"Not to mention that that's a place where our family burns incense," Pei Ming answered, "she could not dare to raise any objections, to any appeal from us for a loan, were she even in a temple quite unknown to us. There's only one thing, I've often been struck with the strong dislike you have for this 'Water Spirit' monastery, master, and how is that you're now, so delighted with the idea of going to it?"
"I've all along had the keenest contempt for those low-bred persons," Pao-y rejoined, "who, without knowing why or wherefore, foolishly offer sacrifices to the spirits, and needlessly have temples erected. The reason of it all is, that those rich old gentlemen and unsophisticated wealthy women, who lived in past days, were only too ready, the moment they heard of the presence of a spirit anywhere, to take in hand the erection of temples to offer their sacrifices in, without even having the faintest notion whose spirits they were. This was because they readily credited as gospel-truth such rustic stories and idle tales as chanced to reach their ears. Take this place as an example. Offerings are presented in this 'Water Spirit' nunnery to the spirit of the 'Lo' stream; hence the name of 'Water Spirit' monastery has been given to it. But people really don't know that in past days, there was no such thing as a 'Lo' spirit! These are, indeed, no better than legendary yarns invented by Ts'ao Tzu-chien, and who would have thought it, this sort of stupid people have put up images of it, to which they offer oblations. It serves, however, my purpose to-day, so I'll borrow of her whatever I need to use."
While engaged in talking, they reached the entrance. The old nun saw Pao-y arrive, and was thoroughly taken aback. So far was this visit beyond her expectations, that well did it seem to her as if a live dragon had dropped from the heavens. With alacrity, she rushed up to him; and making inquiries after his health, she gave orders to an old Taoist to come and take his horse.
Pao-y stepped into the temple. But without paying the least homage to the image of the 'Lo' spirit, he simply kept his eyes fixed intently on it; for albeit made of clay, it actually seemed, nevertheless, to flutter as does a terror-stricken swan, and to wriggle as a dragon in motion. It looked like a lotus, peeping its head out of the green stream, or like the sun, pouring its rays upon the russet clouds in the early morn. Pao-y's tears unwittingly trickled down his cheeks.
The old nun presented tea. Pao-y then asked her for the loan of a censer to burn incense in. After a protracted absence, the old nun returned with some incense as well as several paper horses, which she had got ready for him to offer. But Pao-y would not use any of the things she brought. "Take the censer," he said to Pei Ming, "and go out into the back garden and find a clean spot!"
But having been unable to discover one; "What about, the platform round that well?" Pei Ming inquired.
Pao-y nodded his head assentingly. Then along with him, he repaired to the platform of the well. He deposited the censer on the ground, while Pei Ming stood on one side. Pao-y produced the incense, and threw it on the fire. With suppressed tears, he performed half of the ceremony, and, turning himself round, he bade Pei Ming clear the things away. Pei Ming acquiesced; but, instead of removing the things, he speedily fell on his face, and made several prostrations, as his lips uttered this prayer: "I, Pei Ming, have been in the service of Master Secundus for several years. Of the secrets of Mr. Secundus' heart there are none, which I have not known, save that with regard to this sacrifice to-day; the object of which, he has neither told me; nor have I had the presumption to ask. But thou, oh spirit! who art the recipient of these sacrificial offerings, must, I expect, unknown though thy surname and name be to me, be a most intelligent and supremely beautiful elder or younger sister, unique among mankind, without a peer even in heaven! As my Master Secundus cannot give vent to the sentiments, which fill his heart, allow me to pray on his behalf! Should thou possess spirituality, and holiness be thy share, do thou often come and look up our Mr. Secundus, for persistently do his thoughts dwell with thee! And there is no reason why thou should'st not come! But should'st thou be in the abode of the dead, grant that our Mr. Secundus too may, in his coming existence, be transformed into a girl, so that he may be able to amuse himself with you all! And will not this prove a source of pleasure to both sides?"
At the close of his invocation, he again knocked his head several times on the ground, and, eventually, rose to his feet.
Pao-y lent an ear to his utterances, but, before they had been brought to an end, he felt it difficult to repress himself from laughing. Giving him a kick, "Don't talk such stuff and nonsense!" he shouted. "Were any looker-on to overhear what you say, he'd jeer at you!"
Pei Ming got up and put the censer away. While he walked along with Pao-y, "I've already," he said, "told the nun that you hadn't as yet had anything to eat, Master Secundus, and I bade her get a few things ready for you, so you must force yourself to take something. I know very well that a grand banquet will be spread in our mansion to-day, that exceptional bustle will prevail, and that you have, on account of this, Sir, come here to get out of the way. But as you're, after all, going to spend a whole day in peace and quiet in here, you should try and divert yourself as best you can. It won't, therefore, by any manner of means do for you to have nothing to eat."
"I won't be at the theatrical performance to have any wine," Pao-y remarked, "so what harm will there be in my having a drink here, as the fancy takes me?"
"Quite so!" rejoined Pei Ming. "But there's another consideration. You and I have run over here; but there must be some whose minds are ill at ease. Were there no one uneasy about us, well, what would it matter if we got back into town as late as we possibly could? But if there be any solicitous on your account, it's but right, Master Secundus, that you should enter the city and return home. In the first place, our worthy old mistress and Madame Wang, will thus compose their minds; and secondly, you'll observe the proper formalities, if you succeed in doing nothing else. But even supposing that, when once you get home, you feel no inclination to look at the plays and have anything to drink, you can merely wait upon your father and mother, and acquit yourself of your filial piety! Well, if it's only a matter of fulfilling this obligation, and you don't care whether our old mistress and our lady, your mother, experience concern or not, why, the spirit itself, which has just been the recipient of your oblations, won't feel in a happy frame of mind! You'd better therefore, master, ponder and see what you think of my words!"
"I see what you're driving at!" Pao-y smiled. "You keep before your mind the thought that you're the only servant, who has followed me as an attendant out of town, and you give way to fear that you will, on your return, have to bear the consequences. You hence have recourse to these grandiloquent arguments to shove words of counsel down my throat! I've come here now with the sole object of satisfying certain rites, and then going to partake of the banquet and be a spectator of the plays; and I never mentioned one single word about any intention on my part not to go back to town for a whole day! I've, however, already accomplished the wish I fostered in my heart, so if we hurry back to town, so as to enable every one to set their solicitude at rest, won't the right principle be carried out to the full in one respect as well as another?"
"Yes, that would be better!" exclaimed Pei Ming.
Conversing the while, they wended their way into the Buddhistic hall. Here the nun had, in point of fact, got ready a table with lenten viands. Pao-y hurriedly swallowed some refreshment and so did Pei Ming; after which, they mounted their steeds and retraced their steps homewards, by the road they had come.
Pei Ming followed behind. "Master Secundus!" he kept on shouting, "be careful how you ride! That horse hasn't been ridden very much, so hold him in tight a bit."
As he urged him to be careful, they reached the interior of the city walls, and, making their entrance once more into the mansion by the back gate, they betook themselves, with all possible despatch, into the I Hung court. Hsi Jen and the other maids were not at home. Only a few old women were there to look after the rooms. As soon as they saw him arrive, they were so filled with gratification that their eyebrows dilated and their eyes smiled. "O-mi-to-fu!" they said laughingly, "you've come! You've all but driven Miss Hua mad from despair! In the upper quarters, they're just seated at the feast, so be quick, Mr. Secundus, and go and join them."
At these words, Pao-y speedily divested himself of his plain clothes and put on a coloured costume, reserved for festive occasions, which he hunted up with his own hands. This done, "Where are they holding the banquet?" he inquired.
"They're in the newly erected large reception pavilion," the old women responded.
Upon catching their reply, Pao-y straightway started for the reception-pavilion. From an early moment, the strains of flageolets and pipes, of song and of wind-instruments faintly fell on his ear. The moment he reached the passage on the opposite side, he discerned Y Ch'uan-erh seated all alone under the eaves of the verandah giving way to tears. As soon as she became conscious of Pao-y's arrival, she drew a long, long breath. Smacking her lips, "Ai!" she cried, "the phoenix has alighted! go in at once! Hadn't you come for another minute, every one would have been quite upset!"
Pao-y forced a smile. "Just try and guess where I've been?" he observed.
Y Ch'uan-erh twisted herself round, and, paying no notice to him, she continued drying her tears. Pao-y had, therefore, no option but to enter with hasty step. On his arrival in the reception-hall, he paid his greetings to his grandmother Chia, to Madame Wang, and the other inmates, and one and all felt, in fact, as happy to see him back as if they had come into the possession of a phoenix.
"Where have you been," dowager lady Chia was the first to ask, "that you come back at this hour? Don't you yet go and pay your congratulations to your cousin?" And smiling she proceeded, addressing herself to lady Feng, "Your cousin has no idea of what's right and what's wrong. Even though he may have had something pressing to do, why didn't he utter just one word, but stealthily bolted away on his own hook? Will this sort of thing ever do? But should you behave again in this fashion by and bye, I shall, when your father comes home, feel compelled to tell him to chastise you."
Lady Feng smiled. "Congratulations are a small matter?" she observed. "But, cousin Pao, you must, on no account, sneak away any more without breathing a word to any one, and not sending for some people to escort you, for carriages and horses throng the streets. First and foremost, you're the means of making people uneasy at heart; and, what's more, that isn't the way in which members of a family such as ours should go out of doors!"
Dowager lady Chia meanwhile went on reprimanding the servants, who waited on him. "Why," she said, "do you all listen to him and readily go wherever he pleases without even reporting a single word? But where did you really go?" Continuing, she asked, "Did you have anything to eat? Or did you get any sort of fright, eh?"
