When Chia Cheng heard language so unlike that generally used by her, he immediately fell on his knees. While doing all in his power to contain his tears: "The reason why," he explained, "your son corrects his offspring is a desire to reflect lustre on his ancestors and splendour on his seniors; so how can I, your son, deserve the rebuke with which you greet me, mother?"
At this reply, old lady Chia spurted contemptuously. "I made just one remark," she added, "and you couldn't stand it, and can Pao-y likely put up with that death-working cane? You say that your object in correcting your son is to reflect lustre on your ancestors and splendour on your seniors, but in what manner did your father correct you in days gone by?"
Saying this, tears suddenly rolled down from her eyes also.
Chia Cheng forced another smile. "Mother;" he proceeded, "you shouldn't distress yourself! Your son did it in a sudden fit of rage, but from this time forth I won't touch him again."
Dowager lady Chia smiled several loud sneering smiles. "But you shouldn't get into a huff with me!" she urged. "He's your son, so if you choose to flog him, you can naturally do so, but I cannot help thinking that you're sick and tired of me, your mother, of your wife and of your son, so wouldn't it be as well that we should get out of your way, the sooner the better, as we shall then be able to enjoy peace and quiet?"
So speaking, "Go and look after the chairs." she speedily cried to a servant. "I and your lady as well as Pao-y will, without delay, return to Nanking."
The servant had no help but to assent.
Old lady Chia thereupon called Madame Wang over to her. "You needn't indulge in sorrow!" she exhorted her. "Pao-y is now young, and you cherish him fondly; but does it follow that when in years to come he becomes an official, he'll remember that you are his mother? You mustn't therefore at present lavish too much of your affection upon him, so that you may by and bye, spare yourself, at least, some displeasure."
When these exhortations fell on Chia Cheng's ear, he instantly prostrated himself before her. "Your remarks mother," he observed, "cut the ground under your son's very feet."
"You distinctly act in a way," cynically smiled old lady Chia, "sufficient to deprive me of any ground to stand upon, and then you, on the contrary, go and speak about yourself! But when we shall have gone back, your mind will be free of all trouble. We'll see then who'll interfere and dissuade you from beating people!"
After this reply, she went on to give orders to directly get ready the baggage, carriages, chairs and horses necessary for their return.
Chia Cheng stiffly and rigidly fell on his knees, and knocked his head before her, and pleaded guilty. Dowager lady Chia then addressed him some words, and as she did so, she came to have a look at Pao-y. Upon perceiving that the thrashing he had got this time was unlike those of past occasions, she experienced both pain and resentment. So clasping him in her arms, she wept and wept incessantly. It was only after Madame Wang, lady Feng and the other ladies had reasoned with her for a time that they at length gradually succeeded in consoling her.
But waiting-maids, married women, and other attendants soon came to support Pao-y and take him away. Lady Feng however at once expostulated with them. "You stupid things," she exclaimed, won't you open your eyes and see! How ever could he be raised and made to walk in the state he's in! Don't you yet instantly run inside and fetch some rattan slings and a bench to carry him out of this on?
At this suggestion, the servants rushed hurry-scurry inside and actually brought a bench; and, lifting Pao-y, they placed him on it. Then following dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the other inmates into the inner part of the building, they carried him into his grandmother's apartments. But Chia Cheng did not fail to notice that his old mother's passion had not by this time yet abated, so without presuming to consult his own convenience, he too came inside after them. Here he discovered how heavily he had in reality castigated Pao-y. Upon perceiving Madame Wang also crying, with one breath, "My flesh;" and, with another, saying with tears: "My son, if you had died sooner, instead of Chu Erh, and left Chu Erh behind you, you would have saved your father these fits of anger, and even I would not have had to fruitlessly worry and fret for half of my existence! Were anything to happen now to make you forsake me, upon whom will you have me depend?" And then after heaping reproaches upon herself for a time, break out afresh in lamentations for her, unavailing offspring, Chia Cheng was much cut up and felt conscious that he should not with his own hand have struck his son so ruthlessly as to bring him to this state, and he first and foremost directed his attention to consoling dowager lady Chia.
"If your son isn't good," rejoined the old lady, repressing her tears, "it is naturally for you to exercise control over him. But you shouldn't beat him to such a pitch! Don't you yet bundle yourself away? What are you dallying in here for? Is it likely, pray, that your heart is not yet satisfied, and that you wish to feast your eyes by seeing him die before you go?"
These taunts induced Chia Cheng to eventually withdraw out of the room. By this time, Mrs. Hseh together with Pao-ch'ai, Hsiang Ling, Hsi Jen, Shih Hsiang-yn and his other cousins had also congregated in the apartments. Hsi Jen's heart was overflowing with grief; but she could not very well give expression to it. When she saw that a whole company of people shut him in, some pouring water over him, others fanning him; and that she herself could not lend a hand in any way, she availed herself of a favourable moment to make her exit. Proceeding then as far as the second gate, she bade the servant-boys go and fetch Pei-Ming. On his arrival, she submitted him to a searching inquiry. "Why is it," she asked, "that he was beaten just now without the least provocation; and that you didn't run over soon to tell me a word about it?"
"It happened," answered Pei Ming in great perplexity, "that I wasn't present. It was only after he had given him half the flogging that I heard what was going on, and lost no time in ascertaining what it was all about. It's on account of those affairs connected with Ch'i Kuan and that girl Chin Ch'uan."
"How did these things come to master's knowledge?" inquired Hsi Jen.
"As for that affair with Ch'i Kuan," continued Pei Ming, "it is very likely Mr. Hseh P'an who has let it out; for as he has ever been jealous, he may, in the absence of any other way of quenching his resentment, have instigated some one or other outside, who knows, to come and see master and add fuel to his anger. As for Chin Ch'uan-erh's affair it has presumably been told him by Master Tertius. This I heard from the lips of some person, who was in attendance upon master."
Hsi Jen saw how much his two versions tallied with the true circumstances, so she readily credited the greater portion of what was told her. Subsequently, she returned inside. Here she found a whole crowd of people trying to do the best to benefit Pao-y. But after they had completed every arrangement, dowager lady Chia impressed on their minds that it would be better were they to carefully move him into his own quarters. With one voice they all signified their approval, and with a good deal of bustling and fussing, they speedily transferred Pao-y into the I Hung court, where they stretched him out comfortably on his own bed. Then after some further excitement, the members of the family began gradually to disperse. Hsi Jen at last entered his room, and waited upon him with singleness of heart.
But, reader, if you feel any curiosity to hear what follows, listen to what you will find divulged in the next chapter.
Tai-y loves Pao-y with extreme affection; but, on account of this affection, her female cousin gets indignant. Hseh P'an commits a grave mistake; but Pao-ch'ai makes this mistake a pretext to tender advice to her brother.
When Hsi Jen saw dowager lady Chia, Madame Wang and the other members of the family take their leave, our narrative says, she entered the room. and, taking a seat next to Pao-y, she asked him, while she did all she could to hide her tears: "How was it that he beat you to such extremes?"
Pao-y heaved a sigh. "It was simply," he replied, "about those trifles. But what's the use of your asking me about them? The lower part of my body is so very sore! Do look and see where I'm bruised!"
At these words, Hsi Jen put out her hand, and inserting it gently under his clothes, she began to pull down the middle garments. She had but slightly moved them, however, when Pao-y ground his teeth and groaned "ai-ya." Hsi Jen at once stayed her hand. It was after three or four similar attempts that she, at length, succeeded in drawing them down. Then looking closely, Hsi Jen discovered that the upper part of his legs was all green and purple, one mass of scars four fingers wide, and covered with huge blisters.
Hsi Jen gnashed her teeth. "My mother!" she ejaculated, "how is it that he struck you with such a ruthless hand! Had you minded the least bit of my advice to you, things wouldn't have come to such a pass! Luckily, no harm was done to any tendon or bone; for had you been crippled by the thrashing you got, what could we do?"
In the middle of these remarks, she saw the servant-girls come, and they told her that Miss Pao-ch'ai had arrived. Hearing this, Hsi Jen saw well enough that she had no time to put him on his middle garments, so forthwith snatching a double gauze coverlet, she threw it over Pao-y. This done, she perceived Pao-ch'ai walk in, her hands laden with pills and medicines.
"At night," she said to Hsi Jen, "take these medicines and dissolve them in wine and then apply them on him, and, when the fiery virus from that stagnant blood has been dispelled, he'll be all right again."
After these directions, she handed the medicines to Hsi Jen. "Is he feeling any better now?" she proceeded to inquired.
"Thanks!" rejoined Pao-y. "I'm feeling better," he at the same time went on to say; after which, he pressed her to take a seat.
Pao-ch'ai noticed that he could open his eyes wide, that he could speak and that he was not as bad as he had been, and she felt considerable inward relief. But nodding her head, she sighed. "If you had long ago listened to the least bit of the advice tendered to you by people things would not have reached this climax to-day," she said. "Not to speak of the pain experienced by our dear ancestor and aunt Wang, the sight of you in this state makes even us feel at heart...."
