The clever T’an Ch’un increases their income and removes long-standing abuses. The worthy Pao-ch’ai preserves intact, by the display of a little intelligence, the great reputation enjoyed by the Chia family.
But let us pick up the clue of our story. P’ing Erh bore lady Feng company during her meal; then attending to her, while she rinsed her mouth and washed her hands, she betook herself eventually to T’an Ch’un’s quarters, where she discovered the courtyard in perfect stillness. Not a soul was about beyond several maids, matrons and close attendants of the inner rooms, who stood outside the windows on the alert to obey any calls. P’ing Erh stepped into the hall. The two cousins and their sister-in-law were all three engaged in discussing some domestic affairs. They were talking about the feast, to which they had been invited during the new year festivities by Lai Ta’s wife, and various details in connection with the garden she had in her place. But as soon as she (P’ing Erh) appeared on the scene, T’an Ch’un desired her to seat herself on her footstool.
“What was exercising my mind,” she thereupon observed, “confines itself to this. I was computing that the head-oil, and rouge and powder, we use during the course of a month, are also a matter of a couple of taels; and I was thinking that what with the sum of two taels, already allotted us every month, and the extra monthly amount given as well to the maids, allowances are, with the addition again of that of eight taels for school expenses, we recently spoke about, piled to be sure one upon another. The thing is, it’s true, a mere trifle, and the amount only a bagatelle, but it doesn’t seem to be quite proper. But how is it that your mistress didn’t take this into account?”
P’ing Erh smiled. “There’s a why and a wherefore,” she answered. “All the things required by you, young ladies, must absolutely be subject to a fixed rule; for the different compradores have to lay in a stock of each every month; and to send them to us by the maids to take charge of; but purely and simply to keep in readiness for you to use. No such thing could ever be tolerated as that each of us should have to get money every day and try and hunt up some one to go and buy these articles for us! That’s how it is that the compradores outside receive a lump sum, and that they send us, month by month, by the female servants the supplies allotted for the different rooms. As regards the two taels monthly allowed you, young ladies, they were not originally intended that you should purchase any such articles with, but that you should, if at any time the ladies in charge of the household affairs happened to be away from home or to have no leisure, be saved the trouble of having to go in search of the proper persons, in the event of your suddenly finding yourselves in need of money. This was done simply because it was feared that you would be subjected to inconvenience. But an unprejudiced glance about me now shows me that at least half of our young mistresses in the various quarters invariably purchase these things with ready money of their own; so I can’t help suspecting that, if it isn’t a question of the compradores shirking their duties, it must be that what they buy is all mere rubbish.”
T’an Ch’un and Li Wan laughed. “You must have kept a sharp lookout to have managed to detect these things!” they said. “But as for shirking the purchases, they don’t actually do so. It’s simply that they’re behind time by a good number of days. Yet when one puts on the screw with them, they get some articles from somewhere or other, who knows where? These are however only a sham; for, in reality, they aren’t fit for use. But as they’re now as ever obtained with cash down, a couple of taels could very well be given to the brothers or sons of some of the other people’s nurses to purchase them with. They’ll then be good for something! Were we however to employ any of the public domestics in the establishment, the things will be just as bad as ever. I wonder how they do manage to get such utter rot as they do?”
“The purchases of the compradores may be what they are,” P’ing Erh smiled; “but were anyone else to buy any better articles, the compradores themselves won’t ever forgive them. Besides other things, they’ll aver that they harbour evil designs, and that they wish to deprive them of their post. That’s how it comes about that the servants would much rather give offence to you all inside, (by getting inferior things), and that they have no desire to hurt the feelings of the managers outside, (by purchasing anything of superior quality). But if you, young ladies, requisition the services of the nurses, these men won’t have the arrogance to make any nonsensical remarks.”
“This accounts for the unhappy state my heart is in,” T’an Ch’un observed. “But as we’re called upon to squander money right and left, and as the things purchased are half of them uselessly thrown away, wouldn’t it, after all, be better for us to eliminate this monthly allowance to the compradores? This is the first thing. The next I’d like to ask you is this. When they went, during the new year festivities, to Lai Ta’s house, you also went with them; and what do think of that small garden as compared with this of ours?”
“It isn’t half as big as ours,” P’ing Erh laughingly explained. “The trees and plants are likewise fewer by a good deal.”
“When I was having a chat with their daughter,” T’an Ch’un proceeded, “she said that, besides the flowers they wear, and the bamboo shoots, vegetables, fish and shrimps they eat from this garden of theirs, there’s still enough every year for people to take over under contract, and that at the close of each year there’s a surplus in full of two hundred taels. Ever since that day is it that I’ve become alive to the fact that even a broken lotus leaf, and a blade of withered grass are alike worth money.”
“This is, in very truth, the way wealthy and well-to-do people talk!” Pao-ch’ai laughed. “But notwithstanding your honourable position, young ladies, you really understand nothing about these concerns. Yet, haven’t you, with all your book-lore, seen anything of the passage in the writing of Chu Fu-tzu: ‘Throw not they self away?'”
“I’ve read it, it’s true,” T’an Ch’un smiled, “but its object is simply to urge people to exert themselves; it’s as much empty talk as any random arguments, and how could it be bodily treated as gospel?”
“Chu-tzu’s work all as much empty talk as any random arguments?” Pao-ch’ai exclaimed. “Why every sentence in it is founded on fact. You’ve only had the management of affairs in your hands for a couple of days, and already greed and ambition have so beclouded your mind that you’ve come to look upon Chu-tzu as full of fraud and falsehood. But when you by and bye go out into the world and see all those mighty concerns reeking with greed and corruption, you’ll even go so far as to treat Confucius himself as a fraud!”
