When she reached this part of her narrative, suddenly became audible the voices of people bawling outside. "It's nothing much," they shouted, "don't frighten our old mistress!" Dowager lady Chia and the other inmates caught, however, their cries and hurriedly inquired what had happened. A servant-maid explained in reply that a fire had broken out in the stables in the southern court, but that there was no danger, as the flames had been suppressed.
Their old grandmother was a person with very little nerve. The moment, therefore, the report fell on her car, she jumped up with all despatch, and leaning on one of the family, she rushed on to the verandah to ascertain the state of things. At the sight of the still brilliant light, shed by the flames, on the south east part of the compound, old lady Chia was plunged in consternation, and invoking Buddha, she went on to shout to the servants to go and burn incense before the god of fire.
Madame Wang and the rest of the members of the household lost no time in crossing over in a body to see how she was getting on. "The fire has been already extinguished," they too assured her, "please, dear ancestor, repair into your rooms!"
But it was only after old lady Chia had seen the light of the flames entirely subside that she at length led the whole company indoors. "What was that girl up to, taking the firewood in that heavy fall of snow?" Pao-y thereupon vehemently inquired of goody Liu. "What, if she had got frostbitten and fallen ill?"
"It was the reference made recently to the firewood that was being abstracted," his grandmother Chia said, "that brought about this fire; and do you still go on asking more about it? Leave this story alone, and tell us something else!"
Hearing this reminder, Pao-y felt constrained to drop the subject, much against his wishes, and old goody Liu forthwith thought of something else to tell them.
"In our village," she resumed, "and on the eastern side of our farmstead, there lives an old dame, whose age is this year, over ninety. She goes in daily for fasting, and worshipping Buddha. Who'd have thought it, she so moved the pity of the goddess of mercy that she gave her this message in a dream: 'It was at one time ordained that you should have no posterity, but as you have proved so devout, I have now memorialised the Pearly Emperor to grant you a grandson!' The fact is, this old dame had one son. This son had had too an only son; but he died after they had with great difficulty managed to rear him to the age of seventeen or eighteen. And what tears didn't they shed for him! But, in course of time, another son was actually born to him. He is this year just thirteen or fourteen, resembles a very ball of flower, (so plump is he), and is clever and sharp to an exceptional degree! So this is indeed a clear proof that those spirits and gods do exist!"
This long tirade proved to be in harmony with dowager lady Chia's and Madame Wang's secret convictions on the subject. Even Madame Wang therefore listened to every word with all profound attention. Pao-y, however, was so pre-occupied with the story about the stolen firewood that he fell in a brown study and gave way to conjectures.
"Yesterday," T'an Ch'un at this point remarked, "We put cousin Shih to a lot of trouble and inconvenience, so, when we get back, we must consult about convening a meeting, and, while returning her entertainment, we can also invite our venerable ancestor to come and admire the chrysanthemums; what do you think of this?"
"Our worthy senior," smiled Pao-y, "has intimated that she means to give a banquet to return cousin Shih's hospitality, and to ask us to do the honours. Let's wait therefore until we partake of grandmother's collation, before we issue our own invitations; there will be ample time then to do so."
"The later it gets, the cooler the weather becomes," T'an Ch'un observed, "and our dear senior is not likely to enjoy herself."
"Grandmother," added Pao-y, "is also fond of rain and snow, so wouldn't it be as well to wait until the first fall, and then ask her to come and look at the snow. This will be better, won't it? And were we to recite our verses with snow about us, it will be ever so much more fun!"
"To hum verses in the snow," Lin Tai-y speedily demurred with a smile, "won't, in my idea, be half as nice as building up a heap of firewood and then stealing it, with the flakes playing about us. This will be by far more enjoyable!"
This proposal made Pao-ch'ai and the others laugh. Pao-y cast a glance at her but made no reply.
But, in a short time, the company broke up. Pao-y eventually gave old goody Liu a tug on the sly and plied her with minute questions as to who the girl was. The old dame was placed under the necessity of fabricating something for his benefit. "The truth is," she said, "that there stands on the north bank of the ditch in our village a small ancestral hall, in which offerings are made, but not to spirits or gods. There was in former days some official or other..."
"While speaking, she went on to try and recollect his name and surname.
"No matter about names or surnames!" Pao-y expostulated. "There's no need for you to recall them to memory! Just mention the facts; they'll be enough."
"This official," old goody Liu resumed, "had no son. His offspring consisted of one young daughter, who went under the name of Jo Y, (like Jade). She could read and write, and was doated upon by this official and his consort, just as if she were a precious jewel. But, unfortunately, when this young lady, Jo Y, grew up to be seventeen, she contracted some disease and died."
When these words fell on Pao-y's ears, he stamped his foot and heaved a sigh. "What happened after that?" he then asked.
Old goody Liu pursued her story.
"So incessantly," she continued, "did this official and his consort think of their child that they raised this ancestral hall, erected a clay image of their young daughter Jo Y in it, and appointed some one to burn incense and trim the fires. But so many days and years have now elapsed that the people themselves are no more alive, the temple is in decay, and the image itself is become a spirit."
"It hasn't become a spirit," remonstrated Pao-y with vehemence. "Human beings of this kind may, the rule is, die, yet they are not dead."
"O-mi-to-fu!" ejaculated old goody Liu; "is it really so! Had you, sir, not enlightened us, we would have remained under the impression that she had become a spirit! But she repeatedly transforms herself into a human being, and there she roams about in every village, farmstead, inn and roadside. And the one I mentioned just now as having taken the firewood is that very girl! The villagers in our place are still consulting with the idea of breaking this clay image and razing the temple to the ground."
"Be quick and dissuade them!" eagerly exclaimed Pao-y. "Were they to raze the temple to the ground, their crime won't be small."
"It's lucky that you told me, Sir," old goody Liu added. "When I get back to-morrow, I'll make them relinquish the idea and finish!"
"Our venerable senior and my mother," Pao-y pursued, "are both charitable persons. In fact, all the inmates of our family, whether old or young, do, in like manner, delight in good deeds, and take pleasure in distributing alms. Their greatest relish is to repair temples, and to put up images to the spirits; so to-morrow, I'll make a subscription and collect a few donations for you, and you can then act as incense-burner. When sufficient money has been raised, this fane can be repaired, and another clay image put up; and month by month I'll give you incense and fire money to enable you to burn joss-sticks; won't this be A good thing for you?"
"In that case," old goody Liu rejoined, "I shall, thanks to that young lady's good fortune, have also a few cash to spend."
Pao-y thereupon likewise wanted to know what the name of the place was, the name of the village, how far it was there and back, and whereabout the temple was situated.
Old goody Liu replied to his questions, by telling him every idle thought that came first to her lips. Pao-y, however, credited the information she gave him and, on his return to his rooms, he exercised, the whole night, his mind with building castles in the air.
On the morrow, as soon as daylight dawned, he speedily stepped out of his room, and, handing Pei Ming several hundreds of cash, he bade him proceed first in the direction and to the place specified by old goody Liu, and clearly ascertain every detail, so as to enable him, on his return from his errand, to arrive at a suitable decision to carry out his purpose. After Pei Ming's departure, Pao-y continued on pins on needles and on the tiptoe of expectation. Into such a pitch of excitement did he work himself, that he felt like an ant in a burning pan. With suppressed impatience, he waited and waited until sunset. At last then he perceived Pei Ming walk in, in high glee.
"Have you discovered the place?" hastily inquired Pao-y.
"Master," Pei Ming laughed, "you didn't catch distinctly the directions given you, and you made me search in a nice way! The name of the place and the bearings can't be those you gave me, Sir; that is why I've had to hunt about the whole day long! I prosecuted my inquiries up to the very ditch on the north east side, before I eventually found a ruined temple."
Upon hearing the result of his researches, Pao-y was much gratified. His very eyebrows distended. His eyes laughed. "Old goody Liu," he said with eagerness, "is a person well up in years, and she may at the moment have remembered wrong; it's very likely she did. But recount to me what you saw."
"The door of that temple," Pei Ming explained, "really faces south, and is all in a tumble-down condition. I searched and searched till I was driven to utter despair. As soon, however, as I caught sight of it, 'that's right,' I shouted, and promptly walked in. But I at once discovered a clay figure, which gave me such a fearful start, that I scampered out again; for it looked as much alive as if it were a real living being."
Pao-y smiled full of joy. "It can metamorphose itself into a human being," he observed, "so, of course, it has more or less a life-like appearance."
"Was it ever a girl?" Pei Ming rejoined clapping his hands. "Why it was, in fact, no more than a green-faced and red-haired god of plagues."
Pao-y, at this answer, spat at him contemptuously. "You are, in very truth, a useless fool!" he cried. "Haven't you even enough gumption for such a trifling job as this?"
"What book, I wonder, have you again been reading, master?" Pei Ming continued. "Or you may, perhaps, have heard some one prattle a lot of trash and believed it as true! You send me on this sort of wild goose chase and make me go and knock my head about, and how can you ever say that I'm good for nothing?"
Pao-y did not fail to notice that he was in a state of exasperation so he lost no time in trying to calm him. "Don't be impatient!" he urged. "You can go again some other day, when you've got nothing to attend to, and institute further inquiries! If it turns out that she has hood-winked us, why, there will, naturally, be no such thing. But if, verily, there is, won't you also lay up for yourself a store of good deeds? I shall feel it my duty to reward you in a most handsome manner."
As he spoke, he espied a servant-lad, on service at the second gate, approach and report to him: "The young ladies in our venerable ladyship's apartments are standing at the threshold of the second gate and looking out for you, Mr. Secundus."
But as, reader, you are not aware what they were on the look-out to tell him, the subsequent chapter will explain it for you.
The venerable lady Shih attends a second banquet in the garden of Broad Vista. Chin Yan-yang three times promulgates, by means of dominoes, the order to quote passages from old writers.
As soon as Pao-y, we will now explain, heard what the lad told him, he rushed with eagerness inside. When he came to look about him, he discovered Hu Po standing in front of the screen. "Be quick and go," she urged. "They're waiting to speak to you."