"A beloved wife of the duke of Pei Ching departed this life," Pao-y merely returned for answer, "and I went to-day to express my condolences to him. I found him in such bitter anguish that I couldn't very well leave him and come back immediately. That's the reason why I tarried with him a little longer."
"If hereafter you do again go out of doors slyly and on your own hook," dowager lady Chia impressed on his mind, "without first telling me, I shall certainly bid your father give you a caning!"
Pao-y signified his obedience with all promptitude. His grandmother Chia was then bent upon having the servants, who were on attendance on him, beaten, but the various inmates did their best to dissuade her. "Venerable senior!" they said, "you can well dispense with flying into a rage! He has already promised that he won't venture to go out again. Besides, he has come back without any misadventure, so we should all compose our minds and enjoy ourselves a bit!"
Old lady Chia had, at first, been full of solicitude. She had, as a matter of course, been in a state of despair and displeasure; but, seeing Pao-y return in safety, she felt immoderately delighted, to such a degree, that she could not reconcile herself to visit her resentment upon him. She therefore dropped all mention of his escapade at once. And as she entertained fears lest he may have been unhappy or have had, when he was away, nothing to eat, or got a start on the road, she did not punish him, but had, contrariwise, recourse to every sort of inducement to coax him to feel at ease. But Hsi Jen soon came over and attended to his wants, so the company once more turned their attention to the theatricals. The play acted on that occasion was, "The record of the boxwood hair-pin." Dowager lady Chia, Mrs. Hseh and the others were deeply impressed by what they saw and gave way to tears. Some, however, of the inmates were amused; others were provoked to anger; others gave vent to abuse.
But, reader, do you wish to know the sequel? If so, the next chapter will explain it.
By some inscrutable turn of affairs, lady Feng begins to feel the pangs of jealousy. Pao-y experiences joy, beyond all his expectations, when P'ing Erh (receives a slap from lady Feng) and has to adjust her hair.
But to resume our narrative. At the performance of the 'Record of the boxwood hairpin,' at which all the inmates of the household were present, Pao-y and his female cousins sat together. When Lin Tai-y noticed that the act called, 'The man offers a sacrifice' had been reached, "This Wang Shih-p'eng," she said to Pao-ch'ai, "is very stupid! It would be quite immaterial where he offered his sacrifices, and why must he repair to the riverside? 'At the sight of an object,' the proverb has it, 'one thinks of a person. All waters under the heavens revert but to one source.' So had he baled a bowlful from any stream, and given way to his lamentations, while gazing on it, he could very well have satisfied his feelings."
Pao-ch'ai however made no reply.
Pao-y then turned his head round and asked for some warm wine to drink to lady Feng's health. The fact is, that dowager lady Chia had enjoined on them that this occasion was unlike others, and that it was absolutely necessary for them to do the best to induce lady Feng to heartily enjoy herself for the day. She herself, nevertheless, felt too listless to join the banquet, so simply reclining on a sofa of the inner room, she looked at the plays in company with Mrs. Hseh; and choosing several kinds of such eatables as were to her taste, she placed them on a small teapoy, and now helped herself to some, and now talked, as the fancy took her. Then allotting what viands were served on the two tables assigned to her to the elder and younger waiting-maids, for whom no covers were laid, and to those female servants and other domestics, who were on duty and had to answer calls, she urged them not to mind but to seat themselves outside the windows, under the eaves of the verandahs, and to eat and drink at their pleasure, without any regard to conventionalities. Madame Wang and Madame Hsing occupied places at the high table below; while round several tables outside sat the posse of young ladies.
"Do let that girl Feng have the seat of honour," old lady Chia shortly told Mrs. Yu and her contemporaries, "and mind be careful in doing the honours for me, for she is subjected to endless trouble from one year's end to another!"
"Very well," said Mrs. Yu. "I fancy," she went on to smile, "that little used as she is to filling the place of honour, she's bound, if she takes the high seat, to be so much at a loss how to behave, as to be loth even to have any wine!"
Dowager lady Chia was much amused by her reply. "Well, if you can't succeed," she said, "wait and I'll come and offer it to her."
Lady Feng with hasty step walked into the inner room. "Venerable ancestor!" she smiled, "don't believe all they tell you! I've already had several cups!"
"Quick, pull her out," old lady Chia laughingly cried to Mrs. Yu, "and shove her into a chair, and let all of you drink by turns to her health! If she then doesn't drink, I'll come myself in real earnest and make her have some!"
At these words, Mrs. Yu speedily dragged her out, laughing the while, and forced her into a seat, and, directing a servant to fetch a cup, she filled it with wine. "You've got from one year's end to another," she smiled, "the trouble and annoyance of conferring dutiful attentions upon our venerable senior, upon Madame Wang and upon myself, so, as I've nothing to-day, with which to prove my affection for you, have a sip, from my hand, my own dear, of this cup of wine I poured for you myself!"
"If you deliberately wish to present me a glass," lady Feng laughed, "fall on your knees and I'll drink at once!"
"What's this you say?" Mrs. Yu replied with a laugh. "And who are you, I wonder? But let me tell you this once for all and finish that though we've succeeded, after ever so many difficulties, in getting up this entertainment to-day, there's no saying whether we shall in the future be able to have anything more the like of this or not. Let's avail ourselves then of the present to put our capacity to the strain and drink a couple of cups!"
Lady Feng saw very well that she could not advance any excuses, and necessity obliged her to swallow the contents of two cups. In quick succession, however, the various young ladies also drew near her, and lady Feng was constrained again to take a sip from the cup each held. But nurse Lai Ta too felt compelled, at the sight of dowager lady Chia still in buoyant spirits, to come forward and join in the merriment, so putting herself at the head of a number of nurses, she approached and proffered wine to lady Feng who found it once more so difficult to refuse that she had to swallow a few mouthfuls. But Yan Yang and her companions next appeared, likewise, on the scene to hand her their share of wine; but lady Feng felt, in fact, so little able to comply with their wishes, that she promptly appealed to them entreatingly. "Dear sisters," she pleaded, "do spare me! I'll drink some more to-morrow!"
"Quite so! we're a mean lot," Yan Yang laughed. "But now that we stand in the presence of your ladyship, do condescend to look upon us favourably! We've always enjoyed some little consideration, and do you put on the airs of a mistress on an occasion like the present, when there's such a crowd of people standing by? Really, I shouldn't have come. But, as you won't touch our wine, we might as well be quick and retire!"
While she spoke, she was actually walking away, when lady Feng hastened to lay hold of her and to detain her. "Dear sister," she cried, "I'll drink some and have done!"
So saying, she took the wine and filled a cup to the very brim, and drained it. Yan Yang then at length gave her a smile, (and she and her friends) dispersed.
Subsequently, the company resumed their places at the banquet. But lady Feng was conscious that the wine she had primed herself with was mounting to her head, so abruptly staggering to the upper end, she meant to betake herself home to lie down, when seeing the jugglers arrive, "Get the tips ready!" she shouted to Mrs. Yu. "I'm off to wash my face a bit."
Mrs. Yu nodded her head assentingly; and lady Feng, noticing that the inmates were off their guard, left the banquet, and wended her steps beneath the eaves towards the back entrance of the house. P'ing Erh had, however, been keeping her eye on her, so hastily she followed in her footsteps. Lady Feng at once propped herself on her arm. But no sooner did they reach the covered passage than she discerned a young maid, attached to her quarters, standing under it. (The girl), the moment she perceived them, twisted herself round and beat a retreat. Lady Feng forthwith began to give way to suspicion; and she immediately shouted out to her to halt. The maid pretended at first not to hear, but, as, while following her they called out to her time after time, she found herself compelled to turn round. Lady Feng was seized with greater doubts than ever. Quickly therefore entering the covered passage with P'ing Erh, she bade the maid go along with them. Then opening a folding screen, lady Feng stated herself on the steps leading to the small courtyard, and made the girl fall on her knees. "Call two boy-servants from among those on duty at the second gate," she cried out to P'ing Erh, "to bring a whip of twisted cords, and to take this young wench, who has no regard for her mistress, and beat her to shreds."
The servant-maid fell into a state of consternation, and was scared out of her very wits. Sobbing the while, she kept on bumping her head on the ground and soliciting for grace.
"I'm really no ghost! So you must have seen me! Don't you know what good manners mean and stand still?" lady Feng asked. "Why did you instead persist in running on?"
"I truly did not see your ladyship coming," the maid replied with tears in her eyes. "I was, besides, much concerned as there was no one in the rooms; that's why I was running on."
"If there's no one in the rooms, who told you to come out again?" lady Feng inquired. "And didn't you see me, together with P'ing Erh, at your heels, stretching out our necks and calling out to you about ten times? But the more we shouted, the faster you ran! You weren't far off from us either, so is it likely that you got deaf? And are you still bent upon bandying words with me?"
So speaking, she raised her hand and administered her a slap on the face. But, while the girl staggered from the blow, she gave her a second slap on the other side of the face, so both cheeks of the maid quickly began to get purple and to swell.
P'ing Erh hastened to reason with her mistress. "My lady!" she said, "be careful you'll be hurting your hand!"
"Go on, pommel her," urged lady Feng, "and ask her what made her run! and, if she doesn't tell you, just you take her mouth and tear it to pieces for her!"
At the outset, the girl obstinately prevaricated, but when she eventually heard that lady Feng intended to take a red-hot branding-iron and burn her mouth with, she at last sobbingly spoke out. "Our Master Secundus, Mr. Lien, is at home," she remarked, "and he sent me here to watch your movements, my lady; bidding me go ahead, when I saw you leave the banquet, and convey the message to him. But, contrary to his hopes, your ladyship came back just now!"