Just as she had uttered half of the remark she meant to pass, she quickly suppressed the rest; and smitten by remorse for having spoken too hastily, she could not help getting red in the face and lowering her head.
Pao-y was realising how affectionate, how friendly and how replete with deep meaning were the sentiments that dropped from her month, when, of a sudden, he saw her seal her lips and, flashing crimson, droop her head, and simply fumble with her girdle. Yet so fascinating was she in those timid blushes, which completely baffle description, that his feelings were roused within him to such a degree, that all sense of pain flew at once beyond the empyrean. "I've only had to bear a few blows," he reflected, "and yet every one of them puts on those pitiful looks sufficient to evoke love and regard; so were, after all, any mishap or untimely end to unexpectedly befall me, who can tell how much more afflicted they won't be! And as they go on in this way, I shall have them, were I even to die in a moment, to feel so much for me; so there will indeed be no reason for regret, albeit the concerns of a whole lifetime will be thus flung entirely to the winds!"
While indulging in these meditations, ha overheard Pao-ch'ai ask Hsi Jen: "How is it that he got angry, without rhyme or reason, and started beating him?" and Hsi Jen tell her, in reply, the version given to her by Pei Ming.
Pao-y had, in fact, no idea as yet of what had been said by Chia Huan, and, when he heard Hsi Jen's disclosures, he eventually got to know what it was; but as it also criminated Hseh P'an, he feared lest Pao-ch'ai might feel unhappy, so he lost no time in interrupting Hsi Jen.
"Cousin Hseh," he interposed, "has never been like that; you people mustn't therefore give way to idle surmises!"
These words were enough to make Pao-ch'ai see that Pao-y had thought it expedient to say something to stop Hsi Jen's mouth, apprehending that her suspicions might get roused; and she consequently secretly mused within herself: "He has been beaten to such a pitch, and yet, heedless of his own pains and aches, he's still so careful not to hurt people's feelings. But since you can be so considerate, why don't you take a little more care in greater concerns outside, so that your father should feel a little happier, and that you also should not have to suffer such bitter ordeals! But notwithstanding that the dread of my feeling hurt has prompted you to interrupt Hsi Jen in what she had to tell me, is it likely that I am blind to the fact that my brother has ever followed his fancies, allowed his passions to run riot, and never done a thing to exercise any check over himself? His temperament is such that he some time back created, all on account of that fellow Ch'in Chung, a rumpus that turned heaven and earth topsy-turvy; and, as a matter of course, he's now far worse than he was ever before!"
"You people," she then observed aloud, at the close of these cogitations, "shouldn't bear this one or that one a grudge. I can't help thinking that it's, after all, because of your usual readiness, cousin Pao-y, to hobnob with that set that your father recently lost control over his temper. But assuming that my brother did speak in a careless manner and did casually allude to you cousin Pao-y, it was with no design to instigate any one! In the first place, the remarks he made were really founded on actual facts; and secondly, he's not one to ever trouble himself about such petty trifles as trying to guard against animosities. Ever since your youth up, Miss Hsi, you've simply had before your eyes a person so punctilious as cousin Pao-y, but have you ever had any experience of one like that brother of mine, who neither fears the powers in heaven or in earth, and who readily blurts out all he thinks?"
Hsi Jen, seeing Pao-y interrupt her, at the bare mention of Hseh P'an, understood at once that she must have spoken recklessly and gave way to misgivings lest Pao-ch'ai might not have been placed in a false position, but when she heard the language used by Pao-ch'ai, she was filled with a keener sense of shame and could not utter a word. Pao-y too, after listening to the sentiments, which Pao-ch'ai expressed, felt, partly because they were so magnanimous and noble, and partly because they banished all misconception from his mind, his heart and soul throb with greater emotion then ever before. When, however, about to put in his word, he noticed Pao-ch'ai rise to her feet.
"I'll come again to see you to-morrow," she said, "but take good care of yourself! I gave the medicines I brought just now to Hsi Jen; let her rub you with them at night and I feel sure you'll get all right."
With these recommendations, she walked out of the door.
Hsi Jen hastened to catch her up and escorted her beyond the court. "Miss," she remarked, "we've really put you to the trouble of coming. Some other day, when Mr. Secundus is well, I shall come in person to thank you."
"What's there to thank me for?" replied Pao-ch'ai, turning her head round and smiling. "But mind, you advise him to carefully tend his health, and not to give way to idle thoughts and reckless ideas, and he'll recover. If there's anything he fancies to eat or to amuse himself with, come quietly over to me and fetch it for him. There will be no use to disturb either our old lady, or Madame Wang, or any of the others; for in the event of its reaching Mr. Chia Cheng's ear, nothing may, at the time, come of it; but if by and bye he finds it to be true, we'll, doubtless, suffer for it!"
While tendering this advice, she went on her way.
Hsi Jen retraced her steps and returned into the room, fostering genuine feelings of gratitude for Pao-ch'ai. But on entering, she espied Pao-y silently lost in deep thought, and looking as if he were asleep, and yet not quite asleep, so she withdrew into the outer quarters to comb her hair and wash.
Pao-y meanwhile lay motionless in bed. His buttocks tingled with pain, as if they were pricked with needles, or dug with knives; giving him to boot a fiery sensation just as if fire were eating into them. He tried to change his position a bit, but unable to bear the anguish, he burst into groans. The shades of evening were by this time falling. Perceiving that though Hsi Jen had left his side there remained still two or three waiting-maids in attendance, he said to them, as he could find nothing for them to do just then, "You might as well go and comb your hair and perform your ablutions; come in, when I call you."
Hearing this, they likewise retired. During this while, Pao-y fell into a drowsy state. Chiang Y-han then rose before his vision and told him all about his capture by men from the Chung Shun mansion. Presently, Chin Ch'uan-erh too appeared in his room bathed in tears, and explained to him the circumstances which drove her to leap into the well. But Pao-y, who was half dreaming and half awake, was not able to give his mind to anything that was told him. Unawares, he became conscious of some one having given him a push; and faintly fell on his ear the plaintive tones of some person in distress. Pao-y was startled out of his dreams. On opening his eyes, he found it to be no other than Lin Tai-y. But still fearing that it was only a dream, he promptly raised himself, and drawing near her face he passed her features under a minute scrutiny. Seeing her two eyes so swollen, as to look as big as peaches, and her face glistening all over with tears: "If it is not Tai-y," (he thought), "who else can it be?"
Pao-y meant to continue his scrutiny, but the lower part of his person gave him such unbearable sharp twitches that finding it a hard task to keep up, he, with a shout of "Ai-yo," lay himself down again, as he heaved a sigh. "What do you once more come here for?" he asked. "The sun, it is true, has set; but the heat remaining on the ground hasn't yet gone, so you may, by coming over, get another sunstroke. Of course, I've had a thrashing but I don't feel any pains or aches. If I behave in this fashion, it's all put on to work upon their credulity, so that they may go and spread the reports outside in such a way as to reach my father's ear. Really it's all sham; so you mustn't treat it as a fact!"
Though Lin Tai-y was not giving way at the time to any wails or loud sobs, yet the more she indulged in those suppressed plaints of hers, the worse she felt her breath get choked and her throat obstructed; so that when Pao-y's assurances fell on her ear, she could not express a single sentiment, though she treasured thousands in her mind. It was only after a long pause that she at last could observe, with agitated voice: "You must after this turn over a new leaf."
At these words, Pao-y heaved a deep sigh. "Compose your mind," he urged. "Don't speak to me like this; for I am quite prepared to even lay down my life for all those persons!"
But scarcely had he concluded this remark than some one outside the court was heard to say: "Our lady Secunda has arrived."
Lin Tai-y readily concluded that it was lady Feng coming, so springing to her feet at once, "I'm off," she said; "out by the back-court. I'll look you up again by and bye."
"This is indeed strange!" exclaimed Pao-y as he laid hold of her and tried to detain her. "How is it that you've deliberately started living in fear and trembling of her!"
Lin Tai-y grew impatient and stamped her feet. "Look at my eyes!" she added in an undertone. "Must those people amuse themselves again by poking fun at me?"
After this response, Pao-y speedily let her go.
Lin Tai-y with hurried step withdrew behind the bed; and no sooner had she issued into the back-court, than lady Feng made her appearance in the room by the front entrance.
"Are you better?" she asked Pao-y. "If you fancy anything to eat, mind you send some one over to my place to fetch it for you."
Thereupon Mrs. Hseh also came to pay him a visit. Shortly after, a messenger likewise arrived from old lady Chia (to inquire after him).
When the time came to prepare the lights, Pao-y had a couple of mouthfuls of soup to eat, but he felt so drowsy and heavy that he fell asleep.
Presently, Chou Jui's wife, Wu Hsin-teng's wife and Cheng Hao-shih's wife, all of whom were old dames who frequently went to and fro, heard that Pao-y had been flogged and they too hurried into his quarters.