Pao-y wended his way into the drawing rooms. Here he found dowager lady Chia, consulting with Madame Wang and the whole body of young ladies, about the return feast to be given to Shih Hsiang-yn.
"I've got a plan to suggest," he consequently interposed. "As there are to be no outside guests, the eatables too should not be limited to any kind or number. A few of such dishes, as have ever been to the liking of any of us, should be fixed upon and prepared for the occasion. Neither should any banquet be spread, but a high teapoy can be placed in front of each, with one or two things to suit our particular tastes. Besides, a painted box with partitions and a decanter. Won't this be an original way?"
"Capital!" shouted old lady Chia. "Go and tell the people in the cook house," she forthwith ordered a servant, "to get ready to-morrow such dishes as we relish, and to put them in as many boxes as there will be people, and bring them over. We can have breakfast too in the garden."
But while they were deliberating, the time came to light the lamps. Nothing of any note transpired the whole night. The next day, they got up at early dawn. The weather, fortunately, was beautifully clear. Li Wan turned out of bed at daybreak. She was engaged in watching the old matrons and servant-girls sweeping the fallen leaves, rubbing the tables and chairs, and preparing the tea and wine vessels, when she perceived Feng Erh usher in old goody Liu and Pan Erh. "You're very busy, our senior lady!" they said.
"I told you that you wouldn't manage to start yesterday," Li Wan smiled, "but you were in a hurry to get away."
"Your worthy old lady," goody Liu replied laughingly, "wouldn't let me go. She wanted me to enjoy myself too for a day before I went."
Feng Erh then produced several large and small keys. "Our mistress Lien says," she remarked, "that she fears that the high teapoys which are out are not enough, and she thinks it would be as well to open the loft and take out those that are put away and use them for a day. Our lady should really have come and seen to it in person, but as she has something to tell Madame Wang, she begs your ladyship to open the place, and get a few servants to bring them out."
Li Wan there and then told Su Yn to take the keys. She also bade a matron go out and call a few servant-boys from those on duty at the second gate. When they came, Li Wan remained in the lower story of the Ta Kuan loft, and looking up, she ordered the servants to go and open the Cho Chin hall and to bring the teapoys one by one. The young servant-lads, matrons and servant-maids then set to work, in a body, and carried down over twenty of them.
"Be careful with them," shouted Li Wan. "Don't be bustling about just as if you were being pursued by ghosts! Mind you don't break the tenons!" Turning her head round, "old dame," she observed, addressing herself smilingly to goody Liu, "go upstairs too and have a look!"
Old goody Liu was longing to satisfy her curiosity, so at the bare mention of the permission, she uttered just one word ("come") and, dragging Pan Erh along, she trudged up the stairs. On her arrival inside, she espied, pile upon pile, a whole heap of screens, tables and chairs, painted lanterns of different sizes, and other similar articles. She could not, it is true, make out the use of the various things, but, at the sight of so many colours, of such finery and of the unusual beauty of each article, she muttered time after time the name of Buddha, and then forthwith wended her way downstairs. Subsequently (the servants) locked the doors and every one of them came down.
"I fancy," cried Li Wan, "that our dowager lady will feel disposed (to go on the water), so you'd better also get the poles, oars and awnings for the boats and keep them in readiness."
The servants expressed their obedience. Once more they unlocked the doors, and carried down everything required. She then bade a lad notify the boatwomen go to the dock and punt out two boats. But while all this bustle was going on, they discovered that dowager lady Chia had already arrived at the head of a whole company of people. Li Wan promptly went up to greet them.
"Dear venerable senior," she smiled, "you must be in good spirits to have come in here! Imagining that you hadn't as yet combed your hair, I just plucked a few chrysanthemums, meaning to send them to you."
While she spoke, Pi Yeh at once presented to her a jadite tray, of the size of a lotus leaf, containing twigs cut from every species of chrysanthemum. Old lady Chia selected a cluster of deep red and pinned it in her hair about her temples. But turning round, she noticed old goody Liu. "Come over here," she vehemently cried with a smile; "and put on a few flowers."
Scarcely was this remark concluded, than lady Feng dragged goody Liu forward. "Let me deck you up!" she laughed. With these words, she seized a whole plateful of flowers and stuck them three this way, four that way, all over her head. Old lady Chia, and the whole party were greatly amused; so much so, that they could not check themselves.
"I wonder," shouted goody Liu smiling, "what blessings I have brought upon my head that such honours are conferred upon it to-day!"
"Don't you yet pull them away," they all laughed, "and chuck them in her face! She has got you up in such a way as to make a regular old elf of you!"
"I'm an old hag, I admit," goody Liu pursued with a laugh; "but when I was young, I too was pretty and fond of flowers and powder! But the best thing I can do now is to keep to such fineries as befit my advanced age!"
While they bandied words, they reached the Hsin Fang pavilion. The waiting maids brought a large embroidered rug and spread it over the planks of the divan near the balustrade. On this rug dowager lady Chia sat, with her back leaning against the railing; and, inviting goody Liu to also take a seat next to her, "Is this garden nice or not?" she asked her.
Old goody Liu invoked Buddha several times. "We country-people," she rejoined, "do invariably come, at the close of each year, into the city and buy pictures and stick them about. And frequently do we find ourselves in our leisure moments wondering how we too could manage to get into the pictures, and walk about the scenes they represent. I presumed that those pictures were purely and simply fictitious, for how could there be any such places in reality? But, contrary to my expectations, I found, as soon as I entered this garden to-day and had a look about it, that it was, after all, a hundred times better than these very pictures. But if only I could get some one to make me a sketch of this garden, to take home with me and let them see it, so that when we die we may have reaped some benefit!"
Upon catching the wish she expressed, dowager lady Chia pointed at Hsi Ch'un. "Look at that young granddaughter of mine!" she smiled. "She's got the knack of drawing. So what do you say to my asking her to-morrow to make a picture for you?"
This suggestion filled goody Liu with enthusiasm and speedily crossing over, she clasped Hsi Ch'un in her arms. "My dear Miss!" she cried, "so young in years, and yet so pretty, and so accomplished too! Mightn't you be a spirit come to life!"
After old lady Chia had had a little rest, she in person took goody Liu and showed her everything there was to be seen. First, they visited the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. The moment they stepped into the entrance, a narrow avenue, flanked on either side with kingfisher-like green bamboos, met their gaze. The earth below was turfed all over with moss. In the centre, extended a tortuous road, paved with pebbles. Goody Liu left dowager lady Chia and the party walk on the raised road, while she herself stepped on the earth. But Hu Po tugged at her. "Come up, old dame, and walk here!" she exclaimed. "Mind the fresh moss is slippery and you might fall."
"I don't mind it!" answered goody Liu. "We people are accustomed to walking (on such slippery things)! So, young ladies, please proceed. And do look after your embroidered shoes! Don't splash them with mud."
But while bent upon talking with those who kept on the raised road, she unawares reached a spot, which was actually slippery, and with a sound of "ku tang" she tumbled over.
The whole company clapped their hands and laughed boisterously.
"You young wenches," shouted out dowager lady Chia, "don't you yet raise her up, but stand by giggling?"
This reprimand was still being uttered when goody Liu had already crawled up. She too was highly amused. "Just as my mouth was bragging," she observed, "I got a whack on the lips!"
"Have you perchance twisted your waist?" inquired old lady Chia. "Tell the servant-girls to pat it for you!"
"What an idea!" retorted goody Liu, "am I so delicate? What day ever goes by without my tumbling down a couple of times? And if I had to be patted every time wouldn't it be dreadful!"
Tzu Chuan had at an early period raised the speckled bamboo portiere. Dowager lady Chia and her companions entered and seated themselves. Lin Tai-y with her own hands took a small tray and came to present a covered cup of tea to her grandmother.
"We won't have any tea!" Madame Wang interposed, "so, miss, you needn't pour any."
Lin Tai-y, hearing this, bade a waiting-maid fetch the chair from under the window where she herself often sat, and moving it to the lower side, she pressed Madame Wang into it. But goody Liu caught sight of the pencils and inkslabs, lying on the table placed next to the window, and espied the bookcase piled up to the utmost with books. "This must surely," the old dame ejaculated, "be some young gentleman's study!"
"This is the room of this granddaughter-in-law of mine," dowager lady Chia explained, smilingly pointing to Tai-y.
Goody Liu scrutinised Lin Tai-y with intentness for a while. "Is this anything like a young lady's private room?" she then observed with a smile. "Why, in very deed, it's superior to any first class library!"
"How is it I don't see Pao-y?" his grandmother Chia went on to inquire.
"He's in the boat, on the pond," the waiting-maids, with one voice, returned for answer.
"Who also got the boats ready?" old lady Chia asked.
"The loft was open just now so they were taken out," Li Wan said, "and as I thought that you might, venerable senior, feel inclined to have a row, I got everything ready."
After listening to this explanation, dowager lady Chia was about to pass some remark, but some one came and reported to her that Mrs. Hseh had arrived. No sooner had old lady Chia and the others sprung to their feet than they noticed that Mrs. Hseh had already made her appearance. While taking a seat: "Your venerable ladyship," she smiled, "must be in capital spirits to-day to have come at this early hour!"
"It's only this very minute that I proposed that any one who came late, should be fined," dowager lady Chia laughed, "and, who'd have thought it, here you, Mrs. Hseh, arrive late!"
After they had indulged in good-humoured raillery for a time, old lady Chia's attention was attracted by the faded colour of the gauze on the windows, and she addressed herself to Madame Wang. "This gauze," she said, "may have been nice enough when it was newly pasted, but after a time nothing remained of kingfisher green. In this court too there are no peach or apricot trees and these bamboos already are green in themselves, so were this shade of green gauze to be put up again, it would, instead of improving matters, not harmonise with the surroundings. I remember that we had at one time four or five kinds of coloured gauzes for sticking on windows, so give her some to-morrow to change that on there."
"When I opened the store yesterday," hastily put in Lady Feng, "I noticed that there were still in those boxes, made of large planks, several rolls of 'cicada wing' gauze of silvery red colour. There were also several rolls with designs of twigs of flowers of every kind, several with 'the rolling clouds and bats' pattern, and several with figures representing hundreds of butterflies, interspersed among flowers. The colours of all these were fresh, and the gauze supple. But I failed to see anything of the kind you speak of. Were two rolls taken (from those I referred to), and a couple of bed-covers of embroidered gauze made out of them, they would, I fancy, be a pretty sight!"