“Haven’t you with all your culture read a book like that of Chi-tzu’s?” Pan Ch’un laughed. “Chi-tzu said in bygone days ‘that when one descends into the arena where gain and emoluments are to be got, and enters the world of planning and plotting, one makes light of the injunctions of Yao and Shun, and disregards the principles inculcated by Confucius and Mencius.'”
“What about the next line?” Pao-ch’ai insinuated with a significant smile.
“I now cut the text short,” T’an Ch’un smilingly rejoined, “in order to adapt the sense to what I want to say. Would I recite the following sentence, and heap abuse upon my own self; is it likely I would; eh?”
“There’s nothing under the heavens that can’t be turned to some use,” Pao-ch’ai added. “And since everything can be utilised, everything must be worth money. But can it be that a person gifted with such intelligence as yours can have had no experience in such great matters and legitimate concerns as these?”
“You send for a person,” Li Wan laughingly interposed, ‘and you don’t speak about what’s right and proper, but you start an argument on learning.”
“Learning is right and proper,” Pao-ch’ai answered. “If we made no allusion to learning, we’d all soon enough drift among the rustic herd!”
The trio bandied words for a while, after which they turned their attention again to pertinent affairs.
T’an Ch’un took up once more the thread of the conversation. “This garden of ours,” she argued, “is only half as big as theirs, so if you double the income they derive, you will see that we ought to reap a net profit of four hundred taels a year. But were we also now to secure a contract for our surplus products, the money, we’d earn, would, of course, be a mere trifle and not one that a family like ours should hanker after. And were we to depute two special persons (to attend to the garden), the least permission given by them to any one to turn anything to improper uses, would, since there be so many things of intrinsic value, be tantamount to a reckless destruction of the gifts of heaven. So would it not be preferable to select several quiet, steady and experienced old matrons, out of those stationed in the grounds, and appoint them to put them in order and look after things? Neither will there be any need then to make them pay any rent, or give any taxes in kind. All we can ask them is to supply the household with whatever they can afford during the year. In the first place, the garden will, with special persons to look after the plants and trees, naturally so improve from year to year that there won’t be any bustle or confusion, whenever the time draws nigh to utilise the grounds. Secondly, people won’t venture to injure or uselessly waste anything. In the third place, the old matrons themselves will, by availing themselves of these small perquisites, not labour in the gardens year after year and day after day all for no good. Fourthly, it will in like manner be possible to effect a saving in the expenditure for gardeners, rockery-layers, sweepers and other necessary servants. And this excess can be utilised for making up other deficiencies. I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be practicable!”
Pao-ch’ai was standing below contemplating the pictures with characters suspended on the walls. Upon hearing these suggestions, she readily nodded her head assentingly and smiled. “Excellent!” she cried. “‘Within three years, there will be no more famines and dearths.'”
“What a first-rate plan!” Li Wan chimed in. “This, if actually adopted, will delight the heart of Madame Wang. Pecuniary economies are of themselves a paltry matter; but there will be then in the garden those to sweep the grounds, and those whose special charge will be to look after them. Besides, were the persons selected allowed to turn up an honest cash by selling part of the products, they will be so impelled by a sense of their responsibilities, and prompted by a desire of gain that there won’t any longer be any who won’t acquit themselves of their duties to the fullest measure.”
“It remained for you, miss, to put these suggestions in words,” P’ing Erh remarked. “Our mistress may have entertained the idea, but it is by no means certain that she thought it nice on her part to give utterance to it. For as you, young ladies, live at present in the garden, she could not possibly, unable as she is to supply such additional ornaments as will make it more showy, contrariwise depute people to exercise authority in it, and to keep it in order, with a view of effecting a reduction in expenses. Such a proposal could never have dropped from her lips.”
Pao-ch’ai advanced up to her with alacrity. Rubbing her face: “Open that mouth of yours wide,” she laughed, “and let me see of what stuff your teeth and tongue are made! Ever since you put your foot out of bed this morning you’ve jabbered away up to this very moment! And your song has all been in one strain. For neither have you been very complimentary to Miss Tertia, nor have you admitted that your mistress is, as far as wits go, so much below the mark as to be unable to effect suitable provision. Yet whenever Miss Tertia advanced any arguments, you’ve at once made use of endless words to join issue with her. This is because the plan devised by Miss Tertia was also hit upon by your lady Feng. But there must surely have been a reason why she couldn’t carry it into execution. Again, as the young ladies have now their quarters in the garden, she couldn’t, with any decency, direct any one to go and rule over it, for the mere sake of saving a few cash. Just consider this. If the garden is actually handed to people to make profit out of it, the parties interested will, of course, not even permit a single spray of flowers to be plucked, and not a single fruit to be taken away. With such as come within the category of senior young ladies, they won’t naturally have the audacity to be particular; but they’ll daily have endless rows with the junior girls. (Lady Feng) has, with her fears about the future and her misgivings about the present, shown herself neither too overbearing nor too servile. This mistress of theirs is not friendly disposed towards us, but when she hears of her various proposals, shame might induce her to turn over a new leaf.”
