Lady Feng, as it happened, was just engaged in consulting with old lady Chia and Madame Wang. "The days are now short as well as cold," she argued, "so wouldn't it be advisable that my senior sister-in-law, Mrs. Chia Chu, should henceforward have her repasts in the garden, along with the young ladies? When the weather gets milder, it won't at all matter, if they have to run backward and forward."
"This is really a capital idea!" Madame Wang smiled. "It will be so convenient during windy and rainy weather. To inhale the chilly air after eating isn't good. And to come quite empty, and begin piling up a lot of things in a stomach full of cold air isn't quite safe. It would be as well therefore to select two cooks from among the women, who have, anyhow, to keep night duty in the large five-roomed house, inside the garden back entrance, and station them there for the special purpose of preparing the necessary viands for the girls. Fresh vegetables are subject to some rule of distribution, so they can be issued to them from the general manager's office. Or they might possibly require money or be in need of some things or other. And it will be all right if a few of those pheasants, deer, and every kind of game, be apportioned to them."
"I too was just thinking about this," dowager lady Chia observed. "The only thing I feared was that with the extra work that would again be thrown upon the cook-house, they mightn't have too much to do."
"There'll be nothing much to do," lady Feng replied. "The same apportionment will continue as ever. In here, something may be added; but in there something will be reduced. Should it even involve a little trouble, it will be a small matter. If the girls were exposed to the cold wind, every one else might stand it with impunity; but how could cousin Lin, first and foremost above all others, resist anything of the kind? In fact, brother Pao himself wouldn't be proof against it. What's more, none of the various young ladies can boast of a strong constitution."
What rejoinder old lady Chia made to lady Feng, at the close of her representations, is not yet ascertained; so, reader, listen to the explanations you will find given in the next chapter.
The beautiful P'ing Erh endeavours to conceal the loss of the bracelet, made of work as fine as the feelers of a shrimp. The brave Ch'ing Wen mends the down-cloak during her indisposition.
But let us return to our story.
"Quite so!" was the reply with which dowager lady Chia (greeted lady Feng's proposal). "I meant the other day to have suggested this arrangement, but I saw that every one of you had so many urgent matters to attend to, (and I thought) that although you would not presume to bear me a grudge, were several duties now again superadded, you would unavoidably imagine that I only regarded those young grandsons and granddaughters of mine, and had no consideration for any of you, who have to look after the house. But since you make this suggestion yourself, it's all right."
And seeing that Mrs. Hseh, and 'sister-in-law' Li were sitting with her, and that Madame Hsing, and Mrs. Yu and the other ladies, who had also crossed over to pay their respects, had not as yet gone to their quarters, old lady Chia broached the subject with Madame Wang, and the rest of the company. "I've never before ventured to give utterance to the remarks that just fell from my lips," she said, "as first of all I was in fear and trembling lest I should have made that girl Feng more presumptuous than ever, and next, lest I should have incurred the displeasure of one and all of you. But since you're all here to-day, and every one of you knows what brothers' wives and husbands' sisters mean, is there (I ask) any one besides her as full of forethought?"
Mrs. Hseh, 'sister-in-law' Li and Mrs. Yu smiled with one consent. "There are indeed but few like her!" they cried. "That of others is simply a conventional 'face' affection, but she is really fond of her husband's sisters and his young brother. In fact, she's as genuinely filial with you, venerable senior."
Dowager lady Chia nodded her head. "Albeit I'm fond of her," she sighed, "I can't, on the other hand, help distrusting that excessive shrewdness of hers, for it isn't a good thing."
"You're wrong there, worthy ancestor," lady Feng laughed with alacrity. "People in the world as a rule maintain that 'too shrewd and clever a person can't, it is feared, live long.' Now what people of the world invariably say people of the world invariably believe. But of you alone, my dear senior, can no such thing be averred or believed. For there you are, ancestor mine, a hundred times sharper and cleverer than I; and how is it that you now enjoy both perfect happiness and longevity? But I presume that I shall by and bye excel you by a hundredfold, and die at length, after a life of a thousand years, when you venerable senior shall have departed from these mortal scenes!"
"After every one is dead and gone," dowager lady Chia laughingly observed, "what pleasure will there be, if two antiquated elves, like you and I will be, remain behind?"
This joke excited general mirth.
But so concerned was Pao-y about Ch'ing Wen and other matters that he was the first to make a move and return into the garden. On his arrival at his quarters, he found the rooms full of the fragrance emitted by the medicines. Not a soul did he, however, see about. Ch'ing Wen was reclining all alone on the stove-couch. Her face was feverish and red. When he came to touch it, his hand experienced a scorching sensation. Retracing his steps therefore towards the stove, he warmed his hands and inserted them under the coverlet and felt her. Her body as well was as hot as fire.
"If the others have left," he then remarked, "there's nothing strange about it, but are She Yeh and Ch'iu Wen too so utterly devoid of feeling as to have each gone after her own business?"
"As regards Ch'iu Wen," Ch'ing Wen explained, "I told her to go and have her meal. And as for She Yeh, P'ing Erh came just now and called her out of doors and there they are outside confabbing in a mysterious way! What the drift of their conversation can be I don't know. But they must be talking about my having fallen ill, and my not leaving this place to go home."
"P'ing Erh isn't that sort of person," Pao-y pleaded. "Besides, she had no idea whatever about your illness, so that she couldn't have come specially to see how you were getting on. I fancy her object was to look up She Yeh to hobnob with her, but finding unexpectedly that you were not up to the mark, she readily said that she had come on purpose to find what progress you were making. This was quite a natural thing for a person with so wily a disposition to say, for the sake of preserving harmony. But if you don't go home, it's none of her business. You two have all along been, irrespective of other things, on such good terms that she could by no means entertain any desire to injure the friendly relations which exist between you, all on account of something that doesn't concern her."
"Your remarks are right enough," Ch'ing Wen rejoined, "but I do suspect her, as why did she too start, all of a sudden, imposing upon me?"
"Wait, I'll walk out by the back door," Pao-y smiled, "and go to the foot of the window, and listen to what she's saying. I'll then come and tell you."
Speaking the while, he, in point of fact, sauntered out of the back door; and getting below the window, he lent an ear to their confidences.
"How did you manage to get it?" She Yueh inquired with gentle voice.
"When I lost sight of it on that day that I washed my hands," P'ing Erh answered, "our lady Secunda wouldn't let us make a fuss. But the moment she left the garden, she there and then sent word to the nurses, stationed in the various places, to institute careful search. Our suspicions, however, fell upon Miss Hsing's maid, who has ever also been poverty-stricken; surmising that a young girl of her age, who had never set eyes upon anything of the kind, may possibly have picked it up and taken it. But never did we positively believe that it could be some one from this place of yours! Happily, our lady Secunda wasn't in the room, when that nurse Sung who is with you here went over, and said, producing the bracelet, 'that the young maid, Chui Erh, had stolen it, and that she had detected her, and come to lay the matter before our lady Secunda. I promptly took over the bracelet from her; and recollecting how imperious and exacting Pao-y is inclined to be, fond and devoted as he is to each and all of you; how the jade which was prigged the other year by a certain Liang Erh, is still, just as the matter has cooled down for the last couple of years, canvassed at times by some people eager to serve their own ends; how some one has now again turned up to purloin this gold trinket; how it was filched, to make matters worse, from a neighbour's house; how as luck would have it, she took this of all things; and how it happened to be his own servant to give him a slap on his mouth, I hastened to enjoin nurse Sung to, on no account whatever, let Pao-y know anything about it, but simply pretend that nothing of the kind had transpired, and to make no mention of it to any single soul. In the second place,' (I said), 'our dowager lady and Madame Wang would get angry, if they came to hear anything. Thirdly, Hsi Jen as well as yourselves would not also cut a very good figure.' Hence it was that in telling our lady Secunda, I merely explained 'that on my way to our senior mistress,' the bracelet got unclasped, without my knowing it; that it fell among the roots of the grass; that there was no chance of seeing it while the snow was deep, but that when the snow completely disappeared to-day there it glistened, so yellow and bright, in the rays of the sun, in precisely the very place where it had dropped, and that I then picked it up.' Our lady Secunda at once credited my version. So here I come to let you all know so as to be henceforward a little on your guard with her, and not get her a job anywhere else. Wait until Hsi Jen's return, and then devise means to pack her off, and finish with her."
"This young vixen has seen things of this kind before," She Yeh ejaculated, "and how is it that she was so shallow-eyed?"
"What could, after all, be the weight of this bracelet?" P'ing Erh observed. "It was once our lady Secunda's. She says that this is called the 'shrimp-feeler'-bracelet. But it's the pearl, which increases its weight. That minx Ch'ing Wen is as fiery as a piece of crackling charcoal, so were anything to be told her, she may, so little able is she to curb her temper, flare up suddenly into a huff, and beat or scold her, and kick up as much fuss as she ever has done before. That's why I simply tell you. Exercise due care, and it will be all right."
With this warning, she bid her farewell and went on her way.
Her words delighted, vexed and grieved Pao-y. He felt delighted, on account of the consideration shown by P'ing Erh for his own feelings. Vexed, because Chui Erh had turned out a petty thief. Grieved, that Chui Erh, who was otherwise such a smart girl, should have gone in for this disgraceful affair. Returning consequently into the house, he told Ch'ing Wen every word that P'ing Erh had uttered. "She says," he went on to add, "that you're so fond of having things all your own way that were you to hear anything of this business, now that you are ill, you would get worse, and that she only means to broach the subject with you, when you get quite yourself again."
