"Drink two mouthfuls of that water!" shouted Hsiang-lien.
"That water is really too foul," Hseh P'an argued, in reply to this suggestion, wrinkling his eyebrows the while; "and how could I put any of it in my mouth?"
Hsiang-lien raised his fist and struck him.
"I'll drink it, I'll drink it!" quickly bawled Hseh P'an.
So saying, he felt obliged to lower his head to the very roots of the reeds and drink a mouthful. Before he had had time to swallow it, a sound of 'ai' became audible, and up came all the stuff he had put into his mouth only a few seconds back.
"You filthy thing!" exclaimed Hsiang-lien. "Be quick and finish drinking; and I'll let you off."
Upon hearing this, Hseh P'an bumped his head repeatedly on the ground. "Do please," he cried, "lay up a store of meritorious acts for yourself and let me off! I couldn't take that were I even on the verge of death!"
"This kind of stench will suffocate me!" Hsiang-lien observed, and, with this remark, he abandoned Hseh Pan to his own devices; and, pulling his horse, he put his foot to the stirrup, and rode away.
Hseh Pan, meanwhile, became aware of his departure, and felt at last relieved in his mind. Yet his conscience pricked him for he saw that he should not misjudge people. He then made an effort to raise himself, but the racking torture he experienced all over his limbs was so sharp that he could with difficulty bear it.
Chia Chen and the other guests present at the banquet became, as it happened, suddenly alive to the fact that the two young fellows had disappeared; but though they extended their search everywhere, they saw nothing of them. Some one insinuated, in an uncertain way, that they had gone outside the northern gate; but as Hseh P'an's pages had ever lived in dread of him, who of them had the audacity to go and hunt him up after the injunctions, he had given them, that they were not to follow him? But waxing solicitous on his account, Chia Chen subsequently bade Chia Jung take a few servant-boys and go and discover some clue of him, or institute inquiries as to his whereabouts. Straightway therefore they prosecuted their search beyond the northern gate, to a distance of two li below the bridge, and it was quite by accident that they discerned Hseh P'an's horse made fast by the side of a pit full of reeds.
"That's a good sign!" they with one voice exclaimed; "for if the horse is there, the master must be there too!"
In a body, they thronged round the horse, when, from among the reeds, they caught the sound of human groans, so hurriedly rushing forward to ascertain for themselves, they, at a glance, perceived Hseh P'an, his costume all in tatters, his countenance and eyes so swollen and bruised that it was hard to make out the head and face, and his whole person, inside as well as outside his clothes, rolled like a sow in a heap of mud.
Chia Jung surmised pretty nearly the truth. Speedily dismounting, he told the servants to prop him up. "Uncle Hseh," he laughed, "you daily go in for lewd dalliance; but have you to-day come to dissipate in a reed-covered pit? The King of the dragons in this pit must have also fallen in love with your charms, and enticed you to become his son-in-law that you've come and gored yourself on his horns like this!"
Hseh P'an was such a prey to intense shame that he would fain have grovelled into some fissure in the earth had he been able to detect any. But so little able was he to get on his horse that Chia Jung directed a servant to run to the suburbs and fetch a chair. Ensconced in this, Hseh P'an entered town along with the search party.
Chia Jung still insisted upon carrying him to Lai Ta's house to join the feast, so Hseh P'an had to make a hundred and one urgent appeals to him to tell no one, before Chia Jung eventually yielded to his solicitations and allowed him to have his own way and return home.
Chia Jung betook himself again to Lai Ta's house, and narrated to Chia Chen their recent experiences. When Chia Chen also learnt of the flogging (Hseh P'an) had received from Hsiang-lien, he laughed. "It's only through scrapes," he cried, "that he'll get all right!"
In the evening, after the party broke up, he came to inquire after him. But Hseh P'an, who was lying all alone in his bedroom, nursing himself, refused to see him, on the plea of indisposition.
When dowager lady Chia and the other inmates had returned home, and every one had retired into their respective apartments, Mrs. Hseh and Pao-ch'ai observed that Hsiang Ling's eyes were quite swollen from crying, and they questioned her as to the reason of her distress. (On being told), they hastily rushed to look up Hseh P'an; but, though they saw his body covered with scars, they could discover no ribs broken, or bones dislocated.
Mrs. Hseh fell a prey to anguish and displeasure. At one time, she scolded Hseh P'an; at another, she abused Liu Hsiang-lien. Her wish was to lay the matter before Madame Wang in order that some one should be despatched to trace Liu Hsiang-lien and bring him back, but Pao-ch'ai speedily dissuaded her. "It's nothing to make a fuss about," she represented. "They were simply drinking together; and quarrels after a wine bout are ordinary things. And for one who's drunk to get a few whacks more or less is nothing uncommon! Besides, there's in our home neither regard for God nor discipline. Every one knows it. If it's purely out of love, mother, that you desire to give vent to your spite, it's an easy matter enough. Have a little patience for three or five days, until brother is all right and can go out. Mr. Chia Chen and Mr. Chia Lien over there are not people likely to let the affair drop without doing anything! They'll, for a certainty, stand a treat, and ask that fellow, and make him apologise and admit his wrong in the presence of the whole company, so that everything will be properly settled. But were you now, ma, to begin making much of this occurrence, and telling every one, it would, on the contrary, look as if you had, in your motherly partiality and fond love for him, indulged him to stir up a row and provoke people! He has, on this occasion, had unawares to eat humble pie, but will you, ma, put people to all this trouble and inconvenience and make use of the prestige enjoyed by your relatives to oppress an ordinary person?"
"My dear child," Mrs. Hseh rejoined, "after listening to the advice proffered by her, you've, after all, been able to foresee all these things! As for me, that sudden fit of anger quite dazed me!"
"All will thus be square," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "for, as he's neither afraid of you, mother, nor gives an ear to people's exhortations, but gets wilder and wilder every day that goes by, he may, if he gets two or three lessons, turn over a new leaf."
While Hseh P'an lay on the stovecouch, he reviled Hsiang-lien with all his might. Next, he instigated the servant-boys to go and demolish his house, kill him and bring a charge against him. But Mrs. Hseh hindered the lads from carrying out his purpose, and explained to her son: "that Liu Hsiang-lien had casually, after drinking, behaved in a disorderly way, that now that he was over the effects of wine, he was exceedingly filled with remorse, and that, prompted by the fear of punishment, he had effected his escape."
But, reader, if you feel any interest to know what happened when Hseh P'an heard the version his mother gave him, listen to what you will find in the next chapter.
A sensual-minded man gets into such trouble through his sensuality that he entertains the idea of going abroad. An estimable and refined girl manages, after great exertion, to compose verses at a refined meeting.
But to resume our story. After hearing his mother's arguments, Hseh P'an's indignation gradually abated. But notwithstanding that his pains and aches completely disappeared, in three or five days' time, the scars of his wounds were not yet healed and shamming illness, he remained at home; so ashamed was he to meet any of his relations or friends.
In a twinkle, the tenth moon drew near; and as several among the partners in the various shops, with which he was connected, wanted to go home, after the settlement of the annual accounts, he had to give them a farewell spread at home. In their number was one Chang Te-hui, who from his early years filled the post of manager in Hseh P'an's pawnshop; and who enjoyed in his home a living of two or three thousand taels. His purpose too was to visit his native place this year, and to return the following spring.
"Stationery and perfumery have been so scarce this year," he consequently represented, "that prices will next year inevitably be high; so when next year comes, what I'll do will be to send up my elder and younger sons ahead of me to look after the pawnshop, and when I start on my way back, before the dragon festival, I'll purchase a stock of paper, scents and fans and bring them for sale. And though we'll have to reduce the duties, payable at the barriers, and other expenses, there will still remain for us a considerable percentage of profit."
This proposal set Hseh P'an musing, "With the dressing I've recently had," he pondered, "I cannot very well, at present, appear before any one. Were the fancy to take me to get out of the way for half a year or even a year, there isn't a place where I can safely retire. And to sham illness, day after day, isn't again quite the right thing! In addition to this, here I've reached this grown-up age, and yet I'm neither a civilian nor a soldier. It's true I call myself a merchant; but I've never in point of fact handled the scales or the abacus. Nor do I know anything about our territories, customs and manners, distances and routes. So wouldn't it be advisable that I should also get ready some of my capital, and go on a tour with Chang Te-hui for a year or so? Whether I earn any money or not, will be equally immaterial to me. More, I shall escape from all disgrace. It will, secondly, be a good thing for me to see a bit of country."
This resolution once arrived at in his mind, he waited until they rose from the banquet, when he, with calmness and equanimity, brought his plans to Chang Te-hui's cognizance, and asked him to postpone his departure for a day or two so that they should proceed on the journey together.
In the evening, he imparted the tidings to his mother. Mrs. Hseh, upon hearing his intention, was albeit delighted, tormented with fresh misgivings lest he should stir up trouble abroad,—for as far as the expense was concerned she deemed it a mere bagatelle,—and she consequently would not permit him to go. "You have," she reasoned with him, "to take proper care of me, so that I may be able to live in peace. Another thing is, that you can well dispense with all this buying and selling, for you are in no need of the few hundreds of taels, you may make."
