P'in Erh's mental talents and looks must in the world be rare—. Alone, clasped in a subtle smell, she quits her maiden room. The sound of but one single sob scarcely dies away, And drooping flowers cover the ground and birds fly in dismay.
Lin Tai-y was sobbing in her solitude, when a creaking noise struck her ear and the door of the court was flung open. Who came out, is not yet ascertained; but, reader, should you wish to know, the next chapter will explain.
In the Ti Ts'ui pavilion, Pao-ch'ai diverts herself with the multi-coloured butterflies. Over the mound, where the flowers had been interred, Tai-y bewails their withered bloom.
Lin Tai-y, we must explain in taking up the thread of our narrative, was disconsolately bathed in tears, when her ear was suddenly attracted by the creak of the court gate, and her eyes by the appearance of Pao-ch'ai beyond the threshold. Pao-y, Hsi Jen and a whole posse of inmates then walked out. She felt inclined to go up to Pao-y and ask him a question; but dreading that if she made any inquiries in the presence of such a company, Pao-y would be put to the blush and placed in an awkward position, she slipped aside and allowed Pao-ch'ai to prosecute her way. And it was only after Pao-y and the rest of the party had entered and closed the gate behind them that she at last issued from her retreat. Then fixing her gaze steadfastly on the gateway, she dropped a few tears. But inwardly conscious of their utter futility she retraced her footsteps and wended her way back into her apartment. And with heavy heart and despondent spirits, she divested herself of the remainder of her habiliments.
Tzu Chan and Hseh Yen were well aware, from the experience they had reaped in past days, that Lin Tai-y was, in the absence of anything to occupy her mind, prone to sit and mope, and that if she did not frown her eyebrows, she anyway heaved deep sighs; but they were quite at a loss to divine why she was, with no rhyme or reason, ever so ready to indulge, to herself, in inexhaustible gushes of tears. At first, there were such as still endeavoured to afford her solace; or who, suspecting lest she brooded over the memory of her father and mother, felt home-sick, or aggrieved, through some offence given her, tried by every persuasion to console and cheer her; but, as contrary to all expectations, she subsequently persisted time and again in this dull mood, through each succeeding month and year, people got accustomed to her eccentricities and did not extend to her the least sympathy. Hence it was that no one (on this occasion) troubled her mind about her, but letting her sit and sulk to her heart's content, they one and all turned in and went to sleep.
Lin Tai-y leaned against the railing of the bed, clasping her knees with both hands, her eyes suffused with tears. She looked, in very truth, like a carved wooden image or one fashioned of mud. There she sat straight up to the second watch, even later, when she eventually fell asleep.
The whole night nothing remarkable transpired. The morrow was the 26th day of the fourth moon. Indeed on this day, at one p.m., commenced the season of the 'Sprouting seeds,' and, according to an old custom, on the day on which this feast of 'Sprouting seeds' fell, every one had to lay all kinds of offerings and sacrificial viands on the altar of the god of flowers. Soon after the expiry of this season of 'Sprouting seeds' follows summertide, and us plants in general then wither and the god of flowers resigns his throne, it is compulsory to feast him at some entertainment, previous to his departure.
In the ladies' apartments this custom was observed with still more rigour; and, for this reason, the various inmates Of the park of Broad Vista had, without a single exception, got up at an early hour. The young people either twisted flowers and willow twigs in such a way as to represent chairs and horses, or made tufted banners with damask, brocaded gauze and silk, and bound them with variegated threads. These articles of decoration were alike attached on every tree and plant; and throughout the whole expanse of the park, embroidered sashes waved to and fro, and ornamented branches nodded their heads about. In addition to this, the members of the family were clad in such fineries that they put the peach tree to shame, made the almond yield the palm, the swallow envious and the hawk to blush. We could not therefore exhaustively describe them within our limited space of time.
Pao-ch'ai, Ying Ch'un, T'an Ch'un, Hsi Ch'un, Li Wan, lady Feng and other girls, as well as Ta Chieh Erh, Hsiang Ling and the waiting-maids were, one and all, we will now notice, in the garden enjoying themselves; the only person who could not be seen was Lin Tai-y.
"How is it," consequently inquired Ying Ch'un, "that I don't see cousin Liu? What a lazy girl! Is she forsooth fast asleep even at this late hour of the day?"
"Wait all of you here," rejoined Pao-ch'ai, "and I'll go and shake her up and bring her."
With these words, she speedily left her companions and repaired straightway into the Hsiao Hsiang lodge.
While she was going on her errand, she met Wen Kuan and the rest of the girls, twelve in all, on their way to seek the party. Drawing near, they inquired after her health. After exchanging a few commonplace remarks, Pao-ch'ai turned round and pointing, said: "you will find them all in there; you had better go and join them. As for me, I'm going to fetch Miss Lin, but I'll be back soon."
Saying this, she followed the winding path, and came to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. Upon suddenly raising her eyes, she saw Pao-y walk in. Pao-ch'ai immediately halted, and, lowering her head, she gave way to meditation for a time. "Pao-y and Lin Tai-y," she reflected, "have grown up together from their very infancy. But cousins, though they be, there are many instances in which they cannot evade suspicion, for they joke without heeding propriety; and at one time they are friends and at another at daggers drawn. Tai-y has, moreover, always been full of envy; and has ever displayed a peevish disposition, so were I to follow him in at this juncture, why, Pao-y would, in the first place, not feel at ease, and, in the second, Tai-y would give way to jealousy. Better therefore for me to turn back."
At the close of this train of thought, she retraced her steps. But just as she was starting to join her other cousins, she unexpectedly descried, ahead of her, a pair of jade-coloured butterflies, of the size of a circular fan. Now they soared high, now they made a swoop down, in their flight against the breeze; much to her amusement.
Pao-ch'ai felt a wish to catch them for mere fun's sake, so producing a fan from inside her sleeve, she descended on to the turfed ground to flap them with it. The two butterflies suddenly were seen to rise; suddenly to drop: sometimes to come; at others to go. Just as they were on the point of flying across the stream to the other side, the enticement proved too much for Pao-ch'ai, and she pursued them on tiptoe straight up to the Ti Ts'ui pavilion, nestling on the bank of the pond; while fragrant perspiration dripped drop by drop, and her sweet breath panted gently. But Pao-ch'ai abandoned the idea of catching them, and was about to beat a retreat, when all at once she overheard, in the pavilion, the chatter of people engaged in conversation.
This pavilion had, it must be added, a verandah and zig-zag balustrades running all round. It was erected over the water, in the centre of a pond, and had on the four sides window-frames of carved wood work, stuck with paper. So when Pao-ch'ai caught, from without the pavilion, the sound of voices, she at once stood still and lent an attentive ear to what was being said.
"Look at this handkerchief," she overheard. "If it's really the one you've lost, well then keep it; but if it isn't you must return it to Mr. Yn."
"To be sure it is my own," another party observed, "bring it along and give it to me."
"What reward will you give me?" she further heard. "Is it likely that I've searched all for nothing!"
"I've long ago promised to recompense you, and of course I won't play you false," some one again rejoined.
"I found it and brought it round," also reached her ear, "and you naturally will recompense me; but won't you give anything to the person who picked it up?"
"Don't talk nonsense," the other party added, "he belongs to a family of gentlemen, and anything of ours he may pick up it's his bounden duty to restore to us. What reward could you have me give him?"
"If you don't reward him," she heard some one continue, "what will I be able to tell him? Besides, he enjoined me time after time that if there was to be no recompense, I was not to give it to you."
A short pause ensued. "Never mind!" then came out again to her, "take this thing of mine and present it to him and have done! But do you mean to let the cat out of the bag with any one else? You should take some oath."
"If I tell any one," she likewise overheard, "may an ulcer grow on my mouth, and may I, in course of time, die an unnatural death!"
"Ai-ya!" was the reply she heard; "our minds are merely bent upon talking, but some one might come and quietly listen from outside; wouldn't it be as well to push all the venetians open. Any one seeing us in here will then imagine that we are simply chatting about nonsense. Besides, should they approach, we shall be able to observe them, and at once stop our conversation!"
Pao-ch'ai listened to these words from outside, with a heart full of astonishment. "How can one wonder," she argued mentally, "if all those lewd and dishonest people, who have lived from olden times to the present, have devised such thorough artifices! But were they now to open and see me here, won't they feel ashamed. Moreover, the voice in which those remarks were uttered resembles very much that of Hung Erh, attached to Pao-y's rooms, who has all along shown a sharp eye and a shrewd mind. She's an artful and perverse thing of the first class! And as I have now overheard her peccadilloes, and a person in despair rebels as sure as a dog in distress jumps over the wall, not only will trouble arise, but I too shall derive no benefit. It would be better at present therefore for me to lose no time in retiring. But as I fear I mayn't be in time to get out of the way, the only alternative for me is to make use of some art like that of the cicada, which can divest itself of its exuviae."
She had scarcely brought her reflections to a close before a sound of 'ko-chih' reached her ears. Pao-ch'ai purposely hastened to tread with heavy step. "P'in Erh, I see where you're hiding!" she cried out laughingly; and as she shouted, she pretended to be running ahead in pursuit of her.
