When Pao-y saw her crying, his heart was seized with anguish. "What's it that preys on your mind?" he consequently asked her.
Hsi Jen strained every nerve to smile. "There's no rhyme or reason for anything," she replied, "so what can it be?"
Pao-y's intention was to there and then give orders to the servant to warm some white wine and to ask them for a few 'Li-T'ung' pills compounded with goat's blood, but Hsi Jen clasped his hand tight. "My troubling you is of no matter," she smiled, "but were I to put ever so many people to inconvenience, they'll bear me a grudge for my impudence. Not a soul, it's clear enough, knows anything about it now, but were you to make such a bustle as to bring it to people's notice, you'll be in an awkward fix, and so will I. The proper thing, therefore, is for you to send a page to-morrow to request Dr. Wang to prepare some medicine for me. When I take this I shall be all right. And as neither any human being nor spirit will thus get wind of it, won't it be better?"
Pao-y found her suggestion so full of reason that he thought himself obliged to abandon his purpose; so approaching the table, he poured a cup of tea, and came over and gave it to Hsi Jen to rinse her mouth with. Aware, however, as Hsi Jen was that Pao-y himself was not feeling at ease in his mind, she was on the point of bidding him not wait upon her; but convinced that he would once more be certain not to accede to her wishes, and that the others would, in the second place, have to be disturbed, she deemed it expedient to humour him. Leaning on the couch, she consequently allowed Pao-y to come and attend to her.
As soon as the fifth watch struck, Pao-y, unmindful of combing or washing, hastily put on his clothes and left the room; and sending for Wang Chi-jen, he personally questioned him with all minuteness about her ailment.
Wang Chi-jen asked how it had come about. "It's simply a bruise; nothing more," (he said), and forthwith he gave him the names of some pills and medicines, and told him how they were to be taken, and how they were to be applied.
Pao-y committed every detail to memory, and on his return into the garden, the treatment was, needless for us to explain, taken in hand in strict compliance with the directions.
This was the day of the dragon-boat festival. Cat-tail and artemisia were put over the doors. Tiger charms were suspended on every back. At noon, Madame Wang got a banquet ready, and to this midday feast, she invited the mother, daughter and the rest of the members of the Hseh household.
Pao-y noticed that Pao-ch'ai was in such low spirits that she would not even speak to him, and concluded that the reason was to be sought in the incident of the previous day. Madame Wang seeing Pao-y in a sullen humour jumped at the surmise that it must be due to Chin Ch'uan's affair of the day before; and so ill at ease did she feel that she heeded him less than ever. Lin Tai-y, detected Pao-y's apathy, and presumed that he was out of sorts for having given umbrage to Pao-ch'ai, and her manner likewise assumed a listless air. Lady Feng had, in the course of the previous evening, been told by Madame Wang what had taken place between Pao-y and Chin Ch'uan, and when she came to know that Madame Wang was in an unhappy frame of mind she herself did not venture to chat or laugh, but at once regulated her behaviour to suit Madame Wang's mood. So the lack of animation became more than ever perceptible; for the good cheer of Ying Ch'un and her sisters was also damped by the sight of all of them down in the mouth. The natural consequence therefore was that they all left after a very short stay.
Lin Tai-y had a natural predilection for retirement. She did not care for social gatherings. Her notions, however, were not entirely devoid of reason. She maintained that people who gathered together must soon part; that when they came together, they were full of rejoicing, but did they not feel lonely when they broke up? That since this sense of loneliness gave rise to chagrin, it was consequently preferable not to have any gatherings. That flowers afforded an apt example. When they opened, they won people's admiration; but when they faded, they added to the feeling of vexation; so that better were it if they did not blossom at all! To this cause therefore must be assigned the fact that when other people were glad, she, on the contrary, felt unhappy.
Pao-y's disposition was such that he simply yearned for frequent gatherings, and looked forward with sorrow to the breaking up which must too soon come round. As for flowers, he wished them to bloom repeatedly and was haunted with the dread of their dying in a little time. Yet albeit manifold anguish fell to his share when banquets drew to a close and flowers began to fade, he had no alternative but to practice resignation.
On this account was it that, when the company cheerlessly broke up from the present feast, Lin Tai-y did not mind the separation; and that Pao-y experienced such melancholy and depression, that, on his return to his apartments, he gave way to deep groans and frequent sighs.
Ch'ing Wen, as it happened, came to the upper quarters to change her costume. In an unguarded moment, she let her fan slip out of her hand and drop on the ground. As it fell, the bones were snapped. "You stupid thing!" Pao-y exclaimed, sighing, "what a dunce! what next will you be up to by and bye? When, in a little time, you get married and have a home of your own, will you, forsooth, still go on in this happy-go-lucky careless sort of way?"
"Master Secundus," replied Ch'ing Wen with a sardonic smile, "your temper is of late dreadfully fiery, and time and again it leaks out on your very face! The other day you even beat Hsi Jen and here you are again now finding fault with us! If you feel disposed to kick or strike us, you are at liberty, Sir, to do so at your pleasure; but for a fan to slip on the ground is an everyday occurrence! How many of those crystal jars and cornelian bowls were smashed the other time, I don't remember, and yet you were not seen to fly into a tantrum; and now, for a fan do you distress yourself so? What's the use of it? If you dislike us, well pack us off and select some good girls to serve you, and we will quietly go away. Won't this be better?"
This rejoinder so exasperated Pao-y that his whole frame trembled violently. "You needn't be in a hurry!" he then shouted. "There will be a day of parting by and bye."
Hsi Jen was on the other side, and from an early period she listened to the conversation between them. Hurriedly crossing over, "what are you up to again?" she said to Pao-y, "why, there's nothing to put your monkey up! I'm perfectly right in my assertion that when I'm away for any length of time, something is sure to happen."
Ch'ing Wen heard these remarks. "Sister," she interposed smiling ironically, "since you've got the gift of the gab, you should have come at once; you would then have spared your master his fit of anger. It's you who have from bygone days up to the present waited upon master; we've never had anything to do with attending on him; and it's because you've served him so faithfully that he repaid you yesterday with a kick on the stomach. But who knows what punishment mayn't be in store for us, who aren't fit to wait upon him decently!"
At these insinuations, Hsi Jen felt both incensed and ashamed. She was about to make some response but Pao-y had worked himself into such another passion as to get quite yellow in the face, and she was obliged to rein in her temper. Pushing Ch'ing Wen, "Dear sister," she cried, "you had better be off for a stroll! it's really we, who are to blame!"
The very mention of the word "we" made it certain to Ch'ing Wen that she implied herself and Pao-y, and thus unawares more fuel was added again to her jealous notions. Giving way to several loud smiles, full of irony: "I can't make out," she insinuated, "who you may mean. But don't make me blush on your account! Even those devilish pranks of yours can't hoodwink me! How and why is it that you've started styling yourself as 'we?' Properly speaking, you haven't as yet so much as attained the designation of 'Miss!' You're simply no better than I am, and how is it then that you presume so high as to call yourself 'we.'"
Hsi Jen's face grew purple from shame. "The fact is," she reflected, "that I've said more than I should."
"As one and all of you are ever bearing her malice," Pao-y simultaneously observed, "I'll actually raise her to-morrow to a higher status!"
Hsi Jen quickly snatched Pao-y's hand. "She's a stupid girl," she said, "what's the use of arguing with her? What's more, you've so far borne with them and overlooked ever, so many other things more grievous than this; and what are you up to to-day?"
"If I'm really a stupid girl," repeated Ch'ing Wen, smiling sarcastically, "am I a fit person for you to hold converse with? Why, I'm purely and simply a slave-girl; that's all."
"Are you, after all," cried Hsi Jen, at these words, "bickering with me, or with Master Secundus? If you bear me a grudge, you'd better then address your remarks to me alone; albeit it isn't right that you should kick up such a hullaballoo in the presence of Mr. Secundus. But if you have a spite against Mr. Secundus, you shouldn't be shouting so boisterously as to make thousands of people know all about it! I came in, a few minutes back, merely for the purpose of setting matters right, and of urging you to make up your quarrels so that we should all be on the safe side; and here I have the unlucky fate of being set upon by you, Miss! Yet you neither seem to be angry with me, nor with Mr. Secundus! But armed cap—pie as you appear to be, what is your ultimate design? I won't utter another word, but let you have your say!"
While she spoke, she was hurriedly wending her way out.
"You needn't raise your dander." Pao-y remarked to Ch'ing Wen. "I've guessed the secret of your heart, so I'll go and tell mother that as you've also attained a certain age, she should send you away. Will this please you, yes or no?"
This allusion made Ch'ing Wen unwittingly feel again wounded at heart. She tried to conceal her tears. "Why should I go away?" she asked. "If even you be so prejudiced against me as to try and devise means to pack me off, you won't succeed."
"I never saw such brawling!" Pao-y exclaimed. "You're certainly bent upon going! I might as well therefore let mother know so as to bundle you off!"
While addressing her, he rose to his feet and was intent upon trudging off at once. Hsi Jen lost no time in turning round and impeding his progress. "Where are you off to?" she cried.
"I'm going to tell mother," answered Pao-y.
"It's no use whatever!" Hsi Jen smiled, "you may be in real earnest to go and tell her, but aren't you afraid of putting her to shame? If even she positively means to leave, you can very well wait until you two have got over this bad blood. And when everything is past and gone, it won't be any too late for you to explain, in the course of conversation, the whole case to our lady, your mother. But if you now go in hot haste and tell her, as if the matter were an urgent one, won't you be the means of making our mistress give way to suspicion?"
"My mother," demurred Pao-y, "is sure not to entertain any suspicions, as all I will explain to her is that she insists upon leaving."
"When did I ever insist upon going?" sobbed Ch'ing Wen. "You fly into a rage, and then you have recourse to threats to intimidate me. But you're at liberty to go and say anything you like; for as I'll knock my brains out against the wall, I won't get alive out of this door."
"This is, indeed, strange!" exclaimed Pao-y. "If you won't go, what's the good of all this fuss? I can't stand this bawling, so it will be a riddance if you would get out of the way!"
Saying this, he was resolved upon going to report the matter. Hsi Jen found herself powerless to dissuade him. She had in consequence no other resource but to fall on her knees.
