The beautiful P’ing Erh endeavours to conceal the loss of the bracelet, made of work as fine as the feelers of a shrimp. The brave Ch’ing Wen mends the down-cloak during her indisposition.
But let us return to our story.
“Quite so!” was the reply with which dowager lady Chia (greeted lady Feng’s proposal). “I meant the other day to have suggested this arrangement, but I saw that every one of you had so many urgent matters to attend to, (and I thought) that although you would not presume to bear me a grudge, were several duties now again superadded, you would unavoidably imagine that I only regarded those young grandsons and granddaughters of mine, and had no consideration for any of you, who have to look after the house. But since you make this suggestion yourself, it’s all right.”
And seeing that Mrs. Hsueeh, and ‘sister-in-law’ Li were sitting with her, and that Madame Hsing, and Mrs. Yu and the other ladies, who had also crossed over to pay their respects, had not as yet gone to their quarters, old lady Chia broached the subject with Madame Wang, and the rest of the company. “I’ve never before ventured to give utterance to the remarks that just fell from my lips,” she said, “as first of all I was in fear and trembling lest I should have made that girl Feng more presumptuous than ever, and next, lest I should have incurred the displeasure of one and all of you. But since you’re all here to-day, and every one of you knows what brothers’ wives and husbands’ sisters mean, is there (I ask) any one besides her as full of forethought?”
Mrs. Hsueeh, ‘sister-in-law’ Li and Mrs. Yu smiled with one consent. “There are indeed but few like her!” they cried. “That of others is simply a conventional ‘face’ affection, but she is really fond of her husband’s sisters and his young brother. In fact, she’s as genuinely filial with you, venerable senior.”
Dowager lady Chia nodded her head. “Albeit I’m fond of her,” she sighed, “I can’t, on the other hand, help distrusting that excessive shrewdness of hers, for it isn’t a good thing.”
“You’re wrong there, worthy ancestor,” lady Feng laughed with alacrity. “People in the world as a rule maintain that ‘too shrewd and clever a person can’t, it is feared, live long.’ Now what people of the world invariably say people of the world invariably believe. But of you alone, my dear senior, can no such thing be averred or believed. For there you are, ancestor mine, a hundred times sharper and cleverer than I; and how is it that you now enjoy both perfect happiness and longevity? But I presume that I shall by and bye excel you by a hundredfold, and die at length, after a life of a thousand years, when you venerable senior shall have departed from these mortal scenes!”
“After every one is dead and gone,” dowager lady Chia laughingly observed, “what pleasure will there be, if two antiquated elves, like you and I will be, remain behind?”
This joke excited general mirth.
But so concerned was Pao-yue about Ch’ing Wen and other matters that he was the first to make a move and return into the garden. On his arrival at his quarters, he found the rooms full of the fragrance emitted by the medicines. Not a soul did he, however, see about. Ch’ing Wen was reclining all alone on the stove-couch. Her face was feverish and red. When he came to touch it, his hand experienced a scorching sensation. Retracing his steps therefore towards the stove, he warmed his hands and inserted them under the coverlet and felt her. Her body as well was as hot as fire.
“If the others have left,” he then remarked, “there’s nothing strange about it, but are She Yueeh and Ch’iu Wen too so utterly devoid of feeling as to have each gone after her own business?”
“As regards Ch’iu Wen,” Ch’ing Wen explained, “I told her to go and have her meal. And as for She Yueeh, P’ing Erh came just now and called her out of doors and there they are outside confabbing in a mysterious way! What the drift of their conversation can be I don’t know. But they must be talking about my having fallen ill, and my not leaving this place to go home.”
“P’ing Erh isn’t that sort of person,” Pao-yue pleaded. “Besides, she had no idea whatever about your illness, so that she couldn’t have come specially to see how you were getting on. I fancy her object was to look up She Yueeh to hobnob with her, but finding unexpectedly that you were not up to the mark, she readily said that she had come on purpose to find what progress you were making. This was quite a natural thing for a person with so wily a disposition to say, for the sake of preserving harmony. But if you don’t go home, it’s none of her business. You two have all along been, irrespective of other things, on such good terms that she could by no means entertain any desire to injure the friendly relations which exist between you, all on account of something that doesn’t concern her.”
“Your remarks are right enough,” Ch’ing Wen rejoined, “but I do suspect her, as why did she too start, all of a sudden, imposing upon me?”
“Wait, I’ll walk out by the back door,” Pao-yue smiled, “and go to the foot of the window, and listen to what she’s saying. I’ll then come and tell you.”
Speaking the while, he, in point of fact, sauntered out of the back door; and getting below the window, he lent an ear to their confidences.
“How did you manage to get it?” She Yueh inquired with gentle voice.