As soon as Hsiao Hung and Chui Erh pushed the windows open from inside the pavilion, they heard Pao-ch'ai screaming, while rushing forward; and both fell into a state of trepidation from the fright they sustained.
Pao-ch'ai turned round and faced them. "Where have you been hiding Miss Lin?" she smiled.
"Who has seen anything of Miss Lin," retorted Chui Erh.
"I was just now," proceeded Pao-ch'ai, "on that side of the pool, and discerned Miss Lin squatting down over there and playing with the water. I meant to have gently given her a start, but scarcely had I walked up to her, when she saw me, and, with a detour towards the East, she at once vanished from sight. So mayn't she be concealing herself in there?"
As she spoke, she designedly stepped in and searched about for her. This over, she betook herself away, adding: "she's certain to have got again into that cave in the hill, and come across a snake, which must have bitten her and put an end to her."
So saying, she distanced them, feeling again very much amused. "I have managed," she thought, "to ward off this piece of business, but I wonder what those two think about it."
Hsiao Hung, who would have anticipated, readily credited as gospel the remarks she heard Pao-ch'ai make. But allowing just time enough to Pao-ch'ai to got to a certain distance, she instantly drew Chui Erh to her. "Dreadful!" she observed, "Miss Lin was squatting in here and must for a certainty have overheard what we said before she left."
Albeit Chui Erh listened to her words, she kept her own counsel for a long time. "What's to be done?" Hsiao Hung consequently exclaimed.
"Even supposing she did overhear what we said," rejoined Chui Erh by way of answer, "why should she meddle in what does not concern her? Every one should mind her own business."
"Had it been Miss Pao, it would not have mattered," remarked Hsiao Hung, "but Miss Lin delights in telling mean things of people and is, besides, so petty-minded. Should she have heard and anything perchance comes to light, what will we do?"
During their colloquy, they noticed Wen Kuan, Hsiang Ling, Ssu Ch'i, Shih Shu and the other girls enter the pavilion, so they were compelled to drop the conversation and to play and laugh with them. They then espied lady Feng standing on the top of the hillock, waving her hand, beckoning to Hsiao Hung. Hurriedly therefore leaving the company, she ran up to lady Feng and with smile heaped upon smile, "my lady," she inquired, "what is it that you want?"
Lady Feng scrutinised her for a time. Observing how spruce and pretty she was in looks, and how genial in her speech, she felt prompted to give her a smile. "My own waiting-maid," she said, "hasn't followed me in here to-day; and as I've just this moment bethought myself of something and would like to send some one on an errand, I wonder whether you're fit to undertake the charge and deliver a message faithfully."
"Don't hesitate in entrusting me with any message you may have to send," replied Hsiao Hung with a laugh. "I'll readily go and deliver it. Should I not do so faithfully, and blunder in fulfilling your business, my lady, you may visit me with any punishment your ladyship may please, and I'll have nothing to say."
"What young lady's servant are you," smiled lady Feng? "Tell me, so that when she comes back, after I've sent you out, and looks for you, I may be able to tell her about you."
"I'm attached to our Master Secundus,' Mr. Pao's rooms," answered Hsiao Hung.
"Ai-ya!" ejaculated lady Feng, as soon as she heard these words. "Are you really in Pao-y's rooms! How strange! Yet it comes to the same thing. Well, if he asks for you, I'll tell him where you are. Go now to our house and tell your sister P'ing that she'll find on the table in the outer apartment and under the stand with the plate from the Ju kiln, a bundle of silver; that it contains the one hundred and twenty taels for the embroiderers' wages; and that when Chang Ts'ai's wife comes, the money should be handed to her to take away, after having been weighed in her presence and been given to her to tally. Another thing too I want. In the inner apartment and at the head of the bed you'll find a small purse, bring it along to me."
Hsiao Hung listened to her orders and then started to carry them out. On her return, in a short while, she discovered that lady Feng was not on the hillock. But perceiving Ssu Ch'i egress from the cave and stand still to tie her petticoat, she walked up to her. "Sister, do you know where our lady Secunda is gone to?" she asked.
"I didn't notice," rejoined Ssu Ch'i.
At this reply, Hsiao Hung turned round and cast a glance on all four quarters. Seeing T'an Ch'un and Pao-ch'ai standing by the bank of the pond on the opposite side and looking at the fish, Hsiao Hung advanced up to them. "Young ladies," she said, straining a smile, "do you perchance have any idea where our lady Secunda is gone to now?"
"Go into your senior lady's court and look for her!" T'an Ch'un answered.
Hearing this, Hsiao Hung was proceeding immediately towards the Tao Hsiang village, when she caught sight, just ahead of her, of Ch'ing Wen, Ch'i Hsia, Pi Hen, Ch'iu Wen, She Yeh, Shih Shu, Ju Hua, Ying Erh and some other girls coming towards her in a group.
The moment Ch'ing Wen saw Hsiao Hung, she called out to her. "Are you gone clean off your head?" she exclaimed. "You don't water the flowers, nor feed the birds or prepare the tea stove, but gad about outside!"
"Yesterday," replied Hsiao Hung, "Mr. Secundus told me that there was no need for me to water the flowers to-day; that it was enough if they were watered every other day. As for the birds, you're still in the arms of Morpheus, sister, when I give them their food."
"And what about the tea-stove?" interposed Pi Hen.
"To-day," retorted Hsiao Hung, "is not my turn on duty, so don't ask me whether there be any tea or not!"
"Do you listen to that mouth of hers!" cried Ch'i Hsia, "but don't you girls speak to her; let her stroll about and have done!"
"You'd better all go and ask whether I've been gadding about or not," continued Hsiao Hung. "Our lady Secunda has just bidden me go and deliver a message, and fetch something."
Saying this, she raised the purse and let them see it; and they, finding they could hit upon nothing more to taunt her with, trudged along onwards.
Ch'ing Wen smiled a sarcastic smile. "How funny!" she cried. "Lo, she climbs up a high branch and doesn't condescend to look at any one of us! All she told her must have been just some word or two, who knows! But is it likely that our lady has the least notion of her name or surname that she rides such a high horse, and behaves in this manner! What credit is it in having been sent on a trifling errand like this! Will we, by and bye, pray, hear anything more about you? If you've got any gumption, you'd better skedaddle out of this garden this very day. For, mind, it's only if you manage to hold your lofty perch for any length of time that you can be thought something of!"
As she derided her, she continued on her way.
During this while, Hsiao Hung listened to her, but as she did not find it a suitable moment to retaliate, she felt constrained to suppress her resentment and go in search of lady Feng.
On her arrival at widow Li's quarters, she, in point of fact, discovered lady Feng seated inside with her having a chat. Hsiao Hung approached her and made her report. "Sister P'ing says," she observed, "that as soon as your ladyship left the house, she put the money by, and that when Chang Ts'ai's wife went in a little time to fetch it, she had it weighed in her presence, after which she gave it to her to take away."
With these words, she produced the purse and presented it to her. "Sister P'ing bade me come and tell your ladyship," she added, continuing, "that Wang Erh came just now to crave your orders, as to who are the parties from whom he has to go and (collect interest on money due) and sister P'ing explained to him what your wishes were and sent him off."
"How could she tell him where I wanted him to go?" Lady Feng laughed.
"Sister P'ing says," Hsiao Hung proceeded, "that our lady presents her compliments to your ladyship (widow Li) here-(To lady Feng) that our master Secundus has in fact not come home, and that albeit a delay of (a day) or two will take place (in the collection of the money), your ladyship should, she begs, set your mind at ease. (To Li Wan). That when lady Quinta is somewhat better, our lady will let lady Quinta know and come along with her to see your ladyship. (To lady Feng). That lady Quinta sent a servant the day before yesterday to come over and say that our lady, your worthy maternal aunt, had despatched a letter to inquire after your ladyship's health; that she also wished to ask you, my lady, her worthy niece in here, for a couple of 'long-life-great-efficacy-full-of-every-virtue' pills; and that if you have any, they should, when our lady bids a servant come over, be simply given her to bring to our lady here, and that any one bound to-morrow for that side could then deliver them on her way to her ladyship, your aunt yonder, to take along with her."
"Ai-yo-yo!" exclaimed widow Li, before the close of the message. "It's impossible for me to make out what you're driving at! What a heap of ladyships and misters!"
"It's not to be wondered at that you can't make them out," interposed lady Feng laughing. "Why, her remarks refer to four or five distinct families."
While speaking, she again faced Hsiao Hung. "My dear girl," she smiled, "what a trouble you've been put to! But you speak decently, and unlike the others who keep on buzz-buzz-buzz, like mosquitoes! You're not aware, sister-in-law, that I actually dread uttering a word to any of the girls outside the few servant-girls and matrons in my own immediate service; for they invariably spin out, what could be condensed in a single phrase, into a long interminable yarn, and they munch and chew their words; and sticking to a peculiar drawl, they groan and moan; so much so, that they exasperate me till I fly into a regular rage. Yet how are they to know that our P'ing Erh too was once like them. But when I asked her: 'must you forsooth imitate the humming of a mosquito, in order to be accounted a handsome girl?' and spoke to her, on several occasions, she at length improved considerably."
"What a good thing it would be," laughed Li Kung-ts'ai, "if they could all be as smart as you are."