Upon hearing this, Ch'ing Wen's ire was actually stirred up, and her beautiful moth-like eyebrows contracted, and her lovely phoenix eyes stared wide like two balls. So she immediately shouted out for Chui Erh.
"If you go on bawling like that," Pao-y hastily remonstrated with her, "won't you show yourself ungrateful for the regard with which P'ing Erh has dealt with you and me? Better for us to show ourselves sensible of her kindness and by and bye pack the girl off, and finish."
"Your suggestion is all very good," Ch'ing Wen demurred, "but how could I suppress this resentment?"
"What's there to feel resentment about?" Pao-y asked. "Just you take good care of yourself; it's the best thing you can do."
Ch'ing Wen then took her medicine. When evening came, she had another couple of doses. But though in the course of the night, she broke out into a slight perspiration, she did not see any change for the better in her state. Still she felt feverish, her head sore, her nose stopped, her voice hoarse. The next day, Dr. Wang came again to examine her pulse and see how she was getting on. Besides other things, he increased the proportions of certain medicines in the decoction and reduced others; but in spite of her fever having been somewhat brought down, her head continued to ache as much as ever.
"Go and fetch the snuff," Pao-y said to She Yeh, "and give it to her to sniff. She'll feel more at ease after she has had several strong sneezes."
She Yeh went, in fact, and brought a flat crystal bottle, inlaid with a couple of golden stars, and handed it to Pao-y.
Pao-y speedily raised the cover of the bottle. Inside it, he discovered, represented on western enamel, a fair-haired young girl, in a state of nature, on whose two sides figured wings of flesh. This bottle contained some really first-rate foreign snuff.
Ch'ing Wen's attention was fixedly concentrated on the representation.
"Sniff a little!" Pao-y urged. "If the smell evaporates, it won't be worth anything."
Ch'ing Wen, at his advice, promptly dug out a little with her nail, and applied it to her nose. But with no effect. So digging out again a good quantity of it, she pressed it into her nostrils. Then suddenly she experienced a sensation in her nose as if some pungent matter had penetrated into the very duct leading into the head, and she sneezed five or six consecutive times, until tears rolled down from her eyes and mucus trickled from her nostrils.
Ch'ing Wen hastily put the bottle away. "It's dreadfully pungent!" she laughed. "Bring me some paper, quick!"
A servant-girl at once handed her a pile of fine paper.
Ch'ing Wen extracted sheet after sheet, and blew her nose.
"Well," said Pao-y smiling, "how are you feeling now?"
"I'm really considerably relieved." Ch'ing Wen rejoined laughing. "The only thing is that my temples still hurt me."
"Were you to treat yourself exclusively with western medicines, I'm sure you'd get all right," Pao-y added smilingly. Saying this, "Go," he accordingly desired She Yeh, "to our lady Secunda, and ask her for some. Tell her that I spoke to you about them. My cousin over there often uses some western plaster, which she applies to her temples when she's got a headache. It's called 'I-fo-na.' So try and get some of it!"
She Yeh expressed her readiness. After a protracted absence, she, in very deed, came back with a small bit of the medicine; and going quickly for a piece of red silk cutting, she got the scissors and slit two round slips off as big as the tip of a finger. After which, she took the medicine, and softening it by the fire, she spread it on them with a hairpin.
Ch'ing Wen herself laid hold of a looking-glass with a handle and stuck the bits on both her temples.
"While you were lying sick," She Yeh laughed, "you looked like a mangy-headed devil! But with this stuff on now you present a fine sight! As for our lady Secunda she has been so much in the habit of sticking these things about her that they don't very much show off with her!"
This joke over, "Our lady Secunda said," she resumed, addressing herself to Pao-y, "'that to-morrow is your maternal uncle's birthday, and that our mistress, your mother, asked her to tell you to go over. That whatever clothes you will put on to-morrow should be got ready to-night, so as to avoid any trouble in the morning.'"
"Anything that comes first to hand," Pao-y observed, "will do well enough! There's no getting, the whole year round, at the end of all the fuss of birthdays!"
Speaking the while, he rose to his feet and left the room with the idea of repairing to Hsi Ch'un's quarters to have a look at the painting. As soon as he got outside the door of the court-yard, he unexpectedly spied Pao-ch'in's young maid, Hsiao Lo by name, crossing over from the opposite direction. Pao-y, with rapid step, strode up to her, and inquired of her whither she was going.
"Our two young ladies," Hsiao Lo answered with a smile, "are in Miss Lin's rooms; so I'm also now on my way thither."
Catching this answer, Pao-y wheeled round and came at once with her to the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge. Here not only did he find Pao-ch'ai and her cousin, but Hsing Chou-yen as well. The quartet was seated in a circle on the warming-frame; carrying on a friendly chat on everyday domestic matters; while Tzu Chan was sitting in the winter apartment, working at some needlework by the side of the window.
The moment they caught a glimpse of him, their faces beamed with smiles. "There comes some one else!" they cried. "There's no room for you to sit!"
"What a fine picture of beautiful girls, in the winter chamber!" Pao-y smiled. "It's a pity I come a trifle too late! This room is, at all events, so much warmer than any other, that I won't feel cold if I plant myself on this chair."
So saying, he made himself comfortable on a favourite chair of Tai-y's over which was thrown a grey squirrel cover. But noticing in the winter apartment a jadestone bowl, full of single narcissi, in clusters of three or five, Pao-y began praising their beauty with all the language he could command. "What lovely flowers!" he exclaimed. "The warmer the room gets, the stronger is the fragrance emitted by these flowers! How is it I never saw them yesterday?"
"These are," Tai-y laughingly explained, "from the two pots of narcissi, and two pots of allspice, sent to Miss Hseh Secunda by the wife of Lai Ta, the head butler in your household. Of these, she gave me a pot of narcissi; and to that girl Yn, a pot of allspice. I didn't at first mean to keep them, but I was afraid of showing no consideration for her kind attention. But if you want them, I'll, in my turn, present them to you. Will you have them; eh?"
"I've got two pots of them in my rooms," Pao-y replied, "but they're not up to these. How is it you're ready to let others have what cousin Ch'in has given you? This can on no account do!"
"With me here," Tai-y added, "the medicine pot never leaves the fire, the whole day long. I'm only kept together by medicines. So how could I ever stand the smell of flowers bunging my nose? It makes me weaker than ever. Besides, if there's the least whiff of medicines in this room, it will, contrariwise, spoil the fragrance of these flowers. So isn't it better that you should have them carried away? These flowers will then breathe a purer atmosphere, and won't have any mixture of smells to annoy them."
"I've also got now some one ill in my place," Pao-y retorted with a smile, "and medicines are being decocted. How comes it you happen to know nothing about it?"
"This is strange!" Tai-y laughed. "I was really speaking quite thoughtlessly; for who ever knows what's going on in your apartments? But why do you, instead of getting here a little earlier to listen to old stories, come at this moment to bring trouble and vexation upon your own self?"
Pao-y gave a laugh. "Let's have a meeting to-morrow," he proposed, "for we've also got the themes. Let's sing the narcissus and allspice."
"Never mind, drop that!" Tai-y rejoined, upon hearing his proposal. "I can't venture to write any more verses. Whenever I indite any, I'm mulcted. So I'd rather not be put to any great shame."
While uttering these words she screened her face with both hands.
"What's the matter?" Pao-y smiled. "Why are you again making fun of me? I'm not afraid of any shame, but, lo, you screen your face."
"The next time," Pao-ch'ai felt impelled to interpose laughingly, "I convene a meeting, we'll have four themes for odes and four for songs; and each one of us will have to write four odes and four roundelays. The theme of the first ode will treat of the plan of the great extreme; the rhyme fixed being 'hsien,' (first), and the metre consisting of five words in each line. We'll have to exhaust every one of the rhymes under 'hsien,' and mind, not a single one may be left out."
"From what you say," Pao-ch'in smilingly observed, "it's evident that you're not in earnest, cousin, in setting the club on foot. It's clear enough that your object is to embarrass people. But as far as the verses go, we could forcibly turn out a few, just by higgledy-piggledy taking several passages from the 'Canon of Changes,' and inserting them in our own; but, after all, what fun will there be in that sort of thing? When I was eight years of age, I went with my father to the western seaboard to purchase foreign goods. Who'd have thought it, we came across a girl from the 'Chen Chen' kingdom. She was in her eighteenth year, and her features were just like those of the beauties one sees represented in foreign pictures. She had also yellow hair, hanging down, and arranged in endless plaits. Her whole head was ornamented with one mass of cornelian beads, amber, cats' eyes, and 'grandmother-green-stone.' On her person, she wore a chain armour plaited with gold, and a coat, which was up to the very sleeves, embroidered in foreign style. In a belt, she carried a Japanese sword, also inlaid with gold and studded with precious gems. In very truth, even in pictures, there is no one as beautiful as she. Some people said that she was thoroughly conversant with Chinese literature, and could explain the 'Five classics,' that she was able to write odes and devise roundelays, and so my father requested an interpreter to ask her to write something. She thereupon wrote an original stanza, which all, with one voice, praised for its remarkable beauty, and extolled for its extraordinary merits."