“When I lost sight of it on that day that I washed my hands,” P’ing Erh answered, “our lady Secunda wouldn’t let us make a fuss. But the moment she left the garden, she there and then sent word to the nurses, stationed in the various places, to institute careful search. Our suspicions, however, fell upon Miss Hsing’s maid, who has ever also been poverty-stricken; surmising that a young girl of her age, who had never set eyes upon anything of the kind, may possibly have picked it up and taken it. But never did we positively believe that it could be some one from this place of yours! Happily, our lady Secunda wasn’t in the room, when that nurse Sung who is with you here went over, and said, producing the bracelet, ‘that the young maid, Chui Erh, had stolen it, and that she had detected her, and come to lay the matter before our lady Secunda. I promptly took over the bracelet from her; and recollecting how imperious and exacting Pao-yue is inclined to be, fond and devoted as he is to each and all of you; how the jade which was prigged the other year by a certain Liang Erh, is still, just as the matter has cooled down for the last couple of years, canvassed at times by some people eager to serve their own ends; how some one has now again turned up to purloin this gold trinket; how it was filched, to make matters worse, from a neighbour’s house; how as luck would have it, she took this of all things; and how it happened to be his own servant to give him a slap on his mouth, I hastened to enjoin nurse Sung to, on no account whatever, let Pao-yue know anything about it, but simply pretend that nothing of the kind had transpired, and to make no mention of it to any single soul. In the second place,’ (I said), ‘our dowager lady and Madame Wang would get angry, if they came to hear anything. Thirdly, Hsi Jen as well as yourselves would not also cut a very good figure.’ Hence it was that in telling our lady Secunda, I merely explained ‘that on my way to our senior mistress,’ the bracelet got unclasped, without my knowing it; that it fell among the roots of the grass; that there was no chance of seeing it while the snow was deep, but that when the snow completely disappeared to-day there it glistened, so yellow and bright, in the rays of the sun, in precisely the very place where it had dropped, and that I then picked it up.’ Our lady Secunda at once credited my version. So here I come to let you all know so as to be henceforward a little on your guard with her, and not get her a job anywhere else. Wait until Hsi Jen’s return, and then devise means to pack her off, and finish with her.”
“This young vixen has seen things of this kind before,” She Yueeh ejaculated, “and how is it that she was so shallow-eyed?”
“What could, after all, be the weight of this bracelet?” P’ing Erh observed. “It was once our lady Secunda’s. She says that this is called the ‘shrimp-feeler’-bracelet. But it’s the pearl, which increases its weight. That minx Ch’ing Wen is as fiery as a piece of crackling charcoal, so were anything to be told her, she may, so little able is she to curb her temper, flare up suddenly into a huff, and beat or scold her, and kick up as much fuss as she ever has done before. That’s why I simply tell you. Exercise due care, and it will be all right.”
With this warning, she bid her farewell and went on her way.
Her words delighted, vexed and grieved Pao-yue. He felt delighted, on account of the consideration shown by P’ing Erh for his own feelings. Vexed, because Chui Erh had turned out a petty thief. Grieved, that Chui Erh, who was otherwise such a smart girl, should have gone in for this disgraceful affair. Returning consequently into the house, he told Ch’ing Wen every word that P’ing Erh had uttered. “She says,” he went on to add, “that you’re so fond of having things all your own way that were you to hear anything of this business, now that you are ill, you would get worse, and that she only means to broach the subject with you, when you get quite yourself again.”
Upon hearing this, Ch’ing Wen’s ire was actually stirred up, and her beautiful moth-like eyebrows contracted, and her lovely phoenix eyes stared wide like two balls. So she immediately shouted out for Chui Erh.
“If you go on bawling like that,” Pao-yue hastily remonstrated with her, “won’t you show yourself ungrateful for the regard with which P’ing Erh has dealt with you and me? Better for us to show ourselves sensible of her kindness and by and bye pack the girl off, and finish.”
“Your suggestion is all very good,” Ch’ing Wen demurred, “but how could I suppress this resentment?”
“What’s there to feel resentment about?” Pao-yue asked. “Just you take good care of yourself; it’s the best thing you can do.”
Ch’ing Wen then took her medicine. When evening came, she had another couple of doses. But though in the course of the night, she broke out into a slight perspiration, she did not see any change for the better in her state. Still she felt feverish, her head sore, her nose stopped, her voice hoarse. The next day, Dr. Wang came again to examine her pulse and see how she was getting on. Besides other things, he increased the proportions of certain medicines in the decoction and reduced others; but in spite of her fever having been somewhat brought down, her head continued to ache as much as ever.
“Go and fetch the snuff,” Pao-yue said to She Yueeh, “and give it to her to sniff. She’ll feel more at ease after she has had several strong sneezes.”
She Yueeh went, in fact, and brought a flat crystal bottle, inlaid with a couple of golden stars, and handed it to Pao-yue.
Pao-yue speedily raised the cover of the bottle. Inside it, he discovered, represented on western enamel, a fair-haired young girl, in a state of nature, on whose two sides figured wings of flesh. This bottle contained some really first-rate foreign snuff.
Ch’ing Wen’s attention was fixedly concentrated on the representation.
“Sniff a little!” Pao-yue urged. “If the smell evaporates, it won’t be worth anything.”
Ch’ing Wen, at his advice, promptly dug out a little with her nail, and applied it to her nose. But with no effect. So digging out again a good quantity of it, she pressed it into her nostrils. Then suddenly she experienced a sensation in her nose as if some pungent matter had penetrated into the very duct leading into the head, and she sneezed five or six consecutive times, until tears rolled down from her eyes and mucus trickled from her nostrils.
Ch’ing Wen hastily put the bottle away. “It’s dreadfully pungent!” she laughed. “Bring me some paper, quick!”
A servant-girl at once handed her a pile of fine paper.
Ch’ing Wen extracted sheet after sheet, and blew her nose.
“Well,” said Pao-yue smiling, “how are you feeling now?”
“I’m really considerably relieved.” Ch’ing Wen rejoined laughing. “The only thing is that my temples still hurt me.”
“Were you to treat yourself exclusively with western medicines, I’m sure you’d get all right,” Pao-yue added smilingly. Saying this, “Go,” he accordingly desired She Yueeh, “to our lady Secunda, and ask her for some. Tell her that I spoke to you about them. My cousin over there often uses some western plaster, which she applies to her temples when she’s got a headache. It’s called ‘I-fo-na.’ So try and get some of it!”
