yet come along with me inside?”

“Hah, hah,” laughed the Taoist Chang aloud, as he followed Chia Chen in. Chia Chen approached dowager lady Chia. Bending his body he strained a laugh. “Grandfather Chang,” he said, “has come in to pay his respects.”

“Raise him up!” old lady Chia vehemently called out.

Chia Chen lost no time in pulling him to his feet and bringing him over.

The Taoist Chang first indulged in loud laughter. “Oh Buddha of unlimited years!” he then observed. “Have you kept all right and in good health, throughout, venerable Senior? Have all the ladies and young ladies continued well? I haven’t been for some time to your mansion to pay my obeisance, but you, my dowager lady, have improved more and more.”

“Venerable Immortal Being!” smiled old lady Chia, “how are you; quite well?”

“Thanks to the ten thousand blessings he has enjoyed from your hands," rejoined Chang the Taoist, “your servant too continues pretty strong and hale. In every other respect, I’ve, after all, been all right; but I have felt much concern about Mr. Pao-yü. Has he been all right all the time? The other day, on the 26th of the fourth moon, I celebrated the birthday of the ’Heaven-Pervading-Mighty-King;’ few people came and everything went off right and proper. I told them to invite Mr. Pao to come for a stroll; but how was it they said that he wasn’t at home?”

“It was indeed true that he was away from home,” remarked dowager lady Chia. As she spoke, she turned her head round and called Pao-yü.

Pao-yü had, as it happened, just returned from outside where he had been to make himself comfortable, and with speedy step, he came forward. “My respects to you, grandfather Chang,” he said.

The Taoist Chang eagerly clasped him in his arms and inquired how he was getting on. Turning towards old lady Chia, “Mr. Pao,” he observed, “has grown fatter than ever.”

“Outwardly, his looks,” replied dowager lady Chia, “may be all right, but, inwardly, he is weak. In addition to this, his father presses him so much to study that he has again and again managed, all through this bullying, to make his child fall sick.”

“The other day,” continued Chang the Taoist, “I went to several places on a visit, and saw characters written by Mr. Pao and verses composed by him, all of which were exceedingly good; so how is it that his worthy father still feels displeased with him, and maintains that Mr. Pao is not very fond of his books? According to my humble idea, he knows quite enough. As I consider Mr. Pao’s face, his bearing, his speech and his deportment,” he proceeded, heaving a sigh, “what a striking resemblance I find in him to the former duke of the Jung mansion!” As he uttered these words, tears rolled down his cheeks.

At these words, old lady Chia herself found it hard to control her feelings. Her face became covered with the traces of tears. “Quite so," she assented, “I’ve had ever so many sons and grandsons, and not one of them betrayed the slightest resemblance to his grandfather; and this Pao-yü turns out to be the very image of him!”

“What the former duke of Jung Kuo was like in appearance,” Chang, the Taoist went on to remark, addressing himself to Chia Chen, “you gentlemen, and your generation, were, of course, needless to say, not in time to see for yourselves; but I fancy that even our Senior master and our Master Secundus have but a faint recollection of it.”

This said, he burst into another loud fit of laughter. “The other day," he resumed, “I was at some one’s house and there I met a young girl, who is this year in her fifteenth year, and verily gifted with a beautiful face, and I bethought myself that Mr. Pao must also have a wife found for him. As far as looks, intelligence and mental talents, extraction and family standing go, this maiden is a suitable match for him. But as I didn’t know what your venerable ladyship would have to say about it, your servant did not presume to act recklessly, but waited until I could ascertain your wishes before I took upon myself to open my mouth with the parties concerned.”

“Some time ago,” responded dowager lady Chia, “a bonze explained that it was ordained by destiny that this child shouldn’t be married at an early age, and that we should put things off until he grew somewhat in years before anything was settled. But mark my words now. Pay no regard as to whether she be of wealthy and honourable stock or not, the essential thing is to find one whose looks make her a fit match for him and then come at once and tell me. For even admitting that the girl is poor, all I shall have to do will be to bestow on her a few ounces of silver; but fine looks and a sweet temperament are not easy things to come across.”

When she had done speaking, lady Feng was heard to smilingly interpose: "Grandfather Chang, aren’t you going to change the talisman of ’Recorded Name’ of our daughter? The other day, lucky enough for you, you had again the great cheek to send some one to ask me for some satin of gosling-yellow colour. I gave it to you, for had I not, I was afraid lest your old face should have been made to feel uneasy.”

“Hah, hah,” roared the Taoist Chang, “just see how my eyes must have grown dim! I didn’t notice that you, my lady, were in here; nor did I express one word of thanks to you! The talisman of ’Recorded Name’ is ready long ago. I meant to have sent it over the day before yesterday, but the unforeseen visit of the Empress to perform meritorious deeds upset my equilibrium, and made me quite forget it. But it’s still placed before the gods, and if you will wait I’ll go and fetch it.”

Saying this, he rushed into the main hall. Presently, he returned with a tea-tray in hand, on which was spread a deep red satin cover, brocaded with dragons. In this, he presented the charm. Ta Chieh-erh’s nurse took it from him.

But just as the Taoist was on the point of taking Ta Chieh-erh in his embrace, lady Feng remarked with a smile: “It would have been sufficient if you’d carried it in your hand! And why use a tray to lay it on?”

“My hands aren’t clean,” replied the Taoist Chang, “so how could I very well have taken hold of it? A tray therefore made things much cleaner!”

“When you produced that tray just now,” laughed lady Feng, “you gave me quite a start; I didn’t imagine that it was for the purpose of bringing the charm in. It really looked as if you were disposed to beg donations of us.”

This observation sent the whole company into a violent fit of laughter. Even Chia Chen could not suppress a smile.

“What a monkey!” dowager lady Chia exclaimed, turning her head round. "What a monkey you are! Aren’t you afraid of going down to that Hell, where tongues are cut off?”

“I’ve got nothing to do with any men whatever,” rejoined lady Feng laughing, “and why does he time and again tell me that it’s my bounden duty to lay up a store of meritorious deeds; and that if I’m remiss, my life will be short?”

Chang, the Taoist, indulged in further laughter. “I brought out,” he explained, “the tray so as to kill two birds with one stone. It wasn’t, however, to beg for donations. On the contrary, it was in order to put in it the jade, which I meant to ask Mr. Pao to take off, so as to carry it outside and let all those Taoist friends of mine, who come from far away, as well as my neophytes and the young apprentices, see what it’s like.”

“Well, since that be the case,” added old lady Chia, “why do you, at your age, try your strength by running about the whole day long? Take him at once along and let them see it! But were you to have called him in there, wouldn’t it have saved a lot of trouble?”

“Your venerable ladyship,” resumed Chang, the Taoist, “isn’t aware that though I be, to look at, a man of eighty, I, after all, continue, thanks to your protection, my dowager lady, quite hale and strong. In the second place, there are crowds of people in the outer rooms; and the smells are not agreeable. Besides it’s a very hot day and Mr. Pao couldn’t stand the heat as he is not accustomed to it. So were he to catch any disease from the filthy odours, it would be a grave thing!”

After these forebodings old lady Chia accordingly desired Pao-yü to unclasp the jade of Spiritual Perception, and to deposit it in the tray. The Taoist, Chang, carefully ensconced it in the folds of the wrapper, embroidered with dragons, and left the room, supporting the tray with both his hands.

During this while, dowager lady Chia and the other inmates devoted more of their time in visiting the various places. But just as they were on the point of going up the two-storied building, they heard Chia Chen shout: “Grandfather Chang has brought back the jade.”

As he spoke, the Taoist Chang was seen advancing up to them, the tray in hand. “The whole company,” he smiled, “were much obliged to me. They think Mr. Pao’s jade really lovely! None of them have, however, any suitable gifts to bestow. These are religious articles, used by each of them in propagating the doctrines of Reason, but they’re all only too ready to give them as congratulatory presents. If, Mr. Pao, you don’t fancy them for anything else, just keep them to play with or to give away to others.”

Dowager lady Chia, at these words, looked into the tray. She discovered that its contents consisted of gold signets, and jade rings, or sceptres, implying: “may you have your wishes accomplished in everything,” or “may you enjoy peace and health from year to year;” that the various articles were strung with pearls or inlaid with precious stones, worked in jade or mounted in gold; and that they were in all from thirty to fifty.

“What nonsense you’re talking!” she then exclaimed. “Those people are all divines, and where could they have rummaged up these things? But what need is there for any such presents? He may, on no account, accept them.”

“These are intended as a small token of their esteem,” responded Chang, the Taoist, smiling, “your servant cannot therefore venture to interfere with them. If your venerable ladyship will not keep them, won’t you make it patent to them that I’m treated contemptuously, and unlike what one should be, who has joined the order through your household?”

Only when old lady Chia heard these arguments did she direct a servant to receive the presents.

“Venerable senior,” Pao-yü smilingly chimed in. “After the reasons advanced by grandfather Chang, we cannot possibly refuse them. But albeit I feel disposed to keep these things, they are of no avail to me; so would it not be well were a servant told to carry the tray and to follow me out of doors, that I may distribute them to the poor?

“You are perfectly right in what you say!” smiled dowager lady Chia.

The Taoist Chang, however, went on speedily to use various arguments to dissuade him. “Mr. Pao,” he observed, “your intention is, it is true, to perform charitable acts; but though you may aver that these things are of little value, you’ll nevertheless find among them several articles you might turn to some account. Were you to let the beggars have them, why they will, first of all, be none the better for them; and, next, it will contrariwise be tantamount to throwing them away! If you want to distribute anything among the poor, why don’t you dole out cash to them?”

“Put them by!” promptly shouted Pao-yü, after this rejoinder, “and when evening comes, take a few cash and distribute them.”

These directions given, Chang, the Taoist, retired out of the place.

Dowager lady Chia and her companions thereupon walked upstairs and sat in the main part of the building. Lady Feng and her friends adjourned into the eastern part, while the waiting-maids and servants remained in the western portion, and took their turns in waiting on their mistresses.

Before long, Chia Chen came back. “The plays,” he announced, “have been chosen by means of slips picked out before the god. The first one on the list is the ’Record of the White Snake.’”

“Of what kind of old story does ’the record of the white snake,’ treat?" old lady Chia inquired.

“The story about Han Kao-tsu,” replied Chia Chen, “killing a snake and then ascending the throne. The second play is, ’the Bed covered with ivory tablets.’”

“Has this been assigned the second place?” asked dowager lady Chia. “Yet never mind; for as the gods will it thus, there is no help than not to demur. But what about the third play?” she went on to inquire.

“The Nan Ko dream is the third,” Chia Chen answered.

This response elicited no comment from dowager lady Chia. Chia Chen therefore withdrew downstairs, and betook himself outside to make arrangements for the offerings to the gods, for the paper money and eatables that had to be burnt, and for the theatricals about to begin. So we will leave him without any further allusion, and take up our narrative with Pao-yü.

Seating himself upstairs next to old lady Chia, he called to a servant-girl to fetch the tray of presents given to him a short while back, and putting on his own trinket of jade, he fumbled about with the things for a bit, and picking up one by one, he handed them to his grandmother to admire. But old lady Chia espied among them a unicorn, made of purplish gold, with kingfisher feathers inserted, and eagerly extending her arm, she took it up. “This object,” she smiled, “seems to me to resemble very much one I’ve seen worn also by the young lady of some household or other of ours.”

“Senior cousin, Shih Hsiang-yün,” chimed in Pao-ch’ai, a smile playing on her lips, “has one, but it’s a trifle smaller than this.”

“Is it indeed Yün-erh who has it?” exclaimed old lady Chia.

“Now that she lives in our house,” remarked Pao-yü, “how is it that even I haven’t seen anything of it?”

“Cousin Pao-ch’ai,” rejoined T’an Ch’un laughingly, “has the power of observation; no matter what she sees, she remembers.”

Lin Tai-yü gave a sardonic smile. “As far as other matters are concerned,” she insinuated, “her observation isn’t worth speaking of; where she’s extra-observant is in articles people may wear about their persons.”

Pao-chai, upon catching this sneering remark, at once turned her head round, and pretended she had not heard. But as soon as Pao-yü learnt that Shih Hsiang-yün possessed a similar trinket, he speedily picked up the unicorn, and hid it in his breast, indulging, at the same time, in further reflection. Yet, fearing lest people might have noticed that he kept back that particular thing the moment he discovered that Shih Hsiang-yün had one identical with it, he fixed his eyes intently upon all around while clutching it. He found however that not one of them was paying any heed to his movements except Lin Tai-yü, who, while gazing at him was, nodding her head, as if with the idea of expressing her admiration. Pao-yü, therefore, at once felt inwardly ill at ease, and pulling out his hand, he observed, addressing himself to Tai-yü with an assumed smile, “This is really a fine thing to play with; I’ll keep it for you, and when we get back home, I’ll pass a ribbon through it for you to wear.” “I don’t care about it,” said Lin Tai-yü, giving her head a sudden twist.

“Well,” continued Pao-yü laughingly, “if you don’t like it, I can’t do otherwise than keep it myself.”

Saying this, he once again thrust it away. But just as he was about to open his lips to make some other observation, he saw Mrs. Yu, the spouse of Chia Chen, arrive along with the second wife recently married by Chia Jung, that is, his mother and her daughter-in-law, to pay their obeisance to dowager lady Chia.

“What do you people rush over here for again?” old lady Chia inquired.

“I came here for a turn, simply because I had nothing to do.”

But no sooner was this inquiry concluded than they heard a messenger announce: “that some one had come from the house of general Feng.”

The family of Feng Tzu-ying had, it must be explained, come to learn the news that the inmates of the Chia mansion were offering a thanksgiving service in the temple, and, without loss of time, they got together presents of pigs, sheep, candles, tea and eatables and sent them over. The moment lady Feng heard about it she hastily crossed to the main part of the two-storied building. “Ai-ya;” she ejaculated, clapping her hands and laughing. “I never expected anything of the sort; we merely said that we ladies were coming for a leisurely stroll and people imagined that we were spreading a sumptuous altar with lenten viands and came to bring us offerings! But it’s all our old lady’s fault for bruiting it about! Why, we haven’t even got any slips of paper with tips ready.”

She had just finished speaking, when she perceived two matrons, who acted as house-keepers in the Feng family, walk upstairs. But before the Feng servants could take their leave, presents likewise arrived, in quick succession, from Chao, the Vice-President of the Board. In due course, one lot of visitors followed another. For as every one got wind of the fact that the Chia family was having thanksgiving services, and that the ladies were in the temple, distant and close relatives, friends, old friends and acquaintances all came to present their contributions. So much so, that dowager lady Chia began at this juncture to feel sorry that she had ever let the cat out of the bag. “This is no regular fasting,” she said, “we simply have come for a little change; and we should not have put any one to any inconvenience!” Although therefore she was to have remained present all day at the theatrical performance, she promptly returned home soon after noon, and the next day she felt very loth to go out of doors again.

“By striking the wall, we’ve also stirred up dust,” lady Feng argued. "Why we’ve already put those people to the trouble so we should only be too glad to-day to have another outing.”

But as when dowager lady Chia interviewed the Taoist Chang, the previous day, he made allusion to Pao-yü and canvassed his engagement, Pao-yü experienced, little as one would have thought it, much secret displeasure during the whole of that day, and on his return home he flew into a rage and abused Chang, the rationalistic priest, for harbouring designs to try and settle a match for him. At every breath and at every word he resolved that henceforward he would not set eyes again upon the Taoist Chang. But no one but himself had any idea of the reason that actuated him to absent himself. In the next place, Lin Tai-yü began also, on her return the day before, to ail from a touch of the sun, so their grandmother was induced by these two considerations to remain firm in her decision not to go. When lady Feng, however, found that she would not join them, she herself took charge of the family party and set out on the excursion.

But without descending to particulars, let us advert to Pao-yü. Seeing that Lin Tai-yü had fallen ill, he was so full of solicitude on her account that he even had little thought for any of his meals, and not long elapsed before he came to inquire how she was.

Tai-yü, on her part, gave way to fear lest anything should happen to him, (and she tried to re-assure him). “Just go and look at the plays," she therefore replied, “what’s the use of boxing yourself up at home?”

Pao-yü was, however, not in a very happy frame of mind on account of the reference to his marriage made by Chang, the Taoist, the day before, so when he heard Lin Tai-yü’s utterances: “If others don’t understand me;" he mused, “it’s anyhow excusable; but has she too begun to make fun of me?” His heart smarted in consequence under the sting of a mortification a hundred times keener than he had experienced up to that occasion. Had he been with any one else, it would have been utterly impossible for her to have brought into play feelings of such resentment, but as it was no other than Tai-yü who spoke the words, the impression produced upon him was indeed different from that left in days gone by, when others employed similar language. Unable to curb his feelings, he instantaneously lowered his face. “My friendship with you has been of no avail” he rejoined. “But, never mind, patience!”

This insinuation induced Lin Tai-yü to smile a couple of sarcastic smiles. “Yes, your friendship with me has been of no avail,” she repeated; “for how can I compare with those whose manifold qualities make them fit matches for you?”

As soon as this sneer fell on Pao-yü’s ear he drew near to her. “Are you by telling me this,” he asked straight to her face, “deliberately bent upon invoking imprecations upon me that I should be annihilated by heaven and extinguished by earth?”

Lin Tai-yü could not for a time fathom the import of his remarks. “It was,” Pao-yü then resumed, “on account of this very conversation that I yesterday swore several oaths, and now would you really make me repeat another one? But were the heavens to annihilate me and the earth to extinguish me, what benefit would you derive?”

This rejoinder reminded Tai-yü of the drift of their conversation on the previous day. And as indeed she had on this occasion framed in words those sentiments, which should not have dropped from her lips, she experienced both annoyance and shame, and she tremulously observed: “If I entertain any deliberate intention to bring any harm upon you, may I too be destroyed by heaven and exterminated by earth! But what’s the use of all this! I know very well that the allusion to marriage made yesterday by Chang, the Taoist, fills you with dread lest he might interfere with your choice. You are inwardly so irate that you come and treat me as your malignant influence.”

Pao-yü, the fact is, had ever since his youth developed a peculiar kind of mean and silly propensity. Having moreover from tender infancy grown up side by side with Tai-Yü, their hearts and their feelings were in perfect harmony. More, he had recently come to know to a great extent what was what, and had also filled his head with the contents of a number of corrupt books and licentious stories. Of all the eminent and beautiful girls that he had met too in the families of either distant or close relatives or of friends, not one could reach the standard of Lin Tai-yü. Hence it was that he commenced, from an early period of his life, to foster sentiments of love for her; but as he could not very well give utterance to them, he felt time and again sometimes elated, sometimes vexed, and wont to exhaust every means to secretly subject her heart to a test.

Lin Tai-yü happened, on the other hand, to possess in like manner a somewhat silly disposition; and she too frequently had recourse to feigned sentiments to feel her way. And as she began to conceal her true feelings and inclinations and to simply dissimulate, and he to conceal his true sentiments and wishes and to dissemble, the two unrealities thus blending together constituted eventually one reality. But it was hardly to be expected that trifles would not be the cause of tiffs between them. Thus it was that in Pao-yü’s mind at this time prevailed the reflection: “that were others unable to read my feelings, it would anyhow be excusable; but is it likely that you cannot realise that in my heart and in my eyes there is no one else besides yourself. But as you were not able to do anything to dispel my annoyance, but made use, instead, of the language you did to laugh at me, and to gag my mouth, it’s evident that though you hold, at every second and at every moment, a place in my heart, I don’t, in fact, occupy a place in yours.” Such was the construction attached to her conduct by Pao-yü, yet he did not have the courage to tax her with it.

“If, really, I hold a place in your heart,” Lin Tai-yü again reflected, "why do you, albeit what’s said about gold and jade being a fit match, attach more importance to this perverse report and think nothing of what I say? Did you, when I so often broach the subject of this gold and jade, behave as if you, verily, had never heard anything about it, I would then have seen that you treat me with preference and that you don’t harbour the least particle of a secret design. But how is it that the moment I allude to the topic of gold and jade, you at once lose all patience? This is proof enough that you are continuously pondering over that gold and jade, and that as soon as you hear me speak to you about them, you apprehend that I shall once more give way to conjectures, and intentionally pretend to be quite out of temper, with the deliberate idea of cajoling me!”

These two cousins had, to all appearances, once been of one and the same mind, but the many issues, which had sprung up between them, brought about a contrary result and made them of two distinct minds.

“I don’t care what you do, everything is well,” Pao-yü further argued, "so long as you act up to your feelings; and if you do, I shall be ever only too willing to even suffer immediate death for your sake. Whether you know this or not, doesn’t matter; it’s all the same. Yet were you to just do as my heart would have you, you’ll afford me a clear proof that you and I are united by close ties and that you are no stranger to me!”

“Just you mind your own business,” Lin Tai-yü on her side cogitated. “If you will treat me well, I’ll treat you well. And what need is there to put an end to yourself for my sake? Are you not aware that if you kill yourself, I’ll also kill myself? But this demonstrates that you don’t wish me to be near to you, and that you really want that I should be distant to you.”

It will thus be seen that the desire, by which they were both actuated, to strive and draw each other close and ever closer became contrariwise transformed into a wish to become more distant. But as it is no easy task to frame into words the manifold secret thoughts entertained by either, we will now confine ourselves to a consideration of their external manner.

The three words “a fine match,” which Pao-yü heard again Lin Tai-yü pronounce proved so revolting to him that his heart got full of disgust and he was unable to give utterance to a single syllable. Losing all control over his temper, he snatched from his neck the jade of Spiritual Perception and, clenching his teeth, he spitefully dashed it down on the floor. “What rubbishy trash!” he cried. “I’ll smash you to atoms and put an end to the whole question!”

The jade, however, happened to be of extraordinary hardness, and did not, after all, sustain the slightest injury from this single fall. When Pao-yü realised that it had not broken, he forthwith turned himself round to get the trinket with the idea of carrying out his design of smashing it, but Tai-yü divined his intention, and soon started crying. "What’s the use of all this!” she demurred, “and why, pray, do you batter that dumb thing about? Instead of smashing it, wouldn’t it be better for you to come and smash me!”

But in the middle of their dispute, Tzu Chüan, Hsüeh Yen and the other maids promptly interfered and quieted them. Subsequently, however, they saw how deliberately bent Pao-yü was upon breaking the jade, and they vehemently rushed up to him to snatch it from his hands. But they failed in their endeavours, and perceiving that he was getting more troublesome than he had ever been before, they had no alternative but to go and call Hsi Jen. Hsi Jen lost no time in running over and succeeded, at length, in getting hold of the trinket.

“I’m smashing what belongs to me,” remarked Pao-yü with a cynical smile, "and what has that to do with you people?”

Hsi Jen noticed that his face had grown quite sallow from anger, that his eyes had assumed a totally unusual expression, and that he had never hitherto had such a fit of ill-temper and she hastened to take his hand in hers and to smilingly expostulate with him. “If you’ve had a tiff with your cousin,” she said, “it isn’t worth while flinging this down! Had you broken it, how would her heart and face have been able to bear the mortification?”

Lin Tai-yü shed tears and listened the while to her remonstrances. Yet these words, which so corresponded with her own feelings, made it clear to her that Pao-yü could not even compare with Hsi Jen and wounded her heart so much more to the quick that she began to weep aloud. But the moment she got so vexed she found it hard to keep down the potion of boletus and the decoction, for counter-acting the effects of the sun, she had taken only a few minutes back, and with a retch she brought everything up. Tzu Chüan immediately pressed to her side and used her handkerchief to stop her mouth with. But mouthful succeeded mouthful, and in no time the handkerchief was soaked through and through.

Hsüeh Yen then approached in a hurry and tapped her on the back.

“You may, of course, give way to displeasure,” Tzu Chüan argued; “but you should, after all, take good care of yourself Miss. You had just taken the medicines and felt the better for them; and here you now begin vomitting again; and all because you’ve had a few words with our master Secundus. But should your complaint break out afresh how will Mr. Pao bear the blow?”

The moment Pao-yü caught this advice, which accorded so thoroughly with his own ideas, he found how little Tai-yü could hold her own with Tzu Chüan. And perceiving how flushed Tai-yü’s face was, how her temples were swollen, how, while sobbing, she panted; and how, while crying, she was suffused with perspiration, and betrayed signs of extreme weakness, he began, at the sight of her condition, to reproach himself. “I shouldn’t,” he reflected, “have bandied words with her; for now that she’s got into this frame of mind, I mayn’t even suffer in her stead!”

The self-reproaches, however, which gnawed his heart made it impossible for him to refrain from tears, much as he fought against them. Hsi Jen saw them both crying, and while attending to Pao-yü, she too unavoidably experienced much soreness of heart. She nevertheless went on rubbing Pao-yü’s hands, which were icy cold. She felt inclined to advise Pao-yü not to weep, but fearing again lest, in the first place, Pao-yü might be inwardly aggrieved, and nervous, in the next, lest she should not be dealing rightly by Tai-yü, she thought it advisable that they should all have a good cry, as they might then be able to leave off. She herself therefore also melted into tears. As for Tzu-Chüan, at one time, she cleaned the expectorated medicine; at another, she took up a fan and gently fanned Tai-yü. But at the sight of the trio plunged in perfect silence, and of one and all sobbing for reasons of their own, grief, much though she did to struggle against it, mastered her feelings too, and producing a handkerchief, she dried the tears that came to her eyes. So there stood four inmates, face to face, uttering not a word and indulging in weeping.

Shortly, Hsi Jen made a supreme effort, and smilingly said to Pao-yü: "If you don’t care for anything else, you should at least have shown some regard for those tassels, strung on the jade, and not have wrangled with Miss Lin.”

Tai-yü heard these words, and, mindless of her indisposition, she rushed over, and snatching the trinket, she picked up a pair of scissors, lying close at hand, bent upon cutting the tassels. Hsi Jen and Tzu Chüan were on the point of wresting it from her, but she had already managed to mangle them into several pieces.

“I have,” sobbed Tai-yü, “wasted my energies on them for nothing; for he doesn’t prize them. He’s certain to find others to string some more fine tassels for him.”

Hsi Jen promptly took the jade. “Is it worth while going on in this way!” she cried. “But this is all my fault for having blabbered just now what should have been left unsaid.”

“Cut it, if you like!” chimed in Pao-yü, addressing himself to Tai-yü. "I will on no account wear it, so it doesn’t matter a rap.”

But while all they minded inside was to create this commotion, they little dreamt that the old matrons had descried Tai-yü weep bitterly and vomit copiously, and Pao-yü again dash his jade on the ground, and that not knowing how far the excitement might not go, and whether they themselves might not become involved, they had repaired in a body to the front, and reported the occurrence to dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang, their object being to try and avoid being themselves implicated in the matter. Their old mistress and Madame Wang, seeing them make so much of the occurrence as to rush with precipitate haste to bring it to their notice, could not in the least imagine what great disaster might not have befallen them, and without loss of time they betook themselves together into the garden and came to see what the two cousins were up to.

Hsi Jen felt irritated and harboured resentment against Tzu Chüan, unable to conceive what business she had to go and disturb their old mistress and Madame Wang. But Tzu Chüan, on the other hand, presumed that it was Hsi Jen, who had gone and reported the matter to them, and she too cherished angry feelings towards Hsi Jen.

Dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang walked into the apartment. They found Pao-yü on one side saying not a word. Lin Tai-yü on the other uttering not a sound. “What’s up again?” they asked. But throwing the whole blame upon the shoulders of Hsi Jen and Tzu Chüan, “why is it,” they inquired, "that you were not diligent in your attendance on them. They now start a quarrel, and don’t you exert yourselves in the least to restrain them?”

Therefore with obloquy and hard words they rated the two girls for a time in such a way that neither of them could put in a word by way of reply, but felt compelled to listen patiently. And it was only after dowager lady Chia had taken Pao-yü away with her that things quieted down again.

One day passed. Then came the third of the moon. This was Hsüeh Pan’s birthday, so in their house a banquet was spread and preparations made for a performance; and to these the various inmates of the Chia mansion went. But as Pao-yü had so hurt Tai-yü’s feelings, the two cousins saw nothing whatever of each other, and conscience-stricken, despondent and unhappy, as he was at this time could he have had any inclination to be present at the plays? Hence it was that he refused to go on the pretext of indisposition.

Lin Tai-yü had got, a couple of days back, but a slight touch of the sun and naturally there was nothing much the matter with her. When the news however reached her that he did not intend to join the party, “If with his weakness for wine and for theatricals,” she pondered within herself, "he now chooses to stay away, instead of going, why, that quarrel with me yesterday must be at the bottom of it all. If this isn’t the reason, well then it must be that he has no wish to attend, as he sees that I’m not going either. But I should on no account have cut the tassels from that jade, for I feel sure he won’t wear it again. I shall therefore have to string some more on to it, before he puts it on.”

On this account the keenest remorse gnawed her heart.

Dowager lady Chia saw well enough that they were both under the influence of temper. “We should avail ourselves of this occasion,” she said to herself, “to go over and look at the plays, and as soon as the two young people come face to face, everything will be squared." Contrary to her expectations neither of them would volunteer to go. This so exasperated their old grandmother that she felt vexed with them. “In what part of my previous existence could an old sufferer like myself," she exclaimed, “have incurred such retribution that my destiny is to come across these two troublesome new-fledged foes! Why, not a single day goes by without their being instrumental in worrying my mind! The proverb is indeed correct which says: ’that people who are not enemies are not brought together!’ But shortly my eyes shall be closed, this breath of mine shall be snapped, and those two enemies will be free to cause trouble even up to the very skies; for as my eyes will then loose their power of vision, and my heart will be void of concern, it will really be nothing to me. But I couldn’t very well stifle this breath of life of mine!”

While inwardly a prey to resentment, she also melted into tears.

These words were brought to the ears of Pao-yü and Tai-yü. Neither of them had hitherto heard the adage: “people who are not enemies are not brought together,” so when they suddenly got to know the line, it seemed as if they had apprehended abstraction. Both lowered their heads and meditated on the subtle sense of the saying. But unconsciously a stream of tears rolled down their cheeks. They could not, it is true, get a glimpse of each other; yet as the one was in the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, standing in the breeze, bedewed with tears, and the other in the I Hung court, facing the moon and heaving deep sighs, was it not, in fact, a case of two persons living in two distinct places, yet with feelings emanating from one and the same heart?

Hsi Jen consequently tendered advice to Pao-yü. “You’re a million times to blame,” she said, “it’s you who are entirely at fault! For when some time ago the pages in the establishment, wrangled with their sisters, or when husband and wife fell out, and you came to hear anything about it, you blew up the lads, and called them fools for not having the heart to show some regard to girls; and now here you go and follow their lead. But to-morrow is the fifth day of the moon, a great festival, and will you two still continue like this, as if you were very enemies? If so, our venerable mistress will be the more angry, and she certainly will be driven sick! I advise you therefore to do what’s right by suppressing your spite and confessing your fault, so that we should all be on the same terms as hitherto. You here will then be all right, and so will she over there.”

Pao-yü listened to what she had to say; but whether he fell in with her views or not is not yet ascertained; yet if you, reader, choose to know, we will explain in the next chapter.

Chapter XXX.

  Pao-ch’ai avails herself of the excuse afforded her by a fan to
      administer a couple of raps.
  While Ch’un Ling traces, in a absent frame of mind, the outlines of
      the character Ch’iang, a looker-on appears on the scene.

Lin Tai-yü herself, for we will now resume our narrative, was also, ever since her tiff with Pao-yü, full of self-condemnation, yet as she did not see why she should run after him, she continued, day and night, as despondent as she would have been had she lost some thing or other belonging to her.

Tzu Chüan surmised her sentiments. “As regards what happened the other day,” she advised her, “you were, after all, Miss, a little too hasty; for if others don’t understand that temperament of Pao-yü’s, have you and I, surely, also no idea about it? Besides, haven’t there been already one or two rows on account of that very jade?”

“Ts’ui!” exclaimed Tai-yü. “Have you come, on behalf of others, to find fault with me? But how ever was I hasty?”

“Why did you,” smiled Tzu Chüan, “take the scissors and cut that tassel when there was no good reason for it? So isn’t Pao-yü less to blame than yourself, Miss? I’ve always found his behaviour towards you, Miss, without a fault. It’s all that touchy disposition of yours, which makes you so often perverse, that induces him to act as he does.”

Lin Tai-yü had every wish to make some suitable reply, when she heard some one calling at the door. Tzu Chüan discerned the tone of voice. "This sounds like Pao-yü’s voice,” she smiled. “I expect he’s come to make his apologies.”

“I won’t have any one open the door,” Tai-yü cried at these words.

“Here you are in the wrong again, Miss,” Tzu Chüan observed. “How will it ever do to let him get a sunstroke and come to some harm on a day like this, and under such a scorching sun?”

Saying this, she speedily walked out and opened the door. It was indeed Pao-yü. While ushering him in, she gave him a smile. “I imagined,” she said, “that you would never again put your foot inside our door, Master Secundus. But here you are once more and quite unexpectedly!”

“You have by dint of talking,” Pao-yü laughed, “made much ado of nothing; and why shouldn’t I come, when there’s no reason for me to keep away? Were I even to die, my spirit too will come a hundred times a day! But is cousin quite well?”

“She is,” replied Tzu Chüan, “physically all right; but, mentally, her resentment is not quite over.”

“I understand,” continued Pao-yü with a smile. “But resentment, for what?”

With this inquiry, he wended his steps inside the apartment. He then caught sight of Lin Tai-yü reclining on the bed in the act of crying. Tai-yü had not in fact shed a tear, but hearing Pao-yü break in upon her, she could not help feeling upset. She found it impossible therefore to prevent her tears from rolling down her cheeks.

Pao-yü assumed a smiling expression and drew near the bed. “Cousin, are you quite well again?” he inquired.

Tai-yü simply went on drying her tears, and made no reply of any kind.

Pao-yü approached the bed, and sat on the edge of it. “I know,” he smiled, “that you’re not vexed with me. But had I not come, third parties would have been allowed to notice my absence, and it would have appeared to them as if we had had another quarrel. And had I to wait until they came to reconcile us, would we not by that time become perfect strangers? It would be better, supposing you wish to beat me or blow me up, that you should please yourself and do so now; but whatever you do, don’t give me the cold shoulder!”

Continuing, he proceeded to call her “my dear cousin” for several tens of times.

Tai-yü had resolved not to pay any more heed to Pao-yü. When she, however, now heard Pao-yü urge: “don’t let us allow others to know anything about our having had a quarrel, as it will look as if we had become thorough strangers,” it once more became evident to her, from this single remark, that she was really dearer and nearer to him than any of the other girls, so she could not refrain from saying sobbingly: "You needn’t have come to chaff me! I couldn’t presume henceforward to be on friendly terms with you, Master Secundus! You should treat me as if I were gone!”

At these words, Pao-yü gave way to laughter. “Where are you off to?” he inquired.

“I’m going back home,” answered Tai-yü.

“I’ll go along with you then,” smiled Pao-yü.

“But if I die?” asked Tai-yü.

“Well, if you die,” rejoined Pao-yü, “I’ll become a bonze.”

The moment Tai-yü caught this reply, she hung down her head. “You must, I presume, be bent upon dying?” she cried. “But what stuff and nonsense is this you’re talking? You’ve got so many beloved elder and younger cousins in your family, and how many bodies will you have to go and become bonzes, when by and bye they all pass away! But to-morrow I’ll tell them about this to judge for themselves what your motives are!”

Pao-yü was himself aware of the fact that this rejoinder had been recklessly spoken, and he was seized with regret. His face immediately became suffused with blushes. He lowered his head and had not the courage to utter one word more. Fortunately, however, there was no one present in the room.

Tai-yü stared at him for ever so long with eyes fixed straight on him, but losing control over her temper, “Ai!” she shouted, “can’t you speak?” Then when she perceived Pao-yü reduced to such straits as to turn purple, she clenched her teeth and spitefully gave him, on the forehead, a fillip with her finger. “Heug!” she cried gnashing her teeth, “you, this......” But just as she had pronounced these two words, she heaved another sigh, and picking up her handkerchief, she wiped her tears.

Pao-yü treasured at one time numberless tender things in his mind, which he meant to tell her, but feeling also, while he smarted under the sting of self-reproach (for the indiscretion he had committed), Tai-yü give him a rap, he was utterly powerless to open his lips, much though he may have liked to speak, so he kept on sighing and snivelling to himself. With all these things therefore to work upon his feelings, he unwillingly melted into tears. He tried to find his handkerchief to dry his face with, but unexpectedly discovering that he had again forgotten to bring one with him, he was about to make his coat-sleeve answer the purpose, when Tai-yü, albeit her eyes were watery, noticed at a glance that he was going to use the brand-new coat of grey coloured gauze he wore, and while wiping her own, she turned herself round, and seized a silk kerchief thrown over the pillow, and thrust it into Pao-yü’s lap. But without saying a word, she screened her face and continued sobbing.

Pao-yü saw the handkerchief she threw, and hastily snatching it, he wiped his tears. Then drawing nearer to her, he put out his hand and clasped her hand in his, and smilingly said to her: “You’ve completely lacerated my heart, and do you still cry? But let’s go; I’ll come along with you and see our venerable grandmother.”

Tai-yü thrust his hand aside. “Who wants to go hand in hand with you?" she cried. “Here we grow older day after day, but we’re still so full of brazen-faced effrontery that we don’t even know what right means?”

But scarcely had she concluded before she heard a voice say aloud: "They’re all right!”

Pao-yü and Tai-yü were little prepared for this surprise, and they were startled out of their senses. Turning round to see who it was, they caught sight of lady Feng running in, laughing and shouting. “Our old lady,” she said, “is over there, giving way to anger against heaven and earth. She would insist upon my coming to find out whether you were reconciled or not. ’There’s no need for me to go and see,’ I told her, ’they will before the expiry of three days, be friends again of their own accord.’ Our venerable ancestor, however, called me to account, and maintained that I was lazy; so here I come! But my words have in very deed turned out true. I don’t see why you two should always be wrangling! For three days you’re on good terms and for two on bad. You become more and more like children. And here you are now hand in hand blubbering! But why did you again yesterday become like black-eyed fighting cocks? Don’t you yet come with me to see your grandmother and make an old lady like her set her mind at ease a bit?”

While reproaching them, she clutched Tai-yü’s hand and was trudging away, when Tai-yü turned her head round and called out for her servant-girls. But not one of them was in attendance.

“What do you want them for again?” lady Feng asked. “I am here to wait on you!”

Still speaking, she pulled her along on their way, with Pao-yü following in their footsteps. Then making their exit out of the garden gate, they entered dowager lady Chia’s suite of rooms. “I said that it was superfluous for any one to trouble,” lady Feng smiled, “as they were sure of themselves to become reconciled; but you, dear ancestor, so little believed it that you insisted upon my going to act the part of mediator. Yet when I got there, with the intention of inducing them to make it up, I found them, though one did not expect it, in each other’s company, confessing their faults, and laughing and chatting. Just like a yellow eagle clutching the feet of a kite were those two hanging on to each other. So where was the necessity for any one to go?”

These words evoked laughter from every one in the room. Pao-ch’ai, however, was present at the time so Lin Tai-yü did not retort, but went and ensconced herself in a seat near her grandmother.

When Pao-yü noticed that no one had anything to say, he smilingly addressed himself to Pao-ch’ai. “On cousin Hsüeh P’an’s birth-day,” he remarked, “I happened again to be unwell, so not only did I not send him any presents, but I failed to go and knock my head before him. Yet cousin knows nothing about my having been ill, and it will seem to him that I had no wish to go, and that I brought forward excuses so as to avoid paying him a visit. If to-morrow you find any leisure, cousin, do therefore explain matters for me to him.”

“This is too much punctiliousness!” smiled Pao-ch’ai. “Even had you insisted upon going, we wouldn’t have been so arrogant as to let you put yourself to the trouble, and how much less when you were not feeling well? You two are cousins and are always to be found together the whole day; if you encourage such ideas, some estrangement will, after all, arise between you.”

“Cousin,” continued Pao-yü smilingly, “you know what to say; and so long as you’re lenient with me all will be all right. But how is it,” he went on to ask, “that you haven’t gone over to see the theatricals?”

“I couldn’t stand the heat” rejoined Pao-ch’ai. “I looked on while two plays were being sung, but I found it so intensely hot, that I felt anxious to retire. But the visitors not having dispersed, I had to give as an excuse that I wasn’t feeling up to the mark, and so came away at once.”

Pao-yü, at these words, could not but feel ill at ease. All he could do was to feign another smile. “It’s no wonder,” he observed, “that they compare you, cousin, to Yang Kuei-fei; for she too was fat and afraid of hot weather.”

Hearing this, Pao-ch’ai involuntarily flew into a violent rage. Yet when about to call him to task, she found that it would not be nice for her to do so. After some reflection, the colour rushed to her cheeks. Smiling ironically twice, “I may resemble,” she said, “Yang Kuei-fei, but there’s not one of you young men, whether senior or junior, good enough to play the part of Yang Kuo-chung.”

While they were bandying words, a servant-girl Ch’ing Erh, lost sight of her fan and laughingly remarked to Pao-ch’ai: “It must be you, Miss Pao, who have put my fan away somewhere or other; dear mistress, do let me have it!”

“You’d better be mindful!” rejoined Pao-ch’ai, shaking her finger at her. “With whom have I ever been up to jokes, that you come and suspect me? Have I hitherto laughed and smirked with you? There’s that whole lot of girls, go and ask them about it!”

At this suggestion, Ch’ing Erh made her escape.

The consciousness then burst upon Pao-yü, that he had again been inconsiderate in his speech, in the presence of so many persons, and he was overcome by a greater sense of shame than when, a short while back, he had been speaking with Lin Tai-yü. Precipitately turning himself round, he went, therefore, and talked to the others as well.

The sight of Pao-yü poking fun at Pao-ch’ai gratified Tai-yü immensely. She was just about to put in her word and also seize the opportunity of chaffing her, but as Ch’ing Erh unawares asked for her fan and Pao-ch’ai added a few more remarks, she at once changed her purpose. “Cousin Pao-ch’ai,” she inquired, “what two plays did you hear?”

Pao-ch’ai caught the expression of gratification in Tai-yü’s countenance, and concluded that she had for a certainty heard the raillery recently indulged in by Pao-yü and that it had fallen in with her own wishes; and hearing her also suddenly ask the question she did, she answered with a significant laugh: “What I saw was: ’Li Kuei blows up Sung Chiang and subsequently again tenders his apologies’.”

Pao-yü smiled. “How is it,” he said, “that with such wide knowledge of things new as well as old; and such general information as you possess, you aren’t even up to the name of a play, and that you’ve come out with such a whole string of words. Why, the real name of the play is: ’Carrying a birch and begging for punishment’”.

“Is it truly called: ’Carrying a birch and begging for punishment’”? Pao-ch’ai asked with laugh. “But you people know all things new and old so are able to understand the import of ’carrying a birch and begging for punishment.’ As for me I’ve no idea whatever what ’carrying a birch and begging for punishment’ implies.”

One sentence was scarcely ended when Pao-yü and Tai-yü felt guilty in their consciences; and by the time they heard all she said, they were quite flushed from shame. Lady Feng did not, it is true, fathom the gist of what had been said, but at the sight of the expression betrayed on the faces of the three cousins, she readily got an inkling of it. “On this broiling hot day,” she inquired laughing also; “who still eats raw ginger?”

None of the party could make out the import of her insinuation. “There’s no one eating raw ginger,” they said.

Lady Feng intentionally then brought her hands to her cheeks, and rubbing them, she remarked with an air of utter astonishment, “Since there’s no one eating raw ginger, how is it that you are all so fiery in the face?”

Hearing this, Pao-yü and Tai-yü waxed more uncomfortable than ever. So much so, that Pao-ch’ai, who meant to continue the conversation, did not think it nice to say anything more when she saw how utterly abashed Pao-yü was and how changed his manner. Her only course was therefore to smile and hold her peace. And as the rest of the inmates had not the faintest notion of the drift of the remarks exchanged between the four of them, they consequently followed her lead and put on a smile.

In a short while, however, Pao-ch’ai and lady Feng took their leave.

“You’ve also tried your strength with them,” Tai-yü said to Pao-yü laughingly. “But they’re far worse than I. Is every one as simple in mind and dull of tongue as I am as to allow people to say whatever they like.”

Pao-yü was inwardly giving way to that unhappiness, which had been occasioned by Pao-ch’ai’s touchiness, so when he also saw Tai-yü approach him and taunt him, displeasure keener than ever was aroused in him. A desire then asserted itself to speak out his mind to her, but dreading lest Tai-yü should he in one of her sensitive moods, he, needless to say, stifled his anger and straightway left the apartment in a state of mental depression.