"My dear cousin," eagerly smiled Pao-y, "produce what she wrote, and let's have a look at it."
"It's put away in Nanking;" Pao-ch'in replied with a smile. "So how could I at present go and fetch it?"
Great was Pao-y's disappointment at this rejoinder. "I've no luck," he cried, "to see anything like this in the world."
Tai-y laughingly laid hold of Pao-ch'in. "Don't be humbugging us!" she remarked. "I know well enough that you are not likely, on a visit like this, to have left any such things of yours at home. You must have brought them along. Yet here you are now again palming off a fib on us by saying that you haven't got them with you. You people may believe what she says, but I, for my part, don't."
Pao-ch'in got red in the face. Drooping her head against her chest, she gave a faint smile; but she uttered not a word by way of response.
"Really P'in Erh you've got into the habit of talking like this!" Pao-ch'ai laughed. "You're too shrewd by far."
"Bring them along," Tai-y urged with a smile, "and give us a chance of seeing something and learning something; it won't hurt them."
"There's a whole heap of trunks and baskets," Pao-ch'ai put in laughing, "which haven't been yet cleared away. And how could one tell in which particular one, they're packed up? Wait a few days, and when things will have been put straight a bit, we'll try and find them: and every one of us can then have a look at them; that will be all right. But if you happen to remember the lines," she pursued, speaking to Pao-ch'in, "why not recite them for our benefit?"
"I remember so far that her lines consisted of a stanza with five characters in each line," Pao-ch'ai returned for answer. "For a foreign girl, they're verily very well done."
"Don't begin for a while," Pao-ch'ai exclaimed. "Let me send for Yn Erh, so that she too might hear them."
After this remark, she called Hsiao Lo to her. "Go to my place," she observed, "and tell her that a foreign beauty has come over, who's a splendid hand at poetry. 'You, who have poetry on the brain,' (say to her), 'are invited to come and see her,' and then lay hold of this verse-maniac of ours and bring her along."
Hsiao Lo gave a smile, and went away. After a long time, they heard Hsiang-yn laughingly inquire, "What foreign beauty has come?" But while asking this question, she made her appearance in company with Hsiang Ling.
"We heard your voices long before we caught a glimpse of your persons!" the party laughed.
Pao-ch'in and her companions motioned to her to sit down, and, in due course, she reiterated what she had told them a short while back.
"Be quick, out with it! Let's hear what it is!" Hsiang-yn smilingly cried.
Pao-ch'in thereupon recited:
Last night in the Purple Chamber I dreamt. This evening on the 'Shui Kuo' Isle I sing. The clouds by the isle cover the broad sea. The zephyr from the peaks reaches the woods. The moon has never known present or past. From shallow and deep causes springs love's fate. When I recall my springs south of the Han, Can I not feel disconsolate at heart?
After listening to her, "She does deserve credit," they unanimously shouted, "for she really is far superior to us, Chinese though we be."
But scarcely was this remark out of their lips, when they perceived She Yeh walk in. "Madame Wang," she said, "has sent a servant to inform you, Master Secundus, that 'you are to go at an early hour to-morrow morning to your maternal uncle's, and that you are to explain to him that her ladyship isn't feeling quite up to the mark, and that she cannot pay him a visit in person.'"
Pao-y precipitately jumped to his feet (out of deference to his mother), and signified his assent, by answering 'Yes.' He then went on to inquire of Pao-ch'ai and Pao-ch'in, "Are you two going?"
"We're not going," Pao-ch'ai rejoined. "We simply went there yesterday to take our presents over but we left after a short chat."
Pao-y thereupon pressed his female cousins to go ahead and he then followed them. But Tai-y called out to him again and stopped him. "When is Hsi Jen, after all, coming back?" she asked.
"She'll naturally come back after she has accompanied the funeral," Pao-y retorted.
Tai-y had something more she would have liked to tell him, but she found it difficult to shape it into words. After some moments spent in abstraction, "Off with you!" she cried.
Pao-y too felt that he treasured in his heart many things he would fain confide to her, but he did not know what to bring to his lips, so after cogitating within himself for a time, he likewise observed smilingly: "We'll have another chat to-morrow," and, as he said so, he wended his way down the stairs. Lowering his head, he was just about to take a step forward, when he twisted himself round again with alacrity. "Now that the nights are longer than they were, you're sure to cough often and wake several times in the night; eh?" he asked.
"Last night," Tai-y answered, "I was all right; I coughed only twice. But I only slept at the fourth watch for a couple of hours and then I couldn't close my eyes again."
"I really have something very important to tell you," Pao-y proceeded with another smile. "It only now crossed my mind." Saying this, he approached her and added in a confidential tone: "I think that the birds' nests sent to you by cousin Pao-chai...."
Barely, however, had he had time to conclude than he spied dame Chao enter the room to pay Tai-y a visit. "Miss, have you been all right these last few days?" she inquired.
Tai-y readily guessed that this was an attention extended to her merely as she had, on her way back from T'an Ch'un's quarters, to pass by her door, so speedily smiling a forced smile, she offered her a seat.
"Many thanks, dame Chao," she said, "for the trouble of thinking of me, and for coming in person in this intense cold."
Hastily also bidding a servant pour the tea, she simultaneously winked at Pao-y.
Pao-y grasped her meaning, and forthwith quitted the apartment. As this happened to be about dinner time, and he had been enjoined as well by Madame Wang to be back at an early hour, Pao-y returned to his quarters, and looked on while Ch'ing Wen took her medicine. Pao-y did not desire Ch'ing Wen this evening to move into the winter apartment, but stayed with Ch'ing Wen outside; and, giving orders to bring the warming-frame near the winter apartment, She Yueh slept on it.
Nothing of any interest worth putting on record transpired during the night. On the morrow, before the break of day, Ch'ing Wen aroused She Yueh.
"You should awake," she said. "The only thing is that you haven't had enough sleep. If you go out and tell them to get the water for tea ready for him, while I wake him, it will be all right."
She Yueh immediately jumped up and threw something over her. "Let's call him to get up and dress in his fine clothes." she said. "We can summon them in, after this fire-box has been removed. The old nurses told us not to allow him to stay in this room for fear the virus of the disease should pass on to him; so now if they see us bundled up together in one place, they're bound to kick up another row."
"That's my idea too," Ch'ing Wen replied.
The two girls were then about to call him, when Pao-y woke up of his own accord, and speedily leaping out of bed, he threw his clothes over him.
She Yeh first called a young maid into the room and put things shipshape before she told Ch'in Wen and the other servant-girls to enter; and along with them, she remained in waiting upon Pao-y while he combed his hair, and washed his face and hands. This part of his toilet over, She Yeh remarked: "It's cloudy again, so I suppose it's going to snow. You'd better therefore wear a woollen overcoat!"
Pao-y nodded his head approvingly; and set to work at once to effect the necessary change in his costume. A young waiting-maid then presented him a covered bowl, in a small tea tray, containing a decoction made of Fu-kien lotus and red dates. After Pao-y had had a couple of mouthfuls, She Yeh also brought him a small plateful of brown ginger, prepared according to some prescription. Pao-y put a piece into his mouth, and, impressing some advice on Ch'ing 'Wen, he crossed over to dowager lady Chia's suite of rooms.
His grandmother had not yet got out of bed. But she was well aware that Pao-y was going out of doors so having the entrance leading into her bedroom opened she asked Pao-y to walk in. Pao-y espied behind the old lady, Pao-ch'in lying with her face turned towards the inside, and not awake yet from her sleep.
Dowager lady Chia observed that Pao-y was clad in a deep-red felt fringed overcoat, with woollen lichee-coloured archery-sleeves and with an edging of dark green glossy satin, embroidered with gold rings. "What!" old lady Chia inquired, "is it snowing?"
"The weather is dull," Pao-y replied, "but it isn't snowing yet."
Dowager lady Chia thereupon sent for Yan Yang and told her to fetch the peacock down pelisse, finished the day before, and give it to him. Yan Yang signified her obedience and went off, and actually returned with what was wanted.
When Pao-y came to survey it, he found that the green and golden hues glistened with bright lustre, that the jadelike variegated colours on it shone with splendour, and that it bore no resemblance to the duck-down coat, which Pao-ch'in had been wearing.
"This," he heard his grandmother smilingly remark, "is called 'bird gold'. This is woven of the down of peacocks, caught in Russia, twisted into thread. The other day, I presented that one with the wild duck down to your young female cousin, so I now give you this one."
Pao-y prostrated himself before her, after which he threw the coat over his shoulders.
"Go and let your mother see it before you start," his grandmother laughingly added.
Pao-y assented, and quitted her apartments, when he caught sight of Yan Yang standing below rubbing her eyes. Ever since the day on which Yan Yang had sworn to have done with the match, she had not exchanged a single word with Pao-y. Pao-y was therefore day and night a prey to dejection. So when he now observed her shirk his presence again, Pao-y at once advanced up to her, and, putting on a smile, "My dear girl," he said, "do look at the coat I've got on. Is it nice or not?"
Yan Yang shoved his hand away, and promptly walked into dowager lady Chia's quarters.