She Yueeh expressed her readiness. After a protracted absence, she, in very deed, came back with a small bit of the medicine; and going quickly for a piece of red silk cutting, she got the scissors and slit two round slips off as big as the tip of a finger. After which, she took the medicine, and softening it by the fire, she spread it on them with a hairpin.
Ch’ing Wen herself laid hold of a looking-glass with a handle and stuck the bits on both her temples.
“While you were lying sick,” She Yueeh laughed, “you looked like a mangy-headed devil! But with this stuff on now you present a fine sight! As for our lady Secunda she has been so much in the habit of sticking these things about her that they don’t very much show off with her!”
This joke over, “Our lady Secunda said,” she resumed, addressing herself to Pao-yue, “‘that to-morrow is your maternal uncle’s birthday, and that our mistress, your mother, asked her to tell you to go over. That whatever clothes you will put on to-morrow should be got ready to-night, so as to avoid any trouble in the morning.'”
“Anything that comes first to hand,” Pao-yue observed, “will do well enough! There’s no getting, the whole year round, at the end of all the fuss of birthdays!”
Speaking the while, he rose to his feet and left the room with the idea of repairing to Hsi Ch’un’s quarters to have a look at the painting. As soon as he got outside the door of the court-yard, he unexpectedly spied Pao-ch’in’s young maid, Hsiao Lo by name, crossing over from the opposite direction. Pao-yue, with rapid step, strode up to her, and inquired of her whither she was going.
“Our two young ladies,” Hsiao Lo answered with a smile, “are in Miss Lin’s rooms; so I’m also now on my way thither.”
Catching this answer, Pao-yue wheeled round and came at once with her to the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge. Here not only did he find Pao-ch’ai and her cousin, but Hsing Chou-yen as well. The quartet was seated in a circle on the warming-frame; carrying on a friendly chat on everyday domestic matters; while Tzu Chuean was sitting in the winter apartment, working at some needlework by the side of the window.
The moment they caught a glimpse of him, their faces beamed with smiles. “There comes some one else!” they cried. “There’s no room for you to sit!”
“What a fine picture of beautiful girls, in the winter chamber!” Pao-yue smiled. “It’s a pity I come a trifle too late! This room is, at all events, so much warmer than any other, that I won’t feel cold if I plant myself on this chair.”
So saying, he made himself comfortable on a favourite chair of Tai-yue’s over which was thrown a grey squirrel cover. But noticing in the winter apartment a jadestone bowl, full of single narcissi, in clusters of three or five, Pao-yue began praising their beauty with all the language he could command. “What lovely flowers!” he exclaimed. “The warmer the room gets, the stronger is the fragrance emitted by these flowers! How is it I never saw them yesterday?”
“These are,” Tai-yue laughingly explained, “from the two pots of narcissi, and two pots of allspice, sent to Miss Hsueeh Secunda by the wife of Lai Ta, the head butler in your household. Of these, she gave me a pot of narcissi; and to that girl Yuen, a pot of allspice. I didn’t at first mean to keep them, but I was afraid of showing no consideration for her kind attention. But if you want them, I’ll, in my turn, present them to you. Will you have them; eh?”
“I’ve got two pots of them in my rooms,” Pao-yue replied, “but they’re not up to these. How is it you’re ready to let others have what cousin Ch’in has given you? This can on no account do!”
“With me here,” Tai-yue added, “the medicine pot never leaves the fire, the whole day long. I’m only kept together by medicines. So how could I ever stand the smell of flowers bunging my nose? It makes me weaker than ever. Besides, if there’s the least whiff of medicines in this room, it will, contrariwise, spoil the fragrance of these flowers. So isn’t it better that you should have them carried away? These flowers will then breathe a purer atmosphere, and won’t have any mixture of smells to annoy them.”
“I’ve also got now some one ill in my place,” Pao-yue retorted with a smile, “and medicines are being decocted. How comes it you happen to know nothing about it?”
“This is strange!” Tai-yue laughed. “I was really speaking quite thoughtlessly; for who ever knows what’s going on in your apartments? But why do you, instead of getting here a little earlier to listen to old stories, come at this moment to bring trouble and vexation upon your own self?”
Pao-yue gave a laugh. “Let’s have a meeting to-morrow,” he proposed, “for we’ve also got the themes. Let’s sing the narcissus and allspice.”
“Never mind, drop that!” Tai-yue rejoined, upon hearing his proposal. “I can’t venture to write any more verses. Whenever I indite any, I’m mulcted. So I’d rather not be put to any great shame.”
While uttering these words she screened her face with both hands.
“What’s the matter?” Pao-yue smiled. “Why are you again making fun of me? I’m not afraid of any shame, but, lo, you screen your face.”
“The next time,” Pao-ch’ai felt impelled to interpose laughingly, “I convene a meeting, we’ll have four themes for odes and four for songs; and each one of us will have to write four odes and four roundelays. The theme of the first ode will treat of the plan of the great extreme; the rhyme fixed being ‘hsien,’ (first), and the metre consisting of five words in each line. We’ll have to exhaust every one of the rhymes under ‘hsien,’ and mind, not a single one may be left out.”