Pi Hen, Ch'iu Wen, She Yeh and the rest of the waiting-maids had realised what a serious aspect the dispute had assumed, and not a sound was to be heard to fall from their lips. They remained standing outside listening to what was going on. When they now overheard Hsi Jen making solicitous entreaties on her knees, they rushed into the apartment in a body; and with one consent they prostrated themselves on the floor.
Pao-y at once pulled Hsi Jen up. Then with a sigh, he took a seat on the bed. "Get up," he shouted to the body of girls, "and clear out! What would you have me do?" he asked, addressing himself to Hsi Jen. "This heart of mine has been rent to pieces, and no one has any idea about it!"
While speaking, tears of a sudden rolled down his cheek. At the sight of Pao-y weeping, Hsi Jen also melted into a fit of crying. Ch'ing Wen was standing by them, with watery eyes. She was on the point of reasoning with them, when espying Lin Tai-y step into the room, she speedily walked out.
"On a grand holiday like this," remonstrated Lin Tai-y smiling, "how is it that you're snivelling away, and all for nothing? Is it likely that high words have resulted all through that 'dumpling' contest?"
Pao-y and Lin Tai-y blurted out laughing.
"You don't tell me, cousin Secundus," Lin Tai-y put in, "but I know all about it, even though I have asked no questions."
Now she spoke, and now she patted Hsi Jen on the shoulder. "My dear sister-in-law," she smiled, "just you tell me! It must surely be that you two have had a quarrel. Confide in me, your cousin, so that I might reconcile you."
"Miss Lin," rejoined Hsi Jen, pushing her off, "what are you fussing about? I am simply one of our servant-girls; you're therefore rather erratic in your talk!"
"You say that you're only a servant-girl," smilingly replied Tai-y, "and yet I treat you like a sister-in-law."
"Why do you," Pao-y chimed in, "give her this abusive epithet? But however much she may make allowance for this, can she, when there are so many others who tell idle tales on her account, put up with your coming and telling her all you've said?"
"Miss Lin," smiled Hsi Jen, "you're not aware of the purpose of my heart. Unless my breath fails and I die, I shall continue in his service."
"If you die," remarked Lin Tai-y smiling, "what will others do, I wonder? As for me, I shall be the first to die from crying."
"Were you to die," added Pao-y laughingly, "I shall become a bonze."
"You'd better be a little more sober-minded!" laughed Hsi Jen. "What's the good of coming out with all these things?"
Lin Tai-y put out two of her fingers, and puckered up her lips. "Up to this," she laughed, "he's become a bonze twice. Henceforward, I'll try and remember how many times you make up your mind to become a Buddhist priest!"
This reminded Pao-y that she was referring to a remark he had made on a previous occasion, but smiling to himself, he allowed the matter to drop.
After a short interval, Lin Tai-y went away. A servant then came to announce that Mr. Hseh wanted to see him, and Pao-y had to go. The purpose of this visit was in fact to invite him to a banquet, and as he could not very well put forward any excuse to refuse, he had to remain till the end of the feast before he was able to take his leave. The result was that, on his return, in the evening, he was to a great extent under the effect of wine. With bustling step, he wended his way into his own court. Here he perceived that the cool couch with a back to it, had already been placed in the yard, and that there was some one asleep on it. Prompted by the conviction that it must be Hsi Jen, Pao-y seated himself on the edge of the couch. As he did so, he gave her a push, and inquired whether her sore place was any better. But thereupon he saw the occupant turn herself round, and exclaim: "What do you come again to irritate me for?"
Pao-y, at a glance, realised that it was not Hsi Jen, but Ch'ing Wen. Pao-y then clutched her and compelled her to sit next to him. "Your disposition," he smiled, "has been more and more spoilt through indulgence. When you let the fan drop this morning, I simply made one or two remarks, and out you came with that long rigmarole. Had you gone for me it wouldn't have mattered; but you also dragged in Hsi Jen, who only interfered with every good intention of inducing us to make it up again. But, ponder now, ought you to have done it; yes or no?"
"With this intense heat," remonstrated Ch'ing Wen, "why do you pull me and toss me about? Should any people see you, what will they think? But this person of mine isn't meet to be seated in here."
"Since you yourself know that it isn't meet," replied Pao-y with a smile, "why then were you sleeping here?"
To this taunt Ch'ing Wen had nothing to say. But she spurted out into fresh laughter. "It was all right," she retorted, "during your absence; but the moment you come, it isn't meet for me to stay! Get up and let me go and have my bath. Hsi Jen and She Yeh have both had theirs, so I'll call them here!"
"I've just had again a good deal of wine," remarked Pao-y, laughingly; "so a wash will be good for me. And since you've not had your bath, you had better bring the water and let's both have it together."
"No, no!" smiled Ch'ing Wen, waving her hand, "I cannot presume to put you to any trouble, Sir. I still remember how when Pi Hen used to look after your bath you occupied fully two or three hours. What you were up to during that time we never knew. We could not very well walk in. When you had however done washing, and we entered your room, we found the floor so covered with water that the legs of the bed were soaking and the matting itself a regular pool. Nor could we make out what kind of washing you'd been having; and for days afterwards we had a laugh over it. But I've neither any time to get the water ready; nor do I see the need for you to have a wash along with me. Besides, to-day it's chilly, and as you've had a bath only a little while back, you can very well just now dispense with one. But I'll draw a basin of water for you to wash your face, and to shampoo your head with. Not long ago, Yan Yang sent you a few fruits; they were put in that crystal bowl, so you'd better tell them to bring them to you to taste."
"Well, in that case." laughed Pao-y, "you needn't also have a bath. Just simply wash your hands, and bring the fruit and let's have some together."
"I'm so shaky," smiled Ch'ing Wen "that even fans slip out of my hands, and how could I fetch the fruit for you. Were I also to break the dish, it will be still more dreadful!"
"If you want to break it, break it!" smiled Pao-y. "These things are only intended for general use. You like this thing; I fancy that; our respective tastes are not identical. The original use of that fan, for instance, was to fan one's self with; but if you chose to break it for fun, you were quite at liberty to do so. The only thing is, when you get angry don't make it the means of giving vent to your temper! Just like those salvers. They are really meant for serving things in. But if you fancy that kind of sound, then deliberately smash them, that will be all right. But don't, when you are in high dudgeon avail yourself of them to air your resentment! That's what one would call having a fancy for a thing!"
Ch'ing Wen greeted his words with a smile.
"Since that be so," she said, "bring me your fan and let me tear it. What most takes my fancy is tearing!"
Upon hearing this Pao-y smilingly handed it to her. Ch'ing Wen, in point of fact, took it over, and with a crash she rent it in two. Close upon this, the sound of crash upon crash became audible.
Pao-y was standing next to her. "How nice the noise is!" he laughed. "Tear it again and make it sound a little more!"
But while he spoke, She Yeh was seen to walk in. "Don't," she smiled, "be up to so much mischief!" Pao-y, however, went up to her and snatching her fan also from her hand, he gave it to Ch'ing Wen. Ch'ing Wen took it and there and then likewise broke it in two. Both he and she then had a hearty laugh.
"What do you call this?" She Yeh expostulated. "Do you take my property and make it the means of distracting yourselves!"
"Open the fan-box," shouted Pao-y, "and choose one and take it away! What, are they such fine things!"
"In that case," ventured She Yeh, "fetch the fans and let her break as many as she can. Won't that be nice!"
"Go and bring them at once!" Pao-y laughed.
"I won't be up to any such tomfoolery!" She Yeh demurred. "She hasn't snapped her hands, so bid her go herself and fetch them!"
"I'm feeling tired," interposed Ch'ing Wen, as she laughingly leant on the bed. "I'll therefore tear some more to-morrow again."
"An old writer says," added Pao-y with a smile, "'that a thousand ounces of gold cannot purchase a single laugh'! What can a few fans cost?"
After moralising, he went on to call Hsi Jen. Hsi Jen had just finished the necessary change in her dress so she stepped in; and a young servant-girl, Chiao Hui, crossed over and picked up the broken fans. Then they all sat and enjoyed the cool breeze. But we can well dispense with launching into any minute details.
On the morrow, noon found Madame Wang, Hseh Pao-ch'ai, Lin Tai-y, and the rest of the young ladies congregated in dowager lady Chia's suite of rooms. Some one then brought the news that: "Miss Shih had arrived." In a little time they perceived Shih Hsiang-yun make her appearance in the court, at the head of a bevy of waiting-maids and married women. Pao-ch'ai, Tai-yu and her other cousins, quickly ran down the steps to meet her and exchange greetings. But with what fervour girls of tender years re-unite some day after a separation of months need not, of course, be explained. Presently, she entered the apartments, paid her respects and inquired how they all were. But after this conventional interchange of salutations, old lady Chia pressed her to take off her outer garments as the weather was so close. Shih Hsiang-yn lost no time in rising to her feet and loosening her clothes. "I don't see why," Madame Wang thereupon smiled, "you wear all these things!'
"It's entirely at aunt Secunda's bidding," retorted Shih Hsiang-yn, "that I put them on. Why, would any one of her own accord wear so many things!"
"Aunt," interposed Pao-ch'ai, who stood by, with a smile, "you're not aware that what most delights her in the matter of dress is to don other people's clothes! Yes, I remember how, during her stay here in the third and fourth moons of last year, she used to wear cousin Pao's pelisses. She even put on his shoes, and attached his frontlets as well round her head. At a casual glance, she looked the very image of cousin Pao; what was superfluous was that pair of earrings of hers. As she stood at the back of that chair she so thoroughly took in our venerable ancestor that she kept on shouting: 'Pao-y, come over! Mind the tassels suspended on that lamp; for if you shake the dust off, it may get into your eyes!' But all she did was to laugh; she did not budge; and it was only after every one found it hard to keep their countenance that our worthy senior also started laughing. 'You do look well in male habiliments!' she said to her."
"What about that!" cried Lin Tai-y, "why, she had scarcely been here with us a couple of days in the first moon of last year, when we sent and fetched her, that we had a fall of snow. You, venerable senior, and her maternal aunt had on that day, I remember so well, just returned from worshipping the images of our ancestors, and a brand-new deep red felt wrapper of yours, dear grandmother, had been lying over there, when suddenly it disappeared. But, lo, she it was who had put it on! Being, however, too large and too long for her, she took a couple of handkerchiefs, and fastened them round her waist. She was then trudging into the back court with the servant-girls to make snow men when she tripped and fell flat in front of the drain, and got covered all over with mud."