Hsi Jen promptly went out to greet them. "Aunts," she whispered, smiling, "you've come a little too late; Master Secundus is sleeping." Saying this, she led them into the room on the opposite side, and, pressing then to sit down, she poured them some tea.
After sitting perfectly still for a time, "When Master Secundus awakes" the dames observed, "do send us word!"
Hsi Jen assured them that she would, and escorted them out. Just, however, as she was about to retrace her footsteps, she met an old matron, sent over by Madame Wang, who said to her: "Our mistress wants one of Master Secundus attendants to go and see her."
Upon hearing this message, Hsi Jen communed with her own thoughts. Then turning round, she whispered to Ch'ing Wen, She Yeh, Ch'iu Wen, and the other maids: "Our lady wishes to see one of us, so be careful and remain in the room while I go. I'll be back soon."
At the close of her injunctions, she and the matron made their exit out of the garden by a short cut, and repaired into the drawing-room.
Madame Wang was seated on the cool couch, waving a banana-leaf fan. When she became conscious of her arrival: "It didn't matter whom you sent," she remarked, "any one would have done. But have you left him again? Who's there to wait on him?"
At this question, Hsi Jen lost no time in forcing a smile. "Master Secundus," she replied, "just now fell into a sound sleep. Those four or five girls are all right now, they are well able to attend to their master, so please, Madame, dispel all anxious thoughts! I was afraid that your ladyship might have some orders to give, and that if I sent any of them, they might probably not hear distinctly, and thus occasion delay in what there was to be done."
"There's nothing much to tell you," added Madame Wang. "I only wish to ask how his pains and aches are getting on now?"
"I applied on Mr. Secundus," answered Hsi Jen, "the medicine, which Miss Pao-ch'ai brought over; and he's better than he was. He was so sore at one time that he couldn't lie comfortably; but the deep sleep, in which he is plunged now, is a clear sign of his having improved."
"Has he had anything to eat?" further inquired Madame Wang.
"Our dowager mistress sent him a bowl of soup," Hsi Jen continued, "and of this he has had a few mouthfuls. He shouted and shouted that his mouth was parched and fancied a decoction of sour plums, but remembering that sour plums are astringent things, that he had been thrashed only a short time before, and that not having been allowed to groan, he must, of course, have been so hard pressed that fiery virus and heated blood must unavoidably have accumulated in the heart, and that were he to put anything of the kind within his lips, it might be driven into the cardiac regions and give rise to some serious illness; and what then would we do? I therefore reasoned with him for ever so long and at last succeeded in deterring him from touching any. So simply taking that syrup of roses, prepared with sugar, I mixed some with water and he had half a small cup of it. But he drank it with distaste; for, being surfeited with it, he found it neither scented nor sweet."
"Ai-yah!" ejaculated Madame Wang. "Why didn't you come earlier and tell me? Some one sent me the other day several bottles of scented water. I meant at one time to have given him some, but as I feared that it would be mere waste, I didn't let him have any. But since he is so sick and tired of that preparation of roses, that he turns up his nose at it, take those two bottles with you. If you just mix a teaspoonful of it in a cup of water, it will impart to it a very strong perfume."
So saying, she hastened to tell Ts'ai Yn to fetch the bottles of scented water, which she had received as a present a few days before.
"Let her only bring a couple of them, they'll be enough!" Hsi Jen chimed in. "If you give us more, it will be a useless waste! If it isn't enough, I can come and fetch a fresh supply. It will come to the same thing!"
Having listened to all they had to say, Ts'ai Yn left the room. After some considerable time, she, in point of fact, returned with only a couple of bottles, which she delivered to Hsi Jen.
On examination, Hsi Jen saw two small glass bottles, no more than three inches in size, with screwing silver stoppers at the top. On the gosling-yellow labels was written, on one: "Pure extract of olea fragrans," on the other, "Pure extract of roses."
"What fine things these are!" Hsi Jen smiled. "How many small bottles the like of this can there be?"
"They are of the kind sent to the palace," rejoined Madame Wang. "Didn't you notice that gosling-yellow slip? But mind, take good care of them for him; don't fritter them away!"
Hsi Jen assented. She was about to depart when Madame Wang called her back. "I've thought of something," she said, "that I want to ask you."
Hsi Jen hastily came back.
Madame Wang made sure that there was no one in the room. "I've heard a faint rumour," she then inquired, "to the effect that Pao-y got a thrashing on this occasion on account of something or other which Huan-Erh told my husband. Have you perchance heard what it was that he said? If you happen to learn anything about it, do confide in me, and I won't make any fuss and let people know that it was you who told me."
"I haven't heard anything of the kind," answered Hsi Jen. "It was because Mr. Secundus forcibly detained an actor, and that people came and asked master to restore him to them that he got flogged."
"It was also for this," continued Madame Wang as she nodded her head, "but there's another reason besides."
"As for the other reason, I honestly haven't the least idea about it," explained Hsi Jen. "But I'll make bold to-day, and say something in your presence, Madame, about which I don't know whether I am right or wrong in speaking. According to what's proper...."
She had only spoken half a sentence, when hastily she closed her mouth again.
"You are at liberty to proceed," urged Madame Wang.
"If your ladyship will not get angry, I'll speak out," remarked Hsi Jen.
"Why should I get angry?" observed Madame Wang. "Proceed!"
"According to what's proper," resumed Hsi Jen, "our Mr. Secundus should receive our master's admonition, for if master doesn't hold him in check, there's no saying what he mightn't do in the future."
As soon as Madame Wang heard this, she clasped her hands and uttered the invocation, "O-mi-to-fu!" Unable to resist the impulse, she drew near Hsi Jen. "My dear child," she added, "you have also luckily understood the real state of things. What you told me is in perfect harmony with my own views! Is it likely that I don't know how to look after a son? In former days, when your elder master, Chu, was alive, how did I succeed in keeping him in order? And can it be that I don't, after all, now understand how to manage a son? But there's a why and a wherefore in it. The thought is ever present in my mind now, that I'm already a woman past fifty, that of my children there only remains this single one, that he too is developing a delicate physique, and that, what's more, our dear senior prizes him as much as she would a jewel, that were he kept under strict control, and anything perchance to happen to him, she might, an old lady as she is, sustain some harm from resentment, and that as the high as well as the low will then have no peace or quiet, won't things get in a bad way? So I feel prompted to spoil him by over-indulgence. Time and again I reason with him. Sometimes, I talk to him; sometimes, I advise him; sometimes, I cry with him. But though, for the time being, he's all right, he doesn't, later on, worry his mind in any way about what I say, until he positively gets into some other mess, when he settles down again. But should any harm befall him, through these floggings, upon whom will I depend by and bye?"
As she spoke, she could not help melting into tears.
At the sight of Madame Wang in this disconsolate mood, Hsi Jen herself unconsciously grew wounded at heart, and as she wept along with her, "Mr. Secundus," she ventured, "is your ladyship's own child, so how could you not love him? Even we, who are mere servants, think it a piece of good fortune when we can wait on him for a time, and all parties can enjoy peace and quiet. But if he begins to behave in this manner, even peace and quiet will be completely out of the question for us. On what day, and at what hour, don't I advise Mr. Secundus; yet I can't manage to stir him up by any advice! But it happens that all that crew are ever ready to court his friendship, so it isn't to be wondered that he is what he is! The truth is that he thinks the advice we give him is not right and proper! As you have to-day, Madame, alluded to this subject, I've got something to tell you which has weighed heavy on my mind. I've been anxious to come and confide it to your ladyship and to solicit your guidance, but I've been in fear and dread lest you should give way to suspicion. For not only would then all my disclosures have been in vain, but I would have deprived myself of even a piece of ground wherein my remains could be laid."
Madame Wang perceived that her remarks were prompted by some purpose. "My dear child," she eagerly urged; "go on, speak out! When I recently heard one and all praise you secretly behind your back, I simply fancied that it was because you were careful in your attendance on Pao-y; or possibly because you got on well with every one; all on account of minor considerations like these; (but I never thought it was on account of your good qualities). As it happens, what you told me just now concerns, in all its bearings, a great principle, and is in perfect accord with my ideas, so speak out freely, if you have aught to say! Only let no one else know anything about it, that is all that is needed."
"I've got nothing more to say," proceeded Hsi Jen. "My sole idea was to solicit your advice, Madame, as to how to devise a plan to induce Mr. Secundus to move his quarters out of the garden by and bye, as things will get all right then."
This allusion much alarmed Madame Wang. Speedily taking Hsi Jen's hand in hers: "Is it likely," she inquired, "that Pao-y has been up to any mischief with any one?"