“Early this morning,” T’an Ch’un laughingly observed, “I was very cross, but as soon as I heard of her (P’ing Erh’s) arrival, I casually remembered that her mistress employed, during her time, such domestics as were up to all kinds of larks, and at the sight of her, I got more cross than ever. But, little though one would have thought it, she behaved from the moment she came, like a rat that tries to get out of the way of a cat. And as she had had to stand for ever so long, I pitied her very much; but she took up the thread of the conversation, and went on to spin that long yarn of hers. Yet, instead of mentioning that her mistress treats me with every consideration, she, on the contrary, observed: ‘The kindness with which you have all along dealt with our lady miss, has not been to no purpose.’ This remark therefore not only dispelled my anger, but filled me with so much shame that I began to feel sore at heart. And, when I came to think carefully over the matter, I failed to see how I, a mere girl, who had personally done so much mischief that not a soul cared a straw for me and not a soul took any interest in me, could possess any such good qualities as to treat any one kindly….”
When she reached this point, she could not check her tears from brimming over. Li Wan and her associates perceived how pathetically she spoke; and, recalling to mind bow Mrs. Chao had always run her down, and how she had ever been involved in some mess or other with Madame Wang, on account of this Mrs. Chao, they too found it difficult to refrain from melting into sobs. But they then used their joint efforts to console her.
“Let’s avail ourselves of this quiet day,” they suggested, “to try and find out how we could increase our revenue and remove abuses, so as not to render futile the charge laid on us by Madame Wang. What use or purpose is it to allude to such trivial matters?”
“I’ve already grasped your object,” P’ing Erh hastily ventured. “Miss, speak out; who do you consider fit? And as soon as the proper persons have been fixed upon, everything will be square enough.”
“What you say is all very well,” T’an Ch’un rejoined, “but it will be necessary to let your lady know something about it. It has never been the proper thing for us in here to scrape together any small profits. But as your mistress is full of gumption, I adopted the course I did. Had she been at all narrowminded, with many prejudices and many jealousies, I wouldn’t have shown the least willingness in the matter. But, as it will look as if I were bent upon pulling her to pieces, how can I take action without consulting her?”
“In that case,” P’ing Erh smiled, “I’ll go and tell her something about it.”
With this response, she went on the errand; and only returned after a long lapse of time. “I said,” she laughed, “that it would be perfectly useless for me to go. How ever could our lady not readily accede to an excellent proposal like this?”
Hearing this, T’an Ch’un forthwith joined Li Wan in directing a servant to ask for the roll, containing the names of the matrons in the garden, and bring it to them. When produced, they all held council together, and fixing cursorily upon several persons, they summoned them to appear before them. Li Wan then explained to them the general outline of their duties; and not one was there among the whole company, who listened to her, who would not undertake the charge. One said: “If you confide that bamboo tree for twelve months to my care, it will again next year be a single tree, but besides the shoots, which will have been eaten at home, I shall be able, in the course of the year, to also pay in some money.” “Hand me over,” another one remarked, “that portion of paddy field, and there will, during the year, be no need to touch any public funds on account of the various birds, large and small, which are kept for mere fun. Besides that, I shall be in a position to give in something more.”
T’an Ch’un was about to pass a remark when a servant reported that the doctor had come; and that he had entered the garden to see Miss Shih. So the matrons were obliged to go and usher the doctor in.
“Were there a hundred of you here,” promptly expostulated P’ing Erh, “you wouldn’t know what propriety means! Are there perchance no couple of housekeepers about to push themselves forward and see the doctor in?”
“There’s dame Wu and dame T’an,” the servant, who brought the message, replied. “The two are on duty at the south-west corner at the ‘accumulated splendour’ gate.”
At this answer, P’ing Erh allowed the subject to drop.
After the departure of the matrons, T’an Ch’un inquired of Pao-ch’ai what she thought of them.
“Such as are diligent at the outset,” Pao-ch’ai answered smiling, “become remiss in the end; and those who have a glib tongue have an eye to gain.”
T’an Ch’un listened to her reply; and nodding her head, she extolled its wisdom. Then showing them with her finger several names on the list, she submitted them for the perusal of the trio. P’ing Erh speedily went and fetched a pen and inkslab.
“This old mother Chu,” the trio observed, “is a trustworthy woman. What’s more, this old dame and her sons have generation after generation done the sweeping of the bamboo groves. So let’s now place the various bamboo trees under her control. This old mother T’ien was originally a farmer, and everything in the way of vegetables and rice, in and about the Tao Hsiang village, should, albeit they couldn’t, planted as they are as a mere pastime, be treated in such earnest as to call for large works and extensive plantations, be entrusted to her care; for won’t they fare better if she can be on the spot and tend them with extra diligence at the proper times and seasons?”
“What a pity it is,” T’an Ch’un proceeded smilingly, “that two places so spacious as the Heng Wu garden and the I Hung court bring no grit to the mill.”
“Things in the Heng Wu garden are in a worse state,” Li Wan hastily interposed. “Aren’t the scented wares and scented herbs sold at present everywhere in perfumery shops, large fairs and great temples the very counterpart of these things here? So if you reckon up, you will find how much greater a return these articles will give than any other kind of product. As for the I Hung court, we needn’t mention other things, but only take into account the roses that bud during the two seasons of spring and summer; to how many don’t they amount in all? Besides these, we’ve got along the whole hedge, cinnamon roses and monthly roses, stock roses, honey-suckle and westeria. Were these various flowers dried and sold to the tea and medicine shops, they’d also fetch a good deal of money.”
“Quite so!” T’an Ch’un acquiesced with a smile. “The thing is that there’s no one with any notion how to deal with scented herbs.”
“There’s Ying Erh who waits on Miss Pao-ch’ai,” P’ing Erh promptly smiled. “Her mother is well-versed in these things. It was only the other day that she plucked a few, and plaited them, after drying them well in the sun, into a flower-basket and a gourd, and gave them to me to play with. But miss can you have forgotten all about it?”