Pao-y was thus compelled to repair to Madame Wang's room, and let her see his coat. Retracing afterwards his footsteps into the garden, he let Ch'ing Wen and She Yeh also have a look at it, and then came and told his grandmother that he had attended to her wishes.
"My mother," he added, "has seen what I've got on. But all she said was: 'what a pity!' and then she went on to enjoin me to be 'careful with it and not to spoil it.'"
"There only remains this single one," old lady Chia observed, "so if you spoil it you can't have another. Even did I want to have one made for you like it now, it would be out of the question."
At the close of these words, she went on to advise him. "Don't," she said, "have too much wine and come back early." Pao-y acquiesced by uttering several yes's.
An old nurse then followed him out into the pavilion. Here they discovered six attendants, (that is), Pao-y's milk-brother Li Kuei, and Wang Ho-jung, Chang Jo-chin, Chao I-hua, Ch'ien Ch'i, and Chou Jui, as well as four young servant-lads: Pei Ming, Pan Ho, Chu Shao and Sao Hung; some carrying bundles of clothes on their backs, some holding cushions in their hands, others leading a white horse with engraved saddle and variegated bridles. They had already been waiting for a good long while. The old nurse went on to issue some directions, and the six servants, hastily expressing their obedience by numerous yes's, quickly caught hold of the saddle and weighed the stirrup down while Pao-y mounted leisurely. Li Kuei and Wang Ho-jung then led the horse by the bit. Two of them, Ch'ien Ch'i and Chou Jui, walked ahead and showed the way. Chang Jo-chin and Chao I-hua followed Pao-y closely on each side.
"Brother Chou and brother Ch'ien," Pao-y smiled, from his seat on his horse, "let's go by this side-gate. It will save my having again to dismount, when we reach the entrance to my father's study."
"Mr. Chia Cheng is not in his study," Chou Jui laughed, with a curtsey. "It has been daily under lock and key, so there will be no need for you, master, to get down from your horse."
"Though it be locked up," Pao-y smiled, "I shall have to dismount all the same."
"You're quite right in what you say, master;" both Ch'ien Ch'i and Li Kuei chimed in laughingly; "but pretend you're lazy and don't get down. In the event of our coming across Mr. Lai Ta and our number two Mr. Lin, they're sure, rather awkward though it be for them to say anything to their master, to tender you one or two words of advice, but throw the whole of the blame upon us. You can also tell them that we had not explained to you what was the right thing to do."
Chou Jui and Ch'ien Ch'i accordingly wended their steps straight for the side-gate. But while they were keeping up some sort of conversation, they came face to face with Lai Ta on his way in.
Pao-y speedily pulled in his horse, with the idea of dismounting. But Lai Ta hastened to draw near and to clasp his leg. Pao-y stood up on his stirrup, and, putting on a smile, he took his hand in his, and made several remarks to him.
In quick succession, he also perceived a young servant-lad make his appearance inside leading the way for twenty or thirty servants, laden with brooms and dust-baskets. The moment they espied Pao-y, they, one and all, stood along the wall, and dropped their arms against their sides, with the exception of the head lad, who bending one knee, said: "My obeisance to you, sir."
Pao-y could not recall to mind his name or surname, but forcing a faint smile, he nodded his head to and fro. It was only when the horse had well gone past, that the lad eventually led the bevy of servants off, and that they went after their business.
Presently, they egressed from the side-gate. Outside, stood the servant-lads of the six domestics, Li Kuei and his companions, as well as several grooms, who had, from an early hour, got ready about ten horses and been standing, on special duty, waiting for their arrival. As soon as they reached the further end of the side-gate, Li Kuei and each of the other attendants mounted their horses, and pressed ahead to lead the way. Like a streak of smoke, they got out of sight, without any occurrence worth noticing.
Ch'ing Wen, meanwhile, continued to take her medicines. But still she experienced no relief in her ailment. Such was the state of exasperation into which she worked herself that she abused the doctor right and left. "All he's good for," she cried, "is to squeeze people's money. But he doesn't know how to prescribe a single dose of efficacious medicine for his patients."
"You have far too impatient a disposition!" She Yeh said, as she advised her, with a smile. "'A disease,' the proverb has it, 'comes like a crumbling mountain, and goes like silk that is reeled.' Besides, they're not the divine pills of 'Lao Chn'. How ever could there be such efficacious medicines? The only thing for you to do is to quietly look after yourself for several days, and you're sure to get all right. But the more you work yourself into such a frenzy, the worse you get!"
Ch'ing Weng went on to heap abuse on the head of the young-maids. "Where have they gone? Have they bored into the sand?" she ejaculated. "They see well enough that I'm ill, so they make bold and runaway. But by and bye when I recover, I shall take one by one of you and flay your skin off for you."
Ting Erh, a young maid, was struck with dismay, and ran up to her with hasty step. "Miss," she inquired, "what's up with you?"
"Is it likely that the rest are all dead and gone, and that there only remains but you?" Ch'ing Wen exclaimed.
But while she spoke, she saw Chui Erh also slowly enter the room.
"Look at this vixen!" Ch'ing Wen shouted. "If I don't ask for her, she won't come. Had there been any monthly allowances issued and fruits distributed here, you would have been the first to run in! But approach a bit! Am I tigress to gobble you up?"
Chui Erh was under the necessity of advancing a few steps nearer to her. But, all of a sudden, Ch'ing Wen stooped forward, and with a dash clutching her hand, she took a long pin from the side of her pillow, and pricked it at random all over.
"What's the use of such paws?" she railed at her. "They don't ply a needle, and they don't touch any thread! All you're good for is to prig things to stuff that mouth of yours with! The skin of your phiz is shallow and those paws of yours are light! But with the shame you bring upon yourself before the world, isn't it right that I should prick you, and make mincemeat of you?"
Chui Erh shouted so wildly from pain that She Yueh stepped forward and immediately drew them apart. She then pressed Ch'ing Wen, until she induced her to lie down.
"You're just perspiring," she remarked, "and here you are once more bent upon killing yourself. Wait until you are yourself again! Won't you then be able to give her as many blows as you may like? What's the use of kicking up all this fuss just now?"
Ch'ing Wen bade a servant tell nurse Sung to come in. "Our master Secundus, Mr. Pao-y, recently asked me to tell you," she remarked on her arrival, "that Chui Erh is very lazy. He himself gives her orders to her very face, but she is ever ready to raise objections and not to budge. Even when Hsi Jen bids her do things, she vilifies her behind her back. She must absolutely therefore be packed off to-day. And if Mr. Pao himself lays the matter to-morrow before Madame Wang, things will be square."
After listening to her grievances, nurse Sung readily concluded in her mind that the affair of the bracelet had come to be known. "What you suggest is well and good, it's true," she consequently smiled, "but it's as well to wait until Miss Hua (flower) returns and hears about the things. We can then give her the sack."
"Mr. Pao-y urgently enjoined this to-day," Ch'ing Wen pursued, "so what about Miss Hua (flower) and Miss Ts'ao (grass)? We've, of course, gob rules of propriety here, so you just do as I tell you; and be quick and send for some one from her house to come and fetch her away!"
"Well, now let's drop this!" She Yeh interposed. "Whether she goes soon or whether she goes late is one and the same thing; so let them take her away soon; we'll then be the sooner clear of her."
At these words, nurse Sung had no alternative but to step out, and to send for her mother. When she came, she got ready all her effects, and then came to see Ch'ing Wen and the other girls. "Young ladies," she said, "what's up? If your niece doesn't behave as she ought to, why, call her to account. But why banish her from this place? You should, indeed, leave us a little face!"
"As regards what you say," Ch'ing Wen put in, "wait until Pao-y comes, and then we can ask him. It's nothing to do with us."
The woman gave a sardonic smile. "Have I got the courage to ask him?" she answered. "In what matter doesn't he lend an ear to any settlement you, young ladies, may propose? He invariably agrees to all you say! But if you, young ladies, aren't agreeable, it's really of no avail. When you, for example, spoke just now,—it's true it was on the sly,—you called him straightway by his name, miss. This thing does very well with you, young ladies, but were we to do anything of the kind, we'd be looked upon as very savages!"
Ch'ing Wen, upon hearing her remark, became more than ever exasperated, and got crimson in the face. "Yes, I called him by his name," she rejoined, "so you'd better go and report me to our old lady and Madame Wang. Tell them I'm a rustic and let them send me too off."