Lady Feng saw very well that there lurked something behind all she said. "What did he ask you to watch me for?" she therefore eagerly asked. "Can it be, pray, that he dreaded to see me return home? There must be some other reason; so be quick and tell it to me and I shall henceforward treat you with regard. If you don't minutely confess all to me, I shall this very moment take a knife and pare off your flesh!"
Threatening her the while, she turned her head round, and, extracting a hairpin from her coiffure, she stuck it promiscuously about the maid's mouth. This so frightened the girl that, as she made every effort to get out of her way, she burst out into tears and entreaties. "I'll tell your ladyship everything," she cried, "but you mustn't say that it was I who told you."
Ping Erh, who stood by, exhorted her to obey; but she at the same time impressed on her mind to speak out without delay.
"Mr. Secundus himself arrived only a few minutes back," the maid began. "The moment, however, he came, he opened a bog, and, taking two pieces of silver, two hairpins, and a couple of rolls of silk, he bade me stealthily take them to Pao Erh's wife and tell her to come in. As soon as she put the things away, she hurried to our house, and Master Secundus ordered me to keep an eye on your ladyship; but of what happened after that, I've no idea whatever."
When these disclosures fell on lady Feng's ears, she flew into such a rage that her whole person felt quite weak; and, rising immediately, she straightway repaired home. The instant she reached the gate of the courtyard, she espied a waiting-maid peep out of the entrance. Seeing lady Feng, she too drew in her head, and tried at once to effect her escape. But lady Feng called her by name, and made her stand still. This girl had ever been very sharp, so when she realised that she could not manage to beat a retreat, she went so far as to run out to her. "I was just going to tell your ladyship," she smiled, "and here you come! What a strange coincidence!"
"Tell me what?" lady Feng exclaimed.
"That Mr. Secundus is at home," the girl replied, "and has done so and so." She then recounted to her all the incidents recorded a few minutes back.
"Ts'ui!" ejaculated lady Feng. "What were you up to before? Now, that I've seen you, you come and try to clear yourself!"
As she spoke, she raised her arm and administered the maid a slap, which upset her equilibrium. So with hurried step, she betook herself away. Lady Feng then drew near the window. Lending an ear to what was going on inside, she heard some one in the room laughingly observe: "When that queen-of-hell sort of wife of yours dies, it will be a good riddance!"
"When she's gone," Chia Lien rejoined, "and I marry another, the like of her, what will I again do?"
"When she's dead and gone," the woman resumed, "just raise P'ing Erh to the rank of primary wife. I think she'll turn out considerably better than she has."
"At present," Chia Lien put in, "she won't even let me enjoy P'ing Erh's society! P'ing Erh herself is full of displeasure; yet she dares not speak. How is it that it has been my fate to bring upon myself the influence of this evil star?"
Lady Feng overheard these criticisms and flew into a fit of anger, which made her tremble violently. When she, however, also caught the praise heaped by both of them upon P'ing Erh, she harboured the suspicion that P'ing Erh too must, as a matter of course, have all along employed the sly resentful language against her. And, as the wine bubbled up more and more into her head, she did not so much as give the matter a second thought, but, twisting round, she first and foremost gave P'ing Erh a couple of whacks, and, with one kick, she banged the door open, and walked in. Then, without allowing her any time to give any explanation in her own defence, she clutched Pao Erh's wife, and, tearing her about, she belaboured her with blows. But the dread lest Chia Lien should slip out of the room, induced her to post herself in such a way as to obstruct the doorway. "What a fine wench!" she shouted out abusingly. "You make a paramour of your mistress' husband, and then you wish to compass your master's wife's death, for P'ing Erh to transfer her quarters in here! You base hirelings! You're all of the same stamp, thoroughly jealous of me; you try to cajole me by your outward display!"
While abusing them, she once more laid hold of P'ing Erh and beat her several times. P'ing Erh was pummelled away till her heart thrilled with a sense of injury, but she had nowhere to go, and breathe her woes. Such resentment overpowered her feelings that she sobbed without a sign of a tear. "You people," she railingly shouted, "go and do a lot of shameful things, and then you also deliberately involve me; but why?"
So shouting, she too clutched Pao Erh's wife and began to assail her. Chia Lien had freely primed himself with wine, so, on his return home, he was in such exuberance of spirits that he observed no secresy in his doings. The moment, however, he perceived lady Feng appear on the scene, he got to his wits' end. Yet when he saw P'ing Erh also start a rumpus, the liquor he had had aroused his ire. The sight of the assault committed by lady Feng on Pao Erh's wife had already incensed him and put him to shame, but he had not been able with any consistency to interfere; but the instant he espied P'ing Erh herself lay hands on her, he vehemently jumped forward and gave her a kick. "What a vixen!" he cried. "Are you likewise going to start knocking people about?"
P'ing Erh was of a timid disposition. At once, therefore, she withheld her hands, and melted into tears. "Why do you implicate me," she said, "in things you say behind my back?"
When lady Feng descried in what fear and dread P'ing Erh was of Chia Lien, she lost more than ever control over her temper, and, starting again in pursuit of her, she struck P'ing Erh, while urging her to go for Pao Erh's wife.
P'ing Erh was driven to exasperation; and forthwith rushing out of the apartment, she went in search of a knife to commit suicide with. But the company of old matrons, who stood outside, hastened to place impediments in her way, and to argue with her.
Lady Feng, meanwhile, realised that P'ing Erh had gone to take her life, and rolling, head foremost, into Chia Lien's embrace, "You put your heads together to do me harm," she said, "and, when I overhear your designs, you people conspire to frighten me! But strangle me and have done."
Chia Lien was driven to despair; to such a degree that unsheathing a sword suspended on the wall, "There's no need for any one of you to commit suicide!" he screamed. "I too am thoroughly exasperated, so I'll kill the whole lot of you and pay the penalty with my own life! We'll all then be free from further trouble!"
The bustle had just reached a climax beyond the chance of a settlement, when they perceived Mrs. Yu and a crowd of inmates make their appearance in the room. "What's the matter?" they asked. "There was nothing up just now, so why is all this row for?"
At the sight of the new arrivals, Chia Lien more than ever made the three parts of intoxication, under which he laboured, an excuse to assume an air calculated to intimidate them, and to pretend, in order to further his own ends, that he was bent upon despatching lady Feng.
But lady Feng, upon seeing her relatives appear, got into a mood less perverse than the one she had been in previous to their arrival; and, leaving the whole company of them, she scampered, all in tears, over to the off side, into dowager lady Chia's quarters.
By this time, the play was over. Lady Feng rushed consequently into the old lady's presence and fell into her lap. "Venerable ancestor! help me!" she exclaimed. "Mr. Chia Lien wishes to kill me."
"What's up?" precipitately inquired dowager lady Chia, Mesdames Hsing and Wang and the rest.
"I was just going to my rooms to change my dress," lady Feng wept, "when I unexpectedly found Mr. Chia Lien at home, talking with some one. Fancying that visitors had come, I was quite taken aback, and not presuming to enter, I remained outside the window and listened. It turned out, in fact, to be Pao Erh's wife holding council with him. She said that I was dreadful, and that she meant to poison me so as to get me out of the way and enable P'ing Erh to be promoted to be first wife. At this, I lost my temper. But not venturing, none the less, to have a row with him, I simply gave P'ing Erh two slaps; and then I asked him why he wished to do me harm. But so stricken did he get with shame that he tried there and then to despatch me."
Dowager lady Chia treated every word that fell on her ear as truth. "Dreadful!" she ejaculated. "Bring here at once that low-bred offspring!"
Barely was, however, this exclamation out of her lips, than they perceived Chia Lien, a sword in hand, enter in pursuit of his wife, followed closely by a bevy of inmates. Chia Lien evidently placed such thorough reliance upon the love, which old lady Chia had all along lavished upon them, that he entertained little regard even for his mother or his aunt, so he came, with perfect effrontery, to stir up a disturbance in their presence. When Mesdames Hsing and Wang saw him, they got into a passion, and, with all despatch, they endeavoured to deter him from his purpose. "You mean thing!" they shouted, abusing him. "Your crime is more heinous, for our venerable senior is in here!"
"It's all because our worthy ancestor spoils her," cried Chia Lien, with eyes awry, "that she behaved as she did and took upon herself to rate even me!"
Madame Hsing was full of resentment. Snatching the sword from his grasp, she kept on telling him to quit the room at once. But Chia Lien continued to prattle foolish nonsense in a drivelling and maudlin way. His manner exasperated dowager lady Chia. "I'm well aware," she observed, "that you haven't the least consideration for any one of us. Tell some one to go and call his father here and we'll see whether he doesn't clear out."
When Chia Lien caught these words, he eventually tottered out of the apartment. But in such a state of frenzy was he that he did not return to his quarters, but betook himself into the outer study.
During this while, Mesdames Hsing and Wang also called lady Feng to task.
"Why, what serious matter could it ever have been?" old lady Chia remarked. "But children of tender years are like greedy kittens, and how can one say for certain that they won't do such things? Human beings have, from their very infancy, to go through experiences of this kind! It's all my fault, however, for pressing you to have a little more wine than was good for you. But you've also gone and drunk the vinegar of jealousy!"
This insinuation made every one laugh.
"Compose your mind!" proceeded dowager lady Chia. "To-morrow I'll send for him to apologise to you; but, you'd better to-day not go over, as you might put him to shame!" Continuing, she also went on to abuse P'ing Erh. "I've always thought highly of that wench," she said, "and how is it that she's turned out to be secretly so bad?"