"This girl is first-rate!" rejoined lady Feng, "she just now delivered two messages. They didn't, I admit, amount to much, yet to listen to her, she spoke to the point."
"To-morrow," she continued, addressing herself to Hsiao Hung smilingly, "come and wait on me, and I'll acknowledge you as my daughter; and the moment you come under my control, you'll readily improve."
At this news, Hsiao Hung spurted out laughing aloud.
"What are you laughing for?" Lady Feng inquired. "You must say to yourself that I am young in years and that how much older can I be than yourself to become your mother; but are you under the influence of a spring dream? Go and ask all those people older than yourself. They would be only too ready to call me mother. But snapping my fingers at them, I to-day exalt you."
"I wasn't laughing about that," Hsiao Hung answered with a smiling face. "I was amused by the mistake your ladyship made about our generations. Why, my mother claims to be your daughter, my lady, and are you now going to recognise me too as your daughter?"
"Who's your mother?" Lady Feng exclaimed.
"Don't you actually know her?" put in Li Kung-ts'ai with a smile. "She's Lin Chih-hsiao's child."
This disclosure greatly surprised lady Feng. "What!" she consequently cried, "is she really his daughter?"
"Why Lin Chih-hsiao and his wife," she resumed smilingly, "couldn't either of them utter a sound if even they were pricked with an awl. I've always maintained that they're a well-suited couple; as the one is as deaf as a post, and the other as dumb as a mute. But who would ever have expected them to have such a clever girl! By how much are you in your teens?"
"I'm seventeen," replied Hsia Hung.
"What is your name?" she went on to ask.
"My name was once Hung Y." Hsiao Hung rejoined. "But as it was a duplicate of that of Master Secundus, Mr. Pao-y, I'm now simply called Hsiao Hung."
Upon hearing this explanation, lady Feng raised her eyebrows into a frown, and turning her head round: "It's most disgusting!" she remarked, "Those bearing the name Y would seem to be very cheap; for your name is Y, and so is also mine Y. Sister-in-law," she then observed; "I never let you know anything about it, but I mentioned to her mother that Lai Ta's wife has at present her hands quite full, and that she hasn't either any notion as to who is who in this mansion. 'You had better,' (I said), 'carefully select a couple of girls for my service.' She assented unreservedly, but she put it off and never chose any. On the contrary, she sent this girl to some other place. But is it likely that she wouldn't have been well off with me?"
"Here you are again full of suspicion!" Li Wan laughed. "She came in here long before you ever breathed a word to her! So how could you bear a grudge against her mother?"
"Well, in that case," added lady Feng, "I'll speak to Pao-y to-morrow, and induce him to find another one, and to allow this girl to come along with me. I wonder, however, whether she herself is willing or not?"
"Whether willing or not," interposed Hsiao Hung smiling, "such as we couldn't really presume to raise our voices and object. We should feel it our privilege to serve such a one as your ladyship, and learn a little how to discriminate when people raise or drop their eyebrows and eyes (with pleasure or displeasure), and reap as well some experience in such matters as go out or come in, whether high or low, great and small."
But during her reply, she perceived Madame Wang's waiting-maid come and invite lady Feng to go over. Lady Feng bade good-bye at once to Li Kung-ts'ai and took her departure.
Hsiao Hung then returned into the I Hung court, where we will leave her and devote our attention for the present to Lin Tai-y.
As she had had but little sleep in the night, she got up the next day at a late hour. When she heard that all her cousins were collected in the park, giving a farewell entertainment for the god of flowers, she hastened, for fear people should laugh at her for being lazy, to comb her hair, perform her ablutions, and go out and join them. As soon as she reached the interior of the court, she caught sight of Pao-y, entering the door, who speedily greeted her with a smile. "My dear cousin," he said, "did you lodge a complaint against me yesterday? I've been on pins and needles the whole night long."
Tai-y forthwith turned her head away. "Put the room in order," she shouted to Tzu Chan, "and lower one of the gauze window-frames. And when you've seen the swallows come back, drop the curtain; keep it down then by placing the lion on it, and after you have burnt the incense, mind you cover the censer."
So saying she stepped outside.
Pao-y perceiving her manner, concluded again that it must be on account of the incident of the previous noon, but how could he have had any idea about what had happened in the evening? He kept on still bowing and curtseying; but Lin Tai-y did not even so much as look at him straight in the face, but egressing alone out of the door of the court, she proceeded there and then in search of the other girls.
Pao-y fell into a despondent mood and gave way to conjectures.
"Judging," he reflected, "from this behaviour of hers, it would seem as if it could not be for what transpired yesterday. Yesterday too I came back late in the evening, and, what's more, I didn't see her, so that there was no occasion on which I could have given her offence."
As he indulged in these reflections, he involuntarily followed in her footsteps to try and catch her up, when he descried Pao-ch'ai and T'an-ch'un on the opposite side watching the frolics of the storks.
As soon as they saw Tai-y approach, the trio stood together and started a friendly chat. But noticing Pao-y also come up, T'an Ch'un smiled. "Brother Pao," she said, "are you all right. It's just three days that I haven't seen anything of you?"
"Are you sister quite well?" Pao-y rejoined, a smile on his lips. "The other day, I asked news of you of our senior sister-in-law."
"Brother Pao," T'an Ch'un remarked, "come over here; I want to tell you something."
The moment Pao-y heard this, he quickly went with her. Distancing Pao-ch'ai and Tai-y, the two of them came under a pomegranate tree. "Has father sent for you these last few days?" T'an Ch'un then asked.
"He hasn't," Pao-y answered laughingly by way of reply.
"Yesterday," proceeded T'an Ch'un, "I heard vaguely something or other about father sending for you to go out."
"I presume," Pao-y smiled, "that some one must have heard wrong, for he never sent for me."
"I've again managed to save during the last few months," added T'an Ch'un with another smile, "fully ten tiaos, so take them and bring me, when at any time you stroll out of doors, either some fine writings or some ingenious knicknack."
"Much as I have roamed inside and outside the city walls," answered Pao-y, "and seen grand establishments and large temples, I've never come across anything novel or pretty. One simply sees articles made of gold, jade, copper and porcelain, as well as such curios for which we could find no place here. Besides these, there are satins, eatables, and wearing apparel."
"Who cares for such baubles!" exclaimed T'an Ch'un. "How could they come up to what you purchased the last time; that wee basket, made of willow twigs, that scent-box, scooped out of a root of real bamboo, that portable stove fashioned of glutinous clay; these things were, oh, so very nice! I was as fond of them as I don't know what; but, who'd have thought it, they fell in love with them and bundled them all off, just as if they were precious things."
"Is it things of this kind that you really want?" laughed Pao-y. "Why, these are worth nothing! Were you to take a hundred cash and give them to the servant-boys, they could, I'm sure, bring two cart-loads of them."
"What do the servant-boys know?" T'an Ch'un replied. "Those you chose for me were plain yet not commonplace. Neither were they of coarse make. So were you to procure me as many as you can get of them, I'll work you a pair of slippers like those I gave you last time, and spend twice as much trouble over them as I did over that pair you have. Now, what do you say to this bargain?"
"Your reference to this," smiled Pao-y, "reminds me of an old incident. One day I had them on, and by a strange coincidence, I met father, whose fancy they did not take, and he inquired who had worked them. But how could I muster up courage to allude to the three words: my sister Tertia, so I answered that my maternal aunt had given them to me on the recent occasion of my birthday. When father heard that they had been given to me by my aunt, he could not very well say anything. But after a while, 'why uselessly waste,' he observed, 'human labour, and throw away silks to make things of this sort!' On my return, I told Hsi Jen about it. 'Never mind,' said Hsi Jen; but Mrs. Chao got angry. 'Her own brother,' she murmured indignantly, 'wears slipshod shoes and socks in holes, and there's no one to look after him, and does she go and work all these things!'"
T'an Ch'un, hearing this, immediately lowered her face. "Now tell me, aren't these words utter rot!" she shouted. "What am I that I have to make shoes? And is it likely that Huan Erh hasn't his own share of things! Clothes are clothes, and shoes and socks are shoes and socks; and how is it that any grudges arise in the room of a mere servant-girl and old matron? For whose benefit does she come out with all these things! I simply work a pair or part of a pair when I am at leisure, with time on my hands. And I can give them to any brother, elder or younger, I fancy; and who has a right to interfere with me? This is just another bit of blind anger!"
After listening to her, Pao-y nodded his head and smiled. "Yet," he said, "you don't know what her motives may be. It's but natural that she should also cherish some expectations."
This apology incensed T'an Ch'un more than ever, and twisting her head round, "Even you have grown dull!" she cried. "She does, of course, indulge in expectations, but they are actuated by some underhand and paltry notion! She may go on giving way to these ideas, but I, for my part, will only care for Mr. Chia Cheng and Madame Wang. I won't care a rap for any one else. In fact, I'll be nice with such of my sisters and brothers, as are nice to me; and won't even draw any distinction between those born of primary wives and those of secondary ones. Properly speaking, I shouldn't say these things about her, but she's narrow-minded to a degree, and unlike what she should be. There's besides another ridiculous thing. This took place the last time I gave you the money to get me those trifles. Well, two days after that, she saw me, and she began again to represent that she had no money and that she was hard up. Nevertheless, I did not worry my brain with her goings on. But as it happened, the servant-girls subsequently quitted the room, and she at once started finding fault with me. 'Why,' she asked, 'do I give you my savings to spend and don't, after all, let Huan Erh have them and enjoy them?' When I heard these reproaches, I felt both inclined to laugh, and also disposed to lose my temper; but I there and then skedaddled out of her quarters, and went over to our Madame Wang."