"Don't be too suspicious!" precipitately replied Hsi Jen. "It wasn't at anything of the kind that I was hinting. I merely expressed my humble opinion. Mr. Secundus is a young man now, and the young ladies inside are no more children. More than that, Miss Lin and Miss Pao may be two female maternal first cousins of his, but albeit his cousins, there is nevertheless the distinction of male and female between them; and day and night, as they are together, it isn't always convenient, when they have to rise and when they have to sit; so this cannot help making one give way to misgivings. Were, in fact, any outsider to see what's going on, it would not look like the propriety, which should exist in great families. The proverb appositely says that: 'when there's no trouble, one should make provision for the time of trouble.' How many concerns there are in the world, of which there's no making head or tail, mostly because what persons do without any design is construed by such designing people, as chance to have their notice attracted to it, as having been designedly accomplished, and go on talking and talking till, instead of mending matters, they make them worse! But if precautions be not taken beforehand, something improper will surely happen, for your ladyship is well aware of the temperament Mr. Secundus has shown all along! Besides, his great weakness is to fuss in our midst, so if no caution be exercised, and the slightest mistake be sooner or later committed, there'll be then no question of true or false: for when people are many one says one thing and another, and what is there that the months of that mean lot will shun with any sign of respect? Why, if their hearts be well disposed, they will maintain that he is far superior to Buddha himself. But if their hearts be badly disposed, they will at once knit a tissue of lies to show that he cannot even reach the standard of a beast! Now, if people by and bye speak well of Mr. Secundus, we'll all go on smoothly with our lives. But should he perchance give reason to any one to breathe the slightest disparaging remark, won't his body, needless for us to say, be smashed to pieces, his bones ground to powder, and the blame, which he might incur, be made ten thousand times more serious than it is? These things are all commonplace trifles; but won't Mr. Secundus' name and reputation be subsequently done for for life? Secondly, it's no easy thing for your ladyship to see anything of our master. A proverb also says: 'The perfect man makes provision beforehand;' so wouldn't it be better that we should, this very minute, adopt such steps as will enable us to guard against such things? Your ladyship has much to attend to, and you couldn't, of course, think of these things in a moment. And as for us, it would have been well and good, had they never suggested themselves to our minds; but since they have, we should be the more to blame did we not tell you anything about them, Madame. Of late, I have racked my mind, both day and night on this score; and though I couldn't very well confide to any one, my lamp alone knows everything!"
After listening to these words, Madame Wang felt as if she had been blasted by thunder and struck by lightning; and, as they fitted so appositely with the incident connected with Chin Ch'uan-erh, her heart was more than ever fired with boundless affection for Hsi Jen. "My dear girl," she promptly smiled, "it's you, who are gifted with enough foresight to be able to think of these things so thoroughly. Yet, did I not also think of them? But so busy have I been these several times that they slipped from my memory. What you've told me to-day, however, has brought me to my senses! It's, thanks to you, that the reputation of me, his mother, and of him, my son, is preserved intact! I really never had the faintest idea that you were so excellent! But you had better go now; I know of a way. Yet, just another word. After your remarks to me, I'll hand him over to your charge; please be careful of him. If you preserve him from harm, it will be tantamount to preserving me from harm, and I shall certainly not be ungrateful to you for it."
Hsi Jen said several consecutive yes's, and went on her way. She got back just in time to see Pao-y awake. Hsi Jen explained all about the scented water; and, so intensely delighted was Pao-y, that he at once asked that some should be mixed and brought to him to taste. In very deed, he found it unusually fragrant and good. But as his heart was a prey to anxiety on Tai-y's behalf, he was full of longings to despatch some one to look her up. He was, however, afraid of Hsi Jen. Readily therefore he devised a plan to first get Hsi Jen out of the way, by despatching her to Pao-ch'ai's, to borrow a book. After Hsi Jen's departure, he forthwith called Ch'ing Wen. "Go," he said, "over to Miss Lin's and see what she's up to. Should she inquire about me, all you need tell her is that I'm all right."
"What shall I go empty-handed for?" rejoined Ch'ing Wen. "If I were, at least, to give her a message, it would look as if I had gone for something."
"I have no message that you can give her," added Pao-y.
"If it can't be that," suggested Ch'ing Wen; "I might either take something over or fetch something. Otherwise, when I get there, what excuse will I be able to find?"
After some cogitation, Pao-y stretched out his hand and, laying hold of a couple of handkerchiefs, he threw them to Ch'ing Wen. "These will do," he smiled. "Just tell her that I bade you take them to her."
"This is strange!" exclaimed Ch'ing Wen. "Will she accept these two half worn-out handkerchiefs! She'll besides get angry and say that you were making fun of her."
"Don't worry yourself about that;" laughed Pao-y. "She will certainly know what I mean."
Ch'ing Wen, at this rejoinder, had no help but to take the handkerchiefs and to go to the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, where she discovered Ch'un Hsien in the act of hanging out handkerchiefs on the railings to dry. As soon as she saw her walk in, she vehemently waved her hand. "She's gone to sleep!" she said. Ch'ing Wen, however, entered the room. It was in perfect darkness. There was not even so much as a lantern burning, and Tai-y was already ensconced in bed. "Who is there?" she shouted.
"It's Ch'ing Wen!" promptly replied Ch'ing Wen.
"What are you up to?" Tai-y inquired.
"Mr. Secundus," explained Ch'ing Wen, "sends you some handkerchiefs, Miss."
Tai-y's spirits sunk as soon as she caught her reply. "What can he have sent me handkerchiefs for?" she secretly reasoned within herself. "Who gave him these handkerchiefs?" she then asked aloud. "They must be fine ones, so tell him to keep them and give them to some one else; for I don't need such things at present."
"They're not new," smiled Ch'ing Wen. "They are of an ordinary kind, and old."
Hearing this, Lin Tai-y felt downcast. But after minutely searching her heart, she at last suddenly grasped his meaning and she hastily observed: "Leave them and go your way."
Ch'ing Wen was compelled to put them down; and turning round, she betook herself back again. But much though she turned things over in her mind during the whole of her way homewards, she did not succeed in solving their import.
When Tai-y guessed the object of the handkerchief, her very soul unawares flitted from her. "As Pao-y has gone to such pains," she pondered, "to try and probe this dejection of mine, I have, on one hand, sufficient cause to feel gratified; but as there's no knowing what my dejection will come to in the future there is, on the other, enough to make me sad. Here he abruptly and deliberately sends me a couple of handkerchiefs; and, were it not that he has divined my inmost feelings, the mere sight of these handkerchiefs would be enough to make me treat the whole thing as ridiculous. The secret exchange of presents between us," she went on to muse, "fills me also with fears; and the thought that those tears, which I am ever so fond of shedding to myself, are of no avail, drives me likewise to blush with shame."
And by dint of musing and reflecting, her heart began, in a moment, to bubble over with such excitement that, much against her will, her thoughts in their superabundance rolled on incessantly. So speedily directing that a lamp should be lighted, she little concerned herself about avoiding suspicion, shunning the use of names, or any other such things, and set to work and rubbed the ink, soaked the pen, and then wrote the following stanzas on the two old handkerchiefs:
Vain in my eyes the tears collect; those tears in vain they flow, Which I in secret shed; they slowly drop; but for whom though? The silk kerchiefs, which he so kindly troubled to give me, How ever could they not with anguish and distress fill me?
The second ran thus:
Like falling pearls or rolling gems, they trickle on the sly. Daily I have no heart for aught; listless all day am I. As on my pillow or sleeves' edge I may not wipe them dry, I let them dot by dot, and drop by drop to run freely.
And the third:
The coloured thread cannot contain the pearls cov'ring my face. Tears were of old at Hsiang Chiang shed, but faint has waxed each trace. Outside my window thousands of bamboos, lo, also grow, But whether they be stained with tears or not, I do not know.
Lin Tai-y was still bent upon going on writing, but feeling her whole body burn like fire, and her face scalding hot, she advanced towards the cheval-glass, and, raising the embroidered cover, she looked in. She saw at a glance that her cheeks wore so red that they, in very truth, put even the peach blossom to the shade. Yet little did she dream that from this date her illness would assume a more serious phase. Shortly, she threw herself on the bed, and, with the handkerchiefs still grasped in her hand, she was lost in a reverie.
Putting her aside, we will now take up our story with Hsi Jen. She went to pay a visit to Pao-ch'ai, but as it happened, Pao-ch'ai was not in the garden, but had gone to look up her mother. Hsi Jen, however, could not very well come back with empty hands so she waited until the second watch, when Pao-ch'ai eventually returned to her quarters.
Indeed, so correct an estimate of Hseh P'an's natural disposition did Pao-ch'ai ever have, that from an early moment she entertained within herself some faint suspicion that it must have been Hseh P'an, who had instigated some person or other to come and lodge a complaint against Pao-y. And when she also unexpectedly heard Hsi Jen's disclosures on the subject, she became more positive in her surmises. The one, who had, in fact, told Hsi Jen was Pei Ming. But Pei Ming too had arrived at the conjecture in his own mind, and could not adduce any definite proof, so that every one treated his statements as founded partly on mere suppositions, and partly on actual facts; but, despite this, they felt quite certain that it was (Hseh P'an) who had intrigued.