"Sister-in-law," urged She Yeh, "just you take her away; and if you've got aught to say, you can say it by and bye. Is this a place for you to bawl in and to try and explain what is right? Whom have you seen discourse upon the rules of propriety with us? Not to speak of you, sister-in-law, even Mrs. Lai Ta and Mrs. Lin treat us fairly well. And as for calling him by name, why, from days of yore to the very present, our dowager mistress has invariably bidden us do so. You yourselves are well aware of it. So much did she fear that it would be a difficult job to rear him that she deliberately wrote his infant name on slips of paper and had them stuck everywhere and anywhere with the design that one and all should call him by it. And this in order that it might exercise a good influence upon his bringing up. Even water-coolies and scavenger-coolies indiscriminately address him by his name; and how much more such as we? So late, in fact, as yesterday Mrs. Lin gave him but once the title of 'Sir,' and our old mistress called even her to task. This is one side of the question. In the next place, we all have to go and make frequent reports to our venerable dowager lady and Madame Wang, and don't we with them allude to him by name in what we have to say? Is it likely we'd also style him 'Sir?' What day is there that we don't utter the two words 'Pao-y' two hundred times? And is it for you, sister-in-law, to come and pick out this fault? But in a day or so, when you've leisure to go to our old mistress' and Madame Wang's, you'll hear us call him by name in their very presence, and then you'll feel convinced. You've never, sister-in-law, had occasion to fulfil any honourable duties by our old lady and our lady. From one year's end to the other, all you do is to simply loaf outside the third door. So it's no matter of surprise, if you don't happen to know anything of the customs which prevail with us inside. But this isn't a place where you, sister-in-law, can linger for long. In another moment, there won't be any need for us to say anything; for some one will be coming to ask you what you want, and what excuse will you be able to plead? So take her away and let Mrs. Lin know about it; and commission her to come and find our Mr. Secundus and tell him all. There are in this establishment over a thousand inmates; one comes and another comes, so that though we know people and inquire their names, we can't nevertheless imprint them clearly on our minds."
At the close of this long rigmarole, she at once told a young maid to take the mop and wash the floors.
The woman listened patiently to her arguments, but she could find no words to say anything to her by way of reply. Nor did she have the audacity to protract her stay. So flying into a huff, she took Chui Erh along with her, and there and then made her way out.
"Is it likely," nurse Sung hastily observed, "that a dame like you doesn't know what manners mean? Your daughter has been in these rooms for some time, so she should, when she is about to go, knock her head before the young ladies. She has no other means of showing her gratitude. Not that they care much about such things. Yet were she to simply knock her head, she would acquit herself of a duty, if nothing more. But how is it that she says I'm going, and off she forthwith rushes?"
Chui Erh overheard these words, and felt under the necessity of turning back. Entering therefore the apartment, she prostrated herself before the two girls, and then she went in quest of Ch'iu Wen and her companions, but neither did they pay any notice whatever to her.
"Hai!" ejaculated the woman, and heaving a sigh—for she did not venture to utter a word,—she walked off, fostering a grudge in her heart.
Ch'ing Wen had, while suffering from a cold, got into a fit of anger into the bargain, so instead of being better, she was worse, and she tossed and rolled until the time came for lighting the lamps. But the moment she felt more at ease, she saw Pao-y come back. As soon as he put his foot inside the door, he gave way to an exclamation, and stamped his foot.
"What's the reason of such behaviour?" She Yeh promptly asked him.
"My old grandmother," Pao-y explained, "was in such capital spirits that she gave me this coat to-day; but, who'd have thought it, I inadvertently burnt part of the back lapel. Fortunately however the evening was advanced so that neither she nor my mother noticed what had happened."
Speaking the while, he took it off. She Yeh, on inspection, found indeed a hole burnt in it of the size of a finger. "This," she said, "must have been done by some spark from the hand-stove. It's of no consequence."
Immediately she called a servant to her. "Take this out on the sly," she bade her, "and let an experienced weaver patch it. It will be all right then."
So saying, she packed it up in a wrapper, and a nurse carried it outside.
"It should be ready by daybreak," she urged. "And by no means let our old lady or Madame Wang know anything about it."
The matron brought it back again, after a protracted absence. "Not only," she explained; "have weavers, first-class tailors, and embroiderers, but even those, who do women's work, been asked about it, and they all have no idea what this is made of. None of them therefore will venture to undertake the job."
"What's to be done?" She Yeh inquired. "But it won't matter if you don't wear it to-morrow."
"To-morrow is the very day of the anniversary," Pao-y rejoined. "Grandmother and my mother bade me put this on and go and pay my visit; and here I go and burn it, on the first day I wear it. Now isn't this enough to throw a damper over my good cheer?"
Ch'ing Wen lent an ear to their conversation for a long time, until unable to restrain herself, she twisted herself round. "Bring it here," she chimed in, "and let me see it! You haven't been lucky in wearing this; but never mind!"
These words were still on Ch'ing Wen's lips, when the coat was handed to her. The lamp was likewise moved nearer to her. With minute care she surveyed it. "This is made," Ch'ing Wen observed, "of gold thread, spun from peacock's feathers. So were we now to also take gold thread, twisted from the feathers of the peacock, and darn it closely, by imitating the woof, I think it will pass without detection."
"The peacock-feather-thread is ready at hand," She Yeh remarked smilingly. "But who's there, exclusive of you, able to join the threads?"
"I'll, needless to say, do my level best to the very cost of my life and finish," Ch'ing Wen added.
"How ever could this do?" Pao-y eagerly interposed. "You're just slightly better, and how could you take up any needlework?"
"You needn't go on in this chicken-hearted way!" Ch'ing Wen cried. "I know my own self well enough."
With this reply, she sat up, and, putting her hair up, she threw something over her shoulders. Her head felt heavy; her body light. Before her eyes, confusedly flitted golden stirs. In real deed, she could not stand the strain. But when inclined to give up the work, she again dreaded that Pao-y would be driven to despair. She therefore had perforce to make a supreme effort and, setting her teeth to, she bore the exertion. All the help she asked of She Yeh was to lend her a hand in reeling the thread.
Ch'ing Wen first took hold of a thread, and put it side by side (with those in the pelisse) to compare the two together. "This," she remarked, "isn't quite like them; but when it's patched up with it, it won't show very much."
"It will do very well," Pao-y said. "Could one also go and hunt up a Russian tailor?"
Ch'ing Wen commenced by unstitching the lining, and, inserting under it, a bamboo bow, of the size of the mouth of a tea cup, she bound it tight at the back. She then turned her mind to the four sides of the aperture, and these she loosened by scratching them with a golden knife. Making next two stitches across with her needle, she marked out the warp and woof; and, following the way the threads were joined, she first and foremost connected the foundation, and then keeping to the original lines, she went backwards and forwards mending the hole; passing her work, after every second stitch, under further review. But she did not ply her needle three to five times, before she lay herself down on her pillow, and indulged in a little rest.
Pao-y was standing by her side. Now he inquired of her: "Whether she would like a little hot water to drink." Later on, he asked her to repose herself. Now he seized a grey-squirrel wrapper and threw it over her shoulders. Shortly after, he took a pillow and propped her up. (The way he fussed) so exasperated Ch'ing Wen that she begged and entreated him to leave off.
"My junior ancestor!" she exclaimed, "do go to bed and sleep! If you sit up for the other half of the night, your eyes will to-morrow look as if they had been scooped out, and what good will possibly come out of that?"
Pao-y realised her state of exasperation and felt compelled to come and lie down anyhow. But he could not again close his eyes.
In a little while, she heard the clock strike four, and just managing to finish she took a small tooth-brush, and rubbed up the pile.
"That will do!" She Yeh put in. "One couldn't detect it, unless one examined it carefully."
Pao-y asked with alacrity to be allowed to have a look at it. "Really," he smiled, "it's quite the same thing."
Ch'ing Wen coughed and coughed time after time, so it was only after extreme difficulty that she succeeded in completing what she had to patch. "It's mended, it's true," she remarked, "but it does not, after all, look anything like it. Yet, I cannot stand the effort any more!"
As she shouted 'Ai-ya,' she lost control over herself, and dropped down upon the bed.
But, reader, if you choose to know anything more of her state, peruse the next chapter.
In the Ning Kuo mansion sacrifices are offered to their ancestors on the last night of the year. In the Jung Kuo mansion, a banquet is given on the evening of the 15th of the first moon.
But to resume our story. When Pao-y saw that Ch'ing Wen had in her attempt to finish mending the peacock-down cloak exhausted her strength and fatigued herself, he hastily bade a young maid help him massage her; and setting to work they tapped her for a while, after which, they retired to rest. But not much time elapsed before broad daylight set in. He did not however go out of doors, but simply called out that they should go at once and ask the doctor round.
Presently, Dr. Wang arrived. After feeling her pulse, his suspicions were aroused. "Yesterday," he said, "she was much better, so how is it that to-day she is instead weaker, and has fallen off so much? She must surely have had too much in the way of drinking or eating! Or she must have fatigued herself. A complaint arising from outside sources is, indeed, a light thing. But it's no small matter if one doesn't take proper care of one's self, as she has done after perspiring."
As he passed these remarks, he walked out of the apartment, and, writing a prescription, he entered again.
When Pao-y came to examine it, he perceived that he had eliminated the laxatives, and all the drugs, whose properties were to expel noxious influences, but added pachyma cocos, rhubarb, arolia edulis, and other such medicines, which could stimulate the system and strengthen her physique.
Pao-y, on one hand, hastened to direct a servant to go and decoct them, and, on the other, he heaved a sigh. "What's to be done?" he exclaimed. "Should anything happen to her, it will all be through the evil consequences of my shortcomings!"
"Hai!" cried Ch'ing Wen, from where she was reclining on her pillow. "Dear Mr. Secundus, go and mind your own business! Have I got such a dreadful disease?"
Pao-y had no alternative but to get out of the way. But in the afternoon, he gave out that he was not feeling up to the mark, and hurried back to her side again.