“I was this very minute speaking in your praise,” Pao-ch’ai observed smiling, “and do you come to chaff me?”
“What makes you say so?” exclaimed the trio, in utter astonishment.
“It will on no account do,” Pao-ch’ai added. “You employ such a lot of people in here that they all lead a lazy life and have nothing to put a hand to, and were I also now to introduce some more, that tribe will look even upon me with utter contempt. But let me think of some one for you. There’s in the I Hung court, an old dame Yeh; she’s Pei Ming’s mother. That woman is an honest old lady; and is furthermore on the best of terms with our Ying Erh’s mother. So wouldn’t it be well were this charge given to this dame Yeh? Should there even be anything that she doesn’t know, there’ll be no necessity for us to tell her. She can go straightway and consult with Ying Erh’s mother. And if she can’t attend to everything herself, it won’t matter to whom she relegates some of her duties. These will be purely private favours. In the event too of any one making any mean insinuations, the blame won’t fall on our shoulders. By adopting this course, you’ll be managing things in such a way as to do extreme justice to all; and the trust itself will also be placed on a most satisfactory footing.”
“Excellent!” ejaculated Li Wan and P’ing Erh simultaneously.
“This may be well and good,” T’an Ch’un laughed, “but the fear is that at the sight of gain, they’ll forget all about propriety.”
“That’s nothing to do with us!” P’ing Erh rejoined a smile playing, about her lips. “It was only the other day that Ying Erh recognised dame Yeh as her adopted mother, and invited her to eat and drink with them, so that the two families are on the most intimate terms.”
At this assurance, T’an Ch’un relinquished the topic of conversation, and, holding council together, they selected several persons, all of whom the four had ever viewed with impartial favour and they marked off their names, by dotting them with a pen.
In a little while, the matrons came to report that ‘the doctor had gone;’ and they handed the prescription. Their three mistresses then perused its contents. On the one hand, they despatched domestics to take it outside, so that the drugs should be got, and to superintend their decoction. On the other, T’an Ch’un and Li Wan explicitly explained to the various servants chosen what particular place each had to look after. “Exclusive,” they added, “of what fixed custom requires for home consumption during the four seasons, you are still at liberty to pluck whatever remains and have it taken away. As for the profits, we’ll settle accounts at the close of the year.”
“I’ve also bethought myself of something,” T’an Ch’un smiled. “If the settlement of accounts takes place at the end of the year, the money will, at the time of delivery, be naturally paid into the accountancy. Those high up will then as usual add a whole lot of controllers; and these will, on their part, fleece their own share as soon as the money gets into the palms of their hand. But as by this system, we’ve now initiated, you’ve been singled out for appointment, you’ve already ridden so far above their heads, that they foster all sorts of animosity against you. They don’t, however, give vent to their feelings; but if they don’t seize the close of the year, when you have to deliver your accounts, to play their tricks on you, for what other chances will they wait? Moreover, they obtain, in everything that comes under their control during the year, half of every share their masters get. This is an old custom. Every one is aware of its existence. But this is a new regime I now introduce in this garden, so don’t let the money find its way into their hands! Whenever the annual settling of accounts arrives, bring them in to us.”
“My idea is,” Pao-ch’ai smilingly suggested, “that no accounts need be handed even inside. This one will have a surplus, that one a deficit, so that it will involve no end of trouble; wouldn’t it be better therefore if we were to find out who of them would take over this or that particular kind and let them purvey the various things? These are for the exclusive use of the inmates of the garden; and I’ve already made an estimate of them for you. They amount to just a few sorts, and simply consist of head-oil, rouge, powder and scented paper; in all of which, the young ladies and maids are subject to a fixed rule. Then, besides these, there are the brooms, dust-baskets and poles, wanted in different localities, and the food for the large and small animals and birds, and the deer and rabbits. These are the only kinds of things required. And if they contract for them, there’ll be little need for any one to go to the accountancy for money. But just calculate what a saving will thus be effected!”
“All these items are, I admit, mere trifles,” P’ing Erh smiled, “but if you lump together what’s used during a year, you will find that a saving of four hundred taels will be effected.”