“From what you say,” Pao-ch’in smilingly observed, “it’s evident that you’re not in earnest, cousin, in setting the club on foot. It’s clear enough that your object is to embarrass people. But as far as the verses go, we could forcibly turn out a few, just by higgledy-piggledy taking several passages from the ‘Canon of Changes,’ and inserting them in our own; but, after all, what fun will there be in that sort of thing? When I was eight years of age, I went with my father to the western seaboard to purchase foreign goods. Who’d have thought it, we came across a girl from the ‘Chen Chen’ kingdom. She was in her eighteenth year, and her features were just like those of the beauties one sees represented in foreign pictures. She had also yellow hair, hanging down, and arranged in endless plaits. Her whole head was ornamented with one mass of cornelian beads, amber, cats’ eyes, and ‘grandmother-green-stone.’ On her person, she wore a chain armour plaited with gold, and a coat, which was up to the very sleeves, embroidered in foreign style. In a belt, she carried a Japanese sword, also inlaid with gold and studded with precious gems. In very truth, even in pictures, there is no one as beautiful as she. Some people said that she was thoroughly conversant with Chinese literature, and could explain the ‘Five classics,’ that she was able to write odes and devise roundelays, and so my father requested an interpreter to ask her to write something. She thereupon wrote an original stanza, which all, with one voice, praised for its remarkable beauty, and extolled for its extraordinary merits.”
“My dear cousin,” eagerly smiled Pao-yue, “produce what she wrote, and let’s have a look at it.”
“It’s put away in Nanking;” Pao-ch’in replied with a smile. “So how could I at present go and fetch it?”
Great was Pao-yue’s disappointment at this rejoinder. “I’ve no luck,” he cried, “to see anything like this in the world.”
Tai-yue laughingly laid hold of Pao-ch’in. “Don’t be humbugging us!” she remarked. “I know well enough that you are not likely, on a visit like this, to have left any such things of yours at home. You must have brought them along. Yet here you are now again palming off a fib on us by saying that you haven’t got them with you. You people may believe what she says, but I, for my part, don’t.”
Pao-ch’in got red in the face. Drooping her head against her chest, she gave a faint smile; but she uttered not a word by way of response.
“Really P’in Erh you’ve got into the habit of talking like this!” Pao-ch’ai laughed. “You’re too shrewd by far.”
“Bring them along,” Tai-yue urged with a smile, “and give us a chance of seeing something and learning something; it won’t hurt them.”
“There’s a whole heap of trunks and baskets,” Pao-ch’ai put in laughing, “which haven’t been yet cleared away. And how could one tell in which particular one, they’re packed up? Wait a few days, and when things will have been put straight a bit, we’ll try and find them: and every one of us can then have a look at them; that will be all right. But if you happen to remember the lines,” she pursued, speaking to Pao-ch’in, “why not recite them for our benefit?”
“I remember so far that her lines consisted of a stanza with five characters in each line,” Pao-ch’ai returned for answer. “For a foreign girl, they’re verily very well done.”
“Don’t begin for a while,” Pao-ch’ai exclaimed. “Let me send for Yuen Erh, so that she too might hear them.”
After this remark, she called Hsiao Lo to her. “Go to my place,” she observed, “and tell her that a foreign beauty has come over, who’s a splendid hand at poetry. ‘You, who have poetry on the brain,’ (say to her), ‘are invited to come and see her,’ and then lay hold of this verse-maniac of ours and bring her along.”
Hsiao Lo gave a smile, and went away. After a long time, they heard Hsiang-yuen laughingly inquire, “What foreign beauty has come?” But while asking this question, she made her appearance in company with Hsiang Ling.
“We heard your voices long before we caught a glimpse of your persons!” the party laughed.
Pao-ch’in and her companions motioned to her to sit down, and, in due course, she reiterated what she had told them a short while back.
“Be quick, out with it! Let’s hear what it is!” Hsiang-yuen smilingly cried.
Pao-ch’in thereupon recited:
Last night in the Purple Chamber I dreamt. This evening on the ‘Shui Kuo’ Isle I sing. The clouds by the isle cover the broad sea. The zephyr from the peaks reaches the woods. The moon has never known present or past. From shallow and deep causes springs love’s fate. When I recall my springs south of the Han, Can I not feel disconsolate at heart?
After listening to her, “She does deserve credit,” they unanimously shouted, “for she really is far superior to us, Chinese though we be.”
But scarcely was this remark out of their lips, when they perceived She Yueeh walk in. “Madame Wang,” she said, “has sent a servant to inform you, Master Secundus, that ‘you are to go at an early hour to-morrow morning to your maternal uncle’s, and that you are to explain to him that her ladyship isn’t feeling quite up to the mark, and that she cannot pay him a visit in person.'”
Pao-yue precipitately jumped to his feet (out of deference to his mother), and signified his assent, by answering ‘Yes.’ He then went on to inquire of Pao-ch’ai and Pao-ch’in, “Are you two going?”
“We’re not going,” Pao-ch’ai rejoined. “We simply went there yesterday to take our presents over but we left after a short chat.”
Pao-yue thereupon pressed his female cousins to go ahead and he then followed them. But Tai-yue called out to him again and stopped him. “When is Hsi Jen, after all, coming back?” she asked.
“She’ll naturally come back after she has accompanied the funeral,” Pao-yue retorted.
Tai-yue had something more she would have liked to tell him, but she found it difficult to shape it into words. After some moments spent in abstraction, “Off with you!” she cried.
Pao-yue too felt that he treasured in his heart many things he would fain confide to her, but he did not know what to bring to his lips, so after cogitating within himself for a time, he likewise observed smilingly: “We’ll have another chat to-morrow,” and, as he said so, he wended his way down the stairs. Lowering his head, he was just about to take a step forward, when he twisted himself round again with alacrity. “Now that the nights are longer than they were, you’re sure to cough often and wake several times in the night; eh?” he asked.