As she narrated this incident, every one recalled the circumstances to mind, and had a good laugh.
"Dame Chou," Pao-ch'ai smilingly inquired of nurse Chou, "is your young lady always as fond of pranks as ever or not?"
Nurse Chou then also gave a laugh.
"Pranks are nothing," Ying Ch'un smiled. "What I do detest is her fondness for tittle-tattle! I've never seen any one who, even when asleep, goes on chatter-chatter; now laughing, and now talking, as she does. Nor can I make out where she gets all those idle yarns of hers."
"I think she's better of late," interposed Madame Wang. "The other day some party or other came and they met; so she's to have a mother-in-law very soon; and can she still be comporting herself like that!"
"Are you going to stay to-day," dowager lady Chia then asked, "or going back home?"
Nurse Chou smiled. "Your venerable ladyship has not seen what an amount of clothes we've brought," she replied. "We mean, of course, to stay a couple of days."
"Is cousin Pao-y not at home?" inquired Hsiang-yn."
"There she's again! She doesn't think of others," remarked Pao-ch'ai smiling significantly. "She only thinks of her cousin Pao-y. They're both so fond of larks! This proves that she hasn't yet got rid of that spirit of mischief."
"You're all now grown up," observed old lady Chia; "and you shouldn't allude to infant names."
But while she was chiding them, they noticed Pao-y arrive.
"Cousin Yn, have you come?" he smiled. "How is it that you wouldn't come the other day when some one was despatched to fetch you?"
"It's only a few minutes," Madame Wang said, "since our venerable senior called that one to task, and now here he comes and refers to names and surnames!"
"Your cousin Pao," ventured Lin Tai-y, "has something good, which he has been waiting to give you."
"What good thing is it?" asked Hsiang-yn.
"Do you believe what she says?" observed Pao-y laughingly. "But how many days is it that I have not seen you, and you've grown so much taller!"
"Is cousin Hsi Jen all right?" inquired Hsiang-yn.
"She's all right," answered Pao-y. "Many thanks for your kind thought of her."
"I've brought something nice for her," resumed Hsiang-yn.
Saying this, she produced her handkerchief, tied into a knot.
"What's this something nice?" asked Pao-y. "Wouldn't it have been better if you'd brought her a couple of those rings with streaked stones of the kind you sent the other day?"
"Why, what's this?" exclaimed Hsiang-yn laughing, opening, as she spoke, the handkerchief.
On close scrutiny, they actually found four streaked rings, similar to those she had previously sent, tied up in the same packet.
"Look here!" Lin Tai-y smiled, "what a girl she is! Had you, when sending that fellow the other day to bring ours, given him these also to bring along with him, wouldn't it have saved trouble? Instead of that, here you fussily bring them yourself to-day! I presumed that it was something out of the way again; but is it really only these things? In very truth, you're a mere dunce!"
"It's you who behave like a dunce now!" Shih Hsiang-yn smiled.
"I'll speak out here and let every one judge for themselves who is the dunce. The servant, deputed to bring the things to you, had no need to open his mouth and say anything; for, as soon as they were brought in, it was of course evident, at a glance, that they were to be presented to you young ladies. But had he been the bearer of these things for them, I would have been under the necessity of explaining to him which was intended for this servant-girl, and which for that. Had the messenger had his wits about him, well and good; but had he been at all stupid he wouldn't have been able to remember so much as the names of the girls! He would have made an awful mess of it, and talked a lot of nonsense. So instead of being of any use he would have even muddled, hickledy-pickledy, your things. Had a female servant been despatched, it would have been all right. But as it happened, a servant-boy was again sent the other day, so how could he have mentioned the names of the waiting-girls? And by my bringing them in person to give them to them, doesn't it make things clearer?"
As she said this, she put down the four rings. "One is for sister Hsi Jen," she continued, "one is for sister Yan Yang. One for sister Chin Ch'uan-erh, and one for sister P'ing Erh. They are only for these four girls; but would the servant-boys too forsooth have remembered them so clearly!"
At these words, the whole company smiled. "How really clear!" they cried.
"This is what it is to be able to speak!" Pao-y put in. "She doesn't spare any one!"
Hearing this, Lin Tai-y gave a sardonic smile. "If she didn't know how to use her tongue," she observed, "would she deserve to wear that unicorn of gold!"
While speaking, she rose and walked off.
Luckily, every one did not hear what she said. Only Hseh Pao-ch'ai pursed up her lips and laughed. Pao-y, however, had overheard her remark, and he blamed himself for having once more talked in a heedless manner. Unawares his eye espied Pao-ch'ai much amused, and he too could not suppress a smile. But at the sight of Pao-y in laughter, Pao-ch'ai hastily rose to her feet and withdrew. She went in search of Tai-y, to have a chat and laugh with her.
"After you've had tea," old lady Chia thereupon said to Hsiang-yn, "you'd better rest a while and then go and see your sisters-in-law. Besides, it's cool in the garden, so you can walk about with your cousins."
Hsiang-yn expressed her assent, and, collecting the three rings, she wrapped them up, and went and lay down to rest. Presently, she got up with the idea of paying visits to lady Feng and her other relatives. Followed by a whole bevy of nurses and waiting-maids, she repaired into lady Feng's quarters on the off side. She bandied words with her for a while and then coming out she betook herself into the garden of Broad Vista, and called on Li Kung-ts'ai. But after a short visit, she turned her steps towards the I Hung court to look up Hsi Jen. "You people needn't," she said, turning her head round, "come along with me! You may go and see your friends and relatives. It will be quite enough if you simply leave Ts'ui L to wait upon me."
Hearing her wishes, each went her own way in quest of aunts, or sisters-in-law. There only remained but Hsiang-yn and Ts'ui L.
"How is it," inquired Ts'ui L, "that these lotus flowers have not yet opened?"
"The proper season hasn't yet arrived," rejoined Shih Hsiang-yn.
"They too," continued Ts'ui L, "resemble those in our pond; they are double flowers."
"These here," remarked Hsiang-yn, "are not however up to ours."
"They have over there," observed Ts'ui L, "a pomegranate tree, with four or five branches joined one to another, just like one storey raised above another storey. What trouble it must have cost them to rear!"
"Flowers and plants," suggested Shih Hsiang-yn, "are precisely like the human race. With sufficient vitality, they grow up in a healthy condition."
"I can't credit these words," replied Ts'ui L, twisting her face round. "If you maintain that they are like human beings, how is it that I haven't seen any person, with one head growing over another."
This rejoinder evoked a smile from Hsiang-yn. "I tell you not to talk," she cried, "but you will insist upon talking! How do you expect people to be able to answer every thing you say! All things, whether in heaven or on earth come into existence by the co-operation of the dual powers, the male and female. So all things, whether good or bad, novel or strange, and all those manifold changes and transformations arise entirely from the favourable or adverse influence exercised by the male and female powers. And though some things seldom seen by mankind might come to life, the principle at work is, after all, the same."
"In the face of these arguments," laughed Ts'ui L, "everything, from old till now, from the very creation itself, embodies a certain proportion of the Yin and Yang principles."
"You stupid thing!" exclaimed Hsiang-yn smiling, "the more you talk, the more stuff and nonsense falls from your lips! What about everything embodying a certain proportion of the principles Yin and Yang! Besides, the two words Yin and Yang are really one word; for when the Yang principle is exhausted, it becomes the Yin; and when the Yin is exhausted, it becomes Yang. And it isn't that, at the exhaustion of the Yin, another Yang comes into existence; and that, at the exhaustion of the Yang, a second Yin arises."
"This trash is sufficient to kill me!" ejaculated Ts'ui L. "What are the Yin and Yang? Why, they are without substance or form! But pray, Miss, tell me what sort of things these Yin and Yang can be!"
"The Yin and Yang," explained Hsiang-yn, "are no more than spirits, but anything affected by their influence at once assumes form. The heavens, for instance, are Yang, and the earth is Yin; water is Yin and fire is Yang; the sun is Yang and the moon Yin."
"Quite so! quite so!" cried out Ts'ui L, much amused by these explanations, "I've at length attained perception! It isn't strange then that people invariably call the sun 'T'ai-yang.' While astrologers keep on speaking of the moon as 'T'ai-yin-hsing,' or something like it. It must be on account of this principle."
"O-mi-to-fu!" laughed Hsiang-yn, "you have at last understood!"
"All these things possess the Yin and Yang; that's all right." T'sui L put in. "But is there any likelihood that all those mosquitoes, flees and worms, flowers, herbs, bricks and tiles have, in like manner, anything to do with the Yin and Yang?"
"How don't they!" exclaimed Hsiang-yn. "For example, even the leaves of that tree are distinguished by Yin and Yang. The side, which looks up and faces the sun, is called Yang; while that in the shade and looking downwards, is called Yin."
"Is it really so!" ejaculated T'sui L, upon hearing this; while she smiled and nodded her head. "Now I know all about it! But which is Yang and which Yin in these fans we're holding."
"This side, the front, is Yang," answered Hsiang-yn; "and that, the reverse, is Yin."
Ts'ui L went on to nod her head, and to laugh. She felt inclined to apply her questions to several other things, but as she could not fix her mind upon anything in particular, she, all of a sudden, drooped her head. Catching sight of the pendant in gold, representing a unicorn, which Hsiang-yn had about her person, she forthwith made allusion to it. "This, Miss," she said smiling, "cannot likely also have any Yin and Yang!"
"The beasts of the field and the birds of the air," proceeded Hsiang-yn, "are, the cock birds, Yang, and the hen birds, Yin. The females of beasts are Yin; and the males, Yang; so how is there none?"
"Is this male, or is this female?" inquired Ts'ui L.
"Ts'ui!" exclaimed Hsiang-yn, "what about male and female! Here you are with your nonsense again."
"Well, never mind about that," added Ts'ui L, "But how is it that all things have Yin and Yang, and that we human beings have no Yin and no Yang?"
Hsiang-yn then lowered her face. "You low-bred thing!" she exclaimed. "But it's better for us to proceed on our way, for the more questions you ask, the nicer they get."
"What's there in this that you can't tell me?" asked Ts'ui L, "But I know all about it, so there's no need for you to keep me on pins and needles."
Hsiang-yn blurted out laughing. "What do you know?" she said.