It happened to be the season of the greatest heat. Breakfast time too was already past, and masters as well as servants were, for the most part, under the influence of the lassitude felt on lengthy days. As Pao-yü therefore strolled, from place to place, his hands behind his back he heard not so much as the caw of a crow. Issuing out of his grandmother’s compound on the near side, he wended his steps westwards, and crossed the passage, on which lady Feng’s quarters gave. As soon as he reached the entrance of her court, he perceived the door ajar. But aware of lady Feng’s habit of taking, during the hot weather, a couple of hours’ siesta at noon, he did not feel it a convenient moment to intrude. Walking accordingly through the corner door, he stepped into Madame Wang’s apartment. Here he discovered several waiting-maids, dosing with their needlework clasped in their hands. Madame Wang was asleep on the cool couch in the inner rooms. Chin Ch’uan-erh was sitting next to her massaging her legs. But she too was quite drowsy, and her eyes wore all awry. Pao-yü drew up to her with gentle tread. The moment, however, that he unfastened the pendants from the earrings she wore, Chin Ch’uan opened her eyes, and realised that it was no one than Pao-yü.

“Are you feeling so worn out!” he smilingly remarked in a low tone of voice.

Chin Ch’uan pursed up her lips and gave him a smile. Then waving her hand so as to bid him quit the room, she again closed her eyes.

Pao-yü, at the sight of her, felt considerable affection for her and unable to tear himself away, so quietly stretching his head forward, and noticing that Madame Wang’s eyes were shut, he extracted from a purse, suspended about his person, one of the ’scented-snow-for-moistening-mouth pills,’ with which it was full, and placed it on Chin Ch’uan-erh’s lips. Chin Ch’uan-erh, however, did not open her eyes, but simply held (the pill) in her mouth. Pao-yü then approached her and took her hand in his. "I’ll ask you of your mistress,” he gently observed smiling, “and you and I will live together.”

To this Chin Ch’uan-erh said not a word.

“If that won’t do,” Pao-yü continued, “I’ll wait for your mistress to wake and appeal to her at once.”

Chin Ch’uan-erh distended her eyes wide, and pushed Pao-yü off. “What’s the hurry?” she laughed. “’A gold hair-pin may fall into the well; but if it’s yours it will remain yours only.’ Is it possible that you don’t even see the spirit of this proverb? But I’ll tell you a smart thing. Just you go into the small court, on the east side, and you’ll find for yourself what Mr. Chia Huau and Ts’ai Yun are up to!”

“Let them be up to whatever they like,” smiled Pao-yü, “I shall simply stick to your side!”

But he then saw Madame Wang twist herself round, get up, and give a slap to Chin Ch’uan-erh on her mouth. “You mean wench!” she exclaimed, abusing her, while she pointed her finger at her, “it’s you, and the like of you, who corrupt these fine young fellows with all the nice things you teach them!”

The moment Pao-yü perceived Madame Wang rise, he bolted like a streak of smoke. Chin Ch’uan-erh, meanwhile, felt half of her face as hot as fire, yet she did not dare utter one word of complaint. The various waiting-maids soon came to hear that Madame Wang had awoke and they rushed in in a body.

“Go and tell your mother,” Madame Wang thereupon said to Yü Ch’uan-erh, "to fetch your elder sister away.”

Chin Ch’uan-erh, at these words, speedily fell on her knees. With tears in her eyes: “I won’t venture to do it again,” she pleaded. “If you, Madame, wish to flog me, or to scold me do so at once, and as much as you like but don’t send me away. You will thus accomplish an act of heavenly grace! I’ve been in attendance on your ladyship for about ten years, and if you now drive me away, will I be able to look at any one in the face?”

Though Madame Wang was a generous, tender-hearted person, and had at no time raised her hand to give a single blow to any servant-girl, she, however, when she accidentally discovered Chin Ch’uan-erh behave on this occasion in this barefaced manner, a manner which had all her lifetime been most reprehensible to her, was so overcome by passion that she gave Chin Ch’uan-erh just one slap and spoke to her a few sharp words. And albeit Chin Ch’uan-erh indulged in solicitous entreaties, she would not on any account keep her in her service. At length, Chin Ch’uan-erh’s mother, Dame Pao, was sent for to take her away. Chin Ch’uan-erh therefore had to conceal her disgrace, suppress her resentment, and quit the mansion.

But without any further reference to her, we will now take up our story with Pao-yü. As soon as he saw Madame Wang awake, his spirits were crushed. All alone he hastily made his way into the Ta Kuan garden. Here his attention was attracted by the ruddy sun, shining in the zenith, the shade of the trees extending far and wide, the song of the cicadas, filling the ear; and by a perfect stillness, not even broken by the echo of a human voice. But the instant he got near the trellis, with the cinnamon roses, the sound of sobs fell on his ear. Doubts and surmises crept into Pao-yü’s mind, so halting at once, he listened with intentness. Then actually he discerned some one on the off-side of the trellis. This was the fifth moon, the season when the flowers and foliage of the cinnamon roses were in full bloom. Furtively peeping through an aperture in the fence, Pao-yü saw a young girl squatting under the flowers and digging the ground with a hair-pin she held in her hand. As she dug, she silently gave way to tears.

“Can it be possible,” mused Pao-yü, “that this girl too is stupid? Can she also be following P’in Erh’s example and come to inter flowers? Why if she’s likewise really burying flowers,” he afterwards went on to smilingly reflect, “this can aptly be termed: ’Tung Shih tries to imitate a frown.’ But not only is what she does not original, but it is despicable to boot. You needn’t,” he meant to shout out to the girl, at the conclusion of this train of thought, “try and copy Miss Lin’s example.” But before the words had issued from his mouth, he luckily scrutinised her a second time, and found that the girl’s features were quite unfamiliar to him, that she was no menial, and that she looked like one of the twelve singing maids, who were getting up the plays. He could not, however, make out what rôles she filled: scholars, girls, old men, women, or buffoons. Pao-yü quickly put out his tongue and stopped his mouth with his hand. “How fortunate,” he inwardly soliloquised, “that I didn’t make any reckless remark! It was all because of my inconsiderate talk on the last two occasions, that P’in Erh got angry with me, and that Pao-ch’ai felt hurt. And had I now given them offence also, I would have been in a still more awkward fix!”

While wrapt in these thoughts, he felt much annoyance at not being able to recognise who she was. But on further minute inspection, he noticed that this maiden, with contracted eyebrows, as beautiful as the hills in spring, frowning eyes as clear as the streams in autumn, a face, with transparent skin, and a slim waist, was elegant and beautiful and almost the very image of Lin Tai-yü. Pao-yü could not, from the very first, make up his mind to wrench himself away. But as he stood gazing at her in a doltish mood, he realised that, although she was tracing on the ground with the gold hair-pin, she was not digging a hole to bury flowers in, but was merely delineating characters on the surface of the soil. Pao-yü’s eyes followed the hair-pin from first to last, as it went up and as it came down. He watched each dash, each dot and each hook. He counted the strokes. They numbered eighteen. He himself then set to work and sketched with his finger on the palm of his hand, the lines, in their various directions, and in the order they had been traced a few minutes back, so as to endeavour to guess what the character was. On completing the sketch, he discovered, the moment he came to reflect, that it was the character “Ch’iang,” in the combination, ’Ch’iang Wei,’ representing cinnamon roses.

“She too,” pondered Pao-yü, “must have been bent upon writing verses, or supplying some line or other, and at the sight now of the flowers, the idea must have suggested itself to her mind. Or it may very likely be that having spontaneously devised a couplet, she got suddenly elated and began, for fear it should slip from her memory, to trace it on the ground so as to tone the rhythm. Yet there’s no saying. Let me see, however, what she’s going to write next.”

While cogitating, he looked once more. Lo, the girl was still tracing. But tracing up or tracing down, it was ever the character “Ch’iang." When he gazed again, it was still the self-same Ch’iang.

The one inside the fence fell, in fact, from an early stage, into a foolish mood, and no sooner was one ’Ch’iang,’ finished than she started with another; so that she had already written several tens of them. The one outside gazed and gazed, until he unwittingly also got into the same foolish mood. Intent with his eyes upon following the movements of the pin, in his mind, he communed thus with his own thoughts: “This girl must, for a certainty, have something to say, or some unspeakable momentous secret that she goes on like this. But if outwardly she behaves in this wise, who knows what anguish she mayn’t suffer at heart? And yet, with a frame to all appearances so very delicate, how could she ever resist much inward anxiety! Woe is me that I’m unable to transfer some part of her burden on to my own shoulders!”

In midsummer, cloudy and bright weather are uncertain. A few specks of clouds suffice to bring about rain. Of a sudden, a cold blast swept by, and tossed about by the wind fell a shower of rain. Pao-yü perceived that the water trickling down the girl’s head saturated her gauze attire in no time. “It’s pouring,” Pao-yü debated within himself, “and how can a frame like hers resist the brunt of such a squall.” Unable therefore to restrain himself, he vehemently shouted: “Leave off writing! See, it’s pouring; you’re wet through!”

The girl caught these words, and was frightened out of her wits. Raising her head, she at once descried some one or other standing beyond the flowers and calling out to her: “Leave off writing. It’s pouring!” But as Pao-yü was, firstly, of handsome appearance, and as secondly the luxuriant abundance of flowers and foliage screened with their boughs, thick-laden with leaves, the upper and lower part of his person, just leaving half of his countenance exposed to view, the maiden simply jumped at the conclusion that he must be a servant girl, and never for a moment dreamt that it might be Pao-yü. “Many thanks, sister, for recalling me to my senses,” she consequently smiled. “Yet is there forsooth anything outside there to protect you from the rain?”

This single remark proved sufficient to recall Pao-yü to himself. With an exclamation of “Ai-yah,” he at length became conscious that his whole body was cold as ice. Then drooping his head, he realised that his own person too was drenched. “This will never do,” he cried, and with one breath he had to run back into the I Hung court. His mind, however, continued much exercised about the girl as she had nothing to shelter her from the rain.

As the next day was the dragon-boat festival, Wen Kuan and the other singing girls, twelve in all, were given a holiday, so they came into the garden and amused themselves by roaming everywhere and anywhere. As luck would have it, the two girls Pao-Kuan, who filled the rôleof young men and Yü Kuan, who represented young women, were in the I Hung court enjoying themselves with Hsi Jen, when rain set in and they were prevented from going back, so in a body they stopped up the drain to allow the water to accumulate in the yard. Then catching those that could be caught, and driving those that had to be driven, they laid hold of a few of the green-headed ducks, variegated marsh-birds and coloured mandarin-ducks, and tying their wings they let them loose in the court to disport themselves. Closing the court Hsi Jen and her playmates stood together under the verandah and enjoyed the fun. Pao-yü therefore found the entrance shut. He gave a rap at the door. But as every one inside was bent upon laughing, they naturally did not catch the sound; and it was only after he had called and called, and made a noise by thumping at the door, that they at last heard. Imagining, however, that Pao-yü could not be coming back at that hour, Hsi Jen shouted laughing: “who’s it now knocking at the door? There’s no one to go and open.”

“It’s I,” rejoined Pao-yü.

“It’s Miss Pao-ch’ai’s tone of voice,” added She Yüeh.

“Nonsense!” cried Ch’ing Wen. “What would Miss Pao-ch’ai come over to do at such an hour?”

“Let me go,” chimed in Hsi Jen, “and see through the fissure in the door, and if we can open, we’ll open; for we mustn’t let her go back, wet through.”

With these words, she came along the passage to the doorway. On looking out, she espied Pao-yü dripping like a chicken drenched with rain.

Seeing him in this plight, Hsi Jen felt solicitous as well as amused. With alacrity, she flung the door wide open, laughing so heartily that she was doubled in two. “How could I ever have known,” she said, clapping her hands, “that you had returned, Sir! Yet how is it that you’ve run back in this heavy rain?”

Pao-yü had, however, been feeling in no happy frame of mind. He had fully resolved within himself to administer a few kicks to the person, who came to open the door, so as soon as it was unbarred, he did not try to make sure who it was, but under the presumption that it was one of the servant-girls, he raised his leg and give her a kick on the side.

“Ai-yah!” ejaculated Hsi Jen.

Pao-yü nevertheless went on to abuse. “You mean things!” he shouted. "It’s because I’ve always treated you so considerately that you don’t respect me in the least! And you now go to the length of making a laughing-stock of me!”

As he spoke, he lowered his head. Then catching sight of Hsi Jen, in tears, he realised that he had kicked the wrong person. “Hallo!” he said, promptly smiling, “is it you who’ve come? Where did I kick you?”

Hsi Jen had never, previous to this, received even a harsh word from him. When therefore she on this occasion unexpectedly saw Pao-yü gave her a kick in a fit of anger and, what made it worse, in the presence of so many people, shame, resentment, and bodily pain overpowered her and she did not, in fact, for a time know where to go and hide herself. She was then about to give rein to her displeasure, but the reflection that Pao-yü could not have kicked her intentionally obliged her to suppress her indignation. “Instead of kicking,” she remarked, “don’t you yet go and change your clothes?”

Pao-yü walked into the room. As he did so, he smiled. “Up to the age I’ve reached,” he observed, “this is the first instance on which I’ve ever so thoroughly lost control over my temper as to strike any one; and, contrary to all my thoughts, it’s you that happened to come in my way?”

Hsi Jen, while patiently enduring the pain, effected the necessary change in his attire. “I’ve been here from the very first,” she simultaneously added, smilingly, “so in all things, whether large or small, good or bad, it has naturally fallen to my share to bear the brunt. But not to say another word about your assault on me, why, to-morrow you’ll indulge your hand and star-beating others!”

“I did not strike you intentionally just now,” retorted Pao-yü.

“Who ever said,” rejoined Hsi Jen, “that you did it intentionally! It has ever been the duty of that tribe of servant-girls to open and shut the doors, yet they’ve got into the way of being obstinate, and have long ago become such an abomination that people’s teeth itch to revenge themselves on them. They don’t know, besides, what fear means. So had you first assured yourself that it was they and given them a kick, a little intimidating would have done them good. But I’m at the bottom of the mischief that happened just now, for not calling those, upon whom it devolves, to come and open for you.”

During the course of their conversation, the rain ceased, and Pao Kuan and Yü Kuan had been able to take their leave. Hsi Jen, however, experienced such intense pain in her side, and felt such inward vexation, that at supper she could not put a morsel of anything in her mouth. When in the evening, the time came for her to have her bath, she discovered, on divesting herself of her clothes, a bluish bruise on her side of the size of a saucer and she was very much frightened. But as she could not very well say anything about it to any one, she presently retired to rest. But twitches of pain made her involuntarily moan in her dreams and groan in her sleep.

Pao-yü did, it is true, not hurt her with any malice, but when he saw Hsi Jen so listless and restless, and suddenly heard her groan in the course of the night, he realised how severely he must have kicked her. So getting out of bed, he gently seized the lantern and came over to look at her. But as soon as he reached the side of her bed, he perceived Hsi Jen expectorate, with a retch, a whole mouthful of phlegm. “Oh me!" she gasped, as she opened her eyes. The presence of Pao-yü startled her out of her wits. “What are you up to?” she asked.

“You groaned in your dreams,” answered Pao-yü, “so I must have kicked you hard. Do let me see!”

“My head feels giddy,” said Hsi Jen. “My throat foul and sweet; throw the light on the floor!”

At these words, Pao-yü actually raised the lantern. The moment he cast the light below, he discerned a quantity of fresh blood on the floor.

Pao-yü was seized with consternation. “Dreadful!” was all he could say. At the sight of the blood, Hsi Jen’s heart too partly waxed cold.

But, reader, the next chapter will reveal the sequel, if you really have any wish to know more about them.

Chapter XXXI.

  Pao-yü allows the girl Ch’ing Wen to tear his fan so as to afford her
  A wedding proves to be the result of the descent of a unicorn.

But to proceed. When she saw on the floor the blood, she had brought up, Hsi Jen immediately grew partly cold. What she had often heard people mention in past days ’that the lives of young people, who expectorate blood, are uncertain, and that although they may live long, they are, after all, mere wrecks,’ flashed through her mind. The remembrance of this saying at once completely scattered to the winds the wish, she had all along cherished, of striving for honour and of being able to boast of glory; and from her eyes unwittingly ran down streams of tears.

When Pao-yü saw her crying, his heart was seized with anguish. “What’s it that preys on your mind?” he consequently asked her.

Hsi Jen strained every nerve to smile. “There’s no rhyme or reason for anything,” she replied, “so what can it be?”

Pao-yü’s intention was to there and then give orders to the servant to warm some white wine and to ask them for a few ’Li-T’ung’ pills compounded with goat’s blood, but Hsi Jen clasped his hand tight. “My troubling you is of no matter,” she smiled, “but were I to put ever so many people to inconvenience, they’ll bear me a grudge for my impudence. Not a soul, it’s clear enough, knows anything about it now, but were you to make such a bustle as to bring it to people’s notice, you’ll be in an awkward fix, and so will I. The proper thing, therefore, is for you to send a page to-morrow to request Dr. Wang to prepare some medicine for me. When I take this I shall be all right. And as neither any human being nor spirit will thus get wind of it, won’t it be better?”

Pao-yü found her suggestion so full of reason that he thought himself obliged to abandon his purpose; so approaching the table, he poured a cup of tea, and came over and gave it to Hsi Jen to rinse her mouth with. Aware, however, as Hsi Jen was that Pao-yü himself was not feeling at ease in his mind, she was on the point of bidding him not wait upon her; but convinced that he would once more be certain not to accede to her wishes, and that the others would, in the second place, have to be disturbed, she deemed it expedient to humour him. Leaning on the couch, she consequently allowed Pao-yü to come and attend to her.

As soon as the fifth watch struck, Pao-yü, unmindful of combing or washing, hastily put on his clothes and left the room; and sending for Wang Chi-jen, he personally questioned him with all minuteness about her ailment.

Wang Chi-jen asked how it had come about. “It’s simply a bruise; nothing more,” (he said), and forthwith he gave him the names of some pills and medicines, and told him how they were to be taken, and how they were to be applied.

Pao-yü committed every detail to memory, and on his return into the garden, the treatment was, needless for us to explain, taken in hand in strict compliance with the directions.

This was the day of the dragon-boat festival. Cat-tail and artemisia were put over the doors. Tiger charms were suspended on every back. At noon, Madame Wang got a banquet ready, and to this midday feast, she invited the mother, daughter and the rest of the members of the Hsüeh household.

Pao-yü noticed that Pao-ch’ai was in such low spirits that she would not even speak to him, and concluded that the reason was to be sought in the incident of the previous day. Madame Wang seeing Pao-yü in a sullen humour jumped at the surmise that it must be due to Chin Ch’uan’s affair of the day before; and so ill at ease did she feel that she heeded him less than ever. Lin Tai-yü, detected Pao-yü’s apathy, and presumed that he was out of sorts for having given umbrage to Pao-ch’ai, and her manner likewise assumed a listless air. Lady Feng had, in the course of the previous evening, been told by Madame Wang what had taken place between Pao-yü and Chin Ch’uan, and when she came to know that Madame Wang was in an unhappy frame of mind she herself did not venture to chat or laugh, but at once regulated her behaviour to suit Madame Wang’s mood. So the lack of animation became more than ever perceptible; for the good cheer of Ying Ch’un and her sisters was also damped by the sight of all of them down in the mouth. The natural consequence therefore was that they all left after a very short stay.

Lin Tai-yü had a natural predilection for retirement. She did not care for social gatherings. Her notions, however, were not entirely devoid of reason. She maintained that people who gathered together must soon part; that when they came together, they were full of rejoicing, but did they not feel lonely when they broke up? That since this sense of loneliness gave rise to chagrin, it was consequently preferable not to have any gatherings. That flowers afforded an apt example. When they opened, they won people’s admiration; but when they faded, they added to the feeling of vexation; so that better were it if they did not blossom at all! To this cause therefore must be assigned the fact that when other people were glad, she, on the contrary, felt unhappy.

Pao-yü’s disposition was such that he simply yearned for frequent gatherings, and looked forward with sorrow to the breaking up which must too soon come round. As for flowers, he wished them to bloom repeatedly and was haunted with the dread of their dying in a little time. Yet albeit manifold anguish fell to his share when banquets drew to a close and flowers began to fade, he had no alternative but to practice resignation.

On this account was it that, when the company cheerlessly broke up from the present feast, Lin Tai-yü did not mind the separation; and that Pao-yü experienced such melancholy and depression, that, on his return to his apartments, he gave way to deep groans and frequent sighs.

Ch’ing Wen, as it happened, came to the upper quarters to change her costume. In an unguarded moment, she let her fan slip out of her hand and drop on the ground. As it fell, the bones were snapped. “You stupid thing!” Pao-yü exclaimed, sighing, “what a dunce! what next will you be up to by and bye? When, in a little time, you get married and have a home of your own, will you, forsooth, still go on in this happy-go-lucky careless sort of way?”

“Master Secundus,” replied Ch’ing Wen with a sardonic smile, “your temper is of late dreadfully fiery, and time and again it leaks out on your very face! The other day you even beat Hsi Jen and here you are again now finding fault with us! If you feel disposed to kick or strike us, you are at liberty, Sir, to do so at your pleasure; but for a fan to slip on the ground is an everyday occurrence! How many of those crystal jars and cornelian bowls were smashed the other time, I don’t remember, and yet you were not seen to fly into a tantrum; and now, for a fan do you distress yourself so? What’s the use of it? If you dislike us, well pack us off and select some good girls to serve you, and we will quietly go away. Won’t this be better?”

This rejoinder so exasperated Pao-yü that his whole frame trembled violently. “You needn’t be in a hurry!” he then shouted. “There will be a day of parting by and bye.”

Hsi Jen was on the other side, and from an early period she listened to the conversation between them. Hurriedly crossing over, “what are you up to again?” she said to Pao-yü, “why, there’s nothing to put your monkey up! I’m perfectly right in my assertion that when I’m away for any length of time, something is sure to happen.”

Ch’ing Wen heard these remarks. “Sister,” she interposed smiling ironically, “since you’ve got the gift of the gab, you should have come at once; you would then have spared your master his fit of anger. It’s you who have from bygone days up to the present waited upon master; we’ve never had anything to do with attending on him; and it’s because you’ve served him so faithfully that he repaid you yesterday with a kick on the stomach. But who knows what punishment mayn’t be in store for us, who aren’t fit to wait upon him decently!”

At these insinuations, Hsi Jen felt both incensed and ashamed. She was about to make some response but Pao-yü had worked himself into such another passion as to get quite yellow in the face, and she was obliged to rein in her temper. Pushing Ch’ing Wen, “Dear sister,” she cried, "you had better be off for a stroll! it’s really we, who are to blame!”

The very mention of the word “we” made it certain to Ch’ing Wen that she implied herself and Pao-yü, and thus unawares more fuel was added again to her jealous notions. Giving way to several loud smiles, full of irony: “I can’t make out,” she insinuated, “who you may mean. But don’t make me blush on your account! Even those devilish pranks of yours can’t hoodwink me! How and why is it that you’ve started styling yourself as ’we?’ Properly speaking, you haven’t as yet so much as attained the designation of ’Miss!’ You’re simply no better than I am, and how is it then that you presume so high as to call yourself ’we.’”

Hsi Jen’s face grew purple from shame. “The fact is,” she reflected, "that I’ve said more than I should.”

“As one and all of you are ever bearing her malice,” Pao-yü simultaneously observed, “I’ll actually raise her to-morrow to a higher status!”

Hsi Jen quickly snatched Pao-yü’s hand. “She’s a stupid girl,” she said, "what’s the use of arguing with her? What’s more, you’ve so far borne with them and overlooked ever, so many other things more grievous than this; and what are you up to to-day?”

“If I’m really a stupid girl,” repeated Ch’ing Wen, smiling sarcastically, “am I a fit person for you to hold converse with? Why, I’m purely and simply a slave-girl; that’s all.”

“Are you, after all,” cried Hsi Jen, at these words, “bickering with me, or with Master Secundus? If you bear me a grudge, you’d better then address your remarks to me alone; albeit it isn’t right that you should kick up such a hullaballoo in the presence of Mr. Secundus. But if you have a spite against Mr. Secundus, you shouldn’t be shouting so boisterously as to make thousands of people know all about it! I came in, a few minutes back, merely for the purpose of setting matters right, and of urging you to make up your quarrels so that we should all be on the safe side; and here I have the unlucky fate of being set upon by you, Miss! Yet you neither seem to be angry with me, nor with Mr. Secundus! But armed cap-à-pie as you appear to be, what is your ultimate design? I won’t utter another word, but let you have your say!”

While she spoke, she was hurriedly wending her way out.

“You needn’t raise your dander.” Pao-yü remarked to Ch’ing Wen. “I’ve guessed the secret of your heart, so I’ll go and tell mother that as you’ve also attained a certain age, she should send you away. Will this please you, yes or no?”

This allusion made Ch’ing Wen unwittingly feel again wounded at heart. She tried to conceal her tears. “Why should I go away?” she asked. “If even you be so prejudiced against me as to try and devise means to pack me off, you won’t succeed.”

“I never saw such brawling!” Pao-yü exclaimed. “You’re certainly bent upon going! I might as well therefore let mother know so as to bundle you off!”

While addressing her, he rose to his feet and was intent upon trudging off at once. Hsi Jen lost no time in turning round and impeding his progress. “Where are you off to?” she cried.

“I’m going to tell mother,” answered Pao-yü.

“It’s no use whatever!” Hsi Jen smiled, “you may be in real earnest to go and tell her, but aren’t you afraid of putting her to shame? If even she positively means to leave, you can very well wait until you two have got over this bad blood. And when everything is past and gone, it won’t be any too late for you to explain, in the course of conversation, the whole case to our lady, your mother. But if you now go in hot haste and tell her, as if the matter were an urgent one, won’t you be the means of making our mistress give way to suspicion?”

“My mother,” demurred Pao-yü, “is sure not to entertain any suspicions, as all I will explain to her is that she insists upon leaving.”

“When did I ever insist upon going?” sobbed Ch’ing Wen. “You fly into a rage, and then you have recourse to threats to intimidate me. But you’re at liberty to go and say anything you like; for as I’ll knock my brains out against the wall, I won’t get alive out of this door.”

“This is, indeed, strange!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “If you won’t go, what’s the good of all this fuss? I can’t stand this bawling, so it will be a riddance if you would get out of the way!”

Saying this, he was resolved upon going to report the matter. Hsi Jen found herself powerless to dissuade him. She had in consequence no other resource but to fall on her knees.

Pi Hen, Ch’iu Wen, She Yüeh and the rest of the waiting-maids had realised what a serious aspect the dispute had assumed, and not a sound was to be heard to fall from their lips. They remained standing outside listening to what was going on. When they now overheard Hsi Jen making solicitous entreaties on her knees, they rushed into the apartment in a body; and with one consent they prostrated themselves on the floor.

Pao-yü at once pulled Hsi Jen up. Then with a sigh, he took a seat on the bed. “Get up,” he shouted to the body of girls, “and clear out! What would you have me do?” he asked, addressing himself to Hsi Jen. “This heart of mine has been rent to pieces, and no one has any idea about it!”

While speaking, tears of a sudden rolled down his cheek. At the sight of Pao-yü weeping, Hsi Jen also melted into a fit of crying. Ch’ing Wen was standing by them, with watery eyes. She was on the point of reasoning with them, when espying Lin Tai-yü step into the room, she speedily walked out.

“On a grand holiday like this,” remonstrated Lin Tai-yü smiling, “how is it that you’re snivelling away, and all for nothing? Is it likely that high words have resulted all through that ’dumpling’ contest?”

Pao-yü and Lin Tai-yü blurted out laughing.

“You don’t tell me, cousin Secundus,” Lin Tai-yü put in, “but I know all about it, even though I have asked no questions.”

Now she spoke, and now she patted Hsi Jen on the shoulder. “My dear sister-in-law,” she smiled, “just you tell me! It must surely be that you two have had a quarrel. Confide in me, your cousin, so that I might reconcile you.”

“Miss Lin,” rejoined Hsi Jen, pushing her off, “what are you fussing about? I am simply one of our servant-girls; you’re therefore rather erratic in your talk!”

“You say that you’re only a servant-girl,” smilingly replied Tai-yü, "and yet I treat you like a sister-in-law.”

“Why do you,” Pao-yü chimed in, “give her this abusive epithet? But however much she may make allowance for this, can she, when there are so many others who tell idle tales on her account, put up with your coming and telling her all you’ve said?”

“Miss Lin,” smiled Hsi Jen, “you’re not aware of the purpose of my heart. Unless my breath fails and I die, I shall continue in his service.”

“If you die,” remarked Lin Tai-yü smiling, “what will others do, I wonder? As for me, I shall be the first to die from crying.”

“Were you to die,” added Pao-yü laughingly, “I shall become a bonze.”

“You’d better be a little more sober-minded!” laughed Hsi Jen. “What’s the good of coming out with all these things?”

Lin Tai-yü put out two of her fingers, and puckered up her lips. “Up to this,” she laughed, “he’s become a bonze twice. Henceforward, I’ll try and remember how many times you make up your mind to become a Buddhist priest!”

This reminded Pao-yü that she was referring to a remark he had made on a previous occasion, but smiling to himself, he allowed the matter to drop.

After a short interval, Lin Tai-yü went away. A servant then came to announce that Mr. Hsüeh wanted to see him, and Pao-yü had to go. The purpose of this visit was in fact to invite him to a banquet, and as he could not very well put forward any excuse to refuse, he had to remain till the end of the feast before he was able to take his leave. The result was that, on his return, in the evening, he was to a great extent under the effect of wine. With bustling step, he wended his way into his own court. Here he perceived that the cool couch with a back to it, had already been placed in the yard, and that there was some one asleep on it. Prompted by the conviction that it must be Hsi Jen, Pao-yü seated himself on the edge of the couch. As he did so, he gave her a push, and inquired whether her sore place was any better. But thereupon he saw the occupant turn herself round, and exclaim: “What do you come again to irritate me for?”

Pao-yü, at a glance, realised that it was not Hsi Jen, but Ch’ing Wen. Pao-yü then clutched her and compelled her to sit next to him. “Your disposition,” he smiled, “has been more and more spoilt through indulgence. When you let the fan drop this morning, I simply made one or two remarks, and out you came with that long rigmarole. Had you gone for me it wouldn’t have mattered; but you also dragged in Hsi Jen, who only interfered with every good intention of inducing us to make it up again. But, ponder now, ought you to have done it; yes or no?”

“With this intense heat,” remonstrated Ch’ing Wen, “why do you pull me and toss me about? Should any people see you, what will they think? But this person of mine isn’t meet to be seated in here.”

“Since you yourself know that it isn’t meet,” replied Pao-yü with a smile, “why then were you sleeping here?”

To this taunt Ch’ing Wen had nothing to say. But she spurted out into fresh laughter. “It was all right,” she retorted, “during your absence; but the moment you come, it isn’t meet for me to stay! Get up and let me go and have my bath. Hsi Jen and She Yüeh have both had theirs, so I’ll call them here!”

“I’ve just had again a good deal of wine,” remarked Pao-yü, laughingly; "so a wash will be good for me. And since you’ve not had your bath, you had better bring the water and let’s both have it together.”

“No, no!” smiled Ch’ing Wen, waving her hand, “I cannot presume to put you to any trouble, Sir. I still remember how when Pi Hen used to look after your bath you occupied fully two or three hours. What you were up to during that time we never knew. We could not very well walk in. When you had however done washing, and we entered your room, we found the floor so covered with water that the legs of the bed were soaking and the matting itself a regular pool. Nor could we make out what kind of washing you’d been having; and for days afterwards we had a laugh over it. But I’ve neither any time to get the water ready; nor do I see the need for you to have a wash along with me. Besides, to-day it’s chilly, and as you’ve had a bath only a little while back, you can very well just now dispense with one. But I’ll draw a basin of water for you to wash your face, and to shampoo your head with. Not long ago, Yüan Yang sent you a few fruits; they were put in that crystal bowl, so you’d better tell them to bring them to you to taste.”

“Well, in that case.” laughed Pao-yü, “you needn’t also have a bath. Just simply wash your hands, and bring the fruit and let’s have some together.”

“I’m so shaky,” smiled Ch’ing Wen “that even fans slip out of my hands, and how could I fetch the fruit for you. Were I also to break the dish, it will be still more dreadful!”

“If you want to break it, break it!” smiled Pao-yü. “These things are only intended for general use. You like this thing; I fancy that; our respective tastes are not identical. The original use of that fan, for instance, was to fan one’s self with; but if you chose to break it for fun, you were quite at liberty to do so. The only thing is, when you get angry don’t make it the means of giving vent to your temper! Just like those salvers. They are really meant for serving things in. But if you fancy that kind of sound, then deliberately smash them, that will be all right. But don’t, when you are in high dudgeon avail yourself of them to air your resentment! That’s what one would call having a fancy for a thing!”

Ch’ing Wen greeted his words with a smile.

“Since that be so,” she said, “bring me your fan and let me tear it. What most takes my fancy is tearing!”

Upon hearing this Pao-yü smilingly handed it to her. Ch’ing Wen, in point of fact, took it over, and with a crash she rent it in two. Close upon this, the sound of crash upon crash became audible.

Pao-yü was standing next to her. “How nice the noise is!” he laughed. "Tear it again and make it sound a little more!”

But while he spoke, She Yüeh was seen to walk in. “Don’t,” she smiled, "be up to so much mischief!” Pao-yü, however, went up to her and snatching her fan also from her hand, he gave it to Ch’ing Wen. Ch’ing Wen took it and there and then likewise broke it in two. Both he and she then had a hearty laugh.

“What do you call this?” She Yüeh expostulated. “Do you take my property and make it the means of distracting yourselves!”

“Open the fan-box,” shouted Pao-yü, “and choose one and take it away! What, are they such fine things!”

“In that case,” ventured She Yüeh, “fetch the fans and let her break as many as she can. Won’t that be nice!”

“Go and bring them at once!” Pao-yü laughed.

“I won’t be up to any such tomfoolery!” She Yüeh demurred. “She hasn’t snapped her hands, so bid her go herself and fetch them!”

“I’m feeling tired,” interposed Ch’ing Wen, as she laughingly leant on the bed. “I’ll therefore tear some more to-morrow again.”

“An old writer says,” added Pao-yü with a smile, “’that a thousand ounces of gold cannot purchase a single laugh’! What can a few fans cost?”

After moralising, he went on to call Hsi Jen. Hsi Jen had just finished the necessary change in her dress so she stepped in; and a young servant-girl, Chiao Hui, crossed over and picked up the broken fans. Then they all sat and enjoyed the cool breeze. But we can well dispense with launching into any minute details.

On the morrow, noon found Madame Wang, Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai, Lin Tai-yü, and the rest of the young ladies congregated in dowager lady Chia’s suite of rooms. Some one then brought the news that: “Miss Shih had arrived.” In a little time they perceived Shih Hsiang-yun make her appearance in the court, at the head of a bevy of waiting-maids and married women. Pao-ch’ai, Tai-yu and her other cousins, quickly ran down the steps to meet her and exchange greetings. But with what fervour girls of tender years re-unite some day after a separation of months need not, of course, be explained. Presently, she entered the apartments, paid her respects and inquired how they all were. But after this conventional interchange of salutations, old lady Chia pressed her to take off her outer garments as the weather was so close. Shih Hsiang-yün lost no time in rising to her feet and loosening her clothes. “I don’t see why," Madame Wang thereupon smiled, “you wear all these things!’

“It’s entirely at aunt Secunda’s bidding,” retorted Shih Hsiang-yün, "that I put them on. Why, would any one of her own accord wear so many things!”

“Aunt,” interposed Pao-ch’ai, who stood by, with a smile, “you’re not aware that what most delights her in the matter of dress is to don other people’s clothes! Yes, I remember how, during her stay here in the third and fourth moons of last year, she used to wear cousin Pao’s pelisses. She even put on his shoes, and attached his frontlets as well round her head. At a casual glance, she looked the very image of cousin Pao; what was superfluous was that pair of earrings of hers. As she stood at the back of that chair she so thoroughly took in our venerable ancestor that she kept on shouting: ’Pao-yü, come over! Mind the tassels suspended on that lamp; for if you shake the dust off, it may get into your eyes!’ But all she did was to laugh; she did not budge; and it was only after every one found it hard to keep their countenance that our worthy senior also started laughing. ’You do look well in male habiliments!’ she said to her.”

“What about that!” cried Lin Tai-yü, “why, she had scarcely been here with us a couple of days in the first moon of last year, when we sent and fetched her, that we had a fall of snow. You, venerable senior, and her maternal aunt had on that day, I remember so well, just returned from worshipping the images of our ancestors, and a brand-new deep red felt wrapper of yours, dear grandmother, had been lying over there, when suddenly it disappeared. But, lo, she it was who had put it on! Being, however, too large and too long for her, she took a couple of handkerchiefs, and fastened them round her waist. She was then trudging into the back court with the servant-girls to make snow men when she tripped and fell flat in front of the drain, and got covered all over with mud.”

As she narrated this incident, every one recalled the circumstances to mind, and had a good laugh.

“Dame Chou,” Pao-ch’ai smilingly inquired of nurse Chou, “is your young lady always as fond of pranks as ever or not?”

Nurse Chou then also gave a laugh.

“Pranks are nothing,” Ying Ch’un smiled. “What I do detest is her fondness for tittle-tattle! I’ve never seen any one who, even when asleep, goes on chatter-chatter; now laughing, and now talking, as she does. Nor can I make out where she gets all those idle yarns of hers.”

“I think she’s better of late,” interposed Madame Wang. “The other day some party or other came and they met; so she’s to have a mother-in-law very soon; and can she still be comporting herself like that!”

“Are you going to stay to-day,” dowager lady Chia then asked, “or going back home?”

Nurse Chou smiled. “Your venerable ladyship has not seen what an amount of clothes we’ve brought,” she replied. “We mean, of course, to stay a couple of days.”

“Is cousin Pao-yü not at home?” inquired Hsiang-yün.”

“There she’s again! She doesn’t think of others,” remarked Pao-ch’ai smiling significantly. “She only thinks of her cousin Pao-yü. They’re both so fond of larks! This proves that she hasn’t yet got rid of that spirit of mischief.”

“You’re all now grown up,” observed old lady Chia; “and you shouldn’t allude to infant names.”

But while she was chiding them, they noticed Pao-yü arrive.

“Cousin Yün, have you come?” he smiled. “How is it that you wouldn’t come the other day when some one was despatched to fetch you?”

“It’s only a few minutes,” Madame Wang said, “since our venerable senior called that one to task, and now here he comes and refers to names and surnames!”

“Your cousin Pao,” ventured Lin Tai-yü, “has something good, which he has been waiting to give you.”

“What good thing is it?” asked Hsiang-yün.

“Do you believe what she says?” observed Pao-yü laughingly. “But how many days is it that I have not seen you, and you’ve grown so much taller!”

“Is cousin Hsi Jen all right?” inquired Hsiang-yün.

“She’s all right,” answered Pao-yü. “Many thanks for your kind thought of her.”

“I’ve brought something nice for her,” resumed Hsiang-yün.

Saying this, she produced her handkerchief, tied into a knot.

“What’s this something nice?” asked Pao-yü. “Wouldn’t it have been better if you’d brought her a couple of those rings with streaked stones of the kind you sent the other day?”

“Why, what’s this?” exclaimed Hsiang-yün laughing, opening, as she spoke, the handkerchief.

On close scrutiny, they actually found four streaked rings, similar to those she had previously sent, tied up in the same packet.

“Look here!” Lin Tai-yü smiled, “what a girl she is! Had you, when sending that fellow the other day to bring ours, given him these also to bring along with him, wouldn’t it have saved trouble? Instead of that, here you fussily bring them yourself to-day! I presumed that it was something out of the way again; but is it really only these things? In very truth, you’re a mere dunce!”

“It’s you who behave like a dunce now!” Shih Hsiang-yün smiled.

“I’ll speak out here and let every one judge for themselves who is the dunce. The servant, deputed to bring the things to you, had no need to open his mouth and say anything; for, as soon as they were brought in, it was of course evident, at a glance, that they were to be presented to you young ladies. But had he been the bearer of these things for them, I would have been under the necessity of explaining to him which was intended for this servant-girl, and which for that. Had the messenger had his wits about him, well and good; but had he been at all stupid he wouldn’t have been able to remember so much as the names of the girls! He would have made an awful mess of it, and talked a lot of nonsense. So instead of being of any use he would have even muddled, hickledy-pickledy, your things. Had a female servant been despatched, it would have been all right. But as it happened, a servant-boy was again sent the other day, so how could he have mentioned the names of the waiting-girls? And by my bringing them in person to give them to them, doesn’t it make things clearer?”

As she said this, she put down the four rings. “One is for sister Hsi Jen,” she continued, “one is for sister Yüan Yang. One for sister Chin Ch’uan-erh, and one for sister P’ing Erh. They are only for these four girls; but would the servant-boys too forsooth have remembered them so clearly!”

At these words, the whole company smiled. “How really clear!” they cried.

“This is what it is to be able to speak!” Pao-yü put in. “She doesn’t spare any one!”

Hearing this, Lin Tai-yü gave a sardonic smile. “If she didn’t know how to use her tongue,” she observed, “would she deserve to wear that unicorn of gold!”

While speaking, she rose and walked off.

Luckily, every one did not hear what she said. Only Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai pursed up her lips and laughed. Pao-yü, however, had overheard her remark, and he blamed himself for having once more talked in a heedless manner. Unawares his eye espied Pao-ch’ai much amused, and he too could not suppress a smile. But at the sight of Pao-yü in laughter, Pao-ch’ai hastily rose to her feet and withdrew. She went in search of Tai-yü, to have a chat and laugh with her.

“After you’ve had tea,” old lady Chia thereupon said to Hsiang-yün, "you’d better rest a while and then go and see your sisters-in-law. Besides, it’s cool in the garden, so you can walk about with your cousins.”

Hsiang-yün expressed her assent, and, collecting the three rings, she wrapped them up, and went and lay down to rest. Presently, she got up with the idea of paying visits to lady Feng and her other relatives. Followed by a whole bevy of nurses and waiting-maids, she repaired into lady Feng’s quarters on the off side. She bandied words with her for a while and then coming out she betook herself into the garden of Broad Vista, and called on Li Kung-ts’ai. But after a short visit, she turned her steps towards the I Hung court to look up Hsi Jen. “You people needn’t,” she said, turning her head round, “come along with me! You may go and see your friends and relatives. It will be quite enough if you simply leave Ts’ui Lü to wait upon me.”

Hearing her wishes, each went her own way in quest of aunts, or sisters-in-law. There only remained but Hsiang-yün and Ts’ui Lü.

“How is it,” inquired Ts’ui Lü, “that these lotus flowers have not yet opened?”

“The proper season hasn’t yet arrived,” rejoined Shih Hsiang-yün.

“They too,” continued Ts’ui Lü, “resemble those in our pond; they are double flowers.”

“These here,” remarked Hsiang-yün, “are not however up to ours.”

“They have over there,” observed Ts’ui Lü, “a pomegranate tree, with four or five branches joined one to another, just like one storey raised above another storey. What trouble it must have cost them to rear!”

“Flowers and plants,” suggested Shih Hsiang-yün, “are precisely like the human race. With sufficient vitality, they grow up in a healthy condition.”

“I can’t credit these words,” replied Ts’ui Lü, twisting her face round. "If you maintain that they are like human beings, how is it that I haven’t seen any person, with one head growing over another.”

This rejoinder evoked a smile from Hsiang-yün. “I tell you not to talk," she cried, “but you will insist upon talking! How do you expect people to be able to answer every thing you say! All things, whether in heaven or on earth come into existence by the co-operation of the dual powers, the male and female. So all things, whether good or bad, novel or strange, and all those manifold changes and transformations arise entirely from the favourable or adverse influence exercised by the male and female powers. And though some things seldom seen by mankind might come to life, the principle at work is, after all, the same.”

“In the face of these arguments,” laughed Ts’ui Lü, “everything, from old till now, from the very creation itself, embodies a certain proportion of the Yin and Yang principles.”

“You stupid thing!” exclaimed Hsiang-yün smiling, “the more you talk, the more stuff and nonsense falls from your lips! What about everything embodying a certain proportion of the principles Yin and Yang! Besides, the two words Yin and Yang are really one word; for when the Yang principle is exhausted, it becomes the Yin; and when the Yin is exhausted, it becomes Yang. And it isn’t that, at the exhaustion of the Yin, another Yang comes into existence; and that, at the exhaustion of the Yang, a second Yin arises.”