"P'ing Erh isn't to blame!" Mrs. Yu and the others smiled. "It's lady Feng who makes people her tools to give vent to her spite! Husband and wife could not very well come to blows face to face, so they combined in using P'ing Erh as their scapegoat! What injuries haven't fallen to P'ing Erh's lot! And do you, venerable senior, still go on blowing her up?"
"Is it really so!" exclaimed old lady Chia. "I always said that that girl wasn't anything like that artful shrew! Well, in that case, she is to be pitied, for she has had to bear the brunt of her anger, and all through no fault of hers!" Calling Hu Po to her, "Go," she added, "and tell P'ing Erh all I enjoin you; 'that I know that she has been insulted and that to-morrow I'll send for her mistress to make amends, but that being her mistress' birthday to-day, I won't have her give rise to any reckless fuss'!"
P'ing Erh had, we may explain, from an early hour, been dragged by Li Wan into the garden of Broad Vista. Here P'ing Erh gave way to bitter tears. So much so, that her throat choked with sobs, and could not give utterance to speech.
"You are an intelligent person," exhorted her Pao-ch'ai, "and how considerately has your lady treated you all along! It was simply because she has had a little too much wine that she behaved as she did to-day! But had she not made you the means of giving vent to her spite, is it likely that she could very well have aired her grievances upon any one else? Besides, any one else would have laughed at her for acting in a sham way!"
While she reasoned with her, she saw Hu Po approach, and deliver dowager lady Chia's message. P'ing Erh then felt in herself that she had come out of the whole affair with some credit, and she, little by little, resumed her equilibrium. She did not, nevertheless, put her foot anywhere near the front part of the compound.
After a little rest, Pao Ch'ai and her companions came and paid a visit to old lady Chia and lady Feng, while Pao-y pressed P'ing Erh to come to the I Hung court. Hsi Jen received her with alacrity. "I meant," she said, "to be the first to ask you, but as our senior lady, Chia Chu, and the young ladies invited you, I couldn't very well do so myself."
P'ing Erh returned her smile. "Many thanks!" she rejoined. "How words ever commenced between us;" she then went on, "when there was no provocation, I can't tell! But without rhyme or reason, I came in for a spell of resentment."
"Our lady Secunda has always been very good to you," laughingly remarked Hsi Jen, "so she must have done this in a sudden fit of exasperation!"
"Our lady Secunda did not, after all, say anything to me," P'ing Erh explained. "It was that wench that blew me up. And she deliberately made a laughing-stock of me. But that fool also of a master of ours struck me!"
While recounting her experiences, she felt a keener sense of injustice than before, and she found it hard to restrain her tears from trickling down her cheeks.
"My dear sister," Pao-y hastily advised her, "don't wound your heart! I'm quite ready to express my apologies on behalf of that pair!"
"What business is that of yours?" P'ing Erh smiled.
"We cousins, whether male or female, are all alike." Pao-y smilingly argued. "So when they hurt any one's feelings, I apologise for them; it's only right that I should do so. What a pity;" he continued, "these new clothes too have been stained! But you'll find your sister Hua's costumes in here, and why don't you put one on, and take some hot wine and spurt it over yours and iron them out? You might also remake your coiffure."
Speaking, he directed the young maids to draw some water for washing the face and to heat an iron and bring it.
P'ing Erh had ever heard people maintain that all that Pao-y excelled in was in knitting friendships with girls. But Pao-y had so far been loth, seeing that P'ing Erh was Chia Lien's beloved secondary wife, and lady Feng's confidante, to indulge in any familiarities with her. And being precluded from accomplishing the desire upon which his heart was set, he time and again gave way to vexation. When P'ing Erh, however, remarked his conduct towards her on this occasion, she secretly resolved within herself that what was said of him was indeed no idle rumour. But as he had anticipated every one of her wants, and she saw moreover that Hsi Jen had, for her special benefit, opened a box and produced two articles of clothing, not much worn by her, she speedily drew near and washed her face.
Pao-y stood by her side. "You must, dear girl, also apply a little cosmetic and powder," she smiled; "otherwise you'll look as if you were angry with lady Feng. It's her birthday, besides; and our old ancestor has sent some one again to come and cheer you up."
Hearing how reasonable his suggestions were, P'ing Erh readily went in search of powder; but she failed to notice any about, so Pao-y hurriedly drew up to the toilet-table, and, removing the lid of a porcelain box made at the "Hsan" kiln, which contained a set of ten small ladles, tuberose-like in shape, (for helping one's self to powder with), he drew out one of them and handed it to P'ing Erh. "This isn't lead powder," he smiled. "This is made of the seeds of red jasmine, well triturated, and compounded with suitable first class ingredients."
P'ing Erh emptied some on the palm of her hand. On examination, she really found that it was light, clear, red and scented; perfect in all four properties; that it was easy to apply evenly to the face, that it kept moist, and that it differed from other kinds of powder, ordinarily so rough. She subsequently noticed that the cosmetic too was not spread on a sheet, but that it was contained in a tiny box of white jade, the contents of which bore the semblance of rose-paste.
"The cosmetic one buys in the market isn't clean;" Pao-y remarked smilingly. "Its colour is faint as well. But this is cosmetic of superior quality. The juice was squeezed out, strained clear, mixed with perfume of flowers and decocted. All you need do is to take some with that hair-pin and rub it on your lips, that will be enough; and if you dissolve some in a little water, and rub it on the palm of your hand, it will be ample for you to cover your whole face with."
P'ing Erh followed his directions and performed her toilette. She looked exceptionally fresh and beautiful. A sweet fragrance pervaded her cheeks. Pao-y then cut, with a pair of bamboo scissors, a stalk, with two autumn orchids, which had blossomed in a flower pot, and he pinned it in her side-hair. But a maid was unexpectedly seen to enter the room, sent by Li Wan to come and call her, so she quitted his quarters with all possible despatch.
Pao-y had not so far been able to have his wishes to revel in P'ing Erh's society gratified. P'ing Erh was furthermore a girl of a high grade, most intelligent, most winsome, and unlike that sort of vulgar and dull-minded beings, so that he cherished intense disgust against his fate.
The present occasion had been the anniversary of Chin Ch'uan-erh's birth, and he had remained, in consequence, plunged in a disconsolate frame of mind throughout the whole day. But, contrary to his expectations, the incident eventually occurred, which afforded him, after all, an opportunity to dangle in P'ing Erh's society and to gratify to some small degree a particle of his wish. This had been a piece of good fortune he so little expected would fall to his share during the course of his present existence, that as he reclined on his bed, his heart swelled with happiness and contentment. Suddenly, he reflected that Chia Lien's sole thought was to make licentious pleasures the means of gratifying his passions, and that he had no idea how to show the least regard to the fair sex; and he mused that P'ing Erh was without father or mother, brothers or sisters, a solitary being destined to dance attendance upon a couple such as Chia Lien and his wife; that Chia Lien was vulgar, and lady Feng haughty, but that she was gifted nevertheless with the knack of splendidly managing things; and that (P'ing Erh) had again to-day come across bitter sorrow, and that her destiny was extremely unfortunate.
At this stage of his reverie, he began to feel wounded and distressed. When he rose once more to his feet, he noticed that the wine, which she had spurted on the clothes, she had a few minutes back divested herself of, had already half dried, and, taking up the iron, he smoothed them and folded them nicely for her. He then discovered that she had left her handkerchief behind, and that it still bore traces of tears, so throwing it into the basin, he rinsed it and hung it up to dry, with feelings bordering on joy as well as sadness. But after a short time spent in a brown study, he too betook himself to the Tao Hsiang village for a chat; and it was only when the lamps had been lit that he got up to take his leave.
P'ing Erh put up in Li Wan's quarters for the night. Lady Feng slept with dowager lady Chia, while Chia Lien returned at a late hour to his home. He found it however very lonely. Yet unable to go and call his wife over, he had no alternative but to sleep as best he could for that night. On the morrow, he remembered, as soon as he opened his eyes, the occurrence of the previous day, and he fell a prey to such extreme unhappiness that he could not be conscience-stricken enough.
Madame Hsing pondered with solicitude on Chia Lien's drunken fit the day before. The moment therefore it was light, she hastily crossed over, and sent for Chia Lien to repair to dowager lady Chia's apartments. Chia Lien was thus compelled to suppress all timidity and to repair to the front part of the mansion and fall on his knees at the feet of his old senior.
"What was the matter?" inquired old lady Chia.
"I really had too much wine yesterday," Chia Lien promptly answered with a forced smile. "I must have given you a fright, worthy ancestor, so I come to-day to receive condign punishment."
"You mean fellow!" shouted dowager lady Chia, spitting at him disdainfully. "You go and glut yourself with spirits, and, not to speak of your not going to stretch yourself like a corpse and sleep it off, you contrariwise start beating your wife! But that vixen Feng brags away the whole day long, as if she were a human being as valiant as any tyrant, and yet yesterday she got into such a funk that she presented a woeful sight! Had it not been for me, you would have done her bodily harm; and what would you feel like now?"
Chia Lien was at heart full of a sense of injury, but he could not master sufficient courage to say anything in his own defence. The only course open to him was therefore to make a confession of fault.
"Don't lady Feng and P'ing Erh possess the charms of handsome women?" dowager lady Chia resumed. "And aren't you yet satisfied with them that you must, of a day, go slyly prowling and gallavanting about, dragging indiscriminately into your rooms frowsy and filthy people? Is it for the sake of this sort of wenches that you beat your wife and belabour the inmates of your quarters? You've nevertheless had the good fortune of starting in life as the scion of a great family; and do you, with eyes wide open, bring disgrace upon your own head? If you have any regard for me, well, then get up and I'll spare you! And if you make your apologies in a proper manner to your wife and take her home, I'll be satisfied. But if you don't, just you clear out of this, for I won't even presume to have any of your genuflexions!"