"That you, Miss, are Yang, and that I'm Yin," answered Ts'ui L.
Hsiang-yn produced her handkerchief, and, while screening her mouth with it, burst out into a loud fit of laughter.
"What I say must be right for you to laugh in this way," Ts'ui L observed.
"Perfectly right, perfectly right!" acquiesced Hsiang-yn.
"People say," continued Ts'ui L, "that masters are Yang, and that servant-girls are Yin; don't I even apprehend this primary principle?"
"You apprehend it thoroughly," responded Hsiang-yn laughingly. But while she was speaking, she espied, under the trellis with the cinnamon roses, something glistening like gold. "Do you see that? What is it?" Hsiang-yn asked pointing at it.
Hearing this, Ts'ui L hastily went over and picked up the object. While scrutinising it, she observed with a smile, "Let us find out whether it's Yin or Yang!"
So saying, she first laid hold of the unicorn, belonging to Shih Hsiang-yn, and passed it under inspection.
Shih Hsiang-yn longed to be shown what she had picked up, but Ts'ui L would not open her hand.
"It's a precious gem," she smiled. "You mayn't see it, Miss. Where can it be from? How very strange it is! I've never seen any one in here with anything of the kind."
"Give it to me and let me look at it," retorted Hsiang-yn.
Ts'ui L stretched out her hand with a dash. "Yes, Miss, please look at it!" she laughed.
Hsiang-yn raised her eyes. She perceived, at a glance, that it was a golden unicorn, so beautiful and so bright; and so much larger and handsomer than the one she had on. Hsiang-yn put out her arm and, taking the gem in the palm of her hand, she fell into a silent reverie and uttered not a word. She was quite absent-minded when suddenly Pao-y appeared in the opposite direction.
"What are you two," he asked smiling, "doing here in the sun? How is it you don't go and find Hsi Jen?"
Shih Hsiang-yn precipitately concealed the unicorn. "We were just going," she replied, "so let us all go together."
Conversing, they, in a company, wended their steps into the I Hung court. Hsi Jen was leaning on the balustrade at the bottom of the steps, her face turned to the breeze. Upon unexpectedly seeing Hsiang-yn arrive she with alacrity rushed down to greet her; and taking her hand in hers, they cheerfully canvassed the events that had transpired during their separation, while they entered the room and took a seat.
"You should have come earlier," Pao-y said. "I've got something nice and was only waiting for you."
Saying this, he searched and searched about his person. After a long interval, "Ai-ya!" he ejaculated. "Have you perchance put that thing away?" he eagerly asked Hsi Jen.
"What thing?" inquired Hsi Jen.
"The unicorn," explained Pao-y, "I got the other day."
"You've daily worn it about you, and how is it you ask me?" remarked Hsi Jen.
As soon as her answer fell on his ear, Pao-y clapped his hands. "I've lost it!" he cried. "Where can I go and look for it!" There and then, he meant to go and search in person; but Shih Hsiang-yn heard his inquiries, and concluded that it must be he who had lost the gem. "When did you too," she promptly smiled, "get a unicorn?"
"I got it the other day, after ever so much trouble;" rejoined Pao-y, "but I can't make out when I can have lost it! I've also become quite addle-headed."
"Fortunately," smiled Shih Hsiang-yn, "it's only a sort of a toy! Still, are you so careless?" While speaking, she flung open her hand. "Just see," she laughed, "is it this or not?"
As soon as he saw it, Pao-y was seized with unwonted delight. But, reader, if you care to know the cause of his delight, peruse the explanation contained in the next chapter.
Hsi Jen and Hsiang-yn tell their secret thoughts. Tai-y is infatuated with the living Pao-y.
While trying to conceal her sense of shame and injury Chin Ch'uan is driven by her impetuous feelings to seek death.
But to resume our narrative. At the sight of the unicorn, Pao-y was filled with intense delight. So much so, that he forthwith put out his hand and made a grab for it. "Lucky enough it was you who picked it up!" he said, with a face beaming with smiles. "But when did you find it?"
"Fortunately it was only this!" rejoined Shih Hsiang-yn laughing. "If you by and bye also lose your seal, will you likely banish it at once from your mind, and never make an effort to discover it?"
"After all," smiled Pao-y, "the loss of a seal is an ordinary occurrence. But had I lost this, I would have deserved to die."
Hsi Jen then poured a cup of tea and handed it to Shih Hsiang-yn. "Miss Senior," she remarked smilingly, "I heard that you had occasion the other day to be highly pleased."
Shih Hsiang-yn flushed crimson. She went on drinking her tea and did not utter a single word.
"Here you are again full of shame!" Hsi Jen smiled. "But do you remember when we were living, about ten years back, in those warm rooms on the west side and you confided in me one evening, you didn't feel any shame then; and how is it you blush like this now?"
"Do you still speak about that!" exclaimed Shih Hsiang-yn laughingly. "You and I were then great friends. But when our mother subsequently died and I went home for a while, how is it you were at once sent to be with my cousin Secundus, and that now that I've come back you don't treat me as you did once?"
"Are you yet harping on this!" retorted Hsi Jen, putting on a smile. "Why, at first, you used to coax me with a lot of endearing terms to comb your hair and to wash your face, to do this and that for you. But now that you've become a big girl, you assume the manner of a young mistress towards me, and as you put on these airs of a young mistress, how can I ever presume to be on a familiar footing with you?"
"O-mi-to-fu," cried Shih Hsiang-yn. "What a false accusation! If I be guilty of anything of the kind, may I at once die! Just see what a broiling hot day this is, and yet as soon as I arrived I felt bound to come and look you up first. If you don't believe me, well, ask L Erh! And while at home, when did I not at every instant say something about you?"
Scarcely had she concluded than Hsi Jen and Pao-y tried to soothe her. "We were only joking," they said, "but you've taken everything again as gospel. What! are you still so impetuous in your temperament!"
"You don't say," argued Shih Hsiang-yn, "that your words are hard things to swallow, but contrariwise, call people's temperaments impetuous!"
As she spoke, she unfolded her handkerchief and, producing a ring, she gave it to Hsi Jen.
Hsi Jen did not know how to thank her enough. "When;" she consequently smiled, "you sent those to your cousin the other day, I got one also; and here you yourself bring me another to-day! It's clear enough therefore that you haven't forgotten me. This alone has been quite enough to test you. As for the ring itself, what is its worth? but it's a token of the sincerity of your heart!"
"Who gave it to you?" inquired Shih Hsiang-yn.
"Miss Pao let me have it." replied Hsi Jen.
"I was under the impression," remarked Hsiang-yn with a sigh, "that it was a present from cousin Lin. But is it really cousin Pao, that gave it to you! When I was at home, I day after day found myself reflecting that among all these cousins of mine, there wasn't one able to compare with cousin Pao, so excellent is she. How I do regret that we are not the offspring of one mother! For could I boast of such a sister of the same flesh and blood as myself, it wouldn't matter though I had lost both father and mother!"
While indulging in these regrets, her eyes got quite red.
"Never mind! never mind!" interposed Pao-y. "Why need you speak of these things!"
"If I do allude to this," answered Shih Hsiang-yn, "what does it matter? I know that weak point of yours. You're in fear and trembling lest your cousin Lin should come to hear what I say, and get angry with me again for eulogising cousin Pao! Now isn't it this, eh!"
"Ch'ih!" laughed Hsi Jen, who was standing by her. "Miss Yn," she said, "now that you've grown up to be a big girl you've become more than ever openhearted and outspoken."
"When I contend;" smiled Pao-y, "that it is difficult to say a word to any one of you I'm indeed perfectly correct!"
"My dear cousin," observed Shih Hsiang-yn laughingly, "don't go on in that strain! You'll provoke me to displeasure. When you are with me all you are good for is to talk and talk away; but were you to catch a glimpse of cousin Lin, you would once more be quite at a loss to know what best to do!"
"Now, enough of your jokes!" urged Hsi Jen. "I have a favour to crave of you."
"What is it?" vehemently inquired Shih Hsiang-yn.
"I've got a pair of shoes," answered Hsi Jen, "for which I've stuck the padding together; but I'm not feeling up to the mark these last few days, so I haven't been able to work at them. If you have any leisure, do finish them for me."
"This is indeed strange!" exclaimed Shih Hsiang-yn. "Putting aside all the skilful workers engaged in your household, you have besides some people for doing needlework and others for tailoring and cutting; and how is it you appeal to me to take your shoes in hand? Were you to ask any one of those men to execute your work, who could very well refuse to do it?"
"Here you are in another stupid mood!" laughed Hsi Jen. "Can it be that you don't know that our sewing in these quarters mayn't be done by these needleworkers."
At this reply, it at once dawned upon Shih Hsiang-yn that the shoes must be intended for Pao-y. "Since that be the case," she in consequence smiled; "I'll work them for you. There's however one thing. I'll readily attend to any of yours, but I will have nothing to do with any for other people."
"There you are again!" laughed Hsi Jen. "Who am I to venture to trouble you to make shoes for me? I'll tell you plainly, however, that they are not mine. But no matter whose they are, it is anyhow I who'll be the recipient of your favour; that is sufficient."
"To speak the truth," rejoined Shih Hsiang-yn, "you've put me to the trouble of working, I don't know how many things for you. The reason why I refuse on this occasion should be quite evident to you!"
"I can't nevertheless make it out!" answered Hsi Jen.
"I heard the other day," continued Shih Hsiang-yn, a sardonic smile on her lip, "that while the fan-case, I had worked, was being held and compared with that of some one else, it too was slashed away in a fit of high dudgeon. This reached my ears long ago, and do you still try to dupe me by asking me again now to make something more for you? Have I really become a slave to you people?
"As to what occurred the other day," hastily explained Pao-y smiling, "I positively had no idea that that thing was your handiwork."
"He never knew that you'd done it," Hsi Jen also laughed. "I deceived him by telling him that there had been of late some capital hands at needlework outside, who could execute any embroidery with surpassing beauty, and that I had asked them to bring a fan-case so as to try them and to see whether they could actually work well or not. He at once believed what I said. But as he produced the case and gave it to this one and that one to look at, he somehow or other, I don't know how, managed again to put some one's back up, and she cut it into two. On his return, however, he bade me hurry the men to make another; and when at length I explained to him that it had been worked by you, he felt, I can't tell you, what keen regret!"