“This trash is sufficient to kill me!” ejaculated Ts’ui Lü. “What are the Yin and Yang? Why, they are without substance or form! But pray, Miss, tell me what sort of things these Yin and Yang can be!”

“The Yin and Yang,” explained Hsiang-yün, “are no more than spirits, but anything affected by their influence at once assumes form. The heavens, for instance, are Yang, and the earth is Yin; water is Yin and fire is Yang; the sun is Yang and the moon Yin.”

“Quite so! quite so!” cried out Ts’ui Lü, much amused by these explanations, “I’ve at length attained perception! It isn’t strange then that people invariably call the sun ’T’ai-yang.’ While astrologers keep on speaking of the moon as ’T’ai-yin-hsing,’ or something like it. It must be on account of this principle.”

“O-mi-to-fu!” laughed Hsiang-yün, “you have at last understood!”

“All these things possess the Yin and Yang; that’s all right.” T’sui Lü put in. “But is there any likelihood that all those mosquitoes, flees and worms, flowers, herbs, bricks and tiles have, in like manner, anything to do with the Yin and Yang?”

“How don’t they!” exclaimed Hsiang-yün. “For example, even the leaves of that tree are distinguished by Yin and Yang. The side, which looks up and faces the sun, is called Yang; while that in the shade and looking downwards, is called Yin.”

“Is it really so!” ejaculated T’sui Lü, upon hearing this; while she smiled and nodded her head. “Now I know all about it! But which is Yang and which Yin in these fans we’re holding.”

“This side, the front, is Yang,” answered Hsiang-yün; “and that, the reverse, is Yin.”

Ts’ui Lü went on to nod her head, and to laugh. She felt inclined to apply her questions to several other things, but as she could not fix her mind upon anything in particular, she, all of a sudden, drooped her head. Catching sight of the pendant in gold, representing a unicorn, which Hsiang-yün had about her person, she forthwith made allusion to it. “This, Miss,” she said smiling, “cannot likely also have any Yin and Yang!”

“The beasts of the field and the birds of the air,” proceeded Hsiang-yün, “are, the cock birds, Yang, and the hen birds, Yin. The females of beasts are Yin; and the males, Yang; so how is there none?”

“Is this male, or is this female?” inquired Ts’ui Lü.

“Ts’ui!” exclaimed Hsiang-yün, “what about male and female! Here you are with your nonsense again.”

“Well, never mind about that,” added Ts’ui Lü, “But how is it that all things have Yin and Yang, and that we human beings have no Yin and no Yang?”

Hsiang-yün then lowered her face. “You low-bred thing!” she exclaimed. "But it’s better for us to proceed on our way, for the more questions you ask, the nicer they get.”

“What’s there in this that you can’t tell me?” asked Ts’ui Lü, “But I know all about it, so there’s no need for you to keep me on pins and needles.”

Hsiang-yün blurted out laughing. “What do you know?” she said.

“That you, Miss, are Yang, and that I’m Yin,” answered Ts’ui Lü.

Hsiang-yün produced her handkerchief, and, while screening her mouth with it, burst out into a loud fit of laughter.

“What I say must be right for you to laugh in this way,” Ts’ui Lü observed.

“Perfectly right, perfectly right!” acquiesced Hsiang-yün.

“People say,” continued Ts’ui Lü, “that masters are Yang, and that servant-girls are Yin; don’t I even apprehend this primary principle?”

“You apprehend it thoroughly,” responded Hsiang-yün laughingly. But while she was speaking, she espied, under the trellis with the cinnamon roses, something glistening like gold. “Do you see that? What is it?" Hsiang-yün asked pointing at it.

Hearing this, Ts’ui Lü hastily went over and picked up the object. While scrutinising it, she observed with a smile, “Let us find out whether it’s Yin or Yang!”

So saying, she first laid hold of the unicorn, belonging to Shih Hsiang-yün, and passed it under inspection.

Shih Hsiang-yün longed to be shown what she had picked up, but Ts’ui Lü would not open her hand.

“It’s a precious gem,” she smiled. “You mayn’t see it, Miss. Where can it be from? How very strange it is! I’ve never seen any one in here with anything of the kind.”

“Give it to me and let me look at it,” retorted Hsiang-yün.

Ts’ui Lü stretched out her hand with a dash. “Yes, Miss, please look at it!” she laughed.

Hsiang-yün raised her eyes. She perceived, at a glance, that it was a golden unicorn, so beautiful and so bright; and so much larger and handsomer than the one she had on. Hsiang-yün put out her arm and, taking the gem in the palm of her hand, she fell into a silent reverie and uttered not a word. She was quite absent-minded when suddenly Pao-yü appeared in the opposite direction.

“What are you two,” he asked smiling, “doing here in the sun? How is it you don’t go and find Hsi Jen?”

Shih Hsiang-yün precipitately concealed the unicorn. “We were just going,” she replied, “so let us all go together.”

Conversing, they, in a company, wended their steps into the I Hung court. Hsi Jen was leaning on the balustrade at the bottom of the steps, her face turned to the breeze. Upon unexpectedly seeing Hsiang-yün arrive she with alacrity rushed down to greet her; and taking her hand in hers, they cheerfully canvassed the events that had transpired during their separation, while they entered the room and took a seat.

“You should have come earlier,” Pao-yü said. “I’ve got something nice and was only waiting for you.”

Saying this, he searched and searched about his person. After a long interval, “Ai-ya!” he ejaculated. “Have you perchance put that thing away?” he eagerly asked Hsi Jen.

“What thing?” inquired Hsi Jen.

“The unicorn,” explained Pao-yü, “I got the other day.”

“You’ve daily worn it about you, and how is it you ask me?” remarked Hsi Jen.

As soon as her answer fell on his ear, Pao-yü clapped his hands. “I’ve lost it!” he cried. “Where can I go and look for it!” There and then, he meant to go and search in person; but Shih Hsiang-yün heard his inquiries, and concluded that it must be he who had lost the gem. “When did you too,” she promptly smiled, “get a unicorn?”

“I got it the other day, after ever so much trouble;” rejoined Pao-yü, "but I can’t make out when I can have lost it! I’ve also become quite addle-headed.”

“Fortunately,” smiled Shih Hsiang-yün, “it’s only a sort of a toy! Still, are you so careless?” While speaking, she flung open her hand. "Just see,” she laughed, “is it this or not?”

As soon as he saw it, Pao-yü was seized with unwonted delight. But, reader, if you care to know the cause of his delight, peruse the explanation contained in the next chapter.

Chapter XXXII.

  Hsi Jen and Hsiang-yün tell their secret thoughts.
  Tai-yü is infatuated with the living Pao-yü.

While trying to conceal her sense of shame and injury Chin Ch’uan is driven by her impetuous feelings to seek death.

But to resume our narrative. At the sight of the unicorn, Pao-yü was filled with intense delight. So much so, that he forthwith put out his hand and made a grab for it. “Lucky enough it was you who picked it up!" he said, with a face beaming with smiles. “But when did you find it?”

“Fortunately it was only this!” rejoined Shih Hsiang-yün laughing. “If you by and bye also lose your seal, will you likely banish it at once from your mind, and never make an effort to discover it?”

“After all,” smiled Pao-yü, “the loss of a seal is an ordinary occurrence. But had I lost this, I would have deserved to die.”

Hsi Jen then poured a cup of tea and handed it to Shih Hsiang-yün. “Miss Senior,” she remarked smilingly, “I heard that you had occasion the other day to be highly pleased.”

Shih Hsiang-yün flushed crimson. She went on drinking her tea and did not utter a single word.

“Here you are again full of shame!” Hsi Jen smiled. “But do you remember when we were living, about ten years back, in those warm rooms on the west side and you confided in me one evening, you didn’t feel any shame then; and how is it you blush like this now?”

“Do you still speak about that!” exclaimed Shih Hsiang-yün laughingly. "You and I were then great friends. But when our mother subsequently died and I went home for a while, how is it you were at once sent to be with my cousin Secundus, and that now that I’ve come back you don’t treat me as you did once?”

“Are you yet harping on this!” retorted Hsi Jen, putting on a smile. "Why, at first, you used to coax me with a lot of endearing terms to comb your hair and to wash your face, to do this and that for you. But now that you’ve become a big girl, you assume the manner of a young mistress towards me, and as you put on these airs of a young mistress, how can I ever presume to be on a familiar footing with you?”

“O-mi-to-fu,” cried Shih Hsiang-yün. “What a false accusation! If I be guilty of anything of the kind, may I at once die! Just see what a broiling hot day this is, and yet as soon as I arrived I felt bound to come and look you up first. If you don’t believe me, well, ask Lü Erh! And while at home, when did I not at every instant say something about you?”

Scarcely had she concluded than Hsi Jen and Pao-yü tried to soothe her. "We were only joking,” they said, “but you’ve taken everything again as gospel. What! are you still so impetuous in your temperament!”

“You don’t say,” argued Shih Hsiang-yün, “that your words are hard things to swallow, but contrariwise, call people’s temperaments impetuous!”

As she spoke, she unfolded her handkerchief and, producing a ring, she gave it to Hsi Jen.

Hsi Jen did not know how to thank her enough. “When;” she consequently smiled, “you sent those to your cousin the other day, I got one also; and here you yourself bring me another to-day! It’s clear enough therefore that you haven’t forgotten me. This alone has been quite enough to test you. As for the ring itself, what is its worth? but it’s a token of the sincerity of your heart!”

“Who gave it to you?” inquired Shih Hsiang-yün.

“Miss Pao let me have it.” replied Hsi Jen.

“I was under the impression,” remarked Hsiang-yün with a sigh, “that it was a present from cousin Lin. But is it really cousin Pao, that gave it to you! When I was at home, I day after day found myself reflecting that among all these cousins of mine, there wasn’t one able to compare with cousin Pao, so excellent is she. How I do regret that we are not the offspring of one mother! For could I boast of such a sister of the same flesh and blood as myself, it wouldn’t matter though I had lost both father and mother!”

While indulging in these regrets, her eyes got quite red.

“Never mind! never mind!” interposed Pao-yü. “Why need you speak of these things!”

“If I do allude to this,” answered Shih Hsiang-yün, “what does it matter? I know that weak point of yours. You’re in fear and trembling lest your cousin Lin should come to hear what I say, and get angry with me again for eulogising cousin Pao! Now isn’t it this, eh!”

“Ch’ih!” laughed Hsi Jen, who was standing by her. “Miss Yün,” she said, "now that you’ve grown up to be a big girl you’ve become more than ever openhearted and outspoken.”

“When I contend;” smiled Pao-yü, “that it is difficult to say a word to any one of you I’m indeed perfectly correct!”

“My dear cousin,” observed Shih Hsiang-yün laughingly, “don’t go on in that strain! You’ll provoke me to displeasure. When you are with me all you are good for is to talk and talk away; but were you to catch a glimpse of cousin Lin, you would once more be quite at a loss to know what best to do!”

“Now, enough of your jokes!” urged Hsi Jen. “I have a favour to crave of you."

“What is it?” vehemently inquired Shih Hsiang-yün.

“I’ve got a pair of shoes,” answered Hsi Jen, “for which I’ve stuck the padding together; but I’m not feeling up to the mark these last few days, so I haven’t been able to work at them. If you have any leisure, do finish them for me.”

“This is indeed strange!” exclaimed Shih Hsiang-yün. “Putting aside all the skilful workers engaged in your household, you have besides some people for doing needlework and others for tailoring and cutting; and how is it you appeal to me to take your shoes in hand? Were you to ask any one of those men to execute your work, who could very well refuse to do it?”

“Here you are in another stupid mood!” laughed Hsi Jen. “Can it be that you don’t know that our sewing in these quarters mayn’t be done by these needleworkers.”

At this reply, it at once dawned upon Shih Hsiang-yün that the shoes must be intended for Pao-yü. “Since that be the case,” she in consequence smiled; “I’ll work them for you. There’s however one thing. I’ll readily attend to any of yours, but I will have nothing to do with any for other people.”

“There you are again!” laughed Hsi Jen. “Who am I to venture to trouble you to make shoes for me? I’ll tell you plainly, however, that they are not mine. But no matter whose they are, it is anyhow I who’ll be the recipient of your favour; that is sufficient.”

“To speak the truth,” rejoined Shih Hsiang-yün, “you’ve put me to the trouble of working, I don’t know how many things for you. The reason why I refuse on this occasion should be quite evident to you!”

“I can’t nevertheless make it out!” answered Hsi Jen.

“I heard the other day,” continued Shih Hsiang-yün, a sardonic smile on her lip, “that while the fan-case, I had worked, was being held and compared with that of some one else, it too was slashed away in a fit of high dudgeon. This reached my ears long ago, and do you still try to dupe me by asking me again now to make something more for you? Have I really become a slave to you people?

“As to what occurred the other day,” hastily explained Pao-yü smiling, "I positively had no idea that that thing was your handiwork.”

“He never knew that you’d done it,” Hsi Jen also laughed. “I deceived him by telling him that there had been of late some capital hands at needlework outside, who could execute any embroidery with surpassing beauty, and that I had asked them to bring a fan-case so as to try them and to see whether they could actually work well or not. He at once believed what I said. But as he produced the case and gave it to this one and that one to look at, he somehow or other, I don’t know how, managed again to put some one’s back up, and she cut it into two. On his return, however, he bade me hurry the men to make another; and when at length I explained to him that it had been worked by you, he felt, I can’t tell you, what keen regret!”

“This is getting stranger and stranger!” said Shih Hsiang-yün. “It wasn’t worth the while for Miss Lin to lose her temper about it. But as she plies the scissors so admirably, why, you might as well tell her to finish the shoes for you.”

“She couldn’t,” replied Hsi Jen, “for besides other things our venerable lady is still in fear and trembling lest she should tire herself in any way. The doctor likewise says that she will continue to enjoy good health, so long as she is carefully looked after; so who would wish to ask her to take them in hand? Last year she managed to just get through a scented bag, after a whole year’s work. But here we’ve already reached the middle of the present year, and she hasn’t yet taken up any needle or thread!”

In the course of their conversation, a servant came and announced ’that the gentleman who lived in the Hsing Lung Street had come.’ “Our master,” he added, “bids you, Mr. Secundus, come out and greet him.”

As soon as Pao-yü heard this announcement, he knew that Chia Yü-ts’un must have arrived. But he felt very unhappy at heart. Hsi Jen hurried to go and bring his clothes. Pao-yü, meanwhile, put on his boots, but as he did so, he gave way to resentment. “Why there’s father,” he soliloquised, “to sit with him; that should be enough; and must he, on every visit he pays, insist upon seeing me!”

“It is, of course, because you have such a knack for receiving and entertaining visitors that Mr. Chia Cheng will have you go out," laughingly interposed Shih Hsiang-yün from one side, as she waved her fan.

“Is it father’s doing?” Pao-yü rejoined. “Why, it’s he himself who asks that I should be sent for to see him.”

“’When a host is courteous, visitors come often,’” smiled Hsiang-yün, "so it’s surely because you possess certain qualities, which have won his regard, that he insists upon seeing you.”

“But I am not what one would call courteous,” demurred Pao-yü. “I am, of all coarse people, the coarsest. Besides, I do not choose to have any relations with such people as himself.”

“Here’s again that unchangeable temperament of yours!” laughed Hsiang-yün. “But you’re a big fellow now, and you should at least, if you be loth to study and go and pass your examinations for a provincial graduate or a metropolitan graduate, have frequent intercourse with officers and ministers of state and discuss those varied attainments, which one acquires in an official career, so that you also may be able in time to have some idea about matters in general; and that when by and bye you’ve made friends, they may not see you spending the whole day long in doing nothing than loafing in our midst, up to every imaginable mischief.”

“Miss,” exclaimed Pao-yü, after this harangue, “pray go and sit in some other girl’s room, for mind one like myself may contaminate a person who knows so much of attainments and experience as you do.”

“Miss,” ventured Hsi Jen, “drop this at once! Last time Miss Pao too tendered him this advice, but without troubling himself as to whether people would feel uneasy or not, he simply came out with an ejaculation of ’hai,’ and rushed out of the place. Miss Pao hadn’t meanwhile concluded her say, so when she saw him fly, she got so full of shame that, flushing scarlet, she could neither open her lips, nor hold her own counsel. But lucky for him it was only Miss Pao. Had it been Miss Lin, there’s no saying what row there may not have been again, and what tears may not have been shed! Yet the very mention of all she had to tell him is enough to make people look up to Miss Pao with respect. But after a time, she also betook herself away. I then felt very unhappy as I imagined that she was angry; but contrary to all my expectations, she was by and bye just the same as ever. She is, in very truth, long-suffering and indulgent! This other party contrariwise became quite distant to her, little though one would have thought it of him; and as Miss Pao perceived that he had lost his temper, and didn’t choose to heed her, she subsequently made I don’t know how many apologies to him.”

“Did Miss Lin ever talk such trash!” exclaimed Pao-yü. “Had she ever talked such stuff and nonsense, I would have long ago become chilled towards her.”

“What you say is all trash!” Hsi Jen and Hsiang-yün remarked with one voice, while they shook their heads to and fro and smiled.

Lin Tai-yü, the fact is, was well aware that now that Shih Hsiang-yün was staying in the mansion, Pao-yü too was certain to hasten to come and tell her all about the unicorn he had got, so she thought to herself: "In the foreign traditions and wild stories, introduced here of late by Pao-yü, literary persons and pretty girls are, for the most part, brought together in marriage, through the agency of some trifling but ingenious nick-nack. These people either have miniature ducks, or phoenixes, jade necklets or gold pendants, fine handkerchiefs or elegant sashes; and they have, through the instrumentality of such trivial objects, invariably succeeded in accomplishing the wishes they entertained throughout their lives.” When she recently discovered, by some unforeseen way, that Pao-yü had likewise a unicorn she began to apprehend lest he should make this circumstance a pretext to create an estrangement with her, and indulge with Shih Hsiang-yün as well in various free and easy flirtations and fine doings. She therefore quietly crossed over to watch her opportunity and take such action as would enable her to get an insight into his and her sentiments. Contrary, however, to all her calculations, no sooner did she reach her destination, than she overheard Shih Hsiang-yün dilate on the topic of experience, and Pao-yü go on to observe: “Cousin Lin has never indulged in such stuff and nonsense. Had she ever uttered any such trash, I would have become chilled even towards her!” This language suddenly produced, in Lin Tai-yü’s mind, both surprise as well as delight; sadness as well as regret. Delight, at having indeed been so correct in her perception that he whom she had ever considered in the light of a true friend had actually turned out to be a true friend. Surprise, “because,” she said to herself: “he has, in the presence of so many witnesses, displayed such partiality as to speak in my praise, and has shown such affection and friendliness for me as to make no attempt whatever to shirk suspicion.” Regret, “for since,” (she pondered), “you are my intimate friend, you could certainly well look upon me too as your intimate friend; and if you and I be real friends, why need there be any more talk about gold and jade? But since there be that question of gold and jade, you and I should have such things in our possession. Yet, why should this Pao-ch’ai step in again between us?” Sad, “because,” (she reflected), “my father and mother departed life at an early period; and because I have, in spite of the secret engraven on my heart and imprinted on my bones, not a soul to act as a mentor to me. Besides, of late, I continuously feel confusion creep over my mind, so my disease must already have gradually developed itself. The doctors further state that my breath is weak and my blood poor, and that they dread lest consumption should declare itself, so despite that sincere friendship I foster for you, I cannot, I fear, last for very long. You are, I admit, a true friend to me, but what can you do for my unfortunate destiny!”

Upon reaching this point in her reflections, she could not control her tears, and they rolled freely down her cheeks. So much so, that when about to enter and meet her cousins, she experienced such utter lack of zest, that, while drying her tears she turned round, and wended her steps back in the direction of her apartments.

Pao-yü, meanwhile, had hurriedly got into his new costume. Upon coming out of doors, he caught sight of Lin Tai-yü, walking quietly ahead of him engaged, to all appearances, in wiping tears from her eyes. With rapid stride, he overtook her.

“Cousin Lin,” he smiled, “where are you off to? How is it that you’re crying again? Who has once more hurt your feelings?”

Lin Tai-yü turned her head round to look; and seeing that it was Pao-yü, she at once forced a smile. “Why should I be crying,” she replied, “when there is no reason to do so?”

“Look here!” observed Pao-yü smilingly. “The tears in your eyes are not dry yet and do you still tell me a fib?”

Saying this, he could not check an impulse to raise his arm and wipe her eyes, but Lin Tai-yü speedily withdrew several steps backwards. “Are you again bent,” she said, “upon compassing your own death! Then why do you knock your hands and kick your feet about in this wise?”

“While intent upon speaking, I forgot,” smiled Pao-yü, “all about propriety and gesticulated, yet quite inadvertently. But what care I whether I die or live!”

“To die would, after all” added Lin Tai-yü, “be for you of no matter; but you’ll leave behind some gold or other, and a unicorn too or other; and what would they do?”

This insinuation was enough to plunge Pao-yü into a fresh fit of exasperation. Hastening up to her: “Do you still give vent to such language?” he asked. “Why, it’s really tantamount to invoking imprecations on me! What, are you yet angry with me!”

This question recalled to Lin Tai-yü’s mind the incidents of a few days back, and a pang of remorse immediately gnawed her heart for having been again so indiscreet in her speech. “Now don’t you distress your mind!" she observed hastily, smiling. “I verily said what I shouldn’t! Yet what is there in this to make your veins protrude, and to so provoke you as to bedew your whole face with perspiration?”

While reasoning with him, she felt unable to repress herself, and, approaching him, she extended her hand, and wiped the perspiration from his face.

Pao-yü gazed intently at her for a long time. “Do set your mind at ease!” he at length observed.

At this remark, Lin Tai-yü felt quite nervous. “What’s there to make my mind uneasy?” she asked after a protracted interval. “I can’t make out what you’re driving at; tell me what’s this about making me easy or uneasy?”

Pao-yü heaved a sigh. “Don’t you truly fathom the depth of my words?” he inquired. “Why, do you mean to say that I’ve throughout made such poor use of my love for you as not to be able to even divine your feelings? Well, if so, it’s no wonder that you daily lose your temper on my account!”

“I actually don’t understand what you mean by easy or uneasy,” Lin Tai-yü replied.

“My dear girl,” urged Pao-yü, nodding and sighing. “Don’t be making a fool of me! For if you can’t make out these words, not only have I ever uselessly lavished affection upon you, but the regard, with which you have always treated me, has likewise been entirely of no avail! And it’s mostly because you won’t set your mind at ease that your whole frame is riddled with disease. Had you taken things easier a bit, this ailment of yours too wouldn’t have grown worse from day to day!”

These words made Lin Tai-yü feel as if she had been blasted by thunder, or struck by lightning. But after carefully weighing them within herself, they seemed to her far more fervent than any that might have emanated from the depths of her own heart, and thousands of sentiments, in fact, thronged together in her mind; but though she had every wish to frame them into language, she found it a hard task to pronounce so much as half a word. All she therefore did was to gaze at him with vacant stare.

Pao-yü fostered innumerable thoughts within himself, but unable in a moment to resolve from which particular one to begin, he too absently looked at Tai-yü. Thus it was that the two cousins remained for a long time under the spell of a deep reverie.

An ejaculation of “Hai!” was the only sound that issued from Lin Tai-yü’s lips; and while tears streamed suddenly from her eyes, she turned herself round and started on her way homeward.

Pao-yü jumped forward, with alacrity, and dragged her back. “My dear cousin,” he pleaded, “do stop a bit! Let me tell you just one thing; after that, you may go.”

“What can you have to tell me?” exclaimed Lin Tai-yü, who while wiping her tears, extricated her hand from his grasp. “I know.” she cried, “all you have to say.”

As she spoke, she went away, without even turning her head to cast a glance behind her.

As Pao-yü gazed at her receding figure, he fell into abstraction.

He had, in fact, quitted his apartments a few moments back in such precipitate hurry that he had omitted to take a fan with him: and Hsi Jen, fearing lest he might suffer from the heat, promptly seized one and ran to find him and give it to him. But upon casually raising her head, she espied Lin Tai-yü standing with him. After a time, Tai-yü walked away; and as he still remained where he was without budging, she approached him.

“You left,” she said, “without even taking a fan with you. Happily I noticed it, and so hurried to catch you up and bring it to you.”

But Pao-yü was so lost in thought that as soon as he caught Hsi Jen’s voice, he made a dash and clasped her in his embrace, without so much as trying to make sure who she was.

“My dear cousin,” he cried, “I couldn’t hitherto muster enough courage to disclose the secrets of my heart; but on this occasion I shall make bold and give utterance to them. For you I’m quite ready to even pay the penalty of death. I have too for your sake brought ailments upon my whole frame. It’s in here! But I haven’t ventured to breathe it to any one. My only alternative has been to bear it patiently, in the hope that when you got all right, I might then perchance also recover. But whether I sleep, or whether I dream, I never, never forget you.”

These declarations quite dumfoundered Hsi Jen. She gave way to incessant apprehensions. All she could do was to shout out: “Oh spirits, oh heaven, oh Buddha, he’s compassing my death!” Then pushing him away from her, “what is it you’re saying?” she asked. “May it be that you are possessed by some evil spirit! Don’t you quick get yourself off?”

This brought Pao-yü to his senses at once. He then became aware that it was Hsi Jen, and that she had come to bring him a fan. Pao-yü was overpowered with shame; his whole face was suffused with scarlet; and, snatching the fan out of her hands, he bolted away with rapid stride.

When Hsi Jen meanwhile saw Pao-yü effect his escape, “Lin Tai-yü,” she pondered, “must surely be at the bottom of all he said just now. But from what one can see, it will be difficult, in the future, to obviate the occurrence of some unpleasant mishap. It’s sufficient to fill one with fear and trembling!”

At this point in her cogitations, she involuntarily melted into tears, so agitated was she; while she secretly exercised her mind how best to act so as to prevent this dreadful calamity.

But while she was lost in this maze of surmises and doubts, Pao-ch’ai unexpectedly appeared from the off side. “What!” she smilingly exclaimed, “are you dreaming away in a hot broiling sun like this?”

Hsi Jen, at this question, hastily returned her smiles. “Those two birds,” she answered, “were having a fight, and such fun was it that I stopped to watch them.”

“Where is cousin Pao off to now in such a hurry, got up in that fine attire?” asked Pao-ch’ai, “I just caught sight of him, as he went by. I meant to have called out and stopped him, but as he, of late, talks greater rubbish than ever, I didn’t challenge him, but let him go past.”

“Our master,” rejoined Hsi Jen, “sent for him to go out.”

“Ai-yah!” hastily exclaimed Pao-ch’ai, as soon as this remark reached her ears. “What does he want him for, on a scalding day like this? Might he not have thought of something and got so angry about it as to send for him to give him a lecture!”

“If it isn’t this,” added Hsi Jen laughing, “some visitor must, I presume, have come and he wishes him to meet him.”

“With weather like this,” smiled Pao-ch’ai, “even visitors afford no amusement! Why don’t they, while this fiery temperature lasts, stay at home, where it’s much cooler, instead of gadding about all over the place?”

“Could you tell them so?” smiled Hsi Jen.

“What was that girl Hsiang-yün doing in your quarters?” Pao-ch’ai then asked.

“She only came to chat with us on irrelevant matters.” Hsi Jen replied smiling. “But did you see the pair of shoes I was pasting the other day? Well, I meant to ask her to-morrow to finish them for me.”

Pao-chai, at these words, turned her head round, first on this side, and then on the other. Seeing that there was no one coming or going: “How is it,” she smiled, “that you, who have so much gumption, don’t ever show any respect for people’s feelings? I’ve been of late keeping an eye on Miss Yün’s manner, and, from what I can glean from the various rumours afloat, she can’t be, in the slightest degree, her own mistress at home! In that family of theirs, so little can they stand the burden of any heavy expenses that they don’t employ any needlework-people, and ordinary everyday things are mostly attended to by their ladies themselves. (If not), why is it that every time she has come to us on a visit, and she and I have had a chat, she at once broached the subject of their being in great difficulties at home, the moment she perceived that there was no one present? Yet, whenever I went on to ask her a few questions about their usual way of living, her very eyes grew red, while she made some indistinct reply; but as for speaking out, she wouldn’t. But when I consider the circumstances in which she is placed, for she has certainly had the misfortune of being left, from her very infancy, without father and mother, the very sight of her is too much for me, and my heart begins to bleed within me.”

“Quite so! Quite so!” observed Hsi Jen, clapping her hands, after listening to her throughout. “It isn’t strange then if she let me have the ten butterfly knots I asked her to tie for me only after ever so many days, and if she said that they were coarsely done, but that I should make the best of them and use them elsewhere, and that if I wanted any nice ones, I should wait until by and bye when she came to stay here, when she would work some neatly for me. What you’ve told me now reminds me that, as she had found it difficult to find an excuse when we appealed to her, she must have had to slave away, who knows how much, till the third watch in the middle of the night. What a stupid thing I was! Had I known this sooner, I would never have told her a word about it.”

“Last time;” continued Pao-ch’ai, “she told me that when she was at home she had ample to do, that she kept busy as late as the third watch, and that, if she did the slightest stitch of work for any other people, the various ladies, belonging to her family, did not like it.”

“But as it happens,” explained Hsi Jen, “that mulish-minded and perverse-tempered young master of ours won’t allow the least bit of needlework, no matter whether small or large, to be made by those persons employed to do sewing in the household. And as for me, I have no time to turn my attention to all these things.”

“Why mind him?” laughed Pao-ch’ai. “Simply ask some one to do the work and finish.”

“How could one bamboozle him?” resumed Hsi Jen. “Why, he’ll promptly find out everything. Such a thing can’t even be suggested. The only thing I can do is to quietly slave away, that’s all.”

“You shouldn’t work so hard,” smiled Pao-ch’ai. “What do you say to my doing a few things for you?”

“Are you in real earnest!” ventured Hsi Jen smiling. “Well, in that case, it is indeed a piece of good fortune for me! I’ll come over myself in the evening.”

But before she could conclude her reply, she of a sudden noticed an old matron come up to her with precipitate step. “Where does the report come from,” she interposed, “that Miss Chin Ch’uan-erh has gone, for no rhyme or reason, and committed suicide by jumping into the well?”

This bit of news startled Hsi Jen. “Which Chin Ch’uan-erh is it,” she speedily inquired.

“Where are two Chin Ch’uan-erhs to be found!” rejoined the old matron. "It’s the one in our Mistress,’ Madame Wang’s, apartments, who was the other day sent away for something or other, I don’t know what. On her return home, she raised her groans to the skies and shed profuse tears, but none of them worried their minds about her, until, who’d have thought it, they could see nothing of her. A servant, however, went just now to draw water and he says that ’while he was getting it from the well in the south-east corner, he caught sight of a dead body, that he hurriedly called men to his help, and that when they fished it out, they unexpectedly found that it was she, but that though they bustled about trying to bring her round, everything proved of no avail’”

“This is odd!” Pao-ch’ai exclaimed.

The moment Hsi Jen heard the tidings, she shook her head and moaned. At the remembrance of the friendship, which had ever existed between them, tears suddenly trickled down her cheeks. And as for Pao-ch’ai, she listened to the account of the accident and then hastened to Madame Wang’s quarters to try and afford her consolation.

Hsi Jen, during this interval, returned to her room. But we will leave her without further notice, and explain that when Pao-ch’ai reached the interior of Madame Wang’s home, she found everything plunged in perfect stillness. Madame Wang was seated all alone in the inner chamber indulging her sorrow. But such difficulties did Pao-ch’ai experience to allude to the occurrence, that her only alternative was to take a seat next to her.

“Where do you come from?” asked Madame Wang.

“I come from inside the garden,” answered Pao-ch’ai.

“As you come from the garden,” Madame Wang inquired, “did you see anything of your cousin Pao-yü?”

“I saw him just now,” Pao-ch’ai replied, “go out, dressed up in his fineries. But where he is gone to, I don’t know.”

“Have you perchance heard of any strange occurrence?” asked Madame Wang, while she nodded her head and sighed. “Why, Chin Ch’uan Erh jumped into the well and committed suicide.”

“How is it that she jumped into the well when there was nothing to make her do so?” Pao-ch’ai inquired. “This is indeed a remarkable thing!”

“The fact is,” proceeded Madame Wang, “that she spoilt something the other day, and in a sudden fit of temper, I gave her a slap and sent her away, simply meaning to be angry with her for a few days and then bring her in again. But, who could have ever imagined that she had such a resentful temperament as to go and drown herself in a well! And is not this all my fault?”

“It’s because you are such a kind-hearted person, aunt,” smiled Pao-ch’ai, “that such ideas cross your mind! But she didn’t jump into the well when she was in a tantrum; so what must have made her do so was that she had to go and live in the lower quarters. Or, she might have been standing in front of the well, and her foot slipped, and she fell into it. While in the upper rooms, she used to be kept under restraint, so when this time she found herself outside, she must, of course, have felt the wish to go strolling all over the place in search of fun. How could she have ever had such a fiery disposition? But even admitting that she had such a temper, she was, after all, a stupid girl to do as she did; and she doesn’t deserve any pity.”

“In spite of what you say,” sighed Madame Wang, shaking her head to and fro, “I really feel unhappy at heart.”

“You shouldn’t, aunt, distress your mind about it!” Pao-ch’ai smiled. "Yet, if you feel very much exercised, just give her a few more taels than you would otherwise have done, and let her be buried. You’ll thus carry out to the full the feelings of a mistress towards her servant.”

“I just now gave them fifty taels for her,” pursued Madame Wang. “I also meant to let them have some of your cousin’s new clothes to enshroud her in. But, who’d have thought it, none of the girls had, strange coincidence, any newly-made articles of clothing; and there were only that couple of birthday suits of your cousin Lin’s. But as your cousin Lin has ever been such a sensitive child and has always too suffered and ailed, I thought it would be unpropitious for her, if her clothes were also now handed to people to wrap their dead in, after she had been told that they were given her for her birthday. So I ordered a tailor to get a suit for her as soon as possible. Had it been any other servant-girl, I could have given her a few taels and have finished. But Chin Ch’uan-erh was, albeit a servant-maid, nearly as dear to me as if she had been a daughter of mine.”

Saying this, tears unwittingly ran down from her eyes.

“Aunt!” vehemently exclaimed Pao-ch’ai. “What earthly use is it of hurrying a tailor just now to prepare clothes for her? I have a couple of suits I made the other day and won’t it save trouble were I to go and bring them for her? Besides, when she was alive, she used to wear my old clothes. And what’s more our figures are much alike.”

“What you say is all very well,” rejoined Madame Wang; “but can it be that it isn’t distasteful to you?”

“Compose your mind,” urged Pao-ch’ai with a smile. “I have never paid any heed to such things.”

As she spoke, she rose to her feet and walked away.

Madame Wang then promptly called two servants. “Go and accompany Miss Pao!” she said.

In a brief space of time, Pao-ch’ai came back with the clothes, and discovered Pao-yü seated next to Madame Wang, all melted in tears. Madame Wang was reasoning with him. At the sight of Pao-ch’ai, she, at once, desisted. When Pao-ch’ai saw them go on in this way, and came to weigh their conversation and to scan the expression on their countenances, she immediately got a pretty correct insight into their feelings. But presently she handed over the clothes, and Madame Wang sent for Chin Ch’uan-erh’s mother, to take them away.

But, reader, you will have to peruse the next chapter for further details.

Chapter XXXIII.

  A brother is prompted by ill-feeling to wag his tongue a bit.
  A depraved son receives heavy blows with a rattan cane.

Madame Wang, for we shall now continue our story, sent for Chin Ch’uan-erh’s mother. On her arrival, she gave her several hair-pins and rings, and then told her that she could invite several Buddhist priests as well to read the prayers necessary to release the spirit from purgatory. The mother prostrated herself and expressed her gratitude; after which, she took her leave.

Indeed, Pao-yü, on his return from entertaining Yü-ts’un, heard the tidings that Chin Ch’uan-erh had been instigated by a sense of shame to take her own life and he at once fell a prey to grief. So much so, that, when he came inside, and was again spoken to and admonished by Madame Wang, he could not utter a single word in his justification. But as soon as he perceived Pao-ch’ai make her appearance in the room, he seized the opportunity to scamper out in precipitate haste. Whither he was trudging, he himself had not the least idea. But throwing his hands behind his back and drooping his head against his chest, he gave way to sighs, while with slow and listless step he turned towards the hall. Scarcely, however, had he rounded the screen-wall, which stood in front of the door-way, when, by a strange coincidence, he ran straight into the arms of some one, who was unawares approaching from the opposite direction, and was just about to go towards the inner portion of the compound.

“Hallo!” that person was heard to cry out, as he stood still.

Pao-yü sustained a dreadful start. Raising his face to see, he discovered that it was no other than his father. At once, he unconsciously drew a long breath and adopted the only safe course of dropping his arms against his body and standing on one side.

“Why are you,” exclaimed Chia Cheng, “drooping your head in such a melancholy mood, and indulging in all these moans? When Yü-ts’un came just now and he asked to see you, you only put in your appearance after a long while. But though you did come, you were not in the least disposed to chat with anything like cheerfulness and animation; you behaved, as you ever do, like a regular fool. I detected then in your countenance a certain expression of some hidden hankering and sadness; and now again here you are groaning and sighing! Does all you have not suffice to please you? Are you still dissatisfied? You’ve no reason to be like this, so why is it that you go on in this way?”

Pao-yü had ever, it is true, shown a glib tongue, but on the present occasion he was so deeply affected by Chin Ch’uan-erh’s fate, and vexed at not being able to die that very instant and follow in her footsteps that although he was now fully conscious that his father was speaking to him he could not, in fact, lend him an ear, but simply stood in a timid and nervous mood. Chia Cheng noticed that he was in a state of trembling and fear, not as ready with an answer as he usually was, and his sorry plight somewhat incensed him, much though he had not at first borne him any ill-feeling. But just as he was about to chide him, a messenger approached and announced to him: “Some one has come from the mansion of the imperial Prince Chung Shun, and wishes to see you, Sir.” At this announcement, surmises sprung up in Chia Cheng’s mind. “Hitherto,” he secretly mused, “I’ve never had any dealings with the Chung Shun mansion, and why is it that some one is despatched here to-day?” As he gave way to these reflections. “Be quick,” he shouted, “and ask him to take a seat in the pavilion,” while he himself precipitately entered the inner room and changed his costume. When he came out to greet the visitor, he discovered that it was the senior officer of the Chung Shun mansion. After the exchange of the salutations prescribed by the rites, they sat down and tea was presented. But before (Chia Cheng) had had time to start a topic of conversation, the senior officer anticipated him, and speedily observed: “Your humble servant does not pay this visit to-day to your worthy mansion on his own authority, but entirely in compliance with instructions received, as there is a favour that I have to beg of you. I make bold to trouble you, esteemed Sir, on behalf of his highness, to take any steps you might deem suitable, and if you do, not only will his highness remember your kindness, but even I, your humble servant, and my colleagues will feel extremely grateful to you.”

Chia Cheng listened to him, but he could not nevertheless get a clue of what he was driving at. Promptly returning his smile, he rose to his feet. “You come, Sir,” he inquired, “at the instance of his royal highness, but what, I wonder, are the commands you have to give me? I hope you will explain them to your humble servant, worthy Sir, in order to enable him to carry them out effectively.”

The senior officer gave a sardonic smile.

“There’s nothing to carry out,” he said. “All you, venerable Sir, have to do is to utter one single word and the whole thing will be effected. There is in our mansion a certain Ch’i Kuan, who plays the part of young ladies. He hitherto stayed quietly in the mansion; but for the last three or five days or so no one has seen him return home. Search has been instituted in every locality, yet his whereabouts cannot be discovered. But throughout these various inquiries, eight out of the ten tenths of the inhabitants of the city have, with one consent, asserted that he has of late been on very friendly terms with that honourable son of yours, who was born with the jade in his mouth. This report was told your servant and his colleagues, but as your worthy mansion is unlike such residences as we can take upon ourselves to enter and search with impunity, we felt under the necessity of laying the matter before our imperial master. ’Had it been any of the other actors,’ his highness also says, ’I wouldn’t have minded if even one hundred of them had disappeared; but this Ch’i Kuan has always been so ready with pat repartee, so respectful and trustworthy that he has thoroughly won my aged heart, and I could never do without him.’ He entreats you, therefore, worthy Sir, to, in your turn, plead with your illustrious scion, and request him to let Ch’i Kuan go back, in order that the feelings, which prompt the Prince to make such earnest supplications, may, in the first place, be satisfied: and that, in the next, your mean servant and his associates may be spared the fatigue of toiling and searching.”

At the conclusion of this appeal, he promptly made a low bow. As soon as Chia Cheng found out the object of his errand, he felt both astonishment and displeasure. With all promptitude, he issued directions that Pao-yü should be told to come out of the garden. Pao-yü had no notion whatever why he was wanted. So speedily he hurried to appear before his father.

“What a regular scoundrel you are!” Chia Cheng exclaimed. “It is enough that you won’t read your books at home; but will you also go in for all these lawless and wrongful acts? That Ch’i Kuan is a person whose present honourable duties are to act as an attendant on his highness the Prince of Chung Shun, and how extremely heedless of propriety must you be to have enticed him, without good cause, to come away, and thus have now brought calamity upon me?”

These reproaches plunged Pao-yü in a dreadful state of consternation. With alacrity he said by way of reply: “I really don’t know anything about the matter! To what do, after all, the two words Ch’i Kuan refer, I wonder! Still less, besides, am I aware what entice can imply!”

As he spoke, he started crying.

But before Chia Cheng could open his month to pass any further remarks, "Young gentleman,” he heard the senior officer interpose with a sardonic smile: “you shouldn’t conceal anything! if he be either hidden in your home, or if you know his whereabouts, divulge the truth at once; so that less trouble should fall to our lot than otherwise would. And will we not then bear in mind your virtue, worthy scion!”

“I positively don’t know.” Pao-yü time after time maintained. “There must, I fear, be some false rumour abroad; for I haven’t so much as seen anything of him.”

The senior officer gave two loud smiles, full of derision. “There’s evidence at hand,” he rejoined, “so if you compel me to speak out before your venerable father, won’t you, young man, have to suffer the consequences? But as you assert that you don’t know who this person is, how is it that that red sash has come to be attached to your waist?”

When Pao-yü caught this allusion, he suddenly felt quite out of his senses. He stared and gaped; while within himself, he argued: “How has he come to hear anything about this! But since he knows all these secret particulars, I cannot, I expect, put him off in other points; so wouldn’t it be better for me to pack him off, in order to obviate his blubbering anything more?” “Sir,” he consequently remarked aloud, “how is it that despite your acquaintance with all these minute details, you have no inkling of his having purchased a house? Are you ignorant of an essential point like this? I’ve heard people say that he’s, at present, staying in the eastern suburbs at a distance of twenty li from the city walls; at some place or other called Tzu T’an Pao, and that he has bought there several acres of land and a few houses. So I presume he’s to be found in that locality; but of course there’s no saying.”

“According to your version,” smiled the senior officer, as soon as he heard his explanation, “he must for a certainty be there. I shall therefore go and look for him. If he’s there, well and good; but if not, I shall come again and request you to give me further directions.”

These words were still on his lips, when he took his leave and walked off with hurried step.

Chia Cheng was by this time stirred up to such a pitch of indignation that his eyes stared aghast, and his mouth opened in bewilderment; and as he escorted the officer out, he turned his head and bade Pao-yü not budge. “I have,” (he said), “to ask you something on my return." Straightway he then went to see the officer off. But just as he was turning back, he casually came across Chia Huan and several servant-boys running wildly about in a body. “Quick, bring him here to me!” shouted Chia Cheng to the young boys. “I want to beat him.”

Chia Huan, at the sight of his father, was so terrified that his bones mollified and his tendons grew weak, and, promptly lowering his head, he stood still.”

“What are you running about for?” Chia Cheng asked. “These menials of yours do not mind you, but go who knows where, and let you roam about like a wild horse! Where are the attendants who wait on you at school?" he cried.

When Chia Huan saw his father in such a dreadful rage, he availed himself of the first opportunity to try and clear himself. “I wasn’t running about just now” he said. “But as I was passing by the side of that well, I caught sight, for in that well a servant-girl was drowned, of a human head that large, a body that swollen, floating about in really a frightful way and I therefore hastily rushed past.”

Chia Cheng was thunderstruck by this disclosure. “There’s been nothing up, so who has gone and jumped into the well?” he inquired. “Never has there been anything of the kind in my house before! Ever since the time of our ancestors, servants have invariably been treated with clemency and consideration. But I expect that I must of late have become remiss in my domestic affairs, and that the managers must have arrogated to themselves the right of domineering and so been the cause of bringing about such calamities as violent deaths and disregard of life. Were these things to reach the ears of people outside, what will become of the reputation of our seniors? Call Chia Lien and Lai Ta here!” he shouted.