Hseh P'an had always enjoyed this reputation; but on this particular instance the harm was not, actually, his own doing; yet as every one, with one consent, tenaciously affirmed that it was he, it was no easy matter for him, much though he might argue, to clear himself of blame.
Soon after his return, on this day, from a drinking bout out of doors, he came to see his mother; but finding Pao-ch'ai in her rooms, they exchanged a few irrelevant remarks. "I hear," he consequently asked, "that cousin Pao-y has got into trouble; why is it?"
Mrs. Hseh was at the time much distressed on this score. As soon therefore as she caught this question, she gnashed her teeth with rage, and shouted: "You good-for-nothing spiteful fellow! It's all you who are at the bottom of this trouble; and do you still have the face to come and ply me with questions?"
These words made Hseh P'an wince. "When did I stir up any trouble?" he quickly asked.
"Do you still go on shamming!" cried Mrs. Hseh. "Every one knows full well that it was you, who said those things, and do you yet prevaricate?"
"Were every one," insinuated Hseh P'an, "to assert that I had committed murder, would you believe even that?"
"Your very sister is well aware that they were said by you." Mrs. Hseh continued, "and is it likely that she would accuse you falsely, pray?"
"Mother," promptly interposed Pao-ch'ai, "you shouldn't be brawling with brother just now! If you wait quietly, we'll find out the plain and honest truth." Then turning towards Hseh P'an: "Whether it's you, who said those things or not," she added, "it's of no consequence. The whole affair, besides, is a matter of the past, so what need is there for any arguments; they will only be making a mountain of a mole-hill! I have just one word of advice to give you; don't, from henceforward, be up to so much reckless mischief outside; and concern yourself a little less with other people's affairs! All you do is day after day to associate with your friends and foolishly gad about! You are a happy-go-lucky sort of creature! If nothing happens well and good; but should by and bye anything turn up, every one will, though it be none of your doing, imagine again that you are at the bottom of it! Not to speak of others, why I myself will be the first to suspect you!"
Hseh P'an was naturally open-hearted and plain-spoken, and could not brook anything in the way of innuendoes, so, when on the one side, Pao-ch'ai advised him not to foolishly gad about, and his mother, on the other, hinted that he had a foul tongue, and that he was the cause that Pao-y had been flogged, he at once got so exasperated that he jumped about in an erratic manner and did all in his power, by vowing and swearing, to explain matters. "Who has," he ejaculated, heaping abuse upon every one, "laid such a tissue of lies to my charge! I'd like to take the teeth of that felon and pull them out! It's clear as day that they shove me forward as a target; for now that Pao-y has been flogged they find no means of making a display of their zeal. But, is Pao-y forsooth the lord of the heavens that because he has had a thrashing from his father, the whole household should be fussing for days? The other time, he behaved improperly, and my uncle gave him two whacks. But our venerable ancestor came, after a time, somehow or other, I don't know how, to hear about it, and, maintaining that it was all due to Mr. Chia Chen, she called him before her, and gave him a good blowing up. And here to-day, they have gone further, and involved me. They may drag me in as much as they like, I don't fear a rap! But won't it be better for me to go into the garden, and take Pao-y and give him a bit of my mind and kill him? I can then pay the penalty by laying down my life for his, and one and all will enjoy peace and quiet!"
While he clamoured and shouted, he looked about him for the bar of the door, and, snatching it up, he there and then was running off, to the consternation of Mrs. Hseh, who clutched him in her arms. "You murderous child of retribution!" she cried. "Whom would you go and beat? come first and assail me?"
From excitement Hseh P'an's eyes protruded like copper bells. "What are you up to," he vociferated, "that you won't let me go where I please, and that you deliberately go on calumniating me? But every day that Pao-y lives, the longer by that day I have to bear a false charge, so it's as well that we should both die that things be cleared up?"
Pao-ch'ai too hurriedly rushed forward. "Be patient a bit!" she exhorted him. "Here's mamma in an awful state of despair. Not to mention that it should be for you to come and pacify her, you contrariwise kick up all this rumpus! Why, saying nothing about her who is your parent, were even a perfect stranger to advise you, it would be meant for your good! But the good counsel she gave you has stirred up your monkey instead."
"From the way you're now speaking," Hseh P'an rejoined, "it must be you, who said that it was I; no one else but you!"
"You simply know how to feel displeased with me for speaking," argued Pao-ch'ai, "but you don't feel displeased with yourself for that reckless way of yours of looking ahead and not minding what is behind!"
"You now bear me a grudge," Hseh P'an added, "for looking to what is ahead and not to what is behind; but how is it you don't feel indignant with Pao-y for stirring up strife and provoking trouble outside? Leaving aside everything else, I'll merely take that affair of Ch'i Kuan-erh's, which occurred the other day, and recount it to you as an instance. My friends and I came across this Ch'i Kuan-erh, ten times at least, but never has he made a single intimate remark to me, and how is it that, as soon as he met Pao-y the other day, he at once produced his sash, and gave it to him, though he did not so much as know what his surname and name were? Now is it likely, forsooth, that this too was something that I started?"
"Do you still refer to this?" exclaimed Mrs. Hseh and Pao-ch'ai, out of patience. "Wasn't it about this that he was beaten? This makes it clear enough that it's you who gave the thing out."
"Really, you're enough to exasperate one to death!" Hseh P'an exclaimed. "Had you confined yourselves to saying that I had started the yarn, I wouldn't have lost my temper; but what irritates me is that such a fuss should be made for a single Pao-y, as to subvert heaven and earth!"
"Who fusses?" shouted Pao-ch'ai. "You are the first to arm yourself to the teeth and start a row, and then you say that it's others who are up to mischief!"
Hseh P'an, seeing that every remark, made by Pao-ch'ai, contained so much reasonableness that he could with difficulty refute it, and that her words were even harder for him to reply to than were those uttered by his mother, he was consequently bent upon contriving a plan to make use of such language as could silence her and compel her to return to her room, so as to have no one bold enough to interfere with his speaking; but, his temper being up, he was not in a position to weigh his speech. "Dear Sister!" he readily therefore said, "you needn't be flying into a huff with me! I've long ago divined your feelings. Mother told me some time back that for you with that gold trinket, must be selected some suitor provided with a jade one; as such a one will be a suitable match for you. And having treasured this in your mind, and seen that Pao-y has that rubbishy thing of his, you naturally now seize every occasion to screen him...."
However, before he could finish, Pao-ch'ai trembled with anger, and clinging to Mrs. Hseh, she melted into tears. "Mother," she observed, "have you heard what brother says, what is it all about?"
Hseh P'an, at the sight of his sister bathed in tears, became alive to the fact that he had spoken inconsiderately, and, flying into a rage, he walked away to his own quarters and retired to rest. But we can well dispense with any further comment on the subject.
Pao-ch'ai was, at heart, full of vexation and displeasure. She meant to give vent to her feelings in some way, but the fear again of upsetting her mother compelled her to conceal her tears. She therefore took leave of her parent, and went back all alone. On her return to her chamber, she sobbed and sobbed throughout the whole night. The next day, she got out of bed, as soon as it dawned; but feeling even no inclination to comb her chevelure or perform her ablutions, she carelessly adjusted her clothes and came out of the garden to see her mother.
As luck would have it, she encountered Tai-y standing alone under the shade of the trees, who inquired of her: "Where she was off to?"
"I'm going home," Hseh Pao-ch'ai replied. And as she uttered these words, she kept on her way.
But Tai-y perceived that she was going off in a disconsolate mood; and, noticing that her eyes betrayed signs of crying, and that her manner was unlike that of other days, she smilingly called out to her from behind: "Sister, you should take care of yourself a bit. Were you even to cry so much as to fill two water jars with tears, you wouldn't heal the wounds inflicted by the cane."
But as what reply Hseh Pao-ch'ai gave is not yet known to you, reader, lend an ear to the explanation contained in the next chapter.
Pai Y-ch'uan tastes too the lotus-leaf soup. Huang Chin-ying skilfully plaits the plum-blossom-knotted nets.
Pao ch'ai had, our story goes, distinctly heard Lin Tai-y's sneer, but in her eagerness to see her mother and brother, she did not so much as turn her head round, but continued straight on her way.
During this time, Lin Tai-y halted under the shadow of the trees. Upon casting a glance, in the distance towards the I Hung Yan, she observed Li Kung-ts'ai, Ying Ch'un, T'an Ch'un, Hsi Ch'un and various inmates wending their steps in a body in the direction of the I Hung court; but after they had gone past, and company after company of them had dispersed, she only failed to see lady Feng come. "How is it," she cogitated within herself, "that she doesn't come to see Pao-y? Even supposing that there was some business to detain her, she should also have put in an appearance, so as to curry favour with our venerable senior and Madame Wang. But if she hasn't shown herself at this hour of the day, there must certainly be some cause or other."