"Pshaw!" laughed old lady Chia, "every one says that there's nothing you haven't gone through and nothing you haven't seen, and don't you even know what this gauze is? Will you again brag by and bye, after this?"
Mrs. Hseh and all the others smiled. "She may have gone through a good deal," they remarked, "but how can she ever presume to pit herself against an old lady like you? So why don't you, venerable senior, tell her what it is so that we too may be edified."
Lady Feng too gave a smile. "My dear ancestor," she pleaded, "do tell me what it is like."
Dowager lady Chia thereupon proceeded to enlighten Mrs. Hseh and the whole company. "That gauze is older in years than any one of you," she said. "It isn't therefore to be wondered, if you make a mistake and take it for 'cicada wing' gauze. But it really bears some resemblance to it; so much so, indeed, that any one, not knowing the difference, would imagine it to be the 'cicada wing' gauze. Its true name, however, is 'soft smoke' silk."
"This is also a nice sounding name," lady Feng agreed. "But up to the age I've reached, I have never heard of any such designation, in spite of the many hundreds of specimens of gauzes and silks, I've seen."
"How long can you have lived?" old lady Chia added smilingly, "and how many kinds of things can you have met, that you indulge in this tall talk? Of this 'soft smoke' silk, there only exist four kinds of colours. The one is red-blue; the other is russet; the other pine-green; the other silvery-red; and it's because, when made into curtains or stuck on window-frames, it looks from far like smoke or mist, that it is called 'soft smoke' silk. The silvery-red is also called 'russet shadow' gauze. Among the gauzes used in the present day, in the palace above, there are none so supple and rich, light and closely-woven as this!"
"Not to speak of that girl Feng not having seen it," Mrs. Hseh laughed, "why, even I have never so much as heard anything of it."
While the conversation proceeded in this strain, lady Feng soon directed a servant to fetch a roll. "Now isn't this the kind!" dowager lady Chia exclaimed. "At first, we simply had it stuck on the window frames, but we subsequently used it for covers and curtains, just for a trial, and really they were splendid! So you had better to-morrow try and find several rolls, and take some of the silvery-red one and have it fixed on the windows for her."
While lady Feng promised to attend to her commission, the party scrutinised it, and unanimously extolled it with effusion. Old goody Liu too strained her eyes and examined it, and her lips incessantly muttered Buddha's name. "We couldn't," she ventured, "afford to make clothes of such stuff, much though we may long to do so; and won't it be a pity to use it for sticking on windows?"
"But it doesn't, after all, look well, when made into clothes," old lady Chia explained.
Lady Feng hastily pulled out the lapel of the deep-red brocaded gauze jacket she had on, and, facing dowager lady Chia and Mrs. Hseh, "Look at this jacket of mine," she remarked.
"This is also of first-rate quality!" old lady Chia and Mrs. Hseh rejoined. "This is nowadays made in the palace for imperial use, but it can't possibly come up to this!"
"It's such thin stuff," lady Feng observed, "and do you still say that it was made in the palace for imperial use? Why, it doesn't, in fact, compare favourably with even this, which is worn by officials!"
"You'd better search again!" old lady Chia urged; "I believe there must be more of it! If there be, bring it all out, and give this old relative Liu a couple of rolls! Should there be any red-blue, I'll make a curtain to hang up. What remains can be matched with some lining, and cut into a few double waistcoats for the waiting-maids to wear. It would be sheer waste to keep these things, as they will be spoilt by the damp."
Lady Feng vehemently acquiesced; after which, she told a servant to take the gauze away.
"These rooms are so small!" dowager lady Chia then observed, smiling. "We had better go elsewhere for a stroll."
"Every one says," old goody Liu put in, "that big people live in big houses! When I saw yesterday your main apartments, dowager lady, with all those large boxes, immense presses, big tables, and spacious beds to match, they did, indeed, present an imposing sight! Those presses are larger than our whole house; yea loftier too! But strange to say there were ladders in the back court. 'They don't also,' I thought, 'go up to the house tops to sun things, so what can they keep those ladders in readiness for?' Well, after that, I remembered that they must be required for opening the presses to take out or put in things. And that without those ladders, how could one ever reach that height? But now that I've also seen these small rooms, more luxuriously got up than the large ones, and full of various articles, all so fascinating and hardly even known to me by name, I feel, the more I feast my eyes on them, the more unable to tear myself away from them."
"There are other things still better than this," lady Feng added. "I'll take you to see them all!"
Saying this, they straightway left the Hsiao Hsiang lodge. From a distance, they spied a whole crowd of people punting the boats in the lake.
"As they've got the boats ready," old lady Chia proposed, "we may as well go and have a row in them!"
As she uttered this suggestion, they wended their steps along the persicary-covered bank of the Purple Lily Isle. But before reaching the lake, they perceived several matrons advancing that way with large multi-coloured boxes in their hands, made all alike of twisted wire and inlaid with gold. Lady Feng hastened to inquire of Madame Wang where breakfast was to be served.
"Ask our venerable senior," Madame Wang replied, "and let them lay it wherever she pleases."
Old lady Chia overheard her answer, and turning her head round: "Miss Tertia," she said, "take the servants, and make them lay breakfast wherever you think best! We'll get into the boats from here."
Upon catching her senior's wishes, lady Feng retraced her footsteps, and accompanied by Li Wan, T'an Ch'un, Yan Yang and Hu Po, she led off the servants, carrying the eatables, and other domestics, and came by the nearest way, to the Ch'iu Shuang library, where they arranged the tables in the Hsiao Ts'ui hall.
"We daily say that whenever the gentlemen outside have anything to drink or eat, they invariably have some one who can raise a laugh and whom they can chaff for fun's sake," Yuan Yang smiled, "so let's also to-day get a female family-companion."
Li Wan, being a person full of kindly feelings, did not fathom the insinuation, though it did not escape her ear. Lady Feng, however, thoroughly understood that she alluded to old goody Liu. "Let us too to-day," she smilingly remarked, "chaff her for a bit of fun!"
These two then began to mature their plans.
Li Wan chided them with a smile. "You people," she said, "don't know even how to perform the least good act! But you're not small children any more, and are you still up to these pranks? Mind, our venerable ancestor might call you to task!"
"That has nothing whatever to do with you, senior lady," Yan Yang laughed, "it's my own look out!"
These words were still on her lips, when she saw dowager lady Chia and the rest of the company arrive. They each sat where and how they pleased. First and foremost, a waiting-maid brought two trays of tea. After tea, lady Feng laid hold of a napkin, made of foreign cloth, in which were wrapped a handful of blackwood chopsticks, encircled with three rings, of inlaid silver, and distributed them on the tables, in the order in which they were placed.
"Bring that small hard-wood table over," old lady Chia then exclaimed; "and let our relative Liu sit next to me here!"
No sooner did the servants hear her order than they hurried to move the table to where she wanted it. Lady Feng, during this interval, made a sign with her eye to Yan Yang. Yan Yang there and then dragged goody Liu out of the hall and began to impress in a low tone of voice various things on her mind. "This is the custom which prevails in our household," she proceeded, "and if you disregard it we'll have a laugh at your expense!"
Having arranged everything she had in view, they at length returned to their places. Mrs. Hseh had come over, after her meal, so she simply seated herself on one side and sipped her tea. Dowager lady Chia with Pao-y, Hsiang-yn, Tai-y and Pao-ch'ai sat at one table. Madame Wang took the girls, Ying Ch'un, and her sisters, and occupied one table. Old goody Liu took a seat at a table next to dowager lady Chia. Heretofore, while their old mistress had her repast, a young servant-maid usually stood by her to hold the finger bowl, yak-brush, napkin and other such necessaries, but Yan Yang did not of late fulfil any of these duties, so when, on this occasion, she deliberately seized the yak-brush and came over and flapped it about, the servant-girls concluded that she was bent upon playing some tricks upon goody Liu, and they readily withdrew and let her have her way.
While Yan Yang attended to her self-imposed duties, she winked at the old dame.
"Miss," goody Liu exclaimed, "set your mind at ease!" Goody Liu sat down at the table and took up the chopsticks, but so heavy and clumsy did she find them that she could not handle them conveniently. The fact is that lady Feng and Yan Yang had put their heads together and decided to only assign to goody Liu a pair of antiquated four-cornered ivory chopsticks, inlaid with gold.
"These forks," shouted goody Liu, after scrutinising them, "are heavier than the very iron-lever over at my place. How ever can I move them about?"
This remark had the effect of making every one explode into a fit of laughter. But a married woman standing in the centre of the room, with a box in her hands, attracted their gaze. A waiting-maid went up to her and removed the cover of the box. Its contents were two bowls of eatables. Li Wan took one of these and placed it on dowager lady Chia's table, while lady Feng chose the bowl with pigeon's eggs and put it on goody Liu's table.
"Please (commence)," Dowager lady Chia uttered from the near side, where she sat.
Goody Liu at this speedily sprung to her feet. "Old Liu, old Liu," she roared with a loud voice, "your eating capacity is as big as that of a buffalo! You've gorged like an old sow and can't raise your head up!" Then puffing out her cheeks, she added not a word.
The whole party was at first taken quite aback. But, as soon as they heard the drift of her remarks, every one, both high as well as low, began to laugh boisterously. Hsiang-yn found it so difficult to restrain herself that she spurted out the tea she had in her mouth. Lin Tai-y indulged in such laughter that she was quite out of breath, and propping herself up on the table, she kept on ejaculating 'Ai-yo.' Pao-y rolled into his grandmother's lap. The old lady herself was so amused that she clasped Pao-y in her embrace, and gave way to endearing epithets. Madame Wang laughed, and pointed at lady Feng with her finger; but as for saying a word, she could not. Mrs. Hseh had much difficulty in curbing her mirth, and she sputtered the tea, with which her mouth was full, all over T'an Ch'un's petticoat. T'an Ch'un threw the contents of the teacup, she held in her hand, over Ying Ch'un; while Hsi Ch'un quitted her seat, and, pulling her nurse away, bade her rub her stomach for her.