“Last night,” Tai-yue answered, “I was all right; I coughed only twice. But I only slept at the fourth watch for a couple of hours and then I couldn’t close my eyes again.”
“I really have something very important to tell you,” Pao-yue proceeded with another smile. “It only now crossed my mind.” Saying this, he approached her and added in a confidential tone: “I think that the birds’ nests sent to you by cousin Pao-chai….”
Barely, however, had he had time to conclude than he spied dame Chao enter the room to pay Tai-yue a visit. “Miss, have you been all right these last few days?” she inquired.
Tai-yue readily guessed that this was an attention extended to her merely as she had, on her way back from T’an Ch’un’s quarters, to pass by her door, so speedily smiling a forced smile, she offered her a seat.
“Many thanks, dame Chao,” she said, “for the trouble of thinking of me, and for coming in person in this intense cold.”
Hastily also bidding a servant pour the tea, she simultaneously winked at Pao-yue.
Pao-yue grasped her meaning, and forthwith quitted the apartment. As this happened to be about dinner time, and he had been enjoined as well by Madame Wang to be back at an early hour, Pao-yue returned to his quarters, and looked on while Ch’ing Wen took her medicine. Pao-yue did not desire Ch’ing Wen this evening to move into the winter apartment, but stayed with Ch’ing Wen outside; and, giving orders to bring the warming-frame near the winter apartment, She Yueh slept on it.
Nothing of any interest worth putting on record transpired during the night. On the morrow, before the break of day, Ch’ing Wen aroused She Yueh.
“You should awake,” she said. “The only thing is that you haven’t had enough sleep. If you go out and tell them to get the water for tea ready for him, while I wake him, it will be all right.”
She Yueh immediately jumped up and threw something over her. “Let’s call him to get up and dress in his fine clothes.” she said. “We can summon them in, after this fire-box has been removed. The old nurses told us not to allow him to stay in this room for fear the virus of the disease should pass on to him; so now if they see us bundled up together in one place, they’re bound to kick up another row.”
“That’s my idea too,” Ch’ing Wen replied.
The two girls were then about to call him, when Pao-yue woke up of his own accord, and speedily leaping out of bed, he threw his clothes over him.
She Yueeh first called a young maid into the room and put things shipshape before she told Ch’in Wen and the other servant-girls to enter; and along with them, she remained in waiting upon Pao-yue while he combed his hair, and washed his face and hands. This part of his toilet over, She Yueeh remarked: “It’s cloudy again, so I suppose it’s going to snow. You’d better therefore wear a woollen overcoat!”
Pao-yue nodded his head approvingly; and set to work at once to effect the necessary change in his costume. A young waiting-maid then presented him a covered bowl, in a small tea tray, containing a decoction made of Fu-kien lotus and red dates. After Pao-yue had had a couple of mouthfuls, She Yueeh also brought him a small plateful of brown ginger, prepared according to some prescription. Pao-yue put a piece into his mouth, and, impressing some advice on Ch’ing ‘Wen, he crossed over to dowager lady Chia’s suite of rooms.
His grandmother had not yet got out of bed. But she was well aware that Pao-yue was going out of doors so having the entrance leading into her bedroom opened she asked Pao-yue to walk in. Pao-yue espied behind the old lady, Pao-ch’in lying with her face turned towards the inside, and not awake yet from her sleep.
Dowager lady Chia observed that Pao-yue was clad in a deep-red felt fringed overcoat, with woollen lichee-coloured archery-sleeves and with an edging of dark green glossy satin, embroidered with gold rings. “What!” old lady Chia inquired, “is it snowing?”
“The weather is dull,” Pao-yue replied, “but it isn’t snowing yet.”
Dowager lady Chia thereupon sent for Yuean Yang and told her to fetch the peacock down pelisse, finished the day before, and give it to him. Yuean Yang signified her obedience and went off, and actually returned with what was wanted.
When Pao-yue came to survey it, he found that the green and golden hues glistened with bright lustre, that the jadelike variegated colours on it shone with splendour, and that it bore no resemblance to the duck-down coat, which Pao-ch’in had been wearing.
“This,” he heard his grandmother smilingly remark, “is called ‘bird gold’. This is woven of the down of peacocks, caught in Russia, twisted into thread. The other day, I presented that one with the wild duck down to your young female cousin, so I now give you this one.”
Pao-yue prostrated himself before her, after which he threw the coat over his shoulders.
“Go and let your mother see it before you start,” his grandmother laughingly added.
Pao-yue assented, and quitted her apartments, when he caught sight of Yuean Yang standing below rubbing her eyes. Ever since the day on which Yuean Yang had sworn to have done with the match, she had not exchanged a single word with Pao-yue. Pao-yue was therefore day and night a prey to dejection. So when he now observed her shirk his presence again, Pao-yue at once advanced up to her, and, putting on a smile, “My dear girl,” he said, “do look at the coat I’ve got on. Is it nice or not?”
Yuean Yang shoved his hand away, and promptly walked into dowager lady Chia’s quarters.
Pao-yue was thus compelled to repair to Madame Wang’s room, and let her see his coat. Retracing afterwards his footsteps into the garden, he let Ch’ing Wen and She Yueeh also have a look at it, and then came and told his grandmother that he had attended to her wishes.
“My mother,” he added, “has seen what I’ve got on. But all she said was: ‘what a pity!’ and then she went on to enjoin me to be ‘careful with it and not to spoil it.'”
“There only remains this single one,” old lady Chia observed, “so if you spoil it you can’t have another. Even did I want to have one made for you like it now, it would be out of the question.”