The servant-lads signified their obedience, with one voice. They were about to go and summon them, when Chia Huan hastened to press forward. Grasping the lapel of Chia Cheng’s coat, and clinging to his knees, he knelt down. “Father, why need you be angry?” he said. “Excluding the people in Madame Wang’s rooms, this occurrence is entirely unknown to any of the rest; and I have heard my mother mention....” At this point, he turned his head, and cast a glance in all four quarters.

Chia Cheng guessed his meaning, and made a sign with his eyes. The young boys grasped his purpose and drew far back on either side.

Chia Huan resumed his confidences in a low tone of voice. “My mother," he resumed, “told me that when brother Pao-yü was, the other day, in Madame Wang’s apartments, he seized her servant-maid Chin Ch’uan-erh with the intent of dishonouring her. That as he failed to carry out his design, he gave her a thrashing, which so exasperated Chin Ch’uan-erh that she threw herself into the well and committed suicide....”

Before however he could conclude his account, Chia Cheng had been incensed to such a degree that his face assumed the colour of silver paper. “Bring Pao-yü here,” he cried. While uttering these orders, he walked into the study. “If any one does again to-day come to dissuade me,” he vociferated, “I shall take this official hat, and sash, my home and private property and surrender everything at once to him to go and bestow them upon Pao-yü; for if I cannot escape blame (with a son like the one I have), I mean to shave this scanty trouble-laden hair about my temples and go in search of some unsullied place where I can spend the rest of my days alone! I shall thus also avoid the crime of heaping, above, insult upon my predecessors, and, below, of having given birth to such a rebellious son.”

At the sight of Chia Cheng in this exasperation, the family companions and attendants speedily realised that Pao-yü must once more be the cause of it, and the whole posse hastened to withdraw from the study, biting their fingers and putting their tongues out.

Chia Cheng panted with excitement. He stretched his chest out and sat bolt upright on a chair. His whole face was covered with the traces of tears. “Bring Pao-yü! Bring Pao-yü!” he shouted consecutively. “Fetch a big stick; bring a rope and tie him up; close all the doors! If any one does communicate anything about it in the inner rooms, why, I’ll immediately beat him to death.”

The servant-boys felt compelled to express their obedience with one consent, and some of them came to look after Pao-yü.

As for Pao-yü, when he heard Chia Cheng enjoin him not to move, he forthwith became aware that the chances of an unpropitious issue outnumbered those of a propitious one, but how could he have had any idea that Chia Huan as well had put in his word? There he still stood in the pavilion, revolving in his mind how he could get some one to speed inside and deliver a message for him. But, as it happened, not a soul appeared. He was quite at a loss to know where even Pei Ming could be. His longing was at its height, when he perceived an old nurse come on the scene. The sight of her exulted Pao-yü, just as much as if he had obtained pearls or gems; and hurriedly approaching her, he dragged her and forced her to halt. “Go in,” he urged, “at once and tell them that my father wishes to beat me to death. Be quick, be quick, for it’s urgent, there’s no time to be lost.”

But, first and foremost, Pao-yü’s excitement was so intense that he spoke with indistinctness. In the second place, the old nurse was, as luck would have it, dull of hearing, so that she did not catch the drift of what he said, and she misconstrued the two words: “it’s urgent,” for the two representing jumped into the well. Readily smiling therefore: "If she wants to jump into the well, let her do so,” she said. “What’s there to make you fear, Master Secundus?”

“Go out,” pursued Pao-yü, in despair, on discovering that she was deaf, "and tell my page to come.”

“What’s there left unsettled?” rejoined the old nurse. “Everything has been finished long ago! A tip has also been given them; so how is it things are not settled?”

Pao-yü fidgetted with his hands and feet. He was just at his wits’ ends, when he espied Chia Cheng’s servant-boys come up and press him to go out.

As soon as Chia Cheng caught sight of him, his eyes got quite red. Without even allowing himself any time to question him about his gadding about with actors, and the presents he gave them on the sly, during his absence from home; or about his playing the truant from school and lewdly importuning his mother’s maid, during his stay at home, he simply shouted: “Gag his mouth and positively beat him till he dies!”

The servant-boys did not have the boldness to disobey him. They were under the necessity of seizing Pao-yü, of stretching him on a bench, and of taking a heavy rattan and giving him about ten blows.

Pao-yü knew well enough that he could not plead for mercy, and all he could do was to whimper and cry.

Chia Cheng however found fault with the light blows they administered to him. With one kick he shoved the castigator aside, and snatching the rattan into his own hands, he spitefully let (Pao-yü) have ten blows and more.

Pao-yü had not, from his very birth, experienced such anguish. From the outset, he found the pain unbearable; yet he could shout and weep as boisterously as ever he pleased; but so weak subsequently did his breath, little by little, become, so hoarse his voice, and so choked his throat that he could not bring out any sound.

The family companions noticed that he was beaten in a way that might lead to an unpropitious end, and they drew near with all despatch and made earnest entreaties and exhortations. But would Chia Cheng listen to them?

“You people,” he answered, “had better ask him whether the tricks he has been up to deserve to be overlooked or not! It’s you who have all along so thoroughly spoilt him as to make him reach this degree of depravity! And do you yet come to advise me to spare him? When by and bye you’ve incited him to commit parricide or regicide, you will at length, then, give up trying to dissuade me, eh?”

This language jarred on the ears of the whole party; and knowing only too well that he was in an exasperated mood, they fussed about endeavouring to find some one to go in and convey the news.

But Madame Wang did not presume to be the first to inform dowager lady Chia about it. Seeing no other course open to her, she hastily dressed herself and issued out of the garden. Without so much as worrying her mind as to whether there were any male inmates about or not, she straightway leant on a waiting-maid and hurriedly betook herself into the library, to the intense consternation of the companions, pages and all the men present, who could not manage to clear out of the way in time.

Chia Cheng was on the point of further belabouring his son, when at the sight of Madame Wang walking in, his temper flared up with such increased violence, just as fire on which oil is poured, that the rod fell with greater spite and celerity. The two servant-boys, who held Pao-yü down, precipitately loosened their grip and beat a retreat. Pao-yü had long ago lost all power of movement. Chia Cheng, however, was again preparing to assail him, when the rattan was immediately locked tightly by Madame Wang, in both her arms.

“Of course, of course,” Chia Cheng exclaimed, “what you want to do to-day is to make me succumb to anger!”

“Pao-yü does, I admit, merit to be beaten,” sobbed Madame Wang; “but you should also, my lord, take good care of yourself! The weather, besides, is extremely hot, and our old lady is not feeling quite up to the mark. Were you to knock Pao-yü about and kill him, it would not matter much; but were perchance our venerable senior to suddenly fall ill, wouldn’t it be a grave thing?”

“Better not talk about such things!” observed Chia Cheng with a listless smile. “By my bringing up such a degenerate child of retribution I have myself become unfilial! Whenever I’ve had to call him to account, there has always been a whole crowd of you to screen him; so isn’t it as well for me to avail myself of to-day to put an end to his cur-like existence and thus prevent future misfortune?”

As he spoke, he asked for a rope to strangle him; but Madame Wang lost no time in clasping him in her embrace, and reasoning with him as she wept. “My lord and master,” she said, “it is your duty, of course, to keep your son in proper order, but you should also regard the relationship of husband and wife. I’m already a woman of fifty and I’ve only got this scapegrace. Was there any need for you to give him such a bitter lesson? I wouldn’t presume to use any strong dissuasion; but having, on this occasion, gone so far as to harbour the design of killing him, isn’t this a fixed purpose on your part to cut short my own existence? But as you are bent upon strangling him, be quick and first strangle me before you strangle him! It will be as well that we, mother and son, should die together, so that if even we go to hell, we may be able to rely upon each other!”

At the conclusion of these words, she enfolded Pao-yü in her embrace and raised her voice in loud sobs.

After listening to her appeal, Chia Cheng could not restrain a deep sigh; and taking a seat on one of the chairs, the tears ran down his cheeks like drops of rain.

But while Madame Wang held Pao-yü in her arms, she noticed that his face was sallow and his breath faint, and that his green gauze nether garments were all speckled with stains of blood, so she could not check her fingers from unloosening his girdle. And realising that from the thighs to the buttocks, his person was here green, there purple, here whole, there broken, and that there was, in fact, not the least bit, which had not sustained some injury, she of a sudden burst out in bitter lamentations for her offspring’s wretched lot in life. But while bemoaning her unfortunate son, she again recalled to mind the memory of Chia Chu, and vehemently calling out “Chia Chu,” she sobbed: “if but you were alive, I would not care if even one hundred died!”

But by this time, the inmates of the inner rooms discovered that Madame Wang had gone out, and Li Kung-ts’ai, Wang Hsi-feng and Ting Ch’un and her sisters promptly rushed out of the garden and came to join her.

While Madame Wang mentioned, with eyes bathed in tears, the name of Chia Chu, every one listened with composure, with the exception of Li Kung-ts’ai, who unable to curb her feelings also raised her voice in sobs. As soon as Chia Cheng heard her plaints, his tears trickled down with greater profusion, like pearls scattered about. But just as there seemed no prospect of their being consoled, a servant-girl was unawares heard to announce: “Our dowager lady has come!” Before this announcement was ended, her tremulous accents reached their ears from outside the window. “If you were to beat me to death and then despatch him,” she cried, “won’t you be clear of us!”

Chia Cheng, upon seeing that his mother was coming, felt distressed and pained. With all promptitude, he went out to meet her. He perceived his old parent, toddling along, leaning on the arm of a servant-girl, wagging her head and gasping for breath.

Chia Cheng drew forward and made a curtsey. “On a hot broiling day like this,” he ventured, forcing a smile, “what made you, mother, get so angry as to rush over in person? Had you anything to enjoin me, you could have sent for me, your son, and given me your orders.”

Old lady Chia, at these words, halted and panted. “Are you really chiding me?” she at the same time said in a stern tone. “It’s I who should call you to task! But as the son, I’ve brought up, isn’t worth a straw, to whom can I go and address a word?”

When Chia Cheng heard language so unlike that generally used by her, he immediately fell on his knees. While doing all in his power to contain his tears: “The reason why,” he explained, “your son corrects his offspring is a desire to reflect lustre on his ancestors and splendour on his seniors; so how can I, your son, deserve the rebuke with which you greet me, mother?”

At this reply, old lady Chia spurted contemptuously. “I made just one remark,” she added, “and you couldn’t stand it, and can Pao-yü likely put up with that death-working cane? You say that your object in correcting your son is to reflect lustre on your ancestors and splendour on your seniors, but in what manner did your father correct you in days gone by?”

Saying this, tears suddenly rolled down from her eyes also.

Chia Cheng forced another smile. “Mother;” he proceeded, “you shouldn’t distress yourself! Your son did it in a sudden fit of rage, but from this time forth I won’t touch him again.”

Dowager lady Chia smiled several loud sneering smiles. “But you shouldn’t get into a huff with me!” she urged. “He’s your son, so if you choose to flog him, you can naturally do so, but I cannot help thinking that you’re sick and tired of me, your mother, of your wife and of your son, so wouldn’t it be as well that we should get out of your way, the sooner the better, as we shall then be able to enjoy peace and quiet?”

So speaking, “Go and look after the chairs.” she speedily cried to a servant. “I and your lady as well as Pao-yü will, without delay, return to Nanking.”

The servant had no help but to assent.

Old lady Chia thereupon called Madame Wang over to her. “You needn’t indulge in sorrow!” she exhorted her. “Pao-yü is now young, and you cherish him fondly; but does it follow that when in years to come he becomes an official, he’ll remember that you are his mother? You mustn’t therefore at present lavish too much of your affection upon him, so that you may by and bye, spare yourself, at least, some displeasure.”

When these exhortations fell on Chia Cheng’s ear, he instantly prostrated himself before her. “Your remarks mother,” he observed, “cut the ground under your son’s very feet.”

“You distinctly act in a way,” cynically smiled old lady Chia, "sufficient to deprive me of any ground to stand upon, and then you, on the contrary, go and speak about yourself! But when we shall have gone back, your mind will be free of all trouble. We’ll see then who’ll interfere and dissuade you from beating people!”

After this reply, she went on to give orders to directly get ready the baggage, carriages, chairs and horses necessary for their return.

Chia Cheng stiffly and rigidly fell on his knees, and knocked his head before her, and pleaded guilty. Dowager lady Chia then addressed him some words, and as she did so, she came to have a look at Pao-yü. Upon perceiving that the thrashing he had got this time was unlike those of past occasions, she experienced both pain and resentment. So clasping him in her arms, she wept and wept incessantly. It was only after Madame Wang, lady Feng and the other ladies had reasoned with her for a time that they at length gradually succeeded in consoling her.

But waiting-maids, married women, and other attendants soon came to support Pao-yü and take him away. Lady Feng however at once expostulated with them. “You stupid things,” she exclaimed, won’t you open your eyes and see! How ever could he be raised and made to walk in the state he’s in! Don’t you yet instantly run inside and fetch some rattan slings and a bench to carry him out of this on?

At this suggestion, the servants rushed hurry-scurry inside and actually brought a bench; and, lifting Pao-yü, they placed him on it. Then following dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the other inmates into the inner part of the building, they carried him into his grandmother’s apartments. But Chia Cheng did not fail to notice that his old mother’s passion had not by this time yet abated, so without presuming to consult his own convenience, he too came inside after them. Here he discovered how heavily he had in reality castigated Pao-yü. Upon perceiving Madame Wang also crying, with one breath, “My flesh;” and, with another, saying with tears: “My son, if you had died sooner, instead of Chu Erh, and left Chu Erh behind you, you would have saved your father these fits of anger, and even I would not have had to fruitlessly worry and fret for half of my existence! Were anything to happen now to make you forsake me, upon whom will you have me depend?” And then after heaping reproaches upon herself for a time, break out afresh in lamentations for her, unavailing offspring, Chia Cheng was much cut up and felt conscious that he should not with his own hand have struck his son so ruthlessly as to bring him to this state, and he first and foremost directed his attention to consoling dowager lady Chia.

“If your son isn’t good,” rejoined the old lady, repressing her tears, "it is naturally for you to exercise control over him. But you shouldn’t beat him to such a pitch! Don’t you yet bundle yourself away? What are you dallying in here for? Is it likely, pray, that your heart is not yet satisfied, and that you wish to feast your eyes by seeing him die before you go?”

These taunts induced Chia Cheng to eventually withdraw out of the room. By this time, Mrs. Hsüeh together with Pao-ch’ai, Hsiang Ling, Hsi Jen, Shih Hsiang-yün and his other cousins had also congregated in the apartments. Hsi Jen’s heart was overflowing with grief; but she could not very well give expression to it. When she saw that a whole company of people shut him in, some pouring water over him, others fanning him; and that she herself could not lend a hand in any way, she availed herself of a favourable moment to make her exit. Proceeding then as far as the second gate, she bade the servant-boys go and fetch Pei-Ming. On his arrival, she submitted him to a searching inquiry. “Why is it,” she asked, “that he was beaten just now without the least provocation; and that you didn’t run over soon to tell me a word about it?”

“It happened,” answered Pei Ming in great perplexity, “that I wasn’t present. It was only after he had given him half the flogging that I heard what was going on, and lost no time in ascertaining what it was all about. It’s on account of those affairs connected with Ch’i Kuan and that girl Chin Ch’uan.”

“How did these things come to master’s knowledge?” inquired Hsi Jen.

“As for that affair with Ch’i Kuan,” continued Pei Ming, “it is very likely Mr. Hsüeh P’an who has let it out; for as he has ever been jealous, he may, in the absence of any other way of quenching his resentment, have instigated some one or other outside, who knows, to come and see master and add fuel to his anger. As for Chin Ch’uan-erh’s affair it has presumably been told him by Master Tertius. This I heard from the lips of some person, who was in attendance upon master.”

Hsi Jen saw how much his two versions tallied with the true circumstances, so she readily credited the greater portion of what was told her. Subsequently, she returned inside. Here she found a whole crowd of people trying to do the best to benefit Pao-yü. But after they had completed every arrangement, dowager lady Chia impressed on their minds that it would be better were they to carefully move him into his own quarters. With one voice they all signified their approval, and with a good deal of bustling and fussing, they speedily transferred Pao-yü into the I Hung court, where they stretched him out comfortably on his own bed. Then after some further excitement, the members of the family began gradually to disperse. Hsi Jen at last entered his room, and waited upon him with singleness of heart.

But, reader, if you feel any curiosity to hear what follows, listen to what you will find divulged in the next chapter.

Chapter XXXIV.

  Tai-yü loves Pao-yü with extreme affection; but, on account of this
      affection, her female cousin gets indignant.
  Hsüeh P’an commits a grave mistake; but Pao-ch’ai makes this mistake a
      pretext to tender advice to her brother.

When Hsi Jen saw dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the other members of the family take their leave, our narrative says, she entered the room. and, taking a seat next to Pao-yü, she asked him, while she did all she could to hide her tears: “How was it that he beat you to such extremes?”

Pao-yü heaved a sigh. “It was simply,” he replied, “about those trifles. But what’s the use of your asking me about them? The lower part of my body is so very sore! Do look and see where I’m bruised!”

At these words, Hsi Jen put out her hand, and inserting it gently under his clothes, she began to pull down the middle garments. She had but slightly moved them, however, when Pao-yü ground his teeth and groaned "ai-ya.” Hsi Jen at once stayed her hand. It was after three or four similar attempts that she, at length, succeeded in drawing them down. Then looking closely, Hsi Jen discovered that the upper part of his legs was all green and purple, one mass of scars four fingers wide, and covered with huge blisters.

Hsi Jen gnashed her teeth. “My mother!” she ejaculated, “how is it that he struck you with such a ruthless hand! Had you minded the least bit of my advice to you, things wouldn’t have come to such a pass! Luckily, no harm was done to any tendon or bone; for had you been crippled by the thrashing you got, what could we do?”

In the middle of these remarks, she saw the servant-girls come, and they told her that Miss Pao-ch’ai had arrived. Hearing this, Hsi Jen saw well enough that she had no time to put him on his middle garments, so forthwith snatching a double gauze coverlet, she threw it over Pao-yü. This done, she perceived Pao-ch’ai walk in, her hands laden with pills and medicines.

“At night,” she said to Hsi Jen, “take these medicines and dissolve them in wine and then apply them on him, and, when the fiery virus from that stagnant blood has been dispelled, he’ll be all right again.”

After these directions, she handed the medicines to Hsi Jen. “Is he feeling any better now?” she proceeded to inquired.

“Thanks!” rejoined Pao-yü. “I’m feeling better,” he at the same time went on to say; after which, he pressed her to take a seat.

Pao-ch’ai noticed that he could open his eyes wide, that he could speak and that he was not as bad as he had been, and she felt considerable inward relief. But nodding her head, she sighed. “If you had long ago listened to the least bit of the advice tendered to you by people things would not have reached this climax to-day,” she said. “Not to speak of the pain experienced by our dear ancestor and aunt Wang, the sight of you in this state makes even us feel at heart....”

Just as she had uttered half of the remark she meant to pass, she quickly suppressed the rest; and smitten by remorse for having spoken too hastily, she could not help getting red in the face and lowering her head.

Pao-yü was realising how affectionate, how friendly and how replete with deep meaning were the sentiments that dropped from her month, when, of a sudden, he saw her seal her lips and, flashing crimson, droop her head, and simply fumble with her girdle. Yet so fascinating was she in those timid blushes, which completely baffle description, that his feelings were roused within him to such a degree, that all sense of pain flew at once beyond the empyrean. “I’ve only had to bear a few blows,” he reflected, “and yet every one of them puts on those pitiful looks sufficient to evoke love and regard; so were, after all, any mishap or untimely end to unexpectedly befall me, who can tell how much more afflicted they won’t be! And as they go on in this way, I shall have them, were I even to die in a moment, to feel so much for me; so there will indeed be no reason for regret, albeit the concerns of a whole lifetime will be thus flung entirely to the winds!”

While indulging in these meditations, ha overheard Pao-ch’ai ask Hsi Jen: “How is it that he got angry, without rhyme or reason, and started beating him?” and Hsi Jen tell her, in reply, the version given to her by Pei Ming.

Pao-yü had, in fact, no idea as yet of what had been said by Chia Huan, and, when he heard Hsi Jen’s disclosures, he eventually got to know what it was; but as it also criminated Hsüeh P’an, he feared lest Pao-ch’ai might feel unhappy, so he lost no time in interrupting Hsi Jen.

“Cousin Hsüeh,” he interposed, “has never been like that; you people mustn’t therefore give way to idle surmises!”

These words were enough to make Pao-ch’ai see that Pao-yü had thought it expedient to say something to stop Hsi Jen’s mouth, apprehending that her suspicions might get roused; and she consequently secretly mused within herself: “He has been beaten to such a pitch, and yet, heedless of his own pains and aches, he’s still so careful not to hurt people’s feelings. But since you can be so considerate, why don’t you take a little more care in greater concerns outside, so that your father should feel a little happier, and that you also should not have to suffer such bitter ordeals! But notwithstanding that the dread of my feeling hurt has prompted you to interrupt Hsi Jen in what she had to tell me, is it likely that I am blind to the fact that my brother has ever followed his fancies, allowed his passions to run riot, and never done a thing to exercise any check over himself? His temperament is such that he some time back created, all on account of that fellow Ch’in Chung, a rumpus that turned heaven and earth topsy-turvy; and, as a matter of course, he’s now far worse than he was ever before!”

“You people,” she then observed aloud, at the close of these cogitations, “shouldn’t bear this one or that one a grudge. I can’t help thinking that it’s, after all, because of your usual readiness, cousin Pao-yü, to hobnob with that set that your father recently lost control over his temper. But assuming that my brother did speak in a careless manner and did casually allude to you cousin Pao-yü, it was with no design to instigate any one! In the first place, the remarks he made were really founded on actual facts; and secondly, he’s not one to ever trouble himself about such petty trifles as trying to guard against animosities. Ever since your youth up, Miss Hsi, you’ve simply had before your eyes a person so punctilious as cousin Pao-yü, but have you ever had any experience of one like that brother of mine, who neither fears the powers in heaven or in earth, and who readily blurts out all he thinks?”

Hsi Jen, seeing Pao-yü interrupt her, at the bare mention of Hsüeh P’an, understood at once that she must have spoken recklessly and gave way to misgivings lest Pao-ch’ai might not have been placed in a false position, but when she heard the language used by Pao-ch’ai, she was filled with a keener sense of shame and could not utter a word. Pao-yü too, after listening to the sentiments, which Pao-ch’ai expressed, felt, partly because they were so magnanimous and noble, and partly because they banished all misconception from his mind, his heart and soul throb with greater emotion then ever before. When, however, about to put in his word, he noticed Pao-ch’ai rise to her feet.

“I’ll come again to see you to-morrow,” she said, “but take good care of yourself! I gave the medicines I brought just now to Hsi Jen; let her rub you with them at night and I feel sure you’ll get all right.”

With these recommendations, she walked out of the door.

Hsi Jen hastened to catch her up and escorted her beyond the court. "Miss,” she remarked, “we’ve really put you to the trouble of coming. Some other day, when Mr. Secundus is well, I shall come in person to thank you.”

“What’s there to thank me for?” replied Pao-ch’ai, turning her head round and smiling. “But mind, you advise him to carefully tend his health, and not to give way to idle thoughts and reckless ideas, and he’ll recover. If there’s anything he fancies to eat or to amuse himself with, come quietly over to me and fetch it for him. There will be no use to disturb either our old lady, or Madame Wang, or any of the others; for in the event of its reaching Mr. Chia Cheng’s ear, nothing may, at the time, come of it; but if by and bye he finds it to be true, we’ll, doubtless, suffer for it!”

While tendering this advice, she went on her way.

Hsi Jen retraced her steps and returned into the room, fostering genuine feelings of gratitude for Pao-ch’ai. But on entering, she espied Pao-yü silently lost in deep thought, and looking as if he were asleep, and yet not quite asleep, so she withdrew into the outer quarters to comb her hair and wash.

Pao-yü meanwhile lay motionless in bed. His buttocks tingled with pain, as if they were pricked with needles, or dug with knives; giving him to boot a fiery sensation just as if fire were eating into them. He tried to change his position a bit, but unable to bear the anguish, he burst into groans. The shades of evening were by this time falling. Perceiving that though Hsi Jen had left his side there remained still two or three waiting-maids in attendance, he said to them, as he could find nothing for them to do just then, “You might as well go and comb your hair and perform your ablutions; come in, when I call you.”

Hearing this, they likewise retired. During this while, Pao-yü fell into a drowsy state. Chiang Yü-han then rose before his vision and told him all about his capture by men from the Chung Shun mansion. Presently, Chin Ch’uan-erh too appeared in his room bathed in tears, and explained to him the circumstances which drove her to leap into the well. But Pao-yü, who was half dreaming and half awake, was not able to give his mind to anything that was told him. Unawares, he became conscious of some one having given him a push; and faintly fell on his ear the plaintive tones of some person in distress. Pao-yü was startled out of his dreams. On opening his eyes, he found it to be no other than Lin Tai-yü. But still fearing that it was only a dream, he promptly raised himself, and drawing near her face he passed her features under a minute scrutiny. Seeing her two eyes so swollen, as to look as big as peaches, and her face glistening all over with tears: “If it is not Tai-yü,” (he thought), “who else can it be?”

Pao-yü meant to continue his scrutiny, but the lower part of his person gave him such unbearable sharp twitches that finding it a hard task to keep up, he, with a shout of “Ai-yo,” lay himself down again, as he heaved a sigh. “What do you once more come here for?” he asked. “The sun, it is true, has set; but the heat remaining on the ground hasn’t yet gone, so you may, by coming over, get another sunstroke. Of course, I’ve had a thrashing but I don’t feel any pains or aches. If I behave in this fashion, it’s all put on to work upon their credulity, so that they may go and spread the reports outside in such a way as to reach my father’s ear. Really it’s all sham; so you mustn’t treat it as a fact!”

Though Lin Tai-yü was not giving way at the time to any wails or loud sobs, yet the more she indulged in those suppressed plaints of hers, the worse she felt her breath get choked and her throat obstructed; so that when Pao-yü’s assurances fell on her ear, she could not express a single sentiment, though she treasured thousands in her mind. It was only after a long pause that she at last could observe, with agitated voice: “You must after this turn over a new leaf.”

At these words, Pao-yü heaved a deep sigh. “Compose your mind,” he urged. “Don’t speak to me like this; for I am quite prepared to even lay down my life for all those persons!”

But scarcely had he concluded this remark than some one outside the court was heard to say: “Our lady Secunda has arrived.”

Lin Tai-yü readily concluded that it was lady Feng coming, so springing to her feet at once, “I’m off,” she said; “out by the back-court. I’ll look you up again by and bye.”

“This is indeed strange!” exclaimed Pao-yü as he laid hold of her and tried to detain her. “How is it that you’ve deliberately started living in fear and trembling of her!”

Lin Tai-yü grew impatient and stamped her feet. “Look at my eyes!” she added in an undertone. “Must those people amuse themselves again by poking fun at me?”

After this response, Pao-yü speedily let her go.

Lin Tai-yü with hurried step withdrew behind the bed; and no sooner had she issued into the back-court, than lady Feng made her appearance in the room by the front entrance.

“Are you better?” she asked Pao-yü. “If you fancy anything to eat, mind you send some one over to my place to fetch it for you.”

Thereupon Mrs. Hsüeh also came to pay him a visit. Shortly after, a messenger likewise arrived from old lady Chia (to inquire after him).

When the time came to prepare the lights, Pao-yü had a couple of mouthfuls of soup to eat, but he felt so drowsy and heavy that he fell asleep.

Presently, Chou Jui’s wife, Wu Hsin-teng’s wife and Cheng Hao-shih’s wife, all of whom were old dames who frequently went to and fro, heard that Pao-yü had been flogged and they too hurried into his quarters.

Hsi Jen promptly went out to greet them. “Aunts,” she whispered, smiling, “you’ve come a little too late; Master Secundus is sleeping." Saying this, she led them into the room on the opposite side, and, pressing then to sit down, she poured them some tea.

After sitting perfectly still for a time, “When Master Secundus awakes" the dames observed, “do send us word!”

Hsi Jen assured them that she would, and escorted them out. Just, however, as she was about to retrace her footsteps, she met an old matron, sent over by Madame Wang, who said to her: “Our mistress wants one of Master Secundus attendants to go and see her.”

Upon hearing this message, Hsi Jen communed with her own thoughts. Then turning round, she whispered to Ch’ing Wen, She Yüeh, Ch’iu Wen, and the other maids: “Our lady wishes to see one of us, so be careful and remain in the room while I go. I’ll be back soon.”

At the close of her injunctions, she and the matron made their exit out of the garden by a short cut, and repaired into the drawing-room.

Madame Wang was seated on the cool couch, waving a banana-leaf fan. When she became conscious of her arrival: “It didn’t matter whom you sent," she remarked, “any one would have done. But have you left him again? Who’s there to wait on him?”

At this question, Hsi Jen lost no time in forcing a smile. “Master Secundus,” she replied, “just now fell into a sound sleep. Those four or five girls are all right now, they are well able to attend to their master, so please, Madame, dispel all anxious thoughts! I was afraid that your ladyship might have some orders to give, and that if I sent any of them, they might probably not hear distinctly, and thus occasion delay in what there was to be done.”

“There’s nothing much to tell you,” added Madame Wang. “I only wish to ask how his pains and aches are getting on now?”

“I applied on Mr. Secundus,” answered Hsi Jen, “the medicine, which Miss Pao-ch’ai brought over; and he’s better than he was. He was so sore at one time that he couldn’t lie comfortably; but the deep sleep, in which he is plunged now, is a clear sign of his having improved.”

“Has he had anything to eat?” further inquired Madame Wang.

“Our dowager mistress sent him a bowl of soup,” Hsi Jen continued, “and of this he has had a few mouthfuls. He shouted and shouted that his mouth was parched and fancied a decoction of sour plums, but remembering that sour plums are astringent things, that he had been thrashed only a short time before, and that not having been allowed to groan, he must, of course, have been so hard pressed that fiery virus and heated blood must unavoidably have accumulated in the heart, and that were he to put anything of the kind within his lips, it might be driven into the cardiac regions and give rise to some serious illness; and what then would we do? I therefore reasoned with him for ever so long and at last succeeded in deterring him from touching any. So simply taking that syrup of roses, prepared with sugar, I mixed some with water and he had half a small cup of it. But he drank it with distaste; for, being surfeited with it, he found it neither scented nor sweet.”

“Ai-yah!” ejaculated Madame Wang. “Why didn’t you come earlier and tell me? Some one sent me the other day several bottles of scented water. I meant at one time to have given him some, but as I feared that it would be mere waste, I didn’t let him have any. But since he is so sick and tired of that preparation of roses, that he turns up his nose at it, take those two bottles with you. If you just mix a teaspoonful of it in a cup of water, it will impart to it a very strong perfume.”

So saying, she hastened to tell Ts’ai Yün to fetch the bottles of scented water, which she had received as a present a few days before.

“Let her only bring a couple of them, they’ll be enough!” Hsi Jen chimed in. “If you give us more, it will be a useless waste! If it isn’t enough, I can come and fetch a fresh supply. It will come to the same thing!”

Having listened to all they had to say, Ts’ai Yün left the room. After some considerable time, she, in point of fact, returned with only a couple of bottles, which she delivered to Hsi Jen.

On examination, Hsi Jen saw two small glass bottles, no more than three inches in size, with screwing silver stoppers at the top. On the gosling-yellow labels was written, on one: “Pure extract of olea fragrans,” on the other, “Pure extract of roses.”

“What fine things these are!” Hsi Jen smiled. “How many small bottles the like of this can there be?”

“They are of the kind sent to the palace,” rejoined Madame Wang. “Didn’t you notice that gosling-yellow slip? But mind, take good care of them for him; don’t fritter them away!”

Hsi Jen assented. She was about to depart when Madame Wang called her back. “I’ve thought of something,” she said, “that I want to ask you.”

Hsi Jen hastily came back.

Madame Wang made sure that there was no one in the room. “I’ve heard a faint rumour,” she then inquired, “to the effect that Pao-yü got a thrashing on this occasion on account of something or other which Huan-Erh told my husband. Have you perchance heard what it was that he said? If you happen to learn anything about it, do confide in me, and I won’t make any fuss and let people know that it was you who told me.”

“I haven’t heard anything of the kind,” answered Hsi Jen. “It was because Mr. Secundus forcibly detained an actor, and that people came and asked master to restore him to them that he got flogged.”

“It was also for this,” continued Madame Wang as she nodded her head, "but there’s another reason besides.”

“As for the other reason, I honestly haven’t the least idea about it," explained Hsi Jen. “But I’ll make bold to-day, and say something in your presence, Madame, about which I don’t know whether I am right or wrong in speaking. According to what’s proper....”

She had only spoken half a sentence, when hastily she closed her mouth again.

“You are at liberty to proceed,” urged Madame Wang.

“If your ladyship will not get angry, I’ll speak out,” remarked Hsi Jen.

“Why should I get angry?” observed Madame Wang. “Proceed!”

“According to what’s proper,” resumed Hsi Jen, “our Mr. Secundus should receive our master’s admonition, for if master doesn’t hold him in check, there’s no saying what he mightn’t do in the future.”

As soon as Madame Wang heard this, she clasped her hands and uttered the invocation, “O-mi-to-fu!” Unable to resist the impulse, she drew near Hsi Jen. “My dear child,” she added, “you have also luckily understood the real state of things. What you told me is in perfect harmony with my own views! Is it likely that I don’t know how to look after a son? In former days, when your elder master, Chu, was alive, how did I succeed in keeping him in order? And can it be that I don’t, after all, now understand how to manage a son? But there’s a why and a wherefore in it. The thought is ever present in my mind now, that I’m already a woman past fifty, that of my children there only remains this single one, that he too is developing a delicate physique, and that, what’s more, our dear senior prizes him as much as she would a jewel, that were he kept under strict control, and anything perchance to happen to him, she might, an old lady as she is, sustain some harm from resentment, and that as the high as well as the low will then have no peace or quiet, won’t things get in a bad way? So I feel prompted to spoil him by over-indulgence. Time and again I reason with him. Sometimes, I talk to him; sometimes, I advise him; sometimes, I cry with him. But though, for the time being, he’s all right, he doesn’t, later on, worry his mind in any way about what I say, until he positively gets into some other mess, when he settles down again. But should any harm befall him, through these floggings, upon whom will I depend by and bye?”

As she spoke, she could not help melting into tears.

At the sight of Madame Wang in this disconsolate mood, Hsi Jen herself unconsciously grew wounded at heart, and as she wept along with her, "Mr. Secundus,” she ventured, “is your ladyship’s own child, so how could you not love him? Even we, who are mere servants, think it a piece of good fortune when we can wait on him for a time, and all parties can enjoy peace and quiet. But if he begins to behave in this manner, even peace and quiet will be completely out of the question for us. On what day, and at what hour, don’t I advise Mr. Secundus; yet I can’t manage to stir him up by any advice! But it happens that all that crew are ever ready to court his friendship, so it isn’t to be wondered that he is what he is! The truth is that he thinks the advice we give him is not right and proper! As you have to-day, Madame, alluded to this subject, I’ve got something to tell you which has weighed heavy on my mind. I’ve been anxious to come and confide it to your ladyship and to solicit your guidance, but I’ve been in fear and dread lest you should give way to suspicion. For not only would then all my disclosures have been in vain, but I would have deprived myself of even a piece of ground wherein my remains could be laid.”

Madame Wang perceived that her remarks were prompted by some purpose. "My dear child,” she eagerly urged; “go on, speak out! When I recently heard one and all praise you secretly behind your back, I simply fancied that it was because you were careful in your attendance on Pao-yü; or possibly because you got on well with every one; all on account of minor considerations like these; (but I never thought it was on account of your good qualities). As it happens, what you told me just now concerns, in all its bearings, a great principle, and is in perfect accord with my ideas, so speak out freely, if you have aught to say! Only let no one else know anything about it, that is all that is needed.”

“I’ve got nothing more to say,” proceeded Hsi Jen. “My sole idea was to solicit your advice, Madame, as to how to devise a plan to induce Mr. Secundus to move his quarters out of the garden by and bye, as things will get all right then.”

This allusion much alarmed Madame Wang. Speedily taking Hsi Jen’s hand in hers: “Is it likely,” she inquired, “that Pao-yü has been up to any mischief with any one?”

“Don’t be too suspicious!” precipitately replied Hsi Jen. “It wasn’t at anything of the kind that I was hinting. I merely expressed my humble opinion. Mr. Secundus is a young man now, and the young ladies inside are no more children. More than that, Miss Lin and Miss Pao may be two female maternal first cousins of his, but albeit his cousins, there is nevertheless the distinction of male and female between them; and day and night, as they are together, it isn’t always convenient, when they have to rise and when they have to sit; so this cannot help making one give way to misgivings. Were, in fact, any outsider to see what’s going on, it would not look like the propriety, which should exist in great families. The proverb appositely says that: ’when there’s no trouble, one should make provision for the time of trouble.’ How many concerns there are in the world, of which there’s no making head or tail, mostly because what persons do without any design is construed by such designing people, as chance to have their notice attracted to it, as having been designedly accomplished, and go on talking and talking till, instead of mending matters, they make them worse! But if precautions be not taken beforehand, something improper will surely happen, for your ladyship is well aware of the temperament Mr. Secundus has shown all along! Besides, his great weakness is to fuss in our midst, so if no caution be exercised, and the slightest mistake be sooner or later committed, there’ll be then no question of true or false: for when people are many one says one thing and another, and what is there that the months of that mean lot will shun with any sign of respect? Why, if their hearts be well disposed, they will maintain that he is far superior to Buddha himself. But if their hearts be badly disposed, they will at once knit a tissue of lies to show that he cannot even reach the standard of a beast! Now, if people by and bye speak well of Mr. Secundus, we’ll all go on smoothly with our lives. But should he perchance give reason to any one to breathe the slightest disparaging remark, won’t his body, needless for us to say, be smashed to pieces, his bones ground to powder, and the blame, which he might incur, be made ten thousand times more serious than it is? These things are all commonplace trifles; but won’t Mr. Secundus’ name and reputation be subsequently done for for life? Secondly, it’s no easy thing for your ladyship to see anything of our master. A proverb also says: ’The perfect man makes provision beforehand;’ so wouldn’t it be better that we should, this very minute, adopt such steps as will enable us to guard against such things? Your ladyship has much to attend to, and you couldn’t, of course, think of these things in a moment. And as for us, it would have been well and good, had they never suggested themselves to our minds; but since they have, we should be the more to blame did we not tell you anything about them, Madame. Of late, I have racked my mind, both day and night on this score; and though I couldn’t very well confide to any one, my lamp alone knows everything!”

After listening to these words, Madame Wang felt as if she had been blasted by thunder and struck by lightning; and, as they fitted so appositely with the incident connected with Chin Ch’uan-erh, her heart was more than ever fired with boundless affection for Hsi Jen. “My dear girl,” she promptly smiled, “it’s you, who are gifted with enough foresight to be able to think of these things so thoroughly. Yet, did I not also think of them? But so busy have I been these several times that they slipped from my memory. What you’ve told me to-day, however, has brought me to my senses! It’s, thanks to you, that the reputation of me, his mother, and of him, my son, is preserved intact! I really never had the faintest idea that you were so excellent! But you had better go now; I know of a way. Yet, just another word. After your remarks to me, I’ll hand him over to your charge; please be careful of him. If you preserve him from harm, it will be tantamount to preserving me from harm, and I shall certainly not be ungrateful to you for it.”

Hsi Jen said several consecutive yes’s, and went on her way. She got back just in time to see Pao-yü awake. Hsi Jen explained all about the scented water; and, so intensely delighted was Pao-yü, that he at once asked that some should be mixed and brought to him to taste. In very deed, he found it unusually fragrant and good. But as his heart was a prey to anxiety on Tai-yü’s behalf, he was full of longings to despatch some one to look her up. He was, however, afraid of Hsi Jen. Readily therefore he devised a plan to first get Hsi Jen out of the way, by despatching her to Pao-ch’ai’s, to borrow a book. After Hsi Jen’s departure, he forthwith called Ch’ing Wen. “Go,” he said, “over to Miss Lin’s and see what she’s up to. Should she inquire about me, all you need tell her is that I’m all right.”

“What shall I go empty-handed for?” rejoined Ch’ing Wen. “If I were, at least, to give her a message, it would look as if I had gone for something.”

“I have no message that you can give her,” added Pao-yü.

“If it can’t be that,” suggested Ch’ing Wen; “I might either take something over or fetch something. Otherwise, when I get there, what excuse will I be able to find?”

After some cogitation, Pao-yü stretched out his hand and, laying hold of a couple of handkerchiefs, he threw them to Ch’ing Wen. “These will do," he smiled. “Just tell her that I bade you take them to her.”

“This is strange!” exclaimed Ch’ing Wen. “Will she accept these two half worn-out handkerchiefs! She’ll besides get angry and say that you were making fun of her.”

“Don’t worry yourself about that;” laughed Pao-yü. “She will certainly know what I mean.”

Ch’ing Wen, at this rejoinder, had no help but to take the handkerchiefs and to go to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, where she discovered Ch’un Hsien in the act of hanging out handkerchiefs on the railings to dry. As soon as she saw her walk in, she vehemently waved her hand. “She’s gone to sleep!” she said. Ch’ing Wen, however, entered the room. It was in perfect darkness. There was not even so much as a lantern burning, and Tai-yü was already ensconced in bed. “Who is there?” she shouted.

“It’s Ch’ing Wen!” promptly replied Ch’ing Wen.

“What are you up to?” Tai-yü inquired.

“Mr. Secundus,” explained Ch’ing Wen, “sends you some handkerchiefs, Miss.”

Tai-yü’s spirits sunk as soon as she caught her reply. “What can he have sent me handkerchiefs for?” she secretly reasoned within herself. “Who gave him these handkerchiefs?” she then asked aloud. “They must be fine ones, so tell him to keep them and give them to some one else; for I don’t need such things at present.”

“They’re not new,” smiled Ch’ing Wen. “They are of an ordinary kind, and old.”

Hearing this, Lin Tai-yü felt downcast. But after minutely searching her heart, she at last suddenly grasped his meaning and she hastily observed: “Leave them and go your way.”

Ch’ing Wen was compelled to put them down; and turning round, she betook herself back again. But much though she turned things over in her mind during the whole of her way homewards, she did not succeed in solving their import.

When Tai-yü guessed the object of the handkerchief, her very soul unawares flitted from her. “As Pao-yü has gone to such pains,” she pondered, “to try and probe this dejection of mine, I have, on one hand, sufficient cause to feel gratified; but as there’s no knowing what my dejection will come to in the future there is, on the other, enough to make me sad. Here he abruptly and deliberately sends me a couple of handkerchiefs; and, were it not that he has divined my inmost feelings, the mere sight of these handkerchiefs would be enough to make me treat the whole thing as ridiculous. The secret exchange of presents between us,” she went on to muse, “fills me also with fears; and the thought that those tears, which I am ever so fond of shedding to myself, are of no avail, drives me likewise to blush with shame.”

And by dint of musing and reflecting, her heart began, in a moment, to bubble over with such excitement that, much against her will, her thoughts in their superabundance rolled on incessantly. So speedily directing that a lamp should be lighted, she little concerned herself about avoiding suspicion, shunning the use of names, or any other such things, and set to work and rubbed the ink, soaked the pen, and then wrote the following stanzas on the two old handkerchiefs:

  Vain in my eyes the tears collect; those tears in vain they flow,
  Which I in secret shed; they slowly drop; but for whom though?
  The silk kerchiefs, which he so kindly troubled to give me,
  How ever could they not with anguish and distress fill me?

The second ran thus:

  Like falling pearls or rolling gems, they trickle on the sly.
  Daily I have no heart for aught; listless all day am I.
  As on my pillow or sleeves’ edge I may not wipe them dry,
  I let them dot by dot, and drop by drop to run freely.

And the third:

  The coloured thread cannot contain the pearls cov’ring my face.
  Tears were of old at Hsiang Chiang shed, but faint has waxed each
  Outside my window thousands of bamboos, lo, also grow,
  But whether they be stained with tears or not, I do not know.

Lin Tai-yü was still bent upon going on writing, but feeling her whole body burn like fire, and her face scalding hot, she advanced towards the cheval-glass, and, raising the embroidered cover, she looked in. She saw at a glance that her cheeks wore so red that they, in very truth, put even the peach blossom to the shade. Yet little did she dream that from this date her illness would assume a more serious phase. Shortly, she threw herself on the bed, and, with the handkerchiefs still grasped in her hand, she was lost in a reverie.