Hseh P'an had long ago thoroughly resolved in his mind what to do and he did not therefore feel disposed to listen to her remonstrances. "You daily tax me," he pleaded, "with being ignorant of the world, with not knowing this, and not learning that, and now that I stir up my good resolution, with the idea of putting an end to all trifling, and that I wish to become a man, to do something for myself, and learn how to carry on business, you won't let me! But what would you have me do? Besides I'm not a girl that you should coop me up at home! And when is this likely to come to an end? Chang Te-hui is, moreover, a man well up in years; and he is an old friend of our family, so if I go with him, how ever will I be able to do anything that's wrong? Should I at any time be guilty of any impropriety, he will be sure to speak to me, and to exhort me. He even knows the prices of things and customs of trade; and as I shall, as a matter of course, consult him in everything, what advantage won't I enjoy? But if you refuse to let me go, I'll wait for a couple of days, and, without breathing a word to any one at home, I'll furtively make my preparations and start, and, when by next year I shall have made my fortune and come back, you'll at length know what stuff I'm made off!"
When he had done speaking, he flew into a huff and went off to sleep.
Mrs. Hseh felt impelled, after the arguments she heard him propound, to deliberate with Pao-ch'ai.
"If brother," Pao-ch'ai smilingly rejoined, "were in real earnest about gaining experience in some legitimate concerns, it would be well and good. But though he speaks, now that he is at home, in a plausible manner, the moment he gets abroad, his old mania will break out again, and it will be hard to exercise any check over him. Yet, it isn't worth the while distressing yourself too much about him! If he does actually mend his ways, it will be the happiness of our whole lives. But if he doesn't change, you won't, mother, be able to do anything more; for though, in part, it depends on human exertion, it, in part, depends upon the will of heaven! If you keep on giving way to fears that, with his lack of worldly experience, he can't be fit to go abroad and can't be up to any business, and you lock him up at home this year, why next year he'll be just the same! Such being the case, you'd better, ma,—since his arguments are right and specious enough,—make up your mind to sacrifice from eight hundred to a thousand taels and let him have them for a try. He'll, at all events, have one of his partners to lend him a helping hand, one who won't either think it a nice thing to play any of his tricks upon him. In the second place, there will be, when he's gone, no one to the left of him or to the right of him, to stand by him, and no one upon whom to rely, for when one goes abroad, who cares for any one else? Those who have, eat; and those who haven't starve. When he therefore casts his eyes about him and realises that there's no one to depend upon, he may, upon seeing this, be up to less mischief than were he to stay at home; but of course, there's no saying."
Mrs. Hseh listened to her, and communed within herself for a moment. "What you say is, indeed, right and proper!" she remarked. "And could one, by spending a small sum, make him learn something profitable, it will be well worth!"
They then matured their plans; and nothing further of any note transpired during the rest of the night.
The next day, Mrs. Hseh sent a messenger to invite Chang Te-hui to come round. On his arrival, she charged Hseh P'an to regale him in the library. Then appearing, in person, outside the window of the covered back passage, she made thousand of appeals to Chang Te-hui to look after her son and take good care of him.
Chang Te-hui assented to her solicitations with profuse assurances, and took his leave after the collation.
"The fourteenth," he went on to explain to Hseh P'an. "is a propitious day to start. So, worthy friend, you'd better be quick and pack up your baggage, and hire a mule, for us to begin our long journey as soon as the day dawns on the fourteenth."
Hseh P'an was intensely gratified, and he communicated their plans to Mrs. Hseh. Mrs. Hseh then set to, and worked away, with the assistance of Pao-ch'ai, Hsiang Ling and two old nurses, for several consecutive days, before she got his luggage ready. She fixed upon the husband of Hseh P'an's nurse an old man with hoary head, two old servants with ample experience and long services, and two young pages, who acted as Hseh P'an's constant attendants, to go with him as his companions, so the party mustered, inclusive of master and followers, six persons in all. Three large carts were hired for the sole purpose of carrying the baggage and requisites; and four mules, suitable for long journeys, were likewise engaged. A tall, dark brown, home-bred mule was selected for Hseh P'an's use; but a saddle horse, as well, was provided for him.
After the various preparations had been effected, Mrs. Hseh, Pao-ch'ai and the other inmates tendered him, night after night, words of advice. But we can well dispense with dilating on this topic. On the arrival of the thirteenth, Hseh P'an went and bade good-bye to his maternal uncles. After which, he came and paid his farewell visit to the members of the Chia household. Chia Chen and the other male relatives unavoidably prepared an entertainment to speed him off. But to these festivities, there is likewise little need to allude with any minuteness.
On the fourteenth, at break of day, Mrs. Hseh, Pao-ch'ai and the other members of the family accompanied Hseh P'an beyond the ceremonial gate. Here his mother and her daughter stood and watched him, their four eyes fixed intently on him, until he got out of sight, when they, at length, retraced their footsteps into the house.
Mrs. Hseh had, in coming up to the capital, only brought four or five family domestics and two or three old matrons and waiting-maids with her, so, after the departure on the recent occasion, of those, who followed Hseh P'an, no more than one or two men-servants remained in the outer quarters. Mrs. Hseh repaired therefore on the very same day into the study, and had the various ornaments, bric—brac, curtains and other articles removed into the inner compound and put away. Then bidding the wives of the two male attendants, who had gone with Hseh P'an, likewise move their quarters inside, along with the other women, she went on to impress upon Hsiang Ling to put everything carefully away in her own room as well, and to lock the doors; "for," (she said), "you must come at night and sleep with me."
"Since you've got all these people to keep you company, ma," Pao-ch'ai remarked, "wouldn't it be as well to tell sister Ling to come and be my companion? Our garden is besides quite empty and the nights are so long! And as I work away every night, won't it be better for me to have an extra person with me?"
"Quite so!" smiled Mrs. Hseh, "I forgot that! I should have told her to go with you; it's but right. It was only the other day that I mentioned to your brother that: 'Wen Hsing too was young, and not fit to attend to everything that turns up, that Ying Erh could not alone do all the waiting, and that it was necessary to purchase another girl for your service.'"
"If we buy one, we won't know what she's really like!" Pao-ch'ai demurred. "If she gives us the slip, the money we may have spent on her will be a mere trifle, so long as she hasn't been up to any pranks! So let's quietly make inquiries, and, when we find one with well-known antecedents, we can purchase her, and, we'll be on the safe side then!"
While speaking, she told Hsiang Ling to collect her bedding and clothes; and desiring an old matron and Ch'in Erh to take them over to the Heng Wu Yan, Pao-ch'ai returned at last into the garden in company with Hsiang Ling.
"I meant to have proposed to my lady," Hsiang Ling said to Pao-ch'ai, "that, when master left, I should be your companion, miss; but I feared lest her ladyship should, with that suspicious mind of hers, have maintained that I was longing to come into the garden to romp. But who'd have thought it, it was you, after all, who spoke to her about it!"
"I am well aware," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "that you've been inwardly yearning for this garden, and that not for a day or two, but with the little time you can call your own, you would find it no fun, were you even able to run over once in a day, so long as you have to do it in a hurry-scurry! Seize therefore this opportunity of staying, better still, for a year; as I, on my side, will then have an extra companion; and you, on yours, will be able to accomplish your wishes."
"My dear miss!" laughingly observed Hsiang Ling, "do let's make the best of this time, and teach me how to write verses!"
"I say," Pao-ch'ai laughed, "'you no sooner, get the Lung state than you long for the Shu'! I advise you to wait a bit. This is the first day that you spend in here, and you should, first and foremost, go out of the garden by the eastern side gate and look up and salute every one in her respective quarters commencing from our old lady. But you needn't make it a point of telling them that you've moved into the garden. If anyone does allude to the reason why you've shifted your quarters, you can simply explain cursorily that I've brought you in as a companion, and then drop the subject. On your return by and bye into the garden, you can pay a visit to the apartments of each of the young ladies."
Hsiang Ling signified her acquiescence, and was about to start when she saw P'ing Erh rush in with hurried step. Hsiang Ling hastened to ask after her health, and P'ing Erh felt compelled to return her smile, and reciprocate her inquiry.
"I've brought her in to-day," Pao-ch'ai thereupon smilingly said to P'ing Erh, "to make a companion of her. She was just on the point of going to tell your lady about it!"
"What is this that you're saying, Miss?" P'ing Erh rejoined, with a smile. "I really am at a loss what reply to make to you!"
"It's the right thing!" Pao-ch'ai answered. "' In a house, there's the master, and in a temple there's the chief priest.' It's true, it's no important concern, but something must, in fact, be mentioned, so that those, who sit up on night duty in the garden, may be aware that these two have been added to my rooms, and know when to close the gates and when to wait. When you get back therefore do mention it, so that I mayn't have to send some one to tell them."
P'ing Erh promised to carry out her wishes. "As you're moved in here," she said to Hsiang Ling, "won't you go and pay your respects to your neighbours?"
"I had just this very moment," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "told her to go and do so."
"You needn't however go to our house," P'ing Erh remarked, "our Mr. Secundus is laid up at home."
Hsiang Ling assented and went off, passing first and foremost by dowager lady Chia's apartments. But without devoting any of our attention to her, we will revert to P'ing Erh.
Seeing Hsiang Ling walk out of the room, she drew Pao-ch'ai near her. "Miss! have you heard our news?" she inquired in a low tone of voice.
"I haven't heard any news," Pao-ch'ai responded. "We've been daily so busy in getting my brother's things ready for his voyage abroad, that we know nothing whatever of any of your affairs in here. I haven't even seen anything of my female cousins these last two days."
"Our master, Mr. Chia She, has beaten our Mr. Secundus to such a degree that he can't budge," P'ing Erh smiled. "But is it likely, miss, that you've heard nothing about it?"