"This is getting stranger and stranger!" said Shih Hsiang-yn. "It wasn't worth the while for Miss Lin to lose her temper about it. But as she plies the scissors so admirably, why, you might as well tell her to finish the shoes for you."
"She couldn't," replied Hsi Jen, "for besides other things our venerable lady is still in fear and trembling lest she should tire herself in any way. The doctor likewise says that she will continue to enjoy good health, so long as she is carefully looked after; so who would wish to ask her to take them in hand? Last year she managed to just get through a scented bag, after a whole year's work. But here we've already reached the middle of the present year, and she hasn't yet taken up any needle or thread!"
In the course of their conversation, a servant came and announced 'that the gentleman who lived in the Hsing Lung Street had come.' "Our master," he added, "bids you, Mr. Secundus, come out and greet him."
As soon as Pao-y heard this announcement, he knew that Chia Y-ts'un must have arrived. But he felt very unhappy at heart. Hsi Jen hurried to go and bring his clothes. Pao-y, meanwhile, put on his boots, but as he did so, he gave way to resentment. "Why there's father," he soliloquised, "to sit with him; that should be enough; and must he, on every visit he pays, insist upon seeing me!"
"It is, of course, because you have such a knack for receiving and entertaining visitors that Mr. Chia Cheng will have you go out," laughingly interposed Shih Hsiang-yn from one side, as she waved her fan.
"Is it father's doing?" Pao-y rejoined. "Why, it's he himself who asks that I should be sent for to see him."
"'When a host is courteous, visitors come often,'" smiled Hsiang-yn, "so it's surely because you possess certain qualities, which have won his regard, that he insists upon seeing you."
"But I am not what one would call courteous," demurred Pao-y. "I am, of all coarse people, the coarsest. Besides, I do not choose to have any relations with such people as himself."
"Here's again that unchangeable temperament of yours!" laughed Hsiang-yn. "But you're a big fellow now, and you should at least, if you be loth to study and go and pass your examinations for a provincial graduate or a metropolitan graduate, have frequent intercourse with officers and ministers of state and discuss those varied attainments, which one acquires in an official career, so that you also may be able in time to have some idea about matters in general; and that when by and bye you've made friends, they may not see you spending the whole day long in doing nothing than loafing in our midst, up to every imaginable mischief."
"Miss," exclaimed Pao-y, after this harangue, "pray go and sit in some other girl's room, for mind one like myself may contaminate a person who knows so much of attainments and experience as you do."
"Miss," ventured Hsi Jen, "drop this at once! Last time Miss Pao too tendered him this advice, but without troubling himself as to whether people would feel uneasy or not, he simply came out with an ejaculation of 'hai,' and rushed out of the place. Miss Pao hadn't meanwhile concluded her say, so when she saw him fly, she got so full of shame that, flushing scarlet, she could neither open her lips, nor hold her own counsel. But lucky for him it was only Miss Pao. Had it been Miss Lin, there's no saying what row there may not have been again, and what tears may not have been shed! Yet the very mention of all she had to tell him is enough to make people look up to Miss Pao with respect. But after a time, she also betook herself away. I then felt very unhappy as I imagined that she was angry; but contrary to all my expectations, she was by and bye just the same as ever. She is, in very truth, long-suffering and indulgent! This other party contrariwise became quite distant to her, little though one would have thought it of him; and as Miss Pao perceived that he had lost his temper, and didn't choose to heed her, she subsequently made I don't know how many apologies to him."
"Did Miss Lin ever talk such trash!" exclaimed Pao-y. "Had she ever talked such stuff and nonsense, I would have long ago become chilled towards her."
"What you say is all trash!" Hsi Jen and Hsiang-yn remarked with one voice, while they shook their heads to and fro and smiled.
Lin Tai-y, the fact is, was well aware that now that Shih Hsiang-yn was staying in the mansion, Pao-y too was certain to hasten to come and tell her all about the unicorn he had got, so she thought to herself: "In the foreign traditions and wild stories, introduced here of late by Pao-y, literary persons and pretty girls are, for the most part, brought together in marriage, through the agency of some trifling but ingenious nick-nack. These people either have miniature ducks, or phoenixes, jade necklets or gold pendants, fine handkerchiefs or elegant sashes; and they have, through the instrumentality of such trivial objects, invariably succeeded in accomplishing the wishes they entertained throughout their lives." When she recently discovered, by some unforeseen way, that Pao-y had likewise a unicorn she began to apprehend lest he should make this circumstance a pretext to create an estrangement with her, and indulge with Shih Hsiang-yn as well in various free and easy flirtations and fine doings. She therefore quietly crossed over to watch her opportunity and take such action as would enable her to get an insight into his and her sentiments. Contrary, however, to all her calculations, no sooner did she reach her destination, than she overheard Shih Hsiang-yn dilate on the topic of experience, and Pao-y go on to observe: "Cousin Lin has never indulged in such stuff and nonsense. Had she ever uttered any such trash, I would have become chilled even towards her!" This language suddenly produced, in Lin Tai-y's mind, both surprise as well as delight; sadness as well as regret. Delight, at having indeed been so correct in her perception that he whom she had ever considered in the light of a true friend had actually turned out to be a true friend. Surprise, "because," she said to herself: "he has, in the presence of so many witnesses, displayed such partiality as to speak in my praise, and has shown such affection and friendliness for me as to make no attempt whatever to shirk suspicion." Regret, "for since," (she pondered), "you are my intimate friend, you could certainly well look upon me too as your intimate friend; and if you and I be real friends, why need there be any more talk about gold and jade? But since there be that question of gold and jade, you and I should have such things in our possession. Yet, why should this Pao-ch'ai step in again between us?" Sad, "because," (she reflected), "my father and mother departed life at an early period; and because I have, in spite of the secret engraven on my heart and imprinted on my bones, not a soul to act as a mentor to me. Besides, of late, I continuously feel confusion creep over my mind, so my disease must already have gradually developed itself. The doctors further state that my breath is weak and my blood poor, and that they dread lest consumption should declare itself, so despite that sincere friendship I foster for you, I cannot, I fear, last for very long. You are, I admit, a true friend to me, but what can you do for my unfortunate destiny!"
Upon reaching this point in her reflections, she could not control her tears, and they rolled freely down her cheeks. So much so, that when about to enter and meet her cousins, she experienced such utter lack of zest, that, while drying her tears she turned round, and wended her steps back in the direction of her apartments.
Pao-y, meanwhile, had hurriedly got into his new costume. Upon coming out of doors, he caught sight of Lin Tai-y, walking quietly ahead of him engaged, to all appearances, in wiping tears from her eyes. With rapid stride, he overtook her.
"Cousin Lin," he smiled, "where are you off to? How is it that you're crying again? Who has once more hurt your feelings?"
Lin Tai-y turned her head round to look; and seeing that it was Pao-y, she at once forced a smile. "Why should I be crying," she replied, "when there is no reason to do so?"
"Look here!" observed Pao-y smilingly. "The tears in your eyes are not dry yet and do you still tell me a fib?"
Saying this, he could not check an impulse to raise his arm and wipe her eyes, but Lin Tai-y speedily withdrew several steps backwards. "Are you again bent," she said, "upon compassing your own death! Then why do you knock your hands and kick your feet about in this wise?"
"While intent upon speaking, I forgot," smiled Pao-y, "all about propriety and gesticulated, yet quite inadvertently. But what care I whether I die or live!"
"To die would, after all" added Lin Tai-y, "be for you of no matter; but you'll leave behind some gold or other, and a unicorn too or other; and what would they do?"
This insinuation was enough to plunge Pao-y into a fresh fit of exasperation. Hastening up to her: "Do you still give vent to such language?" he asked. "Why, it's really tantamount to invoking imprecations on me! What, are you yet angry with me!"
This question recalled to Lin Tai-y's mind the incidents of a few days back, and a pang of remorse immediately gnawed her heart for having been again so indiscreet in her speech. "Now don't you distress your mind!" she observed hastily, smiling. "I verily said what I shouldn't! Yet what is there in this to make your veins protrude, and to so provoke you as to bedew your whole face with perspiration?"
While reasoning with him, she felt unable to repress herself, and, approaching him, she extended her hand, and wiped the perspiration from his face.
Pao-y gazed intently at her for a long time. "Do set your mind at ease!" he at length observed.
At this remark, Lin Tai-y felt quite nervous. "What's there to make my mind uneasy?" she asked after a protracted interval. "I can't make out what you're driving at; tell me what's this about making me easy or uneasy?"
Pao-y heaved a sigh. "Don't you truly fathom the depth of my words?" he inquired. "Why, do you mean to say that I've throughout made such poor use of my love for you as not to be able to even divine your feelings? Well, if so, it's no wonder that you daily lose your temper on my account!"
"I actually don't understand what you mean by easy or uneasy," Lin Tai-y replied.
"My dear girl," urged Pao-y, nodding and sighing. "Don't be making a fool of me! For if you can't make out these words, not only have I ever uselessly lavished affection upon you, but the regard, with which you have always treated me, has likewise been entirely of no avail! And it's mostly because you won't set your mind at ease that your whole frame is riddled with disease. Had you taken things easier a bit, this ailment of yours too wouldn't have grown worse from day to day!"
These words made Lin Tai-y feel as if she had been blasted by thunder, or struck by lightning. But after carefully weighing them within herself, they seemed to her far more fervent than any that might have emanated from the depths of her own heart, and thousands of sentiments, in fact, thronged together in her mind; but though she had every wish to frame them into language, she found it a hard task to pronounce so much as half a word. All she therefore did was to gaze at him with vacant stare.
Pao-y fostered innumerable thoughts within himself, but unable in a moment to resolve from which particular one to begin, he too absently looked at Tai-y. Thus it was that the two cousins remained for a long time under the spell of a deep reverie.
An ejaculation of "Hai!" was the only sound that issued from Lin Tai-y's lips; and while tears streamed suddenly from her eyes, she turned herself round and started on her way homeward.
Pao-y jumped forward, with alacrity, and dragged her back. "My dear cousin," he pleaded, "do stop a bit! Let me tell you just one thing; after that, you may go."
"What can you have to tell me?" exclaimed Lin Tai-y, who while wiping her tears, extricated her hand from his grasp. "I know." she cried, "all you have to say."
As she spoke, she went away, without even turning her head to cast a glance behind her.
As Pao-y gazed at her receding figure, he fell into abstraction.