As she was recounting this incident, "Well," she overheard Pao-ch'ai sarcastically observe from the opposite direction, "have you done spinning your yarns? If you have, come along! It's quite evident that you are brother and sister, for here you leave every one else and go and discuss your own private matters. Couldn't we too listen to a single sentence of what you have to say?"
While she taunted them, T'an Ch'un and Pao-y eventually drew near her with smiling faces.
Pao-y, however, failed to see Lin Tai-y and he concluded that she had dodged out of the way and gone elsewhere. "It would be better," he muttered, after some thought, "that I should let two days elapse, and give her temper time to evaporate before I go to her." But as he drooped his head, his eye was attracted by a heap of touch-me-nots, pomegranate blossom and various kinds of fallen flowers, which covered the ground thick as tapestry, and he heaved a sigh. "It's because," he pondered, "she's angry that she did not remove these flowers; but I'll take them over to the place, and by and bye ask her about them."
As he argued to himself, he heard Pao-ch'ai bid them go out. "I'll join you in a moment," Pao-y replied; and waiting till his two cousins had gone some distance, he bundled the flowers into his coat, and ascending the hill, he crossed the stream, penetrated into the arbour, passed through the avenues with flowers and wended his way straight for the spot, where he had, on a previous occasion, interred the peach-blossoms with the assistance of Lin Tai-y. But scarcely had he reached the mound containing the flowers, and before he had, as yet, rounded the brow of the hill, than he caught, emanating from the off side, the sound of some one sobbing, who while giving way to invective, wept in a most heart-rending way.
"I wonder," soliloquised Pao-y, "whose servant-girl this is, who has been so aggrieved as to run over here to have a good cry!"
While speculating within himself, he halted. He then heard, mingled with wails:—
Flowers wither and decay; and flowers do fleet; they fly all o'er the skies; Their bloom wanes; their smell dies; but who is there with them to sympathise? While vagrant gossamer soft doth on fluttering spring-bowers bind its coils, And drooping catkins lightly strike and cling on the embroidered screens, A maiden in the inner rooms, I sore deplore the close of spring. Such ceaseless sorrow fills my breast, that solace nowhere can I find. Past the embroidered screen I issue forth, taking with me a hoe, And on the faded flowers to tread I needs must, as I come and go. The willow fibres and elm seeds have each a fragrance of their own. What care I, peach blossoms may fall, pear flowers away be blown; Yet peach and pear will, when next year returns, burst out again in bloom, But can it e'er be told who will next year dwell in the inner room? What time the third moon comes, the scented nests have been already built. And on the beams the swallows perch, excessive spiritless and staid; Next year, when the flowers bud, they may, it's true, have ample to feed on: But they know not that when I'm gone beams will be vacant and nests fall! In a whole year, which doth consist of three hundred and sixty days, Winds sharp as swords and frost like unto spears each other rigorous press, So that how long can last their beauty bright; their fresh charm how long stays? Sudden they droop and fly; and whither they have flown, 'tis hard to guess. Flowers, while in bloom, easy the eye attract; but, when they wither, hard they are to find. Now by the footsteps, I bury the flowers, but sorrow will slay me. Alone I stand, and as I clutch the hoe, silent tears trickle down, And drip on the bare twigs, leaving behind them the traces of blood. The goatsucker hath sung his song, the shades lower of eventide, So with the lotus hoe I return home and shut the double doors. Upon the wall the green lamp sheds its rays just as I go to sleep. The cover is yet cold; against the window patters the bleak rain. How strange! Why can it ever be that I feel so wounded at heart! Partly, because spring I regret; partly, because with spring I'm vexed! Regret for spring, because it sudden comes; vexed, for it sudden goes. For without warning, lo! it comes; and without asking it doth fleet. Yesterday night, outside the hall sorrowful songs burst from my mouth, For I found out that flowers decay, and that birds also pass away. The soul of flowers, and the spirit of birds are both hard to restrain. Birds, to themselves when left, in silence plunge; and flowers, alone, they blush. Oh! would that on my sides a pair of wings could grow, That to the end of heaven I may fly in the wake of flowers! Yea to the very end of heaven, Where I could find a fragrant grave! For better, is it not, that an embroidered bag should hold my well-shaped bones, And that a heap of stainless earth should in its folds my winsome charms enshroud. For spotless once my frame did come, and spotless again it will go! Far better than that I, like filthy mire, should sink into some drain! Ye flowers are now faded and gone, and, lo, I come to bury you. But as for me, what day I shall see death is not as yet divined! Here I am fain these flowers to inter; but humankind will laugh me as a fool. Who knows, who will, in years to come, commit me to my grave! Mark, and you'll find the close of spring, and the gradual decay of flowers, Resemble faithfully the time of death of maidens ripe in years! In a twinkle, spring time draws to a close, and maidens wax in age. Flowers fade and maidens die; and of either nought any more is known.
After listening to these effusions, Pao-y unconsciously threw himself down in a wandering frame of mind.
But, reader, do you feel any interest in him? If you do, the subsequent chapter contains further details about him.
Chiang Y-han lovingly presents a rubia-scented silk sash. Hseh Pao-ch'ai blushingly covers her musk-perfumed string of red beads.
Lin Tai-y, the story goes, dwelt, after Ch'ing Wen's refusal, the previous night, to open the door, under the impression that the blame lay with Pao-y. The following day, which by another remarkable coincidence, happened to correspond with the season, when the god of flowers had to be feasted, her total ignorance of the true circumstances, and her resentment, as yet unspent, aroused again in her despondent thoughts, suggested by the decline of spring time. She consequently gathered a quantity of faded flowers and fallen petals, and went and interred them. Unable to check the emotion, caused by the decay of the flowers, she spontaneously recited, after giving way to several loud lamentations, those verses which Pao-y, she little thought, overheard from his position on the mound. At first, he did no more than nod his head and heave sighs, full of feeling. But when subsequently his ear caught:
"Here I am fain these flowers to inter, but humankind will laugh me as a fool; Who knows who will, in years to come, commit me to my grave! In a twinkle springtime draws to an end, and maidens wax in age. Flowers fade and maidens die; and of either naught any more is known."
he unconsciously was so overpowered with grief that he threw himself on the mound, bestrewing the whole ground with the fallen flowers he carried in his coat, close to his chest. "When Tai-y's flowerlike charms and moon-like beauty," he reflected, "by and bye likewise reach a time when they will vanish beyond any hope of recovery, won't my heart be lacerated and my feelings be mangled! And extending, since Tai-y must at length some day revert to a state when it will be difficult to find her, this reasoning to other persons, like Pao-ch'ai, Hsiang Ling, Hsi Jen and the other girls, they too are equally liable to attain a state beyond the reach of human search. But when Pao-ch'ai and all the rest have ultimately reached that stage when no trace will be visible of them, where shall I myself be then? And when my own human form will have vanished and gone, whither I know not yet, to what person, I wonder, will this place, this garden and these plants, revert?"
From one to a second, and from a second to a third, he thus pursued his reflections, backwards and forwards, until he really did not know how he could best, at this time and at such a juncture, dispel his fit of anguish. His state is adequately described by:
The shadow of a flower cannot err from the flower itself to the left or the right. The song of birds can only penetrate into the ear from the east or the west.
Lin Tai-y was herself a prey to emotion and agitation, when unawares sorrowful accents also struck her ear, from the direction of the mound. "Every one," she cogitated, "laughs at me for labouring under a foolish mania, but is there likely another fool besides myself?" She then raised her head, and, casting a glance about her, she discovered that it was Pao-y. "Ts'ui!" eagerly cried Tai-y, "I was wondering who it was; but is it truly this ruthless-hearted and short-lived fellow!"
But the moment the two words "short-lived" dropped from her mouth, she sealed her lips; and, heaving a deep sigh, she turned herself round and hurriedly walked off.
Pao-y, meanwhile, remained for a time a prey to melancholy. But perceiving that Tai-y had retired, he at once realised that she must have caught sight of him and got out of his way; and, as his own company afforded him no pleasure, he shook the dust off his clothes, rose to his feet and descending the hill, he started for the I Hung court by the path by which he had come. But he espied Tai-y walking in advance of him, and with rapid stride, he overtook her. "Stop a little!" he cried. "I know you don't care a rap for me; but I'll just make one single remark, and from this day forward we'll part company."
Tai-y looked round. Observing that it was Pao-y, she was about to ignore him; hearing him however mention that he had only one thing to say, "Please tell me what it is," she forthwith rejoined.
Pao-y smiled at her. "If I pass two remarks will you listen to me; yes or no?" he asked.
At these words, Tai-y twisted herself round and beat a retreat. Pao-y however followed behind.
"Since this is what we've come to now," he sighed, "what was the use of what existed between us in days gone by?"