“Again!” smilingly remarked Pao-ch’ai, “it would be four hundred taels in one year; but eight hundred taels in two years; and with these, we could purchase a few more houses and let them; and in the way of poor, sandy land we could also add several acres to those we’ve already got. ‘There will, of course, still remain a surplus; but as they will have ample trouble and inconvenience to put up with during the year, they should also be allowed some balance in hand so as to make up what’s wanted for themselves. The main object is, of course, to increase profits and curtail expenses, yet we couldn’t be stingy to any excessive degree. In fact, were we even able to make any further economy of over two or three hundred taels, it would never be the proper thing; should this involve a breach of the main principles of decorum. With this course duly put into practice, outside, the accountancy will issue in one year four or five hundred taels less, without even the semblance of any parsimony; while, inside, the matrons will obtain, on the other hand, some little thing to supply their wants with; the nurses, who have no means of subsistence, will likewise be placed in easy circumstances; and the plants and trees in the garden will year by year increase in strength and grow more abundantly. In this wise, you too will have such articles as will be fit for use. So that this plan will, to some extent, not constitute a breach of the high principles of propriety. And if ever we want to retrench a little more from where won’t we be able to get money? But if the whole balance, if any, be put to the credit of the public fund, every one, inside as well as outside, will fill the streets with the din of murmurings! And won’t this be then a slur upon the code of honour of a household such as yours? So were any charge to be entrusted to this one, out of the several tens of old nurses at present employed in the garden, and not to that one, the remainder will naturally resent such injustice. As I said a while back all that these women will have to provide among themselves amounts to a few articles, so they will unavoidably have ample means. Hence each should be told to contribute, beyond the articles that fall to her share during the year, a certain number of tiaos, whether she may or may not realise any balance, and then jointly lump these sums together, and distribute them among those nurses only on service in the garden. For although they may not have anything to do with the control of these things, they themselves will have to stay in the grounds, to keep an eye over the servants on duty, to shut the doors, to close the windows and to get up early and retire late. Whenever it rains in torrents or it snows hard and chairs have to be carried, for you, young ladies, to go out and come in; or boats have to be punted, and sledges drawn, these rough and arduous duties come alike within their sphere of work. They have to labour in the garden from one year’s end to the other, and though, they earn something in those grounds, it’s only right that they should able to get some small benefits in the discharge of their legitimate duties. But there’s another most trivial point that I would broach with less reserve. If you only think of your ease, and don’t share the profits with them, they will, of course, never presume to show their displeasure, but in their hearts they won’t cherish you any good feeling. What they’ll do will be to make public business a pretext to serve their own private ends with; they’ll pluck more of your fruits than they should; and cut greater quantities of your flowers than they ought. And you people will have a grievance, but you won’t have anywhere to go and confide it. But should they too reap some gain, they’ll readily look after such things on your behalf as you won’t have the time to attend to.”
The matrons listened to her explanations; (and finding that) they would be removed from the control of the accountancy, that they would not be compelled to go and settle accounts with lady Feng, and that all that they would be called upon to do every year would be to supply a few more tiaos, were each and all delighted to an exceptional degree. So much so, that every one of them exclaimed in a chorus that they were quite prepared to agree to the terms. “It is better,” they said, “than to be obliged to go out and be squeezed by them; and to have to fork out our own money as well.”
Those too not entrusted with the care of any portion of land were also highly elated, when they heard that at the close of each year they would, though they had no valid claim, come in for some share of hard cash.
“They’ll have to bear the trouble,” they however argued, “to keep things in order, so it’s only right that they should be left with a few cash to meet their various wants with; and how could we very well gobble our three meals without doing a stroke of work?”
“Worthy dames,” Pao-ch’ai smiled, “you mustn’t decline. These duties are within your province and you should fulfil them. All you need do is to exert yourselves a bit by day and night, and not be so remiss and careless as to suffer any of the servants to drink and gamble; that’s all. Otherwise, I myself must have nothing to do with the control. But you, yourselves, know well enough that it’s my aunt who appealed to me with her own lips three and five times to do it as a favour to her. ‘Your eldest sister-in-law,’ she represented, ‘has at present no leisure, and the other girls are young,’ and then she asked me to look after things. So if I now don’t accede, it’s as clear as day that I shall be the cause of much worry to my aunt. Our lady Feng herself is seriously ill, and our domestic affairs can’t hang fire. I’m really with nothing to do, so were even a mere neighbour to solicit my help, I would also feel bound to lend her a hand in her pressure of work. How much more therefore when it’s my own aunt, who invokes my aid? Setting aside the way I’m execrated by one and all, how would I ever be able to stare my aunt in the face, if, while I gave my sole mind to winning fame and fishing for praise, any one got so intoxicated and lost so much in gambling as to stir up trouble? At such a juncture remorse on your part will be too late! Even the old reputation you have ever enjoyed will entirely be lost and gone. Those young ladies and girls and this vast garden are alike placed under your supervision, purely and simply because one takes into account that you have been nurses to three or four generations and that you have most scrupulously observed the rules of etiquette and propriety. It’s but fair that you should try, with one mind, and show some little regard for what’s right and proper. But if you contrariwise behave with such laxity as to let people gratify their wishes by guzzling and gambling, and my aunt comes to hear of these nice doings, a little scolding from her will be of little consequence. But if the various women, who attend to the household, get scent of the state of affairs, they will haul you over the coals, without even so much as breathing one single word beforehand to my aunt. And venerable people, though you are, you will then, instead of tendering advice to young people, be called to account by them. As housekeepers, they exercise, it’s true, authority over you; but why shouldn’t you yourselves observe a certain amount of decorum? And if you do so, will they have any occasion to bully you? The reason why I’ve now bethought myself of this special boon for you is that you should unanimously strain every nerve to diligently attend to the garden, in order that the powers that be may, at the sight of your unrelenting care and zeal, have no cause to give way to solicitude. And won’t they inwardly look up to you with regard? Neither will you render of no effect the various benefits devised for them. But go now and minutely ponder over all my advice!”
All the women received her words with gratification. “What you say is quite right,” they replied. “From this time forth you, miss, and you, our lady, can well compose your minds. With the interest both of you feel on our behalf, may heaven and earth not spare us, if we do not display a full amount of gratitude for all your kindnesses.”
These assurances were still being uttered when they saw Lin Chih-hsiao’s wife walk in. “The family of the Chen mansion of Chiang Nan,” she explained, “arrived in the capital yesterday. To-day, they’re going into the palace to offer their congratulations. But they’ve now sent messengers ahead to come and bring presents and pay their respects.”
While she spoke, she produced the list of presents and handed it up. T’an Ch’un took it over from her. “They consist,” she said, perusing it, “of twelve rolls of brocades and satins embroidered with dragons, such as are for imperial use; twelve rolls of satins of various colours, of the kind worn by the Emperor; twelve rolls of every sort of imperial gauze; twelve rolls of palace silks of the quality used by his majesty; and twenty rolls of satins, gauzes, silks and thin silks of different colours, generally worn by officials.”