"This morning," Pao-ch'ai said by way of reply, "I heard a vague report on the subject, but I didn't believe it could be true. I was just about to go and look up your mistress, when you unexpectedly arrived. But why did he beat him again?"
P'ing Erh set her teeth to and gave way to abuse. "It's all on account of some Chia Y-ts'un or other; a starved and half-dead boorish bastard, who went yonder quite unexpectedly. It isn't yet ten years, since we've known him, and he has been the cause of ever so much trouble! In the spring of this year, Mr. Chia She saw somewhere or other, I can't tell where, a lot of antique fans; so, when on his return home, he noticed that the fine fans stored away in the house, were all of no use, he at once directed servants to go everywhere and hunt up some like those he had seen. Who'd have anticipated it, they came across a reckless creature of retribution, dubbed by common consent the 'stone fool,' who though so poor as to not even have any rice to put to his mouth, happened to have at home twenty antique fans. But these he utterly refused to take out of his main door. Our Mr. Secundus had thus a precious lot of bother to ask ever so many favours of people. But when he got to see the man, he made endless appeals to him before he could get him to invite him to go and sit in his house; when producing the fans, he allowed him to have a short inspection of them. From what our Mr. Secundus says, it would be really difficult to get any the like of them. They're made entirely of spotted black bamboo, and the stags and jadelike clusters of bamboo on them are the genuine pictures, drawn by men of olden times. When he got back, he explained these things to Mr. Chia She, who readily asked him to buy them, and give the man his own price for them. The 'stone fool,' however, refused. 'Were I even to be dying from hunger,' he said, 'or perishing from frostbites, and so much as a thousand taels were offered me for each single fan, I wouldn't part with them.' Mr. Chia She could do nothing, but day after day he abused our Mr. Secundus as a good-for-nothing. Yet he had long ago promised the man five hundred taels, payable cash down in advance, before delivery of the fans, but he would not sell them. 'If you want the fans,' he had answered, 'you must first of all take my life.' Now, miss, do consider what was to be done? But, Y-ts'un is, as it happens, a man with no regard for divine justice. Well, when he came to hear of it, he at once devised a plan to lay hold of these fans, so fabricating the charge against him of letting a government debt drag on without payment, he had him arrested and brought before him in the Yamn; when he adjudicated that his family property should be converted into money to make up the amount due to the public chest; and, confiscating the fans in question, he set an official value on them and sent them over here. And as for that 'stone fool,' no one now has the faintest idea whether he be dead or alive. Mr. Chia She, however, taunted Mr. Secundus. 'How is it,' he said, 'that other people can manage to get them?' Our master simply rejoined 'that to bring ruin upon a person in such a trivial matter could not be accounted ability.' But, at these words, his father suddenly rushed into a fury, and averred that Mr. Secundus had said things to gag his mouth. This was the main cause. But several minor matters, which I can't even recollect, also occurred during these last few days. So, when all these things accumulated, he set to work and gave him a sound thrashing. He didn't, however, drag him down and strike him with a rattan or cane, but recklessly assaulted him, while he stood before him, with something or other, which he laid hold of, and broke his face open in two places. We understand that Mrs. Hseh has in here some medicine or other for applying on wounds, so do try, miss, and find a ball of it and let me have it!"
Hearing this, Pao-ch'ai speedily directed Ying Erh to go and look for some, and, on discovering two balls of it, she brought them over and handed them to P'ing Erh.
"Such being the case," Pao-ch'ai said, "do make, on your return, the usual inquiries for me, and I won't then need to go."
P'ing Erh turned towards Pao-ch'ai, and expressed her readiness to execute her commission, after which she betook herself home, where we will leave her without further notice.
After Hsiang Ling, for we will take up the thread of our narrative with her, completed her visits to the various inmates, she had her evening meal. Then when Pao-ch'ai and every one else went to dowager lady Chia's quarters, she came into the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. By this time Tai-y had got considerably better. Upon hearing that Hsiang Ling had also moved into the garden, she, needless to say, was filled with delight.
"Now, that I've come in here," Hsiang Ling then smiled and said, "do please teach me, at your leisure, how to write verses. It will be a bit of good luck for me if you do."
"Since you're anxious to learn how to versify," Tai-y answered with a smile, "you'd better acknowledge me as your tutor; for though I'm not a good hand at poetry, yet I know, after all, enough to be able to teach you."
"Of course you do!" Hsiang Ling laughingly remarked. "I'll readily treat you as my tutor. But you mustn't put yourself to any trouble!"
"Is there anything so difficult about this," Tai-y pursued, "as to make it necessary to go in for any study? Why, it's purely and simply a matter of openings, elucidations, embellishments and conclusions. The elucidations and embellishments, which come in the centre, should form two antithetical sentences, the even tones must pair with the uneven. Empty words must correspond with full words; and full words with empty words. In the event of any out-of-the-way lines, it won't matter if the even and uneven tones, and the empty and full words do not pair."
"Strange though it may appear," smiled Hsiang Ling, "I often handle books with old poems, and read one or two stanzas, whenever I can steal the time; and some among these I find pair most skilfully, while others don't. I have also heard that the first, third and fifth lines are of no consequence; and that the second, fourth and sixth must be clearly distinguished. But I notice that there are in the poetical works of ancient writers both those which accord with the rules, as well as those whose second, fourth and sixth lines are not in compliance with any rule. Hence it is that my mind has daily been full of doubts. But after the hints you've given me, I really see that all these formulas are of no account, and that the main requirement is originality of diction."
"Yes, that's just the principle that holds good," Tai-y answered. "But diction is, after all, a last consideration. The first and foremost thing is the choice of proper sentiments; for when the sentiments are correct, there'll even be no need to polish the diction; it's certain to be elegant. This is called versifying without letting the diction affect the sentiments."
"What I admire," Hsiang Ling proceeded with a smile; "are the lines by old Lu Fang;
"The double portire, when not raised, retains the fragrance long. An old inkslab, with a slight hole, collects plenty of ink.
"Their language is so clear that it's charming."
"You must on no account," Tai-y observed, "read poetry of the kind. It's because you people don't know what verses mean that you, no sooner read any shallow lines like these, than they take your fancy. But when once you get into this sort of style, it's impossible to get out of it. Mark my words! If you are in earnest about learning, I've got here Wang Mo-chieh's complete collection; so you'd better take his one hundred stanzas, written in the pentameter rule of versification, and carefully study them, until you apprehend them thoroughly. Afterwards, look over the one hundred and twenty stanzas of Lao T'u, in the heptameter rule; and next read a hundred or two hundred of the heptameter four-lined stanzas by Li Ch'ing-lieu. When you have, as a first step, digested these three authors, and made them your foundation, you can take T'ao Yuan-ming, Ying, Liu, Hsieh, Yan, Y, Pao and other writers and go through them once. And with those sharp and quick wits of yours, I've no doubt but that you will become a regular poet before a year's time."
"Well, in that case," Hsiang Ling smiled, after listening to her, "bring me the book, my dear miss, so that I may take it along. It will be a good thing if I can manage to read several stanzas at night."
At these words, Tai-y bade Tzu Chan fetch Wang Tso-ch'eng's pentameter stanzas. When brought, she handed them to Hsiang Ling. "Only peruse those marked with red circles" she said. "They've all been selected by me. Read each one of them; and should there be any you can't fathom, ask your miss about them. Or when you come across me, I can explain them to you."
Hsiang Ling took the poems and repaired back to the Heng Wu-yan. And without worrying her mind about anything she approached the lamp and began to con stanza after stanza. Pao-ch'ai pressed her, several consecutive times, to go to bed; but as even rest was far from her thoughts, Pao-ch'ai let her, when she perceived what trouble she was taking over her task, have her own way in the matter.
Tai-y had one day just finished combing her hair and performing her ablutions, when she espied Hsiang Ling come with smiles playing about her lips, to return her the book and to ask her to let her have T'u's poetical compositions in exchange.
"Of all these, how many stanzas can you recollect?" Tai-y asked, smiling.
"I've read every one of those marked with a red circle," Hsiang Ling laughingly rejoined.
"Have you caught the ideas of any of them, yes or no?" Tai-y inquired.
"Yes, I've caught some!" Hsiang Ling smiled. "But whether rightly or not I don't know. Let me tell you."
"You must really," Tai-y laughingly remarked, "minutely solicit people's opinions if you want to make any progress. But go on and let me hear you."
"From all I can see," Hsiang Ling smiled, "the beauty of poetry lies in certain ideas, which though not quite expressible in words are, nevertheless, found, on reflection, to be absolutely correct. Some may have the semblance of being totally devoid of sense, but, on second thought, they'll truly be seen to be full of sense and feeling."
"There's a good deal of right in what you say," Tai-y observed. "But I wonder how you arrived at this conclusion?"
"I notice in that stanza on 'the borderland,' the antithetical couplet:
"In the vast desert reigns but upright mist. In the long river setteth the round sun.
"Consider now how ever can mist be upright? The sun is, of course, round. But the word 'upright' would seem to be devoid of common sense; and 'round' appears far too commonplace a word. But upon throwing the whole passage together, and pondering over it, one fancies having seen the scenery alluded to. Now were any one to suggest that two other characters should be substituted for these two, one would verily be hard pressed to find any other two as suitable. Besides this, there's also the couplet:
"When the sun sets, rivers and lakes are white; When the mist falls, the heavens and earth azure.