Putting her aside, we will now take up our story with Hsi Jen. She went to pay a visit to Pao-ch’ai, but as it happened, Pao-ch’ai was not in the garden, but had gone to look up her mother. Hsi Jen, however, could not very well come back with empty hands so she waited until the second watch, when Pao-ch’ai eventually returned to her quarters.

Indeed, so correct an estimate of Hsüeh P’an’s natural disposition did Pao-ch’ai ever have, that from an early moment she entertained within herself some faint suspicion that it must have been Hsüeh P’an, who had instigated some person or other to come and lodge a complaint against Pao-yü. And when she also unexpectedly heard Hsi Jen’s disclosures on the subject, she became more positive in her surmises. The one, who had, in fact, told Hsi Jen was Pei Ming. But Pei Ming too had arrived at the conjecture in his own mind, and could not adduce any definite proof, so that every one treated his statements as founded partly on mere suppositions, and partly on actual facts; but, despite this, they felt quite certain that it was (Hsüeh P’an) who had intrigued.

Hsüeh P’an had always enjoyed this reputation; but on this particular instance the harm was not, actually, his own doing; yet as every one, with one consent, tenaciously affirmed that it was he, it was no easy matter for him, much though he might argue, to clear himself of blame.

Soon after his return, on this day, from a drinking bout out of doors, he came to see his mother; but finding Pao-ch’ai in her rooms, they exchanged a few irrelevant remarks. “I hear,” he consequently asked, "that cousin Pao-yü has got into trouble; why is it?”

Mrs. Hsüeh was at the time much distressed on this score. As soon therefore as she caught this question, she gnashed her teeth with rage, and shouted: “You good-for-nothing spiteful fellow! It’s all you who are at the bottom of this trouble; and do you still have the face to come and ply me with questions?”

These words made Hsüeh P’an wince. “When did I stir up any trouble?” he quickly asked.

“Do you still go on shamming!” cried Mrs. Hsüeh. “Every one knows full well that it was you, who said those things, and do you yet prevaricate?”

“Were every one,” insinuated Hsüeh P’an, “to assert that I had committed murder, would you believe even that?”

“Your very sister is well aware that they were said by you.” Mrs. Hsüeh continued, “and is it likely that she would accuse you falsely, pray?”

“Mother,” promptly interposed Pao-ch’ai, “you shouldn’t be brawling with brother just now! If you wait quietly, we’ll find out the plain and honest truth.” Then turning towards Hsüeh P’an: “Whether it’s you, who said those things or not,” she added, “it’s of no consequence. The whole affair, besides, is a matter of the past, so what need is there for any arguments; they will only be making a mountain of a mole-hill! I have just one word of advice to give you; don’t, from henceforward, be up to so much reckless mischief outside; and concern yourself a little less with other people’s affairs! All you do is day after day to associate with your friends and foolishly gad about! You are a happy-go-lucky sort of creature! If nothing happens well and good; but should by and bye anything turn up, every one will, though it be none of your doing, imagine again that you are at the bottom of it! Not to speak of others, why I myself will be the first to suspect you!”

Hsüeh P’an was naturally open-hearted and plain-spoken, and could not brook anything in the way of innuendoes, so, when on the one side, Pao-ch’ai advised him not to foolishly gad about, and his mother, on the other, hinted that he had a foul tongue, and that he was the cause that Pao-yü had been flogged, he at once got so exasperated that he jumped about in an erratic manner and did all in his power, by vowing and swearing, to explain matters. “Who has,” he ejaculated, heaping abuse upon every one, “laid such a tissue of lies to my charge! I’d like to take the teeth of that felon and pull them out! It’s clear as day that they shove me forward as a target; for now that Pao-yü has been flogged they find no means of making a display of their zeal. But, is Pao-yü forsooth the lord of the heavens that because he has had a thrashing from his father, the whole household should be fussing for days? The other time, he behaved improperly, and my uncle gave him two whacks. But our venerable ancestor came, after a time, somehow or other, I don’t know how, to hear about it, and, maintaining that it was all due to Mr. Chia Chen, she called him before her, and gave him a good blowing up. And here to-day, they have gone further, and involved me. They may drag me in as much as they like, I don’t fear a rap! But won’t it be better for me to go into the garden, and take Pao-yü and give him a bit of my mind and kill him? I can then pay the penalty by laying down my life for his, and one and all will enjoy peace and quiet!”

While he clamoured and shouted, he looked about him for the bar of the door, and, snatching it up, he there and then was running off, to the consternation of Mrs. Hsüeh, who clutched him in her arms. “You murderous child of retribution!” she cried. “Whom would you go and beat? come first and assail me?”

From excitement Hsüeh P’an’s eyes protruded like copper bells. “What are you up to,” he vociferated, “that you won’t let me go where I please, and that you deliberately go on calumniating me? But every day that Pao-yü lives, the longer by that day I have to bear a false charge, so it’s as well that we should both die that things be cleared up?”

Pao-ch’ai too hurriedly rushed forward. “Be patient a bit!” she exhorted him. “Here’s mamma in an awful state of despair. Not to mention that it should be for you to come and pacify her, you contrariwise kick up all this rumpus! Why, saying nothing about her who is your parent, were even a perfect stranger to advise you, it would be meant for your good! But the good counsel she gave you has stirred up your monkey instead.”

“From the way you’re now speaking,” Hsüeh P’an rejoined, “it must be you, who said that it was I; no one else but you!”

“You simply know how to feel displeased with me for speaking,” argued Pao-ch’ai, “but you don’t feel displeased with yourself for that reckless way of yours of looking ahead and not minding what is behind!”

“You now bear me a grudge,” Hsüeh P’an added, “for looking to what is ahead and not to what is behind; but how is it you don’t feel indignant with Pao-yü for stirring up strife and provoking trouble outside? Leaving aside everything else, I’ll merely take that affair of Ch’i Kuan-erh’s, which occurred the other day, and recount it to you as an instance. My friends and I came across this Ch’i Kuan-erh, ten times at least, but never has he made a single intimate remark to me, and how is it that, as soon as he met Pao-yü the other day, he at once produced his sash, and gave it to him, though he did not so much as know what his surname and name were? Now is it likely, forsooth, that this too was something that I started?”

“Do you still refer to this?” exclaimed Mrs. Hsüeh and Pao-ch’ai, out of patience. “Wasn’t it about this that he was beaten? This makes it clear enough that it’s you who gave the thing out.”

“Really, you’re enough to exasperate one to death!” Hsüeh P’an exclaimed. “Had you confined yourselves to saying that I had started the yarn, I wouldn’t have lost my temper; but what irritates me is that such a fuss should be made for a single Pao-yü, as to subvert heaven and earth!”

“Who fusses?” shouted Pao-ch’ai. “You are the first to arm yourself to the teeth and start a row, and then you say that it’s others who are up to mischief!”

Hsüeh P’an, seeing that every remark, made by Pao-ch’ai, contained so much reasonableness that he could with difficulty refute it, and that her words were even harder for him to reply to than were those uttered by his mother, he was consequently bent upon contriving a plan to make use of such language as could silence her and compel her to return to her room, so as to have no one bold enough to interfere with his speaking; but, his temper being up, he was not in a position to weigh his speech. “Dear Sister!” he readily therefore said, “you needn’t be flying into a huff with me! I’ve long ago divined your feelings. Mother told me some time back that for you with that gold trinket, must be selected some suitor provided with a jade one; as such a one will be a suitable match for you. And having treasured this in your mind, and seen that Pao-yü has that rubbishy thing of his, you naturally now seize every occasion to screen him....”

However, before he could finish, Pao-ch’ai trembled with anger, and clinging to Mrs. Hsüeh, she melted into tears. “Mother,” she observed, "have you heard what brother says, what is it all about?”

Hsüeh P’an, at the sight of his sister bathed in tears, became alive to the fact that he had spoken inconsiderately, and, flying into a rage, he walked away to his own quarters and retired to rest. But we can well dispense with any further comment on the subject.

Pao-ch’ai was, at heart, full of vexation and displeasure. She meant to give vent to her feelings in some way, but the fear again of upsetting her mother compelled her to conceal her tears. She therefore took leave of her parent, and went back all alone. On her return to her chamber, she sobbed and sobbed throughout the whole night. The next day, she got out of bed, as soon as it dawned; but feeling even no inclination to comb her chevelure or perform her ablutions, she carelessly adjusted her clothes and came out of the garden to see her mother.

As luck would have it, she encountered Tai-yü standing alone under the shade of the trees, who inquired of her: “Where she was off to?”

“I’m going home,” Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai replied. And as she uttered these words, she kept on her way.

But Tai-yü perceived that she was going off in a disconsolate mood; and, noticing that her eyes betrayed signs of crying, and that her manner was unlike that of other days, she smilingly called out to her from behind: "Sister, you should take care of yourself a bit. Were you even to cry so much as to fill two water jars with tears, you wouldn’t heal the wounds inflicted by the cane.”

But as what reply Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai gave is not yet known to you, reader, lend an ear to the explanation contained in the next chapter.

Chapter XXXV.

  Pai Yü-ch’uan tastes too the lotus-leaf soup.
  Huang Chin-ying skilfully plaits the plum-blossom-knotted nets.

Pao ch’ai had, our story goes, distinctly heard Lin Tai-yü’s sneer, but in her eagerness to see her mother and brother, she did not so much as turn her head round, but continued straight on her way.

During this time, Lin Tai-yü halted under the shadow of the trees. Upon casting a glance, in the distance towards the I Hung Yüan, she observed Li Kung-ts’ai, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un and various inmates wending their steps in a body in the direction of the I Hung court; but after they had gone past, and company after company of them had dispersed, she only failed to see lady Feng come. “How is it,” she cogitated within herself, “that she doesn’t come to see Pao-yü? Even supposing that there was some business to detain her, she should also have put in an appearance, so as to curry favour with our venerable senior and Madame Wang. But if she hasn’t shown herself at this hour of the day, there must certainly be some cause or other.”

While preoccupied with conjectures, she raised her head. At a second glance, she discerned a crowd of people, as thick as flowers in a bouquet, pursuing their way also into the I Hung court. On looking fixedly, she recognised dowager lady Chia, leaning on lady Feng’s arm, followed by Mesdames Hsing and Wang, Mrs. Chou and servant-girls, married women and other domestics. In a body they walked into the court. At the sight of them, Tai-yü unwittingly nodded her head, and reflected on the benefit of having a father and mother; and tears forthwith again bedewed her face. In a while, she beheld Pao-ch’ai, Mrs. Hsüeh and the rest likewise go in.

But at quite an unexpected moment she became aware that Tzu Chüan was approaching her from behind. “Miss,” she said, “you had better go and take your medicine! The hot water too has got cold.”

“What do you, after all, mean by keeping on pressing me so?” inquired Tai-yü. “Whether I have it or not, what’s that to you?”

“Your cough,” smiled Tzu Chüan, “has recently got a trifle better, and won’t you again take your medicine? This is, it’s true, the fifth moon, and the weather is hot, but you should, nevertheless, take good care of yourself a bit! Here you’ve been at this early hour of the morning standing for ever so long in this damp place; so you should go back and have some rest!”

This single hint recalled Tai-yü to her senses. She at length realised that her legs felt rather tired. After lingering about abstractedly for a long while, she quietly returned into the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, supporting herself on Tzu Chüan. As soon as they stepped inside the entrance of the court, her gaze was attracted by the confused shadows of the bamboos, which covered the ground, and the traces of moss, here thick, there thin, and she could not help recalling to mind those two lines of the passage in the Hsi Hsiang Chi:

  “In that lone nook some one saunters about,
  White dew coldly bespecks the verdant moss.”

“Shuang Wen,” she consequently secretly communed within herself, as she sighed, “had of course a poor fate; but she nevertheless had a widowed mother and a young brother; but in the unhappy destiny, to which I, Tai-yü, am at present doomed, I have neither a widowed mother nor a young brother.”

At this point in her reflections, she was about to melt into another fit of crying, when of a sudden, the parrot under the verandah caught sight of Tai-yü approaching, and, with a shriek, he jumped down from his perch, and made her start with fright.

“Are you bent upon compassing your own death!” she exclaimed. “You’ve covered my head all over with dust again!”

The parrot flew back to his perch. “Hsüeh Yen,” he kept on shouting, "quick, raise the portiere! Miss is come!”

Tai-yü stopped short and rapped on the frame with her hand. “Have his food and water been replenished?” she asked.

The parrot forthwith heaved a deep sigh, closely resembling, in sound, the groans usually indulged in by Tai-yü, and then went on to recite:

  “Here I am fain these flowers to inter, but humankind will laugh me as
      a fool."
  Who knows who will in years to come commit me to my grave.

As soon as these lines fell on the ear of Tai-yü and Tzu Chüan, they blurted out laughing.

“This is what you were repeating some time back, Miss.” Tzu Chüan laughed, “How did he ever manage to commit it to memory?”

Tai-yü then directed some one to take down the frame and suspend it instead on a hook, outside the circular window, and presently entering her room, she seated herself inside the circular window. She had just done drinking her medicine, when she perceived that the shade cast by the cluster of bamboos, planted outside the window, was reflected so far on the gauze lattice as to fill the room with a faint light, so green and mellow, and to impart a certain coolness to the teapoys and mats. But Tai-yü had no means at hand to dispel her ennui, so from inside the gauze lattice, she instigated the parrot to perform his pranks; and selecting some verses, which had ever found favour with her, she tried to teach them to him.

But without descending to particulars, let us now advert to Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai. On her return home, she found her mother alone combing her hair and having a wash. “Why do you run over at this early hour of the morning?” she speedily inquired when she saw her enter.

“To see,” replied Pao-ch’ai, “whether you were all right or not, mother. Did he come again, I wonder, after I left yesterday and make any more trouble or not?”

As she spoke, she sat by her mother’s side, but unable to curb her tears, she began to weep.

Seeing her sobbing, Mrs. Hsüeh herself could not check her feelings, and she, too, burst out into a fit of crying. “My child,” she simultaneously exhorted her, “don’t feel aggrieved! Wait, and I’ll call that child of wrath to order; for were anything to happen to you, from whom will I have anything to hope?”

Hsüeh P’an was outside and happened to overhear their conversation, so with alacrity he ran over, and facing Pao-ch’ai he made a bow, now to the left and now to the right, observing the while: “My dear sister, forgive me this time. The fact is that I took some wine yesterday; I came back late, as I met a few friends on the way. On my return home, I hadn’t as yet got over the fumes, so I unintentionally talked a lot of nonsense. But I don’t so much as remember anything about all I said. It isn’t worth your while, however, losing your temper over such a thing!”

Pao-ch’ai was, in fact, weeping, as she covered her face, but the moment this language fell on her ear, she could scarcely again refrain from laughing. Forthwith raising her head, she sputtered contemptuously on the ground. “You can well dispense with all this sham!” she exclaimed, "I’m well aware that you so dislike us both, that you’re anxious to devise some way of inducing us to part company with you, so that you may be at liberty.”

Hsüeh P’an, at these words, hastened to smile. “Sister,” he argued, "what makes you say so? once upon a time, you weren’t so suspicious and given to uttering anything so perverse!”

Mrs. Hsüeh hurriedly took up the thread of the conversation. “All you know,” she interposed, “is to find fault with your sister’s remarks as being perverse; but can it be that what you said last night was the proper thing to say? In very truth, you were drunk!”

“There’s no need for you to get angry, mother!” Hsüeh P’an rejoined, "nor for you sister either; for from this day, I shan’t any more make common cause with them nor drink wine or gad about. What do you say to that?”

“That’s equal to an acknowledgment of your failings,” Pao-ch’ai laughed.

“Could you exercise such strength of will,” added Mrs. Hsüeh, “why, the dragon too would lay eggs.”

“If I again go and gad about with them,” Hsüeh P’an replied, “and you, sister, come to hear of it, you can freely spit in my face and call me a beast and no human being. Do you agree to that? But why should you two be daily worried; and all through me alone? For you, mother, to be angry on my account is anyhow excusable; but for me to keep on worrying you, sister, makes me less then ever worthy of the name of a human being! If now that father is no more, I manage, instead of showing you plenty of filial piety, mamma, and you, sister, plenty of love, to provoke my mother to anger, and annoy my sister, why I can’t compare myself to even a four-footed creature!”

While from his mouth issued these words, tears rolled down from his eyes; for he too found it hard to contain them.

Mrs. Hsüeh had not at first been overcome by her feelings; but the moment his utterances reached her ear, she once more began to experience the anguish, which they stirred in her heart.

Pao-ch’ai made an effort to force a smile. “You’ve already,” she said, "been the cause of quite enough trouble, and do you now provoke mother to have another cry?”

Hearing this, Hsüeh P’an promptly checked his tears. As he put on a smiling expression, “When did I,” he asked, “make mother cry? But never mind; enough of this! let’s drop the matter, and not allude to it any more! Call Hsiang Ling to come and give you a cup of tea, sister!”

“I don’t want any tea.” Pao-ch’ai answered. “I’ll wait until mother has finished washing her hands and then go with her into the garden.”

“Let me see your necklet, sister,” Hsüeh P’an continued. “I think it requires cleaning.”

“It is so yellow and bright,” rejoined Pao-ch’ai, “and what’s the use of cleaning it again?”

“Sister,” proceeded Hsüeh P’an, “you must now add a few more clothes to your wardrobe, so tell me what colour and what design you like best.”

“I haven’t yet worn out all the clothes I have,” Pao-ch’ai explained, "and why should I have more made?”

But, in a little time, Mrs. Hsüeh effected the change in her costume, and hand in hand with Pao-ch’ai, she started on her way to the garden.

Hsüeh P’an thereupon took his departure. During this while, Mrs. Hsüeh and Pao-ch’ai trudged in the direction of the garden to look up Pao-yü. As soon as they reached the interior of the I Hung court, they saw a large concourse of waiting-maids and matrons standing inside as well as outside the antechambers and they readily concluded that old lady Chia and the other ladies were assembled in his rooms. Mrs. Hsüeh and her daughter stepped in. After exchanging salutations with every one present, they noticed that Pao-yü was reclining on the couch and Mrs. Hsüeh inquired of him whether he felt any better.

Pao-yü hastily attempted to bow. “I’m considerably better;” he said. "All I do,” he went on, “is to disturb you, aunt, and you, my cousin, but I don’t deserve such attentions.”

Mrs. Hsüeh lost no time in supporting and laying him down. “Mind you tell me whatever may take your fancy!” she proceeded.

“If I do fancy anything,” retorted Pao-yü smilingly, “I shall certainly send to you, aunt, for it.”

“What would you like to eat,” likewise inquired Madame Wang, “so that I may, on my return, send it round to you?”

“There’s nothing that I care for,” smiled Pao-yü, “though the soup made for me the other day, with young lotus leaves, and small lotus cores was, I thought, somewhat nice.”

“From what I hear, its flavour is nothing very grand,” lady Feng chimed in laughingly, from where she stood on one side. “It involves, however, a good deal of trouble to concoct; and here you deliberately go and fancy this very thing.”

“Go and get it ready!” cried dowager lady Chia several successive times.

“Venerable ancestor,” urged lady Feng with a smile, “don’t you bother yourself about it! Let me try and remember who can have put the moulds away!” Then turning her head round, “Go and bid,” she enjoined an old matron, “the chief in the cook-house go and apply for them!”

After a considerable lapse of time, the matron returned. “The chief in the cook-house,” she explained, “says that the four sets of moulds for soups have all been handed up.”

Upon hearing this, lady Feng thought again for a while. “Yes, I remember,” she afterwards remarked, “they were handed up, but I can’t recollect to whom they were given. Possibly they’re in the tea-room.”

Thereupon, she also despatched a servant to go and inquire of the keeper of the tea-room about them; but he too had not got them; and it was subsequently the butler, entrusted with the care of the gold and silver articles, who brought them round.

Mrs. Hsüeh was the first to take them and examine them. What, in fact, struck her gaze was a small box, the contents of which were four sets of silver moulds. Each of these was over a foot long, and one square inch (in breadth). On the top, holes were bored of the size of beans. Some resembled chrysanthemums, others plum blossom. Some were in the shape of lotus seed-cases, others like water chestnuts. They numbered in all thirty or forty kinds, and were ingeniously executed.

“In your mansion,” she felt impelled to observe smilingly to old lady Chia and Madame Wang, “everything has been amply provided for! Have you got all these things to prepare a plate of soup with! Hadn’t you told me, and I happened to see them, I wouldn’t have been able to make out what they were intended for!”

Lady Feng did not allow time to any one to put in her word. “Aunt,” she said, “how could you ever have divined that these were used last year for the imperial viands! They thought of a way by which they devised, somehow or other, I can’t tell how, some dough shapes, which borrow a little of the pure fragrance of the new lotus leaves. But as all mainly depends upon the quality of the soup, they’re not, after all, of much use! Yet who often goes in for such soup! It was made once only, and that at the time when the moulds were brought; and how is it that he has come to think of it to-day?” So speaking, she took (the moulds), and handed them to a married woman, to go and issue directions to the people in the cook-house to procure at once several fowls, and to add other ingredients besides and prepare ten bowls of soup.

“What do you want all that lot for?” observed Madame Wang.

“There’s good reason for it,” answered lady Feng. “A dish of this kind isn’t, at ordinary times, very often made, and were, now that brother Pao-yü has alluded to it, only sufficient prepared for him, and none for you, dear senior, you, aunt, and you, Madame Wang, it won’t be quite the thing! So isn’t it better that this opportunity should be availed of to get ready a whole supply so that every one should partake of some, and that even I should, through my reliance on your kind favour, taste this novel kind of relish.”

“You are sharper than a monkey!” Dowager lady Chia laughingly exclaimed in reply to her proposal. “You make use of public money to confer boons upon people.”

This remark evoked general laughter.

“This is a mere bagatelle!” eagerly laughed lady Feng. “Even I can afford to stand you such a small treat!” Then turning her head round, "Tell them in the cook-house,” she said to a married woman, “to please make an extra supply, and that they’ll get the money from me.”

The matron assented and went out of the room.

Pao-ch’ai, who was standing near, thereupon interposed with a smile. "During the few years that have gone by since I’ve come here, I’ve carefully noticed that sister-in-law Secunda, cannot, with all her acumen, outwit our venerable ancestor.”

“My dear child!” forthwith replied old lady Chia at these words. “I’m now quite an old woman, and how can there still remain any wit in me! When I was, long ago, of your manlike cousin Feng’s age, I had far more wits about me than she has! Albeit she now avers that she can’t reach our standard, she’s good enough; and compared with your aunt Wang, why, she’s infinitely superior. Your aunt, poor thing, won’t speak much! She’s like a block of wood; and when with her father and mother-in-law, she won’t show herself off to advantage. But that girl Feng has a sharp tongue, so is it a wonder if people take to her.”

“From what you say,” insinuated Pao-yü with a smile, “those who don’t talk much are not loved.”

“Those who don’t speak much,” resumed dowager lady Chia, “possess the endearing quality of reserve. But among those, with glib tongues, there’s also a certain despicable lot; thus it’s better, in a word, not to have too much to say for one’s self.”

“Quite so,” smiled Pao-yü, “yet though senior sister-in-law Chia Chu doesn’t, I must confess, talk much, you, venerable ancestor, treat her just as you do cousin Feng. But if you maintain that those alone, who can talk, are worthy of love, then among all these young ladies, sister Feng and cousin Lin are the only ones good enough to be loved.”

“With regard to the young ladies,” remarked dowager lady Chia, “it isn’t that I have any wish to flatter your aunt Hsüeh in her presence, but it is a positive and incontestable fact that there isn’t, beginning from the four girls in our household, a single one able to hold a candle to that girl Pao-ch’ai.”

At these words, Mrs. Hsüeh promptly smiled. “Dear venerable senior!” she said, “you’re rather partial in your verdict.”

“Our dear senior,” vehemently put in Madame Wang, also smiling, “has often told me in private how nice your daughter Pao-ch’ai is; so this is no lie.”

Pao-yü had tried to lead old lady Chia on, originally with the idea of inducing her to speak highly of Lin Tai-yü, but when unawares she began to eulogise Pao-ch’ai instead the result exceeded all his thoughts and went far beyond his expectations. Forthwith he cast a glance at Pao-chai, and gave her a smile, but Pao-chai at once twisted her head round and went and chatted with Hsi Jen. But of a sudden, some one came to ask them to go and have their meal. Dowager lady Chia rose to her feet, and enjoined Pao-yü to be careful of himself. She then gave a few directions to the waiting-maids, and resting her weight on lady Feng’s arm, and pressing Mrs. Hsüeh to go out first, she, and all with her, left the apartment in a body. But still she kept on inquiring whether the soup was ready or not. “If there’s anything you might fancy to eat," she also said to Mrs. Hsüeh and the others, “mind you, come and tell me, and I know how to coax that hussey Feng to get it for you as well as me.”

“My venerable senior!” rejoined Mrs. Hsüeh, “you do have the happy knack of putting her on her mettle; but though she has often got things ready for you, you’ve, after all, not eaten very much of them.”

“Aunt,” smiled lady Feng, “don’t make such statements! If our worthy senior hasn’t eaten me up it’s purely and simply because she dislikes human flesh as being sour. Did she not look down upon it as sour, why, she would long ago have gobbled me up!”

This joke was scarcely ended, when it so tickled the fancy of old lady Chia and all the inmates that they broke out with one voice in a boisterous fit of laughter. Even Pao-yü, who was inside the room, could not keep quiet.

“Really,” Hsi Jen laughed, “the mouth of our mistress Secunda is enough to terrify people to death!”

Pao-yü put out his arm and pulled Hsi Jen. “You’ve been standing for so long,” he smiled, “that you must be feeling tired.”

Saying this, he dragged her down and made her take a seat next to him.

“Here you’ve again forgotten!” laughingly exclaimed Hsi Jen. “Avail yourself now that Miss Pao-ch’ai is in the court to tell her to kindly bid their Ying Erh come and plait a few girdles with twisted cords.”

“How lucky it is you’ve reminded me?” Pao-yü observed with a smile. And putting, while he spoke, his head out of the window: “Cousin Pao-ch’ai," he cried, “when you’ve had your repast, do tell Ying Erh to come over. I would like to ask her to plait a few girdles for me. Has she got the time to spare?”

Pao-ch’ai heard him speak; and turning round: “How about no time?” she answered. “I’ll tell her by and bye to come; it will be all right.”

Dowager lady Chia and the others, however, failed to catch distinctly the drift of their talk; and they halted and made inquiries of Pao-ch’ai what it was about. Pao-ch’ai gave them the necessary explanations.

“My dear child,” remarked old lady Chia, “do let her come and twist a few girdles for your cousin! And should you be in need of any one for anything, I have over at my place a whole number of servant-girls doing nothing! Out of them, you are at liberty to send for any you like to wait on you!”

“We’ll send her to plait them!” Mrs. Hsüeh and Pao-ch’ai observed smilingly with one consent. “What can we want her for? she also daily idles her time way and is up to every mischief!”

But chatting the while, they were about to proceed on their way when they unexpectedly caught sight of Hsiang-yün, P’ing Erh, Hsiang Lin and other girls picking balsam flowers near the rocks; who, as soon as they saw the company approaching, advanced to welcome them.

Shortly, they all sallied out of the garden. Madame Wang was worrying lest dowager lady Chia’s strength might be exhausted, and she did her utmost to induce her to enter the drawing room and sit down. Old lady Chia herself was feeling her legs quite tired out, so she at once nodded her head and expressed her assent. Madame Wang then directed a waiting-maid to hurriedly precede them, and get ready the seats. But as Mrs. Chao had, about this time, pleaded indisposition, there was only therefore Mrs. Chou, with the matrons and servant-girls at hand, so they had ample to do to raise the portières, to put the back-cushions in their places, and to spread out the rugs.

Dowager lady Chia stepped into the room, leaning on lady Feng’s arm. She and Mrs. Hsüeh took their places, with due regard to the distinction between hostess and visitors; and Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai and Shih Hsiang-yün seated themselves below. Madame Wang then came forward, and presented with her own hands tea to old lady Chia, while Li Kung-ts’ai handed a cup to Mrs. Hsüeh.

“You’d better let those young sisters-in law do the honours," remonstrated old lady Chia, “and sit over there so that we may be able to have a chat.”

Madame Wang at length sat on a small bench. “Let our worthy senior’s viands,” she cried, addressing herself to lady Feng, “be served here. And let a few more things be brought!”

Lady Feng acquiesced without delay, and she told a servant to cross over to their old mistress’ quarters and to bid the matrons, employed in that part of the household, promptly go out and summon the waiting-girls. The various waiting-maids arrived with all despatch. Madame Wang directed them to ask their young ladies round. But after a protracted absence on the errand, only two of the girls turned up: T’an Ch’un and Hsi Ch’un. Ying Ch’un, was not, in her state of health, equal to the fatigue, or able to put anything in her mouth, and Lin Tai-yü, superfluous to add, could only safely partake of five out of ten meals, so no one thought anything of their non-appearance. Presently the eatables were brought, and the servants arranged them in their proper places on the table.

Lady Feng took a napkin and wrapped a bundle of chopsticks in it. "Venerable ancestor and you, Mrs. Hsüeh,” she smiled, standing the while below, “there’s no need of any yielding! Just you listen to me and I’ll make things all right.”

“Let’s do as she wills!” old lady Chia remarked to Mrs. Hsüeh laughingly.

Mrs. Hsüeh signified her approval with a smile; so lady Feng placed, in due course, four pairs of chopsticks on the table; the two pairs on the upper end for dowager lady Chia and Mrs. Hsüeh; those on the two sides for Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai and Shih Hsiang-yün. Madame Wang, Li Kung-ts’ai and a few others, stood together below and watched the attendants serve the viands. Lady Feng first and foremost hastily asked for clean utensils, and drew near the table to select some eatables for Pao-yü. Presently, the soup à la lotus leaves arrived. After old lady Chia had well scrutinised it, Madame Wang turned her head, and catching sight of Yü Ch’uan-erh, she immediately commissioned her to take some over to Pao-yü.

“She can’t carry it single-handed,” demurred lady Feng.

But by a strange coincidence, Ying Erh then walked into the room along with Hsi Erh, and Pao-ch’ai knowing very well that they had already had their meal forthwith said to Ying Erh: “Your Master Secundus, Mr. Pao-yü, just asked that you should go and twist a few girdles for him; so you two might as well proceed together!”

Ying Erh expressed her readiness and left the apartment, in company with Yü Ch’uan-erh.

“How can you carry it, so very hot as it is, the whole way there?" observed Ying Erh.

“Don’t distress yourself!” rejoined Yü Ch’uan smiling. “I know how to do it.”

Saying this, she directed a matron to come and place the soup, rice and the rest of the eatables in a present box; and bidding her lay hold of it and follow them, the two girls sped on their way with empty hands, and made straight for the entrance of the I Hung court. Here Yü Ch’uan-erh at length took the things herself, and entered the room in company with Ying Erh. The trio, Hsi Jen, She Yüeh and Ch’iu Wen were at the time chatting and laughing with Pao-yü; but the moment they saw their two friends arrive they speedily jumped to their feet. “How is it,” they exclaimed laughingly, “that you two drop in just the nick of time? Have you come together?”

With these words on their lips, they descended to greet them. Yü Ch’uan took at once a seat on a small stool. Ying Erh, however, did not presume to seat herself; and though Hsi Jen was quick enough in moving a foot-stool for her, Ying Erh did not still venture to sit down.

Ying Erh’s arrival filled Pao-yü with intense delight. But as soon as he noticed Yü Ch’uan-erh, he recalled to memory her sister Chin Ch’uan-erh, and he felt wounded to the very heart, and overpowered with shame. And, without troubling his mind about Ying Erh, he addressed his remarks to Yü Ch’uan-erh.

Hsi Jen saw very well that Ying Erh failed to attract his attention and she began to fear lest she felt uncomfortable; and when she further realised that Ying Erh herself would not take a seat, she drew her out of the room and repaired with her into the outer apartment, where they had a chat over their tea.

She Yüeh and her companions had, in the meantime, got the bowls and chopsticks ready and came to wait upon (Pao-yü) during his meal. But Pao-yü would not have anything to eat. “Is your mother all right,” he forthwith inquired of Yü Ch’uan-erh.

An angry scowl crept over Yü Ch’uan-erh’s face. She did not even look straight at Pao-yü. And only after a long pause was it that she at last uttered merely the words, “all right,” by way of reply. Pao-yü, therefore, found talking to her of little zest. But after a protracted silence he felt impelled to again force a smile, and to ask: “Who told you to bring these things over to me?”

“The ladies,” answered Yü Chuan-erh.

Pao-yü discerned the mournful expression, which still beclouded her countenance and he readily jumped at the conclusion that it must be entirely occasioned by the fate which had befallen Chin Ch’uan-erh, but when fain to put on a meek and unassuming manner, and endeavour to cheer her, he saw how little he could demean himself in the presence of so many people, and consequently he did his best and discovered the means of getting every one out of the way. Afterwards, straining another smile, he plied her with all sorts of questions.

Yü Ch’uan-erh, it is true, did not at first choose to heed his advances, yet when she observed that Pao-yü did not put on any airs, and, that in spite of all her querulous reproaches, he still continued pleasant and agreeable, she felt disconcerted and her features at last assumed a certain expression of cheerfulness. Pao-yü thereupon smiled. “My dear girl,” he said, as he gave way to entreaties, “bring that soup and let me taste it!”

“I’ve never been in the habit of feeding people,” Yü Ch’uan-erh replied. "You’d better wait till the others return; you can have some then.”

“I don’t want you to feed me,” laughed Pao-yü. “It’s because I can’t move about that I appeal to you. Do let me have it! You’ll then get back early and be able, when you’ve handed over the things, to have your meal. But were I to go on wasting your time, won’t you feel upset from hunger? Should you be lazy to budge, well then, I’ll endure the pain and get down and fetch it myself.”

As he spoke, he tried to alight from bed. He strained every nerve, and raised himself, but unable to stand the exertion, he burst out into groans. At the sight of his anguish, Yü Ch’uan-erh had not the heart to refuse her help. Springing up, “Lie down!” she cried. “In what former existence did you commit such evil that your retribution in the present one is so apparent? Which of my eyes however can brook looking at you going on in that way?”

While taunting him, she again blurted out laughing, and brought the soup over to him.

“My dear girl;” smiled Pao-yü, “if you want to show temper, better do so here! When you see our venerable senior and madame, my mother, you should be a little more even-tempered, for if you still behave like this, you’ll at once get a scolding!”

“Eat away, eat away!” urged Yü Ch’uan-erh. “There’s no need for you to be so sweet-mouthed and honey-tongued with me. I don’t put any faith in such talk!”

So speaking, she pressed Pao-yü until he had two mouthfuls of soup. “It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice!” Pao-yü purposely exclaimed.

“Omi-to-fu!” ejaculated Yü Ch’uan-erh. “If this isn’t nice, what’s nice?”

“There’s no flavour about it at all,” resumed Pao-yü. “If you don’t believe me taste it, and you’ll find out for yourself.”

Yü Ch’uan-erh in a tantrum actually put some of it to her lips.

“Well,” laughed Pao-yü, “it is nice!”

This exclamation eventually enabled Yü Ch’uan to see what Pao-yü was driving at, for Pao-yü had in fact been trying to beguile her to have a mouthful.

“As, at one moment, you say you don’t want any,” she forthwith observed, "and now you say it is nice, I won’t give you any.”

While Pao-yü returned her smiles, he kept on earnestly entreating her to let him have some.

Yü Ch’uan-erh however would still not give him any; and she, at the same time, called to the servants to fetch what there was for him to eat. But the instant the waiting-maid put her foot into the room, servants came quite unexpectedly to deliver a message.

“Two nurses,” they said, “have arrived from the household of Mr. Fu, Secundus, to present his compliments. They have now come to see you, Mr. Secundus.” As soon as Pao-yü heard this report, he felt sure that they must be nurses sent over from the household of Deputy Sub-Prefect, Fu Shih.

This Fu Shih had originally been a pupil of Chia Cheng, and had, indeed, had to rely entirely upon the reputation enjoyed by the Chia family for the realisation of his wishes. Chia Cheng had, likewise, treated him with such genuine regard, and so unlike any of his other pupils, that he (Fu Shih) ever and anon despatched inmates from his mansion to come and see him so as to keep up friendly relations.

Pao-yü had at all times entertained an aversion for bold-faced men and unsophisticated women, so why did he once more, on this occasion, issue directions that the two matrons should be introduced into his presence? There was, in fact, a reason for his action. It was simply that Pao-yü had come to learn that Fu Shih had a sister, Ch’iu-fang by name, a girl as comely as a magnificent gem, and perfection itself, the report of outside people went, as much in intellect as in beauty. He had, it is true, not yet seen anything of her with his own eyes, but the sentiments, which made him think of her and cherish her, from a distance, were characterised by such extreme sincerity, that dreading lest he should, by refusing to admit the matrons, reflect discredit upon Fu Ch’iu-fang, he was prompted to lose no time in expressing a wish that they should be ushered in.

This Fu Shih had really risen from the vulgar herd, so seeing that Ch’iu-fang possessed several traits of beauty and exceptional intellectual talents, Fu Shih arrived at the resolution of making his sister the means of joining relationship with the influential family of some honourable clan. And so unwilling was he to promise her lightly to any suitor that things were delayed up to this time. Therefore Fu Ch’iu-fang, though at present past her twentieth birthday, was not as yet engaged. But the various well-to-do families, belonging to honourable clans, looked down, on the other hand, on her poor and mean extraction, holding her in such light esteem, as not to relish the idea of making any offer for her hand. So if Fu Shih cultivated intimate terms with the Chia household, he, needless to add, did so with an interested motive.

The two matrons, deputed on the present errand, completely lacked, as it happened, all knowledge of the world, and the moment they heard that Pao-yü wished to see them, they wended their steps inside. But no sooner had they inquired how he was, and passed a few remarks than Yü Ch’uan-erh, becoming conscious of the arrival of strangers, did not bandy words with Pao-yü, but stood with the plate of soup in her hands, engrossed in listening to the conversation. Pao-yü, again, was absorbed in speaking to the matrons; and, while eating some rice, he stretched out his arm to get at the soup; but both his and her (Yü Ch’uan-erh’s) eyes were rivetted on the women, and as he thoughtlessly jerked out his hand with some violence, he struck the bowl and turned it clean over. The soup fell over Pao-yü’s hand. But it did not hurt Yü Ch’uan-erh. She sustained, however, such a fright that she gave a start.

“How did this happen!” she smilingly shouted with vehemence to the intense consternation of the waiting-maids, who rushed up and clasped the bowl. But notwithstanding that Pao-yü had scalded his own hand, he was quite unconscious of the accident; so much so, that he assailed Yü Ch’uan-erh with a heap of questions, as to where she had been burnt, and whether it was sore or not.

Yü Ch’uan-erh and every one present were highly amused.

“You yourself,” observed Yü Ch’uan-erh, “have been scalded, and do you keep on asking about myself?”

At these words, Pao-yü became at last aware of the injury he had received. The servants rushed with all promptitude and cleared the mess. But Pao-yü was not inclined to touch any more food. He washed his hands, drank a cup of tea, and then exchanged a few further sentences with the two matrons. But subsequently, the two women said good-bye and quitted the room. Ch’ing Wen and some other girls saw them as far as the bridge, after which, they retraced their steps.

The two matrons perceived, that there was no one about, and while proceeding on their way, they started a conversation.

“It isn’t strange,” smiled the one, “if people say that this Pao-yü of theirs is handsome in appearance, but stupid as far as brains go. Nice enough a thing to look at but not to put to one’s lips; rather idiotic in fact; for he burns his own hand, and then he asks some one else whether she’s sore or not. Now, isn’t this being a regular fool?”

“The last time I came,” the other remarked, also smiling, “I heard that many inmates of his family feel ill-will against him. In real truth he is a fool! For there he drips in the heavy downpour like a water fowl, and instead of running to shelter himself, he reminds other people of the rain, and urges them to get quick out of the wet. Now, tell me, isn’t this ridiculous, eh? Time and again, when no one is present, he cries to himself, then laughs to himself. When he sees a swallow, he instantly talks to it; when he espies a fish, in the river, he forthwith speaks to it. At the sight of stars or the moon, if he doesn’t groan and sigh, he mutters and mutters. Indeed, he hasn’t the least bit of character; so much so, that he even puts up with the temper shown by those low-bred maids. If he takes a fancy to a thing, it’s nice enough even though it be a bit of thread. But as for waste, what does he mind? A thing may be worth a thousand or ten thousand pieces of money, he doesn’t worry his mind in the least about it.”

While they talked, they reached the exterior of the garden, and they betook themselves back to their home; where we will leave them.

As soon as Hsi Jen, for we will return to her, saw the women leave the room, she took Ying Erh by the hand and led her in, and they asked Pao-yü what kind of girdle he wanted made.

“I was just now so bent upon talking,” Pao-yü smiled to Ying Erh, “that I forgot all about you. I put you to the trouble of coming, not for anything else, but that you should also make me a few nets.”

“Nets! To put what in?” Ying Erh inquired.

Pao-yü, at this question, put on a smile. “Don’t concern yourself about what they are for!” he replied. “Just make me a few of each kind!”

Ying Erh clapped her hand and laughed. “Could this ever be done!” she cried, “If you want all that lot, why, they couldn’t be finished in ten years time.”

“My dear girl,” smiled Pao-yü, “work at them for me then whenever you are at leisure, and have nothing better to do.”

“How could you get through them all in a little time?” Hsi Jen interposed smilingly. “First choose now therefore such as are most urgently needed and make a couple of them.”

“What about urgently needed?” Ying-Erh exclaimed, “They are merely used for fans, scented pendants and handkerchiefs.”

“Nets for handkerchiefs will do all right.” Pao-yü answered.

“What’s the colour of your handkerchief?” inquired Ying Erh.

“It’s a deep red one.” Pao-yü rejoined.

“For a deep red one,” continued Ying Erh, “a black net will do very nicely, or one of dark green. Both these agree with the colour.”

“What goes well with brown?” Pao-yü asked.

“Peach-red goes well with brown.” Ying Erh added.

“That will make them look gaudy!” Pao-yü observed. “Yet with all their plainness, they should be somewhat gaudy.”

“Leek-green and willow-yellow are what are most to my taste,” Ying Erh pursued.

“Yes, they’ll also do!” Pao-yü retorted. “But make one of peach-red too and then one of leek-green.”

“Of what design?” Ying Erh remarked.

“How many kinds of designs are there?” Pao-yü said.

“There are ’the stick of incense,’ ’stools upset towards heaven,’ ’part of elephant’s eyes,’ ’squares,’ ’chains,’ ’plum blossom,’ and ’willow leaves.” Ying Erh answered.

“What was the kind of design you made for Miss Tertia the other day?" Pao-yü inquired.

“It was the ’plum blossom with piled cores,’” Ying Erh explained in reply.

“Yes, that’s nice.” Pao-yü rejoined.

As he uttered this remark, Hsi Jen arrived with the cords. But no sooner were they brought than a matron cried, from outside the window: “Girls, your viands are ready!”

“Go and have your meal,” urged Pao-yü, “and come back quick after you’ve had it.”

“There are visitors here,” Hsi Jen smiled, “and how can I very well go?”

“What makes you say so?” Ying Erh laughed, while adjusting the cords. "It’s only right and proper that you should go and have your food at once and then return.”

Hearing this, Hsi Jen and her companions went off, leaving behind only two youthful servant-girls to answer the calls.

Pao-yü watched Ying Erh make the nets. But, while keeping his eyes intent on her, he talked at the same time of one thing and then another, and next went on to ask her how far she was in her teens.

Ying Erh continued plaiting. “I’m sixteen,” she simultaneously rejoined.

“What was your original surname?” Pao-yü added.

“It was Huang;” answered Ying Erh.

“That’s just the thing,” Pao-yü smiled; “for in real truth there’s the ’Huang Ying-erh;’ (oriole).”

“My name, at one time, consisted of two characters,” continued Ying Erh. "I was called Chin Ying; but Miss Pao-ch’ai didn’t like it, as it was difficult to pronounce, and only called me Ying Erh; so now I’ve come to be known under that name.”

“One can very well say that cousin Pao-ch’ai is fond of you!” Pao-yü pursued. “By and bye, when she gets married, she’s sure to take you along with her.”

Ying Erh puckered up her lips, and gave a significant smile.