After glancing over the list, Li Wan and T’an Ch’un suggested that a first-class tip should be given to the messengers who brought them, after which, they went on to direct a servant to convey the tidings to dowager lady Chia.
Old lady Chia gave orders to call Li Wan, T’an Ch’un, Pao-ch’ai and the other girls. On their arrival, the presents were passed under review; and this over, Li Wan put them aside. “You must wait,” she said to the servants of the inner store-room, “until Madame Wang comes back and sees them; you can then lock them up.”
“This Chen family too,” old lady Chia thereupon added, “isn’t like any other family; the highest tips should therefore be conferred upon the men. But as in a twinkle, they may also send some of their womankind to come and make their obeisance, silks should be got ready in anticipation.”
Scarcely was this remark concluded before a domestic actually announced: ‘that four ladies of the Chen mansion had come to pay their respects.’
Upon hearing this, dowager lady Chia hastily directed that they should be introduced into her presence. The four women ranged from forty years and over. Their clothing and head-gear were not, in any material degree, different from those of mistresses. As soon as they presented their compliments and inquired about their healths, old lady Chia desired that four footstools should be moved forward. But though the four women thanked her for bidding them sit down, they only occupied the stools, after Pao-ch’ai had seated herself.
“When did you enter the capital?” old lady Chia inquired.
The four women jumped to their feet with alacrity. “We entered the capital yesterday,” they answered. “Our lady has taken our young lady today into the palace to pay their homage. That’s why she bade us come and give you their compliments, and see how the young ladies are getting on.”
“You hadn’t paid a visit to the capital for ever so many years,” dowager lady Chia smilingly observed, “and here you appear now quite unexpectedly!”
The four women simultaneously smiled again. “Quite so!” they said. “We received this year imperial orders, summoning us to the capital!”
“Has the whole family come?” old lady Chia asked.
“Our old mistress, our young master, the two young ladies and the other ladies haven’t come up,” the four women explained. “Only our lady has come, together with Miss Tertia.”
“Is she engaged to any one?” old lady Chia asked.
“Not yet,” rejoined the quartet.
“The two families, that of your senior married lady and that of your lady Secunda are both on most intimate terms with ours,” dowager lady Chia smilingly added.
“Yes, they are,” replied the four women with a smile. “The letters received each year from our young ladies, assure us that they’re entirely dependent upon the kindness bestowed upon them, in your worthy mansion, for their well-being.”
“What kindness?” old lady Chia exclaimed laughingly. “These two families are really friends of long standing. In addition to this, they’re old relatives. So what we do is our simple bounden duty. What’s more in the favour of your two young ladies is, that they’re not full of their own importance. That’s how it is that we’ve come to be on such close terms.”
The four women smiled. “This is mainly due to your venerable ladyship’s excessive humility,” they answered.
“Is that young gentleman of yours too with your old mistress?” old lady Chia went on to inquire.
“Yes, he has also come with our old mistress,” the four women retorted.
“How old is he?” old lady Chia then asked. “Does he go to school?” she afterwards inquired.
“He’s thirteen this year,” the four women said by way of response. “But all through those good looks of his, our old mistress cherishes him so fondly that from his youth up, he has been wayward to the extreme, and that he now daily plays the truant. But our master and mistress as well don’t keep any great check over him.”
“Yet, he can’t resemble that young fellow of ours,” old lady Chia laughed. “What’s the name of your young gentleman?”
“As our old mistress treats him just like a real precious gem,” the quartet explained, “and as his complexion is naturally so white, her ladyship calls him Pao-yue.”
“Here’s another one with the name of Pao-yue!” old lady Chia laughingly said to Li Wan.
Li Wan and her companions hastily made a curtsey. “There have been, from old times to the present,” they smiled, “very many among contemporaries and persons of different generations as well, who have borne duplicate names.”
The four women also smiled. “After the selection of this infant name,” they proceeded, “we all, both high or low, began to give way to surmises, as we could not make out in what relative’s or friend’s family there was a lad also called by the same name. But as we hadn’t come to the capital for ten years or so, we couldn’t remember.”
“That young fellow is my grandson,” dowager lady Chia remarked. “Hallo! some one come here!”
The married women and maids assented and approached several steps.
“Go into the garden,” old lady Chia smilingly said, “and call our Pao-yue here, so that these four housekeeping dames should see how he compares with their own Pao-yue.”
The married women, upon hearing her orders, promptly went off. After a while, they entered the room pressing round Pao-yue. The moment the four dames caught sight of him, they speedily rose to their feet. “He has given us such a start!” they exclaimed smilingly. “Had we not come into your worthy mansion, and perchance, met him, elsewhere, we would have taken him for our own Pao-yue, and followed him as far as the capital.”
While speaking they came forward and took hold of his hands and assailed him with questions.
Pao-yue however also put on a smile and inquired after their healths.
“How do his looks compare with those of your young gentleman?” dowager lady Chia asked as she smiled.
“The way the four dames ejaculated just now,” Li Wan and her companions explained, “was sufficient to show how much they resemble in looks.”
“How could there ever he such a coincidence?” old lady Chia laughed. “Yet, the children of wealthy families are so delicately nurtured that unless their faces are so deformed as to make them downright ugly, they’re all equally handsome, as far as general appearances go. So there’s nothing strange in this!”