As soon as Tai-y heard his exclamation, she stopped short impulsively. Turning her face towards him, "what about days gone by," she remarked, "and what about now?"
"Ai!" ejaculated Pao-y, "when you got here in days gone by, wasn't I your playmate in all your romps and in all your fun? My heart may have been set upon anything, but if you wanted it you could take it away at once. I may have been fond of any eatable, but if I came to learn that you too fancied it, I there and then put away what could be put away, in a clean place, to wait, Miss, for your return. We had our meals at one table; we slept in one and the same bed; whatever the servant-girls could not remember, I reminded them of, for fear lest your temper, Miss, should get ruffled. I flattered myself that cousins, who have grown up together from their infancy, as you and I have, would have continued, through intimacy or friendship, either would have done, in peace and harmony until the end, so as to make it palpable that we are above the rest. But, contrary to all my expectations, now that you, Miss, have developed in body as well as in mind, you don't take the least heed of me. You lay hold instead of some cousin Pao or cousin Feng or other from here, there and everywhere and give them a place in your affections; while on the contrary you disregard me for three days at a stretch and decline to see anything of me for four! I have besides no brother or sister of the same mother as myself. It's true there are a couple of them, but these, are you not forsooth aware, are by another mother! You and I are only children, so I ventured to hope that you would have reciprocated my feelings. But, who'd have thought it, I've simply thrown away this heart of mine, and here I am with plenty of woes to bear, but with nowhere to go and utter them!"
While expressing these sentiments, tears, unexpectedly, trickled from his eyes.
When Lin Tai-y caught, with her ears, his protestations, and noticed with her eyes his state of mind, she unconsciously experienced an inward pang, and, much against her will, tears too besprinkled her cheeks; so, drooping her head, she kept silent.
Her manner did not escape Pao-y's notice. "I myself am aware," he speedily resumed, "that I'm worth nothing now; but, however imperfect I may be, I could on no account presume to become guilty of any shortcoming with you cousin. Were I to ever commit the slightest fault, your task should be either to tender me advice and warn me not to do it again, or to blow me up a little, or give me a few whacks; and all this reproof I wouldn't take amiss. But no one would have ever anticipated that you wouldn't bother your head in the least about me, and that you would be the means of driving me to my wits' ends, and so much out of my mind and off my head, as to be quite at a loss how to act for the best. In fact, were death to come upon me, I would be a spirit driven to my grave by grievances. However much exalted bonzes and eminent Taoist priests might do penance, they wouldn't succeed in releasing my soul from suffering; for it would still be needful for you to clearly explain the facts, so that I might at last be able to come to life."
After lending him a patient ear, Tai-y suddenly banished from her memory all recollection of the occurrences of the previous night. "Well, in that case," she said, "why did you not let a servant-girl open the door when I came over?"
This question took Pao-y by surprise. "What prompts you to say this?" he exclaimed. "If I have done anything of the kind, may I die at once."
"Psha!" cried Tai-y, "it's not right that you-should recklessly broach the subject of living or dying at this early morn! If you say yea, it's yea; and nay, it's nay; what use is there to utter such oaths!"
"I didn't really see you come over," protested Pao-y. "Cousin Pao-ch'ai it was, who came and sat for a while and then left."
After some reflection, Lin Tai-y smiled. "Yes," she observed, "your servant-girls must, I fancy, have been too lazy to budge, grumpy and in a cross-grained mood; this is probable enough."
"This is, I feel sure, the reason," answered Pao-y, "so when I go back, I'll find out who it was, call them to task and put things right."
"Those girls of yours;" continued Tai-y, "should be given a lesson, but properly speaking it isn't for me to mention anything about it. Their present insult to me is a mere trifle; but were to-morrow some Miss Pao (precious) or some Miss Pei (jewel) or other to come, and were she to be subjected to insult, won't it be a grave matter?"
While she taunted him, she pressed her lips, and laughed sarcastically.
Pao-y heard her remarks and felt both disposed to gnash his teeth with rage, and to treat them as a joke; but in the midst of their colloquy, they perceived a waiting-maid approach and invite them to have their meal.
Presently, the whole body of inmates crossed over to the front.
"Miss," inquired Madame Wang at the sight of Tai-y, "have you taken any of Dr. Pao's medicines? Do you feel any better?"
"I simply feel so-so," replied Lin Tai-y, "but grandmother Chia recommended me to go on taking Dr. Wang's medicines."
"Mother," Pao-y interposed, "you've no idea that cousin Lin's is an internal derangement; it's because she was born with a delicate physique that she can't stand the slightest cold. All she need do is to take a couple of closes of some decoction to dispel the chill; yet it's preferable that she should have medicine in pills."
"The other day," said Madame Wang, "the doctor mentioned the name of some pills, but I've forgotten what it is."
"I know something about pills," put in Pao-y; "he merely told her to take some pills or other called 'ginseng as-a-restorative-of-the-system.'"
"That isn't it," Madame Wang demurred.
"The 'Eight-precious-wholesome-to-mother' pills," Pao-y proceeded, "or the 'Left-angelica' or 'Right-angelica;' if these also aren't the ones, they must be the 'Eight-flavour Rehmannia-glutinosa' pills."
"None of these," rejoined Madame Wang, "for I remember well that there were the two words chin kang (guardians in Buddhistic temples)."
"I've never before," observed Pao-y, clapping his hands, "heard of the existence of chin kang pills; but in the event of there being any chin kang pills, there must, for a certainty, be such a thing as P'u Sa (Buddha) powder."
At this joke, every one in the whole room burst out laughing. Pao-ch'ai compressed her lips and gave a smile. "It must, I'm inclined to think," she suggested, "be the 'lord-of-heaven-strengthen-the-heart' pills!"
"Yes, that's the name," Madame Wang laughed, "why, now, I too have become muddle-headed."
"You're not muddle-headed, mother," said Pao-y, "it's the mention of Chin kangs and Buddhas which confused you."
"Stuff and nonsense!" ejaculated Madame Wang. "What you want again is your father to whip you!"
"My father," Pao-y laughed, "wouldn't whip me for a thing like this."
"Well, this being their name," resumed Madame Wang, "you had better tell some one to-morrow to buy you a few."
"All these drugs," expostulated Pao-y, "are of no earthly use. Were you, mother, to give me three hundred and sixty taels, I'll concoct a supply of pills for my cousin, which I can certify will make her feel quite herself again before she has finished a single supply."
"What trash!" cried Madame Wang. "What kind of medicine is there so costly!"
"It's a positive fact," smiled Pao-y. "This prescription of mine is unlike all others. Besides, the very names of those drugs are quaint, and couldn't be enumerated in a moment; suffice it to mention the placenta of the first child; three hundred and sixty ginseng roots, shaped like human beings and studded with leaves; four fat tortoises; full-grown polygonum multiflorum; the core of the Pachyma cocos, found on the roots of a fir tree of a thousand years old; and other such species of medicines. They're not, I admit, out-of-the-way things; but they are the most excellent among that whole crowd of medicines; and were I to begin to give you a list of them, why, they'd take you all quite aback. The year before last, I at length let Hseh P'an have this recipe, after he had made ever so many entreaties during one or two years. When, however, he got the prescription, he had to search for another two or three years and to spend over and above a thousand taels before he succeeded in having it prepared. If you don't believe me, mother, you are at liberty to ask cousin Pao-ch'ai about it."
At the mention of her name, Pao-ch'ai laughingly waved her hand. "I know nothing about it," she observed. "Nor have I heard anything about it, so don't tell your mother to ask me any questions."
"Really," said Madame Wang smiling, "Pao-ch'ai is a good girl; she does not tell lies."
Pao-y was standing in the centre of the room. Upon hearing these words, he turned round sharply and clapped his hands. "What I stated just now," he explained, "was the truth; yet you maintain that it was all lies."
As he defended himself, he casually looked round, and caught sight of Lin Tai-y at the back of Pao-ch'ai laughing with tight-set lips, and applying her fingers to her face to put him to shame.
But Lady Feng, who had been in the inner rooms overseeing the servants laying the table, came out at once, as soon as she overheard the conversation. "Brother Pao tells no lies," she smilingly chimed in, "this is really a fact. Some time ago cousin Hseh P'an came over in person and asked me for pearls, and when I inquired of him what he wanted them for, he explained that they were intended to compound some medicine with; adding, in an aggrieved way, that it would have been better hadn't he taken it in hand for he never had any idea that it would involve such a lot of trouble! When I questioned him what the medicine was, he returned for answer that it was a prescription of brother Pao's; and he mentioned ever so many ingredients, which I don't even remember. 'Under other circumstances,' he went on to say, 'I would have purchased a few pearls, but what are absolutely wanted are such pearls as have been worn on the head; and that's why I come to ask you, cousin, for some. If, cousin, you've got no broken ornaments at hand, in the shape of flowers, why, those that you have on your head will do as well; and by and bye I'll choose a few good ones and give them to you, to wear.' I had no other course therefore than to snap a couple of twigs from some flowers I have, made of pearls, and to let him take them away. One also requires a piece of deep red gauze, three feet in length of the best quality; and the pearls must be triturated to powder in a mortar."
