Goody Liu had taken plenty of wine; she could not too touch yellow wine; she had, what is more, drunk and eaten so many fat things that in the thirst, which supervened, she had emptied several cups of tea; the result was that she unavoidably got looseness of the bowels. She therefore squatted for ever so long before she felt any relief. But on her exit from the private chamber, the wind blew the wine to her head. Besides, being a woman well up in years, she felt, upon suddenly rising from a long squatting position, her eyes grow so dim and her head so giddy that she could not make out the way. She gazed on all four quarters, but the whole place being covered with trees, rockeries, towers, terraces, and houses, she was quite at a loss how to determine her whereabouts, and where each road led to. She had no alternative but to follow a stone road, and to toddle on her way with leisurely step. But when she drew near a building, she could not make out where the door could be. After searching and searching, she accidentally caught sight of a bamboo fence. "Here's another trellis with flat bean plants creeping on it!" Goody Liu communed within herself. While giving way to reflection, she skirted the flower-laden hedge, and discovering a moonlike, cavelike, entrance, she stepped in. Here she discerned, stretching before her eyes a sheet of water, forming a pond, which measured no more than seven or eight feet in breadth. Its banks were paved with slabs of stone. Its jadelike waves flowed in a limpid stream towards the opposite direction. At the upper end, figured a slab of white marble, laid horizontally over the surface. Goody Liu wended her steps over the slab and followed the raised stone-road; then turning two bends, in the lake, an entrance into a house struck her gaze. Forthwith, she crossed the doorway, but her eyes were soon attracted by a young girl, who advanced to greet her with a smile playing upon her lips.
"The young ladies," goody Liu speedily remarked laughing, "have cast me adrift; they made me knock about, until I found my way in here."
But seeing, after addressing her, that the girl said nothing by way of reply, goody Liu approached her and seized her by the hand, when, with a crash, she fell against the wooden partition wall and bumped her head so that it felt quite sore. Upon close examination, she discovered that it was a picture. "Do pictures really so bulge out!" Goody Liu mused within herself, and, as she exercised her mind with these cogitations, she scanned it and rubbed her hand over it. It was perfectly even all over. She nodded her head, and heaved a couple of sighs. But the moment she turned round, she espied a small door over which hung a soft portire, of leek-green colour, bestrewn with embroidered flowers. Goody Liu lifted the portire and walked in. Upon raising her head, and casting a glance round, she saw the walls, artistically carved in fretwork. On all four sides, lutes, double-edged swords, vases and censers were stuck everywhere over the walls; and embroidered covers and gauze nets, glistened as brightly as gold, and shed a lustre vying with that of pearls. Even the bricks, on the ground, on which she trod, were jadelike green, inlaid with designs, so that her eyes got more and more dazzled. She tried to discover an exit, but where could she find a doorway? On the left, was a bookcase. On the right, a screen. As soon as she repaired behind the screen, she faced a door; but, she then caught sight of another old dame stepping in from outside, and advancing towards her. Goody Liu was wonderstruck. Her mind was full of uncertainty as to whether it might not be her son-in-law's mother. "I expect," she felt prompted to ask with vehemence, "you went to the trouble of coming to hunt for me, as you didn't see me turn up at home for several days, eh? But what young lady introduced you in here?" Then noticing that her whole head was bedecked with flowers, old goody Liu laughed. "How ignorant of the ways of the world you are!" she said. "Seeing the nice flowers in this garden, you at once set to work, forgetful of all consequences, and loaded your pate with them!"
However, while she derided her, the other old dame simply laughed, without making any rejoinder. But the recollection suddenly flashed to her memory that she had often heard of some kind of cheval-glasses, found in wealthy and well-to-do families, and, "May it not be," (she wondered), "my own self reflected in this glass!" After concluding this train of thoughts, she put out her hands, and feeling it and then minutely scrutinising it, she realised that the four wooden partition walls were made of carved blackwood, into which mirrors had been inserted. "These have so far impeded my progress," she consequently exclaimed, "and how am I to manage to get out?"
As she soliloquised, she kept on rubbing the mirror. This mirror was, in fact, provided with some western mechanism, which enabled it to open and shut, so while goody Liu inadvertently passed her hands, quite at random over its surface, the pressure happily fell on the right spot, and opening the contrivance, the mirror flung round, exposing a door to view. Old goody Liu was full of amazement as well as of admiration. With hasty step, she egressed. Her eyes unexpectedly fell on a most handsome set of bed-curtains. But being at the time still seven or eight tenths in the wind, and quite tired out from her tramp, she with one jump squatted down on the bed, saying to herself: "I'll just have a little rest." So little, however, did she, contrary to her expectations, have any control over herself, that, as she reeled backwards and forwards, her eyes got quite drowsy, and then the moment she threw herself in a recumbent position, she dropped into a sound sleep.
But let us now see what the others were up to. They waited for her and waited; but they saw nothing of her. Pan Erh got, in the absence of his grandmother, so distressed that he melted into tears. "May she not have fallen into the place?" one and all laughingly observed. "Be quick and tell some one to go and have a look!"
Two matrons were directed to go in search of her; but they returned and reported that she was not to be found. The whole party instituted a search in every nook and corner, but nothing could be seen of her.
"She was so drunk," Hsi Jen suggested, "that she's sure to have lost her way, and following this road, got into our back-rooms. Should she have crossed to the inner side of the hedge, she must have come to the door of the backhouse and got in. Nevertheless, the young maids, she must have come across, must know something about her. If she did not get inside the hedge, but continued in a south westerly direction, she's all right, if she made a detour and walked out. But if she hasn't done so, why, she'll have enough of roaming for a good long while! I had better therefore go and see what she's up to."
With these words still on her lips, she retraced her footsteps and repaired into the I Hung court. She called out to the servants, but, who would have thought it, the whole bevy of young maids, attached to those rooms, had seized the opportunity to go and have a romp, so Hsi Jen straightway entered the door of the house. As soon as she turned the multicoloured embroidered screen, the sound of snoring as loud as peals of thunder, fell on her ear. Hastily she betook herself inside, but her nostrils were overpowered by the foul air of wine and w..d, which infected the apartment. At a glance, she discovered old goody Liu lying on the bed, face downwards, with hands sprawled out and feet knocking about all over the place. Hsi Jen sustained no small shock. With precipitate hurry, she rushed up to her, and, laying hold of her, lying as she was more dead than alive, she pushed her about until she succeeded in rousing her to her senses. Old goody Liu was startled out of her sleep. She opened wide her eyes, and, realising that Hsi Jen stood before her, she speedily crawled up. "Miss!" she pleaded. "I do deserve death! I have done what I shouldn't; but I haven't in any way soiled the bed."
So saying, she swept her hands over it. But Hsi Jen was in fear and trembling lest the suspicions of any inmate should be aroused, and lest Pao-y should come to know of it, so all she did was to wave her hand towards her, bidding her not utter a word. Then with alacrity grasping three or four handfuls of 'Pai Ho' incense, she heaped it on the large tripod, which stood in the centre of the room, and put the lid back again; delighted at the idea that she had not been so upset as to be sick.
"It doesn't matter!" she quickly rejoined in a low tone of voice with a smile, "I'm here to answer for this. Come along with me!"
While old goody Liu expressed her readiness to comply with her wishes, she followed Hsi Jen out into the quarters occupied by the young maids. Here (Hsi Jen) desired her to take a seat. "Mind you say," she enjoined her, "that you were so drunk that you stretched on a boulder and had a snooze!"
"All right! I will!" old goody Liu promised.
Hsi Jen afterwards helped her to two cups of tea, when she, at length, got over the effects of the wine. "What young lady's room is this that it is so beautiful?" she then inquired. "It seemed to me just as if I had gone to the very heavenly palace."
Hsi Jen gave a faint smile. "This one?" she asked. "Why, it's our master Secundus', Mr. Pao's bedroom."
Old goody Liu was quite taken aback, and could not even presume to utter a sound. But Hsi Jen led her out across the front compound; and, when they met the inmates of the family, she simply explained to them that she had found her fast asleep on the grass, and brought her along. No one paid any heed to the excuse she gave, and the subject was dropped.
Presently, dowager lady Chia awoke, and the evening meal was at once served in the Tao Hsiang Ts'un. Dowager lady Chia was however quite listless, and felt so little inclined to eat anything that she forthwith got into a small open chair, with bamboo seat, and returned to her suite of rooms to rest. But she insisted that lady Feng and her companions should go and have their repast, so the young ladies eventually adjourned once more into the garden.
But, reader, you do not know the sequel, so peruse the circumstances given in detail in the next chapter.
The Princess of Heng Wu dispels, with sweet words, some insane suspicions. The inmate of Hsiao Hsiang puts, with excellent repartee, the final touch to the jokes made about goody Liu.