Chia Lien took to heart the injunctions that fell on his ear. Espying besides lady Feng standing opposite to him in undress, her eyes swollen from crying, and her face quite sallow, without cosmetic or powder, he thought her more lovable and charming than ever. "Wouldn't it be well," he therefore mused, "that I should make amends, so that she and I may be on friendly terms again and that I should win the good pleasure of my old ancestor?"
At the conclusion of his reflections, he forthwith put on a smile. "After your advice, venerable senior," he said, "I couldn't be so bold as not to accede to your wishes! But this is shewing her more indulgence than ever!"
"What nonsense!" exclaimed dowager lady Chia laughingly. "I am well aware that with her extreme decorum she couldn't hurt any one's susceptibilities. But should she, in the future, wrong you in any way, I shall, of course, take the law into my own hands and bid you make her submit to your authority and finish."
Chia Lien, at this assurance, crawled up and made a bow to lady Feng. "It was really my fault, so don't be angry, lady Secunda," he said.
Every one in the room laughed.
"Now, my girl Feng," lady Chia laughingly observed, "you are not to lose your temper; for if you do, I'll lose mine too!"
Continuing, she directed a servant to go and call P'ing Erh; and, on her arrival, she advised lady Feng and Chia Lien to do all they could to reconcile her. At the sight of P'ing Erh, Chia Lien showed less regard than ever for the saying that 'a primary wife differs from a secondary wife,' and the instant he heard old lady Chia's exhortation he drew near her. "The injuries," he remarked, "to which you were subjected yesterday, Miss, were entirely due to my shortcoming. If your lady hurt your feelings, it was likewise all through me that the thing began. So I express my regret; but, besides this, I tender my apologies as well on behalf of your mistress."
Saying this, he made another bow. This evoked a smile from dowager lady Chia. Lady Feng, however, also laughed. Their old ancestor then desired lady Feng to come and console P'ing Erh, but P'ing Erh hastily advanced and knocked her head before lady Feng. "I do deserve death," she urged, "for provoking your ladyship to wrath on the day of your birthday!"
Lady Feng was at the moment pricked by shame and remorse for having so freely indulged in wine the previous day as to completely have lost sight of longstanding friendships, and for allowing her temper to so thoroughly flare up as to lend a patient ear to the gossip of outsiders, and unjustly put P'ing Erh out of countenance, so when she contrariwise now saw her make advances, she felt both abashed and grieved, and, promptly extending her arms, she dragged her up and gave way to tears.
"I've waited upon your ladyship for all these years," P'ing Erh pleaded, "and you've never so much as given me a single fillip; and yet, you beat me yesterday. But I don't bear you any grudge, my lady, for it was that wench, who was at the bottom of it all. Nor do I wonder that your ladyship lost control over your temper."
As she spoke, tears trickled down her cheeks too.
"Escort those three home!" dowager lady Chia shouted to the servants. "If any one of them makes the least allusion to the subject, come at once and tell me of it; for without any regard as to who it may be, I shall take my staff and give him or her a sound flogging."
The trio then prostrated themselves before dowager lady Chia and the two ladies, Mesdames Hsing and Wang. And assenting to her old mistress' injunctions, an old nurse accompanied the three inmates to their quarters.
When they got home, lady Feng assured herself that there was no one about. "How is it," she next asked, "that I'm like a queen of hell, or like a 'Yakcha' demon? That courtesan swore at me and wished me dead; and did you too help her to curse me? If I'm not nice a thousand days, why, I must be nice on some one day! But if, poor me, I'm so bad as not even to compare with a disorderly woman, how can I have the face to come and spend my life with you here?"
So speaking, she melted into tears.
"Aren't you yet gratified?" cried Chia Lien. "Just reflect carefully who was most to blame yesterday! And yet, in the presence of so many people, it was I who, after all, fell to-day on my knees and made apologies as well. You came in for plenty of credit, and do you now go on jabber, jabber? Can it be that you'd like to make me kneel at your feet before you let matters rest? If you try and play the bully beyond bounds, it won't be a good thing for you!"
To these arguments, lady Feng could find no suitable response.
P'ing Erh then blurted out laughing.
"She's all right again!" Chia Lien smiled. "But I'm really quite at a loss what to do with this one."
These words were still on his lips, when they saw a married woman walk in. "Pao Erh's wife has committed suicide by hanging herself," she said.
This announcement plunged both Chia Lien and lady Feng into great consternation. Lady Feng, however, lost no time in putting away every sign of excitement. "Dead, eh? What a riddance!" she shouted instead. "What's the use of making such a fuss about a mere trifle?"
But not long elapsed before she perceived Lin Chih-hsiao's wife make her appearance in the room. "Pao Erh's wife has hung herself," she whispered to lady Feng in a low tone of voice, "and her mother's relatives want to take legal proceedings."
Lady Feng gave a sardonic smile. "That's all right!" she observed. "I myself was just thinking about lodging a complaint!"
"I and the others tried to dissuade them," Lin Chih-hsiao's wife continued. "And by having recourse to intimidation as well as to promises of money, they, at last, agreed to our terms."
"I haven't got a cash," lady Feng replied. "Had I even any money, I wouldn't let them have it; so just let them go and lodge any charge they fancy. You needn't either dissuade them or intimidate them. Let them go and complain as much as they like. But if they fail to establish a case against me, they'll, after all, be punished for trying to make the corpse the means of extorting money out of me!"
Lin Chih-hsiao's wife was in a dilemma, when she espied Chia Lien wink at her. Comprehending his purpose, she readily quitted the apartment and waited for him outside.
"I'll go out and see what they're up to!" Chia Lien remarked.
"Mind, I won't have you give them any money!" shouted lady Feng.
Chia Lien straightway made his exit. He came and held consultation with Lin Chih-hsiao, and then directed the servants to go and use some fair means, others harsh. The matter was, however, not brought to any satisfactory arrangement until he engaged to pay two hundred taels for burial expenses. But so apprehensive was Chia Lien lest something might occur to make the relatives change their ideas, that he also despatched a messenger to lay the affair before Wang Tzu-t'eng, who bade a few constables, coroners and other official servants come and help him to effect the necessary preparations for the funeral. The parties concerned did not venture, when they saw the precautions he had adopted, to raise any objections, disposed though they may have been to try and bring forward other arguments. Their sole alternative therefore was to suppress their resentment, to refrain from further importunities and let the matter drop into oblivion.
Chia Lien then impressed upon Lin Chih-hsiao to insert the two hundred taels in the accounts for the current year, by making such additions to various items here and there as would suffice to clear them off, and presented Pao Erh with money out of his own pocket as a crumb of comfort, adding, "By and bye, I'll choose a nice wife for you." When Pao Erh, therefore, came in for a share of credit as well as of hard cash, he could not possibly do otherwise than practise contentment; and forthwith, needless to dilate on this topic, he began to pay court to Chia Lien as much as ever.
In the inner rooms, lady Feng was, it is true, much cut up at heart; but she strained every nerve to preserve an exterior of total indifference. Noticing that there was no one present in the apartment, she drew P'ing Erh to her. "I drank yesterday," she smiled, "a little more wine than was good for me, so don't bear me a grudge. Where did I strike you, let me see?"
"You didn't really strike me hard!" P'ing Erh said by way of reply.
But at this stage they heard some one remark that the ladies and young ladies had come in.
If you desire, reader, to know any of the subsequent circumstances, peruse the account given in the following chapter.
Friends interchange words of friendship. Tai-y feels dull on a windy and rainy evening, and indites verses on wind and rain.
Lady Feng, we will now go on to explain, was engaged in comforting P'ing Erh, when upon unawares perceiving the young ladies enter the room, she hastened to make them sit down while P'ing Erh poured the tea.
"So many of you come to-day," lady Feng smiled, "that it looks as if you'd been asked to come by invitation."
T'an Ch'un was the first to speak. "We have," she smilingly rejoined, "two objects in view, the one concerns me; the other cousin Quarta; but among these are, besides, certain things said by our venerable senior."
"What's up?" inquired lady Feng with a laugh. "Is it so urgent?"
"Some time ago," T'an Ch'un proceeded laughingly, "we started a rhyming club; but the first meeting was not quite a success. Every one of us proved so soft-hearted! The rules therefore were set at naught. So I can't help thinking that we must enlist your services as president of the society and superintendent; for what is needed to make the thing turn out well is firmness and no favour. The next matter is: cousin Quarta explained to our worthy ancestor that the requisites for painting the picture of the garden were short of one thing and another, and she said: 'that there must still be,' she fancied, 'in the lower story of the back loft some articles, remaining over from previous years, and that we should go and look for them. That if there be any, they should be taken out, but that in the event of their being none, some one should be commissioned to go and purchase a supply of them.'"
"I'm not up to doing anything wet or dry, (play on word 'shih,' verses)," lady Feng laughed, "and would you have me, pray, come and gorge?"
"You may, it's possible, not be up to any of these things," T'an Ch'un replied, "but we don't expect you to do anything! All we want you for is to see whether there be among us any remiss or lazy, and to decide how they should be punished, that's all."