"Both 'white' and 'azure', apparently too lack any sense; but reflection will show that these two words are absolutely necessary to bring out thoroughly the aspect of the scenery. And in conning them over, one feels just as if one had an olive, weighing several thousands of catties, in one's mouth, so much relish does one derive from them. But there's this too:
"At the ferry stays the setting sun, O'er the mart hangs the lonesome mist.
"And how much trouble must these words 'stay,' and 'over, have caused the author in their conception! When the boats made fast, in the evening of a certain day of that year in which we came up to the capital, the banks were without a trace of human beings; and there were only just a few trees about; in the distance loomed the houses of several families engaged in preparing their evening meal, and the mist was, in fact, azure like jade, and connected like clouds. So, when I, as it happened, read this couplet last night, it actually seemed to me as if I had come again to that spot!"
But in the course of their colloquy, Pao-y and T'an Ch'un arrived; and entering the room, they seated themselves, and lent an ear to her arguments on the verses.
"Seeing that you know so much," Pao-y remarked with a smiling face, "you can dispense with reading poetical works, for you're not far off from proficiency. To hear you expatiate on these two lines, makes it evident to my mind that you've even got at their secret meaning."
"You say," argued Tai-y with a significant smile, "that the line:
"'O'er (the mart) hangs the lonesome mist,'
"is good; but aren't you yet aware that this is only plagiarised from an ancient writer? But I'll show you the line I'm telling you of. You'll find it far plainer and clearer than this."
While uttering these words, she turned up T'ao Yan-ming's,
Dim in the distance lies a country place; Faint in the hamlet-market hangs the mist;
and handed it to Hsiang Ling.
Hsiang Ling perused it, and, nodding her head, she eulogised it. "Really," she smiled, the word 'over' is educed from the two characters implying 'faint.'
Pao-y burst out into a loud fit of exultant laughter. "You've already got it!" he cried. "There's no need of explaining anything more to you! Any further explanations will, in lieu of benefiting you, make you unlearn what you've learnt. Were you therefore to, at once, set to work, and versify, your lines are bound to be good."
"To-morrow," observed T'an ch'un with a smile; "I'll stand an extra treat and invite you to join the society."
"Why make a fool of me, miss?" Hsiang Ling laughingly ejaculated. "It's merely that mania of mine that made me apply my mind to this subject at all; just for fun and no other reason."
T'an Ch'un and Tai-y both smiled. "Who doesn't go in for these things for fun?" they asked. "Is it likely that we improvise verses in real earnest? Why, if any one treated our verses as genuine verses, and took them outside this garden, people would have such a hearty laugh at our expense that their very teeth would drop."
"This is again self-violence and self-abasement!" Pao-y interposed. The other day, I was outside the garden, consulting with the gentlemen about paintings, and, when they came to hear that we had started a poetical society, they begged of me to let them have the rough copies to read. So I wrote out several stanzas, and gave them to them to look over, and who did not praise them with all sincerity? They even copied them and took them to have the blocks cut."
"Are you speaking the truth?" T'an Ch'un and Tai-y eagerly inquired.
"If I'm telling a lie," Pao-y laughed, "I'm like that cockatoo on that frame!"
"You verily do foolish things!" Tai-y and T'an Ch'un exclaimed with one voice, at these words. "But not to mention that they were doggerel lines, had they even been anything like what verses should be, our writings shouldn't have been hawked about outside."
"What's there to fear?" Pao-y smiled. "Hadn't the writings of women of old been handed outside the limits of the inner chambers, why, there would, at present, be no one with any idea of their very existence."
While he passed this remark, they saw Ju Hua arrive from Hsi Ch'un's quarters to ask Pao-y to go over; and Pao-y eventually took his departure.
Hsiang Ling then pressed (Tai-y) to give her T'u's poems. "Do choose some theme," she also asked Tai-y and T'an Ch'un, "and let me go and write on it. When I've done, I'll bring it for you to correct."
"Last night," Tai-y observed, "the moon was so magnificent, that I meant to improvise a stanza on it; but as I haven't done yet, go at once and write one using the fourteenth rhyme, 'han,' (cool). You're at liberty to make use of whatever words you fancy."
Hearing this, Hsiang Ling was simply delighted, and taking the poems, she went back. After considerable exertion, she succeeded in devising a couplet, but so little able was she to tear herself away from the 'T'u' poems, that she perused another couple of stanzas, until she had no inclination for either tea or food, and she felt in an unsettled mood, try though she did to sit or recline.
"Why," Pao-ch'ai remonstrated, "do you bring such trouble upon yourself? It's that P'in Erh, who has led you on to it! But I'll settle accounts with her! You've all along been a thick-headed fool; but now that you've burdened yourself with all this, you've become a greater fool."
"Miss," smiled Hsiang Ling, "don't confuse me."
So saying, she set to work and put together a stanza, which she first and foremost handed to Pao-ch'ai to look over.
"This isn't good!" Pao-ch'ai smilingly said. "This isn't the way to do it! Don't fear of losing face, but take it and give it to her to peruse. We'll see what she says."
At this suggestion, Hsiang Ling forthwith went with her verses in search of Tai-y. When Tai-y came to read them, she found their text to be:
The night grows cool, what time Selene reacheth the mid-heavens. Her radiance pure shineth around with such a spotless sheen. Bards oft for inspiration raise on her their thoughts and eyes. The rustic daren't see her, so fears he to enhance his grief. Jade mirrors are suspended near the tower of malachite. An icelike plate dangles outside the gem-laden portire. The eve is fine, so why need any silvery candles burn? A clear light shines with dazzling lustre on the painted rails.
"There's a good deal of spirit in them," Tai-y smiled, "but the language is not elegant. It's because you've only read a few poetical works that you labour under restraint. Now put this stanza aside and write another. Pluck up your courage and go and work away."
After listening to her advice, Hsiang Ling quietly wended her way back, but so much the more (preoccupied) was she in her mind that she did not even enter the house, but remaining under the trees, planted by the side of the pond, she either seated herself on a rock and plunged in a reverie, or squatted down and dug the ground, to the astonishment of all those, who went backwards and forwards. Li wan, Pao-ch'ai, T'an Ch'un, Pao-y and some others heard about her; and, taking their position some way off on the mound, they watched her, much amused. At one time, they saw her pucker up her eyebrows; and at another smile to herself.
"That girl must certainly be cracked!" Pao-ch'ai laughed. "Last night she kept on muttering away straight up to the fifth watch, when she at last turned in. But shortly, daylight broke, and I heard her get up and comb her hair, all in a hurry, and rush after P'in Erh. In a while, however, she returned; and, after acting like an idiot the whole day, she managed to put together a stanza. But it wasn't after all, good, so she's, of course, now trying to devise another."
"This indeed shows," Pao-y laughingly remarked, "that the earth is spiritual, that man is intelligent, and that heaven does not in the creation of human beings bestow on them natural gifts to no purpose. We've been sighing and lamenting that it was a pity that such a one as she, should, really, be so unpolished; but who could ever have anticipated that things would, in the long run, reach the present pass? This is a clear sign that heaven and earth are most equitable!"
"If only," smiled Pao-ch'ai, at these words, "you could be as painstaking as she is, what a good thing it would be. And would you fail to attain success in anything you might take up?"
Pao-y made no reply. But realising that Hsiang Ling had crossed over in high spirits to find Tai-y again, T'an Ch'un laughed and suggested, "Let's follow her there, and see whether her composition is any good."
At this proposal, they came in a body to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Here they discovered Tai-y holding the verses and explaining various things to her.
"What are they like?" they all thereupon inquired of Tai-y.
"This is naturally a hard job for her!" Tai-y rejoined. "They're not yet as good as they should be. This stanza is far too forced; you must write another."
One and all however expressed a desire to look over the verses. On perusal, they read:
'Tis not silver, neither water that on the windows shines so cold. Selene, mark! covers, like a jade platter, the clear vault of heaven. What time the fragrance faint of the plum bloom is fain to tinge the air, The dew-bedecked silken willow trees begin to lose their leaves. 'Tis the remains of powder which methinks besmear the golden steps. Her lustrous rays enshroud like light hoar-frost the jadelike balustrade. When from my dreams I wake, in the west tower, all human trace is gone. Her slanting orb can yet clearly be seen across the bamboo screen.
"It doesn't sound like a song on the moon," Pao-ch'ai smilingly observed. "Yet were, after the word 'moon', that of 'light' supplied, it would be better; for, just see, if each of these lines treated of the moonlight, they would be all right. But poetry primarily springs from nonsensical language. In a few days longer, you'll be able to do well."
Hsiang Ling had flattered herself that this last stanza was perfect, and the criticisms, that fell on her ear, damped her spirits again. She was not however disposed to relax in her endeavours, but felt eager to commune with her own thoughts, so when she perceived the young ladies chatting and laughing, she betook herself all alone to the bamboo-grove at the foot of the steps; where she racked her brain, and ransacked her mind with such intentness that her ears were deaf to everything around her and her eyes blind to everything beyond her task.
"Miss Ling," T'an Ch'un presently cried, smiling from inside the window, "do have a rest!"
"The character 'rest;'" Hsiang Ling nervously replied, "comes from lot N. 15, under 'shan', (to correct); so it's the wrong rhyme."
This rambling talk made them involuntarily burst out laughing.
"In very fact," Pao-sh'ai laughed, "she's under a poetical frenzy, and it's all P'in Erh who has incited her."