While preoccupied with conjectures, she raised her head. At a second glance, she discerned a crowd of people, as thick as flowers in a bouquet, pursuing their way also into the I Hung court. On looking fixedly, she recognised dowager lady Chia, leaning on lady Feng's arm, followed by Mesdames Hsing and Wang, Mrs. Chou and servant-girls, married women and other domestics. In a body they walked into the court. At the sight of them, Tai-y unwittingly nodded her head, and reflected on the benefit of having a father and mother; and tears forthwith again bedewed her face. In a while, she beheld Pao-ch'ai, Mrs. Hseh and the rest likewise go in.
But at quite an unexpected moment she became aware that Tzu Chan was approaching her from behind. "Miss," she said, "you had better go and take your medicine! The hot water too has got cold."
"What do you, after all, mean by keeping on pressing me so?" inquired Tai-y. "Whether I have it or not, what's that to you?"
"Your cough," smiled Tzu Chan, "has recently got a trifle better, and won't you again take your medicine? This is, it's true, the fifth moon, and the weather is hot, but you should, nevertheless, take good care of yourself a bit! Here you've been at this early hour of the morning standing for ever so long in this damp place; so you should go back and have some rest!"
This single hint recalled Tai-y to her senses. She at length realised that her legs felt rather tired. After lingering about abstractedly for a long while, she quietly returned into the Hsiao Hsiang lodge, supporting herself on Tzu Chan. As soon as they stepped inside the entrance of the court, her gaze was attracted by the confused shadows of the bamboos, which covered the ground, and the traces of moss, here thick, there thin, and she could not help recalling to mind those two lines of the passage in the Hsi Hsiang Chi:
"In that lone nook some one saunters about, White dew coldly bespecks the verdant moss."
"Shuang Wen," she consequently secretly communed within herself, as she sighed, "had of course a poor fate; but she nevertheless had a widowed mother and a young brother; but in the unhappy destiny, to which I, Tai-y, am at present doomed, I have neither a widowed mother nor a young brother."
At this point in her reflections, she was about to melt into another fit of crying, when of a sudden, the parrot under the verandah caught sight of Tai-y approaching, and, with a shriek, he jumped down from his perch, and made her start with fright.
"Are you bent upon compassing your own death!" she exclaimed. "You've covered my head all over with dust again!"
The parrot flew back to his perch. "Hseh Yen," he kept on shouting, "quick, raise the portiere! Miss is come!"
Tai-y stopped short and rapped on the frame with her hand. "Have his food and water been replenished?" she asked.
The parrot forthwith heaved a deep sigh, closely resembling, in sound, the groans usually indulged in by Tai-y, and then went on to recite:
"Here I am fain these flowers to inter, but humankind will laugh me as a fool." Who knows who will in years to come commit me to my grave.
As soon as these lines fell on the ear of Tai-y and Tzu Chan, they blurted out laughing.
"This is what you were repeating some time back, Miss." Tzu Chan laughed, "How did he ever manage to commit it to memory?"
Tai-y then directed some one to take down the frame and suspend it instead on a hook, outside the circular window, and presently entering her room, she seated herself inside the circular window. She had just done drinking her medicine, when she perceived that the shade cast by the cluster of bamboos, planted outside the window, was reflected so far on the gauze lattice as to fill the room with a faint light, so green and mellow, and to impart a certain coolness to the teapoys and mats. But Tai-y had no means at hand to dispel her ennui, so from inside the gauze lattice, she instigated the parrot to perform his pranks; and selecting some verses, which had ever found favour with her, she tried to teach them to him.
But without descending to particulars, let us now advert to Hseh Pao-ch'ai. On her return home, she found her mother alone combing her hair and having a wash. "Why do you run over at this early hour of the morning?" she speedily inquired when she saw her enter.
"To see," replied Pao-ch'ai, "whether you were all right or not, mother. Did he come again, I wonder, after I left yesterday and make any more trouble or not?"
As she spoke, she sat by her mother's side, but unable to curb her tears, she began to weep.
Seeing her sobbing, Mrs. Hseh herself could not check her feelings, and she, too, burst out into a fit of crying. "My child," she simultaneously exhorted her, "don't feel aggrieved! Wait, and I'll call that child of wrath to order; for were anything to happen to you, from whom will I have anything to hope?"
Hseh P'an was outside and happened to overhear their conversation, so with alacrity he ran over, and facing Pao-ch'ai he made a bow, now to the left and now to the right, observing the while: "My dear sister, forgive me this time. The fact is that I took some wine yesterday; I came back late, as I met a few friends on the way. On my return home, I hadn't as yet got over the fumes, so I unintentionally talked a lot of nonsense. But I don't so much as remember anything about all I said. It isn't worth your while, however, losing your temper over such a thing!"
Pao-ch'ai was, in fact, weeping, as she covered her face, but the moment this language fell on her ear, she could scarcely again refrain from laughing. Forthwith raising her head, she sputtered contemptuously on the ground. "You can well dispense with all this sham!" she exclaimed, "I'm well aware that you so dislike us both, that you're anxious to devise some way of inducing us to part company with you, so that you may be at liberty."
Hseh P'an, at these words, hastened to smile. "Sister," he argued, "what makes you say so? once upon a time, you weren't so suspicious and given to uttering anything so perverse!"
Mrs. Hseh hurriedly took up the thread of the conversation. "All you know," she interposed, "is to find fault with your sister's remarks as being perverse; but can it be that what you said last night was the proper thing to say? In very truth, you were drunk!"
"There's no need for you to get angry, mother!" Hseh P'an rejoined, "nor for you sister either; for from this day, I shan't any more make common cause with them nor drink wine or gad about. What do you say to that?"
"That's equal to an acknowledgment of your failings," Pao-ch'ai laughed.
"Could you exercise such strength of will," added Mrs. Hseh, "why, the dragon too would lay eggs."
"If I again go and gad about with them," Hseh P'an replied, "and you, sister, come to hear of it, you can freely spit in my face and call me a beast and no human being. Do you agree to that? But why should you two be daily worried; and all through me alone? For you, mother, to be angry on my account is anyhow excusable; but for me to keep on worrying you, sister, makes me less then ever worthy of the name of a human being! If now that father is no more, I manage, instead of showing you plenty of filial piety, mamma, and you, sister, plenty of love, to provoke my mother to anger, and annoy my sister, why I can't compare myself to even a four-footed creature!"
While from his mouth issued these words, tears rolled down from his eyes; for he too found it hard to contain them.
Mrs. Hseh had not at first been overcome by her feelings; but the moment his utterances reached her ear, she once more began to experience the anguish, which they stirred in her heart.
Pao-ch'ai made an effort to force a smile. "You've already," she said, "been the cause of quite enough trouble, and do you now provoke mother to have another cry?"
Hearing this, Hseh P'an promptly checked his tears. As he put on a smiling expression, "When did I," he asked, "make mother cry? But never mind; enough of this! let's drop the matter, and not allude to it any more! Call Hsiang Ling to come and give you a cup of tea, sister!"
"I don't want any tea." Pao-ch'ai answered. "I'll wait until mother has finished washing her hands and then go with her into the garden."
"Let me see your necklet, sister," Hseh P'an continued. "I think it requires cleaning."
"It is so yellow and bright," rejoined Pao-ch'ai, "and what's the use of cleaning it again?"
"Sister," proceeded Hseh P'an, "you must now add a few more clothes to your wardrobe, so tell me what colour and what design you like best."
"I haven't yet worn out all the clothes I have," Pao-ch'ai explained, "and why should I have more made?"
But, in a little time, Mrs. Hseh effected the change in her costume, and hand in hand with Pao-ch'ai, she started on her way to the garden.
Hseh P'an thereupon took his departure. During this while, Mrs. Hseh and Pao-ch'ai trudged in the direction of the garden to look up Pao-y. As soon as they reached the interior of the I Hung court, they saw a large concourse of waiting-maids and matrons standing inside as well as outside the antechambers and they readily concluded that old lady Chia and the other ladies were assembled in his rooms. Mrs. Hseh and her daughter stepped in. After exchanging salutations with every one present, they noticed that Pao-y was reclining on the couch and Mrs. Hseh inquired of him whether he felt any better.
Pao-y hastily attempted to bow. "I'm considerably better;" he said. "All I do," he went on, "is to disturb you, aunt, and you, my cousin, but I don't deserve such attentions."
Mrs. Hseh lost no time in supporting and laying him down. "Mind you tell me whatever may take your fancy!" she proceeded.
"If I do fancy anything," retorted Pao-y smilingly, "I shall certainly send to you, aunt, for it."
"What would you like to eat," likewise inquired Madame Wang, "so that I may, on my return, send it round to you?"
"There's nothing that I care for," smiled Pao-y, "though the soup made for me the other day, with young lotus leaves, and small lotus cores was, I thought, somewhat nice."
"From what I hear, its flavour is nothing very grand," lady Feng chimed in laughingly, from where she stood on one side. "It involves, however, a good deal of trouble to concoct; and here you deliberately go and fancy this very thing."
"Go and get it ready!" cried dowager lady Chia several successive times.