We will now resume our story by adding that, on the return of the young ladies into the garden, they had their meal. This over, they parted company, and nothing more need be said about them. We will notice, however, that old goody Liu took Pan Erh along with her, and came first and paid a visit to lady Feng. "We must certainly start for home to-morrow, as soon as it is daylight," she said. "I've stayed here, it's true, only two or three days, but in these few days I have reaped experience in everything that I had not seen from old till now. It would be difficult to find any one as compassionate of the poor and considerate to the old as your venerable dame, your Madame Wang, your young ladies, and the girls too attached to the various rooms, have all shown themselves in their treatment of me! When I get home now, I shall have no other means of showing how grateful I am to you than by purchasing a lot of huge joss-sticks and saying daily prayers to Buddha on your behalf; and if he spares you all to enjoy a long life of a hundred years my wishes will be accomplished."
"Don't be so exultant!" lady Feng smilingly replied. "It's all on account of you that our old ancestor has fallen ill, by exposing herself to draughts and that she suffers from disturbed sleep; also that our Ta Chieh-erh has caught a chill and is laid up at home with fever."
Goody Liu, at these words, speedily heaved a sigh. "Her venerable ladyship," she said, "is a person advanced in years and not accustomed to any intense fatigue!"
"She has never before been in such high spirits as yesterday!" lady Feng observed. "As you were here, so anxious was she to let you see everything, that she trudged over the greater part of the garden. And Ta Chieh-erh was given a piece of cake by Madame Wang, when I came to hunt you up, and she ate it, who knows in what windy place, and began at once to get feverish."
"Ta Chieh-erh," goody Liu remarked, "hasn't, I fancy, often put her foot into the garden; and young people like her mustn't really go into strange places, for she's not like our children, who are able to use their legs! In what graveyards don't they ramble about! A puff of wind may, on the one hand, have struck her, it's not at all unlikely; or being, on the other, so chaste in body, and her eyes also so pure she may, it is to be feared, have come across some spirit or other. I can't help thinking therefore that you should consult some book of exorcisms on her behalf; for mind she may have run up against some evil influence."
This remark suggested the idea to lady Feng. There and then she called P'ing Erh to fetch the 'Jade Box Record.' When brought, she desired Ts'ai Ming to look over it for her. Ts'ai Ming turned over the pages for a time, and then read: 'Those who fall ill on the 25th day of the 8th moon have come across, in a due westerly quarter, of some flower spirit; they feel heavy, with no inclination for drink or food. Take seven sheets of white paper money, and, advancing forty steps due west, burn them and exorcise the spirit; recovery will follow at once!'"
"There's really no mistake about that!" lady Feng smiled. "Are there not flower spirits in the garden? But what I dread is that our old lady mayn't have come across one too."
Saying this, she bade a servant purchase two lots of paper money. On their arrival, she sent for two proper persons, the one to exorcise the spirits for dowager lady Chia and the other to expel them from Ta Chieh-erh; and these observances over, Ta Chieh-erh did, in effect, drop quietly to sleep.
"It's verily people advanced in years like you," lady Feng smilingly exclaimed; "who've gone through many experiences! This Ta Chieh-erh of mine has often been inclined to ail, and it has quite puzzled me to make out how and why it was."
"This isn't anything out of the way!" goody Liu said. "Affluent and honourable people bring up their offspring to be delicate. So naturally, they are not able to endure the least hardship! Moreover, that young child of yours is so excessively cuddled that she can't stand it. Were you, therefore, my lady, to pamper her less from henceforth, she'll steadily improve."
"There's plenty of reason in that too!" lady Feng observed. "But it strikes me that she hasn't as yet got a name, so do give her one in order that she may borrow your long life! In the next place, you are country-people, and are, after all,—I don't expect you'll get angry when I mention it,—somewhat in poor circumstances. Were a person then as poor as you are to suggest a name for her, you may, I trust, have the effect of counteracting this influence for her."
When old goody Liu heard this proposal, she immediately gave herself up to reflection. "I've no idea of the date of her birth!" she smiled after a time.
"She really was born on no propitious date!" lady Feng replied. "By a remarkable coincidence she came into the world on the seventh day of the seventh moon!"
"This is certainly splendid!" old goody Lin laughed with alacrity. "You had better name her at once Ch'iao Chieh-erh (seventh moon and ingenuity). This is what's generally called: combating poison by poison and attacking fire by fire. If therefore your ladyship fixes upon this name of mine, she will, for a surety, attain a long life of a hundred years; and when she by and bye grows up to be a big girl, every one of you will be able to have a home and get a patrimony! Or if, at any time, there occur anything inauspicious and she has to face adversity, why it will inevitably change into prosperity; and if she comes across any evil fortune, it will turn into good fortune. And this will all arise from this one word, 'Ch'iao' (ingenuity.)"
Lady Feng was, needless to say, delighted by what she heard, and she lost no time in expressing her gratitude. "If she be preserved," she exclaimed, "to accomplish your good wishes, it will be such a good thing!" Saying this, she called P'ing Erh. "As you and I are bound to be busy to-morrow," she said, "and won't, I fear, be able to spare any leisure moments, you'd better, if you have nothing to do now, get ready the presents for old goody Liu, so as to enable her to conveniently start at early dawn to-morrow."
"How could I presume to be the cause of such reckless waste?" goody Liu interposed. "I've already disturbed your peace and quiet for several days, and were I to also take your things away, I'd feel still less at ease in my heart!"
"There's nothing much!" lady Feng protested. "They consist simply of a few ordinary things. But, whether good or bad, do take them along, so that the people in the same street as yourselves and your next-door neighbours may have some little excitement, and that it may look as if you had been on a visit to the city!"
But while she endeavoured to induce the old dame to accept the presents, she noticed P'ing Erh approach. "Goody Liu," she remarked, "come over here and see!"
Old goody Liu precipitately followed P'ing Erh into the room on the off side. Here she saw the stove-couch half full with piles of things. P'ing Erh took these up one by one and let her have a look at them. "This," she explained, "is a roll of that green gauze you asked for yesterday. Besides this, our lady Feng gives you a piece of thick bluish-white gauze to use as lining. These are two pieces of pongee, which will do for wadded coats and jupes as well. In this bundle are two pieces of silk, for you to make clothes with, for the end of the year. This is a box containing various home-made cakes. Among them are some you've already tasted and some you haven't; so take them along, and put them in plates and invite your friends; they'll be ever so much better than any that you could buy! These two bags are those in which the melons and fruit were packed up yesterday. This one has been filled with two bushels of fine rice, grown in the imperial fields, the like of which for congee, it would not be easy to get. This one contains fruits from our garden and all kinds of dry fruits. In this packet, you'll find eight taels of silver. These various things are presents for you from our Mistress Secunda. Each of these packets contains fifty taels so that there are in all a hundred taels; they're the gift of Madame Wang. She bids you accept them so as to either carry on any trade, for which no big capital is required, or to purchase several acres of land, in order that you mayn't henceforward have any more to beg favours of relatives, or to depend upon friends." Continuing, she added smilingly, in a low tone of voice, "These two jackets, two jupes, four head bands, and a bundle of velvet and thread are what I give you, worthy dame, as my share. These clothes are, it is true, the worse for use, yet I haven't worn them very much. But if you disdain them, I won't be so presuming as to say anything."
After mention of each article by P'ing Erh, goody Liu muttered the name of Buddha, so already she had repeated Buddha's name several thousands of times. But when she saw the heap of presents which P'ing Erh too bestowed on her, and the little ostentation with which she did it, she promptly smiled. "Miss!" she said, "what are you saying? Could I ever disdain such nice gifts as these! Had I even the money, I couldn't buy them anywhere. The only thing is that I feel overpowered with shame. If I keep them, it won't be nice, and if I don't accept them, I shall be showing myself ungrateful for your kind attention."
"Don't utter all this irrelevant talk!" P'ing Erh laughed. "You and I are friends; so compose your mind and take the things I gave you just now! Besides, I have, on my part, something to ask of you. When the close of the year comes, select a few of your cabbages, dipped in lime, and dried in the sun, as well as some lentils, flat beans, tomatoes and pumpkin strips, and various sorts of dry vegetables and bring them over. We're all, both high or low, fond of such things. These will be quite enough! We don't want anything else, so don't go to any useless trouble!"
Goody Liu gave utterance to profuse expressions of gratitude and signified her readiness to comply with her wishes.
"Just you go to sleep," P'ing Erh urged, "and I'll get the things ready for you and put them in here. As soon as the day breaks to-morrow, I'll send the servant-lads to hire a cart and pack them in; don't you therefore worry yourself in the least on that score!"
Goody Liu felt more and more ineffably grateful. So crossing over, she again said, with warm protestations of thankfulness, good bye to lady Feng; after which, she repaired to dowager lady Chia's quarters on this side, where she slept, with one sleep, during the whole night. Early the next day, as soon as she had combed her hair and performed her ablutions, she asked to go and pay her adieus to lady Chia. But as old lady Chia was unwell, the various members of the family came to see how she was getting on. On their reappearance outside, they transmitted orders that the doctor should be sent for. In a little time, a matron reported that the doctor had arrived, and an old nurse invited dowager lady Chia to ensconce herself under the curtain.