After each sentence expressed by lady Feng, Pao-y muttered an invocation to Buddha. "The thing is as clear as sunlight now," he remarked.
The moment lady Feng had done speaking, Pao-y put in his word. "Mother," he added, "you should know that this is a mere makeshift, for really, according to the letter of the prescription, these pearls and precious stones should, properly speaking, consist of such as had been obtained from, some old grave and been worn as head-ornaments by some wealthy and honourable person of bygone days. But how could one go now on this account and dig up graves, and open tombs! Hence it is that such as are simply in use among living persons can equally well be substituted."
"O-mi-to-fu!" exclaimed Madame Wang, after listening to him throughout. "That will never do, and what an arduous job to uselessly saddle one's self with; for even though there be interred in some graves people, who've been dead for several hundreds of years, it wouldn't be a propitious thing were their corpses turned topsy-turvey now and the bones abstracted; just for the sake of preparing some medicine or other."
Pao-y thereupon addressed himself to Tai-y. "Have you heard what was said or not?" he asked. "And is there, pray, any likelihood that cousin Secunda would also follow in my lead and tell lies?"
While saying this, his eyes were, albeit his face was turned towards Lin Tai-y, fixed upon Pao-ch'ai.
Lin Tai-y pulled Madame Wang. "You just listen to him, aunt," she observed. "All because cousin Pao-ch'ai would not accommodate him by lying, he appeals to me."
"Pao-y has a great knack," Madame Wang said, "of dealing contemptuously with you, his cousin."
"Mother," Pao-y smilingly protested, "you are not aware how the case stands. When cousin Pao-ch'ai lived at home, she knew nothing whatever about my elder cousin Hseh P'an's affairs, and how much less now that she has taken up her quarters inside the garden? She, of course, knows less than ever about them! Yet, cousin Lin just now stealthily treated my statements as lies, and put me to the blush."
These words were still on his lips, when they perceived a waiting-maid, from dowager lady Chia's apartments, come in quest of Pao-y and Lin Tai-y to go and have their meal. Lin Tai-y, however, did not even call Pao-y, but forthwith rising to her feet, she went along, dragging the waiting-maid by the hand.
"Let's wait for master Secundus, Mr. Pao, to go along with us," demurred the girl.
"He doesn't want anything to eat," Lin Tai-y replied; "he won't come with us, so I'll go ahead." So saying she promptly left the room.
"I'll have my repast with my mother to-day," Pao-y said.
"Not at all," Madame Wang remarked, "not at all. I'm going to fast to-day, so it's only right and proper that you should go and have your own."
"I'll also fast with you then," Pao-y retorted.
As he spoke, he called out to the servant to go back, and rushing up to the table, he took a seat.
Madame Wang faced Pao-ch'ai and her companions. "You, girls," she observed, "had better have your meal, and let him have his own way!"
"It's only right that you should go," Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Whether you have anything to eat or not, you should go over for a while to keep company to cousin Lin, as she will be quite distressed and out of spirits."
"Who cares about her!" Pao-y rejoined, "she'll get all right again after a time."
Shortly, they finished their repast. But Pao-y apprehended, in the first place, that his grandmother Chia, would be solicitous on his account, and longed, in the second, to be with Lin Tai-y, so he hurriedly asked for some tea to rinse his mouth with.
"Cousin Secundus," T'an Ch'un and Hsi Ch'un interposed with an ironic laugh, "what's the use of the hurry-scurry you're in the whole day long! Even when you're having your meals, or your tea, you're in this sort of fussy helter-skelter!"
"Make him hurry up and have his tea," Pao-ch'ai chimed in smiling, "so that he may go and look up his cousin Lin. He'll be up to all kinds of mischief if you keep him here!"
Pao-y drank his tea. Then hastily leaving the apartment, he proceeded straightway towards the eastern court. As luck would have it, the moment he got near lady Feng's court, he descried lady Feng standing at the gateway. While standing on the step, and picking her teeth with an ear-cleaner, she superintended about ten young servant-boys removing the flower-pots from place to place. As soon as she caught sight of Pao-y approaching, she put on a smiling face. "You come quite opportunely," she said; "walk in, walk in, and write a few characters for me."
Pao-y had no option but to follow her in. When they reached the interior of her rooms, lady Feng gave orders to a servant to fetch a pen, inkslab and paper.
"Forty rolls of deep red ornamented satin," she began, addressing herself to Pao-y, "forty rolls of satin with dragons; a hundred rolls of gauzes of every colour, of the finest quality; four gold necklaces...."
"What's this?" Pao-y shouted, "it is neither a bill; nor is it a list of presents, and in what style shall I write it?"
Lady Feng remonstrated with him. "Just you go on writing," she said, "for, in fact, as long as I can make out what it means, it's all that is needed."
Pao-y at this response felt constrained to proceed with the writing.
This over lady Feng put the paper by. As she did so, "I've still something more to tell you," she smilingly pursued, "but I wonder whether you will accede to it or not. There is in your rooms a servant-maid, Hsiao Hung by name, whom I would like to bring over into my service, and I'll select several girls to-morrow to wait on you; will this do?"
"The servants in my quarters," answered Pao-y, "muster a large crowd, so that, cousin, you are at perfect liberty to send for any one of them, who might take your fancy; what's the need therefore of asking me about it?"
"If that be so," continued lady Feng laughingly, "I'll tell some one at once to go and bring her over."
"Yes, she can go and fetch her," acquiesced Pao-y.
While replying, he made an attempt to take his leave. "Come back," shouted lady Feng, "I've got something more to tell you."
"Our venerable senior has sent for me," Pao-y rejoined; "if you have anything to tell me you must wait till my return."
After this explanation, he there and then came over to his grandmother Chia's on this side, where he found that they had already got through their meal.
"Have you had anything nice to eat with your mother?" old lady Chia asked.
"There was really nothing nice," Pao-y smiled. "Yet I managed to have a bowl of rice more than usual."
"Where's cousin Lin?" he then inquired.
"She's in the inner rooms," answered his grandmother.
Pao-y stepped in. He caught sight of a waiting-maid, standing below, blowing into an iron, and two servant-girls seated on the stove-couch making a chalk line. Tai-y with stooping head was cutting out something or other with a pair of scissors she held in her hand.
Pao-y advanced further in. "O! what's this that you are up to!" he smiled. "You have just had your rice and do you bob your head down in this way! Why, in a short while you'll be having a headache again!"
Tai-y, however, did not heed him in the least, but busied herself cutting out what she had to do.
"The corner of that piece of satin is not yet right," a servant-girl put in. "You had better iron it again!"
Tai-y threw down the scissors. "Why worry yourself about it?" she said; "it will get quite right after a time."
But while Pao-y was listening to what was being said, and was inwardly feeling in low spirits, he became aware that Pao-ch'ai, T'an Ch'un and the other girls had also arrived. After a short chat with dowager lady Chia, Pao-ch'ai likewise entered the apartment to find out what her cousin Lin was up to. The moment she espied Lin Tai-y engaged in cutting out something: "You have," she cried, "attained more skill than ever; for there you can even cut out clothes!"
"This too," laughed Tai-y sarcastically, "is a mere falsehood, to hoodwink people with, nothing more."
"I'll tell you a joke," replied Pao-ch'ai smiling, "when I just now said that I did not know anything about that medicine, cousin Pao-y felt displeased." "Who cares!" shouted Lin Tai-y. "He'll get all right shortly."
"Our worthy grandmother wishes to play at dominoes," Pao-y thereupon interposed directing his remarks to Pao-ch'ai; "and there's no one there at present to have a game with her; so you'd better go and play with her."
"Have I come over now to play dominoes!" promptly smiled Pao-ch'ai when she heard his suggestion. With this remark, she nevertheless at once quitted the room.
"It would be well for you to go," urged Lin Tai-y, "for there's a tiger in here; and, look out, he might eat you up."
As she spoke, she went on with her cutting.
Pao-y perceived how both she was to give him any of her attention, and he had no alternative but to force a smile and to observe: "You should also go for a stroll! It will be time enough by and bye to continue your cutting."
But Tai-y would pay no heed whatever to him. Pao-y addressed himself therefore to the servant-girls. "Who has taught her how to cut out these things?" he asked.
"What does it matter who taught me how to cut?" Tai-y vehemently exclaimed, when she realised that he was speaking to the maids. "It's no business of yours, Mr. Secundus."
Pao-y was then about to say something in his defence when he saw a servant come in and report that there was some one outside who wished to see him. At this announcement, Pao-y betook himself with alacrity out of the room.
"O-mi-to-fu!" observed Tai-y, turning outwards, "it wouldn't matter to you if you found me dead on your return!"
On his arrival outside, Pao-y discovered Pei Ming. "You are invited," he said, "to go to Mr. Feng's house."
Upon hearing this message, Pao-y knew well enough that it was about the project mooted the previous day, and accordingly he told him to go and ask for his clothes, while he himself wended his steps into the library.
Pei Ming came forthwith to the second gate and waited for some one to appear. Seeing an old woman walk out, Pei Ming went up to her. "Our Master Secundus, Mr. Pao," he told her, "is in the study waiting for his out-door clothes; so do go in, worthy dame, and deliver the message."