He had, in fact, quitted his apartments a few moments back in such precipitate hurry that he had omitted to take a fan with him: and Hsi Jen, fearing lest he might suffer from the heat, promptly seized one and ran to find him and give it to him. But upon casually raising her head, she espied Lin Tai-y standing with him. After a time, Tai-y walked away; and as he still remained where he was without budging, she approached him.
"You left," she said, "without even taking a fan with you. Happily I noticed it, and so hurried to catch you up and bring it to you."
But Pao-y was so lost in thought that as soon as he caught Hsi Jen's voice, he made a dash and clasped her in his embrace, without so much as trying to make sure who she was.
"My dear cousin," he cried, "I couldn't hitherto muster enough courage to disclose the secrets of my heart; but on this occasion I shall make bold and give utterance to them. For you I'm quite ready to even pay the penalty of death. I have too for your sake brought ailments upon my whole frame. It's in here! But I haven't ventured to breathe it to any one. My only alternative has been to bear it patiently, in the hope that when you got all right, I might then perchance also recover. But whether I sleep, or whether I dream, I never, never forget you."
These declarations quite dumfoundered Hsi Jen. She gave way to incessant apprehensions. All she could do was to shout out: "Oh spirits, oh heaven, oh Buddha, he's compassing my death!" Then pushing him away from her, "what is it you're saying?" she asked. "May it be that you are possessed by some evil spirit! Don't you quick get yourself off?"
This brought Pao-y to his senses at once. He then became aware that it was Hsi Jen, and that she had come to bring him a fan. Pao-y was overpowered with shame; his whole face was suffused with scarlet; and, snatching the fan out of her hands, he bolted away with rapid stride.
When Hsi Jen meanwhile saw Pao-y effect his escape, "Lin Tai-y," she pondered, "must surely be at the bottom of all he said just now. But from what one can see, it will be difficult, in the future, to obviate the occurrence of some unpleasant mishap. It's sufficient to fill one with fear and trembling!"
At this point in her cogitations, she involuntarily melted into tears, so agitated was she; while she secretly exercised her mind how best to act so as to prevent this dreadful calamity.
But while she was lost in this maze of surmises and doubts, Pao-ch'ai unexpectedly appeared from the off side. "What!" she smilingly exclaimed, "are you dreaming away in a hot broiling sun like this?"
Hsi Jen, at this question, hastily returned her smiles. "Those two birds," she answered, "were having a fight, and such fun was it that I stopped to watch them."
"Where is cousin Pao off to now in such a hurry, got up in that fine attire?" asked Pao-ch'ai, "I just caught sight of him, as he went by. I meant to have called out and stopped him, but as he, of late, talks greater rubbish than ever, I didn't challenge him, but let him go past."
"Our master," rejoined Hsi Jen, "sent for him to go out."
"Ai-yah!" hastily exclaimed Pao-ch'ai, as soon as this remark reached her ears. "What does he want him for, on a scalding day like this? Might he not have thought of something and got so angry about it as to send for him to give him a lecture!"
"If it isn't this," added Hsi Jen laughing, "some visitor must, I presume, have come and he wishes him to meet him."
"With weather like this," smiled Pao-ch'ai, "even visitors afford no amusement! Why don't they, while this fiery temperature lasts, stay at home, where it's much cooler, instead of gadding about all over the place?"
"Could you tell them so?" smiled Hsi Jen.
"What was that girl Hsiang-yn doing in your quarters?" Pao-ch'ai then asked.
"She only came to chat with us on irrelevant matters." Hsi Jen replied smiling. "But did you see the pair of shoes I was pasting the other day? Well, I meant to ask her to-morrow to finish them for me."
Pao-chai, at these words, turned her head round, first on this side, and then on the other. Seeing that there was no one coming or going: "How is it," she smiled, "that you, who have so much gumption, don't ever show any respect for people's feelings? I've been of late keeping an eye on Miss Yn's manner, and, from what I can glean from the various rumours afloat, she can't be, in the slightest degree, her own mistress at home! In that family of theirs, so little can they stand the burden of any heavy expenses that they don't employ any needlework-people, and ordinary everyday things are mostly attended to by their ladies themselves. (If not), why is it that every time she has come to us on a visit, and she and I have had a chat, she at once broached the subject of their being in great difficulties at home, the moment she perceived that there was no one present? Yet, whenever I went on to ask her a few questions about their usual way of living, her very eyes grew red, while she made some indistinct reply; but as for speaking out, she wouldn't. But when I consider the circumstances in which she is placed, for she has certainly had the misfortune of being left, from her very infancy, without father and mother, the very sight of her is too much for me, and my heart begins to bleed within me."
"Quite so! Quite so!" observed Hsi Jen, clapping her hands, after listening to her throughout. "It isn't strange then if she let me have the ten butterfly knots I asked her to tie for me only after ever so many days, and if she said that they were coarsely done, but that I should make the best of them and use them elsewhere, and that if I wanted any nice ones, I should wait until by and bye when she came to stay here, when she would work some neatly for me. What you've told me now reminds me that, as she had found it difficult to find an excuse when we appealed to her, she must have had to slave away, who knows how much, till the third watch in the middle of the night. What a stupid thing I was! Had I known this sooner, I would never have told her a word about it."
"Last time;" continued Pao-ch'ai, "she told me that when she was at home she had ample to do, that she kept busy as late as the third watch, and that, if she did the slightest stitch of work for any other people, the various ladies, belonging to her family, did not like it."
"But as it happens," explained Hsi Jen, "that mulish-minded and perverse-tempered young master of ours won't allow the least bit of needlework, no matter whether small or large, to be made by those persons employed to do sewing in the household. And as for me, I have no time to turn my attention to all these things."
"Why mind him?" laughed Pao-ch'ai. "Simply ask some one to do the work and finish."
"How could one bamboozle him?" resumed Hsi Jen. "Why, he'll promptly find out everything. Such a thing can't even be suggested. The only thing I can do is to quietly slave away, that's all."
"You shouldn't work so hard," smiled Pao-ch'ai. "What do you say to my doing a few things for you?"
"Are you in real earnest!" ventured Hsi Jen smiling. "Well, in that case, it is indeed a piece of good fortune for me! I'll come over myself in the evening."
But before she could conclude her reply, she of a sudden noticed an old matron come up to her with precipitate step. "Where does the report come from," she interposed, "that Miss Chin Ch'uan-erh has gone, for no rhyme or reason, and committed suicide by jumping into the well?"
This bit of news startled Hsi Jen. "Which Chin Ch'uan-erh is it," she speedily inquired.
"Where are two Chin Ch'uan-erhs to be found!" rejoined the old matron. "It's the one in our Mistress,' Madame Wang's, apartments, who was the other day sent away for something or other, I don't know what. On her return home, she raised her groans to the skies and shed profuse tears, but none of them worried their minds about her, until, who'd have thought it, they could see nothing of her. A servant, however, went just now to draw water and he says that 'while he was getting it from the well in the south-east corner, he caught sight of a dead body, that he hurriedly called men to his help, and that when they fished it out, they unexpectedly found that it was she, but that though they bustled about trying to bring her round, everything proved of no avail'"
"This is odd!" Pao-ch'ai exclaimed.
The moment Hsi Jen heard the tidings, she shook her head and moaned. At the remembrance of the friendship, which had ever existed between them, tears suddenly trickled down her cheeks. And as for Pao-ch'ai, she listened to the account of the accident and then hastened to Madame Wang's quarters to try and afford her consolation.
Hsi Jen, during this interval, returned to her room. But we will leave her without further notice, and explain that when Pao-ch'ai reached the interior of Madame Wang's home, she found everything plunged in perfect stillness. Madame Wang was seated all alone in the inner chamber indulging her sorrow. But such difficulties did Pao-ch'ai experience to allude to the occurrence, that her only alternative was to take a seat next to her.
"Where do you come from?" asked Madame Wang.
"I come from inside the garden," answered Pao-ch'ai.
"As you come from the garden," Madame Wang inquired, "did you see anything of your cousin Pao-y?"
"I saw him just now," Pao-ch'ai replied, "go out, dressed up in his fineries. But where he is gone to, I don't know."
"Have you perchance heard of any strange occurrence?" asked Madame Wang, while she nodded her head and sighed. "Why, Chin Ch'uan Erh jumped into the well and committed suicide."
"How is it that she jumped into the well when there was nothing to make her do so?" Pao-ch'ai inquired. "This is indeed a remarkable thing!"
"The fact is," proceeded Madame Wang, "that she spoilt something the other day, and in a sudden fit of temper, I gave her a slap and sent her away, simply meaning to be angry with her for a few days and then bring her in again. But, who could have ever imagined that she had such a resentful temperament as to go and drown herself in a well! And is not this all my fault?"
"It's because you are such a kind-hearted person, aunt," smiled Pao-ch'ai, "that such ideas cross your mind! But she didn't jump into the well when she was in a tantrum; so what must have made her do so was that she had to go and live in the lower quarters. Or, she might have been standing in front of the well, and her foot slipped, and she fell into it. While in the upper rooms, she used to be kept under restraint, so when this time she found herself outside, she must, of course, have felt the wish to go strolling all over the place in search of fun. How could she have ever had such a fiery disposition? But even admitting that she had such a temper, she was, after all, a stupid girl to do as she did; and she doesn't deserve any pity."
"In spite of what you say," sighed Madame Wang, shaking her head to and fro, "I really feel unhappy at heart."
"You shouldn't, aunt, distress your mind about it!" Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Yet, if you feel very much exercised, just give her a few more taels than you would otherwise have done, and let her be buried. You'll thus carry out to the full the feelings of a mistress towards her servant."
"I just now gave them fifty taels for her," pursued Madame Wang. "I also meant to let them have some of your cousin's new clothes to enshroud her in. But, who'd have thought it, none of the girls had, strange coincidence, any newly-made articles of clothing; and there were only that couple of birthday suits of your cousin Lin's. But as your cousin Lin has ever been such a sensitive child and has always too suffered and ailed, I thought it would be unpropitious for her, if her clothes were also now handed to people to wrap their dead in, after she had been told that they were given her for her birthday. So I ordered a tailor to get a suit for her as soon as possible. Had it been any other servant-girl, I could have given her a few taels and have finished. But Chin Ch'uan-erh was, albeit a servant-maid, nearly as dear to me as if she had been a daughter of mine."