"I'm an old woman!" lady Chia remonstrated. "Am I not aged enough to be a mother to that fellow? and am I, pray, to still stand on any ceremonies with him? There's no need to drop the curtain; I'll see him as I am, and have done."
Hearing her objections, the matrons fetched a small table, and, laying a small pillow on it, they directed a servant to ask the doctor in.
Presently, they perceived the trio Chia Chen, Chia Lien, and Chia Jung, bringing Dr. Wang. Dr. Wang did not presume to use the raised road, but confining himself to the side steps, he kept pace with Chia Chen until they reached the platform. Two matrons, who had been standing, one on either side from an early hour, raised the portire. A couple of old women servants then took the lead and showed the way in. But Pao-y too appeared on the scene to meet them.
They found old lady Chia seated bolt upright on the couch, dressed in a blue crape jacket, lined with sheep skin, every curl of which resembled a pearl. On the right and left stood four young maids, whose hair had not as yet been allowed to grow, with fly-brushes, finger-bowls, and other such articles in their hands. Five or six old nurses were also drawn up on both sides like wings. At the back of the jade-green gauze mosquito-house were faintly visible several persons in red and green habiliments, with gems on their heads, and gold trinkets in their coiffures.
Dr. Wang could not muster the courage to raise his head. With speedy step, he advanced and paid his obeisance. Dowager lady Chia noticed that he wore the official dress of the sixth grade, and she accordingly concluded that he must be an imperial physician. "How are you noble doctor?" she inquired, forcing a smile. "What is the worthy surname of this noble doctor?" she then asked Chia Chen.
Chia Chen and his companions made prompt reply. "His surname is Wang," they said.
"There was once a certain Wang Chn-hsiao who filled the chair of President of the College of Imperial Physicians," dowager lady smilingly proceeded. "He excelled in feeling the pulse."
Dr. Wang bent his body, and with alacrity he lowered his head and returned her smile. "That was," he explained, "my grand uncle."
"Is it really so!" laughingly pursued dowager lady Chia, upon catching this reply. "We can then call ourselves old friends!"
So speaking, she quietly put out her hand and rested it on the small pillow. A nurse laid hold of a small stool and placed it before the small table, slightly to the side of it. Dr. Wang bent one knee and took a seat on the stool. Drooping his head, he felt the pulse of the one hand for a long while; next, he examined that of the other; after which, hastily making a curtsey, he bent his head and started on his way out of the apartment.
"Excuse me for the trouble I've put you to!" dowager lady Chia smiled. "Chen Erh, escort him outside, and do see that he has a cup of tea."
Chia Chen, Chia Lien and the rest of their companions immediately acquiesced by uttering several yes's, and once more they led Dr. Wang into the outer study.
"Your worthy senior," Dr. Wang explained, "has nothing else the matter with her than a slight chill, which she must have inadvertently contracted. She needn't, after all, take any medicines; all she need do is to diet herself and keep warm a little; and she'll get all right. But I'll now write a prescription, in here. Should her venerable ladyship care to take any of the medicine, then prepare a dose, according to the prescription, and let her have it. But should she be loth to have any, well, never mind, it won't be of any consequence."
Saying this, he wrote the prescription, as he sipped his tea. But when about to take his leave, he saw a nurse bring Ta Chieh-erh into the room. "Mr. Wang," she said, "do also have a look at our Chieh Erh!"
Upon hearing her appeal, Dr. Wang immediately rose to his feet. While she was clasped in her nurse's arms, he rested Ta Chieh-erh's hand on his left hand and felt her pulse with his right, and rubbing her forehead, he asked her to put out her tongue and let him see it. "Were I to express my views about Chieh Erh, you would again abuse me! If she's, however, kept quiet and allowed to go hungry for a couple of meals, she'll get over this. There's no necessity for her to take any decocted medicines. I'll just send her some pills, which you'll have to dissolve in a preparation of ginger, and give them to her before she goes to sleep; when she has had these, there will be nothing more the matter with her."
At the conclusion of these recommendations, he bade them goodbye and took his departure. Chia Chen and his companions then took the prescription and came and explained to old lady Chia the nature of her indisposition, and, depositing on the table, the paper given to them by the doctor, they quitted her presence. But nothing more need be said about them.
Madame Wang and Li Wan, lady Feng, Pao Ch'ai and the other young ladies noticed, meanwhile, that the doctor had gone, and they eventually egressed from the back of the mosquito-house. After a short stay, Madame Wang returned to her quarters. Goody Liu repaired, when she perceived everything quiet again, into the upper rooms and made her adieus to dowager lady Chia.
"When you've got any leisure, do pay us another visit," old lady Chia urged, and bidding Yuan Yang come to her, "Do be careful," she added, "and see dame Liu safely on her way out; for not being well I can't escort you myself."
Goody Liu expressed her thanks, and saying good bye a second time, she betook herself, along with Yan Yang, into the servants' quarters. Here Yan Yang pointed at a bundle on the stove-couch. "These are," she said, "several articles of clothing, belonging to our old mistress; they were presented to her in years gone by, by members of our family on her birthdays and various festivals; her ladyship never wears anything made by people outside; yet to hoard these would be a downright pity! Indeed, she hasn't worn them even once. It was yesterday that she told me to get out two costumes and hand them to you to take along with you, either to give as presents, or to be worn by some one in your home; but don't make fun of us! In the box you'll find the flour-fruits, for which you asked. This bundle contains the medicines to which you alluded the other day. There are 'plum-blossom-spotted-tongue pills,' and 'purple-gold- ingot- pills,' also 'vivifying-blood-vessels-pills,' as well as 'driving-offspring and preserving-life pills;' each kind being rolled up in a sheet bearing the prescription; and the whole lot of them are packed up in here. While these two are purses for you to wear in the way of ornaments." So saying, she forthwith loosened the cord, and, producing two ingots representing pencils, and with 'ju i' on them, implying 'your wishes will surely be fulfilled,' she drew near and showed them to her, "Take the purses," she pursued smiling, "but do leave these behind and give them to me."
Goody Liu was so overjoyed that she had, from an early period, come out afresh with several thousands of invocations of Buddha's names. When she therefore heard Yan Yang's suggestion, "Miss," she quickly rejoined, "you're at perfect liberty to keep them!"
Yan Yang perceived that her words were believed by her; so smiling she once more dropped the ingots into the purse. "I was only joking with you for fun!" she observed. "I've got a good many like these; keep them therefore and give them, at the close of the year, to your young children."
Speaking the while, she espied a young maid walk in with a cup from the 'Ch'eng' kiln, and hand it to old goody Liu. "This," (she said,) "our master Secundus, Mr. Pao, gives you."
"Whence could I begin enumerating the things I got!" Goody Liu exclaimed. "In what previous existence did I accomplish anything so meritorious as to bring to-day this heap of blessings upon me!"
With these words, she eagerly took possession of the cup.
"The clothes I gave you the other day, when I asked you to have a bath, were my own," Yan Yang resumed, "and if you don't think them too mean, I've got a few more, which I would also like to let you have."
Goody Liu thanked her with vehemence, so Yan Yang, in point of fact, produced several more articles of clothing, and these she packed up for her. Goody Liu thereupon expressed a desire to also go into the garden and take leave of Pao-y and the young ladies, Madame Wang and the other inmates and to thank them for all they did for her, but Yan Yang raised objections. "You can dispense with going!" she remarked. "They don't see any one just now! But I'll deliver the message for you by and bye! When you've got any leisure, do come again. Go to the second gate," she went on to direct an old matron, "and call two servant-lads to come here, and help this old dame to take her things away!"
After the matron had signified her obedience, Yan Yang returned with goody Liu to lady Feng's quarters, on the off part of the mansion, and, taking the presents as far as the side gate, she bade the servant-lads carry them out. She herself then saw goody Liu into her curricle and start on her journey homewards.
But without commenting further on this topic, let us revert to Pao-ch'ai and the other girls. After breakfast, they recrossed into their grandmother's rooms and made inquiries about her health. On their way back to the garden, they reached a point where they had to take different roads. Pao-ch'ai then called out to Tai-y. "P'in Erh!" she observed, "come with me; I've got a question to ask you."
Tai-y wended her steps therefore with Pao-ch'ai into the Heng Wu court. As soon as they entered the house, Pao-ch'ai threw herself into a seat. "Kneel down!" she smiled. "I want to examine you about something!"
Tai-y could not fathom her object, and consequently laughed. "Look here." she cried, "this chit Pao has gone clean off her senses! What do you want to examine me about?"
Pao-ch'ai gave a sardonic smile. "My dear, precious girl, my dear maiden," she exclaimed, "what utter trash fills your mouth! Just speak the honest and candid truth, and finish!"
Tai-y could so little guess her meaning that her sole resource was to smile. Inwardly, however, she could not help beginning to experience certain misgivings. "What did I say?" she remarked. "You're bent upon picking out my faults! Speak out and let me hear what it's all about!"