"The holy man says," Tai-y smilingly rejoined, "that 'one must not be weary of exhorting people'; and if she comes, time and again, to ask me this and that how can I possibly not tell her?"
"Let's take her to Miss Quarta's rooms," Li Wan smiled, "and if we could coax her to look at the painting, and bring her to her senses, it will be well."
Speaking the while, she actually walked out of the room, and laying hold of her, she brought her through the Lotus Fragrance arbour to the bank of Warm Fragrance. Hsi Ch'un was tired and languid, and was lying on the window, having a midday siesta. The painting was resting against the partition-wall, and was screened with a gauze cover. With one voice, they roused Hsi Ch'un, and raising the gauze cover to contemplate her work, they saw that three tenths of it had already been accomplished. But their attention was attracted by the representation of several beautiful girls, inserted in the picture, so pointing at Hsiang Ling: "Every one who can write verses is to be put here," they said, "so be quick and learn."
But while conversing, they played and laughed for a time, after which, each went her own way.
Hsiang Ling was meanwhile preoccupied about her verses, so, when evening came, she sat facing the lamp absorbed in thought. And the third watch struck before she got to bed. But her eyes were so wide awake, that it was only after the fifth watch had come and gone, that she, at length, felt drowsy and fell fast asleep.
Presently, the day dawned, and Pao-ch'ai woke up; but, when she lent an ear, she discovered (Hsiang Ling) in a sound sleep. "She has racked her brains the whole night long," she pondered. "I wonder, however, whether she has succeeded in finishing her task. She must be tired now, so I won't disturb her."
But in the midst of her cogitations, she heard Hsiang Ling laugh and exclaim in her sleep: "I've got it. It cannot be that this stanza too won't be worth anything."
"How sad and ridiculous!" Pao-ch'ai soliloquised with a smile. And, calling her by name, she woke her up. "What have you got?" she asked. "With that firmness of purpose of yours, you could even become a spirit! But before you can learn how to write poetry, you'll be getting some illness."
Chiding her the while, she combed her hair and washed; and, this done, she repaired, along with her cousins, into dowager lady Chia's quarters.
Hsiang Ling made, in fact, such desperate efforts to learn all about poetry that her system got quite out of order. But although she did not in the course of the day hit upon anything, she quite casually succeeded in her dreams in devising eight lines; so concluding her toilette and her ablutions, she hastily jotted them down, and betook herself into the Hsin Fang pavilion. Here she saw Li Wan and the whole bevy of young ladies, returning from Madame Wang's suite of apartments.
Pao-ch'ai was in the act of telling them of the verses composed by Hsiang Ling, while asleep, and of the nonsense she had been talking, and every one of them was convulsed with laughter. But upon raising their heads, and perceiving that she was approaching, they vied with each other in pressing her to let them see her composition.
But, reader, do you wish to know any further particulars? If you do; read those given in the next chapter.
White snow and red plum blossom in the crystal world. The pretty girl, fragrant with powder, cuts some meat and eats it.
Hsiang Ling, we will now proceed, perceived the young ladies engaged in chatting and laughing, and went up to them with a smiling countenance. "Just you look at this stanza!" she said. "If it's all right, then I'll continue my studies; but if it isn't worth any thing, I'll banish at once from my mind all idea of going in for versification."
With these words, she handed the verses to Tai-y and her companions. When they came to look at them, they found this to be their burden:
If thou would'st screen Selene's beauteous sheen, thou'lt find it hard. Her shadows are by nature full of grace, frigid her form. A row of clothes-stones batter, while she lights a thousand li. When her disc's half, and the cock crows at the fifth watch, 'tis cold. Wrapped in my green cloak in autumn, I hear flutes on the stream. While in the tower the red-sleeved maid leans on the rails at night. She feels also constrained to ask of the goddess Ch'ang O: 'Why it is that she does not let the moon e'er remain round?'
"This stanza is not only good," they with one voice exclaimed, after perusing it, "but it's original, it's charming. It bears out the proverb: 'In the world, there's nothing difficult; the only thing hard to get at is a human being with a will.' We'll certainly ask you to join our club."
Hsiang Ling caught this remark; but so little did she credit it that fancying that they were making fun of her, she still went on to press Tai-y, Pao-ch'ai and the other girls to give her their opinions. But while engaged in speaking, she spied a number of young waiting-maids, and old matrons come with hurried step. "Several young ladies and ladies have come," they announced smilingly, "but we don't know any of them. So your ladyship and you, young ladies, had better come at once and see what relatives they are."
"What are you driving at?" Li Wan laughed. "You might, after all, state distinctly whose relatives they are."
"Your ladyship's two young sisters have come," the matrons and maids rejoined smiling. "There's also another young lady, who says she's miss Hseh's cousin, and a gentleman who pretends to be Mr. Hseh P'an's junior cousin. We are now off to ask Mrs. Hseh to meet them. But your ladyship and the young ladies might go in advance and greet them." As they spoke, they straightway took their leave.
"Has our Hseh K'o come along with his sisters?" Pao-ch'ai inquired, with a smile.
"My aunt has probably also come to the capital," Li Wan laughed. "How is it they've all arrived together? This is indeed a strange thing!" Then adjourning in a body into Madame Wang's drawing rooms, they saw the floor covered with a black mass of people.
Madame Hsing's sister-in-law was there as well. She had entered the capital with her daughter, Chou Yen, to look up madame Hsing. But lady Feng's brother, Wang Jen, had, as luck would have it, just been preparing to start for the capital, so the two family connexions set out in company for their common destination. After accomplishing half their journey, they encountered, while their boats were lying at anchor, Li Wan's widowed sister-in-law, who also was on her way to the metropolis, with her two girls, the elder of whom was Li Wen and the younger Li Ch'i. They all them talked matters over, and, induced by the ties of relationship, the three families prosecuted their voyage together. But subsequently, Hseh P'an's cousin Hseh K'o,—whose father had, when on a visit years ago to the capital, engaged his uterine sister to the son of the Han-lin Mei, whose residence was in the metropolis,—came while planning to go and consummate the marriage, to learn of Wang Jen's departure, so taking his sister with him, he kept in his track till he managed to catch him up. Hence it happened that they all now arrived in a body to look up their respective relatives. In due course, they exchanged the conventional salutations; and these over, they had a chat.
Dowager lady Chia and madame Wang were both filled with ineffable delight.
"Little wonder is it," smiled old lady Chia, "if the snuff of the lamp crackled time and again; and if it formed and reformed into a head! It was, indeed, sure to come to this to-day!"
While she conversed on every-day topics, the presents had to be put away; and, as she, at the same time, expressed a wish to keep the new arrivals to partake of some wine and eatables, lady Feng had, needless to say, much extra work added to her ordinary duties.
Li Wan and Pao-ch'ai descanted, of course, with their aunts and cousins on the events that had transpired since their separation. But Tai-y, though when they first met, continued in cheerful spirits, could not again, when the recollection afterwards flashed through her mind that one and all had their relatives, and that she alone had not a soul to rely upon, avoid withdrawing out of the way, and giving vent to tears.
Pao-y, however, read her feelings, and he had to do all that lay in his power to exhort her and to console her for a time before she cheered up. Pao-y then hurried into the I Hung court. Going up to Hsi Jen, She Yeh and Chi'ng Wen: "Don't you yet hasten to go and see them?" he smiled. "Who'd ever have fancied that cousin Pao-ch'ai's own cousin would be what he is? That cousin of hers is so unique in appearance and in deportment. He looks as if he were cousin Pao-ch'ai's uterine younger brother. But what's still more odd is, that you should have kept on saying the whole day long that cousin Pao-ch'ai is a very beautiful creature. You should now see her cousin, as well as the two girls of her senior sister-in-law. I couldn't adequately tell you what they're like. Good heavens! Good heavens! What subtle splendour and spiritual beauty must you possess to produce beings like them, so superior to other human creatures! How plain it is that I'm like a frog wallowing at the bottom of a well! I've throughout every hour of the day said to myself that nowhere could any girls be found to equal those at present in our home; but, as it happens, I haven't had far to look! Even in our own native sphere, one would appear to eclipse the other! Here I have now managed to add one more stratum to my store of learning! But can it possibly be that outside these few, there can be any more like them?"
As he uttered these sentiments, he smiled to himself. But Hsi Jen noticed how much under the influence of his insane fits he once more was, and she promptly abandoned all idea of going over to pay her respects to the visitors.
Ch'ing Wen and the other girls had already gone and seen them and come back. Putting on a smile, "You'd better," they urged Hsi Jen, "be off at once and have a look at them. Our elder mistress' niece, Miss Pao's cousin, and our senior lady's two sisters resemble a bunch of four leeks so pretty are they!"
But scarcely were these words out of their lips, than they perceived T'an Ch'un too enter the room, beaming with smiles. She came in quest of Pao-y.
"Our poetical society is in a flourishing way," she remarked.
"It is," smiled Pao-y. "Here no sooner do we, in the exuberance of our spirits, start a poetical society, than the devils and gods bring through their agency, all these people in our midst! There's only one thing however. Have they, I wonder, ever learnt how to write poetry or not?"
"I just now asked every one of them," T'an Ch'un replied. "Their ideas of themselves are modest, it's true, yet from all I can gather there's not one who can't versify. But should there even be any who can't, there's nothing hard about it. Just look at Hsiang Ling. Her case will show you the truth of what I say."
"Of the whole lot," smiled Ch'ing Wen, "Miss Hseh's cousin carries the palm. What do you think about her, Miss Tertia?"