Saying this, tears unwittingly ran down from her eyes.
"Aunt!" vehemently exclaimed Pao-ch'ai. "What earthly use is it of hurrying a tailor just now to prepare clothes for her? I have a couple of suits I made the other day and won't it save trouble were I to go and bring them for her? Besides, when she was alive, she used to wear my old clothes. And what's more our figures are much alike."
"What you say is all very well," rejoined Madame Wang; "but can it be that it isn't distasteful to you?"
"Compose your mind," urged Pao-ch'ai with a smile. "I have never paid any heed to such things."
As she spoke, she rose to her feet and walked away.
Madame Wang then promptly called two servants. "Go and accompany Miss Pao!" she said.
In a brief space of time, Pao-ch'ai came back with the clothes, and discovered Pao-y seated next to Madame Wang, all melted in tears. Madame Wang was reasoning with him. At the sight of Pao-ch'ai, she, at once, desisted. When Pao-ch'ai saw them go on in this way, and came to weigh their conversation and to scan the expression on their countenances, she immediately got a pretty correct insight into their feelings. But presently she handed over the clothes, and Madame Wang sent for Chin Ch'uan-erh's mother, to take them away.
But, reader, you will have to peruse the next chapter for further details.
A brother is prompted by ill-feeling to wag his tongue a bit. A depraved son receives heavy blows with a rattan cane.
Madame Wang, for we shall now continue our story, sent for Chin Ch'uan-erh's mother. On her arrival, she gave her several hair-pins and rings, and then told her that she could invite several Buddhist priests as well to read the prayers necessary to release the spirit from purgatory. The mother prostrated herself and expressed her gratitude; after which, she took her leave.
Indeed, Pao-y, on his return from entertaining Y-ts'un, heard the tidings that Chin Ch'uan-erh had been instigated by a sense of shame to take her own life and he at once fell a prey to grief. So much so, that, when he came inside, and was again spoken to and admonished by Madame Wang, he could not utter a single word in his justification. But as soon as he perceived Pao-ch'ai make her appearance in the room, he seized the opportunity to scamper out in precipitate haste. Whither he was trudging, he himself had not the least idea. But throwing his hands behind his back and drooping his head against his chest, he gave way to sighs, while with slow and listless step he turned towards the hall. Scarcely, however, had he rounded the screen-wall, which stood in front of the door-way, when, by a strange coincidence, he ran straight into the arms of some one, who was unawares approaching from the opposite direction, and was just about to go towards the inner portion of the compound.
"Hallo!" that person was heard to cry out, as he stood still.
Pao-y sustained a dreadful start. Raising his face to see, he discovered that it was no other than his father. At once, he unconsciously drew a long breath and adopted the only safe course of dropping his arms against his body and standing on one side.
"Why are you," exclaimed Chia Cheng, "drooping your head in such a melancholy mood, and indulging in all these moans? When Y-ts'un came just now and he asked to see you, you only put in your appearance after a long while. But though you did come, you were not in the least disposed to chat with anything like cheerfulness and animation; you behaved, as you ever do, like a regular fool. I detected then in your countenance a certain expression of some hidden hankering and sadness; and now again here you are groaning and sighing! Does all you have not suffice to please you? Are you still dissatisfied? You've no reason to be like this, so why is it that you go on in this way?"
Pao-y had ever, it is true, shown a glib tongue, but on the present occasion he was so deeply affected by Chin Ch'uan-erh's fate, and vexed at not being able to die that very instant and follow in her footsteps that although he was now fully conscious that his father was speaking to him he could not, in fact, lend him an ear, but simply stood in a timid and nervous mood. Chia Cheng noticed that he was in a state of trembling and fear, not as ready with an answer as he usually was, and his sorry plight somewhat incensed him, much though he had not at first borne him any ill-feeling. But just as he was about to chide him, a messenger approached and announced to him: "Some one has come from the mansion of the imperial Prince Chung Shun, and wishes to see you, Sir." At this announcement, surmises sprung up in Chia Cheng's mind. "Hitherto," he secretly mused, "I've never had any dealings with the Chung Shun mansion, and why is it that some one is despatched here to-day?" As he gave way to these reflections. "Be quick," he shouted, "and ask him to take a seat in the pavilion," while he himself precipitately entered the inner room and changed his costume. When he came out to greet the visitor, he discovered that it was the senior officer of the Chung Shun mansion. After the exchange of the salutations prescribed by the rites, they sat down and tea was presented. But before (Chia Cheng) had had time to start a topic of conversation, the senior officer anticipated him, and speedily observed: "Your humble servant does not pay this visit to-day to your worthy mansion on his own authority, but entirely in compliance with instructions received, as there is a favour that I have to beg of you. I make bold to trouble you, esteemed Sir, on behalf of his highness, to take any steps you might deem suitable, and if you do, not only will his highness remember your kindness, but even I, your humble servant, and my colleagues will feel extremely grateful to you."
Chia Cheng listened to him, but he could not nevertheless get a clue of what he was driving at. Promptly returning his smile, he rose to his feet. "You come, Sir," he inquired, "at the instance of his royal highness, but what, I wonder, are the commands you have to give me? I hope you will explain them to your humble servant, worthy Sir, in order to enable him to carry them out effectively."
The senior officer gave a sardonic smile.
"There's nothing to carry out," he said. "All you, venerable Sir, have to do is to utter one single word and the whole thing will be effected. There is in our mansion a certain Ch'i Kuan, who plays the part of young ladies. He hitherto stayed quietly in the mansion; but for the last three or five days or so no one has seen him return home. Search has been instituted in every locality, yet his whereabouts cannot be discovered. But throughout these various inquiries, eight out of the ten tenths of the inhabitants of the city have, with one consent, asserted that he has of late been on very friendly terms with that honourable son of yours, who was born with the jade in his mouth. This report was told your servant and his colleagues, but as your worthy mansion is unlike such residences as we can take upon ourselves to enter and search with impunity, we felt under the necessity of laying the matter before our imperial master. 'Had it been any of the other actors,' his highness also says, 'I wouldn't have minded if even one hundred of them had disappeared; but this Ch'i Kuan has always been so ready with pat repartee, so respectful and trustworthy that he has thoroughly won my aged heart, and I could never do without him.' He entreats you, therefore, worthy Sir, to, in your turn, plead with your illustrious scion, and request him to let Ch'i Kuan go back, in order that the feelings, which prompt the Prince to make such earnest supplications, may, in the first place, be satisfied: and that, in the next, your mean servant and his associates may be spared the fatigue of toiling and searching."
At the conclusion of this appeal, he promptly made a low bow. As soon as Chia Cheng found out the object of his errand, he felt both astonishment and displeasure. With all promptitude, he issued directions that Pao-y should be told to come out of the garden. Pao-y had no notion whatever why he was wanted. So speedily he hurried to appear before his father.
"What a regular scoundrel you are!" Chia Cheng exclaimed. "It is enough that you won't read your books at home; but will you also go in for all these lawless and wrongful acts? That Ch'i Kuan is a person whose present honourable duties are to act as an attendant on his highness the Prince of Chung Shun, and how extremely heedless of propriety must you be to have enticed him, without good cause, to come away, and thus have now brought calamity upon me?"
These reproaches plunged Pao-y in a dreadful state of consternation. With alacrity he said by way of reply: "I really don't know anything about the matter! To what do, after all, the two words Ch'i Kuan refer, I wonder! Still less, besides, am I aware what entice can imply!"
As he spoke, he started crying.
But before Chia Cheng could open his month to pass any further remarks, "Young gentleman," he heard the senior officer interpose with a sardonic smile: "you shouldn't conceal anything! if he be either hidden in your home, or if you know his whereabouts, divulge the truth at once; so that less trouble should fall to our lot than otherwise would. And will we not then bear in mind your virtue, worthy scion!"
"I positively don't know." Pao-y time after time maintained. "There must, I fear, be some false rumour abroad; for I haven't so much as seen anything of him."
The senior officer gave two loud smiles, full of derision. "There's evidence at hand," he rejoined, "so if you compel me to speak out before your venerable father, won't you, young man, have to suffer the consequences? But as you assert that you don't know who this person is, how is it that that red sash has come to be attached to your waist?"
When Pao-y caught this allusion, he suddenly felt quite out of his senses. He stared and gaped; while within himself, he argued: "How has he come to hear anything about this! But since he knows all these secret particulars, I cannot, I expect, put him off in other points; so wouldn't it be better for me to pack him off, in order to obviate his blubbering anything more?" "Sir," he consequently remarked aloud, "how is it that despite your acquaintance with all these minute details, you have no inkling of his having purchased a house? Are you ignorant of an essential point like this? I've heard people say that he's, at present, staying in the eastern suburbs at a distance of twenty li from the city walls; at some place or other called Tzu T'an Pao, and that he has bought there several acres of land and a few houses. So I presume he's to be found in that locality; but of course there's no saying."
"According to your version," smiled the senior officer, as soon as he heard his explanation, "he must for a certainty be there. I shall therefore go and look for him. If he's there, well and good; but if not, I shall come again and request you to give me further directions."
These words were still on his lips, when he took his leave and walked off with hurried step.
Chia Cheng was by this time stirred up to such a pitch of indignation that his eyes stared aghast, and his mouth opened in bewilderment; and as he escorted the officer out, he turned his head and bade Pao-y not budge. "I have," (he said), "to ask you something on my return." Straightway he then went to see the officer off. But just as he was turning back, he casually came across Chia Huan and several servant-boys running wildly about in a body. "Quick, bring him here to me!" shouted Chia Cheng to the young boys. "I want to beat him."
Chia Huan, at the sight of his father, was so terrified that his bones mollified and his tendons grew weak, and, promptly lowering his head, he stood still."
"What are you running about for?" Chia Cheng asked. "These menials of yours do not mind you, but go who knows where, and let you roam about like a wild horse! Where are the attendants who wait on you at school?" he cried.
When Chia Huan saw his father in such a dreadful rage, he availed himself of the first opportunity to try and clear himself. "I wasn't running about just now" he said. "But as I was passing by the side of that well, I caught sight, for in that well a servant-girl was drowned, of a human head that large, a body that swollen, floating about in really a frightful way and I therefore hastily rushed past."