The symptoms of Ch'ing Wen's illness were, it is true, grave; yet fortunately for her she had ever had to strain her physical strength, and not to tax the energies of her mind. Furthermore, she had always been frugal in her diet, so that she had never sustained any harm from under or over-eating. The custom in the Chia mansion was that as soon as any one, irrespective of masters or servants, contracted the slightest chill or cough, quiet and starving should invariably be the main things observed, the treatment by medicines occupying only a secondary place. Hence it was that when the other day she unawares felt unwell, she at once abstained from food during two or three days, while she carefully also nursed herself by taking proper medicines. And although she recently taxed her strength a little too much, she gradually succeeded, by attending with extra care to her health for another few days, in bringing about her complete recovery.
Of late, his female cousins, who lived in the garden, had been having their meals in their rooms, so with the extreme convenience of having a fire to prepare drinks and eatables, Pao-y himself was able, needless for us to go into details, to ask for soups and order broths for (Ch'ing Wen), with which to recoup her health.
Hsi Jen returned soon after she had followed the funeral of her mother. She Yeh then minutely told Hsi Jen all about Chui Erh's affair, about Ch'ing Wen having sent her off, and about Pao-y having been already informed of the fact, and so forth, yet to all this Hsi Jen made no further comment than: "what a very hasty disposition (that girl Ch'ing Wen has!)."
But consequent upon Li Wan being likewise laid up with a cold, she got through the inclemency of the weather; Madame Hsing suffering so much from sore eyes that Ying Ch'un and Chou-yen had to go morning and evening and wait on her, while she used such medicines as she had; Li Wan's brother, having also taken her sister-in-law Li, together with Li Wen and Li Ch'i, to spend a few days at his home, and Pao-y seeing, on one hand, Hsi Jen brood without intermission over the memory of her mother, and give way to secret grief, and Ch'ing Wen, on the other, continue not quite convalescent, there was no one to turn any attention to such things as poetical meetings, with the result that several occasions, on which they were to have assembled, were passed over without anything being done. By this time, the twelfth moon arrived. The end of the year was nigh at hand, so Madame Wang and lady Feng were engaged in making the necessary annual preparations. But, without alluding to Wang Tzu-t'eng, who was promoted to be Lord High Commissioner of the Nine Provinces; Chia Y-ts'un, who filled up the post of Chief Inspector of Cavalry, Assistant Grand Councillor, and Commissioner of Affairs of State, we will resume our narrative with Chia Chen, in the other part of the establishment. After having the Ancestral Hall thrown open, he gave orders to the domestics to sweep the place, to get ready the various articles, and bring over the ancestral tablets. Then he had the upper rooms cleaned, so as to be ready to receive the various images that were to be hung about. In the two mansions of Ning and Jung, inside as well as outside, above as well as below, everything was, therefore, bustle and confusion. As soon as Mrs. Yu, of the Ning mansion, put her foot out of bed on this day, she set to work, with the assistance of Chia Jung's wife, to prepare such needlework and presents as had to be sent over to dowager lady Chia's portion of the establishment, when it so happened that a servant-girl broke in upon them with a tea-tray in hand, containing ingots of silver of the kind given the evening before new year.
"Hsing Erh," she said, "informs your ladyship that the pieces of gold in that bundle of the other day amount in all to one hundred and fifty-three taels, one mace and seven candareens; and that the ingots of pure metal and those not, contained in here, number all together two hundred and twenty."
With these words, she presented the tray. Mrs. Yu passed the ingots under survey. She found some resembling plum-blossom; others peonies. Among them were some with pens and 'as you like,' (importing "your wishes are bound to be fulfilled);" and others representing the eight precious things linked together, for use in spring-time.
Mrs. Yu directed that the silver ingots should be made up into a parcel, and then she bade Hsing Erh take them and deliver them immediately inside.
The servant-girl signified her obedience, and went away. But shortly Chia Chen arrived for his meal, and Chia Jung's wife withdrew.
"Have we received," thereupon inquired Chia Chen, "the bounty conferred (by His Majesty) for our spring sacrifices or not?"
"I've sent Jung Erh to-day to go and receive it," Mrs. Yu rejoined.
"Albeit," continued Chia Chen, "our family can well do without those paltry taels, yet they are, whatever their amount may be, an imperial gift to us so take them over as soon as you can, and send them to our old lady, on the other side, to get ready the sacrifices to our ancestors. Above, we shall then receive the Emperor's bounty; below, we shall enjoy the goodwill of our progenitors. For no matter if we went so far as to spend ten thousand ounces of silver to present offerings to our forefathers with, they could not, in the long run, come up this gift in high repute. Added to this, we shall be the participators of grace and the recipients of blessings. Putting one or two households such as our own aside, what resources would those poverty-stricken families of hereditary officials have at their command wherewith to offer their sacrifices and celebrate the new year, if they could not rely upon this money? In very truth, therefore, the imperial favour is vast, and allproviding!"
"Your arguments are quite correct!" Mrs. Yu ventured.
But while these two were indulging in this colloquy, they caught sight of a messenger, who came and announced: "Our young master has arrived."
Chia Chen accordingly enjoined that he should be told to enter; whereupon they saw Chia Jung step into the room and present with both hands a small bag made of yellow cloth.
"How is it you've been away the whole day?" Chia Chen asked.
Chia Jung strained a smile. "I didn't receive the money to-day from the Board of Rites," he replied. "The issue was again made at the treasury of the Kuang Lu temple; so I had once more to trudge away to the Kuang Lu temple before I could get it. The various officials in the Kuang Lu temple bade me present their compliments to you, father. (They asked me to tell you) that they had not seen you for many days, and that they are really longing for your company."
"What an idea! Do they care to see me?" Chia Chen laughed. "Why, here's the end of the year drawing nigh again; so if they don't hanker after my presents, they must long and crave for my entertainments."
While he spoke his eye espied a slip of paper affixed to the yellow cloth bag, bearing the four large characters, 'the imperial favour is everlasting.' On the other side figured also a row of small characters with the seal of the Director of Ancestral Worship in the Board of Rites. These testified that the enclosed consisted of two shares, conferred upon the Ning Kuo duke, Chia Yen, and the Jung Kuo duke, Chia Fa, as a bounty (from the Emperor), for sacrifices to them every spring in perpetuity, (and gave) the number of taels, computed in pure silver, and the year, moon and day, on which they were received in open hall by Chia Jung, Controller in the Imperial Prohibited City and Expectant Officer of the Guards. The signature of the official in charge of the temple for that year was appended below in purple ink.
After Chia Chen had perused the inscription, he finished his meal, rinsed his mouth and washed his hands. This over, he changed his shoes and hat, and bidding Chia Jung follow him along with the money, he went and informed dowager lady Chia and Madame Wang (of the receipt of the imperial bounty), and repairing back to the near side, he communicated the fact to Chia She and Madame Hsing; after which, he, at length, betook himself to his quarters. He then emptied the money and gave orders that the bag should be taken and burnt in the large censer in the Ancestral Hall.
"Go and ask your aunt Tertia, yonder," he further enjoined Chia Jung, "whether the day on which the new year wine is to be drunk has been fixed or not? If it has been determined upon, timely notice should be given in the library to draw out a proper list in order that when we again issue our invitations, there should be no chance of two entertainments coming off on the same day. Last year, not sufficient care was exercised, and several persons were invited to both mansions on the very same occasion. And people didn't say that we hadn't been careful enough, but that, as far as appearances went, the two households had made up their minds among themselves to show an empty attention, prompted by the fear of trouble."
Chia Jung immediately replied that he would attend to his injunctions, and not much time elapsed before he brought a list mentioning the days on which the inmates were to be invited to partake of the new year wine.
Chia Chen examined it. "Go," he then said, "and give it to Lai Sheng so that he may see its contents and invite the guests. But mind he doesn't fix anything else for the dates specified in here."
But while watching from the pavilion the servant-boys carrying the enclosing screens and rubbing the tables and the gold and silver sacrificial utensils, he perceived a lad appear on the scene holding a petition and a list, and report that 'Wu, the head-farmer in the Hei Shan village, had arrived.' "What does this old executioner come for to-day?" Chia Chen exclaimed.
Chia Jung took the petition and the list, and, unfolding them with all despatch, he held them up (to his father). Chia Chen however glanced at the papers, as they were held by Chia Jung, keeping the while both hands behind his back. The petition on red paper ran as follows: "Your servant, the head farmer, Wu Chin-hsiao, prostrates himself before his master and mistress and wishes them every kind of happiness and good health, as well as good health to their worthy scion and daughter. May great joy, great blessings, brilliant honours and peace be their share in this spring, which is about to dawn! May official promotion and increase of emoluments be their lot! May they see in everything the accomplishment of their wishes."
Chia Chen smiled. "For a farmer," he remarked, "it has several good points!"
"Pay no heed to the style," urged Chia Jung, also smiling; "but to the good wishes."