Below, among the lower seats, there was not one who was not with bent waist and doubled-up back. Some retired to a corner and, squatting down, laughed away. Others suppressed their laughter and came up and changed the clothes of their young mistresses. Lady Feng and Yuan Yang were the only ones, who kept their countenance. Still they continued helping old goody Liu to food.
Old goody Liu took up the chopsticks. "Even the chickens in this place are fine," she went on to add, pretending, she did not hear what was going on; "the eggs they lay are small, but so dainty! How very pretty they are! Let me help myself to one!"
The company had just managed to check themselves, but, the moment these words fell on their ears, they started again with their laughter. Old lady Chia laughed to such an extent that tears streamed from her eyes. And so little could she bear the strain any longer that Hu Po stood behind her and patted her.
"This must be the work of that vixen Feng!" old lady Chia laughed. "She has ever been up to tricks like a very imp, so be quick and disbelieve all her yarns!"
Goody Liu was in the act of praising the eggs as small yet dainty, when lady Feng interposed with a smile. "They're one tael each, be quick, and taste them;" she said; "they're not nice when they get cold!"
Goody Liu forthwith stretched out the chopsticks with the intent of catching one; but how could she manage to do so? They rolled and rolled in the bowl for ever so long; and, it was only after extreme difficulty that she succeeded in shoving one up. Extending her neck forward, she was about to put it in her mouth, when it slipped down again, and rolled on to the floor. She hastily banged down the chopsticks, and was going herself to pick it up, when a servant, who stood below, got hold of it and took it out of the room.
Old goody Liu heaved a sigh. "A tael!" she soliloquised, "and here it goes without a sound!"
Every one had long ago abandoned all idea of eating, and, gazing at her, they enjoyed the fun.
"Who has now brought out these chopsticks again?" old lady Chia went on to ask. "We haven't invited any strangers or spread any large banquet! It must be that vixen Feng who gave them out! But don't you yet change them!"
The servants, standing on the floor below, had indeed had no hand in getting those ivory chopsticks; they had, in fact, been brought by lady Feng and Yan Yang; but when they heard these remarks, they hurried to put them away and to change them for a pair similar to those used by the others, made of blackwood inlaid with silver.
"They've taken away the gold ones," old goody Liu shouted, "and here come silver ones! But, after all, they're not as handy as those we use!"
"Should there be any poison in the viands," lady Feng observed, "you can detect it, as soon as this silver is dipped into them!"
"If there's poison in such viands as these," old goody Liu added, "why those of ours must be all arsenic! But though it be the death of me, I'll swallow every morsel!"
Seeing how amusing the old woman was and with what relish she devoured her food, dowager lady Chia took her own dishes and passed them over to her.
She then likewise bade an old matron take various viands and put them in a bowl for Pan Erh. But presently, the repast was concluded, and old lady Chia and all the other inmates adjoined into T'an Ch'un's bedroom for a chat.
The remnants were, meanwhile, cleared away, and fresh tables were laid.
Old goody Liu watched Li Wan and lady Feng sit opposite each other and eat. "Putting everything else aside," she sighed, "what most takes my fancy is the way things are done in your mansion. It isn't to be wondered at that the adage has it that: 'propriety originates from great families.'"
"Don't be too touchy," lady Feng hastily smiled, "we all made fun of you just now."
But barely had she done speaking, when Yan Yang too walked in. "Old goody Liu," she said laughingly, "don't be angry! I tender you my apologies, venerable dame!"
"What are you saying, Miss?" old goody Liu rejoined smiling. "We've coaxed our dowager lady to get a little distraction; and what reason is there to be angry? From the very first moment you spoke to me, I knew at once that it was intended to afford merriment to you all! Had I been angry at heart, I wouldn't have gone so far as to say what I did!"
Yan Yang then blew up the servants. "Why," she shouted, "don't you pour a cup of tea for the old dame?"
"That sister-in-law," promptly explained old goody Liu, "gave me a cup a little while back. I've had it already. But you, Miss, must also have something to eat."
Lady Feng dragged Yan Yang into a seat. "Have your meal with us!" she said. "You'll thus save another fuss by and bye."
Yan Yang readily seated herself. The matrons came up and added to the number of bowls and chopsticks, and the trio went through their meal.
"From all I see," smiled goody Liu, "you people eat just a little and finish. It's lucky you don't feel the pangs of hunger! But it isn't astonishing if a whiff of wind can puff you over!"
"A good many eatables remained over to-day. Where are they all gone to?" Yan Yang inquired.
"They haven't as yet been apportioned!" the matrons responded. "They're kept in here until they can be given in a lump to them to eat!"
"They can't get through so many things!" Yan Yang resumed. "You had as well therefore choose two bowls and send them over to that girl P'ing, in your mistress Secundus' rooms."
"She has had her repast long ago." lady Feng put in. "There's no need to give her any!"
"With what she can't eat, herself," Yan Yang continued, "she can feed the cats."
At these words, a matron lost no time in selecting two sorts of eatables, and, taking the box, she went to take them over.
"Where's Su Yun gone to?" Yan Yang asked.
"They're all in here having their meal together." Li Wan replied. "What do you want her for again?"
"Well, in that case, never mind," Yan Yang answered.
"Hsi Jen isn't here," lady Feng observed, "so tell some one to take her a few things!"
Yuan Yang, hearing this, directed a servant to send her also a few eatables. "Have the partition boxes been filled with wine for by and bye?" Yan Yang went on to ask the matrons.
"They'll be ready, I think, in a little while," a matron explained.
"Hurry them up a bit!" Yan Yang added.
The matron signified her assent.
Lady Feng and her friends then came into T'an Ch'un's apartments, where they found the ladies chatting and laughing.
T'an Ch'un had ever shown an inclination for plenty of room. Hence that suite of three apartments had never been partitioned. In the centre was placed a large table of rosewood and Ta li marble. On this table, were laid in a heap every kind of copyslips written by persons of note. Several tens of valuable inkslabs and various specimens of tubes and receptacles for pens figured also about; the pens in which were as thickly packed as trees in a forest. On the off side, stood a flower bowl from the 'Ju' kiln, as large as a bushel measure. In it was placed, till it was quite full, a bunch of white chrysanthemums, in appearance like crystal balls. In the middle of the west wall, was suspended a large picture representing vapor and rain; the handiwork of Mi Nang-yang. On the left and right of this picture was hung a pair of antithetical scrolls—the autograph of Yen L. The lines on these scrolls were:
Wild scenes are to the taste of those who leisure love, And springs and rookeries are their rustic resort.
On the table, figured a large tripod. On the left, stood on a blackwood cabinet, a huge bowl from a renowned government kiln. This bowl contained about ten "Buddha's hands" of beautiful yellow and fine proportions. On the right, was suspended, on a Japanese-lacquered frame, a white jade sonorous plate. Its shape resembled two eyes, one by the side of the other. Next to it hung a small hammer.
Pan Erh had become a little more confident and was about to seize the hammer and beat the plate, when the waiting-maids hastened to prevent him. Next, he wanted a "Buddha's hand" to eat. T'an Ch'un chose one and let him have it. "You may play with it," she said, "but you can't eat it."
On the east side stood a sleeping divan. On a movable bed was hung a leek-green gauze curtain, ornamented with double embroideries, representing flowers, plants and insects. Pan Erh ran up to have a look. "This is a green-cicada," he shouted; "this a grasshopper!"
But old goody Liu promptly gave him a slap. "You mean scamp!" she cried. "What an awful rumpus you're kicking up! I simply brought you along with me to look at things; and lo, you put on airs;" and she beat Pan Erh until he burst out crying. It was only after every one quickly combined in using their efforts to solace him that he at length desisted.
Old lady Chia then looked through the gauze casement into the back court for some time. "The dryandra trees by the eaves of the covered passage are growing all right," she remarked. "The only thing is that their foliage is rather sparse."
But while she passed this remark, a sudden gust of wind swept by, and faintly on her ear fell the strains of music. "In whose house is there a wedding?" old lady Chia inquired. "This place must be very near the street!"
"How could one hear what's going on in the street?" Madame Wang and the others smiled. "It's our twelve girls practising on their wind and string instruments!"
"As they're practising," dowager lady Chia eagerly cried, smilingly, "why not ask them to come in here and practise? They'll be able to have a stroll also, while we, on our part, will derive some enjoyment."
Upon hearing this suggestion, lady Feng immediately directed a servant to go out and call them in. She further issued orders to bring a table and spread a red cover over it.
"Let it be put," old lady Chia chimed in, "in the water-pavilion of the Lotus Fragrance Arbour, for (the music) will borrow the ripple of the stream and sound ever so much more pleasant to the ear. We can by and bye drink our wine in the Cho Chin Hall; we'll thus have ample room, and be able to listen from close!"
Every one admitted that the spot was well adapted. Dowager lady Chia turned herself towards Mrs. Hseh. "Let's get ahead!" she laughed. "The young ladies don't like any one to come in here, for fear lest their quarters should get contaminated; so don't let us show ourselves disregardful of their wishes! The right thing would be to go and have our wine aboard one of those boats!"
As she spoke, one and all rose to their feet. They were making their way out when T'an Ch'un interposed. "What's this that you're saying?" she smiled. "Please do seat yourselves, venerable senior, and you, Mrs. Hseh, and Madame Wang! You can't be going yet?"
"These three girls of mine are really nice! There are only two mistresses that are simply dreadful." Dowager lady Chia said smilingly. "When we get drunk shortly, we'll go and sit in their rooms and have a lark!"
These words evoked laughter from every one. In a body they quitted the place. But they had not proceeded far before they reached the bank covered with aquatic plants, to which place the boat-women, who had been brought from Ku Su, had already punted two crab-wood boats. Into one of these boats, they helped old lady Chia, Madame Wang, Mrs. Hseh, old goody Liu, Yan Yang, and Y Ch'uan-Erh. Last in order Li Wan followed on board. But lady Feng too stepped in, and standing up on the bow, she insisted upon punting.