"You shouldn't try and play your tricks upon me!" lady Feng smiled, "I can see through your little game! Is it that you wish me to act as president and superintendent? No! it's as clear as day that your object is that I should play the part of that copper merchant, who put in contributions in hard cash. You have, at every meeting you hold, to each take turn and pay the piper; but, as your funds are not sufficient, you've invented this plan to come and inveigle me into your club, in order to wheedle money out of me! This must be your little conspiracy!"
These words evoked general laughter. "You've guessed right!" they exclaimed.
"In very truth," Li Wan smiled, "you're a creature with an intellect as transparent as crystal, and with wits as clear as glass!"
"You've got the good fortune of being their elder sister-in-law," lady Feng smilingly remarked, "so the young ladies asked you to take them in hand, and teach them how to read, and make them learn good manners and needlework; and it's for you to guide and direct them in everything! But here they start a rhyming society, for which not much can be needed, and don't you concern yourself about them? We'll leave our worthy ancestor and our Madame Wang aside; they are old people, but you receive each moon an allowance of ten taels, which is twice as much as what any one of us gets. More, our worthy ancestor and Madame Wang maintain that being a widow, and having lost your home, you haven't, poor thing, enough to live upon, and that you have a young child as well to bring up; so they added with extreme liberality another ten taels to your original share. Your allowance therefore is on a par with that of our dear senior. But they likewise gave you a piece of land in the garden, and you also come in for the lion's share of rents, collected from various quarters, and of the annual allowances, apportioned at the close of each year. Yet, you and your son don't muster, masters and servants, ten persons in all. What you eat and what your wear comes, just as ever, out of the general public fund, so that, computing everything together, you get as much as four to five hundred taels. Were you then to contribute each year a hundred or two hundred taels, to help them to have some fun, how many years could this outlay continue? They'll very soon be getting married, and, are they likely then to still expect you to make any contributions? So loth are you, however, at present to fork out any cash that you've egged them on to come and worry me! I'm quite prepared to spend away until we've drained our chest dry! Don't I know that the money isn't mine?"
"Just you listen to her," Li Wan laughed. "I simply made one single remark, and out she came with two cartloads of nonsensical trash! You're as rough a diamond as a leg made of clay! All you're good for is to work the small abacus, to divide a catty and to fraction an ounce, so finicking are you! A nice thing you are, and yet, you've been lucky enough to come to life as the child of a family of learned and high officials. You've also made such a splendid match; and do you still behave in the way you do? Had you been a son or daughter born in some poverty-stricken, humble and low household, there's no saying what a mean thing you wouldn't have been! Every one in this world has been gulled by you; and yesterday you went so far as to strike P'ing Erh! But it wasn't the proper thing for you to stretch out your hand on her! Was all that liquor, forsooth, poured down a cur's stomach? My monkey was up, and I meant to have taken upon myself to avenge P'ing Erh's grievance; but, after mature consideration, I thought to myself, 'her birthday is as slow to come round as a dog's tail grows to a point.' I also feared lest our venerable senior might be made to feel unhappy; so I did not come forward. Anyhow, my resentment isn't yet spent; and do you come to-day to try and irritate me? You aren't fit to even pick up shoes for P'ing Erh! You two should therefore change your respective places!"
These taunts created merriment among the whole party.
"Oh!" hastily exclaimed lady Feng, laughingly, "I know everything! You don't at all come to look me up on account of verses or paintings, but simply to take revenge on P'ing Erh's behalf! I never had any idea that P'ing Erh had such a backer as yourself to bolster her up! Had I known it, I wouldn't have ventured to strike her, even though a spirit had been tugging my arm! Miss P'ing come over and let me tender my apologies to you, in the presence of your senior lady and the young ladies. Do bear with me for having proved so utterly wanting in virtue, after I had had a few drinks!"
Every one felt amused by her insinuations.
"What do you say?" Li Wan asked P'ing Erh smiling. "As for me, I think it my bounden duty to vindicate your wrongs, before we let the matter drop!"
"Your remarks, ladies, may be spoken in jest," P'ing Erh smiled, "but I am not worthy of such a fuss!"
"What about worthy and unworthy?" Li Wan observed. "I'm here for you! Quick, get the key, and let your mistress go and open the doors and hunt up the things!"
"Dear sister-in-law," lady Feng said with a smile, "you'd better go along with them into the garden. I'm about to take the rice accounts in hand and square them up with them. Our senior lady, Madame Hsing, has also sent some one to call me; what she wants to tell me again, I can't make out; but I must need go over for a turn. There are, besides, all those extra clothes for you people to wear at the end of the year, and I must get them ready and give them to be made!"
"These matters are none of my business!" Li Wan laughingly answered. "First settle my concerns so as to enable me to retire to rest, and escape the bother of having all these girls at me!"
"Dear sister-in-law," vehemently smiled lady Feng, "be good enough to give me a little time! You've ever been the one to love me best, and how is it that you have, on P'ing Erh's account, ceased to care for me? Time and again have you impressed on my mind that I should, despite my manifold duties, take good care of my health, and manage things in such a way as to find a little leisure for rest, and do you now contrariwise come to press the very life out of me? There's another thing besides. Should such clothes as will be required at the end of the year by any other persons be delayed, it won't matter; but, should those of the young ladies be behind time, let the responsibility rest upon your shoulders! And won't our old lady bear you a grudge, if you don't mind these small things? But as for me, I won't utter a single word against you, for, as I had rather bear the blame myself, I won't venture, to involve you!"
"Listen to her!" Li Wan smiled. "Hasn't she got the gift of the gab? But let me ask you. Will you, after all, assume the control of this rhyming society or not?"
"What's this nonsense you're talking?" lady Feng laughed. "Were I not to enter the society, and spend a little money, won't I be treated as a rebel in this garden of Broad Vista? And will I then still think of tarrying here to eat my head off? So soon as the day dawns to-morrow, I'll arrive at my post, dismount from my horse, and, after kneeling before the seals, my first act will be to give fifty taels for you to quietly cover the expenses of your meetings. Yet after a few days, I shall neither indite any verses, nor write any compositions, as I am simply a rustic boor, nothing more! But it will be just the same whether I assume the direction or not; for after you pocket my money, there's no fear of your not driving me out of the place!"
As these words dropped from her lips, one and all laughed again.
"I'll now open the loft," proceeded lady Feng. "Should there be any of the articles you want, you can tell the servants to bring them out for you to look at them! If any will serve your purpose, keep them and use them. If any be short, I'll bid a servant go and purchase them according to your list. I'll go at once and cut the satin for the painting. As for the plan, it isn't with Madame Wang; it's still over there, at Mr. Chia Chen's. I tell you all this so that you should avoid going over to Madame Wang's and getting into trouble! But I'll go and depute some one to fetch it. I'll direct also a servant to take the satin and give it to the gentlemen to size with alum; will this be all right?"
Li Wan nodded her head by way of assent and smiled. "This will be putting you to much trouble and inconvenience," she said. "But we must really act as you suggest. Well in that case, go home all of you, and, if after a time, she doesn't send the thing round, you can come again and bully her."
So saying, she there and then led off the young ladies, and was making her way out, when lady Feng exclaimed: "It's Pao-y and he alone, who has given rise to all this fuss."
Li Wan overheard her remark and hastily turned herself round. "We did, in fact, come over," she smiled, "on account of Pao-y, and we forgot, instead all about him! The first meeting was deferred through him; but we are too soft-hearted, so tell us what penalty to inflict on him!"
Lady Feng gave herself to reflection. "There's only one thing to do," she then remarked. "Just punish him by making him sweep the floor of each of your rooms. This will do!"
"Your verdict is faultless!" they laughed with one accord.
While they conversed they were on the point of starting on their way back, when they caught sight of a young maid walk in, supporting nurse Lai. Lady Feng and her companions immediately rose to their feet, their faces beaming with smiles. "Venerable mother!" they said, "do take a seat!" They then in a body presented their congratulations to her.
Nurse Lai seated herself on the edge of the stovecouch and returned their smiles. "I'm to be congratulated," she rejoined, "but you, mistresses, are to be congratulated as well; for had it had not been for the bountiful grace displaced by you, mistresses, whence would this joy of mine have come? Your ladyship sent Ts'ai Ko again yesterday to bring me presents, but my grandson kotowed at the door, with his face turned towards the upper quarters."
"When is he going to his post?" Li Wan inquired, with a smile.
Nurse Lai heaved a sigh. "How can I interfere with them?" she answered. "Why, I let them have their own way and start when they like! The other day, they were at my house, and they prostrated themselves before me; but I could find no complimentary remark to make to him, so, 'Sir!' I said, 'putting aside that you're an official, you've lived in a reckless and dissolute way, for now thirty years. You should, it's true, have been people's bond-servant, but from the moment you came out of your mother's womb, your master graciously accorded you your liberty. Thanks, above, to the boundless blessings showered upon you by your lord, and, below, to the favour of your father and mother, you're like a noble scion and a gentleman, able to read and to write; and you have been carried about by maids, old matrons, and nurses, just as if you had been a very phoenix! But now that you've grown up and reached this age, do you have the faintest notion of what the two words 'bond-servant' imply? All you think of is to enjoy your benefits. But what hardships your grandfather and father had to bear, in slaving away for two or three generations, before they succeeded, after ever so many ups and downs, in raising up a thing like you, you don't at all know! From your very infancy, you ever ailed from this, or sickened for that, so that the money that was expended on your behalf, would suffice to fuse into a lifelike silver image of you! At the age of twenty, you again received the bounty of your master in the shape of a promise to purchase official status for you. But just mark, how many inmates of the principal branch and main offspring have to endure privation, and suffer the pangs of hunger! So beware you, who are the offshoot of a bond-servant, lest you snap your happiness! After enjoying so many good things for a decade, by the help of what spirits, and the agency of what devils have you, I wonder, managed to so successfully entreat your master as to induce him to bring you to the fore again and select you for office? Magistrates may be minor officials, but their functions are none the less onerous. In whatever district they obtain a post, they become the father and mother of that particular locality. If you therefore don't mind your business, and look after your duties in such a way as to acquit yourself of your loyal obligations, to prove your gratitude to the state and to show obedience and reverence to your lord, heaven, I fear, will not even bear with you!'"