“I’ve often told Hsi Jen,” Pao-yü smiled, “that I can’t help wondering who’ll shortly be the lucky ones to win your mistress and yourself.”

“You aren’t aware,” laughed Ying Erh, “that our young mistress possesses several qualities not to be found in a single person in this world; her face is a second consideration.”

Pao-yü noticed how captivating Ying Erh’s tone of voice was, how complaisant she was, and how simpleton-like unaffected in her language and smiles, and he soon felt the warmest affection for her; and particularly so, when she started the conversation about Pao-ch’ai. "Where do her qualities lie?” he readily inquired. “My dear girl, please tell me!”

“If I tell you,” said Ying Erh, “you must, on no account, let her know anything about it again.”

“This goes without saying,” smiled Pao-yü.

But this answer was still on his lips, when they overheard some one outside remark: “How is it that everything is so quiet?”

Both gazed round to see who possibly it could be. They discovered, strange enough, no one else than Pao-ch’ai herself.

Pao-yü hastily offered her a seat. Pao-ch’ai seated herself, and then wanted to know what Ying Erh was busy plaiting. Inquiring the while, she approached her and scrutinised what she held in her hands, half of which had by this time been done. “What’s the fun of a thing like this?” she said. “Wouldn’t it be preferable to plait a net, and put the jade in it?”

This allusion suggested the idea to Pao-yü. Speedily clapping his hands, he smiled and exclaimed: “Your idea is splendid, cousin. I’d forgotten all about it! The only thing is what colour will suit it best?”

“It will never do to use mixed colours,” Pao-ch’ai rejoined. “Deep red will, on one hand, clash with the colour; while yellow is not pleasing to the eye; and black, on the other hand, is too sombre. But wait, I’ll try and devise something. Bring that gold cord and use it with the black beaded cord; and if you twist one of each together, and make a net with them, it will look very pretty!”

Upon hearing this, Pao-yü was immeasurably delighted, and time after time he shouted to the servants to fetch the gold cord. But just at that moment Hsi Jen stepped in, with two bowls of eatables. “How very strange this is to-day!” she said to Pao-yü. “Why, a few minutes back, my mistress, your mother, sent some one to bring me two bowls of viands.”

“The supply,” replied Pao-yü smiling, “must have been so plentiful to-day, that they’ve sent some to every one of you.”

“It isn’t that,” continued Hsi Jen, “for they were distinctly given to me by name. What’s more, I wasn’t bidden go and knock my head; so this is indeed remarkable!”

“If they’re given to you,” Pao-yü smiled, “why, you had better go and eat them. What’s there in this to fill you with conjectures?”

“There’s never been anything like this before,” Hsi Jen added, “so, it makes me feel uneasy.”

Pao-ch’ai compressed her lips. “If this,” she laughed; “makes you fell uneasy, there will be by and bye other things to make you far more uneasy.”

Hsi Jen realised that she implied something by her insinuations, as she knew from past experience that Pao-ch’ai was not one given to lightly and contemptuously poking fun at people; and, remembering the notions entertained by Madame Wang on the last occasion she had seen her, she dropped at once any further allusions to the subject and brought the eatables up to Pao-yü for his inspection. “I shall come and hold the cords,” she observed, “as soon as I’ve rinsed my hands.”

This said, she immediately quitted the apartment. After her meal, she washed her hands and came inside to hold the gold cords for Ying Erh to plait the net with.

By this time, Pao-ch’ai had been called away by a servant, despatched by Hsüeh P’an. But while Pao-yü was watching the net that was being made he caught sight, at a moment least expected, of two servant-girls, who came from the part of Madame Hsing of the other mansion, to bring him a few kinds of fruits, and to inquire whether he was able to walk. “If you can go about,” they told him, “(our mistress) desires you, Mr. Pao-yü, to cross over to-morrow and have a little distraction. Her ladyship really longs to see you.”

“Were I able to walk,” Pao-yü answered with alacrity, “I would feel it my duty to go and pay my respects to your mistress! Anyhow, the pain is better than before, so request your lady to allay her solicitude.”

As he bade them both sit down, he, at the same time, called Ch’iu Wen. "Take,” he said to her, “half of the fruits, just received, to Miss Lin as a present.”

Ch’iu Wen signified her obedience, and was about to start on her errand, when she heard Tai-yü talking in the court, and Pao-yü eagerly shout out: “Request her to walk in at once!”

But should there be any further particulars, which you, reader, might feel disposed to know, peruse the details given in the following chapter.

Chapter XXXVI.

  While Hsi Jen is busy embroidering mandarin ducks, Pao-yü receives, in
      the Chiang Yün Pavilion, an omen from a dream.
  Pao-yü apprehends that there is a destiny in affections, when his
      feelings are aroused to a sense of the situation in the Pear
      Fragrance court.

Ever since dowager lady Chia’s return from Madame Wang’s quarters, for we will now take up the string of our narrative, she naturally felt happier in her mind as she saw that Pao-yü improved from day to day; but nervous lest Chia Cheng should again in the future send for him, she lost no time in bidding a servant summon a head-page, a constant attendant upon Chia Cheng, to come to her, and in impressing upon him various orders. “Should,” she enjoined him, “anything turn up henceforward connected with meeting guests, entertaining visitors and other such matters, and your master mean to send for Pao-yü, you can dispense with going to deliver the message. Just you tell him that I say that after the severe thrashing he has had, great care must be first taken of him during several months before he can be allowed to walk; and that, secondly, his constellation is unpropitious and that he could not see any outsider, while sacrifices are being offered to the stars; that I won’t have him therefore put his foot beyond the second gate before the expiry of the eighth moon.”

The head-page listened patiently to her instructions, and, assenting to all she had to say, he took his leave.

Old lady Chia thereupon also sent for nurse Li, Hsi Jen and the other waiting-maids and recommended them to tell Pao-yü about her injunctions so that he might be able to quiet his mind.

Pao-yü had always had a repugnance for entertaining high officials and men in general, and the greatest horror of going in official hat and ceremonial dress, to offer congratulations, or express condolences, to pay calls, return visits, or perform other similar conventionalities, but upon receipt on the present occasion of this message, he became so much the more confirmed in his dislikes that not only did he suspend all intercourse with every single relative and friend, but even went so far as to study more than he had ever done before, his own caprices in the fulfilment of those morning and evening salutations due to the senior members of his family. Day after day he spent in the garden, doing nothing else than loafing about, sitting down here, or reclining there. Of a morning, he would, as soon as it was day, stroll as far as the quarters of dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang, to repair back, however, in no time. Yet ever ready was he every day that went by to perform menial services for any of the waiting-maids. He, in fact, wasted away in the most complete dolce far niente days as well as months. If perchance Pao-ch’ai or any other girl of the same age as herself found at any time an opportunity to give him advice, he would, instead of taking it in good part, fly into a huff. “A pure and spotless maiden," he would say, “has likewise gone and deliberately imitated those persons, whose aim is to fish for reputation and to seek praise; that set of government thieves and salaried devils. This result entirely arises from the fact that there have been people in former times, who have uselessly stirred up trouble and purposely fabricated stories with the primary object of enticing the filthy male creatures, who would spring up in future ages, to follow in their steps! And who would have thought it, I have had the misfortune of being born a masculine being! But, even those beautiful girls, in the female apartments, have been so contaminated by this practice that verily they show themselves ungrateful for the virtue of Heaven and Earth, in endowing them with perception, and in rearing them with so much comeliness.”

Seeing therefore what an insane mania possessed him, not one of his cousins came forward to tender him one proper word of counsel. Lin Tai-yü was the only one of them, who, from his very infancy, had never once admonished him to strive and make a position and attain fame, so thus it was that he entertained for Tai-yü profound consideration. But enough of minor details.

We will now turn our attention to lady Feng. Soon after the news of Chin Ch’uan-erh’s death reached her, she saw that domestics from various branches of the family paid her frequent visits at most unexpected hours, and presented her a lot of things, and that they courted her presence at most unseasonable moments, to pay their compliments and adulate her, and she begun to harbour suspicions, in her own mind, as she little knew what their object could possibly be. On this date, she again noticed that some of them had brought their gifts, so, when evening arrived, and no one was present, she felt compelled to inquire jocosely of P’ing Erh what their aim could be.

“Can’t your ladyship fathom even this?” P’ing Erh answered with a sardonic smile. “Why, their daughters must, I fancy, be servant-girls in Madame Wang’s apartments! For her ladyship’s rooms four elderly girls are at present allotted with a monthly allowance of one tael; the rest simply receiving several hundreds of cash each month; so now that Chin Ch’uan-erh is dead and gone, these people must, of course, be anxious to try their tricks and get this one-tael job!”

Hearing this, lady Feng smiled a significant smile. “That’s it. Yes, that’s it!” she exclaimed. “You’ve really suggested the idea to my mind! From all appearances, these people are a most insatiable lot; for they make quite enough in the way of money! And as for any business that requires a little exertion, why they are never ready to bear a share of it! They make use of their girls as so many tools to shove their own duties upon. Yet one overlooks that. But must they too have designs upon this job? Never mind! These people cannot easily afford to spend upon me the money they do. But they bring this upon their own selves, so I’ll keep every bit of thing they send. I’ve, after all, resolved how to act in the matter!”

Having arrived at this decision, lady Feng purely and simply protracted the delay until all the women had sent her enough to satisfy her, when she at last suited her own convenience and spoke to Madame Wang (on the subject of the vacant post).

Mrs. Hsüeh and her daughter were sitting one day, at noon, in Madame Wang’s quarters, together with Lin Tai-yü and the other girls, when lady Feng found an opportunity and broached the topic with Madame Wang. “Ever since,” she said, “sister Chin Ch’uan-erh’s death, there has been one servant less in your ladyship’s service. But you may possibly have set your choice upon some girl; if so, do let me know who it is, so that I may be able to pay her her monthly wages.”

This reminder made Madame Wang commune with her own self. “I fancy,” she remarked; “that the custom is that there should be four or five of them; but as long as there are enough to wait upon me, I don’t mind, so we can really dispense with another.”

“What you say is, properly speaking, perfectly correct,” smiled lady Feng; “but it’s an old established custom. There are still a couple to be found in other people’s rooms and won’t you, Madame, conform with the rule? Besides, the saving of a tael is a small matter.”

After this argument, Madame Wang indulged in further thought. “Never mind,” she then observed, “just you bring over this allowance and pay it to me. And there will be no need to supply another girl. I’ll hand over this tael to her younger sister, Yü Ch’uan-erh, and finish with it. Her elder sister came to an unpleasant end, after a long term of service with me; so if the younger sister, she leaves behind in my employ, receives a double share, it won’t be any too excessive.”

Lady Feng expressed her approval and turning round she said smilingly to Yü Ch’uan-erh: “I congratulate you, I congratulate you!”

Yü Ch’uan-erh thereupon crossed over and prostrated herself.

“I just want to ask you,” Madame Wang went on to inquire, “how much Mrs. Chao and Mrs. Chou are allowed monthly?”

“They have a fixed allowance,” answered lady Feng, “each of them draws two taels. But Mrs. Chao gets two taels for cousin Chia Huan, so hers amounts in all to four taels; besides these, four strings of cash.”

“Are they paid in full month after month?” Madame Wang inquired.

Lady Feng thought the question so very strange that she hastened to exclaim by way of reply: “How are they not paid in full?”

“The other day,” Madame Wang proceeded, “I heard a faint rumour that there was some one, who complained in an aggrieved way that she had got a string short. How and why is this?”

“The monthly allowances of the servant-girls, attached to the secondary wives,” lady Feng hurriedly added with a smile, “amounted originally to a tiao each, but ever since last year, it was decided, by those people outside, that the shares of each of those ladies’ girls should be reduced by half, that is, each to five hundred cash; and, as each lady has a couple of servant-girls, they receive therefore a tiao short. But for this, they can’t bear me a grudge. As far as I’m concerned, I would only be too glad to let them have it; but our people outside will again disallow it; so is it likely that I can authorise any increase, pray? In this matter of payments I merely receive the money, and I’ve nothing to do with how it comes and how it goes. I nevertheless recommended, on two or three occasions, that it would be better if these two shares were again raised to the old amount; but they said that there’s only that much money, so that I can’t very well volunteer any further suggestions! Now that the funds are paid into my hands, I give them to them every month, without any irregularity of even so much as a day. When payments hitherto were effected outside, what month were they not short of money? And did they ever, on any single instance, obtain their pay at the proper time and date?”

Having heard this explanation, Madame Wang kept silent for a while. Next, she proceeded to ask, how many girls there were with dowager lady Chia drawing one tael.

“Eight of them,” rejoined lady Feng, “but there are at present only seven; the other one is Hsi Jen.”

“Quite right,” assented Madame Wang. “But your cousin Pao-yü hasn’t any maid at one tael; for Hsi Jen is still a servant belonging to old lady Chia’s household.”

“Hsi Jen,” lady Feng smiled, “is still our dear ancestor’s servant; she’s only lent to cousin Pao-yü; so that she still receives this tael in her capacity of maid to our worthy senior. Any proposal, therefore, that might now be made, that this tael should, as Hsi Jen is Pao-yü’s servant, be curtailed, can, on no account, be entertained. Yet, were it suggested that another servant should be added to our senior’s staff, then in this way one could reduce the tael she gets. But if this be not curtailed, it will be necessary to also add a servant in cousin Chia Huan’s rooms, in order that there should be a fair apportionment. In fact, Ch’ing Wen, She Yüeh and the others, numbering seven senior maids, receive each a tiao a month; and Chiao Hui and the rest of the junior maids, eight in all, get each five hundred cash per mensem; and this was recommended by our venerable ancestor herself; so how can any one be angry and feel displeasure?”

“Just listen,” laughed Mrs. Hsüeh, “to that girl Feng’s mouth! It rattles and rattles like a cart laden with walnuts, which has turned topsy-turvy! Yet, her accounts are, from what one can gather, clear enough, and her arguments full of reason.”

“Aunt,” rejoined lady Feng smiling, “was I likely, pray, wrong in what I said?”

“Who ever said you were wrong?” Mrs. Hsüeh smiled. “But were you to talk a little slower, wouldn’t it be a saving of exertion for you?”

Lady Feng was about to laugh, but hastily checking herself, she lent an ear to what Madame Wang might have to tell her.

Madame Wang indulged in thought for a considerable time. Afterwards, facing lady Feng, “You’d better,” she said, “select a waiting-maid tomorrow and send her over to our worthy senior to fill up Hsi Jen’s place. Then, discontinue that allowance, which Hsi Jen draws, and keep out of the sum of twenty taels, allotted to me monthly, two taels and a tiao, and give them to Hsi Jen. So henceforward what Mrs. Chao and Mrs. Chou will get, Hsi Jen will likewise get, with the only difference that the share granted to Hsi Jen, will be entirely apportioned out of my own allowance. Mind, therefore, there will be no necessity to touch the public funds!”

Lady Feng acquiesced to each one of her recommendations, and, pushing Mrs. Hsüeh, “Aunt,” she inquired, “have you heard her proposal? What have I all along maintained? Well, my words have actually come out true to-day!”

“This should have been accomplished long ago,” Mrs. Hsüeh answered. “For without, of course, making any allusion to her looks, her way of doing business is liberal; her speech and her relations with people are always prompted by an even temper, while inwardly she has plenty of singleness of heart and eagerness to hold her own. Indeed, such a girl is not easy to come across!”

Madame Wang made every effort to conceal her tears. “How could you people ever rightly estimate Hsi Jen’s qualities?” she observed. “Why, she’s a hundred times better than my own Pao-yü. How fortunate, in reality, Pao-yü is! Well would it be if he could have her wait upon him for the whole length of his life!”

“In that case,” lady Feng suggested, “why, have her face shaved at once, and openly place her in his room as a secondary wife. Won’t this be a good plan?”

“This won’t do!” Madame Wang retorted. “For first and foremost he’s of tender years. In the second place, my husband won’t countenance any such thing! In the third, so long as Pao-yü sees that Hsi Jen is his waiting-maid, he may, in the event of anything occurring from his having been allowed to run wild, listen to any good counsel she might give him. But were she now to be made his secondary wife, Hsi Jen would not venture to tender him any extreme advice, even when it’s necessary to do so. It’s better, therefore, to let things stand as they are for the present, and talk about them again, after the lapse of another two or three years.”

At the close of these arguments, lady Feng could not put in a word, by way of reply, to refute them, so turning round, she left the room. She had no sooner, however, got under the verandah, than she discerned the wives of a number of butlers, waiting for her to report various matters to her. Seeing her issue out of the room, they with one consent smiled. "What has your ladyship had to lay before Madame Wang,” they remarked, "that you’ve been talking away this length of time? Didn’t you find it hot work?”

Lady Feng tucked up her sleeves several times. Then resting her foot on the step of the side door, she laughed and rejoined: “The draft in this passage is so cool, that I’ll stop, and let it play on me a bit before I go on. You people,” she proceeded to tell them, “say that I’ve been talking to her all this while, but Madame Wang conjured up all that has occurred for the last two hundred years and questioned me about it; so could I very well not have anything to say in reply? But from this day forth,” she added with a sarcastic smile, “I shall do several mean things, and should even (Mrs. Chao and Mrs. Chou) go, out of any ill-will, and tell Madame Wang, I won’t know what fear is for such stupid, glib-tongued, foul-mouthed creatures as they, who are bound not to see a good end! It isn’t for them to indulge in those fanciful dreams of becoming primary wives, for there, will come soon a day when the whole lump sum of their allowance will be cut off! They grumble against us for having now reduced the perquisites of the servant-maids, but they don’t consider whether they deserve to have so many as three girls to dance attendance on them!”

While heaping abuse on their heads, she started homewards, and went all alone in search of some domestic to go and deliver a message to old lady Chia.

But without any further reference to her, we will take up the thread of our narrative with Mrs. Hsüeh, and the others along with her. During this interval they finished feasting on melons. After some more gossip, each went her own way; and Pao-ch’ai, Tai-yü and the rest of the cousins returned into the garden. Pao-ch’ai then asked Tai-yü to repair with her to the O Hsiang Arbour. But Tai-yü said that she was just going to have her bath, so they parted company, and Pao-ch’ai walked back all by herself. On her way, she stepped into the I Hung Yüan, to look up Pao-yü and have a friendly hobnob with him, with the idea of dispelling her mid-day lassitude; but, contrary to her expectations, the moment she put her foot into the court, she did not so much as catch the caw of a crow. Even the two storks stood under the banana trees, plunged in sleep. Pao-ch’ai proceeded along the covered passage and entered the rooms. Here she discovered the servant-girls sleeping soundly on the bed of the outer apartment; some lying one way, some another; so turning round the decorated screen, she wended her steps into Pao-yü’s chamber. Pao-yü was asleep in bed. Hsi Jen was seated by his side, busy plying her needle. Next to her, lay a yak tail. Pao-ch’ai advanced up to her. “You’re really far too scrupulous,” she said smilingly in an undertone. “Are there still flies or mosquitos in here? and why do yet use that fly-flap for, to drive what away?”

Hsi Jen was quite taken by surprise. But hastily raising her head, and realising that it was Pao-ch’ai, she hurriedly put down her needlework. "Miss,” she whispered with a smile, “you came upon me so unawares that you gave me quite a start! You don’t know, Miss, that though there be no flies or mosquitoes there is, no one would believe it, a kind of small insect, which penetrates through the holes of this gauze; it is scarcely to be detected, but when one is asleep, it bites just like ants do!”

“It isn’t to be wondered at,” Pao-ch’ai suggested, “for the back of these rooms adjoins the water; the whole place is also one mass of fragrant flowers, and the interior of this room is, too, full of their aroma. These insects grow mostly in the core of flowers, so no sooner do they scent the smell of any than they at once rush in.”

Saying this, she cast a look on the needlework she (Hsi Jen) held in her hands. It consisted, in fact, of a belt of white silk, lined with red, and embroidered on the upper part with designs representing mandarin ducks, disporting themselves among some lotus. The lotus flowers were red, the leaves green, the ducks of variegated colours.

“Ai-yah!” ejaculated Pao-ch’ai, “what very beautiful work! For whom is this, that it’s worth your while wasting so much labour on it?”

Hsi Jen pouted her lips towards the bed.

“Does a big strapping fellow like this,” Pao-ch’ai laughed, “still wear such things?”

“He would never wear any before,” Hsi Jen smiled, “that’s why such a nice one was specially worked for him, in order that when he was allowed to see it, he should not be able to do otherwise than use it. With the present hot weather, he goes to sleep anyhow, but as he has been coaxed to wear it, it doesn’t matter if even he doesn’t cover himself well at night. You say that I bestow much labour upon this, but you haven’t yet seen the one he has on!”

“It is a lucky thing,” Pao-ch’ai observed, smiling, “that you’re gifted with such patience.”

“I’ve done so much of it to-day,” remarked Hsi Jen, “that my neck is quite sore from bending over it. My dear Miss,” she then urged with a beaming countenance, “do sit here a little. I’ll go out for a turn. I’ll be back shortly.”

With these words, she sallied out of the room.

Pao-ch’ai was intent upon examining the embroidery, so in her absentmindedness, she, with one bend of her body, settled herself on the very same spot, which Hsi Jen had recently occupied. But she found, on second scrutiny, the work so really admirable, that impulsively picking up the needle, she continued it for her. At quite an unforeseen moment–for Lin Tai-yü had met Shih Hsiang-yün and asked her to come along with her and present her congratulations to Hsi Jen–these two girls made their appearance in the court. Finding the whole place plunged in silence, Hsiang-yün turned round and betook herself first into the side-rooms in search of Hsi Jen. Lin Tai-yü, meanwhile, walked up to the window from outside, and peeped in through the gauze frame. At a glance, she espied Pao-yü, clad in a silvery-red coat, lying carelessly on the bed, and Pao-ch’ai, seated by his side, busy at some needlework, with a fly-brush resting by her side.

As soon as Lin Tai-yü became conscious of the situation, she immediately slipped out of sight, and stopping her mouth with one hand, as she did not venture to laugh aloud, she waved her other hand and beckoned to Hsiang-yün. The moment Hsiang-yün saw the way she went on, she concluded that she must have something new to impart to her, and she approached her with all promptitude. At the sight, which opened itself before her eyes, she also felt inclined to laugh. Yet the sudden recollection of the kindness, with which Pao-ch’ai had always dealt towards her, induced her to quickly seal her lips. And knowing well enough that Tai-yü never spared any one with her mouth, she was seized with such fear lest she should jeer at them, that she immediately dragged her past the window. "Come along!” she observed. “Hsi Jen, I remember, said that she would be going at noon to wash some clothes at the pond. I presume she’s there already so let’s go and join her.”

Tai-yü inwardly grasped her meaning, but, after indulging in a couple of sardonic smiles, she had no alternative but to follow in her footsteps.

Pao-ch’ai had, during this while, managed to embroider two or three petals, when she heard Pao-yü begin to shout abusingly in his dreams. "How can,” he cried, “one ever believe what bonzes and Taoist priests say? What about a match between gold and jade? My impression is that it’s to be a union between a shrub and a stone!”

Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai caught every single word uttered by him and fell unconsciously in a state of excitement. Of a sudden, however, Hsi Jen appeared on the scene. “Hasn’t he yet woke up?” she inquired.

Pao-ch’ai nodded her head by way of reply.

“I just came across,” Hsi Jen smiled, “Miss Lin and Miss Shih. Did they happen to come in?”

“I didn’t see them come in,” Pao-ch’ai answered. “Did they tell you anything?” she next smilingly asked of Hsi Jen.

Hsi Jen blushed and laughed significantly. “They simply came out with some of those jokes of theirs,” she explained. “What decent things could such as they have had to tell me?”

“They made insinuations to-day,” Pao-ch’ai laughed, “which are anything but a joke! I was on the point of telling you them, when you rushed away in an awful hurry.”

But no sooner had she concluded, than she perceived a servant, come over from lady Feng’s part to fetch Hsi Jen. “It must be on account of what they hinted,” Pao-ch’ai smilingly added.

Hsi Jen could not therefore do otherwise than arouse two servant-maids and go. She proceeded, with Pao-ch’ai, out of the I Hung court, and then repaired all alone to lady Feng’s on this side. It was indeed to communicate to her what had been decided about her, and to explain to her, as well, that though she could go and prostrate herself before Madame Wang, she could dispense with seeing dowager lady Chia. This news made Hsi Jen feel very awkward; to such an extent, that no sooner had she got through her visit to Madame Wang, than she returned in a hurry to her rooms.

Pao-yü had already awoke. He asked the reason why she had been called away, but Hsi Jen temporised by giving him an evasive answer. And only at night, when every one was quiet, did Hsi Jen at length give him a full account of the whole matter. Pao-yü was delighted beyond measure. "I’ll see now,” he said, with a face beaming with smiles, “whether you’ll go back home or not. On your return, after your last visit to your people, you stated that your brother wished to redeem you, adding that this place was no home for you, and that you didn’t know what would become of you in the long run. You freely uttered all that language devoid of feeling and reason, and enough too to produce an estrangement between us, in order to frighten me; but I’d like to see who’ll henceforward have the audacity to come and ask you to leave!”

Hsi Jen, upon hearing this, smiled a smile full of irony. “You shouldn’t say such things!” she replied. “From henceforward I shall be our Madame Wang’s servant, so that, if I choose to go I needn’t even breathe a word to you. All I’ll have to do will be to tell her, and then I shall be free to do as I like.”

“But supposing that I behaved improperly,” demurred Pao-yü laughingly, "and that you took your leave after letting mother know, you yourself will be placed in no nice fix, when people get wind that you left on account of my having been improper.”

“What no nice fix!” smiled Hsi Jen. “Is it likely that I am bound to serve even highway robbers? Well, failing anything else, I can die; for human beings may live a hundred years, but they’re bound, in the long run, to fall a victim to death! And when this breath shall have departed, and I shall have lost the sense of hearing and of seeing, all will then be well!”

When her rejoinder fell on his ear, Pao-yü promptly stopped her mouth with both his hands. “Enough! enough! that will do,” he shouted. "There’s no necessity for you to utter language of this kind.”

Hsi Jen was well aware that Pao-yü was gifted with such a peculiar temperament, that he even looked upon flattering or auspicious phrases with utter aversion, treating them as meaningless and consequently insincere, so when, after listening to those truths, she had spoken with such pathos, he, lapsed into another of his melancholy moods, she blamed herself for the want of consideration she had betrayed. Hastily therefore putting on a smile, she tried to hit upon some suitable remarks, with which to interrupt the conversation. Her choice fell upon those licentious and immodest topics, which had ever been a relish to the taste of Pao-yü; and from these the conversation drifted to the subject of womankind. But when, subsequently, reference was made to the excellency of the weak sex, they somehow or other also came to touch upon the mortal nature of women, and Hsi Jen promptly closed her lips in silence.

Noticing however that now that the conversation had reached a point so full of zest for him, she had nothing to say for herself, Pao-yü smilingly remarked: “What human being is there that can escape death? But the main thing is to come to a proper end! All that those abject male creatures excel in is, the civil officers, to sacrifice their lives by remonstrating with the Emperor; and, the military, to leave their bones on the battlefield. Both these deaths do confer, after life is extinct, the fame of great men upon them; but isn’t it, in fact, better for them not to die? For as it is absolutely necessary that there should be a disorderly Emperor before they can afford any admonition, to what future fate do they thus expose their sovereign, if they rashly throw away their lives, with the sole aim of reaping a fair name for themselves? War too must supervene before they can fight; but if they go and recklessly lay down their lives, with the exclusive idea of gaining the reputation of intrepid warriors, to what destiny will they abandon their country by and bye? Hence it is that neither of these deaths can be looked upon as a legitimate death.”

“Loyal ministers,” Hsi Jen argued, “and excellent generals simply die because it isn’t in their power to do otherwise.”

“Military officers,” Pao-yü explained, “place such entire reliance upon brute force that they become lax in their stratagems and faulty in their plans. It’s because they don’t possess any inherent abilities that they lose their lives. Could one therefore, pray, say that they had no other alternative? Civil officials, on the other hand, can still less compare with military officers. They read a few passages from books, and commit them to memory; and, on the slightest mistake made by the Emperor, they’re at once rash enough to remonstrate with him, prompted by the sole idea of attaining the fame of loyalty and devotion. But, as soon as their stupid notions have bubbled over, they forfeit their lives, and is it likely that it doesn’t lie within their power to do otherwise? Why, they should also bear in mind that the Emperor receives his decrees from Heaven; and, that were he not a perfect man, Heaven itself would, on no account whatever, confer upon him a charge so extremely onerous. This makes it evident therefore that the whole pack and parcel of those officers, who are dead and gone, have invariably fallen victims to their endeavours to attain a high reputation, and that they had no knowledge whatever of the import of the great principle of right! Take me as an instance now. Were really mine the good fortune of departing life at a fit time, I’d avail myself of the present when all you girls are alive, to pass away. And could I get you to shed such profuse tears for me as to swell out into a stream large enough to raise my corpse and carry it to some secluded place, whither no bird even has ever wended its flight, and could I become invisible like the wind, and nevermore from this time, come into existence as a human being, I shall then have died at a proper season.”

Hsi Jen suddenly awoke to the fact that he was beginning to give vent to a lot of twaddle, and speedily, pleading fatigue, she paid no further notice to him. This compelled Pao-yü to at last be quiet and go to sleep. By the morrow, all recollection of the discussion had vanished from his mind.

One day, Pao-yü was feeling weary at heart, after strolling all over the place, when remembering the song of the “Peony Pavilion,” he read it over twice to himself; but still his spirits continued anything but joyous. Having heard, however, that among the twelve girls in the Pear Fragrance Court there was one called Ling Kuan, who excelled in singing, he purposely issued forth by a side gate and came in search of her. But the moment he got there, he discovered Pao Kuan, and Yü Kuan in the court. As soon as they caught sight of Pao-yü, they, with one consent, smiled and urged him to take a seat. Pao-yü then inquired where Ling Kuan was. Both girls explained that she was in her room, so Pao-yü hastened in. Here he found Ling Kuan alone, reclining against a pillow. Though perfectly conscious of his arrival, she did not move a muscle. Pao-yü ensconced himself next to her. He had always been in the habit of playing with the rest of the girls, so thinking that Ling Kuan was like the others, he felt impelled to draw near her and to entreat her, with a forced smile, to get up and sing part of the “Niao Ch’ing Ssu.” But his hopes were baffled; for as soon as Ling Kuan perceived him sit down, she impetuously raised herself and withdrew from his side. “I’m hoarse,” she rejoined with a stern expression on her face. “The Empress the other day called us into the palace; but I couldn’t sing even then.”

Seeing her sit bolt upright, Pao-yü went on to pass her under a minute survey. He discovered that it was the girl, whom he had, some time ago beheld under the cinnamon roses, drawing the character “Ch’iang.” But seeing the reception she accorded him, who had never so far known what it was to be treated contemptuously by any one, he blushed crimson, while muttering some abuse to himself, and felt constrained to quit the room.

Pao Kuan and her companion could not fathom why he was so red and inquired of him the reason. Pao-yü told them. “Wait a while,” Pao Kuan said, “until Mr. Ch’iang Secundus comes; and when he asks her to sing, she is bound to sing.”

Pao-yü at these words felt very sad within himself. “Where’s brother Ch’iang gone to?” he asked.

“He’s just gone out,” Pao Kuan answered. “Of course, Ling Kuan must have wanted something or other, and he’s gone to devise ways and means to bring it to her.”

Pao-yü thought this remark very extraordinary. But after standing about for a while, he actually saw Chia Ch’iang arrive from outside, carrying a cage, with a tiny stage inserted at the top, and a bird as well; and wend his steps, in a gleeful mood, towards the interior to join Ling Kuan. The moment, however, he noticed Pao-yü, he felt under the necessity of halting.

“What kind of bird is that?” Pao-yü asked. “Can it hold a flag in its beak, or do any tricks?”

“It’s the ’jade-crested and gold-headed bird,’” smiled Chia Ch’iang.

“How much did you give for it?” Pao-yü continued.

“A tael and eight mace,” replied Chia Ch’iang.

But while replying to his inquiries, he motioned to Pao-yü to take a seat, and then went himself into Ling Kuan’s apartment.

Pao-yü had, by this time, lost every wish of hearing a song. His sole desire was to find what relations existed between his cousin and Ling Kuan, when he perceived Chia Ch’iang walk in and laughingly say to her, "Come and see this thing.”

“What’s it?” Ling Kuan asked, rising.

“I’ve bought a bird for you to amuse yourself with,” Chia Ch’iang added, "so that you mayn’t daily feel dull and have nothing to distract yourself with. But I’ll first play with it and let you see.”

With this prelude, he took a few seeds and began to coax the bird, until it, in point of fact, performed various tricks, on the stage, clasping in its beak a mask and a flag.

All the girls shouted out: “How nice;” with the sole exception of Ling Kuan, who gave a couple of apathetic smirks, and went in a huff to lie down. Again Chia Ch’iang, however, kept on forcing smiles, and inquiring of her whether she liked it or not.

“Isn’t it enough,” Ling Kuan observed, “that your family entraps a fine lot of human beings like us and coops us up in this hole to study this stuff and nonsense, but do you also now go and get a bird, which likewise is, as it happens, up to this sort of thing? You distinctly fetch it to make fun of us, and mimick us, and do you still ask me whether I like it or not?”

Hearing this reproach, Chia Ch’iang of a sudden sprang to his feet with alacrity and vehemently endeavoured by vowing and swearing to establish his innocence. “How ever could I have been such a fool to-day,” he proceeded, “as to go and throw away a tael or two to purchase this bird? I really did it in the hope that it would afford you amusement. I never for a moment entertained such thoughts as those you credit me with. But never mind; I’ll let it go, and save you all this misery!”

So saying, he verily gave the bird its liberty; and, with one blow, he smashed the cage to atoms.

“This bird,” still argued Ling Kuan, “differs, it’s true, from a human being; but it too has a mother and father in its nest, and could you have had the heart to bring it here to perform these silly pranks? In coughing to-day, I expectorated two mouthfuls of blood, and Madame Wang sent some one here to find you so as to tell you to ask the doctor round to minutely diagnose my complaint, and have you instead brought this to mock me with? But it so happens that I, who have not a soul to look after me, or to care for me, also have the fate to fall ill!”

Chia Ch’iang listened to her. “Yesterday evening,” he eagerly explained, "I asked the doctor about it. He said that it was nothing at all, that you should take a few doses of medicine, and that he would be coming again in a day or two to see how you were getting on. But who’d have thought it, you have again to-day expectorated blood. I’ll go at once and invite him to come round.”

Speaking the while, he was about to go immediately when Ling Kuan cried out and stopped him. “Do you go off in a tantrum in this hot broiling sun?” she said. “You may ask him to come, but I won’t see him.”

When he heard her resolution, Chia Ch’iang had perforce to stand still.

Pao-yü, perceiving what transpired between them, fell unwittingly in a dull reverie. He then at length got an insight into the deep import of the tracing of the character “Ch’iang.” But unable to bear the ordeal any longer, he forthwith took himself out of the way. So absorbed, however, was Chia Ch’iang’s whole mind with Ling Kuan that he could not even give a thought to escorting any one; and it was, in fact, the rest of the singing-girls who saw (Pao-yü) out.

Pao-yü’s heart was gnawed with doubts and conjectures. In an imbecile frame of mind, he came to the I Hung court. Lin Tai-yü was, at the moment, sitting with Hsi Jen, and chatting with her. As soon as Pao-yü entered his quarters, he addressed himself to Hsi Jen, with a long sigh. "I was very wrong in what I said yesterday evening,” he remarked. “It’s no matter of surprise that father says that I am so narrow-minded that I look at things through a tube and measure them with a clam-shell. I mentioned something last night about having nothing but tears, shed by all of you girls, to be buried in. But this was a mere delusion! So as I can’t get the tears of the whole lot of you, each one of you can henceforward keep her own for herself, and have done.”

Hsi Jen had flattered herself that the words he had uttered the previous evening amounted to idle talk, and she had long ago dispelled all thought of them from her mind, but when Pao-yü unawares made further allusion to them, she smilingly rejoined: “You are verily somewhat cracked!”

Pao-yü kept silent, and attempted to make no reply. Yet from this time he fully apprehended that the lot of human affections is, in every instance, subject to predestination, and time and again he was wont to secretly muse, with much anguish: “Who, I wonder, will shed tears for me, at my burial?”

Lin Tai-yü, for we will now allude to her, noticed Pao-yü’s behaviour, but readily concluding that he must have been, somewhere or other, once more possessed by some malignant spirit, she did not feel it advisable to ask many questions. “I just saw,” she consequently observed, “my maternal aunt, who hearing that to-morrow is Miss Hsüeh’s birthday, bade me come at my convenience to ask you whether you’ll go or not, (and to tell you) to send some one ahead to let them know what you mean to do.”

“I didn’t go the other day, when it was Mr. Chia She’s birthday, so I won’t go now.” Pao-yü answered. “If it is a matter of meeting any one, I won’t go anywhere. On a hot day like this to again don my ceremonial dress! No, I won’t go. Aunt is not likely to feel displeased with me!”

“What are you driving at?” Hsi Jen speedily ventured. “She couldn’t be put on the same footing as our senior master! She lives close by here. Besides she’s a relative. Why, if you don’t go, won’t you make her imagine things? Well, if you dread the heat, just get up at an early hour and go over and prostrate yourself before her, and come back again, after you’ve had a cup of tea. Won’t this look well?”

Before Pao-yü had time to say anything by way of response, Tai-yü anticipated him. “You should,” she smiled, “go as far as there for the sake of her, who drives the mosquitoes away from you.”

Pao-yü could not make out the drift of her insinuation. “What about driving mosquitoes away?” he vehemently inquired.

Hsi Jen then explained to him how while he was fast asleep the previous day and no one was about to keep him company, Miss Pao-ch’ai had sat with him for a while.

“It shouldn’t have been done!” Pao-yü promptly exclaimed, after hearing her explanations. “But how did I manage to go to sleep and show such utter discourtesy to her? I must go to-morrow!” he then went on to add. But while these words were still on his lips, he unexpectedly caught sight of Shih Hsian-yün walk in in full dress, to bid them adieu, as she said that some one had been sent from her home to fetch her away.

The moment Pao-yü and Tai-yü heard what was the object of her visit, they quickly rose to their feet and pressed her to take a seat. But Shih Hsiang-yün would not sit down, so Pao-yü and Tai-yü were compelled to escort her as far as the front part of the mansion.

Shih Hsiang-yün’s eyes were brimming with tears; but realising that several people from her home were present, she did not have the courage to give full vent to her feelings. But when shortly Pao-ch’ai ran over to find her, she felt so much the more drawn towards them, that she could not brook to part from them. Pao-ch’ai, however, inwardly understood that if her people told her aunt anything on their return, there would again be every fear of her being blown up, as soon as she got back home, and she therefore urged her to start on her way. One and all then walked with her up to the second gate, and Pao-yü wished to accompany her still further outside, but Shih Hsiang-yün deterred him. Presently, they turned to go back. But once more, she called Pao-yü to her, and whispered to him in a soft tone of voice: “Should our venerable senior not think of me do often allude to me, so that she should depute some one to fetch me.”

Pao-yü time after time assured her that he would comply with her wishes. And having followed her with their eyes, while she got into her curricle and started, they eventually retraced their steps towards the inner compound. But, reader, if you like to follow up the story, peruse the details contained in the chapter below.

Chapter XXXVII.

  In the Study of Autumnal Cheerfulness is accidentally formed the
      Cydonia Japonica Society.
  In the Heng Wu Court, the chrysanthemum is, on a certain night,
      proposed as a subject for verses.

But to continue. After Shih Hsiang-yün’s return home, Pao-yü and the other inmates spent their time, as of old, in rambling about in the garden in search of pleasure, and in humming poetical compositions. But without further reference to their doings, let us take up our narrative with Chia Cheng.

Ever since the visit paid to her home by the imperial consort, he fulfilled his official duties with additional zeal, for the purpose of reverently making requital for the grace shown him by the Emperor. His correct bearing and his spotless reputation did not escape His Majesty’s notice, and he conferred upon him the special appointment of Literary Chancellor, with the sole object of singling out his true merit; for though he had not commenced his career through the arena of public examinations, he belonged nevertheless to a family addicted to letters during successive generations. Chia Cheng had, therefore, on the receipt of the imperial decree, to select the twentieth day of the eighth moon to set out on his journey. When the appointed day came, he worshipped at the shrines of his ancestors, took leave of them and of dowager lady Chia, and started for his post. It would be a needless task, however, to recount with any full particulars how Pao-yü and all the inmates saw him off, how Chia Cheng went to take up his official duties, and what occurred abroad, suffice it for us to notice that Pao-yü, ever since Chia Cheng’s departure, indulged his caprices, allowed his feelings to run riot, and gadded wildly about. In fact, he wasted his time, and added fruitless days and months to his age.

On this special occasion, he experienced more than ever a sense of his lack of resources, and came to look up his grandmother Chia and Madame Wang. With them, he whiled away some of his time, after which he returned into the garden. As soon as he changed his costume, he perceived Ts’ui Mo enter, with a couple of sheets of fancy notepaper, in her hand, which she delivered to him.

“It quite slipped from my mind,” Pao-yü remarked. “I meant to have gone and seen my cousin Tertia; is she better that you come?”

“Miss is all right,” Ts’ui Mo answered. “She hasn’t even had any medicine to-day. It’s only a slight chill.”

When Pao-yü heard this reply, he unfolded the fancy notepaper. On perusal, he found the contents to be: “Your cousin, T’an Ch’un, respectfully lays this on her cousin Secundus’ study-table. When the other night the blue sky newly opened out to view, the moon shone as if it had been washed clean! Such admiration did this pure and rare panorama evoke in me that I could not reconcile myself to the idea of going to bed. The clepsydra had already accomplished three turns, and yet I roamed by the railing under the dryandra trees. But such poor treatment did I receive from wind and dew (that I caught a chill), which brought about an ailment as severe (as that which prevented the man of old from) picking up sticks. You took the trouble yesterday to come in person and cheer me up. Time after time also did you send your attendants round to make affectionate inquiries about me. You likewise presented me with fresh lichees and relics of writings of Chen Ch’ing. How deep is really your gracious love! As I leant to-day on my table plunged in silence, I suddenly remembered that the ancients of successive ages were placed in circumstances, in which they had to struggle for reputation and to fight for gain, but that they nevertheless acquired spots with hills and dripping streams, and, inviting people to come from far and near, they did all they could to detain them, by throwing the linch-pins of their chariots into wells or by holding on to their shafts; and that they invariably joined friendship with two or three of the same mind as themselves, with whom they strolled about in these grounds, either erecting altars for song, or establishing societies for scanning poetical works. Their meetings were, it is true, prompted, on the spur of the moment, by a sudden fit of good cheer, but these have again and again proved, during many years, a pleasant topic of conversation. I, your cousin, may, I admit, be devoid of talent, yet I have been fortunate enough to enjoy your company amidst streams and rockeries, and to furthermore admire the elegant verses composed by Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai and Lin Tai-yü. When we were in the breezy hall and the moonlit pavilion, what a pity we never talked about poets! But near the almond tree with the sign and the peach tree by the stream, we may perhaps, when under the fumes of wine, be able to fling round the cups, used for humming verses! Who is it who opines that societies with any claim to excellent abilities can only be formed by men? May it not be that the pleasant meetings on the Tung Shan might yield in merit to those, such as ourselves, of the weaker sex? Should you not think it too much to walk on the snow, I shall make bold to ask you round, and sweep the way clean of flowers and wait for you. Respectfully written.”

The perusal of this note filled Pao-yü unawares with exultation. Clapping his hands; “My third cousin,” he laughed, “is the one eminently polished; I’ll go at once to-day and talk matters over with her.”

As he spoke, he started immediately, followed by Ts’ui Mo. As soon as they reached the Hsin Fang pavilion, they espied the matron, on duty that day at the back door of the garden, advancing towards them with a note in her hand. The moment she perceived Pao-yü she forthwith came up to meet him. “Mr. Yün,” she said, “presents his compliments to you. He is waiting for you at the back gate. This is a note he bade me bring you.”

Upon opening the note, Pao-yü found it to read as follows: “An unfilial son, Yün, reverently inquires about his worthy father’s boundless happiness and precious health. Remembering the honour conferred upon me by your recognising me, in your heavenly bounty, as your son, I tried both day as well as night to do something in evidence of my pious obedience, but no opportunity could I find to perform anything filial. When I had, some time back, to purchase flowers and plants, I succeeded, thanks to your vast influence, venerable senior, in finally making friends with several gardeners and in seeing a good number of gardens. As the other day I unexpectedly came across a white begonia, of a rare species, I exhausted every possible means to get some and managed to obtain just two pots. If you, worthy senior, regard your son as your own very son, do keep them to feast your eyes upon! But with this hot weather to-day, the young ladies in the garden will, I fear, not be at their ease. I do not consequently presume to come and see you in person, so I present you this letter, written with due respect, while knocking my head before your table. Your son, Yün, on his knees, lays this epistle at your feet. A joke!”