At the close of these words, she went on to advise him. “Don’t,” she said, “have too much wine and come back early.” Pao-yue acquiesced by uttering several yes’s.
An old nurse then followed him out into the pavilion. Here they discovered six attendants, (that is), Pao-yue’s milk-brother Li Kuei, and Wang Ho-jung, Chang Jo-chin, Chao I-hua, Ch’ien Ch’i, and Chou Jui, as well as four young servant-lads: Pei Ming, Pan Ho, Chu Shao and Sao Hung; some carrying bundles of clothes on their backs, some holding cushions in their hands, others leading a white horse with engraved saddle and variegated bridles. They had already been waiting for a good long while. The old nurse went on to issue some directions, and the six servants, hastily expressing their obedience by numerous yes’s, quickly caught hold of the saddle and weighed the stirrup down while Pao-yue mounted leisurely. Li Kuei and Wang Ho-jung then led the horse by the bit. Two of them, Ch’ien Ch’i and Chou Jui, walked ahead and showed the way. Chang Jo-chin and Chao I-hua followed Pao-yue closely on each side.
“Brother Chou and brother Ch’ien,” Pao-yue smiled, from his seat on his horse, “let’s go by this side-gate. It will save my having again to dismount, when we reach the entrance to my father’s study.”
“Mr. Chia Cheng is not in his study,” Chou Jui laughed, with a curtsey. “It has been daily under lock and key, so there will be no need for you, master, to get down from your horse.”
“Though it be locked up,” Pao-yue smiled, “I shall have to dismount all the same.”
“You’re quite right in what you say, master;” both Ch’ien Ch’i and Li Kuei chimed in laughingly; “but pretend you’re lazy and don’t get down. In the event of our coming across Mr. Lai Ta and our number two Mr. Lin, they’re sure, rather awkward though it be for them to say anything to their master, to tender you one or two words of advice, but throw the whole of the blame upon us. You can also tell them that we had not explained to you what was the right thing to do.”
Chou Jui and Ch’ien Ch’i accordingly wended their steps straight for the side-gate. But while they were keeping up some sort of conversation, they came face to face with Lai Ta on his way in.
Pao-yue speedily pulled in his horse, with the idea of dismounting. But Lai Ta hastened to draw near and to clasp his leg. Pao-yue stood up on his stirrup, and, putting on a smile, he took his hand in his, and made several remarks to him.
In quick succession, he also perceived a young servant-lad make his appearance inside leading the way for twenty or thirty servants, laden with brooms and dust-baskets. The moment they espied Pao-yue, they, one and all, stood along the wall, and dropped their arms against their sides, with the exception of the head lad, who bending one knee, said: “My obeisance to you, sir.”
Pao-yue could not recall to mind his name or surname, but forcing a faint smile, he nodded his head to and fro. It was only when the horse had well gone past, that the lad eventually led the bevy of servants off, and that they went after their business.
Presently, they egressed from the side-gate. Outside, stood the servant-lads of the six domestics, Li Kuei and his companions, as well as several grooms, who had, from an early hour, got ready about ten horses and been standing, on special duty, waiting for their arrival. As soon as they reached the further end of the side-gate, Li Kuei and each of the other attendants mounted their horses, and pressed ahead to lead the way. Like a streak of smoke, they got out of sight, without any occurrence worth noticing.
Ch’ing Wen, meanwhile, continued to take her medicines. But still she experienced no relief in her ailment. Such was the state of exasperation into which she worked herself that she abused the doctor right and left. “All he’s good for,” she cried, “is to squeeze people’s money. But he doesn’t know how to prescribe a single dose of efficacious medicine for his patients.”
“You have far too impatient a disposition!” She Yueeh said, as she advised her, with a smile. “‘A disease,’ the proverb has it, ‘comes like a crumbling mountain, and goes like silk that is reeled.’ Besides, they’re not the divine pills of ‘Lao Chuen’. How ever could there be such efficacious medicines? The only thing for you to do is to quietly look after yourself for several days, and you’re sure to get all right. But the more you work yourself into such a frenzy, the worse you get!”
Ch’ing Weng went on to heap abuse on the head of the young-maids. “Where have they gone? Have they bored into the sand?” she ejaculated. “They see well enough that I’m ill, so they make bold and runaway. But by and bye when I recover, I shall take one by one of you and flay your skin off for you.”
Ting Erh, a young maid, was struck with dismay, and ran up to her with hasty step. “Miss,” she inquired, “what’s up with you?”
“Is it likely that the rest are all dead and gone, and that there only remains but you?” Ch’ing Wen exclaimed.
But while she spoke, she saw Chui Erh also slowly enter the room.
“Look at this vixen!” Ch’ing Wen shouted. “If I don’t ask for her, she won’t come. Had there been any monthly allowances issued and fruits distributed here, you would have been the first to run in! But approach a bit! Am I tigress to gobble you up?”
Chui Erh was under the necessity of advancing a few steps nearer to her. But, all of a sudden, Ch’ing Wen stooped forward, and with a dash clutching her hand, she took a long pin from the side of her pillow, and pricked it at random all over.
“What’s the use of such paws?” she railed at her. “They don’t ply a needle, and they don’t touch any thread! All you’re good for is to prig things to stuff that mouth of yours with! The skin of your phiz is shallow and those paws of yours are light! But with the shame you bring upon yourself before the world, isn’t it right that I should prick you, and make mincemeat of you?”
Chui Erh shouted so wildly from pain that She Yueh stepped forward and immediately drew them apart. She then pressed Ch’ing Wen, until she induced her to lie down.