Dowager lady Chia, however, remonstrated from her seat in the bottom of the boat. "This isn't a joke," she cried, "we're not on the river, it's true, but there are some very deep places about, so be quick and come in. Do it for my sake."
"What's there to be afraid of?" lady Feng laughed. "Compose your mind, worthy ancestor."
Saying this, the boat was pushed off with one shove. When it reached the middle of the lake, lady Feng became nervous, for the craft was small and the occupants many, and hastily handing the pole to a boatwoman, she squatted down at last.
Ying Ch'un, her sisters, their cousins, as well as Pao-y subsequently got on board the second boat, and followed in their track; while the rest of the company, consisting of old nurses and a bevy of waiting-maids, kept pace with them along the bank of the stream.
"All these broken lotus leaves are dreadful!" Pao-y shouted. "Why don't you yet tell the servants to pull them off?"
"When was this garden left quiet during all the days of this year?" Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Why, people have come, day after day, to visit it, so was there ever any time to tell the servants to come and clean it?"
"I have the greatest abhorrence," Lin Tai-y chimed in, "for Li I's poetical works, but there's only this line in them which I like:
"'Leave the dry lotus leaves so as to hear the patter of the rain.'
"and here you people deliberately mean again not to leave the dry lotus stay where they are."
"This is indeed a fine line!" Pao-y exclaimed. "We mustn't hereafter let them pull them away!"
While this conversation continued, they reached the shoaly inlet under the flower-laden beech. They felt a coolness from the shady overgrowth penetrate their very bones. The decaying vegetation and the withered aquatic chestnut plants on the sand-bank enhanced, to a greater degree, the beauty of the autumn scenery.
Dowager lady Chia at this point observed some spotless rooms on the bank, so spick and so span. "Are not these Miss Hseh's quarters," she asked. "Eh?"
"Yes, they are!" everybody answered.
Old lady Chia promptly bade them go alongside, and wending their way up the marble steps, which seemed to lead to the clouds, they in a body entered the Heng Wu court. Here they felt a peculiar perfume come wafting into their nostrils, for the colder the season got the greener grew that strange vegetation, and those fairy-like creepers. The various plants were laden with seeds, which closely resembled red coral beans, as they drooped in lovely clusters.
The house, as soon as they put their foot into it, presented the aspect of a snow cave. There was a total absence of every object of ornament. On the table figured merely an earthenware vase, in which were placed several chrysanthemums. A few books and teacups were also conspicuous, but no further knicknacks. On the bed was suspended a green gauze curtain, and of equally extreme plainness were the coverlets and mattresses belonging to it.
"This child," dowager lady Chia sighed, "is too simple! If you've got nothing to lay about, why not ask your aunt for a few articles? I would never raise any objection. I never thought about them. Your things, of course, have been left at home, and have not been brought over."
So saying, she told Yuan Yang to go and fetch several bric-a-brac. She next went on to call lady Feng to task.
"She herself wouldn't have them," (lady Feng) rejoined. "We really sent over a few, but she refused every one of them and returned them."
"In her home also," smiled Mrs. Hseh, "she does not go in very much for such sort of things."
Old lady Chia nodded her head. "It will never do!" she added. "It does, it's true, save trouble; but were some relative to come on a visit, she'll find things in an impossible way. In the second place, such simplicity in the apartments of young ladies of tender age is quite unpropitious! Why, if you young people go on in this way, we old fogies should go further and live in stables! You've all heard what is said in those books and plays about the dreadful luxury, with which young ladies' quarters are got up. And though these girls of ours could not presume to place themselves on the same footing as those young ladies, they shouldn't nevertheless exceed too much the bounds of what constitutes the right thing. If they have any objects ready at hand, why shouldn't they lay them out? And if they have any strong predilection for simplicity, a few things less will do quite as well. I've always had the greatest knack for titifying a room, but being an old woman now I haven't the ease and inclination to attend to such things! These girls are, however, learning how to do things very nicely. I was afraid that there would be an appearance of vulgarity in what they did, and that, even had they anything worth having, they'd so place them about as to spoil them; but from what I can see there's nothing vulgar about them. But let me now put things right for you, and I'll wager that everything will look grand as well as plain. I've got a couple of my own knicknacks, which I've managed to keep to this day, by not allowing Pao-y to get a glimpse of them; for had he ever seen them, they too would have long ago disappeared!" Continuing, she called Yan Yang. "Fetch that marble pot with scenery on it," she said to her; "that gauze screen, and that tripod of transparent stone with black streaks, which you'll find in there, and lay out all three on this table. They'll be ample! Bring likewise those ink pictures and white silk curtains, and change these curtains."
Yan Yang expressed her obedience. "All these articles have been put away in the eastern loft," she smiled. "In what boxes they've been put, I couldn't tell; I must therefore go and find them quietly and if I bring them over to-morrow, it will be time enough."
"To-morrow or the day after will do very well; but don't forget, that's all," dowager lady Chia urged.
While conversing, they sat for a while. Presently, they left the rooms and repaired straightway into the Cho Chin hall. Wen Kuan and the other girls came up and paid their obeisance. They next inquired what songs they were to practise.
"You'd better choose a few pieces to rehearse out of those you know best," old lady Chia rejoined.
Wen Kuan and her companions then withdrew and betook themselves to the Lotus Fragrance Pavilion. But we will leave them there without further allusion to them.
During this while, lady Feng had already, with the help of servants, got everything in perfect order. On the left and right of the side of honour were placed two divans. These divans were completely covered with embroidered covers and fine variegated mats. In front of each divan stood two lacquer teapoys, inlaid, some with designs of crab-apple flowers; others of plum blossom, some of lotus leaves, others of sun-flowers. Some of these teapoys were square, others round. Their shapes were all different. On each was placed a set consisting of a stove and a bottle, also a box with partitions. The two divans and four teapoys, in the place of honour, were used by dowager lady Chia and Mrs. Hseh. The chair and two teapoys in the next best place, by Madame Wang. The rest of the inmates had, all alike, a chair and a teapoy. On the east side sat old goody Liu. Below old goody Liu came Madame Wang. On the west was seated Shih Hsiang-yn. The second place was occupied by Pao-ch'ai; the third by Tai-y; the fourth by Ying Ch'un. T'an Ch'un and Hsi Ch'un filled the lower seats, in their proper order; Pao-y sat in the last place. The two teapoys assigned to Li Wan and lady Feng stood within the third line of railings, and beyond the second row of gauze frames. The pattern of the partition-boxes corresponded likewise with the pattern on the teapoys. Each inmate had a black decanter, with silver, inlaid in foreign designs; as well as an ornamented, enamelled cup.
After they had all occupied the seats assigned to them, dowager lady Chia took the initiative and smilingly suggested: "Let's begin by drinking a couple of cups of wine. But we should also have a game of forfeits to-day, we'll have plenty of fun then."
"You, venerable senior, must certainly have a good wine order to impose," Mrs. Hseh laughingly observed, "but how could we ever comply with it? But if your aim be to intoxicate us, why, we'll all straightway drink one or two cups more than is good for us and finish!"
"Here's Mrs. Hseh beginning to be modest again to-day!" old lady Chia smiled. "But I expect it's because she looks down upon me as being an old hag!"
"It isn't modesty!" Mrs. Hseh replied smiling. "It's all a dread lest I shouldn't be able to observe the order and thus incur ridicule."
"If you don't give the right answer," Madame Wang promptly interposed with a smile, "you'll only have to drink a cup or two more of wine, and should we get drunk, we can go to sleep; and who'll, pray laugh at us?"
Mrs. Hseh nodded her head. "I'll agree to the order," she laughed, "but, dear senior, you must, after all, do the right thing and have a cup of wine to start it."
"This is quite natural!" old lady Chia answered laughingly; and with these words, she forthwith emptied a cup.
Lady Feng with hurried steps advanced to the centre of the room. "If we are to play at forfeits," she smilingly proposed, "we'd better invite sister Yan Yang to come and join us."
The whole company was perfectly aware that if dowager lady Chia had to give out the rule of forfeits, Yan Yang would necessarily have to suggest it, so the moment they heard the proposal they, with common consent, approved it as excellent. Lady Feng therefore there and then dragged Yan Yang over.
"As you're to take a part in the game of forfeits," Madame Wang smilingly observed, "there's no reason why you should stand up." And turning her head round, "Bring over," she bade a young waiting-maid, "a chair and place it at your Mistress Secunda's table."
Yan Yang, half refusing and half assenting, expressed her thanks, and took the seat. After partaking also of a cup of wine, "Drinking rules," she smiled, "resemble very much martial law; so irrespective of high or low, I alone will preside. Any one therefore who disobeys my words will have to suffer a penalty."
"Of course, it should be so!" Madame Wang and the others laughed, "so be quick and give out the rule!"
But before Yan Yang had as yet opened her lips to speak, old goody Liu left the table, and waving her hand: "Don't," she said, "make fun of people in this way, for I'll go home."
"This will never do!" One and all smilingly protested.
Yan Yang shouted to the young waiting-maids to drag her back to her table; and the maids, while also indulging in laughter, actually pulled her and compelled her to rejoin the banquet.
"Spare me!" old goody Liu kept on crying, "spare me!"
"Any one who says one word more," Yan Yang exclaimed, "will be fined a whole decanter full."
Old goody Liu then at length observed silence.
"I'll now give out the set of dominoes." Yan Yang proceeded. "I'll begin from our venerable mistress and follow down in proper order until I come to old goody Liu, when I shall stop. So as to illustrate what I meant just now by giving out a set, I'll take these three dominoes and place them apart; you have to begin by saying something on the first, next, to allude to the second, and, after finishing with all three, to take the name of the whole set and match it with a line, no matter whether it be from some stanza or roundelay, song or idyl, set phrases or proverbs. But they must rhyme. And any one making a mistake will be mulcted in one cup."
"This rule is splendid; begin at once!" they all exclaimed.
"I've got a set," Yan Yang pursued; "on the left, is the piece 'heaven,' (twelve dots)."
"Above head stretches the blue heaven,"
dowager lady Chia said.
"Good!" shouted every one.
"In the centre is a five and six," Yan Yang resumed.
The fragrance of the plum blossom pierces the bones on the bridge "Six,"
old lady Chia added.