“As we gaze at his features,” the quartet added, with smiling faces, “we find him the very image of him; and from what we gather from your venerable ladyship, he’s also like him in waywardness. But, as far as we can judge, this young gentleman’s disposition is ever so much better than that of ours.”
“What makes you think so?” old lady Chia precipitately inquired.
“We saw it as soon as we took hold of the young gentleman’s hands,” the four women laughingly rejoined, “and when he spoke to us. Had it been that fellow of ours, he would have simply called us fools. Not to speak of taking his hand in ours, why we daren’t even slightly move any of his things. That’s why, those who wait on him are invariably young girls.”
Before the four dames had time to conclude what they had to say, Li Wan and the rest found it so hard to check themselves that with one voice they burst into loud laughter.
Old lady Chia also laughed. “Let’s also send some one now,” she said, “to have a look at your Pao-yue. When his hand is taken, he too is sure to make an effort to put up with it. But don’t you know that children of families such as yours and mine are bound, notwithstanding their numerous perverse and strange defects, to return the orthodox civilities, when they come across any strangers. But should they not return the proper civilities, they should, by no manner of means, be suffered to behave with such perverseness. It’s the way that grown-up people doat on them that makes them what they are. And as they can, first and foremost, boast of bewitching good looks and they comport themselves, secondly, towards visitors with all propriety–, in fact, with less faulty deportment than their very seniors–, they manage to win the love and admiration of such as only get a glimpse of them. Hence it is that they’re secretly indulged to a certain degree. But if they don’t show the least regard to any one inside or outside, and so reflect no credit upon their parents, they deserve, with all their handsome looks, to be flogged to death.”
These sentiments evoked a smile from the four dames. “Your words venerable lady,” they exclaimed, “are quite correct. But though our Pao-yue be wilful and strange in his ways, yet, whenever he meets any visitors, he behaves with courteousness and good manners; so much so, that he’s more pleasing to watch than even grown-up persons. There is no one, therefore, who sees him without falling in love with him. But you’ll say: ‘why is he then beaten?’ You really aren’t aware that at home he has no regard either for precept or for heaven; that he comes out with things that never suggest themselves to the imagination of grown-up people, and that he does everything that takes one by surprise. The result is that his father and mother are driven to their wits’ ends. But wilfulness is natural to young children. Reckless expenditure is a common characteristic of young men. Antipathy to school is a common feeling with young people. Yet there are ways and means to bring him round. The worse with him is that his disposition is so crotchety and whimsical. Can this ever do?….”
This reply was barely ended when a servant informed them that their mistress had returned. Madame Wang entered the room, and saluted the women. The four dames paid their obeisance to her. But they had just had sufficient time to pass a few general observations, when dowager lady Chia bade them go and rest. Madame Wang then handed the tea in person and withdrew from the apartment. But when the four dames got up to say good-bye, old lady Chia adjourned to Madame Wang’s quarters. After a chat with her on domestic affairs, she however told the women to go back; so let us put them by without any further allusion to them.
During this while, old lady Chia’s spirits waxed so high, that she told every one and any one she came across that there was another Pao-yue, and that he was, in every respect, the very image of her grandson.
But as each and all bore in mind that there were many inmates among the large households of those officials with official ancestors, called by the same names, that it was an ordinary occurrence for a grandmother to be passionately fond of her grandson, and that there was nothing out-of-the-way about it, they treated the matter as of no significance. Pao-yue alone however was such a hair-brained simpleton that he conjectured that the statements made by the four dames had been intended to flatter his grandmother Chia.
But subsequently he betook himself into the garden to see how Shih Hsiang-yuen was getting on.
“Compose your mind now,” Shih Hsiang-yuen then said to him, “and go on with your larks! Once, you were as lonely as a single fibre, which can’t be woven into thread, and like a single bamboo, which can’t form a grove, but now you’ve found your pair. When you exasperate your parents, and they give you beans, you’ll be able to bolt to Nanking in quest of the other Pao-yue.”
“What utter rubbish!” Pao-yue exclaimed. “Do you too believe that there’s another Pao-yue?”
“How is it,” Hsiang-yuen asked, “that there was some one in the Lieh state called Lin Hsiang-ju, and that during the Han dynasty there lived again another person, whose name was Ssu Ma Hsiang-ju?”
“This matter of names is all well enough,” Pao-yue rejoined with a smile. “But as it happens, his very appearance is the counterpart of mine. Such a thing could never be!”
“How is it,” Hsiang-yuen inquired, “that when the K’uang people saw Confucius, they fancied it was Yang Huo?”
“Confucius and Yang Huo,” Pao-yue smilingly argued, “may have been alike in looks, but they hadn’t the same names. Lin and Ssu were again, notwithstanding their identical names, nothing like each other in appearances. But can it ever be possible that he and I should resemble each other in both respects?”
Hsiang-yuen was at a loss what reply to make to his arguments. “You may,” she consequently remarked smiling, “propound any rubbish you like, I’m not in the humour to enter into any discussion with you. Whether there be one or not is quite immaterial to me. It doesn’t concern me at all.”
Saying this, she lay herself down.
Pao-yue however began again to exercise his mind with further surmises. “If I say,” he cogitated, “that there can’t be one, there seems from all appearances to be one. And if I say that there is one, I haven’t, on the other hand, seen him with my own eyes.”
Sad and dejected he returned therefore to his quarters, and reclining on his couch, he silently communed with his own thoughts until he unconsciously became drowsy and fell fast asleep.