Saying this, he speedily opened the list. The articles mentioned were, on examination, found to consist of: "Thirty big deer; five thousand musk deer; fifty roebuck deer; twenty Siamese pigs; twenty boiled pigs; twenty 'dragon' pigs; twenty wild pigs; twenty home-salted pigs; twenty wild sheep; twenty grey sheep; twenty home-boiled sheep; twenty home-dried sheep; two hundred sturgeon; two hundred catties of mixed fish; live chickens, ducks and geese, two hundred of each; two hundred dried chickens, ducks and geese; two hundred pair of pheasants and hares; two hundred pair of bears' paws; twenty catties of deer tendons; fifty catties of bche-de-mer; fifty deer tongues; fifty ox tongues; twenty catties of dried clams; filberts, fir-cones, peaches, apricots and squash, two hundred bags of each; fifty pair of salt prawns; two hundred catties of dried shrimps; a thousand catties of superfine, picked charcoal; two thousand catties of medium charcoal; twenty thousand catties of common charcoal; two piculs of red rice, grown in the imperial grounds; fifty bushels of greenish, glutinous rice; fifty bushels of white glutinous rice; fifty bushels of pounded non-glutinous rice; fifty bushels of various kinds of corn and millet; a thousand piculs of ordinary common rice. Exclusive of a cartload of every sort of vegetables, and irrespective of two thousand five hundred taels, derived from the sale of corn and millet and every kind of domestic animals, your servant respectfully presents, for your honour's delectation, two pair of live deer, four pair of white rabbits, four pair of black rabbits, two pair of live variegated fowls, and two pair of duck, from western countries."
When Chia Chen had exhausted the list, "Bring him in!" he cried. In a little time, he perceived Wu Chin-hsiao make his appearance inside. But simply halting in the court, he bumped his head on the ground and paid his respects.
Chia Chen desired a servant to raise him up. "You're still so hale!" he smiled.
"I don't deceive you, Sir," Wu Chin-hsiao observed, "when I say that yours servants are so accustomed to walking, that had we not come, we wouldn't have felt exceedingly dull. Isn't the whole crowd of them keen upon coming to see what the world is like at the feet of the son of heaven? Yet they're, after all, so young in years, that there's the fear of their going astray on the way. But, in a few more years, I shall be able to appease my solicitude on their account."
"How many days have you been on the way?" Chia Chen inquired.
"To reply to your question, Sir," Wu Chin-hsiao ventured, "so much snow has fallen this year that it's everywhere out of town four and five feet in depth. The other day, the weather suddenly turned mild, and with the thaw that set in, it became so very hard to make any progress that we wasted several days. Yet albeit we've been a month and two days in accomplishing the journey; it isn't anything excessive. But as I feared lest you, Sir, would be giving way to anxiety, didn't I hurry along to arrive in good time?"
"How is it, I said, that he's come only to-day!" Chia Chen observed.
"But upon looking over the list just now it seemed to me that you, old fossil, had come again to make as much as fun of me, as if you were putting up a stage for a boxing-match."
Wu Chin-hsiao hastily drew near a couple of steps. "I must tell you, Sir," he remarked, "that the harvest this year hasn't really been good. Rain set in ever since the third moon, and there it went on incessantly straight up to the eighth moon. Indeed, the weather hasn't kept fine for five or six consecutive days. In the ninth moon, there came a storm of hail, each stone of which was about the size of a saucer. And over an area of the neighbouring two or three hundred li, the men and houses, animals and crops, which sustained injury, numbered over thousands and ten thousands. Hence it is that the things we've brought now are what they are. Your servant would not have the audacity to tell a lie."
Chia Chen knitted his eyebrows. "I had computed," he said, "that the very least you would have brought would have been five thousand taels. What's this enough for? There are only now eight or nine of you farmers, and from two localities reports have contrariwise reached us during the course of this very year of the occurrence of droughts; and do you people come again to try your larks with us? Why, verily these aren't sufficient to see the new year in with."
"And yet," Wu Chin-hsiao argued, "your place can be looked upon as having fared well; for my brother, who's only over a hundred li away from where I am, has actually fallen in with a vastly different lot! He has at present eight farms of that mansion under his control, and these considerably larger than those of yours, Sir; and yet this year they too have only produced but a few things. So nothing beyond two or three thousand taels has been realised. What's more, they've had to borrow money."
"Quite so!" Chia Chen exclaimed. "The state of things in my place here is passable. I've got no outside outlay. The main thing I have to mind is to make provision for a year's necessary expenses. If I launch out into luxuries, I have to suffer hardships, so I must try a little self-denial and manage to save something. It's the custom, besides, at the end of the year to send presents to people and invite others; but I'll thicken the skin of my face a bit, (and dispense with both), and have done. I'm not like the inmates in that mansion, who have, during the last few years, added so many items of expenditure, that it's, of course, a matter of impossibility for them to avoid loosening their purse strings. But they haven't, on the other hand, made any addition to their funds and landed property. During the course of the past year or two, they've had to make up many deficits. And if they don't appeal to you, to whom can they go?"
Wu Chin-hsiao laughed. "It's true," he said, "that in that mansion many items have been added, but money goes out and money comes in. And won't the Empress and His Majesty the Emperor bestow their favour?"
At these words, Chia Chen smilingly faced Chia Jung and the other inmates. "Just you listen to his arguments!" he exclaimed. "Aren't they ridiculous, eh?"
Chia Jung and the rest promptly smiled. "Among your hills and seaboard can anything," they observed, "be known with regard to this principle? Is it likely, pray, that the Empress will ever make over to us the Emperor's treasury? Why, even supposing she may at heart entertain any such wish, she herself cannot possibly adopt independent action. Of course, she does confer her benefits on them, but this is at stated times and fixed periods, and they merely consist of a few coloured satins, antiquities, and bric-a-brac. In fact, when she does bestow hard cash on them, it doesn't exceed a hundred ounces of silver. But did she even give them so much as a thousand and more taels, what would these suffice for? During which of the two last years have they not had to fork out several thousands of taels? In the first year, the imperial consort paid a visit to her parents; and just calculate how much they must have run through in laying out that park, and you'll then know how they stand! Why, if in another couple of years, the Empress comes and pays them a second visit, they'll be, I'm inclined to fancy, regular paupers."
"That's why," urged Chia Chen smiling, "country people are such unsophisticated creatures, that though they behold what lies on the surface, they have no idea of what is inside hidden from view. They're just like a piece of yellow cedar made into a mallet for beating the sonorous stones with. The exterior looks well enough; but it's all bitter inside."
"In very truth," Chia Jung added, laughing also the while, as he addressed himself to Chia Chen, "that mansion is impoverished. The other day, I heard a consultation held on the sly between aunt Secunda and Yan Yang. What they wanted was to filch our worthy senior's things and go and pawn them in order to raise money."
"This is just another devilish trick of that minx Feng!" Chia Chen smiled. "How ever could they have reached such straits? She's certain to have seen that expenses were great, and that heavy deficits had to be squared, so wishing again to curtail some item or other, who knows which, she devised this plan as a preparatory step, in order that when it came to be generally known, people should say that they had been reduced to such poverty. But from the result of the calculations I have arrived at in my mind, things haven't as yet attained this climax:"
Continuing, he issued orders to a servant to take Wu Chin-hsiao outside, and to treat him with every consideration. But no further mention need be made of him.
During this while, Chia Chen gave directions to keep from the various perquisites just received such as would prove serviceable for the sacrifices to their ancestors, and, selecting a few things of each kind, he told Chia Jung to have them taken to the Jung mansion. After this, he himself kept what was required for his own use at home; and then allotting the rest, with due compliance to gradation, he had share after share piled up at the foot of the moon-shaped platform, and sending servants to summon the young men of the clan, he distributed them among them.
In quick succession, numerous contributions for the ancestral sacrifices were likewise sent from the Jung mansion; also presents for Chia Chen. Chia Chen inspected the things, and having them removed, he completed preparing the sacrificial utensils. Then putting on a pair of slip-shod shoes and throwing over his shoulders a long pelisse with 'She-li-sun' fur, he bade the servants spread a large wolf-skin rug in a sunny place on the stone steps below the pillars of the pavilion, and with his back to the warm sun, he leisurely watched the young people come and receive the new year gifts. Perceiving that Chia Ch'in had also come to fetch his share, Chia Chen called him over. "How is it that you've come too?" he asked. "Who told you to come?"
Chia Ch'in respectfully dropped his arms against his sides. "I heard," he replied, "that you, senior Sir, had sent for us to appear before you here and receive our presents; so I didn't wait for the servants to go and tell me, but came straightway."
"These things," Chia Chen added, "are intended for distribution among all those uncles and cousins who have nothing to do and who enjoy no source of income. Those two years you had no work, I gave you plenty of things too. But you're entrusted at present with some charge in the other mansion, and you exercise in the family temples control over the bonzes and taoist priests, so that you as well derive every month your share of an allowance. Irrespective of that, the allowances and money of the Buddhist priests pass through your hands. And do you still come to fetch things of this kind? You're far too greedy. Just you look at the fineries you wear. Why, they look like the habiliments of one who has money to spend, of a regular man of business. You said some time back that you had nothing which could bring you in any money, but how is it that you've got none again now? You really don't look as if you were in the same plight that you were in once upon a time."
"I have in my home a goodly number of inmates," Chia Ch'in explained, "so my expenses are great."
Chia Chen gave a saturnine laugh. "Are you trying again to excuse yourself with me?" he cried. "Do you flatter yourself that I have no idea of your doings in the family temples? When you get there, you, of course, play the grand personnage and no one has the courage to run counter to your wishes. Then you've also got the handling of money. Besides you're far away from us, so you're arrogant and audacious. Night after night, you get bad characters together; you gamble for money; and you keep women and young boys. And though you now fling away money with such a high hand, do you still presume to come and receive gifts? But as you can't manage to filch anything to take along with you, it will do you good to get beans, with the pole used for carrying water. Wait until the new year is over, and then I'll certainly report you to your uncle Secundus."