"Venerable ancestor," urged lady Feng with a smile, "don't you bother yourself about it! Let me try and remember who can have put the moulds away!" Then turning her head round, "Go and bid," she enjoined an old matron, "the chief in the cook-house go and apply for them!"
After a considerable lapse of time, the matron returned. "The chief in the cook-house," she explained, "says that the four sets of moulds for soups have all been handed up."
Upon hearing this, lady Feng thought again for a while. "Yes, I remember," she afterwards remarked, "they were handed up, but I can't recollect to whom they were given. Possibly they're in the tea-room."
Thereupon, she also despatched a servant to go and inquire of the keeper of the tea-room about them; but he too had not got them; and it was subsequently the butler, entrusted with the care of the gold and silver articles, who brought them round.
Mrs. Hseh was the first to take them and examine them. What, in fact, struck her gaze was a small box, the contents of which were four sets of silver moulds. Each of these was over a foot long, and one square inch (in breadth). On the top, holes were bored of the size of beans. Some resembled chrysanthemums, others plum blossom. Some were in the shape of lotus seed-cases, others like water chestnuts. They numbered in all thirty or forty kinds, and were ingeniously executed.
"In your mansion," she felt impelled to observe smilingly to old lady Chia and Madame Wang, "everything has been amply provided for! Have you got all these things to prepare a plate of soup with! Hadn't you told me, and I happened to see them, I wouldn't have been able to make out what they were intended for!"
Lady Feng did not allow time to any one to put in her word. "Aunt," she said, "how could you ever have divined that these were used last year for the imperial viands! They thought of a way by which they devised, somehow or other, I can't tell how, some dough shapes, which borrow a little of the pure fragrance of the new lotus leaves. But as all mainly depends upon the quality of the soup, they're not, after all, of much use! Yet who often goes in for such soup! It was made once only, and that at the time when the moulds were brought; and how is it that he has come to think of it to-day?" So speaking, she took (the moulds), and handed them to a married woman, to go and issue directions to the people in the cook-house to procure at once several fowls, and to add other ingredients besides and prepare ten bowls of soup.
"What do you want all that lot for?" observed Madame Wang.
"There's good reason for it," answered lady Feng. "A dish of this kind isn't, at ordinary times, very often made, and were, now that brother Pao-y has alluded to it, only sufficient prepared for him, and none for you, dear senior, you, aunt, and you, Madame Wang, it won't be quite the thing! So isn't it better that this opportunity should be availed of to get ready a whole supply so that every one should partake of some, and that even I should, through my reliance on your kind favour, taste this novel kind of relish."
"You are sharper than a monkey!" Dowager lady Chia laughingly exclaimed in reply to her proposal. "You make use of public money to confer boons upon people."
This remark evoked general laughter.
"This is a mere bagatelle!" eagerly laughed lady Feng. "Even I can afford to stand you such a small treat!" Then turning her head round, "Tell them in the cook-house," she said to a married woman, "to please make an extra supply, and that they'll get the money from me."
The matron assented and went out of the room.
Pao-ch'ai, who was standing near, thereupon interposed with a smile. "During the few years that have gone by since I've come here, I've carefully noticed that sister-in-law Secunda, cannot, with all her acumen, outwit our venerable ancestor."
"My dear child!" forthwith replied old lady Chia at these words. "I'm now quite an old woman, and how can there still remain any wit in me! When I was, long ago, of your manlike cousin Feng's age, I had far more wits about me than she has! Albeit she now avers that she can't reach our standard, she's good enough; and compared with your aunt Wang, why, she's infinitely superior. Your aunt, poor thing, won't speak much! She's like a block of wood; and when with her father and mother-in-law, she won't show herself off to advantage. But that girl Feng has a sharp tongue, so is it a wonder if people take to her."
"From what you say," insinuated Pao-y with a smile, "those who don't talk much are not loved."
"Those who don't speak much," resumed dowager lady Chia, "possess the endearing quality of reserve. But among those, with glib tongues, there's also a certain despicable lot; thus it's better, in a word, not to have too much to say for one's self."
"Quite so," smiled Pao-y, "yet though senior sister-in-law Chia Chu doesn't, I must confess, talk much, you, venerable ancestor, treat her just as you do cousin Feng. But if you maintain that those alone, who can talk, are worthy of love, then among all these young ladies, sister Feng and cousin Lin are the only ones good enough to be loved."
"With regard to the young ladies," remarked dowager lady Chia, "it isn't that I have any wish to flatter your aunt Hseh in her presence, but it is a positive and incontestable fact that there isn't, beginning from the four girls in our household, a single one able to hold a candle to that girl Pao-ch'ai."
At these words, Mrs. Hseh promptly smiled. "Dear venerable senior!" she said, "you're rather partial in your verdict."
"Our dear senior," vehemently put in Madame Wang, also smiling, "has often told me in private how nice your daughter Pao-ch'ai is; so this is no lie."
Pao-y had tried to lead old lady Chia on, originally with the idea of inducing her to speak highly of Lin Tai-y, but when unawares she began to eulogise Pao-ch'ai instead the result exceeded all his thoughts and went far beyond his expectations. Forthwith he cast a glance at Pao-chai, and gave her a smile, but Pao-chai at once twisted her head round and went and chatted with Hsi Jen. But of a sudden, some one came to ask them to go and have their meal. Dowager lady Chia rose to her feet, and enjoined Pao-y to be careful of himself. She then gave a few directions to the waiting-maids, and resting her weight on lady Feng's arm, and pressing Mrs. Hseh to go out first, she, and all with her, left the apartment in a body. But still she kept on inquiring whether the soup was ready or not. "If there's anything you might fancy to eat," she also said to Mrs. Hseh and the others, "mind you, come and tell me, and I know how to coax that hussey Feng to get it for you as well as me."
"My venerable senior!" rejoined Mrs. Hseh, "you do have the happy knack of putting her on her mettle; but though she has often got things ready for you, you've, after all, not eaten very much of them."
"Aunt," smiled lady Feng, "don't make such statements! If our worthy senior hasn't eaten me up it's purely and simply because she dislikes human flesh as being sour. Did she not look down upon it as sour, why, she would long ago have gobbled me up!"
This joke was scarcely ended, when it so tickled the fancy of old lady Chia and all the inmates that they broke out with one voice in a boisterous fit of laughter. Even Pao-y, who was inside the room, could not keep quiet.
"Really," Hsi Jen laughed, "the mouth of our mistress Secunda is enough to terrify people to death!"
Pao-y put out his arm and pulled Hsi Jen. "You've been standing for so long," he smiled, "that you must be feeling tired."
Saying this, he dragged her down and made her take a seat next to him.
"Here you've again forgotten!" laughingly exclaimed Hsi Jen. "Avail yourself now that Miss Pao-ch'ai is in the court to tell her to kindly bid their Ying Erh come and plait a few girdles with twisted cords."
"How lucky it is you've reminded me?" Pao-y observed with a smile. And putting, while he spoke, his head out of the window: "Cousin Pao-ch'ai," he cried, "when you've had your repast, do tell Ying Erh to come over. I would like to ask her to plait a few girdles for me. Has she got the time to spare?"
Pao-ch'ai heard him speak; and turning round: "How about no time?" she answered. "I'll tell her by and bye to come; it will be all right."
Dowager lady Chia and the others, however, failed to catch distinctly the drift of their talk; and they halted and made inquiries of Pao-ch'ai what it was about. Pao-ch'ai gave them the necessary explanations.
"My dear child," remarked old lady Chia, "do let her come and twist a few girdles for your cousin! And should you be in need of any one for anything, I have over at my place a whole number of servant-girls doing nothing! Out of them, you are at liberty to send for any you like to wait on you!"
"We'll send her to plait them!" Mrs. Hseh and Pao-ch'ai observed smilingly with one consent. "What can we want her for? she also daily idles her time way and is up to every mischief!"
But chatting the while, they were about to proceed on their way when they unexpectedly caught sight of Hsiang-yn, P'ing Erh, Hsiang Lin and other girls picking balsam flowers near the rocks; who, as soon as they saw the company approaching, advanced to welcome them.
Shortly, they all sallied out of the garden. Madame Wang was worrying lest dowager lady Chia's strength might be exhausted, and she did her utmost to induce her to enter the drawing room and sit down. Old lady Chia herself was feeling her legs quite tired out, so she at once nodded her head and expressed her assent. Madame Wang then directed a waiting-maid to hurriedly precede them, and get ready the seats. But as Mrs. Chao had, about this time, pleaded indisposition, there was only therefore Mrs. Chou, with the matrons and servant-girls at hand, so they had ample to do to raise the portires, to put the back-cushions in their places, and to spread out the rugs.
Dowager lady Chia stepped into the room, leaning on lady Feng's arm. She and Mrs. Hseh took their places, with due regard to the distinction between hostess and visitors; and Hseh Pao-ch'ai and Shih Hsiang-yn seated themselves below. Madame Wang then came forward, and presented with her own hands tea to old lady Chia, while Li Kung-ts'ai handed a cup to Mrs. Hseh.