"Do you still pretend to be a fool?" Pao-ch'ai laughed. "When we played yesterday that game of wine-forfeits, what did you say? I really couldn't make out any head or tail."
Tai-y, after a moment's reflection, remembered eventually that she had the previous day been guilty of a slip of the tongue and come out with a couple of passages from the 'Peony Pavilion,' and the 'Record of the West Side-house,' and, of a sudden, her face got scarlet with blushes. Drawing near Pao-ch'ai she threw her arms round her. "My dear cousin!" she smiled, "I really wasn't conscious of what I was saying! It just blurted out of my mouth! But now that you've called me to task, I won't say such things again."
"I've no idea of what you were driving at," Pao-ch'ai laughingly rejoined. "What I heard you recite sounds so thoroughly unfamiliar to me, that I beg you to enlighten me!"
"Dear cousin," pleaded Tai-y, "don't tell anyone else! I won't, in the future, breathe such things again."
Pao-ch'ai noticed how from shame the blood rushed to her face, and how vehement she was in her entreaties, and she felt both to press her with questions; so pulling her into a seat to make her have a cup of tea, she said to her in a gentle tone, "Whom do you take me for? I too am wayward; from my youth up, yea ever since I was seven or eight, I've been enough trouble to people! Our family was also what one would term literary. My grandfather's extreme delight was to be ever with a book in his hand. At one time, we numbered many members, and sisters and brothers all lived together; but we had a distaste for wholesome books. Among my brothers, some were partial to verses; others had a weakness for blank poetical compositions; and there were none of such works as the 'Western side-House,' and 'the Guitar,' even up to the hundred and one books of the 'Yan' authors, which they hadn't managed to get. These books they stealthily read behind our backs; but we, on our part, devoured them, on the sly, without their knowing it. Subsequently, our father came to get wind of it; and some of us he beat, while others he scolded; burning some of the books, and throwing away others. It is therefore as well that we girls shouldn't know anything of letters. Men, who study books and don't understand the right principle, can't, moreover, reach the standard of those, who don't go in for books; so how much more such as ourselves? Even versifying, writing and the like pursuits aren't in the line of such as you and me. Indeed, neither are they within the portion of men. Men, who go in for study and fathom the right principles, should cooperate in the government of the empire, and should rule the nation; this would be a nobler purpose; but one doesn't now-a-days hear of the very existence of such persons! Hence, the study of books makes them worse than they ever were before. But it isn't the books that ruin them; the misfortune is that they make improper use of books! That is why study doesn't come up to ploughing and sowing and trading; as these pursuits exercise no serious pernicious influences. As far, however, as you and I go, we should devote our minds simply to matters connected with needlework and spinning; for we will then be fulfilling our legitimate duties. Yet, it so happens that we too know a few characters. But, as we can read, it behoves us to choose no other than wholesome works; for these will do us no harm! What are most to be shirked are those low books, as, when once they pervert the disposition, there remains no remedy whatever!"
While she indulged in this long rigmarole, Tai-y lowered her head and sipped her tea. And though she secretly shared the same views on the subject, all the answer she gave her in assent was limited to one single word 'yes.' But at an unexpected moment, Su Yn appeared in the room. "Our lady Lien," she said, "requests the presence of both of you, young ladies, to consult with you in an important matter. Miss Secunda, Miss Tertia, Miss Quarta, Miss Shih and Mr. Pao, our master Secundus, are there waiting for you."
"What's up again?" Pao-ch'ai inquired.
"You and I will know what it is when we get there," Tai-y explained.
So saying, she came, with Pao-ch'ai, into the Tao Hsiang village. Here they, in fact, discovered every one assembled. As soon as Li Wan caught sight of the two cousins, she smiled. "The society has barely been started," she observed, "and here's one who wants to give us the slip; that girl Quarta wishes to apply for a whole year's leave."
"It's that single remark of our worthy senior's yesterday that is at the bottom of it!" Tai-y laughed. "For by bidding her execute some painting or other of the garden, she has put her in such high feather that she applies for leave!"
"Don't be so hard upon our dear ancestor!" Pao-Ch'ai rejoined, a smile playing on her lips. "It's entirely due to that allusion of grandmother Liu's."
Tai-y speedily took up the thread of the conversation. "Quite so!" she smiled. "It's all through that remark of hers! But of what branch of the family is she a grandmother? We should merely address her as the 'female locust;' that's all."
As she spoke, one and all were highly amused.
"When any mortal language finds its way into that girl Feng's mouth," Pao-ch'ai laughed, "she knows how to turn it to the best account! What a fortunate thing it is that that vixen Feng has no idea of letters and can't boast of much culture! Her forte is simply such vulgar things as suffice to raise a laugh! Worse than her is that P'in Erh with that coarse tongue! She has recourse to the devices of the 'Ch'un Ch'iu'! By selecting, from the vulgar expressions used in low slang, the most noteworthy points, she eliminates what's commonplace, and makes, with the addition of a little elegance and finish, her style so much like that of the text that each sentence has a peculiar character of its own! The three words representing 'female locust' bring out clearly the various circumstances connected with yesterday! The wonder is that she has been so quick in devising them!"
After lending an ear to her arguments, they all laughed. "Those explanations of yours," they cried, "show well enough that you are not below those two!"
"Pray, let's consult as to how many days' leave to grant her!" Li Wan proposed. "I gave her a month, but she thinks it too little. What do you say about it?"
"Properly speaking," Tai-y put in, "one year isn't much! The laying out of this garden occupied a whole year; and to paint a picture of it now will certainly need two years' time. She'll have to rub the ink, to moisten the pencils, to stretch the paper, to mix the pigments, and to...."
When she had reached this point, even Tai-y could not restrain herself from laughing. "If she goes on so leisurely to work," she exclaimed, "won't she require two years' time?"
Those, who caught this insinuation, clapped their hands and indulged in incessant merriment.
"Her innuendoes are full of zest!" Pao-ch'ai ventured laughingly. "But what takes the cake is that last remark about leisurely going to work, for if she weren't to paint at all, how could she ever finish her task? Hence those jokes cracked yesterday were, sufficient, of course, to evoke laughter, but, on second thought, they're devoid of any fun! Just you carefully ponder over P'in Erh's words! Albeit they don't amount to much, you'll nevertheless find, when you come to reflect on them, that there's plenty of gusto about them. I've really had such a laugh over them that I can scarcely move!
"It's the way that cousin Pao-ch'ai puffs her up," Hsi Ch'un observed "that makes her so much the more arrogant that she turns me also into a laughing-stock now!"
Tai-y hastily smiled and pulled her towards her. "Let me ask you," she said, "are you only going to paint the garden, or will you insert us in it as well?"
"My original idea was to have simply painted the garden," Hsi Ch'un explained; "but our worthy senior told me again yesterday that a mere picture of the grounds would resemble the plan of a house, and recommended that I should introduce some inmates too so as to make it look like what a painting should. I've neither the knack for the fine work necessary for towers and terraces, nor have I the skill to draw representations of human beings; but as I couldn't very well raise any objections, I find myself at present on the horns of a dilemma about it!"
"Human beings are an easy matter!" Tai-y said. "What beats you are insects."
"Here you are again with your trash!" Li Wan exclaimed. "Will there be any need to also introduce insects in it? As far, however, as birds go, it may probably be advisable to introduce one or two kinds!"
"If any other insects are not put in the picture," Tai-y smiled, "it won't matter; but without yesterday's female locust in it, it will fall short of the original?"
This retort evoked further general amusement. While Tai-y laughed, she beat her chest with both hands. "Begin painting at once!" she cried. "I've even got the title all ready. The name I've chosen is, 'Picture of a locust brought in to have a good feed.'"
At these words, they laughed so much the more heartily that at a time they bent forward, and at another they leant back. But a sound of "Ku tung" then fell on their ears, and unable to make out what could have dropped, they anxiously and precipitately looked about. It was, they found, Shih Hsiang-yn, who had been reclining on the back of the chair. The chair had, from the very outset, not been put in a sure place, and while indulging in hearty merriment she threw her whole weight on the back. She did not, besides, notice that the dovetails on each side had come out, so with a tilt towards the east, she as well as the chair toppled over in a heap. Luckily, the wooden partition-wall was close enough to arrest her fall, and she did not sprawl on the ground. The sight of her created more amusement than ever among all her relatives; so much so, that they could scarcely regain their equilibrium. It was only after Pao-y had rushed up to her, and given her a hand and raised her to her feet again that they at last managed to gradually stop laughing.
Pao-y then winked at Tai-y. Tai-y grasped his meaning, and, forthwith withdrawing into the inner room, she lifted the cover of the mirror, and looked at her face. She found the hair about her temples slightly dishevelled, so, promptly opening Li Wan's toilet-case, and extracting a narrow brush, she stood in front of the mirror, and smoothed it down with a few touches. Afterwards, laying the brush in its place she stepped into the outer suite. "Is this," she said pointing at Li Wan, "doing what you're told and showing us how to do needlework and teaching us manners? Why, instead of that, you press us to come here and have a good romp and a hearty laugh!"