“You’re just perspiring,” she remarked, “and here you are once more bent upon killing yourself. Wait until you are yourself again! Won’t you then be able to give her as many blows as you may like? What’s the use of kicking up all this fuss just now?”
Ch’ing Wen bade a servant tell nurse Sung to come in. “Our master Secundus, Mr. Pao-yue, recently asked me to tell you,” she remarked on her arrival, “that Chui Erh is very lazy. He himself gives her orders to her very face, but she is ever ready to raise objections and not to budge. Even when Hsi Jen bids her do things, she vilifies her behind her back. She must absolutely therefore be packed off to-day. And if Mr. Pao himself lays the matter to-morrow before Madame Wang, things will be square.”
After listening to her grievances, nurse Sung readily concluded in her mind that the affair of the bracelet had come to be known. “What you suggest is well and good, it’s true,” she consequently smiled, “but it’s as well to wait until Miss Hua (flower) returns and hears about the things. We can then give her the sack.”
“Mr. Pao-yue urgently enjoined this to-day,” Ch’ing Wen pursued, “so what about Miss Hua (flower) and Miss Ts’ao (grass)? We’ve, of course, gob rules of propriety here, so you just do as I tell you; and be quick and send for some one from her house to come and fetch her away!”
“Well, now let’s drop this!” She Yueeh interposed. “Whether she goes soon or whether she goes late is one and the same thing; so let them take her away soon; we’ll then be the sooner clear of her.”
At these words, nurse Sung had no alternative but to step out, and to send for her mother. When she came, she got ready all her effects, and then came to see Ch’ing Wen and the other girls. “Young ladies,” she said, “what’s up? If your niece doesn’t behave as she ought to, why, call her to account. But why banish her from this place? You should, indeed, leave us a little face!”
“As regards what you say,” Ch’ing Wen put in, “wait until Pao-yue comes, and then we can ask him. It’s nothing to do with us.”
The woman gave a sardonic smile. “Have I got the courage to ask him?” she answered. “In what matter doesn’t he lend an ear to any settlement you, young ladies, may propose? He invariably agrees to all you say! But if you, young ladies, aren’t agreeable, it’s really of no avail. When you, for example, spoke just now,–it’s true it was on the sly,–you called him straightway by his name, miss. This thing does very well with you, young ladies, but were we to do anything of the kind, we’d be looked upon as very savages!”
Ch’ing Wen, upon hearing her remark, became more than ever exasperated, and got crimson in the face. “Yes, I called him by his name,” she rejoined, “so you’d better go and report me to our old lady and Madame Wang. Tell them I’m a rustic and let them send me too off.”
“Sister-in-law,” urged She Yueeh, “just you take her away; and if you’ve got aught to say, you can say it by and bye. Is this a place for you to bawl in and to try and explain what is right? Whom have you seen discourse upon the rules of propriety with us? Not to speak of you, sister-in-law, even Mrs. Lai Ta and Mrs. Lin treat us fairly well. And as for calling him by name, why, from days of yore to the very present, our dowager mistress has invariably bidden us do so. You yourselves are well aware of it. So much did she fear that it would be a difficult job to rear him that she deliberately wrote his infant name on slips of paper and had them stuck everywhere and anywhere with the design that one and all should call him by it. And this in order that it might exercise a good influence upon his bringing up. Even water-coolies and scavenger-coolies indiscriminately address him by his name; and how much more such as we? So late, in fact, as yesterday Mrs. Lin gave him but once the title of ‘Sir,’ and our old mistress called even her to task. This is one side of the question. In the next place, we all have to go and make frequent reports to our venerable dowager lady and Madame Wang, and don’t we with them allude to him by name in what we have to say? Is it likely we’d also style him ‘Sir?’ What day is there that we don’t utter the two words ‘Pao-yue’ two hundred times? And is it for you, sister-in-law, to come and pick out this fault? But in a day or so, when you’ve leisure to go to our old mistress’ and Madame Wang’s, you’ll hear us call him by name in their very presence, and then you’ll feel convinced. You’ve never, sister-in-law, had occasion to fulfil any honourable duties by our old lady and our lady. From one year’s end to the other, all you do is to simply loaf outside the third door. So it’s no matter of surprise, if you don’t happen to know anything of the customs which prevail with us inside. But this isn’t a place where you, sister-in-law, can linger for long. In another moment, there won’t be any need for us to say anything; for some one will be coming to ask you what you want, and what excuse will you be able to plead? So take her away and let Mrs. Lin know about it; and commission her to come and find our Mr. Secundus and tell him all. There are in this establishment over a thousand inmates; one comes and another comes, so that though we know people and inquire their names, we can’t nevertheless imprint them clearly on our minds.”
At the close of this long rigmarole, she at once told a young maid to take the mop and wash the floors.
The woman listened patiently to her arguments, but she could find no words to say anything to her by way of reply. Nor did she have the audacity to protract her stay. So flying into a huff, she took Chui Erh along with her, and there and then made her way out.
“Is it likely,” nurse Sung hastily observed, “that a dame like you doesn’t know what manners mean? Your daughter has been in these rooms for some time, so she should, when she is about to go, knock her head before the young ladies. She has no other means of showing her gratitude. Not that they care much about such things. Yet were she to simply knock her head, she would acquit herself of a duty, if nothing more. But how is it that she says I’m going, and off she forthwith rushes?”
Chui Erh overheard these words, and felt under the necessity of turning back. Entering therefore the apartment, she prostrated herself before the two girls, and then she went in quest of Ch’iu Wen and her companions, but neither did they pay any notice whatever to her.