After reading this note, Pao-yü laughed. “Has he come alone?” he asked. "Or has he any one else with him?”

“He’s got two flower pots as well,” rejoined the matron.

“You go and tell him,” Pao-yü urged, “that I’ve informed myself of the contents of his note, and that there are few who think of me as he does! If you also take the flowers and, put them in my room, it will be all right.”

So saying, he came with Ts’ui Mo into the Ch’iu Shuang study, where he discovered Pao-ch’ai, Tai-yü, Ying Ch’un and Hsi Ch’un already assembled. When they saw him drop in upon them, they all burst out laughing. “Here comes still another!” they exclaimed.

“I’m not a boor,” smiled T’an Ch’un, “so when the idea casually crossed my mind, I wrote a few notes to try and see who would come. But who’d have thought that, as soon as I asked you, you would all come.”

“It’s unfortunately late,” Pao-yü smilingly observed. “We should have started this society long ago.”

“You can’t call this late!” Tai-yü interposed, “so why give way to regret! The only thing is, you must form your society, without including me in the number; for I daren’t be one of you.”

“If you daren’t,” Ying Ch’un smiled, “who can presume to do so?”

“This is,” suggested Pao-yü, “a legitimate and great purpose; and we should all exert our energies. You shouldn’t be modest, and I yielding; but every one of us, who thinks of anything, should freely express it for general discussion. So senior cousin Pao-ch’ai do make some suggestion; and you junior cousin Lin Tai-yü say something.”

“What are you in this hurry for?” Pao-ch’ai exclaimed. “We are not all here yet.”

This remark was barely concluded, when Li Wan also arrived. As soon as she crossed the threshold, “It’s an excellent proposal,” she laughingly cried, “this of starting a poetical society. I recommend myself as controller. Some time ago in spring, I thought of this, ’but,’ I mused, ’I am unable to compose verses, so what’s the use of making a mess of things?’ This is why I dispelled the idea from my mind, and made no mention about it. But since it’s your good pleasure, cousin Tertia, to start it, I’ll help you to set it on foot.”

“As you’ve made up your minds,” Tai-yü put in, “to initiate a poetical society, every one of us will be poets, so we should, as a first step, do away with those various appellations of cousin and uncle and aunt, and thus avoid everything that bears a semblance of vulgarity.”

“First rate,” exclaimed Li Wan, “and why should we not fix upon some new designations by which to address ourselves? This will be a far more refined way! As for my own, I’ve selected that of the ’Old farmer of Tao Hsiang;’ so let none of you encroach on it.”

“I’ll then call myself the ’resident-scholar of the Ch’iu Shuang,’ and have done,” T’an Ch’un observed with a smile.

“’Resident-scholar or master’ is, in fact, not to the point. It’s clumsy, besides,” Pao-yü interposed. “The place here is full of dryandra and banana trees, and if one could possibly hit upon some name bearing upon the dryandra and banana, it would be preferable.”

“I’ve got one,” shouted T’an Ch’un smilingly. “I’ll style myself ’the guest under the banana trees.’”

“How uncommon!” they unanimously cried. “It’s a nice one!”

“You had better,” laughed Tai-yü, “be quick and drag her away and stew some slices of her flesh, for people to eat with their wine.”

No one grasped her meaning, “Ch’uang-tzu,” Tai-yü proceeded to explain, smiling, “says: ’The banana leaves shelter the deer,’ and as she styles herself the guest under the banana tree, is she not a deer? So be quick and make pieces of dried venison of her.”

At these words, the whole company laughed.

“Don’t be in a hurry!” T’an Ch’un remarked, as she laughed. “You make use of specious language to abuse people; but I’ve thought of a fine and most apposite name for you!” Whereupon addressing herself to the party, "In days gone by,” she added, “an imperial concubine, Nü Ying, sprinkled her tears on the bamboo, and they became spots, so from olden times to the present spotted bamboos have been known as the ’Hsiang imperial concubine bamboo.’ Now she lives in the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, and has a weakness too for tears, so the bamboos over there will by and bye, I presume, likewise become transformed into speckled bamboos; every one therefore must henceforward call her the ’Hsiao Hsiang imperial concubine’ and finish with it.”

After listening to her, they one and all clapped their hands, and cried out: “Capital!” Lin Tai-yü however drooped her head and did not so much as utter a single word.

“I’ve also,” Li Wan smiled, “devised a suitable name for senior cousin, Hsüeh Pao-chai. It too is one of three characters.”

“What’s it?” eagerly inquired the party.

“I’ll raise her to the rank of ’Princess of Heng Wu,’” Li Wan rejoined. "I wonder what you all think about this.”

“This title of honour,” T’an Ch’un observed, “is most apposite.”

“What about mine?” Pao-yü asked. “You should try and think of one for me also!”

“Your style has long ago been decided upon,” Pao-ch’ai smiled. “It consists of three words: ’fussing for nothing!’ It’s most pat!”

“You should, after all, retain your old name of ’master of the flowers in the purple cave,’” Li Wan suggested. “That will do very well.”

“Those were some of the doings of my youth; why rake them up again?" Pao-yü laughed.

“Your styles are very many,” T’an Ch’un observed, “and what do you want to choose another for? All you’ve got to do is to make suitable reply when we call you whatever takes our fancy.”

“I must however give you a name,” Pao-ch’ai remarked. “There’s a very vulgar name, but it’s just the very thing for you. What is difficult to obtain in the world are riches and honours; what is not easy to combine with them is leisure. These two blessings cannot be enjoyed together, but, as it happens, you hold one along with the other, so that we might as well dub you the ’rich and honourable idler.’”

“It won’t do; it isn’t suitable,” Pao-yü laughed. “It’s better that you should call me, at random, whatever you like.”

“What names are to be chosen for Miss Secunda and Miss Quarta?” Li Wan inquired.

“We also don’t excel in versifying; what’s the use consequently of giving us names, all for no avail?” Ying Ch’un said.

“In spite of this,” argued T’an Ch’un, “it would be well to likewise find something for you!”

“She lives in the Tzu Ling Chou, (purple caltrop Isle), so let us call her ’Ling Chou,’” Pao-ch’ai suggested. “As for that girl Quarta, she lives in the On Hsiang Hsieh, (lotus fragrance pavilion); she should thus be called On Hsieh and have done!”

“These will do very well!” Li Wan cried. “But as far as age goes, I am the senior, and you should all defer to my wishes; but I feel certain that when I’ve told you what they are, you will unanimously agree to them. We are seven here to form the society, but neither I, nor Miss Secunda, nor Miss Quarta can write verses; so if you will exclude us three, we’ll each share some special duties.”

“Their names have already been chosen,” T’an Ch’un smilingly demurred; "and do you still keep on addressing them like this? Well, in that case, won’t it be as well for them to have no names? But we must also decide upon some scale of fines, for future guidance, in the event of any mistakes.”

“There will be ample time to fix upon a scale of fines after the society has been definitely established.” Li Wan replied. “There’s plenty of room over in my place so let’s hold our meetings there. I’m not, it is true, a good hand at verses, but if you poets won’t treat me disdainfully as a rustic boor, and if you will allow me to play the hostess, I may certainly also gradually become more and more refined. As for conceding to me the presidentship of the society, it won’t be enough, of course, for me alone to preside; it will be necessary to invite two others to serve as vice-presidents; you might then enlist Ling Chou and Ou Hsieh, both of whom are cultured persons. The one to choose the themes and assign the metre, the other to act as copyist and supervisor. We three cannot, however, definitely say that we won’t write verses, for, if we come across any comparatively easy subject and metre, we too will indite a stanza if we feel so disposed. But you four will positively have to do so. If you agree to this, well, we can proceed with the society; but, if you don’t fall in with my wishes, I can’t presume to join you.”

Ying Ch’un and Hsi Ch’un had a natural aversion for verses. What is more, Hsüeh Pao-ch’ai and Lin Tai-yü were present. As soon therefore as they heard these proposals, which harmonised so thoroughly with their own views, they both, with one voice, approved them as excellent. T’an Ch’un and the others were likewise well aware of their object, but they could not, when they saw with what willingness they accepted the charge insist, with any propriety, upon their writing verses, and they felt obliged to say yes.

“Your proposals,” she consequently said, “may be right enough; but in my views they are ridiculous. For here I’ve had the trouble of initiating this idea of a society, and, instead of my having anything to say in the matter, I’ve been the means of making you three come and exercise control over me.”

“Well then,” Pao-yü suggested, “let’s go to the Tao Hsiang village.”

“You’re always in a hurry!” Li Wan remarked. “We’re here to-day to simply deliberate. So wait until I’ve sent for you again.”

“It would be well,” Pao-ch’ai interposed, “that we should also decide every how many days we are to meet.”

“If we meet too often,” argued T’an Ch’un, “there won’t be fun in it. We should simply come together two or three times in a month.”

“It will be ample if we meet twice or thrice a month,” Pao-ch’ai added. "But when the dates have been settled neither wind nor rain should prevent us. Exclusive, however, of these two days, any one in high spirits and disposed to have an extra meeting can either ask us to go over to her place, or you can all come to us; either will do well enough! But won’t it be more pleasant if no hard-and-fast dates were laid down?”

“This suggestion is excellent,” they all exclaimed.

“This idea was primarily originated by me,” T’an Ch’un observed, “and I should be the first to play the hostess, so that these good spirits of mine shouldn’t all go for nothing.”

“Well, after this remark,” Li Wan proceeded, “what do you say to your being the first to convene a meeting to-morrow?”

“To-morrow,” T’an Ch’un demurred, “is not as good as to-day; the best thing is to have it at once! You’d better therefore choose the subjects, while Ling Chou can fix the metre, and Ou Hsieh act as supervisor.”

“According to my ideas,” Ying Ch’un chimed in, “we shouldn’t yield to the wishes of any single person in the choice of themes and the settlement of the rhythm. What would really be fair and right would be to draw lots.”

“When I came just now,” Li Wan pursued, “I noticed them bring in two pots of white begonias, which were simply beautiful; and why should you not write some verses on them?”

“Can we write verses,” Ying Ch’un retorted, “before we have as yet seen anything of the flowers?”

“They’re purely and simply white begonias,” Pao-chai answered, “and is there again any need to see them before you put together your verses? Men of old merely indited poetical compositions to express their good cheer and conceal their sentiments; had they waited to write on things they had seen, why, the whole number of their works would not be in existence at present!”

“In that case,” Ying Ch’un said, “let me fix the metre.”

With these words, she walked up to the book-case, and, extracting a volume, she opened it, at random, at some verses which turned out to be a heptameter stanza. Then handing it round for general perusal, everybody had to compose lines with seven words in each. Ying Ch’un next closed the book of verses and addressed herself to a young waiting-maid. "Just utter,” she bade her, “the first character that comes to your mouth.”

The waiting-maid was standing, leaning against the door, so readily she suggested the word “door.”

“The rhyme then will be the word ’door,’” Ying Ch’un smiled, “under the thirteenth character ’Yuan.’ The final word of the first line is therefore ’door’.”

Saying this, she asked for the box with the rhyme slips, and, pulling out the thirteenth drawer with the character “Yuan,” she directed a young waiting-maid to take four words as they came under her hand. The waiting-maid complied with her directions, and picked out four slips, on which were written “p’en, hun, hen and hun,” pot, spirit, traces and dusk.

“The two characters pot and door,” observed Pao-yü, “are not very easy to rhyme with.”

But Shih Shu then got ready four lots of paper and pens, share and share alike, and one and all quietly set to work, racking their brains to perform their task, with the exception of Tai-yü, who either kept on rubbing the dryandra flowers, or looking at the autumnal weather, or bandying jokes as well with the servant-girls; while Ying Ch’un ordered a waiting-maid to light a “dream-sweet” incense stick.

This “dream-sweet” stick was, it must be explained, made only about three inches long and about the thickness of a lamp-wick, in order to easily burn down. Setting therefore her choice upon one of these as a limit of time, any one who failed to accomplish the allotted task, by the time the stick was consumed, had to pay a penalty.

Presently, T’an Ch’un was the first to think of some verses, and, taking up her pen, she wrote them down; and, after submitting them to several alterations, she handed them up to Ying Ch’un.

“Princess of Heng Wu,” she then inquired of Pao-ch’ai, “have you finished?”

“As for finishing, I have finished,” Pao-ch’ai rejoined; “but they’re worth nothing.”

Pao-yü paced up and down the verandah with his hands behind his back. "Have you heard?” he thereupon said to Tai-yü, “they’ve all done!”

“Don’t concern yourself about me!” Tai-yü returned for answer.

Pao-yü also perceived that Pao-ch’ai had already copied hers out. "Dreadful!” he exclaimed. “There only remains an inch of the stick and I’ve only just composed four lines. The incense stick is nearly burnt out,” he continued, speaking to Tai-yü, “and what do you keep squatting on that damp ground like that for?”

But Tai-yü did not again worry her mind about what he said.

“Well,” Pao-yü added, “I can’t be looking after you! Whether good or bad, I’ll write mine out too and have done.”

As he spoke, he likewise drew up to the table and began putting his lines down.

“We’ll now peruse the verses,” Li Wan interposed, “and if by the time we’ve done, you haven’t as yet handed up your papers, you’ll have to be fined.”

“Old farmer of Tao Hsiang,” Pao-yü remarked, “you’re not, it is true, a good hand at writing verses, but you can read well, and, what’s more, you’re the fairest of the lot; so you’d better adjudge the good and bad, and we’ll submit to your judgment.”

“Of course!” responded the party with one voice.

In due course, therefore, she first read T’an Ch’un’s draft. It ran as follows:–

Verses on the Begonia.

  What time the sun’s rays slant, and the grass waxeth cold, close the
      double doors.
  After a shower of rain, green moss plenteously covers the whole pot.
  Beauteous is jade, but yet with thee in purity it cannot ever vie.
  Thy frame, spotless as snow, from admiration easy robs me of my wits
  Thy fragrant core is like unto a dot, so full of grace, so delicate!
  When the moon reacheth the third watch, thy comely shade begins to
      show itself.
  Do not tell me that a chaste fairy like thee can take wings and pass
  How lovely are thy charms, when in thy company at dusk I sing my lay!

After she had read them aloud, one and all sang their praise for a time. She then took up Pao-ch’ai’s, which consisted of:

  If thou would’st careful tend those fragrant lovely flowers, close of
      a day the doors,
  And with thine own hands take the can and sprinkle water o’er the
      mossy pots.
  Red, as if with cosmetic washed, are the shadows in autumn on the
  Their crystal snowy bloom invites the dew on their spirits to heap
  Their extreme whiteness mostly shows that they’re more comely than all
      other flowers.
  When much they grieve, how can their jade-like form lack the traces of
  Would’st thou the god of those white flowers repay? then purity
      need’st thou observe.
  In silence plunges their fine bloom, now that once more day yields to

“After all,” observed Li Wan, “it’s the Princess of Heng Wu, who expresses herself to the point.”

Next they bestowed their attention on the following lines, composed by Pao-yü:–

  Thy form in autumn faint reflects against the double doors.
  So heaps the snow in the seventh feast that it filleth thy pots.
  Thy shade is spotless as Tai Chen, when from her bath she hails.
  Like Hsi Tzu’s, whose hand ever pressed her heart, jade-like thy soul.
  When the morn-ushering breeze falls not, thy thousand blossoms grieve.
  To all thy tears the evening shower addeth another trace.
  Alone thou lean’st against the coloured rails as if with sense imbued.
  As heavy-hearted as the fond wife, beating clothes, or her that sadly
      listens to the flute, thou mark’st the fall of dusk.

When they had perused his verses, Pao-yü opined that T’an Ch’un’s carried the palm. Li Wan was, however, inclined to concede to the stanza, indited by Pao-ch’ai, the credit of possessing much merit. But she then went on to tell Tai-yü to look sharp.

“Have you all done?” Tai-yü asked.

So saying, she picked up a pen and completing her task, with a few dashes, she threw it to them to look over. On perusal, Li Wan and her companions found her verses to run in this strain:–

  Half rolled the speckled portiere hangs, half closed the door.
  Thy mould like broken ice it looks, jade-like thy pot.

This couplet over, Pao-yü took the initiative and shouted: “Capital." But he had just had time to inquire where she had recalled them to mind from, when they turned their mind to the succeeding lines:

  Three points of whiteness from the pear petals thou steal’st;
  And from the plum bloom its spirit thou borrowest.

“Splendid!” every one (who heard) them conned over, felt impelled to cry. “It is a positive fact,” they said, “that her imagination is, compared with that of others, quite unique.”

But the rest of the composition was next considered. Its text was:

  The fairy in Selene’s cavity donneth a plain attire.
  The maiden, plunged in autumn grief, dries in her room the prints of
  Winsome she blushes, in silence she’s plunged, with none a word she
  But wearily she leans against the eastern breeze, though dusk has long
      since fall’n.

“This stanza ranks above all!” they unanimously remarked, after it had been read for their benefit.

“As regards beauty of thought and originality, this stanza certainly deserves credit,” Li Wan asserted; “but as regards pregnancy and simplicity of language, it, after all, yields to that of Heng Wu.”

“This criticism is right.” T’an Ch’un put in. “That of the Hsiao Hsiang consort must take second place.”

“Yours, gentleman of I Hung,” Li Wan pursued, “is the last of the lot. Do you agreeably submit to this verdict?”

“My stanza,” Pao-yü ventured, “isn’t really worth a straw. Your criticism is exceedingly fair. But,” he smilingly added, “the two poems, written by Heng Wu and Hsiao Hsiang, have still to be discussed.”

“You should,” argued Li Wan, “fall in with my judgment; this is no business of any of you, so whoever says anything more will have to pay a penalty.”

Pao-yü at this reply found that he had no alternative but to drop the subject.

“I decide that from henceforward,” Li Wan proceeded, “we should hold meetings twice every month, on the second and sixteenth. In the selection of themes and the settlement of the rhymes, you’ll all have then to do as I wish. But any person who may, during the intervals, feel so disposed, will be at perfect liberty to choose another day for an extra meeting. What will I care if there’s a meeting every day of the moon? It will be no concern of mine, so long as when the second and sixteenth arrive, you do, as you’re bound to, and come over to my place.”

“We should, as is but right,” Pao-yü suggested, “choose some name or other for our society.”

“Were an ordinary one chosen, it wouldn’t be nice,” T’an Ch’un explained, “and anything too new-fangled, eccentric or strange won’t also be quite the thing! As luck would have it, we’ve just started with the poems on the begonia, so let us call it the ’Begonia Poetical Society.’ This title is, it’s true, somewhat commonplace; but as it’s positively based on fact, it shouldn’t matter.”

After this proposal of hers, they held further consultation; and partaking of some slight refreshments, each of them eventually retired. Some repaired to their quarters. Others went to dowager lady Chia’s or Madame Wang’s apartments. But we will leave them without further comment.

When Hsi Jen, for we will now come to her, perceived Pao-yü peruse the note and walk off in a great flurry, along with Ts’ui Mo, she was quite at a loss what to make of it. Subsequently, she also saw the matrons, on duty at the back gate, bring two pots of begonias. Hsi Jen inquired of them where they came from. The women explained to her all about them. As soon as Hsi Jen heard their reply, she at once desired them to put the flowers in their proper places, and asked them to sit down in the lower rooms. She then entered the house, and, weighing six mace of silver, she wrapped it up properly, and fetching besides three hundred cash, she came over and handed both the amounts to the two matrons. “This silver," she said, “is a present for the boys, who carried the flowers; and these cash are for you to buy yourselves a cup of tea with.”

The women rose to their feet in such high glee that their eyebrows dilated and their eyes smiled; but, though they waxed eloquent in the expression of their deep gratitude, they would not accept the money. It was only after they had perceived how obstinate Hsi Jen was in not taking it back that they at last volunteered to keep it.

“Are there,” Hsi Jen then inquired, “any servant-boys on duty outside the back gate?”

“There are four of them every day,” answered one of the matrons. "They’re put there with the sole idea of attending to any orders that might be given them from inside. But, Miss, if you’ve anything to order them to do, we’ll go and deliver your message.”

“What orders can I have to give them?” Hsi Jen laughed. “Mr. Pao, our master Secundus, was purposing to send some one to-day to the young marquis’ house to take something over to Miss Shih. But you come at an opportune moment so you might, on your way out, tell the servant-boys at the back gate to hire a carriage; and on its return you can come here and get the money. But don’t let them rush recklessly against people in the front part of the compound!”

The matrons signified their obedience and took their leave. Hsi Jen retraced her steps into the house to fetch a tray in which to place the presents intended for Shih Hsiang-yün, but she discovered the shelf for trays empty. Upon turning round, however, she caught sight of Ch’ing Wen, Ch’iu Wen, She Yüeh and the other girls, seated together, busy with their needlework. “Where is the white cornelian tray with twisted threads gone to?” Hsi Jen asked.

At this question, one looked at the one, and the other stared at the other, but none of them could remember anything about it. After a protracted lapse of time, Ch’ing Wen smiled. “It was taken to Miss Tertia’s with a present of lichees,” she rejoined, “and it hasn’t as yet been returned.”

“There are plenty of articles,” Hsi Jen remarked, “for sending over things on ordinary occasions; and do you deliberately go and carry this off?”

“Didn’t I maintain the same thing?” Ch’ing Wen retorted. “But so well did this tray match with the fresh lichees it contained, that when I took it over, Miss T’an Ch’un herself noticed the fact. ’How splendid,’ she said, and lo, putting even the tray by, she never had it brought over. But, look! hasn’t the pair of beaded vases, which stood on the very top of that shelf, been fetched as yet?”

“The mention of these vases,” Ch’iu Wen laughed, “reminds me again of a funny incident. Whenever our Mr. Pao-yü’s filial piety is aroused, he shows himself filial over and above the highest degree! The other day, he espied the olea flowers in the park, and he plucked two twigs. His original idea was to place them in a vase for himself, but a sudden thought struck him. ’These are flowers,’ he mused, ’which have newly opened in our garden, so how can I presume to be the first to enjoy them?’ And actually taking down that pair of vases, he filled them with water with his own hands, put the flowers in, and, calling a servant to carry them, he in person took one of the vases into dowager lady Chia’s, and then took the other to Madame Wang’s. But, as it happens, even his attendants reap some benefit, when once his filial feelings are stirred up! As luck would have it, the one who carried the vases over on that day was myself. The sight of these flowers so enchanted our venerable lady that there was nothing that she wouldn’t do. ’Pao-yü,’ she said to every one she met, ’is the one, after all, who shows me much attention. So much so, that he has even thought of bringing me a twig of flowers! And yet, the others bear me a grudge on account of the love that I lavish on him!’ Our venerable mistress, you all know very well, has never had much to say to me. I have all along not been much of a favourite in the old lady’s eyes. But on that occasion she verily directed some one to give me several hundreds of cash. ’I was to be pitied,’ she observed, ’for being born with a weak physique!’ This was, indeed, an unforeseen piece of good luck! The several hundreds of cash are a mere trifle; but what’s not easy to get is this sort of honour! After that, we went over into Madame Wang’s. Madame Wang was, at the time, with our lady Secunda, Mrs. Chao, and a whole lot of people; turning the boxes topsy-turvey, trying to find some coloured clothes her ladyship had worn long ago in her youth, so as to give them to some one or other. Who it was, I don’t know. But the moment she saw us, she did not even think of searching for any clothes, but got lost in admiration for the flowers. Our lady Secunda was also standing by, and she made sport of the matter. She extolled our master Pao, for his filial piety and for his knowledge of right and wrong; and what with what was true and what wasn’t, she came out with two cart-loads of compliments. These things spoken in the presence of the whole company so added to Madame Wang’s lustre and sealed every one’s mouth, that her ladyship was more and more filled with gratification, and she gave me two ready-made clothes as a present. These too are of no consequence; one way or another, we get some every year; but nothing can come up to this sort of lucky chance!”

“Psha!” Ch’ing Wen ejaculated with a significant smile, “you are indeed a mean thing, who has seen nothing of the world! She gave the good ones to others and the refuse to you; and do you still pat on all this side?”

“No matter whether what she gave me was refuse or not,” Ch’iu Wen protested, “it’s, after all, an act of bounty on the part of her ladyship.”

“Had it been myself,” Ch’ing Wen pursued, “I would at once have refused them! It wouldn’t have mattered if she had given me what had been left by some one else; but we all stand on an equal footing in these rooms, and is there any one, forsooth, so much the more exalted or honorable than the other as to justify her taking what is good and bestowing it upon her and giving me what is left? I had rather not take them! I might have had to give offence to Madame Wang, but I wouldn’t have put up with such a slight!”

“To whom did she give any in these rooms?” Ch’iu Wen vehemently inquired. “I was unwell and went home for several days, so that I am not aware to whom any were given. Dear sister, do tell me who it is so that I may know.”

“Were I to tell you,” Ch’ing Wen rejoined, “is it likely that you would return them at this hour to Madame Wang?”

“What nonsense,” Ch’iu Wen laughed. “Ever since I’ve heard about it, I’ve been delighted and happy. No matter if she even bestowed upon me what remained from anything given to a dog in these rooms, I would have been thankful for her ladyship’s kindness. I wouldn’t have worried my mind with anything else!”

After listening to her, everybody laughed. “Doesn’t she know how to jeer in fine style!” they ejaculated unanimously; “for weren’t they given to that foreign spotted pug dog?”

“You lot of filthy-tongued creatures!” Hsi Jen laughed, “when you’ve got nothing to do, you make me the scapegoat to crack your jokes, and poke your fun at! But what kind of death will, I wonder, each of you have!”

“Was it verily you, sister, who got them?” Ch’iu Wen asked with a smile. "I assure you I had no idea about it! I tender you my apologies.”

“You might be a little less domineering!” Hsi Jen remarked smilingly. "The thing now is, who of you will go and fetch the tray.”

“The vases too,” Shih Yüeh suggested, “must be got back when there’s any time to spare; for there’s nothing to say about our venerable mistress’ quarters, but Madame Wang’s apartments teem with people and many hands. The rest are all right; but Mrs. Chao and all that company will, when they see that the vase hails from these rooms, surely again foster evil designs, and they won’t feel happy until they’ve done all they can to spoil it! Besides, Madame Wang doesn’t trouble herself about such things. So had we not as well bring it over a moment sooner?”

Hearing this, Ch’ing Wen threw down her needlework. “What you say is perfectly right,” she assented, “so you’d better let me go and fetch it.”

“I’ll, after all, go for it.” Ch’iu Wen cried. “You can go and get that tray of yours!”

“You should let me once go for something!” Ch’ing Wen pleaded. “Whenever any lucky chance has turned up, you’ve invariably grabbed it; and can it be that you won’t let me have a single turn?”

“Altogether,” She Yüeh said laughingly, “that girl Ch’iu Wen got a few clothes just once; can such a lucky coincidence present itself again today that you too should find them engaged in searching for clothes?”

“Albeit I mayn’t come across any clothes,” Ch’ing Wen rejoined with a sardonic smile, “our Madame Wang may notice how diligent I am, and apportion me a couple of taels out of her public expenses; there’s no saying.” Continuing, “Don’t you people,” she laughed, “try and play your pranks with me; for is there anything that I don’t twig?”

As she spoke, she ran outside. Ch’iu Wen too left the room in her company; but she repaired to T’an Ch’un’s quarters and fetched the tray.

Hsi Jen then got everything ready. Calling an old nurse attached to the same place as herself, Sung by name, “Just go first and wash, comb your hair and put on your out-of-door clothes,” she said to her, “and then come back as I want to send you at once with a present to Miss Shih.”

“Miss,” urged the nurse Sung, “just give me what you have; and, if you have any message, tell it me; so that when I’ve tidied myself I may go straightway.”

Hsi Jen, at this proposal, brought two small twisted wire boxes; and, opening first the one in which were two kinds of fresh fruits, consisting of caltrops and “chicken head” fruit, and afterwards uncovering the other, containing a tray with new cakes, made of chestnut powder, and steamed in sugar, scented with the olea, “All these fresh fruits are newly plucked this year from our own garden,” she observed; "our Mr. Secundus sends them to Miss Shih to taste. The other day, too, she was quite taken with this cornelian tray so let her keep it for her use. In this silk bag she’ll find the work, which she asked me some time ago to do for her. (Tell her) that she mustn’t despise it for its coarseness, but make the best of it and turn it to some account. Present respects to her from our part and inquire after her health on behalf of Mr. Pao-yü; that will be all there’s to say.”

“Has Mr. Pao, I wonder, anything more for me to tell her?” the nurse Sung added, “Miss, do go and inquire, so that on my return, he mayn’t again say that I forgot.”

“He was just now,” Hsi Jen consequently asked Ch’iu Wen, “over there in Miss Tertia’s rooms, wasn’t he?”

“They were all assembled there, deliberating about starting some poetical society or other,” Ch’iu Wen explained, “and they all wrote verses too. But I fancy he’s got no message to give you; so you might as well start.”

After this assurance, nurse Sung forthwith took the things, and quitted the apartment. When she had changed her clothes and arranged her hair, Hsi Jen further enjoined them to go by the back door, where there was a servant-boy, waiting with a curricle. Nurse Sung thereupon set out on her errand. But we will leave her for the present.

In a little time Pao-yü came back. After first cursorily glancing at the begonias for a time, he walked into his rooms, and explained to Hsi Jen all about the poetical society they had managed to establish, Hsi Jen then told him that she had sent the nurse Sung along with some things, to Shih Hsiang-yün. As soon as Pao-yü heard this, he clapped his hands. "I forgot all about her!” he cried. “I knew very well that I had something to attend to; but I couldn’t remember what it was! Luckily, you’ve alluded to her! I was just meaning to ask her to come, for what fun will there be in this poetical society without her?”

“Is this of any serious import?” Hsi Jen reasoned with him. “It’s all, for the mere sake of recreation! She’s not however able to go about at her own free will as you people do. Nor can she at home have her own way. When you therefore let her know, it won’t again rest with her, however willing she may be to avail herself of your invitation. And if she can’t come, she will long and crave to be with you all, so isn’t it better that you shouldn’t be the means of making her unhappy?”

“Never mind!” responded Pao-yü. “I’ll tell our venerable senior to despatch some one to bring her over.”

But in the middle of their conversation, nurse Sung returned already from her mission, and expressed to him, (Hsiang-yün’s) acknowledgment; and to Hsi Jen her thanks for the trouble. “She also inquired,” the nurse proceeded, “what you, master Secundus, were up to, and I told her that you had started some poetical club or other with the young ladies and that you were engaged in writing verses. Miss Shih wondered why it was, if you were writing verses, that you didn’t even mention anything to her; and she was extremely distressed about it.”

Pao-yü, at these words, turned himself round and betook himself immediately into his grandmother’s apartments, where he did all that lay in his power to urge her to depute servants to go and fetch her.

“It’s too late to-day,” dowager lady Chia answered; “they’ll go tomorrow, as soon as it’s daylight.”

Pao-yü had no other course but to accede to her wishes. He, however, retraced his steps back to his room with a heavy heart. On the morrow, at early dawn, he paid another visit to old lady Chia and brought pressure to bear on her until she sent some one for her. Soon after midday, Shih Hsiang-yün arrived. Pao-yü felt at length much relieved in his mind. Upon meeting her, he recounted to her all that had taken place from beginning to end. His purpose was likewise to let her see the poetical composition, but Li Wan and the others remonstrated. “Don’t," they said, “allow her to see them! First tell her the rhymes and number of feet; and, as she comes late, she should, as a first step, pay a penalty by conforming to the task we had to do. Should what she writes be good, then she can readily be admitted as a member of the society; but if not good, she should be further punished by being made to stand a treat; after which, we can decide what’s to be done.”

“You’ve forgotten to ask me round,” Hsiang-yün laughed, “and I should, after all, fine you people! But produce the metre; for though I don’t excel in versifying, I shall exert myself to do the best I can, so as to get rid of every slur. If you will admit me into the club, I shall be even willing to sweep the floors and burn the incense.”

When they all saw how full of fun she was, they felt more than ever delighted with her and they reproached themselves, for having somehow or other managed to forget her on the previous day. But they lost no time in telling her the metre of the verses.

Shih Hsiang-yün was inwardly in ecstasies. So much so, that she could not wait to beat the tattoo and effect any alterations. But having succeeded, while conversing with her cousins, in devising a stanza in her mind, she promptly inscribed it on the first piece of paper that came to hand. “I have,” she remarked, with a precursory smile, “stuck to the metre and written two stanzas. Whether they be good or bad, I cannot say; all I’ve kept in view was to simply comply with your wishes.”

So speaking, she handed her paper to the company.

“We thought our four stanzas,” they observed, “had so thoroughly exhausted everything that could be imagined on the subject that another stanza was out of the question, and there you’ve devised a couple more! How could there be so much to say? These must be mere repetitions of our own sentiments.”

While bandying words, they perused her two stanzas. They found this to be their burden:

No. 1.

  The fairies yesterday came down within the city gates,
  And like those gems, sown in the grassy field, planted one pot.
  How clear it is that the goddess of frost is fond of cold!
  It is no question of a pretty girl bent upon death!
  Where does the snow, which comes in gloomy weather, issue from?
  The drops of rain increase the prints, left from the previous night.
  How the flowers rejoice that bards are not weary of song!
  But are they ever left to spend in peace a day or night?

No. 2.

  The “heng chih” covered steps lead to the creeper-laden door.
  How fit to plant by the corner of walls; how fit for pots?
  The flowers so relish purity that they can’t find a mate.
  Easy in autumn snaps the soul of sorrow-wasted man.
  The tears, which from the jade-like candle drip, dry in the wind.
  The crystal-like portiere asunder rends Selene’s rays.
  Their private feelings to the moon goddess they longed to tell,
  But gone, alas! is the lustre she shed on the empty court!

Every line filled them with wonder and admiration. What they read, they praised. “This,” they exclaimed, with one consent, “is not writing verses on the begonia for no purpose! We must really start a Begonia Society!”

“To-morrow,” Shih Hsiang-yün proposed, “first fine me by making me stand a treat, and letting me be the first to convene a meeting; may I?”

“This would be far better!” they all assented. So producing also the verses, composed the previous day, they submitted them to her for criticism.

In the evening, Hsiang-yün came at the invitation of Pao-ch’ai, to the Heng Wu Yüan to put up with her for the night. By lamplight, Hsiang-yün consulted with her how she was to play the hostess and fix upon the themes; but, after lending a patient ear to all her proposals for a long time, Pao-ch’ai thought them so unsuitable for the occasion, that turning towards her, she raised objections. “If you want,” she said, “to hold a meeting, you have to pay the piper. And albeit it’s for mere fun, you have to make every possible provision; for while consulting your own interests, you must guard against giving umbrage to people. In that case every one will afterwards be happy and contented. You count for nothing too in your own home; and the whole lump sum of those few tiaos, you draw each month, are not sufficient for your own wants, and do you now also wish to burden yourself with this useless sort of thing? Why, if your aunt gets wind of it, won’t she be more incensed with you than ever! What’s more, even though you might fork out all the money you can call your own to bear the outlay of this entertainment with, it won’t be anything like enough, and can it possibly be, pray, that you would go home for the express purpose of requisitioning the necessary funds? Or will you perchance ask for some from in here?”

This long tirade had the effect of bringing the true facts of the case to Hsiang-yün’s notice, and she began to waver in a state of uncertainty.

“I have already fixed upon a plan in my mind,” Pao-ch’ai resumed. "There’s an assistant in our pawnshop from whose family farm come some splendid crabs. Some time back, he sent us a few as a present, and now, starting from our venerable senior and including the inmates of the upper quarters, most of them are quite in love with crabs. It was only the other day that my mother mentioned that she intended inviting our worthy ancestor into the garden to look at the olea flowers and partake of crabs, but she has had her hands so full that she hasn’t as yet asked her round. So just you now drop the poetical meeting, and invite the whole crowd to a show; and if we wait until they go, won’t we be able to indite as many poems as we like? But let me speak to my brother and ask him to let us have several baskets of the fattest and largest crabs he can get, and to also go to some shop and fetch several jars of luscious wine. And if we then lay out four or five tables with plates full of refreshments, won’t we save trouble and all have a jolly time as well?”

As soon as Hsiang-yün heard (the alternative proposed by Pao-ch’ai,) she felt her heart throb with gratitude and in most profuse terms she praised her for her forethought.

“The proposal I’ve made.” Pao-ch’ai pursued smilingly; “is prompted entirely by my sincere feelings for you; so whatever you do don’t be touchy and imagine that I look down upon you; for in that case we two will have been good friends all in vain. But if you won’t give way to suspicion, I’ll be able to tell them at once to go and get things ready.”

“My dear cousin,” eagerly rejoined Hsiang-yün, a smile on her lips, “if you say these things it’s you who treat me with suspicion; for no matter how foolish a person I may be, as not to even know what’s good and bad, I’m still a human being! Did I not regard you, cousin, in the same light as my own very sister, I wouldn’t last time have had any wish or inclination to disclose to you every bit of those troubles, which ordinarily fall to my share at home.”

After listening to these assurances, Pao-ch’ai summoned a matron and bade her go out and tell her master, Hsüeh P’an, to procure a few hampers of crabs of the same kind as those which were sent on the previous occasion. “Our venerable senior,” (she said,) “and aunt Wang are asked to come to-morrow after their meal and admire the olea flowers, so mind, impress upon your master to please not forget, as I’ve already to-day issued the invitations.”

The matron walked out of the garden and distinctly delivered the message. But, on her return, she brought no reply.

During this while, Pao-ch’ai continued her conversation with Hsiang-yün. "The themes for the verses,” she advised her, “mustn’t also be too out-of-the-way. Just search the works of old writers, and where will you find any eccentric and peculiar subjects, or any extra difficult metre! If the subject be too much out-of-the-way and the metre too difficult, one cannot get good verses. In a word, we are a mean lot and our verses are certain, I fear, to consist of mere repetitions. Nor is it advisable for us to aim at excessive originality. The first thing for us to do is to have our ideas clear, as our language will then not be commonplace. In fact, this sort of thing is no vital matter; spinning and needlework are, in a word, the legitimate duties of you and me. Yet, if we can at any time afford the leisure, it’s only right and proper that we should take some book, that will benefit both body and mind, and read a few chapters out of it.”

Hsiang-yün simply signified her assent. “I’m now cogitating in my mind," she then laughingly remarked, “that as the verses we wrote yesterday treated of begonias, we should, I think, compose on this occasion some on chrysanthemums, eh? What do you say?”

“Chrysanthemums are in season,” Pao-ch’ai replied. “The only objection to them is that too many writers of old have made them the subject of their poems.”

“I also think so,” Hsiang-yün added, “so that, I fear, we shall only be following in their footsteps.”

After some reflection, Pao-ch’ai exclaimed, “I’ve hit upon something! If we take, for the present instance, the chrysanthemums as a secondary term, and man as the primary, we can, after all, select several themes. But they must all consist of two characters: the one, an empty word; the other, a full one. The full word might be chrysanthemums; while for the empty one, we might employ some word in general use. In this manner, we shall, on one hand, sing the chrysanthemum; and, on the other, compose verses on the theme. And as old writers have not written much in this style, it will be impossible for us to drift into the groove of their ideas. Thus in versifying on the scenery and in singing the objects, we will, in both respects, combine originality with liberality of thought.”

“This is all very well,” smiled Hsiang-yün. “The only thing is what kind of empty words will, I wonder, be best to use? Just you first think of one and let me see.”

Pao-ch’ai plunged in thought for a time, after which she laughingly remarked: “Dream of chrysanthemums is good.”

“It’s positively good!” Hsiang-yün smiled. “I’ve also got one: ’the Chrysanthemum shadow,’ will that do?”

“Well enough,” Pao-ch’ai answered, “the only objection is that people have written on it; yet if the themes are to be many, we might throw this in. I’ve got another one too!”

“Be quick, and tell it!” Hsiang-yün urged.

“What do you say to ’ask the Chrysanthemums?’” Pao-ch’ai observed.

Hsiang-yün clapped her hand on the table. “Capital,” she cried. “I’ve thought of one also.” She then quickly continued, “It is, search for chrysanthemums; what’s your idea about it?”

Pao-ch’ai thought that too would do very well. “Let’s choose ten of them first,” she next proposed; “and afterwards note them down!”

While talking, they rubbed the ink and moistened the pens. These preparations over, Hsiang-yün began to write, while Pao-ch’ai enumerated the themes. In a short time, they got ten of them.

“Ten don’t form a set,” Hsiang-yün went on to smilingly suggest, after reading them over. “We’d better complete them by raising their number to twelve; they’ll then also be on the same footing as people’s pictures and books.”

Hearing this proposal, Pao-ch’ai devised another couple of themes, thus bringing them to a dozen. “Well, since we’ve got so far,” she pursued, "let’s go one step further and copy them out in their proper order, putting those that are first, first; and those that come last, last.”

“It would be still better like that,” Hsiang-yün acquiesced, “as we’ll be able to make up a ’chrysanthemum book.’”

“The first stanza should be: ’Longing for chrysanthemums,’” Pao-chai said, “and as one cannot get them by wishing, and has, in consequence, to search for them, the second should be ’searching for chrysanthemums.’ After due search, one finds them, and plants them, so the third must be: ’planting chrysanthemums.’ After they’ve been planted, they, blossom, and one faces them and enjoys them, so the fourth should be ’facing the chrysanthemums.’ By facing them, one derives such excessive delight that one plucks them and brings them in and puts them in vases for one’s own delectation, so the fifth must be ’placing chrysanthemums in vases.’ If no verses are sung in their praise, after they’ve been placed in vases, it’s tantamount to seeing no point of beauty in chrysanthemums, so the sixth must be ’sing about chrysanthemums.’ After making them the burden of one’s song, one can’t help representing them in pictures. The seventh place should therefore be conceded to ’drawing chrysanthemums.’ Seeing that in spite of all the labour bestowed on the drawing of chrysanthemums, the fine traits there may be about them are not yet, in fact, apparent, one impulsively tries to find them out by inquiries, so the eighth should be ’asking the chrysanthemums.’ As any perception, which the chrysanthemums might display in fathoming the questions set would help to make the inquirer immoderately happy, the ninth must be ’pinning the chrysanthemums in the hair.’ And as after everything has been accomplished, that comes within the sphere of man, there will remain still some chrysanthemums about which something could be written, two stanzas on the ’shadow of the chrysanthemums,’ and the ’dream about chrysanthemums’ must be tagged on as numbers ten and eleven. While the last section should be ’the withering of the chrysanthemums’ so as to bring to a close the sentiments expressed in the foregoing subjects. In this wise the fine scenery and fine doings of the third part of autumn, will both alike be included in our themes.”

Hsiang-yün signified her approval, and taking the list she copied it out clean. But after once more passing her eye over it, she went on to inquire what rhymes should be determined upon.

“I do not, as a rule, like hard-and-fast rhymes,” Pao-ch’ai retorted. "It’s evident enough that we can have good verses without them, so what’s the use of any rhymes to shackle us? Don’t let us imitate that mean lot of people. Let’s simply choose our subject and pay no notice to rhymes. Our main object is to see whether we cannot by chance hit upon some well-written lines for the sake of fun. It isn’t to make this the means of subjecting people to perplexities.”

“What you say is perfectly right,” Hsiang-yün observed. “In this manner our poetical composition will improve one step higher. But we only muster five members, and there are here twelve themes. Is it likely that each one of us will have to indite verses on all twelve?”

“That would be far too hard on the members!” Pao-ch’ai rejoined. “But let’s copy out the themes clean, for lines with seven words will have to be written on every one, and stick them to-morrow on the wall for general perusal. Each member can write on the subject which may be most in his or her line. Those, with any ability, may choose all twelve. While those, with none, may only limit themselves to one stanza. Both will do. Those, however, who will show high mental capacity, combined with quickness, will be held the best. But any one, who shall have completed all twelve themes, won’t be permitted to hasten and begin over again; we’ll have to fine such a one, and finish.”

“Yes, that will do,” assented Hsiang-yün. But after settling everything satisfactorily, they extinguished the lamp and went to bed.

Reader, do you want to know what subsequently took place? If you do, then listen to what is contained in the way of explanation in the following chapter.

Chapter XXXVIII.

  Lin Hsiao-Hsiang carries the first prize in the poems on
  Hsueh Heng-wu chaffs Pao-yü by composing verses in the same style as
      his on the crabs.