"Just you listen to her perverse talk," Li Wan laughed. "She takes the lead and kicks up a rumpus, and incites people to laugh, and then she throws the blame upon me! In real truth, she's a despicable thing! What I wish is that you should soon get some dreadful mother-in-law, and several crotchety and abominable older and younger sisters-in-law, and we'll see then whether you'll still be as perverse or not!"
Tai-y at once became quite scarlet in the face, and pulling Pao-ch'ai, "Let us," she added, "give her a whole year's leave!"
"I've got an impartial remark to make. Listen to me all of you!" Pao-ch'ai chimed in. "Albeit the girl, Ou, may have some idea about painting, all she can manage are just a few outline sketches, so that unless, now that she has to accomplish the picture of this garden, she can lay a claim to some ingenuity, will she ever be able to succeed in effecting a painting? This garden resembles a regular picture. The rockeries and trees, towers and pavilions, halls and houses are, as far as distances and density go, neither too numerous, nor too few. Such as it is, it is fitly laid out; but were you to put it on paper in strict compliance with the original, why, it will surely not elicit admiration. In a thing like this, it's necessary to pay due care to the various positions and distances on paper, whether they should be large or whether small; and to discriminate between main and secondary; adding what is needful to add, concealing and reducing what should be concealed and reduced, and exposing to view what should remain visible. As soon as a rough copy is executed, it should again be considered in all its details, for then alone will it assume the semblance of a picture. In the second place, all these towers, terraces and structures must be distinctly delineated; for with just a trifle of inattention, the railings will slant, the pillars will be topsy-turvy, doors and windows will recline in a horizontal position, steps will separate, leaving clefts between them, and even tables will be crowded into the walls, and flower-pots piled on portires; and won't it, instead of turning out into a picture, be a mere caricature? Thirdly, proper care must also be devoted, in the insertion of human beings, to density and height, to the creases of clothing, to jupes and sashes, to fingers, hands, and feet, as these are most important details; for if even one stroke be not thoroughly executed, then, if the hands be not swollen, the feet will be made to look as if they were lame. The colouring of faces and the drawing of the hair are minor points; but, in my own estimation, they really involve intense difficulty. Now a year's leave is, on one hand, too excessive, and a month's is, on the other, too little; so just give her half a year's leave. Depute, besides, cousin Pao-y to lend her a hand in her task. Not that cousin Pao knows how to give any hints about painting; that in itself would be more of a drawback; but in order that, in the event of there being anything that she doesn't comprehend, or of anything perplexing her as to how best to insert it, cousin Pao may take the picture outside and make the necessary inquiries of those gentlemen, who excel in painting. Matters will thus be facilitated for her."
At this suggestion Pao-y was the first to feel quite enchanted. "This proposal is first-rate!" he exclaimed. "The towers and terraces minutely executed by Chan Tzu-liang are so perfect, and the beauties painted by Ch'eng Jih-hsing so extremely fine that I'll go at once and ask them of them!"
"I've always said that you fuss for nothing!" Pao-ch'ai interposed. "I merely passed a cursory remark, and there you want to go immediately and ask for things. Do wait until we arrive at some decision in our deliberations, and then you can go! But let's consider now what would be best to use to paint the picture on?"
"I've got, in my quarters," Pao-y answered, "some snow-white, wavy paper, which is both large in size, and proof against ink as well."
Pao-ch'ai gave a sarcastic smile. "I do maintain," she cried, "that you are a perfectly useless creature! That snow-white, wavy paper is good for pictures consisting of characters and for outline drawings. Or else, those who have the knack of making landscapes, use it for depicting scenery of the southern Sung era, as it resists ink and is strong enough to bear coarse painting. But were you to employ this sort of paper to make a picture of this garden on, it will neither stand the colours, nor will it be easy to dry the painting by the fire. So not only won't it be suitable, but it will be a pity too to waste the paper. I'll tell you a way how to get out of this. When this garden was first laid out, some detailed plan was used, which although executed by a mere house-decorator, was perfect with regard to sites and bearings. You'd better therefore ask for it of your worthy mother, and apply as well to lady Feng for a piece of thick glazed lustring of the size of that paper, and hand them to the gentlemen outside, and request them to prepare a rough copy for you, with any alterations or additions as might be necessary to make so as to accord with the style of these grounds. All that will remain to be done will be to introduce a few human beings; no more. Then when you have to match the azure and green pigments as well as the ground gold and ground silver, you can get those people again to do so for you. But you'll also have to bring an extra portable stove, so as to have it handy for melting the glue, and for washing your pencils, after you've taken the glue off. You further require a large table, painted white and covered with a cloth. That lot of small dishes you have aren't sufficient; your pencils too are not enough. It will be well consequently for you to purchase a new set of each."
"Do I own such a lot of painting materials!" Hsi Ch'un exclaimed. "Why, I simply use any pencil that first comes under my hand to paint with; that's all. And as for pigments, I've only got four kinds, ochrey stone, 'Kuang' flower paint, rattan yellow and rouge. Besides these, all I have amount to a couple of pencils for applying colours; no more."
"Why didn't you say so earlier?" Pao-ch'ai remarked. "I've still got some of these things remaining. But you don't need them, so were I to give you any, they'd lie uselessly about. I'll put them away for you now for a time, and, when you want them, I'll let you have some. You should, however, keep them for the exclusive purpose of painting fans; for were you to paint such big things with them it would be a pity! I'll draw out a list for you to-day to enable you to go and apply to our worthy senior for the items; as it isn't likely that you people can possibly know all that's required. I'll dictate them, and cousin Pao can write them down!"
Pao-y had already got a pencil and inkslab ready, for, fearing lest he might not remember clearly the various necessaries, he had made up his mind to write a memorandum of them; so the moment he heard Pao-ch'ai's suggestion, he cheerfully took up his pencil, and listened quietly.
"Four pencils of the largest size," Pao-ch'ai commenced, "four of the third size; four of the second size; four pencils for applying colours on big ground; four on medium ground; four for small ground; ten claws of large southern crabs; ten claws of small crabs; ten pencils for painting side-hair and eyebrows; twenty for laying heavy colours; twenty for light colours; ten for painting faces; twenty willow-twigs; four ounces of 'arrow head' pearls; four ounces of southern ochre; four ounces of stone yellow; four ounces of dark green; four ounces of malachite; four ounces of tube-yellow; eight ounces of 'kuang' flower; four boxes of lead powder; ten sheets of rouge; two hundred sheets of thin red-gold leaves; two hundred sheets of lead; four ounces of smooth glue, from the two Kuang; and four ounces of pure alum. The glue and alum for sizing the lustring are not included, so don't bother yourselves about them, but just take the lustring and give it to them outside to size it with alum for you. You and I can scour and clarify all these pigments, and thus amuse ourselves, and prepare them for use as well. I feel sure you'll have an ample supply to last you a whole lifetime. But you must also get ready four sieves of fine lustring; a pair of coarse ones; four brush-pencils; four bowls, some large, some small; twenty large, coarse saucers; ten five-inch plates; twenty three-inch coarse, white plates; two stoves; four large and small earthenware pans; two new porcelain jars; four new water buckets; four one-foot-long bags, made of white cloth; two catties of light charcoal; one or two catties of willow-wood charcoal; a wooden box with three drawers; a yard of thick gauze, two ounces of fresh ginger; half a catty of soy;..."
"An iron kettle and an iron shovel," hastily chimed in Tai-y with a smile full of irony.
"To do what with them?" Pao-ch'ai inquired.
"You ask for fresh ginger, soy and all these condiments, so I indent for an iron kettle for you to cook the paints and eat them." Tai-y answered, to the intense merriment of one and all, who gave way to laughter.
"What do you, P'in Erh, know about these things?" Pao-ch'ai laughed. "I am not certain in my mind that you won't put those coarse coloured plates straightway on the fire. But unless you take the precaution beforehand of rubbing the bottom with ginger juice, mixed with soy, and of warming them dry, they're bound to crack, the moment they experience the least heat."
"It's really so," they exclaimed with one voice, after this explanation.
Tai-y perused the list for a while. She then smiled and gave T'an Ch'un a tug. "Just see," she whispered, "we want to paint a picture, and she goes on indenting for a number of water jars and boxes! But, I presume, she's got so muddled, that she inserts a list of articles needed for her trousseau."
T'an Ch'un, at her remark, laughed with such heartiness, that it was all she could do to check herself. "Cousin Pao," she observed, "don't you wring her mouth? Just ask her what disparaging things she said about you."
"Why need I ask?" Pao-ch'ai smiled. "Is it likely, pray, that you can get ivory out of a cur's mouth?"
Speaking the while, she drew near, and, seizing Tai-y, she pressed her down on the stove-couch with the intention of pinching her face. Tai-y smilingly hastened to implore for grace. "My dear cousin," she cried, "spare me! P'in Erh is young in years; all she knows is to talk at random; she has no idea of what's proper and what's improper. But you are my elder cousin, so teach me how to behave. If you, cousin, don't let me off, to whom can I go and address my entreaties?"