"It's really so!" T'an Ch'un responded. "In my own estimation, even her elder cousin and all this bevy of girls are not fit to hold a candle to her!"
Hsi Jen felt much surprise at what she heard. "This is indeed odd!" she smiled. "Whence could one hunt up any better? We'd like to go and have a peep at her."
"Our venerable senior," T'an Ch'un observed, "was at the very first sight of her so charmed with her that there's nothing she wouldn't do. She has already compelled our Madame Hsing to adopt her as a godchild. Our dear ancestor wishes to bring her up herself; this point was settled a little while back."
Pao-y went into ecstasies. "Is this a fact?" he eagerly inquired.
"How often have I gone in for yarns?" T'an Ch'un said. "Now that our worthy senior," continuing, she laughed, "has got this nice granddaughter, she has banished from her mind all thought of a grandson like you!"
"Never mind," answered Pao-y smiling. "It's only right that girls should be more doated upon. But to-morrow is the sixteenth, so we should have a meeting."
"That girl Lin Tai-y is no sooner out of bed," T'an Ch'un remarked, "than cousin Secunda falls ill again. Everything is, in fact, up and down!"
"Our cousin Secunda," Pao-y explained, "doesn't also go in very much for verses, so, what would it matter if she were left out?"
"It would be well to wait a few days," T'an Ch'un urged, "until the new comers have had time to see enough of us to become intimate. We can then invite them to join us. Won't this be better? Our senior sister-in-law and cousin Pao have now no mind for poetry. Besides, Hsiang-yn has not arrived. P'in Erh is just over her sickness. The members are not all therefore in a fit state, so wouldn't it be preferable if we waited until that girl Yn came? The new arrivals will also have a chance of becoming friendly. P'in Erh will likewise recover entirely. Our senior sister-in-law and cousin Pao will have time to compose their minds; and Hsiang Ling to improve in her verses. We shall then be able to convene a full meeting; and won't it be better? You and I must now go over to our worthy ancestor's, on the other side, and hear what's up. But, barring cousin Pao-ch'ai's cousin,—for we needn't take her into account, as it's sure to have been decided that she should live in our home,—if the other three are not to stay here with us, we should entreat our grandmother to let them as well take up their quarters in the garden. And if we succeed in adding a few more to our number, won't it be more fun for us?"
Pao-y at these words was so much the more gratified that his very eyebrows distended, and his eyes laughed. "You've got your wits about you!" he speedily exclaimed. "My mind is ever so dull! I've vainly given way to a fit of joy. But to think of these contingencies was beyond me!"
So saying the two cousins repaired together to their grandmother's suite of apartments; where, in point of fact, Madame Wang had already gone through the ceremony of recognizing Hseh Pao-ch'in as her godchild. Dowager lady Chia's fascination for her, however, was so much out of the common run that she did not tell her to take up her quarters in the garden. Of a night, she therefore slept with old lady Chia in the same rooms; while Hseh K'o put up in Hseh P'an's study.
"Your niece needn't either return home," dowager lady Chia observed to Madame Hsing. "Let her spend a few days in the garden and see the place before she goes."
Madame Hsing's brother and sister-in-law were, indeed, in straitened circumstances at home. So much so that they had, on their present visit to the capital, actually to rely upon such accommodation as Madame Hsing could procure for them and upon such help towards their travelling expenses as she could afford to give them. When she consequently heard her proposal, Madame Hsing was, of course, only too glad to comply with her wishes, and readily she handed Hsing Chou-yen to the charge of lady Feng. But lady Feng, bethinking herself of the number of young ladies already in the garden, of their divergent dispositions and, above all things, of the inconvenience of starting a separate household, deemed it advisable to send her to live along with Ying Ch'un; for in the event, (she thought), of Hsing Chou-yen meeting afterwards with any contrarieties, she herself would be clear of all responsibility, even though Madame Hsing came to hear about them. Deducting, therefore any period, spent by Hsing Chou-yen on a visit home, lady Feng allowed Hsing Chou-yen as well, if she extended her stay in the garden of Broad Vista for any time over a month, an amount equal to that allotted to Ying Ch'un.
Lady Feng weighed with unprejudiced eye Hsing Chou-yen's temperament and deportment. She found in her not the least resemblance to Madame Hsing, or even to her father and mother; but thought her a most genial and love-inspiring girl. This consideration actuated lady Feng (not to deal harshly with her), but to pity her instead for the poverty, in which they were placed at home, and for the hard lot she had to bear, and to treat her with far more regard than she did any of the other young ladies. Madame Hsing, however, did not lavish much attention on her.
Dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the rest had all along been fond of Li Wan for her virtuous and benevolent character. Besides, her continence in remaining a widow at her tender age commanded general esteem. When they therefore now saw her husbandless sister-in-law come to pay her a visit, they would not allow her to go and live outside the mansion. Her sister-in-law was, it is true, extremely opposed to the proposal, but as dowager lady Chia was firm in her determination, she had no other course but to settle down, along with Li Wen and Li Ch'i, in the Tao Hsiang village.
They had by this time assigned quarters to all the new comers, when, who would have thought it, Shih Ting, Marquis of Chung Ching, was once again appointed to a high office in another province, and he had shortly to take his family and proceed to his post. But so little could old lady Chia brook the separation from Hsiang-yn that she kept her behind and received her in her own home. Her original idea was to have asked lady Feng to have separate rooms arranged for her, but Shih Hsiang-yn was so obstinate in her refusal, her sole wish being to put up with Pao-ch'ai, that the idea had, in consequence, to be abandoned.
At this period, the garden of Broad Vista was again much more full of life than it had ever been before. Li Wan was the chief inmate. The rest consisted of Ying Ch'un, T'an Ch'un, Hsi Ch'un, Pao-ch'ai, Tai-y, Hsiang-yn, Li Wen, Li Ch'i, Pao Ch'in and Hsing Chou-yen. In addition to these, there were lady Feng and Pao-y, so that they mustered thirteen in all. As regards age, irrespective of Li Wan, who was by far the eldest, and lady Feng, who came next, the other inmates did not exceed fourteen, sixteen or seventeen. But the majority of them had come into the world in the same year, though in different months, so they themselves could not remember distinctly who was senior, and who junior. Even dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the matrons and maids in the household were unable to tell the differences between them with any accuracy, given as they were to the simple observance of addressing themselves promiscuously and quite at random by the four words representing 'female cousin' and 'male cousin.'
Hsiang Ling was gratifying her wishes to her heart's content and devoting her mind exclusively to the composition of verses, not presuming however to make herself too much of a nuisance to Pao-ch'ai, when, by a lucky coincidence, Shih Hsiang-yn came on the scene. But how was it possible for one so loquacious as Hsiang-yn to avoid the subject of verses, when Hsiang Ling repeatedly begged her for explanations? This inspirited her so much the more, that not a day went by, yea not a single night, on which she did not start some loud argument and lengthy discussion.
"You really," Pao-ch'ai felt impelled to laugh, "kick up such a din, that it's quite unbearable! Fancy a girl doing nothing else than turning poetry into a legitimate thing for raising an argument! Why, were some literary persons to hear you, they would, instead of praising you, have a laugh at your expense, and say that you don't mind your own business. We hadn't yet got rid of Hsiang Ling with all her rubbish, and here we have a chatterbox like you thrown on us! But what is it that that mouth of yours keeps on jabbering? What about the bathos of Tu Kung-pu; and the unadorned refinement of Wei Su-chou? What also about Wen Pa-ch'a's elegant diction; and Li I-shan's abstruseness? A pack of silly fools that you are! Do you in any way behave like girls should?"
These sneers evoked laughter from both Hsiang Ling and Hsiang-yn. But in the course of their conversation, they perceived Pao-ch'in drop in, with a waterproof wrapper thrown over her, so dazzling with its gold and purplish colours, that they were at a loss to make out what sort of article it could be.
"Where did you get this?" Pao-ch'ai eagerly inquired.
"It was snowing," Pao-ch'in smilingly replied, "so her venerable ladyship turned up this piece of clothing and gave it to me."
Hsiang Ling drew near and passed it under inspection. "No wonder," she exclaimed, "it looks so handsome! It's verily woven with peacock's feathers."
"What about peacock's feathers?" Hsiang-yn laughed. "It's made of the feathers plucked from the heads of wild ducks. This is a clear sign that our worthy ancestor is fond of you, for with all her love for Pao-y, she hasn't given it to him to wear."
"Truly does the proverb say: 'that every human being has his respective lot.'" Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Nothing ever was further from my thoughts than that she would, at this juncture, drop on the scene! Come she may, but here she also gets our dear ancestor to lavish such love on her!"
"Unless you stay with our worthy senior," Hsiang-yn said, "do come into the garden. You may romp and laugh and eat and drink as much as you like in these two places. But when you get over to Madame Hsing's rooms, talk and joke with her, if she be at home, to your heart's content; it won't matter if you tarry ever so long. But should she not be in, don't put your foot inside; for the inmates are many in those rooms and their hearts are evil. All they're up to is to do us harm."
These words much amused Pao-ch'ai, Pao-ch'in, Hsiang-Ling, Ying Erh and the others present.
"Were one to say," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "that you're heartless, (it wouldn't do); for you've got a heart. But despite your having a heart, your tongue is, in fact, a little too outspoken! You should really to-day acknowledge this Ch'in Erh of ours as your own sister!"