Li Wan and lady Feng laughed. "You're too full of misgivings!" they observed. "From what we can see of him, he's all right! Some years back, he paid us a visit or two; but it's many years now that he hasn't put his foot here. At the close of each year, and on birthdays, we've simply seen his name brought in, that's all. The other day, that he came to knock his head before our venerable senior and Madame Wang, we caught sight of him in her courtyard yonder; and, got up in the uniform of his new office, he looked so dignified, and stouter too than before. Now that he has got this post, you should be quite happy; instead of that you worry and fret about this and that! If he does get bad, why, he has his father and mother yet to take care of him, so all you need do is to be cheerful and content! When you've got time to spare, do get into a chair and come in and have a game of cards and a chat with our worthy senior; and who ever will have the face to hurt your feelings? Why, were you go to your home, you'd also have there houses and halls, and who is there who would not hold you in high respect? You're certainly, what one would call, a venerable old dame!"
P'ing Erh poured a cup of tea and brought it to her. Nurse Lai speedily stood up. "You could have asked any girl to do this for me; it wouldn't have mattered! But here I'm troubling you again!"
Apologising, she resumed, sipping her tea the while: "My lady you're not aware that young girls of this age must be in everything kept strictly in hand. In the event of any license, they're sure to find time to kick up trouble, and annoy their elders. Those, who know (how well they are supervised), will then say that children are always up to mischief. But those, who don't, will maintain that they take advantage of their wealthy position to despise people; to the detriment as well of their mistresses' reputation. How I regret that there's nothing that I can do with him. Time after time, have I had to send for his father; and he has been the better, after a scolding from him." Pointing at Pao-y, "I don't mind whether you feel angry with me for what I'm going to say," she proceeded, "but if your father were to attempt now to exercise ever so little control over you, your venerable grandmother is sure to try and screen you. Yet, when in days gone by your worthy father was young, he used to be beaten by your grandfather. Who hasn't seen him do it? But did your father, in his youth resemble you, who have neither fear for God or man? There was also our senior master, on the other side, Mr. Chia She. He was, I admit, wild; but never such a crossgrained fellow as yourself; and yet he too had his daily dose of the whip. There was besides the father of your elder cousin Chen, of the eastern mansion. He had a disposition that flared up like a fire over which oil is poured. If anything was said, and he flew into a rage, why, talk about a son, it was really as if he tortured a robber. From all I can now see and hear, Mr. Chen keeps his son in check just as much as was the custom in old days among his ancestors; the only thing is that he abides by it in some respects, but not in others. Besides, he doesn't exercise the least restraint over his own self, so is it to be wondered at if all his cousins and nieces don't respect him? If you've got any sense about you, you'll only be too glad that I speak to you in this wise; but if you haven't, you mayn't be very well able to say anything openly to me, but you'll inwardly abuse me, who knows to what extent!"
As she reproved him, they saw Lai Ta's wife arrive. In close succession came Chou Jui's wife along with Chang Ts'ai's wife to report various matters.
"A wife," laughed lady Feng, "has come to fetch her mother-in-law!"
"I haven't come to fetch our old dame," Lai Ta's wife smilingly rejoined, "but to inquire whether you, my lady and the young ladies, will confer upon us the honour of your company?"
When nurse Lai caught this remark, she smiled. "I've really grown quite idiotic!" "What," she exclaimed, "was right and proper for me to say, I didn't say, but I went on talking instead a lot of rot and rubbish! As our relatives and friends are presenting their congratulations to our grandson for having been selected to fill up that office of his, we find ourselves under the necessity of giving a banquet at home. But I was thinking that it wouldn't do, if we kept a feast going the whole day, and we invited this one, and not that one. Reflecting also that it was thanks to our master's vast bounty that we've come in for this unforeseen glory and splendour, I felt quite agreeable to do anything, even though it may entail the collapse of our household. I therefore advised his father to give banquets on three consecutive days. That he should, on the first, put up several tables, and a stage in our mean garden, and invite your venerable dowager lady, the senior ladies, junior ladies, and young ladies to come and have some distraction during the day, and that he should have several tables laid on the stage in the main pavilion outside, and request the senior and junior gentlemen to confer upon us the lustre of their presence. That for the second day, we should ask our relatives and friends; and that for the third, we should invite our companions from the two mansions. In this way, we'll have three days' excitement, and, by the boundless favour of our master, we'll have the benefit of enjoying the honour of your society."
"When is it to be?" Li Wan and lady Feng inquired, smilingly. "As far as we are concerned, we'll feel it our duty to come. And we hope that our worthy senior may feel in the humour to go. But there's no saying for certain!"
"The day chosen is the fourteenth," Lai Ta's wife eagerly replied. "Just come for the sake of our old mother-in-law!"
"I can't tell about the others," lady Feng explained with a laugh, "but as for me I shall positively come. I must however tell you beforehand that I've no congratulatory presents to give you. Nor do I know anything about tips to players or others. As soon as I shall have done eating, I shall bolt, so don't laugh at me."
"Fiddlesticks!" Lai Ta's wife laughed. "Were your ladyship disposed, you could well afford to give us twenty and thirty thousand taels."
"I'm off now to invite our venerable mistress," nurse Lai smilingly remarked. "And if her ladyship also agrees to come, I shall deem it a greater honour than ever conferred upon me."
Having said this, she went on to issue some injunctions; after which, she got up to go, when the sight of Chou Jui's wife reminded her of something.
"Of course!" she consequently observed. "I've got one more question to ask you, my lady. What did sister-in-law Chou's son do to incur blame, that he was packed off, and his services dispensed with?"
"I was just about to tell your daughter-in-law," lady Feng answered smilingly, after listening to her question, "but with so many things to preoccupy me, it slipped from my memory! When you get home, sister-in-law Lai, explain to that old husband of yours that we won't have his, (Chou Jui's), son kept in either of the mansions; and that he can tell him to go about his own business!"
Lai Ta's wife had no option but to express her acquiescence. Chou Jui's wife however speedily fell on her knees and gave way to urgent entreaties.
"What is it all about?" nurse Lai shouted. "Tell me and let me determine the right and wrong of the question."
"The other day," lady Feng observed, "that my birthday was celebrated, that young fellow of his got drunk, before the wine ever went round; and when the old dame, over there, sent presents, he didn't go outside to give a helping hand, but squatted down, instead, and upbraided people. Even the presents he wouldn't carry inside. And it was only after the two girls had come indoors that he eventually got the servant-lads and brought them in. Those lads were however careful enough in what they did, but as for him, he let the box, he held, slip from his hands, and bestrewed the whole courtyard with cakes. When every one had left, I deputed Ts'ai Ming to go and talk to him; but he then turned round and gave Ts'ai Ming a regular scolding. So what's the use of not bundling off a disorderly rascal like him, who neither shows any regard for discipline or heaven?"
"I was wondering what it could be!" nurse Lai ventured. "Was it really about this? My lady, listen to me! If he has done anything wrong, thrash him and scold him, until you make him mend his ways, and finish with it! But to drive him out of the place, will never, by any manner of means, do. He isn't, besides, to be treated like a child born in our household. He is at present employed as Madame Wang's attendant, so if you carry out your purpose of expelling him, her ladyship's face will be put to the blush. My idea is that you should, my lady, give him a lesson by letting him have several whacks with a cane so as to induce him to abstain from wine in the future. If you then retain him in your service as hitherto he'll be all right! If you don't do it for his mother's sake; do it at least for that of Madame Wang!"
After lending an ear to her arguments, lady Feng addressed herself to Lai Ta's wife. "Well, in that case," she said, "call him over to-morrow and give him forty blows; and don't let him after this touch any more wine!"
Lai Ta's wife promised to execute her directions. Chou Jui's wife then kotowed and rose to her feet. But she also persisted upon prostrating herself before nurse Lai; and only desisted when Lai Ta's wife pulled her up. But presently the trio took their departure, and Li Wan and her companions sped back into the garden.
When evening came, lady Feng actually bade the servants go and look (into the loft), and when they discovered a lot of painting materials, which had been put away long ago, they brought them into the garden. Pao-ch'ai and her friends then selected such as they deemed suitable. But as they only had as yet half the necessaries they required, they drew out a list of the other half and sent it to lady Feng, who, needless for us to particularise, had the different articles purchased, according to the specimens supplied.
By a certain day, the silk had been sized outside, a rough sketch drawn, and both returned into the garden. Pao-y therefore was day after day to be found over at Hsi Ch'un's, doing his best to help her in her hard work. But T'an Ch'un, Li Wan, Ying Ch'un, Pao-ch'ai and the other girls likewise congregated in her quarters, and sat with her when they were at leisure, as they could, in the first place, watch the progress of the painting, and as secondly they were able to conveniently see something of each other.
When Pao-ch'ai perceived how cool and pleasant the weather was getting, and how the nights were beginning again to gradually draw out, she came and found her mother, and consulted with her, until they got some needlework ready. Of a day, she would cross over to the quarters of dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang, and twice pay her salutations, but, she could not help as well amusing them and sitting with them to keep them company. When free, she would come and see her cousins in the garden, and have, at odd times, a chat with them, so having, during daylight no leisure to speak of, she was wont, of a night, to ply her needle by lamplight, and only retire to sleep after the third watch had come and gone.