Little did, however, all who heard her apprehend that there lurked some hidden purpose in her insinuations. "She's right there," they consequently pleaded smilingly. "So much is she to be pitied that even we have been mollified; do spare her and finish!"
Pao-ch'ai had, at first, meant to play with her, but when she unawares heard her drag in again the advice she had tendered her the other day, with regard to the reckless perusal of unwholesome books, she at once felt as if she could not have any farther fuss with her, and she let her rise to her feet.
"It's you, after all, elder cousin," Tai-y laughed. "Had it been I, I wouldn't have let any one off."
Pao-ch'ai smiled and pointed at her. "It is no wonder," she said, "that our dear ancestor doats on you and that every one loves you. Even I have to-day felt my heart warm towards you! But come here and let me put your hair up for you!"
Tai-y then, in very deed, swung herself round and crossed over to her. Pao-ch'ai arranged her coiffure with her hands. Pao-y, who stood by and looked on, thought the style, in which her hair was being made up, better than it was before. But, of a sudden, he felt sorry at what had happened, as he fancied that she should not have let her brush her side hair, but left it alone for the time being and asked him to do it for her. While, however, he gave way to these erratic thoughts, he heard Pao-ch'ai speak. "We've done with what there was to write," she said, "so you'd better tomorrow go and tell grandmother about the things. If there be any at home, well and good; but if not, get some money to buy them with. I'll then help you both in your preparations."
Pao-y vehemently put the list away; after which, they all joined in a further chat on irrelevant matters; and, their evening meal over, they once more repaired into old lady Chia's apartments to wish her good-night. Their grandmother had, indeed, had nothing serious the matter with her. Her ailment had amounted mainly to fatigue, to which a slight chill had been super-added, so that having kept in the warm room for the day and taken a dose or two of medicine, she entirely got over the effects, and felt, in the evening, quite like own self again.
But, reader, the occurrences of the next day areas yet a mystery to you, but the nest chapter will divulge them.
Having time to amuse themselves, the Chia inmates raise, when least expected, funds to celebrate lady Feng's birthday. In his ceaseless affection for Chin Ch'uen, Pao-y uses, for the occasion, a pinch of earth as incense and burns it.
When Madame Wang saw, for we will now proceed with our narrative, that the extent of dowager lady Chia's indisposition, contracted on the day she had been into the garden of Broad Vista, amounted to a simple chill, that no serious ailment had supervened, and that her health had improved soon after the doctor had been sent for and she had taken a couple of doses of medicine, she called lady Feng to her and asked her to get ready a present of some kind for her to take to her husband, Chia Cheng. But while they were engaged in deliberation, they perceived a waiting-maid arrive. She came from their old senior's part to invite them to go to her. So, with speedy step, Madame Wang led the way for lady Feng, and they came over into her quarters.
"Pray, may I ask," Madame Wang then inquired, "whether you're feeling nearly well again now?"
"I'm quite all right to-day," old lady Chia replied. "I've tasted the young-pheasant soup you sent me a little time back and find it full of relish. I've also had two pieces of meat, so I feel quite comfortable within me."
"These dainties were presented to you, dear ancestor, by that girl Feng," Madame Wang smiled. "It only shows how sincere her filial piety is. She does not render futile the love, which you, venerable senior, ever lavish on her."
Dowager lady Chia nodded her head assentingly. "She's too kind to think of me!" she answered smiling. "But should there be any more uncooked, let them fry a couple of pieces; and, if these be thoroughly immersed in wine, the congee will taste well with them. The soup is, it's true, good, but it shouldn't, properly speaking, be prepared with fine rice."
After listening to her wishes, lady Feng expressed with alacrity her readiness to see them executed, and directed a servant to go and deliver the message in the cook-house.
"I sent the servant for you," dowager lady Chia meanwhile said to Madame Wang with a smile, "not for anything else, but for the birthday of that girl Feng, which falls on the second. I had made up my mind two years ago to celebrate her birthday in proper style, but when the time came, there happened to be again something important to attend to, and it went by without anything being done. But this year, the inmates are, on one hand, all here, and there won't, I fancy, be, on the other, anything to prevent us, so we should all do our best to enjoy ourselves thoroughly for a day."
"I was thinking the same thing," Madame Wang rejoined, laughingly, "and, since it's your good pleasure, venerable senior, why, shouldn't we deliberate at once and decide upon something?"
"To the best of my recollection," dowager lady Chia resumed smiling, "whenever in past years I've had any birthday celebrations for any one of us, no matter who it was, we have ever individually sent our respective presents; but this method is common and is also apt, I think, to look very much as if there were some disunion. But I'll now devise a new way; a way, which won't have the effect of creating any discord, and will be productive of good cheer."
"Let whatever way you may think best, dear ancestor, be adopted." Madame Wang eagerly rejoined.
"My idea is," old lady Chia laughingly continued, "that we too should follow the example of those poor families and raise a subscription among ourselves, and devote the whole of whatever we may collect to meet the outlay for the necessary preparations. What do you say, will this do or not?"
"This is a splendid idea!" Madame Wang acquiesced. "But what will, I wonder, be the way adopted for raising contributions?"
Old lady Chia was the more inspirited by her reply. There and then she despatched servants to go and invite Mrs. Hseh, Madame Hsing and the rest of the ladies, and bade others summon the young ladies and Pao-y. But from the other mansion, Chia Chen's spouse, Lai Ta's wife, even up to the wives of such stewards as enjoyed a certain amount of respectability, were likewise to be asked to come round.
The sight of their old mistress' delight filled the waiting-maids and married women with high glee as well; and each hurried with vehemence to execute her respective errand. Those that were to be invited were invited, and those that had to be sent for were sent for; and, before the lapse of such time as could suffice to have a meal in, the old as well as young, the high as well as low, crammed, in a black mass, every bit of the available space in the rooms.
Only Mrs. Hseh and dowager lady Chia sat opposite to each other. Mesdames Hsing and Wang simply seated themselves on two chairs, which faced the door of the apartment. Pao-ch'ai and her five or six cousins occupied the stove-couch. Pao-y sat on his grandmother's lap. Below, the whole extent of the floor was crowded with inmates on their feet. But old lady Chia forthwith desired that a few small stools should be fetched. When brought, these were proffered to Lai Ta's mother and some other nurses, who were advanced in years and held in respect; for it was the custom in the Chia mansion that the family servants, who had waited upon any of the fathers or mothers, should enjoy a higher status than even young masters and mistresses. Hence it was that while Mrs. Yu, lady Feng and other ladies remained standing below, Lai Ta's mother and three or four other old nurses had, after excusing themselves for their rudeness, seated themselves on small stools.
Dowager lady Chia recounted, with a face beaming with smiles, the suggestions she had shortly made, for the benefit of the various inmates present; and one and all, of course, were only too ready to contribute for the entertainment. More, some of them, were on friendly terms with lady Feng, so they, of their own free will, adopted the proposal; others lived in fear and trembling of lady Feng, and these were only too anxious to make up to her. Every one, besides, could well afford the means, so that, as soon as they heard of the proposed subscriptions, they, with one consent, signified their acquiescence.
"I'll give twenty taels!" old lady Chia was the first to say with a smile playing round her lips.
"I'll follow your lead, dear senior," Mrs. Hseh smiled, "and also subscribe twenty taels."
"We don't presume to place ourselves on an equal footing with your ladyship," Mesdames Hsing and Wang pleaded. "We, of course, come one degree lower; each of us therefore will contribute sixteen taels."
"We too naturally rank one step lower," Mrs. Yu and Li Wan also smiled, "so we'll each give twelve taels."
"You're a widow," dowager lady Chia eagerly demurred, addressing herself to Li Wan, "and have lost all your estate, so how could we drag you into all this outlay! I'll contribute for you!"
"Don't be in such high feather dear senior," lady Feng hastily observed laughing, "but just look to your accounts before you saddle yourself with this burden! You've already taken upon yourself two portions; and do you now also volunteer sixteen taels on behalf of my elder sister-in-law? You may willingly do so, while you speak in the abundance of your spirits, but when you, by and bye, come to ponder over what you've done, you'll feel sore at heart again! 'It's all that girl Feng that's driven me to spend the money,' you'll say in a little time; and you'll devise some ingenious way to inveigle me to fork out three or four times as much as your share and thus make up your deficit in an underhand way; while I will still be as much in the clouds as if I were in a dream!"
These words made every one laugh.
"According to you, what should be done?" dowager lady Chia laughingly inquired.
"My birthday hasn't yet come," lady Feng smiled; "and already now I've been the recipient of so much more than I deserve that I am quite unhappy. But if I don't contribute a single cash, I shall feel really ill at ease for the trouble I shall be giving such a lot of people. It would be as well, therefore, that I should bear this share of my senior sister-in-law; and, when the day comes, I can eat a few more things, and thus be able to enjoy some happiness."
"Quite right!" cried Madame Hsing and the others at this suggestion. So old lady Chia then signified her approval.