"It would be better," replied the old woman, "if you did not echo your mother's absurdities! Our Master Secundus, Mr. Pao, now lives in the garden, and all the servants, who attend on him, stay in the garden; and do you again come and bring the message here?"
At these words, Pei Ming smiled. "You're quite right," he rejoined, "in reproving me, for I've become quite idiotic."
So saying, he repaired with quick step to the second gate on the east side, where, by a lucky hit, the young servant-boys on duty, were kicking marbles on the raised road. Pei Ming explained to them the object of his coming. A young boy thereupon ran in. After a long interval, he, at length, made his appearance, holding, enfolded in his arms, a bundle of clothes, which he handed to Pei Ming, who then returned to the library. Pao-y effected a change in his costume, and giving directions to saddle his horse, he only took along with him the four servant-boys, Pei Ming, Chu Lo, Shuang Jui and Shou Erh, and started on his way. He reached Feng Tzu-ying's doorway by a short cut. A servant announced his arrival, and Feng Tzu-ying came out and ushered him in. Here he discovered Hseh P'an, who had already been waiting a long time, and several singing-boys besides; as well as Chiang Y-han, who played female roles, and Yn Erh, a courtesan in the Chin Hsiang court. The whole company exchanged salutations. They next had tea. "What you said the other day," smiled Pao-y, raising his cup, "about good fortune coming out of evil fortune has preyed so much upon my mind, both by day and night, that the moment I received your summons I hurried to come immediately."
"My worthy cousins," rejoined Feng Tzu-ying smiling. "You're all far too credulous! It's a mere hoax that I made use of the other day. For so much did I fear that you would be sure to refuse if I openly asked you to a drinking bout, that I thought it fit to say what I did. But your attendance to-day, so soon after my invitation, makes it clear, little though one would have thought it, that you've all taken it as pure gospel truth."
This admission evoked laughter from the whole company. The wines were afterwards placed on the table, and they took the seats consistent with their grades. Feng Tzu-ying first and foremost called the singing-boys and offered them a drink. Next he told Yn Erh to also approach and have a cup of wine.
By the time, however, that Hseh P'an had had his third cup, he of a sudden lost control over his feelings, and clasping Yn Erh's hand in his: "Do sing me," he smiled, "that novel ballad of your own composition; and I'll drink a whole jar full. Eh, will you?"
This appeal compelled Yn Erh to take up the guitar. She then sang:
Lovers have I two. To set aside either I cannot bear. When my heart longs for thee to come, It also yearns for him. Both are in form handsome and fair. Their beauty to describe it would be hard. Just think, last night, when at a silent hour, we met in secret, by the trellis frame laden with roses white, One to his feelings stealthily was giving vent, When lo, the other caught us in the act, And laying hands on us; there we three stood like litigants before the bar. And I had, verily, no word in answer for myself to give.
At the close of her song, she laughed. "Well now," she cried, "down with that whole jar!"
"Why, it isn't worth a jarful," smiled Hseh P'an at these words. "Favour us with some other good song!"
"Listen to what I have to suggest," Pao-y interposed, a smile on his lips. "If you go on drinking in this reckless manner, we will easily get drunk and there will be no fun in it. I'll take the lead and swallow a large cupful and put in force a new penalty; and any one of you who doesn't comply with it, will be mulcted in ten large cupfuls, in quick succession!"
Speedily rising from the banquet, he poured the wine for the company. Feng Tzu-ying and the rest meanwhile exclaimed with one voice: "Quite right! quite right!"
Pao-y then lifted a large cup and drained it with one draught. "We will now," he proposed, "dilate on the four characters, 'sad, wounded, glad and joyful.' But while discoursing about young ladies, we'll have to illustrate the four states as well. At the end of this recitation, we'll have to drink the 'door cup' over the wine, to sing an original and seasonable ballad, while over the heel taps, to make allusion to some object on the table, and devise something with some old poetical lines or ancient scrolls, from the Four Books or the Five Classics, or with some set phrases."
Hseh P'an gave him no time to finish. He was the first to stand up and prevent him from proceeding. "I won't join you, so don't count me; this is, in fact, done in order to play tricks upon me."
Yn Erh, however, also rose to her feet and shoved him down into his seat.
"What are you in such a funk for?" she laughed. "You're fortunate enough to be able to drink wine daily, and can't you, forsooth, even come up to me? Yet I mean to recite, by and bye, my own share. If you say what's right, well and good; if you don't, you will simply have to swallow several cups of wine as a forfeit, and is it likely you'll die from drunkenness? Are you, pray, going now to disregard this rule and to drink, instead, ten large cups; besides going down to pour the wine?"
One and all clapped in applause. "Well said!" they shouted.
After this, Heh P'an had no way out of it and felt compelled to resume his seat.
They then heard Pao-y recite:
A girl is sad, When her spring-time of life is far advanced and she still occupies a vacant inner-room. A girl feels wounded in her heart, When she regrets having allowed her better half to go abroad and win a marquisdom. A girl is glad, When looking in the mirror, at the time of her morning toilette, she finds her colour fair. A girl is joyful, What time she sits on the frame of a gallows-swing, clad in a thin spring gown.
Having listened to him, "Capital!" one and all cried out in a chorus. Hseh P'an alone raised his face, shook his head and remarked: "It isn't good, he must be fined."
"Why should he be fined?" demurred the party.
"Because," retorted Hseh P'an, "what he says is entirely unintelligible to me. So how can he not be fined?"
Yn Erh gave him a pinch.—"Just you quietly think of yours," she laughed; "for if by and bye you are not ready you'll also have to bear a fine."
In due course Pao-y took up the guitar. He was heard to sing:
"When mutual thoughts arise, tears, blood-stained, endless drop, like lentiles sown broadcast. In spring, in ceaseless bloom nourish willows and flowers around the painted tower. Inside the gauze-lattice peaceful sleep flies, when, after dark, come wind and rain. Both new-born sorrows and long-standing griefs cannot from memory ever die! E'en jade-fine rice, and gold-like drinks they make hard to go down; they choke the throat. The lass has not the heart to desist gazing in the glass at her wan face. Nothing can from that knitted brow of hers those frowns dispel; For hard she finds it patient to abide till the clepsydra will have run its course. Alas! how fitly like the faint outline of a green hill which nought can screen; Or like a green-tinged stream, which ever ceaseless floweth onward far and wide!"
When the song drew to an end, his companions with one voice cried out: "Excellent!"
Hseh P'an was the only one to find fault. "There's no metre in them," he said.
Pao-y quaffed the "opening cup," then seizing a pear, he added:
"While the rain strikes the pear-blossom I firmly close the door,"
and thus accomplished the requirements of the rule.
Feng Tzu-ying's turn came next.
"A maid is glad."
When at her first confinement she gives birth to twins, both sons. A maid is joyful, When on the sly she to the garden creeps crickets to catch. A maid is sad, When her husband some sickness gets and lies in a bad state. A maiden is wounded at heart, When a fierce wind blows down the tower, where she makes her toilette.
Concluding this recitation, he raised the cup and sang:
"Thou art what one could aptly call a man. But thou'rt endowed with somewhat too much heart! How queer thou art, cross-grained and impish shrewd! A spirit too, thou couldst not be more shrewd. If all I say thou dost not think is true, In secret just a minute search pursue; For then thou'lt know if I love thee or not."
His song over, he drank the "opening cup" and then observed:
"The cock crows when the moon's rays shine upon the thatchd inn."
After his observance of the rule followed Yn Erh's turn.
A girl is sad,
Yn Erh began,
When she tries to divine on whom she will depend towards the end of life.
"My dear child!" laughingly exclaimed Hseh P'an, "your worthy Mr. Hseh still lives, and why do you give way to fears?"
"Don't confuse her!" remonstrated every one of the party, "don't muddle her!"
"A maiden is wounded at heart."
Yn Erh proceeded:
"When her mother beats and scolds her and never for an instant doth desist."
"It was only the other day," interposed Hseh P'an, "that I saw your mother and that I told her that I would not have her beat you."
"If you still go on babbling," put in the company with one consent, "you'll be fined ten cups."
Hseh P'an promptly administered himself a slap on the mouth. "How you lack the faculty of hearing!" he exclaimed. "You are not to say a word more!"
"A girl is glad,"
Yn Erh then resumed:
When her lover cannot brook to leave her and return home. A maiden is joyful, When hushing the pan-pipe and double pipe, a stringed instrument she thrums.
At the end of her effusion, she at once began to sing:
"T'is the third day of the third moon, the nutmegs bloom; A maggot, lo, works hard to pierce into a flower; But though it ceaseless bores it cannot penetrate. So crouching on the buds, it swing-like rocks itself. My precious pet, my own dear little darling, If I don't choose to open how can you steal in?"
Finishing her song, she drank the "opening cup," after which she added: "the delicate peach-blossom," and thus complied with the exigencies of the rule.
Next came Hseh P'an. "Is it for me to speak now?" Hseh P'an asked.
"A maiden is sad..."
But a long time elapsed after these words were uttered and yet nothing further was heard.
"Sad for what?" Feng Tzu-ying laughingly asked. "Go on and tell us at once!"
Hseh P'an was much perplexed. His eyes rolled about like a bell.
"A girl is sad..."
he hastily repeated. But here again he coughed twice before he proceeded.