As for Tai-y, she had, as a matter of course, a relapse of her complaint regularly every year, soon after the spring equinox and autumn solstice. But she had, during the last autumn, also found her grandmother Chia in such buoyant spirits, that she had walked a little too much on two distinct occasions, and naturally fatigued herself more than was good for her. Recently, too, she had begun to cough and to feel heavier than she had done at ordinary times, so she never by any chance put her foot out of doors, but remained at home and looked after her health. When at times, dullness crept over her, she longed for her cousins to come and chat with her and dispel her despondent feelings. But whenever Pao-ch'ai or any of her cousins paid her a visit, she barely uttered half a dozen, words, before she felt quite averse to any society. Yet one and all made every allowance for her illness. And as she had ever been in poor health and not strong enough to resist any annoyance, they did not find the least fault with her, despite even any lack of propriety she showed in playing the hostess with them, or any remissness on her part in observing the prescribed rules of etiquette.
Pao-ch'ai came, on this occasion to call on her. The conversation started on the symptoms of her ailment. "The various doctors, who visit this place," Pao-ch'ai consequently remarked, "may, it's true, be all very able practitioners; but you take their medicines and don't reap the least benefit! Wouldn't it be as well therefore to ask some other person of note to come and see you? And could he succeed in getting you all right, wouldn't it be nice? Here you year by year ail away throughout the whole length of spring and summer; but you're neither so old nor so young, so what will be the end of it? Besides, it can't go on for ever."
"It's no use," Tai-y rejoined. "I know well enough that there's no cure for this complaint of mine! Not to speak of when I'm unwell, why even when I'm not, my state is such that one can see very well that there's no hope!"
Pao-ch'ai shook her head. "Quite so!" she ventured. "An old writer says: 'Those who eat, live.' But what you've all along eaten hasn't been enough to strengthen your energies and physique. This isn't a good thing!"
Tai-y heaved a sigh. "Whether I'm to live or die is all destiny!" she said. "Riches and honours are in the hands of heaven; and human strength cannot suffice to forcibly get even them! But my complaint this year seems to be far worse than in past years, instead of any better."
While deploring her lot, she coughed two or three times. "It struck me," Pao-ch'ai said, "that in that prescription of yours I saw yesterday there was far too much ginseng and cinnamon. They are splendid tonics, of course, but too many heating things are not good. I think that the first urgent thing to do is to ease the liver and give tone to the stomach. When once the fire in the liver is reduced, it will not be able to overcome the stomach; and, when once the digestive organs are free of ailment, drink and food will be able to give nutriment to the human frame. As soon as you get out of bed, every morning, take one ounce of birds' nests, of superior quality, and five mace of sugar candy and prepare congee with them in a silver kettle. When once you get into the way of taking this decoction, you'll find it far more efficacious than medicines; for it possesses the highest virtue for invigorating the vagina and bracing up the physique."
"You've certainly always treated people with extreme consideration," sighed Tai-y, "but such a supremely suspicious person am I that I imagined that you inwardly concealed some evil design! Yet ever since the day on which you represented to me how unwholesome it was to read obscene books, and you gave me all that good advice, I've felt most grateful to you! I've hitherto, in fact, been mistaken in my opinion; and the truth of the matter is that I remained under this misconception up to the very present. But you must carefully consider that when my mother died, I hadn't even any sisters or brothers; and that up to this my fifteenth year there has never been a single person to admonish me as you did the other day. Little wonder is it if that girl Yn speaks well of you! Whenever, in former days, I heard her heap praise upon you, I felt uneasy in my mind, but, after my experiences of yesterday, I see how right she was. When you, for instance, began to tell me all those things, I didn't forgive you at the time, but, without worrying yourself in the least about it you went on, contrariwise, to tender me the advice you did. This makes it evident that I have laboured under a mistaken idea! Had I not made this discovery the other day, I wouldn't be speaking like this to your very face to-day. You told me a few minutes back to take bird's nest congee; but birds' nests are, I admit, easily procured; yet all on account of my sickly constitution and of the relapses I have every year of this complaint of mine, which amounts to nothing, doctors have had to be sent for, medicines, with ginseng and cinnamon, have had to be concocted, and I've given already such trouble as to turn heaven and earth topsy-turvey; so were I now to start again a new fad, by having some birds' nests congee or other prepared, our worthy senior, Madame Wang, and lady Feng, will, all three of them, have no objection to raise; but that posse of matrons and maids below will unavoidably despise me for my excessive fussiness! Just notice how every one in here ogles wildly like tigers their prey; and stealthily says one thing and another, simply because they see how fond our worthy ancestor is of both Pao-y and lady Feng, and how much more won't they do these things with me? What's more, I'm not a pucker mistress. I've really come here as a mere refugee, for I had no one to sustain me and no one to depend upon. They already bear me considerable dislike; so much so, that I'm still quite at a loss whether I should stay or go; and why should I make them heap execrations upon me?"
"Well, in that case," Pao-ch'ai observed, "I'm too in the same plight as yourself!"
"How can you compare yourself with me?" Tai-y exclaimed. "You have a mother; and a brother as well! You've also got some business and land in here, and, at home, you can call houses' and fields your own. It's only therefore the ties of relationship, which make you stay here at all. Neither are you in anything whether large or small, in their debt for one single cash or even half a one; and when you want to go, you're at liberty to go. But I, have nothing whatever that I can call my own. Yet, in what I eat, wear, and use, I am, in every trifle, entirely on the same footing as the young ladies in their household, so how ever can that mean lot not despise me out and out?"
"The only extra expense they'll have to go to by and bye," Pao-ch'ai laughed, "will be to get one more trousseau, that's all. And for the present, it's too soon yet to worry yourself about that!"
At this insinuation, Tai-y unconsciously blushed scarlet. "One treats you," she smiled, "as a decent sort of person, and confides in you the woes of one's heart, and, instead of sympathising with me, you make me the means of raising a laugh!"
"Albeit I raise a laugh at your expense," Pao-ch'ai rejoined, a smile curling her lips, "what I say is none the less true! But compose your mind! I'll try every day that I'm here to cheer you up; so come to me with every grievance or trouble, for I shall, needless to say, dispel those that are within my power. Notwithstanding that I have a brother, you yourself know well enough what he's like! All I have is a mother, so I'm just a trifle better off than you! We can therefore well look upon ourselves as being in the same boat, and sympathise with each other. You have, besides, plenty of wits about you, so why need you give way to groans, as did Ssu Ma-niu? What you said just now is quite right; but, you should worry and fret about as little and not as much as you can. On my return home, to-morrow, I'll tell my mother; and, as I think there must be still some birds' nests in our house, we'll send you several ounces of them. You can then tell the servant-maids to prepare some for you at whatever time you want every day; and you'll thus be suiting your own convenience and be giving no trouble or annoyance to any one."
"The things are, of themselves, of little account," eagerly responded Tai-y laughingly. "What's difficult to find is one with as much feeling as yourself."
"What's there in this worth speaking about?" Pao-ch'ai said. "What grieves me is that I fail to be as nice as I should be with those I come across. But, I presume, you feel quite done up now, so I'll be off!"
"Come in the evening again," Tai-y pressed her, "and have a chat with me."
While assuring her that she would come, Pao-ch'ai walked out, so let us leave her alone for the present.
Tai-y, meanwhile, drank a few sips of thin congee, and then once more lay herself down on her bed. But before the sun set, the weather unexpectedly changed, and a fine drizzling rain set in. So gently come the autumn showers that dull and fine are subject to uncertain alternations. The shades of twilight gradually fell on this occasion. The heavens too got so overcast as to look deep black. Besides the effect of this change on her mind, the patter of the rain on the bamboo tops intensified her despondency, and, concluding that Pao-ch'ai would be deterred from coming, she took up, in the lamp light, the first book within her reach, which turned out to be the 'Treasury of Miscellaneous Lyrics.' Finding among these 'the Pinings of a maiden in autumn,' 'the Anguish of Separation,' and other similar poems, Tai-y felt unawares much affected; and, unable to restrain herself from giving vent to her feelings in writing, she, there and then, improvised the following stanza, in the same strain as the one on separation; complying with the rules observed in the 'Spring River-Flower' and 'Moonlight Night.' These verses, she then entitled 'the Poem on the Autumn evening, when wind and rain raged outside the window.' Their burden was:
In autumn, flowers decay; herbage, when autumn comes, doth yellow turn. On long autumnal nights, the autumn lanterns with bright radiance burn. As from my window autumn scenes I scan, autumn endless doth seem. This mood how can I bear, when wind and rain despondency enhance? How sudden break forth wind and rain, and help to make the autumntide! Fright snaps my autumn dreams, those dreams which under my lattice I dreamt. A sad autumnal gloom enclasps my heart, and drives all sleep away! In person I approach the autumn screen to snuff the weeping wick. The tearful candles with a flickering flame consume on their short stands. They stir up grief, dazzle my eyes, and a sense of parting arouse. In what family's courts do not the blasts of autumn winds intrude? And where in autumn does not rain patter against the window-frames? The silken quilt cannot ward off the nipping force of autumn winds. The drip of the half drained water-clock impels the autumn rains. A lull for few nights reigned, but the wind has again risen in strength. By the lantern I weep, as if I sat with some one who must go. The small courtyard, full of bleak mist, is now become quite desolate. With quick drip drops the rain on the distant bamboos and vacant sills. What time, I wonder, will the wind and rain their howl and patter cease? The tears already I have shed have soakd through the window gauze.