"There's something more I'd like to add," lady Feng pursued smiling. "I think that it's fair enough that you, worthy ancestor, should, besides your own twenty taels, have to stand two shares as well, the one for cousin Liu, the other for cousin Pao-y, and that Mrs. Hseh should, beyond her own twenty taels, likewise bear cousin Pao-ch'ai's portion. But it's somewhat unfair that the two ladies Mesdames Hsing and Wang should each only give sixteen taels, when their share is small, and when they don't subscribe anything for any one else. It's you, venerable senior, who'll be the sufferer by this arrangement."
Dowager lady Chia, at these words, burst out into a boisterous fit of laughter. "It's this hussey Feng," she observed, "who, after all, takes my side! What you say is quite right. Hadn't it been for you, I would again have been duped by them!"
"Dear senior!" lady Feng smiled. Just hand over our two cousins to those two ladies and let each take one under her charge and finish. If you make each contribute one share, it will be square enough."
"This is perfectly fair," eagerly rejoined old lady Chia. "Let this suggestion be carried out!"
Lai Ta's mother hastily stood up. "This is such a subversion of right," she smiled, "that I'll put my back up on account of the two ladies. She's a son's wife, on the other side, and, in here, only a wife's brother's child; and yet she doesn't incline towards her mother-in-law and her aunt, but takes other people's part. This son's wife has therefore become a perfect stranger; and a close niece has, in fact, become a distant niece!"
As she said this, dowager lady Chia and every one present began to laugh. "If the junior ladies subscribe twelve taels each," Lai Ta's mother went on to ask, "we must, as a matter of course, also come one degree lower; eh?"
Upon hearing this, old lady Chia remonstrated. "This won't do!" she observed. "You naturally should rank one degree lower, but you're all, I am well aware, wealthy people; and, in spite of your status being somewhat lower, your funds are more flourishing than theirs. It's only just then that you should be placed on the same standing as those people!"
The posse of nurses expressed with promptness their acceptance of the proposal their old mistress made.
"The young ladies," dowager lady Chia resumed, "should merely give something for the sake of appearances! If each one contributes a sum proportionate to her monthly allowance, it will be ample!" Turning her head, "Yan Yang!" she cried, "a few of you should assemble in like manner, and consult as to what share you should take in the matter. So bring them along!"
Yan Yang assured her that her desires would be duly attended to and walked away. But she had not been absent for any length of time, when she appeared on the scene along with P'ing Erh, Hsi Jen, Ts'ai Hsia and other girls, and a number of waiting-maids as well. Of these, some subscribed two taels; others contributed one tael.
"Can it be," dowager lady Chia then said to P'ing Erh, "that you don't want any birthday celebrated for your mistress, that you don't range yourself also among them?"
"The other money I gave," P'ing Erh smiled, "I gave privately, and is extra." "This is what I am publicly bound to contribute along with the lot."
"That's a good child!" lady Chia laughingly rejoined.
"Those above as well as those below have all alike given their share," lady Feng went on to observe with a smile. "But there are still those two secondary wives; are they to give anything or not? Do go and ask them! It's but right that we should go to the extreme length and include them. Otherwise, they'll imagine that we've looked down upon them!"
"Just so!" eagerly answered lady Chia, at these words. "How is it that we forgot all about them? The only thing is, I fear, they've got no time to spare; yet, tell a servant-girl to go and ask them what they'll do!"
While she spoke, a servant-girl went off. After a long absence, she returned. "Each of them," she reported, "will likewise contribute two taels."
Dowager lady Chia was delighted with the result. "Fetch a pen and inkslab," she cried, "and let's calculate how much they amount to, all together."
Mrs. Yu abused lady Feng in a low tone of voice. "I'll take you, you mean covetous creature, and ... ! All these mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law have come forward and raised money to celebrate your birthday, and are you yet not satisfied that you must also drag in those two miserable beings! But what do you do it for?"
"Try and talk less trash!" lady Feng smiled; also in an undertone. "We'll be leaving this place in a little time and then I'll square up accounts with you! But why ever are those two miserable? When they have money, they uselessly give it to other people; and isn't it better that we should get hold of it, and enjoy ourselves with it?"
While she uttered these taunts, they computed that the collections would reach a sum over and above one hundred and fifty taels.
"We couldn't possibly run through all this for a day's theatricals and banquet!" old lady Chia exclaimed.
"As no outside guests are to be invited," Mrs. Yu interposed, "and the number of tables won't also be many, there will be enough to cover two or three days' outlay! First of all, there won't be anything to spend for theatricals, so we'll effect a saving on that item."
"Just call whatever troupe that girl Feng may say she likes best," dowager lady Chia suggested.
"We've heard quite enough of the performances of that company of ours," lady Feng said; "let's therefore spend a little money and send for another, and see what they can do."
"I leave that to you, brother Chen's wife," old lady Chia pursued, "in order that our girl Feng should have occasion to trouble her mind with as little as possible, and be able to enjoy a day's peace and quiet. It's only right that she should."
Mrs. Yu replied that she would be only too glad to do what she could. They then prolonged their chat for a little longer, until one and all realised that their old senior must be quite fagged out, and they gradually dispersed.
After seeing Mesdames Hsing and Wang off, Mrs. Yu and the other ladies adjourned into lady Feng's rooms to consult with her about the birthday festivities.
"Don't ask me!" lady Feng urged. "Do whatever will please our worthy ancestor."
"What a fine thing you are to come across such a mighty piece of luck!" Mrs. Yu smiled. "I was wondering what had happened that she summoned us all! Why, was it simply on this account? Not to breathe a word about the money that I'll have to contribute, must I have trouble and annoyance to bear as well? How will you show me any thanks?"
"Don't bring shame upon yourself!" lady Feng laughed. "I didn't send for you; so why should I be thankful to you! If you funk the exertion, go at once and let our venerable senior know, and she'll depute some one else and have done."
"You go on like this as you see her in such excellent spirits, that's why!" Mrs. Yu smilingly answered. "It would be well, I advise you, to pull in a bit; for if you be too full of yourself, you'll get your due reward!"
After some further colloquy, these two ladies eventually parted company.
On the next day, the money was sent over to the Ning Kuo Mansion at the very moment that Mrs. Yu had got up, and was performing her toilette and ablutions. "Who brought it?" she asked.
"Nurse Lin," the servant-girl said by way of response.
"Call her in," Mrs. Yu said.
The servant-girls walked as far as the lower rooms and called Lin Chih-hsiao's wife to come in. Mrs. Yu bade her seat herself on the footstool. While she hurriedly combed her hair and washed her face and hands, she wanted to know how much the bundle contained in all.
"This is what's subscribed by us servants." Lin Chih-hsiao's wife replied, "and so I collected it and brought it over first. As for the contributions of our venerable mistress, and those of the ladies, they aren't ready yet."
But simultaneously with this reply, the waiting-maids announced: "Our lady of the other mansion and Mrs. Hseh have sent over some one with their portions."
"You mean wenches!" Mrs. Yu cried, scolding them with a smile. "All the gumption you've got is to simply bear in mind this sort of nonsense! In a fit of good cheer, your old mistress yesterday purposely expressed a wish to imitate those poor people, and raise a subscription. But you at once treasured it up in your memory, and, when the thing came to be canvassed by you, you treated it in real earnest! Don't you yet quick bundle yourselves out, and bring the money in! Be careful and give them some tea before you see them off."
The waiting-maids smilingly hastened to go and take delivery of the money and bring it in. It consisted, in all, of two bundles, and contained Pao-ch'ai's and Tai-y's shares as well.
"Whose shares are wanting?" Mrs. Yu asked.
"Those of our old lady, of Madame Wang, the young ladies, and of our girls below are still missing," Lin Chih-hsiao's wife explained.
"There's also that of your senior lady," Mrs. Yu proceeded.
"You'd better hurry over, my lady," Lin Chih-hsiao's wife said; "for as this money will be issued through our mistress Secunda, she'll nobble the whole of it."
While conversing, Mrs. Yu finished arranging her coiffure and performing her ablutions; and, giving orders to see that the carriage was got ready, she shortly arrived at the Jung mansion. First and foremost she called on lady Feng. Lady Feng, she discovered, had already put the money into a packet, and was on the point of sending it over.
"Is it all there?" Mrs. Yu asked.
"Yes, it is," lady Feng smiled, "so you might as well take it away at once; for if it gets mislaid, I've nothing to do with it."
"I'm somewhat distrustful," Mrs. Yu laughed, "so I'd like to check it in your presence."
These words over, she verily checked sum after sum. She found Li Wan's share alone wanting. "I said that you were up to tricks!" laughingly observed Mrs. Yu. "How is it that your elder sister-in-law's isn't here?"
"There's all that money; and isn't it yet enough?" lady Feng smiled. "If there's merely a portion short it shouldn't matter! Should the money prove insufficient, I can then look you up, and give it to you."