"You'd better let those young sisters-in law do the honours," remonstrated old lady Chia, "and sit over there so that we may be able to have a chat."
Madame Wang at length sat on a small bench. "Let our worthy senior's viands," she cried, addressing herself to lady Feng, "be served here. And let a few more things be brought!"
Lady Feng acquiesced without delay, and she told a servant to cross over to their old mistress' quarters and to bid the matrons, employed in that part of the household, promptly go out and summon the waiting-girls. The various waiting-maids arrived with all despatch. Madame Wang directed them to ask their young ladies round. But after a protracted absence on the errand, only two of the girls turned up: T'an Ch'un and Hsi Ch'un. Ying Ch'un, was not, in her state of health, equal to the fatigue, or able to put anything in her mouth, and Lin Tai-y, superfluous to add, could only safely partake of five out of ten meals, so no one thought anything of their non-appearance. Presently the eatables were brought, and the servants arranged them in their proper places on the table.
Lady Feng took a napkin and wrapped a bundle of chopsticks in it. "Venerable ancestor and you, Mrs. Hseh," she smiled, standing the while below, "there's no need of any yielding! Just you listen to me and I'll make things all right."
"Let's do as she wills!" old lady Chia remarked to Mrs. Hseh laughingly.
Mrs. Hseh signified her approval with a smile; so lady Feng placed, in due course, four pairs of chopsticks on the table; the two pairs on the upper end for dowager lady Chia and Mrs. Hseh; those on the two sides for Hseh Pao-ch'ai and Shih Hsiang-yn. Madame Wang, Li Kung-ts'ai and a few others, stood together below and watched the attendants serve the viands. Lady Feng first and foremost hastily asked for clean utensils, and drew near the table to select some eatables for Pao-y. Presently, the soup la lotus leaves arrived. After old lady Chia had well scrutinised it, Madame Wang turned her head, and catching sight of Y Ch'uan-erh, she immediately commissioned her to take some over to Pao-y.
"She can't carry it single-handed," demurred lady Feng.
But by a strange coincidence, Ying Erh then walked into the room along with Hsi Erh, and Pao-ch'ai knowing very well that they had already had their meal forthwith said to Ying Erh: "Your Master Secundus, Mr. Pao-y, just asked that you should go and twist a few girdles for him; so you two might as well proceed together!"
Ying Erh expressed her readiness and left the apartment, in company with Y Ch'uan-erh.
"How can you carry it, so very hot as it is, the whole way there?" observed Ying Erh.
"Don't distress yourself!" rejoined Y Ch'uan smiling. "I know how to do it."
Saying this, she directed a matron to come and place the soup, rice and the rest of the eatables in a present box; and bidding her lay hold of it and follow them, the two girls sped on their way with empty hands, and made straight for the entrance of the I Hung court. Here Y Ch'uan-erh at length took the things herself, and entered the room in company with Ying Erh. The trio, Hsi Jen, She Yeh and Ch'iu Wen were at the time chatting and laughing with Pao-y; but the moment they saw their two friends arrive they speedily jumped to their feet. "How is it," they exclaimed laughingly, "that you two drop in just the nick of time? Have you come together?"
With these words on their lips, they descended to greet them. Y Ch'uan took at once a seat on a small stool. Ying Erh, however, did not presume to seat herself; and though Hsi Jen was quick enough in moving a foot-stool for her, Ying Erh did not still venture to sit down.
Ying Erh's arrival filled Pao-y with intense delight. But as soon as he noticed Y Ch'uan-erh, he recalled to memory her sister Chin Ch'uan-erh, and he felt wounded to the very heart, and overpowered with shame. And, without troubling his mind about Ying Erh, he addressed his remarks to Y Ch'uan-erh.
Hsi Jen saw very well that Ying Erh failed to attract his attention and she began to fear lest she felt uncomfortable; and when she further realised that Ying Erh herself would not take a seat, she drew her out of the room and repaired with her into the outer apartment, where they had a chat over their tea.
She Yeh and her companions had, in the meantime, got the bowls and chopsticks ready and came to wait upon (Pao-y) during his meal. But Pao-y would not have anything to eat. "Is your mother all right," he forthwith inquired of Y Ch'uan-erh.
An angry scowl crept over Y Ch'uan-erh's face. She did not even look straight at Pao-y. And only after a long pause was it that she at last uttered merely the words, "all right," by way of reply. Pao-y, therefore, found talking to her of little zest. But after a protracted silence he felt impelled to again force a smile, and to ask: "Who told you to bring these things over to me?"
"The ladies," answered Y Chuan-erh.
Pao-y discerned the mournful expression, which still beclouded her countenance and he readily jumped at the conclusion that it must be entirely occasioned by the fate which had befallen Chin Ch'uan-erh, but when fain to put on a meek and unassuming manner, and endeavour to cheer her, he saw how little he could demean himself in the presence of so many people, and consequently he did his best and discovered the means of getting every one out of the way. Afterwards, straining another smile, he plied her with all sorts of questions.
Y Ch'uan-erh, it is true, did not at first choose to heed his advances, yet when she observed that Pao-y did not put on any airs, and, that in spite of all her querulous reproaches, he still continued pleasant and agreeable, she felt disconcerted and her features at last assumed a certain expression of cheerfulness. Pao-y thereupon smiled. "My dear girl," he said, as he gave way to entreaties, "bring that soup and let me taste it!"
"I've never been in the habit of feeding people," Y Ch'uan-erh replied. "You'd better wait till the others return; you can have some then."
"I don't want you to feed me," laughed Pao-y. "It's because I can't move about that I appeal to you. Do let me have it! You'll then get back early and be able, when you've handed over the things, to have your meal. But were I to go on wasting your time, won't you feel upset from hunger? Should you be lazy to budge, well then, I'll endure the pain and get down and fetch it myself."
As he spoke, he tried to alight from bed. He strained every nerve, and raised himself, but unable to stand the exertion, he burst out into groans. At the sight of his anguish, Y Ch'uan-erh had not the heart to refuse her help. Springing up, "Lie down!" she cried. "In what former existence did you commit such evil that your retribution in the present one is so apparent? Which of my eyes however can brook looking at you going on in that way?"
While taunting him, she again blurted out laughing, and brought the soup over to him.
"My dear girl;" smiled Pao-y, "if you want to show temper, better do so here! When you see our venerable senior and madame, my mother, you should be a little more even-tempered, for if you still behave like this, you'll at once get a scolding!"
"Eat away, eat away!" urged Y Ch'uan-erh. "There's no need for you to be so sweet-mouthed and honey-tongued with me. I don't put any faith in such talk!"
So speaking, she pressed Pao-y until he had two mouthfuls of soup. "It isn't nice, it isn't nice!" Pao-y purposely exclaimed.
"Omi-to-fu!" ejaculated Y Ch'uan-erh. "If this isn't nice, what's nice?"
"There's no flavour about it at all," resumed Pao-y. "If you don't believe me taste it, and you'll find out for yourself."
Y Ch'uan-erh in a tantrum actually put some of it to her lips.
"Well," laughed Pao-y, "it is nice!"
This exclamation eventually enabled Y Ch'uan to see what Pao-y was driving at, for Pao-y had in fact been trying to beguile her to have a mouthful.
"As, at one moment, you say you don't want any," she forthwith observed, "and now you say it is nice, I won't give you any."
While Pao-y returned her smiles, he kept on earnestly entreating her to let him have some.
Y Ch'uan-erh however would still not give him any; and she, at the same time, called to the servants to fetch what there was for him to eat. But the instant the waiting-maid put her foot into the room, servants came quite unexpectedly to deliver a message.
"Two nurses," they said, "have arrived from the household of Mr. Fu, Secundus, to present his compliments. They have now come to see you, Mr. Secundus." As soon as Pao-y heard this report, he felt sure that they must be nurses sent over from the household of Deputy Sub-Prefect, Fu Shih.
This Fu Shih had originally been a pupil of Chia Cheng, and had, indeed, had to rely entirely upon the reputation enjoyed by the Chia family for the realisation of his wishes. Chia Cheng had, likewise, treated him with such genuine regard, and so unlike any of his other pupils, that he (Fu Shih) ever and anon despatched inmates from his mansion to come and see him so as to keep up friendly relations.
Pao-y had at all times entertained an aversion for bold-faced men and unsophisticated women, so why did he once more, on this occasion, issue directions that the two matrons should be introduced into his presence? There was, in fact, a reason for his action. It was simply that Pao-y had come to learn that Fu Shih had a sister, Ch'iu-fang by name, a girl as comely as a magnificent gem, and perfection itself, the report of outside people went, as much in intellect as in beauty. He had, it is true, not yet seen anything of her with his own eyes, but the sentiments, which made him think of her and cherish her, from a distance, were characterised by such extreme sincerity, that dreading lest he should, by refusing to admit the matrons, reflect discredit upon Fu Ch'iu-fang, he was prompted to lose no time in expressing a wish that they should be ushered in.