Chia Cheng was thunderstruck by this disclosure. "There's been nothing up, so who has gone and jumped into the well?" he inquired. "Never has there been anything of the kind in my house before! Ever since the time of our ancestors, servants have invariably been treated with clemency and consideration. But I expect that I must of late have become remiss in my domestic affairs, and that the managers must have arrogated to themselves the right of domineering and so been the cause of bringing about such calamities as violent deaths and disregard of life. Were these things to reach the ears of people outside, what will become of the reputation of our seniors? Call Chia Lien and Lai Ta here!" he shouted.
The servant-lads signified their obedience, with one voice. They were about to go and summon them, when Chia Huan hastened to press forward. Grasping the lapel of Chia Cheng's coat, and clinging to his knees, he knelt down. "Father, why need you be angry?" he said. "Excluding the people in Madame Wang's rooms, this occurrence is entirely unknown to any of the rest; and I have heard my mother mention...." At this point, he turned his head, and cast a glance in all four quarters.
Chia Cheng guessed his meaning, and made a sign with his eyes. The young boys grasped his purpose and drew far back on either side.
Chia Huan resumed his confidences in a low tone of voice. "My mother," he resumed, "told me that when brother Pao-y was, the other day, in Madame Wang's apartments, he seized her servant-maid Chin Ch'uan-erh with the intent of dishonouring her. That as he failed to carry out his design, he gave her a thrashing, which so exasperated Chin Ch'uan-erh that she threw herself into the well and committed suicide...."
Before however he could conclude his account, Chia Cheng had been incensed to such a degree that his face assumed the colour of silver paper. "Bring Pao-y here," he cried. While uttering these orders, he walked into the study. "If any one does again to-day come to dissuade me," he vociferated, "I shall take this official hat, and sash, my home and private property and surrender everything at once to him to go and bestow them upon Pao-y; for if I cannot escape blame (with a son like the one I have), I mean to shave this scanty trouble-laden hair about my temples and go in search of some unsullied place where I can spend the rest of my days alone! I shall thus also avoid the crime of heaping, above, insult upon my predecessors, and, below, of having given birth to such a rebellious son."
At the sight of Chia Cheng in this exasperation, the family companions and attendants speedily realised that Pao-y must once more be the cause of it, and the whole posse hastened to withdraw from the study, biting their fingers and putting their tongues out.
Chia Cheng panted with excitement. He stretched his chest out and sat bolt upright on a chair. His whole face was covered with the traces of tears. "Bring Pao-y! Bring Pao-y!" he shouted consecutively. "Fetch a big stick; bring a rope and tie him up; close all the doors! If any one does communicate anything about it in the inner rooms, why, I'll immediately beat him to death."
The servant-boys felt compelled to express their obedience with one consent, and some of them came to look after Pao-y.
As for Pao-y, when he heard Chia Cheng enjoin him not to move, he forthwith became aware that the chances of an unpropitious issue outnumbered those of a propitious one, but how could he have had any idea that Chia Huan as well had put in his word? There he still stood in the pavilion, revolving in his mind how he could get some one to speed inside and deliver a message for him. But, as it happened, not a soul appeared. He was quite at a loss to know where even Pei Ming could be. His longing was at its height, when he perceived an old nurse come on the scene. The sight of her exulted Pao-y, just as much as if he had obtained pearls or gems; and hurriedly approaching her, he dragged her and forced her to halt. "Go in," he urged, "at once and tell them that my father wishes to beat me to death. Be quick, be quick, for it's urgent, there's no time to be lost."
But, first and foremost, Pao-y's excitement was so intense that he spoke with indistinctness. In the second place, the old nurse was, as luck would have it, dull of hearing, so that she did not catch the drift of what he said, and she misconstrued the two words: "it's urgent," for the two representing jumped into the well. Readily smiling therefore: "If she wants to jump into the well, let her do so," she said. "What's there to make you fear, Master Secundus?"
"Go out," pursued Pao-y, in despair, on discovering that she was deaf, "and tell my page to come."
"What's there left unsettled?" rejoined the old nurse. "Everything has been finished long ago! A tip has also been given them; so how is it things are not settled?"
Pao-y fidgetted with his hands and feet. He was just at his wits' ends, when he espied Chia Cheng's servant-boys come up and press him to go out.
As soon as Chia Cheng caught sight of him, his eyes got quite red. Without even allowing himself any time to question him about his gadding about with actors, and the presents he gave them on the sly, during his absence from home; or about his playing the truant from school and lewdly importuning his mother's maid, during his stay at home, he simply shouted: "Gag his mouth and positively beat him till he dies!"
The servant-boys did not have the boldness to disobey him. They were under the necessity of seizing Pao-y, of stretching him on a bench, and of taking a heavy rattan and giving him about ten blows.
Pao-y knew well enough that he could not plead for mercy, and all he could do was to whimper and cry.
Chia Cheng however found fault with the light blows they administered to him. With one kick he shoved the castigator aside, and snatching the rattan into his own hands, he spitefully let (Pao-y) have ten blows and more.
Pao-y had not, from his very birth, experienced such anguish. From the outset, he found the pain unbearable; yet he could shout and weep as boisterously as ever he pleased; but so weak subsequently did his breath, little by little, become, so hoarse his voice, and so choked his throat that he could not bring out any sound.
The family companions noticed that he was beaten in a way that might lead to an unpropitious end, and they drew near with all despatch and made earnest entreaties and exhortations. But would Chia Cheng listen to them?
"You people," he answered, "had better ask him whether the tricks he has been up to deserve to be overlooked or not! It's you who have all along so thoroughly spoilt him as to make him reach this degree of depravity! And do you yet come to advise me to spare him? When by and bye you've incited him to commit parricide or regicide, you will at length, then, give up trying to dissuade me, eh?"
This language jarred on the ears of the whole party; and knowing only too well that he was in an exasperated mood, they fussed about endeavouring to find some one to go in and convey the news.
But Madame Wang did not presume to be the first to inform dowager lady Chia about it. Seeing no other course open to her, she hastily dressed herself and issued out of the garden. Without so much as worrying her mind as to whether there were any male inmates about or not, she straightway leant on a waiting-maid and hurriedly betook herself into the library, to the intense consternation of the companions, pages and all the men present, who could not manage to clear out of the way in time.
Chia Cheng was on the point of further belabouring his son, when at the sight of Madame Wang walking in, his temper flared up with such increased violence, just as fire on which oil is poured, that the rod fell with greater spite and celerity. The two servant-boys, who held Pao-y down, precipitately loosened their grip and beat a retreat. Pao-y had long ago lost all power of movement. Chia Cheng, however, was again preparing to assail him, when the rattan was immediately locked tightly by Madame Wang, in both her arms.
"Of course, of course," Chia Cheng exclaimed, "what you want to do to-day is to make me succumb to anger!"
"Pao-y does, I admit, merit to be beaten," sobbed Madame Wang; "but you should also, my lord, take good care of yourself! The weather, besides, is extremely hot, and our old lady is not feeling quite up to the mark. Were you to knock Pao-y about and kill him, it would not matter much; but were perchance our venerable senior to suddenly fall ill, wouldn't it be a grave thing?"
"Better not talk about such things!" observed Chia Cheng with a listless smile. "By my bringing up such a degenerate child of retribution I have myself become unfilial! Whenever I've had to call him to account, there has always been a whole crowd of you to screen him; so isn't it as well for me to avail myself of to-day to put an end to his cur-like existence and thus prevent future misfortune?"
As he spoke, he asked for a rope to strangle him; but Madame Wang lost no time in clasping him in her embrace, and reasoning with him as she wept. "My lord and master," she said, "it is your duty, of course, to keep your son in proper order, but you should also regard the relationship of husband and wife. I'm already a woman of fifty and I've only got this scapegrace. Was there any need for you to give him such a bitter lesson? I wouldn't presume to use any strong dissuasion; but having, on this occasion, gone so far as to harbour the design of killing him, isn't this a fixed purpose on your part to cut short my own existence? But as you are bent upon strangling him, be quick and first strangle me before you strangle him! It will be as well that we, mother and son, should die together, so that if even we go to hell, we may be able to rely upon each other!"
At the conclusion of these words, she enfolded Pao-y in her embrace and raised her voice in loud sobs.
After listening to her appeal, Chia Cheng could not restrain a deep sigh; and taking a seat on one of the chairs, the tears ran down his cheeks like drops of rain.
But while Madame Wang held Pao-y in her arms, she noticed that his face was sallow and his breath faint, and that his green gauze nether garments were all speckled with stains of blood, so she could not check her fingers from unloosening his girdle. And realising that from the thighs to the buttocks, his person was here green, there purple, here whole, there broken, and that there was, in fact, not the least bit, which had not sustained some injury, she of a sudden burst out in bitter lamentations for her offspring's wretched lot in life. But while bemoaning her unfortunate son, she again recalled to mind the memory of Chia Chu, and vehemently calling out "Chia Chu," she sobbed: "if but you were alive, I would not care if even one hundred died!"
But by this time, the inmates of the inner rooms discovered that Madame Wang had gone out, and Li Kung-ts'ai, Wang Hsi-feng and Ting Ch'un and her sisters promptly rushed out of the garden and came to join her.
While Madame Wang mentioned, with eyes bathed in tears, the name of Chia Chu, every one listened with composure, with the exception of Li Kung-ts'ai, who unable to curb her feelings also raised her voice in sobs. As soon as Chia Cheng heard her plaints, his tears trickled down with greater profusion, like pearls scattered about. But just as there seemed no prospect of their being consoled, a servant-girl was unawares heard to announce: "Our dowager lady has come!" Before this announcement was ended, her tremulous accents reached their ears from outside the window. "If you were to beat me to death and then despatch him," she cried, "won't you be clear of us!"
Chia Cheng, upon seeing that his mother was coming, felt distressed and pained. With all promptitude, he went out to meet her. He perceived his old parent, toddling along, leaning on the arm of a servant-girl, wagging her head and gasping for breath.
Chia Cheng drew forward and made a curtsey. "On a hot broiling day like this," he ventured, forcing a smile, "what made you, mother, get so angry as to rush over in person? Had you anything to enjoin me, you could have sent for me, your son, and given me your orders."
Old lady Chia, at these words, halted and panted. "Are you really chiding me?" she at the same time said in a stern tone. "It's I who should call you to task! But as the son, I've brought up, isn't worth a straw, to whom can I go and address a word?"