"A girl is sad."
"When she marries a spouse who is a libertine."
This sentence so tickled the fancy of the company that they burst out into a loud fit of laughter.
"What amuses you so?" shouted Hseh P'an, "is it likely that what I say is not correct? If a girl marries a man, who chooses to forget all virtue, how can she not feel sore at heart?"
But so heartily did they all laugh that their bodies were bent in two. "What you say is quite right," they eagerly replied. "So proceed at once with the rest."
Hseh P'an thereupon stared with vacant gaze.
"A girl is grieved...."
But after these few words he once more could find nothing to say.
"What is she grieved about?" they asked.
"When a huge monkey finds its way into the inner room."
Hseh P'an retorted.
This reply set every one laughing. "He must be mulcted," they cried, "he must be mulcted. The first one could anyhow be overlooked; but this line is more unintelligible."
As they said this, they were about to pour the wine, when Pao-y smilingly interfered. "The rhyme is all right," he observed.
"The master of the rules," Hseh P'an remarked, "approves it in every way, so what are you people fussing about?"
Hearing this, the company eventually let the matter drop.
"The two lines, that follow, are still more difficult," suggested Yn Erh with a smile, "so you had better let me recite for you."
"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Hseh P'an, "do you really fancy that I have no good ones! Just you listen to what I shall say.
"A girl is glad, When in the bridal room she lies, with flowery candles burning, and she is loth to rise at morn."
This sentiment filled one and all with amazement. "How supremely excellent this line is!" they ejaculated.
"A girl is joyful,"
Hseh P'an resumed,
"During the consummation of wedlock."
Upon catching this remark, the party turned their heads away, and shouted: "Dreadful! Dreadful! But quick sing your song and have done."
Forthwith Hseh P'an sang:
"A mosquito buzzes heng, heng, heng!"
Every one was taken by surprise. "What kind of song is this?" they inquired.
But Hseh P'an went on singing:
"Two flies buzz weng, weng, weng."
"Enough," shouted his companions, "that will do, that will do!"
"Do you want to hear it or not?" asked Hseh P'an, "this is a new kind of song, called the 'Heng, heng air,' but if you people are not disposed to listen, let me off also from saying what I have to say over the heel-taps and I won't then sing."
"We'll let you off! We'll let you off," answered one and all, "so don't be hindering others."
"A maiden is sad,"
Chiang Y-han at once began,
When her husband leaves home and never does return. A maiden is disconsolate, When she has no money to go and buy some olea frangrans oil. A maiden is glad, When the wick of the lantern forms two heads like twin flowers on one stem. A maiden is joyful, When true conjugal peace prevails between her and her mate.
His recital over, he went on to sing:
"How I love thee with those seductive charms of thine, heaven-born! In truth thou'rt like a living fairy from the azure skies! The spring of life we now enjoy; we are yet young in years. Our union is, indeed, a happy match! But. lo! the milky way doth at its zenith soar; Hark to the drums which beat around in the watch towers; So raise the silver lamp and let us soft under the nuptial curtain steal."
Finishing the song, he drank the "opening cup." "I know," he smiled, "few poetical quotations bearing on this sort of thing. By a stroke of good fortune, however, I yesterday conned a pair of antithetical scrolls; of these I can only remember just one line, but lucky enough for me the object it refers to figures as well on this festive board."
This said he forthwith drained the wine, and, picking up a bud of a diminutive variety of olea fragrans, he recited:
"When the perfume of flowers wafts (hsi jen) itself into a man, he knows the day is warm."
The company unanimously conceded that the rule had been adhered to. But Hseh P'an once again jumped up. "It's awful, awful!" he bawled out boisterously; "he should be fined, he should be made to pay a forfeit; there's no precious article whatever on this table; how is it then that you introduce precious things?"
"There was nothing about precious things!" Chiang Y-han vehemently explained.
"What I are you still prevaricating?" Hseh P'an cried, "Well, repeat it again!"
Chiang Y-han had no other course but to recite the line a second time. "Now is not Hsi Jen a precious thing?" Hseh P'an asked. "If she isn't, what is she? And if you don't believe me, you ask him about it," pointing, at the conclusion of this remark, at Pao-y.
Pao-y felt very uncomfortable. Rising to his feet, "Cousin," he observed, "you should be fined heavily."
"I should be! I should be!" Hseh P'an shouted, and saying this, he took up the wine and poured it down his throat with one gulp.
Feng Tzu-ying, Chiang Y-han and their companions thereupon asked him to explain the allusion. Yn Erh readily told them, and Chiang Y-han hastily got up and pleaded guilty.
"Ignorance," the party said with one consent, "does not amount to guilt."
But presently Pao-y quitted the banquet to go and satisfy a natural want and Chiang Y-han followed him out. The two young fellows halted under the eaves of the verandah, and Chiang Y-han then recommenced to make ample apologies. Pao-y, however, was so attracted by his handsome and genial appearance, that he took quite a violent fancy to him; and squeezing his hand in a firm grip. "If you have nothing to do," he urged, "do let us go over to our place. I've got something more to ask you. It's this, there's in your worthy company some one called Ch'i Kuan, with a reputation extending at present throughout the world; but, unfortunately, I alone have not had the good luck of seeing him even once."
"This is really," rejoined Chiang Y-han with a smile, "my own infant name."
This disclosure at once made Pao-y quite exuberant, and stamping his feet he smiled. "How lucky! I'm in luck's way!" he exclaimed. "In very truth your reputation is no idle report. But to-day is our first meeting, and what shall I do?"
After some thought, he produced a fan from his sleeve, and, unloosening one of the jade pendants, he handed it to Ch'i Kuan. "This is a mere trifle," he said. "It does not deserve your acceptance, yet it will be a small souvenir of our acquaintance to-day."
Ch'i Kuan received it with a smile. "I do not deserve," he replied, "such a present. How am I worthy of such an honour! But never mind, I've also got about me here a strange thing, which I put on this morning; it is brand-new yet, and will, I hope, suffice to prove to you a little of the feeling of esteem which I entertain for you."
With these protestations, he raised his garment, and, untying a deep red sash, with which his nether clothes were fastened, he presented it to Pao-y. "This sash," he remarked, "is an article brought as tribute from the Queen of the Hsi Hsiang Kingdom. If you attach this round you in summer, your person will emit a fragrant perfume, and it will not perspire. It was given to me yesterday by the Prince of Pei Ching, and it is only to-day that I put it on. To any one else, I would certainly not be willing to present it. But, Mr. Secundus, please do unfasten the one you have on and give it to me to bind round me."
This proposal extremely delighted Pao-y. With precipitate haste, he accepted his gift, and, undoing the dark brown sash he wore, he surrendered it to Ch'i Kuan. But both had just had time to adjust their respective sashes when they heard a loud voice say: "Oh! I've caught you!" And they perceived Hseh P'an come out by leaps and bounds. Clutching the two young fellows, "What do you," he exclaimed, "leave your wine for and withdraw from the banquet. Be quick and produce those things, and let me see them!"
"There's nothing to see!" rejoined the two young fellows with one voice.
Hseh P'an, however, would by no means fall in with their views. And it was only Feng Tzu-ying, who made his appearance on the scene, who succeeded in dissuading him. So resuming their seats, they drank until dark, when the company broke up.
Pao-y, on his return into the garden, loosened his clothes, and had tea. But Hsi Jen noticed that the pendant had disappeared from his fan and she inquired of him what had become of it.
"I must have lost it this very moment," Pao-y replied.
At bedtime, however, descrying a deep red sash, with spots like specks of blood, attached round his waist, Hsi Jen guessed more or less the truth of what must have transpired. "As you have such a nice sash to fasten your trousers with," Hsi Jen consequently said, "you'd better return that one of mine."
This reminder made the fact dawn upon Pao-y that the sash had originally been the property of Hsi Jen, and that he should by rights not have parted with it; but however much he felt his conscience smitten by remorse, he failed to see how he could very well disclose the truth to her. He could therefore only put on a smiling expression and add, "I'll give you another one instead."
Hsi Jen was prompted by his rejoinder to nod her head and sigh. "I felt sure;" she observed; "that you'd go again and do these things! Yet you shouldn't take my belongings and bestow them on that low-bred sort of people. Can it be that no consideration finds a place in your heart?"
She then felt disposed to tender him a few more words of admonition, but dreading, on the other hand, lest she should, by irritating him, bring the fumes of the wine to his head, she thought it best to also retire to bed.
Nothing worth noticing occurred during that night. The next day, when she woke up at the break of day, she heard Pao-y call out laughingly: "Robbers have been here in the night; are you not aware of it? Just you look at my trousers."
Hsi Jen lowered her head and looked. She saw at a glance that the sash, which Pao-y had worn the previous day, was bound round her own waist, and she at once realised that Pao-y must have effected the change during the night; but promptly unbinding it, "I don't care for such things!" she cried, "quick, take it away!"
At the sight of her manner, Pao-y had to coax her with gentle terms. This so disarmed Hsi Jen, that she felt under the necessity of putting on the sash; but, subsequently when Pao-y stepped out of the apartment, she at last pulled it off, and, throwing it away in an empty box, she found one of hers and fastened it round her waist.