Chia Ch'in got crimson in the face, and did not venture to utter a single word by way of extenuation. A servant, however, then announced that the Prince from the Pei mansion had sent a pair of scrolls and a purse.
At this announcement, Chia Chen immediately told Chia Jung to go out and entertain the messengers. "And just say," he added, "that I'm not at home."
Chia Jung went on his way. Chia Chen, meanwhile, dismissed Chia Ch'in; and, seeing the things taken away, he returned to his quarters and finished his evening meal with Mrs. Yu. But nothing of any note occurred during that night.
The next day, he had, needless to say, still more things to give his mind to. Soon arrived the twenty ninth day of the twelfth moon, and everything was in perfect readiness. In the two mansions alike, the gate guardian gods and scrolls were renovated. The hanging tablets were newly varnished. The peach charms glistened like new. In the Ning Kuo mansion, every principal door, starting from the main entrance, the ceremonial gates, the doors of the large pavilions, of the winter apartments, and inner pavilions, the inner three gates, the inner ceremonial gates and the inner boundary gates, straight up to the doors of the main halls, was flung wide open. At the bottom of the steps, were placed on either side large and lofty vermilion candles, of uniform colour; which when lit presented the appearance of a pair of golden dragons.
On the morrow, dowager lady Chia and those with any official status, donned the court dress consistent with their grade, and taking first and foremost a retinue of inmates with them, they entered the palace in eight bearer state chairs, and presented their congratulations. After acquitting themselves of the ceremonial rites, and partaking of a banquet, they betook themselves back, and alighted from their chairs on their arrival at the winter hall of the Ning mansion. The young men, who had not followed the party to court, waited, arranged in their proper order, in front of the entrance the King mansion, and subsequently led the way into the ancestral temple.
But to return to Pao-ch'in. This was the first occasion, on which she put her foot inside to look at the inner precincts of the Chia ancestral temple, and as she did so, she scrutinized with minute attention all the details that met her gaze in the halls dedicated to their forefathers. These consisted, in fact, of a distinct courtyard on the west side of the Ning mansion. Within the balustrade, painted black, stood five apartments. Over the main entrance to these was suspended a flat tablet with the inscription in four characters: 'Ancestral hall of the Chia family.' On the side of these was recorded the fact that it had been the handiwork of Wang Hsi-feng, specially promoted to the rank of Grand Tutor of the Heir Apparent, and formerly Chancellor of the Imperial Academy. On either side, was one of a pair of scrolls, bearing the motto:
Besmear the earth with your liver and brains, all ye people, out of gratitude for the bounty of (the Emperor's) protection! The reputation (of the Chia family) reaches the very skies. Hundred generations rejoice in the splendour of the sacrifices accorded them.
This too had been executed by Wang, the Grand Tutor.
As soon as the court was entered, a raised road was reached, paved with white marble, on both sides of which were planted deep green fir trees, and kingfisher-green cypress trees. On the moon-shaped platform were laid out antiquities, tripods, libation-vases, and other similar articles. In front of the antechamber was hung a gold-coloured flat tablet, with nine dragons, and the device:
Like a dazzling star is the statesman, who assists the Emperor.
This was the autograph of a former Emperor.
On both sides figured a pair of antithetical scrolls, with the motto:
Their honours equal the sun and moon in lustre. Their fame is without bounds. It descends to their sons and grandsons.
These lines were likewise from the imperial pencil. Over the five-roomed main hall was suspended a tablet, inlaid with green, representing wriggling dragons. The sentiments consisted of:
Mindful of the remotest and heedful of the most distant ancestors.
A pair of antithetical scrolls was hung on the sides; on which was written:
After their death, their sons and grandsons enjoy their beneficent virtues. Up to the very present the masses think of the Jung and Ning families.
Both these mottoes owed their origin to the imperial pencil.
Inside, lanterns and candles burnt with resplendent brightness. Embroidered curtains and decorated screens were hung in such profusion that though a large number of ancestral tablets were placed about they could not be clearly discerned. The main thing that struck the eye was the inmates of the Chia mansion standing about, on the left and right, disposed in their proper order. Chia Ching was overseer of the sacrifices. Chia She played the part of assistant. Chia Chen presented the cups for libations. Chia Lien and Chia Tsung offered up the strips of paper. Pao-y held the incense. Chia Ch'ang and Chia Ling distributed the hassocks and looked after the receptacles for the ashes of joss-sticks. The black clad musicians discoursed music. The libation-cups were offered thrice in sacrifice. These devotions over, paper money was burnt; and libations of wine were poured. After the observance of the prescribed rites, the band stopped, and withdrew. The whole company then pressed round dowager lady Chia, and repaired to the main hall, where the images were placed. The embroidered curtains were hung high up. The variegated screens shut in the place from view. The fragrant candles burnt with splendour. In the place of honour, of the main apartment, were suspended the portraits of two progenitors of the Ning and Jung, both of whom were attired in costumes, ornamented with dragons, and clasped with belts of jade. On the right and left of them, were also arrayed the likenesses of a number of eminent ancestors.
Chia Heng, Chia Chih and the others of the same status stood according to their proper grades in a row extending from the inner ceremonial gate straight up to the verandah of the main hall. Outside the balustrade came at last Chia Ching and Chia She. Inside the balustrade figured the various female members of the family. The domestics and pages were arrayed beyond the ceremonial gate. As each set of eatables arrived, they transmitted them as far as the ceremonial gate, where Chia Heng, Chia Chih and his companions were ready to receive them. From one to another, they afterwards reached the bottom of the steps and found their way into Chia Ching's hands.
Chia Jung, being the eldest grandson of the senior branch, was the only person, who penetrated within the precincts of the balustrade reserved for the female inmates. So whenever Chia Ching had any offerings to pass on, he delivered them to Chia Jung, and Chia Jung gave them to his wife; who again handed them to lady Feng, Mrs. Yu, and the several ladies. And when these offerings reached the sacrificial altar, they were at length surrendered to Madame Wang. Madame Wang thereupon placed them in dowager lady Chia's hands, and old lady Chia deposited them on the altar.
Madame Hsing stood on the west-east side of the sacrificial altar, and along with old lady Chia, she offered the oblations and laid them in their proper places. After the vegetables, rice, soup, sweets, wine and tea had been handed up, Chia Jung eventually retired outside and resumed his position above Chia Ch'in.
Of the male inmates, whose names were composed with the radical 'wen,' 'literature,' Chia Ching was at the time the head. Below followed those with the radical 'Y,' 'gem,' led by Chia Chen. Next to these, came the inmates with the radical 'ts'ao,' 'grass,' headed by Chia Jung. These were arranged in proper order, with due regard to left and right. The men figured on the east; the women on the west.
When dowager lady Chia picked up a joss-stick and prostrated herself to perform her devotions, one and all fell simultaneously on their knees, packing up the five-roomed principal pavilion, the inside as well as outside of the three antechambers, the verandahs, the top and bottom of the stairs, the interior of the two vermilion avenues so closely with all their fineries and embroideries that not the slightest space remained vacant among them. Not so much as the caw of a crow struck the ear. All that was audible was the report of jingling and tinkling, and the sound of the gold bells and jade ornaments slightly rocked to and fro. Besides these, the creaking noise made by the shoes of the inmates, while getting up and kneeling down.
In a little time, the ceremonies were brought to a close. Chia Ching, Chia She and the rest hastily retired and adjourned to the Jung mansion, where they waited with the special purpose of paying their obeisance to dowager lady Chia.
Mrs. Yu's drawing rooms were entirely covered with red carpets. In the centre stood a large gold cloisonn brasier, with three legs, in imitation of rhinoceros tusks, washed with gold. On the stove-couch in the upper part was laid a new small red hair rug. On it were placed deep red back-cushions with embroidered representations of dragons, which were embedded among clouds and clasped the character longevity, as well as reclining-pillows and sitting-rugs. Covers made of black fox skin were moreover thrown over the couch, along with skins of pure white fox for sitting-cushions.
Dowager lady Chia was invited to place herself on the couch; and on the skin-rugs spread, on either side, two or three of the sisters-in-law, of the same standing as old lady Chia, were urged to sit down.
After the necessary arrangements had been concluded, skin rugs were also put on the small couch, erected in a horizontal position on the near portion of the apartments, and Madame Hsing and the other ladies of her age were motioned to seat themselves. On the two sides stood, face to face on the floor, twelve chairs carved and lacquered, over which were thrown antimacassars and small grey-squirrel rugs, of uniform colour. At the foot of each chair was a large copper foot-stove. On these chairs, Pao-ch'in and the other young ladies were asked to sit down.
Mrs. Yu took a tray and with her own hands she presented tea to old lady Chia. Chia Jung's wife served the rest of their seniors. Subsequently, Mrs. Yu helped Madame Hsing too and her contemporaries; and Chia Jung's wife then gave tea to the various young ladies; while lady Feng, Li Wan and a few others simply remained below, ready to minister to their wants. After their tea, Madame Hsing and her compeers were the first to rise and come and wait on dowager lady Chia, while she had hers. Dowager lady Chia chatted for a time with her old sisters-in-law and then desired the servants to look to her chair.