“Hai!” ejaculated the woman, and heaving a sigh–for she did not venture to utter a word,–she walked off, fostering a grudge in her heart.
Ch’ing Wen had, while suffering from a cold, got into a fit of anger into the bargain, so instead of being better, she was worse, and she tossed and rolled until the time came for lighting the lamps. But the moment she felt more at ease, she saw Pao-yue come back. As soon as he put his foot inside the door, he gave way to an exclamation, and stamped his foot.
“What’s the reason of such behaviour?” She Yueeh promptly asked him.
“My old grandmother,” Pao-yue explained, “was in such capital spirits that she gave me this coat to-day; but, who’d have thought it, I inadvertently burnt part of the back lapel. Fortunately however the evening was advanced so that neither she nor my mother noticed what had happened.”
Speaking the while, he took it off. She Yueeh, on inspection, found indeed a hole burnt in it of the size of a finger. “This,” she said, “must have been done by some spark from the hand-stove. It’s of no consequence.”
Immediately she called a servant to her. “Take this out on the sly,” she bade her, “and let an experienced weaver patch it. It will be all right then.”
So saying, she packed it up in a wrapper, and a nurse carried it outside.
“It should be ready by daybreak,” she urged. “And by no means let our old lady or Madame Wang know anything about it.”
The matron brought it back again, after a protracted absence. “Not only,” she explained; “have weavers, first-class tailors, and embroiderers, but even those, who do women’s work, been asked about it, and they all have no idea what this is made of. None of them therefore will venture to undertake the job.”
“What’s to be done?” She Yueeh inquired. “But it won’t matter if you don’t wear it to-morrow.”
“To-morrow is the very day of the anniversary,” Pao-yue rejoined. “Grandmother and my mother bade me put this on and go and pay my visit; and here I go and burn it, on the first day I wear it. Now isn’t this enough to throw a damper over my good cheer?”
Ch’ing Wen lent an ear to their conversation for a long time, until unable to restrain herself, she twisted herself round. “Bring it here,” she chimed in, “and let me see it! You haven’t been lucky in wearing this; but never mind!”
These words were still on Ch’ing Wen’s lips, when the coat was handed to her. The lamp was likewise moved nearer to her. With minute care she surveyed it. “This is made,” Ch’ing Wen observed, “of gold thread, spun from peacock’s feathers. So were we now to also take gold thread, twisted from the feathers of the peacock, and darn it closely, by imitating the woof, I think it will pass without detection.”
“The peacock-feather-thread is ready at hand,” She Yueeh remarked smilingly. “But who’s there, exclusive of you, able to join the threads?”
“I’ll, needless to say, do my level best to the very cost of my life and finish,” Ch’ing Wen added.
“How ever could this do?” Pao-yue eagerly interposed. “You’re just slightly better, and how could you take up any needlework?”
“You needn’t go on in this chicken-hearted way!” Ch’ing Wen cried. “I know my own self well enough.”
With this reply, she sat up, and, putting her hair up, she threw something over her shoulders. Her head felt heavy; her body light. Before her eyes, confusedly flitted golden stirs. In real deed, she could not stand the strain. But when inclined to give up the work, she again dreaded that Pao-yue would be driven to despair. She therefore had perforce to make a supreme effort and, setting her teeth to, she bore the exertion. All the help she asked of She Yueeh was to lend her a hand in reeling the thread.
Ch’ing Wen first took hold of a thread, and put it side by side (with those in the pelisse) to compare the two together. “This,” she remarked, “isn’t quite like them; but when it’s patched up with it, it won’t show very much.”
“It will do very well,” Pao-yue said. “Could one also go and hunt up a Russian tailor?”
Ch’ing Wen commenced by unstitching the lining, and, inserting under it, a bamboo bow, of the size of the mouth of a tea cup, she bound it tight at the back. She then turned her mind to the four sides of the aperture, and these she loosened by scratching them with a golden knife. Making next two stitches across with her needle, she marked out the warp and woof; and, following the way the threads were joined, she first and foremost connected the foundation, and then keeping to the original lines, she went backwards and forwards mending the hole; passing her work, after every second stitch, under further review. But she did not ply her needle three to five times, before she lay herself down on her pillow, and indulged in a little rest.
Pao-yue was standing by her side. Now he inquired of her: “Whether she would like a little hot water to drink.” Later on, he asked her to repose herself. Now he seized a grey-squirrel wrapper and threw it over her shoulders. Shortly after, he took a pillow and propped her up. (The way he fussed) so exasperated Ch’ing Wen that she begged and entreated him to leave off.
“My junior ancestor!” she exclaimed, “do go to bed and sleep! If you sit up for the other half of the night, your eyes will to-morrow look as if they had been scooped out, and what good will possibly come out of that?”
Pao-yue realised her state of exasperation and felt compelled to come and lie down anyhow. But he could not again close his eyes.
In a little while, she heard the clock strike four, and just managing to finish she took a small tooth-brush, and rubbed up the pile.
“That will do!” She Yueeh put in. “One couldn’t detect it, unless one examined it carefully.”
Pao-yue asked with alacrity to be allowed to have a look at it. “Really,” he smiled, “it’s quite the same thing.”
Ch’ing Wen coughed and coughed time after time, so it was only after extreme difficulty that she succeeded in completing what she had to patch. “It’s mended, it’s true,” she remarked, “but it does not, after all, look anything like it. Yet, I cannot stand the effort any more!”
As she shouted ‘Ai-ya,’ she lost control over herself, and dropped down upon the bed.
But, reader, if you choose to know anything more of her state, peruse the next chapter.