"This article of clothing," Hsiang-yn laughed, casting another glance at Pao-ch'in, "is only meet for her to wear. It wouldn't verily look well on any one else."
Saying this, she espied Hu Po enter the room. "Our old mistress," she put in smiling, "bade me tell you, Miss Pao-ch'ai, not to keep too strict a check over Miss Ch'in, for she's yet young; that you should let her do as she pleases, and that whatever she wants you should ask for, and not be afraid."
Pao-ch'ai hastily jumped to her feet and signified her obedience. Pushing Pao-ch'in, she laughed. "Even you couldn't tell whence this piece of good fortune hails from," she said. "Be off now; for mind, we might hurt your feelings. I can never believe myself so inferior to you!"
As she spoke, Pao-y and Tai-y walked in. But as Pao-ch'ai continued to indulge in raillery to herself, "Cousin Pao," Hsiang-yn smilingly remonstrated, "you may, it's true, be jesting, but what if there were any one to entertain such ideas in real earnest?"
"If any one took things in earnest," Hu Po interposed laughing, "why, she'd give offence to no one else but to him." Pointing, as she uttered this remark, at Pao-y.
"He's not that sort of person!" Pao-ch'ai and Hsiang-yn simultaneously ventured, with a significant smile.
"If it isn't he," Hu Po proceeded still laughing, "it's she." Turning again her finger towards Tai-y.
Hsiang-yn expressed not a word by way of rejoinder.
"That's still less likely," Pao-ch'ai smiled, "for my cousin is like her own sister; and she's far fonder of her than of me. How could she therefore take offence? Do you credit that nonsensical trash uttered by Yn-erh! Why what good ever comes out of that mouth of hers?"
Pao-y was ever well aware that Tai-y was gifted with a somewhat mean disposition. He had not however as yet come to learn anything of what had recently transpired between Tai-y and Pao-ch'ai. He was therefore just giving way to fears lest his grandmother's fondness for Pao-ch'in should be the cause of her feeling dejected. But when he now heard the remarks passed by Hsiang-yn, and the rejoinders made, on the other hand, by Pao-ch'ai, and, when he noticed how different Tai-y's voice and manner were from former occasions, and how they actually bore out Pao-ch'ai's insinuation, he was at a great loss how to solve the mystery. "These two," he consequently pondered, "were never like this before! From all I can now see, they're, really, a hundred times far more friendly than any others are!" But presently he also observed Lin Tai-y rush after Pao-ch'in, and call out 'Sister,' and, without even making any allusion to her name or any mention to her surname, treat her in every respect, just as if she were her own sister.
This Pao-ch'in was young and warm-hearted. She was naturally besides of an intelligent disposition. She had, from her very youth up, learnt how to read and how to write. After a stay, on the present occasion, of a couple of days in the Chia mansion, she became acquainted with nearly every inmate. And as she saw that the whole bevy of young ladies were not of a haughty nature, and that they kept on friendly terms with her own cousin, she did not feel disposed to treat them with any discourtesy. But she had likewise found out for herself that Lin Tai-y was the best among the whole lot, so she started with Tai-y, more than with any one else, a friendship of unusual fervour. This did not escape Pao-y's notice; but all he could do was to secretly give way to amazement.
Shortly, however, Pao-ch'ai and her cousin repaired to Mrs. Hseh's quarters. Hsiang-yn then betook herself to dowager lady Chia's apartments, while Lin Tai-y returned to her room and lay down to rest.
Pao-y thereupon came to look up Tai-y.
"Albeit I've read the 'Record of the Western Side-room,'" he smiled, "and understood a few passages of it, yet when I quoted some in order to make you laugh, you flew into a huff! But I now remember that there is, indeed, a passage, which is not intelligible to me; so let me quote it for you to explain it for me!"
Hearing this, Tai-y immediately concluded that his words harboured some secret meaning, so putting on a smile, "Recite it and let me hear it," she said.
"In the 'Confusion' chapter," Pao-y laughingly began, "there's a line couched in most beautiful language. It's this: 'What time did Meng Kuang receive Liang Hung's candlestick?' (When did you and Pao-ch'ai get to be such friends?) These five characters simply bear on a stock story; but to the credit of the writer be it, the question contained in the three empty words representing, 'What time' is set so charmingly! When did she receive it? Do tell me!"
At this inquiry, Tai-y too could not help laughing. "The question was originally nicely put," she felt urged to rejoin with a laugh. "But though the writer sets it gracefully, you ask it likewise with equal grace!"
"At one time," Pao-y. observed, "all you knew was to suspect that I (was in love with Pao-ch'ai); and have you now no faults to find?"
"Who ever could have imagined her such a really nice girl!" Tai-y smiled. "I've all along thought her full of guile!" And seizing the occasion, she told Pao-y with full particulars how she had, in the game of forfeits, made an improper quotation, and what advice Pao-ch'ai had given her on the subject; how she had even sent her some birds' nests, and what they had said in the course of the chat they had had during her illness.
Pao-y then at length came to see why it was that such a warm friendship had sprung up between them. "To tell you the truth," he consequently remarked smilingly, "I was just wondering when Meng Kuang had received Liang Hung's candlestick; and, lo, you, indeed, got it, when a mere child and through some reckless talk, (and your friendship was sealed)."
As the conversation again turned on Pao-ch'in, Tai-y recalled to mind that she had no sister, and she could not help melting once more into tears.
Pao-y hastened to reason with her. "This is again bringing trouble upon yourself!" he argued. "Just see how much thinner you are this year than you were last; and don't you yet look after your health? You deliberately worry yourself every day of your life. And when you've had a good cry, you feel at last that you've acquitted yourself of the duties of the day."
"Of late," Tai-y observed, drying her tears, "I feel sore at heart. But my tears are scantier by far than they were in years gone by. With all the grief and anguish, which gnaw my heart, my tears won't fall plentifully."
"This is because weeping has become a habit with you," Pao-y added. "But though you fancy to yourself that it is so, how can your tears have become scantier than they were?"
While arguing with her, he perceived a young waiting-maid, attached to his room, bring him a red felt wrapper. "Our senior mistress, lady Chia Chu," she went on, "has just sent a servant to say that, as it snows, arrangements should be made for inviting people to-morrow to write verses."
But hardly was this message delivered, than they saw Li Wan's maid enter, and invite Tai-y to go over. Pao-y then proposed to Tai-y to accompany him, and together they came to the Tao Hsiang village. Tai-y changed her shoes for a pair of low shoes made of red scented sheep skin, ornamented with gold, and hollowed clouds. She put on a deep red crape cloak, lined with white fox fur; girdled herself with a lapis-lazuli coloured sash, decorated with bright green double rings and four sceptres; and covered her head with a hat suitable for rainy weather. After which, the two cousins trudged in the snow, and repaired to this side of the mansion. Here they discovered the young ladies assembled, dressed all alike in deep red felt or camlet capes, with the exception of Li Wan, who was clad in a woollen jacket, buttoning in the middle.
Hseh Pao-ch'ai wore a pinkish-purple twilled pelisse, lined with foreign 'pa' fur, worked with threads from abroad, and ornamented with double embroidery. Hsing Chou-yen was still attired in an old costume, she ordinarily used at home, without any garment for protection against the rain. Shortly, Shih Hsiang-yn arrived. She wore the long pelisse, given her by dowager lady Chia, which gave warmth both from the inside and outside, as the top consisted of martin-head fur, and the lining of the long-haired coat of the dark grey squirrel. On her head, she had a deep red woollen hood, made la Chao Chn, with designs of clouds scooped out on it. This was lined with gosling-yellow, gold-streaked silk. Round her neck, she had a collar of sable fur.
"Just see here!" Tai-y was the first to shout with a laugh. "Here comes Sun Hsing-che the 'monkey-walker!' Lo, like him, she holds a snow cloak, and purposely puts on the air of a young bewitching ape!"
"Look here, all of you!" Hsiang-yn laughed. "See what I wear inside!"
So saying, she threw off her cloak. This enabled them to notice that she wore underneath a half-new garment with three different coloured borders on the collar and cuffs, consisting of a short pelisse of russet material lined with ermine and ornamented with dragons embroidered in variegated silks whose coils were worked with golden threads. The lapel was narrow. The sleeves were short. The folds buttoned on the side. Under this, she had a very short light-red brocaded satin bodkin, lined with fur from foxes' ribs. Round her waist was lightly attached a many-hued palace sash, with butterfly knots and long tassels. On her feet, she too wore a pair of low shoes made of deer leather. Her waist looked more than ever like that of a wasp, her back like that of the gibbon. Her bearing resembled that of a crane, her figure that of a mantis.
"Her weak point," they laughed unanimously, "is to get herself up to look like a young masher. But she does, there's no denying, cut a much handsomer figure like this, than when she's dressed up like a girl!"
"Lose no time," Hsiang-yn smiled, "in deliberating about writing verses, for I'd like to hear who is to stand treat."
"According to my idea," Li Wan chimed in, "I think that as the legitimate day, which was yesterday, has gone by, it would be too long to wait for another proper date. As luck would have it, it's snowing again to-day, so won't it be well to raise contributions among ourselves and have a meeting? We'll thus be able to give the visitors a greeting; and to get an opportunity of writing a few verses. But what are your views on the subject?"
"This proposal is excellent!" Pao-y was the first to exclaim. "The only thing is that it's too late to-day; and if it clears up by to-morrow, there will be really no fun."