After Pao-ch’ai and Hsiang-yün, we will now explain, settled everything in their deliberations, nothing memorable occurred, the whole night, which deserves to be put on record.

The next day, Hsiang-yün invited dowager lady Chia and her other relatives to come and look at the olea flowers. Old lady Chia and every one else answered that as she had had the kind attention to ask them, they felt it their duty to avail themselves of her gracious invitation, much though they would be putting her to trouble and inconvenience. At twelve o’clock, therefore, old lady Chia actually took with her Madame Wang and lady Feng, as well as Mrs. Hsüeh and other members of her family whom she had asked to join them, and repaired into the garden.

“Which is the best spot?” old lady Chia inquired.

“We are ready to go wherever you may like, dear senior,” Madame Wang ventured in response.

“A collation has already been spread in the Lotus Fragrance Arbour," lady Feng interposed. “Besides, the two olea plants, on that hill, yonder, are now lovely in their full blossom, and the water of that stream is jade-like and pellucid, so if we sit in the pavilion in the middle of it, won’t we enjoy an open and bright view? It will be refreshing too to our eyes to watch the pool.”

“Quite right!” assented dowager lady Chia at this suggestion; and while expressing her approbation, she ushered her train of followers into the Arbour of Lotus Fragrance.

This Arbour of Lotus Fragrance had, in fact, been erected in the centre of the pool. It had windows on all four sides. On the left and on the right, stood covered passages, which spanned the stream and connected with the hills. At the back, figured a winding bridge.

As the party ascended the bamboo bridge, lady Feng promptly advanced and supported dowager lady Chia. “Venerable ancestor,” she said, “just walk boldly and with confident step; there’s nothing to fear; it’s the way of these bamboo bridges to go on creaking like this.”

Presently, they entered the arbour. Here they saw two additional bamboo tables, placed beyond the balustrade. On the one, were arranged cups, chopsticks and every article necessary for drinking wine. On the other, were laid bamboo utensils for tea, a tea-service and various cups and saucers. On the off side, two or three waiting-maids were engaged in fanning the stove to boil the water for tea. On the near side were visible several other girls, who were trying with their fans to get a fire to light in the stove so as to warm the wines.

“It was a capital idea,” dowager lady Chia hastily exclaimed laughingly with vehemence, “to bring tea here. What’s more, the spot and the appurtenances are alike so spick and span!”

“These things were brought by cousin Pao-ch’ai,” Hsiang-yün smilingly explained, “so I got them ready.”

“This child is, I say, so scrupulously particular,” old lady Chia observed, “that everything she does is thoroughly devised.”

As she gave utterance to her feelings, her attention was attracted by a pair of scrolls of black lacquer, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, suspended on the pillars, and she asked Hsiang-yün to tell her what the mottoes were.

The text she read was:

  Snapped is the shade of the hibiscus by the fragrant oar of a boat
      homeward bound.
  Deep flows the perfume of the lily and the lotus underneath the bamboo

After listening to the motto, old lady Chia raised her head and cast a glance upon the tablet; then turning round: “Long ago, when I was young,” she observed, addressing herself to Mrs. Hsüeh, “we likewise had at home a pavilion like this called ’the Hall reclining on the russet clouds,’ or some other such name. At that time, I was of the same age as the girls, and my wont was to go day after day and play with my sisters there. One day, I, unexpectedly, slipped and fell into the water, and I had a narrow escape from being drowned; for it was after great difficulty, that they managed to drag me out safe and sound. But my head was, after all, bumped about against the wooden nails; so much so, that this hole of the length of a finger, which you can see up to this day on my temple, comes from the bruises I sustained. All my people were in a funk that I’d be the worse for this ducking and continued in fear and trembling lest I should catch a chill. ’It was dreadful, dreadful!’ they opined, but I managed, little though every one thought it, to keep in splendid health.”

Lady Feng allowed no time to any one else to put in a word; but anticipating them: “Had you then not survived, who would now be enjoying these immense blessings!” she smiled. “This makes it evident that no small amount of happiness and long life were in store for you, venerable ancestor, from your very youth up! It was by the agency of the spirits that this hole was knocked open so that they might fill it up with happiness and longevity! The old man Shou Hsing had, in fact, a hole in his head, which was so full of every kind of blessing conducive to happiness and long life that it bulged up ever so high!”

Before, however, she could conclude, dowager lady Chia and the rest were convulsed with such laughter that their bodies doubled in two.

“This monkey is given to dreadful tricks!” laughed old lady Chia. “She’s always ready to make a scapegoat of me to evoke amusement. But would that I could take that glib mouth of yours and rend it in pieces.”

“It’s because I feared that the cold might, when you by and bye have some crabs to eat, accumulate in your intestines,” lady Feng pleaded, "that I tried to induce you, dear senior, to have a laugh, so as to make you gay and merry. For one can, when in high spirits, indulge in a couple of them more with impunity.”

“By and bye,” smiled old lady Chia, “I’ll make you follow me day and night, so that I may constantly be amused and feel my mind diverted; I won’t let you go back to your home.”

“It’s that weakness of yours for her, venerable senior,” Madame Wang observed with a smile, “that has got her into the way of behaving in this manner, and, if you go on speaking to her as you do, she’ll soon become ever so much the more unreasonable.”

“I like her such as she is,” dowager lady Chia laughed. “Besides, she’s truly no child, ignorant of the distinction between high and low. When we are at home, with no strangers present, we ladies should be on terms like these, and as long, in fact, as we don’t overstep propriety, it’s all right. If not, what would he the earthly use of making them behave like so many saints?”

While bandying words, they entered the pavilion in a body. After tea, lady Feng hastened to lay out the cups and chopsticks. At the upper table then seated herself old lady Chia, Mrs. Hsüeh, Pao-ch’ai, Tai-yü and Pao-yü. Round the table, on the east, sat Shih Hsiang-yün, Madame Wang, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un and Hsi Ch’un. At the small table, leaning against the door on the west side, Li Wan and lady Feng assigned themselves places. But it was for the mere sake of appearances, as neither of them ventured to sit down, but remained in attendance at the two tables, occupied by old lady Chia and Madame Wang.

“You’d better,” lady Feng said, “not bring in too many crabs at a time. Throw these again into the steaming-basket! Only serve ten; and when they’re eaten, a fresh supply can be fetched!”

Asking, at the same time, for water, she washed her hands, and, taking her position near dowager lady Chia, she scooped out the meat from a crab, and offered the first help to Mrs. Hsüeh.

“They’ll be sweeter were I to open them with my own hands,” Mrs. Hsüeh remarked, “there’s no need for any one to serve me.”

Lady Feng, therefore, presented it to old lady Chia and handed a second portion to Pao-yü.

“Make the wine as warm as possible and bring it in!” she then went on to cry. “Go,” she added, directing the servant-girls, “and fetch the powder, made of green beans, and scented with the leaves of chrysanthemums and the stamens of the olea fragrans; and keep it ready to rinse our hands with.”

Shih Hsiang-yün had a crab to bear the others company, but no sooner had she done than she retired to a lower seat, from where she helped her guests. When she, however, walked out a second time to give orders to fill two dishes and send them over to Mrs. Chao, she perceived lady Feng come up to her again. “You’re not accustomed to entertaining,” she said, "so go and have your share to eat. I’ll attend to the people for you first, and, when they’ve gone, I’ll have all I want.”

Hsiang-yün would not agree to her proposal. But giving further directions to the servants to spread two tables under the verandah on the off-side, she pressed Yüan Yang, Hu Po, Ts’ai Hsia, Ts’ai Yün and P’ing Erh to go and seat themselves.

“Lady Secunda,” consequently ventured Yüan Yang, “you’re in here doing the honours, so may I go and have something to eat?”

“You can all go,” replied lady Feng; “leave everything in my charge, and it will be all right.”

While these words were being spoken, Shih Hsiang-yün resumed her place at the banquet. Lady Feng and Li Wan then took hurry-scurry something to eat as a matter of form; but lady Feng came down once more to look after things. After a time, she stepped out on the verandah where Yüan Yang and the other girls were having their refreshments in high glee. As soon as they caught sight of her, Yuan Yang and her companions stood up. "What has your ladyship come out again for?” they inquired. “Do let us also enjoy a little peace and quiet!”

“This chit Yüan Yang is worse than ever!” lady Feng laughed. “Here I’m slaving away for you, and, instead of feeling grateful to me, you bear me a grudge! But don’t you yet quick pour me a cup of wine?”

Yüan Yang immediately smiled, and filling a cup, she applied it to lady Feng’s lips. Lady Feng stretched out her neck and emptied it. But Hu Po and Ts’ai Hsia thereupon likewise replenished a cup and put it to lady Feng’s mouth. Lady Feng swallowed the contents of that as well. P’ing Erh had, by this time, brought her some yellow meat which she had picked out from the shell. “Pour plenty of ginger and vinegar!” shouted lady Feng, and, in a moment, she made short work of that too. “You people," she smiled, “had better sit down and have something to eat, for I’m off now.”

“You brazen-faced thing,” exclaimed Yüan Yang laughingly, “to eat what was intended for us!”

“Don’t be so captious with me!” smiled lady Feng. “Are you aware that your master Secundus, Mr. Lien, has taken such a violent fancy to you that he means to speak to our old lady to let you be his secondary wife!”

Yüan Yang blushed crimson. “Ts’ui!” she shouted. “Are these really words to issue from the mouth of a lady! But if I don’t daub your face all over with my filthy hands, I won’t feel happy!”

Saying this, she rushed up to her. She was about to besmear her face, when lady Feng pleaded: “My dear child, do let me off this time!”

“Lo, that girl Yüan,” laughed Hu Po, “wishes to smear her, and that hussey P’ing still spares her! Look here, she has scarcely had two crabs, and she has drunk a whole saucerful of vinegar!”

P’ing Erh was holding a crab full of yellow meat, which she was in the act of cleaning. As soon therefore as she heard this taunt, she came, crab in hand, to spatter Hu Po’s face, as she laughingly reviled her. "I’ll take you minx with that cajoling tongue of yours” she cried, "and....”

But, Hu Po, while also indulging in laughter, drew aside; so P’ing Erh beat the air, and fell forward, daubing, by a strange coincidence, the cheek of lady Feng. Lady Feng was at the moment having a little good-humoured raillery with Yüan Yang, and was taken so much off her guard, that she was quite startled out of her senses. “Ai-yah!” she ejaculated. The bystanders found it difficult to keep their countenance, and, with one voice, they exploded into a boisterous fit of laughter. Lady Feng as well could not help feeling amused, and smilingly she upbraided her. “You stupid wench!” she said; “Have you by gorging lost your eyesight that you recklessly smudge your mistress’ face?”

P’ing Erh hastily crossed over and wiped her face for her, and then went in person to fetch some water.

“O-mi-to-fu,” ejaculated Yüan Yang, “this is a distinct retribution!”

Dowager lady Chia, though seated on the other side, overheard their shouts, and she consecutively made inquiries as to what they had seen to tickled their fancy so. “Tell us,” (she urged), “what it is so that we too should have a laugh.”

“Our lady Secunda,” Yüan Yang and the other maids forthwith laughingly cried, “came to steal our crabs and eat them, and P’ing Erh got angry and daubed her mistress’ face all over with yellow meat. So our mistress and that slave-girl are now having a scuffle over it.”

This report filled dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the other inmates with them with much merriment. “Do have pity on her,” dowager lady Chia laughed, “and let her have some of those small legs and entrails to eat, and have done!”

Yuan Yang and her companions assented, much amused. “Mistress Secunda," they shouted in a loud tone of voice, “you’re at liberty to eat this whole tableful of legs!”

But having washed her face clean, lady Feng approached old lady Chia and the other guests and waited upon them for a time, while they partook of refreshments.

Tai-yü did not, with her weak physique, venture to overload her stomach, so partaking of a little meat from the claws, she left the table. Presently, however, dowager lady Chia too abandoned all idea of having anything more to eat. The company therefore quitted the banquet; and, when they had rinsed their hands, some admired the flowers, some played with the water, others looked at the fish.

After a short stroll, Madame Wang turned round and remarked to old lady Chia: “There’s plenty of wind here. Besides, you’ve just had crabs; so it would be prudent for you, venerable senior, to return home and rest. And if you feel in the humour, we can come again for a turn to-morrow.”

“Quite true!” acquiesced dowager lady Chia, in reply to this suggestion. "I was afraid that if I left, now that you’re all in exuberant spirits, I mightn’t again be spoiling your fun, (so I didn’t budge). But as the idea originates from yourselves do go as you please, (while I retire). But,” she said to Hsiang-yün, “don’t allow your cousin Secundus, Pao-yü, and your cousin Lin to have too much to eat.” Then when Hsiang-yün had signified her obedience, “You two girls,” continuing, she recommended Hsiang-yün and Pao-ch’ai, “must not also have more than is good for you. Those things are, it’s true, luscious, but they’re not very wholesome; and if you eat immoderately of them, why, you’ll get stomachaches.”

Both girls promised with alacrity to be careful; and, having escorted her beyond the confines of the garden, they retraced their steps and ordered the servants to clear the remnants of the banquet and to lay out a new supply of refreshments.

“There’s no use of any regular spread out!” Pao-yü interposed. “When you are about to write verses, that big round table can be put in the centre and the wines and eatables laid on it. Neither will there be any need to ceremoniously have any fixed seats. Let those who may want anything to eat, go up to it and take what they like; and if we seat ourselves, scattered all over the place, won’t it be far more convenient for us?”

“Your idea is excellent!” Pao-ch’ai answered.

“This is all very well,” Hsiang-yün observed, “but there are others to be studied besides ourselves!”

Issuing consequently further directions for another table to be laid, and picking out some hot crabs, she asked Hsi Jen, Tzu Chüan, Ssu Ch’i, Shih Shu, Ju Hua, Ying Erh, Ts’ui Mo and the other girls to sit together and form a party. Then having a couple of flowered rugs spread under the olea trees on the hills, she bade the matrons on duty, the waiting-maids and other servants to likewise make themselves comfortable and to eat and drink at their pleasure until they were wanted, when they could come and answer the calls.

Hsiang-yün next fetched the themes for the verses and pinned them with a needle on the wall. “They’re full of originality,” one and all exclaimed after perusal, “we fear we couldn’t write anything on them.”

Hsiang-yün then went onto explain to them the reasons that had prompted her not to determine upon any particular rhymes.

“Yes, quite right!” put in Pao-yü. “I myself don’t fancy hard and fast rhymes!”

But Lin Tai-yü, being unable to stand much wine and to take any crabs, told, on her own account, a servant to fetch an embroidered cushion; and, seating herself in such a way as to lean against the railing, she took up a fishing-rod and began to fish. Pao-ch’ai played for a time with a twig of olea she held in her hand, then resting on the window-sill, she plucked the petals, and threw them into the water, attracting the fish, which went by, to rise to the surface and nibble at them. Hsiang-yün, after a few moments of abstraction, urged Hsi Jen and the other girls to help themselves to anything they wanted, and beckoned to the servants, seated at the foot of the hill, to eat to their heart’s content. Tan Ch’un, in company with Li Wan and Hsi Ch’un, stood meanwhile under the shade of the weeping willows, and looked at the widgeons and egrets. Ying Ch’un, on the other hand, was all alone under the shade of some trees, threading double jasmine flowers, with a needle specially adapted for the purpose. Pao-yü too watched Tai-yü fishing for a while. At one time he leant next to Pao-ch’ai and cracked a few jokes with her. And at another, he drank, when he noticed Hsi Jen feasting on crabs with her companions, a few mouthfuls of wine to keep her company. At this, Hsi Jen cleaned the meat out of a shell, and gave it to him to eat.

Tai-yü then put down the fishing-rod, and, approaching the seats, she laid hold of a small black tankard, ornamented with silver plum flowers, and selected a tiny cup, made of transparent stone, red like a begonia, and in the shape of a banana leaf. A servant-girl observed her movements, and, concluding that she felt inclined to have a drink, she drew near with hurried step to pour some wine for her.

“You girls had better go on eating,” Tai-yü remonstrated, “and let me help myself; there’ll be some fun in it then!”

So speaking, she filled for herself a cup half full; but discovering that it was yellow wine, “I’ve eaten only a little bit of crab,” she said, “and yet I feel my mouth slightly sore; so what would do for me now is a mouthful of very hot distilled spirit.”

Pao-yü hastened to take up her remark. “There’s some distilled spirit," he chimed in. “Take some of that wine,” he there and then shouted out to a servant, “scented with acacia flowers, and warm a tankard of it.”

When however it was brought Tai-yü simply took a sip and put it down again.

Pao-ch’ai too then came forward, and picked up a double cup; but, after drinking a mouthful of it, she lay it aside, and, moistening her pen, she walked up to the wall, and marked off the first theme: “longing for chrysanthemums,” below which she appended a character “Heng.”

“My dear cousin,” promptly remarked Pao-yü. “I’ve already got four lines of the second theme so let me write on it!”

“I managed, after ever so much difficulty, to put a stanza together," Pao-ch’ai smiled, “and are you now in such a hurry to deprive me of it?”

Without so much as a word, Tai-yü took a pen and put a distinctive sign opposite the eighth, consisting of: “ask the chrysanthemums;” and, singling out, in quick succession, the eleventh: “dream of chrysanthemums,” as well, she too affixed for herself the word “Hsiao" below. But Pao-yü likewise got a pen, and marked his choice, the twelfth on the list: “seek for chrysanthemums,” by the side of which he wrote the character “Chiang.”

T’an Ch’un thereupon rose to her feet. “If there’s no one to write on ’Pinning the chrysanthemums’” she observed, while scrutinising the themes, “do let me have it! It has just been ruled,” she continued, pointing at Pao-yü with a significant smile, “that it is on no account permissible to introduce any expressions, bearing reference to the inner chambers, so you’d better be on your guard!”

But as she spoke, she perceived Hsiang-yün come forward, and jointly mark the fourth and fifth, that is: “facing the chrysanthemums,” and "putting chrysanthemums in vases,” to which she, like the others, appended a word, Hsiang.”

“You too should get a style or other!” T’an Ch’un suggested.

“In our home,” smiled Hsiang-yün, “there exist, it is true, at present several halls and structures, but as I don’t live in either, there’ll be no fun in it were I to borrow the name of any one of them!”

“Our venerable senior just said,” Pao-ch’ai observed laughingly, “that there was also in your home a water-pavilion called ’leaning on russet clouds hall,’ and is it likely that it wasn’t yours? But albeit it doesn’t exist now-a-days, you were anyhow its mistress of old.”

“She’s right!” one and all exclaimed.

Pao-yü therefore allowed Hsiang-yün no time to make a move, but forthwith rubbed off the character “Hsiang,” for her and substituted that of “Hsia” (russet).

A short time only elapsed before the compositions on the twelve themes had all been completed. After they had each copied out their respective verses, they handed them to Ying Ch’un, who took a separate sheet of snow-white fancy paper, and transcribed them together, affixing distinctly under each stanza the style of the composer. Li Wan and her assistants then began to read, starting from the first on the list, the verses which follow:

“Longing for chrysanthemums,” by the “Princess of Heng Wu.”

  With anguish sore I face the western breeze, and wrapt in grief, I
      pine for you!
  What time the smart weed russet turns, and the reeds white, my heart
      is rent in two.
  When in autumn the hedges thin, and gardens waste, all trace of you is
  When the moon waxeth cold, and the dew pure, my dreams then know
      something of you.
  With constant yearnings my heart follows you as far as wild geese
      homeward fly.
  Lonesome I sit and lend an ear, till a late hour to the sound of the
  For you, ye yellow flowers, I’ve grown haggard and worn, but who doth
      pity me,
  And breathe one word of cheer that in the ninth moon I will soon meet
      you again?

“Search for chrysanthemums,” by the “Gentleman of I Hung:”

  When I have naught to do, I’ll seize the first fine day to try and
      stroll about.
  Neither wine-cups nor cups of medicine will then deter me from my
  Who plants the flowers in all those spots, facing the dew and under
      the moon’s rays?
  Outside the rails they grow and by the hedge; but in autumn where do
      they go?
  With sandals waxed I come from distant shores; my feelings all
  But as on this cold day I can’t exhaust my song, my spirits get
  The yellow flowers, if they but knew how comfort to a poet to afford,
  Would not let me this early morn trudge out in vain with my cash-laden

“Planting chrysanthemums,” by the Gentleman of “I Hung:”

  When autumn breaks, I take my hoe, and moving them myself out of the
  I plant them everywhere near the hedges and in the foreground of the
  Last night, when least expected, they got a good shower, which made
      them all revive.
  This morn my spirits still rise high, as the buds burst in bloom
      bedecked with frost.
  Now that it’s cool, a thousand stanzas on the autumn scenery I sing.
  In ecstasies from drink, I toast their blossom in a cup of cold, and
      fragrant wine.
  With spring water. I sprinkle them, cover the roots with mould and
      well tend them,
  So that they may, like the path near the well, be free of every grain
      of dirt.

“Facing the chrysanthemums,” by the “Old friend of the Hall reclining on the russet clouds.”

  From other gardens I transplant them, and I treasure them like gold.
  One cluster bears light-coloured bloom; another bears dark shades.
  I sit with head uncovered by the sparse-leaved artemesia hedge,
  And in their pure and cool fragrance, clasping my knees, I hum my
  In the whole world, methinks, none see the light as peerless as these
  From all I see you have no other friend more intimate than me.
  Such autumn splendour, I must not misuse, as steadily it fleets.
  My gaze I fix on you as I am fain each moment to enjoy!

“Putting chrysanthemums in vases,” by the “Old Friend of the hall reclining on the russet clouds.”

  The lute I thrum, and quaff my wine, joyful at heart that ye are meet
      to be my mates.
  The various tables, on which ye are laid, adorn with beauteous grace
      this quiet nook.
  The fragrant dew, next to the spot I sit, is far apart from that by
      the three paths.
  I fling my book aside and turn my gaze upon a twig full of your autumn
  What time the frost is pure, a new dream steals o’er me, as by the
      paper screen I rest.
  When cold holdeth the park, and the sun’s rays do slant, I long and
      yearn for you, old friends.
  I too differ from others in this world, for my own tastes resemble
      those of yours.
  The vernal winds do not hinder the peach tree and the pear from
      bursting forth in bloom.

“Singing chrysanthemums,” by the “Hsiao Hsiang consort.”

  Eating the bread of idleness, the frenzy of poetry creeps over me both
      night and day.
  Round past the hedge I wend, and, leaning on the rock, I intone verses
      gently to myself.
  From the point of my pencil emanate lines of recondite grace, so near
      the frost I write.
  Some scent I hold by the side of my mouth, and, turning to the moon, I
      sing my sentiments.
  With self-pitying lines pages I fill, so as utterance to give to all
      my cares and woes.
  From these few scanty words, who could fathom the secrets of my heart
      about the autumntide?
  Beginning from the time when T’ao, the magistrate, did criticise the
      beauty of your bloom,
  Yea, from that date remote up to this very day, your high renown has
      ever been extolled.

“Drawing chrysanthemums,” by the “Princess of Heng Wu.”

  Verses I’ve had enough, so with my pens I play; with no idea that I am
  Do I make use of pigments red or green as to involve a task of
      toilsome work?
  To form clusters of leaves, I sprinkle simply here and there a
      thousand specks of ink.
  And when I’ve drawn the semblance of the flowers, some spots I make to
      represent the frost.
  The light and dark so life-like harmonise with the figure of those
      there in the wind,
  That when I’ve done tracing their autumn growth, a fragrant smell
      issues under my wrist.
  Do you not mark how they resemble those, by the east hedge, which you
      leisurely pluck?
  Upon the screens their image I affix to solace me for those of the
      ninth moon.

“Asking the chrysanthemums,” by the “Hsiao Hsiang consort.”

  Your heart, in autumn, I would like to read, but know it no one could!
  While humming with my arms behind my back, on the east hedge I rap.
  So peerless and unique are ye that who is meet with you to stay?
  Why are you of all flowers the only ones to burst the last in bloom?
  Why in such silence plunge the garden dew and the frost in the hall?
  When wild geese homeward fly and crickets sicken, do you think of me?
  Do not tell me that in the world none of you grow with power of
  But if ye fathom what I say, why not converse with me a while?

“Pinning the chrysanthemums in the hair,” by the “Visitor under the banana trees.”

  I put some in a vase, and plant some by the hedge, so day by day I
      have ample to do.
  I pluck them, yet don’t fancy they are meant for girls to pin before
      the glass in their coiffure.
  My mania for these flowers is just as keen as was that of the squire,
      who once lived in Ch’ang An.
  I rave as much for them as raved Mr. P’eng Tsê, when he was under the
      effects of wine.
  Cold is the short hair on his temples and moistened with dew, which on
      it dripped from the three paths.
  His flaxen turban is suffused with the sweet fragrance of the autumn
      frost in the ninth moon.
  That strong weakness of mine to pin them in my hair is viewed with
      sneers by my contemporaries.
  They clap their hands, but they are free to laugh at me by the
      roadside as much us e’er they list.

“The shadow of the chrysanthemums,” by the “Old Friend of the hall reclining on the russet clouds.”

  In layers upon layers their autumn splendour grows and e’er thick and
  I make off furtively, and stealthily transplant them from the three
  The distant lamp, inside the window-frame, depicts their shade both
      far and near.
  The hedge riddles the moon’s rays, like unto a sieve, but the flowers
      stop the holes.
  As their reflection cold and fragrant tarries here, their soul must
      too abide.
  The dew-dry spot beneath the flowers is so like them that what is said
      of dreams is trash.
  Their precious shadows, full of subtle scent, are trodden down to
      pieces here and there.
  Could any one with eyes half closed from drinking, not mistake the
      shadow for the flowers.

“Dreaming of chrysanthemums,” by the “Hsiao Hsiang consort.”

  What vivid dreams arise as I dose by the hedge amidst those autumn
  Whether clouds bear me company or the moon be my mate, I can’t
  In fairyland I soar, not that I would become a butterfly like Chang.
  So long I for my old friend T’ao, the magistrate, that I again seek
  In a sound sleep I fell; but so soon as the wild geese cried, they
      broke my rest.
  The chirp of the cicadas gave me such a start that I bear them a
  My secret wrongs to whom can I go and divulge, when I wake up from
  The faded flowers and the cold mist make my feelings of anguish know
      no bounds.

“Fading of the chrysanthemums,” by the “Visitor under the banana trees.”

  The dew congeals; the frost waxes in weight; and gradually dwindles
      their bloom.
  After the feast, with the flower show, follows the season of the
      ’little snow.’
  The stalks retain still some redundant smell, but the flowers’ golden
      tinge is faint.
  The stems do not bear sign of even one whole leaf; their verdure is
      all past.
  Naught but the chirp of crickets strikes my ear, while the moon shines
      on half my bed.
  Near the cold clouds, distant a thousand li, a flock of wild geese
      slowly fly.
  When autumn breaks again next year, I feel certain that we will meet
      once more.
  We part, but only for a time, so don’t let us indulge in anxious

Each stanza they read they praised; and they heaped upon each other incessant eulogiums.

“Let me now criticise them; I’ll do so with all fairness!” Li Wan smiled. “As I glance over the page,” she said, “I find that each of you has some distinct admirable sentiments; but in order to be impartial in my criticism to-day, I must concede the first place to: ’Singing the chrysanthemums;’ the second to: ’Asking the chrysanthemums;’ and the third to: ’Dreaming of chrysanthemums.’ The original nature of the themes makes the verses full of originality, and their conception still more original. But we must allow to the ’Hsiao Hsiang consort’ the credit of being the best; next in order following: ’Pinning chrysanthemums in the hair,’ ’Facing the chrysanthemums,’ ’Putting the chrysanthemums, in vases,’ ’Drawing the chrysanthemums,’ and ’Longing for chrysanthemums,’ as second best.”

This decision filled Pao-yü with intense gratification. Clapping his hands, “Quite right! it’s most just,” he shouted.

“My verses are worth nothing!” Tai-yü remarked. “Their fault, after all, is that they are a little too minutely subtile.”

“They are subtile but good,” Li Wan rejoined; “for there’s no artificialness or stiffness about them.”

“According to my views,” Tai-yü observed, “the best line is:

 “’When cold holdeth the park and the sun’s rays do slant, I long and
      yearn for you, old friends.’

“The metonomy:

“’I fling my book aside and turn my gaze upon a twig of autumn.’

is already admirable! She has dealt so exhaustively with ’putting chrysanthemums in a vase’ that she has left nothing unsaid that could be said, and has had in consequence to turn her thought back and consider the time anterior to their being plucked and placed in vases. Her sentiments are profound!”

“What you say is certainly so,” explained Li Wan smiling; “but that line of yours:

“’Some scent I hold by the side of my mouth,....’

“beats that.”

“After all,” said T’an Ch’un, “we must admit that there’s depth of thought in those of the ’Princess of Heng Wu’ with:

“’ autumn all trace of you is gone;’


“’ dreams then know something of you!’

“They really make the meaning implied by the words ’long for’ stand out clearly.”

“Those passages of yours:

“’Cold is the short hair on his temples and moistened....’


“’His flaxen turban is suffused with the sweet fragrance....;’”

laughingly observed Puo-ch’ai, “likewise bring out the idea of ’pinning the chrysanthemums in the hair’ so thoroughly that one couldn’t get a loop hole for fault-finding.”

Hsiang-yün then smiled.

“’...who is meet with you to stay’”

she said, “and

“’...burst the last in bloom.’

“are questions so straight to the point set to the chrysanthemums, that they are quite at a loss what answer to give.”

“Were what you say:

“’I sit with head uncovered....’


“’...clasping my knees, I hum my lays....’

“as if you couldn’t, in fact, tear yourself away for even a moment from them,” Li Wan laughed, “to come to the knowledge of the chrysanthemums, why, they would certainly be sick and tired of you.”

This joke made every one laugh.

“I’m last again!” smiled Pao-yü. “Is it likely that:

 “’Who plants the flowers?.... autumn where do they go?
  With sandals waxed I come from distant shores;....
  ...and as on this cold day I can’t exhaust my song;....’

“do not all forsooth amount to searching for chrysanthemums? And that

 “’Last night they got a shower....
  And this morn ... bedecked with frost,’

“don’t both bear on planting them? But unfortunately they can’t come up to these lines:

 “’Some scent I hold by the side of my mouth and turning to the moon I
      sing my sentiments.’
  ’In their pure and cool fragrance, clasping my knees I hum my lays.’
  ’...short hair on his temples....’
  ’His flaxen turban....
  ...golden tinge is faint.
  ...verdure is all past. autumn ... all trace of you is gone. dreams then know something of you.’

“But to-morrow,” he proceeded, “if I have got nothing to do, I’ll write twelve stanzas my self.”

“Yours are also good,” Li Wan pursued, “the only thing is that they aren’t as full of original conception as those other lines, that’s all.”

But after a few further criticisms, they asked for some more warm crabs; and, helping themselves, as soon as they were brought, from the large circular table, they regaled themselves for a time.

“With the crabs to-day in one’s hand and the olea before one’s eyes, one cannot help inditing verses,” Pao-yü smiled. “I’ve already thought of a few; but will any of you again have the pluck to devise any?”

With this challenge, he there and then hastily washed his hands and picking up a pen he wrote out what, his companions found on perusal, to run in this strain:

  When in my hands I clasp a crab what most enchants my heart is the
      cassia’s cool shade.
  While I pour vinegar and ground ginger, I feel from joy as if I would
      go mad.
  With so much gluttony the prince’s grandson eats his crabs that he
      should have some wine.
  The side-walking young gentleman has no intestines in his frame at
  I lose sight in my greediness that in my stomach cold accumulates.
  To my fingers a strong smell doth adhere and though I wash them yet
      the smell clings fast.
  The main secret of this is that men in this world make much of food.
  The P’o Spirit has laughed at them that all their lives they only seek
      to eat.

“I could readily compose a hundred stanzas with such verses in no time," Tai-yü observed with a sarcastic smile.

“Your mental energies are now long ago exhausted,” Pao-yü rejoined laughingly, “and instead of confessing your inability to devise any, you still go on heaping invective upon people!”

Tai-yü, upon catching this insinuation, made no reply of any kind; but slightly raising her head she hummed something to herself for a while, and then taking up a pen she completed a whole stanza with a few dashes.

The company then read her lines. They consisted of–

  E’en after death, their armour and their lengthy spears are never cast
  So nice they look, piled in the plate, that first to taste them I’d
      fain be.
  In every pair of legs they have, the crabs are full of tender
      jade-like meat.
  Each piece of ruddy fat, which in their shell bumps up, emits a
      fragrant smell.
  Besides much meat, they have a greater relish for me still, eight feet
      as well.
  Who bids me drink a thousand cups of wine in order to enhance my joy?
  What time I can behold their luscious food, with the fine season doth
  When cassias wave with fragrance pure, and the chrysanthemums are
      decked with frost.

Pao-yü had just finished conning it over and was beginning to sing its praise, when Tai-yü, with one snatch, tore it to pieces and bade a servant go and burn it.

“As my compositions can’t come up to yours,” she then observed, “I’ll burn it. Yours is capital, much better than the lines you wrote a little time back on the chrysanthemums, so keep it for the benefit of others.”

“I’ve likewise succeeded, after much effort, in putting together a stanza,” Pao-ch’ai laughingly remarked. “It cannot, of course, be worth much, but I’ll put it down for fun’s sake.”

As she spoke, she too wrote down her lines. When they came to look at them, they read–

  On this bright beauteous day, I bask in the dryandra shade, with a cup
      in my hand.
  When I was at Ch’ang An, with drivelling mouth, I longed for the ninth
      day of the ninth moon.
  The road stretches before their very eyes, but they can’t tell between
      straight and transverse.
  Under their shells in spring and autumn only reigns a vacuum, yellow
      and black.

At this point, they felt unable to refrain from shouting: “Excellent!" "She abuses in fine style!” Pao-yü shouted. “But my lines should also be committed to the flames.”

The company thereupon scanned the remainder of the stanza, which was couched in this wise:

  When all the stock of wine is gone, chrysanthemums then use to scour
      away the smell.
  So as to counteract their properties of gath’ring cold, fresh ginger
      you should take.
  Alas! now that they have been dropped into the boiling pot, what good
      do they derive?
  About the moonlit river banks there but remains the fragrant aroma of

At the close of their perusal, they with one voice, explained that this was a first-rate song on crab-eating; that minor themes of this kind should really conceal lofty thoughts, before they could be held to be of any great merit, and that the only thing was that it chaffed people rather too virulently.

But while they were engaged in conversation, P’ing Erh was again seen coming into the garden. What she wanted is not, however, yet known; so, reader, peruse the details given in the subsequent chapter.

Chapter XXXIX.

  The tongue of the village old dame finds as free vent as a river that
      has broken its banks.
  The affectionate cousin makes up his mind to sift to the very bottom
      the story told by old goody Liu.

Upon seeing, the story explains, P’ing Erh arrive, they unanimously inquired, “What is your mistress up to? How is it she hasn’t come?”

“How ever could she spare the time to get as far as here?” P’ing Erh smiled and replied. “But, she said, she hasn’t anything good to eat, so she bade me, as she couldn’t possibly run over, come and find out whether there be any more crabs or not; (if there be), she enjoined me to ask for a few to take to her to eat at home.”

“There are plenty!” Hsiang-yün rejoined; and directing, with alacrity, a servant to fetch a present box, she put in it ten of the largest crabs.

“I’ll take a few more of the female ones,” P’ing Erh remarked.

One and all then laid hands upon P’ing Erh and tried to drag her into a seat, but P’ing Erh would not accede to their importunities.

“I insist upon your sitting down,” Li Wan laughingly exclaimed, and as she kept pulling her about, and forcing her to sit next to her, she filled a cup of wine and put it to her lips. P’ing Erh hastily swallowed a sip and endeavoured immediately to beat a retreat.

“I won’t let you go,” shouted Li Wan. “It’s so evident that you’re only got that woman Feng in your thoughts as you don’t listen to any of my words!”

Saying this, she went on to bid the nurses go ahead, and take the box over. “Tell her,” she added, “that I’ve kept P’ing Erh here.”

A matron presently returned with a box. “Lady Secunda,” she reported, "says that you, lady Chu, and our young mistresses must not make fun of her for having asked for something to eat; and that in this box you’ll find cakes made of water-lily powder, and rolls prepared with chicken fat, which your maternal aunt, on the other side, just sent for your ladyship and for you, young ladies, to taste. That she bids you,” (the matron) continued, turning towards P’ing Erh, “come over on duty, but your mind is so set upon pleasure that you loiter behind and don’t go back. She advises you, however, not to have too many cups of wine.”

“Were I even to have too much,” P’ing Erh smiled, “what could she do to me?”

Uttering these words, she went on with her drink; after which she partook of some more crab.

“What a pity it is,” interposed Li Wan, caressing her, “that a girl with such good looks as you should have so ordinary a fortune as to simply fall into that room as a menial! But wouldn’t any one, who is not acquainted with actual facts, take you for a lady and a mistress?”

While she went on eating and drinking with Pao-ch’ai, Hsiang-yün and the other girls, P’ing Erh turned her head round. “Don’t rub me like that!" she laughed, “It makes me feel quite ticklish.”

“Ai-yo!” shouted Li Wan. “What’s this hard thing?”

“It’s a key,” P’ing Erh answered.

“What fine things have you got that the fear lest people should take it away, prompts you to carry this about you? I keep on, just for a laugh, telling people the whole day long that when the bonze T’ang was fetching the canons, a white horse came and carried him! That when Liu Chih-yüan was attacking the empire, a melon-spirit appeared and brought him a coat of mail, and that in the same way, where our vixen Feng is, there you are to be found! You are your mistress’ general key; and what do you want this other key for?”

“You’ve primed yourself with wine, my lady,” P’ing Erh smiled, “and here you once more chaff me and make a laughing-stock of me.”

“This is really quite true,” Pao-ch’ai laughed. “Whenever we’ve got nothing to do, and we talk matters over, (we’re quite unanimous) that not one in a hundred could be picked out to equal you girls in here. The beauty is that each one of you possesses her own good qualities!”

“In every thing, whether large or small, a heavenly principle rules alike,” Li Wan explained. “Were there, for instance, no Yüan Yang in our venerable senior’s apartments, how would it ever do? Commencing with Madame Wang herself, who is it who could muster sufficient courage to expostulate with the old lady? Yet she plainly has the pluck to put in her remonstrances with her; and, as it happens, our worthy ancestor lends a patient ear to only what she says and no one else. None of the others can remember what our old senior has in the way of clothes and head-ornaments, but she can remember everything; and, were she not there to look after things, there is no knowing how many would not be swindled away. That child besides is so straightforward at heart, that, despite all this, she often puts in a good word for others, and doesn’t rely upon her influence to look down disdainfully upon any one!”

“It was only yesterday,” Hsi Ch’un observed with a smile, “that our dear ancestor said that she was ever so much better than the whole lot of us!”

“She’s certainly splendid!” P’ing Erh ventured. “How could we rise up to her standard?”

“Ts’ai Hsia,” Pao-yü put in, “who is in mother’s rooms, is a good sort of girl!”

“Of course she is!” T’an Ch’un assented. “But she’s good enough as far as external appearances go, but inwardly she’s a sly one! Madame Wang is just like a joss; she does not give her mind to any sort of business; but this girl is up to everything; and it is she who in all manner of things reminds her mistress what there is to be done. She even knows everything, whether large or small, connected with Mr. Chia Cheng’s staying at home or going out of doors; and when at any time Madame Wang forgets, she, from behind the scenes, prompts her how to act.”

“Well, never mind about her!” Li Wan suggested. “But were,” she pursued, pointing at Pao-yü, “no Hsi Jen in this young gentleman’s quarters, just you imagine what a pitch things would reach! That vixen Feng may truly resemble the prince Pa of the Ch’u kingdom; and she may have two arms strong enough to raise a tripod weighing a thousand catties, but had she not this maid (P’ing Erh), would she be able to accomplish everything so thoroughly?”

“In days gone by,” P’ing Erh interposed, “four servant-girls came along with her, but what with those who’ve died and those who’ve gone, only I remain like a solitary spirit.”

“You’re, after all, the fortunate one!” Li Wan retorted, “but our hussey Feng too is lucky in having you! Had I not also once, just remember, two girls, when your senior master Chu was alive? Am I not, you’ve seen for yourselves, a person to bear with people? But in such a surly frame of mind did I find them both day after day that, as soon as your senior master departed this life, I availed myself of their youth (to give them in marriage) and to pack both of them out of my place. But had either of them been good for anything and worthy to be kept, I would, in fact, have now had some one to give me a helping hand!”

As she spoke, the very balls of her eyes suddenly became quite red.

“Why need you again distress your mind?” they with one voice, exclaimed. "Isn’t it better that we should break up?”

While conversing, they rinsed their hands; and, when they had agreed to go in a company to dowager lady Chia’s and Madame Wang’s and inquire after their health, the matrons and servant-maids swept the pavilion and collected and washed the cups and saucers.

Hsi Jen proceeded on her way along with P’ing Erh. “Come into my room," said Hsi Jen to P’ing Erh, “and sit down and have another cup of tea.”

“I won’t have any tea just now,” P’ing Erh answered. “I’ll come some other time.”

So saying, she was about to go off when Hsi Jen called out to her and stopped her.

“This month’s allowances,” she asked, “haven’t yet been issued, not even to our old mistress and Madame Wang; why is it?”

Upon catching this inquiry, P’ing Erh hastily retraced her steps and drew near Hsi Jen. After looking about to see that no one was in the neighbourhood, she rejoined in a low tone of voice, “Drop these questions at once! They’re sure, anyhow, to be issued in a couple of days.”

“Why is it,” smiled Hsi Jen, “that this gives you such a start?”

“This month’s allowances,” P’ing Erh explained to her in a whisper, "have long ago been obtained in advance by our mistress Secunda and given to people for their own purposes; and it’s when the interest has been brought from here and there that the various sums will be lumped together and payment be effected. I confide this to you, but, mind, you mustn’t go and tell any other person about it.”

“Is it likely that she hasn’t yet enough money for her own requirements?” Hsi Jen smiled. “Or is it that she’s still not satisfied? And what’s the use of her still going on bothering herself in this way?”

“Isn’t it so!” laughed P’ing Erh. “From just handling the funds for this particular item, she has, during these few years, so manipulated them as to turn up several hundreds of taels profit out of them. Nor does she spend that monthly allowance of hers for public expenses. But the moment she accumulates anything like eight or ten taels odd, she gives them out too. Thus the interest on her own money alone comes up to nearly a thousand taels a year.”

“You and your mistress take our money,” Hsi Jen observed laughingly, "and get interest on it; fooling us as if we were no better than idiots.”

“Here you are again with your uncharitable words!” P’ing Erh remonstrated. “Can it be that you haven’t yet enough to meet your own expenses with?”

“I am, it’s true, not short of money,” Hsi Jen replied, “as I have nowhere to go and spend it; but the thing is that I’m making provision for that fellow of ours, (Pao-yü).”

“If you ever find yourself in any great straits and need money,” P’ing Erh resumed, “you’re at liberty to take first those few taels I’ve got over there to suit your own convenience with, and by and bye I can reduce them from what is due to you and we’ll be square.”

“I’m not in need of any just now,” retorted Hsi Jen. “But should I not have enough, when I want some, I’ll send some one to fetch them, and finish.”

P’ing Erh promised that she would let her have the money at any time she sent for it, and, and taking the shortest cut, she issued out of the garden gate. Here she encountered a servant despatched from the other side by lady Feng. She came in search of P’ing Erh. “Our lady,” she said, “has something for you to do, and is waiting for you.”

“What’s up that it’s so pressing?” P’ing Erh inquired. “Our senior mistress detained me by force to have a chat, so I couldn’t manage to get away. But here she time after time sends people after me in this manner!”

“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 enough.”

“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 joke.

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 year?”

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 inquire.

“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 senior.”

“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, Yüan 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-yü 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 probable!”

“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 petticoat....”

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-yü 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-yü 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-yü, 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-yü, “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-yü, “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-yü 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-yü cast a glance at her but made no reply.

But, in a short time, the company broke up. Pao-yü 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-yü 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 Yü, (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 Yü, grew up to be seventeen, she contracted some disease and died.”

When these words fell on Pao-yü’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 Yü 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-yü 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 ground.”

“Be quick and dissuade them!” eagerly exclaimed Pao-yü. “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-yü 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-yü 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-yü, 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-yü 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-yü.

“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 temple.”

Upon hearing the result of his researches, Pao-yü 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-yü 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 appearance.”

“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-yü, 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-yü 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.

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Hung Lou Meng: Book II
By Cao Xueqin
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