"There now remains," Yan Yang explained, "one piece, the six and one."
"From among the fleecy clouds issues the wheel-like russet sun."
dowager lady Chia continued.
"The whole combined," Yuan Yang observed "forms 'the devil with dishevelled hair.'"
"This devil clasps the leg of the 'Chung Pa' devil,"
old lady Chia observed.
At the conclusion of her recitation, they all burst out laughing. "Capital!" they shouted. Old lady Chia drained a cup. Yan Yang then went on to remark, "I've got another set; the one on the left is a double five."
"Bud after bud of the plum bloom dances in the wind,"
Mrs. Hseh replied.
"The one on the right is a ten spot," Yan Yang pursued.
"In the tenth moon the plum bloom on the hills emits its fragrant smell,"
Mrs. Hseh added.
"The middle piece is the two and five, making the 'unlike seven;'" Yan Yang observed.
"The 'spinning damsel' star meets the 'cow-herd' on the eve of the seventh day of the seventh moon,"
Miss Hseh said.
"Together they form: 'Erh Lang strolls on the five mounds;'" Yan Yang continued.
"Mortals cannot be happy as immortals,"
Mrs. Hseh rejoined.
Her answers over, the whole company extolled them and had a drink. "I've got another set!" Yan Yang once more exclaimed. "On the left, are distinctly the distant dots of the double ace."
"Both sun and moon are so suspended as to shine on heaven and earth,"
"On the right, are a couple of spots, far apart, which clearly form a one and one." Yan Yang pursued.
"What time a lonesome flower falls to the ground, no sound is audible,"
"In the middle, there is the one and four," Yan Yang added.
"The red apricot tree is planted by the sun, and leans against the clouds;"
"Together they form the 'cherry fruit ripens for the ninth time,'" Yan Yang said.
"In the imperial garden it is pecked by birds."
When she had done with her part, she drank a cup of wine. "I've got another set," Yan Yang began, "the one on the left is a double three."
"The swallows, pair by pair, chatter on the beams;"
"The right piece is a six," Yan Yang added.
"The marsh flower is stretched by the breeze e'en to the length of a green sash,"
"The centre piece is a three and six, making a nine spot," Yan Yang pursued.
"The three hills tower half beyond the azure skies;"
"Lumped together they form: a 'chain-bound solitary boat,'" Yan Yang resumed.
"Where there are wind and waves, there I feel sad;"
When she had finished her turn and drained her cup, Yan Yang went on again. "On the left," she said, "there's a 'heaven.'"
"A morning fine and beauteous scenery, but, alas, what a day for me!"
When this line fell on Pao-chai's ear, she turned her head round and cast a glance at her, but Tai-y was so nervous lest she should have to pay a forfeit that she did not so much as notice her.
"In the middle there's the 'colour of the embroidered screen, (ten spots, four and six), is beautiful,'" Yan Yang proceeded.
"Not e'en Hung Niang to the gauze window comes, any message to bring."
"There now remains a two and six, eight in all," Yan Yang resumed.
"Twice see the jady throne when led in to perform the court ritual,"
"Together they form 'a basket suitable for putting plucked flowers in,'" Yan Yang continued.
"The fairy wand smells nice as on it hangs a peony."
At the close of her replies, she took a sip of wine. Yan Yang then resumed. "On the left," she said, "there's a four and five, making a 'different-combined nine.'"
"The peach blossoms bear heavy drops of rain;"
Ying Ch'un remarked.
The company laughed. "She must be fined!" they exclaimed. "She has made a mistake in the rhyme. Besides, it isn't right!"
Ying Ch'un smiled and drank a sip. The fact is that both lady Feng and Yan Yang were so eager to hear the funny things that would be uttered by old goody Liu, that they with one voice purposely ruled that every one answered wrong and fined them. When it came to Madame Wang's turn, Yan Yang recited something for her. Next followed old goody Liu.
"When we country-people have got nothing to do," old goody Liu said, "a few of us too often come together and play this sort of game; but the answers we give are not so high-flown; yet, as I can't get out of it, I'll likewise make a try!"
"It's easy enough to say what there is," one and all laughed, "so just you go on and don't mind!"
"On the left," Yan Yang smiled, "there's a double four, i.e. 'man.'"
Goody Liu listened intently. After considerable reflection,
"It's a peasant!"
One and all in the room blurted out laughing.
"Well-said!" dowager lady Chia observed with a laugh, "that's the way."
"All we country-people know," old goody Liu proceeded, also laughing, "is just what comes within our own rough-and-ready wits, so young ladies and ladies pray don't poke fun at me!"
"In the centre there's the three and four, green matched with red," Yan Yang pursued.
"The large fire burnt the hairy caterpillar;"
old goody Liu ventured.
"This will do very well!", the party laughed, "go on with what is in your line."
"On the right," Yan Yang smilingly continued, "there's a one and four, and is really pretty."
"A turnip and a head of garlic."
old goody Liu answered.
This reply evoked further laughter from the whole company.
"Altogether, it's a twig of flowers," Yan Yang added laughing.
"The flower dropped, and a huge melon formed."
old goody Liu observed, while gesticulating with both her hands by way of illustration.
The party once more exploded in loud merriment.
But, reader, if you entertain any curiosity to hear what else was said during the banquet, listen to the explanation given in the next chapter.
Chia Pao-y tastes tea in the Lung Ts'ui monastery. Old goody Liu gets drunk and falls asleep in the I Hung court.
Old goody Liu, so the story goes, exclaimed, while making signs with both hands,
"The flower dropped and a huge melon formed;"
to the intense amusement of all the inmates, who burst into a boisterous fit of laughter. In due course, however, she drank the closing cup. Then she made another effort to evoke merriment. "To speak the truth to-day," she smilingly observed, "my hands and my feet are so rough, and I've had so much wine that I must be careful; or else I might, by a slip of the hand, break the porcelain cups. If you have got any wooden cups, you'd better produce them. It wouldn't matter then if even they were to slip out of my hands and drop on the ground!"
This joke excited some more mirth. But lady Feng, upon hearing this speedily put on a smile. "Well," she said, "if you really want a wooden one, I'll fetch you one at once! But there's just one word I'd like to tell you beforehand. Wooden cups are not like porcelain ones. They go in sets; so you'll have to do the right thing and drink from every cup of the set."
"I just now simply spoke in jest about those cups in order to induce them to laugh," old goody Liu at these words, mused within herself, "but, who would have thought that she actually has some of the kind. I've often been to the large households of village gentry on a visit, and even been to banquets there and seen both gold cups and silver cups; but never have I beheld any wooden ones about! Ah, of course! They must, I expect, be the wooden bowls used by the young children. Their object must be to inveigle me to have a couple of bowlfuls more than is good for me! But I don't mind it. This wine is, verily, like honey, so if I drink a little more, it won't do me any harm."
Bringing this train of thought to a close, "Fetch them!" she said aloud. "We'll talk about them by and bye."
Lady Feng then directed Feng Erh to go and bring the set of ten cups, made of bamboo roots, from the book-case in the front inner room. Upon hearing her orders, Feng Erh was about to go and execute them, when Yan Yang smilingly interposed. "I know those ten cups of yours," she remarked, "they're small. What's more, a while back you mentioned wooden ones, and if you have bamboo ones brought now, it won't look well; so we'd better get from our place that set of ten large cups, scooped out of whole blocks of aspen roots, and pour the contents of all ten of them down her throat?"
"Yes, that would be much better," lady Feng smiled.
The cups were then actually brought by a servant, at the direction of Yan Yang. At the sight of them, old goody Liu was filled with surprise as well as with admiration. Surprise, as the ten formed one set going in gradation from large to small; the largest being amply of the size of a small basin, the smallest even measuring two of those she held in her hand. Admiration, as they were all alike, engraved, in perfect style, with scenery, trees, and human beings, and bore inscriptions in the 'grass' character as well as the seal of the writer.
"It will be enough," she consequently shouted with alacrity, "if you give me that small one."
"There's no one," lady Feng laughingly insinuated, "with the capacity to tackle these! Hence it is that not a soul can pluck up courage enough to use them! But as you, old dame, asked for them, and they were fished out, after ever so much trouble, you're bound to do the proper thing and drink out of each, one after the other."
Old goody Liu was quite taken aback. "I daren't!" she promptly demurred. "My dear lady, do let me off!"
Dowager lady Chia, Mrs. Hseh and Madame Wang were quite alive to the fact that a person advanced in years as she was could not be gifted with such powers of endurance, and they hastened to smilingly expostulate. "To speak is to speak, and a joke is a joke, but she mayn't take too much," they said; "let her just empty this first cup, and have done."
"O-mi-to-fu!" ejaculated old goody Liu. "I'll only have a small cupful, and put this huge fellow away, and take it home and drink at my leisure."
At this remark, the whole company once more gave way to laughter. Yan Yang had no alternative but to give in and she had to bid a servant fill a large cup full of wine. Old goody Liu laid hold of it with both hands and raised it to her mouth.
"Gently a bit!" old lady Chia and Mrs. Hseh shouted. "Mind you don't choke!"
Mrs. Hseh then told lady Feng to put some viands before her. "Goody Liu!" smiled lady Feng, "tell me the name of anything you fancy, and I'll bring it and feed you."
"What names can I know?" old goody Liu rejoined. "Everything is good!"
"Bring some egg-plant and salt-fish for her!" dowager lady Chia suggested with a smile.
Lady Feng, upon hearing this suggestion, complied with it by catching some egg-plant and salt-fish with two chopsticks and putting them into old goody Liu's mouth. "You people," she smiled, "daily feed on egg-plants; so taste these of ours and see whether they've been nicely prepared or not."
"Don't be making a fool of me!" old goody Liu answered smilingly. "If egg-plants can have such flavour, we ourselves needn't sow any cereals, but confine ourselves to growing nothing but egg-plants!"
"They're really egg-plants!" one and all protested. "She's not pulling your leg!"
Old goody Liu was amazed. "If these be actually egg-plants," she said, "I've uselessly eaten them so long! But, my lady, do give me a few more; I'd like to taste the next mouthful carefully!"