Finding himself (in his dream) in some garden or other, Pao-yue was seized with astonishment. “Besides our own garden of Broad Vista,” he reflected, “is there another such garden?” But while indulging in these speculations, several girls, all of whom were waiting-maids, suddenly made their appearance from the opposite direction. Pao-yue was again filled with surprise. “Besides Yuean Yang, Hsi Jen and P’ing Erh,” he pondered, “are there verily such maidens as these?”
“Pao-yue!” he heard that company of maids observe, with faces beaming with smiles, “how is it you find yourself in here?”
Pao-yue laboured under the impression that they were addressing him. With hasty step, he consequently drew near them, and returned their smiles. “I got here,” he answered, “quite listlessly. What old family friend’s garden is this, I wonder? But sisters, pray, take me for a stroll.”
The maids smiled with one consent. “Really!” they exclaimed, “this isn’t our Pao-yue. But his looks too are spruce and nice; and he is as precocious too with his tongue.”
Pao-yue caught their remarks. “Sisters!” he eagerly cried, “is there actually a second Pao-yue in here?”
“As for the two characters ’Pao-yue,’” the maids speedily explained, “every one in our house has received our old mistress’ and our mistress’ injunctions to use them as a spell to protract his life for many years and remove misfortune from his path, and when we call him by that name, he simply goes into ecstasies, at the very mention of it. But you, young brat, from what distant parts of the world do you hail that you’ve recklessly been also dubbed by the same name? But beware lest we pound that frowzy flesh of yours into mincemeat.”
“Let’s be off at once!” urged another maid, as she smiled. “Don’t let our Pao-yue see us here and say again that by hobnobbing with this stinking young fellow, we’ve been contaminated by all his pollution.”
With these words on her lips, they straightway walked off.
Pao-yue fell into a brown study. “There’s never been,” he mused, “any one to treat me with such disdain before! But what is it, in fact, that induces them to behave towards me in this manner? May it not be true that there lives another human being the very image of myself?”
While lost in reverie, he advanced with heedless step, until he reached a courtyard. Pao-yue was struck with wonder. “Is there actually,” he cried, “besides the I Hung court another court like it?” Spontaneously then ascending the steps, he entered an apartment, in which he discerned some one reclining on a couch. On the off side sat several girls, busy at needlework; now laughing joyfully; now practising their jokes; when he overheard the young person on the couch heave a sigh.
“Pao-yue,” smilingly inquired a maid, “what, aren’t you asleep? What are you once more sighing for? I presume it’s because your sister is ill that you abandon yourself again to idle fears and immoderate anguish!”
These words fell on Pao-yue’s ears, and took him quite aback.
“I’ve heard grandmother say,” he overheard the young person on the couch observe, “that there lives at Ch’ang An, the capital, another Pao-yue endowed with the same disposition as myself. I never believed what she told me; but I just had a dream, and in this dream I found myself in a garden of the metropolis where I came across several maidens; all of whom called me a ’stinking young brat,’ and would have nothing whatever to do with me. But after much difficulty, I succeeded in penetrating into his room. He happened to be fast asleep. There he lay like a mere bag of bones. His real faculties had flown somewhere or other; whither it was hard for me to say.”
Hearing this, “I’ve come here,” Pao-yue said with alacrity, “in search of Pao-yue; and are you, indeed, that Pao-yue?”
The young man on the couch jumped down with all haste and enfolded him in his arms. “Are you verily Pao-yue?” he laughingly asked. “This isn’t by any means such stuff as dreams are made of!”
“How can you call this a dream?” Pao-yue rejoined. “It’s reality, yea, nothing but reality!”
But scarcely was this rejoinder over, than he heard some one come, and say: “our master, your father, wishes to see you, Pao-yue.”
The two lads started with fear. One Pao-yue rushed off with all despatch. The other promptly began to shout, “Pao-yue! come back at once! Pao-yue; be quick and return!”
Hsi Jen, who stood by (Pao-yue), heard him call out his own name, in his dreams, and immediately gave him a push and woke him up. “Where is Pao-yue gone to?” she laughed.
Although Pao-yue was by this time aroused from sleep, his senses were as yet dull, so pointing towards the door, “He’s just gone out,” he replied, “he’s not far off.”
Hsi Jen laughed. “You’re under the delusion of a dream,” she said. “Rub your eyes and look carefully! It’s your reflection in the mirror.”
Pao-yue cast a glance in front of him, and actually caught sight of the large inlaid mirror, facing him quite opposite, so he himself burst out laughing. But, presently, a maid handed him a rince-bouche and tea and salt, and he washed his mouth.
“Little wonder is it,” She Yueeh ventured, “if our old mistress has repeatedly enjoined that it isn’t good to have too many mirrors about in young people’s rooms, for as the spirit of young persons is not fully developed there is every fear, with mirrors casting their reflections all over the place, of their having wild dreams in their sleep. And is a bed now placed before that huge mirror there? When the covers of the mirrors are let down, no harm can befall; but as the season advances, and the weather gets hot, one feels so languid and tired, that is one likely to think of dropping them? Just as it happened a little time back; it slipped entirely from your memory. Of course, when he first got into bed, he must have played with his face towards the glass; but upon shortly closing his eyes, he must naturally have fallen into such confused dreams, that they thoroughly upset his rest. Otherwise, how is it possible that he should have started shouting his own name? Would it not be as well if the bed were moved inside to-morrow? That’s the proper place for it.”
Hardly had she, however, done, before they perceived a servant, sent by Madame Wang to call Pao-yue. But what she wanted to tell him is not yet known, so, reader, listen to the circumstances recorded in the subsequent chapter.
>> Chapter 57