"It isn't likely," cried out the party with one voice, "that this snowy weather will clear up. But even supposing it does, the snow which will fall during this night will be sufficient for our enjoyment."
"This place of mine is nice enough, it's true," Li Wan added, "yet it isn't up to the Lu Hseh Pavilion. I've already therefore despatched workmen to raise earthen couches, so that we should all be able to sit round the fire and compose our verses. Our venerable senior, I fancy, is not sure about caring to join us. Besides, this is only a small amusement between ourselves so if we just let that hussy Feng know something about it, it will be quite enough. A tael from each of you will be ample, but send your money to me here! As regards Hsiang Ling, Pao-ch'in, Li Wen, Li Ch'i and Chou-yen, the five of them, we needn't count them. Neither need we include the two girls of our number, who are ill; nor take into account the four girls who've asked for leave. If you will let me have your four shares, I'll undertake to see that five or six taels be made to suffice."
Pao-ch'ai and the others without exception signified their acquiescence. They consequently proceeded to propose the themes and to fix upon the rhymes.
"I've long ago," smiled Li Wan, "settled them in my own mind, so tomorrow at the proper time you'll really know all about them."
At the conclusion of this remark, they indulged in another chat on irrelevant topics; and this over, they came into old lady Chia's quarters.
Nothing of any note transpired during the course of that day. At an early hour on the morrow, Pao-y—for he had been looking forward with such keen expectation to the coming event that he had found it impossible to have any sleep during the night,—jumped out of bed with the first blush of dawn. Upon raising his curtain and looking out, he observed that, albeit the doors and windows were as yet closed, a bright light shone on the lattice sufficient to dazzle the eyes, and his mind began at once to entertain misgivings, and to feel regrets, in the assurance that the weather had turned out fine, and that the sun had already risen. In a hurry, he simultaneously sprung to his feet, and flung the window-frame open, then casting a glance outside, from within the glass casement, he realised that it was not the reflection of the sun, but that of the snow, which had fallen throughout the night to the depth of over a foot, and that the heavens were still covered as if with twisted cotton and unravelled floss. Pao-y got, by this time, into an unusual state of exhilaration. Hastily calling up the servants, and completing his ablutions, he robed himself in an egg-plant-coloured camlet, fox-fur lined pelisse; donned a short-sleeved falconry surtout ornamented with water dragons; tied a sash round his waist; threw over his shoulders a fine bamboo waterproof; covered his head with a golden rattan rain-hat; put on a pair of 'sha t'ang' wood clogs, and rushed out with precipitate step towards the direction of the Lu Hseh Pavilion.
As soon as he sallied out of the gate of the courtyard, he gazed on all four quarters. No trace whatever of any other colour (but white) struck his eye. In the distance stood the green fir-trees and the kingfisherlike bamboos. They too looked, however, as if they were placed in a glass bowl.
Forthwith he wended his way down the slope and trudged along the foot of the hill. But the moment he turned the bend, he felt a whiff of cold fragrance come wafted into his nostrils. Turning his head, he espied ten and more red plum trees, over at Miao Y's in the Lung Ts'ui monastery. They were red like very rouge. And, reflecting the white colour of the snow, they showed off their beauty to such an extraordinary degree as to present a most pleasing sight.
Pao-y quickly stood still, and gazed, with all intentness, at the landscape for a time. But just as he was proceeding on his way, he caught sight of some one on the "Wasp waist" wooden bridge, advancing in his direction, with an umbrella in hand. It was the servant, despatched by Li Wan, to request lady Peng to go over.
On his arrival in the Lu Hseh pavilion, Pao-y found the maids and matrons engaged in sweeping away the snow and opening a passage. This Lu Hseh (Water-rush snow) pavilion was, we might explain, situated on a side hill, in the vicinity of a stream and spanned the rapids formed by it. The whole place consisted of several thatched roofs, mud walls, side fences, bamboo lattice windows and pushing windows, out of which fishing-lines could be conveniently dropped. On all four sides flourished one mass of reeds, which concealed the single path out of the pavilion. Turning and twisting, he penetrated on his way through the growth of reeds until he reached the spot where stretched the bamboo bridge leading to the Lotus Fragrance Arbour.
The moment the maids and matrons saw him approach with his waterproof-wrapper thrown over his person and his rain-hat on his head, they with one voice laughed, "We were just remarking that what was lacking was a fisherman, and lo, now we've got everything that was wanted! The young ladies are coming after their breakfast; you're in too impatient a mood!"
At these words, Pao-y had no help but to retrace his footsteps. As soon as he reached the Hsin Tang pavilion, he perceived T'an Ch'un, issuing from the Ch'iu Shuang Study, wrapped in a deep red woollen waterproof, and a 'Kuan Yin' hood on her head, supporting herself on the arm of a young maid. Behind her, followed a married woman, holding a glazed umbrella made of green satin.
Pao-y knew very well that she was on her way to his grandmother's, so speedily halting by the side of the pavilion, he waited for her to come up. The two cousins then left the garden together, and betook themselves to the front part of the mansion. Pao-ch'in was at the time in the inner apartments, combing her hair, washing her hands and face and changing her apparel. Shortly, the whole number of girls arrived. "I feel peckish!" Pao-y shouted; and again and again he tried to hurry the meal. It was with great impatience that he waited until the eatables could be laid on the table.
One of the dishes consisted of kid, boiled in cow's milk. "This is medicine for us, who are advanced in years," old lady Chia observed. "They're things that haven't seen the light! The pity is that you young people can't have any. There's some fresh venison to-day as an extra course, so you'd better wait and eat some of that!"
One and all expressed their readiness to wait. Pao-y however could not delay having something to eat. Seizing a cup of tea, he soaked a bowlful of rice, to which he added some meat from a pheasant's leg, and gobbled it down in a scramble.
"I'm well aware," dowager lady Chia said, "that as you're up to something again to-day, you people have no mind even for your meal. Let them keep," she therefore cried, "that venison for their evening repast!"
"What an idea!" lady Feng promptly put in. "We'll have enough with what remains of it."
Shih Hsiang-yn thereupon consulted with Pao-y. "As there's fresh venison," she said, "wouldn't it be nice to ask for a haunch and take it into the garden and prepare it ourselves? We'll thus be able to sate our hunger, and have some fun as well."
At this proposal, Pao-y actually asked lady Feng to let them have a haunch, and he bade a matron carry it into the garden.
Presently, they all got up from table. After a time, they entered the garden and came in a body to the Lu Hseh pavilion to hear Li Wan give out the themes, and fix upon the rhymes. But Hsiang-yn and Pao-y were the only two of whom nothing was seen.
"Those two," Tai-y observed, "can't get together! The moment they meet, how much trouble doesn't arise! They must surely have now gone to hatch their plans over that haunch of venison."
These words were still on her lips when she saw 'sister-in-law' Li coming also to see what the noise was all about. "How is it," she then inquired of Li Wan, "that that young fellow, with the jade, and that girl, with the golden unicorn round her neck, both of whom are so cleanly and tidy, and have besides ample to eat, are over there conferring about eating raw meat? There they are chatting, saying this and saying that; but I can't see how meat can be eaten raw!"
This remark much amused the party. "How dreadful!" they exclaimed, "Be quick and bring them both here!"
"All this fuss," Tay-y smiled, "is the work of that girl Yn. I'm not far off again in my surmises."
Li Wan went out with precipitate step in search of the cousins. "If you two are bent upon eating raw meat," she cried, "I'll send you over to our old senior's; you can do so there. What will I care then if you have a whole deer raw and make yourselves ill over it? It won't be any business of mine. But it's snowing hard and it's bitterly cold, so be quick and go and write some verses for me and be off!"
"We're doing nothing of the kind," Pao-y hastily rejoined. "We're going to eat some roasted meat."
"Well, that won't matter!" Li Wan observed. And seeing the old matrons bring an iron stove, prongs and a gridiron of iron wire, "Mind you don't cut your hands," Li Wan resumed, "for we won't have any crying!"
This remark concluded, she walked in.
Lady Feng had sent P'ing Erh from her quarters to announce that she was unable to come, as the issue of the customary annual money gave her just at present, plenty to keep her busy.
Hsiang-yn caught sight of P'ing Erh and would not let her go on her errand. But P'ing Erh too was fond of amusement, and had ever followed lady Feng everywhere she went, so, when she perceived what fun was to be got, and how merrily they joked and laughed, she felt impelled to take off her bracelets (and to join them). The trio then pressed round the fire; and P'ing Erh wanted to be the first to roast three pieces of venison to regale themselves with.
On the other side, Pao-ch'ai and Tai-y had, even in ordinary times, seen enough of occasions like the present. They did not therefore think it anything out of the way; but Pao-ch'in and the other visitors, inclusive of 'sister-in-law' Li, were filled with intense wonder.
T'an Ch'un had, with the help of Li Wan, and her companions, succeeded by this time in choosing the subjects and rhymes. "Just smell that sweet fragrance," T'an Ch'un remarked. "One can smell it even here! I'm also going to taste some."
So speaking, she too went to look them up. But Li Wan likewise followed her out. "The guests are all assembled," she observed. "Haven't you people had enough as yet?"
While Hsiang-yn munched what she had in her month, she replied to her question. "Whenever," she said, "I eat this sort of thing, I feel a craving for wine. It's only after I've had some that I shall be able to rhyme. Were it not for this venison, I would to-day have positively been quite unfit for any poetry." As she spoke, she discerned Pao-ch'in, standing and laughing opposite to her, in her duck-down garment.