Lady Feng brought her, in very deed, another lot, and put it in her mouth. Old goody Liu munched for long with particular care. "There is, it's true, something about them of the flavour of egg-plant," she laughingly remarked, "yet they don't quite taste like egg-plants. But tell me how they're cooked, so that I may prepare them in the same way for myself."
"There's nothing hard about it!" lady Feng answered smiling. "You take the newly cut egg-plants and pare the skin off. All you want then is some fresh meat. You hash it into fine mince, and fry it in chicken fat. Then you take some dry chicken meat, and mix it with mushrooms, new bamboo shoots, sweet mushrooms, dry beancurd paste, flavoured with five spices, and every kind of dry fruits, and you chop the whole lot into fine pieces. You then bake all these things in chicken broth, until it's absorbed, when you fry them, to finish, in sweet oil, and adding some oil, made of the grains of wine, you place them in a porcelain jar, and close it hermetically. At any time that you want any to eat, all you have to do is to take out some, and mix it with some roasted chicken, and there it is all ready."
Old goody Liu a shook her head and put out her tongue. "My Buddha's ancestor!" she shouted. "One wants about ten chickens to prepare this dish! It isn't strange then that it has this flavour!"
Saying this, she quietly finished her wine. But still she kept on minutely scrutinizing the cup.
"Haven't you yet had enough to satisfy you?" lady Feng smiled. "If you haven't, well, then drink another cup."
"Dreadful!" eagerly exclaimed old goody Liu. "I shall be soon getting so drunk that it will be the very death of me. I was only looking at it as I admire pretty things like this! But what a trouble it must have cost to turn out!"
"Have you done with your wine?" Yuan Yang laughingly inquired. "But, after all, what kind of wood is this cup made of?"
"It isn't to be wondered at," old goody Liu smiled, "that you can't make it out Miss! How ever could you people, who live inside golden doors and embroidered apartments, know anything of wood! We have the whole day long the trees in the woods as our neighbours. When weary, we use them as our pillows and go to sleep on them. When exhausted, we sit with our backs leaning against them. When, in years of dearth, we feel the pangs of hunger, we also feed on them. Day after day, we see them with our eyes; day after day we listen to them with our ears; day after day, we talk of them with our mouths. I am therefore well able to tell whether any wood be good or bad, genuine or false. Do let me then see what it is!"
As she spoke, she intently scanned the cup for a considerable length of time. "Such a family as yours," she then said, "could on no account own mean things! Any wood that is easily procured, wouldn't even find a place in here. This feels so heavy, as I weigh it in my hands, that if it isn't aspen, it must, for a certainty, be yellow cedar."
Her rejoinder amused every one in the room. But they then perceived an old matron come up. After asking permission of dowager lady Chia to speak: "The young ladies," she said, "have got to the Lotus Fragrance pavilion, and they request your commands, as to whether they should start with the rehearsal at once or tarry a while."
"I forgot all about them!" old lady Chia promptly cried with a smile. "Tell them to begin rehearsing at once!"
The matron expressed her obedience and walked away. Presently, became audible the notes of the pan-pipe and double flute, now soft, now loud, and the blended accents of the pipe and fife. So balmy did the breeze happen to be and the weather so fine that the strains of music came wafted across the arbours and over the stream, and, needless to say, conduced to exhilarate their spirits and to cheer their hearts. Unable to resist the temptation, Pao-y was the first to snatch a decanter and to fill a cup for himself. He quaffed it with one breath. Then pouring another cup, he was about to drain it, when he noticed that Madame Wang too was anxious for a drink, and that she bade a servant bring a warm supply of wine. "With alacrity, Pao-y crossed over to her, and, presenting his own cup, he applied it to Madame Wang's lips. His mother drank two sips while he held it in his hands, but on the arrival of the warm wine, Pao-y resumed his seat. Madame Wang laid hold of the warm decanter, and left the table, while the whole party quitted their places at the banquet; and Mrs. Hseh too rose to her feet.
"Take over that decanter from her," dowager lady Chia promptly shouted to Li Wan and lady Feng, "and press your aunt into a seat. We shall all then feel at ease!"
Hearing this, Madame Wang surrendered the decanter to lady Feng and returned to her seat.
"Let's all have a couple of cups of wine!" old lady Chia laughingly cried. "It's capital fun to-day!"
With this proposal, she laid hold of a cup and offered it to Mrs. Hseh. Turning also towards Hsiang-yn and Pao-ch'ai: "You two cousins!" she added, "must also have a cup. Your cousin Lin can't take much wine, but even she mustn't be let off."
While pressing them, she drained her cup. Hsiang-yn, Pao-ch'ai and Tai-y then had their drink. But about this time old goody Liu caught the strains of music, and, being already under the influence of liquor, her spirits became more and more exuberant, and she began to gesticulate and skip about. Her pranks amused Pao-y to such a degree that leaving the table, he crossed over to where Tai-y was seated and observed laughingly: "Just you look at the way old goody Liu is going on!"
"In days of yore," Tai-y smiled, "every species of animal commenced to dance the moment the sounds of music broke forth. She's like a buffalo now."
This simile made her cousins laugh. But shortly the music ceased. "We've all had our wine," Mrs. Hseh smilingly proposed, "so let's go and stroll about for a time; we can after that sit down again!"
Dowager lady Chia herself was at the moment feeling a strong inclination to have a ramble. In due course, therefore, they all left the banquet and went with their old senior, for a walk. Dowager lady Chia, however, longed to take goody Liu along with her to help her dispel her ennui, so promptly seizing the old dame's hand in hers, they threaded their way as far as the trees, which stood facing the hill. After lolling about with her for a few minutes, "What kind of tree is this?" she went on to inquire of her. "What kind of stone is this? What species of flower is that?"
Old goody Liu gave suitable reply to each of her questions. "Who'd ever have imagined it," she proceeded to tell dowager lady Chia; "not only are the human beings in the city grand, but even the birds are grand. Why, the moment these birds fly into your mansion, they also become beautiful things, and acquire the gift of speech as well!"
The company could not make out the drift of her observations. "What birds get transformed into beautiful things and become able to speak?" they felt impelled to ask.
"Those perched on those gold stands, under the verandah, with green plumage and red beaks are parrots. I know them well enough!" Goody Liu replied. "But those old black crows in the cages there have crests like phoenixes! They can talk too!"
One and all laughed. But not long elapsed before they caught sight of several waiting-maids, who came to invite them to a collation.
"After the number of cups of wine I've had," old lady Chia said, "I don't feel hungry. But never mind, bring the things here. We can nibble something at our leisure."
The maids speedily went off and fetched two teapoys; but they also brought a couple of small boxes with partitions. When they came to be opened and to be examined, the contents of each were found to consist of two kinds of viands. In the one, were two sorts of steamed eatables. One of these was a sweet cake, made of lotus powder, scented with sun-flower. The other being rolls with goose fat and fir cone seeds. The second box contained two kinds of fried eatables; one of which was small dumplings, about an inch in size.
"What stuffing have they put in them?" dowager lady Chia asked.
"They're with crabs inside," 'hastily rejoined the matrons.
Their old mistress, at this reply, knitted her eyebrows. "These fat, greasy viands for such a time!" she observed. "Who'll ever eat these things?"
But finding, when she came to inspect the other kind, that it consisted of small fruits of flour, fashioned in every shape, and fried in butter, she did not fancy these either. She then however pressed Mrs. Hseh to have something to eat, but Mrs. Hseh merely took a piece of cake, while dowager lady Chia helped herself to a roll; but after tasting a bit, she gave the remaining half to a servant girl.
Goody Liu saw how beautifully worked those small flour fruits were, made as they were in various colours and designs, and she took, after picking and choosing, one which looked like a peony. "The most ingenious girls in our village could not, even with a pair of scissors, cut out anything like this in paper!" she exclaimed. "I would like to eat it, but I can't make up my mind to! I had better pack up a few and take them home and give them to them as specimens!"
Her remarks amused every one.
"When you start for home," dowager lady Chia said, "I'll give you a whole porcelain jar full of them; so you may as well eat these first, while they are hot!"
The rest of the inmates selected such of the fruits as took their fancy, but after they had helped themselves to one or two, they felt satisfied. Goody Liu, however, had never before touched such delicacies. These were, in addition, made small, dainty, and without the least semblance of clumsiness, so when she and Pan Erh had served themselves to a few of each sort, half the contents of the dish vanished. But what remained of them were then, at the instance of lady Feng, put into two plates, and sent, together with a partition-box, to Wen Kuan and the other singing girls as their share.
At an unexpected moment, they perceived the nurse come in with Ta Chieh-erh in her arms, and they all induced her to have a romp with them for a time. But while Ta Chieh-erh was holding a large pumelo and amusing herself with it, she casually caught sight of Pan Erh with a 'Buddha's hand.' Ta Chieh would have it. A servant-girl endeavoured to coax (Pan-Erh) to surrender it to her, but Ta Chieh-erh, unable to curb her impatience, burst out crying. It was only after the pumelo had been given to Pan-Erh, and that the 'Buddha's hand' had, by dint of much humouring, been got from Pan Erh and given to her, that she stopped crying.
Pan Erh had played quite long enough with the 'Buddha's hand,' and had, at the moment, his two hands laden with fruits, which he was in the course of eating. When he suddenly besides saw how scented and round the pumelo was, the idea dawned on him that it was more handy for play, and, using it as a ball, he kicked it along and went off to have some fun, relinquishing at once every thought of the 'Buddha's hand.'
By this time dowager lady Chia and the other members had had tea, so leading off again goody Liu, they threaded their way to the Lung Ts'ui monastery. Miao Y hastened to usher them in. On their arrival in the interior of the court, they saw the flowers and trees in luxuriant blossom.
"Really," smiled old lady Chia, "it's those people, who devote themselves to an ascetic life and have nothing to do, who manage, by constant repairs, to make their places much nicer than those of others!"
As she spoke, she wended her steps towards the Eastern hall. Miao Y, with a face beaming with smiles, made way for her to walk in. "We've just been filling ourselves with wines and meats," dowager lady Chia observed, "and with the josses you've got in here, we shall be guilty of profanity. We'd better therefore sit here! But give us some of that good tea of yours; and we'll get off so soon as we have had a cup of it."