"When the others were present yesterday," Mrs. Yu pursued, "you were ready enough to act as any human being would; but here you're again to-day prevaricating with me! I won't, by any manner of means, agree to this proposal of yours! I'll simply go and ask for the money of our venerable senior."
"I see how dreadful you are!" lady Feng laughed. "But when something turns up by and bye, I'll also be very punctilious; so don't you then bear me a grudge!"
"Well, never mind if you don't give your quota!" Mrs. Yu smilingly rejoined. "Were it not that I consider the dutiful attentions you've all along shown me would I ever be ready to humour you?"
So rejoining, she produced P'ing Erh's share. "P'ing Erh, come here," she cried, "take this share of yours and put it away! Should the money collected turn out to be below what's absolutely required, I'll make up the sum for you."
P'ing Erh apprehended her meaning. "My lady," she answered, with a cheerful countenance, "it would come to the same thing if you were to first spend what you want and to give me afterwards any balance that may remain of it."
"Is your mistress alone to be allowed to do dishonest acts," Mrs. Yu laughed, "and am I not to be free to bestow a favour?"
P'ing Erh had no option, but to retain her portion.
"I want to see," Mrs. Yu added, "where your mistress, who is so extremely careful, will run through all the money, we've raised! If she can't spend it, why she'll take it along with her in her coffin, and make use of it there."
While still speaking, she started on her way to dowager lady Chia's suite of rooms. After first paying her respects to her, she made a few general remarks, and then betook herself into Yan Yang's quarters where she held a consultation with Yan Yang. Lending a patient ear to all that Yan Yang; had to recommend in the way of a programme, and as to how best to give pleasure to old lady Chia, she deliberated with her until they arrived at a satisfactory decision. When the time came for Mrs. Yu to go, she took the two taels, contributed by Yan Yang, and gave them back to her. "There's no use for these!" she said, and with these words still on her lips, she straightway quitted her presence and went in search of Madame Wang.
After a short chat, Madame Wang stepped into the family shrine reserved for the worship of Buddha, so she likewise restored Ts'ai Yn's share to her; and, availing herself of lady Feng's absence, she presently reimbursed to Mrs. Chu and Mrs. Chao the amount of their respective contributions.
These two dames would not however presume to take their money back. "Your lot, ladies, is a pitiful one!" Mrs. Yu then expostulated. "How can you afford all this spare money! That hussey Feng is well aware of the fact. I'm here to answer for you!"
At these assurances, both put the money away, with profuse expressions of gratitude.
In a twinkle, the second day of the ninth moon arrived. The inmates of the garden came to find out that Mrs. Yu was making preparations on an extremely grand scale; for not only was there to be a theatrical performance, but jugglers and women storytellers as well; and they combined in getting everything ready that could conduce to afford amusement and enjoyment.
"This is," Li Wan went on to say to the young ladies, "the proper day for our literary gathering, so don't forget it. If Pao-y hasn't appeared, it must, I presume, be that his mind is so preoccupied with the fuss that's going on that he has lost sight of all pure and refined things."
Speaking, "Go and see what he is up to!" she enjoined a waiting-maid; "and be quick and tell him to come."
The waiting-maid returned after a long absence. "Sister Hua says," she reported, "that he went out of doors, soon after daylight this morning."
The result of the inquiries filled every one with surprise. "He can't have gone out!" they said. "This girl is stupid, and doesn't know how to speak." They consequently also directed Ts'ui Mo to go and ascertain the truth. In a little time, Ts'ui Mo returned. "It's really true," she explained, "that he has gone out of doors. He gave out that a friend of his was dead, and that he was going to pay a visit of condolence."
"There's certainly nothing of the kind," T'an Ch'un interposed. "But whatever there might have been to call him away, it wasn't right of him to go out on an occasion like the present one! Just call Hsi Jen here, and let me ask her!"
But just as she was issuing these directions, she perceived Hsi Jen appear on the scene. "No matter what he may have had to attend to to-day," Li Wan and the rest remarked, "he shouldn't have gone out! In the first place, it's your mistress Secunda's birthday, and our dowager lady is in such buoyant spirits that the various inmates, whether high or low, are coming from either mansion to join in the fun; and lo, he goes off! Secondly, this is the proper day as well for holding our first literary gathering, and he doesn't so as apply for leave, but stealthily sneaks away."
Hsi Jen heaved it sigh. "He said last night," she explained, "that he had something very important to do this morning; that he was going as far as Prince Pei Ching's mansion, but that he would hurry back. I advised him not to go; but, of course, he wouldn't listen to me. When he got out of bed, at daybreak this morning, he asked for his plain clothes and put them on, so, I suppose, some lady of note belonging to the household of Prince Pei Ching must have departed this life; but who can tell?"
"If such be truly the case," Li Wan and her companions exclaimed, "it's quite right that he should have gone over for a while; but he should have taken care to be back in time !"
This remark over, they resumed their deliberations. "Let's write our verses," they said, "and we can fine him on his return."
As these words were being spoken, they espied a messenger despatched by dowager lady Chia to ask them over, so they at once adjourned to the front part of the compound.
Hsi Jen then reported to his grandmother what Pao-y had done. Old lady Chia was upset by the news; so much so, that she issued immediate orders to a few servants to go and fetch him.
Pao-y had, in fact, been brooding over some affair of the heart. A day in advance he therefore gave proper injunctions to Pei Ming. "As I shall be going out of doors to-morrow at daybreak," he said, "you'd better get ready two horses and wait at the back door! No one else need follow as an escort! Tell Li Kuei that I've gone to the Pei mansion. In the event of any one wishing to start in search of me, bid him place every obstacle in the way, as all inquiries can well be dispensed with! Let him simply explain that I've been detained in the Pei mansion, but that I shall surely be back shortly."
Pei Ming could not make out head or tail of what he was driving at; but he had no alternative than to deliver his message word for word. At the first blush of morning of the day appointed, he actually got ready two horses and remained in waiting at the back gate. When daylight set in, he perceived Pao-y make his appearance from the side door; got up, from head to foot, in a plain suit of clothes. Without uttering a word, he mounted his steed; and stooping his body forward, he proceeded at a quick step on his way down the road. Pei Ming had no help but to follow suit; and, springing on his horse, he smacked it with his whip, and overtook his master. "Where are we off to?" he eagerly inquired, from behind.
"Where does this road lead to?" Pao-y asked.
"This is the main road leading out of the northern gate." Pei Ming replied. "Once out of it, everything is so dull and dreary that there's nothing worth seeing!"
Pao-y caught this answer and nodded his head. "I was just thinking that a dull and dreary place would be just the thing!" he observed. While speaking, he administered his steed two more whacks. The horse quickly turned a couple of corners, and trotted out of the city gate. Pei Ming was more and more at a loss what to think of the whole affair; yet his only course was to keep pace closely in his master's track. With one gallop, they covered a distance of over seven or eight lis. But it was only when human habitations became gradually few and far between that Pao-y ultimately drew up his horse. Turning his head round: "Is there any place here," he asked, "where incense is sold?"
"Incense!" Pei Ming shouted, "yes, there is; but what kind of incense it is I don't know."
"All other incense is worth nothing," Pao-y resumed, after a moment's reflection. "We should get sandalwood, conifer and cedar, these three."
"These three sorts are very difficult to get," Pei Ming smiled.
Pao-y was driven to his wits' ends. But Pei Ming noticing his dilemma, "What do you want incense for?" he felt impelled to ask. "Master Secundus, I've often seen you wear a small purse, about your person, full of tiny pieces of incense; and why don't you see whether you've got it with you?"
This allusion was sufficient to suggest the idea to Pao-y's mind. Forthwith, he drew back his hand and felt the purse suspended on the lapel of his coat. It really contained two bits of 'Ch'en Su.' At this discovery, his heart expanded with delight. The only thing that (damped his spirits) was the notion that there was a certain want of reverence in his proceedings; but, on second consideration, he concluded that what he had about him was, after all, considerably superior to any he could purchase, and, with alacrity, he went on to inquire about a censer and charcoal.
"Don't think of such things!" Pei Ming urged. "Where could they be procured in a deserted and lonely place like this? If you needed them, why didn't you speak somewhat sooner, and we could have brought them along with us? Would not this have been more convenient?"
"You stupid thing!" exclaimed Pao-y. "Had we been able to bring them along, we wouldn't have had to run in this way as if for life!"
Pei Ming indulged in a protracted reverie, after which, he gave a smile. "I've thought of something," he cried, "but I wonder what you'll think about it, Master Secundus! You don't, I expect, only require these things; you'll need others too, I presume. But this isn't the place for them; so let's move on at once another couple of lis, when we'll get to the 'Water Spirit' monastery."
"Is the 'Water Spirit' monastery in this neighbourhood?" Pao-y eagerly inquired, upon hearing his proposal. "Yes, that would be better; let's press forward."
With this reply, he touched his horse with his whip. While advancing on their way, he turned round. "The nun in this 'Water Spirit' monastery," he shouted to Pei Ming, "frequently comes on a visit to our house, so that when we now get there and ask her for the loan of a censer, she's certain to let us have it."