Pao-y watched Miao Y's movements intently, when he noticed her lay hold of a small tea-tray, fashioned in the shape of a peony, made of red carved lacquer, and inlaid with designs in gold representing a dragon ensconced in the clouds with the character 'longevity' clasped in its jaws, a tray, which contained a small multicoloured cup with cover, fabricated at the 'Ch'eng' Kiln, and present it to his grandmother.
"I don't care for 'Liu An' tea!" old lady Chia exclaimed.
"I know it; but this is old 'Chn Mei,'" Miao Y answered with a smile.
Dowager lady Chia received the cup. "What water is this?" she went on to inquire.
"It's rain water collected last year;" Miao Y added by way of reply.
Old lady Chia readily drank half a cup of the tea; and smiling, she proffered it to goody Liu. "Just you taste this tea!" she said.
Goody Liu drained the remainder with one draught. "It's good, of course," she remarked laughingly, "but it's rather weak! It would be far better were it brewed a little stronger!"
Dowager lady Chia and all the inmates laughed. But subsequently, each of them was handed a thin, pure white covered cup, all of the same make, originating from the 'Kuan' kiln. Miao Y, however, soon gave a tug at Pao-ch'ai's and Tai-y's lapels, and both quitted the apartment along with her. But Pao-y too quietly followed at their heels. Spying Miao Y show his two cousins into a side-room, Pao-ch'ai take a seat in the court, Tai-y seat herself on Miao Y's rush mat, and Miao Y herself approach a stove, fan the fire and boil some water, with which she brewed another pot of tea, Pao-y walked in. "Are you bent upon drinking your own private tea?" he smiled.
"Here you rush again to steal our tea," the two girls laughed with one accord. "There's none for you!"
But just as Miao Y was going to fetch a cup, she perceived an old taoist matron bring away the tea things, which had been used in the upper rooms. "Don't put that 'Ch'eng' kiln tea-cup by!" Miao Y hastily shouted. "Go and put it outside!"
Pao-y understood that it must be because old goody Liu had drunk out of it that she considered it too dirty to keep. He then saw Miao Y produce two other cups. The one had an ear on the side. On the bowl itself were engraved in three characters: 'calabash cup,' in the plain 'square' writing. After these, followed a row of small characters in the 'true' style, to the effect that the cup had been an article much treasured by Wang K'ai. Next came a second row of small characters stating: 'that in the course of the fourth moon of the fifth year of Yuan Feng, of the Sung dynasty, Su Shih of Mei Shan had seen it in the 'Secret' palace.
This cup, Miao Y filled, and handed to Pao-ch'ai.
The other cup was, in appearance, as clumsy as it was small; yet on it figured an engraved inscription, consisting of 'spotted rhinoceros cup,' in three 'seal' characters, which bore the semblance of pendent pearls. Miao Y replenished this cup and gave it to Tai-y; and taking the green jade cup, which she had, on previous occasions, often used for her own tea, she filled it and presented it to Pao-y.
"'The rules observed in the world,' the adage says, 'must be impartial,'" Pao-y smiled. "But while my two cousins are handling those antique and rare gems, here am I with this coarse object!"
"Is this a coarse thing?" Miao Y exclaimed. "Why, I'm making no outrageous statement when I say that I'm inclined to think that it is by no means certain that you could lay your hand upon any such coarse thing as this in your home!"
"'Do in the country as country people do,' the proverb says," Pao-y laughingly rejoined. "So when one gets in a place like this of yours, one must naturally look down upon every thing in the way of gold, pearls, jade and precious stones, as coarse rubbish!"
This sentiment highly delighted Miao Y. So much so, that producing another capacious cup, carved out of a whole bamboo root, which with its nine curves and ten rings, with twenty knots in each ring, resembled a coiled dragon, "Here," she said with a face beaming with smiles, "there only remains this one! Can you manage this large cup?"
"I can!" Pao-y vehemently replied, with high glee.
"Albeit you have the stomach to tackle all it holds," Miao Y laughed, "I haven't got so much tea for you to waste! Have you not heard how that the first cup is the 'taste'-cup; the second 'the stupid-thing-for- quenching-one's-thirst,' and the third 'the drink-mule' cup? But were you now to go in for this huge cup, why what more wouldn't that be?"
At these words, Pao-ch'ai, Tai-y and Pao-y simultaneously indulged in laughter. But Miao-y seized the teapot, and poured well-nigh a whole cupful of tea into the big cup. Pao-y tasted some carefully, and found it, in real truth, so exceptionally soft and pure that he extolled it with incessant praise.
"If you've had any tea this time," Miao-Y pursued with a serious expression about her face, "it's thanks to these two young ladies; for had you come alone, I wouldn't have given you any."
"I'm well aware of this," Pao-y laughingly rejoined, "so I too will receive no favour from your hands, but simply express my thanks to these two cousins of mine, and have done!"
"What you say makes your meaning clear enough!" Miao-y said, when she heard his reply.
"Is this rain water from last year?" Tai-y then inquired.
"How is it," smiled Miao Y sardonically, "that a person like you can be such a boor as not to be able to discriminate water, when you taste it? This is snow collected from the plum blossom, five years back, when I was in the P'an Hsiang temple at Hsan Mu. All I got was that flower jar, green as the devil's face, full, and as I couldn't make up my mind to part with it and drink it, I interred it in the ground, and only opened it this summer. I've had some of it once before, and this is the second time. But how is it you didn't detect it, when you put it to your lips? Has rain water, obtained a year back, ever got such a soft and pure flavour? and how possibly could it be drunk at all?"
Tai-y knew perfectly what a curious disposition she naturally had, and she did not think it advisable to start any lengthy discussion with her. Nor did she feel justified to protract her stay, so after sipping her tea, she intimated to Pao-ch'ai her intention to go, and they quitted the apartment.
Pao-y gave a forced smile to Miao Y. "That cup," he said, "is, of course, dirty; but is it not a pity to put it away for no valid reason? To my idea it would be preferable, wouldn't it? to give it to that poor old woman; for were she to sell it, she could have the means of subsistence! What do you say, will it do?"
Miao Y listened to his suggestion, and then nodded her head, after some reflection. "Yes, that will be all right!" she answered. "Lucky for her I've never drunk a drop out of that cup, for had I, I would rather have smashed it to atoms than have let her have it! If you want to give it to her, I don't mind a bit about it; but you yourself must hand it to her! Now, be quick and clear it away at once!"
"Of course; quite so!" Pao-y continued. "How could you ever go and speak to her? Things would then come to a worse pass. You too would be contaminated! If you give it to me, it will be all right."
Miao Y there and then directed some one to fetch it and to give it to Pao-y. When it was brought, Pao-y took charge of it. "Wait until we've gone out," he proceeded, "and I'll call a few servant-boys and bid them carry several buckets of water from the stream and wash the floors; eh, shall I?"
"Yes, that would be better!" Miao Y smiled. "The only thing is that you must tell them to bring the water, and place it outside the entrance door by the foot of the wall; for they mustn't come in."
"This goes without saying!" Pao-y said; and, while replying, he produced the cup from inside his sleeve, and handed it to a young waiting-maid from dowager lady Chia's apartments to hold. "To-morrow," he told her, "give this to goody Liu to take with her, when she starts on her way homewards!"
By the time he made (the girl) understand the charge he entrusted her with, his old grandmother issued out and was anxious to return home. Miao Y did not exert herself very much to induce her to prolong her visit; but seeing her as far the main gate, she turned round and bolted the doors. But without devoting any further attention to her, we will now allude to dowager lady Chia.
She felt thoroughly tired and exhausted. To such a degree, that she desired Madame Wang, Ying Ch'un and her sisters to see that Mrs. Hseh had some wine, while she herself retired to the Tao Hsiang village to rest. Lady Feng immediately bade some servants fetch a bamboo chair. On its arrival, dowager lady Chia seated herself in it, and two matrons carried her off hemmed in by lady Feng, Li Wan and a bevy of servant-girls, and matrons. But let us now leave her to herself, without any additional explanations.
During this while, Mrs. Hseh too said good bye and departed. Madame Wang then dismissed Wen Kuan and the other girls, and, distributing the eatables, that had been collected in the partition-boxes, to the servant-maids to go and feast on, she availed herself of the leisure moments to lie off; so reclining as she was, on the couch, which had been occupied by her old relative a few minutes back, she bade a young maid lower the portire; after which, she asked her to massage her legs.
"Should our old lady yonder send any message, mind you call me at once," she proceeded to impress on her mind, and, laying herself down, she went to sleep.
Pao-y, Hsiang-yn and the rest watched the servant-girls take the partition-boxes and place them among the rocks, and seat themselves some on boulders, others on the turf-covered ground, some lean against the trees, others squat down besides the pool, and thoroughly enjoy themselves. But in a little time, they also perceived Yan Yang arrive. Her object in coming was to carry off goody Liu for a stroll, so in a body they followed in their track, with a view of deriving some fun. Shortly, they got under the honorary gateway put up in the additional grounds, reserved for the imperial consort's visits to her parents, and old goody Liu shouted aloud: "Ai-yoh! What! Is there another big temple here!"
While speaking, she prostrated herself and knocked her head, to the intense amusement of the company, who were quite doubled up with laughter.
"What are you laughing at?" goody Liu inquired. "I can decipher the characters on this honorary gateway. Over at our place temples of this kind are exceedingly plentiful; and they've all got archways like this! These characters give the name of the temple."
"Can you make out from those characters what temple this is?" they laughingly asked.
Goody Liu quickly raised her head, and, pointing at the inscription, "Are'nt these," she said, "the four characters 'Pearly Emperor's Precious Hall?'"
Everybody laughed. They clapped their hands and applauded. But when about to chaff her again, goody Liu experienced a rumbling noise in her stomach, and vehemently pulling a young servant-girl, and asking her for a couple of sheets of paper, she began immediately to loosen her garments. "It won't do in here!" one and all laughingly shouted out to her, and quickly they directed a matron to lead her away. When they got at the north-east corner, the matron pointed the proper place out to her, and in high spirits she walked off and went to have some rest.